New traditions on St. Patrick’s Day

The day before St. Patrick’s Day, I called my mother to ask for her corned beef and cabbage recipe. I had never made the traditional holiday dish before and decided this would be the year to try.

“I don’t really have a recipe,” my mother said. “I hate corned beef and cabbage. I always have.”

What? What is this blasphemy from red-headed. fair-skinned Alice Kelly Flynn? Growing up I distinctly remember my mother cooking corned beef and cabbage on many occasions. I even recall a few years ago visiting my parents’ house on Cape Cod on St. Patrick’s Day when my daughter Elizabeth held her nose the entire afternoon because the smell of boiled cabbage was making her sick. I think her word was “disgusting.”

But my mother said this week that she only made the dish for my father’s benefit. She grew up eating boiled dinners all the time and if she doesn’t have to eat another one for the rest of her life, she will be happy. I think her word was “gristly” when describing the cuts of boiled beef from her childhood.

One year my mother actually forgot it was St. Patrick’s Day and my father came home from a long day at work to find his wife in the kitchen making chicken stir fry for dinner. My father insisted they adhere to tradition and head out for corned beef and cabbage and my mother obliged.

With this new information about my mother, I decided to adjust my St. Patrick’s Day plans. After all, if my mother didn’t even like corned beef and cabbage and my daughters were already proactively complaining about the smell that would soon infiltrate our house, why should I bother?

What Alice does love are Irish scones, especially ones “dressed” as they say in real whipped cream and strawberries as served at the Keltic Kitchen in West Yarmouth, home of the traditional Irish breakfast.

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Elizabeth and my mother at Keltic Kitchen last fall. Sigh. I miss warm weather.

 

I decided I would make scones instead. Seemed pretty easy. But the cupboards were pretty bare.  My mother and father went to Sons of Erin, a social club near their house, to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with music and food. Paul and I headed to Market Basket, also surrounded by music and food.

 

 

Here’s the recipe I followed after I Googled “Easy scone recipes.” I often add the word “easy” to my searches for recipes.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 5 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 cup milk

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly grease a baking sheet.
  2. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut in butter. Mix the egg and milk in a small bowl, and stir into flour mixture until moistened.
  3. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead briefly. Roll dough out into a 1/2 inch thick round. Cut into 8 wedges, and place on the prepared baking sheet.
  4. Bake 15 minutes in the preheated oven, or until golden brown.

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Caroline, my other favorite redhead, helped make the whipped cream from scratch.
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Who needs corned beef?

While Alice does not love boiled corned beef, she does thoroughly enjoy a Reuben sandwich. Which is what brought us to The Indo, an Irish pub in downtown Beverly, on Sunday afternoon.

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My good friend Debbie (who considers St. Patrick’s Day one of her favorite holidays) and I split a delicious Reuben, the tried-and-true sandwich composed of corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Russian dressed grilled between slices of rye bread.  It was a lot easier and more enjoyable to sit in a festive pub than to make my own boiled dinner. I think Alice would be proud of me.

Our St. Patrick’s Day weekend festivities were rounded out with a trip to the local Cabot Cinema to catch a special screening of The Quiet Man, the 1952 classic starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara.

 

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Wayne plays the role of  Sean Thornton, an Irish-born American who travels to Ireland to reclaim his family’s farm and his birthplace in Inisfree. He meets and falls in love with the fiery Mary Kate Danaher, played by O’Hara. It’s billed as a romantic comedy, and the movie won an Academy Award for director John Ford. But the romances sure were different back in the good old days.

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At one point, Wayne’s character forces the woman he loves to return to their village by alternately dragging her, kicking her and shoving her over the course of five miles. In another scene, on their wedding night, he throws her onto their bed and breaks it. She slaps him pretty routinely and concedes to possessing a “fearful temper.” I think we were simultaneously laughing and gasping at the ridiculousness of it all. #relationshipgoals, this is not.

The Emerald Isle scenery, though, is certainly beautiful. The pub scenes are funny.  And there is character name Michaeleen Flynn and another named Mary Kate (the same as my niece), so I consider those two additional positives.

The movie is an American classic that I have heard about my whole life so I am glad I could finally see it in my hometown theater with a friend I’m very lucky to have. Thank you, Mom, for talking me out of the boiled-dinner route.

Sometimes traditions are better off tweaked.

ONE NOTE: The “Irish Lass” sign at the top of the post hangs in our living room. I found it washed ashore on a beach on Prudence Island, Rhode Island, when I was 10 years old. I have walked many beaches in my life and never come across anything nearly as good.

 

 

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Feathered friends

When I was young, if anyone in my town asked me where I lived, I might say South Pleasant Street. But more likely I said, “Across from the Duck Pond.” It was a landmark with instant recognition

From my mother’s bedroom window, she had a nice view of the pond and could watch the ducks every morning as she sipped her first cup of tea. More than once she invited our kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Raymond, to bring the whole class to our house so all the kids could experience the thrill of feeding the always obliging ducks pieces of stale bread. (She came with my younger sister’s and brother’s classes too.) I felt like a big deal when kids told me how lucky I was to live where I did on our walk back to school.

Every afternoon the “Duck Lady,” as we called her, would arrive to feed the assortment of waterfowl cups full of dry corn from the trunk of her white Pinto. The ducks would get flustered and jockey for position as soon as they spotted her car. She was an odd character — eccentric might be the better word. But she was nice to my grandfather who lived with us, and she sent my sister a get-well card when she was in the hospital for several months, so I always liked her.

In the winter, my father would become a wrangler of sorts and help convince the ducks to leave the pond that would soon freeze and waddle or fly across the street to the brook. As a kid, I thought his actions bordered on heroic.

The Duck Pond is where I first learned to cast a fishing line, hook a worm, row a boat, skip a rock and ice skate. We knew to be on the lookout for snapping turtles and wary of the lily pads’ tangled roots below the surface. Every now and then I used to row our boat to a quiet cove where no one could see me. I was seeking solitude before I knew what the word meant. Many years ago, my sister Christine gave me a copy of a Claude Monet print that reminds me of this special place of my childhood.

Monet

I hadn’t thought too much about ducks until this past Saturday when I went to the see the documentary The Million Dollar Duck. The film, screened at the Peabody Essex Museum as part of Salem Film Fest, introduces viewers to the world of the Federal Duck Stamp Contest, the only juried art competition run by the U.S. government.

Every year wildlife artists from around the country submit their best paintings of ducks in the hope that their artwork will be chosen for that year’s Federal Duck Stamp. The stamp is used for hunting licenses and for entrance to any National Wildlife Refuge. Revenues from the stamp have bought and maintained more than 5.3 million acres of waterfowl and wetland habitat in the U.S. It’s considered one of the country’s most successful conservation programs, and I knew nothing about it until Saturday.

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Roughly 300 artists enter the contest each year, and this amusing documentary follows seven of them right up until the nerve-wracking public judging. They are a quirky, competitive and talented crew of characters and we found ourselves rooting for almost all of them. Although there is no prize money, the artists can generate lucrative deals from re-licensing the stamp image on other merchandise, hence the title “Million Dollar Duck.”

“In music you have the Grammys. If you’re an actor, it’s the Oscars. If you’re a wildlife artist, it’s winning the Federal Duck Stamp Contest.”

— Mark Anderson, 2004 Federal Duck Stamp winner, The New York Times

The filmmaker, Brian Golden Davis, and one of the artists, Tim Taylor, were in attendance at the screening. The film had its premier at the Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, and Davis shared that Animal Planet had acquired the TV rights and another company acquired the movie rights. Really try to see The Million Dollar Duck, if you can. We were all cheering and laughing and grateful that such a program as the duck stamp existed.

My 14-year-old daughter Elizabeth said she was trying to think of how the movie could be better and she couldn’t think of a thing she would change. Who would have thought a movie about ducks, stamps and the federal government could be so much fun for adults and kids alike? 

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My husband and sister Kathleen chat with the filmmaker, who gave my sister a Million Dollar Duck button after she told him she was here to celebrate her recent birthday.
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The girls look at one of Tim Taylor’s duck stamp entries. The detail is pretty amazing.

On my way to work today, I stopped at the post office to see if they sold the Federal Duck stamp. The worker shouted yes, and was so excited because no one had ever asked to buy one from her before. I gave her $25 and officially purchased the 2015-2016 Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp.

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This year’s stamp features ruddy ducks. Art by Jennifer Miller of Olean, N.Y.