A Corned Beef Odyssey
or: How I Survived My First Irish-American St. Patrick's Day Dinner
- my girlfriend
- S.'s first cousin once removed, our hostess, and S.'s Godmother
- S.'s second cousin and friend, daughter of B.
- K.'s daughter, age 2
- Father P.
- Diocesan priest and friend of B. (what's an Irish-American family dinner without at least one priest, I ask you?)
Somewhere in the midst of all this talk about warmongering, bombs, and peace protests (1400 protesters locked up for blocking San Francisco streets yesterday), I've neglected to describe my first encounter with that most Irish-American of traditions (and we're not talking green beer): corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's Day.
The locale: B.'s condominium, a three bedroom unit in a modest planned community nearby.
Everything surrounding gatherings at B.'s condo must somehow be negotiated. For instance, the invitation that S. got for St. Patrick's Day dinner said "arrive at 4pm, dinner at 6pm". Given the occasion, we thought that two hours was a rather long lead time. After consulting with K., we were reminded that her mother had a penchant for rather long cocktail hours (often involving St. Andrews Scotch out of golf ball-shaped bottle). After meditating on that image, we decided that 5pm might be a more appropriate time to arrive instead.
We were late. S. had a sorority alumni lunch to attend at around noon, and then decided to head over to the Valley Fair Mall (one of largest in Northern California) to do some shopping. I meanwhile did some accounting odds and ends and did some remote system administration chores for some computers that I still tend (occasionally) from my University days. S. got back at around 4:30, but, we were further delayed by chocolate chip cookie making (from frozen dough, not scratch) because we thought it best to show up past 4pm with a peace offering in hand. Cookie making took just under an hour, and we finally arrived at B.'s condo with a few dozen cookies and a bottle of BV Cabernet Sauvignon in tow at around 5:50.
Domestic chaos reigned a B.'s place. The table was beautifully set, but the food was still cooking, and, complicated and intricate negotiations were under way as to the best way to serve it. Despite the 4pm invite, we were also not the last guests to arrive -- K. had yet to arrive and a number of other guests were unaccounted for. So, we all just kind of milled about, waiting for the food to cook and to arrive at a quorum of guests for dinner.
In the mean time, B. (being a doting grandmother) decided to bribe a tired and hungry Sa. with one of our chocolate chip cookies because dinner was so late. A family friend saw Sa. with the cookie and then made finding something healthy to eat for Sa. into her crusade. After loudly and uncategorically announcing that "all two year olds LOVE fruits and vegetables", she then attempted to feed Sa. part of a papaya and also offered her red beets. Both were ultimately vetoed before Sa. could try them because other, older ladies in the kitchen felt two year olds somehow do not like papaya, and that the red beats were "special" and meant for B.'s consumption alone. (I myself was skeptical about the "all two year olds love fruits and vegetables" claim after seeing some picky eaters in action over the years.)
Everyone finally arrived around 6:45 and it was announced that dinner was imminent.
Having seen the kind of chaos that serving dinner can be with B.'s family at the Christmas table last December, I knew my best strategy was to find a seat at the table and not get up from it until there was food on my plate in front of me (better to ask forgiveness than ask permission with this group). It proved to be a good choice. First plates were collected because food was going to be served buffet style (no doubt to preserve the abundance of shamrock decorations on the table). Everyone was then told to get up and start filing through the kitchen to get food. Then this scheme was inexplicably vetoed by powers unseen in the kitchen, because plates were suddenly redistributed back to the table and everyone was told to sit back down. A large platter then appeared containing the corned beef and cabbage and was set down in the middle of the table. Several side dishes soon followed, along with some good humored grumbling and complaining from people with buffet-style serving preferences that were exiting the kitchen. We finally started moving food onto our plates at about 7:20.
The menu consisted of boiled corned beef, boiled cabbage, some cold Irish potato salad, green salad, and two different kinds of home made Irish soda bread. I pretty much tried everything but the cabbage. The corned beef reminded me (in many ways) of Mom's sour braten, except for the pink color and the lack of a white sauce. The soda bread was also interesting, with a look resembling Italian biscotti but with a more bread-like consistency.
I added my own levity to the evening when I turned to Father P.(who I saw bless a family pickup truck before Christmas dinner) and asked him to pass the BV Cabernet right after I started eating. At least one friend of the family (who needs new hearing aids, I swear) said this was the first thing she heard me say all night, and found it rather funny.
on 2003-03-21 at 12:37 p.m.
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