Rumor has it that Margaret Mary Eklund is so Irish she has green blood running through her veins.
Just ask the lucky women who have attended the Lassie Luncheon she's held every March for the past 20 years.
"I have always loved St. Patrick's Day and I've always wanted to share that," says Margaret Mary, a substitute teacher in Crystal Lake High School Dist. 155.
The daughter of first-generation Irish parents -- one side from County Cork, the other from just outside Tiperarry -- she grew up in the Irish neighborhood of St. Robert Bellarmine parish in Chicago where St. Patrick's Day was one of the major events of the year.
"We always went to the parade with a massive group of friends and family," says Margaret Mary.
A former Irish dancer with the Shelia Tulley Academy of Irish Dance in Chicago, Margaret Mary performed at her elementary school and at a neighborhood party after the parade.
It's no surprise that she wanted to keep the traditions alive as an adult.
The Lassie Luncheon has been an opportunity to deck the house in green and gold, cook up some Irish favorites and tip a Guinness with lively women ranging in age from their 20s to 80s.
Everyone knows they have to wear green, bring a $10-or-less Irish grab bag gift -- think green panties -- and share a joke or limerick for what can be a rather bawdy exchange.
One year Margaret Mary dressed as an Irish milk maid, a couple of guests have dressed as leprechauns and one woman dyed her hair green to match her glittery eye makeup.
Each year there's a new theme. Two years ago Margaret Mary recreated an Irish pub, serving dishes pulled from "The Irish Pub Cookbook" by Margaret Johnson.
"I bought brown paper and drew bricks on it to look like a pub, and I made everyone sing," she says.
This year's theme is "Bring a Friend Who's Never Been" and for entertainment she has invited a bagpiper and a group from the Naperville-based McNulty Irish Dancers to perform.
But to be honest, the Lassie Luncheon has always been about the food.
If she's expecting a smaller crowd Margaret Mary plans a sit-down meal, but this year's 25 or 30 guests will line up for a buffet.
"I always serve my mom's potato soup, it's very traditional, and soda bread," says Margaret Mary, who tweaked her bread to make it sweeter and more moist than the heirloom versions. See the recipe for Mom's Potato Soup at dailyherald.com/entlife/food.
"Most American don't care for traditional soda bread because it's so dry."
She adds a touch more buttermilk and sugar, deletes the usual caraway seeds and tops the dough with extra butter and sugar so it caramelizes in the oven.
Her Parade Stew, made with Guinness, is a smart choice for a crowd, especially if they are going to the St. Patrick's Day parade.
"You put it in the crock pot, go to the parade, come home and party," she says.
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