This St. Patrick's Day, I am going to honor my husband and relatives living in the Emerald Isle by passing on the secret to their famous hospitality- a secret that has saved me countless hours of work and anxiety, and countless dollars (or Euros) in grocery bills.
The Irish are famous for their hospitality because they never make it about themselves- only about being glad to see you.
When you are received into an Irish home, it is warmly and without apology about the mess, decor, or lack of space. Until the 1980's, no one in Ireland had any room to spare that could be designated for "entertaining", so you simply cleared off the papers from the kitchen table and pulled up chairs.
And when you sit down at that kitchen table, you are immediately offered 3 things, and usually 3 things only: tea, cookies, and sandwiches.
No cooking, no waiting, no scurrying around. Right there, plopped on the table, is a teapot, some milk (you must, must accept milk in your tea...otherwise you'll look like an ignorant Yank), cookies (usually store-bought), and a plate of sandwiches, cut into fourths, that you just grab and stuff into your mouth.
Irish entertaining is hospitality at its purest. By it's very nature, it can't be about your home, your fabulous cooking, your obvious effort...it's just about the conversation and the joy of being together. No ego involved.
Your host actually enjoys herself, and talks to you the entire time without scurrying around the kitchen. You can sit for hours talking, actually enjoying yourself, because there's never the feeling of putting anyone out.
This menu is appropriate for any time of the day, any day of the year.
So, today as you remember your green and your Guiness, also remember to pick up a box of tea (Barry's Gold Blend Irish Tea is our favorite, found in World Market and some grocery stores), some good cookies (Cadbury's are acceptable), and basic sandwich fare, and you will be truly ready to offer Irish hospitality at its best.