Tag Archives: Holidays

The Luck of the Not-Quite-Irish

Painted in Waterlogue

Aside from Thanksgiving turkey, holiday celebrations at the Country House don’t call for a specific food. Christmas is Christmas, whether there’s boeuf bourguignon or leftover spaghetti on the table. Memorial Day might be the unofficial start of summer’s grilling season, but what goes on the grill varies from year to year. There might be pork on New Year’s Day, but whether it’s smoked sausage or spare ribs doesn’t matter to us.

Then there’s St. Patrick’s Day. That’s not a big deal. Neither of us claims significant Irish heritage. The thing to celebrate, really, was the successful opening of my show that meant A Weeknight at Home—the first in ages. We certainly weren’t going to celebrate with green beer. (Ew. Whether it’s green or not.)

Fried chicken would have been appropriately festive, but I wanted to do something out of the ordinary. A slow-braised pot of corned beef and cabbage would be a nice change, but I don’t have a time machine that would have let start the braise before we left for work. If I wanted to be even remotely Irish-themed, improvisation would be required. Or, at least, a trip to the deli.

I picked up a pound of sliced corned beef. A bag of sauerkraut. Carrots were in the fridge at home. I considered letting the prepared-foods counter do the work of mashed potatoes, but a two-serving tray seemed awfully dear at $12.99, and a 5-pound bag of spuds was on sale for under a dollar.

We nibbled a little aged cheddar-flavored-with-Irish-whiskey as a starter.  That was as close to drunken debauchery as our St. Patrick’s Day would get.

I scrubbed and diced the potatoes, skin-on: the mash wouldn’t be as creamy, but it’d be healthier. Besides, I like potato skin. In the time it took the potatoes to cook, I rinsed the kraut and grated a couple of carrots into it to temper the tang, and added a little caraway seed and a grating of black pepper. This went to warm in a saucepan. (Sauerkraut is, of course, not part of an authentically Irish corned beef supper. So what? We like kraut.)  The corned beef was tossed in a hot skillet until slightly crisped.

The kraut-and-beef was piled on toasted home-baked bread. It wasn’t rye, but home-baked seemed more authentic–or at least better than store-bought. A semi-fluffy mound of mash said “Potato famine? What potato famine?”  There were green beans, just because. It was not in the least what Paddy O’Whomever’s ma would have served, but we enjoyed it.

As for luck? Well, sometimes you make your own.

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Fancy

We stayed at her sister and brother-in-law’s after the memorial, and woke to hugs from her nephews–a pair of 5-year-old twins and their year-older brother–adorable little dudes all. We helped organize pancakes for everybody’s breakfast, as well as some very important wardrobe choices. All the Kindergarteners were dressing up: it was Fancy Day. (Pajama Day had long since passed, and while every day is Crazy Hair Day in my world, I’m glad I didn’t have to demonstrate it more than usual when I was in school.) Ties were knotted, Church shoes were put in backpacks–it’s too snowy on upstate New York sidewalks for anything other than boots until you get to school–and photos were taken to send to grandparents.

We don’t make a big deal about Valentine’s Day. Still, between an unexpected funeral and visit from her mom, the scramble to make up missed work, and a day’s productivity lost to a computer that needed to spend the night in the repair shop, our plans needed revisiting. We didn’t make it to the library or the boxes of books in the storage unit to find volumes of romantic poetry, but we were not giving up on the evening.  “Take-out,” she suggested. “On good china. And we dress up.”

“It’ll be our Fancy Day!”

I collected my repaired machine on the way to work, and stopped to collect dinner on my way home. While I was out, she swept up the remaining dust from the installation of our new backsplash and set a gorgeous table.

On which we had burgers and fries.

But they were the really good burgers, and accompanied by the really good slaw. We sipped Vitamin Water from champagne flutes. We exchanged heartfelt cards and very small gifts. We looked terrific. (We even took a photo to send to her parents.) But mostly, we were together. And that’s fancy enough for me.

Fancy Day Table

Linen-White Christmas

“White Christmas” will never be my favorite carol. I love Christmas, but I’m no fan of snow. If I could find a way to have it fall only on parts of the world that are usually green, I’d be perfectly happy.  A snowy field?  Fine.  Frosted tree branches along the roadside? Beautiful. Just keep it off the pavement, power lines, and rooftops.  I don’t mean to be a Grinch about it, but there are places to go and things to do.  I’m no Scrooge, but offer me an icy windshield to scrape or a plowed-in car to shovel out, and my response is a hearty Humbug!

The same attitude doesn’t apply so strongly in the kitchen, but I think of white things there as a delivery mechanism for other foods.  Mashed potatoes carry gravy.  Rice is best with a pile of vegetables and a little protein.  Grits? Scrambled eggs.  Oatmeal? Lots of fruit and some crunchy granola. Whipped cream is a garnish for pie or cake; vanilla ice cream is best with some topping or other.

But at home? Let’s have plenty of white–on the walls, that is.  The painter worked incredibly hard this week, and finished the main floor of the house on Friday morning.  We swept and mopped and swept and mopped again, finally removing the hoarfrost of plaster dust every horizontal surface in the living room, dining room, and kitchen.  We wiped down the kitchen cabinets and removed the dust that had slipped inside them. We vacuumed the un-tarped furniture; she fitted the sofa with the new slipcover that’s been waiting patiently to begin its service.  Tables came out of hiding and lamps perched brightly upon them. A very few objects d’art were arranged on shelves.  She found the stocking hangers and hung the stockings (with care, of course) from the mantle.  Her parents arrived for a pre-holiday visit. There were comfortable places to sit, a table at which to eat, flowers arranged, and a fire crackling in the hearth. If there was to be no more Christmas than this, it would still be a beautiful celebration.

It looks a little like we’re just moving in–which, in a way, we are.  The walls are creamy, the floors are clean and shiny, and there’s nothing hung on the walls.  Some might call it bland, boring, or vanilla, but I won’t.  It’s calm and uncluttered and clean. There’s no snow in the forecast. It will be a linen-white Christmas, and that seems perfect to me.

OK, Eat

The prudent course of action would have been go straight home and to bed after her train arrived: Monday had had a very early start (for a doctor’s appointment) and a very late finish (after a theatre performance). But we were not prudent.  There were some groceries and staples we needed that hadn’t been on sale yet–because we’d made a shopping list from next week’s supermarket ads–so we headed to the supermarket. As we saw the parking lot on the night before a winter storm, we realized it was also the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. The prudent course of action would have been to turn around and go home.  But we still weren’t prudent.  The place was crowded with shoppers just like us, along with those not-quite-frantically snapping up bread, milk, and eggs–because, apparently, the best thing to eat during a snowstorm is French toast.

We found most of what we needed and ignored the rest. Several items we’d come for still weren’t priced as we expected. We’d looked at the right ads, but misread the copy, and some things still weren’t on sale. It turns out that pork loin can be a Black Friday special, as easily as a big-screen TV.

It wasn’t so much later than usual when we arrived home and got everything unpacked, but it seemed that way. Despite just returning from the supermarket we hadn’t planned dinner. Emergency measures were needed: boxed mac-and-cheese to satisfy her, with extras alongside to keep me happy and use some things that might have spoiled otherwise. Even with that simple plan, I was scattered, the cats (who also wanted their dinner) were underfoot, she was working in the kitchen too, and the whole evening felt one dropped spoon from being a disaster.

Although it seemed to take hours, it was really just a few minutes before the gooey yellow goodness was on one side of our bowls with a few bits of sausage and a big pile of vegetables on the other. Our bodies would be sustained, but our spirits needed help: laughter was now in order. A band we like had released a new video, so we called it up on the big screen; one video led to another, and that one to a third, and then I realized she’d never seen my favorite TV commercial and a behind-the-scenes story about the commercial.  We giggled through dinner and the videos, and the evening ended just fine. The next morning’s snow was much less problematic than predicted–hardly worth the French toast run–and our Thanksgiving travel was smooth and uneventful.

They say to eat before going to shop, but I always thought that was to prevent buying things you didn’t intend to.  I’ll try to remember that it can also be a precaution against kitchen crankiness.

Columbus Day

It’s amazing how many things can go differently than expected in a single weekend–late office departures, pharmacy complications, detours and traffic, rain throughout a half-marathon, and much, much more. When a long-expected celebration ended up being called off at the last minute, it was the icing, so to speak, on the wedding cake.

But we are resilient creatures, we humans.  We revise.  We reconsider.  We adjust. We go on. We console our friends. We offer comfort and a place to stay. We know it isn’t enough, but we try.  And when we have done all we can, we say good night and head sadly for home.

She had brought home perfectly lovely cider donuts from an apple-picking trip with her parents.  But on a cloudy, hard-to-navigate morning, a little extra sweetness seemed appropriate: chopped Macoun and Honeycrisp apples were softened in a tablespoon of melted butter, caramelized with a little brown sugar and dusted with cinnamon and nutmeg. Halves of the donuts, gently warmed and slightly browned in the same pan, were sandwiched with the apples and drizzled with a little whipped cream.

Columbus was looking for a route to India when he found the New World.  We cannot know what world our friends will find in the coming days. The one certainty is that a workday-off due to a civic holiday–and with it a fire in the fireplace and a decadent breakfast–has never come at a more opportune time.

Sometimes donuts are lilies just waiting to be gilded.

Sometimes donuts are lilies just waiting to be gilded.