The Thanksgiving Turkey That Wasn’t

Bye-Bye Turkey, Hello Mimosas!

I had high hopes for a Saturday Thanksgiving-wrap-up post full of photos of the beautiful turkey I had planned to make with my sister–which would have been, as you may recall, my very first effort.

As it turns out, however, I’d underestimated a couple of things.

One was just how dog-gone long it takes a turkey to defrost. My sister bought it early Wednesday morning; by that point all the fresh and smaller frozen turkeys were gone, so we wound up with a 17 1/2 pounder. I arrived at my sister’s Wednesday evening and the stubborn bird was still solid as a rock, though she’d made some side dishes ahead of time. By Thursday morning it was clear that our only hope was thawing using the cold-water method, which would probably still take us 8 hours followed by an additional 5-6 hours of cooking. And we had plans to visit friends of my sisters’ for brunch and mimosas.

I admit it: when faced with a choice between babysitting a thawing turkey all day (plus waiting until at least 8 PM to eat) or enjoying mimosas and adult conversation, the second option won out. So my sister and I picked up a spiral sliced ham for later, and went to the brunch without guilt. I mean, who knew that the average turkey takes 48 hours or more to defrost? (I mean it. Who knew? And if you knew, who told you?)

We wound up having dinner around 4:00, though we started working on pulling it together at 1:30. And that’s the other thing I underestimated: just how chaotic it would be trying to pull together a meal for a total of 14 people in a small house crowded with kids. Even with the sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole and potatoes made ahead of time, just warming everything up and pulling it together was stressful enough to make us keep the mimosas flowing.

As it turned out, despite all my grand intentions, I didn’t contribute one blessed dish to the Thanksgiving feast. After my big plans, talk about a humbling experience! But dinner was very tasty and we laughed, talked, and had a great time throughout the day. To me, that’s more important than the specifics of what we ate, though I will say the smashed red-skin potatoes and ham really did help make the day even better.

I noticed an interesting thing happening this month. The topic of food really drew out some readers–mostly, those who are passionate and knowledgeable about cooking. But the rest of us seemed to hang back a little. Why? There’s a lot to food, even outside of cooking. Shopping, budgeting and feeding our kids is universal and we all have insights to share. Yet it’s easy to feel unqualified to talk about food if you don’t have a perfectly wholesome cooked-from-scratch diet.

As some reader comments have shown, food is a loaded issue with plenty of potential for guilt. I know that I, as an often-insecure, fairly novice cook, felt strange sometimes this month trying to give advice or share my thoughts on the topic: after all, while I’ve come up with a meal-planning method that works for my family, when it comes to cooking I’ve got more questions than answers. And while I think it’s great to expand your cooking repertoire and try new things, I find it ironic that I spent so much time this month researching new recipes that I didn’t make a single loaf of my beloved banana bread, even though baking makes me really happy and baking banana bread makes me really, really happy.

Like anything else, when it comes to feeding our families (and ourselves) we have to strike that happy balance between what we “should” do (or just THINK we should do) and what keeps us sane and smiling, instead of flipping out at our kids because they don’t want to touch the exotic dish we spent hours sweating over or falling on the sofa after dinner too exhausted and stressed out to help with homework. For some of us, experimenting with lots of new recipes is a welcome creative challenge. For others, it’s just more stress than it’s worth right now (and maybe, if we’re honest with ourselves, it always will be.)

I think what I’m learning about myself is that at this stage of my life, I’m emphasizing eating well and enjoying my family life over cooking. What that means for me is that while the occasional culinary adventure might be fun, most of the time I just want to get a reasonably wholesome dinner on the table that most of my family will eat so we can enjoy it together–and then go about the rest of my business.

I hope as you look back over our Food month, you’ll feel inspired (and not intimidated) by the interviews with Monica Bhide and Dana Talusani. After all, as with any other pursuit, there are those home cooks who are artists and enthusiasts, and I always welcome the chance to learn from them. On the other hand, some of us simply want to get the job done as well as possible with minimal stress, and that’s OK too. If there’s any message you’ve taken away this month, I hope it’s this: There are a lot of ways to feed your family thoughtfully and with love. As for myself, that means I’m going to focus on learning a handful of dishes so well I could do them in my sleep, and branching out as time, energy and interest allow. Because that’s the food philosophy that makes me a happy mom.

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