While others were drinking green beer, making lamb stew, or boiling the pervasive corned beef and cabbage this week, I ignored all things Irish. My family was never one to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. As Italian Catholics, St. Patrick's Day was a minor religious holiday in my childhood house, and my proud Italian father couldn't comprehend how the nation turned it into a festive drinking day celebrating the Irish. This was particularly telling as he was never one to turn down a pint of beer, celebratory or not.
Half the time I forgot to wear green on St. Patrick's Day. Not surprising from the girl who brought meatball sandwiches for lunch, but a drag nonetheless as this meant I got pinched all day (a tradition, I am happy to say, that has been abandoned, at least at my daughters' elementary school). My family just didn't celebrate the day. We ate a normal dinner -- something like pasta with broccoli rabe followed by stuffed peppers. No corned beef for us. My mom just didn't cook Irish.
Ironically, my dad died on St. Patrick's Day two years ago. And then the day before the holiday this week, my maternal grandmother passed away. Now, what the nation celebrates as an excuse to drink beer and "get their Irish on" has become a time of reflection for me.
My father and grandmother were different in many ways, but one thing they could always agree on was food. Both were lifelong advocates of the southern Italian table. While my father never lifted a finger in the kitchen (he was a Sicilian male of the old school), he could correctly identify the vast range of regional dishes prepared, including what ingredients were used, and if they were fresh or not. My grandmother, on the other hand, was the quintessential Italian cook. Each day she prepared a Neopolitan dish that had been passed down from generation to generation. She got up around 4:00 a.m. each day, made a pot of coffee, and started cooking. Unfortunately, we were separated by 3,000 miles for most of my life (she in Long Island and me in California), so I didn't get to hang out with her in the kitchen as much as I would have liked. I have very fond memories of when we were together, however: her busy at the stove, talking with a New York accent sprinkled with Italian, and making the most heavenly dishes.