This time, exactly three years ago, I was living in Sevilla, Spain as an English teacher. I was living with a true cornucopia of people from all over the globe (American, Puerto Rican, Dutch, Swiss, German, Mexican, English, Australian, Kiwi and Spanish). Ever seen that movie The Spanish Apartment? Yeah-it was kinda like that. Well, the day before Thanksgiving that year, I was getting pretty homesick when the Puerto Rican guy Jose (who had lived most of his life in the States) asked me if I’d be interested in doing Thanksgiving for the house with him. I was so excited he proposed that and asked him what he wanted me to cook. He said nothing, just to show up excited for the day. I asked him if he was planning on making stuffing, and he said no. What!?!?!?! Hold up here…no stuffing? That’s just ridiculous. Thanksgiving isn’t thanksgiving without stuffing. It’s not only my favorite Thanksgiving food (by far), it’s up there as one of my favorite foods of all time. I told him that I had to have stuffing and I would make it.
However, there was a problem: I’d never made stuffing before. I knew if involved bread and celery and baking and consuming, but I didn’t know anything else. So, I emailed my mom to get her should-be award-winning recipe for stuffing. Her response was an incredibly vague recipe for stuffing that didn’t even include spices! And because I couldn’t call her cause it was muy caro, I had to use her recipe and figure out what was missing to make the ultimate stuffing, especially for a bunch of people who had never had stuffing before!
The morning of Thanksgiving (actually, we ate on Friday cause I had a bunch of classes to teach the day before) I woke up late. Really really late. At noon and we were supposed to be eating at 2pm. I was sleeping some crazy hours when I was there. I hadn’t started my stuffing at all and still had to go to the supermarket-the far away Corte Ingles, not the close SuperSol cause SuperSol had random stuff and Corte Ingles had everything. I left my flat within 10 minutes of waking up and ran into Jose on the way there. He just looked at me and looked at his watch and just shook his head. As I ran by him in my flip flops (ahhhh, Southern Spain in late November), I screamed that I promised I would be done in time. I got to the supermarket in 15 minutes and spent the next 30 wandering around, searching for thyme and sage. I had no idea how to say them in Spanish (still don’t) and just started at the dried herbs in confusion. I finally found the thyme by smelling everything (and I think it started with a T too), along with everything else and sprinted back to my flat. It was at least 1 by the time I got there and got cooking.
I was able to decipher my mom’s recipe and pump out my first stuffing. I didn’t finish by 2-more like 2:45, but it’s a good think Spaniards are chronically late. Along with some rotisserie chickens (no turkeys in Spain, also this is before I was a full vegetarian), some sweet potatoes, green beans, cranberries and classic tortilla, Jose and I presented a first Thanksgiving to about 12 or 13 non-Americans. I remember that everyone had a great time and enjoyed it all, especially the homesick Americans (I wasn’t the only one). We talked about how Thanksgiving started and what our familiy traditions were. It was one of my favorite memories of that time in Spain-that’s how I remember it all so well! And the stuffing? I honestly think the non-Americans didn’t really get it. Soggy baked bread? Hmmmm. I have a little feeling that they just ate it to be polite. I, along with the other Americans, LOVED it though. We only had a little bit leftover and that was gone in a flash by the next day. That smell of that thyme, despite the hurdles I had to jump over to get it, brought me back to my Mom’s house for the day and made me feel a little less homesick.
And that brings us to 2008. Stuffing is still my favorite Thanksgiving food and I was looking forward to it like no other. And gorging on it. And eating it cold the next day. And the next day after that. However, I am now a full vegetarian and won’t eat my Mom’s stuffing that she stuffs inside the Turkey and uses chicken broth in. I asked her last week if I could make my own and she said sure. Thanks Mom! It was just like Spain all over again…except this time I got it started the day before. My mom had pulled out some whole wheat sandwich bread for me that she had (I have no idea where…had you froze it Mom? Or was it a new loaf?) and I added a whole wheat demi-baguette from Whole Foods for some different texture. I tore up all the bread into small pieces and let it sit out overnight to get stale (this was something I was seriously lacking when I was in Spain. You can’t get bread stale in 5 minutes). I don’t know why you get it stale, but it makes it better.
FYI-the pics from now on are all taken by my sister. She made them blurry. Maggie-why did you make them blurry?! She’s a really good photographer-maybe not with my camera.
The morning of Thanksgiving, I got back from the Turkey Trot (Running Update coming soon!) and got ready to sit down to a nice hot bowl of oatmeal. My mom, however, had different plans. She said that I had to make my stuffing at that instant or I wasn’t going to get it cooked because she needed the oven for the 17 pound turkey. But mom! I’m cold and hungry and tired! Well, at least she let me finish my oatmeal but I wasn’t allowed to linger. So I got cooking.
I started with some celery and onions that my mom had pre-chopped along with some fresh thyme (not in Spanish!) and parsley. I like lots of veggies in my stuffing so I added more onions and celery. I sauteed all that in a bit of olive oil in a deep saucepan. The key to this is using a big enough pan.
What’s up. (I look so crappy cause remember I had barely gotten back from the Turkey Trot and had loaded on some sweats on top of my running clothes cause I was so cold!)
When that got all soft and good, I added the stale bread and mixed that in with all the veggies. I did it in 3 rounds so I could get it all in the pan (I would squish it down). Throughout this I kept adding more and more dried thyme. I like things extra herb-y so I wanted more and more. And thyme is one of my favorite herbs so to me, the more, the better.
After I got all that combined to my satisfaction, I started adding the broth. I added a little at a time, letting the bread absorb all the liquid. I wanted enough broth so the stuffing wasn’t dry but not too much that it was soggy. I’d say I added about half a quart of veggie broth, or 2 cups. Squishy but not falling apart-a key.
I then put it in a baking dish that I had coated lightly with oil (smart-my mom didn’t to that to hers and hers got all stuck to the bottom…I win!). And threw that in the oven at 350 until I decided it was done.
But wait! After about 10 minutes (definitely not enough time) my mom declared that I was time for the turkey and my stuffing had to wait. So, that promptly came out of the oven and into the fridge. No stuffing quite yet.
Luckily, the turkey was done early so I was able to stick my stuffing back into the oven for about 40 minutes, until the top got all crusty and yummy. Doesn’t that just look fabulous??
Along with the rest of our spread-turkey, non-veggie stuffing in the front, my healthy, whole wheat stuffing in the back, mashed potatoes covered, brussels sprouts, mac & cheese, butternut squash, oyster dressing-my stuffing was absolutely phenomenal.
I’m going to brag a little and say that it was the best I’ve ever had. I didn’t eat my mom’s but I’m sure that was fantastic too. I stuffed myself with stuffing and the day after and the day after. It was amazing and brought back memories of my American Thanksgiving in Spain 3 years earlier. Salud!