Around the World in About an Hour

It was the last day of school — a foggy gray June morning, the day before the solstice, the kids already adapting to their summer schedule and rising late, slogging off to class with sleep still heavy in their eyes.

The Ancestor Feast, Ms. Denmark’s 2nd grade class, Topanga, CA

My son, Flynn, had recently been studying ancestry in his second-grade class, interviewing grandparents and making family trees. For the last day of school, they would be having an “Ancestor’s Feast,” in which they — or their parents, who were invited too — would bring in a dish honoring the country, or “a” country, of their ancestry.

With each successive generation, the water becomes a little more diluted and we simply become “Americans”. Yet we are still close enough that we can trace back and identify perhaps not every ethnic root, but at least the largest ones. We talked about the various countries of origin that contributed to the person Flynn is, and discussed what we might make. I could do Swedish meatballs, I offered, as my paternal grandmother was nearly 100% Swedish. I could bring Norwegian smoked salmon and rye toasts in honor of Flynn’s mother’s paternal grandfather. But when it came down to it, the largest single country represented in his blood, as you might guess from his name, was Ireland. And since the cooking fell to me anyway, I decided — after some joking with the other parents that I was just going to bring Guinness — to make something Irish.

“Ohh! Can you make brown bread!??” Flynn asked excitedly, the traditional Irish bread being one of his favorite things. But I opted instead for my famous Dublin pub meat pies (I had found a frozen bag of meat pie filling in the freezer which served as confirmation of my choice). The morning of the feast, I rolled out the pie crust dough, reheated and adjusted the frozen filling (which daughter Imogen did her best to consume before it ever made it into a pie), and produced three dozen or so tiny savory packets with a vague nod to our heritage.

The last of Dad’s Dublin pub meat pies

When we arrived at school, the spread was already being laid out. As I have expressed in various posts on this blog, I am not a fan of the potluck. But a potluck with the qualification of a link to one’s culture of origin is a different story… and our little community being something of a melting pot, I was excited to see what people would bring.

The first two things that caught my eye were a Pyrex casserole dish filled with Filipino pansit, and the mother of my son’s friend, Carlos, peeling the foil off an impressive pan of enchiladas — side dishes of sour cream, queso cotija and shredded lettuce for condiments. Clearly this was going to be my kind of potluck.

Crispy Puerto Rican plantains with garlic dip (l) and sweet Salvadoran plantains

“My pansit never tastes like that,” I heard the teacher say. I was impressed a young female Caucasian teacher would even have her own pansit.

There were Japanese rice balls and English trifle and latkes and smoked salmon. The Lombardo family brought spaghetti and meatballs, and there was a healthy Latin competition between the crisp Puerto Rican plantains served with a garlicky oil and the soft, sweet and smoky El Salvador-style plantains. Two 11th-hour fathers came sprinting in with their contributions — Alex Tehrani with a “soft Persian” salad of roasted cous cous, and a bloke name Stephen with his “Yankee stew,” a thick, long-braised concoction of sirloin, potatoes and carrots that spanned back generations of his family on the East Coast which, like everything else, was delicious. And I begin to wonder if, perhaps, there isn’t a certain tribal pride that inspires a bit more care of preparation for a meal like this than, say, bringing a seven-layer dip to a Superbowl party.

Half-Puerto Rican Ella with part-Irish Imogen

We could only imagine what dishes might’ve come from the Ukranian and Scottish families, had they been in attendance.

After an hour or so, the kids ran off to play and the adults moved laboriously about the table, gathering up utensils, thinking about naps.

I heard the Dublin pub meat pies were good. I was too full to try one.

11 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lisa Gaskin
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 04:31:55

    Sean…we are brother and sister but I never knew you had swedish blood! My (and Laura, Andy, & Melinda’s) paternal grandmother was 1/2 Swedish and half French Canadian Indian! You mean Sig was Swedish? I knew her well, but not that. Learn something new…sweet post…


  2. Greggie
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 07:09:47

    Not a fan of potluck either but this post reminded me that it is more than just about the food. It’s about community and sharing. Maybe if we could get our politicians to come together for potlucks it would benefit the common good. As you said, in the end we are all Americans regardless of where our ancestors came from. However, it is good that their recipes have been handed down through the generations.


  3. Michelle
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 12:18:47



  4. Benjamin Thompson
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 14:50:50

    Irish-Dutch-Welsh-Swedish here.


  5. Mo
    Jun 23, 2012 @ 04:44:56

    Nice post Sean. It’s endlessly fascinating to me…the interesting heritage of so many Americans, the incredible mix of ethnic roots. Mine is Irish, Irish, Irish…..doing our family tree back at home some years ago….Irish, maybe a bit Viking….but as far back as we could trace…Ireland.


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