Usually, I’d invite my girlfriend over the weekend before St Patrick’s day for a day of Irish immersion. She was Greek, but loved our little tradition as much as I did. She’d walk into my house early in the morning. I’d have the Chieftains playing low in the background, just a hint of uilleann pipes and bodhrán to bring us aurally back east across the wide and wild sea to my ancestral homeland.
I’d already have my biggest skillet over a decent flame in my little galley kitchen, the whole package of American bacon spitting and hissing at me, angry at this final humiliation. The smell of it seeming to forgive me. I remove the bacon onto paper towels and then to a dish in the oven to stay warm. I keep the fat in the skillet hot and add black pudding, white pudding (each cut in 1 1/2″ lengths) and 8 Irish sausage links. I watch them brown but not burn and several minutes into it I add whole mushrooms and 4 thick slices of red, ripe tomato.
Meanwhile, Callie has put a can of beans in a pot to warm. She measures out the loose leaf tea into the infuser in my handed-down teapot. I get my tea from a place off 42nd Street in NYC that has a nice selection. She has chosen the Darjeeling and Assam mix. She steeps the tea for a minute and a half, removing the infuser before it brews bitter. She sets the table for us with my good dishes, tea cups and cloth napkins. We eat rustically, but serve it up like royalty. My father used to say we were descended from kings and God knows it might be true. Every nook and cranny had a king in Ireland once upon a time.
I unwrap a loaf of soda bread my sister has sent through the mail. She pays extra to get it there fast and still fresh. She makes dozens and dozens of loaves baked from my grandmother’s handwritten recipe and sends them to everyone she loves. Each has a cross cut in on top before being put in the oven. She says it symbolises God’s blessings and I’m good with that. To me, it’s tradition spanning the centuries. My Irish mothers passing down a simple recipe generation to generation. Callie cuts a few slices and slathers them with Kerry gold butter.
I switch the music to Sinead O’Connor’s Irish album, her lovely voice singing sweet, sad Molly Malone. I clear the skillet, put everything on serving dishes. Scramble up some eggs quickly and get it all on the table. This is no meal for the faint of heart. We dig in, washing it all down with black, sweet tea. Her dog lays near the table hoping for some scraps. She always gets something. I’ll be eating the leftovers for days. We clean up.
With that much caffeine and cholesterol running through our veins, there’s nothing for it but to go take a hike up to Hawk Watch Ridge. The dog leads the way, straining at her leash. We stretch our legs a bit and enjoy the warming sun on a cool day. Reaching the end of the trail, we take a seat on the stone outcropping for a bit and look over the valley. The hawks aren’t migrating yet, so they’re not out in numbers, but we catch sight of one gyring on the thermals, majestically surveying all the woods spread below.
When we get back, we put the corned beef in a big pot of boiling water and let it simmer away to a shadow of itself with a pint of beer added for flavor. We curl up on the couch and watch John Ford’s The Quiet Man on the big screen TV. Callie curls into me on the couch. Her dog tests sleepily by my feet. John Wayne dukes it out with Victor McLaglen. Maureen O’Hara marches home, a smile wide upon her face. And we three are a happy little trio, content in our St Patrick’s day traditions. At least for a few more years.
***The painting above is The Meeting on the Turret Stairs. It’s the most beloved painting in Ireland and can be seen in the National Gallery in Dublin. The man is going down to face the young woman’s family, who are waiting below to kill him.
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