St. Patrick’s day was something I grew up celebrating with the requisite corned beef, cabbage, taters and carrots, the beloved hot horseradish and Irish Soda bread, all made by my blue-eyed white-haired 5’8″ GIANT of a grandfather! He may not have been the tallest man on the block, but to me his presence was enormous.
Grandpa did the bulk of the cooking in my grandparents home. It was he who taught me how to make a St. Patrick’s day feast as well as many other delectable treats over the years. My grandmother had been a career woman working as head personnel secretary for the local Georgia Pacific office in Eugene, Oregon. She had worked for that company for 25 years before retiring. Lumbar was big back in those days here in Oregon and they both had worked in the industry. My grandfather had driven log trucks, been a surveyor and worked in a few mills.
One thing you had to know about my grandfather was that he was the worlds BEST storyteller. I loved to hear him tell about hauling a load of logs down a windy rocky ravine of a road cut out of the side of a mountain with no brakes except a Jake brake and the brake roads you drove up to slow down!!! My brother has a couple of the old photos of him standing in front of some of those big huge trucks with logs as wide in diameter as a man is tall and more! I was captivated by his stories and his bright blue eyes all crinkly in the corners. There were many stories I listened to while sitting across the kitchen table from him.
Another thing notable about my grandfather was that he welcomed all the neighborhood kids into his house. They could come by to have their bike fixed, or to get some practice on a new set of stilts he had built for anyone who wanted to give them a try. He built a zip line in the backyard before anyone even knew what such things were! Back then no one worried about the neighbor kids getting hurt. All the parents in the neighborhood knew my grandfather helped kids be good kids by letting them try things and sometimes they got hurt. No one got their panties all bunched up back then if their kid showed up with their knees and hands all skinned up from having landed hard trying a new pair of stilts! Many of these neighborhood kids also came by to have a little “counseling” from Grandpa! He was very wise and gave good insights into how to live good and right.
Grandpa came over from Ireland in 1913 when he was 12 years old. The way the story goes is that they were all slated to come on The Titanic, but his grandmother got very ill and so their trip was postponed for a year. That’s the story I hear and I am gonna share it until my dying day. When he and his Pa and brothers relocated their
landing was in Canada. His sister and mother came later. It was then that his proper schooling came to an end. At least schooling as you and I know it. Yet that man was truly one of the best read smartest men I knew. He read the entire Register Guard newspaper every day. He read books on every topic imaginable. He did cross word puzzles and played scrabble. Not being in school did not hinder him in life at all. He was a self-made man who cared for people with love that was authentic and without expectation except to just be your best. He expected the best of people because he thought the best of them. He hoped for the best for people. Sometimes to a fault! But that is another story.
He provided for many people throughout his life. He worked to provide for his family of birth, then his first family, as well as other families during the depression. Another story was that he was a rum runner between Canada and the USA during the depression in order to help feed 5 different families. Again, that is the story I heard and I am only repeating what I was told. He then provided for my grandmother and mother and me and my siblings. He also helped all the members of his extended family in any way he could.
I see now why my grandmother was still so deeply in love with him the day she died nearly 20 years later. If I had a husband like my grandfather I would probably feel the same! He was just as crazy about her as well. While they bickered back and forth and sometimes frustrated one another in big ways, they were wild about one another. What a great thing to have as a memory.
I wasn’t feeling like having corned beef and cabbage just for me, and I had a piece of halibut I wanted to use up, so I decided to create an Irish Fish Pie in honor of my grandfather on St. Patrick’s day. Am I glad I did. What a delicious dish this turned out to be! I didn’t serve it with anything as it was just me, myself, and I. The “pie” was enough. I made it with sweet potatoes instead of regular mashers for a boost in nutritional value.
St. Patrick’s Day Fish Pie
Start by boiling 4 or 5 medium-sized sweet potatoes. Place in saucepan and cover with water. Boil on medium high for about 25 minutes. They should be soft when pierced with a fork, but not falling apart. Drain water and allow to cool to where you can easily peel (the peels came off really easy) and return to pan. Mash! Set aside.
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet. Add 1 onion chopped and 2 stalks of celery chopped. Cook over medium-high heat 2 or 3 minutes and then add 2 leeks sliced in 1/2″ slices. Saute another 3-4 minutes until onions are translucent. Add 2 bay leaves crumbled and 1 teaspoon fresh thyme to mixture. Turn down heat to medium and let flavors combine for another 2 minutes.
I didn’t have any fish stock so I used 1 cup chicken stock and 1/4 cup of the ice from a jar of pickled herring. If I would have had it I would have used 1 cup of fish stock. I added that to the veggie mixture with 1 cup of coconut milk. I brought it to a light boil over medium heat and began adding the fish!
I had about 1/2 pound of halibut fillets I cut into bite sized pieces. I added this to the liquid and let it cook for about 2 minutes. Then I added 3/4 cup of frozen shrimp. I poached these in the broth/veggie mix for another 3 minutes. Add 1 can of salmon and 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice and stir it for another minute.
I poured all the mixture into a strainer over a bowl, collecting the broth. I then added 2 tablespoons butter to the sauce pan and 2 tablespoons of flour and made a rue. I cooked it for about 2 or 3 minutes adding two turns of a sea salt shaker and about 3/4 teaspoon pepper. I then poured the reserved broth back to the pan and cooked it about 5 minutes allowing it to thicken while stirring constantly.
Pour this sauce over the fish/vegetable mixture that has been put into a buttered casserole dish. Top with the mashed sweet potatoes. Extend the potatoes out to the edges if you have enough. I did not. My 4 potatoes didn’t give me enough coverage, so you might want to use another potatoe or two. Bake in oven at 425 degrees for 25 minutes.
Sprinkle 2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese on top and put back in over under broiler, watching carefully for 2 or 3 minutes until top browns slightly. Let cool. Enjoy with a cold Guinness if you care to imbibe. My grandfather would have, but only one! All Irishmen do not drink themselves silly on St. Patrick’s day. At least I never saw him do that. Although there are stories!
4 or 5 medium sweet potatoes
1/2 lb. Halibut fillet or any white fish of your choosing (wild caught of course)
3/4 cup frozen or fresh shrimp (again, wild caught)
1 can flaked salmon (yep, here too)
1 onion chopped
2 stalks celery chopped
2 leeks, washed, cut in 1/2 and then sliced in 1/2″ slices
5 tablespoons butter (used in 3 steps)
1 cup fish stock (chicken stock will work in a pinch)
1 cup coconut milk
2 bay leaves crushed
2 teaspoons thyme
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons organic flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill)
Sea Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
All the ingredients I used were organic and as locally sourced as possible. I hope you enjoy