By Marcia Pilgeram
Reader Food Columnist
I was so disappointed I couldn’t attend last week’s local Dancing with the Stars, but I was pleased to hear that my friend and neighbor Meggie Foust, paired with Joey Williams from the Utah Ballroom Dance Company, kicked up her heels and cha-cha’d her way to first place and the mirror ball trophy. My last dance, in Lisdoonvarna, County Clare, Ireland, was also memorable, but it wasn’t a pretty Meggie-style dance, and now, you’re more likely to find me on the spectator (aka wallflower) side of the dance floor.
It’s surprising to me that I am a horrible dancer, as I came from a long line of family dancers. Take my parents for instance, who worked for an Arthur Murray dance studio right after WWII and were also semi-professional figure roller-skaters. I’ve got a sister who was a dance instructor and another who once roller-skated from Apple Valley, Calif., to Los Angeles. Many others in my clan are also light-footed, but apparently those genes were recessive and not passed along to the last child.
My last dance was several years ago. I was traveling with Breda, a long-time Irish friend, through the Emerald Isle and as we stood on the wind swept Cliffs of Moher, with a magnificent view of the Aran Islands, she pronounced that our final stop of the day was less than a thirty minute drive: Lisdoonvarna and the Matchmaking Festival. The traditional festival, one of Ireland’s oldest, is well over 150 years old and takes place in the picturesque small spa town every September. More than 40,000 hopeful and romantic souls from all over the world gather for music, dancing and the traditional “craic.” Many take their prospecting seriously, and the official matchmaker comes from multi-generational lineage.
Dancing takes place in venues all over the village. If you aren’t a dancer, or just need to brush up, there are lots of pubs who offer a lesson or two in set dancing and jigs and reels. It was here that I learned set dancing means sets of people, as in four couples (eight people). When I was younger, I faked my way around a dance floor more than once, but not with seven others and certainly not with seven animated Irish folk who’d been four stepping and set dancing most of their lives. It was hopeless, and quite evident that I had clumsy feet, couldn’t find the beat, and was no match for this lively and quick-footed group of dancers. Before long, the instructor came to me, and in the most gracious brogue he could muster, suggested that perhaps the lady might first observe a class or two. You can measure a walk of shame in feet or seconds, I am here to tell you either method is endless and unbearable.
While I waited for the dancing Breda, I found comfort in a pub or two, and my spirits were soon lifted by a pint and pub grub that included the a rich and flavorful tomato soup, topped with a good dollop of sour cream, bits of crisped bacon and fried leeks. It was just what I needed to cure the set-dancing blues. Breda and I had two great days in Lisdoonvarna, and while we didn’t actually sign up for matching, we had a succession of well-aged farmers who seemed quite keen on us. My favorite old fellow came by to compliment me on my jacket, “Tis a beautiful coat, Ma’am. I could smell the leather clear ‘cross the room.”
A couple of years ago, I returned to Ireland for the September wedding of Breda’s daughter. The reception was at the magnificent Ballyseede Castle, County Kerry, with a grand ballroom dance floor that could accommodate the entire assembly of wedding attendees. Once the reception progressed from toasting and dining, and the wedding party had glided through the obligatory first set of dances, I kept a low profile and a healthy distance from the dance area, averting the glances of anyone, real or imagined, who was sizing me up as a partner. The Irish love to dance and long past my bedtime they continued to set dance the night away. I know this because my room was below the dance floor, and until the sun rose, my room was filled with muted laughter and the beautiful rhythmical percussion of celebration. Someday I’m going back to a dance immersion retreat because Irish dance classes are definitely on my bucket list.
For now, so long to another memorable September and her late summer days filled with festivals and fundraisers. All these dancing tales triggered my memory for that unforgettable Irish tomato soup, and it’s the perfect finish for this season of endless tomatoes. If you’re like me, you still have lots of ripe tomatoes on hand, and the riper the better for this recipe. I’ve done my best to recreate it for you. Keep dancing.
•1 oz butter
•2 strips bacon (plus 1 strip for garnish)
•1/3 cup chopped carrots
•*1 large leek, chopped (slice a few thin rings
off the green end that’s closest to the white,
before discarding, reserve for garnish)
•1 large young onion chopped
•4 lbs very ripe tomatoes, rough large chop
•2 pints chicken or vegetable stock
•In a small sauté pan, fry the extra strip of bacon, drain on paper towel and crumble. Add the leeks to the pan, and fry until crisp, don’t burn! Set aside.
•*Wash the leeks and dry well, especially the rings you will fry.
•Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan and add the bacon, carrot, leek and onion. Cover and cook about 10 minutes, until the vegetables sweat, but do not let them brown. Add the tomatoes and cook on low for 15 minutes. Add the stock, bring to a quick boil, and then turn down to a low simmer for an hour. Use an immersion stick or in small batches, a blender until soup is liquefied. Strain to remove skin and seeds.
•Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Garnish with sour cream, bacon and fried leeks
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