Cooking for my family is one of the top ten joys in my life. I love to cook, but living alone necessitates the consumption of leftovers and freezer meals more often than I like. I was, therefore, delighted, when my retail work schedule afforded me the opportunity to help with the food for Thanksgiving. The object of my delight-gone-obsessive? The turkey. 

I researched dry-brining vs. wet-brining and watched videos and smelled herbs and evaluated salt options and purchased tri-color peppercorn blends and walked our meat department every day looking for the perfect bird on which to dote and ultimately roast to golden, crispy-skinned perfection. 

I purchased an Organic Grand-Champion turkey on Sunday evening. These birds are free-range, vegetarian-fed, and raised by the same family of farmers who supply the White House turkey each year. This turkey was no Butterball, and it was definitely not $0.49/lb. As any holiday chef knows, this is where the pressure starts—there is only one turkey in the fridge, and there is little room for error. 

On Monday after work, I toasted peppercorns and grated orange zest, mixing those with salt, brown sugar, and crushed bay leaves before rubbing this fragrant blend over the twenty-pound (and surprisingly unwieldy) gobbler. I tucked it into the fridge (uncovered for maximum skin-crisping) and whispered a few encouraging words before heading to bed. Tuesday morning brought an eager peak at the subject of so much research, and the results to this point were encouraging. On Wednesday I excitedly explained the dry brining process to anyone who would listen and brainstormed the best way to rinse the brine off without spraying Salmonella into the far corners of my kitchen. 

Ultimately, I wrestled the beast of a bird into my sink and gently sprayed the crust of brine off, before patting the skin dry, tucking (A LOT) of butter under the skin, and stuffing the cavity with sage, rosemary, thyme, orange quarters, garlic, and onion. It was magnificently beautiful, but the hardest part was ahead: we had to get to my parents’ home in Pennsylvania, two hours away. 

In a moment that would have made an excellent scene in a sitcom, I buckled the roasting pan into the passenger seat, put a pair of sunglasses over the tin foil, and almost hoped that I would get pulled over. Turkey transport protocol initiated. 

The journey was uneventful, and on Thursday morning, I slid tommy gobbler into the oven, believing the greatest challenges to be safely behind me. Anyone who has ever cooked a turkey (or read the title of this post) knows what happened next. I was betrayed by my watch and my digital thermometer and was surprised to find the breasts, dark meat, and joint all temping well over 165 degrees over an hour before I expected the turkey to be done (red flag number one). As a manager in a food retail store, I am nationally certified to manage food safety in a retail setting. I know how to use a digital thermometer and I know all of the dangers of Salmonella and how to prevent it. I thought I knew how to cook a turkey. 

And so, when I began to carve and found bloody dark meat and an undercooked breast, my shame monster roared and I wanted to run. My family and some close family friends milled happily around the kitchen, unaware of the tragedy unfolding at the butcher block. My dad, always there to save the day, pulled out a cast-iron skillet and cheerfully cooked turkey to order for each guest. I’m told that the flavor was excellent, the breast was moist, and that the gravy was perfectly seasoned with sage and black pepper. I could hardly taste the food for my devastation. 

When perfectionism is wired into who you are, it never really goes away. It gets quieter. It gets easier to push away. But it’s always there—just one undercooked turkey away from reminding you that you never rise above your failure, because failure is who you are. And yet, age, experience, connection, and good humor are powerful balms for the shame-burdened spirit. One of our guests kindly shared a story of keeping guests waiting for hours while the turkey cooked, and kept cooking, and kept cooking…

Like that generous guest, I would rather be relatable than perfect. I would rather be connected than flawless. I would rather pan-fry turkey than self-flagellate into despondency. And with any luck, my next turkey will have crispy skin, juicy meat, and an internal temperature of 165.

5 Comments

  1. RITA YOUNG

    GREAT STORY.

    Reply
  2. Dawn

    It seems to me that the undercooked turkey was perfect: it created a father-daughter connection that will always remind you that you are loved and supported always.

    Reply
  3. Alex Johnson

    I did this exact same thing this year: I wanted to make my own Thanksgiving Part 2 meal, opened the turkey bag the wrong way, and while everything else hit the table at 6:30pm ready, the turkey was not done, and still not done, and still not done. It ended up alright, but there’s nothing worse than people waiting on you because of a cooking mishap.

    Reply
  4. Cameron

    When we only share our strong points, we promote competition. But when we share our struggles, we promote community and connection. Thank you for sharing yours. The best antidote for shame is empathy. It sounds like others have given you some, but you gave yours to all the best laid plans of mice and men, that popped up in our heads as we read.

    Reply
  5. Vickie Wheeler

    Yeah our oven broke down while trying to feed guests once, frustrating.

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Related posts

The Art of Pardoning Turkeys
by Griffin Jackson, November 26, 2014
An Ode to the Turkey
by Jon Gorter, November 28, 2022
18 Steps to Lemon Meringue Pie
by Courtney Zonnefeld, November 15, 2018
A Recipe for Fame
by Abby Zwart, November 12, 2018
Turkey Trot (or Not)
by Olivia Harre, November 13, 2020

post calvin direct

Get new posts from Ansley Kelly delivered straight to your inbox.

the post calvin