Storytelling (and Irish Soda Bread) for Saint Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick's Day recipes include: Potato & Cheddar Soup and Traditional Irish Soda Bread

Saint Patrick may be the patron saint of Ireland but his day, March 17, is celebrated far and wide. It is the perfect time to introduce your children to one of Ireland’s great traditions – storytelling. Before radio, television and the Internet, long, cold winter evenings were often filled with legends and tall tales.

Everyone has at least one story to tell. What’s yours? Most Irish tales fall into a few categories. So consider the following when you ponder the possibilities:

Tales of adventures and voyages. Your escapades do not have to be epic to be interesting. Think back to your first day of school or summer camp. Or that special time you spent with a favorite uncle hiking Mount Monadnock or sailing on Lake Winnipesaukee.

Stories of romance and courtship. Children love to hear how their parents met, fell in love and married. Or share your parents or grandparents grand romance.

Sagas of battles and heroics. So you aren’t a knight and you have no armor. How about the weeklong battles of Capture the Flag you played in the old neighborhood?

Magical visions of leprechauns, fairies and ghosts. You may be hard-pressed to find a leprechaun in your garden but maybe you have an eerie story to share.

Gather your children in the kitchen and share stories while you bake Irish Soda Bread. Let the children help you measure and mix and knead the dough. Encourage your children to share their own stories adventures on the hockey rink, romances on the playground and ghosts at summer camp.

Traditional Irish Soda Bread
This is the easiest bread to make. Just mix, knead and bake. No rising, no fuss. Enjoy it with a little butter. Leftovers make great toast.
Makes 1 large loaf

3 1/2 c. all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
About 1 1/2 c. buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place a piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet.

Put flour, baking soda and salt in large bowl and whisk to combine.

Stir in enough buttermilk to form moist clumps. Gather dough into a ball and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead dough until it just holds together, about 1 minute.

Shape the dough into a round about 6 inches in diameter and 2 inches high. Put the loaf onto prepared baking sheet. Cut a 1-inch deep X across the top of the dough, extending almost to edge.

Bake the bread at 425 degrees until it is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on bottom, about 35 minutes. Transfer bread to a rack to cool a bit and serve warm.

Potato & Cheddar Soup
The potato famine brought many Irish to America. Perhaps, your great-grandparents were among them. Share the story with your kids.
Serves 8

3-4 slices thick cut bacon, diced
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
2-3 stalks celery, finely chopped
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 c. dry white wine
2 lbs. red skinned potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 1/2-2 qt. chicken stock
3-4 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
1 c. sour cream (optional)
4 oz. (plus more for garnish) sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
Chopped chives and/or fresh parsley for garnish

Put bacon in large stockpot and cook over medium heat until crispy. Remove bacon from the pan and reserve. Drain most of the fat, leaving enough to lightly coat the pan.

Add onion, carrots and celery, season with the red pepper flakes, salt and pepper and sauté over medium heat for 10-15 minutes or until onions are translucent. Add garlic and continue cooking for 2-3 minutes. Add wine and simmer until reduced by half.

Add potatoes and 1 1/2 quarts chicken stock to the pot. Tie the thyme and bay leaf with butcher’s string and add the bundle to the pot. Bring soup to a boil; reduce the heat to low and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Let the soup cool for about 30 minutes. Remove the herb bundle.

Use a potato masher to break up the potatoes and thicken the soup. You don’t want mashed potatoes; you want rough, bite-sized pieces. If the soup gets too thick, add a little more stock.

Put sour cream in a small bowl and, a little at a time, whisk in 2 cups of soup. Stir sour cream mixture into the soup pot. Stir cheddar cheese into the soup. Stirring frequently, reheat soup to steaming.

Meanwhile, put the bacon pieces on a sheet pan and warm in a 350 degree oven for about 5 minutes.

Ladle soup into bowls, garnish with a little more cheddar cheese, bacon and chives. Serve immediately.

Susan Nye writes for magazines throughout New England. She shares many of her favorite recipes and stories about food, family and friendship on her award-winning blog, Around the Table, at www.susannye.wordpress.com.

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