Tuesday, March 17, 2015

St Patrick's Day without the pub

Celebrating St. Patrick's Day down south has always been a big holiday for Canadians, even if it tends to be a somewhat one-sided view of Irish culture. People wear green shirts and head out to the pubs to start drinking green beer early in the day.  The festivities often turn into one long day of bar hopping, going from Irish pub to Irish pub.

Doing that in an Arctic community is a little trickier, if not mainly due to the lack of pubs. The grocery stores don't even sell St. Patrick's Day decorations.   We tend to learn to make do in the North though. Our group of friends put together an excellently coordinated St Patrick's Day "pub crawl" that involved us moving from house to house on a strictly timed schedule to celebrate at different venues. We decided to do this on a Saturday, so we could thoroughly enjoy ourselves and have a day to rest before people had to start their week.

But first, we had to figure out the decorations.  The other houses had planned ahead and ordered St Patrick's day decorations ahead of time. Our house did not, so we had to go around the house looking for green things that I could cut up and turn into party decorations.

paper chain made out of card stock that I happened to have

I took some green card stock and CD covers and cut them into clovers

I made more clover wall decors by cutting up a greenish gift bag someone had given me

I suppose we could have bought construction paper at the hardware store but that stuff is expensive here.

I cut up a clear green dry cleaning plastic cover to make streamers for the door

I recruited Christine's slave labour to separate the green, orange and white sprinkles with a tweezer

delicious slave labour cookies

We also took the time to explore other aspects of Irish culture that we could incorporate. I made up a playlist of contemporary Irish music to play at the party, including a bunch of Irish indie bands I was excited to discover. You can listen to the playlist (and play it at your own St. Patrick's Day party) here.

Rob and I looked up Irish cuisine, and he ended up baking delicious potato bread served with corned beef.  Besides slave labour cookies, I briefly considered making a cabbage dish which the Internet promised was a traditional Irish dish, but was stunned at the 500 calorie per serving count that the predominantly vegetable side dish had.  Wow.

Sandwiches made with fresh baked potato bread and corned beef

I asked my friend about her Irish roots. Turns out her family's from Northern Ireland and they don't celebrate St. Patrick's Day. Instead, she told me Northern Ireland does the Orange Day parades, which she explained involved Protestants marching through Catholic communities and throwing oranges at the Catholic homes.  I didn't think it was a good idea to do that in Cambridge Bay.

There was a snow storm on the day of our pub crawl. A relatively minor snow storm for the Arctic, as it wasn't too cold and the wind wasn't too strong, but the snow was piling up in troublesome drifts on the road that made it difficult to trek through.  But we the north don't let such trivialities stop us from living our life.

 Bad weather

"Pub" stop #1 featured the most amazing brunch spread ever. I was reminded of the fancy Sunday brunches at the Explorer Hotel in Yellowknife. It featured a wonderful feast of stews and casseroles that I still fondly remember.

Start your morning right with a cup of coffee with a bit of Bailey's

Our friends hosting the first pub stop are a friendly couple from Newfoundland, and it was really interesting to spend St. Patrick's Day with Newfoundlanders who have their own special relationship with Ireland. While we ate brunch, they showed photos from their trip to Ireland, and as they drank their beer, their Newfoundland dialects grew stronger, and eventually once a good traditional tune came on, they were all dancing. Because, as we know, Newfoundlanders, like the Irish, love to dance. The owners' two big dogs also danced along with us, although maybe they were just trying to get at the bacon.


Dancing to some good traditional tunes

Pub stop number two was at another house on the other end of town, and we were left figure out how we were going to get their in the middle of the snowy winds. I had several suggestions (CAT train, kamotik sleds pulled by skidoos or our friends' dogs), but eventually we just piled up in the back of our friends' pickup truck, Nunavut-style (also, Namibia-style, as this was frequently my mode of transportation in Africa as well as the Arctic).

"These open air convertibles are totally overrated."

We discovered that lipstick is hard to apply when frozen.

We all arrived in one piece at Pub Stop #2, where three big dogs and a yummy bowl of caribou muskox stew ("cari-musk" stew?) awaited us, with a side of bannock and green jello. Despite the fact that we had just finished eating brunch, we dug right in.

This house was in an end of town near the tundra where the snow piles up pretty high, as was evidenced in their windows:

that's a lot of snow

Afterwards we hiked over to Pub Stop #3, where they had just pulled a homemade pizza out of the oven.  There was also more green jello. We continued to consume.

Like all the previous stops, there was also a dog at this house. A big, ferocious dog...

what a cutie

A pensive leprochaun

Pub Stop #4 featured another delicious spread of snacks, including green jello, as well as a gorgeous view of the tundra. There was also another hungry dog.

Pub Stop #5 was our house, recently adorned with DIY St Patrick's Day decorations.

Besides our potato bread corned beef sandwiches and slave labour cookies, I also served a drink that I invented consisting of things I happened to have in my cupboard. It's green Hawaiian Punch with vermouth. In honour of my favourite webcomic Girls with Slingshots which sadly just stopped running the day before, I decided to name this toxic drink after one of the characters, McPedro.

The McPedro

McPredro is a talking cactus with an Irish accent

We did not serve green jello.  Instead, we served red jello. We did not have a dog.

I did not get any photos of the final Pub Stop #6 because it was late by that point and we had been eating and partying for ten or eleven hours. We didn't stop partying or eating of course, and the dance floor continued.  There was more dogs, and I don't remember if there was more green jello, but I am sure we have had our year's quota of green jello by this point.

My tired feet after treking from "pub" to "pub"

Some people criticize St Patrick's Day as being a crude form of cultural appropriation; a holiday that takes a very rich culture and reduces it to a caricature of drinking green beer. I like to take it as an opportunity to celebrate and learn about a new culture, hearing my Irish-Canadian friends talk about what being Irish means to them, try new foods and learn a bit more about the history.  Most importantly, though, I really liked having a chance to spend some time eating and socializing with my group of friends.  The benefits of being in an isolated community means you can plan complicated day-long events like this. I'm not sure if we could get something going like this with friends down south.  In the city, people will always have other plans, other friends, other distractions, and they may be too non-committal to coordinate. But here, we band together against the wild weather and take the time to enjoy ourselves.

My morning after breakfast - ramen noodles and green tea