A Turkey of a Thanksgiving

We interrupt this regularly scheduled Meatless Monday feature for a little ditty about a Thanksgiving feast that almost didn’t happen.

That would be the feast at Casa Appetite.

The day began on a bright and tranquil note, with many components of the meal already underway. The cranberry sauce, a blend of Washington state cranberries and Alaskan tundra berries, was already prepared. The turkey, a girl-hen from nearby Gig Harbor (a Puget Sound village southwest of Seattle) that dined on apples, Asian pears and grass, had been bathing in an aromatic brine for two days and would need just a few hours in the oven. Mister MA had his stuffing well under control (alas, he did not opt for a cornbread-baguette concoction) and dessert, an upside down pumpkin cake with a cranberry-pecan topping, was sitting pretty on a cake plate.

In fact, preparations were going so smoothly there was time for Mister MA to walk down the hill and feed the ducks on Lake Union and to burn some white sage in the house to usher out unwelcome spirits. The vibe in the Casa was easy and relaxed, and the turkey went in the oven just before one, right on time.

By two, our lone dinner guest, Rolf, had arrived, his arms full of shopping bags brimming with wine and sundry goodies for an app-snack plate. With the turkey now well on its way, the house was beginning to smell wonderful. Rolf busied himself setting up his spread, which included locally smoked salmon, four different cheeses, crackers, crab dip and a few nods to his Norwegian ancestry -- pickled herring and herring in sour cream sauce.

Mister MA poured white wine all around, and we toasted to our good fortune and friendship. A few minutes later, I shimmied away from the smorgasbord and went into the kitchen to check on Mama Bird.

But this time, something in the kitchen was off.

As in the oven.

The digital display on the electric oven was blank, and nothing would bring it back to life, no matter how we tried. Mister MA scurried down to the basement to check on a possible tripped breaker in the fuse box, but alas, the switches were all in order. The guys fiddled with the knobs on the stovetop, thinking they’d be able to magically resuscitate the sick appliance and save Thanksgiving, but the stovetop too was dead.

And I was too stunned to even think straight.

I stared at the turkey, which needed at least one more hour of roasting time. There was gravy to make and Brussels sprouts to shred and sauté. And stuffing to bake.

“I don’t understand,” Mister MA declared. “We burned white sage. This shouldn’t have happened!”

The guys took matters into their own hands and decided we’d relocate to Rolf’s bachelor pad on the Puget Sound in West Seattle. Rolf covered the bird in foil, put her in the back seat of his car and sped off to get her back into the oven pronto.

Meanwhile, I collapsed into a blubbering mess and Mister MA had to scrape me off the floor, reminding me that everything would be okay. I’ve dealt with plenty of kitchen mishaps in my time, but a dying oven with half-roasted turkey ON THANKSGIVING DAY! was a first.

As much as I love the ocean view from Rolf’s apartment, cooking at his place is a challenge, with a woefully sparse kitchen. We’d have to take everything with us -- knives, cutting board, spices, pots, tablecloth – the works. I scanned the kitchen and visualized my menu to make sure we’d have everything we’d need at Camp Rolf, and the mental checklisting was giving me a whopper headache.

As we arrived, the skies rewarded us with a magnificent sunset and we clinked our glasses of red wine, this time to making the best of a crazy, unforeseen situation.

Ninety minutes later, we sat down on the floor and feasted at Rolf’s coffee table (I told you, it’s a bachelor pad). The brined bird survived the drama, and the gravy was some of my best in a long time. Mister MA’s stuffing needed some work, but at this point, the details no longer mattered. We were three friends, who weathered a kitchen storm and found shelter -- and a beautiful ocean view.

P.S. A handyman duo came to the rescue over the weekend. Something about a loose connection and a new “terminal block.” Anyway, $130 later and the oven seems to be just fine…

So, how was your Thanksgiving? Share your ups and downs in the comments area.

Mark Your Calendars: Celebritology blogger Liz Kelly and I will be on hand Thursday, Dec. 4 from 6 - 8 p.m. for an official meet-and-greet at D.C.'s M Bar at the Renaissance M St Hotel. Come on out. We can't wait to meet you.

By Kim ODonnel |  December 1, 2008; 7:00 AM ET Kitchen Musings , Thanksgiving
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Funny Kim, my parent's oven, where I was cooking Thanksgiving dinner, died too. We were able to get it on at 10 AM, and did not turn it off until 4 pm, when everything was done cooking. It started acting funny on Wednesday when I was making pie, so we had a backup plan, in case: grill the bird, bake the stuffing next door where we were watching the neighbor's cat, and manage everything else with the toaster oven. The repairman came on Friday, when it would no longer turn on, and is costing about $500.

My gravy, though, turned out great thanks to your detailed guide. So thanks for that, I was glad I didn't have to use the backup gravy I bought in the jar.

Posted by: cf07 | December 1, 2008 8:28 AM

Oh, Kim. So sorry that your Thanksgiving had to be relocated. I'll make sure to have my grill ready in case anything similar ever strikes the BladeCave.

I didn't manage an entirely local Thanksgiving, but did snag some nice ingredients at the farmer's market. The baby turnips were a big hit (halved and cooked on the stove top with butter and canola) as was the baby beet and chevre salad. The stuffing wasn't entirely local, but was highlighted by some Best Buns brioche. Next year, it's a local turkey and more root vegetables. The cranberry sauce, however, is non-negotiable. :-)


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | December 1, 2008 9:17 AM

I can't believe this happened to you, too! I was cooking dinner at my parents (my first time cooking for the whole family - 17 people, not including 19 month old twins) and their oven died, too. Their problem is that they ran out of gas (they live in the country). The good news is that we deep fried the turkeys but the bad news is that the gravy and the glazed carrots were not improved by microwaving. And we forgot about the heat and serve rolls in the toaster oven. But you know what? It was memorable and the turkeys came out great so you just roll with it. Happy Thanksgiving!

Posted by: kathycoulnj | December 1, 2008 9:37 AM

So weird, kathycoulnj and cf07! I was actually thinking that if we had been a larger group, it would be have been more difficult to pull off a Plan B, as we were without grill or outdoor rig. Pretty sure we would have had cranberry sauce and carry-out -- or maybe that glorious spread of Rolf's! Yeah, you do have to just roll with it. I'll never forget this Thanksgiving.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | December 1, 2008 9:50 AM

So strange -- my parents had been having trouble with their oven, so my dad bought a countertop turkey roaster just to be on the safe side. Luckily the oven was fine on Thanksgiving, but he used the roaster anyway and it was a huge success. Also, he decided on a whim to make stuffing with 2/3 white bread and 1/3 corn bread. It turned out great, too.

Posted by: margaret6 | December 1, 2008 10:00 AM

Yikes! What a day that must have been. That happened to my neighbor a few years ago. Her new electric stove and oven died while she was cooking the T-Day dinner. Since it was under warranty, she called the company and about a week later they sent someone. She was out when he arrived and when she got home, the "repairman" was in the kitchen telling her husband, a man in his 70s with obvious Parkinson's, that he had to move the stove out from the wall before he (the repairman) would work on it. Well, it was a long struggle: Both Christmas and New Year's went by with no stove. she finally gave up on the manufacturer and hired someone to fix it. What a nightmare.

When it became time for me to buy a new electric stove, you can bet that I didn't buy that brand or any of the others made by that company.

Posted by: fran426 | December 1, 2008 11:48 AM

Wow, Kim, what an adventure.

no Meatless monday?

Posted by: chiquita2 | December 1, 2008 11:48 AM

Kim - something similar here. We drove to NY to spend the holiday with in-laws, I was in charge of the turkey as usual. I decided to use the gas grill for the turkey, saves space in the kitchen and I've had luck at our home with this method. Well my brother-in-law didn't check the gas in the tank beforehand as he was instructed and halfway into the roast the gas ran out. Luckily we found a gas station open that have us a tank, only an hour delay.

On another note, I'd appreciate your feedback on a question. I always brine my turkey using a recipe I got from one of your videos several years back, works great. Because we were traveling many hours this year the day before Thanksgiving, I brined the turkey in a big cooler in the car on the way up. I put the cooler in a big garbage bag as well in case of leakage (stop and go on the Turnpike!) and I'm glad I did, there was some spillage. Not much but enough to be thankful of the bag.

My question to you is can a turkey be brined several days in advance and then removed from the brine for transport/storage? In this case, I would probably brine Monday and Tuesday, rinse off the bird and put it in a cooler for the trip on Wednesday & cooking on Thursday. So the bird would probably be out of brine for 24-30 hours.

Thanks and love your musings!

Posted by: bob_in_SS | December 1, 2008 12:11 PM

Chiquita2, without an oven this weekend to test a recipe intended for today, meatless monday was not happening today. We'll resume things next week, Girl scout's honor.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | December 1, 2008 12:11 PM

Sorry about the oven, Kim. That happened to us at Christmas some years back, with a relatively new oven. We were roasting a goose, which we ended up microwaving for a good while, then pouring off the fat. Luckily we still had some charcoal for our grill so finished the bird there. It turned out great, but I wouldn't want to do it again!

Posted by: beegirl | December 1, 2008 12:16 PM

my thanksgiving story: my brother biked over to our house since he has no car. he spent the day with us but didn't eat anything since he didn't want to bike back home with a full stomach!

yesterday my husband drove down to see his father who is having emergency heart surgery today leaving me with all those turkey leftovers!

Posted by: quark2 | December 1, 2008 12:20 PM

I'm assuming you don't have a gas grill? That would've worked nicely.

Posted by: martintomsal | December 1, 2008 2:29 PM

Several years ago my mom invited her side of the family to gather at our house for Thanksgiving since my grandfather's health was failing rapidly. Concerned about trying to get everything in one oven, she rented one of those electric roasters. I woke up to the smoke alarm and found the house full of smoke and little cousins with wide eyes watching my mother standing outside in 18 inches of snow with the roaster-insert tipped over on the snow-covered picnic table and the turkey laying in the snow. She was hyperventillating and nearly hysterical somewhere between crying and laughing.

Apparently the rented roaster only worked at one very high temp and had cooked the turkey in an hour. The bottom of the turkey was blackened, but the rest was salvaged for dinner.

Posted by: auntiemare | December 1, 2008 5:01 PM

Kim - Where did you and Mister MA find white sage? I made white sage rolls for Thanksgiving (recipe from Breads of the Southwest by Beth Hensperger) but used my regular garden sage as a substitute for the white sage. They were wonderful but I'd like to try them with white sage. We brined and butterflied our turkey and cooked it on the gas grill - the best turkey, ever. We also had cornbread dressing with chorizo, cranberry/pineapple salsa, and a potato/poblano gratin (recipes from Nov. Gourmet magazine). My husband made a wonderful sweet potato pie for dessert.
Our oven died about a week before Thanksgiving, but we were able to get it fixed in time.

Posted by: susaninseattle | December 1, 2008 5:39 PM

Susaninseattle, we found white sage in Red Lodge, Montana when we were roadtripping tow. Seattle. Have been using it bit by bit over the past few months. Your din menu sounds fab! So glad it was a masterpiece.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | December 2, 2008 10:11 AM

I can't believe this happened to you too! We were making turkducken this year. I'd planned it all beautifully, started cooking the sides and veggie-friendly dishes ahead of time. I baked my leek and goat cheese tart crust in the oven in the morning, and then in went the turducken for four hours. After those four hours, when we were supposed to take off the foil to let it cook for the final hour, we discovered the oven was COLD!! We had to take the beast to a friend's house, cook it there for five hours and ended up serving our (thankfully patient and forgiving) guests at 10PM!!

Posted by: washingtondc4 | December 2, 2008 2:23 PM

Funny but I wasn't pleased with my stuffing/dressing this year either. I did the combo cornbread/baguette plus sauted veggies, apples, nuts and herbs, but the flavor was lacking. I blame it on making it vegetarian. No turkey stock or turkey bacon or sausage, just veggie stock from the carton. While it was good, it didn't pop and there was much leftover. But with a vegetarian guest at the table I wanted everyone to be able to have a taste of nearly everything except for the obvious. I resisted the urge to try veggie "bacon" because the idea of it just seemed too paradoxical (I have a friend who once ordered a veggie burger topped with bacon actually!). I'm thinking of adding sauteed mushrooms, like perhaps portobellos next year.

Posted by: otabenga | December 3, 2008 1:56 PM

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