Monday, Oct. 09, 2006
Dear Diary:

The final score: Marn 2, Turkey 2.

I have managed to attain the august age of 55 without ever cooking a turkey. Yes, it's true, I've never gone mano-a-mano with The Big Bird. This weekend was Canadian Thanksgiving, though, and with my mom-in-law in the convalescent home, the bird duties fell to me.

It's really hard to convey how unnerving I found this. At one point I joked to the daughter that I should have a bumper sticker on my butt similar to the one they put on big transport trucks, except instead of reading "How's My Driving?" my bumper sticker should read "How's My Stessing?"

I bought a 17 pound frozen turkey. I put it in the fridge on Wednesday to thaw, supremely confident that within two days it would stop doing an uncanny imitation of being a cold, beige rock and turn into something more bird like.

I was so very, very wrong.

I consulted the hive mind of the internet and found to my horror that it takes approximately three years to thaw a frozen turkey in a refrigerator. Air thawing, while infinitely quicker, was an invitation to death by food poisoning.

Yes, a turkey can be a lethal weapon. For a brief moment I imagined a row of gravestones in our local cemetery inscribed the names of my family and the epitaph "Turkeyed".

It seemed a less than festive way to celebrate a major holiday.

Thus was born Plan B. On the site Cooking For Engineers I learned of brining turkeys. I know that thawing other meaty treats in water is a safe way to thaw them, so I decided to brine/thaw my turkey simultaneously.

Which led us to the challenge of finding a non-reactive (ie stainless steel, glass or plastic) container large enough to hold a 17 pound turkey and several gallons of salted water. There was much arm waving and sniping between the spousal unit and I until an empty five gallon dry wall compound pail was procured, washed, lined with plastic and filled with salty water and The Bird.

The Bird, however, was not going to be brined without a fight. The Bird decided to bob. You might think that an apple and a 17 pound turkey have little in common, but it turns out they will both float.

It's amazing how much a person can hate 17 pounds of frozen, rock like turkey that refuses to stay completely submerged in its brine. Not that I would waste my personal energy hating 17 pounds of frozen, rock like turkey. Oh, no, not me. I am far, far too mature for that.

There were a few more sulphurous exchanges between the spousal unit and I until we got the bobbing problem settled.

I threw myself on the mercy of Mimi and my dear friend Annie for the stuffing. My mom-in-law used to create her stuffing as she went along, so she didn't have anything approaching a recipe.

Fine.

I dried out a loaf of French bread and sliced in into rounds and then ½" cubes. I sautéd a cup each of cooked onions and celery in ¼ cup of butter (Mimi uses 2 cups of each, but I don't like celery that much, so I cut it back). Then I mixed all that with 1½ tsp. sage, ½ tsp. summer savoury (because I didn't have poultry seasoning, which Mimi recommended), 1/8 tsp. ginger, 1 cup golden raisins, 1 Granny Smith apple chopped up in tiny bits (with skin on), 1 tsp. salt, ½ tsp. pepper in with the dried bread.

Why am I being so precise here? Because I am a crappy cook and when someone tells me to do something "to taste" I want to wail and gnash my teeth. I HAVE NO TASTE. EXACT MEASUREMENTS. I WANT EXACT MEASUREMENTS. This is my way of forever preserving how to deal with a turkey.

As per Mimi's instructions, I took out The Bird's gizzards and boiled them in a couple of cups of water (that cooked down to about 1 ½ cups of turkeylicious liquid) and used that to moisten the dressing. Annie warned me not to pack it hard into the bird's innards or it would turn into mush.

Cooking for Engineers recommended that I cut up an onion and a couple of carrots and dump them in my roasting pan with a cup of liquid before I put The Bird in. They also recommended I bake my turkey breast side down for half its cooking time and flip the bird over. This was to ensure moist white meat.

The spousal unit flipped The Bird. He's very good at Flipping The Bird.

We baked it without covering it in foil, which seemed complete and utter heresy, but the hive mind of the internet said that was the way to go, and who am I to argue with the hive mind? I also invested in a meat thermometer because Death By Semi-Cooked Turkey does not strike me as my kind of demise.

The daughter saved my skin, helping me make the 4,532 side dishes the family has come to expect for Thanksgiving. She also made The Best Gravy Evah. Had I been alone, I would have eaten nothing but The Gravy and The Stuffing.

She also told me that the turkey needed to rest at least half an hour after we took it out of the oven, so that the moisture, which was concentrated in the middle of the bird, would migrate back throughout all the meat. I wrapped the bird in foil and did what I was told.

How did it turn out? It was delicious. I could not believe it. The skin was a lovely, crispy golden brown. The meat was moist, tender, and amazingly tasty. The dressing was savoury without being overwhelming. The gravy made me weep softly with joy.

I had braced myself for one of those culinary disasters that are spoken of in families for generations. Instead, we all ended up eating so much that we spent the rest of the afternoon and evening in a turkey stupour.

There are no words for my relief.

The big sadness was that my mom-in-law is still too weak to leave the convalescent home, even for an afternoon, so she spent Thanksgiving there. It is very odd to spend a major holiday without our matriarch.

Things are going very well at the convalescent home. It's the former Anglican church parsonage in the village where I shop, about half an hour from where I live. With only seven residents and a warm, homey atmosphere, it's exactly the sort of place my mom-in-law needs.

The doors are open to visitors from 8 in the morning until 8 at night and we've all been told to just walk in, not to bother to knock. The couple who run the place are in their mid-30's—she's a registered nurse, he's a chef. They live on the premises and my mom-in-law has amazing care (and meals). I know, because I've been doing random drop ins just to scope the situation out. I'm very impressed.

Plus, there's two cats, Minou and Didi. I've often seen my mom-in-law with one or the other purring softly in her lap. As we all know, there is nothing more therapeutic than a purring cat.

Now, if we can only convince my mom-in-law to make more of an effort with her physiotherapy ….

One of my big regrets over the last few months is that I haven't been able to train for the Jog for the Jugs and I had to miss it last weekend in Montreal. I know better than to slack off totally on my cardio, which is one of the best stress busters out there, but I couldn't find the emotional energy to put in the time and effort it takes for me to get to the point where I can run three miles.

Now that the situation with my mom-in-law is more sorted out and I'm sure she's in good hands, I have less stress. Watching the elderly women at the convalescent home where my mom-in-law is has further convinced me that strength training to build the strongest bones I can possibly get is definitely the way to go.

I dread the thought of being bent over by osteoporosis, of being boxed in by a feeble body.

My trainer's pregnancy is going well and she will leave her job on December 1. Part of me is very happy for her, part of me resents that she insists on having a life of her own outside of the gym. Grumble grumble grumble grumble.

I keep telling myself that change is good.

I can change.

If I have to.

I guess.

--Marn

Mileage on the Marnometer: 628.88 miles. 10 per cent rubber duck10 per cent rubber duck10 per cent rubber duck10 per cent rubber duck
Oh, man, but I am having a hard time building back stamina. Ouch.


Goal for 2006: 1,250 miles - 2000 kilometers



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