Monday, November 24, 2008

Bread and Water Thanksgiving

BigD was born and raised in New Jersey. I was not. I was/am/will be forevermore a daughter of the South. Amen. New Jersey and me? Not so much.

Pre-marriage, I had spent one single Thanksgiving in New Jersey and sampled their version of Thanksgiving dinner. I say sampled, because there was never enough food, ever. It was kind of like a tasting menu. It only remotely resembled our version of Thanksgiving dinner, in that it was called Thanksgiving dinner and served on Thanksgiving Day. BigD's mother Vera had a unique talent of underestimating the amount of food she might need to feed her guests. There was never enough food for her sons, their girlfriends, friends, children, and the many old Italian men who were realated to BigD's father Emil. We all tried to save food for Uncle Johnny, especially, because he showed up with $100 bills in his pocket.

So...Vera's holiday meal consisted of a day-long cocktail hour, a HUGE 'fresh-kilt" turkey, stuffing, a turnip affair - enough for about 6 people, yam (yes, she referred to it in the singular, and dumped them straight out of the can) and LIMAs - a 10oz package of frozen baby lima's. Also applesauce. And a single frozen cream pie of some sort. To feed about 20 people. It was not pretty, ever.

Our first married Thanksgiving, I was getting a sense that Newlywed-D was feeling a little homesick. He worked in a hotel, so he had to work on Thanksgiving. He had not encountered cornbread dressing yet and he was worried. Also, my mother was not going to cook turnip or yam. So, in my newly-wedded compassion and idiocy, I decided to make "New Jersey Stuffing" for my newly wedded man, in case he didn't like what we were going to fix.

How I worried about this is now beyond me, because our Thanksgiving dinner is like WAY better than theirs, but still, I guess if you are used to frozen Lima Beans, canned YAM, turnips and running out of food, it is those elements that make Thanksgiving complete. I was going to be a 'good wife'. I was going to bridge the gap between New Jersey and our house.

I was going to make the 'bread dressing.' My own mother, Mimi, would have no part of it, though she told me that bread dressing was soggy and cooking it inside the turkey was 'dangerous.' I also decided to surprise BigD with said bread dressing. I called his mother, Vera - and that was the first and only time in her lifetime that I called her - and she "gave me the recipe."

Hah! neophyte that I was in the ways of Vera. She would be so pleased that I am cropped out of this picture. Not really. OK, really.
ME: Hi, (small talk, small talk, small talk) Can you give me the recipe for your bread dressing?

Vera: Who is this?

ME: It's ME. I am married to your son. Remember the big woo-hah we had down here in June? The church? The champagne? The non-stop parties for you and your friends for a week? That white lace shawl thing you wore? All that? That's me.

Vera: Why don't you just come home for Thanksgiving?
Me: Well, it's tomorrow. And, we are home, thanks.
Vera: How long will it take you to drive here, 6 hours? 8 hours? Do you have paved roads down there?
Me: It's a 24 hour drive. We can't come. But I want to surprise my newly wedded husband with a taste of home. How do you make it?

Vera: What time are you leaving to come here? We'll wait to eat.
Me: We aren't coming, we have to work. I just want the recipe

VERA: Get a big loaf of whitebread. Put it in a strainer and run tap water over it until it is soaked. Use your hands to squeeze out the water. Put in a sliced onion (do not dice). Add some thyme and rosemary. Stuff it in the turkey and cook. Make sure you use a fresh-kilt turkey.

I have now been cooking long enough to see the problems here, just so you know. "Bread and water" is not a recipe.

End of recipe. I could hear her smoking as we talked. I didn't care that she smoked, because there is a very slight possiblity that I might have once every now in then indulged myself in that same guilty pleasure. Maybe. Probably not, but maybe. The smoking reminded me that she smoked while she cooked, and that ALWAYS bothered me...pause to consider it... and the instructions included putting her hands onto a wet loaf of bread. Cringe. Stop thinking about that.

Me: Anything else? Just bread and onions and water?
Vera: Use a fresh kilt turkey, that's the kind I use.

Me: Are you sure? No eggs, no broth, nothing?
Vera: Use a fresh kilt turkey, they inject poison into the other ones.
Me: How much is 'some' thyme and rosemary?

Vera: Shake it all over the bread when it's wet and when you squeeze the water out, it will get into the stuffing. Be sure to use a fresh-kilt turkey. I heard that they put chemicals into the other ones.

Me: Bye. Happy Thanksgiving.

Vera: Use a fresh-kilt turkey, the other ones are dyed yellow. You can put some butter in it.

OK - so, I followed the recipe to the letter. From the start I knew that something was not right, and made that remark several times to my mother, who was silent. I mean the whole "loaf of bread soaked with tap water" wasn't working out for me. I squeezed and squeezed and it just got . . unimaginable. My total handprint in wet whitebread. A ball of wet whitebread, with my handprints in it. Like some kind of kindergarten project, only to be eaten. . . possibly.

Mimi was drinking wine and silently making cornbread dressing. My mother did NOT want me to stuff the dressing into her turkey. I think she took pity on me, because she eventually let me stick some way back in there, but not much.

And I was trying to get it all done without Newlywed-D knowing about it. That too, continues to baffle me.

My mother still made me fix the sweet potatoes, and cook a pie, so she was anxious to get the bread dressing thing over with.

Thanksgiving Day dawned - delightfully warm, rather than cold. Newlywed-D's second big shock, after the warm weather, was that we ate at night, and did not schedule around a football game. I fished the cooked bread-stuffing out of the turkey, and it was just a glob, very grey, very solid, very nasty looking. So I put some butter it in. Just following directions.

We had a lovely SOUTHERN Thanksgiving. It was a glorious spread of 100% homemade goodies, as Mimi and I , at that point, were ashamed to serve anything store-bought for such a momentous occasion as THANKSGIVING. (We have recovered from that home-made compulsion, sort of.) There was a little pause when Newlywed-D asked why the "dog meat" of the turkey was on the table. The "dog meat" was apparently what they called the dark meat. It was there because that is the only part of a turkey I eat. Moving on.

Amidst all the other lovely foodstuffs there was a bowl of grayish clay like stuff, with an onion sticking out of it. Nobody said anything about it. Also no one took any, and that would include Newlywed-D. I think Mimi may have put a spoonful on her plate, because she is exceedingly gracious. So, after everyone sat, plates loaded, I picked up the bowl of New Jersey bread stuffing and set it right in front of my new husband.

Me: Look, I made this stuffing, like your mother's. Beaming and blushing like the bride I was.

BigD: That doesn't look like my mother's stuffing.
Me: So, taste it.

BigD: How do you know how to make it.

Me: I called her and asked her.

BigD: YOU called my mother? Did she talk to you? Because this doesn't look like the stuffing she makes. Did she know who you were?

Me: Well, you know, soak the loaf of bread in tap water and then squeeze...

BigD: Yeah, that's how she makes it, but this doesn't look like it.

Me: Just taste it. bursting with new-bride pride in my accomplishement for my husband.

BigD: You taste it first.

Me: I have already tasted it. And then I added butter. It looks worse than it tastes. I mean, I think it tastes right, I only ate it once at your house, and all I got was one spoonful.

BigD tasted it. BigD laughed. BigD did not taste it again.

Nobody else at the table touched it. My siblings are not very loyal.

BigD: Vera didn't give you the recipe. She just made a bunch of stuff up. She does that all the time. Did she tell you about the 'fresh-kilt turkey'? Did she tell you they'd wait to eat dinner if we drove up there? Because she wouldn't do that either.

I never made bread dressing again. Once I tried the "Pepperidge Farm Herb-Seasoned Bread Dressing" package of crumbs. In fact I think I bought some this week at Wal-Mart, for old time's sake. I did not buy a loaf of whitebread, because on Thanksgiving Day each one of my minions will help clean-up (because we do that) and they will each make a dish for the table. And we will eat together whatever we have all made. PPP will bake some delicious dessert which will be nibbled on through out the day and into the night.We will talk about the exciting end of the football season, which is happening on Tuesday evening, 200 miles away. And we will not have YAM or turnip either. Also, no one is coming with $100 bills in his pocket. I do miss that part.


Muddy Boot Dreams said...

That is a hillarious story, I think that your relationship with the MIL is called Toxic? I was reading the recipe as you wrote, and I was definitely thinking uuuuuwwwww.
Your poor, poor newlywed self. I am drooling over that southern stuffing.

Kat said...

What a NIGHTMARE of a woman! But it does make for a great story! ;)

My mom makes THE BEST stuffing in the world. THE BEST. Even people who don't like stuffing like my mom's stuffing. It is not mushy, has plenty of herbs and spices, tiny bits of ground beef, seasoned bread crumbs, and NO FRUIT. I love it. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. I love Thanksgiving. :) said...


i think i was at that table!
The Peabody still has its merits... when you're dealing with numbers of picky children!

kikibibi said...

Happy Thanksgiving friend! I live in New England (and though folks from the South may think of us all as being from "up North," New Jersey is most definitely not a part of New England). No offense BigD, but the first thing comes to mind when I think of New Jersey is "don't ever go there." The second thing is, if you have to drive through it, don't ever get off the turnpike and it'll be over before you know it. Sorry BigD.

We're having us a VERY big Thanksgiving - lots of food for all, and I love opening my home to anyone who needs some family. So far we're up to 20. Good thing I got a 24# turkey!