Blowin’ In: A St. Patrick’s Day Feast for the Heart
By Susan Mangan
Sifting is the baker’s secret to sponge cakes that float like air and perfectly balanced rustic Irish breads. Unsifted, the mixture can result in pockets of baking soda that leave behind a bitter taste on one’s tongue, while the sweetness of port-soaked raisins vanishes like the sun in an early spring storm.
The baker loves to feel the gentle yielding of the dough beneath her warm hands. Apron covered in flour and delicate beads of sweat forming on her brow, the baker knows the honesty behind bread wrought in tradition.
Last summer as young lambs mewed in the morning light of her uncle’s Irish field, my husband’s cousin baked fresh scones. Using her hands to sift the delicate ingredients, she turned out dozens of perfectly crafted pastry. As I watched her bake, I brewed small cups of strong coffee for us on the stove. While the scones were fragrant and warm from the oven, we sipped coffee and ate the flaky biscuits, enjoying the peace of an Irish morning.
Truly, I am blessed to be part of a family who is Irish in word, deed, and tradition. Like my husband, his cousin is first generation Irish-American, but her Irish roots ground her to the earth and extend across the seas.
Covered in flour and laughing her broad laugh, the cousin’s large brown eyes shine with love as well as a touch of mischief. Somehow, the very essence of her Irish heritage radiates from her every gesture.
When I first met my husband, he was unlike anyone I had ever met before. Not only did he attempt to serenade me with a traditional Irish song, he also had the most amazing black hair. I could not separate his Irish heritage from his physical presence or the authenticity of his heart.
Last summer during our trip to Ireland, my husband and I traveled aboard a ferry to visit his cousin who lives on the island of Inishturk. As the ferry pulled away from the quay, my husband’s still black hair blew in the wind and stood out against the rugged cliffs and the vast blue sky. Again, I felt my heart tug. It is impossible to separate the Irish from that which makes them complete: their laughter, the poetic lilt of their words, their music, the honesty of their food.
Although this was not our first journey to Ireland, the smell of the ocean and her fish, the anticipation of a warming bowl of seafood chowder followed by the tang of briny sharp oysters brought us back to our honeymoon, twenty-some years ago. We still can recount our most memorable meals, enjoying the novelty of one another, while tucking in to bowls and bowls of fresh Irish seafood.
It is not surprising that my husband and I venture to great lengths to find fresh food worthy of consumption. We were “foodies” before this hobby became chic. One rainy day during our June honeymoon, we parked our rented red Ford Festiva in front of the Monk’s Pub in County Clare.
Rain poured out of grey skies. Entering the pub, we were greeted with a blazing turf fire and sat with other guests who lived both near and far. We gathered around old oak trestle tables slurping mussels from lichen-covered shells, licking the rich buttery broth from our fingers. Whether it was the comfort of the Guinness or the heat of the fire, this meal was all we needed for sustenance.
When I wish to recreate a cozy Irish meal, my husband and I need travel no farther than Kate’s Fish, located in Cleveland’s historic West-Side Market, Stand #F-12, F-13. Having bought out Navillus – the previous owners of the seafood stand in 2001, Kate McIntyre knew that the success of a small business relies on the basic philosophy of knowledge, quality product, and engaging display.
For years, my husband and I have bought the highest quality seafood at Kate’s and have never been disappointed. During one of our shopping trips, we were greeted by a tall young man in a Donegal knit hat. In his orange fishing waders, he cut a charming figure indeed.
Drawn to anyone with an Irish connection, my husband and the friendly fishmonger soon began to exchange stories about Gaelic football. Meanwhile, I was mentally crafting my Sunday fish stew replete with mussels, clams, pristine fillets of halibut, lobster tail, and shrimp. Oh, the culinary glory of it all. Who needs corned beef brisket on St. Patrick’s Day when the rugged oceans of Ireland beckon?
During each of our weekly visits to Kate’s, we purchased fresh Irish salmon and Scottish sea trout. Moreover, we got to know a bit about Tom McIntyre and his affinity for Ireland.
From the formative age of 14, Tom knew that the bounty of the Irish seas spoke to him. During a family trip to Donegal, Tom visited Downings Village across from Fanad’s Peninsula. Known as a prime crabbing area, an uncle brought young Tom to view large bubbling vats filled with seawater and a multitude of crab.
Eyes wide with a touch of fear in his heart that if he should happen to fall into those vats, those crabs may eat him faster than he could devour them; Tom knew that that moment would always stay with him. The Irish may leave the land of their ancestors, but the indelible spirit of the place remains in their heart.
Partnering with his mother Kate in the family-owned seafood stand, Tom knows his product and ensures that a variety of fish, shellfish, and delicious prepared foods are available every business day. Customers can purchase whole fish as well as freshly caught shellfish and foraged oysters. Tom enjoys getting to know his diverse clientele and their seafood preferences.
Every Irish story is wrapped in poetry, serendipity, and a bit of romance. Each week, a lovely girl with long ash blond hair would stop by Kate’s to purchase shrimp. Over time, Tom began to realize that the girl was interested in more than the shellfish.
Soon, the couple began to date, and love blossomed beyond the seafood case. Tom brought Madalyn back to Ireland to meet his family in Donegal. As Madalyn stepped out of the car on the summit of a sweeping hill, she was met by the wary eyes of a man who appeared to be wielding a knife.
An American visitor new to Ireland, she didn’t quite know what to say when he queried, “Do I know you?” Madalyn simply said, “I’m with Tom.” And indeed she was.
The curious man offered her a stale Kit-Kat and went on his way. Tom whisked Madalyn off south to Ashford Castle, where he proposed marriage, and they enjoyed a romantic meal featuring what else, but wild Irish seafood.
This St. Patrick’s Day, do a little sifting, separate the shenanigans from the true spirit of the Irish, uncover a heartwarming story or two. And may I suggest, that you host a dinner for your nearest and dearest featuring fresh, organic Irish salmon from Kate’s Fish. Please, do tell Tom that I sent you, and he may offer you a lovely lemon with your fish.
*Susan holds a Master’s Degree in English from John Carroll University and a Master’s Degree in Education from Baldwin-Wallace University. She may be contacted at email@example.com.