St. Patrick’s Day is tomorrow. I have purchased my corned beef, cabbage, potatoes, carrots and onions and I’m ready to go! I myself, am not Irish. According to our family tree our ancesters come from England, Scotland, and Germany with a few Irish thrown in here and there for a bit of devilment. I did, however, inherit a large Irish family when I married my first husband. Being an “only” in my family, the first time I met my future husband’s family consisting of four boys and one girl, I was somwhat overwhelmed.
At the head of the family was his dad, a tall, barrel chested man with a deep booming voice who enjoyed his boiler makers, was devoutly religious, and more than generous with his words. Of the four sons, my husband at twenty-four was the eldest, his sister, the only girl, being born two years before he was. The dynamics of a large boisterous family were fascinating to me. The matriarch in the family, in strong comparison to her massive husband, stood under five feet unless she’d ratted her hair, and had a perpetual twinkle in her eye. In her youth she had been in the first Little Rascal’s movies cast as Darla, and there were framed billboards proudly displayed in the family room attesting to her time in the spotlight.
Being Irish was a source of extreme pride for them, so St. Patrick’s Day, which up until that point for me had simply been a good reason to eat corned beef and cabbage, took on new meaning as I was absorbed into my husband’s family as well as my own.
Boston touts a large Irish population, and the second largest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the U.S. While living in Massachusetts, my husband and I attended the parade our first year there, which kept us going for the other two years we stayed on after that. We opted to leave the children at home, although I’m sure they would have enjoyed it, because we had heard that the green beer flowed as freely as the water cascading over Niagara falls.
We arrived early, taking the subway into town to avoid trying to find a place to park. It was jacket cold, but not the parka, long john’s, hat, heated socks and mittens cold, it had been a month prior. Boston, because it’s on the water, could get truly bone-chilling when the temperatures dropped and the wind whipped in across the Atlantic. Often during my stay there I compared it to living in Nova Scotia where I grew up, but with a much larger population.
The crowds were already swelling through the streets which were largely cordoned off in anticipation of the parade itself. People were in a festive party mood, most dressed in green. A man on stilts was circulating through the crowd wearing a leprechaun costume and handing out gold wrapped chocolate coins to the children in attendance. Bagel shops, coffee shops, and small bistros were enjoying a booming business. I wanted a cup of coffee but not badly enough to wait twenty minutes to get one, so we passed.
As always, Bostonians understood how to celebrate with the best. A great parade, and afterwards the best corned beef and cabbage with roasted potatoes, carrots and onions, and a consumption of green beer that was reflected in my face in the mirror the following morning. At one stop we ordered Boxty potatoes, which are a potato pancake of sorts and absolutely addictive. I stood in line twice for refills.
Boston, truly, boasts some of the greatest food going. I literally ate my way through the city during my time there. I worked on Newberry Street, which was smack dab in the downtown area in the high-end shopping district. Limos would pull up during the day to drop of their well-manicured pampered occupants to do a bit of shopping, or perhaps get their hair cut at one of the ultra expensive salson scattered up and down Newberry and the adjacent streets. Once needing a hair cut, I ventured inside one of these salons to share that experience. Inside I found a tastefully decorated waiting area, with chairs so comfortable I felt like settling in, popping some popcorn, and catching a movie on the tube. After being greeted by the most fabulous looking man, I was offered a glass of wine or a delicate flute of champagne and was told it would be ten minutes before my stylist would be ready for me.
My stylist, was a tall, lanky sort, with black laquered fingernails and spiky hair that was dark at the roots and bleached on the ends. One earring shone in his right earlobe, green eye shadow highlighted his well lined eyes, and he wore a purple shirt with very tight black pants. After picking through my shoulder length hair like a mother chimp looking for fleas, this accompanied by much tut tutting and rolling of eyes, he determined that the patient could indeed still be saved. A list of things that needed to be done to make me fit for being seen in public, above and beyond the $80.00 cut, were suggested. This was the late 70’s, so for me the cut alone was a bite in the budget. I called the bank, requested a second on our house, and signed up.
It seemed that the stylists did not wash the heads themselves, but had people for that. I was passed on to an impecably dressed young woman who wore shoes with heels so tall I’m sure she suffered from bouts of unexplained vertigo. A neatly pressed rose pink smock covered her street clothes. I’ll tell you, the wash was worth the money. It was like a full scalp massage and facial rolled into one. My temples were rubbed, my ears were cleaned. Two hours and two days pay later, a new me left the building.
I’m sure in my lifetime I’ll never experience what it’s like to be ridiculously rich, or even just giddily semi-wealthy, but it was interesting to walk in their tall shoes for a moment. As an old Irish saying goes: “If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at who He gives it to.”
Have a great St. Patrick’s Day! This recipe came from one of my Canadian cousins. They’re great by themselves, but I serve them often with pork and top them with chunky applesauce, or as a bed for poached eggs.
Boxty Potato Pancakes
6 large russet potatoes
3 green onions, thinly sliced (green and white parts)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
3/4 cups buttermilk
3 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp. Canola oil
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. garlic powder
1/8 tsp. black pepper
Peel 3 potatoes and cut into chunks. Place in large saucepan and cover with lightly salted water. Bring to boil. Cook 15-20 mins. until fork tender. Drain. Transfer to a mixing bowl and mash well. Set aside.
Peel and grate the remaining 3 potatoes. Place in a clean kitchen towel and wring to remove excess moisture. You can also put in a paper towel lined lettuce spinner to complete this step. Add to bowl of mashed potatoes. Add green onions, baking powder, flour, salt, garlic powder, and black pepper to mixture. Mix well. Stir in buttermilk. Mixture will be a thick consistency.
In large skillet melt 1 Tbsp. butter and 1 Tbsp. oil over med-high heat. Drop potato mixture into pan by 1/4 cupfulls (not to close together). Flatten with spatula. Repeat steps for two more batches.