Toni's dad with green hair posing with a friend

My dad with one of his many “Irish” friends celebrating the wear’in o the green. His hair and sweater usually matched.

My maiden name is Coleman, and so, at least on my Dad’s side, I’m an Irish lass. There are famous singers, pub owners and all kinds of Emerald Isle folk with the name Coleman. In my house, Christmas actually paled in comparison to St. Pat’s Day. It only got more interesting as my Dad got older and found a company that could supply his “Coat of Arms.” During the last quarter of his life, he regularly dyed his snow-white hair green every March 17—and for several days after, as long as the parties continued. He could be quite an enchanting little leprechaun.

In 1994, my husband Don ran the Dublin Marathon, and we spent about nine days getting to know this magical land and its amazingly friendly and kind people. It’s true, you know, the island is green… as green as my dad’s hair.

Toni's husband before the start of the 1994 Dublin Marathon

My husband Don just before the start of the 1994 Dublin Marathon. The local people treated him and the other runners like celebrities.

Of course once I’d been to Ireland, attended a couple of high teas, had real Irish oats for breakfast (never use anything but McCann’s now) and stuffed myself with warm brown bread topped with butter scooped out of bowls, I became extremely interested in cooking Irish food.

Fresh is the first word I’d use to describe it—the dairy, the meat, the fish, the vegetables are right off the farms and out of the sea. Food is valued there (There was that Potato Famine, 1845-1852.). Irish cooking is steeped in tradition, and its chefs and home cooks are committed to artisan, by-hand production. We could learn a thing or two from Celtic wisdom.

Of all the dishes I’ve made to celebrate my Irish heritage, Colcannon—a simple potatoes and cabbage dish—has remained the family favorite. At its most basic preparation, it’s nothing more than mashed potatoes, boiled cabbage or kale, and some scallions. Well, maybe a bit’o butter and cream. And it’s really good, just like that. But I couldn’t leave that alone. Elevating Colcannon became a quest.

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In my mind, the C in comfort is for Colcannon. It’s rich but homey. It dresses up or dresses down with finesse. The texture of the finished dish is light and airy while the flavor is rich and buttery. My daughter loved it when she was little and still does—what a sneaky way to get her to eat cabbage, don’t ya know? I hope you love it, too. In honor of my Dad and the great people of Ireland—Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Toni's dad with two musician friends

Singing Irish songs was a favorite way to celebrate for Dad.