St. Patrick's Day is an enchanted time

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The following quotes truly represent the richness of the Irish Culture (I have to admit that I do love Irish Cream Coffee!)

St. Patrick's Day is an enchanted time -- a day to begin transforming winter's dreams into summer's magic. By Adrienne Cook.

Ireland is rich in literature that understands a soul's yearnings, and dancing that understands a happy heart. By Margaret Jackson.

Only Irish coffee provides in a single glass all four essential food groups: alcohol, caffeine, sugar, and fat. By Alex Levine.

Maybe it's bred in the bone, but the sound of pipes is a little bit of heaven to some of us.
By Nancy O'Keeefe.

In Ireland the inevitable never happens and the unexpected constantly occurs. By Sir John Pentland Mahaffy.

There is no language like the Irish for soothing and quieting. By John Millington Synge.

Back in the 1990's I had the opportunity to work with some Cajun sugar can growers. While I was there, I had the opportunity to meet this wonderful woman (who knew I loved to cook) and she shared some Cajun-Irish recipes with me. It goes without saying that in her eyes, folks like her had a strong influence over both Irish and Cajun cooking as we know it today.

If you have ever had the opportunity to to know a true Irishman or a Cajun true to customary can't tell what is myth and what is real as both of these cultures pass history on through storytelling rather than written word! And both have a zest for life that few can understand. Case in point, I can now find quotes that I was given and were discussed that day on the web from recipes to historical data! So I am passing the following on to you as a storyteller who dares not try to confirm what is true because the knowledge that I gained is still with me almost a quarter of a century later!

I would later learn that while the Catholic traditions of Louisiana were a strong draw to the immigrants from both Ireland and Acadia, a connection almost as binding was the anti-British feeling they shared.  The--I hesitate to use the word hatred, but--hatred felt for the English by both the Irish and the Cajuns gave them a commonality that transcended politics, culture, and even religion.

When Nana Cooked for St. Pat's Day

Each year as spring approaches with its fresh new greenery, I am certain the green is in honor of St. Patrick's Day. My Irish grandmother, straight from a dairy farm in County Kerry, loved to announce in her heavy brogue that she lost her Irish accent when she arrived in New York in 1917. No one ever told her the truth.

Proud as she was of her "good, plain cooking," every March Nana's culinary talents re-appeared, just as the lost village of Brigadoon re-surfaces every 100 years.
With the arrival of Nana's culinary magic in the month of March came the departure of her overdone lamb roast with the pasty gravy, the green beans cooked until gray and soft, the potatoes boiled to a watery mush and the sensible, but brownish, tasteless applesauce.

The Irish soda bread, alone, was worth the 12-month wait. One loaf was always plain, while the others were studded with raisins, or flecked with caraway seeds. The ease with which Nana turned out loaf after loaf of this fragrant bread taught me that bread making could be a simple, everyday pleasure.

March always began with the making of two huge pots of soup. Potato soup and country broth alternated as our simple meals on the evenings when food preparations for the imminent "St. Pat's Day" (Nana knew the Saint on a first-name basis) left us little time to fix dinner.
Next came the sausage pies, puff pastry with concealed chunks of country sausage blended with onions, sage and tomatoes. As children, we had the special honor of cutting the excess pastry into shamrocks, to place on top of the pie. My brother's shamrocks always looked better than mine, but Nana assured me that odd-shaped shamrocks were especially prized by the leprechauns. The pies were frozen, unbaked, to be finished in the oven on March 17th.
Stuffed vine leaves (grape leaves) were filled with lamb, scallions, nuts and marjoram, then set aside in the refrigerator until the big day. I once told Nana she was actually making "stuffed grape leaves," which were a Middle Eastern dish. She merely smiled indulgently at what she thought to be foolish mininformation.

The Irish rarebit--our traditional St. Patrick's Day breakfast--was prepared well ahead of time and kept refrigerated. Spread thickly on toasted whole wheat bread and served with quartered tomatoes, it was also presented as a snack to all who stopped by to wish us top o' the mornin', and bring a loaf of their own Irish soda bread to share.

The colcannon (Nana's was a wonderful blend of cooked mashed potatoes, cabbage, milk and green onions) made a mysterious squeaky sound as it cooked. One of our favorite tradition as kids was to chew on the salted cabbage core while we watched the colcannon cook, squealing with delight when we heard the first squeak.

Frying boxty pancakes--a proud rival to potato pancakes from any nation--was part of St. Patrick's Day morning. Nana would give one pancake from each batch she fried to an excited child who was just waiting to sink his or her teeth into the crispy, golden delight.

Then Nana proceeded to make the potato apple--two rounds of potato cake, sandwiching slices of apple, sugar and cinnamon.

The fresh seafood dishes were all assembled late in the morning when the potato dishes were completed. First Nana poached the salmon, half of which would be boned and set on a platter of butter lettuce with paper-thin slices of cucumber and tomato alternating around the platter's edge.

Our very important task was to cut hard-cooked eggs and lemons into neat, even wedges. We were then allowed to place the golden yellow wedges on the platter, wherever we thought most appropriate. (We were food stylists before it was a profession.)

The remaining salmon was made into a superb flan, with chunks of salmon resting on the creamy filling.

A bit of the poached salmon was saved to make salmon rolls for our lunch. The salmon was mashed and mixed with mayonnaise and yogurt, chopped walnuts and apple, thyme and mint. The savory mixture was then placed in a long, soft loaf of bread, and sliced into sections.
I think lunch was actually my favorite part of the day, perhaps because we got to sit down for the first time in hours, or perhaps because we were allowed to have a cup of real Irish tea, sent by my cousins still back in the Old Country.

Corned beef and cabbage was a weekly staple in our house, not a dish for the "big holiday." (Corned beef and cabbage is actually more American than Irish. Nana had never had it in Ireland.) We did, however, look forward to the boiled ham with parsley sauce and the Irish Stew.

But all of the above merely leld up to what was, for the children, the highlight of the meal and the evening: the dessert table.

All the desserts were kept concealed until the dinner dishes were cleared and fresh linens and tableware set out. Then the desserts (each brought by a different friend or relative) would appear, gracing the table with a myriad of colors and tastes. 

There were creamy bowls of apple fool, rock cakes, fruit sponge with custard, queen of puddings (with raspberry jam hidden beneath the soft golden topping), Irish coffee cake (unappealing to the children, as Irish whiskey was laced into both the syrup and the topping), and tipsy cake (a rival to English trifle, with amaretto biscuits, almonds, jam, sherry and vanilla).

Following dessert, we were carried off to bed, knowing that after the leftovers were gone our Brigadoon kitchen would disappear for another year, leaving us to enjoy Nana's "good, plain cooking."

How she could shine as a culinary genius that one month each year, I'll never know. Perhaps, as Nana assuredly said, it was partly the work of the leprechauns.

American-Irish traditional recipes for St. Patrick's Day

This is a classic corned beef and cabbage recipe, perfect for St. Patrick's Day or any family meal. I like to add rutabaga to my corned beef and cabbage, and others prefer parsnips or turnips. Feel free to add an extra cut-up vegetable to your dinner, leave one out, or go with the ingredients listed below.

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours, 35 minutes
Yield: Serves 6 to 8


8 allspice berries
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 medium bay leaves, crumbled
2 fresh thyme sprigs or about 1/2 teaspoon dried leaf thyme
1 corned beef, about 4 pounds
3 cups beef broth
1 large onion, cut in 6 to 8 wedges
1 medium clove garlic, minced
2 1/2 to 3 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, washed and quartered (peel if desired)
4 large carrots, halved and cut into 3-inch lengths
1 small head Savoy cabbage or green cabbage, cored and cut into 6 to 8 wedges
1 medium rutabaga, cut into 2-inch chunks, optional (turnips or parsnips)
Chopped fresh parsley, optional

Combine the allspice berries, peppercorns, bay leaves, and thyme in a bouquet garni bag, or fashion a small bag from a double piece of cheesecloth. Tie the bag tightly to keep the herbs and spices inside.

Put the corned beef in a 6- to 8-quart saucepan or Dutch oven; add beef broth and the bouquet garni bag. Add enough water to cover the corned beef brisket. Add garlic and onion. Bring to a
boil; reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 2 hours. Remove the corned beef to a platter, cover with foil, and keep warm in a very low oven or warming drawer.

Skim fat from the broth and add the potatoes and carrots to the broth (remove some of the broth if there is too much liquid). Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 10 minutes. Add cabbage wedges and continue cooking for about 20 minutes, or until cabbage and vegetables are tender.

(If you add other vegetables, such as sliced or diced parsnips or rutabaga, add with the potatoes.)

Slice the corned beef and serve with the vegetables. Sprinkle parsley over the potatoes and cabbage, if desired.

Irish Soda Bread

This is a simply-made bread that involves no rising, and only 2 minutes of kneading...a perfect way for the non-baker to enjoy the satisfaction of making bread, and offering delicious loaves of homemade bread to family and friends.

I double the recipe, leaving two loaves plain; adding 1 tablespoon caraway seeds to one loaf for caraway bread, and 1/2 cup raisins to one loaf for raisin bread. Thus, with one recipe (doubled) you have four loaves of fresh homemade, delicious bread--plain, raisin, and caraway. And don't forget the butter. Try imported Irish butter as a treat!

Yield: 2 loaves


4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
6 tablespoons melted and cooled butter
1 3/4 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons buttermilk, additional

Combine dry ingredients in large bowl. Add cooled butter and buttermilk and mix well. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface (sprinkling dough with additional flour if too sticky to handle). Knead for 2 minutes, until dough is firm. Shape into 2 round loaves. Rub each loaf with 2 teaspoons buttermilk, then sprinkle each lightly with flour. Cut an X into the top of each loaf with a knife or scissors. Place on a baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray, and floured. Bake in a preheated 375ºF oven for 1 hour, or until a deep, golden brown color.

Optional Variations 
For Caraway Bread, add 2 tablespoons caraway seeds
For Raisin Bread, add 1 cup raisins
For one loaf of each: divide dough in half, and add 1 tablespoon caraway seeds to 1/2 of dough and 1/2 cup raisins to 1/2 of dough.
To make four loaves of bread (2 plain; 1 caraway; 1 raisin)

Double the recipe
Leave two loaves (half the dough) plain
Add 1 tablespoon caraway seeds to one loaf (1/4 of the dough) for caraway bread
Add 1/2 cup raisins to one loaf (1/4 of the dough) for raisin bread

As the 17th has arrived and I have used much of what I have, there is one poem and one story left to share! Both carry some powerful messages!

The Planters Daughter 
When night stirred at sea,
An the fire brought a crowd in
They say that her beauty
Was music in mouth
And few in the candlelight
Thought her too proud,
For the house of the planter
Is known by the trees.

Men that had seen her
Drank deep and were silent,
The women were speaking
Wherever she went --
As a bell that is rung
Or a wonder told shyly
And O she was the Sunday
In every week.

Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry Edited and Selected by W. B. Yeats [1888]

T. Crofton Croker

MANY years ago there was a very religious and holy man, one of the monks of a convent, and he was one day kneeling at his prayers in the garden of his monastery, when he heard a little bird singing in one of the rose-trees of the garden, and there never was anything that he had heard in the world so sweet as the song of that little bird.

And the holy man rose up from his knees where he was kneeling at his prayers to listen to its song; for he thought he never in all his life heard anything so heavenly.

And the little bird, after singing for some time longer on the rose-tree, flew away to a grove at some distance from the monastery, and the holy man followed it to listen to its singing, for he felt as if he would never be tired of listening to the sweet song it was singing out of its throat.
And the little bird after that went away to another distant tree, and sung there for a while, and then to another tree, and so on in the same manner, but ever farther and farther away from the monastery, and the holy man still following it farther, and farther, and farther still listening delighted to its enchanting song.

But at last he was obliged to give up, as it was growing late in the day, and he returned to the convent; and as he approached it in the evening, the sun was setting in the west with all the most heavenly colours that were ever seen in the world, and when he came into the convent, it was nightfall.

And he was quite surprised at everything he saw, for they were all strange faces about him in the monastery that he had never seen before, and the very place itself, and everything about it, seemed to be strangely altered; and, altogether, it seemed entirely different from what it was when he had left in the morning; and the garden was not
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like the garden where he had been kneeling at his devotion when he first heard the singing of the little bird.

And while he was wondering at all he saw, one of the monks of the convent came up to him, and the holy man questioned him, "Brother, what is the cause of all these strange changes that have taken place here since the morning?"

And the monk that he spoke to seemed to wonder greatly at his question, and asked him what he meant by the change since morning? for, sure, there was no change; that all was just as before. And then he said, Brother, why do you ask these strange questions, and what is your name? for you wear the habit of our order, though we have never seen you before."

So upon this the holy man told his name. and said that he had been at mass in the chapel in the morning before he had wandered away from the garden listening to the song of a little bird that was singing among the rose-trees, near where he was kneeling at his prayers.

And the brother, while he was speaking, gazed at him very earnestly, and then told him that there was in the convent a tradition of a brother of his name, who had left it two hundred years before, but that what was become of him was never known.

And while he was speaking, the holy man said, "My hour of death is come; blessed be the name of the Lord for all his mercies to me, through the merits of his only-begotten Son."
And he kneeled down that very moment, and said, "Brother, take my confession, for my soul is departing."

And he made his confession, and received his absolution, and was anointed, and before midnight he died.

The little bird, you see, was an angel, one of the cherubims or seraphims; and that was the way the Almighty was pleased in His mercy to take to Himself the soul of that holy man.

Thanks for your patience and understanding that I am a bit too long when I write these things...but as long as there is something to pass on and truth be told...I fear that that is my plight in life....the words that will not stop coming!!!!!

May the wings of the butterfly kiss the sun.
And find your shoulder to light on.
To bring you luck, happiness and riches.
Today, tomorrow and beyond.

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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    That is so true about our culture...I was taught to be tolerant to those who know no better but to those that do know , have no tolerance for... emoticon
    1918 days ago
    What a beautiful tradition! And, what an amazing blog. You outdid yourself. I hope you are feeling a little bit more energy. You have been tired do to the chemo working overtime in your body. emoticon

    I hope you had a wonderful day with your hubby and were able to enjoy some Irish cooking. Take care, my friend. Love, Chelsea emoticon emoticon
    1918 days ago
  • MOGAL1946
    I'm so glad that the words would not not coming! Beautiful from start to finish. emoticon Wishing you a lovely day too!
    1918 days ago
    beautiful thanks
    1918 days ago
    The Good things in life are often seen in life when we get older We see that our time is near to God All has more importance not a rush for the things that do not last
    1918 days ago
  • SUNSHINE99999
    wow, very nice indeed. I'm glad I took the time to read from beginning to end. Happy day to you! emoticon
    1918 days ago
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