post-turkey post-mortem

Wabi-sabi lunch for 27-odd folks.. There are some things I would do the same way and obviously some changes.. but hindsight is always the best vision! I’m taking a cue from a process in my work called the post-mortem, where I assess what went well or badly through my party planning.

The Good
1. Planning the menu ahead of time. Very good idea. And don’t deviate if someone offers to bring more starchy fillers. Thanksgiving isn’t about bulk, it’s about quality. People don’t eat as much as you think! I have about 5 lbs of food left over in the fridge at work! The bulk of it are rolls left over from no one touching them. Sadly, they are wasted.

2. Friends and support! Someone who can offer to make desserts is like a wonderful fairy sent from heaven! Someone else who can make sure there is enough dinnerware, tables and chairs is a savior. A husband who helps reheat your soups, thickens the gravies, and goes grocery shopping when you forgot a key ingredient is a saint.

3. Offer an array of sparkling drinks including water and an ice-bucket for ice cubes. Make sure you have coffee and a kettle for tea post-dinner. A sharpie to label your cup is good! This was a work party and we do not indulge in alcohol for any work event. It’s good protocol!

The Bad
1. Make sure you have Gluten free options for apps! .. Next round, I need to take appetizers seriously. I outsourced the task of buying local cheeses, marinated olives, peppers,roasted garlic, mushrooms, patê, jams, and crackers, however the person had so much to buy, they didn’t know to get a gluten-free cracker option. I even saw these appetizers ahead of time and thought to myself: Oh! I really should remember to get some sliced apples for the cheeses or buy a GF-cracker at the store.. – next time I need to jot it into my iPhone immediately!
What happened? Our GF pro-rider said, “Are any of these crackers gluten-free?” Crap. Uh, no. Sorry. You have to eat that soft, creamy patê on. . a spoon?

2. Do not slow-cook a turkey unless you are able to wake up early enough to control the internal temperature.

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I put a 14lb bird at 250deg and left it from 11:30pm and woke at 6 am. The turkey was small so I should’ve woken up at 5 or maybe 4:30. (I don’t blame the recipe because they say it works with a bigger bird.. so I should’ve adjusted my time.) In the most groggy state of mind (semi-delerious) I checked and rechecked.. really? 165?! Already? Then, because the whole turkey was steaming under a foil tent, the skin was soft. If I did it all again, I would pull the sucker out and call it done. But what did I do in my delusion? Crisp the skin. Yup. And not very well, either. Lucky my next bird (turkey#2) was perfectly cooked and presentable. After carving, Turkey#1 was dry near the breast bone. My first dry turkey after 6 years of good ones. *wow*
(sounds sorta good when I say it, but not when each turkey feeds at least 10 people.. ) No failure is acceptable with hungry mouths to feed 😉

3. Do ample exercises for lower back muscles a month before Thanksgiving. Just kidding. Do NOT continually baste your turkey by removing it from the oven and putting it on the stovetop. Yes, you’ll retain heat. Yes, you can baste without missing a single inch, but you will need chiropractic and massages for your aching back! I’m actually in a bit of pain from doing this and it has been almost 6 days since cooking. I cannot bend over without pain and riding my bike on anything except a flat road hurts. Lifting roasting trays multiple times in awkward directions is a total no-no. It’s not worth the risk of injury.
–Hey, why are you walking funny?
–Oh, threw out my back while roasting turkeys.
–Really?
–Yeah, really.

The Ugly
No matter how tired you may be or how much you cooked or how much you planned, the final decorative touches can elevate your dinner into a feast or degrade it into a soup kitchen. Sorry, but it’s true.

1. Foliage. For $40 bucks, I purchased some dried lantern flowers and a lot of eucalyptus foliage and mature buds. These do not need watering and can last a few weeks and dry out nicely. You need to wear gloves to handle these sappy-oozing things, but they smell woodsy and are quite beautiful. I already had glass vases from previous Thanksgivings/Parties so, I made little arrangements for each table.

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2. Mood lighting. Thick based candles set on little hexagonal mirrors (from Ikea) serve as an elegant option to candle-sticks and drippy wax.

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3. Pretty, eclectic tablecloths for dining tables. Serve tables get covered with brown craft paper. If you have a lot of dishes, it’s nice to be able to write the dish description on the paper covered table. I made folded little cards with the name of the dish the day before.

4. Serving ice-cream? Make an ice-cream topping station! Even if people don’t top their desserts, it’s pretty and festive with not too much effort. Just make sure your guests have no nut allergies and the cacao nibs are vegan! I had shredded, dried coconut, crushed peanuts, walnuts, and cacao.

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As much as I dislike aluminum trays… they are pretty darn useful. Freezable, heatable, serve and store. If you have a lot of people, over 8, they serve as a good way to mix a lot of ingredients! (like stuffing or roasted veggies!) Get a few sizes if you can. I also used the big ones to store the leftover turkey carcasses in the freezer.

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If you have to make over 20lbs of mashed potatoes, get a potato ricer. If you need to core more than 10 apples, or are poaching pears, invest in an apple corer. Saves time and headache!

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Have enough tongs and serve spoons for each dish. Make sure you place vegan dishes far from the meat dishes because people always accidentally use tongs on a few dishes. This keeps people from cross contaminating.

A few dishes I will surely do again: Vegan colcannon (made with turnips and potatoes with kale, coconut water, grapeseed oil and scallions) and wild rice with roasted chestnuts and quinoa.

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