Sunday, March 16, 2014

May the leprechauns be near you

The trees bent down to the river in a whispering
and they hung their long shadows 
over the water
and the horse jerked quick and sudden
and I felt there would be a dying,
but I pulled the rope up
to keep her neck above water,
only just.

       ~ Colum McCann
          Everything in This Country Must

I got lost in Ireland once, and took my map into a countryside service station near the Wicklow Hills. Inside, an Irish lass laid my map across her counter. She showed me where her station was, and traced the line to my destination. She lifted her eyeglasses and looked at me, placed her hand on my arm.

"Ye're alright," she said, in her pretty brogue. "Ye're grand. Ye're perfect! Ye're on the right road."

I've been in love with her country ever since.

Stories from Irish writers hold a lot of water. Theirs is a green and beautiful land with its share of sorrowful history. Yet also a good measure of joy and laughter. Its stories are full of song.

James Joyce and his Dubliners, the way a girl "shook music from the buckled harness." His single-day "flower of the mountain" Ulysses has been called the best English-language novel of the 20th Century. Page count: over 600, so we could never say of Mr. Joyce, "there are no words." One day I might make it through . . .

William Trevor writes stories so full of compassion and pathos you want God to read them with you in mind. Edna O'Brien gave us The Country Girls. And in the tearful, haunting Dancing at Lughnasa, Brian Friel tells the loss of his beloved aunts, away to London in the 1930s.

Alice McDermott writes heartbreakers about Irish Americans in New York: Charming Billy, and After This. There's Colm Toibin's lovely Brooklyn and Mothers and Sons. And Colum McCann, excerpted above, has an epic novel about Ireland and America called TransAtlantic. On my list.

For a taste of Ireland, try this hearty springtime meal. I served mine with baking powder biscuits and peach freezer jam for Sunday dinner. God and Mary be with you.

Corned Beef and Cabbage
just before adding the liquid

1 2.5-3 lb uncooked corned beef brisket, rinsed                    
1 Tbsp. black peppercorns
1 Tbsp. coriander seeds
1 Tbsp. yellow mustard seeds
Flat-leafed parsley to taste
1 medium onion chopped in a half-inch dice
6 medium red or yellow potatoes, halved
6 carrots, peeled and chopped in full-inch pieces
1 good-sized head of cabbage, cored and cut into 6 to 8 wedges
add cabbage for the final 20 minutes
1 cup chicken broth or beer (optional)

Spritz a large Dutch oven or other heavy pot with cooking spray and spoon in potatoes, onions, and carrots. Add the brisket and the spices and parsley. Pour broth and water to cover the meat. 

Bring to a very low boil on the cooktop and then cover the pot. Transfer to a 325-degree oven for 3 to 3 1/2 hours, cooking low and slow until the beef is tender. Place the cabbage wedges over the meat, cover, and bake a final 20 minutes. The cabbage should have a little crunch left, and the beef will be fork-perfect. Serve with horseradish and mustard. Pass the drippings.

May you have
no frost on your spuds
no worms on your cabbage
May your goat give plenty of milk
And if you inherit a donkey,
may she be in foal

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