Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.


St Patrick's Day? Well, I'm not cooking tacos, am I.

There's no earthly reason why you should not have tacos on St Patrick's Day. Or anything else you feel like.

But if all you have in your kitchen is a couple of onions, a carrot or two and a bag of potatoes, then it's looking a little like Irish Stew. Instant Irish stew if you're running late.

Of course, no Irish Stew should ever be instant. In fact, it should never be eaten on the day it is cooked, unless you have gotten up in the morning and put it on in a huge rustic pot over a low fire then gone out shopping past stonewall-edged emerald green fields dotted with white sheep to a rain-sodden Irish village, popped into the pub on the high street to sit by the fire with a glass of stout and a bowl of chips while having a chat and a laugh with the red-cheeked innkeeper, then wandered home late afternoon via the old cobbled lane to reach your front door, which you open to be greeted by the uniquely delicious aroma of lamb and vegetables stewing away all day long.

Since that is not correct in any respect in this case (I wish it was, as I'm sure it was for my Kennedy and O'Brien forebears, county Cork) I have taken the liberty of cooking Irish Stew the instant, same-day, non-rustic-Irish-village way.

Irish Stew is variously described as requiring lamb neck chops, lamb shoulder, lamb leg chops or other cuts. I'm impartial. I bought the leg chops as they were the cheapest available at the market (this is Irish peasant food, remember).

Cut off any obvious fat and give it to the dog, having smelt the lamb, slavering (slavering, not slaving) beside you; place the chops in the bottom of your pot, lay thick-sliced or quartered onions over them, add potato slices cut to the same thickness and ditto with the carrots. Quantities? Err on the side of the potatoes. Handful of chopped parsley. Salt. Pepper. Cover with water. Bring to boil, simmer until vegetables are done.

Meanwhile, boil some more potatoes in another pot and when cooked, mash furiously with butter, milk, salt and pepper, as much or as little as you like of each.

Slap a big serve of buttery mash on your old chipped shamrock dinner plate, and place the lamb and vegetables over that, drizzling some of the lovely fragrant juices over the stew and the mash. A sprig of parsley and another shake of the salt and pepper and away you go.

A glass of stout, not too cold, you can't taste it. Have some nice Irish music. Or some raucous Irish music. Or just feel the silence ... as you think of far-off days in an emerald isle ...

Take me back, take me way, way, way back
On Hyndford Street
Where you could feel the silence at half past eleven
On long summer nights
As the wireless played Radio Luxembourg
And the voices whispered across Beechie River
In the quietness as we sank into restful slumber in the silence
And carried on dreaming, in God ...

And walks up Cherry Valley from North Road Bridge, railway line
On sunny summer afternoons
Picking apples from the side of the tracks
That spilled over from the gardens of the houses on Cyprus Avenue
Watching the moth catcher working the floodlights in the evenings
And meeting down by the pylons
Playing round Mrs. Kelly's lamp
Going out to Holywood on the bus
And walking from the end of the lines to the seaside
Stopping at Fusco's for ice cream
In the days before rock `n' roll
Hyndford Street, Abetta Parade
Orangefield, St. Donard's Church
Sunday six bells, and in between the silence there was conversation
And laughter, and music and singing, and shivers up the back of the neck ...

Can you feel the silence?
On Hyndford Street where you could feel the silence
At half past eleven on long summer nights
As the wireless played Radio Luxembourg
And the voices whispered across Beechie River
And in the quietness we sank into restful slumber in silence
And carried on dreaming in God.

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