Monday, March 20, 2017

Three's A Charm

Holding a chocolate-mint
pudding "planted" with fresh
mint, I embraced the color
of the holiday by donning
an emerald fascinator 
It turns out that this is my third post about Saint Patrick's Day dinner parties I've hosted in celebration of leprechauns with pots of gold since I launched this blog after losing 70 pounds in 2011. My posts in 2012 and 2013 featured a common main course: a seven-pound beef brisket which I "corned" myself in the days leading up to the dinner, accompanied by carrots, beets and cabbage. What I varied among those previous dinners, besides the guest list, was the appetizer, the pre-dinner libation, the starch and the dessert. This year, my entrée once again featured my special "uncorned" corned beef, as I seem to have hit upon a real winner of a St. Patrick's Day recipe. 

For my part, I don't have a shred of Irish in me, save for the name given to me by my mother: Lynell, the root of which is a Gaelic term for the still, deep pool at the bottom of a waterfall. I didn't like the name for many years, but it eventually grew on me.

I was once an unenthusiastic fan of the color green outside of nature, although I believed my aversion to the hue was a (fairly) well kept secret. So I was surprised when, after selecting a bracelet of kukui nuts dyed a bright Kelly green while perusing fashions in a little shop in Charleston, South Carolina, with my best friend, Kari, and her mom in 2016, Kari exclaimed: "I thought you didn't like green!" Who knew she knew?

I have since come to embrace green to a certain extent, although you still won't see much of it adorning the rooms in my old farmhouse. An exception is made for my annual St. Patrick's Day dinner, however. The branches of budding blooms and bouquets of faux flowers which adorn mantel, chandelier and candle rings in almost every room this time of year boast the springy pigment in a big way, as does the tablescape I prepare for friends and family in honor of Irish luck.

But first, the invitation. I designed a cheerful summons featuring shamrocks and Celtic borders and printed it out on crisp white card stock. Fastening the envelope with a gold seal of melted wax embossed with my monogram, I whisked the greeting away via the post office to my cousin, Claudia, and her family, who only live about an hour south of me in the suburbs of Washington, DC.

I love sending formal invitations to my affairs for several reasons. For one, they're fun to get!  An invitation arriving in the mail sets a tone for a festive evening ahead, and I believe it lights a spark of anticipation for those who slide the salutation out of its envelope, curiosity piqued. Second, it gives an air of formality to the occasion, providing a definitive start time, a request for an RSVP, and other instructions helpful to both host and guest. Lastly, an invitation arriving in the mail honors a guest by displaying the esteem in which that guest is surely held by the host who went to the trouble to issue it.  I have found it far likelier that the recipient of a formal invitation will remember the date of my event. Besides, invitations are fun to make and send!
Anjou-champagne punch is scented
with cinnamon syrup and lined with
slices of blood orange, navel orange,
lemon and lime

Next, the menu. While I do keep the basic corned beef recipe and its attendant veggies the same from year to year, I like to mix up the rest of the meal. In past years, I've greeted my guests with peach-scented Bellinis as they walked in the door.  This year a gorgeous Anjou champagne punch made a convivial greeting and, because two children were also on my guest list, a non-alcoholic sparkling pear juice made its debut.

Claudia and her husband, Phil, brought lovely appetizers to supplement the simple dolmades and olive assortment I offered: a trio of bell peppers arranged on a platter to resemble a three-leaf clover, each hollowed out and filled with a different dip, along with crudités for scooping out the creamy goodness from each green vessel, and a plate on which thin wafers rested, each adorned with a tiny wedge of scrumptious imported Irish Kilaree cheddar and a dribble of red pepper jelly. Yum!

The children, Riehen, 12, and his ten-year-old sister, Anya, played outside, hurling snowballs at each other in my yard, while I plated the last of the dishes I would be serving and lit candles on the table. I was gratified to hear oohs and aahs as we all took our seats in the dining room, made cozy by a fire crackling in my woodstove. To add to the festive atmosphere, I had adorned the table with a scattering of paper shamrocks, green and crystal "gems" and foil-wrapped gelt, all meant to evoke the prosperity associated with March's seasonal elf and the riches he is sure to bestow upon all who believe in his pot of gold.

Because Riehen and his sister have remarkably sophisticated palates for youngsters, I was delighted to intrigue them by offering a variety of mustards to accompany the beef, as well as four different vinegars in labeled cruets for the cabbage, so they could experiment with flavors.
The first snow of winter had dumped
six inches in my yard just
three days earlier 
Even two kinds of horseradish, plain and red beet, were served!  The children did not disappoint.  Each wanted to try all the vinegars, among them sherry, red wine, champagne and balsamic, as well as the mustards: whole grain, Dijon, and standard yellow. The adults at the table likewise dug into the meal with gusto, which was extremely gratifying to me as their host.

For dessert I served individual chocolate mint puddings in tiny glass pots, each "planted" with a sprig of fresh mint in brown cookie "dirt", as the adults enjoyed sips of Baileys Irish Cream with their after-dinner coffee.
My "un-corned" beef brisket was
rubbed with a heady mix of spices and
herbs before braising in a mixture
of orange juice and beer

There just isn't anything like playing to an enthusiastic audience and, as a work-at-home single gal who spends an awful lot of time in total solitude, an evening spent in the company of family members, who make no secret of the enjoyment they derive in spending their precious time with me, makes me feel rich, indeed. No pot of gold needed!

“There is a hidden message in every waterfall. It says, if you are flexible, falling will not hurt you!” 
Mehmet Murat ildan

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