Monday, March 18, 2013

Tribal Feasts

A story has floated around for centuries suggesting that the Irish are  one of the lost tribes of Israel. I love this idea, but that doesn't mean I'm buying it. So many of the supposed commonalities seem to be evidence of shared Indo-European roots, nothing more. Lunar calendar? Counting nights instead of days? The harp as a national/cultural symbol? Red hair? Similar-looking wedding dances? A nomadic past? Eh, not terribly convincing. 

Even so, I had reason to remember this theory on Saturday. Bill and I were shopping for a small dinner party we were hosting to celebrate Saint Patrick's Day and I couldn't help but notice how many items we were getting from the Kosher section: corned beef, smoked salmon, saurkraut*. And while Kosher was not an issue, there were also plenty of potatoes. No, I'm still not buying this story; what we have here are two cuisines shaped by harsh northern climates, peasant cooking, and salt as a preservative in the days before refrigeration. And if we really study this, we have to realize we're looking at links between Irish and Ashkenazi cooking. I don't know this for a fact, but I'd assume the lost tribes were Sephardim, at least by default. Show me an Irish flatbread, a fondness for figs and olives, or one dish made with chickpeas, and I'll agree we have culinary reasons to explore this idea. 

No, this story doesn't hold water, but it's still fun. And one more thing both cultures share is the belief that one should never let the facts get in the way of a good story. 

*Yes, I know saurkraut is not part of the Irish tradition. Bill made mini-Reubens as appetizers. Which sets off a whole other set of fun issues; the Irish loved cabbage but didn't eat saurkraut, Jews keeping Kosher would never have meat and dairy in the same meal let alone the same dish, many Reuben purists would say the meats should be Virginia ham and turkey, not corned beef, and the sandwich includes Swiss cheese and Russian dressing. It's like lunchtime at the U.N. Yet none of our guests questioned including these in a Saint Patrick's Day dinner. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


On Sunday I began cutting sod in the backyard, as a first step to putting in a garden. My friend The Midnight Gardener had warned me not to try cutting turf that was too wet. How right he was. We'd had four inches of snow on Friday. By noon on Saturday the warmer temperatures had melted it all, but it turns out that less than thirty hours was not enough time to dry the ground out, not even this sandy soil. My impatience got the best of me by Sunday afternoon however, so I began the epic wrestling match with the sturdy, hardy grass and the heavy, sopping soil. 

The only other time I'd pulled up sod was back in June, 2009, during the month I spent in Indiana grieving for my brother. Mary and Tony were expanding the garden bed in their front lawn and I offered to help.We pulled up squares of grass, shook and scraped as much soil off the roots as possible, killed any Japanese beetle larvae we found, then threw the grass into a wheel barrow for eventual transportation to the compost box. 

Monday, March 04, 2013

Expanding the Franchise

The bird feeder in the backyard continues to attract a growing population. It's just far enough away from the windows that we can't always see much detail however. This means we mostly see, as Bill puts it, 'cardinals and little guys.' I have been able to identify several kinds of sparrows, a variety of finches, lots of chickadees and juncos, and a handful of nuthatches, but it's not easy. Bill and I watched as one squirrel managed to climb up the pole and reach the feeder, but his attempt to get onto the (too small) platform sent him plummeting to the ground. This of course meant some seed fell, so it wasn't a completely wasted effort, but he probably doesn't see it that way. 

I had reported some bird-watching details on Facebook which caused one friend to share the story of her own feeders. She had enjoyed having them until she realized how much more her cats were enjoying the abundant bird buffet. Not wanting to lure birds to their deaths, she decided to get rid of the feeders. I commiserated, but said confidently that I didn't think I'd have the same problem. The feeder is mounted five feet up a pole that sits several feet away from any trees, bushes or roofs. I was mostly intent on not making things TOO easy for squirrels, but impeding land predators seemed like a side benefit. 

The next morning, less than twelve hours after this interchange, I looked out the back window, and there, as if conjured by my hubris, was a large, healthy tiger cat. He was sitting comfortably right at the base of the pole. I saw no evidence of carnage, fortunately, no feathers floating about or birdy body parts scattered on the ground, but naturally I also saw no birds. 

I trust that five feet up will be enough distance to protect the birds, and the ground feeders should have enough time to notice and flee a galloping kitty; there really is no place he can hide and sneak up on them. The cat clearly didn't have a very high opinion of bird intelligence. I'd assume sitting at the base of the pole wasn't going to  prove an effective strategy. Bill says he hasn't seen the cat again in the last week and the birds quickly returned.