Tag Archives: American Holidays

Happy St. Patrick’s Day 2012

St. Patrick’s Day is nearly over. I didn’t do too much this year– I wore my requisite green shirt, and striped green socks, and even drank a holiday themed beer in the evening, however overall the day was relatively low key, as P and I were both busy working on projects, shackled to our respective computers.

Conversely, P’s younger brother U was in Dublin, celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in style with our Irish friend RH and our former neighbor D (who several months ago resettled in the Emerald Isle). U was periodically uploading pictures of his St. Patrick’s Day activities on Facebook, giving us a glimpse of what the party was like in the Irish-American “motherland.”

U, RH and D in Dublin

I’ve mentioned before that my family considers itself “Irish-American.” On my mother’s side my grandfather immigrated from Western Ireland (I believe in the 40s), and my grandmother’s parents were also both from that region of the country. On my father’s side the connection stretches back farther, but the family still takes pride in it’s “Irish-American” roots. As an “Irish-American” St. Patrick’s Day has always been an acknowledged and celebrated part of the spring calendar.

Growing up my father was part of an Irish-American club in the town, and I remember many childhood St. Patrick’s Days spent at the club helping to serve corned beef and cabbage dinners to townspeople who came by the hundreds every March 17th. Many of them probably considered themselves “Irish-American” as well but I’m sure others just wanted to join in the fun and celebrate along with their friends and neighbors.

We would watch Irish step dancers perform and listen to recordings of Irish pub songs that relied heavily on accordions and fiddles. Everyone in the club was bathed in Kelly Green… shirts, pants, dresses, socks, scarves. Some wore plastic shamrock shaped shot glasses hanging from green Mardi Gras bead necklaces, others wore headbands with cheesy shamrock antenna, and little kids often sported sparkly green shamrock stickers on their cheeks. As far as I was concerned, as a kid, everyone in the world celebrated St. Patrick’s Day.

Then in sixth grade I signed up for a youth magazine that had a pen pal section in the back. For several years I often responded to pen pal requests, and I advertised for pen pals as well. I had quite a few, some in the US, but also several from abroad– including one kid I exchanged several letters with from Singapore. He had responded to my pen pal request printed in the magazine, explaining he was of Indian origin and his name was Manuj. In response to the letter he sent I told him a little about myself, and talked about my excitement for St. Patrick’s Day, which was coming a few days later. In the letter I asked him about how he celebrated St. Patrick’s Day, and what people do for the holiday in Singapore.

A few weeks passed and I received a letter back that contained shocking information for the sixth grade version of me… “We don’t celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Singapore, as there are not a lot of Irish people here. Since my family is from India, we have never done anything for St. Patrick’s Day, but it was interesting to hear what your family does.” It was one of those “aha” moments for me that made me realize that other parts of world really are different.

After meeting our Irish friend, I’ve had several other “aha” moments about my understanding of “Irish-American” culture, and how it differs from “real Irish” culture– including my name. I think I mentioned this before, but I always thought my first name was a super-uber Irish name, but later realized (and this really shook up my world!) that my name is only popular in Irish-diaspora cultures like the US and Australia, and hardly anyone in Ireland proper has my name because it is a gaelic noun.

I think RH had similarly strange “aha” moments (I am assuming, he can correct me if I am wrong) after coming to the US for his graduate studies. Many Americans, particularly in New England which is a large “Irish-American” stronghold, had a lot of stereotypical views of what an “Irish” person was supposed to be like, and RH often didn’t adhere to their expectations.

So when U decided to travel to Dublin for St. Patrick’s Day RH was a little worried that U would be disappointed. St. Patrick’s Day is often an excuse for people in the US to go a little crazy, drinking green beer and sharing their Irish pride all over the place… but these crazy celebrations are often in Irish-diaspora cities. Dublin has a parade and celebrations, but RH worried that U might expect the biggest St. Patrick’s Day party ever, the granddaddy of them all, so to speak.

It seems from the pictures that the festivities were fun, and U had the “authentic” Irish St. Patrick’s Day party he was hoping for.

If you are interested in learning more about the creation of “Irish-American” cultural identity NPR had an interesting 45 minute radio program on Tom Ashbrook’s “On Point” the other day called “How the Irish became American” arguing, in part, that “Irish-American” identity was one of the first hyphenated identities in the US. It’s definitely worth a listen.

Hope you all had a nice day… whether you celebrated St. Patrick’s Day or not :)

Christmas Cookies!

Over the weekend P and I had our (5th!) annual Christmas party. You can read about the 2010 party HERE and the 2009 party HERE.

To take a different angle this year I was going to write about the annual cookie baking prep for the party, but as usual I was in a rush, and with the clock ticking and my hands covered in dough, I didn’t take any pictures.

As a compromise I decided to share some of my favorite cookie recipes to make up for the lack of beautiful pictures.

I’ve written before about how my own mother wasn’t very big in to (or super good at, sorry mom) cooking or baking–in part because she didn’t learn much from her own mother, who in turn didn’t learn much from hers, because my great-grandmother, having spent much of her young adult life as a cook for JD Rockefeller, was sick of cooking by the time she had my grandmother and never really taught her. Even though my mother wasn’t that great at cooking, she did try… probably because my dad was used to homemade foods from his side of the family. For a few years my mother experimented with homemade apple sauce, and she had a good recipe for apple crisp, and an occasional apple pie. Yet when it came to cakes and brownies they were all “from a box,” and cookies were often made instantly with refrigerated Pillsbury dough (like the kind that comes in a tube and comes pre-designed with red or green dye in the center).

As I’ve also mentioned before, when I moved to Massachusetts I was asked by several new Nepali women friends if I could teach them to make “American desserts.” Since much of my experience was of the boxed variety, I decided to do some recipe sleuthing, and find some tasty things to try.

Before the end of summer I baked my first homemade brownies. Our first Thanksgiving I whipped out my paternal grandmother’s pumpkin and apple pie recipes. And by Christmas I was in full cookie baking mode. I invited several women over, we pulled our kitchen table out from the wall and covered it in aluminium foil, and baked cookies like there was no tomorrow. Since then, this has become a bit of a tradition– I make a ridiculous amount of cookies, and then serve them at our Christmas party a day or two later.

Every year P asks my why I do this– spend money on boxes of butter, and different flavored extracts and packages of sugar– I think he thinks its silly. Yet Christmas cookie time only comes once a year so you are allowed to go a little crazy! At least that’s the excuse I give :)

Last year I made 9 different types, but this year I was a little less ambitious and only made 7. Here are some of my favorites:

Double Lemon Delights

Double Lemon Delights (great with a cup of tea in the morning!)

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1.2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons grated lemon peel, divided
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 4 to 5 teaspoons lemon juice

1. Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C)

2. Combine flour, baking powder and salt in small bowl; set aside. Beat butter and granulated sugar in large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in egg, 1 tablespoon lemon peel and vanilla until well blended. Gradually beat in flour mixture until well blended.

3. Drop 2 tablespoons of dough onto ungreased cookie sheets, spacing 2 inches apart. Flatten dough until 2 inches in diameter with bottom of glass that has been dipped in additional sugar.

4. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until cookies are just set and edges are golden brown. Cool completely.

5. Combine powdered sugar, lemon juice and remaining 1 tablespoon lemon peel in small bowl; drizzle mixture over cookies. Let stand until icing is set.

Makes between 1-2 dozen.

Irish Soda Bread Biscuits

Irish Soda Bread Biscuits (also tasty with tea, sensing a pattern? Plus I needed a nod to my heritage ;))

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk (or 1/4 cup milk and 1/4 tablespoon of lemon juice)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C)

2. Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl and set aside. In seperate bowl mix butter and sugar until well blended then add the dry ingredients.

3. Mix in egg, pour in milk and mix with fork to make a soft dough, add raisins.

4. Knead into a ball, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for an hour. Dough is very sticky and this helps make handling a little easier.

5. On a floured surface roll out dough and either cut into 2 inch squares or triangles, or– use cookie cutters to make fun shaped biscuits (this is what I do!)

6. Bake for 12-14 minutes or until slightly brown.

Makes about 36.

Cranberry Orange Biscuits (also good with tea!)

  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened 
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon orange extract
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange zest
  • 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup dried cranberries

1. Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C). Lightly grease cookie sheet or line with parchment paper.

2. In a medium bowl, cream together the white sugar, brown sugar and butter. Stir in the egg, orange juice, orange extract, and orange zest.

3. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; mix into the orange mixture. Stir in the dried cranberries.

4. Drop cookie dough by heaping teaspoonfuls, 2 inches apart, on prepared cookie sheets.

5. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until edges are starting to brown. Cool completely.

Makes about 2 dozen

Cinnamon Polar Bears, photo from baking last year...

Cinnamon Polar Bears

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 egg
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • small amount of powdered sugar
  • mini semisweet chocolate chips
  • red cinnamon candies (or if you can’t find these, “Hot Tamale” candies cut in half)

1. In large bowl, combine sugar and butter; beat until light and fluffy. Add egg; beat well. Add flour and cinnamon; blend well. Cover dough with plastic wrap; refrigerate 1 hour for easier handling.

2. Heat oven to 350°F (175°C). For each cookie, shape dough into 1 inch ball; place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Flatten slightly. Shape dough into 3 (1/4 inch) balls. Place 2 of the balls above and touching larger ball for ears and 1 ball on top to resemble snout. Flatten slightly.

3. Bake for 11-15 minutes or until firm to the touch. Lightly sprinkle cookies with powdered sugar. Press 2 chocolate chips into each cookie for eyes and 1 cinnamon candy for nose.

Makes 2-3 dozen.