I love to celebrate St. Patrick's day because my mom loves to celebrate St. Patrick's day. I have particularly fond memories of waking up in the room I shared with my sister to discover a Kermit-the-frog piggy bank my mother had placed on our pillows one March 17th morning. I love celebrating St. Patrick's day because it makes me think of my mother's mother, a woman I never really knew, but who's life-story I've pieced together from my mother's tales, aged family photos and my grandfather's fond remembrances.
The story begins with a "fiery Irish girl" named Mary Rose who lived in the same apartment complex as my grandfather. The only girl in her class at Sacred Heart's all-girls graduating class NOT invited to join the sisterhood, our cousin O'Donnell confessed as we came across a curling snapshot of my grandmother at age 16. She was one of 7 siblings but an orphan most of her life, never quite reached 5', had dark hair and bright blue eyes. Eyes that she passed on to my mother and sister, and held a touch of mischievousness even as she sat for her formal bridal portrait. She had a best friend named 'Mugsy', somehow made her way to Los Angeles and despite the Great Depression, managed to find love with an ornery engineer from Texas who lived in the aforementioned apartment complex.
I love celebrating St. Patrick's day because it gives me a sense of connection, a sense of roots and culture and of belonging - not just to a particularly green island in the north Atlantic, or pipes, flutes and fiddles, Guinness or Jameson's, but to family. Family I didn't necessarily know, but is a part of me and who I am - not just where I come from.
I also love celebrating St. Patrick's day with the tastes of my family history. Though I sadly don't have any recipes passed down from my grandmother for the occasion, I've been working on a few of my own. So far they include tasty Irish-inspired food and time with the family I'm lucky enough to have around. Last night was quite the feast, roasted lamb, shepherd's pie, mashed potatoes, red cabbage salad, brown bread and my mother's contribution of delicious soda bread and my dad's contribution of a few rounds of rummy. The ending was particularly sweet, though. A decadently moist and rich Guinness chocolate cake and David Liebovitz's milk chocolate Guinness ice cream. To really up the ante, next time I think I'll replace a tablespoon or two of the cream with Irish cream. And yes, you only frost the top so the cake resembles a pint of Guinness.
Chocolate Guinness Cake
from the New York Times
For the cake:
Butter for pan
1 cup Guinness stout
10 tablespoons (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
3/8 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 cups superfine sugar
3/8 cup sour cream
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
For the topping:
1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar
8 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
1/2 cup heavy cream.
1. For the cake: heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch spring form pan and line with parchment paper. In a large saucepan, combine Guinness and butter. Place over medium-low heat until butter melts, then remove from heat. Add cocoa and superfine sugar, and whisk to blend.
2. In a small bowl, combine sour cream, eggs and vanilla; mix well. Add to Guinness mixture. Add flour and baking soda, and whisk again until smooth. Pour into buttered pan, and bake until risen and firm, 45 minutes to one hour. Place pan on a wire rack and cool completely in pan.
3. For the topping: Using a food processor or by hand, mix confectioners' sugar to break up lumps. Add cream cheese and blend until smooth. Add heavy cream, and mix until smooth and spreadable.
4. Remove cake from pan and place on a platter or cake stand. Ice top of cake only, so that it resembles a frothy pint of Guinness.
Yield: One 9-inch cake (12 servings).