Monday, March 17, 2008

Honoring our ancestors

Taking a break from the rigors of being sick (I've pretty much been in bed since Thursday, although I did make it in to work for a couple of hours today), I made a little green dinner for St. Patrick's Day.

Now, St. Patrick's has always been one of my favorite holidays. I've always loved the fun of wearing green (and pinching those who forgot). Food, of course, in our family really makes or breaks a holiday, and I have fond memories of two favorite foods my mom would treat us to, every year: Green SnoBalls and Corned Beef & Cabbage. Corned Beef has to be one of the all-time greatest foods known to mankind. There's nothing better than biting into a salty pink chunk of goodness and letting the greasy brine drip down your chin. I love to get a thick slice with a nice fatty rim and frost it with a tasty mixture of mustard and horseradish. Wow. And the heavenly marriage of fat, salt and cabbage! The sweetness of the vegetable comes through, mellow and heady.

However, as a vegetarian, the spotlight has shifted a little. No dead animal parts means no corned beef and no marshmallows. But in some ways, it's nice. I can remember why St Patrick's Day really means so much to me. It's because most of us are the descendants of people from far distant countries, who worked hard to come here. March 17th is a holiday created by one group of folks to remember those ancestors. In this modern era, that's a pretty rare thing.

So tonight I made us a mess o'pottage--a stew of split peas and vegetables--with rye bread, saurkraut and hot mustard as accompaniment. Dried peas were one of the primary foodstuffs of the Northern Europeans, long before the beans of the Americas arrived, or before the lentils and garbanzos of the Middle East had caught on. Rye is one of the hardiest grains, far more cold tolerant than wheat. And cabbage is the quintessential food of the poor. I tried to honor the ancestors of my little family, a mess of Scots, German, Irish, English and Polish farmers.

Sometimes changing your food habit lets you change your feelings about a holiday. And sometimes it lets you see it in a whole new, beautiful light.

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