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"One of my great-great-grandmothers was of Irish descent, a tiny lady with, I'm told, long, thick tresses of reddish-brown hair and a tongue that could take the hide off a cat. According to my grandmother, when Grandma Bertie lit into an errant child or adult for sins of omission or commission, the entire household took flight until it was over. I've seen faded sepia photographs of Bertie, and it's hard to imagine that someone so tiny could have people quaking in their boots, but even my 92-year-old mother, who was still a very small child when Bertie died, has indelible memories of being scaldingly chastised by Bertie for her tomboyish ways and unseemly behavior. She recalls a long, hot summer afternoon spent standing in a corner at Bertie's house after being told in no uncertain terms that little girls do not hang upside down from tree branches showing the world their pantaloons!As I understand it, Bertie was born in northern Ireland and spent her childhood there. When she was in her teens, her parents did what so many others had done: They left Ireland altogether and sailed off for America in search of better jobs and better living conditions. The question of religious freedom or escape from the religious conflicts that were even then creating constant troubles didn't seem to be an issue. They were not Catholic and, as nearly as I can tell, not even particularly religious in any sense, and from the little I've gleaned from family recollections, I'm unable to determine whether this was a factor in their flight to this country.Sharp-nosed, sharp-tongued, square-jawed and skinny, Bertie was nevertheless twice married, first to an Englishman she apparently met either during their passage here or very soon after, and later, after his death, to a formidable looking Scotsman with a huge mustache. She had a child or two each time, thereby creating the hodgepodge of English, Scottish and Irish that I consider to be the background of my roots. (On my father's side, they all go back to England and Iceland, with little or no mixing up with those others along the way).No, it's not just because St. Patrick's Day is coming up that I bring all this up and thereby lay claim to some o' the Irish in me. It's really because I've just finished reading Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt's chronicle of his childhood in Ireland, an alternately uplifting and depressing story. It's hard to imagine that someone growing up in such miserable poverty can write of those years without total bitterness and anger, yet McCourt seems able to get beyond the wretchedness and show us both the irony and humor of life as it must have been for so many Irish people then, and perhaps even now. But, as I was reading Angela's Ashes, I repeatedly came upon odd little expressions and customs, bits of Irish that I've both seen and heard repeated in my own family but never knew or even thought about where they came from.Now, I have no idea whether great-great grandmother Bertie and her family lived the life of squalor that McCourt's family endured and left Ireland because of it, but I do feel I now have a little better understanding of that small part of my family background. And there's one more thing I'm quite sure of after reading Angela's Ashes, and it's this....it ain't easy being Irish!RecipesSure and you'll be having corned beef and cabbage on Friday, right? Well, it's long been one of my favorite meals, St. Pattie's Day or no, with Reuben sandwiches from the leftovers. But there are many, many other fine Irish treats you could indulge in to celebrate the day, if you wish. Remember, Ireland is an island surrounded by seas, and seafood is as much a staple in the cuisine of Ireland as the ubiquitous potato. Grill some shrimp or prawns and serve them with colcannon (mashed potatoes with cabbage and/or turnip added) or haggerty (fried cakes of sliced potato and onion) and follow up with Irish Coffee and a dish of Irish Whiskey Pudding. Or, if you really want to stun your guests with a very traditional Irish dish, whip up this little number, a sort of pudding that is either a breakfast accompaniment to eggs or a side dish at a dinner of smoked salmon and champ (mashed potatoes with garlic and hot butter). Irish White Pudding2 1/2 lbs. medium ground pork butt21/2 lbs. fine ground pork butt5 cups plain bread crumbs4 eggs, slightly beaten8 cloves pressed garlic1 T. salt3 t. each, thyme, basil, marjoram and black pepper2 cups ice waterMix all ingredients thoroughly, keeping cold. Pat into small, compact patties and refrigerate overnight before freezing. When ready to use, thaw (if frozen) and fry to a golden brown. Serve immediately.(Recipe from the Irish Food Board)And of course you'll be wantin' some lovely Irish scones. I leave it to you to tell the difference from lovely Scottish scones.Blarney Scones3 cups flour3 T. sugar1 t. baking soda1/2 t. salt6 T. chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces1 egg, slightly beaten3/4 cup plus about 3 T. more buttermilk (see instructions)1/3 cup dried currants, raisins or cranberriesIn a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. Add butter and mix until mixture resembles fine cornmeal. Mix in dried fruit. Mix in egg and enough buttermilk to form a soft dough. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and pat into a 3/4-inch thick round. Cut out rounds with a 2 1/2-inch cookie cutter, making additional rounds from scraps.Lightly flour a baking sheet and transfer scones to sheet. Brush tops with milk. Bake in a preheated 425 degree oven until scones are golden brown and cooked through, about 16-20 minutes. Serve warm with butter or, if you're well-to-do, who-cares-about-fat Irish, serve with whipped cream and homemade jam. Makes 12-15.I'd wish you all the luck o' the Irish, but after reading Angela's Ashes, I'm not sure that would be a good thing to do, so I'll just wish you a pleasant St. Patrick's Day, Irish or no. "

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