Turkey Troubles

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I haven’t cooked a turkey in about 40 years.

The last one I cooked I was a newlywed, living in an apartment over a music teacher in Yonkers, NY. It was sort of funny that the street was called “Valentine Lane.”

My late father-in-law was a chef and perhaps the original “foodie”…he had his own way of doing things and in his latter years he was an institutional chef and caterer in high schools and for the local Archdiocese. You never wanted to ask him for a recipe because he specialized in large quantities and sometimes had trouble reducing the amount of the ingredients. For example, a question about how to make his eggplant parmigiana was explained this way, “First, you buy a case of eggplants. Then you need 10 pounds of mozzarella and a gallon of tomato sauce…” Even, I, who tend to still cook like I am a family of five, when I am a family of one, wouldn’t make that much eggplant parmigiana.

So, it fell on me to “have” Thanksgiving this year. I was delighted since having become the grande dame of the family and while living on the east coast, the kids had taken over that responsibility. I thoroughly enjoyed being the guest, but part of me still missed the preparations and anticipation of the big feast. So, being “called back into service” this year worked just fine for me.

Herein lies the first dilemma: For just about our entire marriage, The Ex cooked the turkey.

He was a huge asset in the kitchen, having that same culinary ability that his Dad had and his turkeys were always perfection. Me, not so much. The last turkey I cooked I couldn’t find the bag of giblets and just assumed that I’d been shorted the innards in this particular bird. That was the real reason it was the last turkey I cooked. Luckily I didn’t poison anyone…it looked perfect on the outside but after a few deft cuts by my chef father-in-law, the smoldering plastic bag launched itself from the cavity of the bird right onto the serving platter. Oopsie.

So, since I had filled both refrigerators to the brim with everything I needed to feed 11 people, there was no room in either fridge to store the bird prior to Thursday. I discovered that a local grocery store was open Thanksgiving  morning and opted to order it from there and pick it up the day of.

That part worked seamlessly. Since there were plenty of parking spots in the lot, I zipped in and out, toting the huge bird in the shopping cart.  Since the store clerk had placed in my cart for me,  I had no idea how heavy it actually was…until I got home.

Black Beauty swept into the garage, I popped open the trunk and attempted to lift the 27 pound sucker out.  Now I have grand-children who weighed that much at various times in their lives, but this turkey didn’t have arms and legs to wrap around me to help balance the weight on my torso. I  looked at the hand truck stowed in the corner of the garage and for a minute thought about using that to get it up the few steps and into the house. Then I realized that living where I do, no doubt someone would happen by and see me taking dinner into my home on a dolly and that could prove to be very embarrassing. So I sucked it up and dragged the thing into the house in its shopping bag.

I hoisted it up onto the kitchen counter, moaning as it landed with a very loud splat on top. I cut the wrapper off and that was when I noticed that this poor turkey was actually deformed. That’s a picture of it at the top of this blog. It had one wing and a “flipper.” It made me sad. I wondered if it had been made fun of by the other turkeys on the farm. Perhaps he’d struggled growing up and now he wound up dead in my kitchen, the centerpiece of my family’s holiday. Before I got too carried away bemoaning the life of this bird, I decided I’d better not assign it a personality (or a name) because it would not bode well for my getting it ready to cook and then, ultimately, eat it.

Next dilemma: how would I get it into the sink to wash it? I wasn’t sure if you needed to wash it but it seems like one should always clean poultry before cooking…I decided to “sponge bathe” it with the baster. The oven would be hot enough to kill any lingering bacteria. So that was what I did.

Then I remembered to look for the gizzards. I’d already pulled out the neck and the heart, which were sticking out of, well, the place that they stick those things when you buy a turkey. Once removed, the opening into the bird was enormous. It looked like a small cave. I didn’t like it at all, but I stuck my hand in there (practically up to my elbow) and felt around for a bag of some sort. It made me think of my annual visits to my gynecologist and to me, this wasn’t any more fun than being on the receiving end of the exploration. It was pretty yucky inside there. I thought I felt something “loose” at the neck end of “Flipper” (okay, so I did give it a name. I can’t help myself.) but couldn’t quite figure out if it were part of the cavity or something just stuck there. I couldn’t see, so I pulled out the flashlight I keep under the sink and peered inside the big bird.

I wish I hadn’t. It was downright scary and disgusting. However, I did locate a very small bag, wedged in the neck opening which had some part of “Flipper” that I hesitate to describe. Down the garbage disposal this went.

I finally got it into the pan but it refused to sit straight. At one point I thought about propping it up with potatoes. Then I remembered that in my google search of how to cook a turkey they mentioned something about sticking carrots and onions in with the bird. So I propped up his wing…and his flipper…with fat carrots to steady his ship as I launched it into the oven.

I got in there with a good bit of groaning…on both my part…and the rack in the oven, which apparently wasn’t set quite right. In my attempt to get that in its proper locked position I somehow tilted the whole shelf and Flipper came flying at me like a downhill skier on an icy slope. I stopped it with my knees, which now bear two linear bruises where the pan smashed into them. Thankfully, I had just put the pan in so it wasn’t hot or I would have two burn marks on top of the two bruises. However, the broth that I’d put in the pan shloshed out onto the oven door and proceeded to drip on the freshly washed floor.

My googling the turkey cooking resulted in a formula that said 13 minutes per pound. I took out the calculator and multiplied the weight of the turkey by 13 and then divided it by 60. I was thankful to Sister Eva Marie who taught me algebra even though I didn’t want to learn it since this was one of those awful a x b ÷ c = a cooked turkey.

I didn’t want to take any chances, so I put two meat thermometers in it.

According to the first one, the turkey was done in 90 minutes. The second one didn’t even move for the first three hours. Purely by trial and error, it got cooked, was done 45 minutes ahead of schedule (despite my careful calculations) and was slightly dryer than it should have been.

Well, by the time we sat down to dinner we’d gone through three or four bottles of champagne, a couple of bottles of wine, about five beers and a half case of soda. No one really cared if it was the perfect bird or not. I was just happy that I’d won the battle … sort of … and Flipper fulfilled his purpose in life, despite his obvious handicap.

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