17 March 2015

Ghosts of St. Patty's past

It's a blast form the past (well, 2010), but it's still my favorite St. Patty's Day post, and coddle is still my favorite St. Patty's Day food...enjoy! -- NR, 3.17.15

I have some Irish roots in my background, like so many Americans, and like most of the Americans I know, it doesn't have anything to do with how or why I celebrate St. Patrick's Day. I celebrate it because it's an excuse to drink and eat, and because it comes at the end of a rough winter, and because by the middle of March I have been so busy working that I haven't spent time with friends since December 31, and so on. And really, for me any holiday is about the food, drink, and company. (Oh, and please stop harassing me for not wearing green on March 17. Are we all still in fourth grade?!)

As I circle around my mid-30s, I also have this annoying habit of waxing nostalgic over trivial things--I blame the presence of my entire high school class on facebook. But since it's me torturing everyone within earshot, those memories are food-fueled.

As a kid growing up in the Chicago area in the 80s, St. Patty's Day meant the toxic, nuclear-green McDonald's Shamrock shake. It was thick and milky and tasted ever so slightly of mint. I loved it because you could only get it for a limited time. My husband tells me that they did not have these in Alabama McD's, so maybe Illinois was special. I hadn't had one in years when I got a craving one spring break at the University of Illinois and I dragged my roommate along. They sucked, actually. Little kids have terrible taste.

I did not have a habit of going out to the bars on this Holiest of Holy Drinking Nights as a student. I suppose I had homework. But in my late 20s, I was able to live out the college dream in Casper, Wyoming. I was a member of the Wyoming Symphony then, and we always had a concert over St. Pat's week. After a rehearsal that lasted until 10:30pm (I called this the "rude awakening" rehearsal, because it was our first in a series leading up to the concert, and we always sounded terrible), my friends and I would drive up the main street and pass the dear old Wonder Bar, filled to the brim, decorated outside with random pukers on the sidewalk and cops glaring from every corner. I'm serious--you wouldn't guess it, but those people know how to party. I'd cram my way in to enjoy a local beer from a fine plastic cup, gulping whatever I could before I got bumped and spilled it all over the belligerent, overly made-up woman nearest me. I guess it was fine that I stayed in doing homework when I was younger.

Now that I am old and cranky (with a metabolism to match), I prefer making traditional Irish foods I don't have to chew. Go here for my favorite, colcannon. But when I was a graduate student at Indiana University, I enjoyed St. Patty's meals (and many other meals, and many many other pints), at a great watering hole called the Irish Lion. It's the real deal, complete with those ridiculous yards of beer you have to put on the floor to drink from and authentic Irish grub. Being one of the few bars in southern Indiana with Guinness on tap, I visited somewhat regularly. And when it was cold outside, when it had been a rough week, and particularly when my brain was swimming in alcohol, I would feebly point in my menu to the bowl of coddle, famed Irish cure for the hangover, and look pleadingly at my server.

6 Servings

1 pound sliced bacon
2 large onions, sliced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
4 large potatoes, thickly sliced
2 carrots, thickly sliced
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
Black pepper to taste
12 oz. light beer (like Budweiser)

In a dutch oven, fry bacon until very crisp. Remove bacon but leave bacon grease, then sautee onion and garlic in the grease until soft.

Add the potatoes and carrots to the pot and pour in two cups of water. Add the salt and bay leaf, cover, and bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium and cook for 10-15 minutes, or until potatoes are very soft.

With a hand masher or large spoon, smash up the potatoes so that you have some chunks and some smooth bits that help to thicken the broth. Pour in the beer and return the bacon to the pot. Stir, cover, and simmer on low heat for 30 minutes. Remove bay leaf and add pepper to taste.

*Vegetarian friends can omit the bacon and cook veggies in olive oil. Cook Morningstar Breakfast Strips until crisp (I find the microwave works best) and crumble into individual bowls of soup.

Please do not add bouquets de garni, heirloom vegetables, or garnish with freshly chopped parsley. That's too fancy. It's not right.