Mild Thanksgiving

Smell the turkey?

Smell the turkey?

Life has become so contentious. Turn on the TV or read a newspaper and it seems like someone is always butting heads with an opponent. I feel like I am constantly being asked to choose sides. We just got through another election, and I don’t care which side of the aisle you’re on, if you’re like me I’m sure at one point during those endless strings of campaign commercials you stood in front of your TV and yelled, “Enough!”

I thought that when I became an adult (yes, a debatable fact) that I would be released from the “Nyah-nyah!” childhood playground dynamic. It just lacked subtlety.

That’s why I like Thanksgiving so much. Thanksgiving’s biggest debate is whether to cook the stuffing inside the bird or outside the bird. I’m not ashamed to say that I am an “outie”, but am sincerely delighted if you are an “innie.” Really! The fact is: I just don’t care. Happily, this is a debate right up there with whether the toilet paper should hang under or over the roll. (Don’t go there. We’re having a happy holiday, remember?)

Thanksgiving reminds me of my Nana: she always referred to herself as “mild.” It occurs to me that we don’t have enough “mild” in our lives anymore. What’s the best way to explain mild? You know how we had that little dustup between Conan O’Brien and Jay Leno? Think back to Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin. Ever see them fight? No. They were mild. That is why this year I am wishing you a Mild Thanksgiving –and meaning it as the best wish you could ever get. Slow down. Take a deep breath. Put away your BlackBerry. Take a moment alone with your thoughts. (Sounds very “Zen”, yes?)

I know, I know: there’s a lot of pressure on people around the holidays, but at least Thanksgiving spares us the whole gift “thing.” This year, if Thursday’s holiday meal finds us lucky enough to be seated in front of a plate of hot food then we can count ourselves lucky indeed.

Okay, you’ve taken your deep breath. You’ve slowed down. You’ve even put away your BlackBerry—or at least put it down— but now you’re alone with the thought, “What was that malarkey about cooking the stuffing outside the bird? Is he crazy?”

Clearly you haven’t relaxed yet.

That’s okay. Yes, I cook my stuffing outside the bird because I like it crunchy. That is my only reason. I’m not concerned with cooking temperatures or health. I just like the crunchy part. I understand that I am missing out on all the turkey drippings marinating the stuffing. I understand that it is called stuffing and should be used as such. (Well, I’m usually stuffed after the meal. That doesn’t count.) Of course there’s a happy compromise: cook some stuffing in the bird and some outside. Phew. Negotiations are exhausting.

On to the stuffing itself. It is safe to say that there are as many kinds of stuffing as there are birds on Thanksgiving. A good stuffing doesn’t require much skill, and is easily made to suit individual tastes. Texture is easily controlled by the choice of bread (crusty or not, whole grain or not, cornbread or not) and the size of the cubes you cut. I’m a loose texture, crusty, big cube guy. What do you like?

I grew up in New England, and have eaten many Thanksgiving dinners at a country Inn. It is usually simple, traditional Thanksgiving fare. But what I’ve learned over the years is that the hearty, old fashioned Yankee stuffing can be savory or savory with a touch of sweet.

With that in mind I proudly present the 2010 Butter Flour Eggs savory, slightly sweet, Yankee Thanksgiving Stuffing for “outies”. I use the label Yankee very loosely because I don’t think the Pilgrims used Ciabatta bread to stuff their turkey. But this is a question of style over substance. As with any cooking, I made a list of my preferences, and chose the ingredients from there. So my Yankee Stuffing contains Italian-style bread, dried figs from Greece, and chestnuts from China. The end result is very Yankee: a little starchy, only faintly sweet (except for the sweet snap crackle pop of the bits of dried fig), and almost florid in its traditional poultry herbs like sage, thyme, oregano, and rosemary. A little bit of diced pear is sautéed along with the celery and onion to add a bit of mellow sugar that helps the onions to caramelize. And “innies” shouldn’t worry: you can still stuff the bird with this stuffing.

Chefs, I’m sure would take great exception to the source of the herbs in my stuffing: Bells Seasoning. These little yellow boxes (produced in East Weymouth, Mass.) are ubiquitous in the supermarket at this time of year. Actually, you’ll find this venerable product handy all through the year whenever you cook poultry. (Pearl of wisdom: Mix it with a little kosher salt and butter or margarine and slip it under the skin of your chicken or turkey.) Yes, Chefs, I know it is not the same as using fresh herbs, but Bells adds a wonderful fragrance to poultry and stuffing that is traditional and welcoming. It is kind of like the poultry version of apple pie spice, and in its own way makes your house smell just as good (although I doubt there will ever be a Butter Flour Eggs Bells Seasoning scented candle.)

I am proud and thankful that you spent a few minutes with me during this busy holiday week. I hope you and your family have a happy—mild—and delicious Thanksgiving.


Click here for the recipe for Yankee Thanksgiving Stuffing.

Need some Thanksgiving inspiration? Read my previous Thanksgiving recipe ideas:

Alfred Lunt’s Famous Pumpkin Pie

Anadama Bread

Apple Pan Dowdy with “Baked Indian Pudding” Crust

Roasted Corn Soufflé


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