I had a minor turkey crisis this evening – and there’s still 14 hours before the bird goes in the oven. Hope this isn’t a sign of some impending holiday disaster.
Knocks on pressed wood.
(Stupid cheap prefabricated computer desk…)
I was busy making dinner. Macaroni and cheese, from scratch, because I must be a glutton for punishment. Seriously, who goes to a lot of trouble preparing a fancy home-cooked meal the evening before The Biggest Cooking Day Of The Year? I should have taken it easy and ordered a pizza or something. Only there’s the whole being unemployed thing to consider, plus two growing kids, which would have meant either a ginormous Family Size deal, or multiple pizzas. Frugality won out. I had macaroni on hand. I had cheese. I had the other ingredients, so I sucked it up and started cooking.
I opened the refrigerator to grab the milk, and that’s when I spied it: a pool of red liquid seeping over the bottom shelf, and dripping into the meat and produce trays beneath.
“Wow!” K2 (my daughter) exclaimed. “The turkey exploded!”
Well, okay, it didn’t actually explode. The turkey had been defrosting in the fridge since late last week, and somehow a good portion of blood had seeped out of the bag. Still, this was not good. I had water boiling for the pasta, butter melting in a pan, and a major mess on my hands requiring my immediate attention. Putting dinner aside, I busied myself removing shelves and trays and blood-soaked bags of hot dogs and celery. I salvaged what I could – which was pretty much everything, thanks to tight Ziploc bags – but it took quite awhile to clean everything up. And then, because I had the turkey sitting on the counter, and I was planning to brine the thing anyway, I figured there was no time like the present. I would have been doing this tonight, anyway. Just not in the middle of making dinner.
Do you know how hard it is to brine a turkey? Last year I did it in an ice chest in my garage, but was worried the whole time that the temperature wasn’t cold enough. Nobody came down with salmonella, so that fear was for naught, but regardless, I told myself I’d either find some heavy-duty brining bags this year and keep it in the fridge, or just forego brining altogether. You have to understand, I’m a self-professed foodie, so not brining the turkey would have left me feeling empty inside. Even though I’ve been cooking turkeys every Thanksgiving for many years without ever brining them, but that’s neither here nor there. Fortunately, on my trip downtown last week, I stopped at Sur La Table (which is not pronounced “Sir La Tay-bull” but, rather, “Sir La Tob” – oops, my apologies to any Frenchies I might have offended with my funny Yankee pronunciation, although in my defense, we do not sit down to eat at “the dining TOB” here in the good ol’ U.S. of A) and found a package of turkey brining bags. Best of all, they were 40% off. So I bought them. It’s a package of two, so guess what I’ll be doing 365 days from now? Anyway, I muscled open the bag, and this thing is huge. It looks like you could park a cadillac inside.
Step one: fill with 2.5 gallons of water. I’m no math whiz, so I raced upstairs and consulted Dr. Google for a handy, dandy conversion table. That worked out to 40 cups of water. OK, I can handle that. I got a giant soup pot to place the bag in, and spent the next several minutes filling it with water from my 2-cup measuring cup. Took forever, but man, my biceps are going to be ripped now! I then dutifully measured and added the required amounts of kosher salt, sugar, thyme, bay leaves, peppercorns, allspice, and garlic. Mixed it all together until the sugar and salt dissolved, and then it came time to add the turkey to the bag. I quickly realized this was a two-person task, so I called K1 (son) over. He lifted the turkey and gently put it in the bag, which I then sealed up. It’s like a hangar-sized Ziploc bag with a double fastener closure. And, I might add, a very heavy-duty plastic that feels like a bullet could bounce off it. Nevertheless, I was a nervous wreck, carrying this turkey-taking-a-bath to the now-clean refrigerator. I placed it in there, and then spent another ten minutes shifting it around, moving it, propping it up, turning it this way and that, trying to position it just right so that it’s covered in water and the top of the bag is facing UP, just in case the inevitable worst-case-scenario transpires. Which, I have to admit, has me a little on edge, even now. I know the bag will be okay. I’m confident it won’t rip or split open along the seams. Yet, stranger things have happened, and so I doubt I’ll rest easy until the time comes tomorrow morning to transfer the turkey from the fridge to the roasting pan.
Whoever said the holidays were stressful wasn’t kidding!
I finally finished making dinner, we ate, I cleaned up, and now I’m taking a much-deserved break. But only for a few minutes. Because there’s still a pumpkin pie to be made (from scratch, including the crust), eggs to hard boil, and perhaps it would be wise to get a head start on the cranberries so I’m not totally bombarded with cooking tomorrow. After all, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is on in the morning, and I’m usually so busy I only catch bits and pieces of it. I’d like to be able to relax a little more this year and actually sit down to enjoy it, but I doubt that will happen. Every year, I take it upon myself to whip up this amazing meal for the entire family, parents included. (See above: glutton for punishment).
It’s all worth it in the end, though. I have always cherished Thanksgiving more than any other holiday. There’s something about the combination of a warm home filled with the wonderful aroma of cooking food while being surrounded by loved ones that makes this guy feel good all the way to his very soul.
That, and our annual ritual of watching Planes, Trains And Automobiles. Steve Martin and John Candy. “Those aren’t pillows.” The best Thanksgiving movie ever made, hands down.
What Thanksgiving traditions do you have? Is there anything you do that makes the holiday extra special? Besides stuff your face full of food, of course…