I'll never cook turkey again. It's too stressful having one food that is the focal point of one meal. At the Thanksgiving dinner table, all eyes are on the bird and my once-per-annum self-induced culinary panic circles around whether my turkey will be judged as succulent or dry, well-glazed or burnt. Would I have calculated correctly the number of guests vs. appetite vs. leftover ratio?
This year I brined the turkey the night before. When I took it out of the refrigerator on Thanksgiving morning, the salty/sweet brine had blobbed 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 the 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 and 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. I tried to cover up and casually opened the oven door.
"Can you help me with something?" I asked. "If I lift the turkey will you slip the rack under it?"
I hoisted the 15 lbs. 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 be sautéed with almonds), the container of oysters (which would 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 cranberry juice was a bag of fresh savory herbs that I had specifically bought to season the turkey.
Once again the bird came out of the oven. I removed the apple and tossed the bouquet into the cavity.
"How's that turkey coming along?" someone called from the living room as I prayed even more heat hadn't escaped from the oven.
The telephone rang and it was my sister, a culinary whiz known for her grace in the kitchen.
"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."
It was then that I remembered that I also hadn't wrapped the bird in cheese cloth, a technique she had taught me to help keep the turkey moist.
"There's too much attention on this one single thing," I whispered. 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 in her velvet hostess skirt, and here I was sweaty and overheated in a black polar-fleece that was covered in drips and blobs 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 crazillion as he continued to read. (By the fire.) I was counting on The 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? The turkey had at least more three hours.
"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.
From the drawer next to the stove, I hastily grabbed what looked like a meat thermometer. 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 glasses and watched the dial soar from "sparkling wine" to "dry white." It blew past "Beaujolais," "Chianti," "port" and "good red." 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 timer 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 ooohs and aaaahs. We all held hands and shared what we were all most thankful for.
Familial conviviality ensued... until mid-laugh, when someone inhaled a tiny piece of stuffing and had to go to the emergency room. (I kid you not.)
Lessons learned this 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?)
And #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. I felt deep gratitude knowing that I overcame my annual poultry phobia and had cooked my last turkey... until next Thanksgiving.