Aug 11, 2014

In Defense of Shamrock Shakes

For the last few months, I’ve have the privilege of writing for Food Riot, an irreverent food blog, thereby living out one of my secret dreams of being a food writer. Unfortunately, Food Riot has decided to close. Over the next several weeks, I will be reposting my Food Riot articles here for posterity’s sake. This week’s article originally appeared here on March 17, 2014. 

 In Defense of Shamrock ShakesOur Eating Lives features stories about how food, cooking, and eating have shaped who we are and how we live.

I remember my first Shamrock Shake well: I was in Kindergarten, and it was snack time at our St. Patrick’s Day party. Mrs. Ready poured something green from a blender into 30 tiny paper cups. I’m sure we had other special activities that day: pin the pot o’ gold on the rainbow, maybe. Catch the leprechaun, perhaps. But the only thing I remember from that day was that tiny green shake. I knew shakes came in chocolate and vanilla, even strawberry, but this magical green thing, this was something to tell mommy about.

I told my mom about Shamrock Shakes when I got home, and she, of course, already knew and loved them. This began my lifelong love of the magical green ice cream. It may help that my birthday falls just before St. Patrick’s day, so the shakes are a yearly harbinger of birthday celebrations to come. It probably also helps that I’m a South Side [of Chicago] Irish girl, so I am used to seeing things dyed a bright green in March, and it seems perfectly normal to me.

As February draws to a close and I start to express my excitement about Shamrock Shakes (I also have other hobbies, I promise), I get one of two reactions. One is a dreamy-eyed nostalgia, stories of Marches gone by, a longing for the celebratory “Shamrock Shakes are Back” banners along highways. These are my people. We will go through the drive-thru together and we will understand each other. The other reaction is one of abject horror that I would eat something “shamrock” flavored/eat something with that many calories/eat at McDonald’s/eat something that color. To these people I say, come on. Calm down. It will be okay. I am not asking you to rub yellow no. 5 on your baby’s delicate face. I am not saying you need to eat a Shamrock Shake every day they are available. (Contrary to popular belief, not even I do that. Look at me; I’m eating vegetables as we speak.)

I understand that Shamrock Shakes are not the the healthiest food in the world. This is why it’s good they are saved for special occasions. I understand that they do not have the purest ingredients. That is not ideal. But when you look at the great vastness of foods you will eat in your lifetime, I do not think that one or two green shakes a year will make that much of a difference. In fact, I would argue that your life will even be improved by the addition of a ‘Shake or two.

Shamrock Shakes are delicious. They are a light, delicate vanilla mint, not nearly as strong as as your typical mint chocolate chip ice cream. They are like eating the vanilla mint clouds which hang over Ireland. (The actual clouds in actual Ireland are vanilla mint. The more you know.) When McDonald’s introduced McCafe, they started serving their shakes in fancy clear plastic cups with whipped cream and a cherry. I think the whipped cream tips the flavor balance a little too far in the “vanilla” direction, but I can’t help appreciating the cherry, even if it’s not traditional. I am only human.

While I love how Shamrock Shakes taste, that is probably not what I love best about them. I love nostalgia. I love small holidays. I love making traditions and inventing reasons to celebrate, and I love dragging friends along for the celebration. Announcing to whoever is close by “Ohmygosh, you haven’t had a Shamrock Shake? I’m fixing that that right now.” and then making a late-night run is as much of the fun of the shake as drinking it is.

So as we see the end of this harsh (for most of the US, at least) winter and look forward to spring, I invite you to partake in this small tradition, to celebrate a minor holiday in a minor way, to shake off your March doldrums with a quick trip to a fast food restaurant to pick up a Shamrock Shake, the shake that is, to borrow Uncle O’Grimacey’s line, the most beautiful green that you’ve ever seen.


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