Isn’t there room for one more at the table?

This year, the Peña Five will be the happy guests of the gracious Carroll family, whose Thanksgiving dinners embody Norman Rockwell paintings, only with better lighting, more attractive guests, and less inebriation. Aunt N always prepares an impeccable traditional Thanksgiving dinner with turkey, pork stuffing, whipped potatoes, and so on, but done so perfectly and consistently that I can hardly bear the excruciating anticipation in the weeks leading up to the most delicious of Thursdays.

The single issue I have with my favorite meal-based holiday involves the majority of tables across the US, and in no way directs any criticism toward two of my favorite hosts. Many dinner guests enjoy a beer or a glass of wine during the hour before the meal, but not much of a drinker, I turn to another nerve softener: cheese. I can almost always rely on my old friend to ease me into a mingle, and start feeling at home as soon as I spot a cheddar and pepperoni combo plate with a fan of Ritz, a nut-encrusted ball surrounded by water crackers, a yule log, a pub cheese, a baked brie and baguette toasts, or the Excalibur, generally reserved for wedding receptions: the fruit and cheese cube fountain.

How many Thanksgiving dinners can you recall that incorporated any sort of cheese showcase? My best guess is that most diners on this particular occasion are concerned that they will exceed capacity before they’d like to stop eating, and can’t allow distractions like pepperjack to poach on precious abdominal real estate. I, however, do not overeat at Thanksgiving. I’m not above the occasional overindulgence, but I dread experiencing the inevitable system shutdown anywhere but at home. If I can’t get into my bed, I stop at one plate.

There must be others like me, who yearn to stick their head right into the bowl of whipped potatoes, while instead they slowly cut their one slice of breast meat, and savor their single scoop of pork stuffing, when they just want to grab the serving dish and lock themselves in the nearest closet with it. A good bracing of cheese beforehand would spare us from these horrible fantasies.

Since I’ve managed to establish a solid run for my coveted monopoly on the Christmas feast (a childhood dream), I don’t see myself hosting many Thanksgiving dinners in the coming years. So I entreat you, gentle reader, to leave a little space on the coffee tables between the nuts and olives this Thursday, and let’s see what happens when we get some Camembert involved.

Here’s what you should have done.

The Wood Sisters’ Pork Stuffing

This Thanksgiving I stuffed my vegetarian, pasture-frolicking, creep-free turkey with one of my most delicious family traditions. Standard fowl treatment for my great-grandmother, grandmother, aunts and mother, this classic French-Canadian stuffing tastes best when made by the lovely and benevolent Mrs. Smith, or as my father and I refer to her, the Saint. Her genuine faith in humanity, a career dedicated to improving the lives of others, her healthy lifestyle and a distaste for inappropriate men’s jokes can occasionally make us look rather bad in comparison. As you can surmise, we do not poke fun at my slightly terrifying mother.

This is a versatile recipe that can, with one alteration, fill a phenomenal pork pie. My mother used to work with a few gentlemen from the enigmatic French Canada, who fondly recalled stories of their time as altar boys in a Franco-American parish; “at midnight mass on Christmas the locals, having celebrated all night with brandy, cognac, and cigars, and fortified with a couple of pork pies, would present themselves at the communion rail, gaze heavenward, extend their tongues, and bowl the altar boys over with their breath. And there isn’t even any garlic in the recipe.” It’s truly a happy Thanksgiving when you head to bed not only with a delightfully distended belly, but also the assurance that your food coma won’t be delayed by any misguided amorous propositions.

2 lbs ground pork
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
2 sleeves saltine crackers, finely crumbled
2 tbsp shortening
2 tsp Bells Seasoning

Heat the shortening over medium-high in a large saucepan. Once it’s hot, add the onions and sauté until they’re soft, but don’t let them brown. Then crumble in the pork , mix it in with the onions, and cook it until there’s NO PINK to be found. Recovery from undercooked ground pork is a miserable and unattractive process. After browning (graying, actually), add enough water to the pot to cover the pork completely, reduce the heat to low, and simmer it for an hour. Then cover the pot and stick it in the fridge overnight.

Good morning! Time to pick off any visible fat deposits from the top of your cold meat mass. Proceed to sprinkle in the Bells, and mix in; you’ll notice that the hunk crumbles easily when jabbed. Stir in the cracker crumbs, and use your hands to mash everything together. Pack up your washed and dried bird, and bake any extra in a heat-proof dish for a half hour. You can either serve two separate stuffings (bird-in and bird-out), or you can combine them to give the whole thing a subtle crunch. Who doesn’t want that?

Note: You may omit the crackers from the recipe to make filling for pork pies, in which case you would double the recipe for standard pie crust to allow for a top crust.

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