Rather than using St. Patrick's Day for the "reinforcing o' the stereotypes" as The Onion so memorably put it some years ago, allow me to offer, with a necessary bit of history, a more sedate and enjoyable interpretation of the Irish national holiday.First off, it needs to be made clear that the classic American celebration of St. Patrick's Day deviates greatly from Ireland's practice. For thousands of years, March 17 has been a religious holiday across the sea, meant to celebrate the saint's feast day and his death in the fifth century. In fact, until the 1970s, all the pubs in Ireland were closed on St. Patrick's Day. (The government has begun capitalizing on the opportunity of the day, and there are large, multiday celebrations in Dublin and elsewhere.) That said, allow this Irish son of Irish parents who married another Irisher (yes, we have a son named Brendan) to share three components of a St. Patrick's Day well spent.
The Food Is KeyFood comes first for a true St. Patrick's Day celebration. That's right, the food. Ignore Ireland's culinary reputation, or lack thereof, and get yourself ready for a fine traditional feast, complete with no deliberately health-conscious ingredients. Start with classic Irish soda bread. If you've had mass-produced Irish soda bread, you're likely envisioning a tasty mouthful of paste right now. But allow me to let you in on a Dunican family recipe, as initially taught by Grandma Lucy Finnerty, who came over to New York City from County Mayo.
Irish Soda Bread2 cups milk
2 tablespoons vinegar
4 cups flour
2 tablespoon butter, plus 1 tablespoon melted butter
½ cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup raisins
1 teaspoon baking soda Add vinegar to milk. Sift dry ingredients together. Stir in milk and remaining ingredients, except melted butter and extra sugar. Mix together until blended. Shape into a circle, place on a buttered cake pan, and cut a cross into the center. Pour melted butter over top and sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes. Turn temperature down to 350 for an additional 50 minutes. Check 10 minutes before time is up. This yields a moist loaf that is best served with a generous helping of butter (margarine need not apply) and a steaming cup of coffee. Or hot tea if you want to be true to tradition. Now it's time to address the wondrousness of corned beef and cabbage. I asked Kate Habib, my sister-in-law and a personal chef for her secret to corned beef and cabbage, to which she replied, "Do you mean 'throw it all in a big pot and boil the hell out of it?'"