Random Asides


In most households in the UK, the women do the majority of the housework and cooking, regardless of whether they have a job too. This doesn’t mean we actually work more, at least according to this 2007 survey, apparently men work as hard but concentrate their efforts at the office, where women slack off in their careers but power around the house with a duster and iron. I think this might be what I like to call ‘crap’ but who can doubt a slightly-dated self-report survey? Not me, and the survey, which I only went to find because I am cross about the turkeyFAIL, isn’t even my point – my point is that I did all of the cooking on Christmas Day (the survey is right then!!) and because I am not used to the stupid over-hot oven, my turkey was incinerated. I took it out of the oven to turn it over and the entire thing, enough for 16 people, completely collapsed. It was like santa had landed on it, or as though Israel had decided to get some target practice in on my festive bird. It was as if the turkey had discovered the concept of ‘explosion’ at the exact same moment as ‘implosion’ and decided to try them both out simultaneously. I didn’t have the heart to take a photo but I did want to post this little lament for everyone who did the cooking on Christmas Day. If your turkey was perfect, congratulations. If not, I feel slightly better already.

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  1. Sorry about the Turkey Fail, I’ve had a couple of those. So much so, that I made steak for Christmas this year.

    I’m a man, and have to admit to doing much less work around the house than my wife does.

  2. My mom and I tried to tandoori a turkey breast. We had tandooried a regular turkey before but for some reason the turkey breast was too thick and it didn’t get the flavor soaked in enough. Turned out sort of dry and tasteless. Luckily we had gravy and other food to make up for it and our guests were very kind and didn’t gag while eating it…

  3. Mr. Writerdd does more work than me both at home and on the job. I do make a perfect turkey though. :-) I do all of the holiday cooking because a) I like to, b) Mr. Writerdd goes to work even on holidays, and c) Mr. Writerdd hates holidays and would just ignore them if I allowed that.

    Just FYI, you don’t need to turn a turkey over. You can cook it breast side up the whole time.

  4. My turkey was perfect last year but I had an oven I knew well. Before last year I’ve always cooked a goose instead, but they’re not very good value. I was so gutted about this one :(

  5. The deep, dark secret of the poultry industry is that turkey is nearly inedible. If it weren’t for “tradition”, almost no one would eat it. Oh sure, people say they like turkey but what they really like is the stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce and potatoes that go with it. Turkey in and of itself is dry and flavorless. You could get the same effect roasting sawdust and have a slightly better chance of avoiding food poisoning.

  6. Both of us cook very well (some say I should have been a chef, but I don’t take any particular pleasure from the cooking process), but my wife cooks on holidays because she likes to make a huge spread of traditional family dishes. Since the kids are gone, we then live on them until they run out.

    I worked holidays for many years (like Mr. Writerdd) and learned to dread them. My annual Xmas/New Year’s holiday season was a Hell of 16 hour back-to-back days for about 10 days straight. Good paychecks, but I was exhausted and very crabby by the time it was over, especially if the weather went rancid, which it usually did.

    Hmm, Masala. Tandoori turkey sounds like a very good thing, if it works. I love Indian food. :-p Keep working on it and share your success if you perfect it…!

    Goose can be a good meal, but you do lose a lot of the bird’s weight as fat in the bottom of the pan. Goose grease is good for flavoring other dishes, though. Not heart-healthy, but hey! it’s the holidays!

    Teek, we all burn a few over the years. Murphy’s Law, I think. It always seems to happen when you have either your mother-in-law or your boss over for dinner, too. :-D

  7. Apologies for getting my ire up over a not-too-serious post, but I don’t believe that the Skepchick goals are well served by dismissing social science research.

    The time diaries used in the study you cite are very detailed, with individuals tracking two and three activities at a time for an entire 24-hour period, the samples are representative, and the sample size is amazingly large. Self-reports have some drawback, yes, but you can be sure there is a rigorous debate in the social sciences about the reliability and validity of these data. Just like in the natural sciences, that is what we do.

    The consensus is that these are the best data we have on this topic, and they are supported by other data as well (see, for example, Jacobs and Gerson’s book, The Time Divide). We may not be able to use many controlled experiments in the social sciences, but we adhere to the scientific method to produce the most reliable findings possible. Skepchicks should embrace these efforts, not deride them.

  8. “I think this might be what I like to call ‘crap’”

    Heh! Way to go skeptical thinker. Sorry about your turkey, but this is far from your best logical counter argument that I’ve seen on this blog. Surely you can do better than that? At least tell us why you think it’s crap (preferably not based on your own personal anecdote), that’s why we read this blog.

  9. @Rebecca: I have to have seafood on Christmas eve which is some sort of holdover Scandinavian tradition from my childhood. The lasagna sounds great and I’m defiantly going to give it a try. Lots good seafood out here!

    @Steve DeGroof: I’d do some studying up about brining your turkey for 24 hours before cooking or watch Alton Brown on the food network. I detest dry turkey and mine are always moist and very tasty! Also brining makes it more difficult to over cook the turkey. I don’t think I’ve cooked a turkey on Christmas for fifteen years as I’ve been stuck on doing a standing rib roast of some other big expensive chunk of red meat.

  10. There is a secret to cooking a good turkey. Well, maybe three. First, procure a meat thermometer. There are some really good ones for about $15USD at department stores. Second, cook the bird at 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Third, be prepared to baste, or at least have a roaster large enough to completely enclose the turkey.

    People who complain about dry turkey, don’t do their homework, then when rushed for time are astonished that chemistry and physics are implacable and unforgiving.

    There is one possibility for improperly prepared turkey that is not dependent on the cook. The oven may be faulty. If the thermostat is misbehaving, baking temperatures are unpredictable and disaster is assured. It is also possible that a gas oven may need the burner cleaned.

    Preparing a basic turkey is not black magic (contrary to some of the attitudes displayed above). A dry turkey is an overcooked turkey. Turkey is done when the minimum internal temperature is 165 degreed Fahrenheit. For more info see: here.

  11. @fetner: I don’t disagree that social sciences, like market research, employ rigorous methodology in surveys. I have worked on several social science experiments myself.

    However, when declaring results to news media, extreme caution must be taken. The story, as reported, is that women do more housework but men work longer hours in their jobs. I made it very clear that the ‘crap’ part is my own opinion (hence “I think”), and the reason I think this is because the data is out of date (in market research, social data has a shelf-life of no more than three years), because it is self-report and the biases can’t be accounted for (for example the story addresses the social myth that women work harder, or do more housework. If that myth exists then those doing the survey are aware of it too. How do you factor that in to the analysis?), and because if women don’t work as hard in their jobs, in general, then what chance has society of ever addressing the gender pay gap? Does the survey compare like-for-like careers between genders? In the UK, women are less likely to have a full-time job than men, but the story doesn’t tell us if this is a factor in the data or not.

    The story also confuses ‘working hard’ with ‘hours worked’. I can spend 18 hours in the office and ten of those hours might be playing Minesweeper. That might be the fault of BBC journalists rather than the survey-takers though.

    If the survey-makers can put out a press release that women don’t work as hard in their careers as men, then I can report that I think that’s crap.

  12. @bk011048: We haven’t charcoaled a turkey (or anything else) in many years, mostly because we have a meat thermometer and an oven thermometer. We also baste our turkey until it drowns! That being said, you are quite correct. All cooking is just applied chemistry and physics.

    @masala: I googled “Turkey Masala” and found many recipes. Since I wasn’t there, you’ll have to check them out to find out what happened. When you succeed (and I know you will!), I stand by my request for the successful recipe, if you would be so kind! :-D

  13. @fxnut: You’re quite right. It was meant to be a short and pithy post but I have clarified above. To summarise, the survey appears to be claiming that women don’t work as hard in their careers, where in actual fact it may merely be showing that men are more likely to have full-time jobs. How hard individuals work at their jobs is not proven by the data we’re shown.

  14. We didn’t have Turkey at Christmas this year, we opted for the ever perfect ham. I try to stay away from cooking, not because I can’t, but because I am married to a man that is more than willing to do the cooking! I am sorry your turkey failed…

  15. Thanks for the clarification tkingdoll. To be fair, it might be better to suggest that the article is crap rather than the survey with the information available.

    I think you’re 100% right to question the controls of the study (I’d be extremely interested to know the answers to those questions myself), but these are, nevertheless, questions you have at this stage as we don’t know the details of the survey. Calling the survey crap kinda sets yourself up for a fall if they come back and give you reasonable assurance that correct controls were taken.

    But I understand your reaction to it. Being a bloke, I think I’d be equally outraged if they stated the opposite.

    Anyway, like I said, I’m sorry your turkey got screwed. We had Guinea fowl this Christmas and it woz yum :-D

  16. It’s quite amazing how often the media reports the numbers of an opinion poll or social habit survey and a little checking finds the survey was not random and only had participants who took the initiative to call or go to a particular web site and tic boxes. This kind of data seems totally worthless.

    Kinda like basting a turkey…, totally worthless in keeping the meat moist. The chemical osmosis involved in subjecting a turkey to a 24 hour salt and sugar brine is the most effective method. And also never stuff a turkey. To get a safe internal temperature for the stuffing requires the turkey to be severely over cooked.

  17. In my experience, turkey has been best when it’s been deep-fried.

    Not only is the meat wonderful and delicious, but because there’s moisture trapped inside the gutted bird’s body cavities, you get to see a fountain of hot oil splurting up from its severed neck as it cooks. Entertainment value makes all food better.

    (That’s what we had for Thanksgiving. Christmas dinner was broiled halibut.)

  18. I’m with the basting crowd.

    I set the oven to 350F, stuff the bird, pour wine all over it, add tyme (that way everyone will have the tyme to eat it, if you put tyme in it, har-har), garlic powder, cellery seed, marjoram and cumin seeds. You can squeeze a lemon over all that, if you like, or not.

    Baste every half hour (though I often do every twenty minutes) and you can’t possibly dry it out.

    I’ve always turned it, to speed things up, (that’s a mighty low heat, or so I’m told) but I’ve always thought it wasn’t necessary. I can’t say I’ve tried not turning a turkey, though.

    The other good thing about basting your bird every half hour is that, if your oven’s temperature is way off, you’ll notice it in time.


    Now, I’m hungry…

  19. @fxnut: yeah I should probably have gone with ‘story’ instead of study, although it does seem to be reported as the survey-takers intended (judging by their quotes). We may never know!

  20. I’ve never had a turkeyFAIL before :(

    In fact, as those who followed my somewhat popular dinner blog a few years ago will know, cooking failures in general are rare for me. I hate to be the bad workman blaming his tools, but in this case it most certainly was the oven, I’ve had nothing but trouble with it since moving here. I will get the thermostat checked out because the oven is hotter than the sun.

  21. PS if y’all are interested in the details, I basted it with a clementine , roasted garlic and smoked paprika butter. It should have been amazing. BAH. My sesame sprouts were a triumph though.

    Now I too am hungry. No leftover turkey to nibble :(

  22. Thanks for the clarification, @tkingdoll. In addition to The Time Divide,mentioned above, I recommend Suzanne Bianchi, et al. 2006. Changing Rhythms of American Family
    New York: Russell Sage.

  23. On Christmas Day, I baked a ham with a cranberry and burgundy sauce. My girlfriend was working until 8pm as a hospital pharmacist. So I’m clearly just not normal. The ham was delicious though. I’m looking for a ham soup recipe to finish up the last of the leftovers tonight.

  24. @QuestionAuthority: I have had an extremely successful tandoori turkey. It came out moist and full of tandoori flavor. I’m pretty sure the problem here was that the breast was simply too thick to soak in enough of the marinade.

    And I’d happily give you a recipe but the key to tandoori is in the marinade and although I can tell you what is IN the marinade (yogurt, lemon juice, garam masala, salt, vinegar, ginger paste, garlic paste and paprika or tandoori masala for color), I cannot tell you the quantities. I just throw it all in and mix it up until it tastes ‘right.’ Or, until @phlebas tells me it tastes right, actually :)

  25. @tkingdoll: Best thing for any oven is a good quality thermometer that attaches to one of the racks. Much more accurate than the ones built in the ovens. I succumbed to gadget lust (I’m a serious foodie who worked as a chief to pay for college) before our Thanksgiving and got an internal meat thermometer that has a remote you can put in your pocket or in another room that will let you know the temperature of the meat. It even talks and tells you when its nearly done.

  26. @masala: I was afraid of that…My Mom cooked the same way, by taste and smell…I’ll just have to experiment. :-(

    @AgnosticOracle: Ham-based soups…Split pea, Lentil, Cuban Black Bean…Time to go buy a bone-in ham again! :-D

  27. My wife and I divide things fairly equally. I cook during the winter and she cooks during the summer. We wash our own clothes. Housework is haphazard at best. Some things are Balkanized. I’ll almost never wash sheets and towels and she almost never mows or shovels or fixes stuff. It’s not a bad arrangement considering her career at the moment and for the foreseeable future is a self-unemployed fiction writer. We must nurture our artists.

    As to the Christmas turkey. If I’m going to cave and eat meat I want to eat something that tastes less like paper mache than a turkey. This year I made Peking Duck which turned out divinely. Best of all the left over duck bits made a lovely duck stock which formed the basis for our soup last night. That and the duck fat came in handy for making omelets through the week. Yum, double yum, and triple yum!

    Duck stock? You bet. Ever since I got my pressure cooker I’ve been making tons of stock. All of the gelatin can be extracted in a hour which is significantly better than the 6 hours or so it use to take. Not only that but once the pot is up to speed it only takes a tiny amount of heat to keep it there. This appeals to the econazi in me.

  28. I want to second bk011048’s comment about getting a thermometer. At Thanksgiving, wehad a turkey with a thermometer keeping track of things and it was perfect. Moist and tasty. We had ham and Cornish game hens for solstice and the thermometer ensured that they were terrific as well. Everyone was happy and, with my family getting together, that really means something.

  29. Once upon a time I cooked every holiday meal for friends. Then came the year I was cooking the turkey over at a friend’s house instead of inviting them to mine. Her husband innocently said, “I don’t mean to be rude, but is something burning?” And indeed something was. The kitchen. The entire kitchen. Tea towels, curtains, aprons…

    After the fire department cleared out, we ordered pizza.

  30. @tkingdoll: Goose is a LOT nicer than Turkey, which is basically Chicken’s over-rated cousin.

    I’ve always thought a sound knowledge of Chemistry to be the backbone of cookery but this Xmas when I proffered my advice to Mrs S her reply was (quote);

    “If you don’t shut the f*ck up with your smart-f*cking-*rsed comments, you’ll be wearing this f*cking b*stard Turkey on your f*cking bonce, and no f*cking c*nt is going to get any f*cking Christmas f*cking dinner. Just stop being such a critical f*cking *rsehole and give me the tiniest bit of f*cking support unless you want to cook this c*nting thing yourself, seeing as you’re a f*cking expert on every-f*cking-thing”

    At which point Mrs S’s 87 year old grandmother sugested I take the children out of the kitchen, where her 9 year old niece asked me “what does c*nting mean?”

    However that, and my two nights on the sofa for pointing out the Turkey was too dry to be edible, Xmas has been an overall success

  31. Usually my wife and I share the cooking, but I’ve cooked the Christmas dinner each year since we married. This year, I managed to do the whole thing without setting the smoke alarm off once.

    My secret technique? I took out its battery.

    Which reminds me, I’d better put it back in now …

  32. I do about 99.9% of the cooking in my home. My wife was living on frosted cherrios and gin when we first met. She weighed about 9 pounds and disappered when she turned sideways.

  33. @Elyse: My preference is Famous Grouse when it comes to proofed birds. Not that birds in general need to prove themselves t me in general.

    @Gabrielbrawley: About the same here. My wife cooks about two or three dinners a year. Mostly heating up what I’ve already cooked and put in the freezer in bulk. I even like grocery shopping.

  34. My wife won’t let me cook a turkey so we had duck this year as usual – to be precise two ducks between five adults and four children which turned out to be approximately one duck too many.

  35. @danarra: Well, that’s one way to have a holiday to remember! (We all have at least one horror story, so don’t feel too bad…)

    @russellsugden: I love that story! It’s absolutely hysterical! ROTFLMAO!

    Goose, duck, Cornish hens, you’re all making me hungry!

  36. T, we have a vegetarian Christmas so no turkey but I’m sorry to read about the failure of your foil.

    This year I was disappointed that I couldn’t cook Crimbo dinner. It’s the first one I’ve missed out on in 16 years. I blame my own clumsiness as some bricks injured me when I stupidly fell on them. I really enjoy the cooking normally.

    I had to stand at the kitchen door and interfere supervise though.

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