The Old Man On The Mountain

A View From the Backwoods of NH

St Paddy’s Day

Well, it’s just about that time again – time for green beer, Irish folk songs and dreams of catching a leprechaun, so you can make him take you to his “pot-o-gold”, And of course the traditional fare – corned beef and cabbage. I always laughed at Denis Leary’s description of how the Irish cook – “just toss it in a pot and boil it for a couple of days until all the flavor’s gone”.

In my younger days, the pub crawls around and on St Paddy’s day were a great break to the winter and a true sign of spring. Sampling the different music and foods they put out (in my day, hors d’oeuvres and happy hour treats were common) as well as the beer was a right of passage. And I was more than happy to participate – until the kids arrived. Because, after all, Irish hoe-downs are no place for kids.

And so it went that the week long celebrations came down to merely the day’s festivities – the corned beef, cabbage, potatoes and carrots. But, unlike the way I was raised, the Ex liked to do things in her traditional way – with a pressure cooker – a big-ass one at that. It was an expensive tool for the two or three times a year that we’d use it. But it cooked things “so much faster” – ha.

My Mom used to put a corned beef (or picnic shoulder) into a large pot and boil it for a couple of hours, take it out, then add the vegetables according to cooking time (potatoes first, then the carrots, then the cabbage, and when available, the parsnips). All told, it took about 3+ hours to make the meal.

But with a pressure cooker, the meat was done in a half hour and the veggies in about 15 minutes. Mind you, the was “cooking time”. It takes quite a while for a solid steel pot to warm up enough to start steaming – the key to pressure cooking. And that’s when you start timing the cooking. Then you have to let it cool, remove the cover (which always “sealed” on ours) take out the meat, re-oil the seal (in hopes the cover wouldn’t seal closed again) add the veggies (all of them) and set it to heating again, until it steamed, then start cooking the veggies – when the potatoes were done (and everything else was mush) you’d cool it, take off the cover and “voila” – dinner.

Oh, did I mention how difficult it was to wash that heavy steel SOB? Much worse than the pot my Mom used. And Mom’s veggies were all cooked just right – not “some cooked, some mush”. But hey, when you’re not doing the cooking, you take what you can get, right? And was it faster? Well, not to me. Maybe if we used that expensive piece of steel more than a few times a year it would have been worth the price. But to me, it was just a waste of money and a real pain in the ass to clean (my job).

The Ex was like that though – expensive tools that were never utilized to their full potential. Like her sewing machine, that could perform hundreds of different stitching patterns, but always broke every time she used it (it was a Husqvarna, so let me ask – tool or user?) . As time went on, I started picking up my own tools and taking over more of the responsibility – the kids seemed to appreciate when I cooked more than when she did anyway.

And in the end, it came back to the simple things in life – a big pot and timing. I love this time of year, because I love the taste of a St Paddy’s day meal. And I love baking the leftovers with almost enough butter to clog the arteries. Also, unlike days gone by, corned beef is cheaper than a picnic shoulder, and I LOVE corned beef (so do the dogs). But I think the thing I love the most is not having to share a bathroom with the Ex, or the EPA investigators knocking on our door after she’d been eating cabbage.

Happy St Paddy’s Day to all.