Today I’m going to digress a bit from knitting to tell you about a recent life experience. It’s a long-ish story, but I promise that I’ll circle back to knitting at the end.
This past weekend, in honor of my grandparents’ 57th wedding anniversary, I cooked my very first turkey! Now, I consider myself to be fairly experienced in the kitchen. I routinely make my own stock, I’ve mastered the art of gravy, and I make a liver-and-onions dish that my husband and I actually look forward to eating. Each one of those speaks for itself. So, you will understand the depth of my trepidation when I admit to you that the idea of cooking a turkey has always been a bit intimidating. Now, having joined the ranks of Turkey Cookers, I can honestly say that I’ve learned a great deal. Here is a list of things that I learned this weekend:
1. A 23-pound bird is an ambitious first turkey.
I didn’t really have a choice on this one (okay, so I did and I didn’t). I found my turkey on clearance at the farm where I buy my milk. He was left over from last Thanksgiving, and he looked very sad and lonely in their freezer. Probably every sane person who looked in that freezer said to themselves, “Uh, that’s never going to fit in my freezer, let alone my oven!” But as my family and friends can attest, I’ve never let sanity stand in the way of a good meal. I decided that if Mr. Unwanted Turkey was still there when I returned to the farm in two weeks, I would bring him home to roost in my freezer. I would let fate decide.
Fate was tempted; fate replied. Two weeks later, I was the proud owner of a 23-pound turkey. When I hauled it in the house, I’m sure my husband was thinking, “I didn’t know they sold ostriches!” What he actually said was, “Wow! THAT’S A TURKEY!” Mr. Turkey remained snuggled in my freezer until early last week, when I took him out to thaw. My mom and step-dad brought their electric roasting pan over to see if he would fit. It was iffy, and we were all hoping that he would squish down a little once he was fully thawed (he did).
2. It is entirely possibly to stab yourself with a large, blunt-tipped darning needle.
My boss, Joe, loves food just as much as I do. Whenever I need culinary advice, he’s usually the first one that I ask. So, when I mentioned to him that I had volunteered to cook a giant turkey for my grandparents’ anniversary party and had no idea how I was going to accomplish said feat, he suggested that I cook the turkey in a paper bag. I’ll admit that I was very skeptical at first, but after a quick Google search and reading rave reviews on the paper-bag method, I was sold. I eventually decided to use this recipe.
Evidently, being able to seal the paper bag well is crucial to the success of the turkey, so my recipe had detailed directions on how to extend the paper bag in the event of a very large turkey (check!). Basically, you extend the first bag by cutting off the bottom of a second bag and using its body to lengthen the first bag. The recipe mentioned that I could either staple the two layers together or baste them with kitchen twine. Since my stapler is itty-bitty, I opted for the basting method. It worked well, but that is how I learned lesson #2.
3. Cats are right–paper bags are fun to play in!
I’ve had many kitties in my life, and I can’t think of one that was ever able to resist the lure of an open paper bag. I got a chance to try it myself this weekend, and I think there’s something to it. My recipe instructed me to butter the inside of the bag, and there’s really only one way to do it–you must plunge your entire upper half into the bag (because it’s lengthened, remember?) along with the softened butter and go to it! My mom held the bag (and laughed uproariously; I don’t blame her) while I buttered every inch of the inside of the bag. (As a side note, I really don’t recommend sleeves for that part.)
4. Handling organ meats makes my mom queasy.
I knew this one already, but the reinforcement was funny. I have a feeling she’s the type that takes the bag of giblets out and throws it away. Me? Waste not, want not. I want all those nutrients to cook into the bird, and when the bird is done, I’ll throw them in with the bones to make stock. Also, this bird was no-frills, which meant that there was no neat little bag for the giblets. I took them out, and we set them aside in a bowl while we prepped the turkey; however, when it came time to stuff the turkey, my hands were all buttery, so she was forced to handle and rinse the organs. To add insult to injury, some of them were still attached to each other, which necessitated the use of kitchen shears. Poor Mom! (It was my turn to laugh uproariously, then; she doesn’t blame me, either).
5. It takes a village.
Putting a giant, buttered turkey into a giant, buttered paper bag takes several people. I counted three, but if you count the person guarding the kitchen against dogs and kittens (my husband), the total count would be four. Everyone helped. When the bag was finally stapled shut and the turkey safely in the roaster oven, we all breathed a sigh of relief. Five hours later, we discovered that it takes two people to lift a giant, hot turkey from a roaster oven.
6. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
The turkey was perfect. In fact, it was almost too tender, if such a thing exists. Everyone loved it, and it cleaned very nicely. After a couple days of reflection, I have to wonder–why was I so intimidated? I very rarely make a recipe that doesn’t turn out, so what was I so worried about? I’m forced to admit that it was fear, plain and simple. Not fear of disappointing myself, but fear of disappointing others, fear of the unknown. My step-dad, John, makes a to-die-for, melt-in-your-mouth, brine turkey; and I think that, deep down, I was afraid that everyone would be eating my turkey and wishing that John had made the turkey instead. (John was very kind to make a ham as a back-up, in case the turkey didn’t turn out; he makes great ham, too!)
This unusual clarity of self-reflection has led me to wonder if fear is one of the reasons that I don’t knit for others very often. I tell myself (and others) that it’s because I don’t have the time, but I have to wonder if fear might play an element as well. After all, it’s difficult to determine if others will like what I make for them. Will they find it too itchy? The wrong color? The wrong style? Or maybe, just maybe, will it become a beloved item that they reach for again and again, eventually wearing it to death and begging me for another? I’ve decided it’s best to look on the bright side. Just like the turkey, I’m going to bring my best to the table and have a little faith. The surest recipe for failure is to not try at all.