Bloomsday: a celebration of all things James Joyce – and, more specifically, everything Leopold Bloom. June 16 is the day James Joyce first enjoyed a date with Nora Barnacle, who would become the love of his life, and in tribute, June 16, 1904 is the day during which all of the story in Ulysses takes place. I read Joyce at Harvard Extension several years ago, to fulfill one of my ALM elective credits, and I fell in love with his voice almost immediately. Ulysses is a masterwork of English Literature – a simple day-in-the-life-of story, but a complex tapestry of passion, imagination, symbolism, patriotism, spirituality, and erudition. Joyce’s hero, Leopold Bloom, is a lusty, vigorous man fraught with insecurities and obligations — far too human for me to sum up in a few words. But I can say this – Bloom ate with gusto:
“He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods’ roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.”
For breakfast, 107 years ago yesterday morning, Bloom enjoyed a pan-seared pork kidney:
“…[he] crushed the pan flat on the live coals and watched the lump of butter slide and melt. … [H]e unwrapped … and dropped the kidney amid the sizzling butter sauce. Pepper. He sprinkled it through his fingers ringwise from the chipped eggcup…. He prodded a fork into the kidney and slapped it over… [later]… pungent smoke shot up in an angry jet from the side of the pan. By prodding a prong of the fork under the kidney he detached it and turned it turtle on its back. Only a little burnt. He tossed it off the pan onto a plate and let the scanty brown gravy trickle over it… He shore away the burnt flesh and flung it to the cat. Then he put a forkful into his mouth, chewing with discernment the toothsome pliant meat.”
My apologies to James for my clumsy editing, yet this is a food blog – not a literature blog – and it’s Bloom’s breakfast at the onset of Calypso (and not Molly’s awakening, or Milly’s remembrances) I’m mulling over today.
Yet, dear readers, surely you can see that my picture above is not one of pork kidneys! Alas, neither Whole Foods nor Savenor’s had the requisite innards on hand – nor, to be quite honest, do I relish said innards as much as Bloom does. (Clayton – even less so.) But I had to honor the Irish muse and his Bloom and Dedalus and Molly and Dublin somehow – so I took to the internet to find a recipe for an appropriately themed Irish dinner by which to pay homage to Joyce and his creations. Thank you, Tara, at Smells Like Home for your excellent rendition of bangers and colcannon: your recipe’s beguiling picture (as displayed on the third page of Tastespotting.com’s search engine return for “irish”) simply called out to me, arresting me in my tracks, compelling me to make her — as Joyce’s faux-chapter-heading’s namesake did to her Odysseus. On the plate, Ogygia is represented by a mountainous island of craggy white mashed potatoes, stubbled throughout with bacon and cabbage and spring onion, surrounded by a chocolate stout and brown sugar sea. Like the lotus-eating sailors lounging with lassitude on the water’s edge, seared brown in the sun, my tender pork and garlic sausages lay tanned and glistening on the spud surface, sweating savory juices, just begging to be eaten.
Bloomsday Bangers and Colcannon with Brown Sugar Guinness Gravy
1lb yukon gold potatoes
4 oz bacon
1 head cabbage
3-4 spring onions
3/4 lb pork sausage
12 oz Guinness beef
salt and pepper
My basics tonight were thick cut bacon, sausages, potatoes, and cabbage. Almost everything else I had on hand, so on top of being a celebration of a literary masterpiece, this was cheap enough a meal for even Stephen Dedalus to afford (in today’s economy – relatively speaking, that is). Whole Foods used to carry bangers, but when I asked the butcher why I didn’t see them in the window, he said no one had ever purchased them or even showed any interest — until they no longer had them. But they did have a non-Italian styled “garlic and pork” sausage, which was mild enough to stand-in for the traditional banger, even if they were larger. I purchased 3, knowing I’d split them later.
I start with my potatoes, which I peel, cut into 8ths, dump into salted water, and bring to a boil for about 15 minutes, or until I can easily pierce them with a fork. Meanwhile…
… I dice my bacon…
… and very thinly slice my cabbage.
The bacon goes into a hot pan, along with a generous helping of fresh cracked black pepper, to render all the fat and crisp.
But oh – there’s not enough fat yet! I add a couple tablespoons of butter to the pan, and let it melt and foam…
…before I add the cabbage shreds. I toss this very well, coating all the greens with slick bacon fat, then I set the heat to medium and let this sizzle and sautee for about 10 minutes, until the cabbage is just tendercrisp.
This bundle of spring onions wasn’t the greenest — they felt more like small leeks — but the flavor was fine. I chop them roughly, reserving and inch or so of each of the ends to julienne for a final plate garnish.
The chopped onions go into the cabbage pan, where they get tossed in well, too. After about 5 more minutes, salt and pepper to taste, mix one or two more times, then remove the cabbage mix from the pan and set aside.
Now these are some beautiful sausage. They are a bit understuffed (read: limp) actually, which works rather well in the long run, since they have some steaming room inside the casing, resulting in more tender meat. It also keeps them from splitting open during the cooking process, even after you pierce the membrane to release some of the inner juices.
I’ve got my large skillet set over medium high heat, and I’ve got a few glugs of EVOO shimmering hot on the surface. In go my links, which I let sear on each side until they’re each striped with brown.
When my links are nice and browned, I add my bottle of beer, set the heat to medium, and let my links steam the rest of the way to cooked-fully-through. My Guinness will reduce and condense, concentrating all its malty chocolate Irish flavor as it goes, getting ready to become gravy.
Meanwhile, I’ve drained, then mashed my potatoes with a fork, and it’s time to cream them up. I add a couple tablespoons each of butter and sour cream…
… and about a cup of milk. I return the pan to low heat, and whisk this well into a nice, creamy whipped potato – adding milk as needed until it is just the right consistency.
It’s time to make colcannon out of mashed potatoes. I add my reserved bacon and cabbage and onion and black pepper and butter mix to my spuds, and stir well, fully blending the two delicious side dishes into one.
My beer has reduced by 2/3rds, and my sausages are perfectly cooked. I remove them from the pan, and set them aside, leaving the beer boiling over the heat.
I take about a tablespoon of softened butter, and a tablespoon of flour, and I mash it together to form a paste.
I also have about 2 tablespoons of rich, sticky brown sugar ready. I whisk the butterflour and brown sweetness into my boiling, thickened Guinness, lowering the heat to medium, and I let this ambrosia simmer down to a glossy syrupy glaze.
Clayton O’Fountain and I dig into our bangers and mash with much boisterous toasting and smashing together of our Guinness-filled mugs; we sop our sweet sausages with the savory sugary thick brunette gravy, holding our forks overhand and our knives like spatulas; we spread our hot baconcabbagepotatopulp over our forkfulls and jackknife our loads heartily into our open mouths; we grunt with satisfaction, and dive in again and again and again, only pausing to swig malt beverage and to mutter our full-mouthed approval. Afterwards, we lean back in our chairs, loosen our belts, strokepat our tummies, and sing “The Harp That Once through Tara’s Halls” a few times, remembering Dublin at the turn of the century, remembering Joyce. Ahhh…. Bloomsday!