Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Holiday Magic: Yule Lads, St. Lucia, and 2 Goodreads Giveaways!

Ah, the December holidays…Catalogs jamming your mailbox…overpriced gift suggestions filling your favorite magazines…your Visa card screaming for mercy… Where is the magic, I ask you?

If you need a break from Christmas commercialism, go no further than checking out the holiday rituals of other countries—most of which involve lots of yummy food and no trips to the mall. In Sweden, the Christmas season begins today, December 13, when Swedes celebrate the feast day of Saint Lucia. Traditionally, young girls wear an evergreen wreath with seven lighted candles upon their heads, and serve their families coffee and buns. The magic seems to be that not many girls’ hair has caught on fire or else someone would have come up with a new way to celebrate!

You might also like the Christmas rituals of Switzerland--lots of bell ringing and huge homemade doughnuts called ringli. The Danish seem to embody the holiday spirit—giving each other baskets made from paper hearts filled with candy. And the French custom of le réveillon, a big family meal that takes place after midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, must be really splendid (or magical), since everyone seems to have the energy to stay awake for the big celebration.

When it comes to holiday magic and whimsy, however, the traditions of Iceland rule! Instead of Santa, Icelandic people celebrate with the legend of the "Yule Lads." The Lads are the 13 sons of mountain trolls who visit the towns and villages across Iceland to make mischief, beginning on the 13 days before Christmas. Each of the 13 trolls has a name that relates to his own brand of prank—think “Bowl Licker” or “Sausage Swiper,” and he gets his own night to made trouble. If you’ve been good, the Yule Lad will leave a sweet or gift in your shoe. If you haven’t, you don’t get a lump of coal…you get a rotten potato. Now there’s an incentive to behave yourself!
Country holiday love story

To celebrate the season closer to home, I'm currently running Goodreads Giveaways of my 2 holiday books! The Hopeful Romantic, Book 3 of my Irish Village of Ballydara series, will be a Goodreads Giveaway until just after Christmas. You can also enter to win a signed copy of Morgan Carey and The Mystery of the Christmas Fairies, the 2nd book of my Morgan Carey fantasy-adventure series for tweens, until December 29...  You'll find more about my books at www.susancolleenbrowne.com!

And may your holidays be filled with wonder and magic!

Fantasy Adventure for Tweens
PS--Thank you to Believe: Christmas Treasury, by Mary Engelbreit, and "Not Home for the Holidays" by Brian J. Cantwell (Seattle Times, December 11, 2016) for inspiring this post!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Thanksgiving Countdown and The Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe...Ever!

Sure, a roast turkey feast with all the trimmings happens only once or twice a year…but if you’ve got the same kind of sweet tooth I do, you know that pie on Thanksgiving is the real draw. With a couple weeks to go before sinking my teeth into pumpkin pie with a butter crust and local whipped cream, I was jonesing for some homemade cookies to keep me going until then. Naturally, I wanted the best cookies I could get, so I made some earlier this week.

A bit of background: ever since I was a kid just learning to bake, I swore by the Toll House cookie recipe on the package of Nestle’s semi-sweet chocolate chips. A classic recipe you could count on, tasty cookies, and everyone loves them! However, for me, the cookies weren't quite perfect: a little too salty, and they fell apart too easily. (I like my cookies really underdone. John likes his really overdone. It’s the secret to a happy marriage, because we’ll never steal each other’s cookies!)
Well, I said I liked big cookies!
Despite its limitations, I kept going with the classic Nestle cookies. Then a couple of years ago, I came upon a recipe on the back of a five-pound sack of Gold Medal flour…and life got better! And here is The Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Ever recipe, with my embellishments:

Dry ingredients: Sift or stir together:
2 cups flour (I use about 1 1/3 white and 2/3 whole wheat pastry flour)
1 teaspoon soda
½ teaspoon salt (I use sea salt)
¼ to ½ teaspoon cinnamon  

Cream together:
1 stick + 6 tablespoons softened butter (1 and ¾ sticks)
1 1/3 cups sugar or brown sugar (I use organic cane sugar with about a tablespoon of molasses)
1 large egg
2 generous teaspoons of vanilla
Mix in about ½ the flour mixture. Then comes the secret to this amazing richness of this cookie:
Chop or process 1 cup walnuts until they’re small crumbs, almost like walnut “flour.” I chop by hand with a chef’s knife for about 15 minutes to get the right “crumbliness.” Add the walnuts and mix in, as you also add the rest of the flour.

When you’ve got the butter mixture and the flour mixture pretty well combined, add your chocolate chips. I’ve never used 2 cups of chocolate chips per the Nestle recipe, and for this one, I suggest about 1 cup of chips. Along with the chocolate chips, add about 1/3 cup of rolled oats or barley flakes and mix until combined.

Drop your preferred amount of dough on a prepared sheet and bake at 350 degrees. I make big cookies, probably about 2 tablespoons of dough for each one. For nicely underdone cookies, I bake for 7 minutes, then rotate the cookie sheet and bake for 2 and a half minutes more. Cool the sheet on a rack to let the cookies set up before you remove them. Then prepare to be amazed!

If you'd like some pie inspiration, check out my post, "A Simpler, Greener Holiday" from 2010!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Halloween and Day of the Dead Book Giveaways!

A mysterious curse…a haunted Victorian house…and having the courage to face your worst fears…Celebrate Halloween with two spooky adventure stories for tweens…free!

Book 1
This month, I’m giving away not one but two titles of my family-friendly Morgan Carey series! Book 1, Morgan Carey and The Curse of the Corpse Bride, will be a Goodreads Giveaway starting October 22, 2016. 

In Book 1, Morgan has chosen the coolest costume ever—a dead bride. But when she finds a strange fortune-telling machine at the mall on Halloween, she has no way of knowing that she has encountered some powerful magic. The next day, the Day of the Dead, or the Dia de los Muertos, she faces a terrible dilemma…Will Morgan and her best friend Claire be able to break the spell? Or is Morgan doomed to be cursed by the Corpse Bride forever?

Book 3
Book 3, The Secret Astoria Scavenger Hunt,will be another Goodreads Giveaway, starting October 23! Here’s more about the story, inspired by The Goonies Anniversary Celebration: To win a local contest, Morgan and her two cousins begin a rollicking visit to Astoria, Oregon’s most famous spots. But the kids realize that the myths and legends of the historic riverfront town may be haunting them. Will they be able to escape from the powerful forces of the past? Or will they remain trapped in a world of shadows and dangerous secrets?

Enter for the chance to win signed, print copies of both books. And watch for the Giveaway of Book 2, Morgan Carey and The Mystery of the Christmas Fairies, later in November! 

Friday, September 9, 2016

Gobsmacked in the Orchard

“Come here!” John hollered from the other side of the yard. “I just saw the strangest thing!”

John is not one to call me to come running. Or exaggerate. So what in the world could “the strangest thing” be? I hoicked a pile of wild spinach into my weed bucket and hustled over. “What is it?

“I never would have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes,” he said, heading for our biggest Asian pear tree. “A rabbit,” and he pointed to a pear on the ground, half its flesh exposed by bite marks. “Was eating that!”

Half-eaten fruit with bunny bite marks
I stared at the pear—okay, that really was the strangest thing. All though this crazy apple season, our trees were bearing so heavily that despite our best efforts to keep up with picking, they were dropping fruit all over the place. I’d seen half-eaten fruit on the ground for weeks, and it had been hard to keep up with picking up this wasted fruit and composting it too. And to be completely honest, I figured that whatever was eating them was…um, I hate to admit it, but…rats.

Still…rabbits? If you’re familiar with the Tale of Peter Rabbit, you know exactly what Peter Cottontail eats, starting with Farmer MacGregor’s carrot tops. He’s certainly eaten ours when he’s snuck past the chicken wire. I sure was convinced that rabbits ate only greens—and the way our place is overrun with bunnies, I’ve had plenty of chance to observe their eating habits.

They eat every tender annual flower you ever dare to put in the ground. And that’s just the beginning. They eat beet greens, spinach, kale and asparagus. When it comes to berries, they love strawberry plants and make mincemeat of cranberry plants and blueberry shrubs.  They bite off the tops of cultivated caneberry shoots. They don’t eat rhubarb (someone gave them the heads up that the leaves are poisonous maybe?) or squash, but that’s pretty much it.

Back to the pear-thief: John’s presence had scared him away, so I moseyed over to Queen’s Cox apple tree nearby. And what do you know: there was an apple with bites taken out of it. Our bunny was not only stealing pears, but apples.

I guess I can’t blame him. This year, every tree in the yard has been dripping with fruit, even the ones that have been parked in our orchard for eight years and never produced a single apple. Two trees were so heavy with apples, a main bough completely broke off both of them. A Foothills friend said she has two little apple trees that never had fruit before, but this year were completely loaded.

Back in August, as the first fruit was ripening, John and I stared at our orchard, totally gobsmacked. We had three trees that were ready at the same time, including a small crabapple tree that must have had a thousand apples on it. Problem: there were two of us, and hundreds of them. How many people in our circle would actually want apples?

We brought a basket of apples to three different potlucks, and several family gatherings, but that hardly made a dent. John brought a grocery bag-full to the local Food Bank, but their irregular hours made it challenging to contribute. He made three ginormous batches of applesauce, I’ve given fruit to all my friends, and both of us are eating at least an apple a day. But our fridge already had two giant boxes full, with hundreds of apples still to pick. What were we going to do?

Then I saw an article in our local paper about a cider brewery in the city an hour away, and ran excitedly to John. “Look, honey,” I said. “We’re saved!”

The article was about a place called the HoneyMoon brewery asking the local community to contribute to a new cider project. You could bring your apples—pears too—to the brewery, to be made into locally made hard cider. In return, you’d get a coupon for a free glass!

Well. You’d better believe John was on board too. We couldn’t wait to get rid of some apples! Less than a month since picking our first apple, on four different trips to the cidery we’ve brought in about a dozen grocery bags full of apples, plus two large boxes. One guy I talked to there said the unseasonably warm temps in May, during blossom time, meant there was lots of fruit set. I like to think there was a bit of Mother Nature’s pixie dust at work as well, but that’s just me.

We’ve harvested nine trees, with six more to go. Needless to say, we, all our friends, and our apple-eating bunnies will be well fed this fall!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Cougars and Bobcats and Bears, Oh My! Where the Wild Things Are

Actually, they’re right here—at Berryridge Farm. Or close by.

This month marks three years since a cougar killed all our hens. (After all this time, it's still painful to walk by the deserted chicken run...sometimes I think I still hear them clucking.) And just weeks ago, our closest neighbor’s Sharpei (a good-sized dog) was badly mauled by a cougar. That said, cougar sightings in our area are extremely rare. According to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, a male cougar will roam a home range of about 50 to 150 square miles, and a female about half that. (www.wdfw.wa.gov) I understand it’ll take about six months for these big cats to cycle through a given hunting ground—we’ll know one is prowling around when the scat shows up on the road.

Now bobcats, we’ll see a couple of times a year, generally skulking around at the edge of the woods. I saw one a few weeks ago near the main road, where someone had recently cut down a big stand of firs. Last summer, John and I had the extraordinary experience of seeing one at close range. One day when I was watering our biggest blueberry patch, a young bobcat came into our yard, not at all spooked by we humans. We were in the middle of a long dry spell, and I thought maybe this bobcat had come close because it was thirsty. We put out a bowl of water a good distance away, hoping it would take a drink. The cat lingered in the yard, but never did go near the bowl.

When it comes to bear sightings, I’ve never seen one on our ten acres. But I have seen more bear scat around here in the past year than any other. Again, it’s always in the middle of the road! (I guess they like to take their breaks while keeping an eye out for threats. Although who’s going to threaten a bear, I ask you?) As far as identifying bear scat: not to be too graphic, folks, but it's easy to recognize. It looks like a small pile of asphalt, and in the summertime has what appears to be fruit pits mixed in. I imagine it’s the pits of either Bitter cherry or Indian Plum fruit, both native trees.

Even if bears stay on the down low on our property, I have seen black bears nearby, usually when I’m riding my bike near our place. Last summer, I was heading out on my bike on the main road below our property when an adult bear (huge!) followed by (count ‘em) three cubs lumbered across the pavement. I quickly did a U-y, and backed up to watch them. The foursome disappeared into the woods on the other side of the road, but I could still hear the crackle through the brush. I kept watching, and within moments, they appeared again, on a high ridge—heading up an all but vertical slope. I couldn’t believe how fast they could travel almost straight uphill.
A few months before, I was riding about four miles from home when a saw a small tree tremble like someone really strong was shaking it from below. Or an earthquake was happening. There was a loud crack as a limb broke, and a young bear dropped out of the tree. Seemingly unhurt, it scurried into the brush.

My last sighting, not long ago, was also the oddest. And funniest. I was again on my bike, and some distance away, next to the road, I saw what looked to be a man, dressed in dark brown. He was hugging a telephone pole! (Or, I wondered, was it a guy taking a “comfort break”? But really, in full view of cars?) Anyway, as I got closer, I saw it was a young bear. He had both arms around the pole, and was moving up and down against it to scratch his tummy. As a car approached, though, he quit scratching. The driver stopped so he could cross the road, and he sauntered into the trees.

Luckily, all these predators are big enough so you can see them coming. A couple of days ago, though, I saw a much smaller creature I’d never seen before in all our years here in the Foothills. It appeared to be a rodent, although lots bigger than a mouse, vole, or even a rat. I was again, watering the blueberries when this little bugger leaped out of the brush, and boinged across the yard like a small kangaroo. Five jumps and about 15 yards later, it dove into a clump of thimbleberry. Was it a Weasel? A kanga-rat? I have no clue.

Back to the big guys. I’ve learned to accept that large and scary wild animals are close by, and hope that if I mind my own business, they will mind theirs. Recently, a Fish and Wildlife officer was patrolling our road, and pulled into our driveway to introduce himself. John and I had a nice chat with him, but most helpful was his tip about encountering wild creatures: “Just remember that they are far more scared of you than you are of them.”

Wise words. I just hope our local wild things keep cooperating. And if you can identify my mystery mini-kangaroo critter, I hope you’ll share it here! 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

International Fairy Day and a Free Fairy eBook!

At a recent book festival, an older lady came to my table and looked through my middle-grade mystery fairy story. When she handed the book to me for signing, I asked, “Is it a present for your grandkids?” She shook her head. “I’m going to add it to my fairy book collection.”  (Apparently I’m not the only one with a collection of fairy books!)

Another woman at the festival saw my fairy book and started talking about a fairy movie she’d seen. “You mean, that documentary where they interview people who’ve seen fairies?” I asked. Her face lit up. “That’s it!” We started chatting about the film, The Fairy Faith, which is about real children seeing fairies in the woods. But as these kids grow up, most of them stop seeing the fairies, or forget they ever did.

I also told her about a woman I’d met, who’d witnessed colored orbs floating in the air around her house in the woods. (She never said they were fairies, but my imagination had other ideas…) Anyway, the fairy documentary and the memory of those orbs stayed in my mind for years, planting a little story seed in my mind. Someday, I decided, I would write about fairies…

Fast forward a few years…I was having a book cover designed for my short story, The Christmas Visitor, when I came across an illustration of a fairy tree. Ablaze with light, the tree had a cozy little door, snow-covered boughs, and old-fashioned windows tucked among the greenery. Without thinking twice, I bought the image, and told myself, Someday, I’m going to write about that tree…

Another year or two went by. While that beautiful fairy tree image sat neglected on my computer, I was working on other books. Then one fall day, I heard the buzz of chain saws, and the grinding of excavators. Loggers had moved into the deep woods near our home.

Before long, the tract of deep green woodlands about a third of a mile away was reduced to an unsightly snarl of dead trees and brush. Talking with other folks living close by, John and I found we’d all seen more wildlife out in the open since the forest came down: Owls, bear, even a mountain lion or two, and I’d recently laid eyes on the first skunk I’d ever seen here in the Foothills. I realized what happens when you take down a forest—the wild creatures must find new homes.

As Christmas approached, John and I watched another wonderful film, Fairy Tale: A True Story. (This movie is billed as fiction, but you never know…) Within days, my fairy story came together. I asked myself, “What if?” What if a band of woodland fairies live in a forest, and the trees get cut down?

This International Fairy Day, you can find out what happens…for free!  Morgan Carey and The Mystery of the Christmas Fairies will be a free ebook starting Wednesday, June 22 though the official Fairy Day, Friday, June 24. I hope you’ll take a look…and if you get a chance, share your fairy tales here!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Father's Day Freebie!

In honor of Father's Day, I'll be offering one of my Village of Ballydara short stories, The Secret Well, as a free ebook!  It's a mystical Irish tale set in a sleepy little village in County Galway, about the love between a father and his grown son...

Father's Day story!
In this luminous prequel to the short story "The Christmas Visitor," you'll meet the O'Donoghue family: Maeve, Declan, Nuala and Ava...and Frank, Maeve's husband. Frank is celebrating his retirement when his son Declan tells Frank his startling news. The next day, St. John's Eve, June 23rd, Frank heads for his favorite getaway, a secret well, to ponder how to help his son, and perhaps make a fresh start for his own marriage to Maeve. This serene, verdant little glen has always had a calming, even a bit of a magical effect on him. There, Frank has an extraordinary experience that leads him to re-examine his own life as a husband and father. 

This gentle, uplifting story, just right for a summer day, explores Frank O'Donoghue's unforgettable journey toward wisdom...And with a fairy thread in the storyline, The Secret Well makes a companion read for International Fairy Day, June 24.  

The Village of Ballydara series also includes the novels, It Only Takes Once, Mother Love, and The Hopeful Romantic. The Secret Well freebie begins Tuesday, June 14, and runs until June 18...and for all you dads out there, Happy Father's Day!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Recipe for Asparagus Success

When you eat with the seasons, you often have a long wait to feast on your favorite local fruits and veggies. But I’m convinced waiting to eat produce until it's in season in your area is totally worth it.

Take asparagus. You can get it any old time of the year, grown outside the U.S. The spears are generally super-skinny, a little desiccated, and the rubber-banded bundle is often sitting in a puddle of gray water. And you’ll pay dearly for the privilege of eating it out of season.

How about the local stuff? My area co-ops have been stocking organic, locally grown asparagus for the last month. Prices start around 5 bucks a pound, and I’ve seen it as high as $7.99! When you factor in the inedible bottom 1/3 of the spear that you snap off, the real cost is even higher. I could never bring myself to pay that kind of money, no matter how wonderful it tastes. What’s an asparagus lover to do?

The answer is grow your own. All you need is a decent sized space, maybe 12 x 10 feet…and lots of patience. Here at Berryridge Farm, John and I planted our first row of ten asparagus crowns eight years ago, and three more rows in subsequent years. The crowns can fool you—they’re sort of pale, brownish, dried up looking things that you plant in trench around a foot deep. You’ve got to wonder, how will they push up beautiful green spears?

The amazing thing is, they do. Here’s where the patience comes in: the first year the tips show up, it’s hands off—you’ve got to give your crowns time to develop a strong root system. The second spring, you can harvest a spear here or there, and give yourself the merest taste. But you still need to give the plants an opportunity to build up their strength. But Year 3, It’s Showtime! When the spears emerge in mid-spring, and get around 6-8 inches tall you can start cutting.

I use a cheapo, skinny serrated knife—a colleague of John’s who picked asparagus as a farm kid says you insert the knife into the soil at a diagonal, cutting an inch or two under the surface. The slant helps keep you from nicking any other spears that are still underground. In hot weather, the spears can grow several inches a day! Your harvest lasts about 8 weeks, and when the spears get pencil-thin you quit.

If during harvest-time, you leave over a warm weekend, or otherwise neglect to harvest your spears, you’ll return to the bed and find some have gotten 14+ inches high! Well, my friend, you’ll have to let them go. The good news is, the ones you didn’t cut will keep building up the crown’s roots for next year. As the days and weeks go by, the spears will get 5 feet high or taller, and flower—a big draw for our bees. The plants are often so tall you’ve got to stake them or otherwise string a rope around your bed to keep them from getting blown over. Keep your bed well-watered, and well mulched, and you can count on fat, yummy spears for up to 15 years.

So easy! Still, mistakes, as they say, were made. My biggest one was letting the weeds in the bed have the upper hand. For several summers, I let them get 1-2 feet high, thereby siphoning water and nutrients away from the asparagus plants. Which is bad enough, but all those weeds gave our resident voles plenty of cover. They managed to destroy about 12 crowns total, but what we have remaining supplies us with enough asparagus for two people to feast on at least five nights a week.

I’ve seen lots of exotic asparagus recipes, mixed with gorgeous, nutritious ingredients like cooked farro and goat cheese, and I’m sure they’re all fabulous…But since John and I often wait for dinner until 9 pm, after we come in from working outside, we keep things simple. Stir-fry some trimmed spears cut into two inch pieces with some olive oil and a couple of cloves of garlic, and it’s a tasty side—some sliced carrots will add sweetness. If you’re too hungry to wait, you can microwave your asparagus with a bit of water for 2-3 minutes on high, and add a dab of butter and a sprinkling of salt. When I have more time, I roast the spears whole, with a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper. A couple of cloves of garlic make them sublime.

The beauty of organic asparagus from your own garden, and picked just hours before eating is this: it’s so delish, simple preparations allow the full flavor to shine through. Questions about cultivating asparagus, or do you have some growing tips? I’d love to hear from you!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Downton Abbey: Back to the Future

Although I haven’t even watched Season 6 (my husband has strict orders to get me the DVD for my upcoming birthday) I’m already in deep, black-dress-and-veil mourning for the end of the series. And I know I’m one of millions.

How will we Downton Abbey fans bear it? No more anticipating watching Lady Mary’s legion of handsome, rich and titled suitors swarming round her like bees to a honey jar. No more commiserating with Lady Edith, who seems destined to be swain-free, despite her lissome figure and English, peaches-and-cream complexion. And no more staring dreamily at Irish hottie Branson, who remains true to Sybil’s memory (despite having his head temporarily turned by a certain snarky, socialist schoolmarm) and who’s a devoted daddy to boot.

Happily for us Downtonophiles, a recent article, “A few cures for ‘Downton Abbey’ withdrawal” (Seattle Times, March 20, 2016, by Beth J. Harpaz) may help us over the worst Downton downtimes. So if you'd like to revisit Downton...

*Highclere Castle, where most of the series was filmed, has tours that are open to the public for a couple of months every year. But hurry! Advance tickets are apparently nearly sold out.  www.highclerecastle.co.uk. For armchair travelers, you can actually get a Highclere app! Only $2.99.

*Also online is a free map from Wayfair, a UK retailer, www.wayfair.co.uk, that shows over 70 Downton locations, nearly half in London. One spot I think would be super fun to visit is where Lady Mary and Lord Gillingham went for tea, the Great Conservatory at Syon Park in Brentford. Then there’s Stride Travel, a review site. You can find a guide to some Downton locations, including the Horsted Keynes Railway Station, where many a farewell was made by the Downtown lords and ladies.

*In this side of the pond, there’s a traveling exhibition of costumes from the period, which, in the next couple of years, you might find at a museum near you: Chicago, Cincinnati, Anaheim, CA, Nashville, and St. Augustine, Florida! www.dressingdownton.com/tour 

Still, even with all these opportunities to experience the show in other guises, it won’t be the same, right? Our love for all things Downton means it’ll never be the same. But where there’s love, there’s hope (as Kerry, one of my Village of Ballydara heroines would say). At least in our imaginations. How might things unfold in the future?

Imagine if Matthew hadn’t gotten killed driving his little roadster on those narrow deathtraps known as English country roads. His adoration for Mary might have continued. Or not. Hopefully it would, and they would have at least two more beautiful blond offspring. She would happily run the estate with him and occasionally, the two of them could commune with the pigs like she did with one of her admirers from her early widowhood.

What about Sybil? If she hadn’t died in childbirth, she and Branson, forever madly in love, might have moved from Downton to Ireland, where her hunky Irish husband would get into rabble-rousing politics. She could continue her nursing profession, which would come in handy as they would raise a houseful of half-Irish revolutionaries who’d come home with cuts and scrapes from all the “barneys” (Irish expression for fights) they’d get into.

How about Lady Rose? I would have liked to see this Downton cousin not settle down quite so soon with Atticus, the conventional young heir to a massive estate. And not kitted out in wifely outfits instead of the gorgeous frocks she wore before she was married. It have been far more intriguing if Rose sowed a few more wild oats, hanging out in dance halls and speakeasies with her improper boyfriends.

Which leaves us with Edith. Since I don’t know what happens to her in Season 6 (no spoilers, please!!) I’m free to imagine the best future for her. A handsome beau (not to old, like her first boyfriend, and not too married, then dead, like her next one) who adores her, and who will love little Marigold like his own. And they’ll live happily ever after on Downton, where all the servants’ wages will go up and the homefarm will prosper and Robert and Cora will have more grandchildren than they know what to do with.

So to treasure our memories of Downton Abbey, maybe we can console ourselves with a lovely cup of tea in an elegant china cup. Then, like the Crawley ladies, we can curl up for a long afternoon nap. Then imagine waking up to a sumptuous five course dinner, with no dishes to do after! Bliss.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

St. Patrick's Day Goodreads Giveaway!

Just in time for St. Paddy's Day, It Only Takes Once, an Irish romantic comedy, will be a Goodreads Giveaway starting Thursday, March 10! Enter to win a signed copy of Book 1 of my Village of Ballydara series, about an Irish single mom searching for the perfect father for her little boy...Here's more:

“The urge to contact an old boyfriend should be approached with extreme caution, I always say,” begins Dublin girl Aislin Moore...

In this breezy novel, single mammy Aislin follows the mad impulse to find a father figure for her son...and discovers she’s complicated her life more than she  ever dreamed.  Juggling the needs of daddy-hungry little Kevin with her first love Ben and her estranged father, she’s fresh out of her klutzy charm to help her sort out the mess she’s created.

Lying low at her granny's cottage in the small village of Ballydara, in County Galway, Aislin is faced with decisions about trust, forgiveness, and the true meaning of family.  Can a commitment-shy young mother find lasting love?

You'll find more about my Irish stories and novels at www.susancolleenbrowne.com!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Irish Breakfast of Champions

The Full Irish Breakfast: you’ve got to see it to believe it. Before I went to Ireland, I’d heard of the Irish Fry: eggs, meat, with some mushrooms and tomatoes tossed into the frying pan. Oh, but the Irish breakfast is so much more than that…and whether you’re a carnivore, an omnivore, or vegetarian, there’s something for everyone.

My first encounter with the Full Irish Breakfast (FIB) experience was at the Racket Hall Country House in County Kildare. I stumbled into the medieval-looking dining room, asleep on my feet with the time change and not getting a wink the night before on the plane. But I could never have dreamed up the plentitude of chow laid out before me.

For the Racket House’s FIB, I found scrambled or fried eggs, rashers (it’s Irish bacon, only it looks like ham but much saltier, according to my husband John) pork sausage, white and black pudding, grilled mushrooms and halved tomatoes, all generous portions served up by a smiley, hair-netted Irish gal. But just to clarify: Lest you think you’re going to be spooning up some nice vanilla and chocolate dessert with your eggs and meat, the puddings aren’t a sweet.

I’d read about the puddings, an Irish delicacy, so I had a general idea what I was dealing with. For the uninitiated—count me in, because I never did take a bite of either—both puddings consist of a mix of um…animal products, bread crumbs, flour and spices stuffed into a casings…i.e., pig’s intestines. For “white” pudding, the meat is pork belly, plus pig organs. For “black,” there’s no meat at all—you use pig’s blood. If you want to check out a recipe for each pudding, Irish chef Darina Allen’s The Forgotten Skills of Cooking has directions for making both from scratch. Darina’s serving suggestion: cut your pudding into slices and pan fry in butter or bacon fat, and eat with bread and more butter.

If you’re a somewhat persnickety eater (guilty), you may find this dish bizarre. You may even be a bit queasy. But if it makes you feel better, Darina’s recipe calls for a free-range, freshly slaughtered organic pig. Not feeling better? Me neither.

Anyway, that array was just the food coming off the grill. Racket Hall also had a table with a toaster and three kinds of bread—brown bread (wholegrain soda bread) and molasses bread you could cut in whatever size you wanted, and sliced white bread, with loads of butter nearby.

There was a big pot of porridge—steel-cut oats cooked into mush—and an assortment of cold cereal with cartons of non-fat milk. Also available were bowls of prunes, non-fat fruit yogurt, three kinds of juice, and coffee and tea. The meal was all buffet-style—all you can eat. Needless to say, I felt a bit pukey from jet-lag, so I had a cup of tepid tea, a few bites of scrambled eggs, and discovered the super-yumminess of brown bread, which also helped settle my stomach.

As the days went on, and we experienced breakfast in other locations, the meals actually got bigger. Bowls of fruit salad and muesli were added to many of the breakfast boards, and more varieties of yogurt, all non-fat. I’m a full-fat yogurt girl myself, so I didn’t bother. I’d also discovered right away all the Irish yogurt was sweetened with aspartame—yuk! And some places actually sweetened the fruit salad with the stuff! Yet funny enough, the grill selections remained the same: eggs, meat, the puddings, mushrooms, and tomatoes—which to my dismay were never really “grilled” but more like heated. With no seasoning.

Also the same was the non-fat milk, the only kind available. At every breakfast, John searched for whole milk or half-and-half for his coffee, but there was No. Fat. Anywhere.

It did strike me that this meal was super-heavy on the fat and calories—so what was with the non-fat dairy and aspartame? It seemed a lot like binging on potato chips and dip but making sure to have diet soda. I’m just sayin’.

For someone who generally breakfasts on fruit, toast and peanut butter or nuts, I was pretty overwhelmed, and I never got used to these table-groaning buffets. I concluded that these meals had to be designed for a hard-working farmer from days of yore, not for your average 21st century city person or tourist. But one advantage of the FIB for the traveler on a budget: you’re much too full to bother with lunch!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Success Woo-Woo?

Made any New Year's Resolutions? Maybe you want to change up your eating plan, exercise routine, or practice new techniques for greater success? A friend of mine believes to achieve something, you must visualize it first. Even better, create some kind of visual aid to help move the Universe along. Here's what she made for yours truly!
Book Fair appearance plus digital make-believe!

This month, I actually made a resolution to eat dinner earlier--I tend to load up my evenings with work tasks, gardening, housework, and baking projects, determined to get everything done before I eat our evening meal. (I'm embarrassed to share what time that generally is. Okay, truth is power, so...it's usually 9 pm or later. In the high summer, it's often after 10. There.) I'm trying to make dinner an hour earlier, but am having only middling success. Maybe I should visualize eating at 8? Or better yet, display a photo of John and me sitting at the table, with a clock showing 8 pm?

Have your resolutions fizzled? Or are you still going strong? I would love to hear about it!