Happy New Year! 2010
I grew up in a family of great cooks in a region of the country where every woman knew how to prepare a good home-cooked meal nightly. When my family moved to New Jersey in the late '60s, I was in for an awakening.
We were invited to join our neighbors for Thanksgiving dinner. To this day, I can't imagine why my parents accepted that invitation. My mother was and still is, a phenomenal cook so throwing together a turkey dinner would have been no problem. I guess it was the social aspect of the thing that made them say yes. At any rate, I knew we were headed for trouble when we walked through the front door. Things just didn't smell right.
Having segregated the children from the adults, we were seated and offered our choice of turkey or hot dogs. Hot dogs! On Thanksgiving! My brother and I quickly declined the hot dogs and went for the turkey and dressing. In retrospect, I think we were offered hot dogs because the hostess miscalculated the size of her turkey and feared she wouldn't have enough. Oh well. It was awful anyway.
Thus, at the tender age of twelve, I learned that not everybody can cook.
Getting back to the topic at hand, not only could the women in my family cook, they cooked ethnic. Western Pennsylvania is a melting pot of Irish, Italian, Greek, German and Eastern European influence. So, if you are of German heritage, you learn to cook German food. If you are Greek, you learned to cook ethnic Greek dishes and so on. As an added bonus, holidays meals are celebrated with an ethnic twist.
Eastern Europeans believe that you must celebrate the new year by consuming the flesh of an animal that roots forward while foraging for food. By doing so, you can be assured of heading forward into the new year, thus optimizing your chances of success and good fortune.
One year, while trekking home down the Ohio turnpike on New Year's Day, we encountered a blizzard. It was getting late and there was no chance we were going to find a decent place to eat. Dad was tired, hungry and irritable, when we pulled into a highway rest-stop. It was past the dinner hour, the place was deserted and at first it appeared as though the kitchen was closed. All hope for something hot to eat seemed lost, when Mom spied the bratwurst. I'll never forget the change in Dad's demeanor. Not only was he going to get something to eat, he was going to eat pork! Alleluia! Good things were going to happen! After dinner, we piled back into the car and inched our way forward down the freeway toward home.
I don't consider myself superstitious and pork is not now, nor has it ever been, one of my favorite foods. However, this foodie and her family will be rooting forward into the new year!
Our grandson Shane with Pedro, our garden pig. Having a pig in the garden is supposed to assure good luck.