Gettin’ Me Oyrish Up

You could say I’m well in touch with my Irish blood — I love cloudy days, I’ve been known to drink a bit, I’m given to song at the slightest provocation, I write poetry and tend to be sentimental and a bit melancholy. So St. Patrick’s Day is a more special holiday for me than it might for the average person.

One of the finest St. Patrick’s Days I ever spent was in Venice, Italy, with my sister Andrea. Wandering aimlessly, we happened to stumble upon a real Irish pub where we spent the evening with a couple from Ireland and an American GI and his mom. The exchange rate was strong, we realized each glass of vino rosso only cost .50 cents, and so we ordered half a dozen each and lined the table with them. The train ride the next day to Florence was a hard one.

Typically, St. Patrick’s Day will be a quiet and somewhat cliché affair around our house — I’ll pick up some Guinness, make corned beef and cabbage (mostly for the leftover beef so I can make my yearly allotment of reuben sandwiches) and celebrate with my wife and kids. But given that this year the holiday fell on a Saturday — and there was rain in forecast! — what better occasion to re-christen our house Colgin’s Pub as we do from time to time, and welcome the thirsty!

Donnie Schneider & his whisky

More than anything, the holiday represents yet another opportunity to convene with a few friends, to cook and drink and talk. In proper Dublin style, there is indeed rain today — buckets full — and I will make a fire and bake bread. I remember being in County Cork and tasting smoked salmon from the river Shannon, served with fresh Irish cream butter on brown bread. So I will make that. And I will make flaky little meat pies. I saw a photo recently of The Brazen Head, Dublin’s oldest pub since 1198. I vaguely recalled passing beneath its merlons and crenels through an arched gate into the inner courtyard — the sanctum Guinness — and passing a few hours with my pal, Dan. I looked up the menu on The Brazen Head website, and found that they now serve Cajun salmon, Buffalo wings and merlot. At least, we are assured, all meat is “sourced locally with full traceability”. The 12th century meets the modern world. Time marches on.

I’m already two Guinnesses (Guinni?) in when the happy hour arrives, the pub opens its doors to the Irish and near-Irish of Topanga Canyon, California. One of the first to arrive is neighbor Patricia Colvig, named for St. Patrick himself. We will raise a glass and drink to her health. Oldest and dearest friend (you should always drink with an oldest and dearest friend on St. Paddy’s Day) Peri arrives with his flutes, for later after the whisky and stout have flowed we will sit down and make music. Irish music. Seven-year-old Naomi Schneider, one quarter Irish in addition to Jewish and Dominican, finds a squeeze box and manages to add a lovely chaos to “Fisherman’s Blues.” Another friend raises a toast to the host for bringing us all together. But as I have said before, my motives are entirely selfish — I like to eat, drink and surround myself with the ones I love. I guess it is that which makes St. Patrick’s Day such an appropriate holiday for me, and what makes me, though my blood may not be completely pure, so very Irish.

Here, then, are your recipes for meat pies and the brown bread and salmon. I didn’t include the corned beef — St. Patty’s Day is past, and anyway, it’s easy enough: you just throw some corned beef, cabbage and potatoes in water and cook into oblivion. The other bits are good anytime, the salmon especially when the summer fish are running on the Shannon, up from Galway.

*   *   *

Irish Brown Bread with smoked salmon and butter
serves many hungry Irishfolk

4 cups wheat flour
2/3 cup flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
2 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup Guinness
4 oz. Kerrygold or other Irish butter
4 oz. smoked salmon
4 oz. Irish cheddar
Maldon salt or other flaky sea salt

Preheat the oven to 415. Mix together the flours, oats, salt and soda. Add the buttermilk and Guinness and mix with a rubber baking spatula. Knead gently into a large ball. Separate into two firm softball-size balls. Make an “x” in the top of each with a sharp knife. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet and cook for 30 – 40 minutes, until well browned.

Remove from oven and cool. Slice bread 1/2 inch thick. Spread some Irish butter on top of each slice. Top half the slices with smoked salmon, the other half with slices of Irish cheddar. Sprinkle a little Maldon salt on top of the salmon slices, and serve.

*   *   *

Dublin pub meat pies
Makes 15 – 30 pies, depending on size

2 frozen pie crusts, defrosted
1/2 lb. ground beef
1/2 lb. ground pork
1 tbsp. lard
1 small onion, chopped
1/4 cup sliced shiitake mushroom
1/4 cup frozen peas
1 tsp. curry powder
1 tsp. ground fennel
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 cup cream
1 tbsp. tomato paste
salt & pepper to taste

Heat the lard in a large pan over medium heat, and cook the onion and mushroom, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes until translucent. Add the beef and pork and brown, breaking up with a wooden spoon, for 15-20 minutes. Add spices and peas and cook for 5 minutes. Add cream and tomato paste, turn heat to high, and cook for 2 minutes, stirring, until cream has mostly cooked away.

Remove from stove and let cool. Preheat oven to 375.

Remove one pie crust from box, place on floured surface, and roll out thin. Using a bowl, large glass or other circular implement, cut circles of 3-4 inches. Scoop a tablespoon or so of the meat filling into the center of each circle. Wet the edge with water, fold over and press with your fingers or a fork to seal. Continue until all pies are made, set aside on wax paper, then roll out the second pie crust and repeat. (Save and freeze leftover filling for more pies later, or to make a quick Bolognese sauce.)

Lightly grease two baking sheets. Place pies on the baking sheets. Cook for 25 minutes, until golden brown. Remove and serve either hot or at room temperature, with a sweet chutney if you’d like.

10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lisa Gaskin
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 00:41:01

    What about the Young Dubliners?


  2. Michelle
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 23:14:11

    I am definitely gonna make those meat pies.


  3. glennis
    Mar 21, 2012 @ 02:11:34

    Those pies were divine! Was it chutney or branston pickle?


  4. scolgin
    Mar 17, 2015 @ 18:20:40

    Reblogged this on skinny girls & mayonnaise and commented:

    An oldie but a goodie, as we in the House of Colgin celebrate this greenest of days. May the road rise to meet ye!


  5. writerspilecki
    Mar 17, 2015 @ 21:21:22

    I skipped the cabbage bit and just led with Reubens. I got a big slab of corned beef and I have been eating Reubens all week!


  6. andreathompson2
    Mar 18, 2015 @ 00:14:08

    Dude, that train ride to Florence was horrible! I was a mess that day and was POSITIVE that damn train was going off the tracks and we would just be one of those travel statistics. But we pulled it together when we got to Florence, got the nosiest hotel room in the history of the world, ate the best pizza and went to DUOOOOOMOOOO. We made up “skitterbug into your brain” and “Sale OUCH shoes”. Only my brother and I know what this means but I have the FONDEST memories of the foreign travel trip with him that I knew would never happen again because it was before we both got married and he had a ton of kids. In fact, on the plane home I cried quietly much of the time knowing that the time I had just spent with my brother would never be repeated.


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