Christmas was a magical time for my siblings and I. The festivities would start when we would pile into the station wagon, a green Ford, and take the drive to my grandmother’s in Cliffside Park, N.J. My grandmother lived on the second floor of a townhouse she shared with my two uncles, Uncle Joe and Uncle Satch. My grandmother was born in Italy, on the Adriatic, and cooking for her large family was one of her greatest pleasures. When you walked in the front door of the townhouse the delicious smells could almost make you cry with anticipation. We would eat fried dough my grandmother called pitzedeals, (I can’t find it anywhere on the internet) rolled in powdered sugar, (like zeppolle’s), ravioli with red sauce, (my grandmother was quite adamant that it be called sauce, and since she was born in Italy we assumed she was correct), baccala and cauliflower in a thin red sauce with raisins, fried shrimp and lots of cookies from the local bakery. We would also get a small toy or token, and although it was never extravagant, we were thrilled with whatever we got.
One of my favorite Christmas toys was a small stuffed kangaroo. When I received it it actually had a little baby in the front pocket. Although the baby disappeared long ago I still have the mama. She has sat in my closet for many years, and this is where this sad tale begins. My act of betrayal caused a seismic shift precipitating an unfortunate chain of events.
Our recent Culture and Cuisine dinner featured the cuisine of Australia. Australians are very cool. From the outside looking in, if I couldn’t be American I would probably want to be Australian. Fun people, beautiful varied topography, great wine, exotic animals, the country has it all. Although I do love Canadians, too. Anyway, the only thing I didn’t know about Australia was the particulars of their cuisine. Other than vegemite and Pavlova I had no idea what they eat. I knew it had to be beyond the menu of the local Outback.
Our menu was: lamb, shrimp on the barbie, red lentil soup, salad with strawberries, and of course Pavlova. The night of the dinner Chuck and I brought some beautiful local shrimp. We had eaten at my favorite restaurant the night before, for my birthday, so we picked an easy appetizer. The welcome cocktail was a fruit punch made with Pim’s, very nice. Unfortunately, another protein was being offered that night, kangaroo.
I tried to be a good sport, but I felt confused. How to not insult my hosts, but remain loyal to my childhood friend? A friend who had shared my bed for years. So, as the blogger of the Culture and Cuisine Club I took one, I repeat, one teeny bite of the kangaroo sausage. I only tasted pepper, but at least I had tried it. The meal was really good, and I was crazy about the red lentil soup Lovely made. Debbie’s Pavlova was outstanding.
About 2:30 in the morning I was awakened by severe stomach cramps, and I will be brief in mentioning the next 9 1/2 hours of distress. We called our host, and apparently I was the only one who was ill. I lost 4 lbs in all. After I’d recovered I went on the internet and realized that most likely I had eaten a bad oyster the night before the C & C dinner. 24 to 36 hours incubation. So contagious that my daughter and then my husband got sick.
But did Joey have anything to do with my illness? Had my betrayal by biting that piece of sausage caused a karmic backlash? We will never know. I will say that this is the only thing I don’t get about Australians. Why eat the cute animals the world identifies you with? What’s next, koala bear goulash? Maybe that’s why our founding father’s over-ruled Benjamin Franklin when he wanted the turkey to be our national bird. It tastes too good.