You know that today, March 17, is St. Patrick’s Day, right?
I do too!
However, yesterday I did not know this. Well, I knew that March 17 is St. Patrick’s Day. But I didn’t know that yesterday wasn’t today. See?
Funny thing about being on the radio, especially when you’ve been doing it for as long as I have: nothing sticks. I talk about so many things during my shift that if I my brain tried to retain it all it would pop like one of those 140psi back cysts in a Doctor Pimple Popper video. (Ok, seriously, what is the allure??)
Yesterday, from 5am to 1pm, I spent practically every mic break talking about some aspect of what would be today’s festivities. Most of my newscasts began with one of the following:
“The NYPD is beefing up security for tomorrow’s parade…”
“Sanitation crews are working overtime to clear any remaining snow in advance of tomorrow’s parade up 5th Avenue….”
“The nation’s oldest St. Patrick’s Day parade is expected to draw 2 million people to the Big Apple tomorrow….”
“You’ll need more than the Luck of the Irish if you want to land that prime viewing spot at the parade tomorrow….”
“Cases of green food color poisonings are predicted to reach historic levels tomorrow….”
Ok, that last one is just one I wished I could have used. But the others were taken pretty much verbatim from my reports. Notice here they all feature the word “tomorrow”.
On top of that, during my non-news mic breaks the word “tomorrow” featured prominently during discussions with listeners and co-hosts on subjects like corned beef recipes, beer selection, and hangover cures.
I think I said the word “tomorrow” yesterday more than I said the word “Trumpocalypse”, a first for any word since last November.
So, of course, yesterday the first think I thought when I got off the air was, ‘Oh my god – it’s St. Patrick’s Day today. I gotta hurry home and cook!‘
Early in the week, before Stella the Snowstorm hit, I picked up 3 full corned beef briskets* that I’d found on sale at my local grocer’s. I don’t normally buy 3, but for the past several years NewWifey(tm) and I have been arguing over which of the many ways I’ve cooked corned beef is the best. Last year we finally narrowed it down to two. I voted for my original method, which is to steam the brisket over beer. NewWifey(tm) praised the time I simmered one in ginger ale, no doubt because it sings to her Trailer Trash soul. We agreed we couldn’t come to a consensus however unless we tasted them side by side.
That’s why I purchased two of the briskets. So we could settle this thing once and for all. The third brisket was carted home because I want to try a new method: baked in an unglazed clay vessel (a Römertopf) that’s been soaked in apple cider.
*I know you’re dying to know: point cut. The flat cut is a flavorless abomination foisted on us by marketers who can’t get rid of them any other way. “The point cut is leaner!” they say, knowing that’s a magic phrase that makes fat Americans go all doe eyed. Don’t fall for it. Leaner is not better when it comes to corned beef. Insist on the thicker, juicer, more flavorful point cut. Yes, it’s fattier. No, it won’t kill you. At least not immediately.
All week long I’ve been obsessing about this. What sides would best showcase each method? Would a different beer be appropriate for each, or is that overkill? (Answer: it’s not overkill. Do it.) Should I make the authentic, but hard as Dick Cheney’s various hearts, whole wheat soda bread again, or have mercy on my teeth this year and make the wussy-but-heavenly version? (Answer: wussy.) Will I have enough oven space for that monster Römertopf AND the 7 quart Le Creuset that traditionally cooks my Amazing Patented Guaranteed Fartless Braised Cabbage and Apple concoction every year? (Probably…I hope…maybe.)
Things came to a head yesterday. My mouth was on auto-pilot my entire shift, talking on the air about parades and colcannon – tomorrow – while my mind was furiously running down a checklist of ingredients I still had to buy, and worrying about whether I should plump my raisins in Irish whisky before adding them to the soda bread batter. (Answer: duh.)
By the end of my shift I had pretty much worked out my ingredients list, the order of cooking, how I would rotate burners, which beer to have with which brisket, etc. When I turned my mic off for the last time I was satisfied that all my ducks, er, briskets, were in a row, and I was good to go.
But somewhere along the way that fevered contemplation got so intense that it must have warped time. Or at least my perception of time. When I left my studio I was sure, with the certainty one has of things that don’t even need contemplating, like one’s name or shoe size, that it was St. Patrick’s Day. Even though I must have said “for tomorrow’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration” at least a hundred times over the previous 8 hours. Like I said, nothing sticks.
So, convinced I had to hurry home to cook a big feast before bedtime, I hurried home and cooked a big feast before bedtime. NewWifey(tm) was away at a friend’s for the afternoon so I was alone with my kitchen skills, and my delusion.
First up, since it cooks the quickest: Irish Soda Bread. The wussied-up American version, with whisky soaked raisins, caraway seeds, and grated orange zest (a variation NewWifey(tm) particularly enjoys). Baked in a Le Creuset dutch oven. Le Creuset dutch ovens are god. I bet they can cure cancer:
Next: everything else. I turned into the cartoon Tasmanian Devil, a blur of knives and whisks. Meats and vegetables went whirling around the kitchen, each landing in various pans, pots, and bins right on cue.
Four hours later, right on cue, NewWifey(tm) walked in the door. “Happy Saint Patty’s Day, honey!” I said, handing her a green beer.
She looked startled (but took the beer) and said, “What’s that smell?”
“What’s that smell?” I laughed. “It’s Saint Patrick’s Day! I just spent the last 5 hours in the kitchen cranking out 9 pounds of brisket, 5 pounds of potatoes, glazed carrots, braised cabbage, and an Irish Soda Bread with orange zest. Come look!” And I led her by the elbow into the dining room.
She stood staring at the table laden with the fruits of my labor, and several 6-packs of beer.
“You mean the three corned beefs?” I said. “Yeah, well, I know we were just gonna do two this year so we could compare the beer steamed version to the ginger ale. But I really wanted to see how the Römertopf would do it also, so I bought a third one and tried it that way. I hope you don’t mind.”
She kept staring at the table. “No, that’s not what I meant. Why…why are we doing this today?”
“Waddaya mean, why? Because today’s St. Patrick’s Day!” I ran around the table and grabbed our novelty green bowlers off the place settings, put one on my head, then reached to put NewWifey(tm)’s on.
She swatted my hand away. “Honey. Did you say today is St. Patrick’s Day?”
“Well, yeah. I mean, every March 17th is, right? What’s the problem? We do this every year!”
She grabbed my wrist and lifted it to my face. “Look at your watch.”
She drained her glass and set it on the table. “Thanks for the beer. I’m gonna get changed while you pack this stuff up. We can have it tomorrow.”
An hour later, at 8pm on March 16, 2017, 3 briskets, 1 head of braised cabbage, 5 pounds of potatoes, 2 pounds of glazed carrots, an Irish Soda Bread, and 3 6-packs of beer (now minus 4 bottles *buuuurp*) were packed and put up until March 17, 2017.
Which it is now. So if you’ll excuse me, I have to go re-set the table and put my green bowler on. Like I do every year. On St. Patrick’s Day.
And sometimes the day before.
Because nothing sticks….
Hey, you know what? I thought it would be fun to go back into my archives and read some of my old Saint P-Day entries this morning. Just for old time’s sake, I think I’ll copy-n-paste the one I wrote on this day back in 2005, when NewWifey(tm) and I were still practically newlyweds. I know it’s long, but you’re not obligated to read it. This is purely for extra credit. (A few months ago, come to think of it, I re-posted here a St. Patty entry I wrote in 2006, the one about my corgi exploding that won me that big internet writing competition…to pat myself on the back even harder here.)
Erin Go Blah
When NewWifey(tm) and I got married just over three years ago, we decided on what seemed like a fair distribution of labor.
Here’s what NewWifey(tm) is responsible for:
1. Anything to do with power tools.
2. Car repairs.
3. Shoveling snow.
5. Home repairs.
7. Lawn cutting.
8. Decorating (holiday and general).
9. Paperwork: bills, budgets, court orders.
Meanwhile, I am responsible for:
2. The dog.
Dammit, I’m getting screwed here! I mean, I have to cook at least one meal a day, every single day, and usually more. NewWifey(tm) only has to shingle the roof once every 5 years or so.
(NewWifey(tm), looking over my shoulder, just remarked “Why don’t you tell them my REAL list of duties: 1)Blowjobs. 2)Power Tools. 3)Blowjobs. 4)Car Repairs. 5)Blowjobs…” I have no comment. Or denial.)
Every now and then The List overlaps. For instance on Christmas I may hang an ornament, and I’ve also been known to put gas in the car on occasion. Every so often NewWifey(tm) pats the dog on the head, and if I’m delayed at work she may get desperate and spray some plastic cheese on a cracker. But for the most part The List is inviolate.
Which is why I was startled when on March 15th NewWifey(tm) announced, “I’m making the St. Patty’s feast this year.”
No discussion, no subtle probing questions beforehand to see how I’d take the news. Just a declarative “I will be making the feast.” Period.
Why was I being usurped as executive chef at Dangerhouse? Did my Hollandaise sauce break? Souffle not rise to sufficiently theatrical heights? A salmonella outbreak? I had to know.
I probably shouldn’t have asked.
NewWifey(tm), it seems, is still suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome following disasters that happened the past TWO St. Pat’s.
Long time readers may recall that last year NewWifey(tm) got trapped in a pair of sex-play handcuffs and was arrested while driving topless to the locksmith to free herself.
The year before that – in a story not previously related – the house almost burned down when I accidentally turned a burner under the corned beef to “High” instead of “Warm” and left to go riding with NewWifey(tm) and a buddy. When we returned 3 hours later the bottom of my wok (perfect vessel to steam a 4 pound slab) had melted completely away and the meat was sitting right on the burner, devolving into carbon. DangerHouse smelled like a Kansas City BBQ pit right through the next winter.
So even though NewWifey(tm) is normally loath to lift a finger in the kitchen, this time she saw it as a matter of self preservation. I wasn’t gonna argue, so long as she didn’t expect me to do anything with wallboard in return.
Now, NewWifey(tm) isn’t a bad cook. Quite the contrary. She just doesn’t enjoy it all that much. So when we were haggling over details of The List at the beginning of our Holy Union and I suggested “you know, it’s traditional for the wife to cook for her Man….” and she countered with “it’s traditional for the husband to have balls, but I don’t see ‘oil changes’ on YOUR side of the list“, I didn’t have the…well, you know…to press the issue.
I’d never really made a big deal about St. Patrick’s Day before meeting NewWifey(tm). For one thing, I consider dyeing beer green to be a Mortal Sin. For another, I hatehatehatehateHATE boiled cabbage, with the burning hatred of a thousand incendiary farts. Plus, I like snakes. Driving them out of Ireland doesn’t seem like cause for celebration to me.
Then I married an Irish gal.
Now every March 17th I drink watery green beer, wear novelty plastic bowlers and symbolically wield my Whacking Day Stick. And to my surprise, it’s really not that much of a cross to bear…probably because I get to fuck a redheaded Irish gal at the end of the day. Hey, I may have standards, but they’re not set in stone.
But one thing I absolutely WILL NOT bend on is my refusal to serve boiled cabbage.I would sooner clean every Mens’ Room urinal at New York’s Penn Station with my tongue than put one single leaf of that vile, angry vegetable in my mouth. And NewWifey(tm) knows it.
However NewWifey(tm) insists on having cabbage with her corned beef. So we struck a compromise. I came up with a cabbage recipe that I actually like, but is still acceptable to her. And if I may pat myself on the spatula here, it is acceptable to her because it’s the best damned cabbage dish she’s ever had. (Basically, if you’re interested, the cabbage is braised for 5 or 6 hours in a very low oven in a small amount of apple cider, flavored with a sliced onion, some bacon, caraway seeds, savory, and sometimes apple wedges. All the bitter sulpher nastiness gets blown out, leaving a very sweet un-cabbagelike carnival behind. And, to the delight of anuses everywhere, gastronomic pyrotechnics seem to be muted considerably when cabbage is prepared this way.)
Unfortunately, NewWifey(tm) does not know how to prepare cabbage this way.
I never wrote down the recipe.
See, NewWifey(tm) and I couldn’t be more dissimilar in the kitchen. I dance around, a cd of cartoon theme songs blasting in the background, slinging ingredients across the room. I have no idea where the measuring cups are kept. Dinner is never announced beforehand, because I generally don’t know myself what we’re having until it’s on the table. What started out as “ravioli stuffed with spinach and pignoli” might morph in to “grilled spinach-wrapped Feta cheese packets”, or even a “terrine vert”. All depends on which way the wind is blowing, y’know? It’s only very rarely that I use a recipe, which might seem somewhat odd since I own upwards of 400 cookbooks. I just collect them, I don’t use ’em.
By contrast, NewWifey(tm) is a study in concentration and exactitude behind the stove. The recipe, and there is ALWAYS a recipe, has to be propped in a highly visible place on the counter, the ingredients pre-measured, and all the pans, whisks and serving plates in their proper place. The tense quiet while she toils is occasionally punctuated by swearing when she discovers that we only have 2 1/8 cups of flour in the house, and the recipe calls for 2 1/4. Her final dish is always ready to be photographed for a full color layout in “Saveur” magazine, even if she is standing next to it with balled fists and singed eyebrows.
NewWifey(tm) has announced that she will be preparing the meal for her Most Holy Drinking Day of the year, and she will brook no dissent in the matter. Aside from the disasters the past two years that she blames on me, she is also sick of the fancified versions of traditional fare I come up with. She wants to get back to her Irish roots and whip up AUTHENTIC corned beef, cabbage, potatoes, and Irish Lamb Stew. And no funky micro-brews, either. Harp Lager, or Guinness. And a bottle of green food dye. Just like the ancient Celts used.
Therefore she needs the recipe for corned beef, cabbage, potatoes, and Irish Lamb Stew.
So what does a woman who has 416 cookbooks cluttering up her house, and is married to a former chef who can make any of the recipes listed in them off the top of his head, do when she needs a recipe?
She goes out and buys a cookbook.
On Wednesday the 16th NewWifey(tm) came staggering up the stairs under the weight of sacks of potatoes, lamb, cabbage heads, carrots, leeks, and beer. And a very slim book on easy Irish cooking.
I knew that pointing to any of the 18 Irish cookbooks we already owned had would prove nothing to her, and might be life threatening to me. I retreated to the Man Pit until the cooking storm blew over.
Eight hours later our St. Patty’s dinner was ready, and I sat down to one of the most beautifully staged tables DangerHouse has ever seen. NewWifey(tm) had broken out her grandmother’s delicate lace tablecloth, on top of which were arranged bone china tureens and covered serving platters. A Pilsner glass of green beer was set at each plate.
I put on the novelty green bowler she had left on my chair, and dug in.
NewWifey(tm), hair matted, dripping sweat, and plastered in innumerable technicolor stains, hovered over my shoulder as I took a forkful of each dish in turn. She wouldn’t be able to relax enough to eat herself until she got approval from The Master.
I shoveled in a mouthful of the Irish Stew first…then some corned beef…a slice of whole wheat Irish Soda Bread…and finally…a nibble of – god help me – boiled cabbage and Colcannon.
(Colcannon, if you’ve so far mercifully escaped having it served to you, is a potato concoction dreamed up by an irate Irish cook to serve to the guy he just found out has been banging his wife. You take perfectly serviceable potatoes, mash them with a little cream and some scallions, then mix in…seaweed. Realizing the logistical complications an American cook might have trying to find fresh North Sea seaweed, NewWifey(tm)’s new cookbook suggested the preferred alternative: boiled cabbage. Which she enthusiastically went with.)
NewWifey(tm) looked at me anxiously, still holding a wooden cooking spoon. “…well?”
I took my first slug of beer.
“It needs salt.”
“SALT?! Which one?”
“All of them…including the soda bread.”
I ducked, but not *quite* fast enough. She still managed to knock my green bowler off with the spoon.
“How the hell can they need salt? I followed those recipes to the letter! Your taste buds are just shot from all those dust mites you’ve been ingesting for the last 8 hours in the Man Pit. Gimme that fork!”
She stooped and tried a sample of each dish on my plate, then stood and stared at the far wall while she chewed.
“I don’t understand. There’s no actual food flavor in any of these! What did I do??”
She went and got her new cookbook and handed it to me to see if I could figure out what went wrong.
I read through the recipes and said, “It doesn’t look like you did ANYTHING wrong. You followed the recipes perfectly, but look at them: every single one has you boil the ingredients for 6 hours, then throw the ingredients out and serve the dish towel. You wanted authentic Irish cooking, and that’s what authentic Irish cooking is. The trouble is you’ve gotten used to your husband’s Mediterranean cuisine, which uses – gasp – spices. I mean, seriously, this Irish “stew” is a pound of cubed lamb, a half a chopped onion, one carrot, a HALF TEASPOON of salt, and 6 cups of water. Boil for 4 hours and serve. Are you really surprised that after all that it tastes like…water?”
She sat down and stared at the expanse of beautiful boiled sponges in front of her. Then she picked up her beer and said, “Call and have a pizza delivered, will you? I’m gonna go take a shower.”
An hour later we were facing down two double-cheese-with-pepperoni’s from Vinny’s and working our way steadily through the remaining beers .
After her third bottle NewWifey(tm) finally spoke. “I can’t believe my ancestors ate that crap. Talk about bland – the fork had more flavor than the food on it. No wonder they drink so much.” She looked dejected, then sighed. “Would you…would you doctor up the leftovers tomorrow and see if you can make them taste like something? I hate to waste all that money….”
I knew how much it chafed her to admit defeat, so I agreed and the next day set to work. The first and most important improvement: I threw out the cabbage and the colcannon, then made a fresh batch of braised sweet cabbage and classic mashed potatoes. The corned beef needed the least work – just a brief steam over some boiling beer and spices, to replace the flavors that were boiled away. The stew got a serious makeover; the water was strained off and boiled with some browned lamb bones and aromatics to make a lamb stock, then new lamb and some spices were added, along with wine, potatoes, a miropoix, and a good thickening roux. I couldn’t get NewWifey(tm)’s face out of the bowl when I served it.
So all in all, St. Patty’s Day itself was kind of a bust. It may not have been as spectacularly disastrous as in previous years, but it still fell far short of NewWifey(tm)’s dreams of culinary glory.
On the other hand, I wasn’t particularly disappointed.
I mean…I got to fuck a redheaded Irish gal at the end of the day. Don’t get me wrong, I love food. But I still have my priorities straight. And hey – it’s on her list!
Slainte and Guid Forder, paisan!