As featured in MEDIUM, "The Memoirist"
The Thanksgiving Saga
When it’s late afternoon and the white, uncooked pallor of the turkey mocks you
Why am I so panicked about hosting Thanksgiving at my house? Because one year I didn’t put the bird in the oven long enough.
It was after 6:00 p.m., and the bird still wasn’t finished. Then one of our guests inhaled a giblet, and we had to make a run to the ER.
Having one food as the focal point of one meal is too stressful. All eyes are on the bird, and my once-per-annum, self-induced culinary panic circles around whether my turkey will be judged succulent, dry, well-glazed, or burnt.
Thus my proclamation: I promise never to cook turkey again. Share my angst. (Read on.)
I brined the turkey the night before. When I took it out of the refrigerator on Thanksgiving morning, the salty/sweet brine had run over to one side of the plastic bag, covering only half the turkey.
I squished the liquid around and prayed this would work as a last-minute fix-it until my 20-something son strolled into the kitchen and asked, “Mom, shouldn’t the turkey be in the oven by now?”
I acknowledged his wisdom and bled the brine from the bag.
What was left was a bird that had butterball-smooth skin on one side only. I turned up the oven to 325 degrees, rinsed off the bird, gave it a pat-pat, herbed and spiced it, stuck a peeled apple in the cavity, placed it in the oven, and slammed the door.
“Respect me and I will respect you,” I said as I gaped at the turkey through the oven door window.
“How long will it take?” my husband asked as he entered the kitchen from reading by the fire.
“A few hours,” I suddenly remembered that I hadn’t put the turkey on the roasting rack in the middle of the oven.
“Can you help me with something?” I asked. “If I lift the turkey, will you help me move the rack up?”
I hoisted the 15-pounds of raw meat, and my husband adjusted the rack. (He was such a help when he wasn’t reading. By the fire.)
“Great! We’re all set!!!!” (I added a few extra exclamation points to cover up my mounting anxiety.)
“Mom, you should close the oven. Every time you open it, it loses heat,” called my 20-something daughter from the living room.
That’s when we lost another half-hour from the cooking time. The oven temperature dipped to a chilling 315.
Once the bird was back in the oven, I decided to grab a glass of cranberry juice. As I went into the fridge and moved a pint of heavy cream (which would later be whipped and served with pecan pie), the bag of green beans (which would later be sautéed with almonds), and the container of oysters (which would later go into the stew), I realized there was still so much to do before sitting down to our holiday meal.
Poking out from behind the oysters was a bag of fresh savory herbs that I had specifically bought to season the turkey.
Once again the turkey came out of the oven. I removed the apple core from its cavity and threw in the bouquet of herbs.
“How’s that turkey coming along?” someone called from the living room. I prayed that even more heat wouldn’t escape from the oven.
The telephone rang, and it was my sister, a culinary whiz known for grace in the kitchen. She was calling in from New Jersey.
“How’s it going? Do you have the bird in the oven yet?” she asked.
“I hate cooking turkey,” I whispered into the phone. “This is my last time. I swear. It’s too much pressure.”
“Oh, come on, Bonni. All you have to do is put it in the oven and wait for the plastic thing to pop up.”
Then I remembered that I also hadn’t wrapped the bird in cheesecloth, a technique she had taught me to help keep the turkey moist.
“There’s too much attention on this one single thing.” I was certain my Green Beans Almondine would not be judged in the same way as my turkey.
“I’ve got a ton to do,” I said. “Can we chat later?”
I imagined my sister already dressed in her velvet hostess skirt, and here I was sweaty and overheated in a black polar fleece that was covered in drips of everything I was making on the Thanksgiving dinner menu.
“How about some Vivaldi?” I shouted calmly (is that an oxymoron?) to my husband, who was on chapter 845 as he continued to read. (By the fire.)
I was counting on “Four Seasons” to mask my opening the oven, yet again, so that I could pull out the turkey and wrap it in cheesecloth. If anyone walked into the kitchen, I could always say, “I’m just giving the turkey a little basting.”
I had planned for a 4 o’clock sitting. By this time though, the turkey was barely cooked. Its white pallor mocked me.
My favorite comments of the next few hours were:
“When will the turkey be ready?”
“I thought we were going to eat early so that we didn’t feel too full later?”
“Did the thing pop up yet?”
Are you joking?
“It’s not quite ready. I promise it will be though,” I said.
“Well, did you test the temperature in the oven?” My son was back.
I hastily grabbed what looked like a meat thermometer from the drawer next to the stove. I stuck it in the bird and watched the temperature rise.
“See? It’s almost done,” I said.
“Mom, that’s not a meat thermometer,” he said. “It’s a wine thermometer, and it stops reading at 72 degrees!”
I grabbed my eyeglasses and watched the dial soar from “sparkling wine” to “dry white.” It blew past “Beaujolais,” “Chianti,” and “Port.”
Truth be told: I broke the wine thermometer using it as a turkey thermometer.
“Let’s just not look at the turkey for a few hours,” I begged my son as I slammed the oven door for the fifth time.
The red plastic gadget finally popped up. “Dinnertime!” was announced and I proudly placed the perfectly cooked turkey on the holiday table. The bird glowed and I enjoyed the oohs and aahs. We all held hands and shared what we were all most thankful for.
There was familial conviviality … until mid-laugh when someone inhaled a tiny piece of giblet in the stuffing and had to go to the emergency room. (I kid you not.)
Lessons learned that Thanksgiving?
#1: I hate all of the attention focused on the turkey. (Didn’t someone say that lobsters were plentiful on the shores of Massachusetts when the Pilgrims arrived? Would it be disrespectful to our founding fathers if I took a leap and served crustaceans?)
#2: Once again — through the drama of it all — there’s nothing like family and taking a moment to pause to count our many blessings.
Last year, I felt deeply grateful knowing I overcame my annual fowl phobia and had cooked my final turkey.
Until this Thanksgiving. (Why did I raise my hand to host again??)