Wee taste of the Irish toasts St. Patrick's Day

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      Guinness has run in my veins since birth, thanks to Mum's octogenarian doctor, who prescribed a daily glass of the black stuff for all his lactating ladies. My entire schooling was at the hands of Irish nuns, including the terrifying Sister Brendon with the Frida Kahlo-esque ginger monobrow. So that's two, but Vancouverite Helen Kelly gets the trifecta. She's Dublin-born, runs the Auld Dublin Guest House (988 West 19th Avenue), and works part-time at Dentry's Irish Grill (4450 West 10th Avenue), where, she says, opportunities to get in an Irish groove on St. Patrick's Day weekend are many. Saturday lunch time, you can eat your Irish stew with an accompaniment of Irish step dancers and Irish music. Saturday night, a $20 ticket buys a bunch of entertainment including the same revelry plus the Copper Sky Traditional Irish Band "all in their saffron kilts".

      And now to the food. Better start training, beginning with breakfast. Back at her B&B, Kelly injects a few notes of the auld country into her morning menu. "There's always homemade Irish soda bread, and I get Odlums oatmeal whenever I can. There's always a good bit of craic [chat] at the table, too." Friends sometimes bring back packets of Irish tea, and her cheese plate includes Irish varieties whenever possible. Stock up at Les Amis du Fromage (1752 West 2nd Avenue; 518 Park Royal South, West Vancouver) where Allison Spurrell currently has three Irish treats on hand: "Cashel Blue [$4.25 for 100 grams] is made by one small farm in County Cork. It has an interesting grassy, kind of earthy flavour," she says. Dubliner, sometimes called Irish Cheddar, "has a distinctive taste, nuttiness and a bit of sweetness". It's currently a good buy at $1.99 for 100 grams. And how Irish is this: Guinness Cheddar, made with Guinness right in the cheese ($3.50 for 100 grams). "Not super-strong but very tasty," says Spurrell.

      For the makings of an authentic St. Patrick's Day bash, swing by the Celtic Treasure Chest (5639 Dunbar Street; 1534 Foster Street [Central Plaza], White Rock), which bakes its own Irish potato bread ($2.99), soda bread ($3.89), and other varieties. Need to increase your Guinness intake? Lil McVittie, co-owner with husband Steve, points out the stout-enhanced Dubliner Irish Sausage ($1.52/100 grams), one of the specialty kinds made for the store. Bolster your real Irish breakfast plate with white pudding ($1.99/100 grams) made with suet, oatmeal, and spices and tasting a lot like stuffing, says McVittie. Slice thickly and sear on both sides. For a real fry-up, you also need Irish bacon that's dry-cured, not brined. "I always warn people to baby-sit it," says McVittie, because, unlike the flabby Canadian kind, "there's very little fat"—so little, in fact, that she uses a nonstick pan or bakes it in the oven. In the next freezer along is flat Irish soda bread ($1.95) from Jock Laidlaw, owner of the much-missed Laidlaw's Scottish Bakery, which closed three years ago, and potato scones made with fresh mashed potatoes ($2.95). Throw in some John McGavin's steel-cut Irish Oatmeal in its old-fashioned tin ($8.65 for 28 ounces) and Barry's Tea ($4.95 for 72 sachets) and you're done.

      Now, the big one. Irish intensity gets up to ramming speed at CelticFest Vancouver (through March 18). Today (March 15), assisted by "spirit guides", you can engage in A Whisky Kiss (five whisky samples, to be honest) at Ceili's Irish Pub & Restaurant (670 Smithe Street) for $20. Given that this newish spot (in the former SkyBar location) is now the city's largest Irish pub, you might want to stop by at some point this weekend. If you can't make that, get yourself into the third annual Brewmasters Dinner Friday (March 16) at UnWine'd Wine and Tapas Lounge (1180 Howe Street) with Verne Lambourne of Granville Island Brewing leading you through three courses, each paired with an ale. Tickets, $35, can be found at the brewery or UnWine'd, or on-line through www.celticfestvancouver.com/. All weekend, the 800 block of Granville Street (between Robson and Smithe) morphs into the Celtic Village Street Market, with live Celtic music, arts, crafts, burgers, hot dogs, cotton candy, and, more to the point, sources of Irish food. The Celtic Treasure Chest will have an outpost, as will the Milseán Shoppe, the family business behind the notorious Demerara Butter Crunch. Sure, and isn't feeling that chocolate coating snap under your teeth just like biting the leg off a leprechaun? Have fun, and remember that when the street reopens to traffic at 5 p.m., there's a good few official festival pubs handy.