I’ve never understood America’s loyalty to Thanksgiving turkey. In my experience, 90 percent of turkey served on Thanksgiving day is almost powder dry. Taking the risk of losing your mastication euphoria for a bite into the mythological “most juiciest turkey you’ve ever had” lie from hell just isn’t worth it. Why should I do that when there’s a ham sitting right beside it? One of my siblings, respectfully disagreeing, puts turkey on his plate every year. He says it’s the one state of denial he can get behind. There the chef sits among you, not eating, awaiting the voices of praise to break the silence while she secretly holds her breath, with bags under her eyes and flecks of flour at her temples...how could you possibly do anything other than smile at her expectant face and tell her another bold faced lie?-”The house looks amazing,” “You haven’t aged one bit,” “I’ve missed seeing everybody,” “The kids have been looking forward to coming,” and now, ”The turkey is so juicy!” How I do love my empathetic brother. I just can’t. I am an apt lab rat. Next station, please.
But in November of 2007, I became obsessed with figuring out how to do it. The urge was, in part, spawned by my need to relieve some stress. There’s something cathartic about squeezing sticky dough between my fingers, licking freshly made buttercream frosting off the spoon, working with the same ingredients my great grandmother would have when she was a girl. So I usually bake a cake or make chocolate chip cookies. But since it was Thanksgiving, homemade desserts were already on the menu, already a part of the “work load.” I needed something spontaneous and laborious.
After several hours of research, and deciding that baking my turkey with a can of mountain dew inside her, or breast down on a regular old saucer not rated for oven temperatures was too disconcerting, I found a technique that spoke to my need to control and let-go.
Wednesday, Thanksgiving Eve
I collect the deepest pot I have, fill it with water and salt and bring it to a boil. Once the water has cooled completely, I lower the turkey into the brine and set an alarm to go off eight hours later, at two o’clock in the morning.
Thursday morning, Thanksgiving Day
Holding the lid in my left hand and staring down at the clammy, hollowed out bird swaying in the salty water, I wonder how well my sanity will hold if all my hard work isn’t rewarded. Can my marriage survive it? Will my faith? As the turkey lays on a towel, skin drying, I wonder. Rubbing her down with butter, on and under the skin, I wonder. But somewhere between shaking her down with salt and pepper, and placing a small onion, fresh garlic cloves, and sage in her cavity, I forget to worry about my crumbling institutions.
The final turkey alarm goes off, breaking through the chaos of a kitchen in full holiday meal prep mode. Mac and cheese, dressing, and a brown sugar and pineapple ham are all waiting their turn to be transformed by heat and time. I take her from the hot aluminum pan to rest on a cool plate. My family assures me the turkey will be great because I’m a great cook. Their sentiment frustrates me. I say let’s not wait to find out.
We taste the bird.
The whole family, standing side by side in the kitchen, breaks out into moans of satisfaction and tiny happy hops. Such a bittersweet moment to look back on now. Because above our jubilee hangs the invisible din of my unrelieved burden. With a face full of worry I watch us eat and dance. The muscles around my mouth begin to twitch from holding conflicting expressions for too long. I have no idea I need a hug and to hear these two things: “You’re right about where you secretly fear your marriage is headed,” and “God’s not angry with you.” Instead, I hurry to the fridge and dig out a sweet potato pie. Sliced, reheated in the toaster oven, and triple dolloped with coolwhip, my salve is on its way down the chute. Two slices later, restoration complete, I’m officially in the holiday season, faith intact and married happily enough.
Nicole Brown spends most of her time making sure that children and animals are fed. She can be found hugging strangers and dancing in public.
As for charity, she’d like you to do a personal inventory of whatever you have an abundance of; e.g., money, time, food, common sense, street smarts, car repair knowledge, patience, good music, the stock market, then share that thing immediately with the next person you meet that needs it.