Friday, November 20, 2009

True Confessions of a Holiday Cook...

I really, really didn't want to blog about this. I have done everything in my power to sweep this memory under the rug of my mind. But it refuses to go away, so my hope is that blogging about this experience will be both cathartic for me and keep other young housewives from having to go through the same pain. It all started with the culturally indoctrinated part of my brain that we'll call the "guilt center". You know what I am talking about, that part that all women come hard-wired with and that many religions exploit in making us feel that saying "no" to a service opportunity is on par with stealing candy from a small child.

Our ward has our Christmas Party the 2nd weekend in November. No, I can't explain why. I guess they are just getting a jump on the holiday season before we are all too busy to attend. So two weeks before that a sign-up sheet went around Relief Society asking for 8 sisters to cook a turkey and then bring it to the church. (With the turkey and foil roasting pans provided for us, of course.) The first week 4 sisters signed up. I felt not the slightest twinge as I passed the sheet on to the next sister, confidant that 4 more sisters with much more experience than I in cooking turkeys would jump at the chance to serve the ward. The next week the sign-up sheet went around again, with a slightly more desperate pleading for 4 more volunteers. At this point I still didn't even think of myself as a candidate, as the sheet started on the other side of the room and would surely be filled before it ever got to me. I settled in to enjoy the lesson as much as is possible while engaged in a wrestling match with an ornery 11 month old.

Twenty minutes later the clipboard passed to me... only one name written down! Those three blank lines seemed to swell in front of my eyes and that stupid guilt center kicked into overdrive. "I can't sign up for this, I haven't cooked a turkey for a couple of years. You know how to cook a turkey though, you've done it before with success. But what if I mess it up? You are going to let a fear of failing keep you from trying? That's not very faithful of you. Oh, shut up. Plus you know you need to be more involved in the ward, overcome the shyness that keeps people from getting to know you... Fine! Fine! I am signing the sheet... are you happy now?" (Am I the only one who's internal dialog is so antagonistic?)

Fully committed now, I spent the better part of the next week psyching myself up to cook that turkey and cook it well. I consulted with my Dad about the best options in cooking times and temperatures, made sure I had all my supplies and was feeling quite optimistic about the whole endeavor. The first twinge of unease came the Wednesday evening before when the head of the activities committee dropped off "the bird". It was huge! Easily as big as my baby. 22 pounds to be exact. And frozen solid. The "If it had fallen off the counter onto my foot the only choice would have been amputation" kind of frozen solid. But they told me to put it in the fridge and it should be thawed come Saturday morning. I more or less cheerfully cleaned out the bottom shelf of my refrigerator and hefted the beast inside, where it reigned in solitary splendor for the next 4 days.

Saturday morning dawned grey and bitterly cold. A portent of things to come? We had an appointment to go get flu shots in the morning and then I had another service project I was doing with my cousin. Can't say no, remember? (No. That one was actually fun, we were sewing pillowcases for a charity and it really didn't feel like service because we both got a $20 gift certificate for fabric! That is the one part of my day I don't regret.) My plan had been to put the turkey in the oven before I left for sewing, thus giving plenty of time for slowly roasting the bird to golden deliciousness. I had the oven preheating and everything out and ready to prep the turkey. I had checked the bird that morning before we went to get shots, by pressing on the breast and it didn't feel frozen. But when I heaved it out of the fridge and dropped set it on the counter, the entire kitchen shook. The darn thing was still frozen! I was uneasy but still thinking it would work out. I placed in the sink with lukewarm water and went off to sew pillowcases for an hour.

I called my husband when I finished at the quilt shop and asked him to preheat the oven again, rushed home and prepared to prep the turkey again. I lifted it out of the water to the other side of the sink and felt both sides give when I pushed on them. Relief rushed through me and I cut open the netting then the shrink wrapping. I unhooked the plastic deal-y that holds the legs together so I could pull out the neck and giblets package. Only to be thwarted by the fact that the neck was still completely frozen to the inside of the turkey! At this point all I could see in my mind's eye was that commercial from a few years ago where the woman is standing in her kitchen crying while trying to defrost her turkey with a hairdryer. Oh dear. Panic setting in I had Brian calling our Bishop's wife for ideas while I dialed my Dad. His helpful observation. "You should have taken it out last night and had it thawing in the sink..." If I had a time machine at this point I would have zipped past last night straight back to Sunday and not signed that stupid clipboard! But through dint of much praying and a little hot water I soon had the cavity emptied and the blasted bird turkey in the oven, at a slightly higher temperature in hopes that it would be a fast cooker.

Then I retreated to the living, flopped onto the sofa and began to sob. I knew that disaster was immanent. The laws of physics were just not on my side in this battle, and I didn't know what to do. Brian played the part of concerned husband perfectly, even to the point of calling around to find out where we could purchase a precooked turkey or turkey breast. I had to go get something from my Dad to make the gravy so I cried all the way over there, even knowing that it was ridiculous to be reduced to tears by frozen poultry. My dad was very sweet and offered to come help me check the turkey and make the gravy that night. Feeling much better that someone who knew what they were doing would be there to oversee this operation (and someone who could actually heft that behemoth out of the oven) I came home. But I honestly can't tell you what I did for the next few hours, it's all kind of a panic-y haze. Dad came over a half an hour before we were supposed to be at the church, and we pulled the turkey out and started to carve it up, only to realize that it was no where near done. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. We stuck it back in the oven and went off to the party empty handed. (And if that isn't courage, then I don't know what is...)

Fortunately our ward had over planned on food so that even without 22 pounds of turkey there was still enough for everyone. And the sister in charge was very kind and understanding about the whole ordeal. I told her it was home still cooking and asked her what she wanted me to do with it when it was done? "Eat it." Eat it!? A 22 pound turkey? We had a pre-Thanksgiving dinner the next day with both my family and the in-laws. And I think the leftovers will last until long past Thanksgiving.

So if you have made it through this entire post then I hope you take two things away from it. 1: Take your turkey out the night before and make sure that it is completely thawed before you start trying to cook it. 2: Sometimes it is okay to pass those sign-up sheets right on down the line and tell your inner voice to just shove it!


April said...

The thing I take away from this post is what a sweetheart you are. You are doing your very best and that is all the Lord expects. No more guilt, Chrissy. Rejoice in the service you give to your husband, and three beautiful, happy children.

Amanda said...

Oh, Chrissy! Had I known I would have saved you the misery. Though, I'll have to say this post did make me laugh. This is exactly the same thing that happened to me last year!! I had sworn never to do a turkey for the ward party again, but when that darn sign-up came around the second or third time still short-handed I felt I had no choice.

Armed with last year's experience, I was determined not to let the bird beat me. I thawed my turkey at room temp. all of Friday and then put it back in the fridge (still half-frozen) to thaw the rest of the night and it was perfect Saturday morning. (I don't know who started spreading the false idea that things will thaw in the fridge because it has never worked for me! Some dietitian's idea, no doubt). I started cooking my turkey a full two hours before I should have needed to according to the package directions, and even then I had to cook it at a higher temperature the last hour to get that stupid thermometer to finally pop up. But I did it! We had the turkey and gravy to the ward 15 min. before the dinner started. (I made gravy well ahead of time with broth I made from the turkey neck and vegetables with the drippings from the finally cooked turkey added right at the end.)

I will say, I was proud of my perfectly cooked bird, though I kind of missed having a whole turkey left-over to enjoy for the next week. Now there are two of us that have learned (sadly, through experience) how to cook a turkey...or have learned not to listen to that nagging inner voice, take your pick!

Mary said...

I'm sorry it was so stressful! You really were courageous though. :) And that much wiser now. Thanks for sharing your hard-earned wisdom with the rest of us!

Dinee said...

Oh man Chrissy! I've only tried to cook a turkey once-at Snow College. I don't remember all the details, just that it didn't work out. I once signed up to cook a brisket for a YW/YM activity right after I got home from my mission. I thought it was doable. I called people in TX, got recipes, supplies, etc. The morning of the activity, I panicked and called Famous Dave's. I got so many compliments that night on the delicious brisket that Famous Dave's was so nice to sell to me. That's how I cook-but you already knew that.

Emilie said...

Every great cook has an epic failure. It's how they became great!

I'm proud of you for giving it a go and STILL going to the party despite the change in poultry plans.

Sandra & Brent said...

Chrissy, you may not be a great turkey chef (yet) but you ARE a great writer. Your narrative positively oozed with panic and desperation! Well done . . . that is, the blog post, not the turkey. This was high entertainment for me. Some day you'll be glad you took the time to write this out in detail. I love you lots. Sandra