Each year it happens sometime in late August, typically during a sweltering heat wave.
My editor will call me into her office, lean across her desk and, in hushed tones, confide: "I've found fresh turkeys. And they're 99 cents a pound!"
Her seemingly mundane discovery will have a profound impact on my life. It means that for the next 13 weeks we embark on Thanksgiving Recipe Testing.
You see, I roast turkeys for a living. Lots of them. And not in November.
Finding a fresh turkey in summer is not as simple as it may sound, even in an age when exotic ingredients are being shipped in daily from all over the world. Sure, these past few weeks the stores have been full of birds that might cost as little as 33 cents a pound. But you try finding one, at any price, in August.
While the rest of America is still frolicking at the beach, grilling steaks and kicking back microbrews, I'm arranging Sunday morning turkey drop-offs with my editor, disconnecting my smoke detector and trying to make space in my tiny fridge for three turkeys.
So it goes for the rest of the summer and early autumn. After all of those Sunday mornings when I found myself stumbling blearily about my kitchen at 5:30 a.m., simmering someone else's recipe for stock, trying someone else's "foolproof" roasting method, carving one 12-pound fowl after another and lugging dripping bags of inedible turkey trash down four flights of stairs shortly thereafter, all the while nibbling and pondering the merits of dark versus white meat, I've learned a lot about turkey leftovers:
I never tire of them.
I have always loved turkey leftovers. As a child, I would stash them in the back of the refrigerator underneath the leftover beets and later, my dad and brother safely out of the house, beg my mom to make me a sandwich. After college, I would warn roommates of the horrendous repercussions that would result should a cold drumstick go AWOL. And even before I entered the world of Thanksgiving Recipe Testing, I fired up a gas range in a teeny un-air-conditioned apartment during August when turkey appeared in stores on sale.
In fact, I think I may have been predestined to test turkeys.
I had been forewarned of turkey burnout by colleagues who weren't quite as convinced as I of my affinity for this fowl. My rookie year in Food we roasted seven different types of turkeys and converged in one kitchen -- that of a turkey-loathing colleague -- to carve and compare. Afterward, some of us were fortunate enough to be handed a single plump turkey to do with as we pleased. But then I watched in horror as she dumped -- with great gusto -- the remaining turkeys into the trash.
For that loss of leftovers, I still haven't forgiven her.
All I could think of was what I could have concocted instead:
Hash fashioned from turkey, bacon and potatoes;
Sweet escarole and onion soup with turkey;
Turkey warmed in bacon drippings and served atop a bitter green salad;
Stir-fried ginger and turkey stir-fry;
Turkey nestled within a quesadilla along with manchego cheese;
Butter-fried turkey, just as my mom used to make, tucked within a freshly baked dinner roll, the warmth of the bread causing rivulets of butter to drip down the side of the sandwich.
But mostly I just toss some dark meat in the skillet, let the fat and juices sizzle to imbue the turkey with flavor, then season it with salt and nibble.
And so, after my weeks of testing, with the anticipation of a traditional turkey dinner long gone, I have instigated a new Thanksgiving tradition. I roast a turkey the night before Thanksgiving. The next morning I make turkey sandwiches galore, which we pack into the Jeep -- along with several bottles of Champagne -- and schlep it all to the beach.
And then is when I give thanks for our leftovers.