Update: I wrote this entry just a few months before my husband died, and a few years before my Da's death.
It has a bit of a sombre tone that I don't entirely explain; it was written at a time in my life when I was learning that mom's condition was worse than we thought.
If I'm really honest, I was also incredibly sick when I wrote this. Sick in a spiritual way, I think, because something very sad seemed to be creeping up.
When I was a wee girl my dad would come to my classroom on St. Patrick's Day and do his Irish "schtick". This tradition started in the first grade, when my teacher innocently asked me da to talk about our family's Irish Heritage, and what It Meant to Him. Now, my da is a real Irishman but also a full-on barmy yee-haw and he was more than thrilled to oblige. We learned about why you wear green on St. Pat's Day: cause the nuns will beat the snot out of you if you don't. We learned what a shillelagh was: what the nuns will beat the snot out of you with. We learned the words were to the song, Wearing o'the Green:
I met with Napper Tandy, and he took me by the hand And he said, "How's poor old Ireland,
and how does she stand?" "She's the most distressful country
that ever yet was seen For they're hanging men and women
for the Wearin' o' the Green
And we were even treated to a little joke about the difference between "black"and "white lace" Irish, which has to do with whose sink you pee in when you're exceptionally drunk.
I was thrilled to be singing "our" songs with my friends and kindly passing out the oatmeal cookies baked that morning at a fabulous and long-defunct corner bakery called Hale's, and my friends howled and chomped and sang along. The neck rolling and eyebrow raising among the adults was probably fierce, but dad's charm and wit has always won him many friends young and old, and so he was reinvited the next year, and the next and the next.
I teach an Irish cooking class every year and I'm preparing for this evening's right now. I always have a twinge of guilt when I think of what that means: I'm sharing recipes from a culture that was impoverished and often starving… what the hell kind of "cuisine" arises from that? How do I "keep it real", which is, after all, what dad was trying to do?
So I ask forgiveness of my forbears for the chocolate Guinness cake… I know. But I promise to tell stories tonight, and to sing a bit and tell a couple of dirty jokes. I promise to cook from my heart, even though it's a little heavy right now. I promise to break bread with strangers and embrace them as friends. I promise to give it my all, because that's the best I can ever do. And share a recipe or five, of course.
This one's not straight traditional, but what is. It's delicious and very satisfying. Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone!
Traditionalish Irish Brown Bread
Yield: 1 loaf (about 1 3/4 lb.)
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 tablespoons cold butter or margarine
- 2 cups whole-wheat flour
- 1/4 cup regular or quick-cooking rolled oats
- 1 1/2 cups plain nonfat yogurt
1. In a bowl, mix all-purpose flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. With a pastry blender or 2 knives, cut in butter until mixture forms fine crumbs. Stir in whole-wheat flour and oats.
2. Add yogurt; stir gently. If mixture is too dry to hold together, stir in milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, just until dough holds together; it should not be sticky.
3. Turn dough onto a lightly floured board and knead gently 5 times to make a ball. Set on a lightly greased baking sheet. Pat into a 7-inch circle. With a floured knife, cut a large X on top of loaf.
4. Bake in a 375° oven until well browned, about 40 minutes. Cool on a rack. Serve warm or cool.