Please Pass the Gravy, or: Please Mum, I Know it’s Thanksgiving, But Not Another Turkey!

Cranberry Relish? Can eat it all year.

I know, I know. What I’m about to say is un-American. Sacrilegious. Blasphemy in its definitive form. But I can’t pretend any longer: I hate turkey.

Cranberry relish? Can eat it all year, goes particularly well with pork. Mashed potatoes? God’s food. But turkey? If it’s not semi-synthetic and deli-sliced on my sandwich, accompanied by sharp mustard, gouda, and bread & butter pickles, then I’m not interested.

“My mother’s turkey was always usually good,” my own mother said, trying to convince me that the oversized poultry really is delicious. “Except for that time she put all the cayenne pepper in the stuffing. She was a lot like you — always experimenting in the kitchen.”

I never knew my grandmother, but clearly, she and I were a lot alike. She understood what I understand — turkey is bland and needs all the help it can get. She may have been heavy-handed with the cayenne, but she meant well.

The one good thing about turkey? Being able to drink wine in front of the fire while it roasts... and roasts.



Free range.


Organic Free Range.

28 pounders.

12 pounders.

There isn’t a bird on the market at any weight we haven’t tried and tried again. Some have more “turkey taste” than others, but even after tons of culinary TLC, all have proven a disappointment.

There have been test turkeys in October and re-test turkeys in early November. Sometimes, we walk away hopeful. Most of the time, we end up with a lot of unsavory leftovers (thank goodness “turkey is bad for dogs” is an urban legend.)

We've produced many a turkeys worthy of a Rockwell painting, few worth remembering as an entree

We’ve bounced from method to method, hoping something would finally produce a succulent dinner centerpiece.

For years, we clung to the “tent and baste” system in which my father slathers butter all over the bird, creates a tin-foil tent to shield it, and we all take turns basting it on the hour. But after several rubber-like final products, we began to experiment.

  • There was the brining experiment gone terribly wrong. The garbage bag leaked in the fridge, spreading salmonella-laden water over all the vegetables and side dishes. There was only turkey that year. And far too much of it.
  • We then tried the cheese-cloth soaked in wine and butter method. Wine and butter are flammable when not properly watched. Luckily, we keep a compact fire extinguisher in the kitchen for just such incidents.

Over the years, some of these approaches undoubtedly produced a bird worthy of a Norman Rockwell illustration, but all resulted in an entrée better left forgotten.

I'm good at homemade ravioli. Can't we just have those for Thanksgiving?

The best turkey we ever made was the result of an extended hospital stay – my mother broke her rib while vacuuming. The whole family rushed off to the hospital where we passed the next 7 hours. Luckily, before we left the house, we turned the oven down and quietly forgot about the turkey.

“Mum, can’t we just have a chicken this year?” I asked as we stood at the holiday order counter at Whole Foods.

“No. You want stuffing don’t you?”

To this I could of no retort. Thank goodness I’ve at least mastered the art of a delicious gravy.

Twas the Day Before Thanksgiving and All through the Whole Foods

…the villagers were stirring, kids, significant others, and in-laws in tow. There was a feast to prepare and a table to set, flights to be made and cars for roadtrips to be packed.

I’d never seen it before — a supermarket suffering from a hand basket and shopping cart shortage. People stood dumbfounded. Where did they all go?! Where am I supposed to put by butternut squash? Some wives were stalking departing shoppers, helping them unload their groceries in hopes of scoring a vessel for their groceries. Others were in foot races, running to grab the first cart returned to the corral.

Meanwhile, husbands sat in the driver seats of minivans praying a parking spot would come vacant, pretending they didn’t know “that woman” who was about to bat another over the head with her Michael Kors handbag.

A timeless Thanksgiving tradition -- over crowded grocery stores and shopping cart ralleys

Inside, the aisles were packed, but the shoppers unphased. Everyone was on a mission. The line for the organic turkeys swirled around the store. Family teams were passing bags of cranberries like they were footballs and tossing turnips like fastpitch softballs.  It was a controlled chaos, except for the occasional fight over an un-cracked frozen pie crust.

The shopping cart shortage was easily explained. There seemed to be a two per family distribution — one for the children, one for the turkey and trimmings. The children looked terrified. Their eyes bugged, their little hands gripped tightly around the cart’s mesh. They looked at their parents as if they were total strangers. Are these  people diving for the last bag of stuffing mix the same people that read me Winnie the Pooh stories with the funny voices?

The problem with pre-Thanksgiving shopping is that entire families head out to the grocery store. Grandparents are told to stay with the cart — usually deposited in the middle of the aisle — and watch the children, while parents try to double team on the whipped cream and produce.

Having been involved with team sports my whole life, I know that you’re only as strong as  your weakest player.  Bringing along idle shoppers who are told to sit and stay won’t help you get those frozen peas to the dinner table… not to mention the fouls they cause to members of other teams. I was nearly launched headlong into the stack of oranges when an unmonitored toddler cut me off at a corner. Where was that kid’s leash?!

At the end of the day, I give my fellow shoppers credit. No one really lost their cool, and I appreciated the woman who helped me load the Land Rover and chirped a “Happy Thanksgiving!” as she toted away my shopping cart.

“Good luck in there!” I hollared back.

She was going to need it.

It's a race to the checkout line. Watch out ladies, those handbags double as weapons!