When November 2020 rolled around I was worn out. This year I find myself feeling burnt out. They are two different feelings. Worn out is more of exhaustion, whereas burnout is exhaustion times ten with a strong lack of optimism attached to it. So what of Thanksgiving 2020? Not many family members would be over, maybe one or two, it wasn’t going to be a big deal, and this is where I thought I could turn it to my advantage and boost my spirits.
I like to get a little fancy in the kitchen from time to time, I’m something of a gourmand. The rest of my family sometimes thinks my particular quirks about making large meals for gatherings are a bit much. “Oh, he’s so particular!” I’ve heard people say. I don’t think it’s all that weird to go all out on Thanksgiving. I’ll wear myself out to the edges of exhaustion and anxiety for an amazing meal on Turkey Day.
I am very particular, and that’s OK. When I’m in the kitchen doing Thanksgiving prep work I go into another world and get into the zone. If you hear ‘70s soul and funk playing loudly from my Kitchen on these days and nights it means I am working and do not disturb. To some, it may look like manic chaos, but I know what I’m doing and work best when I’m laser-focused. I’m also a perfectionist and have to contend with that. Yet sometimes I let my more lofty food desires go to make things better for everyone else.
Being that “stand out” gourmand is another one of those things that have always made me feel a bit alone in my interests. Those cries of “he’s so particular” just adds to a certain hyper self-awareness about it all. But it was 2020, a year that was a nightmare that we are still dealing with. I decided all bets were off. I was going to have my over-the-top, self-indulgent, perfect Thanksgiving. I was going to brine a turkey. I haven’t brined a turkey in years. I’ve missed it. Most of my family likes ham more, so we rarely even do the turkey on turkey day.
That’s fine. I get it. Turkey can be a bit played out. But when I apply my dry brine to a turkey and let it sit overnight in my fridge, magic happens. I smile, I feel intoxicated by life once again as I indulge in dressing, freshly baked rolls, mashed potatoes, roasted Brussel sprouts, and turkey and ham living together in peace and harmony on a plate with an illustration of a turkey on it I use only once a year. Reader, this is the one time I will allow you to say “He’s so particular!”
Intentions made clear, I laid out my menu. It got changed as the few family members that were coming wanted things a bit less…complicated…than I liked to get. I didn’t care though. I was going to have my brined turkey. I put all my focus and energy into this brined turkey. This was to be my moment in the sun in a year that was darkness and woe.
I walked into the grocery store and headed right to the frozen turkeys, “Eye of the Tiger” playing in my head. Some people fantasize about their 1980s movie montage moment, mine involves preparing food. I am a kitchen warrior, when people ask me what I’m doing in the kitchen and where I find my motivation, I look them in the eye and say “The North remembers.” Since I was going to be the only one having turkey, I went with a turkey breast over a full-sized bird.
I took the turkey breast home and placed it in my fridge so it could thaw. I went to my bedroom, sat down in a chair, and began to make a game plan on the calendar app on my iPad. I needed to have a roadmap so I would have precise plans for knowing exactly when what thing would go into the oven or on the stovetop. The Turkey breast I didn’t have to worry about, I would put the dry brine on the night before, then the day of I’d rinse it off and let it sit with a digital roasting thermometer inside one of the breasts.
Game plan set, I began to get ready. Tuesday I made the pies and readied the cornbread that I would let get stale overnight for my dressing. Wednesday was the big day. I was prepping things left and right, the sounds of James Brown floating all over the kitchen. I got my turkey breast out and it was thawed. I rinsed it off, patted it dry, and placed the dry brine mix all over and inside as well. I wasn’t going to let this go to waste. I had waited too long for this moment. I put it in the fridge overnight and said “Tomorrow you will taste victory.” OK, fine. Maybe “he’s so particular” is really “he’s borderline insane on Thanksgiving.”
The next day I rinsed the brine off the bird and patted it dry with paper towels. I rubbed a small amount of canola oil onto the skin to help it crisp, placed the thermometer inside one of the breasts, and put it in a hot oven. I figured it would be two to three hours. I had the digital brain box of the thermometer set to go off at 160, with carry-over heat to coast me to 165 as the bird rested. I went on with preparing the other foods.
It had been three hours and almost everything was done, but my thermometer hadn’t made a sound. I went over and looked. It showed the temp of the bird was 150. I thought this was odd, so I turned up the heat and on with it. I checked a half-hour later and it was only 153. I left it alone and began to prep things on the table, which is when I smelled smoke. I opened the oven door and saw that skin I thought would be golden brown and delicious was jet black.
Surprised, I took the turkey breast out and saw that the thermometer still said 153. I grabbed my trust instant-read thermometer and plunged it into the other breast to see what was going on. It hit 165, then 175, and finally settled on 190. Looking around I found that the inserted thermometer went through the side of the breast and was hanging out in the cavity. Reading the air inside it, instead of the meat.
Therein was a metaphor for Thanksgiving in the year 2020. Even the damn turkey was ruined. I sat down and ate my weight in mashed potatoes and dressing. I tried a piece of the turkey. It was rubber. I went to bed that night feeling defeated. I didn’t even try to roast one for Christmas. I can only hope this year is not a repeat of that. I hope we all have better turkeys this year, and in the year to come. Happy Thanksgiving.