The closest thing I have to having Irish in me is a tattoo on my left arm that is Celtic in origin but art nouveau in appearance. Yes, it’s an armband and yes I got in the early 90’s, who didn’t? I think the year was 1991 and the place was Seattle. My friend Non and I took the Green Tortoise, i.e. hippie bus, from Berkeley to Seattle and then a Greyhound from Seattle to Vancouver. We were 20 and adventurous.
We stayed in a couple of hostels (I think) and wandered aimlessly. One of the few things I recall is that we lived off of fast food fish and chips from some joint that was swarming with hungry seagulls and getting got lost in downtown Seattle. While trying to figure out where to go next on our map a little old lady walked up this pair of greasy haired, pierced, tattooed girls with army issue backpacks and offered her assistance. I’ll never forget how nice she was. That was my first real impression of Seattle.
I don’t know if I was set to get a tattoo in Seattle or not, but once we got there the urge was overwhelming and it HAD to be Celtic. Did you notice what year this was? But as we know, I don’t necessarily like to follow trends, so it also had to be unique. Non and I spent hours in the bookstore and then hours in the library looking for the perfect design. What I found is something I have yet to see in any other book. The design comes from an artifact. A Celtic carving found on a scabbard discovered I wish I knew exactly where and when. Non and I purchased the thousand page book, took it the tattoo artist, whose name was Hubba Hubba by the way, and then, of course, promptly returned the book.
Hubba Hubba was a, not surprisingly, chubby little man. He sweated profusely as he was tattooing my arm and charged me only fifty bucks. He said, “because your hot”. Uh, ok?
That tattoo is set a little lower on my left arm than your typical armband and is not as ornate as the original photograph (it would have bled into a big blob) and it is, by far, the tattoo I get the most compliments on. Especially from women, for some reason.
All I really remember about the Canada part of our trip are two things. Sitting in the queue on the Greyhound bus waiting to get into Canada and watching a man and a woman run for their dear lives from (or was it to?) the border, and being held at the border when returning to the States. I had a passport (and had no problems), but Non didn’t. We are both brown and I guess they thought she was trying to deport from Canada. Does that even happen?
In honor of the Irish in (or on) all of us I made Irish Lamb Stew and Irish Soda Bread for St. Patty’s Day, with a tiny bit of a Mediterranean twist.
Irish Lamb Stew
Adapted from Epicurious
I went a little heavy on the spices and condiments, but, as you’ll see from the measurements, I’ve given you the option of going a little lighter.
This was, by far, the best stew I’ve ever made.
What you’ll need~
A handful or two of flour to coat your lamb
1/4-1/2 cup olive oil
1-1/2 – 2 lbs lamb from a leg cut into 1-inch pieces
3-4 whole cloves of garlic, peeled
4 cups beef stock
1/2 cup Guinness
1/2 cup red wine
2-4 tablespoons tomato paste
1-2 tablespoons dried sage
1-2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2-4 bay leaves
3-4 tablespoons Irish butter
6-7 cups russet potatoes, sliced and halved
1 shallot thinly sliced
1 large onion sliced and halved
2 cups carrots cut or chopped into chunks
Pat each chunk of lamb dry with a paper towel and then dredge through flour. Heat the olive oil in your largest pot over medium heat. Add lamb and shallots and sauté until brown on all sides. About 5 minutes. Stir in stock, beer, wine, tomato paste, dried sage, Worcestershire sauce and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Let cook for an hour stirring occasionally.
In the meantime, melt butter in your next largest pot over medium heat. Add potatoes, onions and carrots. Sauté until veggies are softened and golden. About 20 minutes.
Add vegetables to stew and simmer uncovered for another 40 minutes. You want your lamb to melt like butter on your tongue.
Sprinkle with a handful of parsley and serve hot.
Irish Soda Bread
Adapted from Epicurious
This bread also turned out amazingly well. I used chopped dried figs instead of the traditional currants. Feel free to use whatever dried fruit that turns you on.
What you’ll need~
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 cups whole-wheat flour
1/2-cup raw honey
1-tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1-teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup or so Irish butter, cut into cubes
1 cup dried figs, chopped
2 1/2 cups buttermilk
Preheat your oven to 350 and butter a large loaf pan or two smaller loaf pans. You can also grease a baking sheet and form the dough into a boule.
In a large bowl whisk the flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda. Add butter. Use your fingers to break the butter apart in the flour (one of my favorite things ever). Rub until the flour become coarse and crumby. Stir in dried fig pieces.
In a separate bowl, whisk buttermilk and eggs. Briefly warm your honey on the stove or in the microwave until it is just softened. Whisk honey into buttermilk and eggs.
Stir wet mix into flour mixture until well blended.
Pour dough into bread pan(s) and use a small knife to cut and X or X’s into the top.
Bake bread for about an hour and 15 minutes rotating pan halfway through.
Serve with a generous smear of Irish butter.