Turkey Day 2009

Thanksgiving could be one of my favorite holidays because it is a holiday solely centered around eating.  Other holidays are centered around a religious or historical event but Thanksgiving is the only one I can think of that is completely focused on people sharing food.  Over the past seven years I have spent Thanksgiving away from my family but I still continue to get excited about this holiday year over year because I get to spend it with my adopted family here in Ontario, my friends whose families also live in some other part of the world (and friends who are celebrating Thanksgiving with their own families on a different day).  The first year was a bit of a disaster in the kitchen.  The turkey wasn’t completely thawed and we cooked it upside down.  Although we had to finish cooking some of the turkey slices on the bbq before we could eat it, it never deterred us from celebrating this holiday every year since.

Over the years we began perfecting the art of cooking turkey.  We’ve experimented with a wide array of spices, differing amounts of butter, different time intervals for basting, stuffed vs. non-stuffed, different temperatures and different original Nintendo games to play while the bird is in the oven (we realized a number of years ago it takes almost the exact amount of time to beat every level of Mario 3 as it does to cook a turkey…coincidence…some would say so…I call it fate).

super-mario-bros-3Now I’m going to let you in on a little secret to cooking turkey.   If you want a great tasting turkey you are going to have to set aside all your health concerns and let your arteries take the hit for one glorious meal (and many subsequent sandwiches).  The evolution of my turkey preparation has been driven by many years of watching cooking shows and listening to my mother’s advice.  First there was salting and spicing the inside cavity.  Brilliant!  Thank you food TV.  Then there was buttering the turkey, not only on the surface but under the skin.  “Wow Mom. That’s genius!”  The array of spices has evolved over time with the various iterations but mostly driven by what was available in the kitchen.  This year, while lying in bed before the day of cooking I came up with creating a spice paste that I could rub all over every surface of the turkey.  

DSC09348When I cook I don’t take exact measurements, which a lot of people find surprisingly considering my extensive chemistry background (maybe that’s why my organic chemistry lab partner hated me).  Anyways,  I took several generous spoonfuls of margarine and dumped it into a fairly large bowl.  Next I took almost every spice I had and threw healthy portions of them into the bowl.  This includes dehydrated vegetables (onions, red bell peppers, leeks, tomatoes, carrots), parsley, garlic, celery seed, bay, basil, oregano, thyme, coriander, cumin, mustard, rosemary, chili power, paprika, sea salt, fresh ground pepper, some brown sugar, corn starch and bread crumbs, all in various proportions based on how much I had or the strength of the spice.  I began to stir and what emerged was a thick paste that smelled delightful.  Next I began separating that skin of the turkey from the meat and began filling the void in between with the paste.  Next I began covering the surface of the inside cavity with the paste and then rubbing the entire exterior of the turkey with the paste.  Once the entire bird was covered, I stuffed the bird with stuffing with a couple extra diced apples.  Once of this was done, I took a few dry spices and sprinkled a light layer on top of the entire turkey again.  During the basting process this usually falls off and into the turkey drippings which makes for a very tasty gravy.

DSC09350Once the bird was in the oven, we began playing Mario 3 and at every castle or leap to the next world I would check on the bird and baste (typically in 20 minute intervals).  This year we realized we really sucked at Mario 3 so we only made it to world 5 before we decided to call it quits and play another game.  As the final hour was approaching I began the mad dash to get all the other dishes done so that everything finishes at approximately the same time.  There is the garlic mash potatoes, the extra stuffing that doesn’t come out of the bird, a mandarin orange salad (an attempt at “healthiness”), cranberry sauce (which we just pour right out of the can) and dessert, apple crisp.  I had a friend in the kitchen with me preparing the apple crisp and we soon realized that was too much apple and not enough crisp.  This had been a problem before several years ago which resulted in three separate batches of apple crisp: one with too much cinnamon, one too much brown sugar and one with too much butter.  I think we just started throwing random amounts of stuff in when we realized we had cut up too many apples.  They were all still pretty good but I guess too much of any of these things has to be good.  The impromptu mixture of more crisp actually worked out well this year and the apple crisp was a nice way to cap off the meal.  I know this may look at a little crisp heavy on the top but considering the amount of margarine we figured it would all flow through the layers…and it did…and it was awesome!

DSC09352When all the food is on the table, every year I can’t help but stand back and look at the final product and the look of excitement on everyone’s face.  The aroma of the cooked bird permeates that entire room.  The steam coming off the food adds humidity to the room, which combined with the heat of the cooling oven provides a homely warmth.  Then we begin carving.  First pulling off the legs and wings and seeing the dark meat fall of the bones and into a pool of its own juices.  Then, carefully carving the breast into thick white slices.  This year you could smell the spices as each slice of the knife cut off another layer of meat and you could see the juices within the meat glistening in the light of my tiny dining area.  The food is passed around until everyone has a bit of everything and we dig in.

DSC09353We have come a long way since that first botched turkey.  The general consensus among our Thanksgiving regulars believed that this could have been the best one yet.  As we savored each bite, we shared some laughs, reminisced about old times, and caught up on recent events in our current lives. We all left the table full, satisfied and smiling.  After the cleanup, which was amazingly efficient this year, a few of us shared cigars out on my balcony.  A friend of mine made an interesting comment saying that your friends are the family members you choose.  I took a moment to think about that and realized that even if I wasn’t related to any of my siblings, I would still want to be friends with them and would have invited them over for Thanksgiving had they lived in the area.  I’m really thankful to have a great family that I would have chosen if given the choice and a group of friends I can consider family.  Thanks for a great night everyone and come over for turkey sandwiches so I can clear out some space in my fridge (I made a turkey sandwich today that I will describe by layer: toasted bread, thin layer of garlic mash potatoes, thick layer of light and dark meat turkey, medium sized layer of stuffing, and cranberry sauce spread on the second piece of toast).  Each bite is like experiencing the whole meal all over again…

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~ by jlowjlow on October 12, 2009.

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