The Thanksgiving Bird
My dad had a very specific technique for cooking our Thanksgiving turkey, inspired by George Ohsawa, the founder of the macrobiotic diet my parents followed religiously when I was young. This method involved brining the turkey overnight in a mixture of water, garlic, cracked pepper, and tamari. Using a basting brush, Dad would wake up dutifully every hour the night before and carefully baste the top of the turkey with his tamari brine. The next day he’d stuff the bird with roasted brown rice stuffing (another recipe inspired by George Ohsawa), carefully wrap it in miles of heavy-duty aluminum foil, place it in the oven on a low flame, and cook it for the entire day—insisting that this slow cooking made the meat extra-tender.
I don’t have any memories of the excellence of my dad’s turkey. But I do have memories of him being so grumpy from staying up all night basting the thing, that he could barely make it through the Oh Thou the Sustainer Sufi grace without yelling at one of us kids and ruining the meal. Afterwards he’d sit silently scowling down at his plate, letting everyone know he was in one of his dangerous moods (Shhh, keep quiet, don’t piss off Dad). It was a horribly depressing scene, and in my opinion, any benefits gained from basting the turkey every hour the night before were more than lost in the resulting damage done to our holiday festivities.
In contrast, my mother was considerably more lighthearted when she prepared Thanksgiving dinner. I don’t recall her turkey cooking technique, but I do remember the two of us laughing in the kitchen as she told me stories about my Italian-Irish-Portuguese grandmother routinely tossing the Thanksgiving turkey out the window in a fit of rage. One year she recalled her entire family eating frozen dinners because Grandmother’s bird had gone out the window and was unsalvageable. Thankfully Mother never tossed our turkey, but I do remember her once chucking a stuffed bell pepper at her boyfriend. Fortunately he ducked, and it hit the wall. For weeks we were sweeping up bits of brown rice from the dining room floor.
In spite of my bumpy family history, Thanksgiving is still one of my favorite holidays. And because I love it so much, I do everything in my power to make sure no grumpiness or drama takes place.
Over the years I’ve managed to create a turkey recipe that’s relatively trouble free (even though it does involve a tamari marinade), which results in the crunchiest, most flavorful skin you’ve ever tasted. My stuffing is a modified version of my dad’s macro brown rice recipe. Only, I add wild rice, apples, and fresh herbs for cheer. My mashed potatoes are vegan to avoid the American wide-ass spread, and are every bit as yummy as the traditional version. And my gravy—well, let’s just say the tamari from the turkey does something magical to it. My husband bakes a divine apple pie and is also in charge of roasting the bird, and I usually take over with the usual unnecessary vegetable sides. In our over twenty years together, no turkey has been tossed in our household nor has our son had to put up with grumpy sullen parents at the table. Like I said, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and I do my best to keep it happy.
*Sufi grace: Oh thou the sustainer of our bodies, hearts, and souls, bless all that we receive in thankfulness. Until the very end, Jai Baba.
Drunken Ohsawa Heritage Turkey
1 heritage turkey, rinsed (inside and out), dried, and salted (save neck bone for making stock for gravy)
1 bottle good, dark beer
2 cups tamari, or 1 cup tamari and 1 cup soy sauce, or 2 cups soy sauce
5 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced lengthwise
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 fresh rosemary sprigs
Wednesday before Thanksgiving, rinse and salt bird inside and out, making sure to remove any plastic bondage equipment attached to the cavity or wings. In a very large pot, pour beer, tamari, 5 cups filtered water, garlic, and cracked pepper. Drop in bird, breast side down, and splash it around a bit with the liquid. Refrigerate overnight. Early the next morning, turnover bird so that the backside is now emerged in the marinade. Remove bird from marinade two hours prior to cooking time and place on a rack in a baking dish. For best results, cook according to the “high heat” roasting method described in the Joy of Cooking. Keep in mind that heritage turkeys remain quite pink inside, so be careful not to overcook.
Princess Mira bai’s Wild Rice Stuffing
½ cup authentic Indian hand-harvested wild rice (for resources http://www.nativewildricecoalition.com, or check the Rainbow Grocery bulk aisle)
½ cup organic short grain brown rice
1 red onion, diced
1 shallot, peeled and thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
¾ cup raisins
2 apples, diced
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
¾ cup toasted walnuts or blanched almonds
2 tablespoons each, rinsed and chopped fresh sage, thyme, and rosemary
olive oil for sautéing
Combine rice in a strainer and rinse under cold water. Place in a rice pot with 2 ¼ cups water, small piece of kombu seaweed, ¼ teaspoon sea salt, and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 35 minutes. Sauté onions until translucent (approximately 5 minutes), add shallot and garlic, and sauté for another 3 minutes. Add raisins, apples, and mushrooms, sauté until mushrooms are soft. Add rice and nuts, and sauté over low heat for 10 minutes. Salt to taste. Let cool prior to stuffing bird.
Best Gravy Ever
2-3 tablespoons flour
sea salt and cracked pepper
When turkey is done roasting, place it on a rack over a large platter to cool. Collect Juices after carving and add to baking pan. Place baking pan over low flame and do the usual gravy thang.
Mother’s Double Yummy Cinnamon-Orange Yams
5 medium-sized yams (the orange things, not the yellow sweet potato things)
¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon orange zest
½ cup orange juice
Preheat oven to 350. Peel and slice yams. Combine all other ingredients in a bowl and pour over yams. Mix well and place in a covered casserole dish for 40 minutes.
Vegan Garlic No Wide Ass Smashers
10-12 medium-sized Yukon gold taters
¾ to 1 cup unsweetened almond or rice milk
½ cup olive oil
6-8 garlic cloves, pealed and finely minced.
Sea salt to taste
¼ teaspoon white pepper
Peel taters. Chop taters. Boil taters. When soft, drain taters. (Leave cup of almond/rice milk on stove while taters are cooking to warm it up.) Add garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Using a hand blender or old-fashioned potato smasher, smash the taters real good, while slowly pouring in the rice milk. Mix and smash until desired creaminess has been achieved.
About the Author: Mira Martin-Parker earned an MFA in creative writing at San Francisco State University. Her work has appeared in various publications, including the Istanbul Literary Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Mythium, and Zyzzyva.