The Tall Turkey Tale

June 24, 2016

As Thanksgiving approached this year and my work calendar allotted me only one day off, it became clear I would be hosting a meal from myself and my friends who had no time to go back to their families on the holidays.  The modest kitchen in my home had hosted a dinner party or two since I have moved in, but nothing as large as a Thanksgiving meal.  I knew I wanted to create something wonderful for my “Friendsgiving”, and I also knew, as hostess, I was in charge of the turkey.


Some insight into my food-centered life history (Counihan, “Mexicanas…”): I didn’t help much in the kitchen as a child.  In my younger years I could usually be found reading a book in the corner or stealing pickles off the china laden table before the meal.  (My family tradition dictated that a full tray of pickles and olives be present on the table.  The New York City Jewish heritage insisted on Kosher dill pickles.)  I eventually began to help out with the veggies and sides, once cooking an entirely vegan Thanksgiving.  However, I had never assisted in so much as carving the turkey.  That had always been left to the adults.


My focus during my childhood Thanksgivings tended to be much more on the pie than the turkey!

It was now my turn to own my adulthood.  Some people go through a religious rite of passage, some mark that time by getting married, some believe they’ve reached adulthood once they’ve bought a house.  My initiation was being in charge of the turkey.

I knew that my best bet was to start with a great quality product.  I knew exactly where to look.  Crane Dance Farm, located in Middleville, Michigan is run entirely by two women, Jill and Mary, who produce some of the “cleanest” meat you can find in the Grand Rapids area.  The are committed to genetic diversity and include endangered heirloom animals in their breeding stock, as well as heirloom vegetables and grains.  The use absolutely no pesticides, herbiciedes, chemicals, or fertilizers.  Their animals are free to roam on the pasture and thrive without hormones, systemic biocides, or antibiotics.


Jill and Mary of Crane Dance Farm

In fact, this farm has received a “Snail of Approval” from the Slow Food West Michigan Chapter, which recognizes their commitment to the principles espoused by Slow Food. While Jill and Mary are dedicated farmer whom rarely have the luxury of a break from the constant call of animal husbandry (one look at Jill’s broad shoulders and Mary’s weathered hands tells all) they are also gourmets, hand crafting their animals’ care, making an effort to nurture heritage-breed animals, reclaiming endangered breeds as artisanal delicacies, and paying attention to each detail, from feeding their cows non-GMO corn to grinding their own grain.  Their website states, “We avoid supporting any aspect of the industrial agricultural complex…, a sentiment that echoes views of many other food movements, from punk “Freegans” (Clark, “The Raw and the Rotten”) to the Jews that follow an “eco-kosher” approach (Shapiro, “Kosher Wars”).  All of these movements look to reconnect with the food, to recognize the process edibles undergo as they make their way from the farm to the table, and to honor the work of both the animals and humans involved with respect and reverence.


I wanted to bring these values to my own Thanksgiving celebration, to center the meal around an animal that had been raised well, slaughtered as humanely as possible, recognized for its sacrifice, and contributed to the diversity of our food system.  I’m aware of the criticism of the Slow Food movement raise by Alison Leitch (“Slow Food and the Politics…”): Focusing on such high quality and inherently expensive food can be a privilege the poor and less empowered populations can’t afford (419).  Yet, this special occasion and splurge, which could seem excessive, was worth it when placed in the context of the values I wanted to imbue the meal with.  I hoped to embody Jose Bove’s words and serve “good food as good taste” (422).  Taste here carries multiple connotations: Delicious flavors, ethically raised, supportive of local farmers, and a show of cultural taste for my guests. I went ahead and put in my order for a twenty-pound turkey.  It would be a bit large for the amount of people I planned on, but leftovers never hurt anyone, right?

I walked into the butcher store to pick up my order on the day before Thanksgiving.  As I announced my purpose, I saw the butcher’s mouth tense around the corners.

“I hate to tell you this,” he began apologetically.  “These turkeys were allowed to roam and apparently ran into a great supply of food.  The smallest one we have for you is… twenty-seven pounds.”

Twenty. Seven. Pounds.


My local butcher demonstrates just how huge the turkey is! 

I took it.  What else could I do?  It was the day before, and there was not going to be Thanksgiving without a turkey.  The kind butcher shop didn’t make me pay for all the extra bird which was quite kind; a heritage-breed, free range, organically fed turkey is not as cheap as a Butterball.

As I went to sleep that night I began to worry.  I had little direct knowledge on the task I was about to undertake. In “The Domestication of the Savage Mind” Jack Good notes “the written recipe serves in part to fill the gap created by the absence of Granny, Nana, or Meme” (143).  Therefore, I pulled out my computer, Googling “how to cook a twenty pound turkey”, searching for a written recipe that would fill in the knowledge I never bothered to acquire.  I found little help.  No one even discussed cooking turkeys over twenty pounds.  And most suggested it was far better to get two ten pound turkeys, or to butterfly the breast of the twenty pound to flatten it for more even cooking.  There were dire warnings on the message boards about large birds that couldn’t cook evenly and became dry on the outside with uncooked meat in the center.  I felt sweat bead on my forehead.  What had I gotten myself into?

There was nothing to be done but try to cook the monster.  I certainly was not up to the task of butchering it.  The day of Thanksgiving at 8 a.m. I squeezed the turkey (he had now been dubbed “Kevin”) into the roasting pan I had borrowed from a friend.  The pan was snug but just fit.  A melted stick of butter was brushed over his skin.  I halved a lemon and stuck that inside, along with some carrots and time.  A few carrots and onions were tucked in the meager space left in the pan.  I hoisted him into the oven at 400 degrees and closed the door.  And waited.


See, Kevin just barely fits!


I bathed Kevin in the pan juices at hourly intervals, watching the skin brown and crisp with each passing hour.  At around 1:30pm, after about 4 hours in the oven, he was browned and the meat thermometer indicated he was done.  I removed him from the oven and let him cool.  I didn’t trust the thermometer.  I didn’t trust myself.  But this massive turkey certainly looked impressive.

My friends had assembled, bringing dishes to share, sides of green beans and brussels sprouts and pie after pie (with brownies as well!).  We had an eclectic mix of dishes from chefs of all different skill levels, but the traditional turkey was the centerpiece.  We cut into him tentatively.  I was prepared for the worst – raw meat on the inside.  But no, the turkey was perfectly done!  My guests and I had never had a turkey so succulent, moist, and flavorful.  Throughout the night comment after comment was made on how delicious the meat was.  I have no memories of ever truly liking a turkey before – it had been a mere vehicle for cranberry sauce and gravy.  Clearly, a carefully raised bird makes a difference.

I now have a new tradition when I am away from family on Thanksgiving.  Seek out the best quality bird I can find.  Be liberal with butter and salt (isn’t that always the secret?).  Watch the crispiness of the skin and use a trusty meat thermometer for guidance.  Don’t worry too much – know it will turn out alright.  Share with a bunch of wonderful people.

And maybe buy a smaller bird.

Thanksgiving Roast Turkey

Adapted from Ina Garden


  • One free-range turkey, the best you can find (27 lbs)
  • 1 stick butter
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 1 Lemon, halved
  • 1 bunch fresh thyme
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 2 carrots, very roughly chopped
  • Cooking twine


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan.
Take the giblets out of the turkey. Remove any excess fat and leftover pinfeathers and pat the outside dry. Place the turkey in a large roasting pan. Liberally salt and pepper the inside of the turkey cavity. Stuff the cavity with the bunch of thyme, halved lemon, quartered onion, and the chopped carrots. Generously brush the outside of the turkey with the butter mixture and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Tie the legs together with string and tuck the wing tips under the body of the turkey.
Roast the turkey about 4-4.5 hours.  Every hour, baste the turkey with pan juices.  Turkey is done when the juices run clear when you cut between the leg and the thigh or when an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh reads 165 degrees F. Remove the turkey to a cutting board and cover with aluminum foil; let rest for 20 minutes.
Slice the turkey and proudly serve.



Ice Cream Cake

December 12, 2010

I guess this technically isn’t an ice cream cake.  An iced nut cake perhaps?  There’s no cream in this recipe.  Or milk, or butter, or and type of dairy.  Actually it’s vegan!

No wait, don’t go.  Vegan stuff tastes good sometimes, I promise.  Especially this.  This cake was absolutely delicious.  A challenge, definitely, but totally worth it.

I mostly improvised the ice cream recipe since I didn’t feel like using soy cream, tofu, or weird thickeners.  And honestly, I think the ice cream turned out better than any traditional ice cream recipes I’ve made.  I’d definitely recommend it.

Vegan Chocolate Ice Cream


2 cups cashews

1/4 cup water

2 tbl oil

1 cup almond milk

1/4 cup cocoa powder

3/4 cup granulated sugar

pinch of salt

5 oz semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

2 tbl liqueur (I used Frangelico, a hazelnut liqueur, but chocolate or coffee would work as well)

1 tsp vanilla

2 tbl maple syrup


  • In a food processor blend cashews and water until thick, smooth, and creamy.  Slowly add in oil. Set aside.
  • In a saucepan whisk together almond milk, cocoa powder, salt, and sugar while heating to a simmer.
  • Stir in the chocolate until melted.  Let cool to room temperature.
  • In a large bowl stir together (or blend with an immersion blender) chocolate mixture, cashew cream, liqueur, vanilla, and maple syrup.  Taste and adjust sweetness if necessary with more maple syrup.
  • Cover with plastic wrap and chill in fridge overnight.
  • Churn in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Can be stored in freezer with plastic wrap against top to prevent freezer burn.

To make an ice cream cake, bake chocolate cake (or brownies!) in a springform pan and let cool.  Crumble peanut butter cookies, oreos, or anything else you desire over the top of the cake.  Spread ice cream (straight out of the ice cream maker) on top of crumbs.  Drizzle melted chocolate on top.  Best if eaten on day it’s made.  Enjoy!

I used the chocolate cake recipe from Joy of Vegan Baking (note: don’t overbake) and the peanut butter cookie recipe from Vegan with a Vengeance (very crumbly, and possibly too much baking powder, but perfect for using as cookie crumbs!).  Experiment with different flavors.

Delicious Bites

March 28, 2010

A lot of my baking tends to be lower calorie, fat-free goodies.  I believe whole-heartedly in enjoying a sinfully rich chocolate ice cream sundae or decadent brownies, but I can’t eat like that all the time.  As a dancer, I have to be uber-aware of what I’m putting in my mouth.  Sometimes that really sucks, but it helps me to challenge myself in the kitchen.  What can I make that’s healthy, yet still tastes good?

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Chocolate Part 2

March 25, 2010

I love chocolate.  Well, I actually love any dessert.  As far as desserts go, chocolate could be worse for you.  It’s healthy antioxidants, along with dark chocolate’s low sugar content, make it reasonable!  Cocoa powder is fat-free and packs a punch of flavor; it’s downright healthy!  Clearly I’m in the same school of thought as my friend M-; her health food is creme brulee.  How?  Well, there’s protein from the eggs and calcium from the cream!

However, these chocolate muffins are (relatively) healthy.  I was walking through the hallways of my school when an intense craving for a chocolate-chocolate muffin hit me.  Our school sells Sara Lee muffins which are huge, oily, and about 500 calories each.  Dunkin Donuts sells delicious ‘muffins,’ but in reality those baked goods are more like cake.  Instead, I pulled out flour, cocoa powder, and chocolate chips as soon as I got home and got to work.  A little tweaking resulted in a healthier muffin that was still chocolaty and indulgent.  What’s more, they have my brother’s stamp of approval, which is no small matter, I assure you.

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Chocolate Part 1

March 25, 2010

I’ve been really bad about posting entries lately.  Daring Bakers has been the only thing forcing me to post, and I’m not even doing that this month!  There just wasn’t time; I can’t do anything extensive during the week and all the weekends in March just filled up.  I think it’s time for me to accept that my blog will never be a Smitten Kitchen, Closet Cooking, or 17 and Baking, and that’s okay.  I need to use this blog as a way to document my recipes and experiments for myself, and if that helps anyone else out or inspires them, then that’s great!

I’m thinking that perhaps next year I’ll be a bit more consistent.  I’ll have graduated and be completely free from english essays.  In fact, this blog may be a good incentive to continue writing!  We’ll see if I even have time (or materials, or money!) to bake and cook.  I’ll be away from home, without a mixer, food processor, or even baking pans.  It will definitely be an adventure.

So, clearly, I have to fit in all the baking I can until then!  (Even if it means putting off my calculus homework for a night…)

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