Stepping Out

Spring ahead with a salute to St. Patrick's Day

Don some green and join the hooley

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As St. Patrick’s Day approaches, next Saturday, March 17, we can all rejoice that spring is not far behind (or so we hope). Meanwhile, step into some of the lively St. Patrick’s Day celebrations nearby, enjoy an upcoming parade and salute the Old Country.

This weekend, join in a celebration of the “luck of the Irish” at Hofstra University’s annual Irish Festival on Sunday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. The popular local tradition — at Hofstra’s Mack Physical Education Center on the North Campus, Hempstead — is a lively family event with music and entertainment and plenty of activities for the kids, along with Irish products for sale.

The Hibernian Festival Singers, an acclaimed ensemble of local performers get things started, at 11:15 a.m., with joyful arrangements of traditional Irish tunes. The Black Velvet Band, a festival favorite, follows at 12:15 p.m. with their take on beloved Irish music performed by Jimmy Walsh, Jimmy Lavin and Mickey Peare.

JigJam, an award winning quartet from the heart of the Midlands in Ireland, makes their Irish Festival debut, performing traditional Celtic music mixed with bluegrass and Americana, resulting in a new genre that has been branded as ‘I-Grass’ or “CeltGrass.” Their Hofstra performance is their only appearance in the area this year.

All four band members — Jamie McKeogh, Cathal Guinan and Daithi Melia and Gavin Strappe — grew up immersed in Irish traditional music and culture. They have now developed their own unique style influenced by American folk music while staying true to their Irish roots. Acclaimed as “the best Irish group so far in bluegrass,” this sharply dressed outfit delivers a high energy, foot-stomping live performance. All multi-instrumentalists, the guys interchange between banjos, guitars, fiddles, mandolins and double bass onstage.

For the kids, some friendly clowns are around to keep the younger set entertained with balloon animals, a bubble show, interactive games, and music. Tony Jackson, formerly of Hofstra’s WRHU (88.7 FM) returns as master of ceremonies.

Admission is $6, $5 for seniors; children under 12 are free. For more information, contact 463-6582 or www.hofstra.edu/festivals.

And be sure to bring some Patrick’s Day into your home. Among the quintessential foods, Irish Soda Bread is an especially tasty quick bread that everyone enjoys. It gets its name from the baking soda used as a leavener, instead of yeast. While the traditional version is made with only flour, buttermilk, salt and baking soda, there are all sorts of modern versions on this delectable bread that are worth trying.

Irish Soda Bread

3 cups pastry flour blend or unbleached all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon salt

Heaping 1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 cup currants or raisins

1 tablespoon caraway seeds, optional

1 large egg

1 3/4 cups buttermilk

4 tablespoons butter, melted

Topping:

1 tablespoon milk

1 tablespoon coarse white sparkling sugar

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly grease a 9x5 loaf pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together the pastry blend or flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar, currants, and caraway seeds.

In a separate bowl, or in a measuring cup, whisk together the egg and buttermilk (or milk and yogurt).

Quickly and gently stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.

Stir in the melted butter.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Draw your finger around the edge of the pan to create a “moat.” Drizzle the bread with the 1 tablespoon of milk; the moat will help prevent the milk from running down the sides of the loaf. Sprinkle with the coarse sugar.

Bake the bread for 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean; the interior of the bread will measure 200°F to 210° on an instant-read thermometer.

Remove the bread from the oven, loosen its edges, and after 5 minutes turn it out onto a rack to cool. Cool completely before slicing. Wrap airtight and store at room temperature.

Serve with hot tea and organic jam, Irish stew, traditional Irish cabbage dishes, or enjoy on its own!

Savory Irish Cheese Soda Bread

2 1/2 cups flour

1/2 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons caraway seed

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon red pepper, ground

1/2 cup shredded Irish Cheddar cheese

2 eggs

1 1/4 cups buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350° F. Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and seasonings in large bowl. Stir in cheese. Set aside. Mix eggs and buttermilk in medium bowl. Add to dry ingredients; stir until well blended. Spread in lightly grease 9-inch round cake pan.

Bake 30-40 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan on wire rack 10 minutes. Remove from pan. Cool completely on wire rack.

Tip: Make muffins instead of bread. Prepare dough as directed and divide among 12 greased muffin cups. Bake 20-25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.