The Lamb Shank Incident
This past weekend was one of my sisters-in-law’s wedding. It was an amazing celebration - we laughed, we cried happy tears, we ate incredible food and drank beautiful wines. And like any good wedding, it allowed me to pause and appreciate how much I love the family I married into, and how far I’ve come with them; especially my sisters-in-law.
You see, my husband’s two sisters are genuinely kind, intelligent and caring women. From Day One they welcomed me into their family and supported my relationship with their little brother.. But, if I’m completely honest, they used to scare the crap out of me.
It wasn’t their fault, it was all in my head, a self-inflicted torture. Knowing how important they were to my husband, I was terrified of making a fool of myself in front of them. As a result, I would overthink everything when I was around them - what I would wear, what I would say. Sometimes I’d just clam up and be a mute. I was seriously a hot mess.
One night, my status as a steaming bowl of crazy really came to head. It was Christmastime in 2005. my then boyfriend and now husband and I had been dating for a few years and we were out for a traditional holiday dinner with his family in San Francisco. There I was, dressed up and sitting straight, employing all of the table manners my parents had instilled in me for moments such as this. Still relying heavily on my less-is-more approach to conversation, I decided that I was going to try my hand at being bold in a different way. So I ordered the lamb shank. It’s worth mentioning here that the reason this felt so bold is that the sisters are vegetarians. And I didn’t actually know what lamb shank was. Nick and his sisters had all ordered vegetarian ravioli, but I didn’t want to be a follower, not that night. So I ordered the lamb shank, and curiously received a commendation from our waiter. One point for the being bold.
What happened next was nothing short of the universe teaching me a lesson in trying too hard.
The orders had been placed, the cocktails had been finished and from across the room, the kitchen door swung open. That’s when I saw it. Held high in the air, a giant bone protruding from one of the plates carried by our waiter. As the parade of food progressed, the bone only got larger, jutting upward with an arrogance I did not know food could possess.
“Oh Lord, please don’t make that be mine.” I silently prayed. The parade of food continued winding through the restaurant. The offending plate neared, but it could still be anyone’s. I clung to the hope that the osteo-skyscraper might not be mine. But then it happened.
Six sets of eyes swiveled in my direction, widening with shock and amazement. I could feel the presence of someone, something, behind me. And I knew: the monstrosity was mine. An oxford-clothed arm extended into my periphery, bringing my chosen dish to rest in front of me. That bone, so unabashedly large from across the room, was even more aggressive up close. I don’t think it could have drawn more attention to itself had roman candles started shooting from the marrow. Any desperate hope I had felt but moments ago was quickly replaced with the urge to let my body go limp and slide under the table. Deduct two points for being a carnivorous monster at a table of vegetarians.
Mortified, I looked to my right to see the meals selected by Nick and his sisters. My stomach sank even lower. Ravioli is quite possibly one of the most unoffending dishes of all time. Four delicate pillows of handmade pasta, stuffed with virtuous seasonal vegetables slumbered peacefully on each of the plates. Kissed with flakes of parmesan, it was as if a trio of cherubs had fluttered down from the heavens to plate the ravioli. Desperate to deflect some of the attention my plate was commanding, I leaned to my left, to the date of my future sister-in-law. In a hoarse whisper I pleaded, “You have to eat some of this for me. This is too much.” His reply, with a chuckle, “That is all you, my friend.” Let it be known that this is not the one my sister-in-law married on Sunday. He would have had my back.
As it turns out, the lamb was mind-blowing. Tender, with just the right amount floral earthiness, it quickly became clear why I had garnered the approval of our waiter. My horror began to subside as I secretly fell in love with my lamb shank, grotesque bone and all. I kept my enthusiasm in check though, so as to not seem completely barbaric. I had some ground to make up, after all.
It took time for the memory of that bone to transition from horrifying embarrassment to humorous “remember when” status. In hindsight, what I now fondly refer to as “the lamb shank incident” was, in a way, foreshadowing. Food - the enjoyment, creation and exploration of it - has become a cornerstone to my bond with Nick’s sisters. We strategize and consult with each other at restaurants, and our vacations always involve food adventures. Plus, the incident helped establish me as a more adventurous eater. If given the chance, I would totally order the lamb shank without shame. They would expect nothing less from me, and I would hate to disappoint.
Indeed, a wedding, when we celebrate together and formally welcome a new member into our fold, is the perfect occasion to reflect and appreciate one another. And this weekend I was reminded of a particular truth: I am lucky to have such wonderful in-laws. Especially the sisters.