Friday, November 19, 2010

In Search of Excellence

I stood up and faced the ten people gathered around our dining room table.

“Will you excuse me a minute please?”

I ran upstairs and stuck my head in a laundry basket.  And screamed.  When I raised my head, I saw my husband’s pant leg.

“Something wrong?”

 I looked up from my crumple on the floor.

“It’s not perfect.”

He shrugged.  “It doesn’t have to be.  It’s excellent.  That’s enough.”

Last year my Thanksgiving hoohah was a bit of a fiasco.  I decided to be cool and brine my bird.  Nowhere in the directions did Martha Stewart say it would take the turkey three times longer to cook due to its 48 hour soak in salt water.
Thankfully, all the guests were polite about the very delayed entrance of the main course.  We actually started out fine.  The wassail was perfect, all simmery and cinnamony in the crockpot I’d wrapped with fall foliage paper. It made the house smell like it had one foot in November, the other in December.
The appetizer buffet was stunning.  I had to smack the kids’ hands with a wooden spoon to keep ‘em from spoiling their appetite with shrimp butter on toasted baguette slices.  My ma-in-law and I vied for the biggest glutton title with the Bon Appetit spiced pecans.  My husband single handedly polished off the roasted bell pepper and havarti slices on fancy crackers. 

When I heard the oven timer buzz, I clapped to get everyone’s attention.
 “And now, for the main event,” I said.  “Give me a few minutes to get the turkey out of the oven, and we’ll get this feast started for real.”
My husband hoisted the big Tom Turkey out of the oven and onto my Granny’s cream ironstone platter while I got the side dishes squared away.  Nutty green beans go in this bowl.  Garlic mashed potatoes go in there.  My sister-in-law’s best-ever-she-won’t-give-me-the-recipe sweet potatoes stay in the baking dish she brought 'em in.  My own stuffing concoction goes in our wedding anniversary bowl.   Did I miss anything?
I peeked over my husband’s shoulder as he sliced into the bird breast.  He jumped when I squealed.  The carving knife clattered on the stove top. 
I waved my arms.  “Stop!” I said.  “The juices aren’t running clear!  The package said the juices have to be clear.  Else people'll die of salmonella.”
My husband looked from me to the turkey.  I pushed potholders at him.
“Quick!  Put him back in the oven.”
I increased the heat 25 degrees and slid the roasting pan all the way back and left.  I crammed the side dishes onto the racks, hoping to keep them warm too.  I flipped my hair back and smoothed the front of my cute aqua and lime Anthropologie apron.  I headed into the dining room--a basket of warm cheddar pecan biscuits in one hand, a crystal bowl of soft, salted, Amish butter in the other.
"Everyone get a biscuit and butter.  It’ll tide you over ‘til turkey time.”

My husband checked the bird thirty minutes later.  He stood in the dining room doorway and shook his head ever so slightly.  I choked on my biscuit bite.  I wadded my pilgrim and Indian print napkin and dropped it on my empty plate. 
“Here.  Let me take a look.”

My mother-in-law followed me into the kitchen.  She touched me lightly on my shoulder.
“Why don’t we start with the side dishes?” she said.  “While the turkey finishes up.  It’ll be fine.”
I stuck out my lower lip and sighed.  “Okay.”
We took everything out of the oven and arranged the bowls on the kitchen table.  I put a little calligraphied placard in front of each serving dish.  The guests filed in, loaded their plates, and returned to the dining room. 

My oldest brother prayed.  "Lord, we thank you for this bountiful array of food.  Bless it to our bodies, and please, comfort my sister in her time of distress."  

Thirty minutes later my husband checked the turkey.  Twenty minutes later he inspected it again.  

He whispered to me as he sat down.  "Think I'll wait an hour before I look again."

I took a swig of white wine.  “You know what?  Just leave it in there ‘til it’s black for all I care.”
My mother pointed her fork at me.  “Actually, this is good for my hiatal hernia,” she said.  “Small amounts of food throughout the day are much easier to digest than large meals.”
I tried to smile.  “Thanks, Mom.”

When we were done with our stuffing and veggies, I stacked my plate, our son's, and my husband’s and stood. 

“Forget about the turkey,” I said.  “I’ll give everybody some to take home.  Who’s ready for dessert?  There’s Praline Pumpkin Pie or Frozen Caramel Pumpkin Torte.  Both with homemade hazelnut whipped cream.”
I started the coffee and cut five pieces of each dessert.  Plopped a dollop of whipped cream on each one.  My husband set a coffee cup on the kitchen table in front of me.  I started to take a drink, but stopped.  I sniffed.  Wrinkled my nose.
“What’s in it?  It smells different.”
He grinned.  “Shot of Bailey’s,” he said.  “Figured you might need it.”
I felt my nostrils flare and my eyes start to burn.  He patted my back.
“There, there.  Think excellence, not perfection.”

I turned to face him, hands on my hips.  "This won’t happen next year.”
He cringed.  “We eating out?
I snorted.  “Heck no!  I’m gonna cook the dang turkey the day before.”


writingdianet said...

It just so happened that I had lunch last Saturday with a group of gals that included a food safety expert. She explained to me that the reason for my turkey fiasco was because it is very difficult to brine a FRESH turkey. It works best on highly processed, previously frozen birds. Would someone please tell Martha Stewart that?


We always want our day to be perfect. Sounds as though it pretty much was. You had the important things. Family and friends. Good food and conversation.

Nicki said...

ooo-I'm glad I read. I was going to brine my turkey for around 16 hrs and then cook it in an Oven Bag. Do you think it will take longer than what the directions say? I bought it frozen.

writingdianet said...

Hey Nicki:
Like I said when I ran into you at Giant Eagle, I think you'll be fine. The key is to brine a bird that's been processed, then frozen, then thawed. Now, I do see a little red flag. I thought you were supposed to brine your bird for like, 24-48 hours. Make sure you have good directions, lass:)

Tony said...

Just happy I got to experience it!!!

Ivy said...

I don't think anyone can tell Martha Stewart anything. That little detail was pretty important! You'll be fine this year, you've got experience!

writingdianet said...

So guess what? I'm getting out my Thanksgiving recipes this morning and I come across the Martha Stewart brine a turkey recipe. The ingredient list actually calls for a FRESH turkey! Wonder how many people had the total timing bummer experience I did?

Granny Sue said...

I missed this one! This is too funny! The meal sounds like it was delicious without the turkey, so who cared? Probably only you!

It reminded me of the fried turkey my son did one year. We ended up chunking it up and cooking the pieces in the microwave. It was delicious, just not quite as pretty. But who cared? only my son :)


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