My husband’s family has pulled a couple of fast ones on me over the years — by substituting what is, in my opinion, an inferior meat product for the superior and expected meat product that is traditionally served on two different holidays.
My mother-in-law — that much loved, much missed, delightfully sweet little old lady — was the first perpetrator of this heinous crime. She did it on St. Patrick’s Day — the one day of the year when everyone should at least pretend to be Irish, for crying out loud! The one day of the year when everyone should at least pretend to savor that salty, strangely-colored slab of boiled beef that is a hallmark of this holiday! Luckily, I don’t have to pretend to either — I am both a corned beef lover and an Irishwoman. My in-laws, however, are Italian through and through.
As a result of her heritage, corned beef and cabbage is not something that EVER graced my mother-in-law’s table. At least not that I can remember.
My daughter’s birthday is March 15th. On the occasion of her second (or third, who can remember back that far?) birthday, we found ourselves in a position to celebrate at my mother-in-law’s home. It turned out that we would be celebrating NOT on the 15th, but on the 17th — St. Patrick’s Day!
Because I could not imagine a St. Patrick’s Day without corned beef and cabbage, I offered to bring it and make it — knowing full well that my mother-in-law who, even though she was one of the best cooks I have ever encountered, probably had NO idea how to make a corned beef. She told me not to worry about it. As my mother-in-law was a magician in the kitchen, I figured, “Okay, she’s even got this one covered!” Impressive.
Imagine my horror, if you will, when I got there and discovered that there would be no corned beef (I don’t really care about the cabbage)! Imagine my further horror when I discovered that in lieu of the traditional corned beef that I had been looking forward to, I would not even be getting Italian food. No cavatelli. No meatballs. No chicken parm. While none of these items would have been my first choice for a St. Patrick’s Day menu, I can always “take one for the team” and stuff my face with any or all of these — the culinary staples of my husband’s Italian heritage.
What was on the menu? Pork roast. Pork roast! Let me say that again for any of you who may have missed it: I WAS BEING FED PORK ROAST ON ST. PATRICK’S DAY! WHAT?!?!? Her response when she realized that I had been serious about making the corned beef? Her response when I asked her “WHY? WHY IS THERE NO CORNED BEEF ON ST. PATRICK’S DAY?” “Oh, well, who eats that?” I do. I eat that.
Little did I know then that the pork roast would dog me on other holidays and for years to come. Apparently, my husband’s family — a family I have now been a part of for nearly thirty years — has an affinity for the pork roast. An affinity that was, quite frankly, news to me.
A couple of years later we found ourselves and our small child at my brother-in-law’s home in Massachusetts — a home that is not that far from Plymouth, by the way. You know, the place with the rock. The place where the Puritans set foot in America. The place where the VERY FIRST THANKSGIVING feast took place. That place.
While enjoying my niece’s dancing team at the Thanksgiving Day football game — a game being played not far from where the replica of The Mayflower resides, my brother-in-law let it slip that we would NOT be having turkey for dinner. WHAT?!?!?
You could have knocked me over with a feather. I mean, COME ON!, I had dragged my cookies and those of my husband and small child two-hundred miles in Thanksgiving weekend traffic to NOT eat turkey? Really? The irony that this was happening just a short distance from where the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag first enjoyed their first Thanksgiving feast — one at which they may or may not have had turkey, but I highly doubt they had PORK ROAST — was not lost on me.
I was afraid to ask what we were having. I was afraid that the answer might be pork roast. My fear was not, as it turns out, unfounded. Because guess what? We were having pork roast. That we were also having eggplant parm, even knowing that my brother-in-law had made his version of this delectable dish, was not providing enough of a distraction to get my mind off of the “we’re having pork roast for Thanksgiving” train of thought.
I blame this train of thought for what I did next. I complained and kvetched to the neighbors. I said things like, “Hey, what are you having for dinner? Oh, you’re having turkey? How interesting. Will there also be stuffing, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce? How unusual. Might you have room for one more?” (I had completely lost sight of the fact that my husband and daughter might also like some turkey for Thanksgiving. At this point, it was every man for himself.)
At that time I didn’t really know the neighbors very well (I know them better now), so I’m sure you can imagine the discomfort it caused on their part to have to diplomatically turn down the crazy lady, the virtual stranger, who was inviting herself to their Thanksgiving dinner. They are, after all, nice people.
I think that word spread quickly to my brother-in-law’s neighbors — the ones that were unlucky enough to be seated in the stands. The ones who were just trying to enjoy a little football or dance-teaming. The ones who were looking for a place to go to get the kids out of their wives’ hair — wives that were, no doubt, at home basting turkeys! Hair that probably smelled like candied yams. The word was, I’m sure, to “avoid John’s deranged sister-in-law. She’s trying to insinuate herself into other people’s Thanksgiving meals!”
One of them took pity on me. He didn’t invite me to dinner — that would have just been weird, especially because I would have gone — but he did do the next best thing — he brought me a plate of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and gravy. He walked across the street with it, rang the bell, and presented it to me. I never laughed so hard in my life. Dennis, or as I’ve come to think of him “The Neighbor Who Saved Thanksgiving” will always have a place in my heart. He will remain a prominent figure in the family story — the one I like to tell each Thanksgiving — the one about how I was (almost) served pork roast on Thanksgiving.
Sadly, there were no neighbors to save St. Patrick’s Day.
photo credit: pork roast