Five Thanksgiving Observations from California

Photo Credit Joseph Lapin
Photo Credit Joseph Lapin: Thanksgiving Meal

This Thanksgiving, my wife and I invited a small number of people over to our house to celebrate. It sort of served as a house-warming party, and as the night moved on, I started to kind of write my blog post of the things I was observing. So here are five Thanksgiving observations.

5: Cooking the Turkey Isn’t that Hard

Photo Credit Joseph Lapin: Turkey
Photo Credit Joseph Lapin: Turkey

Before Thanksgiving, my wife and sister-in-law didn’t want to make a turkey (probably because they knew how much hard work it would be), but my brother-in-law and I knew we couldn’t have Thanksgiving without one. It would be like having Christmas without pierogi or Passover without dipping some of that parsley in the salt water that you can’t stop eating because the Seder is long and you are SO hungry. I had a lot to learn about cooking a turkey first though. What I gathered from some advice articles is that you have to brine a turkey before you start cooking it, and I’m glad that we did, because the turkey was so moist and had this zesty flavor. I’m still eating the turkey today and it has remained tender. Here is the brine recipe we used: Turkey Brine.

Overall, cooking the turkey wasn’t that hard. The main thing you have to worry about is planning and ensuring you follow through on the schedule. When you start opening the oven and witness the turkey browning, then you feel like a Top Chef. Of course, I’m talking about this like I cooked the turkey alone. If I’m honest (which I always promise to be, even though that’s kind of a lie), my wife and sister-in-law really deserve all the accolades for why the turkey looked and tasted so good. I can’t even say I supervised. I lifted the turkey, gutted the turkey, and basted the turkey, but the rest, well, that wasn’t me. I still can say that if you want to make a turkey on Thanksgiving, don’t be scared and definitely don’t settle for a ham.

4: Vegetarians Look at Thanksgiving Differently

Chicago Vegan Thanksgiving Guide 2012
Chicago Vegan Thanksgiving Guide 2012

We bought a turkey that was just way too big for our family, and we actually had to give away a lot of the meat when people were leaving. But when I picked up the bird from our local market, Heron said, “You’re going to have to pull the plastic bags out of the bird.” “Where are the bags?” I asked. “They’re in the bird.” “Where in the bird?” I asked again. “I don’t know,” she said, “I’m assuming you just have to reach in there.”

So when the bird arrived, I reached into the “behind,” and I put my hand inside the cavern, not really sure what I was looking for. Then I grabbed something, and I pulled it out. It was the turkey’s neck. I had no idea people cooked a neck on Thanksgiving for gravy. Then I reached into the space where the neck usually was and pulled out a plastic bag of gizzards.

I’m really glad that I did this part, because Heron and her sister are vegetarians. Reaching into a bird and pulling body parts out from its ass isn’t something they’re excited about. So I took care of that part and the brine was made later. We put the bird in the brine overnight, and the next morning, Heron and I started cooking. So I had to wash the brine off in the sink, and I was honestly trying not to think about what a horrible person I was and what a horrible society I lived in that we slaughter poor defenseless turkeys every year in some great purging. I wasn’t trying to not think about the dead animal in my sink.

That’s when Heron started talking like the bird: “Where am I going today?” “Where is my mom?” she asked.

“Seriously, you’re really not making me want to eat this bird,” I said, holding the animal as I lowered the body into the sink.

She apologized but couldn’t help herself: “What are we going for a ride?” she asked, as I move the bird into the oven.

She didn’t eat the turkey, and it must have been strange to cook Thanksgiving as a vegetarian, knowing you’re helping prepare something you don’t officially support.

3. The Grateful Game is for Old People

We had some people who were younger than us over for Thanksgiving, and it’s a family tradition in my house to go around the table and say what you’re thankful for. It’s kind of lame when you play this game with people you don’t know, but I really believe that it’s important for the new year to take a moment and remember what has been good and what you hope will stay the same in the new year. Every one was cool, but I realized how it’s always the grandpa at the table who makes everyone play this game. BuzzFeed has a great video on what it’s like to say what you’re grateful for on Thanksgiving at other people’s houses. It’s a hard thing for strangers — and just as hard for the host to ask. (By the way, I’m thankful that you’re reading my blog!)

2. It’s not Rude to Fall Asleep on Someone’s Couch

Photo Credit Joseph Lapin
Photo Credit Joseph Lapin

Usually when you have people over to your house, you don’t want them to fall asleep on the couch before the night is over, but Thanksgiving is the obvious exception to that rule. I don’t care who you are or where you come from or how little I know you: If you ate my food on Thanksgiving and you fell asleep on my couch, then you’re all right by me. It’s pretty much the ultimate compliment: I’m so full and overstuffed with food that I’m just going to pass out right here in this little corner and pretend that I’m watching this boring football game. It’s a sign that you feel comfortable. For all those people who fell asleep on the couch this Thanksgiving, you’re a true American.

1. There is pressure when Cutting the Turkey


I’m sure that you’ve seen all the famous pictures and paintings of people cutting the turkey on Thanksgiving. Usually a woman is bringing the platter to the table and a man is waiting over the bird with a knife in one hand and a proud smile pasted on his face (Yes, there is kind of something sexist about this tradition), and it’s not something that seems like a big deal until you’re the one standing before the bird with a crew of hungry people waiting patiently to devour white and dark meat like a pack of restrained cheetahs.

It’s actually kind of tense leading up to the carving moment. I kind of felt like I bonded with the turkey a bit. Now I had to cut him up? My brother-in-law was screwing with me, telling me not to mess it up. But we had one very important decision to make: Should we cut the turkey inside where no one could see — or outside in front of everyone? This is a very important decision to make because if you destroy the bird, then everybody knows, and your very basic image of host is potentially ruined. Oh, the social suicide.

I chose to cut the bird in front of everyone, however, and it’s actually really not that hard. I was well prepared. If you’re going to cut the turkey, then just make sure you read up on it. Check out this article from Esquire. There is an art to it. You start with the breast.

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