Staying Alive

November is traditionally a bad month for American turkeys.  The vast majority will soon  sacrifice their lives for our dining pleasure on the fourth Thursday of this month.

Thankfully, for these guys (and girls), they are not in the majority.


Last July, my son decided to buy seven baby turkeys as an investment.  We did careful research on varieties and care, and we opted for a couple of heritage breeds that came with promises of gentleness and friendliness.  Some folks may wonder why we’d want to be friends with our future food, and I understand that.  It just makes the handling much less difficult.  Turkeys get big, and their beaks and toenails are nothing to sneeze at.  Friendly and gentle is good when you have to get up close and personal with them on a twice-daily basis.

Back to July.  After some Divine intervention in getting our truck started, my son and I headed out to meet a couple of friends for the 45-minute drive to the turkeys’ house.  (It takes a special kind of friend to be excited about picking up baby turkeys, and we had chosen just the right family!)  The poultry pick-up went smoothly.  The babies were adorable, and we got all of our questions answered by the very helpful and knowledgeable turkey lady.  We were soon back on the road with a peeping crate of seven fluffballs.

Long story short, the turkeys have been a pretty easy venture.  (We are down to six, but that’s a story for another time.)  Even though my son is their primary caregiver, I peek my head in to their movable coop from time to time just to talk turkey.  They make the most interesting sounds–much softer and more musical than the gobble alarm with which we are all familiar.  They are so naturally curious that any new thing gets their thorough observation.

Yesterday we moved the turkeys to their winter quarters in the barn.  I was a little nervous about how the disruption would affect them–especially the toms who probably weigh about ten pounds at this point.  Things actually went very smoothly, though, and they were soon settled into their new home, curiously checking out every corner and making quick work of all of the spiders.

I went in the house and my son stayed outside to finish moving feeders and to clean the turkey’s waterer.  He soon runs in to tell me that the turkeys have already escaped.  Yikes!  Eventually, we want them be able to free-range in our pasture, but they need to come to terms with their new sleeping quarters first.  Turkeys will automatically go in to roost at dusk, but they must first know where it’s safe to roost.  We planned to confine them to their new pen for a week or so–making sure they know that this is their home–before opening the door and allowing them out during the day.

My daughters and son and I all hurried outside to herd turkeys.  Upon arrival, we discovered that it wasn’t as bad as we had thought.  All six birds were just roosting on top of the gate to the pasture.  Two of the kids went around to the outside and gently pushed each bird back into the pen.  We then caught each one and clipped their wings.  I won’t say that this was particularly easy or enjoyable work, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been with more aggressive turkeys.  I felt bad taking my scissors to such beautiful feathers, but it really is safer for the birds at this point.  If you know anyone who wants to make a feathered headdress, I might be able to help ’em out.


My son hopes to butcher and sell a few of the birds for profit this Christmas or even for Easter.  Since they were born so late in the season, they’re just not quite big enough to be anyone’s showstopper this Thanksgiving.  I would kind of like to keep a pair, though–a tom and a hen–for breeding.  Not only do I hear that their eggs are fairly valuable, but I think turkeys would be a nice addition to our little farm.

Sometimes, we try something new and it really, really works.  Sometimes, it really, really doesn’t.  For now, these turkeys seem to be working for us.  Either way, we are certainly working for them.  They’ve got at least a month on almost every other turkey in these united states.

Thanksgiving Leftovers

I am always somewhat “got” when people tell me they do not like leftovers.  It just does not make sense in my “little, pointed head”, as my mother used to say.  Whether I understand it or not, though, many people feel that an encore performance of last night’s supper is beyond their level of endurance.

For me, leftovers are free food.  With $300/month to feed my family of five, I have less than $10/day to fill everybody’s bellies.  Actually, I have less than that when I consider that detergents, paper products and cleaners also come out of that amount.  So, if I put $10 toward grilled chicken on Monday, I rejoice to use any remaining chicken in quesadillas on Tuesday.  I consider it free food.  I only had to pay for it once out of our budget, and yet I have the privilege of using it for more than one meal.

Don’t get me wrong:  I can definitely get tired of eating the same thing time and time again.  However, when my ability to be a stay-at-home momma is threatened by something as mundane as wasting food, I can become very creative in re-purposing the food God has given our family.

One of the ways I deal with leftovers is by sticking them in the freezer for another time.  This is especially helpful when it comes to soups like chili, ham & beans, vegetable and gumbo, which tend to grow to the size of the pot I use.  I can only handle about three meals of the same soup before I start getting grouchy, and we all know that when Momma ain’t happy…nobody’s happy.  In my household, tucking half of a pot of soup in the freezer for another day is in everyone’s best interest.

I also use the freezer to my advantage when it comes to large quantities of meat, like ham and turkey.  My family will not balk at eating these meats in a dozen different ways over the course of a week and a half, but meat is expensive, so I freeze part of it in order to reduce the usage of a high-cost ingredient.  I honestly think my dear husband could eat half of a 10-lb. ham in a three day period.  I’m not sure that would be in his best interest,  so I wrap the meat up well in freezer bags and essentially hide it from him, putting it away for another time.

Another way I avoid “leftovers fatigue” is to make sure I prepare things in a variety of ways.  When we have a large amount of turkey leftover, I can easily serve it in 3 or 4 ways, with only one method reminiscent of our Thanksgiving feast.  Soups, quesadillas, quiches, hot & cheesy sandwiches and turkey salad are just a few of the ways I can take the humdrum out of even the largest drumsticks.

And, speaking of Thanksgiving feasts, my children greatly anticipate Turkey Day leftovers for our yearly tradition of manhattans with store-bought white bread.  My husband and I firmly believe that a turkey manhattan is only a turkey manhattan when eaten with the kind of spongey white bread we associate with our earliest remembrances of turkey manhattans.  So, once a year, we buy a loaf of the flavorless, nutrient-poor stuff to take us back to our childhoods.  I’ve thought about changing this one ingredient and going with a whole grain version, but I’m not sure it would fly with my husband.  Maybe I should put my foot down, but I am hiding ham from the man.  In our almost 20 years of marriage, we have learned to pick our battles.

The following recipe is perfect for using a variety of Thanksgiving leftovers.  With it, you can use turkey, dressing, corn and even green beans.  This is also a wonderful dish to freeze for another day.

Cha-Cha Chicken Casserole

3-4 c. cooked, shredded turkey OR chicken

3 c. leftover gravy OR 2 cans cream of chicken soup

2 c. green beans, corn or a combination

1 1/4 c. milk

3-4 c. leftover stuffing OR 1 pkg. stuffing mix

Combine all ingredients and pour into 9×13” baking dish.

Bake at 375 for about 30 minutes, until mixture is bubbly and stuffing is browned.

This article was originally printed in The Courier-Times on November 29, 2105.

Emily’s Tetrazzini

Though traditionally prepared with turkey, tetrazzini can also be prepared with chicken.  This is especially handy for my friend, Emily, because she and her husband grow both of them on their small farm–along with a lot of other tasty meal components.

Regardless of what kind of farming a body does, it’s hard work.  The hours are exhausting, and the to do list is pretty much never-ending.  On top of that, farmers have to often wrestle with the weather, outsmart a variety of pests and predators and contend with broken-down equipment.

Always broken-down equipment.

For a number of years now, I have watched Emily, and her husband, Kyle, take these struggles in stride while trying to make a living, to build a strong marriage and to raise their precious children.  I am impressed with their commitment to farming.  More importantly, I am impressed with their commitment to one another and to their children.  It’s easy to let the important things slide–date nights, family birthdays, small celebrations, even meal times around the table.  There’s the battle of the tyranny of the urgent raging inside every one of us, but I wonder if it rages more feverishly inside of a farmer.  It takes a good bit of wisdom, a little bit of maturity and even a touch of humility for most farmers to live according to their true priorities.

Anyway, I’m proud of my friends for who they are and what they’ve chosen.  Plus, I love this tetrazzini recipe that Emily shared with me a couple of weeks ago.  She and I are often swapping recipes and sharing what we’ve learned in the kitchen.  We both like to eat, and one of the ways we love on our loved ones is by feeding them foods we hope they will enjoy.

I share this recipe with you and encourage you to tune out the to do list and join your family around the table each evening.  If this is new to you, it might take a week or two for your crew to adapt to the new normal…but they will adapt.  And, it will be a worthwhile endeavor on your part–one you will not regret.

1 box (1 lb.) of uncooked pasta of your choice
1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. flour
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp. dried parsley
3 c. chicken/turkey broth (homemade or store-bought)
2 c. milk
1 2/3 c. grated Parmesan cheese
3-4 c. cooked, chopped turkey or chicken
3/4 c. chopped mushrooms (Emily says these are optional, but I think they’re very NOT optional.)

2 T. butter, melted
1 c. bread crumbs or crushed crackers
1/3 c. grated Parmesan cheese.

Mix together.

Preheat oven to 375F. Grease 9×13” baking dish.

Prepare pasta according to package directions but reduce cooking time by 2-3 minutes.  Drain and place in prepared baking dish.

Add the cooked, cubed turkey/chicken (and mushrooms, if adding); gently mix in with the pasta.

In a medium-sized saucepan, melt the butter over low-medium heat.  Once melted, add the minced garlic and cook for about 1 minute.  Add the flour and whisk together.  Cook for about 1 minute, or until bubbly.  Gradually stir in the turkey/chicken stock and milk. Increase heat to medium and heat/stir until the mixture begins to bubble.

Remove from heat and add in the freshly grated Parmesan cheese.  Add parsley.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  (if using homemade, unsalted stock, you will probably need about 2 tsp. of salt).

Pour the sauce over the noodles and turkey/chicken.

Spread the crumb topping evenly over the noodle-meat-sauce mixture.

Bake for about 25 minutes, or until hot and bubbly.

NOTE:  This can easily be made the day before, wrapped tightly and tucked into the fridge until serving time.  You will probably need to double the baking time if starting cold from the refrigerator.  Or, you can wrap it up tightly and stick into the freezer for another time.  Just be sure to thaw before baking.

Southwestern Chicken (or Turkey) Salad

I just roasted a turkey this week, and I’m definitely reserving some of the meat for this.  It is a VERY flexible recipe. Sometimes I make it without the celery and cucumber because I didn’t have them on-hand. I have also been known to throw in sunflower seeds or bacon crumbles. If it sits overnight, it may need a little bit more mayo stirred in just before serving.  I especially like to serve it on good, wholegrain bread, in a pita pocket or wrapped in crisp, cold lettuce.

4 c. cooked chicken, chopped
2 T. green onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1/2 cucumber, seeded and finely chopped
1 T. sweet pickle relish
1/3 – 1/2 c. mayo
1 t. lemon juice
1/2 t. table salt
1/2 t. chili powder
1/8 t. cumin pepper to taste
1/3 c. dried cranberries or halved grapes

Throw everything in and stir into thoroughly combined.

Chill for a few hours before serving.

Turkey (or Chicken) Casserole

This is yet another recipe that demonstrates how handy it is to know how to make a basic white sauce.  Not only can this save you the cost of buying canned cream soups, but it can also provide healthier options since you can control the level of salt, sugar and preservatives.

This is what I call a “skeleton recipe”—a flexible recipe that can be a fabulous way to keep those odds and ends in the fridge from going to waste.  When you throw away food, you throw away money.  Plain and simple.

White Sauce (to use in place of two cans of cream soups):

¼ c. butter
¼ c. flour

Melt butter over medium-low heat, then add flour, stirring constantly.  Once bubbles form, cook and stir for another minute or so.

Slowly add the following to the butter mixture, whisking constantly:

3 c. milk (preferably not skim) OR broth.

Stir until it comes to a simmer, then allow to simmer for about half a minute or so until thickened.  Remove from heat.

Season to taste with:

salt & pepper
a couple of dashes of hot sauce OR 1 tsp. ground mustard or yellow mustard

Now comes the creative part!  Check to see what you have on-hand, then combine your white sauce with the following:

3 or so cups of cooked pasta or rice
3 -4 c. cooked turkey or chicken
1 c. or so of cooked veggies of your choice
1 c. or so of grated cheese, if desired

Pour into a buttered 9×13″ baking dish.

If you want a crunchy topping, combine the following:

1 c. fresh bread crumbs, cracker crumbs or even crushed potato chips
1-2 T. melted butter

Bake, uncovered at 350 degrees for about 30-40 minutes, or until bubbling around edges.

NOTE:  This will freeze beautifully before baking.  Just allow it to thaw completely after you’ve pulled it out of the freezer and bake as directed.