Funny how here in America, we are about to start celebrating everybody’s inner Irish with corned beef and green beer. But in Ireland, nobody eats corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day. The Irish will be having proper Irish bacon (more like ham than our bacon), potatoes, and cabbage, with parsley sauce, thank you very much. Or maybe a nice stew.
Irish cooking tends to be a big joke here in the US, though that is quickly passing. The bad Irish food rap though, isn’t really Ireland’s fault. In reality, bad Irish food is more a symptom of poverty and repression suffered at the hands of the English. Irish people do not refer to the potato famine as a famine. Instead, they call it The Great Hunger.
The famine and starvation were more a form of genocide, and Ireland during the famine years was actually a net exporter of food. The Irish had been kicked off their farms, their land confisgated by the British, who then stocked the farms with cattle to satisfy the insatiable British demand for beef.
In 1845 alone, Ireland exported 200,000 head of livestock, 2,000,000 quarts of grain, thousands of barrels of “corned” beef (named for the corn-sized chunks of salt used in the preserving process) and several hundred million pounds of flour – all under military and naval escorts.
The Irish have a long history of healthy, diversified agricultural practices and certainly would not have been caught with their entire food supply dependent on one single variety of one single crop if they had a choice.
Facts and statistics don’t nearly convey the tragedy and cruelty these resilient people endured. According to one Polish observer, corpses lined roads with green mouths from eating grass, whole families standing in snow in complete nakedness having pawned their clothes, or a starving mother half insane thrusting her dead child forward and begging for a coffin.
England being, at that time, the wealthiest nation in the world.
Funny how today, we who rebelled with all our might against the golden handcuffs of England, have today, manifested a very similar nation to the old British Empire. The same platitudes about withholding charity and assistance lest the poor become lazy were popular among wealthy British then, just as they are today, here in the US.
Oh sure, tomorrow is a day of fun and revelry, well deserved for sure. But the great Irish thinker, Edmund Burke reminds us, “People will not look forward to posterity who never look backward to their ancestors.”
Sooo, on this eve before St. Patrick’s Day, let’s give a nod to the real Ireland, and the stoic pluck of all the Irish forced to harsh new lives in America, without whom The United States of America would be a very different place.
Grand gestures are showy, but quiet, small ones are sweeter.
Today is that favorite day of retailers, florists and restauranteurs everywhere, Valentine’s Day.
Here in Pennsylvania, we’ve been very fortunate here with the mildness of our winter so far – unlike those of you suffering some real damage and hardship, we’re mostly just inconvenienced and fatigued. The kind of weariness that can be soothed with a steamy, creamy cup of home-made cocoa.
I nixxed commercial hot chocolate powders a long time ago in favor of the old-fashioned, off the package Hershey’s cocoa recipe that my mom used to make. Real milk, cocoa, salt, sugar and a bit of vanilla – all things found in an average kitchen. At home, it’s not really any more work, and the results are so worth it. Once you’ve spoiled yourself, you’ll want to keep a pint jar in your fridge at all times.
But then, one day, this really lovely post from Molly at Remedial Eating stopped me in my tracks. Something I had to try ASAP. And I’m so glad I did. This is one of the nicest, sweetest DIY gift ideas around – a jar of chocolate ganache ready to spoon into heated milk for a perfectly delicious, creamy, real cup of steaming cocoa.
Hot Chocolate Base (Ganache)
Yield: 2 generous cups ganache (enough for 2 dozen+ mugs of hot cocoa)
This makes a light ganache (1:1), scoop-able straight from the fridge. For firm truffles and heartier frostings, a 2:1 chocolate:cream ratio gives greater body and intensity. FYI.
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream (not ultra-pasteurized, if possible)
12 ounces semisweet chocolate (3 – 4 oz. bars)
Snap chocolate bars into a large, heat-proof bowl. Heat cream over medium, until the first bubble breaks, then remove from heat and pour over chocolate shards. Let sit 5 minutes, then whisk gently to combine, 1-2 minutes. Pour into jar, and refrigerate, up to 1 month.
To Make Hot Cocoa:
Heat milk (2% or whole), as much as you want, over medium heat, until steaming. (Alternatively, for one mug, microwave). Add ganache to hot milk: I use 1 heaping tablespoon per 8 ounces of milk, though there are those under my roof who argue 2 tablespoons are far superior. And no, I don’t measure. Eyeball it. Stir ganache into hot milk until dissolved, 10-15 seconds, taste, and add more, if desired. Pour into mugs, top as desired (whipped cream, marshmallows), wrap fingers ’round, and give thanks for winter.
Who am I kidding? 1-2 TBS? No way. Try 3, or even 4!
So, if you’re still struggling for not-too-big, not-too-small DIY gift ideas, here you go – you still have time. A nice jar of homemade chocolate ganache for a steamy cup of ready-made love for your beloved.
And, if heating milk sounds like too much work, there’s always spoon truffles. Spoon truffles? You know exactly what I’m talking about – no double dipping!
What can I do today, before the rush is on, to be ready for last minute gifts, kind neighborly gestures, and unexpected visits? Make recipes for rolls of unbaked refrigerator cookies, portioned into gift-sized logs, wrapped in waxed paper, and stashed in the freezer for gifting or fresh-baked cookies in minutes..
Like many retro, forgotten ways, Icebox cookies add a simple, convenient and downright elegant trick to your pantry that will help preserve that element of snacking spontaneity we all love so much. They come in filled swirls, basic shortbread styles, with and without fruit and can be dipped in chocolate for an extra degree of fanciness.
The logs require almost no time to thaw enough to slice, arrange on a baking sheet, bake & cool. Thoughtfully wrapped with a recipe tag, they make a small and lovely gift. I like that since they have to be baked, you can save them for later, after the overload of sweets and snacks has passed.
Here are three of my current favorite recipes for Icebox cookies:
Salted Rye Cookies
- Golden Raisin Icebox Cookies – tender, crisp & rich, these are both rustic and sophisticated.
- Fruit Swirls – an extra bonus to this one is the recipe uses no processed sugar. Instead, use honey and dried fruit. They’re tender, rich and easily adaptable for a variety of flavors.
- My current obsession: Salted Rye Cookies. I love crunchy sugar crystals and was completely taken by this idea: these earthy rye rounds are rolled in a crunchy, crystal-ey mixture of coarse sugar and salt. Brilliant.
And, not just a DIY gift idea, icebox cookies are a great everyday pantry trick for anyone interested in real foods.
Fruit Swirls, no sugar. One recipe, divided into four logs, wrapped in waxed paper for gifting or baking.
Why do I love prepared snacks in my freezer?
- simple strategy for portion control – divide the dough into smaller logs and only bake what you need
- a quick, fun after school treat kids can make themselves
- something special on hand to feed unexpected visitors
- strategy to keep those overly processed commercial cookies out of your pantry
- your kid tells you at 9 pm they need to bring cookies to class tomorrow – no biggie
In these days of pandemic, old fashioned neighboring is more meaningful than ever. What sweeter way to check on your neighbors than by gifting them a thoughtful log of ready-to-bake cookies?
If I was going to name one skill to master to save money and really intensify the flavors of your home cooking, it would be to deeply start exploring the juices. We throw away so much flavor and nutrition because we don’t value that extra bit of juice in the pan. Yet we will buy a separate spice or sauce to do exactly what that discarded juice will do if you would only recognize it.
Seasonal fruit is a great example of how harnessing the power and flavor of those natural peak-of-freshness juices makes your cooking extraordinary. Most recipes solve the issue of too juicy in pies and jams by cooking the fruits down, and adding thickener. But reverse that thinking, and slow down your process, and I think you will be amazed at the difference.
Got my first strawberries from the local Amish farmer a couple days ago. Plain, simple, straight-up strawberry jam may be one of my very, very favorite kitchen staples. But last year, I made this. And it’s a pretty wonderful way to celebrate that unmistakable flavor of a fresh, ripe, local strawberry in January. And a really excellent DIY gift idea, if you are inclined to think ahead that way.
- 2 pints strawberries, hulled and sliced, or 1-1/2 pounds frozen strawberries, thawed
- 1-1/2 cups Simple Syrup*
- 1 fifth vodka, 80 – 100 proof
Muddle the strawberries and simply syrup with a wooden spoon in a half-gallon jar. Stir in the vodka.
Seal the jar and put it in a cool, dark cabinet until the liquid smells and tastes strongly of strawberries, about 7 days.
Strain the mixtue with a mesh strainer into a clean quart jar. Do not push on the solids to extract more liquid – it will make your Strawberrycello cloudy.
Note: If you feel your berries may have been a little overripe, and the flavor of your liquor seems a little flat, add a Tablespoon of strawberry or raspberry vinegar to restore the balance.
Seal and store in a cool, dark cabinet. Use within 1 year.
Perfect for sipping on a summer day, for spiking a cosmo, mixing with a summery white wine like Prosecco – don’t forget to chill the glass!
From the very fun book, Homemade Liqueurs and Infused Spirits by Andrew Schloss.
Martha will show you how to make herb sugar here.
I was a bit eye-rolley about this idea at first.
GAL is one of those words that feels silly and stilted to say, and in my head, is always heard in Ethel Merman’s voice. I mean, I love my female friends, I love candy and wine, lipstick and treats, but Galentine’s was looking like one massive Hallmark consumption fest and a gathering of all things giggly and girly.
Not knocking giggly and girly if that is your real thing and it brings you joy. But to me, a good Galentine’s Day would head for the woods with chain saws, or a hike, plant some stuff, or build some fence, and/or a good bonfire cum/table groaning with loads of home-made potluck treats. Or a get-together helping a GAL friend with any daunting project she can’t quite manage to launch by herself.
My Galentine’s Day would include some sharing of Galentine dreams and some #NoMercy commitment to birthing those shy, secret plans we GALS hide in the back of our hearts, and always seem to put last, behind everyone else’s laundry and chauffeuring needs.
Then, the word GALENTINE started to grow on me, Ethel and all.
Looking back over the last decade of my life, the part where “normal” began to fall apart, it is absolutely one hundred percent true, it was my female friends who saved me from drowning.
Though we each had busy lives, and didn’t spend much time Galentine-ing it up during our everyday, married, kid schlepping lives, it did not matter. When the need was real, it was those GALS who showed up, ready to work when I was overwhelmed and could not see what to do next.
When I was mowed over after my husband’s heart attack, we had three busy daughters at home, and I ran my own demanding business, it was my friend Debbie who cooked – I am not exaggerating – trays and trays of foods, thoughtfully planned for Bill’s new dietary needs, so I could mix and match and keep my family fed for weeks without needing to go to the store.
I also remember the day I was part of a group of GALS helping my same friend Debbie load up all her stuff and move her out of the house she had poured her heart into and into a rental the next town over. The power of that group of women, each pitching in hard with their unique gifts, moved mountains that day.
Obviously, Debbie Galentines like a boss.
My friend Becky was there during the darkest days of my marriage helping keep the business alive and well and keeping me focused on the unpleasant tasks at hand.
More recently, when I was overwhelmed after losing family and a good chunk of my farm resources, it was my friend Shelly who showed up and helped me move all my freezers and plow through my paralysis, and begin to set up a new normal.
After my divorce, having to adjust to losing so much, my friend Jenny went out of her way to open her home to me, and include me in her days. For a while, the warm, rich, friend-filled dinners spent at Jenny’s house were the only real human balm for my sore spirit.
I could go on, but you get it. And I am not the only one. When the chips are down, and the days go dark, it is your girlfriends who bring you back.
So, a day to celebrate that life force is only right and good. And if you find you are without Galentines in your life, I would recommend you get to work finding some. ASAP.
I could not love you GALS more.