Filmed on Location in Beautiful Downtown Sellwood
Soundtrack: Christy Moore – The Box Set 1964-2004
“It’s easy to halve potatoes where there’s love” – Irish proverb
That the evening should be cold and wet was fitting. A powerful wind lorded over a bone-mining weather. Despite the imprisoning freeze, the night appeared alive: muck on the bark shimmered like shafts of silver light; the pools of Oaks Bottom shuddered to an impenetrable rhythm.
And the sky was half clear, a full coin of moonlight slighting the folks below. A dark figure darts down Tenino, in his fist a clear bag of two sweet potatoes, a roll of paper towels tucked under his arm. "The moors, the moors," he mumbles, as the stiff collar rubs against his bristled skull. Icy mist needles his face. "Give us a jar of poichin," he shouts blindly at a banshee -- for what else could have stirred these wicked winds?
He forges ahead. The four corners of the intersection scream at him. The concrete cracks and upends. Streetlamps pop. The clouds and the moon vanish. He clutches the groceries tightly. Straight on to the beacon above the front step, he rattles the doorknob with his key.
Now in the warmth of the living room, Christy Moore murmuring through the speakers, the figure was me, slipping out of the night’s coat and stepping lightly to the kitchen. Tonight is a Sellwood Kitchen night, and potatoes, red and sweet, are the main ingredients. Just as my Irish grandmother (herself being born on St. Patrick’s Day!) worked her alchemy on the hearty (excepting for the blight) potato, with the Westminster Chimes vibrating from the clock in the sitting room, Erin prepared to fashion potatoes into pancakes, Tom Petty's chiming guitars electrifying the air.
Ah potatoes! The curse and cure of Ireland! I’m an O’Shaughnessy, a pleasant burden Erin’s taken on (by which I mean the name, not her husband). For a twelve-letter name, it’s actually quite easy to spell. Our branch of the O’Shaughnessys, descended from the last pagan king if Ireland (we lost the crown, but some of us kept the paganism), hailed from County Limerick, where they were neither landowners nor noblemen (not to say they weren’t noble men – and if you want to argue, you’ll get a pug in the snot for your troubles!). As many of these stories go, my grandfather with my grandmother’s brothers sailed to New York, or thereabouts, in the early 1900s, and almost 100 years later, here I am telling you about it, from my New World, Oregon.
And still eating potatoes. In these difficult times (I’ve heard a bollix or two call it “a soft economy”), consider the potato! Relatively thrifty, exceedingly variable, positively healthy (high in potassium and Vitamin C), the potato’s your only man!
I could go overboard with the Irish in this episode…
Ah, no, don’t.
…as I had begun with an earlier draft, where I took notice of this being the March edition, the month of the commercialized Celt. We could flow down this green river over flotsam of mythology, jetsam of hyperbole, and past a few sprites of history. And perhaps we will. I am, after all, one known to blather on about my heritage, imagined and otherwise.
O, jaysus! Here he goes…
Pipe down, the lot of you! Sure I've told you of that time in Dublin years ago when I wandered off the Vico Road and stumbled into a fairy ring where I slumbered and dreamed I'd fallen in with a mad tribe from Ballybrack, sampling the dark stuff then hurdling into some bushes across the road from Enya’s estate and afterwards scaling the gate of the Canadian embassy to sing “Pride in the Name of Love” to Bono who lived across the road…
You keep yourself busy “across the road” now, don’t you?
… and you could tell because all the foreign students with their ragged backpacks tacked notes to his wooden gate and it was my birthday after all and hadn't the boyos and ladies taken me on a pub crawl (which was about right since I could barely walk towards the end) and I was 26 and might’ve had a pint for each year and would’ve been remiss to not sing a song to Bono tho shouldn’t he have sung one for me, it being my birthday after all?
Only, it wasn't a dream and I spent the next day sipping tea and nibbling at a chip butty.
Thanks. That was a pleasure to none but yourself. You think the sun shines out yer arse, don’t you?
Please stop interrupting or I’ll backspace you out of existence. Ahem. Well, onwards…
Adam & Josh arrive late (forgiven, as the boyos have been busy updating their basement). Earlier, while cutting through the cheap ceiling, a dead rat broke free from the rafters, horrifying Josh from beyond the grave! Had even Poe conceived of such a macabre renovation?
- Oh my god, Josh shuddered, I don’t think I can take enough showers.
Mildly skeeved, we adjourn to the kitchen.
- So what are you making? asks Adam
- Potato latkes, I answer.
- O, potatoes? Hity-tity! he lilts.
- Yes, so of course I’m giving the article the Irish slant.
- But aren’t latkes Jewish?
Think quickly, O’Shaughnessy! He’s right! The Irish can’t stake their claim on everything made from that versatile tuber! So I stop time (all writers are middling gods) and do a bit of perfunctory research.
- Well, what about Leopold Bloom, the protagonist of James Joyce’s Ulysses! Or Daniel O'Connell's successful efforts to have the oppressive British law "De Judaismo" repealed, declaring, “Ireland has claims on your ancient race, it is the only country that I know of unsullied by any one act of persecution of the Jews.” Even after the shame of the relatively bloodless Limerick Pogrom at the start of the 20th century, didn't the people of Cork welcome the Jewish refugees just as sure as the upstart priest Father Creagh was rebuked for his ugly sermon (though the Pope did later appoint him Vicar Apostolic of Kimberly, Western Australia)?
Erin, Adam & Josh had already moved on to more culinary matters. I’m still thumbing through my unread copy of Joyce’s behemoth when I hear the ambient bubbling of the latkes in the pan.
- We had spaghetti last night, said Josh, It was amazing.
Why? I wondered. No rat?
Now, the potato is a gorgeous root, but it’s merely a diamond in the rough compared to the gems we polished off. We absolutely devoured those golden-brown latkes, decorated with dollops of apple sauce and sour cream. A side dish of traditional ITSK stalwarts, sweet potato oven fries, perfected the meal. I smiled at my friends, and my love, and considered: Is my home stereotypically Irish-American enough?
The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem LPs? Check. Coat of Arms plaque (“vert, a tower triple towered argent, supported by two lions rampant combant”)? Check. Shellacked shillelaghs? Check. Finnegan's Wake, The Ginger Man, a slim volume of Sean O'Casey’s one-act plays on the bookshelf? Check.
While no framed photos of President Kennedy or Pope John Paul II bless the meal below, we do have a Pope Innocent action figure and a “Runners for Obama/Biden” button perched atop the medicine cabinet.
Yes, that'll do. But really these potato latkes are all we need. Thank you, Mrs. O’Shaughnessy!
Erin’s Intro: There is a theme that ties this month's recipe to last month's. The theme is: Frying things that Josh can eat! We don't usually fry stuff because frying usually means breading. But lately we've been getting creative. I know frying isn't the healthiest of cooking techniques, but there is something so mouthwatering about a perfectly golden brown crusted piece of food! This month we use gluten-free flour to aid in our frying. Speaking of gluten free, who worked in the restaurant business for years and never heard of gluten-free diets or celiac disease? That would be me. But then I met Josh and started learning more than I ever wanted to know about this stuff. Turns out it's pretty common. So, ITSKers, keep an eye out for a Sellwood Kitchen surprise from all of us involving gluten-free foods, and the Josh stamp of approval (in the form of a thumbs up). For now, we celebrate our Irish heritage (well, Mike's Irish heritage) by cooking with potatoes...
6-8 red potatoes, washed, peeled, shredded.
1/2 white onion finely chopped
1/2 cup gluten-free or regular flour
Salt and Pepper
Oil for frying
DRY shredded potatoes thoroughly. Press moisture out with paper towels. Mix all ingredients through salt and pepper together. Press mixture into small patties (approx. 3" around). They will be slightly loose. Gently set the patties into 1/2" of hot oil. Fry for 2-3 minutes on each side, or until golden brown and crispy. Serve with sour cream or applesauce.
The “In the Sellwood Kitchen” cast and crew can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org