Order was founded in 1836 as a kind of militia to defend Catholic churches from getting burned down by Protestant mobs." /> Order was founded in 1836 as a kind of militia to defend Catholic churches from getting burned down by Protestant mobs." />

March 15, 2007

(Adapted from The Bad Catholic’s Guide to Good Living)

This year New York City is the scene of two competing St. Patrick’s Day parades. This in itself is not that surprising; many decades ago, the Italians who ran the Columbus Day Parade refused to accommodate the Puerto Ricans, El Salvadorans, and other Latin folk who wanted to take part in their celebration. The latter, sensibly enough, pointed out that Columbus was one guy who happened to be Italian—sailing in Spanish ships, on Spanish money, with Spanish soldiers, who “discovered” two continents that were first colonized and catechized by, you guessed it, Spaniards. Frustrated, the Spanish-speakers stalked off and started their own parade, which now takes place on the Sunday before Columbus Day, and celebrates the “triumfo de la raza.” (This sounds much better in Spanish than in German, if you ask me. )

Well nowadays, the St. Patrick’s Day parade is split in New York City between the traditional parade sponsored by the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and an “inclusive” march which was created to include homosexual activist groups—who bill their march not as a protest of any kind, but as “St. Pat’s For All.” It is this parade, marching through the Irish immigrant haven of Woodside, Queens, which will be attended by New York’s mayor, and the Speaker of our City Council—herself the sort of thick-necked Irish lass who in happier days might found herself in a black habit, whacking schoolkids on the knuckles for including St. Joseph in the Blessed Trinity. Sadly, in times such as ours, she has been reduced to serving as a public lesbian. The Hibernians have had to fight like the dickens to keep their parade permit for Manhattan—citing as a last resort the First Amendment, reminding the City and themselves that they are, after all, a Roman Catholic organization. Indeed, the Order was founded in 1836 as a kind of militia to defend Catholic churches from getting burned down by Protestant mobs—as had happened in Philadelphia, Penn., and Charlestown, Mass. Now the Hibernians once again face a city whose values are hostile to their own, and I’m proud of them for standing up to the powers that be and keeping their parade fully Catholic (though the Giuliani-era ban on public drinking makes that a tad more difficult). As half-Irish, half-Croat mutt, I myself have marched in this parade, in a contingent that recited the Rosary all the way up 5th Avenue. Believe me, that’s easier to do if you’ve had a few Guinnesses first.
This year, for those of you who aren’t well placed to leg it up Fifth Avenue, I’d like to suggest a way to celebrate the great Apostle of Ireland, St. Patrick, that doesn”€™t involve green beer, paper shamrocks, or tipsy parades full of scheming politicians. This year, invite your Hibernian friends to a Potato Famine Party.

Of course I don”€™t intend to make fun of my ancestors who suffered in the great famine, which struck Ireland between 1845 and 1850, leaving the poor of that country (i.e. the Catholics) to starve, while a complacent British government debated the merits of free market economics. Hundreds of thousands died, while millions were forced to emigrate, half-alive, in “€œcoffin ships”€ to Boston, New Brunswick, New York and other ports.

But if there’s one thing for which the long-suffering people of Ireland came to be known, it was their ability to transform misery into joy. Listen to Irish music: The songs that aren”€™t about hopelessly unrequited love are tales of rebellions gone astray, betrayals by trusted allies, and drinking entire barrels of beer on board a sinking ship. Irish wakes”€”held in the home, around the body, which is frequently plied with its favorite brand of whiskey”€”end with friends of the deceased hiding the body from the family, who then have to ransack the house to locate the corpse so it can be buried. It’s in this spirit that I propose this party to honor the once-starving Irish, their endurance and their faith”€”and to offer those who died the Irish wake they never had.

Your party should embody the great Christian theme of earthly suffering”€”interrupted by a sudden explosion of joy. To make this work, it should begin as miserably as possible: Try to create the atmosphere of a ramshackle, 19th century Irish hut. Strew your floor with straw, hang your walls with old-fashioned religious pictures, and drape the entertainment center with burlap potato sacks. Dress the hostess, host, and kids, in peasant clothes, and cover your coffee table with fresh-cut moss. As guests arrive, greet each with a deep, long sigh, and a roll of the eyes. When they ask, “€œHow are you?”€ answer: “€œAs best as can be expected,”€ or “€œI”€™ll be offering it up.”€ Smudge the children’s faces with a little charcoal, and give each one a can to beg the guests for change “€œfor charity’s sake.”€ Make sure each can bears a big green cross and is clearly labeled “€œIRA.”€

To set the mood, your hidden CD player should be set on a continuous loop of Irish dirges, and the hostess should lead the guests in a “€œkeening”€ contest, encouraging each arrival to practice the deep, guttural howl which legend attributes to banshees, the female ghosts rumored to haunt the Irish countryside. If your friends seem disinclined to keen, just wait until they get a load of the food.

Of course, you”€™ll only serve potatoes. But you won”€™t serve enough of them. To reinforce the scarcity theme, make sure there’s only one potato for every two guests, who”€™ll have to compete if they wish to eat. You might propose arm wrestling, a hurling match, or the traditional Irish party game of bobbing for potatoes, in the water where they were cooked. Blindfold each guest with a grey, moist rag, and encourage them to seek out their potato with their teeth. (Make sure the skins are still on, and that the water has cooled.) Let the winners wash down their dinner with bad American beer (such as Killian’s “€œIrish”€ Red), served lukewarm”€”then go back into the living room to keen about your hospitality.

When guests begin to head out the door, shaking their heads and vowing never to return, it’s time to spring on them the sudden explosion of joy: Change the music to jigs and reels and lively songs by modern Irish groups (the Cranberries, Rogue’s Progress, and the Pogues come to mind) and pull out your carefully hidden stash of excellent Irish alcohol, such as Guinness, Magner’s Cider, and Black Bush Irish Whiskey. Quickly save the party by serving an array of gourmet Irish food”€”such as cold baked salmon with dill, au gratin potatoes, warm cabbage salad with bacon, and buttered Irish soda bread. Give each guest one of the “€œcontest”€ potatoes to take home as a keepsake”€”and hope they don”€™t hurl it at your windows as they drive away.

Apart from the boiled potatoes, today’s menu is composed mostly of cold dishes so that you can fool your hungry guests. The seafood and apple crisp can be put in the oven at the last minute. Serve the meal buffet style. We”€™ve chosen traditional Hibernian dishes which were popular in medieval Ireland”€”before it was conquered and the English took all the… (insert tipsy, semi-coherent, 30-minute rant about ancient historical wrongs here). Made from ingredients abundant in the Emerald Isle, and promoted by the Bord Bia (Irish Food Board), these recipes are part of the culinary renaissance now sweeping Ireland. 

(Menu and Recipes by Denise Matychowiak, formerly of La Caravelle, NYC)

Steamed Lobster and Crabs with Herb Butter.
Oysters on the Half Shell.
Vegetable Platter of Pearl Onions, Radishes, and lightly dressed Baby Greens.
Salt Roasted Shrimp in the Shells (see recipe).
Apple Oatmeal Crumble (see recipe).

Salt Crusted Roast Shrimp

2 pounds shell on headless medium shrimp
Coarse sea salt
2 bunches rosemary
2 tablespoons whole coriander
2 tablespoons pink peppercorns, lightly crushed

Preheat oven to 550 degrees or as hot as it will go.
Rinse and pat dry shrimp.
Cover large baking pan with salt.
Distribute rosemary on salt.
Toss shrimp with coriander and pink peppercorns.
Lay in an even single layer on salt.
Roast for 8-10 minutes. Shrimp will turn pink. Toss gently to cook other side. Cook another 2-5 minutes. Serve on a platter garnished with rosemary branches.

Apple Oatmeal Crumble

1 cup golden raisins
¼ cup Irish whiskey
3 Gala apples
1 cup rolled oats
½ cup brown sugar
Pinch of Himalayan salt
½ cup butter (1 Stick)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Lightly butter 11/2 quart casserole dish.
Simmer raisins and whiskey on low until whiskey is absorbed and the raisins are plump.
Meanwhile quarter, core and slice unpeeled apples. Toss with raisins in baking dish.
Mix together oats, sugar and salt. Beat in butter and work until evenly combined. Spread over apples evenly. Bake for 45-50 minutes. Allow to cool briefly before serving allowing crust to crisp.


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