I remember one year when I was living out in California, taking meager solace in the sea & more substantial solace in a dear, brilliant neuroscientist shortly after my divorce, I caught the red-eye back home for Thanksgiving. Just for Thanksgiving. I remember walking in the front door. It smelled wonderful, and all I remember, truly, is my mother smiling. She was, against all reason at the time, happy to see me. I wasn’t in good shape. But there everything was, just as it had always been. My father was making his famed deviled eggs, my mother had the much revered “Coca-Cola butt ham” & her pumpkin pies ready to go, and we packed it all up in a wicker picnic basket and drove up Lookout Mountain to my Aunt Brenda & Uncle Jim’s house, for their house is the province of the feast. My Aunt Brenda is the one who orchestrates the affair—she makes the dressing & smokes a turkey out on the deck in their little Weber (it’s a skill). She also makes all manner of other treats—pecan pie & gravy not the least among them. There are usually no less than 5 pies at our Thanksgiving: buttermilk, pecan, chocolate, pumpkin, and usually something else…apple? I don’t know. I lose count. So much pie. Glorious.
When I was approached by Grains For Your Brain, a resource provided by the Grains Food Foundation that arms you with the science behind nutrition and information about how the food we eat affect our brains, about introducing you all to their nutritional resources, it was a no brainer (I’m sorry, but that pun was intended). Because there are few things I’m more for than carbohydrates and neuroscience. I couldn’t think of a better way to do so than with a Thanksgiving dressing that features two of my favorite uses of grains: cornbread and buttermilk biscuits. I’m one of those people that finds that the more I understand about the intricate dance between what I take into my body and how I think and feel, the more awe I experience each day & the more I’m inspired to make good decisions about what I eat as well as not feel guilty about foods that some factions of our culture would have me believe are bad (I love you, bread!). I can’t think of a better time than Thanksgiving to delve into knowing more about the relationship between the food I eat and the meaty, electric, ghostly mechanism that is my brain. I am immensely grateful for that amazing process. How fortunate we are that our bodies can run on dressing! Among, of course, other things too.
Other than my obvious affinity for the pies there are only two other things I really care about on Thanksgiving: dressing & deviled eggs. You can change up tradition all you want; lord knows it’s hard for me to leave well enough alone when it comes to the culinary. But I will not abide a Thanksgiving without dressing & deviled eggs. I can make a mean deviled egg. But I’d never made dressing before. So, of course, I called my Aunt Brenda (who is to this day one of my main culinary consultants & the only other “real” cook in our family). Torn out of a Bon Appetit in 1980, this is the dressing Brenda makes, the one I eat every year. It’s moist and flavorful, not dry and bland like lesser dressings tend to be. It’s important to me to learn the recipes from my family while they’re still with me; I don’t want to ever repeat the experience of losing so many recipes when I lost my grandmother. Because they’re more than recipes, they’re memories and traditions. They’re the spells of our womenfolk. And they are precious.
So now, when it comes my turn to carry the torch, I’ll be able to do so. Of course, I’ve made a few tweaks. I added a little buttermilk (due to a pathological need to add buttermilk to everything? Also, I self-describe using the word pathological a little too often…), and I changed onion to shallot because I’m a shallot fiend and threw in a fresh jalapeño, and I also added a hit of apple cider vinegar and sugar because I think those two things really brighten it up. They make it a little more than a side, something that could stand on it’s own. Proud and homely in a bowl. Besides, I think stuffing should be integrated into non-Thanksgiving meals as well. I’m already imagining the possibilities of different birds, herbs, spices, and vegetables. Also note, you can omit the gizzards & livers, but they add a special richness that I love.
I realize that dressing is one of those truly personal recipes. It’s because it is by it’s very nature a family recipe. It’s embedded in the one holiday that is devoted to the thing I love most: gathering around the table with people dear to you and partaking in wonder that is preparing edibles yielded by the earth—by wind and rain and sun—and eating them in order that we may blink and sigh. Shuffle our feet and fold our hands. Twirl a strand of hair around our finger. Everything we do is fueled by electrical impulses shooting through our bodies like stars. And that is fueled by the air we breath, the water we drink, and, of course, by the food we eat.
Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post, and I was compensated for my participation. The opinions, stories, recipes, and ramblings are, naturally, all my own.