Turkey Feast: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly



Thanksgiving is next week. I love it. This is absolutely my most favorite time of year.

In fact, I love it so much, I have on a number of occasions, stuck my neck out and hosted the big feast. While this is not anything out of the ordinary for most folks, when you are single and work for a newspaper it is something of an accomplishment.

But, thinking about it now, pulling off the Thanksgiving dinner is a big accomplishment for anyone who does it. To say that roasting a turkey is no small task is an understatement.

It starts far in advance of putting the big bird in the oven.

First you have to know how many people you are going to be feeding for the holiday, and how much they like turkey, and how much importance you and your guests place on those great sandwiches from the leftovers. So, you do the math and then you go in search of turkey big enough to meet your needs and then try not to pass out when you see what it is going to cost.

For instance, I think there will probably be around a dozen people having dinner with my family this year. Now some don't like turkey and some are children, so you have to take all that into consideration when you make your calculations. According to the National Turkey Federation, the average serving size is three ounces, and from a whole turkey you can get about 2.8 servings from each edible pound. The federation calculates that about 53 percent of a whole turkey is edible. (This information is from eatturkey.com)

OK, so while 12 of us are having Thanksgiving dinner, some will eat less than the average, several will eat more and a few will fall within the norm. Taking a wild guess, I am going to figure about 10, three-ounce servings ... 30 ounces, divide that by that 2.8 servings per pound and you need about 11 pounds of edible turkey or at least a 20-pound bird. Checking the grocery advertisements, a 20-pound turkey will cost between $15 and $18.

And that's just the turkey needed for the dinner alone. Throw in enough for those sandwich fixings and you are looking at a bird costing closer to $25 or $30.

Add all the other menu items in there and you might want to grab onto something sturdy before looking at that store receipt.

Once you buy the turkey, you have to have room in your refrigerator to let it thaw, which takes three to four days depending on the size of the bird. Then comes the cleaning and seasoning and finding a pan big enough for it to fit in -- those disposable aluminum roasting pans are a wonderful invention -- and then you have to roast it, timing everything just so to get things done as close to the same time as possible. Finally there is the carving business.

In our family, with people who really don't like turkey that much, a ham is also fixed for the holiday meal, along with three types of gravy: giblet, creamed ham gravy and ham drippings gravy.

There are mashed potatoes to go with the gravy, stuffing to go with the turkey, sweet potatoes and always two bowls of green beans, plus two kinds of cranberry sauce and hot rolls. For every family holiday meal, and most others, I am asked to bring what we call "orange stuff" -- a concoction of whipped topping, cottage cheese, orange gelatin crystals, mandarin oranges, crushed pineapple and pecans.

My mother always fixes a relish tray as well with pickles and olives and often deviled eggs.

Then there is dessert. Pumpkin pie and cherry cheese cake are the usual fare. When we were children and went to my grandparents' home for the holiday, the cheesecake was usually a cherry pie and there was almost always a decadent chocolate cake as well.

My mother is a retired home economics teacher. While my sisters and I were growing up, and she was working, she instilled in me the necessity of making "to do" lists. One of these is probably no more critical than when planning a holiday dinner ... Weddings don't count, they have professionals available and tons of books for guidance.

But there are books and magazine articles to help plan Thanksgiving too. And there is the Internet now.

Preparing for this article I did an Internet search on "Thanksgiving countdown." There was a multitude of sources, but the two I chose to review were foodnetwork.com and allthatwomenwant.com. Glancing over other entries, it appears the "expert" on the Thanksgiving countdown is Brandie Valenzuela. Her article on making a plan to host the Thanksgiving dinner without a hitch is featured on several of the "countdown" websites.

She suggests starting with a menu, which is a list; making a shopping list; making a to do list, which should include everything you feel must be done prior to Thanksgiving, from cleaning indoors and outside to cooking and decorating, and then designating a time to accomplish the task.

Thanksgiving is next week. We are about 21 days behind schedule according to the Food Network list and 14 days off from the time line Valenzuela recommends.

Still, Thanksgiving is the best time of year, even if there doesn't seem to be enough time to get ready for it.

(See "In the Kitchen" for some of my family's holiday recipes.)

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