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Today a friend of mine posted a letter on Facebook that was written by a mom to her fourteen-year-old daughter. It stuck such a cord with me, and is such a perfect follow up to the post I did last week entitled “Teen Angst“, that I had to interrupt my Sundance blogging to share it with you.

As my friend Niamh wrote on FB…” (it’s) relevant to anyone navigating the world with teens or preteens.” AMEN to that sister.

Rearing kids isn’t easy. Rearing a teen/preteen is bloody hard work. And, I would do it all again…in a heartbeat…because I love my children.

Thanks Niamh for sending this my way. Amy Foster…you stole the words right out of my mouth.

A Letter to a 14 Year-Old Daughter

By Amy Foster

Dear Daughter,

Right now you are upstairs in your room thinking that life is completely and totally unfair.

The whole world is against you because there is not a single person in it that understands you. You would say that you love your friends, but the truth is that  you love them more on Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram than you do in real life. In real life, you can only handle spending so much time with them before they start to annoy you because, as I mentioned before, no one really understands who you are.

Your room is a pigsty. The clothes that you beg for me to buy you are crumpled in a heap in the corner. When asked to clean – when asked to do anything, really – you roll your eyes (not to my face, because you are smart enough at this point to know that will set me off) because you have a thousand more important things to do like watch Teen Wolf or check your phone.

You are both obsessed with and terrified by boys.

Some days you think you are pretty. Some days you are certain you are the ugliest person on earth. You are sure you are being left out.. of something. Some party, some conversation, some sleepover is happening and you were deliberately excluded because no one cares how you feel. You have every right in the world to be moody because life is hard. Grade 8 is pointless. There isn’t a person alive who hasn’t been able to get into the college they wanted to because they got crappy grades in Grade 8. Mostly though, life is just hard and complicated and difficult and confusing. Despite this, you are never given the credit you deserve for always knowing what’s what. You know what is best for you and there is nothing more irritating than someone else (like me) presuming that they know.

I realize that when I broach these topics with you, you will not hear me. Despite all appearances, you are not a small adult. You cannot reason like an adult and so it is impossible for you to understand that I am trying to help you and guide you and not, ruin your life. This privilege I exert does not necessarily come from biology, it comes from the fact that I have been exactly where you are and I have been navigating this life for a lot longer than you. It is true that everyone has a story, and everyone’s story is unique, but loss, pain, anger, confusion and sadness are universal. These feelings don’t separate you from the world, but rather they bind you closer to it. Someone out there is feeling the exact same way you do right now, including me, my dearest girl, and I am only a few feet away. There will never be and can never be another you, but you are part of a magnificent community of humans. Humanity at times can be brutal and petty and mean-spirited, but that’s never an excuse for you to be that way. You are so much more and so much better than a bad day.

I am not your friend. I don’t care what you think about me. I am not aiming for popularity in our house. Most importantly, we are not equals. Think about it: how can we be equals if you depend on me for everything? If you’re going to take the iPhone, then you have to take my rules. Some people call it parenting. Mercenary me, I call it leverage. When you don’t need me for things, only advice and council, then we can explore a friendship.

When I ask you to do something right now, I am trying to teach you something about success. Procrastination is a dream killer. No one ever became a grand success by doing it later. You’re right, your room is yours. I am less concerned with the state of it than I am of your mind. Ever see a happy person on Hoarders? It sounds ridiculous to you, but a clean space makes it easier to be creative and productive. When you let your room slide, you are likely to let everything else slide too, like homework.

I am not a Tiger Mom. I am not interested in you getting straight As (though, of course, that would be great), I am interested in you doing your absolute best. Sometimes you do your best and you fail, and you need to learn to be okay with that, too. You must learn to be good AT school, so it will be easier for you to be good AT college and AT work. Yes, of course, it’s pandering to a system, but everyone, regardless of status has to work within a system, unless you’re becoming a hermit which let’s face it, is never going to happen. When you become overly concerned with pleasing your friends and making them happy it takes away from your focus, your job, which right now is school. The balance you learn to strike right now will carry you through your entire life where friendships can be vital. But, you cannot rely on a great friendship to buy you a house.

I don’t tell you often enough how beautiful you are. Even though you are stunning, I do guess I do this on purpose. Being beautiful should never be the most interesting thing about you. A girl who relies on her looks is setting herself up to be a woman lost as sea as she gets older. We live in a world where beauty can and will open many doors, but how you choose to open them and what you do inside becomes about character. Character, moral aptitude, empathy, grace- these are the traits that will carry on your beauty far after your looks are gone. You aren’t anywhere near understanding this right now, even though I am trying to lead this charge by example. When you look at me all you see is old, and mom.

Unbelievably though, I was young (and not so long ago, I might add) once, and nothing you can say will shock me. In point of fact, if I was to over share and talk about some of the things I’ve done, or still do actually, on a pretty regular basis with your step dad, it is you that would be shocked. Don’t worry, I would never, because like I said, we are not friends. I promise you this, though: as long as you tell me the truth, you will never get into trouble, though I can’t promise I won’t be disappointed.

Until you have children of your own, you won’t realize the depth in which I love you. I would do anything for you and it is the great irony of life that the person I love most, I get treated the worst by. I am your greatest cheerleader and your biggest fan. Sometimes you scream “Why do you hate me!” when I am doing my job as a mother. You don’t understand that if I indeed hated you, or felt a far more heinous thing, indifference, I simply wouldn’t bother. I would let you get on with it and shrug my shoulders and not say a word. When I stand my ground and open myself up to your vitriol and disregard and general railroading, that, my dear, is love.

The most important thing for you to understand is though you may be convinced otherwise, whatever happens in this crazy, upside down life, you will never, ever be alone. So maybe, just once in a while, will you keep this in mind and be a little kinder to me.

Your ever loving,

Mom

 

It’s that time of year again. Yes, the Sundance Film Festival ~ the largest independent film celebration ~ is in full swing in Park City, Utah and I am here with nearly 50,000 other attendees. The air is crisp, the days are bright and we could care less. One doesn’t come to Sundance for a holiday: you’re either here because you support independent films or you’re in the business surrounding them.

For more than 30 years, Robert Redford has introduced some of cinema’s best filmmakers to the world, including Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs), Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine), Steven Soderbergh (Sex, Lies, and Videotape), the Coen brothers (Blood Simple), Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez (The Blair Witch Project), to name but a few.

Superb Irish films or Irish-backed films have been here too! In the last few years, award-winning Irish/Irish-backed films have included: The Summit, Calvary, Irish Folk Furniture, Frank, and The Last Days of Peter Bergmann.

For the past two years, I have tried to see all the Irish films and report back the news. This year, I am in Park City to do it again. There are five films to see. They include:

Brooklyn – Set on opposite sides of the Atlantic, Brooklyn tells the story of Eilis Lacey, a young Irish immigrant navigating her way through 1950s Brooklyn. Lured by the promise of America, she departs Ireland for the shores of New York. Her initial bouts of homesickness quickly diminish as a fresh romance sweeps Eilis into the intoxicating charm of love. Soon, though, her new vivacity is disrupted by her past, and Eilis must choose between two countries and the lives that exist within. Directed by John Crowley. Starring Saoirse Ronan (Atonement) and Domhnall Gleeson (Frank). The official trailer has not yet been released. This film will screen in the Premieres section at Sundance. It was produced by Wildgaze Films, Finola Dwyer Productions, Parallel Films and Item 7, was filmed in Wexford, Dublin and Wicklow, and was co-financed by the Irish Film Board.

Glassland – Young Dublin cabdriver, John barely makes ends meet. He shares social housing with his mother, Jean, an alcoholic who is systematically drinking herself to death. Desperate to save his mother, John takes a shady job from the ambiguous criminal element he’s loosely connected to and is forced to make a life changing moral decision. Directed by Gerard Barrett. Starring Toni Collette (Sixth SenseLittle Miss Sunshine), Jack Reynor (What Richard Did and Transformers: Age of Extinction), Will Poulter (Son of RambowWe’re the Millers), and Michael Smiley (A Field in EnglandKill List). This film will screen in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition section at Sundance, which only selects 12 films from thousands of entries. It was produced by Element Pictures, was filmed in Dublin, and was produced with support from the Irish Film Board.

 

Strangerland – New to the remote Australian desert town of Nathgari, Catherine and Matthew Parker’s lives are pushed to the brink when their two teenage children, Tommy and Lily, disappear just before a massive dust storm hits the town. With temperatures rising, and the chances of survival plummeting with each passing day, Catherine and Matthew find themselves pushed to the brink as they struggle to survive the uncertainty of their children’s fate. Directed by Kim Farrant. Starring Nicole Kidman and Joseph Fiennes. The official trailer has not yet been released. This film will also screen in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition section at Sundance, which only selects 12 films from thousands of entries. It was produced by Fastnet films and Dragonfly Pictures and was funded by the Irish Film Board, Worldview Entertainment, Screen Australia and Screen NSW.

The Hallow – Deep within the darkness of a secluded forest in rural Ireland dwells an ancient evil. When a conservationist from London moves in with his wife and infant child in order to survey the land for future construction, his actions unwittingly disturb the horde of demonic forces. Alone in a remote wilderness, he must now ensure his family’s survival from their relentless attacks. Directed by Corin Hardy. Starring Joseph Mawle (The Awakening, Game of Thrones) and Bojana Novakovic (Devil, Burning Man). The official trailer has not been released yet, but you can see the unofficial version here (unfortunately, you are forced to watch an advertisement first). This film will screen as part of the Park City at Midnight section at Sundance. It was produced by Occupant Entertainment and Fantastic Films, was filmed on location in Galway, and was funded by Prescience, Altus Media, Hyperion and the Irish Film Board.

The Visit – Imagine an event that has never taken place: mankind’s first encounter with an intelligent life from outer space. Through tantalizing interviews with experts from NASA, United Nations, and the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute, among many others, this film constructs a chillingly believable scenario of first contact on Earth, beginning with the simplest of questions: Why are you here? How do you think? What do you see in humans that we don’t see in ourselves? Directed by Michael Madsen (Into Eternity). This will screen in the World Documentary Competition section at Sundance. It is co-produced by Venom Films, with support from the Irish Film Board.

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 9.18.45 AMRecently my friend Niamh and I spent a few hours catching up over a cuppa and some homemade caramel. As you do, we talked about life: our homes and gardens, the people we know, and our children. It’s when we were talking about our children that Niamh said…

“You know…they need to kill-us-off in order to grow up.” 

And for about an hour we talked about what she meant. She’s no stranger to teens, my friend Niamh. She has three and she is surviving. I, on the other hand, have only one at the moment and, some days, am barely hanging in there.

Don’t get me wrong, we have our moments of greatness. But for the past year-and-a-half, those are becoming “occasions” and not “the norm”. What happened to my sweet girl with the great belly laugh, who used to say, “thank you” and “I love you” and “look what I made for you Mama!”?

I miss that girl.

Sometimes I secretly wonder if she’s been abducted by aliens in the middle of the night and replaced with a girl who looks like ours but is often surly, angry, insensitive, self-centered, and entitled.

In the past year I have thought “is it us?”…have we done something to change her? Are we too controlling? Have we become her bully…always passing judgement on the way she looks, how much time she spends on social media or how she never seems to buckle down and just get her flippin’ homework done at night?

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 8.40.44 AMThanks to Niamh, I am starting to look at our teen angst differently: they need to kill-us-off in order to grow up. Clearly we’re not talking about grab the kitchen knife and stab us in the heart kind of “killing”. We’re talking about the “separate themselves from us” kind. Either way, it is slow and painful for us. And, in reality, it’s not fun for them either. In pushing us away…our teens oscillate between wanting their independence from us and wanting to depend on us, which makes for an intensely confusing time.

Case in point…the other day our daughter was complaining about 1) not being able to find her gloves; 2) having to get up at 6am for school; 3) sharing a bathroom with her younger sister; and 4) being forced to eat a hot home-cooked breakfast before going to school…all this grief before 7am. Then, in the car, she says to me, “Mom, I wish I could go back to being young again so I didn’t have so much responsibility.”

I didn’t know whether to laugh or to throw my arms around her and give her a cuddle. She’s up before the sun, faces a tough day at school, plays sport, comes home after dark, and then has at least two to three hours of homework. On the weekend, she’s got more sport and more homework. Thanks to peer pressure and social media…she’s also got to stay up-to-date with Instagram, Tumblr, Snapchat and Vine. My husband and I think she’s relaxing when she’s looking at her computer but, in reality, she’s scanning those pages much the same way we scan The Irish Times, The Sunday Business Post, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. It’s fun but it’s also work.

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 8.34.37 AMKilling us in order to grow up…that’s what our teens are doing. If we want to keep our teens close in the years ahead, we’re going to have to pick our battles. I don’t mind telling you that I sought out some professional help on this one. My recent visit to a therapist taught me that we need to decide what we want in the long run. Do we want our kids leaving home one day “thankful to be gone” or “looking forward to calling in”? The other piece of advice I was left with is this: let them fail…let them make mistakes. Sounds simple but it bloody well isn’t!

Our daughter goes to a fee paying school and I can tell you that when she chooses to blather away an hour rather than study for an important test…I see red! When she doesn’t turn in a homework assignment or paper she’s completed because she’s forgotten to put it in the right place and she can’t put her hand on it…I feel frustrated by her disorganization!! When she’s roaring and shouting at me because she can’t find something in her room in the morning (because it looks like a nuclear bomb went off)…I want to shout back…”THEN CLEAN YOUR ROOM WHEN YOU GET HOME!!!” None of these reactions are helpful to her or me.

My friend Moe recently said to me…”When my son gets frustrated and starts shouting, I imagine that we’re at the train station, walking along the platform. His destination is Crazy Town and I don’t have to get on the train with him. I can let him climb aboard and wave to him from the safety of the platform.” I like this imagery. Now, when our daughter starts getting puffed up and cross, I try to remember what Moe said…she’s headed to Crazy Town and I don’t have to go.

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 9.00.10 AMRaising a teen…be it a son or a daughter…is not easy. I think it’s helpful to realise these years are not easy for them either. In the heat of the moment, let’s remember why they are killing us off (hint: they have to grow up)…and be sure to pick our battles carefully (so what if his/her room is a mess)…and stay focused on what we want our relationships with them in the future to be like (positive and loving)…and let them fail (failure leads to success)…and, finally, remember the phrase “Next stop Crazy Town” (you don’t have to get on board too!). Then and only then will we all survive in one piece. Lastly, be thankful for dear friends who remind us that, though it may kill us, our kids will grow up. Now…where are those caramels?

Vanilla Caramels

Ingredients

225g (8oz) salted butter

225g (8oz) granulated sugar

4 tablespoons treacle or golden syrup (light corn syrup)

1 teaspoon vanilla

400g (14oz) tin of condensed milk

8x12in baking sheet, lined with parchment paper

Directions

1. Line baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

2. Melt the butter is a heavy-bottomed saucepan (about 8″ wide) over a medium-low heat.

3. Add the sugar and treacle or golden syrup.

4. Add the vanilla and stir until well mixed.

5. Add the condensed milk and stir constantly until the caramel is a rich golden brown colour. To know if the caramel is done cooking, use a candy thermometer. When the temperature reaches 118ºC/245ºF, you’re done. To confirm, fill a small glass with ice cold water and drop a tiny amount of the hot caramel syrup into the water. Pull the cool caramel from the water and check the consistency. The caramel should be firm but pliable.

6. Carefully pour the hot caramel syrup onto the baking sheet. Using an off-set spatula, quickly spread the caramel syrup to desired thickness. Let cool completely.

7. When caramels are cool, lift them off the baking sheet and onto a cutting board. Cut the caramels into candies with a sharp knife. If the caramels stick to your knife, spray your knife with nonstick cooking spray.

8. Wrap the caramels in wax paper a little longer than the caramels, twisting the ends to close. Caramels will keep at room temperature for about two weeks.

 

Related Articles:

1. 15 Sites and Apps Kids are Heading to Beyond Facebook from Common Sense Media.

2. Teen drama overload article at NPR.

3. Irish Whiskey Salted Caramel Recipe at Cheese and Chocolate

 

 

 

 

 

DSC00253In the spring of 2013, I had a real bee in my bonnet about taking the family to Washington, D.C. The driving factors for this all-American holiday were: 1) my husband and I wanted to take the kids on a trip of cultural and historical significance; 2) Barack Obama had just been re-elected to a second term in office and talk of American politics was still raging and; 3) the girls were just the right age to introduce them to a bigger dose of their American heritage.

My parents took my brothers and me to D.C. when we were about 3, 8 and 9 years old…a trip that took our family of five from Los Angeles, CA to Hartford, CT and return in a 1966 Mustang! Those were the days when a family road trip meant long hours spent playing “spot the license plate” and singing John Denver songs. Nevertheless, the city left such a profound mark on me that I would eventually return many times as a college student to work on Capitol Hill. At one time, I even thought I’d have a career in politics.

DSC00076From the beginning, my husband and I agreed we wanted to make the most of the experience and come away with a feeling of having garnered some knowledge. This meant planning the trip with military precision because, surprisingly, a week in Washington really isn’t enough time to see everything. Fortunately, there’s no better woman than yours truly to plan a holiday. Heck, if I can plan a July 4th celebration in Ireland for an American Ambassador and a 500+ people cycling event around Dublin City Centre at midnight for a fundraiser, surely I can figure out how a family of four can take in the sites, sounds and tastes of D.C.! Here’s how the trip went:

Day 1 ~ Travel Day. Get to D.C., check-in at Westin Georgetown Hotel. Unpack bags, walk to dinner at Westend Bistro and walk into Georgetown to stretch our legs and get some fresh air.

IMG_3636Day 2 ~Monument Day. Borrow bikes and helmets from the hotel. Breakfast at Le Pain Quotidien. Cycle to Georgetown University to show the girls an American college and then cycle over to the national monuments. You can take a trolley tour or double-decker bus tour, but riding bikes was great fun and left us in control of our day. Visit Lincoln Memorial, FDR Memorial, Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Martin Luther King Memorial, Korean War Memorial, Reflecting Pool, WWII Memorial, and the Washington Monument. Dinner at Meiwah and walk back to Georgetown for an ice cream at Thomas Sweet.

Day 3 ~ Museum Day. Breakfast at the hotel and a walk to the Air & Space Museum, American History Museum, and the Natural History Museum. Tip: Do a Google search of each museum prior to your trip to find out the exhibits you are interested in. Make a list and immediately upon entering a museum go in search of the things on your list. This way, you’ll see what you want to see and probably have time to wander about at your leisure or go to another museum without wasting time! After a day on our feet, we took a taxi back to the hotel and had dinner at Blue Duck Tavern and DSC00199we walked into Georgetown to have frozen yogurt at Pinkberry.

Day 4 ~ Shopping Day. Back to Le Pain Quotidien for breakfast and then spent the day strolling around Georgetown shopping. The shops range from antiques to wigs, so there’s something for everyone. Pack a spare duffel bag in your luggage, as you’ll find all sorts of wonders to bring home. Here’s a great “Shopping in D.C.” article from the Washingtonian.com. Dinner at Cafe Milano…this isn’t your Cafe Milano as we know it in Ireland. This is better!

Day 5 ~ Capitol Hill Day. Breakfast at the Old Ebbitt Grill, a D.C. institution. Sight-seeing for the day: the Capitol Visitor Center, the Capitol Rotunda, The Senate and House Galleries, Library of Congress, Supreme Court Tour, the White House, and the White DSC00240House Visitor Center. At White House Gifts we had a family photo taken behind a replica of the Presidents’ Resolute Desk and Press Office Podium, which was fun for the kids. If you’re an American citizen, contact your Senator or State Representative to see about joining a tour led by a member of his or her staff and getting a pass to enter the Senate or House Galleries. For tours of the White House check out this site. Dinner was picked up at Chop’t on our way back to the hotel. We ate in our room and watched Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (a fun way to get the kids to test their memory of the places we visited in D.C.!).

Day 6 ~ Mount Vernon. After breakfast at the hotel, we jumped into a taxi and took a twenty-minute drive to the gorgeous and interesting Mount Vernon. Mount Vernon is the plantation home of America’s first President, George Washington, and his wife DSC00343Martha. A visit there offers a glimpse into 18th-century life through beautiful gardens and grounds, intriguing museum exhibits, and immersive programs honoring the couple’s life and legacy. There is so much to see, we spent a whole day touring around at our leisure. Dinner at Founding Farmers, farm-to-table restaurant. Later we walked from the hotel into Georgetown to get cupcakes at Georgetown Cupcake.

Day 7 ~ Last day…The Spy Museum and brunch at Poste Moderne Brasserie at the Hotel Monaco. We didn’t have much time on this last day as we were flying back home. The kids loved The Spy Museum…my husband and I not so much…it felt very “touristy”. I have no regrets of going, however, as the kids had been so good all week about visiting places of cultural and historical significance.

DSC00362Tips for visiting D.C. with kids:

1. Wear your runners (tennis shoes) or your most comfortable walking shoes. If you are like us, you will be walking everywhere every day.

2. Do not carry backpacks. Many of the museums and destinations require security searches which can mean waiting in long lines. The girls and I carried cross-body bags and in them we each had a reusable plastic rain poncho, an umbrella, a water bottle, iPod/phone, headphones for using iPod/phone, and a map of DC. I also carried a notepad and pen and every day I had my notes for the places we would be seeing.

3. Pack appropriately for the weather. In the summer, DC is hot and humid. In the winter and early spring, it’s very cold. Autumn is a lovely time to visit, but be ready for rain.

IMG_36564. Before you travel, research each place you plan to visit online for special exhibit listings and opening and closing times. For each day you will be in DC have a typed agenda highlighting what you want to see and why you’re going. For example, we had five typed packets: Monument Day, Museum Day, Shopping Day, Capitol Hill Day and Mount Vernon Day. Each packet listed the places we were going, the highlights of each place, when the places opened and closed, and the historical or cultural significance of each. I realise this is a lot of extra work, but it saved us from having to carry a travel guide with us.

5. Pick up a map from the concierge of your hotel. They’re light weight and easy to carry.

Additional Resources:

1. For a resource of things to see and do check out 100 Things to do in Washington, D.C.

2. Excellent responses about what to see in Washington from DC locals at Ree Drummond’s blog.

3. Kid Friendly Museums and Hands On Attractions here.

4. Sight-seeing information from Old Town Trolley Tours here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In our Irish home we believe there’s something magical about receiving a gift at Christmas that has been lovingly made by someone you know. Which is why we make edible handmade treats every year to give close friends, neighbours and teachers.

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These “Naughty & Nice” sweet treats are sure to make our friends smile this year (clearly the Irish Cream Liqueur is for adults only!). The granola recipe, originally posted here at In an Irish Home, was modified slightly: we added several handfuls of dried red cranberries to give it a real Christmassy-look. The Irish Cream Liqueur recipe, passed down by my father-in-law, Dan McGuire, is amazingly good and may be found at the end of this post.

And who doesn’t love an authentic Irish Shortbread Biscuit? With the addition of some gorgeous crystalised ginger, they’re perfect this time of year with a freshly brewed cup of tea. The recipe may be found here.

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Once tasted, I dare anyone to say they don’t love these Irish Mars Bars treats! Not only are they incredibly “moreish”, they are super easy to make. Even better, there’s no baking required. The recipe, posted at In an Irish Home, may be found here.

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Guinness Gingerbread is something we can’t get enough of in our Irish home. The ginger, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg really smell like Christmas. Wrapped simply in some parchment paper and tied with a festive red bow, this is the perfect Irish edible gift.

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And finally, these Rocky Road Biscuits, which I first shared with you two years ago, are totally delicious and give off a real Christmas vibe if you grate in a bit of orange zest and top with a drizzle of melted white chocolate. They are an Irish childhood favourite and sure to be enjoyed by whomever you make them for.

Now, with less than a week to go before Christmas day, we wish you and your loved ones some very happy times in the kitchen ~ slan abhaile!

Dan McGuire’s Irish Cream Liqueur

Ingredients

14oz condensed milk

14oz evaporated milk

1 1/2 teaspoon coffee essence (or 1 teaspoon instant espresso)

1 teaspoon glycerine

6oz/3/4 cup Irish whiskey

Directions

1. Mix all the above ingredients in a large measuring cup and stir with a small whisk until well blended.

2. Put into clean, sterilised, glass jars, close and store in the fridge.

Related Articles:

Darina Allen’s delicious homemade edible gift ideas here.

Donal Skehan’s blog post on edible Christmas gives may be read here.

This Irish Times article on edible gifts from 2011 is still very useful.

An Edible Ireland blogpost on Chocolate Bark with Almonds & Candied Bacon was reviewed at I Can Has Cook? These are two great Irish food blogs!

Ireland’s Catherine Fulvio, of Ballyknocken House, offers this Almond Liqueur recipe and delicious brownie recipe to her readers this year.

Check out those free, downloadable, gifts tags here and here and here to use with your homemade edible gifts.

 

 

Mincemeat pies. If there’s anything that says Christmas in our Irish home it is these buttery-rich, sweet, MEAT-less wonders. Yes…it is somewhat confusing…meat is right there in the name…but these lovely treats are absolutely, positively, meat free. I know this because I’ve eaten my fair share! How could I not? Bite-sized deliciousness served on a plate with a dollop of boozy cream…who could resist?

A quick Google search on the history of mincemeat pies shows that they were once, a long time ago, an entirely different dish. Around since the 11th century, mince pies first became popular in British kitchens in the 1700s. Back then there was chopped beef or mutton in them, along with dried fruit and warm spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Rich and savoury, they were a main course dish and not an after dinner pudding or tea time treat.

It wasn’t until the 18th century, when “cheap sugar arrived from slave plantations in the West Indies”, that the mince pie we know and love today was created. Sweet trumped meat and now the only animal protein you’ll find in a modern mince pie is beef suet, a raw fat found around the kidneys and joints of a cow or mutton ~ though increasingly even it is being left out by bakers who are sensitive to animal products in their diet.

Irish Mincemeat

 

In Ireland, mince pies make their appearance in shops, bakeries, and holiday markets in early November. Truth be told, my favourite store-bought pies come from Avoca HandweaversButler’s Pantry and Cavistons in Glasthule, though Lidl, Aldi and Dunnes make nice ones too. Very few of my Irish friends go to the trouble of making them. Even my lovely sister-in-law, Rosie, spends her pre-Christmas time in the kitchen making her family-famous Christmas pudding, rather than making mincemeat pies.

But for those die-hard Christmas types like myself, it’s really a straight-forward, and dare I say “fun”, process. The only two things you really must do to ensure the end result is worth the effort is: 1) make your own candied peel (easy-peasy); and 2) make the mincemeat far enough in advance (two to six weeks is about right) to allow the alcohol, fruit, and sugar mixture to fully mature.

Mincemeat pies are best served out-of-the-oven-warm, with a generous spoon of freshly whipped, and dare I say “whiskey-laced”, cream, but they are also very good at room temperature a day or two later too. On its own, mincemeat is wonderful mixed into vanilla ice cream, may be added to home-baked apple or pear tarts, served over yoghurt, or tossed into a fresh fruit salad. And, finally…if you’re looking to give homemade Irish Christmas gifts this year…a beribboned jar of handmade mincemeat (or candied peel for that matter) would be positively lovely.

Happy Christmas!

Mincemeat

(makes 10 cups)

Ingredients

8oz/300gm/2 cups sultanas

8oz/300gm/2 cups currants

4oz/150gm/1 cups raisins

6oz/200gm/1 1/2 cup candied peel

600gm/3 cups muscavado or dark brown sugar

2 cooking apples (or green apples), peeled, cored and coarsely grated

zest and juice of 2 organic lemons

6oz/3/4 cup of Irish whiskey

1lb/450gm beef (or vegetable) suet*

1 teaspoon of pre-mixed cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves (also known as mixed spice)

a pinch of salt

Directions

1. Combine all the ingredients into a large bowl and mix well.

2. Put the ingredients into sterilised jars, cover and leave two to six weeks to mature, stirring once a week.

3. Use what you need and keep the rest in a cool, dark place for up to a year.

* If you’re making mincemeat to give as gifts to be used on muesli or ice cream, leave out the beef suet.

Ballymaloe Mince Pies 

(Makes 20-24 Mince Pies)

Ingredients

225g (8oz) plain flour

175g (6oz) butter, chilled and cut into cubes

1 dessertspoon icing sugar, sieved

a pinch of salt

a little beaten egg or egg yolk and water to bind

1lb mincemeat (to see Darina’s mincemeat recipe, please see link below)

egg wash

Directions
1. Sieve the flour into a bowl.

2. Toss the butter into the flour and rub it in with your fingertips.

3. Add the icing sugar and a pinch of salt.

4. Mix with a fork as you gradually add in the beaten egg (do this bit by bit because you may not need all of the egg), then use your hand to bring the pastry together into a ball. It should not be wet or sticky.

5. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 1 hour.

6. Preheat the oven to 180c/350f/gas mark 4

7. Roll out the pastry until it’s quite thin – about 3mm (1/8 inch) Stamp into rounds 7.5 (3 inch) in diameter and line shallow bun tins with the discs.

8. Put a good teaspoonful of mincemeat into each tin, dampen the edges with water and put another round on top.

9. Brush with egg wash and decorate with pastry leaves or stars.

10. Bake the pies in the preheated oven for 20 minutes approx.

11. Allow them to cool slightly, then dredge with icing or caster sugar. Serve with Irish whiskey cream (or brandy butter.)

 

Notes, Related Articles & Credits:

A fun article about six Northern Irish brothers who make 20,000 mincemeat pies a day at this time of year.

Here’s a brief history of mincemeat pies.

Looking for some other Irish Christmas fun facts? Check out this blog post.

Irish Central always views Ireland from a slightly more cynical/humorous lens, but I like it. Check out their Christmas post for 2014 here.

In 2004, Darina Allen posted recipes for a nostalgic Irish Christmas meal. You can find it here but, be warned, it’s not for the faint of heart. The list of dishes is incredibly long.

The beautiful photo at the start of this posting is from Getty Images. It was taken by David Cordner. I would have used my own photo, except I haven’t made my mince pies yet because the mince is still marinating and Mr. Cordner’s photograph is incredibly beautiful!

October is a beautiful time in Ireland. The weather is crisp and cool, leaves are turning and falling, fires are seriously stoked in the evenings, and the scent of cinnamon, nutmeg and mixed spice fills the air. It is all so wonderful. As the month comes to an end, there is a growing excitement for Halloween night to arrive. In our Irish home the children have already selected their costumes and started to make plans.

Our youngest will be out trick-or-treating in the neighbourhood with a group of friends, while our eldest, who feels she is too old to dress up and go begging for candy, will be at home with her cohorts celebrating with a real old-fashioned Irish Halloween party.

In keeping with the customs of long ago, there will be a bonfire, fireworks, bobbing for apples, bowls of nuts and fruits, Colcannon (a dish of mashed potatoes, kale and onions), and a Bram Brack, a fruit filled bread traditionally eaten on and around Halloween.

Irish Barm BrackThe Bram Brack will have small items, wrapped in greaseproof paper (parchment paper), baked inside as a means for fortune-telling. A ring will symbolise love or marriage, a coin for wealth, a soup-pea for poverty, and a thimble for a life of spinsterhood or bachelorhood.

Interestingly, the recipe I’m using comes from Young Housewife’s Cookery Book by Brigid Russell. Published in 1928, the book was written for housewives “untrained in cookery skills”…in other words…the self-taught home-chef like me!

In preparation for this blog post and the party, I baked a loaf of Barm Brack over the weekend. It turned out really well, though I felt the recipe lacked complexity. I will add cinnamon, nutmeg and mixed spice when making it again. If you’re not a fan of those autumn spices, you could, of course, leave them out.

Barm Brack keeps nicely for about three days, after which it tends to get a little stale. When this happens, don’t toss it in the bin. Instead, toast it and serve it buttered with a hot cup of tea.

From our Irish home to yours, I wish you and your little ghosts and goblins a Happy Halloween.

Barm Brack

Makes One Loaf

Ingredients

2lbs flour

1/4 lb butter

1/4 lb currants

1/4 lb castor sugar

1/2 lb sultanas

1 egg

1oz yeast

2oz peel (candied)

Tepid milk

Directions

1. Heat the flour. (I placed mine in a large mixing bowl and popped it into a warm oven for about 15 minutes.)

2. Break the butter into the flour and add the sugar. (I cut the butter into small pieces and worked it into the flour with my hands until the flour resembled coarse bread crumbs.)

3. Put the yeast into the flour, and, with beaten egg and sufficient tepid milk, make the whole into a loose dough. (I sprinkled the yeast over the sugared flour, whisked the egg with a fork in a small bowl with one cup of room temperature milk. I added more milk straight from the carton into the bowl as needed.)

4. Knead for 8 to 10 minutes; put to rise in a warm place for 2 hours. (The dough was very stiff, but somewhat elastic…vague, I know, but that’s the only way to describe it.)

5. Add the prepared fruit and the finely-chopped peel and knead again for 8 minutes. (I did not add peel to my loaf, but I did add an extra 2 ounces of raisins. Here is where I would suggest adding 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, and 1/2 teaspoon mixed spice.)

6. Place in a greased cake-tin, and again put to rise in a warm place for about 20 minutes. (I lightly buttered a loaf tin and I left the Barm Brack to rise for 30 minutes.)

7. Bake in a hot oven for about 1 hour. (I baked mine in an oven preheated to 180°C/350°F. When the top started to burn, I covered it with a piece of greaseproof paper to protect.)

8. When done, the loaf should be glazed by brushing over with a solution made from equal parts of sugar and boiling water. (I omitted this last step.)

Related Articles:

A recipe for Irish Tea Brack, a similar but easier version of Barm Brac, may be found here.

An article from the Archeological Institute of America on the history of Halloween’s Celtic Roots may be read here.

A history lesson of Ireland’s Halloween customs may be found here.

Haunted houses in Ireland here.

Irish Halloween traditions here.

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