Thanksgiving Dinner

An Ode to the Stuffing

I was fortunate enough to grow up in a large extended family with set traditions: Thanksgiving was always at our home. Christmas evening was at my Aunt’s house brimming with Korean and Chinese cooking, elaborate presents around the Christmas tree and music. New Year’s Eve was at my second aunt’s house, Korean New Year was at my uncle’s house eating traditional dumpling and rice cake soup while playing Yoot, a Korean game. Our get-togethers were loud with laughter, singing, caroling, shouting and lots of bickering.

I also grew up in a musical family. My uncle, a multi-instrumentalist, and polyglot in music, never failed to bring an instrument to play. He played the oboe, trumpet, trombone, banjo, piano, you name it. My mom would set the table every year with turkey, stuffing, cranberry, mash potato, creamed spinach, green bean casserole and various Korean dishes like chapchae, kalbi, and various banchan. This was the tradition for as long as I can remember.

I married an officer in the Air Force and started a family. We moved every 2–3 years making it hard to establish holiday traditions. We didn’t live near any family, let alone friends. Thanksgiving was different every year for our transient family, whether it was celebrating at a restaurant, a local church, in Korea, Japan, Italy, and Germany.

In 2008, I was dreading Thanksgiving because my husband was deployed in Iraq while we were living far away from home in Charleston, South Carolina, I never lived in the South. I grew up in Chicago all my life and it felt incredibly foreign as temporary residents, however my realtor, and now a dear friend, Susan, extended an invitation to me and my kids for Thanksgiving dinner to make us feel more at home.

She came from an Italian family that immigrated to New York. Her parents were ingrained with old Italian heritage. That year, Susan’s parents were visiting her family for Thanksgiving. They were what I imagined as your stereotypical New York Italian immigrants: vivacious, dramatic, nationalistic, they imbued a sort of la vera cucina italiana.

For Susan’s parents, Italy was the mother of civilization. Susan’s dad busted into a monologue of the history of Italy and all its inventions, the Italians invented the bank, compass, electricity, opera, piano, radio, helicopter, typewriter and so forth. The telephone was not invented by Alexander Bell but by an Italian named Antonio Meucci of Florence he claimed. It was very evident he felt Italian achievements have been underestimated in the world’s eyes, and he had the responsibility to enlighten me with the truth. I was politely nodding and listening like a good guest. The only thought running through my mind was enjoying a nice Thanksgiving dinner and now I wasn’t sure if we would partake of it as Susan’s dad became more animated as he rattled off Italian’s feats.

But alas, we partook of the supper and it was the most delicious meal. The best part was the stuffing, it wasn’t your typical bread-y, over-seasoned soggy mush that I had experienced. It tasted Italian and yet you can still taste the spirit of Thanksgiving. It perfectly balanced the heavy American Thanksgiving dinner. Naturally, I asked Susan if she could share the recipe, and her mother sharply told her she couldn’t as it was the family’s secret recipe, passed down from her grandmother. I knew I crossed the line, I should have known better as my best childhood friend was also Italian. I knew never to ask an Italian family for their recipe. They seem to guard it with their life.

As the evening progressed, Susan’s mom slowly warmed up to me and it reached a climactic point when she whispered to Susan, “ You can share the family secret.” Little did she know that this was an invitation to our own family’s new tradition.

Since 2008, I have made the recipe every Thanksgiving. Some years I forget to make the pie, or mash potatoes, and yes God forbid, even the beloved fanfare turkey that my family loves, but I never forget to make the stuffing.

This year, my son is having Friendsgiving and you know what he asked me for? Our beloved Italian stuffing recipe. I couldn’t have been more touched and proud. I generously shared it with him and I told him to share the recipe with anyone who asks so they might set family traditions in their home one day when they start a family.

Benjamin Franklin liked his turkey with a zesty oyster sauce, but our family cannot forgo the Italian stuffing year after year as it finally became a tradition in the Paik household.

On the day of Thanksgiving, on a crisp fall morning, we play American football with friends and neighbors in the front lawn while the kitchen busily prepares for the main act. The turkey rules the roost on this day, but in our household the stuffing is still made even without the turkey because it symbolizes hospitality, friendship, family, history and community to a military family who was yearning for all of the above.

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Founder of Jaq Jaq Bird, parent of 3 kids. Recovering coffee addict. I love all things design: architecture and fashion. Aspiring concert violinist.

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Grace Paik

Grace Paik

Founder of Jaq Jaq Bird, parent of 3 kids. Recovering coffee addict. I love all things design: architecture and fashion. Aspiring concert violinist.

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