Racine St. Patrick's Day Parade, 2007

I’m not even a little bit Irish, but I love St. Patrick’s Day. I love Irish history and literature and music — especially James Joyce and Van Morrison — and for me, St. Patrick’s Day is the official threshold of spring. The peaty smell of the thawing soil and the drab green of the spongy turf are perfectly complimented by a pint of Guinness, stewed lamb and potatoes, a simple drum and some hypnotically droning violin.

The only problem with St. Patrick’s Day is that it usually falls on a work day, so there ‘s very little time for any proper celebration. This year, however, with March 17 on a Saturday, I was determined to go greater lengths than usual.

First and foremost, I wanted a real Irish stew. I like corned beef all right in other settings, but the traditional Irish-American boiled dinner does nothing for me. A little Googling turned up a page of background information and an authentic Irish stew recipe that looked terrific.

The next step was finding some quality fresh lamb. Here in Racine, this can be a daunting mission. Most supermarkets carry little to no lamb, and even our favorite butcher shop, Brossman’s Meat Market, only had frozen product on hand right now at the high season of lamb. My one, never-fail, outstanding lamb source, Pinn-Oak Ridge Farms, is located almost an hour west in Delavan. I phoned the owners, Steve & Darlene Pinnow, and they practically bent over backwards to find me some of their rack chops for Saturday, eventually pointing me to Metcalfe’s Sentry Foods in Wauwatosa.

Since that would put us in greater Milwaukee anyway, I next tracked down an authentic Irish breakfast, offered by Mo’s Irish Pub, downtown on Wisconsin Avenue. Arriving around 9:00 a.m., we found the place packed and rollicking with green-shirted students drinking green beer and a band in the back playing Irish folk music. We drank coffee and waited for a table upstairs, and the breakfast was pretty good. The eggs, which would usually be sunny-side up, were scrambled instead, and the rashers were overly salty, but they were real rashers nonetheless and there was some tasty white pudding and black pudding and some bangers just dripping with porky goodness. It really hit the spot.

We picked up our beautiful lamb chops in Wauwatosa, stashed them in the fridge back home in Racine, and headed downtown for Racine’s first annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade — an impressively well-attended event despite the chilly wind. The parade itself was short and unspectacular, but still a fun time and something to build on for next year. We only caught one band — Scottish bagpipers in Scottish kilts. It was something, anyway.

Irish stew: Lamb chops, carrots, and onions in Dutch ovenPictured: Browned lamb rack chops, white boiler onions, and carrots layered inside our Dutch oven before stock and potatoes are added.

Back at home, Amy assembled the stew and I baked some soda bread. Our one-year-old niece was visiting, and she seemed to enjoy the potatoes mashed up with the carrots and the small white boiler onions. The stew was outstanding — even better reheated on Sunday — and I saved a copy of Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe Irish Stew recipe to my hard drive in case it disappears from the Web.

I drank my Jameson Irish Whiskey neat and it was smooth and good as ever, but the Guinness was a little disappointing. The little gas capsule they include now in both the bottles and the cans doesn’t do a very good job of foaming the brew. Also, it takes up additional room inside the ever-smaller bottles and cans which keep going up in price. I’m sure by next year I’ll be draining two bottles to fill a pint and paying $6 for the privilege. No wonder Ireland’s economy is booming.

All in all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable holiday, and I highly recommend both the Irish Stew recipe and the fresh Wisconsin lamb of Pinn-Oak Ridge Farms.

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