Visions of shamrock shakes, minty Oreos and green bagels are dancing in our heads once again, all of which has us thinking about our favorite Irish-themed movies. If you’re looking for tour de force performances, there’s always that award-winning one-man powerhouse known as Daniel Day Lewis–My Left Foot (1990), In the Name of the Father (1994), The Boxer (1998), and Gangs of New York (2002). Rina really loves Gangs (despite Cameron Diaz, who she admits was surprisingly good in it), while Laura has a soft spot for Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959), I think mainly because Sean Connery “looked really hot in it.”
For me, when I think of St. Paddy’s Day festivities it’s about the confluence of two cultural identities–Irish and American–so the movies that come to mind are ones that play upon this notion.
In the American cinematic landscape the Irish mob rivals the Italian mafia for supremacy. For every Godfather, Goodfellas, and Casino, there’s a White Heat, State of Grace, and Black Mass. Not surprisingly, Martin Scorsese has been at the helm of many from both sides. One his best (and the one that FINALLY earned him the coveted Oscar) is The Departed (2006), a riveting epic tale about an undercover cop (Leonardo DiCaprio) and a mole for the Irish mob (Matt Damon) in a race to discover the other’s identity before their own cover is blown.
Despite claims to the contrary (by Scorsese and screenwriter William Monahan), it’s essentially a remake of a highly-regarded, popular Hong Kong crime trilogy called Infernal Affairs (2002-2003), albeit with a heftier budget and star-studded cast, including Jack Nicholson (Frank Costello), Mark Wahlberg (Dignam), Martin Sheen (Queenan), and Alec Baldwin (Ellerby). Set in South Boston, a place steeped in tradition, pride and bare-knuckled bravado, the film paints a vivid and visceral portrait of Irish American mob culture through its language, violence and imagery, which appears to permeate every aspect of life and defines the very soul of its characters.
The classic “Irish Car Bomb”–a shot of Bailey’s dropped into a pint of Guinness–seems a bit simplistic for such a complex film. My version incorporates other flavors, such as homemade Irish creme (made with Jameson no less) and coffee vodka (steeped with whole dark-roasted beans), Creme de Cacao, and spicy Aztec Chocolate Bitters. The added kick of caffeine takes this Southie Car Bomb over the top.
- 2 oz. Homemade Irish Creme
- 1-1/2 oz. Creme de Cacao
- 1 oz. Homemade Coffee Vodka*
- 3-4 dashes Aztec Chocolate Bitters
- 4 oz. Guinness
Combine the first 4 ingredients in a cocktail shaker with a 2-3 ice cubes, then shake to blend. Strain liquor over couple of fresh ice cubes in a high ball glass, then top off with Guinness.
*For the Coffee Vodka, take about 1 cup whole dark roasted coffee beans (I used Peet’s Major Dickinson) and place in a clean dry mason jar. Pour in about 2 parts good vodka and tightly screw on the jar lid. Allow the mixture to steep in a cool dry place for about 3-4 weeks. Strain out the beans before using.
The Commitments (1991), directed by the great Alan Parker, aside from having one of my all-time favorite movie soundtracks, is a funny, honest, remarkably unsentimental look at life in North Dublin set against the backdrop of Dublin’s eclectic music scene. Anchored by a mostly unknown yet musically talented cast–with standout performances by a the then sixteen-year old Andrew Strong (Deco) and Maria Doyle Kennedy (Natalie)–brought together much in the same way as their characters are recruited into the band, the film is a wonderful ensemble piece that is as soulful as its soundtrack.
While Parker doesn’t shy away from the grittier aspects of life for these working class Dubliners, who aspire to greater things beyond their often bleak surroundings, he finds the humor that underlies their uniquely Irish sensibility.
In honor of these working class dreamers, I’ve come up with a distinctly Irish version of a popular working man’s lunch I’m calling The Dubliner Pastie–corned beef brisket, cabbage, potatoes, onions, mushroom, and Irish cheddar, encased in flaky pastry. It’s a deliciously hearty and flavorful portable meal for anyone on the go.
The Dubliner Pastie (yields about 12)
- 1/2 Large Yellow Onion, chopped
- 6-8 Button Mushrooms, sliced
- 1 tsp. Fresh Thyme Leaves
- 1 Garlic Clove, finely minced
- 3 cups Shredded Green Cabbage
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
- 2 Tbsp. Butter (or rendered bacon fat)
- 4-5 Small Potatoes, cooked, peeled and diced
- 2 cups Diced Cooked Corned Beef Brisket
- 1 cup Shredded Irish Cheddar
- 1/4 cup Heavy Cream
- 1/2 recipe Cream Cheese Dough
An American in Ireland
There are plenty of romantic comedies set in the Emerald Isles–the gorgeous lush landscape a seemingly ideal backdrop for love. The Matchmaker (1997) is an overlooked gem about a Senator’s aide from Massachusetts, played by Janeane Garofalo (Marcy), who’s dispatched to the remote village of Ballinagra to find some Irish ancestors for the hapless Senator McGlory to visit in an attempt to bolster his lackluster re-election campaign.
Unbeknownst to Marcy, her arrival in Ballinagra coincides with the village’s annual “Match Making Festival” which proves to be more than a little inconvenient for the goal-oriented, no-nonsense American, who unwittingly gets caught up in the middle of a rivalry between two professional matchmakers, one of whom–the chatty, “love expert” Dermot (Milo O’Shea)–is determined to see her settled with her “perfect mate” by festival’s end (or lose the 100 pound bet he made with his rival). The all-business Marcy doesn’t buy Dermot’s brand of blarney, but that doesn’t stop him from trying to match her up, even if it involves some subterfuge. Sensing real chemistry between Marcy and Sean (David O’Hara), a former journalist turned local bartender, Dermot contrives to send them off to a remote island on a wild goose chase to find the Senator’s long lost ancestors. Much to her surprise, Marcy finds herself warming to attractive cheeky Irishman, as well as the quirky locals with their unfathomable customs, lively personalities, and pub-loving culture. In the end Marcy discovers that being Irish is more a state of mind than a genetic disposition (McGlory, it turns, is actually Hungarian), something she’s appears happy to embrace.
So to end on a sweet note, I give you Marbled Bundt Cake with Jameson Mocha Glaze–two flavors (vanilla and chocolate) swirled in perfect harmony, enveloped in a warming sweet Irish hug.
Marbled Bundt Cake
- 3 cups All-Purpose Flour
- 1 Tbsp. Baking Powder
- 1 tsp. Sea or Kosher Salt
- 6 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter
- 1 cup Sugar
- 1/3 cup Brown Sugar
- 2 Large Eggs
- 1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
- 2 Tbsp. Irish Whiskey (Jameson)
- 1/2 cup Sour Cream
- 1/2 cup Whole Milk
- 6 oz. Bittersweet Chocolate, melted
Sift together flour, salt and baking powder; set aside. In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, then beat in vanilla and whiskey. Alternately beat in the wet and dry ingredient on low speed (ending with dry), scraping down the sides of the mixer bowl after each addition. Remove 1/3 of the batter and mix it together with the melted chocolate. Spoon about 1/2 of the remaining vanilla batter evenly into a buttered and floured bundt pan, then top with alternating spoonfuls of chocolate and vanilla batter. Using the tip of a paring knife, carefully swirl the two flavors. Bake the bundt cake in a pre-heated 350°F oven for about 35-40 mins, or until an inserted toothpick comes out with just a few moist crumbs. Let the pan cool on a wire rack for about 10 mins. before inverting. Cool cake completely before glazing.
- 2 cups Powdered Sugar, sifted
- 1/4 tsp. Sea or Kosher Salt
- 1/2 cup Cocoa Powder
- 1 tsp. Espresso Powder
- 3 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter, melted
- 3 Tbsp. Jameson Irish Whiskey
Whisk ingredients together until smooth, then drizzle evenly over the cooled bundt cake.
Happy St. Paddy’s Day!