Pot Roast & the Thanksgiving Reunion Game of Improv

My first visit home from college, freshman year, was for Thanksgiving weekend. My mom made pot roast to celebrate. She didn’t make it often, but when she did it included roast beef, potatoes, green peppers, carrots, tomatoes, and onion. As we gathered around the table for dinner, my mom went to retrieve the main course. She lifted the lid on the roasting pan and as the steam plumed and settled she realized she forgot an essential ingredient. Present in the pot were the potatoes and veggies. Absent was the meat, which remained in the fridge on a Styrofoam tray, wrapped tightly in its original cellophane wrapper.

We all had a good laugh, but was she truly laughing? Her regretful willingness to move forward with the meal was straight out of an improvisational, or improv, comedy performance. Improv is unscripted and spontaneous. The key to good improv is the participant’s willingness to follow one important rule: accept every scenario with the response “yes, and…”

I’m an only child. As a family, we were a tight unit of three. The relationship between a parent and kid can be tricky. Put miles and young adult independence into the mix and reunions take on a myriad of improv moments. “Doesn’t pot roast include meat? Why, yes, and…pass the roasted potatoes and vegetables.” Maybe my mom forgot the meat because she was excited to have me home, or maybe she was anxious about how our three-unit team was evolving. Either way, her faux pas did ease the tension.

A funny aside: Earlier that day while catching up, my mom and I talked about the food in the dining hall. I mentioned that I didn’t eat a lot of protein at school. That night, over our roasted potatoes and veggies, she asked me wryly if I was protein deficient. For years after that roast-less night whether we were eating chicken or beef she’d matter-of-factly ask, “So you say you’re protein deficient, eh?”

My eldest son is a college freshman. He didn’t go far, just down the highway to our largest state University. That’s not to say having him return home for Thanksgiving won’t create delicate situations. As parents, we’re forced to evolve from authoritarians to coaches. The hard truth is the kid isn’t a home-team regular anymore. Come Nov. 25, I’ll be tagging in for a game of improv: home edition.

I like to think I have the basics down for a good improv performance. When the boy is home and wants to go visit friends, I’ll respond by saying, “Yes, and…you need to go through your room and decide what else you want to take back to school”. Should he want the car on Friday night, I’ll respond by saying, “Yes, and…you need to stick around to light candles and say Brachot before you leave.” Yes and…I’d like us all to stay home. Yes and…I’d like time to stand still so we can simply be together.

Intentionally, or not, my mom didn’t include a pot roast recipe in my three-ring binder. Therefore, I’ll share with you a recipe I’ve used instead. Sort of my “Yes, and…” moment for this article. Enjoy!

3 lb. beef chuck, roast

6 Carrots, whole

2 cloves garlic

1 onion, large

2 cups Beef Stock

¼ tsp pepper

½ tsp Lawry’s seasoning

2 tbsp olive oil

Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Generously season the roast with pepper, Lawry’s and garlic. Rub with olive oil to set the seasoning. Chop carrots and onion into large pieces. Place vegetables at the bottom of roasting pan, set roast on top of vegetables. Add beef stock to the pot. Put the lid on, then roast in the oven for 3 hours. Important note: double check that all ingredients are in the pot before placing in the oven. Enjoy!

About Heidi:

When I got married, my mom passed along a stack of her go-to recipes, which I keep in a white three-ring binder. The collection includes a handful of her mom’s recipes for the holidays – Jewish and secular – along with selections from friends, family, synagogue cookbooks and popular ladies’ magazines. My mom passed away a year ago of pancreatic cancer. To honor her memory, I’m writing a series of articles featuring the back stories on recipes in my meal-planning rotation.