I'm a holiday person. I get this from my mother, who's never met a holiday she doesn't like.
My dad's forbidden even one more Christmas decoration from coming into the house before something else gets tossed. It's not because he has anything against the holiday; There's simply no more room in the garage rafters.
Christmas is definitely her big holiday. But of the lesser holidays—or those that others might classify as lesser—St. Patrick's Day is huge for my of-Irish-descent mother. Wearing green was mandatory in my house growing up (though we may have, and might still, wear just a touch of orange to irk her). And, when she had control of the stereo, Irish music played the whole week (now days she just pipes it in from her internet radio). Though I preferred Irish groups like U2, The Cranberries, Flogging Molly and the Dropkick Murphys, to this day I can sing along not just to "Oh, Danny Boy" and "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling," but "Finnegan's Wake," "Jug a' Punch" and "Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye."
But really, what St. Patrick's Day was about for my family wasn't the music or colors. It wasn't about religion and the fact it was a saint's day. It wasn't even about the drinking (ok, there was that one year when I was away at school and there might have been a bunch of CAL students dressed as Elvis jigging down the San Francisco parade route... but that's a story I'll wait to tell after a few Guinnesses).
Nope, for us, it was about mom's corned beef. I'm not so sure there's all that much that's too traditional about it. My Irish friends tell me they don't even really eat corned beef . . . And she cooks it in a pressure cooker, whereas I'm fairly certain Celts of yore did not. Plus hers is spicier than most people make it and she cooks it in wine—but it's tradition for us, and her corned beef is well known amongst friends and relations who gather every single year to partake in the meal.
Every single year except this one. This year mom's up and left for Hawaii. And who can blame her? It's Hawaii! We're all glad my parents are getting to spend time in one of their favorite places on earth, but the trip did put the rest of us into a small panic. Who was going to cook the corned beef? Who had mom's recipe?
The answer was nobody. It's not that mom doesn't share her recipes, she just can't give them out well because the woman measures nothing. Like most good cooks, it's a pinch of this and a half handful of that. Without talking about it, all three of us kids asked her to explain exactly how to cook it. Even my 21-year-old nephew texted her for the recipe. We all knew sort of how she does it; Cooking in the pressure cooker is really quite easy—and fast. But we didn't know the measurements ... and after receiving an email from her with instructions, well, we still don't. But we're going to try cooking it anyhow.
As it turns out, we're all going to be together on Saturday night—my brother, sister, their families and me. Mom and dad won't be there, but we'll surely have a slice of our attempts at mom's corned beef and raise a glass to them.
Here's my mom's slightly edited emailed instructions, in case you want to give it a try too:
Corned Beef Cooked in a Pressure Cooker
Cut two cuts of corned beef each into thirds (The beef generally comes in point and flat cuts. Mom generally goes for the least expensive, which has a little more fat. The cuts are all about the same size and come with a packet of seasoning. Hold on to the seasoning.)
Cut off the layer of thick fat from the cuts.
Coat the bottom of a large pressure cooker and its rack with oil and put the beef inside.
You're going to cover the meat with liquid by about two inches. About two thirds of that is going to be red wine (Mom generally uses about half a gallon of something inexpensive like Gallo).
Add about 3/4 cup of soy sauce (you might consider using low sodium soy sauce, as the meat is slightly salty already).
Cut two onions into thirds and add those to the pot along with a couple of tablespoons of minced or pureed garlic and half a jar of pickling spices. ("Those packets that come with the meat don't do it," mom wrote.) She uses McCormich Schilling pickling spice or makes her own with the ingredients listed on their website, but it's much easier just to pick up a small bottle. Either way, she generally also adds a small handful of black peppercorns as well and will add the little packet that came with the meat too.
Now add enough water to cover the meat by about two inches.
Lock the lid into place and, once it's up to steam (you know, when that rattle on top starts rocking), cook for 45-50 minutes. (The meat should be fork-tender and almost falls apart with just the slightest pressure.)
Remove the meat when it's done and add potatoes and carrots, bring the pot back up to steaming and cook for about four or five more minutes. (At this point mom adds wedges of cabbage too, but she knows none of us like it—or the smell—so she left it out of the instructions, but if you enjoy it, have at it!)
"Have fun," mom wrote, "and don't get burned."