Entering the T-Zone

We are officially in the T-zone, down to the nitty gritty, the final 48 hours before sitting down to give thanks this Thursday.

So... how are you holding up?

I'm hoping that you've got the grocery shopping out of the way because by tonight, people are downright mean, pushing their carts into yours to make their way to the pile of sweet potatoes, swerving in the direction of the tower of cans of pumpkin puree and agonizing over the frozen bird in the cart, wondering if the darned thing will be thawed by Thursday.

It can get ugly, like rush hour traffic, but without your favorite radio station. In the midst of the madness, remember to breathe! Jillian Pransky, one of my favorite yoga teachers, who's based in Hoboken, N.J., shared her thoughts on the importance of deep breathing in a recent holiday e-mail newsletter:

When we are stressed, we take shallow breaths. This starves the body and brain of oxygen, and puts our sympathetic nervous system in gear to fight or flight. Several times a day, take just 60 seconds to enjoy a deep breath, or 2 or 3. Consciously pause, put down what you're holding (or thinking) and take a complete breath. Let it move deeply into your lungs, and then release it slowly. Do this a few times. (For extra release, in the bathroom during your family gathering, try an exhale out the mouth and make a long 'ahhh' sound. That can actually create a deeper release of stressful feelings. The should of 'ahhh' through the mouth has a vibrational affect that helps to turn your mood around.)

I don't know of any supermarkets hosting breathing technique workshops, but many in the Washington are extending their hours over the next few days to create a little extra breathing space in those aisles.
Washington area Whole Foods stores are open well past 10 p.m. this week; the Arlington store is staying open until midnight on Wednesday. Several area locations (Arlington, Rockville, Silver Spring, Tenleytown, Vienna) are open on Thanksgiving Day as well. Today, the P Street location (5-8 p.m.) is offering complimentary Zipcar rides home to haul those extra vittles.

All My Organic Market locations are open until 10 p.m. today and Wednesday, but are closed on Thanksgiving. Folks on a gluten-free diet, you are in for a treat: MOM's has compiled a handy-dandy GF checklist that is helpful no matter where you shop. A big high-five to MOMs for this service.

And the area's two Wegman's stores, which are typically open late, will be open on Thanksgiving.

Where the thigh meets the eye: But keep that thermometer away from the bone! (Kim O'Donnel)

During last week's special Thanksgiving chat, a reader asked if I could get graphic about the location of the turkey's inner thigh, the area where you want to take its temperature and test for doneness. The photo, to the near right, which I took this weekend, should say it all -- the part of the leg that practically meets the torso -- but without touching the bone (which will yield an inaccurate reading). By the way, you want that area to read 165-170 degrees, tops.

In the course of a bloggish discussion over brining, one savvy reader praised the virtues of the oversized Ziploc bags as an alternative to a cooler or monstrous pot. Curious, I went in pursuit of said bags and found myself ensconced in the shelves at the nearby Target, soon clutching a packet of both XL and XXL bags.

The XL Ziploc experiment. (Kim O'Donnel)

The XXL, which measures 20 gallons, was my first choice for my 14-plus-pound bird, and sure enough, it supported the weight of the bird and the brine. I zipped it up proudly and let it sit on the kitchen floor to see how high the liquid would rise. But because of its lack of structure, the liquid dispersed to the sides, failing to completely cover the turkey, which of course is the whole point of the brine.

So I unzip the mega-bag and transfer the contents into the smaller, 10-gallon XL bag. Better, but still not 100 percent coverage like I get with my big ole pot. I like the zipped part of the bagged option, which eliminates the need for a lid and keeps things nice and tidy. I pull out the big pot and place the turkey-filled bag inside, a snug fit which forces the liquid to rise - and give me the sought-after brine coverage. The moral of the story: Use the big Zips for really big birds (14 pounds and up), but in conjunction with a pot or a cooler to maintain total brine coverage.

Fruitcake Report: After most of our party guests had left Saturday night, I decided to cut into my fruitcake with the few remaining diehard stragglers staying for coffee. I prop open the lid and inhale its very merry Yuletide perfume. The cake, which had been shrouded in foiled darkness for two weeks, was my first, and admittedly, I was a bit nervous about the group tasting. A regular dinner knife cuts easily into the cake, and I pass slices around to my cronies, all curious and eagerly awaiting their samples. And I gotta say, it's magnificent! -- but bad, as in very bad in the booziest kind of way. I daresay you could get tipsy on one slice. Moist yet not heavy, loaded with spice and plenty of fruit that does not glow in the dark, this cake can deck my halls anytime. I'll be making this one again! A real tickler.

Get your last-minute Thanksgiving quandaries solved today at noon, for one more round of What's Cooking chatter about Thursday's big feast.

By Kim ODonnel |  November 20, 2007; 7:12 AM ET Thanksgiving
Previous: Thanksgiving Pudding: What's Your Pleasure? | Next: Thanksgiving Table for One


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Thanks for the firsthand report on those ziploc bags, Kim! I will be having a 20+ lb turkey and purchased the XXL bags to use in conjunction with a cooler and loads of ice, all to be kept under a watchful eye in our garage.

So... making the brine today, doing some heavier cleaning, getting the linens ready and the dishes out. Tomorrow, we pick up the turkey and hit the dairy for fresh milk, and... drop that sucker in the XXL bag for an overnight soak.

Fortunately, with all kinds of family around, I'm just making the turkey and hosting the event! I have a quick question about potatos, but will catcha at the noon chat. Thanks!

Posted by: Centre of Nowhere | November 20, 2007 8:32 AM

Hi Kim, I was the one who asked about the location of the inner thigh, so thanks a lot for the picture! It's much more clear now. Have a great Thanksgiving!

Posted by: Phoebe | November 20, 2007 9:26 AM

I do have to go to the store tonight, but all I need are croutons, vegetable broth, and cat litter, so it shouldn't be too bad. :) What I'm really worried about is driving home tomorrow... got to get there in time for my brother's big football game!

I did a dry run of the vegetarian stuffing recipe you posted, and I loved it! I used real butter and Pepperidge Farm whole grain croutons, but otherwise left the recipe as is. I think my croutons were more seasoned than those used in the recipe, so I'll use less salt and pepper next time. Otherwise, it was great! Thanks!

Posted by: Kat with a K | November 20, 2007 9:38 AM

Hi Kim:

I hope that I haven't blundered to badly!!!

I made your butternut squash lasagna on Sunday, to bring to Thanksgiving dinner. I put it in the freezer. Was it okay to freeze it?

By the way, I can't wait to dig into that delicious thing. I was nibbling on the squash pieces as I was assembling the lasagna.


Posted by: Emma | November 20, 2007 9:47 AM

Just another thought RE brining -- what about using a vegetable cripser/produce drawer for the same effect with the giant ziploc bags? That eliminates the need for putting an entire pot into your already crowded fridge, but could provide the side support you need to make the liquid rise. If you only have one wide drawer, you can use beer cans, tupperware, or even yogurts to put enough pressure to keep the liquid up.

I only thought of this because my cripser was the only place I could fit my turkey in our small fridge with still making enough room for the rest of the makings for our Thanksgiving feast. I had actually written off brining due to space restrictions but now I might hop on board and get an XL ziploc and try it out!

Posted by: Zimmy | November 20, 2007 10:57 AM

I also made the fruitcake and it has been snug away for the last couple of weeks. I planned to cut into it after Thanksgiving. But then, shocker of all shockers, I found out I was pregnant last week! I'm torn...on the one hand, of course, thrilled about being pregnant and on the other, disappointed that DH will be consuming that delish cake largely by himself now.

Thanks though for the recipe! I'll definitely do this again next year...once I'm no longer harboring another human being :)

Posted by: librarylady | November 20, 2007 11:14 AM

Whenever I encounter fruitcake, it starts up an ear worm (annoying repettive song going through your head.) Sung to the tune of an old sea chanty "Away, Away, with Rum by gum," it goes:

We never eat fruitcake because it has rum.
And one little bite turns a man to a bum.
Now can you imagine a sadder disgrace,
Than a man in the gutter with crumbs on his face?

Away, away with rum, by gum
With rum by gum
With rum by gum
Away, away with rum by gum
It's the song of the Temperance Union.

Posted by: Baltimore | November 20, 2007 1:32 PM

For the person who asked about gravy in the chat today, I think the reason your gravy was greasy is because you used everything that was in the bottom of the roasting pan. You need a fat separator. Pour all the pan drippings in it and the grease will float to the top. Pour out only the turkey juices to use in the gravy, not all the fat. Otherwise, your technique sounded correct. I think gravy made with roux is much better than those thickened with a slurry.

Posted by: Sweetie | November 20, 2007 2:12 PM

Hi there! I was hoping to make your fruitcake recipe for the New Years and was wondering about the fruit measurements. All in all you recommend about 4 cups of dried fruit to soak but then only call for about 2 cups of fruit when making the batter. Does the fruit reduce in size or will I have about 4 cups of fruit? I'm asking because I would like to double the recipe as I am attempting to make one gluten free and one "regular" but don't want to overwhelm the batter with 4 cups of fruit each! Thanks for the help and I hope you have a fabulous vacation!

Posted by: Curious | November 20, 2007 3:14 PM

Baltimore: Thanks for the poetry! We all can use the levity right about now.
Curious: Great question -- as it turns out in testing, the 4 cups yields enough for 2 cakes. Keep me posted on the GF version!

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | November 20, 2007 7:33 PM

I too used the XL Zip in the cooler with ice for my 23 pound bird. It appears to be working like a charm. Luckily I have football player teenagers to drag the whole thing to the garage. It weighs a ton. Happy Thanksgiving!

Posted by: Millsmama | November 21, 2007 7:32 AM

With respect to the ziploc bag and having to shrink it to get the brine to cover the bird. All you need to do is remove the air in the bag - either by careful squeezing or by sucking the air out. This will cause the bag to shrink around the bird and ensure the liquid covers the surface of the turkey.

You can find some ziploc-like bags that have a one-way valve for purging air - haven't tried them, but they might work for this.

Posted by: msj | November 21, 2007 12:24 PM

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