Br. Vito vs. The Turkey

I decided, rather impulsively, to cook a turkey (with the all the fixin's) on Sunday. In a move that was more personal challenge than menu selection, I decided to cook a 25 pound turkey as a way to "stretch myself."

Just recently, the Provincial sent all the postulants a letter with regards to our mid-semester evaluation. At the end of the letter, he said: "During this next half of your postulancy period, I encourage you to continue to stretch yourselves and try new things." I've been stretched a lot since August; what more could I do!

On Friday, we received a donation of 20 turkeys to the Meal Program. While this was a wonderful act of charity, we at St. Ben's had to find room to fit all the turkeys into one of the freezers. To make room for the newer ones, I said I would take one back to the friary to make for my community. I'd never made a turkey before. I've watched my mom do it enough times at Thanksgiving; it couldn't be that hard.

After being lectured by 4 different people about how to properly thaw, prepare, and cook the bird, I was later engulfed in conversations like: "Well what are you going to serve with it?" When someone makes a turkey, most people reflect on how Thanksgiving was celebrated at their homes. By Friday night, I was expected to make the turkey with about 14 different side-dishes!

Saturday I decided on a menu: I'd serve mashed potatoes, broccoli, creamed corn (because I like it!), stuffing (a la Stove Top), cranberry sauce (because someone started crying when I said I didn't like it and I wasn't planning on serving it), and Jell-O for dessert.

The process started off Sunday around noon. It began rather simply. Grab all the guts out, get the neck bones out, prepare the plastic cooking bag, put turkey in bag, bag onto cooking sheet, and then everything into the preheated oven. I took the time to cut up the vegetables early on. I knew I wasn't able to start the broccoli or the potatoes until an hour before dinner, but I thought it would be smart to do the chopping and peeling when I still had time.

Inspiration when chopping broccoli.

As dinnertime got closer, things became more frantic. I had almost 3 gallons of water on the stove for the potatoes, and it was taking forever to come to a boil. I'd made the stuffing way early, but I had no way to keep it warm without drying it out. I put the meat thermometer into the bird about 4PM, it read 175 degrees - it takes over 4 hours to cook a 25 pound turkey at 350. I opened a Monster Energy Drink to help deal with the stress. Turns out I took the temperature wrong!

By 5:30 PM, I was in full-stress mode. As people came downstairs from evening prayer, they each thought it would be fun to walk into the kitchen and stand in my way. "So is everything going to be done on time?" someone asked. I wanted to beat him in the head with a metal spoon. As more people walked in and decided they needed to sit at the table I was working at, I started ignoring them and running around the kitchen...stirring, mashing, cutting, and basting all at the same time. Some of them got the hint and decided to leave. Others had to be told directly: "Hey. You are in my way."

A wearied pic of Fr. Bill Hugo and I as he prepares to carve the bird.

In spite of all the stress (the potatoes could have been cooked longer, they got cold because the broccoli and gravy weren't finished yet, someone decided to start adding different ingredients to my food, people continued to get in my way, and dinner started half an hour late), the dinner proved to be a rousing success. I was complimented many times on the task of cooking everything. And when they all started to dig in, I took five minutes to be alone in the kitchen , letting the stress leave my body. For as many high-pressure situations that I've been in over the years, the simple act of cooking a complete turkey dinner proved to be one of those memorable moments I will hold on to.

I sat down after everyone had a chance to get their first helping. Even I had to admit it was pretty good, and I was a little impressed with myself for being able to pull it all off.

Perhaps this wasn't the type of "get outside your comfort zone" task I'd envisioned, but it was a good learning experience. I feel I am in solidarity with those who take the time to cook those big dinners for family, and after this experience I feel I can sympathize, at least a little bit, with the amount of time, effort, stress, and coordination it takes to pull off that kind of meal. It was a very humbling task...being the servant towards my brothers.

I don't plan on making a big dinner like this again anytime soon, but I feel more confident in my ability to do it. Most importantly, I feel confident that I can cook something without getting everyone sick...something truly important when living in community. (As of 1:38 AM, no one has complained of food poisoning yet.)

I'll count this one as a success.

A completely unsolicited thumbs-up from the rest of the community
and a few guests who volunteered to help us eat all the food.

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2 Response to Br. Vito vs. The Turkey

January 12, 2009 at 12:48 PM

Nice work, Br. Emeril!

I just saw something recently about a Jesuit who remarked that he didn't engage in any extraordinary penances, because living in community was enough. :)

My personal challenge last night was to go thru the self-check line at the grocery store with several varieties of produce. Yeah-- that didn't go so well... I wound up with the check-out guy holding my hand thru the latter half of the transaction. I was reminded of Seinfeld's remarks about the amusement park bumper car attendant who rolls his eyes, climbs up on the car and drives for the incompetent dad.

But that doesn't stop us from trying new things!

January 12, 2009 at 4:57 PM

Nicely done!

That doesn't sound like an easy thing at all, & from the tone of your piece, it sounds like you found the same difficulties in putting this dinner together that I would have found.

Because of that, I feel I'm uniquely qualified to say to you (hope you're not getting tired of hearing it): I am proud of you. You stepped outside your comfort zone and did something for some other people....something that didn't come easy to you.

Good job.....bravo to you!