Fifteen years ago, my then-boyfriend and I decided to cook a corned beef and cabbage dinner together, for another couple. Afterward, the four of us crowded around a small table in his apartment’s kitchen and enjoyed the simple meal. I am of Irish descent, and my family always celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in the traditional Irish-American way, so this just seemed natural. It felt so right, that the next year, we invited a few more people.
After we got married, the dinners got bigger and bigger, inviting more people, making more dishes. We decided to limit it to our closest friends, the people we see often, to let the kids play together and the adults relax. At some point, we had to switch to paper plates and serving buffet-style. Last year, the weather was beautiful and the kids played outside, so we began a new tradition: we adults ate a lovely, quiet meal first, before feeding the kids. Fantastic.
Yesterday, we cooked 11 lbs. of corned beef, 4.5 lbs. of beef in the form of Guinness stew, a large bowl of colcannon, another large bowl of boiled cabbage and other veggies, 2 loaves of “soda bread” (really, just a lovely tea cake but The Joy of Cooking calls it Irish-American soda bread so we serve it) and 48 potato rolls, my grandmother’s recipe. There were about 25 people in our home, about half of them children. Who, I was impressed to see, ate quite a bit of the meal themselves. Today, we are having my family over for leftovers, and I actually have to make more buttery potato rolls because we ate nearly all of them last night. This doesn’t hurt my feelings.
The potato rolls take me back to holiday dinners at my grandparents’ house. My grandmother passed away almost 30 years ago; I only had 10 years with her, but I was so lucky to have them. So many memories come back when I bite into one of those rolls. They take a while to prepare: a real labor of love, and worth every hour involved in the baking and calorie in the consuming. The potato rolls have become my only contribution to this dinner, as my husband has completely taken over. But for me, they are the center. Eat them right out of the oven and they are just soft, comforting bundles of butter. They are the perfect vehicle for sopping up gravy in the Guinness stew. And leftover, toasted, topped with even more butter or some homemade jam…delectable.
It’s a lot of work to prepare the whole meal, to do all the shopping, clean and decorate the house, plan activities to keep all the children busy. But we love being able to share my family’s heritage with our closest friends and family.
Well, I need to get moving to bake more. Prepare the mashed potatoes, scald the milk, mix, rise, shape, rise, bake, share. Raise a glass today, but do it safely, please.