Sunday, March 15, 2009
Corned Beef & Cabbage, Just like Mom Made
Though you'd never guess it (you wouldn't have to though, I'd tell you) my parents are mad into being Catholics. They love it. They also love gays and divorce and abortion and women being priests, so sometimes I'm not really sure what their deal is. When I ask them what they like about being Catholic, they don't like to answer. Now, my parents are incredibly rational, intelligent, progressive people, so I think they're just caught in the spell of the Virgin and her Good Son and all their miracle-doing/pyrotechnics. Almost more than they love Jesus, though, they hate prostelitizing. Growing up, we went to Catholic school but didn't go to church, we didn't wear crosses. We got confirmed, but all of us were vocal about wanting to be bat mitzvahed. The only place Catholic rituals managed to sneak into our home lives in a way that wasn't totally subversive and unseeable, really, was during the Lenten season, when all 6 of us would imagine ourselves as Jesus and Moses, alone in the desert talking to a snake or out at sea with a boatload of animals, both without food or drink, a one-on-one-on-one battle between themselves and the G_d man and themselves and themselves. Resistance. Strength. In Catholicism those words mean: Denial of Earthly Pleasure. So, I've been giving shit up for Lent since I figured out I was a candy fiend at age 5. Growing up, it was usually that or soda. At 14 I gave up lying to my mom, which didn't work out well. Senior year of college I tried giving up being sober, because I figured that it would at least be difficult for me since I wasn't an alcoholic, but I couldn't follow through. My dad on the other hand, because he is actually into this whole thing in a real way, gave up booze and meat Saturday-Thursday and full on fasted on Friday every single year. I think maybe that's why my family started taking St. Patrick's Day so seriously.
The Church folk in Ireland say that on St. Pat's day it's a-okay to get bloody wasted, covet your neighbors wife, smack around your own, dance, be merry, and gorge yourself with all the cabbage and corned beef (or Irish bacon) you can get your hands on. Every March 17th or thereabouts, my Mexican mom makes the best corned beef in the world for, like, 150 people. She stalks the Supermarkets for weeks, cutting Vons Buy 2 Get 1 Frees (valid 1 per customer) and sending in me and my sisters one after the other to redeem our coupons, too. She borrows the neighbors stoves and ovens, she fills the bathtubs with cabbages and potatoes and carrots, she makes 6 types of soda bread, fresh fruit trifles with vanilla pudding and shortbread (mmm!), she sets out cheese platters and nuts and all sorts of treats.
My dad goes to BevMo and comes back with 24 cases of Guinness, 6 handles of Jameson & Tullamore Dew, and some Baileys.
This year was the very first in my whole life I wasn't able to get back to Northridge for the fete so I decided to recreate it in Park Slope with 100 less people and 30 less corned beefs. Dad taught me to run the party bar when I was 12 and I've been making the beef glaze with Mom since I was wee, but I'd never done it without their help.
First off, despite the abundance of specialty grocery stores and access to weird foods that doesn't exist in other cities, shopping in New York is mostly a pain in the ass. 15 lbs of corned beef is heavy. 6 heads of cabbage is heavy. 2 8-packs of Guiness, a 6-pack of Brooklyn Winter Ale, 3 jars of marmelade is heavy. I would have given away my stamp collection for a car.
10 hours and 7 stores later, I was in business and the cooking went without a hitch. I simmered my beefs for 3 hours (!), dropped in the vegetables (cabbage last, obvi) slapped the glaze on the meat and tossed it in the oven. Meanwhile, I helped Jeff make a soda bread, set up the living room, finished the dishes, and let myself, for I think the first time, enjoy a party that I was hosting.
People loved it. They came back for seconds and thirds and fourths, latecomers who weren't invited for dinner ate it cold. It was a success!
I was able to enjoy the communal vodka Jell-o bowl in peace, confident that my corned beef was the best my guests had ever had and happy that I had eaten food I cooked with my guests while it was still hot and they were eating too! Success!
Thanks, Mom :)