The Care and Keeping of an Irishman

First things first – I’d like to take a second to thank everyone who reads “View from an Irish Back Yard” for helping me to reach 100,000 views in the last seven years of blogging. It’s been fun! And you helped me get there. Now raise a glass to the next 100,000! 🙂

Now, on to the real post.

Frank and I have been “together” since late 2006, but actually “together,” as in living in the same town and being engaged/married for more like seven years (since this blog started!). I love how, at this stage of our relationship, I am finally able to cautiously predict some things and anticipate what surprises might make him happy.

Irish care package

Irish care package

At the heart of himself, Frank is – and always will be – a proud 100% born and bred Irishman. Being married to a Paddy brings its own unique set of rules for this American girl, and I am learning more of the delicate complexities every day.  Below I will outline a basic day’s routine to serve as a resource to other “mixed” Irish/American (or Australian, or Canadian, or whatever) relationships, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, of course. 🙂 *Disclaimer: this is of course another sweeping generalisation based on my own personal Irishman, and not to be taken too seriously for feck sake.

Lyon's tea for Christmas, from a wife who really knows her husband.

Lyon’s tea for Christmas, from a wife who really knows her husband.

1. Rise and shine.  Well, rise anyway. My sleepy giant does not like to be roused too early, or too late – give him at least half an hour to get ready for work.  Bring him a hot cup of tea with plenty of milk – Lyons is preferred, Barry’s a close second and, in a pinch, Trader Joe’s Irish Breakfast.  Yes, he can tell the difference. Do not disturb him while he listens to Ray D’Arcy’s live broadcast on his phone.  As he wakes, you can chat politics and current events from “back home” with him.

If it’s a weekend, a Full Irish Breakfast – or as near as you can manage – is a great idea (especially if beers were consumed the night before).  But you will have your work cut out finding rashersblack pudding (a.k.a. blood pudding) or white pudding.  You can make do with a couple pieces of American bacon, a couple breakfast sausages, Heinz baked beans, sautéed mushrooms, a fried egg, and toast.  Frank isn’t keen on the fried tomato, but that would be traditional.  For other breakfast variations, you can serve potato boxty, scones with butter and jam, porridge, or Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut Flakes.

Irish care package

Another Irish care package

2. Lunch. If he takes a packed lunch to work, as I try to coax him into doing 4 days a week, it should include 1 cheese sandwich (Kerrygold Irish butter and good Irish/English/Welsh cheddar cheese of any variety), a couple small Kit Kats (the Irish/UK ones), a package of Cheese&Onion crisps (potato chips), and a flask of tea if there’s none available at work. Frank likes to call this a “builder’s lunch,” but basically it’s exactly like what he took on painting jobs with his brother, Noel, or his dad, back in Drogheda. The butter must be Kerrygold, and spread thickly – you will be chastised for being too scant with the butter. Same with the cheese. No lettuce or anything green, please! If you have family or friends back home who will send you “real” Kit Kats, all the better, if not, some Oreos or other chocolatey cookies will do. I’ve tried my hand at making chocolate digestives from scratch, and the result wasn’t half bad.  World Market and Amazon are pretty good sources of ex-pat foods, but at a dear price!

Lunch may involve listening to more Irish radio and having irreverent banter. Must have bone-dry sense of humor and cheeky comebacks.  I’m still working on this.

If yours is interested in sports, he/she may be checking “the match,” which could mean soccer (football), gaelic football, hurling, or rugby.  In the Kelly family, they’d pay more attention to the cycling, and would be checking on up the Tour de France or the Rás.

Lyon's tea and home made chocolate digestive biscuits

Lyon’s tea and home made chocolate digestive biscuits

Upon arriving home from work, it’s another cup of tea, and probably a biscuit or two.

3. Tea Time. This can be anywhere from 5 p.m. on and is not like an English High Tea – this is basically slang for supper. A typical Irish dinner for my Irishman would be sausages, potato waffles and baked beans. As with other traditionally breakfast meats, American sausages are different from the typical Irish sausage. And potato waffles do not exist in the States, at least not that I’ve found, and my only attempt to recreate them was disastrous.  Nor will you easily find Chef Brown Sauce, which is not the same as A1 Sauce (to which it is usually compared). When I tried making my own brown sauce, from a recipe shared by a reputable Irish friend, my results were even more disastrous than the potato waffles.  Imagine sweet, vinegary toffee that took several days to be dislodged from the saucepan. Yeah.

Shepherd's Pie

Shepherd’s Pie

Other dinners might be fish, chips, peas or baked beans, and maybe an egg.  Fish fingers/sticks are fine. Chicken curries are a standby (lucky, in our current neck of the woods). Shepherd’s Pie is also a favorite (though, technically, we make ours more of a cottage pie, with either beef or Quorn mince.  A true Shepherd’s Pie uses lamb). Stew always goes down easy, though Frank says everyone has their own unique stew, and mine is not like his mother’s, nor his Nan’s.  (I find it hard to grasp the logistics or pleasing effect of the latter, in that she boiled ground beef and whole sausages in a pot to make her “stew.”)

No leftovers of my stew

No leftovers of my stew

Then there are the potatoes.  Oh, the holy spud.  Frank does still insist that I make his Nan’s mashed potatoes, and that means only two ingredients: potatoes and about 1/2 cup of Kerrygold butter.  I know there are a hundred recipes out there for Colcannon (mashed potatoes and cabbage) or Champ (mashed potatoes and spring onions) but in our house, Heaven forbid I mess with the purist’s ideal of what mash should be.  I can occasionally sneak in a little hot milk, but that’s about it.  Then there are the roasties.  Now, I am proud of my roast potato skills, and I learned from the best – Frank’s mammy, June. These aren’t just tired old potatoes you throw in next to the chicken.  These are potatoes that are peeled, parboiled, shaken up a bit to give them rough edges, then dropped in a pan of sizzling hot fat and left in the oven to roast to a crispy turn, dark golden on the outside, fluffy in the middle.  If it’s a weekend and I’m making a traditional roast dinner of chicken, ham, pork, lamb, or beef, I must make roasties.

After dinner, another cup of tea.

4. Time for pudding.  After Sunday tea in Frank’s parents’ home, pudding (a.k.a. dessert) could be an apple tart, trifle or a swiss roll, but would most likely be HB ice cream and a wafer.  His mam might ask how much you wanted, i.e. a six penny slice, three penny slice, etc., which refers to days gone by when you’d go to the corner shop and they’d slice you a particular penny’s worth of ice cream and sandwich it between two thin wafers.

Pavlova

Pavlova

At our house, I’ve been trying to keep it a bit more interesting than the norm, when I’ve got the energy.  I love desserts, especially those I’ve seen on cooking shows from around Ireland, the UK or Australia, so if I make a Sunday roast, particularly for guests, I try to top it off with something like a Pavlova, sticky toffee pudding, rhubarb crumble and custard, or Victoria Sandwich.  Soooo good (and so bold!).

5. Relaxed evenings and a bit of craic.  OK, so we’re parents now, and not living in Ireland anymore, as you know, so there aren’t many trips to the pub to meet friends or other kinds of socializing in the community.  At least not yet. As soon as dinner is over at our house, sometimes before it’s even begun, we are chasing kids around, my Irishman often sending them verbal warnings like “That’s it, you’re sleeping in the coal bunker tonight” or “You’ll be getting the slaps now in a minute.” Only those who truly know the Irish culture can accept these statements with a big grain of salt.  My husband, like his father, is a teddy bear whose bark is usually worse than his bite. 🙂  Still, getting those kids in bed and asleep every night is quite a feat, no matter what side of the pond you live on.

Then and only then do we get to put our feet up.  If it’s a weekend, there is drink in the house, and usually up to me to supply it.  Frank likes his Guinness, and occasionally Jameson, but will imbibe in a microbrew or two just as happily. Even when we were leaving Ireland in 2013, more and more microbreweries were beginning to open and horizons were broadened way beyond the stuff of St. James’ Gate.  Then it’s time for a movie, or TV, and often we catch a few episodes of shows from the homeland, such as RTE’s Nationwide, or the Late Late Show, BBC’s Top Gear, Q.I. with Stephen Fry, or Graham Norton, or Channel 4’s Grand Designs or Time Team. For though my Irishman is acclimating nicely to life in the USA, he still misses chuckling over jokes from home, and I, thank God, am finally starting to get them, too. 🙂 If it’s a weeknight, and we didn’t have dessert, we’d more likely be drinking tea and having “a biscuit or a bun,” like the aforementioned chocolate digestives or something like a Battenberg cake, which I have attempted once.

Battenburg cake

Battenberg cake

The short version. So, basically, if you’re married to an Irishman, or woman, and living abroad, there are a few key things you can do to make the distance from home a bit softer. (Remember, I’ve been on the other side of this, as well!) I recommend showing your love for him/her by attempting to find or make the things he/she misses most. This could be food, like the stuff I’ve mentioned all throughout this post, but it could be TV shows, music, radio broadcasts, and sports they love. It can also be taking time to just slow down and enjoy their company. America is much faster-paced than Ireland, especially rural Ireland, and we miss out on everyday habits like walking into town, meeting a friend for a pint, stopping by the folks’ house, or hearing the church bells across town ringing for noon Mass.

Obviously, not all of these moments can be reproduced on foreign soil, but you can start small. Go for a walk on the beach with your dog. Find his favourite old Planxty CD and put it on in the car. Try to tone down all the distractions on a weekend and just hang out on the couch for a “duvet day” with books and cups of tea and the contents of a care package from Mam. You may find, like me, that Ireland has rubbed off a lot more on you, than America has on your spouse.  And sure, where’s the harm in that?

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3 thoughts on “The Care and Keeping of an Irishman

  1. I live near a large expat Brit/Irish community and the local grocery store has an entire shelf of UK items. I believe I have seen Chef’s Brown Sauce along with Lyle’s Golden Syrup, wine gums, lemon curds and marmalades and Sharwood’s curry sauces of various sorts. Sure I can’t ship you a jar?

    • Aw, thank you Amanda! I would totally take you up on your offer, except that we have family visiting in a couple of weeks who are bringing some sauce with them. 🙂 What store is it, if you don’t mind me asking? We’ve definitely seen golden syrup etc in stores here, at a premium, but never chef’s brown sauce! Thanks again.

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