Jennie's Pot Roast
Originally published September 2017
Pot roast doesn't seem like much. The cut alone, chuck roast, is a humble hunk of meat. It needs time and patience to be rendered tender. Some aromatics, a helping of sweet vermouth, and homemade stock, and in a few hours you have a pot of meat, tender enough to release its hold with the poke of a fork.
It's a meal filled with depth, a heartiness only the tenets of low and slow can yield. A few key ingredients, thoughtful, yet unfussy technique, and don't over think it too much. I’ve made it enough times to do it with my eyes closed, but I didn’t grow up eating pot roast. I’m not sure why as it was a popular dish for many families in the 70s, yes?
The first pot roast I ever ate was at my boyfriend’s house, back in 1989. Just seeing that year written before my eyes feels like a sucker punch. Where does the time go? It’s a saying we all know, but it’s only as you age, fall in love, fall out of love, grow older, hopefully wiser, that you really understand what it means.
Terry made a great pot roast, and she made homemade pizza every Friday. It’s funny that I should think about her now. I haven’t dated Frank in a million years. I mean, that part of my life feels like it belongs to some other person, some other girl. It was a much simpler life, that of a teenager— I was only 15 when we met, and we dated until I was almost 20.
Frank wanted marriage. My family was thrilled at the idea of me marrying a nice, hard working Italian boy. No one understood that I wanted a life different than the road I was on, except my Uncle Ray. I think he saw a sparkle in my eye. Uncle Ray always knew there was something not so cookie cutter about me.
I knew one day I wanted to see the world, and that Frank would probably be content to live a quiet life in Brooklyn—or worse, move to Long Island or New Jersey. I know it sounds so judgmental of me to say, that, and while it sounds disparaging, I mean nothing ill. That is a perfectly fine life for someone else who wants it—it just wasn’t me.
A year later I met Michael, and the rest is, as they say, history. A girl from Brooklyn. A boy from the Bronx. I didn't do nearly as much travel with Michael as I wanted, but together we discovered the world and life in a way that nourished my soul.
Through it all, though, the memory of Terry’s pot roast stuck with me. It’s been 23 years since I tasted it, and yet I’m right there, sitting at her kitchen table. I wasn’t much of a cook back then, just discovering my curiosity in the kitchen, so I never asked for a recipe. Over the years, I came up with my own, and yet, not a time goes by when I make it that I don’t think about those days when life felt easier, at least that’s how it seems now looking back, a couple of decades of experience under my belt.
This pot roast will be part our Rosh Hashana dinner tomorrow night. Some days my heart feels so heavy with loss, but tomorrow night I hope my heart will fell full with love from the memories that have gotten me to this point in my life—the good ones, the not so good ones, and the relatively ordinary ones. The pot roast will be my constant, connecting my past with my present, a reminder of all the steps, and fumbles, we must make along our journeys.
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