This year, we were back in the Midwest for Thanksgiving. Normally, regardless of where I am in the country, I try to make it back for Thanksgiving with my family. I managed it five out of six years that I was in Chicago before, and made it back when I was in Seattle. However, that was because I was working with fish. The week of Thanksgiving, for someone who sells turkeys, can be demanding at the least, and hellish at best. Although my arms and back felt it from lifting pallets of turkeys off of our refrigerated truck, my experience usually fell somewhere in between, and even though I was only but two hours away from home, the schedule of making it anywhere but a friend’s house was looking more and more slim as time went on. My schedule was to work the night before until 11:30 PM, with Thanksgiving Day off, and a late morning midshift the day after. Travelling by myself, I could do, but I wouldn’t wish the hectic travel-sit-eat-sleep-lounge-travel on anyone.

As I rarely find out my work schedule more than a week in advance, I didn’t know until about Wednesday that I was working straight through until Thanksgiving, although I could have guessed. In the week leading up to the day, I spent what little free time I had in the store shopping for goods. Turkey? Check (lovely brined bird from Minnesota). Big Bag of potatoes? Check. Sundry vegetables? Check. Although I am the son of my father (the same one known in a multi-county area as the man who entered his pies into the county fair with the symbol for male etched into the crust), I set my foot down at dessert. I cannot make pie, and I personally don’t care to bake things.

We were in contact with friends of ours, with whom we would have just a small, four person meal. I am content with a meal of any size or stature, but it soon became apparent that we were going to have a lot of food.

The menu went as follows:

Thanksgiving 2010

Turkey

Stuffing (sausage)

Stuffing (vegetarian)

Celebration Field Roast (Vegan)

Roasted Yams

Mashed Potatoes with Caramelized Shallots

Brie and Chive Biscuits

Brussels Sprouts with Chestnuts

Marinated Olives

Cheese and Crackers

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Apple Pie

 

For four people. Did we make all of that stuff? Yes, yes we did. And not only did we do it, but we did it in a kitchen with a tiny stove and an oven previously without a temperature gauge.

As the ladies were furiously chopping vegetables in the other room, I was getting a handle on the dial on the oven. I asked Abigail at what temperature she figured the oven was sitting.

“About 300.”

Okay, cool. That’s about the temperature that we want the turkey to start. Twenty minutes later, cheesecake comes out, turkey goes in, covered with foil. Time? 3:10 P.M.

In the meantime, we chop and steam the brussels sprouts, boil potatoes, caramelize shallots, sautee the root vegetables, make biscuit dough, crank out some stuffed mushroom appetizers, and sit down for a drink. These periods of downtime, however brief they are at Thanksgiving, are always welcome. It just so happens that we worked very well together, and without the intrusion of a child yelling that their brother/cousin hit them or whining about some sense of entitlement. I prefer occasions where relaxing is what it’s all about. We got to pet some dogs instead, who were very good at not getting in the way.

I like that there is a turkey in the oven. I like that that there are Christmas cookies. What I like even more is your company, and if we’re going to be running back and forth to the kitchen to refill the holiday bowl of chex mix, that’s not the quality time I’m looking for.  Refilling the kettle of cider or mulled wine? Different story.

***

About two hours later, I check the oven. It’s still warmish. The turkey is still pinkish. I squint at the dial. I can barely make out the etching of “200” that has been rubbed clean of ink, and the hash marks that denote 25(?) degrees increments.

I’m getting hungry. Foil comes off, sharpie comes out, and I turn it up to where I think 350 will be, knowing full well that it’s anybody’s guess. When it comes to cooking a turkey, what I’ve told everyone this year is the same basic thing- 15-18 minutes a pound at 325, pull the foil off and brown the skin for the last thirty minutes.

But what do you do if you’ve been steaming it at 225 for 2.5 hours? I may know in principle how to cook a turkey, but when it comes to adjusting the preparation to meet a new standard of expectations, that’s where I excel.

I’ve been hard on myself for a long time in the kitchen, because I was never the guy in the kitchen who could sear off the perfect steak, or poach a perfect egg. Most people weren’t. Those who were went on to own their own restaurants. They’re the true workhorses. My expertise was in flavor and balance. Of course, this year, I bought the brined turkey at work. If someone out there is brining a high end turkey for their business, or rather doing tens of thousands at a time, I figure they’re doing it right, or at least making it taste better than a regular turkey. It’s all about making it easier for yourself around the holidays.

In any case, I turned up the heat, pulled off the foil, and seasoned the bird with hope.

Sure enough, half an hour later, it looked done. Thanks, indeed.  I pulled it out and let it rest on the counter for the twenty minutes while we played the waiting game/side-dish-in-the-oven-shuffle.

It all worked out. The turkey was moist and delicious, with a couple charred bits of skin from butter under the skin. Still, I’m quite proud of myself, and impressed with our hosts that we were able to complete such a delicious dinner in such a short period of time. It tasted good. It was a relaxed atmosphere where we could complete the cooking at our leisure. The beverages flowed, and we all got progressively better at Wii Bowling as the night waned.

 

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