Something “Different” for this Year’s Thanksgiving Turkey

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After 16 years of hosting Thanksgiving dinner at our house, I’ve learned a few things about Roasting the Bird.

In prior years, long ago, my sister raised turkeys and I had a hand in the slaughtering for the holiday dinner. Then, in the earliest years of hosting at our house (or apartment), we traveled out to the Heartland on a pilgrimage to buy a fresh, free-range, organic, and exceedingly expensive turkey. Then we got tired of the drive but continued to buy fresh free-range from the grocer.

About 10 years ago I started to brine the Thanksgiving turkey, which I am convinced is the single most important element for roasting a bird that is flavorful and moist. If you haven’t tried brining your turkey — regardless of whether you intend to deep-fry, roast, or crock pot the thing (blech) — you’re doing it wrong. Heed the Quartermaster’s instructions for brining your bird and be amazed.

Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 12.31.50 PMThe beauty of brining is that it elevates a cheap frozen turkey, so much that spending more money on fresh almost seems a waste. Not only will the meat be flavorful throughout, it will be much more forgiving in roasting, so that dry turkey is still theoretically possible, but practically difficult to achieve.

Moreover, with brining you can entirely forgo the whole basting ridiculosity, which I’m convinced does nothing more than slow down even cooking and reduce efficiency with all the periodic opening of the oven and removing of the turkey. And you can forget about roasting bags (a mistake), covered roasting pans (no), or starting with the breast down and flipping mid-way through cooking (LOL).

This year, I’m intrigued by something new, which I intend to try: in place of butter or oil rubbed onto the skin of the bird, I’m trying it with….. mayonnaise.

On the one hand, mayonnaise for cooking seems slightly gross. Any time I’ve gotten a mouthful of hot mayonnaise I’ve been pretty disgusted. But it does have an interesting viscous texture and composition that leads me to believe it would cling to the bird longer during cooking rather than melting in the heat and running off quickly like butter, thereby retaining juiciness in the meat and crisping the skin nicely. So, we’ll try it, and I’ll report back.

Happy Thanksgiving!


G.K. Chesterton on the “Myth of the Mayflower”

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From “The ‘Myth’ of the Mayflower”, Fancies Versus Fads (1923):

Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 12.32.57 PMhe “Mayflower” is a myth. It is an intensely interesting example of a real modern myth. I do not mean of course that the “Mayflower” never sailed, any more than I admit that King Arthur never lived or that Roland never died. I do not mean that the incident had no historic interest, or that the men who figured in it had no heroic qualities; any more than I deny that Charlemagne was a great man because the legend says he was two hundred years old; any more than I deny that the resistance of Roman Britain to the heathen invasion was valiant and valuable, because the legend says that Arthur at Mount Badon killed nine hundred men with his own hand. I mean that there exists in millions of modern minds a traditional image or vision called the “Mayflower,” which has far less relation to the real facts than Charlemagne’s two hundred years or Arthur’s nine hundred corpses. Multitudes of people in England and America, as intelligent and sympathetic as the young lady in Mr. Wells’s novel, think of the “Mayflower” as an origin, or archetype, like the Ark or at least the Argo. Perhaps it would be an exaggeration to say that they think the “Mayflower” discovered America. They do really talk as if the “Mayflower” populated America. Above all, they talk as if the establishment of New England had been the first and formative example of the expansion of England. They believe that English expansion was a Puritan experiment; and that an expansion of Puritan ideas was also the expansion of what have been claimed as English ideas, especially ideas of liberty. The Puritans of New England were champions of religious freedom, seeking to found a newer and freer state beyond the sea, and thus becoming the origin and model of modern democracy. All this betrays a lack of exactitude. It is certainly nearer to exact truth to say that Merlin built the castle at Camelot by magic, or that Roland broke the mountains in pieces with his unbroken sword.

For at least the old fables are faults on the right side. They are symbols of the truth and not of the opposite of the truth. They described Roland as brandishing his unbroken sword against the Moslems, but not in favour of the Moslems. And the New England Puritans would have regarded the establishment of real religious liberty exactly as Roland would have regarded the establishment of the religion of Mahound. The fables described Merlin as building a palace for a king and not a public hall for the London School of Economics. And it would be quite as sensible to read the Fabian politics of Mr. Sidney Webb into the local kingships of the Dark Ages, as to read anything remotely resembling modern liberality into the most savage of all the savage theological frenzies of the seventeenth century. Thus the “Mayflower” is not merely a fable, but is much more false than fables generally are. The revolt of the Puritans against the Stuarts was really a revolt _against_ religious toleration. I do not say the Puritans were never persecuted by their opponents; but I do say, to their great honour and glory, that the Puritans never descended to the hypocrisy of pretending for a moment that they did not mean to persecute their opponents. And in the main their quarrel with the Stuarts was that the Stuarts would not persecute those opponents enough. Not only was it then the Catholics who were proposing toleration, but it was they who had already actually established toleration in the State of Maryland, before the Puritans began to establish the most intolerant sort of intolerance in the State of New England. And if the fable is fabulous touching the emancipation of religion, it is yet more fabulous touching the expansion of empire. That had been started long before either New England or Maryland, by Raleigh who started it in Virginia. Virginia is still perhaps the most English of the states, certainly more English than New England. And it was also the most typical and important of the states, almost up to Lee’s last battle in the Wilderness. But I have only taken the “Mayflower” as an example of the general truth; and in a way the truth has its consoling side. Modern men are not allowed to have any history; but at least nothing can prevent men from having legends.

We have thus before us, in a very true and typical modern picture, the two essential parts of modern culture. It consists first of false history and second of fancy history. What the American tourist believed about Plymouth Rock was untrue; what she believed about Stonehenge was only unfounded. The popular story of Primitive Man cannot be proved. The popular story of Puritanism can be disproved. I can fully sympathize with Mr. Wells and his heroine in feeling the imaginative stimulus of mysteries like Stonehenge; but the imagination springs from the mystery; that is, the imagination springs from the ignorance. It is the very greatness of Stonehenge that there is very little of it left. It is its chief feature to be featureless. We are very naturally and rightly moved to mystical emotions about signals from so far away along the path of the past; but part of the poetry lies in our inability really to read the signals. And this is what gives an interest, and even an irony, to the comparison half consciously invoked by the American lady herself when she asked “What’s Notre Dame to this?” And the answer that should be given to her is: “Notre Dame, compared to this, is _true._ It is history. It is humanity. It is what has really happened, what we know has really happened, what we know is really happening still. It is the central fact of your own civilization. And it is the thing that has really been kept from you.”

Notre Dame is not a myth. Notre Dame is not a theory. Its interest does not spring from ignorance but from knowledge; from a culture complicated with a hundred controversies and revolutions. It is not featureless, but carved into an incredible forest and labyrinth of fascinating features, any one of which we could talk about for days. It is not great because there is little of it, but great because there is a great deal of it. It is true that though there is a great deal of it, Puritans may not be allowed to see a great deal in it; whether they were those brought over in the “Mayflower” or only those brought up on the “Mayflower.” But that is not the fault of Notre Dame; but of the extraordinary evasion by which such people can dodge to right or left of it, taking refuge in things more recent or things more remote. Notre Dame, on its merely human side, is mediaeval civilization, and therefore not a fable or a guess but a great solid determining part of modern civilization. It is the whole modern debate about guilds; for such cathedrals were built by the guilds. It is the whole modern question of religion and irreligion; for we know what religion it stands for, while we really have not a notion what religion Stonehenge stands for. A Druid temple is a ruin, and a Puritan ship by this time may well be called a wreck. But a church is a challenge; and that is why it is not answered.

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Flavorful Turkey: There is Still Time

But there is not another moment to waste. Heed the Quartermaster’s instructions for brining your bird, get the turkey in the brine tonight, for significantly upgraded holiday nomnoms tomorrow.

FullSizeRenderThe beauty of brining a turkey is that while it takes a few minutes to prepare the brine, you can effectively omit: coating the turkey in butter or oil, seasoning with salt and pepper, basting during roasting, covering or flipping the bird while cooking (which is insane anyway). For our (brined) Thanksgiving turkey, I stuff the bird, roast at 325 (uncovered) until the stuffing and thigh reads 165F. Brining is the easiest way to achieve great turkey, with minimal effort.

Ideally, you would have begun brining 48-72 hours before Turkey Day, in order to permit the bird to “air dry” in the refrigerator for a full 24 hours before roasting. But if you brine and omit this step, it will still be far better than if you did nothing at all.

Other things you can do ahead: stuffing (mine’s already in the fridge), cranberry sauce (so easy, so much better than canned), anything containing Jell-O, sweet potatoes (all steps up to placement of the casserole in the oven to heat), peeling potatoes and placing in your boiling pot filled with salted water, the pies, etc.

Please note that *IF* you stuff your bird, which is safe so long as you reach a good internal temperature and handle the stuffing properly, you should be careful not to add too much salt to the stuffing, as some of the juices from the brined turkey (which are salty) will soak into the stuffing.

Today Mr. Karl and I engaged in some spirited debate concerning stuffing the bird versus having plenty of drippings for gravy. Apparently every person in his family requires at least a quart of gravy, because he was complaining that the stuffing absorbs all the drippings. This is not my experience at all, as we have always had an adequate volume of drippings even with a stuffed bird. But we don’t consume gravy with a drinking hose either. Meanwhile, the gaping open chasm of Mr. Karl’s turkey is pouring forth all the juices into the roasting pan. More resourceful people plug the hole to trap the flavor and juiciness.

Happy Thanksgiving!

“…that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him…

…our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country…” – Thanksgiving Proclamation issued by President George Washington, at the request of Congress, on October 3, 1789

It is right and just.

And I wish you and yours, and everyone you love a wonderful and blessed Thanksgiving.


Thankful for... children, or dogs, who rigorously test the durability of figurines. Thankful for... my beautiful and amazing wife. Thankful for... family and friends, loved ones near and far, in Heaven and on Earth. Amen.

Thankful for… children, or dogs, who rigorously test the durability of figurines. Thankful for… my beautiful and amazing wife. Thankful for… family and friends, loved ones near and far, in Heaven and on Earth. Amen.

Spiritual Dryness and Salt of the Earth: Let’s Talk Turkey

“You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” (Matthew 5:13).

Some things are best when they’re dry. For example, your underarms. Diapers. The carpet. Since the invention of carpeting, no one has ever actually said, “Oooh, the carpet is really wet, hooray!” Nor does one ever glory in the dirty diaper or say, “Look at that guy’s armpit stains — bully for him!”

However, dryness in prayer or one’s spiritual life is generally to be avoided. While there are sometimes Providential reasons that God permits us to become spiritually dry, we are not usually meant to remain in this condition forever. When one is spiritually dry, the life in prayer is brittle, crumbly; there isn’t much substance, or fruitfulness at the moment.

Even if one earnestly seeks God, is engaged in devotional prayer and reading, and frequently receives the sacraments, it is still possible to wind up “walking in the desert” at times. In fact, each of us should expect this journey, and the reality of it is part of Catholic spiritual tradition. God (like a loving parent) is always fostering our own spiritual growth, which sometimes requires us to learn to live without “good feelings”. Sometimes the medicine itself is unpleasant, but nonetheless healthy.

God sometimes permits spiritual dryness, but I suspect that He — like all rational beings — cannot abide a dry turkey. A turkey should never be dry. Dry turkey is bad turkey. You can bet that if there is food in Heaven, there is no dry turkey. Conversely, dry (and flavorless) turkey is probably on every table in Hell. The answer to a dry turkey (or really, any dry flavorless meat) is essentially the same as the answer to spiritual dryness: salt. 

If we are spiritually dry, we may find it difficult to follow our Lord’s command to be “the salt of the earth.” It might be possible to attend mass or persevere in prayer, but it is frustrating to see others partaking in the full richness of the Holy Banquet or getting somewhere in their prayer life while personally everything feels immobilized.

Being the salt of the earth means that the life in Christ is supposed to have flavor. When we truly live the way that Jesus wants, we are able to savor what is good, wholesome and nourishing about creation. If we try to live outside Christ’s love or if we try to walk in the desert alone — without asking God to journey with us — all of the good things that may be present to us in our life are dry and ineffective at bringing us to the joy that we know is available.

We can banish spiritual dryness, and we can add flavor to our lives (and food), by adding salt. Salt locks in the goodness of a piece of meat. It creates a chemical gradient that literally traps moisture inside the cells it inhabits. This is why when you take in too much salt, you get bloated and retain water. All of that salt in your body is holding in extra fluid, keeping you from becoming dry! When you brine a turkey, the same thing happens, making it next to impossible to dry it out during cooking. 


Thanksgiving 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

Thanksgiving is coming up. If you’d like to exorcise dryness from your turkey this year, start the day before by making a brine:

1. Find a container big enough to hold the turkey in your refrigerator. A clean bucket will work. I have a food-grade tub with a plastic lid that I use.

2. Fill the vessel with a gallon of warm water. Dissolve at least a cup of salt and a half cup of white granulated sugar. You can add other flavors, herbs or spices (oranges, lemons, onions, garlic, apple cider, apple cider vinegar, black pepper, bay leaves, dry basil, dry oregano, dry thyme, red pepper flakes, etc.) if you like.

3. Add a gallon of cold water, or a mixture of cold water and ice.

4. Submerge the turkey (you can add a little extra water to get it completely submerged, if necessary) in the brine. Cover the vessel and refrigerate it overnight.

5. On Thanksgiving, prepare the turkey by removing it from the brine, drying it with paper towels, and roasting it the way you normally do.

This method will elevate the saddest, cheapest, lowest of the low of all frozen supermarket turkeys. You will find a turkey prepared this way almost impossible to distinguish from the finest, most expensive organic fresh free range turkeys.

Metaphorically, being salt gives spiritual and actual flavor to anything that we season. Jesus doesn’t say that He is the salt; He says that we are! We, the whole Body of Christ, through the Church, are meant to combat spiritual dryness by being “salt of the earth” to one another.

Our “salt” is the joy that we hold; it is the light that we are not meant to put under the bushel barrel. Salt is the great equalizer in our spiritual lives just as it is in cookery! Without the Christian community — without others in our life who season us and give life its flavor — we are not good for anything other than to be trampled underfoot.

So, be the salt to others, who you can support in their spiritual dryness. Ask God to send you someone salty in your times of spiritual dryness.

And, use some salt to brine your Thanksgiving turkey, so that no one needs to feel like they are walking in the desert at your holiday table!

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