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VICTORY GARDEN GAL

Thanksgiving turkey in the victory garden

Posted on November 21, 2021

OpinionColumns

DeeAnn Rivera

DeeAnn Rivera

I adore spring and its newness and hope for beginnings, but I love fall!

My absolute favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. It’s a low-expectation holiday that centers on food, family and friends. It’s a potluck on steroids!

Thanksgiving is the ultimate underdog of holidays since it’s often squeezed out by Halloween and Christmas — just a blip of shelf space in the stores. Fortunately, nature goes all-out in decking the trees with brilliant reds and dreaming yellows. I love kicking the crunchy brown leaves when I walk in the evenings. The crisp chill in the air that lets me wrap up in cozy sweaters and drink lots of hot chocolate.

I enjoy scrounging for the last of the harvest from the garden and putting the beds to rest. I like the pause that we get before we rush into the Christmas frenzy followed by the resetting of the New Year.

In 1995, I was 25 years old. I was a single mother in the Army stationed in Germany and Thanksgiving was feeling bleak. It was not a pause or a picturesque scene from a Hallmark movie. I was in a fog of depression — I was far from family with two small children in a foreign country, and I wasn’t feeling all warm and fuzzy.

I was cold, stressed, divorced and terribly homesick. I did not have one festive bone in my body.

Two things kept me going: my kids and my faith. I had a son and a daughter, and I needed to pull myself together because I was all they had. I decided to invite a few of my co-workers who were single to share Thanksgiving with us.

The biggest problem was that I had no idea how to cook a turkey. For those who don’t remember 1995, there was no internet, Google, Amazon or Alexa to help me.

I had checked out a couple of cookbooks from the library, but the recipes were very complicated. We were limited in what was available at the commissary, and I wasn’t feeling adventurous enough to try a German grocery store.

I vividly remember where I got the information to cook the most amazing turkey. It was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. I was telling one of my guests to not have high expectations of how well this meal was going to turn out, because I was clueless on how to cook a turkey.

I worked in a motor pool where I was responsible for ordering parts for equipment. Staff Sgt. Brown was needing some equipment for his communication van, and he happened to overhear my conversation. He said, “I can tell you how to cook a turkey.”

Skeptical, I asked, “Is it good?”

He answered, “The best turkey you will ever eat.”

It was a bold statement, but absolutely true! Every year that I host Thanksgiving, I think of him and how he helped turn my holiday from potential disappointment with more stress to an amazing success year after year after year. He gave me advice that I still treasure today, while he probably doesn’t even remember the conversation. Kind words can change lives.

I recognize it sounds melodramatic that having a fabulous turkey at Thanksgiving helped my struggle with that season in my life. But it really did. I realized I could do hard things, like cook a whole holiday meal for family and friends.

I could be alone, but I didn’t have to be lonely — I had friends who cared enough to show up. I had beautiful children who deserved a mother with a positive outlook, and I had faith that I was loved and deserved to be happy.

Getting wisdom is empowering, as well as having the attitude of being a victor versus being a victim of my circumstance (I can slay some turkey and giants, y’all). Reaching out with kind words didn’t cost him much, but it made a world of difference for me. Don’t forget that no matter how put-together someone looks on the outside, they can be struggling to get through that day or that hour or even that minute.

Thank you, Staff Sgt. Brown, wherever you are, for being kind and helping a young woman learn to adult. Thank you for the secret to the best turkey ever!

But most of all at Thanksgiving, I like taking a moment to remember to be grateful for what I cherish. My family and friends are at the top of the list, but I have a warm house, enough food to eat and share, health and access to health care if I need it, freedom to worship, changing seasons and opportunity that is only limited by willingness to work for it.

We have so much as Americans to be thankful for!

DeeAnn Rivera is a Spring Hope resident who blogs at VictoryGardenGal.com. Email her at VictoryGardenGal@gmail.com.

Staff Sgt. Brown’s Favorite Thanksgiving Turkey

INGREDIENTS

Turkey (any size)

Bay leaves

Liquid oil (I use olive, but vegetable oil works just as well)

Salt and pepper

Whole lemon

Whole orange

Whole onion

Whole apple

Oven roasting bag

Pan big enough to hold turkey

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to the temperature instructed on turkey. Prepare the turkey by removing anything that’s in the body (sometimes there’s parts like the neck, liver and gizzard inside a paper bag). Rub the outer surface with cooking oil. Chop the lemon, orange, onion and apple into quarters and stuff until the turkey cavity is full. Stick the bay leaves on the outside of the turkey, use several — 10-12 leaves, depending on how big your turkey is. Salt and pepper the outside of the turkey. Put the turkey into the oven roasting bag, close it with the plastic tie and place in a pan with the breast side down (the juices from the center are going to drip down to flavor the breast). The size of your turkey will be on the tag. Do the math and figure out how long you need to cook your bird. Put the turkey in the oven for the appropriate amount of time. No need to do anything else — the oven bag does all the work. Take out and let it rest for 10 minutes before cutting. Ta-da: the best turkey ever!

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