Last night’s dinner gave me the excuse to celebrate the wonderful date of June 16th, the date that the events in James Joyce’s book Ulysses take place, and since 1954 has been known as Bloomsday. Joyce’s decision to choose this date was a romantic one: it is the day that he had his first date with his future wife Nora Barnacle.
I made a little trip to see my brother on Friday with my children and we had so much fun we didn’t want to leave: so we didn’t. We also stayed last night, and yesterday being Bloomsday, was a topic of conversation as we drove to a restaurant which my brother declared served “the best burger in the country!” I was happy for the three of them but also hoped there would be something for finicky-me on the menu. I don’t think I am exactly picky, but I didn’t want a burger.
Back to Bloomsday. I was chatting to my kids about Ulysses, and how the whole book takes place over one mythological day, and then went on to tell them that Mr. Joyce hailed from Dublin and all but left the city of Dublin and Ireland for good, by age 22, with brief visits until age 30. After that, he never returned, and lived out his days in France, despite many attempts by family and friends, with not even the great W.B. Yeats able to convince him to return one last time. The most interesting fact to me however is this: he wrote exclusively about Dublin, dissecting and analyzing the city and it’s inhabitants backwards and forwards for his whole magnificent writing career.
Dublin was literally the world to him. It had everything he needed to write about in it, it was everything he knew, everything that was him, the love, the hate and the in-betweens sprung from his being a Dubliner. Joyce summed up what I am trying to say of course in one sentence: “For myself, I always write about Dublin, because if I can get to the heart of Dublin I can get to the heart of all the cities of the world. In the particular is contained the universal.” It is so simple when he says it: of course every microcosm represents the whole!
My son who is on the edge of teenagedom was happy to chime in that while he hadn’t of course yet read Ulysses he knew that Joyce’s story paralleled the story of the Odyssey which he and I had read. I was a very impressed parent at that moment and figured I was probably not as crazy as I thought when I made him illustrate every adventure encountered by Odysseus.
My brother also had a story. One day while at work, James Joyce’s name somehow came up, and my brother commented on his being from Dublin. A women who happened to be in the group, a professor from some college or other close by, got very hot under the collar and told him that Joyce was in fact french (I’m gathering her area of expertise was not English Literature of the 20th century). My brother asked her if they were talking about the same person, the writer James Joyce, and she said that he was a national treasure in France and that every school curriculum included Joyce. My brother didn’t bother arguing but told her to go home and do a little research. She turned up a few days later and admitted that she was in fact wrong, and was stunned. (If I were french I would try to claim him too)!
Ok, so this is a food blog, not some stuffy literally sounding board, so all of this Joycean banter has to tie into food for this piece to make sense? The food again is my way of sneakily giving my opinions and thoughts about other things. Food can be brought into absolutely everything, and Bloomsday is no exception. We talked about Irish food (and who would know better than my brother and I!) and decided that the food I would make this evening to celebrate Bloomsday would have to be simple, and, something about it had to be parochial, like Joyce himself. Potatoes (or “praties” a name they are also known by in Ireland) had to be included along with some kind of meat. Since I didn’t want to cook the obvious bacon and cabbage dish, I decided on what my mother used to make when money was tight: sausages and mash with onion gravy.
I updated the dish by caramelizing the onions for the gravy and including chicken as well as pork sausages. I served simple little peas alongside this and it was unctuous beyond belief. We saluted Joyce and thanked him for his brilliance, and giving me an excuse to talk about literature, and cook sausages and praties for dinner!
*This can be a Blood Type A diet Meal if you use Chicken sausages (which are neutral) and omitting the potatoes*
You will need:
2 lbs sausages (I used 1lb pork and 1lb chicken. any flavor will do)
3 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
2 large sweet onions, cut in half, then sliced
3 cups chicken OR 1 cup white wine and 2 cups broth (I used the latter which coaxed great flavor)
3 tbs all-purpose flour
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
12 medium/large potatoes, peeled & quartered
For potato mash, you will need: 2 tbs unsalted butter, 1/2 cup milk or cream, 1 tsp sea salt, several grinds of pepper
1lb sweet green peas (I used frozen organic peas)
1 – Put large all-purpose saute pan on medium heat and add the oil. Place sausage in an even layer on the pan and cook until lightly browned on all sides (this takes about 20 to 25 minutes). Transfer sausage to a plate and set aside.
2 – Add the sliced onions to the pan and cook stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes. Place lid on pan and continue to cook until onions are very soft, about 15 minutes. (You may need to lower the heat when the lid is on the pan)
3 – Add flour to the onions and mix well. Add the broth 1 cup at a time, mixing well in-between cups. (If you are using wine as I did, add it first, followed by 2 cups broth). Turn heat up and let gravy come to a simmer. Taste and add salt and pepper according to your liking. Continue to simmer gently for 10 minutes.
4 – Turn off heat, add sausages, cover with lid and set aside until everything else is ready.
5 – While onions are cooking, place peeled and quartered potatoes in pot and cover with cold water. Place on high heat, with a lid, and boil until soft. Drain water, add 2 tbs of butter, 1 tsp salt, several grind of pepper and a 1/2 cup of whole milk or cream to the potatoes and mash well. Cover loosely with a tea cloth and set aside.
6 – Five minutes before serving place 1 cup of water in pot and place on high heat. When it comes to a boil, add peas and cook for about 4 minutes. Drain and set aside until ready to serve.
Divide sausages, potatoes and peas between 6 plates, giving everyone a generous portion of onion gravy.
Happy Bloomsday everybody.