Saturday, March 17, 2012
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
Today is St. Patrick’s Day, and while I don’t have an ounce of Irish blood in me I do like to celebrate it. Once started as a religious holiday commemorating St. Patrick and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland, it has now morphed into a worldwide celebration of all things Irish. More commonly in North America - and I’m sure other countries as well - it seems, for most people, little more than an excuse to get stinking drunk. I myself rarely drink, don’t particularly like beer, and have never quite understood what exactly people find so fun about getting so loaded they vomit and feel like crap the following day. Definitely not my idea of a good time, and so I celebrate St. Patrick’s day annually by enjoying Irish culture. I wear green, make Irish themed food, listen to Irish music, read Irish folk tales along with Joyce, Yeats and Wild, and enjoy the beauty of the outdoors.
I don’t know why but ever since I was young I’ve felt a very strong connection with Ireland, the people and the land. As I said I’m not the least bit Irish, but something about Ireland just pulls at my soul, and envelops my heart. I feel this way about a couple of other countries as well, but there’s something about my feelings for Ireland that feel unique amongst the rest. My husband and I visited Ireland in the summer of 09 and it was an incredible and magical experience. I remember flying into Dublin, landing on the tarmac, looking out the small airplane window to the gray, rainy sky and thinking "I’m home." Up until that point in my life I’d never felt that feeling anywhere but in Vancouver, but as we disembarked the plane and walked through Dublin airport I really did feel as though I was home. Never for a moment, no matter where we went in Ireland - and we traveled a lot of the country - did I feel a stranger. Everywhere I went I felt as though I’d been there before, everywhere I went I felt a connection to the land. Walking around the streets of Dublin that first day I felt as though I was seeing everything for the first time, yet I also felt as though I’d seen it a millions times before. I have a friend who’s told me that the reason I felt and still feel this way is because in a pervious life I was Irish, or lived in Ireland at least. As a Buddhist the idea of reincarnation isn’t foreign to me, so perhaps he’s right. All I know is that since leaving Ireland at the end of August 09 a little part of me - and sometimes a large part of me - has ached to go back every single day.
Ireland is a beautiful country, really and truly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. It reminds me a lot of British Columbia in some ways. The weather for one, the scenery for another, but it has a distinctly different feel and vibe. Something I can’t quite put into words. It’s a country that’s experienced much hardship seemingly since the beginning of time and yet the nature and spirit of the place is so uplifting. I felt so inspired the entire time we were there.
Dublin is a wonderful city, richly cultured with plenty to see and do but honestly my favorite thing was just to walk the streets, walk along the river, interact with the people and laze about in the parks. Galway is another fantastic city, just really amazing. Similar to Dublin but again with a different vibe. To me Dublin felt a bit more laid back, where as Galway seemed ready to bust at the seems with activity. I loved every minute I stayed there and wish we’d had longer. We stopped a lot of places on our trip, wanting to take in as much of the country as possible. Clare, Cashel, Tipperary, Waterford, Cork, Kinsale, Limerick - which I had to go to just because I’m a huge fan of Frank McCourt’s book "Angela’s Ashes" - Kilkenny, Wicklow Mountains, Connemara, The Burren, The Cliffs of Moher and The Aran Islands. - which I highly recommend! - In Northern Ireland we went to Belfast, Derry and the Giant’s Causeway. We really didn’t get enough time to explore Northern Ireland as I would have liked. So if I ever get back, I’m going to make it my mission to do so. Beautiful, beautiful land, just breathtaking. Definitely a highlight of the trip which is funny considering everyone we knew strongly advised us against traveling to Northern Ireland and in particular Belfast because of the IRA. Of course we didn’t listen because the idea of dangerous places or potentially dangerous places has never bothered me, and truth be told we had a brilliant time in Northen Ireland and Belfast. While I do admit Belfast has a sort of tense and uneasy vibe about it, we had absolutely no problems there. We felt entirely safe, even when wandering the streets well past dark, and the people we met were just as friendly and kind as anywhere else in the country. I really do recommend Belfast particularly if you’re interested in history. There is some lovely architecture and the most stunning, beautiful and sometimes frightening murals are painted all over the city. They mostly depict the religious division in the city, and really are quite a sight to see. I am definitely one of those travelers that honestly believes that a large part of your experience in a city or country is determined by what you yourself bring to it. We brought nothing but love and positive energy to Ireland and that’s exactly what we received in return.
I felt particularly drawn to the Cliffs of Moher, and it is definitely one of my best experiences of the trip. Even though the day we went it was rainy, cold, grey and misty something about the weather just seemed so fitting for the cliffs. For picture taking opportunities of course I would have preferred a bit of sun, but for overall experience the bad weather really added that extra element. The Giant’s Causeway is another place I felt particularly moved by, it’s beauty is - well there are no words for it really, it’s the kind of place you have to see and experience to believe. The weather was beautiful that day and again one of the best experiences of our trip. I recommend the Causeway to everyone I know who goes to Ireland particularly if they like a bit of a hike. The whole Wicklow area was stunning as well, just brilliant, and the Arand Islands felt very much like home to me. There really isn’t much there but it spoke to me, and it really is worth seeing. It’s as if life there stood still, the island is so untouched by many of the modern traps we call convenience. The ferry ride over’s quite fun as well, particularly when the water’s choppy! My husband however would disagree with that. Perhaps when I’ve got the time, maybe tomorrow I’ll post a few pictures of Ireland so you can see for yourself it’s magnificence, but for now on to the food aye?
Since I’ve got to work tonight I wasn’t able to make a ton in the way of Irish fare. However I did make a batch of Irish theme cupcakes from Alicia C Simpson’s Cook book "Vegan Celebrations." Stout Beer Cupcakes with Whisky Cream Cheese Frosting. Who would have thought that would be a good combination? But it was! I used Guinness for the stout and it was fantastic, though I’ll admit I added a bit more whisky to the frosting then was called for, I thought it needed a bit more ‘kick.’ It should be noted that while I don’t drink beer, I did order a pint of Guinness in a pub in Belfast just to say I had. While beer is still bear and I’ll never be fond of it, that pint of Guinness was the best beer I’ve ever drunk. Keep in mind though that Guinness doesn’t travel well. I’ve been told this by every Irish and English person I know. To experience the true goodness of Guinness it must be drunk in Ireland or at the very least the U.K. though I think bottled imported Guinness is just fine for a batch of cupcakes. It is much less thick, and frothy however. As strange as this recipe may sound I assure you it’s good, as is evidenced by the fact that only 4 cupcakes remain out of a batch of 24! My husband and our friends sure have enjoyed them.
Next I made an Irish Soda Bread. Last year I went with Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s recipe which is excellent. This year I went with Robin Robertson’s recipe from "Party Vegan." The raisins are soaked in Whisky before begin added to the batter and it gives the bread a nice dimension. As you can see however most of the bread has already been devoured by my husband.
Lastly for our dinner later tonight, I made Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s Irish Mashed Potatoes with Kale from "Color Me Vegan" It’s her version of the traditional Irish dish Colcannon, which is typically made with cabbage, butter, cream, and bacon. I actually had colcannon on my last night in Dublin and honestly it wasn’t for me. I don’t know if it was the cream sauce or the ‘bacon’ which was not the typical bacon you get here in North America but more like a thicker Canadian Bacon, or back bacon. Colleen’s version is fantastic, I love the idea of using kale because it’s such a delicious nutritious green, and I also like that she didn’t feel the need to add in any sort of vegan bacon substitute as I see a lot of vegan colcannon recipes do. The dish really doesn’t need it as it’s wonderful as it. I did top it off with some sliced green onion though. So there you have it, St. Patrick’s Day celebrated, with wonderful memories, amazing food, and a lot of incredible Celtic folk and Punk music.
By the way, if you’re unfamiliar with Celtic punk I implore you to immediately go and listen to The Pouges, Flogging Molly, and Gaelic Storm. They are fantastic, and amongst my favorites, I’ve been listening to all three on an endless loop since February. There’s something really magical about electric guitar, bass and drums playing alongside accordion, tin whistle, pipes, flute, fiddle, banjo and bodhran. Seriously it gives me goosebumps and literally transports me back to Ireland. Interestingly though all three bands have Irish lead singers and perhaps another Irish member or two none of the bands were actually formed in Ireland, go figure. Though while we were in Ireland and Dublin in particular we heard The Pogues played a lot! Also at some of the local pubs there were quite a few bands who’d do a Flogging Molly cover. Great stuff, check it out!
PS: Oh and if you are beer drinker, don’t’ forget to grab yourself a pack of Irish beer to enjoy on this holiday!