My sister is a middle child and she has never let anyone forget it. The only chorus ringing louder than her plea for my mother to make shepherd's pie is her vehement contestation that she never, ever gets her way, particularly if my older brother or I would prefer something different.
In all honesty, it was only once that I remember my mom making shepherd's pie, and I--the baby of the family--didn't like the way perfectly good mashed potatoes were made to be propped atop a strangely-seasoned meat mixture. And so we never had it again.
What we did have, over and over again, sometimes whipped into a main dish, were my mother's mashed potatoes. You see, as foreign as shepherd's pie was to my childish palate, so too was my mother's born heritage. Her ancestors are Polish and German--the "s-k-i" at the end of her maiden name giving her away. But, dammit, this beer-loving, potato-mashing woman of conviction is Irish. On St. Patrick's Day she crosses out the beginning of our last name on her desk's name plate and adds an 'O' and an apostrophe. For one day at least the world knows her as Julie O'browski.
She's always been resourceful like this. So, met with exhaustion at the end of a work day or weariness at the pantry having dimmed to further creativity, she, like the plucky Irishwoman she isn't, turned to mashed potatoes. Perhaps it's in my blood, because I, too, often turn to this root vegetable in times of almost certain famine--like when payday is close but still so far away yet no one should ever, as Mrs. O'browski instructed, put anything on a credit card.
The preparation was simple--chop, boil until soft, mash, and season judiciously with salt and pepper.
Lots of pepper.
On nights with mashed potatoes and no shepherd's pie, together we'd set our butcher-block-topped family table for a meal that ignored once again the preferences of the middle one. Usually it accompanied some kind of meat mom had set the oven timer to cook during the day while she was at work--a strange level of trust in a heating element from a woman who perpetually awaits the day the clothes dryer causes the entire house to explode.
But with the meat that didn't blow up the house, always those simple, signature mashed potatoes with their glistening flakes of salt that mirrored the sparkle in my mother's smiling, non-Irish eyes at witnessing her family eating all together what she had made for them.
So, on this St. Patrick's day--a celebration of our heritage or the legacy of a heritage we wish was our own--why not raise a glass to where we come from and the smaller moments that remind us of it, be it mashed potatoes or a Guinness-fueled round.
Oh, and I truly own no green clothing or accessories.
Please don't pinch me.