Getting Ready: My Very First Turkey, and What I’m Thankful For

View into our yard.

I am ready to roast the very first Thanksgiving turkey of my life. And a whole one at that. No flat spatchcocked bird. No lonesome turkey breast. A beautiful whole bird. The real deal.

Admittedly, the thought had crept into my mind a while ago. Kind of settled in. As a thought. Nothing more. For someone who was not raised in this country, this can seem like a mammoth endeavor—considering the culinary panic that seems to settle into so many households around this time of the year. Why should I become part of it?

But two weeks ago I ordered a turkey. I picked up the phone and placed my order. I did it without really thinking, afraid that if I did that that would be the end of it. Since then, I’ve changed my order two times. And I spent a few sleepless hours wondering if I should call in one more time to change the pick-up date given the countless recipes that I’ve since pored over. Only extreme embarrassment kept me from making another change.

As many of you know, I was raised in Germany and Greece where this most important American holiday is not celebrated. Over the years I have been invited to many Thanksgiving feasts by friends and colleagues who opened their homes to us newcomers and shared their birds with all the trimmings. Yet somehow I never even considered doing the same in my house. Roasting a whole bird seemed insurmountable. Just for lifting it, I would have to frequent the gym and use dumbbells for months. Did I say I loathe that?

Then something changed two years ago, almost to the day, and something that fits the spirit of this holiday: we closed on our very first home in this country, an old character-rich worker’s cottage on a quiet street with a small yard. Moving into this new home changed a lot for me: it provided the calm respite I needed when my first cookbook was published and took off in ways I never imagined. It also gave me the most inviting sunny kitchen I ever cooked in — with a cozy adjacent dining area. While I always have hosted dinners, big and small, this beautiful space and the publication of my book have instilled me with a newly found confidence for which I’m immensely thankful. And suddenly this year I feel ready. Turkey, here I come to cook you.

My favorite aspect of this American holiday is its reminder to reflect on the gifts life hands to us, something we tend to forget in the daily rush of life. Given the challenges so many face here and abroad, I’m grateful for our home, health, and the friends and family who surround and support us. This year, I’m immensely thankful that my Greek mom was able to come for a month-long visit in October. As our parents get older, a huge journey like this creates anxiety for everyone. Needless to say, I spent days worrying how she would take the long journey—yet when she emerged from the transatlantic flight her cheeks were rosy, she had a huge smile on her face, and she went on to eat and drink with us that night as if she drove here from 15 minutes away.

I’m especially thankful for the countless readers of my cookbook who continue to lift my spirits by sending letters, e-mails, and by publishing recipes and writing on their blogs, sometimes moving me to tears. And it makes me speechless that my book still makes it onto holiday favorite lists, for a second year.

Writing Ancient Grains was a lifelong dream, and to see that it inspires so many people to try grains they might never have considered is the biggest gift of all. Last but not least, I’m thankful for the community of food lovers, writers, bloggers, readers, and eaters I connect with on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and here on my very own nascent blog. Thank you!

22 Responses to Getting Ready: My Very First Turkey, and What I’m Thankful For

  1. I will never forget the look on the face of our German landlord’s 8 year old son when I appeared at the dining room table with the first Thanksgiving turkey he had ever seen! He was a picky eater, so wasn’t terribly thrilled with either the stuffing or the bird. And though he seemed okay with the pecan pie, he carefully picked out the pecans and laid them aside :-)!

    • Maria says:

      Nancy, what a hilarious story. I hope the parents of the boy were able to enjoy the feast. I can’t imagine they wouldn’t. The turkeys I have been served in this country were always mouth-watering and memorable.

      How long ago were you in Germany? I ask because I had a hard time finding pecans when I was young. And I loved them! My dad had introduced us to maple syrup which he cherished and I believe also to pecans after he spent some time in the US. Lucky us! So happy that I don’t have to look hard anymore. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!

  2. Tina Ruggiero says:

    Happy Thanksgiving, Maria! I have no doubt you will roast the most delicious turkey — and serve it with exquisite, grain-based sides. ;>

    • Maria says:

      Tina, thank you. Happy Thanksgiving to you as well! I’m pretty confident about the grain and other sides—the rest we will see. But I’m happy in my heart. It’s just wonderful to start this celebration at my home.

  3. Carol Sacks says:

    Moving, wonderful post, Maria. May your first turkey be delicious and your holiday festive!

  4. Winnie says:

    Beautiful words, Maria! We are all so thankful for you (and your lovely book), too…enjoy what I am sure will be a smashingly delicious Thanksgiving meal 🙂

    • Maria says:

      Thank you so much, Winnie! I’m moved beyond words by the kindness people have expressed. Wishing you a wonderful and glorious Thanksgiving feast as well!

  5. Wendy Read says:

    What a beautiful and heartfelt post Maria 🙂 I am so pleased you had a wonderful visit with your Mom, both of my parents are gone now, but thankfully, my daughter will be here to enjoy the holiday with us this year. Your turkey will be fabulous!

    • Maria says:

      Wendy, what a sweet note to get. Thank you for writing. I’m so sorry that your parents won’t be with you but remembering them is the most important, especially during the holidays. So glad your daughter will be there. Wishing you all a delicious and festive meal and a Happy Thanksgiving!

  6. Jamie says:

    Maria, I am not yet a happy owner of your cookbook (and I stress the “yet”) but I am one of the lucky ones to have met you through social media and in person and become both your fan and your friend. You may have much to be thankful for, but so do we in your friendship, kindness, talent and wisdom. And your support and encouragement.

    I have never once celebrated nor cooked Thanksgiving dinner since moving to Europe and have only been back in the US for one maybe once in these 25 years and I truly miss it. The food, the complicity, the joy and fun. I really do. No matter how that bird turns out, you’ll see that the meal is a great success because it is the people who gather around the table that makes it a success! I wish you luck with that bird….


    • Maria says:

      Jamie, so kind of you to write, and I so appreciate all the words of encouragement. I need them right now. I can certainly imagine that you miss Thanksgiving. I miss being in Germany during our own very special and traditional Weihnachten or Christmas. The most important is indeed that we are surrounded by family and friends and share a meal. I believe in this year round as it is one of life’s most amazing gifts. Thank you for writing and I will be setting an imaginary plate for you at our table–perhaps for next time?

  7. Marissa says:

    Maria, this post is a soft, sweet smelling breeze. I especially love the thought of your rosy-cheeked mom and her huge smile.
    I’m so excited for you – your first whole turkey! Your Ancient Grains recipes have NEVER failed me and I’m certain that your bird will be exquisite. A very happy Thanksgiving to you, my friend.

  8. What a lovely post Maria! You will do fine with all the information out there now, if you don’t go dizzy first trying to take it all in, you will have every pearl of wisdom you need before you begin. I did wet brine last year and leave it upside through part of the cooking and it was the moistest, tastiest bird I ever made. This year, I am going to dry brine for 2 days turning it onto its breast for the second half I think. And I subscribe after trying many methods, to the high heat Alton Brown, then turn it down and leave it alone method. (no basting). But you know what really matters?? – the gravy and that’s my husband’s job 🙂 (though I do make the stock for the base). Will be anxious to hear/see all you come up with. So happy for all of your success and confidence Maria!

    • Maria says:

      Oh, I haven’t even started thinking about the gravy, or which side to put the bird in first, or all the different brining options, dry or wet or none…Currently I’m just wondering how to create enough space in the fridge. But I’m certainly getting the Thanksgiving fever. I guess I have arrived on these shores. Thank you, Beth, and Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!

  9. Traca, Seattle Tall Poppy says:

    When I first started cooking, I was determined to master Thanksgiving turkey. Fortunately, I worked at a restaurant who would sell me 8 pound birds at cost. In the end, I settled on the Chez Panisse brined turkey recipe and the Reynolds Turkey Bag method. Inevitably I’d hear, “Why is everyone else’s turkey so dry, and yours is so moist?” Success! Here’s the recipe for the turkey brine:

    • Maria says:

      Lucky me to have all of you sending their good thoughts and time-tested tips. I will need them. Thank you for the link, Traca. Happy Thanksgiving to you!

  10. Maria says:

    So sweet of you to write, Jacqueline. Your turkey last year was wonderful and we look forward to celebrating together some day again. Wishing you and your family a joyful Thanksgiving!

  11. Jacqueline says:

    We’ll miss you and A. this year. I have no doubt your first turkey will be wonderful. Can’t wait to hear all about it!

  12. The Souper says:

    Maria, it will be very rewarding to cook your turkey for the first time. After years of letting other family members handle the star of the Thanksgiving table, I brined and roasted my first large turkey last year. I enjoyed the brining process and roasting the turkey was easy. The flavor and moistness of my fresh turkey was worth the effort 🙂 Best of luck to you.

    The Souper

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