Last week, I talked about what Thanksgiving can be like when you’re a perfectionist, and how to get ready so that you too will have a less stressful holiday. This week, I’m going to talk about how to get the best turkey for the meal, and what to do when the big day comes. As we all know, Turkey is the true star of the meal.
Frozen turkey is the most convenient way to buy a turkey, they tend to travel better than fresh birds, so you’re less likely going to wind up with a bruised bird. But, again, you’re going to want to make sure that the turkey you choose was frozen properly. For the sake of argument let’s say you need two, twelve-pound turkeys. The best way to make sure they were frozen correctly, is to place each bird right under each arm and hold them there for as long as you can stand. If you feel like frostbite is about to set in before five minutes is up, then your bird is good to go.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to remain calm as the big day gets closer. A day or two ahead of time, make as many dishes that you can cook ahead of time, to simply reheat later. All the side dishes, the stuffing, the mashed potatoes, the vegetables, the rolls are easy to do. Let’s focus on the turkey. I promise you, my friend, if you follow these next steps you will have a full success without the stress! If you have a second oven, I suggest you use it just to roast the turkey, that’s not essential though. What is essential, is that you develop an emotional bond with your turkey.
This starts as you begin the thawing process. Before placing your turkey in the fridge to thaw, cradle it in your arms like a newborn and sing “We’ve Only Just Begun.” If your spouse or common-law lover should walk in and look at you oddly, again, lock eyes with them and yell “I’m doing this for my family!” Music is key to keeping this emotional bond intact. When you prepare the turkey with a dry-brine (Don’t skip this, I’ll find out and cry), you should massage it in deeply while playing Barry White. Light candles around the kitchen too. Set that mood that says “I care about you, and thank you for making this great gift of yourself to my family.”
Thanksgiving truly begins the day before the actual holiday. On this day, you’re starting the brine for the turkey, and making as many of the do-ahead dishes as possible. I start this day, and Thanksgiving morning in a special way. I go to the quietest part of my house—the basement bathroom—and I begin a series of meditation and prayer. All culminating with the lighting of a small, jar candled that sits in front of a framed photograph of Julia Child. When I feel centered, I leave my basement bathroom and head for the kitchen.
If anyone gives you judgmental looks while you do this important test, lock eyes with them and yell, I’m doing this for my family!”
I put on my apron, crank my “Hardcore Cookin’” playlist, and begin. Coffee is my fuel of choice, I have my recipes all printed out and taped up on the cabinets. It half looks like a special cooking store had a baby with a homicide department’s evidence board. Cooking lasts all day, I have a notebook where I cross off what has been cooked, I make notes as I go for when they need to go in the oven to be reheated the next day. Fatigue sets in around the same time I have family arriving who are starting with me. This is when the music changes to a masterful blend of ‘70s Glam Rock. If I’m not standing on the dinner table using a turkey baster as a microphone, belting out “Ballroom Blitz” by Sweet, I’m not doing it right.
Thanksgiving day starts just as it did the day before. Meditation, prayer, the shrine to Julia. But this day is all about the turkey. Fully brined, I rinse the turkey off in the sink, pat it dry, and then place it on a roasting pan, and into the oven, it goes. I want my turkey to feel encouraged, so I tape a small paper pendant to the door of my oven that says “Go champ!” I can’t over-stress the importance of that emotional bond I was talking about enough. As the turkey roasts, the dishes reheat, the yeast rolls rise, the guests start to arrive.
Thus, a delicate balancing act begins. You must be social and welcoming to your guests, while also keeping track of how things are going in the kitchen. No one wants to eat an overcooked turkey because you were too caught up in a friend’s anecdote about the time their mother saw the puppeteer who was Alf at Disney World. If you’re an enterprising sort, you can keep this chatter going while also getting your friends and family to help you set the table with the special Thanksgiving china you have.
Now we will not assume anything goes wrong, as nothing WILL go wrong. But if something should come up, you must remain calm. Most families don’t worry so much about things going wrong with the food, as much as the conversation at the dinner table. There’s always the fear of politics rearing its ugly head and ruining the meal. I try to nip those conversations quick and early. In my backyard, I have a shed that I call the “work-it-out” shed. Anyone who engages in a political argument must go to the shed. The shed is full of Nerf foam bats, which I encourage people to hit one another with. I’ve seen people walk into the shed bitter enemies, then emerge later, arms around one another, wanting to get some FroYo.
I must confess my favorite part of Thanksgiving is the post-meal time. You’re full of food, you just ate a perfect piece of pie ever, you’ve had coffee, and you slump back into a deep chair. If you have a loving group of family and friends, they will do some of the dishes while you take a most deserving nap. Then, you awake refreshed, you have another cup of coffee. You put your arms around your dear friends and say “Risk, anyone?” The games begin, and you keep your cool as your friend slowly steamboats over all your armies and claims Kamchatka as his own. Thanksgiving can be stressful, overwhelming, and ripe to cause a breakdown. But following what I’ve laid out here, I hope you too will find it easy to pull off. Happy Thanksgiving!