by Staci Troilo

I’m part Irish, although I know more about my Italian heritage than the other side of my family. But today, I happily claim my Celtic roots. Happy St. Patrick’s Day, one and all!

Happy St. Patrick's Day

I don’t know much about how my dad’s side of the family celebrated this feast day. I’m pretty sure there was beer involved. (There was beer at all Smith family functions, so that’s a safe bet.) But I can tell you how my mom’s side of the family celebrated it: with Italian food. My grandmother made all sorts of Italian meals for my grandfather. St. Patrick’s Day wouldn’t have been an exception.

I make an effort to expose my kids to all cultures (yes, I’m partial to our Italian heritage, but I’m not rigid). My children studied martial arts for several years (my son holds a second degree black belt and my daughter a first degree), and on Chinese New Year one year, their Master had them participate in the dragon dance… a smaller version re-enacted in their school, but the parade was still something to see. We also had traditional dishes that I still make every Chinese New Year at home. On Cinco de Mayo, I make enchiladas suizas and tres leche cake. And of course I make something Italian on Columbus Day.

It probably goes without saying that I’d make an Irish meal for St. Patrick’s Day. (What can I say? I teach in the kitchen.) We have friends who grew up in Ireland. (You should hear them speak. Such lovely brogues!) We’ve learned a lot about Ireland and Irish history just from their stories.

Last year we were blessed to have my husband’s parents here with us. They are full Italian, just like my mother. Not only did we get to enjoy their company that week, I got to share a little bit of my heritage with my in-laws.

irish mealI didn’t just have my kids in the kitchen with me, I had my mother-in-law, too. We made Irish soda bread, Guinness stew, mashed potatoes, and cabbage. Dessert was Irish coffee, which the kids didn’t get, but it was Lent, and we all have to make sacrifices. The meal was delicious, and the company was even better. As we ate, we discussed the fact that just a generation earlier, a meal like that would have been difficult to have. When my parents started dating—an Italian Catholic girl and an Irish/German/Scottish/Swedish Lutheran boy—some in our hometown frowned on mixing cultures. Luckily my grandparents could see past the labels to what great people my parents were. Are.

If they hadn’t, I might not be here today.

And my kids wouldn’t be here, learning about the Irish culture.

Today, my in-laws aren’t here. Our meal will be smaller, less festive, but just as poignant. We’ll discuss my heritage—my children’s heritage—and how important it is to celebrate our differences. And accept them.

St. PatrickSt. Patrick was kidnapped from Scotland as a youth and after escaping, went to Ireland where he lived in poverty, worked many miracles, and preached and converted the people for forty years. His tool of choice? The shamrock (three leaves on one stalk), which represented the Holy Trinity (God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit all in one entity). St. Patrick wasn’t always accepted, not even in his own country. I’m grateful to live in a land of tolerance and diversity, and although we’re celebrating a day when everybody is Irish, I’m proud of my heritage, proud of my differences. We shouldn’t be afraid to show who we are or where we came from.

It’s our differences that make us unique, make us interesting, make us inimitable. (like that? tweet it)

We should all be Irish today, and then we should all celebrate our heritage, because then we’d be celebrating what makes us who we are.

For Writers:

Just as we as families have different heritages we can draw from for different experiences, as authors, we need to capitalize on different incidents in our lives to get the most out of our writing.

It’s time to stop playing it safe. They say “write what you know,” and that’s fine, but that doesn’t always mean “write what you’re comfortable with.” (like that? tweet it)

I’m not necessarily telling you to change genres, or switch from fiction to nonfiction. But is there some hidden story, some dark truth in your past that you’ve been itching to explore? Something that you want to talk about, a story begging to be told that the world needs to hear, but you’ve been putting it off because it’s ugly, or uncomfortable?

Now’s the time.

If your writing seems ho-hum, it’s because you aren’t being true to yourself, to what you really want to say, to what’s really inside. (like that? tweet it)

Open up that cookbook and see what it has to offer. There’s a whole world of palates to explore, flavors to discover.

Rise to the challenge. You might surprise yourself.

Irish Soda Bread and Other Traditions:

irish soda breadHere’s something, literally from the family cookbook.
If you’re looking for an easy Irish recipe to celebrate with today, here’s one to try. It’ll be gracing our table tonight.
Maybe you’d like to share a tradition or a recipe in the comments below.

Irish Soda Bread:

4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for the dried fruit
4 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 3/4 cups cold buttermilk, shaken
1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 cup dried currants, raisins, or cranberries

1) Preheat the oven to 375° F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
2) Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the butter and mix on low speed until the butter is mixed into the flour.
3) With a fork, lightly beat the buttermilk, egg, and orange zest together in a measuring cup. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture.
4) Combine the dried fruit with 1 tablespoon of flour and mix into the dough. It will be very wet.
5) Dump the dough onto a well-floured board and knead it a few times into a round loaf.
6) Place the loaf on the prepared sheet pan and lightly cut an X into the top of the bread with a serrated knife. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. When you tap the loaf, it will have a hollow sound.

Cool on a baking rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.


7 Responses

  1. Thanks for sharing, Staci. There’s some secrets on my mother’s side involving her teenage years and her father’s background. There are no written records so I’ve filled in the gaps with my fiction. Part of my mother and my grandfather’s story appear in my last novel. I may one day revisit and delve further into my grandfather’s life in Cornwall. You already know that I did something with the journal of my paternal great grandfather. My daughter, who is 32, is delighted to have that part of our legacy in print. That made the project all the more worthwhile. You do such a wonderful job with your children. I’m sure they are cool kids with a great sense of who they are and from where they came.

    • Thank you. If my kids read this, their heads will surely swell!

      I love what you did with your great-grandfather’s journal. It’s no wonder your daughter is thrilled with it. I wouldn’t be surprised if someday you get the itch to dig into your grandfather’s stories. And if you have to fill in blanks with fiction, well… isn’t that what we writers do best?

  2. Staci – I think its wonderful to learn about different cultures. After our Facebook conversation yesterday regarding my ancestor, I looked up some forgotten information in a genealogy book about our family. I am of Scotch-Irish descent, but some early ancestors that went into Scotland were Vikings. Thankful your grandparents were open to the relationship between your parents. I’m sure that did cause quite a stir among some people.

    I liked what you said about writing out of our comfort zones – something I needed to hear today!

    Top of the morning to you!

    • Joan, I can’t wait to read your post about your ancestor. I love the genealogy posts that people put on their blogs. I think learning where we’re from is so important because it shapes who we are today. And I’m glad the writing advice was timely! Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

  3. I’m up at 4AM commenting on this post because I have corned beef and cabbage induced agita. I love it, but it doesn’t love me. I do embrace my Irish heritage (my mother’s side) on this particular weekend, and probably don’t do it enough at other times.

    Great advice on writing out of your comfort zone. The posts where I most feared the ‘publish’ button are ones that drew the most reaction. Stretching your zone helps you get better, and elicits memorable writing.

    • As you read, I don’t embrace my Irish enough either, but I’m busting it out today! (I really have to do better about that, but all of my grandparents on Dad’s side are gone, and he doesn’t know that much about his heritage. My mom’s mom is still with us, so I still have a source I can rely on for first hand knowledge.)

      As for the writing, it does seem like it’s the writing we fear the most that elicits the most visceral responses. That’s because those words meant the most to us, so we wrote them from a place of passion. It comes across, whether our inner editor recognizes it or not.

      I’m sorry you’re up so early with your “corned beef and cabbage induced agita” but I hope you have a great St. Patrick’s Day from here on out. Slainte!

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