So there is no way that I can be writing a food blog and not write about Mardi Gras. Whatever you call it, Mardi Gras, Carnivale, Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday…it’s all the same. It’s the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. A time in Christianity that symbolizes waiting and introspection and sacrifice. Basically, Fat Tuesday is that last raging kegger of the summer before school starts up again in the fall.
In our family, Carnivale means dinner at my Uncle’s house, which also means an obscene amount of food. Not just any food, but my absolute favorite kind of pasta. Cavatelli. These are very dense pasta made with ricotta cheese, flour and eggs and are simply divine, but if made incorrectly or cooked too long can be extremely gluey and sit like a rock in your stomach. They are drenched of course in a wonderfully savory red tomato sauce and all kinds of meats from traditional meatballs to pigs feet. Yes I said pigs feet. Now don’t judge, I happen to think they are disgusting to look at and the little hooves freak me out. However, you can’t get the flavor of the sauce just right without them. This I have learned the hard way. Just trust me, bite the bullet, and buy the freaky feet. I do however draw the line on sucking out the meat and little gooey bits from the joints like my Mother and my Uncle do. That’s just wrong, no matter how good they say it is. But I digress…
The entire family shows up, which includes friends and miscellaneous passerby’s which makes for about 40 people (which in our family really is a modest number). There are beads to be had and much flashing of skin in order to get them…we draw obscene pictures on my Uncle’s slider door with window markers and in general have ourselves a very rowdy and very inappropriate good time that I think the people in New Orleans would approve of. Once the pasta is thrown into the boiling water and are fished out with deft hands who have done this type of food service for a million dinners, we all settle in for the first plate of heaven.
Now, everyone has their favorites, mine happens to be the meat. I’m a huge carnivore and it makes me so happy to see the equivalent of about 2 cows and a pig sitting on the counter, smothered in sauce, and ready to be devoured by the hungry horde. There are meatballs, chunks of pork, links of sweet and hot sausages, bragiole (rolled beef and spices) ham hocks, and carrots. Of course, meatballs are fabulous and garlicy and soft, and I do love them so, however, my heart lies with those small jewels of beef and pork pieces. They are so crazy tender and succulent from cooking for so long in the sweet and salty sauce, they just completely melt and break apart as soon as they hit your tongue. To me, they are the best part of the meal and I could sit there with a big plate of cooked meat and a few pieces of crusty italian bread slathered in butter, REAL butter not margarine, and feel approval of the generations of family who have done this before us, exactly the same way, for so many years.
They are all there with us on these occasions. Those family members who have gone off before us to sit at the big dinner table in the sky. Their spirits and their love for this family are so very present in the food we eat and the traditions they have passed on. They imparted the extreme importance of family, and the importance of keeping these recipes and these family gatherings going because at the end of the day, your family will never leave you. They are the people you depend on and can count on when all others fail. And they are the ones who will be waiting with a big plate of pasta and an even bigger glass of wine on the days when you really need it. They are our first friends and they are our first phone call in good times and bad. That’s the way it works and I’m one of the luckiest people in the world to have them. Even though I could strangle them all sometimes.
We sit around the table and we catch up on each others lives and share our stories and trials of late. We eat, we talk, we laugh and we keep the traditions alive for the next generation like the previous one did for us. In 20 years, I hope to still be sitting at a table across from my family watching children play and sharing good food. We will all be older and some of us may be gone, but in the end our children will know the same love and same respect for these traditions as we do. That is the debt we owe our family for giving us the life we have. A life full of love, and warmth, and kitchens filled with the smells and tastes of our grandparents. We are obligated to pass the gift on. It is a debt that I have happily inherited, and as Jay and I raise AC and also have our own children some day, I hope that they feel the same and pass our gift on again. That’s the point of all this, to carry on our love of food and of each other. So the next time you sit at the dinner table with your families, remember that it’s not just another weeknight dinner. It’s a memory you are leaving to your children and a tradition that they will teach theirs.