Thanksgiving prep: The Big Bird Decision
Thanksgiving. I really like everything about the word, the holiday, the thought of a day centered on cooking and eating and family and thanking the good Lord. So imagine my delight when I was able to convince one set of my parents to come hither to Virginia for this year’s holiday! (Are you imagining it? Does it involve jumping up and down with glee?)
My dad and stepmom bought a business in this quaint little Kansas town called Sedan (which has good food and looks like the picture below) more than a year ago and haven’t sat down since. So I begged my dear Daddy to take a break and come visit me. I’d promised to cook for him (which he knew would happen), and I may or may not have bribed him with a bottle of Copper Fox Distillery’s whisky (which he very much liked).
As soon as I heard they’d booked their tickets, I began Operation Find the Bird. I’ve made the turkey before, though not for the past two years when we were the guests of others. I knew I wanted to source the ingredients for the entire meal as locally as possible, so I started by asking the farmer from whom we got a quarter cow this year what he’s asking for his turkeys.
Well, that was expensive. And I could just imagine the look on my dad’s face when I tell him I’m serving an $84 turkey. That being said, I can think of no better day to A) show a farmer how thankful you are for his or her food provision all year by splurging on a bird or B) live up to all this buy-local mumbo jumbo we tout all year than to spend that much on a meal. But then I imagined my dad’s face again. So the search continued.
I ordered and then canceled my order for two other birds before finding the right one, one that was local, free-range and at a price that I could stand to tell my father about. At one point, I thought of all the wild turkeys I’d seen traipsing around rural Virginia and regretted that I hadn’t thought to grab one for my freezer (and by “grab” I mean hit one with my car I suppose).
I knew I couldn’t imagine just picking up a turkey at the store, but I also couldn’t imagine spending — literally — $200 on some heritage breed and then the entire meal expecting my guests to grovel in thanks for each $5 bite. So I found my version of balance, and the show may now go on.
If you’re in the midst of your own turkey-locating operation, I’d suggest checking out the Post’s rundown of Washington area farms that sell turkeys and this listing of Virginia livestock farms (just search for the word “turkey”).
Now that I’ve located the bird, which should be ready for pickup at my local MOM’s Organic Market the Tuesday before, I’m only halfway there. Now the big decision. Do I go with my tried-and-true turkey recipe or try something new?
And how can I not go with my trusty turkey recipe when it involves bacon and maple syrup? Yet I’m torn between the maple-basted, bacon-draped version that got me through my first married Thanksgiving (a girls’ only one when our husbands were deployed) and the dry brine ideas included in the November Bon Appetit Magazine. And the Post’s T-day section hasn’t even come out yet to throw all my plans for a loop!
The dry brine is enticing, mostly because it doesn’t involve a giant, wet tub of saltwater. Similarly, my favorite way to roast a chicken is with a shower of salt and a few herbs added at the end. I am always amazed at the way that salt coating seals in moisture and flavor. I can only imagine what would happen to a turkey if it’s caked in not only salt but also a fennel-chili-maple mixture of spices? It still has maple… perhaps I could still add the bacon.
Clearly, I’m open to suggestions, votes, opinions or anything that would help me make up my mind about this all-important decision for this all-important day. And I haven’t even gotten to the side dishes yet. I drafted my meal plan for the big day on a napkin during our recent flight to Texas for a beloved friend’s wedding and have made up my mind about most of them — I think.
Next to the turkey on that list is still a big question mark. Perhaps I should test each recipe, you know, like food sections do?
I wonder what kind of look my dad would give me then…