Tra-di-tion….TRADITION! When pondering the concept of tradition, the first thing that pops into my head is the opening number from Fiddler on the Roof…and now it’s stuck in my head for the rest of the day. But, on a more serious note, tradition is a big part of most families and family gatherings. Ask around and almost everyone will have a story to share about a noteworthy meal made by a special family member that evokes some kind of emotion and/or warm memories.
For close to twenty years, baking Christmas cookies has been my annual tradition. Aside from that, I don’t have many others. I long for creating more rituals that my family looks forward to and that my son will remember when he is older. One of my difficulties in creating a tradition is my constant desire for trying new things. I often forget about my tried-and-true dishes because I am always focused on “what I can try next”. Even the Christmas cookies that I bake every year are an ever-changing variety—save for the Oatmeal Scotchies that my sister eagerly awaits every year.
Another setback in my search for tradition is the fact that I am a vegetarian. When you think of traditions at most family meals, much of the focus is usually on the main course—the meat. The notion of that rack of lamb with mint sauce or that standing rib roast with Yorkshire pudding is what many look forward to. When I was growing up, it was my Grandmother’s ham with homemade raisin sauce and her pork braised in sauerkraut that I remember so fondly. But, now, as my lifestyle has changed, I feel as though many of those traditions are slipping away. While I don’t mind making a ham with my Grandmother’s raisin sauce for my family, I would actually like to be preparing something that I am looking forward to enjoying as well. It is especially hard being a vegetarian during the holidays when the rest of my family remains carnivorous. I suppose I just need to come up with a killer Brussels sprouts recipe that leaves them begging for more! Until then, I continue on my quest.
In theory, starting your own family is the ideal time to begin new traditions—except it becomes challenging to draw the line between prior family tradition and the new ones you’d like to start within your own household. In the hustle and bustle of figuring out which relative’s house we are going to for which holiday, I have often felt that the three of us get lost in the shuffle. I now cook a mostly-vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner for the three of us on Thanksgiving Eve—I throw a little turkey breast in for my guys; it’s something special just for us. And since we have so little time to enjoy Christmas Day before the traveling begins, last year I started making a Christmas breakfast treat: cinnamon rolls. I think I’m on the right track, but it is a work in progress.
While I continue to create and maintain some ongoing traditions in the Ferrer household, I wanted to share with you a recipe of my Grandmother’s that is a staple at my Thanksgiving Eve dinner every year: her stuffing—except now it will now become dressing, as there is nothing at my table to “stuff” it into.
There is just something about the aroma from the onion, mushrooms and celery sautéing in butter that make me think of my family—aside from eating it, that is my favorite part about making it.
12 cups Italian Bread cubes, dried*
1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter or Earth Balance Vegan Butter
1 cup onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 Tablespoon parsley, chopped
1 cup mushrooms, chopped (I prefer shitake, but any kind will do)
1 1/2 cup celery stalks and leaves, chopped
1/2 – 1 teaspoon dried sage (optional)
3 eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 – 1 cup vegetable stock (I use Swanson’s Organic)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Place bread cubes in very large bowl. Sprinkle 1 Tablespoon of water at a time over bread cubes and toss until bread is damp, not wet. Set aside.
Melt butter in a large pan. Add celery, onion and mushrooms. Cook until translucent. Add this and all other ingredients (except stock) to bread and mix well. Add stock as needed for even consistency.
Transfer mixture into a standard loaf pan. Cover with foil and cook for 30 minutes. Remove foil and continue in oven for 15 more minutes. Cut into portions and serve.
*The easiest way to dry out your bread is to cut up your loaf of Italian into cubes the day before, place it on a pan, cover it with a dish towel and leave it at room temperature. By the next day, your bread will be dried out enough. Should you forget this step–as I have done before–place your cubes on a pan in a 250 degree oven and bake until just dried. Times will vary with each oven and humidity, but start checking at 15 minutes.