Dreaming of Some Place Green (…and it’s not Ireland)

The Greenbrier ResortWhile it may officially be “spring”, not a lot of green has necessarily “sprung” around New England quite yet – which is probably why I’ve been dreaming lately of The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, located in the “wild and wonderful” state of West Virginia.

As a proud barefoot West Virginian hillbilly – who moved to New England over thirty years ago and spends three quarters of the year wearing winter boots – I long to be, as John Denver sings, taken home “to the place I belong” in the hills of West Virginia, especially during this time of year where there truly is a full-fledged, hope-filled daffodil spring.

Nestled in the lush green valley of the Allegheny Mountains, The Greenbrier is a world-class luxury resort (otherwise known as “America’s Resort”) that has a lively history, having hosted distinguished guests from around the world for 235 years (since 1778).

From Robert E. Lee who was a regular visitor, to the Vanderbilts, the Rockefellers, Prince Rainer and Princess of Monaco, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Davey Crockett, twenty-six American presidents – including James Monroe, George Bush and Bill Gates – it continues to be a renowned destination for royalty, business leaders, government officials and celebrities worldwide.

But, its history doesn’t end there. Having been protected and preserved by both Confederate and Union armies in the Civil War (1860-65), it was later used in World War II as a military hospital that admitted 24,148 patients throughout the war.

Perhaps most interestingly, however, is its evolution into a secret James Bond-like bunker – “The U.S. Government Relocation Facility” (nicknamed Hotel Armageddon) – that was large enough to house every member of Congress in the event of a nuclear war.

Constructed between 1958-1961 by the Eisenhower Administration, the bunker was kept in a state of constant readiness and maintained by a small group of government employees. Situated 720 feet deep in the hillside under the hotel with reinforced concrete and walls 3-5 feet thick, it was kept a secret for more than 30 years until May 1992 when the Washington Post published a story revealing it.

Maintaining its prestige, The Greenbrier was originally decorated by the famous Dorothy Draper who has been referred to as the “Queen of Interior Design of the Twentieth Century.” She was known for her “outrageously chic style” of color-splashed interiors which protégé Carleton Varney has “brought back to life” with an “Alice in Wonderland”-like feel.

West Virginia MapSadly and typical of grand resorts from other eras that fall into disrepair, The Greenbrier was purchased out of bankruptcy in 2009 by Jim Justice, a local billionaire who was the son of a coal-mining entrepreneur.

After mighty efforts and an endless amount of money, it is now referred to as a place of “new era elegance” offering the “graciousness of the past” with the exceptional comforts of today.

With four championship golf courses, a world-class spa, a Casino club, “Art Colony Shops” that feature skilled West Virginian artisans, and a host of outdoor activity offerings, including swimming and tennis, horseback riding, biking* and fishing – not to mention Falconry and canopy tours – The Greenbrier truly is a PLACE where dreams of a lush green and light airy spring come true!

“West Virginia, mountain momma, take me home, country roads…”

Please note that the above information was taken from the following sources:

*Of interest: Designated by Backpacker Magazine as one of the top 10 long-distance bike and hiking trails in the United States, The Greenbrier River Trail stretches 78 miles through “picturesque valleys” and is described as traversing one of the “most remote areas in the state. “ It lies adjacent to the Monongahela National Forest and is truly a “Wild and Wonderful” biking/hiking experience!

*Also of interest: Seneca Rocks (see below) is also one of West Virginia’s most visited natural scenic attractions. Located in the state’s eastern panhandle at the headwaters of the Potomac in Pendleton County, it is a well-known place for serious climbers. It has a little-known history of being a training ground during World War II for U.S. Mountain Forces; climbers come across hundreds of rusted pitons that were hammered into the “Tuscarora Quartzite” by the soldiers.

Seneca Rocks ClimbingSeneca Rocks West Virginia

It’s Maple Syrup Season – And We’re Sticking To It!

Pancake cookbookYou may associate the warm, delicious and comforting breakfast food “pancakes” – otherwise known as “Johnnnycakes”, “flapjacks” and “griddle cakes” – as a distinctly American dish, but their origin extends back to the beginning of man with two simple ingredients made useful by natural elements.

“Water and a fistful of pounded grain poured upon a hot rock in the sun must have been the world’s first pancake, the very first bread”, writes Dorian Leigh Parker in the introduction to her book, Pancakes: From Flapjacks to Crepes.

Over the years, upon the discovery of more and more natural resources, variations of what we consider “pancakes” began to form in myriad cultures around the world. In fact, many of the recognizable, popular ethnic foods today are largely considered the “pancake” of their culture.

Take, for instance:

  • The Mexican Tortilla
  • The Chapati and Paratha of India
  • The Scallion and Mandarin Pancakes of China
  • The Warka of Morocco
  • The French Crêpe
  • The Russian Blini

Interestingly, the pancake also developed a religious significance in Christian cultures: in England, on “Shrove Tuesday”* before Lent – a period of fasting and repentance before Easter – there were pancake races and pancake-eating contents. As Dorian Leigh Parker writes:

“Meat was not the only food to be forsworn, but also all of its by-products: eggs, milk, animal fats. Having no refrigeration, everyone made haste to eat up the perishables before Ash Wednesday, and what could be more logical than to eat, drink, and combine eggs, milk, and butter with a little flour and make merry pancakes?” 

Even the great poet and playwright Shakespeare mentions pancakes in his play As You Like It: “of a certain Knight, that swore by his honor they were good pancakes…”

How truly amazing that such simple ingredients – water and grain – lent their way to the creation of such a distinguished food. But, as I’ve come to learn over the years, sometimes all it takes for great cooking and baking is a very good basic, simple recipe with quality ingredients.

The perfect example of this is the “Griddlecakes” recipe found in The Fannie Farmer Cookbook.

Pancake recipe

I have been serving these pancakes since 1984, after a friend who was studying to become a professional chef in Boston served them to me with a side of homemade cranberry and blueberry sauce. Come to find out, he made them using the recipe in The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, one of the best, most basic and easy-to-follow beginner cookbooks.

Since then, I have prepared them time and again for family and friends – and they never disappoint! Below is the recipe – very basic, but consistently reliable and good. Enjoy!

*“Shrove Tuesday” – known in some countries as “Pancake Tuesday” – was a day of indulgence in anticipation of the 40 days of sacrifice before Ash Wednesday, meant to celebrate renewal, family life and hopes for “all things good.” 

Griddlecakes, aka “Pancakes” (recipe from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook)

To note: “The amount of milk you use will determine how thick these griddlecakes or pancakes are. Start with the smaller amount suggested and add more if the batter seems too thick.  Try to have the milk room temperature before mixing and take care not to overbeat; a few lumps in the batter will do no harm.  You can make lighter, fluffier griddlecakes by separating the egg, beating the white, and folding it in last.”

The Fannie Farmer CookbookTo note: Fannie Farmer also offers substitute variations: Buttermilk, whole-wheat, oatmeal, buckwheat and apple pancakes.

1 & 1/2 cups milk
4 tbsp. melted butter
2 eggs, room temp.
2 cups white flour
4 tsp. baking powder
4 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt 

Beat the milk, butter, and egg lightly in mixing bowl.  Mix flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt and add to egg/butter mixture stirring just enough to combine.  Using 1/4 cup measure pour batter on lightly buttered griddle and cook until nicely browned or until desired.

Serve with honey, fresh blueberries or blueberry sauce – and, if you’re anything like us, you won’t be able to resist topping it off and sticking to the four main food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corns and syrup.

And it is on that note that we offer some interesting, perhaps less well-known facts, about maple syrup:

  • Maple syrup is only produced in the Northeastern United States and Eastern Canada
  • Sap is a tree’s lifeblood; it is made up of 68 percent carbohydrates, calcium, potassium, small amounts of iron and phosphorous and a trace amount of B vitamins
  • As the days grow warmer – above freezing during the day and below freezing during the night – the sap flows up and down with the temperature
  • Sugaring season begins when the up and down movement of sap happens several days in a row; this stretch of days is called a “run”, lasting anywhere from 10 days to 6 weeks in March and April
  • Maple Syrup TreeTo tap a tree without harming it, it must be at least 50 years old with a trunk that is 31 and ½ inches around when measured 4 and ½ feet above ground
  • Each tap hole yields approximately 10 gallons of sap over the season; this amount cooks down to about 1 quart of maple syrup; 70,0000 gallons of sap equals 1,700 gallons of maple syrup
  • All states must use the USDA color standards to grade or classify maple syrup; for example, Vermont Fancy is a Grade A Light Amber, which is considered the best (it is also the most expensive). Following that is Grade A Medium Amber, Grade A Dark Amber, Grade B, etc.
  • Dark Amber has a strong often bitter maple flavor and is sold to commercial bakers and food-processing plants (think Aunt Jemima’s)

For more information, we recommend checking out the University of Vermont’s Maple Syrup website, which includes award-winning recipes, such as:

  • Maple Crème Brûlée French Toast
  • Blueberry-Ricotta Pancakes
  • Maple Pulled Pork
  • Maple Mustard Salmon with Pineapple
  • Fiery Maple Pork Tenderloin
  • Spicy Peanut Coconut Curry Dip

Have Your Drink and Eat It, Too

St. Paddy’s Day may be over, but there’s no way I’m waiting another year to make Smitten Kitchen’s Chocolate Whiskey and Beer Cupcakes – they’re just too good.

The deliciously moist Guinness chocolate cake, smooth whiskey ganache filling, and rich Bailey’s buttercream frosting made for one spectacular and “boozy” dessert. If you’ve ever tasted an Irish car bomb, then you know these flavors work well together – the sum becoming something greater than its parts.

While I don’t plan on ordering that drink any time soon, I will certainly be making these cupcakes again. Next time, though, I’ll substitute an equal amount of Kahlua for the whiskey in the ganache – since most of the liquor flavor (and kick) comes through in the filling and frosting, it should taste more like a Baby Guinness shot (Kahlua and Bailey’s) with the added bonus of that Guinness in the chocolate base.

This recipe is fun – and easy – to make on your own. Play around with other stouts for the cake or liquors in the ganache and frosting. Happy baking (and drinking)!

Chocolate cupcake recipe
Photo Courtesy of Jennifer Murray


Chocolate Whiskey and Beer Cupcakes (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Makes 20 to 24 cupcakes

Ingredients for the Guinness Chocolate Cupcakes:
1 cup stout (such as Guinness)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2/3 cup sour cream

Ingredients for the Ganache Filling:
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons Irish whiskey

Ingredients for the Baileys Frosting:
3 to 4 cups confections sugar
1 stick (1/2 cup or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 tablespoons Baileys

Step-by-step Instructions: 

1. Make The Cupcakes

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 24 cupcake cups with liners. Bring 1 cup stout and 1 cup butter to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and 3/4 teaspoon salt in large bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sour cream in another large bowl to blend. Add stout-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed. Using rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined. Divide batter among cupcake liners, filling them 2/3 to 3/4 of the way. Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, rotating them once front to back if your oven bakes unevenly, about 17 minutes. Cool cupcakes on a rack completely.

2. Make The Filling

Chop the chocolate and transfer it to a heatproof bowl. Heat the cream until simmering and pour it over the chocolate. Let it sit for one minute and then stir until smooth. (If this has not sufficiently melted the chocolate, you can return it to a double-boiler to gently melt what remains. 20 seconds in the microwave, watching carefully, will also work.) Add the butter and whiskey and stir until combined.

Irish car bomb recipe
Photo Courtesy of Jennifer Murray


3. Fill the Cupcakes

Let the ganache cool until thick but still soft enough to be piped (the fridge will speed this along but you must stir it every 10 minutes). Meanwhile, using a 1-inch round cookie cutter or an apple corer (I used the wide end of a large piping tip and a small knife), cut the centers out of the cooled cupcakes. You want to go most of the way down the cupcake but not cut through the bottom — aim for 2/3 of the way. A slim spoon or grapefruit knife will help you get the center out. Set centers aside. Put the ganache into a piping bag with a wide tip and fill the holes in each cupcake to the top. (I used a small spoon while the ganache was still soft which worked just fine to fill the centers).

4. Make the Frosting

Whip the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, for several minutes. You want to get it very light and fluffy. Slowly add the powdered sugar, a few tablespoons at a time.

When the frosting looks thick enough to spread, drizzle in the Baileys and whip it until combined. If this has made the frosting too thin (it shouldn’t, but just in case) beat in another spoonful or two of powdered sugar.

5. Decorate and Enjoy!

Ice and decorate the cupcakes. I used a piping bag and 1A tip to frost the cupcakes, then topped half of them with sparkly green sprinkles. So not one bit of chocolate cake would would go to waste, I used the scooped out cupcake centers to crumble on the other half. I thought it made a nice presentation but feel free to get creative with toppings.

Jennifer Murray is an avid cooker, baker and lover of food. She grew up making traditional Italian recipes with her grandparents and can’t resist a homemade project – from making sausage to baking black and white cookies. Jennifer tries never to miss Sunday gravy, only makes serving sizes suitable for large family holidays and recently started teaching cooking classes in New York.

In case you missed it, be sure to check out ATG’s other delicious recipes for no bake cookies, raspberry chocolate-chip scones, Shepherd’s Pie, Vermont Cheddar Soup and more!

‘Springing’ Into Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

Please note: this piece was also published in The Huffington Post.

It seems rather fitting that the birthday of the late Fred McFeely Rogers (1928-2003) – the renowned, award-winning creator and host of the creative children’s television series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood – falls on the first day of Spring each year, March 20.

I can hardly think of a better way to welcome our long lost “neighbor” – the much anticipated, desperately needed Spring season – than to recall the catchy tune Mister Rogers routinely sang with a warm and friendly demeanor during the beginning of each show:

“It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood,

a beautiful day for a neighbor.

Would you be mine?

Could you be mine?…

…Won’t you be my neighbor?”

spring time quotes

Indeed, after a Siberian-like winter with record breaking snow in many parts of the country, we couldn’t be more thrilled to welcome a “beautiful day” into our very own neighborhood – and with it the inspiration, wisdom and life lessons of a man responsible for transforming children’s television into a positive, educational and uplifting experience.

Born March 20, 1928 in one of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s many ethnic neighborhoods, Fred Rogers earned his bachelor’s degree in music composition from Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida in 1951. He later went on to study at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Child Development* and Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, where he became an ordained Presbyterian minister in 1963 with the dream of working with children and families through the use of mass media.

In 1966, after a brief stint with a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, he moved back to Pittsburgh to create and debut Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood with WQED, the first U.S. community-sponsored educational television station. The show’s first episode premiered on February 19, 1968 – nearly 50 years ago – and would continue running for 33 years, through August 31, 2001, making it the longest-running PBS series in history.

Fred Rogers would go on to receive a number of awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom – the nation’s highest civilian honor – bestowed in 2002, a year before his death, by President George W. Bush for “his work on behalf of the well-being of children and his career in public television.” He was also inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1999 after receiving multiple George Foster Peabody Awards, Emmy Awards and “Lifetime Achievement” awards from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

But, what was it about this man and his show that attracted such a loyal following and widespread appeal? Was it the fact that he donned a different sweater each episode, all of which were hand knit by his mother as a sign of her love? Or was it the ease and grace with which he radiated authenticity, patience and kindness?

The Fred Rogers CompanyI think the answer lies in the simplicity and gentleness of his show, and the truth and honesty of his messages.

As Kevin Morrison, the chief operating officer at the Fred Rogers Company, implied: it was his “freddish”-ness.

The Fred Rogers Company, founded in 1971, is largely responsible for continuing the legacy of Mister Rogers through what Mr. Morrison has described as the “Freddish” approach: “teaching, compassion, curiosity and ways to cope with new emotions and experiences.”

“What’s Freddish is that emphasis on social-emotional issues, such as persistence. You don’t say, ‘I can’t.’ You try again. You ask for help…”, says Morrison in an article in Pittsburgh Magazine featuring the Fred Rogers Company as the “2014 Pittsburgher of the Year.”

The company has had great success, most notably in its launch of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood – an adapted, more modernized version of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood that debuted in 2012 (and which ranks among the top 5 shows for kids ages 2-5 every month) – Peg + Cat, which won an Emmy as the outstanding preschool children’s animated program in its first season (2013) and Odd Squad, the newest math-based series which premiered this past November.

And PBS, the network responsible for airing such shows, maintains the importance of “social-emotional learning as the center of [their] curriculum framework”: “’Literacy skills are important. So are math skills and problem solving skills. But social-emotional content is threaded through every one of our properties,’” says the network’s general manager.

I think this is precisely why Mister Rogers was – and continues to be – such a success. It was his interest in and concern for human behavior, emotions and needs that made him and his show so relatable, so inspirational and, ultimately, so real – particularly for children who are in the beginning stages of development.

As he once said, “Each person in the world is a unique human being, and each has unique human potential. One of the important tasks of growing is the discovery of this uniqueness: the discovery of ‘who I am’ in each of us – of ‘who I am’ in relation to all those whom I meet.”

Mister Rogers' NeighborhoodIn the foreword of the book Life’s Journey According to Mister Rogers, Fred’s wife, Joanne Rogers writes: “He had a heart that had room for everyone, and he was fascinated by other people’s journeys.”

I think Mister Rogers conveyed this in his show – making each viewer feel welcome, invited and important – as if they truly belonged right there with him in his “neighborhood.” After all, the mere lyrics to his song indicate a welcoming invitation – “would you be mine?” – and an interest in the life and journey of you, the viewer.

And isn’t that what we all long for? To feel welcome? Important? And that we belong?

“I don’t think anyone can grow”, Mister Rogers once said, “unless he’s loved exactly as he is now, appreciated for what he is rather than what he will be.”

And so, it is on this first day of Spring – as the flowers begin to bloom and we enter into a season of rebirth, renewal and restoration – that we remember the warm, gentle and loving spirit of Mister Rogers and wish him a very happy birthday.

May we make the most of this beautiful day, may we kindly invite others and remember to say: won’t you be my neighbor?

Also check out these 10 inspirational quotes from Mister Rogers on our Armour of Light page that are sure to add a little “spring” to your step.

Please note that, unless otherwise cited, the above information and quotes were taken from the article in Pittsburgh Magazine: “2014 Pittsburgher of the Year: The Fred Rogers Company.

*Of interest:

There was a lot happening during this time in the child development field around the Pittsburgh area, due largely to Dr. Benjamin Spock (author of the most famous child rearing book, Baby and Child Care, which by 1998 had sold more than 50 million copies world wide, making it one of the best sellers of all time).

Dr. Spock taught pediatrics at Cornell University from 1933-1944 and later at the University of Pittsburgh from 1951-1955, making early discoveries in its lab school. He established a family and children’s center in one of Pittsburgh’s Eastern European neighborhoods as a pediatric training ground which attracted the field’s most innovative thinkers, including famed developmental psychologist Erik Erikson.

It was in this innovative and forward thinking atmosphere in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania that Fred Rogers went on to create his award winning “neighborhood” show.

The complete lyrics to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood: 

It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood,

A beautiful day for a neighbor,

Would you be mine?

Could you be mine?


It’s a neighborly day in this beautywood,

A neighborly day for a beauty,

Would you be mine?

Could you be mine? 

I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you,

I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.


So let’s make the most of this beautiful day,

Since we’re together, we might as well say,

Would you be mine?

Could you be mine?

Won’t you be my neighbor?


Won’t you please,

Won’t you please,

Please won’t you be my neighbor?

Quotes to Add a Little ‘Spring’ to Your Step

Happy Spring and Happy Birthday to the late Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood ! Below are ATG’s pick of the 10 most inspirational quotes of Mister Rogers found in the book, Life’s Journey According to Mister Rogers.

inspirational quotes

1. “’Someone else’s action should not determine your response.’ It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? And yet what if someone else’s action should be shouting angry words at us or hitting us with a rotten tomato? That doesn’t affect what we do in response? Not if our compassion is genuine. Not if our love is the kind the Dalai Lama advocates.”

2. “’The outside is never as much as the inside…’ As you may know by now, that’s one of the major themes of our work: The invisible essential. Oh, the outsides of life are important, but the insides are what enhance so much of the rest.”

3. “Anyone who has ever been able to sustain good work has had at least one person – and often many – who have believed in him or her. We just don’t get to be competent human beings without a lot of different investments from others.”

4. “The root of all our lives go very, very deep, and we can’t really understand a person unless we have the chance of knowing who that person has been, and what that person has done and liked and suffered and believed.”

5. “Caring comes from the Gothic word kara, which means “to lament.” So caring is not what a powerful person gives to a weaker one. Caring is a matter of being there…lamenting right along with the one who laments.”

inspirational quotes
Keukenhof Gardens, located in Holland, the Netherlands: www.keukenhof.nl

6. “All we’re ever asked to do in this life is to treat our neighbors – especially our neighbor who is in need – exactly as we would hope to be treated ourselves. That’s our ultimate responsibility.”

7. “It may be that the most important mastery we achieve early on is not the mastery of a particular skill or particular piece of knowledge, but rather the mastery of the patience and persistence that learning requires, along with the ability to expect and accept mistakes and the feelings of disappointment they may bring.”

8. “The media shows the tiniest percentage of what people do. There are millions and millions of people doing wonderful things all over the world, and they’re generally not the ones being touted in the news.”

9. “Try your best to make goodness attractive. That’s one of the toughest assignments you’ll ever be given.”

10. “There are three ways to ultimate success: the first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind.”

Read also a reflection on Mister Rogers’ life, wisdom and teachings.

Charming Billy: Alice McDermott’s Irish American Novel

In celebration of St. Patrick’s Day 2015, ATG is exploring “All Things Irish.” Below is a book review of the Irish American novel Charming Billy by Alice McDermott.

Charming Billy Book ReviewAlcoholism. Loyalty. Generosity. Poverty. Catholicism. Redemption. And love. These are the central themes running through Alice McDermott’s award-winning Irish American novel, Charming Billy (1998), which tells the story of the life and trials of one Billy Lynch – an enigmatic Irish American man from Queens, NY who seemingly succumbed to alcoholism after “losing” the love of his life.

Full of insight into the culture, values and struggles of Irish Americans, McDermott also offers glimpses into the stereotypes associated with the Irish, such as references to “Paddy,” Irish policemen, and the song “Danny Boy”*, while sprinkling episodes of humor throughout, giving this novel a distinctly Irish American feel.

As one might expect of such a novel, faith and Catholicism – and the subsequent guilt that is so characteristic among Irish Catholics – play a prominent role as the story unfolds. “I was certain I was going to hell…”, says Billy’s love interest, Eva, during their childhood. “…don’t all children think they’re going to hell?”

McDermott also provides insight into the rituals of Catholicism when she talks about midnight fasts before Sunday Mass, Maeve (Billy’s wife) doing the rosary and novenas, Billy going to daily Mass with Eva, and “the good sound of the familiar Latin, the same women every morning saying their beads, the red sanctuary lamp, and the candles beneath the statues of the Virgin and St. Joseph, steadfast and true.”

But, the importance of Catholicism and faith is most prominently displayed in the novel’s depiction of nuns and priests, who are of “good nature” and the utmost “holiness”, always willing to help. “[T]he nuns….were more happy to take the child in for as many hours as he needed them to…” and “there were the nuns to go to, who would listen quietly and advise prayer…”

Similarly, priests are described as the “embodiment of good” who are to be respected and revered for their “closeness to God.” Indeed, one priest, upon entrance into Maeve’s house, is seen as a type of “hero” by comforting her during her grievance, reminding her that “Billy’s life goes on, in Christ.” The narrator says, “He was like a physician carrying reports to a waiting family…more expert, everything in the priest’s gracious manner seemed to say, because only he understood that death was nothing that it seemed to be…”

But, despite the storyline’s heaviness and weight, McDermott’s novel is not without humor. Poking fun at the importance and value of the Church to Irish identity, two characters converse at length, joking about how directions in Ireland often start with, “Go down to the church…”

Perhaps most powerful, however, is the theme of loyalty and generosity – two esteemed Irish virtues and traits – that McDermott so astutely captures in this novel. For instance, when reminiscing about Billy at his funeral, all his family members tell his cousin Dennis’ daughter about how loyal Dennis was to Billy and how he was “always there for whoever needed him…[y]ou would think he’d been put on this earth just to give the rest of us a hand, to give us some relief – isn’t that what a saint is?”

And Billy – despite his alcoholism and struggles – remained loyal to a neighbor who gave him money and a job. “But he stayed on at Holtzman’s store, didn’t he?…Even when he didn’t need the extra cash anymore. He stayed on. That was Billy all over…loyal like that.”

*Danny Boy is a famous ballad written by English songwriter Frederic Weatherly that is usually set to the Irish tune of “Londonderry Air.” It became prominent in Irish folklore over a century ago (1912) and is one of over 100 songs composed to the same tune. Interestingly, Frederic Weatherly is said never to have set foot in Ireland. See this article in CBS News for an interesting history of the origins of “Danny Boy.”

*Check out the lyrics to Danny Boy below:

Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling

From glen to glen, and down the mountain side

The summer’s gone, and all the flowers are dying

‘Tis you, ’tis you must go and I must bide.

But come ye back when summer’s in the meadow

Or when the valley’s hushed and white with snow

‘Tis I’ll be here in sunshine or in shadow

Oh Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so.

But when he come, and all the flowers are dying

If I am dead, as dead I well may be

You’ll come and find the place where I am lying

And kneel and say an “Ave” there for me.

And I shall hear, tho’ soft you tread above me

And all my grave will warm and sweeter be

For you will bend and tell me that you love me

And I shall sleep in peace until you come to me.

Check out ATG’s other Irish-themed posts about The Fighting IrishThe Luck of the IrishIrish American cultureIrish musicIrish moviesIrish recipes (and here).

Cooking, Baking & Riverdancing to Traditional Irish Tunes

In celebration of St. Patrick’s Day 2015, ATG is exploring “All Things Irish.” Below is a small sampling of some great Irish music to play (and dance to!) while cooking Shepherd’s Pie for dinner or baking Irish scones and cookies for teatime.  

A few of our favorite Irish songs: Patriots Game, Galway Bay, Irish Rover, Red is the Rose, Fields of Athenry, Shipping up to Boston (Dropkick Murphy’s), Carrickfergus, Mountain Dew, Finnegan’s Wake, Voyage (by Johnny Dunhan) and Toora-Loora-Looral (Irish Lullaby). You can also listen to other traditional Irish music.

best irish music

Shepherd’s Pie

1 pound ground beef
1 medium onion
1 large carrot, minced
1 &1/2 cups frozen corn, thawed
1/4 cup tomato paste
Several dashes of Worcestershire sauce
Butter and olive oil for sautéing
4 Russet potatoes for making mashed potatoes
1 – 2 cups grated good quality (Cabot or the Irish “Kerrygold”) cheddar cheese.

Sauté ground beef and onion in 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil.  Add carrots, salt, pepper, worcestershire sauce and tomato paste and about 1/4 – 1/2 cup water, let simmer on low.

Meanwhile prepare mashed potatoes, set aside with lid on pot to keep warm.* Cook frozen corn in separate pot with a little salt, pepper and 1 tablespoon of butter.

To assemble the pie place the beef mixture on bottom of deep casserole dish, next the buttered and seasoned corn and finally finishing with the mashed potatoes on top.  Sprinkle with the cheddar cheese and bake in 375 degree oven for 20 – 25 minutes.

*Can stir 1 cup of cheddar cheese in mashed potatoes and then sprinkle 1 cup cheese on top before baking.

Shepherd's Pie Recipe

No Bake Chocolate Cookies

1 stick butter
1 & 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup milk
3/4 cup peanut butter 1 tsp. vanilla
6 Tablespoons Hershey’s Cocoa (can use Hershey’s “Special Dark”)
3 Cups Oatmeal (McCann’s Irish Oatmeal is very good)

Mix the oatmeal and the cocoa in large bowl and set aside. Mix the butter, sugar, and milk in a saucepan and bring to a rolling boil and boil 1 minute. Take off heat immediately and stir in peanut butter and vanilla and then combine thoroughly with the oatmeal/cocoa mixture. Drop onto wax paper and let cool and set.

No bake cookie recipe

Grandma McIlhenny’s Old-Fashioned Raisin Filled Cookies (time consuming but delicious!)

For the dough:
1/2 cup sugar
1 stick butter, room temp.
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla 2 & 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon soda
Cream butter and sugar, add eggs and vanilla and combine with remaining dry ingredients.  Cover and chill 1 hour.

For the filling:
2 cups raisins finely chopped
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans

Cook in saucepan on medium to low heat until sauce thickens.  Cool thoroughly.

Roll out dough on lightly floured wax paper very, very thin (1/8″). Use 3 & 1/2 inch round cookie cutter or rim of glass to cut out cookies and place on baking sheet. Place roughly 1 generous teaspoon of raisin mixture in middle of dough and fold over into the shape of a crescent moon. Press edges together. Brush with milk and sprinkle with sugar and bake in 400 degree oven for 8 – 10 min. Do not over bake to keep the outside of the cookies somewhat soft.

Tea time recipesCharlestown Raspberry Chocolate-Chip Scones

Kerrygold Pure Irish butter3 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 sticks butter, room temp.
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
3 large eggs, room temp.
1/3 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt
1/2 – 1 cup chocolate chips
6 ounce container of fresh raspberries

Mix flour and baking powder in small bowl. Beat butter on high speed until creamy. Add sugar and beat 3-5 minutes until pale and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time. Add flour mixture; mix only until blended. Add buttermilk and mix only until blended. Sprinkle chips and raspberries over batter and fold in.

Scoop 1/3 cupfuls onto ungreased baking sheet. Loosely cover dough with plastic what and refrigerate about 45 minutes. Heat oven to 350 degrees when ready to bake, remove scones from fridge and bake 15 min. Turn baking sheet around and bake another 10 min. or so or until the scones are just beginning to brown on top. Do not over bake.

Glaze with confectioners sugar mixed with good quality orange juice. You can make the glaze as thick or as thin as desired by adding more or less juice.

Check out some more Irish recipes and ATG’s other Irish-themed posts about The Fighting IrishThe Luck of the IrishIrish American culture, Irish musicIrish movies and Irish American novels.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

We’ll be wrapping up our feature of “All Things Irish” this week…stay tuned for a few more Irish “treats”!

St. Patrick's Day HistoryYour guide to “All Things Irish”:

 What one Irish American thinks about St. Patrick’s Day

 How we can use the “luck of the Irish” in our everyday lives

 Why the Irish just can’t help their “fighting irish” instincts

 What traditional Irish songs you’d likely hear in a bar in Dublin

 Why you should watch the Irish movie “Some Mother’s Son

Delicious Irish dishes you’ll want to try

Irish songs to sing, bake and riverdance to (with recipes)

A classic Irish american novel by Alice McDermott

And a little bit of that classic Irish humor…

Irish humor

The Culture of Irish Music

In celebration of St. Patrick’s Day 2015, ATG is exploring “All Things Irish.” Below ATG contributor and professional photographer J Kevin Crowley reflects on his experience with traditional Irish music while studying in Dublin, Ireland. 

The Irish are historically famous for a few things, some more well known than others, some rooted in truth more than others: The land of “Saints & Scholars” speaks to its poets and writers, and its almost ubiquitous Catholic culture.  They’re also known for their hospitality, their cheese, and even their smoked salmon.

Of course, around this time of year, and specifically on March 17th, you’re probably focused on the Irish proclivity for “the drink”, be it whiskey or Guinness, and their music, which fills pubs around the world with artists ranging from the Dubliners to the Chieftains, and even the Dropkick Murphys, depending on the bar.

Pub in Dublin Ireland
Temple Bar in Dublin, Ireland; Photo courtesy of J Kevin Crowley via http://www.jkevincrowleyphoto.com

The saying goes that everyone is Irish on St. Paddy’s day, regardless of nationality. In America, many citizens share a habit of breaking down individual heritage on a percentage basis. “Oh I’m 25% Scottish, 25% Welsch, 25% Italian, 21.5% Laotian and 3.5% Romanian on my father’s side. My mother’s side is…”  It’s a unique characteristic of our great “melting pot” country.

For me, the breakdown has always been simple: 100% Irish.

My grandmother, Eilish, came over from County Longford on a merchant ship in 1943. Her family Sundays in Queens, NY in the 40s and 50s usually included a post-mass cèilidh (pronounced KAY-lee), filled with music and dancing, some of her sisters found work as many other female Irish immigrants did, as servants in homes around New York.  One generation removed, I obviously did not have the same experience as my grandmother, but her stories, witticisms, and even soda bread recipes, all contributed to molding my own witticisms and outlook on life.

Early on in my life, I dreamed of living in Ireland, to return to my roots, as cliché as that may sound, and learn as much about the place that my family called home for many more generations than they have in the New World.

I had that opportunity for five months in College.  Living and studying in Dublin, I found myself seeking out Irish Trad (traditional) music sessions both in the city and throughout my travels within the Republic.  Dominated by flutes, tin whistles, fiddles, Uilleann pipes (similar to a bagpipe), mandolins, Bodhráns (a type of drum) among others, the music carries tradition of dance, song and poetry suppressed for centuries by British occupation. Whether telling a story of the famine or Finnegan’s Wake, I always felt welcome and inspired by the live music in pubs around the city – a welcomed break from the top 40 that dominated most bars and clubs in my experience to that point.

I made it a mission of mine to scour Dublin, and any other Irish city for that matter, high and low for the most off-the-beaten-path pubs with live trad music that I could find.  From the Temple Bar area, the most “touristy” section of Dublin, to Conradh na Gaeilge, an Irish only club that wouldn’t take my order for a pint unless I asked in Irish, the song may have been the same, but the atmosphere affected the music as much as the artist.

My last night in Galway, I found a lone guitarist singing to a room filled with the smell of peat and old men reading the newspaper. It was one of the last nights I would spend in Ireland at the end of my semester.  I ordered a pint of Guinness, sat in the back of the pub at a worn, oak table by myself, watched a peat fire burn and listened to this lone guitarist sing the songs of his ancestors.

In Dublin, where I lived at the time, I would bring visitors to The Oliver St. John Gogarty in Temple Bar.  Surrounded by tourists fulfilling their dream of reconnecting with their Irish roots, we listened to the house band that must have played the same set just about 7 days a week. The energy of new experiences and dreams fulfilled by a room filled with music was unparalleled.  At my first Leinster Rugby match in Dublin, the entire crowd erupted in song at the opening of the match,  15,000 people chanting along to “Molly Malone” in unison.

No matter where I found myself in Ireland, the music was a unifying theme.  The country is markedly a nation in the most literal sense of the word: united by common descent, history, culture, or language.  We don’t find that common thread many places in the United States, perhaps with the exception of professional or collegiate sport. Each of these examples I described above, the music and atmosphere played an integral part in conveying that culture and history, whether to a bunch of old guys at a Galway pub, a bunch of tourists in a crowded Dublin bar, or shared amongst thousands of fans in support of their favorite rugby team.

In my own attempt to keep my Irish heritage alive and fresh, I am drawn to traditional Irish music more than anything else.  It tells our stories, immortalizes and brings to life small bits of our history, both happy and sad, and acknowledges sorrows with a fatalistic humor that only the Irish could pull off.

Famous Irish Music
Oliver St John Gogarty’s in Temple Bar, Dublin, Ireland; Photo courtesy of J Kevin Crowley via http://www.jkevincrowleyphoto.com

One day during Dublin’s TradFest, a festival showcasing the cream of both Irish and international trad and folk artists while also providing a stage to promote the next generation of Irish musicianship, I crossed the street from the Quays Pub to The Auld Dubliner and sat to listen to a mother, father and son play traditional tunes together. The father played guitar, the mother fiddle, and the son, about 12-years old, the Bodran.  This performance, I imagined, was the culmination of hours of practice in their living room, parents passing the songs and stories to their children the same way their parents did to them.

If you didn’t know already, St. Paddy’s Day is the feast day of St. Patrick, one of the foremost patron saints of Ireland, who is among other things, best known for his Christian conversion efforts in Ireland. This St. Paddy’s day, regardless of the nationality or nationalities with which you identify, or your feelings on historical Christian missionary-indigenous relations, I invite you to think about your own cultural experience, how it has affected your life, or how you plan to pass that culture along to your children or grandchildren.

Now to get in the mood for the Irish festivities, here are some of my favorite Irish traditional tunes, both new and old:

The Wind (I’ll Tell Me Ma) – Gaelic Storm

Whiskey in the Jar – The Dubliners

Black Velvet Band – The Dubliners

The Auld Triangle – Glen Hansard & Damien Dempsey

Molly Malone – The Dubliners & The Leinster Rugby Theme

Float – Flogging Molly

Fields of Athenry – The Dubliners

Dirty Old Town – The Pogues

The Wind That Shakes the Barley / The Reel With The Beryle – The Chieftains (instrumental tune)

Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Rai (That’s an Irish Lullaby) – Bing Crosby (ok, not traditional Irish, but Irish-American at least)

And then just listen to this guy – Glen Hansard

J Kevin Crowley was born a New Yorker, raised a New Englander, graduated a Crusader (Holy Cross), and now lives as an Alaskan in Juneau. He recently launched his own website, J Kevin Crowley Photography, showcasing his own original photographs from around the world. The above piece was originally published on his blog, Behind the Lens.

Check out ATG’s other Irish-themed posts about The Fighting IrishThe Luck of the IrishIrish American cultureIrish recipesIrish movies and Irish American novels.


Some Mother’s Son: The 1981 Belfast Prison Hunger Strike

In celebration of St. Patrick’s Day 2015, ATG is exploring “All Things Irish” for the next couple weeks. Below we review the Irish movie “Some Mother’s Son.” Stay tuned for more! 

It was with a faint memory of the 1981 hunger strikes in Northern Ireland that I recently watched Some Mother’s Son* (1996) – a movie based on the true story of the young IRA (Irish Republican Army) martyrs who began a hunger strike while being held in a British prison in Belfast for their involvement in IRA terrorist activities.

Refusing to be treated as criminals by wearing their assigned prisoner uniforms, the IRA members began their hunger strike in an attempt to be recognized by the British government as “political prisoners of war.”  Ten of the twenty-one men jailed ended up dying as martyrs for their cause, including Bobby Sands, their leader who was elected to parliament while in prison and whose funeral was attended by over 100,000 people.

Some Mother's Son Movie ReviewHelen Mirren and Fionnula Flanagan give exceptional performances as two very different mothers who form an unlikely friendship after their sons, as members of the IRA, are arrested and imprisoned in Belfast’s Maze Prison.

While Kathleen Quigley (Helen Mirren), an apolitical teacher who is uninterested in the Civil War – trying only to live her life quietly and safely with three children – and is unaware of her son’s involvement with the IRA, Annie Higgins (Flanagan’s character), whose other son was killed by the British, zealously supports her son’s political activities – and is compliant in her son’s readiness to die.

Having reluctantly been brought into “The Troubles” (the expression used at the time to denote Roman Catholic resistance to British Rule), Kathleen faces an agonizing dilemma: choosing whether to allow her son to die after he loses his consciousness from hunger.

Both fascinating and extremely sad, Some Mother’s Son is a powerful, moving account of a historical event that “broke the iron politics of Margaret Thatcher – causing one to wonder, as Roger Ebert writes in his review of Some Mother’s Son: “is any political belief so important that it is worth sacrificing the life of your son?”

We also recommend reading the New York Times review of Some Mother’s Son by Stephen Holden (December 1996).

*Some Mother’s Son was written by Irish Filmmakers Terry George and Jim Sheridan, starring Helen Mirren, Fionnula Flanagan, Aidan Gillen and David O’Hara.

Check out ATG’s other Irish-themed posts about The Fighting IrishThe Luck of the IrishIrish American cultureIrish recipestraditional Irish music and Irish American novels.