Growing up during the ’50s and ’60s my family was comfortable. We lived in a suburb of NYC and my dad got on the bus or the train every morning at 7:20 and went to The City, to return home each night at 7:30, and as a CPA he did a lot of traveling over the winter months.
But on the weekends, we always had some of my dad’s extended Italian family gathering either at our house, or at cousins’ houses in Brooklyn. I know my dad really valued his family, and I always knew it was the highlight of his week when he could cook up a big meal with one of his sisters or his younger brother on a Saturday night, and then after dinner he and the uncles would play cards and smoke. All us kids would be off somewhere else, playing or doing puzzles (or hiding on the dark staircase outside the dining room and listening to the adults talk while we giggled). Being an only child, I looked forward to these weekends as well.
And that is where I began to learn to cook. From the aunts and my dad, I learned a lot and have continued to try and re-create many of the things we ate back then. At the time, many of the ingredients had to be brought to the suburbs with whichever aunt or uncle was coming out our way, because there were not a lot of local stores in post-war suburban NJ that carried imported Italian products and really fresh meat and fish (if we had lived nearer to Hoboken or towns right on the Hudson, I am sure we would have had no problem, but the town I lived in was very WASP).
One of the traditions in our family was that whoever was having a birthday got to choose the dinner meal for that night. To this day, I prefer staying home and cooking my own favorite birthday dinner of breaded veal cutlets with Marsala sauce, scalloped or oven roasted potatoes, and kale, rather than going out. Having a February birthday always meant that kale was available, and it has been my favorite vegetable since I was a little kid.
My mom was a competent cook, but she never attempted most of the wonderful Italian meals we had on the weekends. She did, however, learn to make breaded veal cutlets, and so even if my birthday was on a weekday, I still got my choice of birthday dinner. And yesterday, it was exactly the same. We had a lovely dinner here at home for my 63rd, and of course, it involved veal cutlets, potatoes and kale.
I do not want to get into the veal question here. I have always been happy with ‘rose’ veal, and every summer I sock some in the freezer that is locally grown and very delicious. As a kid, I knew nothing about the veal industry, and as an adult I am so very glad that we live in a place where there are many small farms raising happy, pasture-based beef critters. And so I can continue to indulge in veal cutlets on my birthday. (As a teenager I did a 6 year stint as a vegetarian after learning about the meat industry. I do not remember what I had for those birthdays, but it was probably eggplant parm, my second favorite thing in the world!).
On the goat front, still no babies! We are awaiting the Big Blizzard to roll in this afternoon. Got the greenhouses cleaned off in readiness for the predicted 14-20 inches. Mama mia, I love winter, but that much snow is just on or over the edge of crazy!