birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

St. Patrick's Day

My family is pretty lax about celebrating holidays, although we mark all the mainstream American ones in a festive yet secular way. When I say "my family," I mean just my parents and myself; I am an only child, and our nuclear family has always felt like an island, far from the continents of my parents' respective families.

This may seem sad to those who are used to the big raucous family get-togethers that I've seen on TV and in movies, but having seen quite a few of those episodes, I'm not sure that I'm really sorry. After all, we're pretty much free to do whatever we want. We might have prime rib with Yorkshire pudding for Christmas one year, an Alsatian choucroute garnie, sauerkraut decked with sausages and smoked meats the next.

Oddly enough, there's one minor holiday that is pretty constant for us, and it's St. Patrick's Day. My mother is a big proponent of this, and I don't know why -- perhaps it's all that time she spent in New England, although it didn't seem to have as much of an effect on my dad. Whatever the reason, when March rolls around, she questions me as to whether I'm getting my corned beef, where I'm getting it from, and who I'm serving it to.

I read somewhere that in Ireland, corned beef and cabbage is not the quintessentially Irish dish we think it is in America -- it's one of those exports that got blown out of proportion in exile, like the meat-laden pasta dishes of the Italian Americans. This does not concern me, because I am not Irish. And boiled corned beef is sort of an amazing thing -- you buy it in a bag, put it in a pot and boil it for a few hours, then end up with this hunk of luscious, delicious, bright-pink meat. I'd say that you can't get it wrong, except that one time I tried to "corn" the beef myself, with some specially ordered pink curing salt. It only worked partway, so the meat was like half corned beef, half brisket. I like brisket, but not boiled. Next year, it was back to the bag. I think the pink salts are still at the back of my cupboard.

And now my son, who was born on March 16, also loves St. Patrick's Day. When he was in first grade, his stepmother offered to have some birthday cupcakes delivered to his classroom. But the only cupcakes she could find, she reported, had green sprinkles for St. Patrick's Day. Of course the kids still ate them, because they were made with butter and sugar, and the next year, he specially requested the green cupcakes. "Green is my favorite color," he told me. I'm sure he thinks it's all for him.

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