It is St. Patrick’s Day today. I’m sure every elementary school teacher in the world is painfully (I mean this in the literal sense) aware of this fact as they spent the majority of their time today trying to keep all the kids who were wearing green from pinching all the kids who weren’t black and blue.
I am aware of this because I live in one of the popular, historic neighborhoods in my city. Most of the time, this means quirky shops, hipsters, a few first-gen hippies still holding on, and groups of 20-somethings out to go to the fashionable bars on Saturday night. On St. Patty’s Day, though, it is a different story.
I got home from a rehearsal at 7:45 tonight to droves of people all over the place, far too many of them far too drunk for the time, zillions of cars, and lots of police officers hanging around to make sure things don’t get rowdy. Let’s just say I had a few choice thoughts for these people as I pushed my teacher bag up on my shoulder.
In case you haven’t picked up on this yet, the nightlife is not really “my scene.” I am also intrinsically suspicious of anything that is an unnatural shade of green. This applies equally to frosting, mashed potatoes, cookies, beer, and large bodies of water. So it’s safe to say that St. Patrick’s Day (as it is celebrated in Milwaukee) is not exactly my cup of tea.
But my ancestors were Irish many moons ago, and so I feel like I ought to “put a word in” to this piece of my heritage. (Which is difficult to do because, on a whole, the Irish are not known by and large for their food, and for good reason…)
Food it, I think, a reflection of the culture that creates it. In Tibet, eating cubes of fat is a great honor, because the high caloric content helps build fat that keeps you warm. India, a place where the climate basically begs every spice ever found to be grown, has a spice palate probably three times that of Northern Europe. In America, we have taken all the food of all the cultures that come to these shores, put them into a giant bag, shake it up, and roll the dice to see what’s going to happen. (This is how you end up with things like bulgogi tacos and quinoa curry…)
And in Ireland, a place that has been poor and marginalized for centuries, you get dishes that can turn practically nothing into something incredible.
My favorite example of this is a soup I picked up from a spice catalogue. Like a lot of really amazing recipes, it has the most unimaginative name I can think of: “Homemade Vegetable Soup.”
What it actually is, is genius. It is a soup that combines four of the commonest, cheapest, longest-lasting root veggies I know–carrots, onions, potatoes, and garlic–into this rich, velvety pot of simmering deliciousness. The first time I made it, it was because I was saving up for a vacation and trying to stretch my pennies. You’re hard pressed to find a cheaper recipe than this. I was skeptical (I’m not a huge fan of carrots,) but I gave it a go in the name of frugality. It was a chance I do not regret.
I think what I love most about this dish is that it reminds me of how it doesn’t take a million steps or a thousand ingredients to make something wonderful. Some of the best dishes around are profound in their simplicity, in the same way that what shapes us most isn’t that new car or house, but the t-ball games and vacations to Grandma’s and Saturday-nights-in. Sometimes, the things that fill us emotionally or even spiritually are not the Major Events or Major Pricetags–just like a bowl of delicious, simple soup fills us physically better than the expensive hors d’oeuvres can.
Remembering what it’s like to laugh, re-meeting people we’ve known for ages but haven’t known in a long time, allowing ourselves a chance to reflect outside of the insanity of life–these are all things that happen around the easy dinners. That’s why comfort foods are things like macaroni and cheese–there aren’t any linen table clothes or expensive china, there’s no pretense or putting on airs–it’s just good, honest, satisfying food that lets you sit and catch up for hours and hours. The dish is just the vehicle to the healthy soul. I love that. I love that things don’t have to be fancy or difficult to be meaningful.
And it also doesn’t have to involve green beer…
Happy St. Patrick’s Day.
If you want to embrace the Irish and try “Homemade Vegetable Soup,” you can check it out for yourself on the drop-down menu under “Recipes.”