Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Secret Astoria Scavenger Hunt -- A Chapter Book for Tweens

The Goonies Anniversary Celebration brings Seattle tween Morgan to Astoria, Oregon, for a fun weekend with her younger Astoria cousins, Sean and Ronan. The Anniversary festivities are in full swing at this historic riverfront town, plus the boys have just entered a spooky contest inspired by the movie. When the boys ask Morgan to help them win the grand prize, she’s determined to make their Anniversary Celebration weekend together the most memorable ever!

But there’s something really peculiar about the bed-and-breakfast where Morgan, almost thirteen, and her mom are staying. When an even more outlandish girl at the B&B asks the three to go on a cryptic quest on her behalf—a scavenger hunt that could help the boys win the contest—Morgan and her cousins begin a rollicking visit to Astoria’s most famous sites.  Yet as the eerie hunt kicks into high gear, they discover a mysterious boy is following them all over town.


With the stranger in hot pursuit, the kids realize that the secrets and legends of old Astoria may be haunting them. Will Morgan, Sean and Ronan be able to escape from the powerful forces of the past?  Or will they remain trapped in a world of shadows and dangerous secrets?

If you'd like to see more of this family-friendly chapter book, here's Chapter 1!


The Skeleton in the Floor

The human skeleton dangled from an invisible cord beneath a clear floor panel, light from the nearby fireplace flickering on the top of its skull. Shivering, Morgan tore her eyes from the creepy hole at her feet. “Guys! Come see this!” She stepped around a sign on a metal stand that said, Proud Sponsor of “The Goonies” Anniversary Celebration, and waved at her cousins, sitting at a table at the Smuggler’s Hole Café.
“I’m drawing,” said Sean without looking up.
Ronan slid from his chair, scooting over to join Morgan. “What’s going on?”
“Look at that!”
Ronan peered into the dim pit, covered with a hard plastic square. “You don’t think the skeleton is real, do you?”
“It’s fake, of course.” Morgan tried to sound casual, though her heart beat faster. After that strange Halloween she’d had back in the fifth grade, she knew that even unbelievable things can happen to you—and it can be awfully hard to figure out what’s true and what’s made up. “I mean, what kind of restaurant would have a human skeleton in a hole, except as a joke?”
Ronan stepped onto the plastic panel and jumped on it. “Ronan!” hissed Morgan. Almost ten, Ronan could be a little too mischievous. “You’ll break it! And get us into trouble—”
“No, look, it’s solid,” said Ronan. “Like, double super-glued.” He called to his big brother, “Sean—come over here!”
“Got to finish this first,” Sean said. Morgan hid a smile. Sean, just turned eleven, was the kind of kid who got completely absorbed in whatever he was doing. And when he was really into something, the whole world could blow up and he would hardly notice.
“We watched The Goonies again last night, to get ready for this weekend,” said Ronan. “I guess Sean got all inspired to draw a picture about the movie.”
“I watched it too, before we left home,” Morgan told him. She and her mom were visiting her aunt’s family in the small riverside town of Astoria, Oregon, for The Goonies Anniversary Celebration. “I can’t wait to go to all the events tomorrow! You’re so lucky to live here.”
“You mean ’cause The Goonies was filmed in Astoria?” asked Ronan. “Yeah, it’s pretty cool. Every time Sean and I watch the movie we look for the real places around town.” He eyed the panel like he wanted to stomp on it again.
“Don’t even think about it,” Morgan warned. “The last thing we need is to get grounded, when we’ve got all kinds of Anniversary plans.” Now that she was almost thirteen, starting eighth grade in the fall, naturally her mom was bringing her along to all the parties.
“All right,” said Ronan, pretending to pout.
“My dad teases me and Mom that the movie is just a dorky fantasy, but we think the whole weekend is going to be a blast!” Morgan peeked at the skeleton one last time. It seemed to move a tiny bit, like it was being shaken by an invisible hand. “Uh, Ronan, there’s something…”
He’d already turned toward the table. “Sean!” he called again. “Will you just get over—”
“Never mind.” Morgan shook her head as if to clear it. Seeing this skeleton and knowing she had two whole days in the world of The Goonies had her imagination working overtime. “We’ll get him to look at the hole on our way out.”
They ambled back to the table, the worn floorboards creaking under Morgan’s feet. The Café was located in one of the oldest structures in town, built on a wooden pier that extended directly over the Columbia River. A summer evening breeze drifted through the Café’s open windows, smelling briny and sea-weedy, and Morgan could hear the river lapping against the wood pilings. Her gaze wandered back to the area around the hole. Her aunt said that part was built right over the river. I’ll bet if I went over there and stomped on the plastic, harder than Ronan, the floor would open up and I’d fall right next to that skeleton. She shivered again.
Now that the restaurant was nearly deserted, the grownups didn’t mind if Morgan and her cousins roamed around. Besides, Morgan’s mom Nicole, and her sister, Morgan’s Aunt Shannon—Sean and Ronan’s mom—were acting kind of like kids too. They were chattering non-stop about all The Goonies events around town.
“What are you wearing to the Eighties party?” Aunt Shannon asked Morgan’s mom. She was cuddling Mary Rose, the boys’ baby sister.
Her mom’s eyes sparkled. “A blue Superman t-shirt, red suspenders and cut-offs—what else?”
The Goonies’ ‘Sloth’ character!” said Aunt Shannon. “It’s so you.”
“Oh, Mom.” Morgan laughed. “I think you’d time travel back to 1985 if you could.”
“Absolutely.” Her mom giggled, reaching over to tickle Mary Rose’s cheek. “Do you think your mommy and I would miss a chance to relive The Goonies’ experience?” she asked the baby.
The whole town was already going crazy. On the way to the Café, Morgan had seen a ton of people—mostly grownups—in costumes from the movie. “What’s really great,” Morgan told Mary Rose, “is that The Goonies will be playing at the town’s theatre all weekend, so we can see it as many times as we want!”
Mary Rose wiggled like she was excited about watching the movie. She stuck her thumb in her mouth and looked at her brothers.
Sean was sketching a bunch of lines on his paper, while Ronan pulled a small book from his jeans pocket. Morgan tilted her head to read the title. A Mini-Guidebook: Facts and Legends about Astoria, Oregon. She took out her phone and keyed in the site of The Goonies Anniversary Celebration. What was completely awesome was that a few celebrities—cast and crew from the movie—were going to be at the events too.
“I thought we’d have to cancel our visit this weekend,” Mom was saying. “Every hotel and motel was booked solid! I finally found a B&B downtown that had some space.”
 “What’s the name of it?” Aunt Shannon asked. Mary Rose sucked her thumb vigorously.
“It’s a beautiful Victorian house,” Mom said, grinning. “It’s got lots of gingerbread trim, and a cute little garden shed in the backyard.”
“The shed’s built against a small hill,” said Morgan, “kind of like a Hobbit’s house!”
“Really, it’s just darling,” said her mom. “Apparently the original owner’s great-great-granddaughter recently bought the house!”
“Which B&B?” Aunt Shannon persisted.
“Hang on.” Morgan held up one hand, then pulled up the B&B website. “Here it is.” She leaned over to show her aunt.

The Lahti House Bed & Breakfast
Charming and cozy accommodations with a River View, in the Heart of Historical Astoria!
Vintage Board games available to guests. Afternoon high tea upon request.

Aunt Shannon seemed to go tense. “I thought so. The Lahti House.”
Mary Rose stopped sucking her thumb.
“It’s great, isn’t it?” Morgan closed the site, and brought up the website for the town of Astoria.
“They even have extra rooms available.” Morgan’s mom finished her iced tea. “You and your hubby and the baby could get a room there and another for the boys—we could be together all weekend!”
“Um,” said Aunt Shannon. She looked away.
Mom set down her glass. “What? Is something the matter with it?” She made a face. “Crummy breakfasts? They advertised French toast and fresh fruit—”
Aunt Shannon shook her head. “Didn’t you wonder why no one else is staying at the B&B?”
“The beds are lumpy?” Aunt Shannon didn’t say anything. Mom went on, “Not…Morgan, don’t get grossed out—not bedbugs?”
“You wish,” said Aunt Shannon. She peeped at the boys, who were still preoccupied, and put her hand on the side of her face. “People say,” and she dropped her voice to a whisper, “that The Lahti House is…haunted.”

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

An Old-Fashioned Love Story...The Hopeful Romantic

If you're in the mood for an old-fashioned love story, you might enjoy The Hopeful Romantic! It's a tender novel about a young Dublin wife and mother, whose satisfying family life is upended by her yearning for something more... 

Dreamy, emotional Kerry McCormack is an old-fashioned girl who’s always longed to live in the country. She’s married to Stephen, an earnest, practical executive who’s made a big success in the Dublin business world. Both Irish thirtysomethings, they’ve shared thirteen years of a safe, predictable marriage. But unspoken grief, their son’s new independence and Kerry’s craving for a simpler life are causing rifts in their previously placid relationship.

When Kerry accepts an unexpected invitation from an old friend—a friend she once fancied—to spend a weekend in the little village of Ballydara, she’s looking forward to an idyllic family holiday. During their stay, however, Stephen’s long-buried secrets and Kerry’s past collide, until their marriage seems beyond repair.
 
In this sensitive portrayal of marriage, family, and second chances, can Kerry and Stephen get past the hurt they’ve caused each other, and find their way to a Happily Ever After?

Here's brief excerpt:

Every fix I’ve gotten myself into, every eejit thing I’ve ever done, is because of my fatal flaw—I’m a hopeless romantic. And just look where it’s got me.

I gazed at the snowy pasture from the kitchen window, huddled in Stephen’s old work coat, the one item of his I’d taken with me when I’d left Dublin three days ago. Okay, there was the ring too—the new gem-studded wedding band Stephen had surprised me with last month. He’d given it to me over the holiday we’d spent with our friend Will, when everything had changed. Well, more like…imploded. But I couldn’t quite go there. Not today. Not on Christmas Eve.

I rubbed my bare ring finger with my thumb. Why I thought of the ring as Stephen’s…I’d never felt such a flashy piece of jewelry belonged to me, even though he’d had Kerry, Forever, engraved on the inside—such a sentimental gesture for such a prosaic guy. Out of respect, I’d kept wearing the ring, even after he left. But I’d not worn it since arriving here at the farm. I’d put the ring into a saucer next to the kitchen sink and there it had stayed. I would try not to look at it, but invariably, my eyes would be drawn to the flash of sparkle against the countertop. Whether my ring was mocking me or guilt-tripping me, I wasn’t sure.

You may ask, why wear a posh wedding band anyway, after your husband says we need a break? Exactly. But the bigger question was, what had possessed me to come to the farm at all? On the spur of the moment, I’d decided that staying here for a few days would be like a…well, a mini-retreat. On my own, without distractions, I’d find the answers to all my problems. Instead, following this rash, madzer impulse, I’d gotten myself completely stranded. Which is where my fatal flaw comes in…

Available at Amazon, Nook, iBooks and Kobo... You can find more about my Irish stories at www.susancolleenbrowne.com!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Mother's Day Love Story and a Giveaway

Mother Love, the 2nd novel in my Village of Ballydara series, is a love story...and a story about Irish mothers, traditional and not so traditional. In this rollicking tale, meet brash, irreverent Grainne Larkin, a modern Irish heroine juggling family relationships and the man she can’t forget…

Grainne wants three things: her mother's love, a baby, and Rafe Byrne--not necessarily in that order. On Rafe's wedding day, Grainne is keen for a fresh start—why not settle for the nice guy in the wings who’s successful, and mad about her too? Just as Grainne is poised to get her future on track, her family pressures her to leave Dublin for the quaint little village of Ballydara, to help her mother launch a B&B. Given her turbulent relationship with her mam, the last thing Grainne wants to do is live with her.

But when Rafe, her old flame, turns up in Ballydara a free man, Grainne takes a page from her favorite fictional heroine Scarlett O’Hara: she plunges into a no-holds-barred pursuit of the child she wants so badly. But Grainne soon discovers that opening her heart—to Rafe, to the prospect of motherhood, and to her mother—is the biggest risk of all… 

To celebrate Mother's Day, I'm offering a Goodreads Giveaway of Mother Love! You can sign up for the chance to win a free, autographed copy of the book from May 5 to May 12. You'll find more about the Village of Ballydara series at www.susancolleenbrowne.com...

Here's a sample of Mother Love:


The Gallagher Post

Gai Lannigan’s Blog—Girl Talk

Baby Hunger
Lust for a guy is one thing. But lust for babies is a whole different story. And a lot harder to satisfy. The old cliché about biological clocks is just a polite way to describe waking up one morning, realizing you’ve wasted your youth, and now you can practically feel your eggs shriveling. The viable ones, that is. The duds are probably sashaying merrily round your ovaries, snickering at their rapidly dissolving sisters.
If you’ve baby hunger but no daddy material on the horizon, you’re probably thinking, how can I joke about this? I see your point. Your average baby fanatic is actually a bit of an addict, with a terrible craving for her fix. The trouble is, like other common addictions—say, drink, drugs and gambling—the temptations of babies are everywhere. (Which only increases the baby longing.) Another painful truth is that baby-cravers often gravitate toward careers that provide maximum contact with babies, like pediatricians, or playschool teachers. Unfortunately, jobs like that give baby-lusters minimum contact with what they can’t do without: unattached sperm-providers.
You might be one of the lucky ones, though, with several paternal prospects to choose from. But what if you’re keener on having a baby than having a man? If word gets out, people will think you’re quite heartless, if not altogether mad. Which bothers true baby-lusters not a whit. Your road to motherhood couldn’t be simpler: You pick a fellow you know will drop his drawers for you, no questions asked. Unfortunately, any guy who’ll sleep with you at the snap of your fingers is a guy who’s had it off with every available female who’s crossed his path—not the sort you’d want condom-less.
You could always bide your time and wait for the perfect, baby-making love machine. But who knows how long that could take? So my advice is to go for a nice guy with a presentable gene pool, who won’t make a scene when you cool the relationship. After the deed is done, that is. Trouble is, nice men want to do the decent thing…   


One

“You don’t think Gai really wants a baby, do you?” Justine Egan tapped the screen of her mobile, then drained her pint.
“Don’t tell me you’re reading that blog again.” Crunching a shortbread finger in a dim corner of O’Fagan’s, I stared enviously at Justine’s glass. A pity I’d no head for drink. Today of all days, I’d have liked something to take the edge off. “Aren’t you meant to be checking recipes for birthday cake?”
“Not now.” Justine thrust her phone across the scratched wood table. “Check out today’s Girl Talk.”
“I came to the pub to relax,” I said as she went to the bar for a refill, “not read about angsty girls with too much time on their hands.” But to please Justine, my flatmate and best friend, I scanned her favorite blog, helping myself to a third biscuit. As if a self-induced sugar coma might help me forget why I was mainlining the stuff in the first place.
You know how it is—the day your ex-boyfriend gets married, it’s like a huge insect squished on the windscreen of your life. It’s not like you care or anything, it’s just that the oul‘ bugger is blocking your vision.
O’Fagan’s wasn’t the best place to clear your head either, with strings of Guinness flags hanging listlessly from the ceiling and ancient, smoke-stained paneled walls. And today, the place felt more claustrophobic than usual—a far cry from the flower-bedecked, sun-drenched nuptials I could see in my mind’s eye half a world away. Not that I wanted to be shackled to some guy for life, but there’s something about people you know tying the knot that gets you pondering your own future. Even if it’s a wedding you’d no interest in attending, if they prostrated themselves at your feet and begged you.
“Is that Girl Talk you’re reading?” Eamonn winked at us from behind the taps. “What’s she on about today?” 
“Getting pregnant,” Justine told him. “With the right guy.”
“And before your ovaries wither like raisins,” I put in.
“Aw, Grainne.” Eamonn shuddered. “Who wants to hear that female stuff?” In a former life, he’d attended seminary, even if he hadn’t lasted long.
“Well, you asked.” I took another bite of shortbread. “Although,” I added under my breath, “there’s something to be said for ignorance is bliss.”
“Amen to that,” said Eamonn. Really, the man had ears like underwater sonar. He resumed his glass polishing and pint-pulling and whatever else a barman does at Dublin’s least trendy and most morgue-like pub, on a late spring afternoon. “Sure, I can’t see why The Gallagher Post publishes such rubbish, though.”
“Because it’s trendy,” Justine retorted. “And every girl I know reads it.” She returned to the table with her second pint, and plucked her mobile from my hands. “So, what do you think of the post? The baby bit is rather strange, but when she mentioned the perfect man—”
“No such thing,” I said. “That’s why most girls end up settling for good enough.”
Justine took a sip. “Sure, I’m not looking for the perfect guy.”
Maybe you should, I wanted to say, but kept my mouth shut. She’d a here-and-there thing with a tosser who worked close by, currently in the “there” status, as he hadn’t rung for a week. Worse, though, was that Justine was secretly hung up on another guy who didn’t know she was alive, except as a friend. If that wouldn’t doom a girl to misery, I don’t know what would.
My own #1 Relationship Rule: a bloke can put me first or not at all. But if you hadn’t been so keen to cut and run, a little voice answered, maybe you’d still be with—
I jumped up from the table, setting my biscuit down. “Enough of this lounging about. Time for some craic.” Really, hanging around this right mortuary, even if it was our usual meeting place after work, was no way to get out of a funk.



Friday, March 27, 2015

It Only Takes Once--Book 1 of my Irish Village of Ballydara series...an excerpt

I'm trying something new...sharing excerpts of my Village of Ballydara novels! Here's the opening of Book 1...

It Only Takes Once
Chapter One

The Sign

 The urge to contact an old boyfriend should be approached with extreme caution, I always say. Even if you’ve excellent reasons, any impulse with such potential for disaster on a grand scale should be either squashed immediately, or given due consideration: i.e., discussed exhaustively with your friends, whom you have bribed with cheap wine and equally cheap Cadbury’s to listen to you, and for your trouble, will give you their expert counsel.
In case the confab with friends regarding the ex sets off an uncharacteristic impulse to take action—Saturday night’s strategy session with Deirdre and Maggie ended with a rash, midnight phone call to America—you’ll want to be on the lookout for signs and portents that you’re on the right track.
I was saying exactly that to Deirdre six days later, in the back room of her mam’s shop, O’Donnell’s Books & Collectibles. “Though I was sure I’d get a sign before now. Especially here.”
After all, you’d think a shop stuffed with fairy-themed merchandise—that’s Irish fairies, mind—in tourist-jammed Temple Bar, smack in the middle of Dublin, Ireland, which is home to spiritual icons galore, would be a magnet for messages from the Other Side, the far corners of the world, or the Infinite.
“Signs,” scoffed Deirdre. As my fellow shop assistant, she could’ve been helping me sort through the tatty leftovers from her mam’s parish jumble sale, but she was busy Web surfing. “Maybe you’re meant to watch for the one saying the call was a waste of time.”
“No way,” I said, though I was starting to wonder. While I hardly expected a metaphysical memo to waft in, such as, Attn.: Aislin Moore, Congrats on the genius phone call, surely a teensy insight into my next move wasn’t too much to ask? I gazed balefully at yet another overflowing box, perched on a high shelf. “One more box to go. And the dustiest of the lot.”
“Sling it ’til Monday,” Deirdre said, clicking madly. “Mammy’ll never know.”
I sneezed. “I’m for that.” I swiped my hands on my jumper, then made the mistake of glancing at the box again. It seemed to droop toward me reproachfully. “Shag it all,” I muttered. On tiptoe, I grabbed one corner of the box and jerked it forward. “As if this crusty junk is worth anyth—” I yelped as something thunked me on the head and fell to the floor.
“What?” said Deirdre, eyes glued to the screen.
Rubbing the sore spot, I knelt to pick up the offending item, and almost fell over. “Oh, my God, this is it! The sign I’ve been waiting for.”
 Deirdre swiveled round. “A book.” She wrinkled her pretty nose. “You can’t wear it or eat it—what’s the use?”
“Don’t you see?” Trembling, I ran my fingers over the title, and lurched to my feet. “My fate is shagging sealed.” Deirdre still looked blank. “It’s a sign! Telling me to ring his mam again.”
“An old book told you that?” Deirdre said, incredulous. “The dust in here has addled your brains.”
Little Women is not just an ‘old book,’” and I hugged it to my chest, “it’s my favorite book of all time.” I’d read my dog-eared paperback a gazillion times, and watched all the film versions over and over. “So, I’ve got to keep trying to contact…you know. Him.” Spurred into action, I set the book down and pulled my rucksack from under the desk. “It’s the least I can do for—”
“Aislin, like I said Saturday, you are so going to regret this,” Deirdre said darkly.
“Bollocks.” Enjoying the novelty of being decisive, I dug out my mobile. “What’s the harm, to make sure she got my message? Maybe my phone numbers got a bit garbled.”  
Deirdre shook her head, her dark, glossy hair swinging round her shoulders. “So what if you meet up with him again, and he turns out to be a loser…or even a gobshite?”
“He’s not the sort,” I said without thinking.
“Well, people change. But have you considered your worst case scenario?”
“Like what?” Staring at my phone, I could feel my grand resolve weaken. I’d tons of reasons for contacting him—I’d even made a list. What was I waiting for?
“Like…our man could still be carrying the torch,” Deirdre said with a melodramatic air. “And in his undying passion for you, he jumps on the next flight to Dublin.”
“As if.” My stomach tightened at the very thought. “I can guarantee that the last time I saw him, he’d dumped whatever torch he ever had for me.” If he’d had one at all.
“Or what if he’s married, and his wife got all prickly about him hearing from an old girlfriend who looks like Nicole Kidman—”
“I so do not look like Nicole Kidman,” I interrupted, secretly pleased.
“Do too—well, okay, a younger Nicole, if she was a foot shorter, and had some body fat. And if she never used some decent product on her hair. Anyway, what if his wife cut him off in the bedroom! He’d be all cross, and there you’d be, starting off on the totally wrong foot.”
“Even if he’s married, it’s not like I’m trying to mess him about or anything. I’ll get his e-mail from his mam like I planned, chat him up online a bit, then throw out a few feelers.” I stared at the phone in my hand. “Easy-peasy,” I added bravely.
 For all my show of confidence, dread pooled in my middle. I was ready to postpone the call when Little Women caught my eye. Despite her rocky start, Meg March, my favorite character, had turned out to be the perfect mother. What would she do? I flipped up the lid of my mobile.
“You’re mad,” said Deirdre. “But if you’re so dead keen on doing this, you might as well ring the woman at breakfast, before she goes anywhere.” Deirdre had an amazing facility for time zone calculation. But no head for accounts. Go figure. “But you know, Ash, I don’t think I can watch this.” She gathered up her handbag and coat. “I’ve an errand to do.”
Which likely involved a visit to Brown Thomas. Phone in hand, I waved Deirdre off from the backroom doorway, amused despite myself at her circuitous route to the front door. Once outside, and safe from her mam’s detection, she dimpled at a man in a posh coat standing by the shop window. That’s Deirdre for you—she’d flirt with the corpse at a wake. Of course the man smiled back. Wishing that sometimes, my life could be as simple as Deirdre’s, I keyed in the number, glad she wasn’t here to see I knew it by heart. When I glanced back up, my thumb hovering over the keypad, she and the man were gone.
Well, for all I knew, he was the errand. But this was no time to dwell on Deirdre’s romantic adventures. I’d a job to do, though I lacked the Chardonnay-primed courage I’d had last weekend. And any minute now, Polly—indulgent boss and mother she might be—would notice both her shop assistants were AWOL. So, ignoring that sinking feeling, rather like a large stone sitting right behind your navel, I pressed the “on” key…



Friday, March 21, 2008

Slowing Down...the Irish Way

What’s one easy way to slow down your life?

Two words: BBC Television.

Let me back up. Today is the debut of my new blog focus: embracing the Slow Philosophy. It’s been a big passion of mine for over ten years. I used to think I was just quirky, in my wish to detach from media and technology, detox from popular culture and leave the rat race to the rats. Now, I discover that despite all my efforts not to be cool, my Slow way of life is actually "in."

Anyway, “The noise and jangle of American life,” as author Bill Holm so eloquently describes it, is the reason I began writing novels set in Ireland. Naturally, my Irish novels led to my Irish-themed blog. (See posts below.) But now, after writing a memoir about slowing down and living your passion(s), I find both my novels and my real life fit perfectly under the Slow lifestyle umbrella.

Although I’m sad to leave my Irish-related posts behind, today’s topic is both Irish and Slow: That is, if you want to slow down, there’s no better way than to watch a kinder, gentler BBC-TV series like “Ballykissangel.” This dramedy, set in rural Ireland, is the perfect antidote to most Americans’ rush-rush way of life. It’s got all the clichés of Irish village life: a priest, a pub, and a bunch eccentric characters—as well as the creative use of sheep. But the stories are full of a unique and gentle wit, that seems to exemplify a sweeter, slower way of life.

There’s a real magic in slowing down. You can find me blogging about backyard farming, simplifying your life, and living the slow life in the country at www.littlefarminthefoothills.blogspot.com!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Irish Goddesses

Celtic spirituality, especially the Irish, is alive and well.

In the U.S., anyway. I knew that February 1st marks the feast day of St. Brigit of Kildare, who, in the pantheon of Irish saints, comes in only second to St. Patrick. But I just learned from my favorite Druid, who lives in Oregon, that the beginning of February is also the time to celebrate the original Brigit—pagan Goddess Brighid. She made a regular holiday out of it—celebrating the Brigit/Brighid Mother energy with milk, eggs, and cheese, and lighting a candle to represent St. Brigit’s perpetual sacred fire. And here I thought the only Irish Goddesses we’d catch in America is when Celtic Woman goes on a Stateside tour!

My Druid gave me a Celtic Woman DVD for my birthday, and around our house, we watch it regularly. Often weekly. Who can resist these buxom Irish beauties, even if they lack the razzle-dazzle, much less the wild costumes, of your typical American pop divas, say, Beyonce or Madonna, or poor Britney, God help us. But I’ll take tradition anytime: when CW sings “Danny Boy,” my Irish grandma’s favorite tune, call me sentimental, but I have to run for a tissue.

And I understand they’ve got a new DVD out…Hint to Husband: it would make a great St. Patrick’s Day gift!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Baking Irish

I’m not exactly an adventuresome cook—I prefer to stick with a few dishes that get repeat requests, rather than tempt the cooking gods by trying out new stuff. But inspired by Morag Prunty’s Irish novel, Recipes for a Perfect Marriage, (see September 13 post), I decided to try something I’d never made before: Irish soda bread.

Problem: however tasty-sounding on the page, Prunty’s recipe lacked a certain precision. (When you’re trying something new, and the recipe calls for “enough buttermilk to make a soft dough,” and bake in a “hot oven,” you know you’re in trouble.) So recently, determined to make the real McCoy, I turned to Darina Allen, famed Irish chef and author of “Ballymaloe Cooking School Cookbook.” For one thing, she uses exact measurements and oven temperatures. For another, she’s definitely a purist, since her bread includes only four ingredients: flour, soda, salt, and buttermilk.

As much as I wanted to make the classic version of Irish soda bread, though, I stared at the recipe, dismayed. Darina’s seemed about as basic as, well, hardtack. (You know, the cracker-like rations sailors ate because they had a shelf life of several years. Without preservatives.) So I summoned up my Inner Creative Cook and threw in a few extra ingredients I’d seen in Prunty’s book: raisins, butter, and a spoon of honey. And getting into the spirit of the thing, I didn’t measure any of them.

In keeping with Darina’s classic, purist vision, I patted the dough into a round. Then wielding the sharpest knife I could find, I carved the traditional cross into the loaf, and slid it into the oven.

The result? A bit funny looking; the moistened raisins had incorporated too much moisture into the dough, creating surface pockmarks. So instead of the smooth round I’d seen at our local bakery around St. Patrick’s Day, my loaf looked like it had a terminal case of bread acne. But happily, my husband was unfazed by its less-than-stellar appearance, and cut into it eagerly. And though he has never passed judgment on my cooking, when I coaxed him for a critique, he ventured that it could be a bit sweeter. “But I can always spread some honey on it,” he added loyally. I was further cheered when he finished off the loaf in a few days (instead of sticking it in the back of the fridge and “pretending” he’d forgotten about it). Apparently, it had tasted better than it looked.

So, like any recipe you’re experimenting with, or heck, trying anything new in your life, my advice is, start with classic, go wild with a few extras, and don’t skimp on the sweetness. And when you’re making Irish soda bread, just before you slide your loaf into the oven, don’t forget Darina’s secret: after you’ve scored a cross in the dough, prick in each corner “to let the fairies out!”