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Country Cousin

Irish...

Hi Folks!

Rejoice! We’ve had a taste of Spring. We’ve enjoyed some warm sunshine, seen melting snow, and found that in a few precious spots, even mud can be beautiful!

Those nasty weather people tell us the bitter cold will come again on the weekend, close to zero again, but at least not below. Can’t last long, though. Spring will officially be here on Thursday, March 20. The calendar says so. But we probably shouldn’t put away our snow shovels just yet. Recall that not too long ago one of the heaviest snowfalls of the year happened on May 16. Didn’t last long, but it was pretty impressive for a while.

LUCK O’ THE IRISH

With St. Patrick’s Day falling on Monday, March 17, there will doubtless be more than a little revelry in some quarters this weekend, complete with Irish jokes, parades, green beer, corned beef and cabbage, and shamrock themed decorations.

Back before the turn of the century (the one from 1800s to 1900s, not the most recent one) Irish immigrants were flooding into this country, escaping from the potato famine on the Emerald Isle.

The impoverished immigrants were not always well received, and in fact were often ridiculed, overworked and underpaid.

But they reacted by laughing with their detractors, by telling better Irish jokes than the worst of their enemies, and by working hard, getting ahead, and appearing to have more fun than almost everyone else.

Now, for at least this one day a year, it seems like everyone in America pretends to be Irish.

St. Patrick’s Day in Olde Ireland, at least through the 1700’s, was a solemn feast day honoring the saint who converted the Irish to Christianity.

Hues of the Irish countryside are doubtless predominantly green, but Knights in the Order of St. Patrick wore a color known as St. Patrick’s blue. So why did green become so emblematic of St. Patrick that people began drinking green beer, wearing green and eventually dyeing the Chicago River green to mark the holiday that honors him?

Some historians believe that started in the 18th century, when supporters of Irish independence from Britain used green to represent their cause.

Shamrocks are emblems because legend has it that St. Patrick used the plant to demonstrate the Trinity - three lobes make up one leaf.

FORCING BLOSSOMS

If you just can’t wait for Spring, you might want to try forcing some shrubs into bloom. If you’re very, very lucky it could happen in time for Easter.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac says shrubs are easier to force than trees, but first you need to find some branches that are showing buds. Seems impossible with all this cold, but some in sheltered areas may be showing life, if not now, soon.

Possibilities in this clime are crab apples, which can be forced in four weeks, flowering almond in three weeks, forsythia in just one week, honeysuckles in three weeks, pussy willows in two weeks and lilacs in four weeks.

Now, if the snow would melt enough so we can find those promising branches!

Anyway, when the time comes and the buds are showing, choose medium-sized branches with lots of buds, preferably ones that are beginning to open, and cut them on the diagonal. Gives more area for water to be drawn in. Then crush the stem ends with a hammer or small mallet, again so they will soak up the water faster. Once indoors, set the branches in warm water for a few hours. Arrange like a bouquet in an attractive vase, keep in a cool place and mist frequently. Change the water every few days. Once the blooms appear, display in a warm area and enjoy.

Suggestion: Choose branches that are attractive enough to become an Easter Egg Tree, with or without blossoms. Arrange in a large vase or other container heavy enough to support them, and keep the water level up. Then use pastel colored ribbons to hang decorated egg shells from the branches. If the blossoms happen in time you will have a double bonus, but if not, you will still have a decorated Easter tree and maybe it will bloom sometime before the limbs outdoors burst into beauty.

Incidentally, if you’re lucky enough to find some pussy willows for forcing, don’t forget you can trick them into coming out in technicolor by putting their stems into water dosed heavily with food coloring. For a vari-colored bouquet, either set narrow individual containers into a larger one supported by sand or marbles, or insert individual stems into those single bud containers with rubberized tops. The local greenhouse may have them. Mine have been saved from floral arrangements received over the years.

ON THE SOAP BOX

MOVE OVER, DR. SEUSS


Think there’s going to be a new favorite bedtime story. Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, past vice presidential candidate, and mother of five children, was keynote speaker at the recent CPAC (Conservative Political Action) conference.

She said by the time she was reading bedtime stories to Trig, youngest of her five children, she had become a bit tired of the original words to the Dr. Seuss favorite Green Eggs and Ham. So she added a few new twists for her lucky little fella.

Her revised version goes like this:

I do not like this, Uncle Sam.

I do not like this healthcare scam.

I do not like these dirty crooks

Or how they cry and cook the books

I do not like when Congress steals

I do not like their crony deals

I do not like ‘oh yes, we can’

I do not like this spending spree

We’re smart, we know that nothing’s free

I do not like reporters’ smug replies

When I complain about their lies

I do not like this kind of hope

And we won’t take it

Nope, nope, nope!

Great work, Sarah! Dr. Seuss, you’ve found a successor!

COOKIN’ TIME

CROCK POT TIPS

Experts in crock pot cookery say to prevent overcooking and overflowing, your slow cooker should be at least halfway but no more than two-thirds full when you start cooking.

If you need more time than a recipe allows, chill the ingredients and the crock pot before plugging it in. Gets you another hour and a half of cooking time. Lifting the lid also slows things down, so if you want the cooking to go fast, don’t peek. Every time you open the lid it adds about 15 minutes to the cooking time.

CROCK POT CORNED BEEF ‘N’ CABBAGE

Food like this are the reason everyone wants to be Irish at least once a year. Slow cookers are the perfect way to do corned beef, which prefers long, slow simmering and toughens if it’s boiled.

2 celery stalks, cut into 3-inch pieces

3 carrots, cut into 3-inch pieces

1 small yellow onion, cut into 1-inch wedges

1/2 pound small potatoes, halved if large

6 sprigs thyme (or 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme)

1 corned beef brisket (about 3 pounds), plus the pickling

spice packet or 1 tablespoon pickling spice

1/2 head green or Savoy cabbage, cut into 1 1/2-inch

wedges

Grainy mustard or horseradish, for serving

In a 5 to 6-quart slow cooker, place celery, carrots, onion, potatoes, and thyme. Place corned beef, fat side up, on top of vegetables and sprinkle with pickling spice; add enough water to almost cover the meat (4 to 6 cups). Cover and cook on high until corned beef is tender, 4 1/4 hours on high, but preferably 8 1/2 hours on low. Arrange cabbage over corned beef, cover, and continue cooking until the cabbage is tender, 45 minutes on high or 1 1/2 hours on low. (High is okay at this point.) Thinly slice corned beef across the grain and serve with vegetables, cooking liquid, and grainy mustard. Irish Soda bread or a coarse rye bread works very well to sop up the juices.

MUSHROOM FRITATA

Although it makes a delightful breakfast, the fritata could also be served with a green salad for a meatless meal. Not a lot of work here. You cook the vegetables, add the seasoned eggs, and bake and serve the fritata all in one pan. Recipe serves four. This fritata is good with marinara sauce spooned over it.

2 tablespoons olive oil

12 green onions, including white and green parts, cut into

half-inch pieces

1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded and caps

sliced 1/4 inch thick, or white mushrooms, sliced with

stems on

Salt and pepper

8 eggs

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat olive oil in a medium ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add green onions, mushrooms, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; cover, and cook until the vegetables are very soft, about 15 minutes. This looks like a lot of vegetables, but they shrink a lot. Just before the vegetables are done, whisk together eggs and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Pour egg mixture over the vegetables, stir for 2 minutes, then cook for 3 to 4 minutes more. Sprinkle cheese over the fritata, and bake in the oven for 15 minutes.

IRISH CREAM CHEESECAKE

If you must have a green dessert, decorate this cake with gumdrop shamrocks, or something. Even without green decorations this luscious cheesecake puts Irish Cream to good use. Then, of course, buying the bottle of liqueur to make the cake gives you have a perfectly good excuse to drink the rest on the rocks, in hot black coffee, or even mixed with vanilla or chocolate ice cream. This recipe makes a 9-inch cheesecake. Incidentally, baking kills the alcohol, so the kiddies can enjoy it too, and in any case, the amount is minimal in the whole scheme of things.

1 1/2 cups chocolate cookie crumbs

1/3 cup powdered sugar

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 cup butter

3 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese,

softened

1 1/4 cups white sugar

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3 eggs

1/2 cup sour cream

1/4 cup Irish cream liqueur

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix the cookie crumbs, powdered sugar and 1/3 cup cocoa. Add melted butter and stir until well mixed. Pat into the bottom of a 9 inch springform pan. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes; set aside. Increase oven temperature to 450 degrees. In a large bowl, combine cream cheese, white sugar, 1/4 cup cocoa and flour. Beat at medium speed until well blended and smooth. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Blend in the sour cream and Irish cream liqueur; mixing on low speed. Pour filling over baked crust. Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes, then reduce temperature to 250 degrees and continue baking for 60 minutes. Use a knife to loosen cake from rim of pan, but leave it on. Let cool, then remove the rim. Chill before serving. If your cake cracks, a helpful tip is to dampen a spatula and smooth the top, then sprinkle with some chocolate wafer crumbs or shaved chocolate curls. Serve with green whipped cream or not, as you prefer.

DRUNKEN CUPCAKES

You won’t get drunk from eating these, but you might if you drink all the leftovers from the ingredients. Check them out! Save the recipe. These make a great Christmas or New Year’s dessert offering.

Cupcakes:

1 cup Stout beer, such as Guinness

1 cup butter

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups white sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

3/4 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

2/3 cup sour cream

Filling:

2/3 cup heavy whipping cream

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

2 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon Irish whiskey, or a bit more, to taste

Frosting:

1/2 cup butter, softened

3 cups powdered sugar, or more as

needed

3 tablespoons Irish cream liqueur, such as Baileys, or more

to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 24 muffin cups with paper liners. Bring Irish stout beer and 1 cup butter to a boil in a saucepan and set aside until butter has melted, stirring occasionally. Mix in cocoa powder until smooth. Whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a bowl until thoroughly combined. Beat eggs with sour cream in a large bowl with an electric mixer on low until well combined. Slowly beat in the beer mixture, then the flour mixture; beat until the batter is smooth. Spoon the batter into the prepared cupcake cups, filling each cup about 2/3 full. Bake in the preheated oven about 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Cool the cupcakes completely. Cut cores out of the center of each cupcake with a sharp paring knife. (Give these to the kids, eat them yourself, or save for a very small Irish Triffle that you could make if you do a bit of extra filling and layer them in a glass dish with green tinted whipped cream or even vanilla ice cream.)

For the filling, bring cream to a simmer in a saucepan over low heat; stir in bittersweet chocolate until melted. Mix in 2 tablespoons butter and the Irish whiskey until butter is melted; let mixture cool to room temperature. Filling will thicken as it cools. Spoon filling into the cored cupcakes. Chill a bit. For frosting, whip 1/2 cup butter with an electric mixer until fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. With mixer at low low speed slowly beat in the powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, until frosting is smooth and spreadable. Beat in the Irish cream liqueur; adjust thickness of frosting with more powdered sugar or more Irish Cream if needed. Spread frosting on filled cupcakes.

Happy St. Paddy’s Day!

Thought For the Week: As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that. Lord, during this Lenten season let us all clean our hearts of hate. Help all of us, of whatever color, of whatever nationality, to remember that. Let us learn to love and laugh together and to appreciate one another, knowing that You made us all in Your image, and You love us all. Amen.

(This column is written by Shirley Prudhomme of Crivitz. Views expressed are her own and are in no way intended to be an official statement of the opinions of Peshtigo Times editors and publishers. She may be contacted by phone at 715-927-5034 or by e-mail to shirleyprudhommechickadee@yahoo. com.)

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