Hunt and Gather Girl Reporting on life in the food chain

Food Chain Philosophy

November 24, 2011

To Stuff or Not To Stuff? Four Food Pros Provide the Answers Angst Ridden Thanksgiving Home Chefs Crave

Jack loves turkey, ridged canned cranberry and black olives for his claw tips

Jack loves turkey, ridged canned cranberry and black olives for his claw tips

I hosted four friends from the Professional Food Writers Symposium on my Farm and Foodshed Report on KWMR radio this past Monday.  We addressed all of the deeper questions that swirl around Thanksgiving from the cooking to the rituals.  Do you have that one family member that must have the cranberry sauce from the can, with ridges intact?  Have you ever dared to serve dessert without pumpkin pie as an option?  I thought it would be fun and helpful to hear from award winning Chefs and writers. Let me introduce you.
St. Michael of Anaheim, Patron Saint of the Martini and all Procopios

Saint Michael of Anaheim, Patron Saint of Martinis and Procopios

Michael Procopio, of the Anaheim Procopios, twists,  twirls and stretches humor, horror, pathos and food into a wickedly delightful treat with the skill of a great taffy maker.  He was selected to appear in Best Food Writing 2011 and you can read his award winning words on his site at  From how to make Rosemary’s Babyfood, Twitter etiquette and sightings of John Wayne’s meatballs – his range is outrageous.

Maureen Abood, also known as "Sugar Shoes"

Maureen Abood, also known as "Sugar Shoes"

Maureen Abood recently completed her training at Tante Marie in San Francisco and has written for Saveur, The Washington Post and The Chicago Tribune.  She has a gorgeous blog called Rose Water & Orange Blossoms: Modern Musings on Lebanese Cuisine -  Her lyrical prose and dreamy photography transport you to a kitchen filled with family traditions interpreted through Maureen’s fresh perspective.  Hummus – she has the secret – Sugar Shoes – she owns the name.

Lynda Balslev, Kept Thanksgiving Alive Throughout Europe Almost Twenty Years!

Lynda Balslev, Kept Thanksgiving Alive Throughout Europe For Almost Twenty Years!

Lynda Balslev moved to Paris in 1991 to study cooking at Le Cordon Bleu, she returned to the U.S. and Marin County 17 years later with a Danish hubby, two exceptional children and previous addresses in Geneva, London and Copenhagen.  During her years abroad, she celebrated Thanksgiving wherever she lived.  Her assignment – procure a turkey – roast it perfectly and invite Americans and other thankful friends to partake and bring the side dishes.  She continues the tradition to this day.  For Lynda all her journeys begin and end at the kitchen table and you can enjoy her discoveries at


Your Inspired Chef anne Haerle - Pronounced Hurley and Don't You Forget It!

Your Inspired Chef anne Haerle - Pronounced Hurley and Don't You Forget It!

Anne Haerle has been a voracious writer all of her life.  Like me she had a former life as a marketing/advertising professional.  She ditched the agency life to attend The Culinary Institute of America.  She’s married her love of the written word with her passion for cooking. Another thing we have in common was being raised in a Southern family “who prepared, debated, and discussed food endlessly.”   At  you can keep up with her recipe development and testing, writing and inspirations.

Black olives are the perfect appetizer and accessory for the family nail biter.

Black Olives are the perfect appetizer and accessory for the family nail biter.

When our conversation turned to Thanksgiving oddities and awfuls that we’re required to serve in order to please certain family members and friends, Michael Procopio talked about the canned black olives that his family always had on hand for his sister. Every Thanksgiving her little girl hands were adorned by the large, shiny, black olives with fingertip sized pit holes. And yes, it turns out that this is a common family ritual in most of the country.  We always felt so sophisticated to have “California” olives at an Alabama Thanksgiving.  My cousin called them “the squeaky” olives.
Canned cranberry sauce with the ridges. I learned my lesson many years ago at my large orphan Thanksgiving dinners. Invariably at least one guest would pull me into a private corner and ask where the old fashioned American cranberry sauce was – “you know the one in the can that makes the swoosh, plop sound when it comes out onto the plate and it has those cool ridges.”  So every year I buy one can – still haven’t found one that’s organic or local – which would make it seem a bit less gross – hmmmm – business opportunity?
Anne Haerle and I laughed over the fact that almost every traditional Southern side dish for Thanksgiving does not require teeth. In honor of our elders? Perhaps the fact that every one of them has more sugar than a Coca Cola creates the need for sidedishes that don’t require teeth.
 And speaking of Coca Cola – my Grandmother Polly’s Coca Cola cherry jello salad – my first few years in San Francisco I made it – I was made fun of, but every bite disappeared before the end of the day.  Perhaps I’ll post it for Christmas – goes great with a standing rib roast.
Mama Stamberg's Progressive and Liberal Cranberry Relish

Mama Stamberg's Progressive and Liberal Cranberry Relish

After my move to California I began to add more liberal and progressive dishes to my Thanksgiving dinners like NPR host, Susan Stamberg’s Mama Stamberg’s Cranberry Relish which is a pink, slushy mix of raw cranberries, raw onion, horseradish, sour cream and sugar.
 Lynda Balslev chimed in about being flexible and open to whatever wonderful new dish might come to the Thanksgiving table.  After almost two decades of presenting the turkey and being surprised by the sides that her guests would bring, she sings the praises of how unique each feast can be. 
Michael Procopio spoke of the large Italian style feasts that his family consumed.  Course after course starting with antipasti, pasta, fish, and somewhere in the mix turkey with all of the traditional fixings and ending with pumpkin pie and of course a platter of cannelloni. He marvelled at the tiny Sicilian women eating dish after dish with ease and obvioulsy enough room. 
Maureen Abood’s family tradition always includes a huge platter of her Aunt Hilda’s stuffed grape leaves.  But this will be their first Thanksgiving in her life without Aunt Hilda and the stuffed grape leaves.  So no matter how quirky or strange, each dish that comes to the table has a story and gift.
Not Too Many Turkeys in the Swamp, Jack Ventures Into the Piney Woods for his Thanksgiving Turkey

Not Too Many Turkeys in the Swamp, Jack Ventures Into the Piney Woods for his Thanksgiving Turkey

So onto those questions we worry ourselves silly about.
To Stuff or not to Stuff – NO, NO, NO – never, ever stuff your bird.  Uneven cooking Chef Anne reminds us is an issue.   But my tale is the one that should make you back away from the bowl of stuffing and your turkey’s gaping carcass.  My Mammaw put the fear of  intestinal disaster in me about the dangers of stuffing your turkey.  Long ago at a Christmas dinner with a relative whose name shall not be revealed we were lined up to serve ourselves and I heard the hostess say, the stuffing from the turkey is in the red bowl and the baked dressing is in the blue dish.  I grabbed my husband and son by their elbows and hissed “DO NOT eat from the red bowl.”  They both shook their heads and whispered, “Mammaw superstitions.”  Exactly 36 hours later every guest at the party except me and the other paranoid person who did not eat from the red bowl was deathly ill with Salmonella.  The hostess claimed they were ill from the baby who was at the dinner and had a flu bug.  The health department and emergency room disagreed. 
Brining – yes, but Dry is the new black.  Dry brine your turkey Judy Roger’s style.  We’ve all done wet and are now converts to dry.
High heat, low heat – the most important thing is DO NOT  roast the turkey in a paper bag like Anne’s Daddy used to do until a fiery fiasco highlighted one Thanksgiving feast.
Well, there is so much more we discussed, like drinks to start with – Pina Coladas on the beach with Maureen or my Camping Coffee  at 9am (a bit of bourbon in strong black coffee and a splash of whipping cream) to get myself revved up, but in a happy way.
Dessert – so many, many folks insist on Pumpkin Pie – I’ve had them turn their noses up at pumpkin cheesecake, my Alabama pecan pies and pumpkin brulee’ – keep a simple pumpkin pie one in the kitchen with the canned cranberry sauce in case one of your guests are so unimaginative that they might ignore your brilliant creation.
You can hear all of our advice and folly  by going to my KWMR Farm & Foodshed Report scroll to the bottom of the page and you can download an mp3 of the show which is the 11-21-11 show!
Happy, happy Thanksgiving!
And one last recommend – Maureen’s dear teach and mentor – Tante Marie!
If you are offended by cuss words – stop now and get back in the kitchen.
Enjoy Thanksgiving, don’t stress out and just put the F**king Turkey in the Oven!

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