Black Friday – Avoided

It’s the day after Thanksgiving and all is quiet in the house. And while I love Thanksgiving Day, I love the day after even more. I get to sit in my sweats reading the news or a book. The kids are home, usually sleeping in till noon. Hubby walks the dogs for me. There are plenty of leftovers, so no real cooking effort needs to be made.

Yes, it is the perfect calm before the storm: The storm of festive flurry we call Christmas.

Thanksgiving has a gentle lead up to it. Mother nature does her part, slowing the cycle of life to a dormant state of rest. Plants and animals alike preferring to sleep through winter, to be awakened by springs breath, tickling them to awake. One is busy through Halloween, preparing ourselves for this time of ‘wintering over’. So, by the time Thanksgiving rolls around, attention can be focused on giving thanks, untouched by the other distractions so prevalent in spring and summer.

Thanksgiving is the time of year families turn inward, reconnecting and cherishing each others presence. It is the time of year we seek out those who might not have the blessing of genetically related family, extending the hand of familial friendship, embracing new connections and relationships so that hopefully no one unwillingly spends the day alone. In our home, with the exception of my brother (who drives the long 4 hours in traffic) we don’t have our own extended family nearby. Instead, we have been blessed with amazing family friends with whom we have created our own traditions, and break bread with. Some years our little family has shared the occasion with three or four families, house bursting to the seams with laughter, conversation and joy. Some years it has been quiet and cozy, shared with one other couple or my brother, an emphasis on comfort and intimacy. All have been wonderful and wonderfully different.

When Thanksgiving Day is over, it’s the perfect time for me to pause before mentally and physically gearing up for the chaos that todays culture has created, Christmas. We all try not to get caught up in a ‘keep up with the Jones’ attitude towards Christmas; but many of us have traditions we wish to keep. The result can be a self imposed pressure to fit all that we have individually defined as ‘Christmas Spirit’ into the Christmas season. Ideally, we spread the ‘reason for the season’ throughout the year. But let’s be honest, it is at least nice to have a time of year were we are encouraged and motivated by society and culture to be intentionally giving and sharing.

And so we come back to Black Friday, a nightmare of consumerism, resulting all too often in the most base of behavior. It’s hard for me to fathom the very people who were sharing their time and table one day, embracing the concept of Thanksgiving, are the very same people mowing down their fellow man/woman in a mad rush to be the first at the bargain table the very next day. For those who work this day, I thank you for your patience and service. It can’t be easy to work on Black Friday, but with the demand for the stores to be open, someone must be there to open the doors and ring the cash registers. And ring they do.

I’ll leave the thrill of the sale to others. I am going to sit here with my steaming cup of coffee and give a pass to the madness. As I read the headlines of the morning, history has been a good indicator of the present. I am reminded of an appropriate metaphor: Don’t feed the beast. So, I won’t. Instead, I think I’ll make a leftover turkey sandwich and be very thankful I am home.

 


Gluten Free Thanksgiving Dressing ( Grandma Nettie’s Stuffing)

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***Update: After putting my own bread in this morning, I am re-adjusting the temp to 250 and will recommend you check every 10 minutes for up to 40 minutes. Mine took 40 minutes, which hubby dutifully tended while I hit the grocery stores. DAB the bread cubes with butter, you’re not soaking here. Just adding a layer of flavor and encouraging normally difficult GF bread to dry out crispy, intact and give something for the herbs to stick to. I am including photos I took as I prepared the croutons and the mix. Hopefully tomorrow I can post a better picture than the one above! Check recipe again for any additional tips, tricks and modifications.****

This was the stuffing recipe handed down to me from my mother, who has since passed away. For many years, I stuffed the turkey with the very same version, only it was normal bread croutons, Pepperidge Farms Herbed Dressing to be exact.

With the discovery of my daughters gluten intolerance, I’ve had to come up with an alternative. Due to the nature of GF breads, it would turn to mush inside the bird, so, I have created a dressing version instead. (Dressing is what it is called when not baked inside the bird)

You can use Udi’s bread for this recipe, but I highly recommend ‘Goodbye Gluten’. It’s shelf stable and the texture is incredibly good, and the resulting dressing is light instead of dense. I use both whole grain and white for color and texture. This dish is such a favorite in our household, that I have actually taken it with me on the occasion we were invited to someone else’s house for Thanksgiving. I cannot imagine Thanksgiving without it! Here, we call it “Grandma Nettie’s Stuffing”. You’ll just call it DELISH! (Read the recipe all the way to the end before tackling. You can put questions in the comment section below!)

Grandma Netties Stuffing

3/4 loaf Goodbye Gluten white bread, cubed, 1/2 inch (crusts removed is optional. if you remove crusts, use the entire loaf, leaving out the loaf end pieces)

3/4 loaf Goodbye Gluten whole grain bread, cubed, 1/2 inch (ditto above comment)

2 cubes butter, 1 cube melted

1 tsp herbs de provence or an italian mix

1 med-large onion, chopped small dice

3-4 stalks celery, small dice

1 pound breakfast sausage (check for gluten if making GF)

1 can water chestnuts, diced (yes, water chestnuts. Trust me!)

1 tsp dried sage, or 1 tbsp chopped fresh (optional, we like ours with a good dose of sage)

1-3 cups warmed Homemade Turkey Stock (or good quality, low-sodium Chicken Stock)

extra melted butter for basting, and extra stock for adding moisture if needed.
Heat oven to 250 degrees. Lay the bread cubes out on sheet pans and gently brush with 1/3-1/2cup of the melted butter.
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Season with salt. (I use my silpat for easy cleanup) Sprinkle with the Herbs de Provence
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and bake until the cubes are dried out and crisp. Stir a couple of times, so that all sides are exposed to the heat. This may take between 20-40 minutes, depending upon the moistness of your bread. (I have done this up to a week in advance, freezing them in a ziploc freezer bag and defrosting on a sheet pan when needed.) Let cool.
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Cook sausage in a large skillet, till no longer pink. Remove from pan, wipe skillet with a paper towel and add butter to melt. Add onions and celery and cook on medium heat until tender, but still a bit crisp. Add back the sausage and the diced water chestnuts. (This step can also be done up to 3-4 days in advance, refrigerating and rewarming to melt the butter prior to assembly)
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When ready to bake, toss the warm sausage mixture with the bread cubes and sage, gently, until evenly combined. Add the turkey stock until the mixture looks moist, but not wet. This is going to take some eyeballing, just remember, you can always add more stock for moisture. You most definitely do not want a soggy mess, err on the side of caution. Start with 1 cup of stock, adding 1/2 cup increments until it absorbs some of the liquid, but are still fully intact.
Pour this mixture into your casserole dish or desired baking pan and bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes. The first photo is a 9×13 pyrex dish, but I doubled the recipe for this. Baste frequently with additional melted butter, and stock if needed. Your goal here is for the top to become buttery/crunchy/golden and the underneath to be moist, tender and yet still fluffy. You can check the progress with a fork, gently lifting the top layer to get a gauge on how the bottom layer is doing. When the underneath steams and the top is browned, it’s done.
If you are looking for a traditional tasting stuffing that is sure to please even the pickiest of eaters, you can’t go wrong with this one. If you try it this year, or at any time, let me know what you think!
POSTNOTES:
– I wrote this recipe in this format, so that it feels like I am in the kitchen with you, walking you through the steps.
– It sounds vastly more complicated than it actually is.
– This recipe is also very flexible: If you hate sage, omit sage. If you want to trim some of the fat, cut the butter by half and drain the sausage. We don’t, because I eat this once a year and we like it just exactly this way, plus I limit how much I take. Portion control!
– You can up the ingredients to suit your taste. I believe in the photo, I used a pound and a half of sausage. What can I say? Pork and pork fat rules.
– You can make this dressing with regular old bread cubes from the bag (which I did for decades) using the liquid portions listed on the package.
– For leftovers we always, and I mean ALWAYS have a turkey sandwich on white ‘bread’ with thick slices of turkey, mayo, cranberry sauce and stuffing. It honestly makes for the BEST sandwich ever, and as I said above, it’s a sandwich I eat once a year, so I allow myself the indulgence.
– I apologize for the anemically yellow photo of the finished dish. One of my goals this Thanksgiving is to pick my brothers brain on ways to achieve better pictures. He is a photographer, and obviously I am not. My trusty iPhone has served me well on my Facebook cooking page, but it’s time to step up my game!

A Tabletop of Memories

A Tabletop of Memories

This afternoon the last remnants of Christmas were boxed up and put away.

I love setting up the tree every year and enjoying the ornaments all season long. Some people like their tree to match their decorations. Some people have concerns about little children, or pets. Some like a live tree, some an artificial. Some are attracted to tall spindly trees, some like them squat and fat. I enjoy them all, since each tree reflects the personality and character of both the individual, family and business.

In our home, we have a ‘family’ tree. (see Christmas Past) A few ornaments from my childhood, a few from my parents, one or two from a great grandmother, and a myriad collection from every year our my marriage and motherhood. It is part of a tradition I started on the first year of our marriage, an ornament to reflect the passing year.

One year we took the family on a Disney Cruise (highly recommended), so the ornament was a medallion from the ship. One year was a gold 3D City of Portland cityscape, in remembrance of my hometown which we had moved from that year. One of my favorites is the Christopher Radko ‘baby’ I found with my mother (top center) when were celebrating the birth of my oldest. One year, we had a giant ornament making part for my daughters and their friends. (the ’09 cinnamon ornament you see) A more recent collection included a clay miniature Army hat for my college freshman who had enrolled in ROTC, an angel for my youngest ‘angel’, a mini cigar box for hubby and a roll of sushi for me. This year, to honor our trip to the Hawaiian Islands, you see the snorkel gear and fins in the foreground.

Grandpa Bill adds to the collection, sending an ornament to the girls every single year. And every year, I pack away the ornaments for the girls to a special box designated ‘Girls Ornaments’. That way, when my daughters finally fledge the nest, they will have a Tree of Memories all their own.

This is just one of our family traditions. What traditions do you have? Ones that you will pass on to your kids? Try to find ones that last beyond the moment, ones that are part of an annual event. Ones that will hopefully cause your own children, and grandchildren, to pause and think about family and the memories you have created along the road of life.