Homemade Thanksgiving

The spread. We made the mashed kabocha, mashed potatoes, and the turkey (not pictured in this photo).

Despite my oft-mentioned love of turkey, I had actually never cooked one until this year. In between being a super serious high-school student buried in a stack of books during the holidays and being a super-serious undergrad/grad student visiting from out of state, still buried in a stack of books and often rushing to get back home in time for holiday meals, I somehow seemed to have missed participating in the time-honored ritual of roasting a whole bird. This year marked my third consecutive Thanksgiving missed because I live in Japan, so rather than cry over my twitter feed of satisfied turkey-eaters in the US, I decided that my upgraded oven range was going to good use this year: we would host Thanksgiving, and, moreover, we would cook the turkey.

(Warning: this post involves an avian carcass that I willingly had a hand in dismembering and consuming.)

I realize that the first time most people host their first Major Food-Related Holiday it’s not such a big deal, but for me, it was a triple threat of 1. first time hosting; 2. having no clue how to roast a turkey, especially since cooking meat is a hassle; and 3. the pressure of knowing that if I screwed up the turkey, I would have lost the culinary respect of 10 guests, about 5000 yen (no, seriously), and possibly the only chance I would have to eat turkey this year.

Thankfully I didn’t screw it up too badly. Here’s what I learned:

1. Get the right bird. I bought an 8-10 lb. turkey on Foreign Buyers’ Club, though you could get it from your favorite online import store. They sent a Jaindl-brand bird, and it arrived within a week. Luckily, we had measured the oven range before selecting a turkey. Unfortunately, we had not measured the fridge, but we were able to shuffle enough of the food in the freezer and fridge around to accommodate it.

2. Study up. Without my turkey-veteran relatives around, I stuck to reading The Joy of Cooking, but I really wish I had seen this video before attempting the turkey, because she outlines several of the pitfalls I encountered and mostly dodged. I could have stuck most of the butter mix from “Roasted Turkey with Rosemary-Garlic Butter Rub and Pan Gravy” on top of the bird. I would have known what the hell that plastic thing protecting the turkey’s modesty was. (I did remove it before cooking.) I would not have risked cutting my hands on the spine (ew) of the bird when I could have just found the remaining giblets in the neck area. Also, we ended up cutting the done breast meat off and sticking the not-done legs back in the oven based on the advice of a friend with turkey experience, but I didn’t realize that was a normal thing to do.

3. If you are creeped out by meat, a turkey is not going to help. Having grown up in the suburbs in the US, I am not familiar with meat that looks like an animal in the way that many Japanese are used to serving and/or eating whole fish, shellfish, and crustaceans; having organs at yakiniku; or eating kanimiso. This turkey had wings and legs, as most turkeys are wont to do, but it was really unnerving flopping this bird around when I could see it had once been, well, a bird. I realize that the disconnect I have between my sliced turkey obsession and my borderline disgust with pulling the dark meat off the hips and back of the turkey with my bare hands is terrible, but there you have it. I suspect this experience is going to further contribute to my creeping toward a lifestyle with very little meat in it, but that’s probably for the best in terms of my wallet and my health.

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Since Labor Thanksgiving (勤労感謝の日) fell on Nov. 23, the day before US Thanksgiving 2011, it was the perfect day to have our own Thanksgiving celebration here in town. Our friends brought their favorite dishes and copious amounts of red wine. We had a variety of regional fare from all over the US and dishes we created in Japan; not everyone was American, but we all reminisced about holiday meals with our families, comparing our experiences across nationalities, regions, and subcultures. I even learned that green-bean casserole is actually amazing when it’s fresh and totally homemade. Everyone tried their best to recreate their favorite dishes, and the love that was put into the meal really showed. Even though only a few of us said what we were thankful for that day, I think we were all thankful for our support network and for a chance to make one cherished but often very stressful tradition wholly our own.


8 Comments Add yours

  1. wobblewrists says:

    Great-looking turkey! I have experimentally enjoyed my last this year, having gone vegan the day after Thanksgiving and knowing that my mom isn’t going to be up to cooking it again, she says. It is good to know that it can be done without a bevy of advice-bearing relatives circling around, but I think I will wait a few years before trying it myself. Bravo!

    Also, holy crap, those pies.

    1. Leah says:

      It was pretty gratifying to be able to do pull off the turkey in Japan, especially. Cooking cakes, birds, and cookies makes me miss my full-size oven. I wish I could take credit for the pies, but one of my friends is a dessert expert. They were amazing.

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