Posts Tagged ‘Irish Cuisine’

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January 01, 2013: A Feast of “The Dead”

January 1, 2013

deadtable[One of the luxuries of blog-writing is the ability to write an article far ahead of publishing it. I fell in love with John Huston’s last film, “The Dead” when it first came out in theaters in 1987. Seeing it was one of the last pushes to get me to finally visit Ireland in 1988. The story by James Joyce is considered, by some, to be one of the best short-stories of the English Language and it has always been one of my most favorite Christmas-time stories. “The Dead” took forever to come out on DVD, being released finally in 2009. Thank you to the Hudson Public Library for ordering it for me. I write this almost one month before publishing.]

It is a brave undertaking, attempting to make a film of one of the best and most-beloved of short stories of English literature. It would take an accomplished and confident director and one who understood the story’s concern for the impermanence of the human condition and the frailty of one’s best endeavors. The story: “The Dead” by James Joyce from “The Dubliners.” The director: John Huston. It was Huston’s last film.

The story of “The Dead” is deceptively simple. If you are not a fan of subtext, you will be bored to tears by this film. On the surface, “The Dead” is a dinner/dance party in Dublin on a snowy night of The Feast of the Epiphany” (January 6th) 1904. Two older sisters and their niece, all musically inclined, are putting on the event for family, students, and friends. It is a hodgepodge mix of people of all types and ages. In the center of a maelstrom of food, drink, dancing, music, and recitation are a couple: Gabriel, who is the nephew of the older hostesses and his wife Gretta. Gabriel is a university English professor and his main role of the evening, outside of carving the goose, is an after-dinner toast to the hostesses, which appears to be an annual responsibility for him. Gabriel takes this duty very seriously. Throughout the evening he sneaks peeks at his notes and ruminates on the appropriateness of his lines.

Gabriel Rehearses.jpgAs the evening progresses, the audience is introduced to every person at the party, in turn. Despite our technological advances since, society itself has changed very little since 1904, so the audience is assured of finding familiar characters of this group of drunkards, fools, sycophants, and bores as well as those of a more talented, sophisticated, and erudite leaning.

I hope someday to have an Epiphany meal for friends or family. I would most certainly flesh this out more with a soup, salad and more veggies, but I have devised a menu, from as far as I can determine, from both story and film of the basics.

Menu from  James Joyce’s “The Dead”
Roast Goose and Stuffing           Baked Potatoes
Spiced Beef          Red Currant Jam         NO APPLESAUCE!!!!
Blancmange          Christmas Pudding          Chocolate
Toasted Almonds          Raisins          Celery (“capital for the blood”)
White Wine          Port          Sherry          Stout

As well as being concerned with the language of his speech, Gabriel is plagued all night by his failings of his spoken language. [Torture for an English professor. Doubly so, for an Irish one, who value language above all arts. Some surmise that Gabriel is a projection of Joyce of himself, if he had remained in Ireland: a fussy and prim no-talent.] It is interesting that at the early stages of the feminist movement, that the challenges to Gabriel all come from women. The first is from the serving girl, who Gabriel has known since she was young, and when he insinuates that she must be close to being married, she bitterly replies, “The men that are today are all palaver and what they can get from you.” The word “palaver” is  little archaic to our ears but means “idle or worthless talk.” Essentially, the girl is saying (in modern terms) “Men are rats!” A statement that automatically includes Gabriel.

The second challenge comes from a colleague. Molly Ivers is strong-minded, political, and far from shy, fellow teacher. While dancing with Gabriel, she accuses him of writing for an English-sympathizing newspaper and labels him a “West Briton” a shameful term at the time for an Irishman with English sympathies. Gabriel is ignorant of the term, and Molly points out that he is also ignorant of his own language and taunts Gabriel by saying “Good Night” to him in Irish.Grett Contemplates2

The last…and worst…is a rebuff from his wife, while driving home. Gretta has been distracted all night. It is clear she has a secret and Gabriel is anxious to know what it is. He uses jokes and stories to try to wheedle out what she is thinking about…all of which fall very flat.

“The Dead” is a subtle fable of a supposition about humanity: that despite all our surface trappings of tradition, pleasant company, intellectualism, and comforts, in reality all that is truly important is totally out of our control. Our loves, our creative ability, and even life itself, must finally pass.

jj_the_deadBut, this supposition has an inherent flaw, which is evident in the very story itself. Joyce, through this wonderful creative endeavor has captured the life of people (or at least archetypes) that he most certainly knew. Even Gretta must have been based as much on his wife, Nora Barnacle, as Gabriel is based on himself. This creative endeavor inspired one of the best directors of the 20th Century to reproduce it in fine form. In one of the most poignant endings of cinema, Huston gently reshuffles Joyce’s words to mark his own creative endeavor, in order to speak for himself…and for us all:

“Think of all those who ever were, back to the start of time. And me, transient as they, flickering out as well into their gray world. Like everything around me, this solid world itself which they reared and lived in, is dwindling and dissolving. Snow is falling…falling in that lonely churchyard where Michael Furey lies buried, falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living…and the dead.”

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March 17, 2012: Green Stripes and Colcannon

March 17, 2012

St. Patrick’s Day always leaves me feeling a bit conflicted. I am a huge fan of Irish history, culture, literature, etc. but, St. Patrick’s Day, distilled down through American interpretation I find a tad….well….silly.

For me, the silliness started very early. Maybe because a lot of the nuns who ran my grade school were American-Irish themselves, they made St. Patrick’s Day a bit of a fest. Being the sugar-deprived child that I was, I would never turn down the cupcakes with green icing, but the “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” and “Erin go bragh” (Ireland Forever) buttons, along with the chintzy green bowler hats stuck me, even then, as a bit over the top. The worst it ever got was from the bar down the street. Every St. Patrick’s Day, some drunken idiot painted a green shamrock on the street, always forgetting (or not caring) that cars would roll right over all that fresh paint and make green stripes all up and down the street!

My perception of Irish culture, literature, and history changed drastically in junior college. Just about every student has that one teacher that makes a big difference in their life. My Irish Mythology teacher was that person for me. Not only was a fantastic teacher, but to this day, when I re-read his books, I am still amazed at his insight. That class lead to all the other wonderful Irish literature: Joyce, Yeats, etc. as well as an interest in Irish history…particularly ancient Irish history. In the Autumns of 1988-89 I biked across Ireland, photographing ancient burial chambers and dolmens that dot the Irish landscape. This was an adventure of a lifetime where I was completely immersed in everything truly Irish:  literature, art, artifacts, landscape, history, weather, people, and  food.

For the past couple of years now, Yoshio has invited me to talk about Irish food at the Showa Institute. Yoshio does a very unique thing in his class to Japanese students: he teaches American culture largely through American food. When I first did research for my talk, I was amazed to find how very little truly Irish food there was in modern life. What comes to mind, when you think of Irish food? Corned Beef and Cabbage? Cabbage…yes, quite Irish. Corned Beef? Nah, not so much. Beef was only for the rich in Ireland. The closest they have to this dish in Ireland is a kind of fat-back and cabbage dish. A salmon dish would be spot-on. Not only plentiful in Ireland, salmon appear in many ancient Irish stories, as “animals of wisdom.” But, in the two Irish cookbooks that I own, I couldn’t find a salmon dish without a French or English sauce! Colcannon comes pretty close to being authentically Irish. This is a mixture of kale (or cabbage) with mashed potatoes and cream, that is then baked. Absolutely delicious! The problem with this dish is that, as much as potatoes have made such an impact in Irish history, they originally came from America.

So, a few other historical reality checks on this St. Patrick’s Day: First, Phádraig (his Irish name) or Patricius (his Roman name) i.e. St. Patrick, was NOT Irish. He was most likely either Welsh or Cornish and was picked up by Irish pirates to be sold as a slave. St. Patrick had NOTHING to do with why there are no snakes in Ireland. He most likely did NOT use the shamrock to describe the Trinity. You know what the Irish do to “celebrate” St. Patrick’s Day? They climb up and down Croagh Patrick (Mount Patrick, County Mayo, 2507 ‘high) as an act of penance for their sins, some of them barefoot!

Hey, I’m not saying don’t celebrate St. Patrick’s Day if you want. Just make it real, not silly, and something remotely to do with Ireland. If you want to party and have some beer, please make it  one of the many excellent Irish brews out there…and please…leave the green dye…and for goodness sakes, the green PAINT at home!

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August 25, 2011: Talk at Showa Institute

August 25, 2011

"Colcannon" (Kale, mashed potatoes, cream,& spices) Photo by Y. Saito via IPhone

A quick “thank you” to Showa Institute of Boston, Yoshio, Michelle, and the students from Japan for having me out, to once again talk about Irish Cooking. A perfect day of organizing my notes by the koi pond, cooking with Yoshio (always a pleasure) and meeting and talking to the students. Once again, Yoshio and I made a variety of Irish dishes showing the range of influences of different cultures on Irish cuisine. We made:

Corned Beef and Cabbage
Colcannon
Codling Cream
Irish Soda Bread

Recipes are available on last year’s entry “August 26, 2010: Irish Cuisine at Showa”

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August 26, 2010: Irish Cuisine at Showa

August 26, 2010

Photo by Ayuka; student at Showa

Thanks to Yoshio for once again inspiring me to push my ideas about cooking..and yes, Yoshio…you are truly the master in any style of  cuisine! Your corned beef and cabbage was perfect! Thank you to Showa for having me, and special thanks for the young women of Yoshio’s class that were so cordial listening to my talk about Irish-American and Irish cuisine. I really enjoyed meeting you all and your help with the setup and breakdown of the meal was especially gracious! I had such a fun day!

Here the recipes (and the influences) we made for you:

Corned Beef and Cabbage (Irish-American, a variation of New England Boiled Dinner)

  • 4 lb “Corned” Brisket of Beef (“corned” is Anglo-Saxon for “salted”)
  • 6 Large Carrots-peeled, ends taken off
  • 3 Small Parsnips-peeled
  • 3 Large Turnips-peeled and halved
  • 1 Head of Cabbage-cored and quartered
  • 6 Medium-sized Potatoes-peeled (Yoshio had a variety of types)
  • Spices/Flavors: 1 heaping Tablespoon of each: Whole Pepper, Juniper Berries, Cloves and Corse Salt. A few sprigs of fresh Parsley-chopped

What you want to do is get each of the harder veggies (carrots, parsnips, turnips and potatoes) in about 2-3″ chunks. Yoshio cooked this dish in a pressure cooker. If you’ve never used a pressure cooker before, please, PLEASE get someone who knows, to show you!!!! You can get same results with a steady boil & simmer in an open pot, but this takes about two hours! Either way, please consult “The Joy of Cooking (JOC)”, p.412 for cooking all the ingredients, in their proper  order for both pressure cooker and open pot.

Colcannon (Irish: “cál ceannann” a truly Irish dish. Essentially, mashed potatoes, onions and/or leeks and kale or cabbage.)

  • 2 Lbs. Potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1 Lb. Kale (best) or Cabbage (OK), washed, cored. chopped well
  • 2 Leeks OR 1 Leek+1 Medium Onion, peeled washed really well (see below);  chopped well.
  • Spices/Flavors: Salt & Pepper, 1/4 Lb Butter, 1/4C Milk

I love leeks, but they can be the most dirty of the onion family. It takes a couple of washings, but they are worth it. First chop off the “beard” end (roots) and the green top (save for soup broth…yumm!) and wash stalk well in H2O. Chop well and wash the pieces in a colander and dry by putting colander in bowl for 10 minutes. When leek and kale are dry (I use a salad spinner) fry in wok with a little oil or butter until leeks are wilted…almost brown. Put aside. Boil cubed potatoes until soft. Remove from H2O and dry potatoes in a pan in 300°F oven for 10 minutes. Add to a bowl with S&P, butter and ,milk, mash, then beat until whipped. Fold in kale/leek. Put in buttered pan and bake @ 350°F oven until top is browned.

“Quick” Soda Bread (Irish: “arán sóide” a traditonal Irish and Irish-American dish.) I was pleased how this came out. I followed JOC p. 575 verbatim. Why fool with success?! Remember to cut a cross to “let the fairies out” and find someone else (like me!) to drink the rest of the buttermilk!

“Codling” Cream (also: “Coddling” Cream; f/ 1600’s; Irish w/British influence)

  • 8 medium peeled, cored, sliced green apples
  • 1+1/4C Wine (recipe called for white, I used port for that pink color)
  • 1+1/4C H2O
  • 3 Tblsp. Sugar (I used brown sugar)
  • 1 Pint Heavy Cream
  • 2 Egg Yolks
  • 1 Tblp. Rose H2O (optional, if you can find it)

Again, while working cutting the apples, I keep them in H2O to keep from browning. Heat H2O and Wine with apples until they are soft. Strain and discard liquids. Add sugar to apples, mash and cool. Whip cream until stiff. Whip egg yolks separately until foamy, fold into whipped cream. Fold egg/cream into cooled apples. Add rose H2O last. Keep cold.

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