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My Secret Turkey

Sometimes having someone else do all the cooking and serving means keeping a few things to yourself.

I have a secret.

A Thanksgiving secret.

But first, the backstory: We spend most Thanksgiving holidays as a guest of some close family member who generously offers to open their home to the familial masses, taking on all the burdens of shopping, prep, cooking, cleaning and decoration. They have the will (or is it the daring?) and the square footage. All you are expected to bring is a side dish or dessert. As Ina Garten would say, “How easy is that?”

I admire anyone who extends this tradition-laden invitation. For many years the annual Thanksgiving meal included a gaggle of cranky, picky toddlers (now thankfully “big kids”) mostly foreign to the concept of sitting nicely for a fine, multi-course meal that takes literally days to prep and cook. One year, in desperation, we told our then 2-year-old son that the turkey was chicken so he’d consume at least some protein before the big carb/sugar consumption and crash. Lucky us: eat great food, have great conversation and rally, stuffed and happy, for some great desserts. A perfect holiday.

But then comes the leftover issue. It’s rude to think your host is going to send you home laden with goodies—a half pound of prime leftover breast meat and several sides is never a gracious assumption. Plus, if it’s not your sister hosting you can’t really sidle up to the oven and whisper, “That bit of turkey is mine to take home or I’ll tell Mom about Joe Miccarelli and that night on Lake Ontario.” Blackmail has its time and place.

Plus, your host may have their own traditional plan for turkey soup, turkey enchiladas or turkey tetrazzini, thinking their guests will be thrilled to be free from the tyranny of a fridge full of cold turkey. What's left is a Thanksgiving quandary of the highest degree: You can't ask for a share of the leftover love, but it's really un-American to skip.

To me, nothing is worse than a Black Friday spent consciously far, far away from any shopping destination (crowds and shopping don’t mix well for me, reason #8,657 to love the Internet) without a single means to assemble a decent leftover turkey sandwich.

If I can’t have my version of the perfect leftover turkey sandwich the Friday after Thanksgiving (or the midnight of) I feel like the whole holiday season is off balance, as if a female version of Ralphie from A Christmas Story, unwrapping a baby cap gun instead of the Red Ryder carbine action air rifle. You want to appear grateful for all the gifts bestowed, but still, you really, really want that sandwich.

So unless the Thanksgiving host rotation settles here, it's up to me to source the toasted bread with cold turkey, topped with stuffing, cranberry sauce, a thin layer of mashed potatoes, mayo and strips of crisp iceberg or romaine—all things rarely, if ever, consumed at the same exact time during the year.

So I plan ahead for a secret turkey—a modest bird that I prepare for just my family either the Wednesday before or the Friday after Thanksgiving (we’ve also been known to prepare a full Thanksgiving feast in July, which is great fun for all).

That way we can enjoy just the right amount of leftovers without feeling like holiday grubbers, “Stuffing? No more stuffing? OK, sure, yeah, we’ll take home some more pie. Thanks!”

But of course, you can’t tell the host you are duplicating their efforts at home—that would be a terrible slight. So the "home turkey" stays on the down low.

I’m not guilty. All is fair in love, war and the purely American pursuit of the absolutely perfect leftover Thanksgiving turkey sandwich.

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