I know what you’re thinking. Who wants to talk about stuffing after Thanksgiving?
I’m over a week late, but I guess after almost 2 years, I’m still trying to get the hang of this.
Thanksgiving 2011 has passed and you’ve probably had your fill of stuffing. I know I have. We’ve eaten it every day for the last week, but I have to say that we’ve been pretty creative with the leftovers. Turkey and stuffing for dinner, turkey and stuffing sandwiches for lunch, stuffing and egg omelettes for breakfast (who knew that would be so good!) micro-waved stuffing in a coffee cup as a midnight snack, frozen stuffing on a stick (not really).
Anyway, I’m stuffed with stuffing.
But, this recipe is special to me because my mom has made it exactly the same way since the day I was born and I couldn’t write about it (and take photos) until after the fact.
So hopefully you’ll try it for your next turkey-making holiday.
I’ve recently learned that it’s only called “stuffing” if you actually stuff the bird with it. If you don’t, you should refer to it as dressing. OK, then stuffing it is.
Actually, I was going to make dressing this year. I had been reading up on all things Thanksgiving, since I was hosting and came across more than one article on how stuffing the bird can possibly make you sick if not done properly.
Apparently it has something to do with the inside of the bird being undercooked when the rest of it reaches done time, thus contaminating the stuffing.
My gut told me to go ahead and stuff the turkey like my mom has always done. Another part of me told me that I don’t have much experience with turkey-stuffing and I wanted no part in making my friends and family sick. I decided to play it safe and stuff a casserole dish instead.
Well, upon hearing my plan a few days prior, my friend Casandra (who was spending Thanksgiving with us) asked; “You’re seriously not stuffing the turkey?!” And then, “That’s what Thanksgiving is all about!” She added, “My parents have stuffed turkeys for 40 years and I’ve never gotten sick once!” And a defeated, “It tastes so much better that way”.
The girl wanted that turkey stuffed. “OK, I’ll do it”, I said. “Eat at your own risk”.
She was right. To me, Thanksgiving is mostly about being thankful for what we have, but it’s also about tradition. My mom always stuffed the turkey with this special stuffing every year and I would wait for it all year long.
It’s made with pork sausage (that’s why the leftovers are so versatile!), and lots of sage and butter. I would help her make the stuffing the night before and then in the morning I would watch as she stuffed the turkey, tie its legs up and cover it with butter. It’s a tradition that I wanted to share with my daughter, now that she’s 11 and cooks with me when I can talk her into it.
First I should tell you that I have this way of sort of looking at life with rose-colored glasses on. The way I imagine things happening in my head is never quite the way they actually turn out. My friend Holly makes fun of me to this day because when we were young I always talked about us getting these great jobs, having an amazing apartment in the city, and throwing fabulous dinner parties for all of our really cool friends.
See what I mean? Kinda happened, not exactly. I guess I’m an optimist or maybe just plain old hopeful. Not sure, but I’ve always been this way and it’s probably not such a bad thing.
So, on Thanksgiving morning, I put on my rose-colored glasses and imagined my daughter and I in the kitchen cooking a traditional feast. We’d be laughing and maybe singing a little bit…I’d tell her stories and teach her things and pass on traditions that my mom passed on to me. She would be right there with me every step of the way, having fun and soaking it all in.
And actually, it was going great at first. We talked and laughed and she helped out in a very big way without getting bored! She zested and juiced 8 tangerines and made the cranberry sauce, peeled and chopped up a bunch of potatoes, washed the grapes and chopped up fresh herbs.
And then it was time to make the stuffing.
My mom always took the giblets out of the turkey, ground them up and added them to the sausage for the stuffing.
Well, Hadley has a bit of a problem with meat. She can’t eat anything off the bone because she has a hard time with anything looking like it came from an animal. Wings, bones or skin, she can’t even look at. She likes things cooked in a patty and placed on a bun, disguised in a meat sauce or shaped into a hot dog.
I don’t force her. If she can’t do it, that’s fine with me. I’ll feed her meat-in-disguise all year long.
I knew that she would never touch the stuffing if I added the giblets, so I had removed them the night before when I washed the turkey.
She happily chopped the celery and onions and was actually pretty fine with the raw pork sausage, since it came out of a plastic wrapper and went right into a sauté pan and browned. We mixed in the bread cubes, added the sage and it smelled delicious.
It was time to stuff the turkey. I took the 20 lb. bird out of the fridge and plopped it on a cutting board.
“Is that blood?!?!?!?!?”, she asked horrified.
“Yep”, I said calmly and started to stuff the turkey.
“Is he laying on his back?!??!”, again horrified.
I nodded and kept stuffing.
“Oh my God Mom, are you actually putting your hand up his butt?!?! Ewwwwwww!!!!!!!!!!!!”
And then she ran out of the kitchen yelling, “I am SO NOT EATING TURKEY ANYMORE!!!!!!!!!”
I sat there elbow-deep inside the turkey and wondered why is it that I never thought about these things while watching my mom do this.
Not exactly the way I envisioned the day going, but I took a deep breath and thought about what I was reminded of this week; To be thankful for the miracle of my child. I will get to that in a minute. I yelled to her that we had plenty of stuffing, and I would make a pan of it just for her that wouldn’t come anywhere near the turkey’s butt.
She yelled back that she wasn’t coming anywhere near the kitchen again because she couldn’t look at the poor little stuffed turkey! But she did say she would try eating it once it was on her plate with gravy and mashed potatoes.
Thank you, God.
Speaking of God, something interesting happened to me at work last week. I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m an editor and I’m lucky enough to spend my days watching and learning about all parts of life. Last week my assistant and I spent many hours with a televangelist from Texas.
He’s popular, handsome and charismatic, as you would imagine. He has a massive church with millions of viewers around the world and a beautiful wife who praises the Lord right along with him. They live in a huge, beautiful house and sign autographs after every service.
I judged him from the minute I saw him. I really hate to admit that, but it’s true. Isn’t it really about the money? What are the skeletons in his closet?
I watched him smile and shake hands with his patrons. He smiled some more on stage and sang with the choir. He closed his eyes and lifted up his hands to the Lord in praise and really looked like he was feeling the moment.
I still had my doubts and rolled my eyes at him.
And then I was asked to watch his entire half hour sermon to get to know who he was and find some good moments to add to the piece I was cutting. So there I sat, watching him preach, alone in the darkness of my edit suite.
“Have you lost your passion for life?“ He asked me, from his sports-arena-come-house-of-the-Lord stage.
Have I? I asked myself.
“Do you live with passion, or do you just exist?”
Hmmm. I don’t know. Do I?
“Are you thankful for all of the miracles around you? Maybe it’s your child, your loving spouse, your job, your house? Did you perhaps forget that those were all miracles that were given to you?”
Yes of course I’m thankful, but thanks for reminding me that I feel that way, pastor.
“Are you thankful that you woke up today, that you get to see the sun shine, that you can breathe in your beautiful child, eat a meal with the family you love, sing and laugh and live? Can you imagine if this was all taken away from you and then somehow given back? How would you now feel about what you have?”
And then, “You yourself are a miracle. Don’t just exist, live! Be passionate about life. If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk sit down. If you can’t sit down, lay down. If you can’t move your legs, swing your arms, move your fingers, bat your eyes. Live!”
Now I’m choked up.
“If you can take your next breath, every one of us, even if you are 90 years old, we are meant to do something with our lives. If you can take your next breath, you are still meant to do something with this gift of life!”
I was right there with the 16,000 others in his church with him. A lot of really great things have happened in my life, none one of which I could have ever planned. Some things were given to me before I even had a chance to put my rose-colored glasses on, and that is pretty crazy considering I have them on most of the time.
I’m sorry I judged you, pastor. I’m pretty sure I know now why you do this every day.
I am thankful for my child who won’t eat meat. I am thankful for my family and friends, my health, my job, my great neighbors and my house with creaky floors and a leaky basement. I am thankful that I have traditions and stories that I want to pass on to my child. And I’m really thankful for that half hour I spent with the pastor in my edit suite. What he said really sunk in. I’ve been given the miracle of being alive. It’s a gift that I’m able to experience all of these wonderful things.
I want to live with passion and soak in every moment. And as long as I can take another breath, I’m going use it.
I hope you will, too.
Mom’s Thanksgiving Stuffing
Makes enough for 8 as a side dish, with leftovers.
(2) bags onion and sage stuffing (bread cubes) they usually come one standard size
(2) pork sausage rolls, thawed if frozen (2 lbs. total)
(5) stalks of celery, cut up in chunks
(3) medium onions, cut up in chunks
(1) stick of unsalted butter, cut up in chunks
(3) 14 ounce cans of chicken broth
dried sage, lots
salt and pepper
Put celery and onions in a Cuisinart or blender to mince. Add this to the sausage in a large bowl and mix. Put mixture in a frying pan and cook over medium heat.
Add salt and pepper and cover top of mixture with a layer of dried sage.
Add butter to meat while cooking.
When meat is just cooked through, taste and add more sage if needed. (I added another layer). Add this to bread cubes in large bowl.
Heat up chicken broth. Add to stuffing to moisten as needed (bread cubes should soften). You can stuff the turkey immediately, or you can put the stuffing in the fridge overnight.
**DO NOT STUFF THE TURKEY AND PUT IT IN THE FRIDGE OVERNIGHT**
Stuff the turkey right before putting it in the oven, but not in front of your kids.