Since my only real connection to Irishness is a fondness for Celtic music and a significant other with some Irish branches on the family tree, St. Patrick's Day has always been one of those holidays I've largely experienced from the outside. And my "theology of suspicion" tends to kick in when I think about how, as Celtic countries became Christianized, women actually often lost legal rights and status; I think whenever we Christians start getting a little too cocky about the ethical superiority and all-around swellness of our belief system, the remembered witness of women, indigenous peoples, forced converts and others in our history should give us a corrective thwack on the side of the head. How ironic, how often it is that the "not yet" ideals of equality and harmony expressed by Paul find themselves grinding against the "now" of our enculturated prejudices.
But -- St. Patrick, himself a former slave, was by all accounts a compelling anti-slavery activist. Despite whatever misogyny he'd picked up elsewhere -- his Lorica, in its non-Bowlderized version, contains an amusing plea for divine protection against the evil machinations of "women, wizards and smiths" -- made a positive impression on many Irish noblewomen who left their families to found convents. And the conversion of Ireland, compared to the Christianization of populations elsewhere in Europe, seemed less bloody, less forced, more organic and less contemptuous of the previous culture.
So, anyway -- we didn't engage in any public St. Patrick's Day frivolity, but we did have quite a fine Irish-ish dinner Saturday night. Here are some of the featured players:
Guinness Glazed Brisket
1 corned beef brisket, rinsed and dried thoroughly (discard spice packet)
1 cup brown sugar
1 bottle Guinness Extra Stout
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Rub brisket all over with brown sugar. Place in roaster (I spray mine with baking spray beforehand -- you'll be glad you did). Pour Guinness around brisket, and very gently pour a little over the top as well. Bake for 2 1/2 hours. Let sit for a half hour, then cut very thinly against the grain. (The original recipe suggested adding vegetables of your choice an hour before the brisket is done; this is WAY too late, because I added an extra half hour and still wound up having to microwave the veggies; I also found the vegetables a little too sweet for my taste. So I'd recommend cooking the cabbage, carrots, potatoes, etc. separately.)
This is, more or less, mashed potatoes with a generous dose of cooked chopped green onions added, and a generous dollop of real butter plopped into the middle of the bowl as you serve them.
Irish Soda Bread
3 cups unbleached flour -- pastry flour if you can get it
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. salt
a pinch or so of sugar (but don't tell your Irish friends you added it)
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl, using a fork. Make a well in the flour mixture and add 1 cup of buttermilk, stirring well. Slowly add the rest of buttermilk to make a soft dough like a biscuit dough. Turn onto a floured surface and gently knead for about one minute -- you do not want to overknead. Pat into a flat (maybe inch-and-a-half-thick) round; slash an X into the top using a sharp knife dipped in flour; place on a baking-sprayed cookie sheet. Bake for 45 minutes, or until bread is golden and sounds hollow when tapped. Wrap in a damp tea towel to cool. This simple recipe is surprisingly tasty -- especially, to me, the next day, sliced thin and toasted. And here's a fascinating fact I just learned: Soda bread became an Irish staple because hard whole wheat, the high-gluten variety you need to make yeasted bread rise, was scarce in many parts of Ireland; so soda became a predominant bread leavening by necessity.
Easy Bailey's Cheesecake
1 graham cracker crust, chilled in 9-inch springform pan
8 oz. pkg. cream cheese
4 eggs, at room temperature
3/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. Bailey's Irish Cream
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Blend cheese and sugar together until smooth. Blend in 1 egg and Bailey's Irish Cream. Add remaining eggs, one at a time. Pour into chilled crust. Bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes. Cool to room temperature. Refrigerate. Add whipped cream and chocolate curls if desired.
Artwork: St Patrick icon, Nicholas Markell, Bridge Building Images