Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A Trifle This...

Since yesterday was St. Patrick's Day I found myself thinking of my paternal grandmother, whom I called Grandma J. I always think St. Patrick's Day is kind of funny. The whole city drinks like crazy to celebrate a man who drove the snakes out of Ireland among other things. My dad is actually from Ireland and yet we hardly seem Irish at all in my family. I mean I have terrible luck, and I do admit to having the thirst, and I dislike chilly, dreary, rainy weather constantly and yet found myself in Seattle, but we never did anything for St. Patrick's Day anyway. Despite the occasional whiskey, my dad has lost nearly all of his accent. I think it's kind of sad really.

I feel like I hardly knew Grandma J. I know that she smoked like a chimney and the 7 and 7 was her poison of choice and probably what did her in towards the end. I remember that she was wild about knitting and "Murder She Wrote." She had a sing-songy Limerick accent which I am actually capable of doing an amazing impression of but haven't really done it for anyone to hear. Occasionally when something weird happens in the kitchen I let out a very quiet: "Jaysus Mahry and Joseph would you Belieeeve that now?" Or when things are going well: "Ah tis grrand so tis." But this is truly all I got from her.

I am told that my grandmothers couldn't understand anything that the other was saying but both enjoyed Lou Malnati's thin crust cheese pizza. The differences between them might have been too great to have gotten along. It might have been fear or just dislike really. And so I rarely went over to Grandma J's and most things I found out about her were after her death.

I went to Ireland 10 years ago this June. My uncle gave me a few names and addresses to look up. One of them was Teresa Kelly who runs the Pine Grove B & B in Sligo. My uncle told me that I should really stay there and pay her a visit. Little did I know that Teresa was friends with Grandma J. When I got there I told her that I thought my grandparents used to stay there on holiday after they moved to the States, and maybe she knew them? Well apparently she and my grandmother used to be great friends that played bridge with a few other ladies in town and talked badly of their husbands. She said that my grandparents would have lengthy stays at the B&B and that Grandma J would make herself at home and use the kitchen when she wanted. She used to surprise my Granddad with pork chops sometimes. He would go out "with the boys," whatever that meant (pub) and then pretend like she was mad when he got back in. She would tell him that he reeked of smoke and tease him and then say, "How bout some chops then? Maybe a bit of chops tonight."

For some reason this story about pork chops brought me to tears and I was SO EMBARRASSED. I tried to hide them because I had just met this woman and didn't want her to think I was nuts and also because I was there with my boyfriend at the time and well, honestly I didn't know him too well then either. She went to make tea then and I was able to regain composure but I wish now that I could go back in time and listen to Teresa tell these stories all night. I wish that I could have learned to knit the Celtic knot sweaters that Grandma J made all the time and I wish I knew half of the cards games she knew and I wish she taught me more words in Irish, but what I got from her was a partial interview with a woman an entire ocean away. We talked of other things and then said goodnight and I could not sleep for the life of me. I kept thinking that they were there. They stayed in the very room that she let us have that night. I was almost hoping that I would see her in a dream or something magical would happen to make me more connected to her, but all it ended up being was pork chops.

One of my uncles claim that Grandma J was a terrible cook. I find this hard to believe since she spent her life cooking for her father and brothers and then for her husband and sons. Unfortunately the only dish I remember her making is a trifle. It consisted of sponge cake, jello, whiskey and whipped cream. Hmmm. Sounds gross, but it was my absolute favorite dessert when I was a kid and it was always a big hit when they had parties. Trifle is a dessert dish that has several versions; some with custard some with fruit and cream, and in Grandma J's case jello. The trouble is that she never passed on the recipe to me or anyone. My mom has attempted this several times over for me and my Dad and it never comes out the way we remember it. At what point do you put the whiskey on the spongecake, and how much? How do you keep the whipped cream from becoming a disgusting slop with the jello and booze? I feel like these secrets are lost forever and no matter how many recipes we try we won't get it right. It's worth a try though.

This weekend I intend to make meal in celebration of Grandma J. I didn't dress in green or drink a Guinness yesterday but I intend to make pork chops and a trifle instead. Maybe I'll even have a 7 and 7. I've never once in my life eaten a pork chop so this should be interesting.....Slainte! Oíche mhaith, codladh sámh.


  1. You should go back there and talk to her again before long. Another vacation maybe? Wouldn't want to regret not asking the right questions when you had the chance.

    Good luck with the Trifle! I thought it sounded rather delicious myself. So long as it doesn't turn to pudding anyway :)

  2. I am lovin' this blog, superstar. Thanks again for showing us around Seattle, we had a great time.


  3. I loved this story! That is so awesome you were able to have that kind of adventure and travel back to the very same place where your grandparents had stayed so many times before! What an amazing opportunity, and something to always cherish!
    Thank you for sharing this with me and good luck with your celebration this weekend!! :-)

  4. The strangest things can set off tears. It was a long time after my grandfather died, and I saw a shot at the end of a film where a little boy and old man were playing chess... and I just broke down into sobs.