Thursday, November 22, 2012

Turkey Day

This year, I cooked a turkey! By myself. For two weeks, I was excited I’d have a guest for dinner and would (finally) cook and serve and eat Thanksgiving dinner in my own home, which I’ve co-owned with Bank of America for five years this week. As grateful as I am for my friends who took me in for previous Thanksgivings celebrations when I wasn’t back home with my own family, seeing their family’s interaction and love made me miss my own family even more.

The reason I’d have a guest was my gal pal Sharon found a job with good pay and benefits after looking for one for far too long, and she was scheduled to work on the holiday and the day after, preventing her from traveling with her husband and three kids to visit family. Her family’s loss was my gain and I jumped on it.

Turkey masterpiece.
The plan was to have dinner after Sharon was done working, which gave me the luxury of all day to prepare. If I had 7 or 8 hours free from obligations and dedicated to the sole purpose of creating one meal, there would be great stuff marching out of my kitchen more often.

The day kicked off with a light breakfast and walk with the dogs, then into the kitchen I went (with frequent trips to the computer and TV and outside with the dogs). Five pounds of potatoes were sentenced to the oven. The 11-pound turkey was liberated from it’s briny bath, which somehow resulted in me having one leg doused in turkey salt water from thigh to hem. There was no rack small enough for the roasting pan, including the little one from the toaster oven, so my inner engineer built a set of celery stalk rails to elevate the bird from the bottom of the pan at least until they got mushy and collapsed.

Spices were mixed for the turkey and the dressing. That’s when the folly of clearing kitchen cabinets and getting a jump on packing to move hit the spotlight. The marble mortar and pestle, practically never used but now needed to grind the rosemary needles, was in a box somewhere in the basement. At least the metal meat mallet was still in the drawer, and was enlisted to pulverize the rosemary by beating it between two paper plates. The dogs were a little worked up over the violence of it.

When the baked potatoes were done and ready for mashing, the utensil drawer revealed the absence of the potato masher, which is when I remembered the plastic one I had broke a couple years ago. Apparently, I don’t mash much stuff. I peeled the skins off the potatoes, cut them up in a bowl and mashed them against the side with a spoon.

By this point, thanks were going up for good old Yankee ingenuity. Or whatever leads to improvisational skills.

Pork, potato, celery, bread dressing! 
The dressing was mixed without major incident -- just the annoyance of two dogs underfoot, noses twitching from the savory scents of sage sausage. They nearly went apoplectic with joy when given the sauteed turkey giblets.

Fresh cranberries were converted into a super easy and delicious mixture of one bag of cranberries, orange juice and sugar that  took ten minutes to mix, then went into the fridge to chill and thicken. Thank you Internet. I would be lost without you. And my eagerly awaited leftover turkey, stuffing and cranberry sandwiches would suck with no cranberries.

Luckily, the two and a half bags of sugar in the pantry that turned out to be two bags of flour and not a lot of sugar held just enough sugar for the cranberries and the bread pudding. For a minute I was holding my breath and wondering if I’d need to go banging on some neighborhood doors, measuring cup in hand, but I got lucky and thankfully, there was no begging.

Bread was cubed for chocolate bread pudding. The recipe calls for a 1.5 quart baking dish, the search for which led to all glass baking vessels being dragged out of the cabinet and inventoried -- 1 Qt, 2 Qt, 6 cup, 8 x 8, 9 x 9, 9 x 13. Good grief. Finally, suitable baking dishes were found for baking the pudding and the dressing and reheating the mashed potatoes in the oven.

Thanks to the Internet and a two week pre-holiday marathon of reading about turkey, I was versed in the baste / no baste debate. The absence of a turkey baster set me, purely by default, in the no-baste camp. At least I had a pastry brush to brush on a mixture of melted butter, olive oil and spices before the turkey went into the oven for a three hour tour.

And when it all came it out, it was pretty. And tasty. While the fire detectors chirped in the most obnoxious and annoying manner all day, even with batteries swapped and then removed completely, there was no smoke and no need for emergency services, which logs a success in my mind. 

Chocolate red wine accompanied the meal. Sharon brought rum cake. We ate too much. It was a great day! And there are leftovers.

For all this, and much, much more, I am thankful.

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