Thanksgiving is not until next week, but for us the stuffing square-off began before Halloween.
The question comes early: Who will make the stuffing?
"I will, I will," family members always volunteer -- which is their way of saying that they make the best stuffing of all.
This has gone on for years. This mystifies me because, by now, I would think they all knew who makes the best stuffing.
Perhaps they have forgotten.
"I'll make the stuffing this year," a family member announced in October.
"Yours comes from a box," I reminded her.
"But it is deee-licious," she responded, smacking her lips -- the very ones that also enjoy eating jellied cranberries straight from the can.
I get another offer, which I feel I must accept this year. Everyone loves her stuffing, I have been told. I give in.
"OK, OK, make your stuffing," I said.
I love my old-fashioned bread stuffing recipe. The only way I could make it more from scratch is to bake my own bread and churn my own butter.
I combine different kinds of bread -- I've tried everything from challah to country wheat -- but my secret is to toss in some slices of sunflower bread as well.
I learned this several years ago when I bumped into a woman I know at the supermarket, in those crazy shopping days leading up to Thanksgiving.
Anyone who saw her -- even from a distance -- knew that this was a woman who believed, firmly, that she makes the best stuffing of all.
She just had that look.
I'm not sure how it happened, but in our brief discussion she volunteered that she likes to throw some sunflower bread in her stuffing.
Loving the suggestion, I raced to the bread aisle -- and I have used sunflower bread as part of my stuffing recipe ever since.
Since I usually at least triple the recipe, I spend a lot of time cubing the bread -- which sends crumbs flying everywhere. Then I dry them in the oven, taking the baking sheets out and stirring occasionally, which causes even more crumbs to fly.
(I know some people dry bread cubes by letting them stand covered overnight, but I've never done it that way.)
I use the usual ingredients -- finely chopped celery, onion, broth, butter, etc. -- and I always, always, always use Bell's Seasoning because that is what my grandmother used.
So, yes, I like the stuffing I make, but I also have learned that the only stuffing other people usually prefer is the one with which they grew up. I also know that some people prefer to call it dressing, which is something I simply can not do. I call it stuffing even though I never stuff the bird with it.
Dressing to me is something I do at dawn, quickly, straight from the shower before the house has warmed up.
So, yes, this year I have reluctantly designated an official stuffing maker, but I hope she does not plan to make a habit of it.
And, I am sure, when I take my first bite of it at Thanksgiving dinner at our house, it will be delicious.
Even though, at some point, I may notice that something is missing -- that subtle nutty crunch of . . . ah, yes, sunflower seeds.
I'll get over it.