Stale Bread Stuffing and Marital Barter
I have the secret to a happy marriage, which I accidentally came across the first Thanksgiving I was married. I planned the meal taking note of cooking and preparation times. I thought about which foods would go together and was careful not to include too many starches as is common at Thanksgiving feasts. I started cooking early, forming puff pastry into cornucopias and stuffing them with rosemary roasted vegetables. Silky mushroom gravy was prepared and kept warm on the back burner. With a deep feeling of superiority, I rolled out handmade flaky pastry dough for the classic pumpkin pie.
As I called my husband to the table we discussed adding an alcoholic beverage to the Thanksgiving tradition, which I planned to consume during the cooking process. I envisioned a cooking utopia where I drank pumpkin pie martinis or cranberry spritzers while preparing a feast for my family. Upon viewing the feast I had prepared, the first words uttered by my lovely, kind, and compassionate husband was “Where’s the stuffing?”.
I was shocked. Stuffing is nothing more than over-spiced, stale bread that is baked with stock. This results in a mushy bread pudding-like substance that is lumped into a Pyrex bowl and usually forgotten on the counter, never to see the glory of the Thanksgiving feast. Stuffing is a Thanksgiving tradition kept alive purely so that the thrifty 1950’s-style housewife can rid her conscience, and her bread bin, of a loaf of stale bread. With indignation I grabbed the pumpkin pie and the bottle of whiskey and headed to the porch. If he needs stuffing he can eat alone because I will never allow stuffing to ruin my perfectly planned and lovingly executed Thanksgiving meal, I thought to myself.
My dislike of stuffing is not without logical reason, for I have been witness to disgusting, and potentially life threatening, incarnations of this holiday tradition.
In a dingy church basement in Nova Scotia stuffing almost killed me. The masterminds behind my Katimavik Thanksgiving meal decided that even though the turkey was raw, it would be fine to remove the bread mixture from the bird’s cavity and microwave it. The resulting pile of mush was served alongside the still partially raw turkey. I watched as every single person in that fake-wood panelled basement pushed aside raw turkey to plate a few cooked pieces. I watched them pile their plates with mushy stuffing laced with raw poultry juices. Needless to say I did not partake. I ate lumpy mashed potatoes while envisioning the impending mass illness that would surely break out.
My mother insisted on making a large traditional meal on Christmas Eve. She spent all day making sure things were, to use her terminology, “nicey-nicey”. One year she made Cornish game hens, which surely was an expensive extravagance, but those skinny birds were less than well received. Sitting around the candlelit table I witnessed my mother tearing apart that tiny bird with her hands. She alternated between the sinewy meat, with her teeth scraping against the tiny bones, and the mushy stuffing which was consumed in huge smacking mouthfuls, the grease on her lips glistening in the candlelight. My mother thought that my inability to eat the poultry before me was due to the fact (highlighted by the complete carcass on my plate) that meat comes from an animal. Turning on the lights, she then began to debone the bird. The harsh overhead light broke my preoccupation with mankind’s base and cruel instincts, as I returned to teenage angst and the mashed potatoes on my plate.
After the pumpkin pie was eaten and the whiskey finished, I asked my husband to explain why he loves stuffing and he replied, “It tastes like strippers are dancing on my tongue”. I laughed and kissed the man I married. We ate the reheated Thanksgiving meal but because of that first Thanksgiving fight (a tradition in many homes), I discovered the secret to a happy marriage. The secret is to find something that your partner loves and you hate. Then promise to make it for them but not before securing a trade or barter of equal or greater value. Even though I may hate ruining a loaf of lovingly hand-shaped, homemade sourdough bread by baking it into stuffing, I love my husband, so I sacrifice a loaf of bread by baking it into the best stuffing he has ever tasted. Welcoming a new cookbook into my collection does lessen the sting of ruining that loaf of bread. The result of this year’s cookbook-stuffing barter agreement was Donna Klein’s book “Vegan Italiano”. It was worth it!