TurkeyGate 2017

I have a sign hanging in my kitchen “Balabusta at Work” and if you aren’t familiar with Yiddish, it means specializing in cooking and entertaining. Well, technically it means excellence in all forms of “wifely” work in the home, but the cooking and entertaining for holidays is what my Gram used to mean when she said she was a Balabusta. Her only daughter, my Aunt Doris followed suit, and now in the next generation, I am doing the cooking and entertaining for all the holidays.

I take my work seriously and I am a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to making the very best of the recipes I use. For example, my Matzoh balls and my kugel are legendary.

My Thanksgiving recipes are every bit as important, and I pride myself on making the juiciest, tastiest turkey, and all of the side casseroles. My daughter thinks that I make the best green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, (both embellished recipes) and my son is the biggest fan of my stuffing. (Handed down and embellished from their great-grandmother, Omi.) My new children, my daughter in law and son in law Josh both love all of the above and are big fans too.

Important note to add here: one year my first cousin, who also grew up on my Gram’s wonderful cooking, came for my Thanksgiving. He looked at me after eating and said simply, “Yeah, you got the genes.” I knew exactly what he meant – Gram’s cooking genes. Thanks Gram (OBM)

My husband Gary, who is also a fan of my holiday cooking, has been on a quirky kick of the last years in eliminating GMOs and non-organic food. (Read that hilarious blog if you have a chance.) In fact, he does the food shopping lest I bring home something with the dreaded high fructose corn syrup in it. (The number one reason for heart disease according to Gary)

Gradually, like a man on a mission, Gary is altering my ingredients for my recipes because he does the shopping. This year, he proudly announced that we would have our first ever wholly organic meal. Even the cream of mushroom soup and turkey gravy were organic.

He bought a non-self-basting organic turkey too and I was a bit skeptical. I like my Butterball self-basting turkeys and they have always been easy to make and delicious.

(They self-baste due to CHEMICALS, Gary harumphed!) We won’t even get into the chemicals he has imbibed in the past.

Still, he swore it would turn out okay, and that’s just the beginning of the story.

My daughter Elissa came to my house to make a side dish for her Friendsgiving at work with my supervision and help. I bought her an aluminum dish to make it in, and while I was at the store, I bought the usual heavy-duty turkey roasting aluminum pan as well.

The pans were side-by-side, and when Elissa came back to pick up her hot casserole at my home, she saw the extra aluminum pan and helped herself to it, using it to transport the hot dish she was bringing in her car. She assumed that is what is was for.

The problem is: she didn’t tell me that she took it and I was not home to see, as we spent a few days at our friend’s country place.

On Thanksgiving, I looked high and low for the turkey pan. It was nowhere to be found. I never even thought of Elissa taking a big turkey pan with her, so I figured my housekeeper tossed it by mistake or put it somewhere not to be found.

I sent my husband out to our ONE BLOCK AWAY CONVENIENT but expensive grocery store, where we shop when we are in a hurry and need a last minute item, to get a turkey pan. Repeat: ONE BLOCK AWAY and OPEN. WITH GREAT TURKEY PANS.

He then decided to call a cheaper grocery store a mile away to see if they were open and if they had turkey pans. They answered yes to both questions.

My husband came home with the flimsiest, thinnest, smallish, aluminum roasting pan, not oblong, but rectangular and it barely fit the turkey. In the meantime, he was bragging that it only cost $1.00 (My other one cost a whopping $3.49 at the expensive grocery store.)

Would you want to cook an expensive organic turkey in a thin, cheap, barely big-enough roasting pan? No, of course, you would not. I was already not happy.

So aside from my leaving my kitchen where I was busy preparing, that’s what I was stuck with.

Since the turkey wasn’t self-basting, I put an eighth of an inch of water at the bottom of the pan along with some onions to flavor it. I would later use that water to baste the turkey.

Not even 45 minutes later, right around my first basting time, me, and my daughter and son-in-law smelled a burning smell. I turned on the oven light, and the turkey seemed fine, but dry. There was no water left at the bottom to baste it. I complained to my husband about the dry-burnt smelling organic turkey and he yelled to just put more water over it and in the pan, which is what I did. Granted, I should not have assumed evaporation and investigated the situation further.

About 30 minutes later, smoke was oozing out of the oven and the smoke detector was about to go off from the amount of smoke in the house. Josh went to the oven and saw it was filled with smoke to the point where he could not see the turkey.

In a panic, I opened all windows and turned on the exhaust fan.

Peering at the turkey after the smoke escaped the oven into the kitchen and house, it looked dry, and there once again was no water at the bottom to baste. The smoke was getting worse and Josh was smart enough to look underneath the turkey pan, where there was a heap of black charcoal burning stuff on the oven floor. Since the burning stuff had festered for an hour, it was stuck in solid masses on the oven floor.

Obviously, the turkey pan was leaking and I was then yelling at my husband for buying a cheap one dollar pan that did not hold up, and then yelling at my daughter who I had just discovered took the original pan. My husband was yelling that I put a hole in the pan. Yeah, right.

Aside from my house being smelly and smoky, I had six casseroles to BAKE IN MY OVENS along with the turkey and only one double oven and NO TURKEY PAN. I was in a panic.

(Little did I know to add insult to injury was that my daughter and Josh were finding this scene very comical and ratting me out to my son and daughter-in-law via a long string of text messages since they had not arrived yet. Just wait until YOU are the Balabusta in charge Elissa! We will see how funny it is!)

As I said I am a perfectionist in the kitchen and we were about to spend Thanksgiving without a turkey. I did not find that funny at all.

What I did: I removed the turkey from the oven, and put it in a deep cookie sheet, and placed it in the lower oven to resume cooking, with no liquid in it. I then removed the racks in the top, messed up oven, and chiseled, scraped, and scrubbed the bottom of the oven so I could cook casseroles in it. This took a bit of time and elbow grease as this stuff was NOT coming up and I had to be very careful as the oven was still hot. My husband yelled to use the self-cleaning device on my oven but I could not because it ties up BOTH OVENS FOR THREE HOURS (it locks them both and you cannot complete it early) and we would not have eaten until Midnight at that rate, so I cleaned it the old-fashioned way, if a bit manic and forceful. What a mess!

We eventually cleared out the smoke from the house enough to close the windows as it was a chilly evening.

End of story, the turkey turned out fine with no basting at all. We had tons of organic stove top turkey gravy to use on both it and the stuffing, so no one was complaining it was dry.

Postscript: My one-year-old beautiful double oven—top oven– will never, ever be quite the same again I am sad to say.

The chiseling damage is fortunately quite small, but it is there, and it aggravates me because it was all due to a missing aluminum pan and a one dollar skimpy replacement. That $2.49 cent difference is minuscule compared to the damage on this balabusta’s oven. As Omi of blessed memory used to say, “Penny wise and dollar foolish.”

I plan to do two things to correct this for the future as I am a fixer of all potential problems. One is to buy a REAL turkey roasting pan at the store –  so I don’t have to rely on disposable ones; (which are easier to clean, but a waste to have to buy every  year) and I plan to buy one of those removable mats to protect my oven floor from spills from casseroles, lasagne, and other things that always seem to bubble over and make a mess on it.   (Oh Bed, Bath, and Beyond! Expect me soon! With my coupons!) I have less storage space in this new house and kitchen and I have no idea where the roasting pan will be stored, but I am officially finished with aluminum disposable ones.

I just sure wish I had done both things before this Thanksgiving.

NOTE: it was lovely and delicious and a wonderful evening anyway. As my 90 year old dad quoted – “It was TREMENDOUS!”

Let me hear your kitchen disasters, or potential ones. I love to share.


  • FYI, arlene, check your oven manual –most of them say you cannot put a mat directly on the oven floor. You can put it on a lower rack and have the turkey cook on a rack just one rung above that. A heavy roasting pan is a good thing to have.

    • Yes, the box they came in said that. I will keep them there to “cover” the bottom and move them to a rack when needed.
      I guess they need the air circulating from the rack.
      Hope your TG was perfect.

  • Dea Arlene,

    Like you, I pride myself on my knowledge of cooking and consider myself a darn good cook and “Balabusta” ! While cooking for the last Jewish holiday I decided to make twice baked potatoes in advance so that I could spend less time in the kitchen away from my 15 quests. I have prepared these the very same way zillions of times in the past, with no problem.
    My mom has always told me to “poke” the potatoes several times to avoid any pressure building up inside the which could lead to disaster. I always do this to each potato 5-7 times in various places.
    In addition this took place on a Sunday early morning. While preparing my other dishes I heard a huge, loud explosion. Yup, several of the potatoes exploded simultaneously. What a mess……There was potato hanging from the roof of my oven and on every inch of the inside and under the bottom floor as well,which was burning uncontrollably filling my entire home with horrible smoke and soot.
    Like you, I began to panic. My wonderful “not so handy” Jewish husband had no clue what to do to help the situation.
    Every holiday I am extremely thankful to have an amazing handyman who came to my rescue, pulling the entire over apart and even cleaned the mess !!

  • Oh my how I identified with your hilarious story! I too am always trying to save a buck so this could have easily happened to me. My disaster story involved trying to accommodate my gluten free daughter in law, I was drying out gluten free bread to add to my homemade cornbread ( made with gluten free flour) but lo and behold it was gone from the pantry. I spent a long time looking for it and it was d day (dressing making day)! After a search high and low I went outside to garage and the brown bag was sitting on our car! One of my grown kids had taken it to feed the ducks in our lake but thank goodness went with the grands to the swings instead. It had a different consistency than regular bread but the balabusta that I am, I made it work! Couldn’t even tell. Beats searching and driving 20 mikes to a gluten free store to get sub par dressing! What we don’t do for our kids!

    Ps tell Gary I brine my turkey but won’t buy brining bags and use doubled garbage bags to save a buck!

  • Love it, so could so identify!

  • Your kitchen disaster was both scary (with the smoke) and stressful (needed to have the turkey and oven to use for Thanksgiving company).
    My kitchen disaster was making a cheesecake in one of those pans that clips around the outside. The pan, through much use, must have been slightly warped because the cheesecake started to leak and drip into the bottom of the oven. I turned off the oven and opened the downstairs windows as the smoke detector continued to blast. I went to yank the batteries out, which I did, and it was still blasting (now, in addition to the one upstairs). I was only living in my current residence for a couple of weeks. My kids, (ages 11 and 13, at the time), who couldn’t take the noise, ran out of the house and down the block. I did not know how to get the smoke detector to stop making noise. In my previous apartments, all I had to do was pull out the batteries. When the fire truck came (bringing much unwanted noise with it), they found me standing outside wearing ear muffs in September A firefighter very quickly got the smoke detector to stop and explain to me how all I needed to do was pull the breaker switch in the garage because it was electrically connected. I never knew about those kinds of smoke detectors, so I learned this lesson through an embarrassing, but important experience. Obviously the cheesecake and the pan were thrown out. Luckily, I also learned that my oven was self cleaning. That saved the day for me!

  • My Thanksgiving adventures were similar. Yesterday, I was supposed to make post-Thanksgiving dinner for the four of us, My husband, me, and my son, and his beloved, Symphony. Luckily, no one else was involved.
    I bought a turkey breast and stuffing en croute from Trader Joe’s, and decided to bake a pie and make persimmon and pomegranate with candied walnut salad and mashed cauliflower on the side.
    The pie went okay, but then the oven refused to heat up. It wasn’t the first time that had happened, but I so infrequently use the big oven I forgot about it. I put the turkey in a small pan and popped it into the toaster oven. But that oven, also aged, has only fragmentary numbers on the temperature gauge. I put it on what I assumed was the correct temperature and waits for it to finish so I could roast the drumsticks and vegetables. Only About halfway into the process did I realize by peering in at the pale flaccid stick of dough that it was on 275 rather than 375.
    I raised the temperature and reset the time, and we waited and waited and waited.
    The kids ate left over Chinese dumplings and tuna salad while I went ballistic.
    Finally, it cooked. I put on the drumsticks and vegetables, which finished when we were just having our postprandial tea. In time to repackage them and make a place for them in the fridge. And the turkey? Fell apart. Gone in two or three bites.
    Not a balabusta, if I needed proof.

  • Buy a Nesco electric roaster. It saves oven space and cooks the turkey a bit faster and usually juicy.

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