When you were a kid, did you ever hear anything like this: “Eat everything on your plate! Millions of people are starving in China while you sit there wasting food!” That is something I heard often as a child. My mother grew up during the Depression, and had been taught not to waste anything. She came from good working-class Irish stock, and she learned how to cook from her no-nonsense, meat and potatoes, Irish mother.
I don’t know what experience you might have with Irish cooking, but I’ll tell you what mine was. My grandmother was a master at preparing dinners consisting of roast beef, string beans, and mashed potatoes and gravy.
This was a good thing, because my grandfather LOVED roast beef, string beans, and mashed potatoes and gravy. I figure this must be the official national dinner of Ireland. It seems like every time I visited my grandparents they had roast beef, string beans, and mashed potatoes and gravy for dinner.
So when my mother left home and married my Dad, she knew how to cook one meal: roast beef, string beans, and mashed potatoes and gravy. I have to give my Dad a lot of credit for surviving those early years before she learned how to make meatloaf to serve along with the string beans and mashed potatoes and gravy. At last he had some variety.
After spending my entire youth
eating Gerber’s baby food spinach and Gerber’s baby food squash out of those little jars,
I was really happy the first day I was finally allowed to eat big people’s food.
I thought the string beans and mashed potatoes and gravy were great. The roast beef, however, I chewed and chewed and chewed and chewed into a big wad and then I spit it out.
Mom finally got the idea that a little variety might be good. This was after about five years of nothing but roast beef, string beans, and mashed potatoes and gravy, with an occasional meatloaf thrown in. She talked to one of our Italian neighbors and picked up a new recipe.
She learned how to heat up canned Chef BOYARDEE ravioli. I really liked the ravioli, and it went pretty well with the string beans, and mashed potatoes and gravy. Then she learned how to make spaghetti and meatballs.
They were terrific. Even better, once you filled your plate with spaghetti and meatballs, there was no room left for the string beans and mashed potatoes and gravy.
Flushed with success, she decided to try out even more new meals on her growing family. By this time I had brothers. We all appreciated the spaghetti and meatballs,
and even the roast beef, string beans and mashed potatoes and gravy,
since we now had it only six nights a week instead of seven like before.
The first new dinner she tried after her spaghetti success was liver and onions with a side of canned lima beans, and of course mashed potatoes and gravy.
This did not go over quite as well with the troops as spaghetti did. However, thanks to Mom and Dad’s Depression-era upbringing, we boys had our plates filled by a parent. Then we were commanded to eat everything on our plates.
It was about this time that my brother Tyson figured out how to upchuck on demand. He would eat a few spoonfuls of mashed potatoes and gravy, look at that liver and onions in front of him, think about how disgusting it was, then put a bite of it in his mouth. Yup. It really was disgusting. Before you knew it, a queasy look would come over his face and BLORRP! He would throw up onto his plate. This of course ruined the rest of his dinner and he would be sent from the table.
The “punishment” of being sent from the table was actually a victory for him. He didn’t have to eat the liver and onions. No such luck for me or for my other brothers. We had to stay at the table until we had eaten every last bite of that liver.
Somehow my mother got the idea that maybe liver and onions might not be the best alternative to roast beef, string beans, and mashed potatoes and gravy. She decided to try something else. Maybe seafood would be more popular. That was when she surprised us all with—Lobster Newburg.
I was surprised all right. The first surprise was the nauseating smell that started wafting from the kitchen about a half hour before dinnertime. The next surprise was the way it looked when I came to the table. I had never been a big fan of casseroles anyway, but this one reached a new low.
A curdled cream sauce, shot through with red speckles, covered lumps of slimy canned white lobster meat. The combination of smells coming from the lobster and the sauce was overpowering. I pinched my nose shut and started breathing through my mouth. Lobster Newburg was the most horrible thing I had ever seen or smelled in my life, let alone put into my mouth.
Not only did I have to see it and smell it—I had to eat it–eat every last bite on my plate. I took a bite and felt the slimy meat quiver in my mouth. I started feeling woooozy. The smell of it and the feel of it in my mouth made my skin crawl. I started to feel faint. At that moment, I knew what Hell must be like. Without even trying, I suddenly understood how Tyson could upchuck on demand. This time I beat him to it.
Mom never served us Lobster Newburg again. And I never complained again about dinners of roast beef, string beans, and mashed potatoes and gravy.