Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category

Corned Beef and Cabbage is as Irish as St. Patrick—in other words, not so much

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015

In anticipation of St. Patrick’s Day, tonight my son hung Irish flags on the wall and we ate corned beef for dinner.  But my mom always told me that corned beef wasn’t Irish and I never saw any during the six months that I Iived with a family in the Dublin suburbs. I buy corned beef around St. Patrick’s Day every year only because stores put it on sale.Kate Dolan's Irish potato basket

But why do they? Why do we associate this un-Irish food with an Irish holiday?

It makes sense, actually.

Neither the holiday nor the saint are Irish, so it’s only fitting that we celebrate with food that isn’t either. St. Patrick was the son of a 4th Century Roman official, and although historians disagree as to whether his homeland was in modern day France or England, it wasn’t in Ireland. He was dragged to the Emerald Isle as a prisoner and escaped as soon as he could. (For more on Patrick, see my post here.) Centuries later, in 1762, other men who’d fled the green shores hosted the first St. Patrick’s Day parade in New York. That’s right, the first rowdy celebrants of Ireland’s patron saint were not Irish but American. And they still are. Dubliners come out in droves to see the “Patrick’s Day” parade, and they come to see the show put on by the crazy Americans with green hair drinking green beer. (For more about St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland, see my post here.) So we have an American holiday created to honor a Roman saint. Why not celebrate it with a Jewish culinary staple?

At the time the vast majority of Irish emigrated to America in the 1800s, most people in Ireland were not eating beef, corned or otherwise. They couldn’t afford it. Pork was much more common, and it was heavily cured with salt. When Irish arrived in cities like New York, they found beef to be cheaper than pork and they also found their Jewish neighbors serving a salt cured beef that tasted similar to the bacon they enjoyed back in Ireland (which is not much like American “streaky bacon”). So did the Irish immigrants eat corned beef because it was as close as they could get to back-home cooking or because it was the cheapest meat they could find? I think the answer is “yes.” They ate what was cheapest back in Ireland as well as in their new homeland. Good food is important. But it’s also important to save money so you have enough left to buy beer. In fact, you buy the beer first. Then after a while you don’t care what the meat is.  And the cabbage? Another U.S. substitution. Potatoes were relatively cheap, but cabbage was cheaper.  Again, more money for beer.

And that brings us to the one aspect of the holiday that is Irish – the drinking.  I don’t think the Irish drink any more than Americans do—in fact, I think most of them drink less. But in Ireland there is a culture of drinking and socializing in pubs—going out to drink rather than sitting down with a six-pack at home—and that is one aspect of Irish culture that we Americans copy on St. Patrick’s Day. People who would normally head home after work on a Tuesday will head to a bar instead just because it’s March 17. Hopefully they will meet up with friends, laugh, and have a “good bit of craic” as my host mom in Dublin used to say.  (Craic or crack meaning loud boisterous fun talk, not a drug derived from cocaine.) They say that everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, and in an Irish bar, that’s really true.

So if the alcohol is more Irish than the corned beef and cabbage, why aren’t the stores putting Irish whiskey on sale?


In the interests of authenticity, the author consumed beer whilst writing the above article. During the editing and photography session, she killed a bottle of Jameson’s and was excited to discover half a bottle of Tullamore Dew behind it in the liquor cabinet. The photo is of an “Irish potato basket” said to be the type used by the poor to both drain and serve the potatoes. Without plates or utensils, the family would gather around the basket to eat potatoes with their fingers. It is a sobering reminder of the hardships endured by my ancestors during the famine years. Did I say “sobering?” Well, it’s a reminder, at any rate.

How the Founding Fathers Got Drunk Part I – The Holidays

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

The founding fathers look pretty proper and straitlaced when they’re stamped on the front of legal currency, but these guys knew how to party. Or at least, they knew how to drink. And many of them knew how to mix drinks, brew beer, distill spirits, and how to make money doing it.

In the spirit of the season, or maybe just because I felt like I needed precedence, I’m going to see what they drank. We’ll start with the holidays.Kate Dolan writes about wassail

Today we think of the holidays primarily as Thanksgiving, Christmas (+Hannukah or Kwansaa if you’re being politically correct) and New Year’s (with an extension into football playoff season if you live in a city where the team is doing well). It was different in colonial days. (more…)

Easter island — No Answers, Just Different Questions

Sunday, April 20th, 2014

On Easter Sunday nearly 300 years ago, Dutch explorers encountered a unique island off the coast of Chile. They named it Easter Island, and the tiny place eventually became very well known for the mysterious stone statues found lying all around like the mummified remains of an ancient race of giants.Kate Dolan wishes she could visit Easter Island this Easter The statues stand as high as 33 feet and weigh up to 80 tons, and they were all carved with stone tools because the native culture of the island, the Rapanui, had no iron to work with. Debates rage over how the statues were moved from the stone quarry where they were carved. But that’s not the only controversy involving the island. For years, scientists pointed to Easter Island as an example of a culture that overused and depleted its own resources to the point where it could no longer sustain its population. According to the theory, the islanders cut down all the trees for firewood and to clear land for farming, and the trees did not grow back. Without the trees, the natives could not build seagoing canoes for fishing, so they ate birds, and so destroyed the bird population. By the time the Europeans arrived, the Rapanui culture was disintegrating into civil war and cannibalism.  The destruction of the island was hastened by the statues, known in the native language as moai, because the natives had to use so many logs to roll the statues into place.

However, archaeologists are now considering alternative theories about the island’s past. Evidence suggests that the destruction of the trees and birds was caused by an explosion in the rat population. And rather than using up the island’s resources, archaeology shows that the islanders went to great lengths to protect the fertility of the soil. For example, they spread volcanic rock through the fields to mulch the soil with nutrients that the inactive volcanoes no longer provided.  The prehistoric islanders were, according to the new theory “pioneers of sustainable farming, not inadvertent perpetrators of ecocide.”

But what about the logs being used to roll the statues to their posts throughout the island? The Rapanui believe that logs would not have been necessary because the moai walked from the quarry to their eventual sites. And it’s not as unlikely as it sounds. Experimental archaeologists have demonstrated that the iconic stone statues with their big bellies and specially shaped bases could be rocked back and forth with ropes and maneuvered around by a relatively small crew without the use of logs. The statues remain upright and appear to be walking. This theory makes as much sense as any others, and fits with the oral tradition.

But why were so many statues created in the first place? No one knows when or why the moai were carved, and their mystery draws more tourists to the island each year. More people are moving to Easter Island to live as well, straining the water supply and creating so much trash that tourists are now required to carry it home in their suitcases. The island ecology seems to be in as much danger as it ever was, but being aware of the problem may be half the battle.

Easter morning is a time of discovery. The women who followed Jesus discovered an empty tomb, meaning that their savior had risen from the dead. Children discover plastic eggs full of candy. And in 1722, a band of Dutch explorers discovered a stone-age culture on a remote island off the coast of Chile. Today we celebrate all of these discoveries by getting together with family and eating too much. Happy Easter!



Photo By Arian Zwegers [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Thankful to be in the poorhouse

Friday, November 29th, 2013

The holiday season is full of reminders to take time to give thanks for the many blessings we have. We usually feel too rushed to take that time, however. That’s why it’s appropriate that the tradition that became the focus of the final release in the Cotillion Christmas Traditions series is giving to those in need, or in old fashioned terms, giving alms.

St. Bartholomew's Almshouse

St. Bartholomew’s Almshouse

When we give to others, we remember that there are so many things like food, heat, shelter, and clothing that most of us take for granted but that others struggle each day to find.

I’m glad that my story, Sense of the Season, was released on Thanksgiving Day. Not only am I am thankful that I have the time to write and the editorial team to bring my story to publication, but I am also thankful that I had the chance to visit the locations in England where the story is set. And I’m thankful to have so many of the things that my characters are lacking.Kate Dolan's Regency romance story Sense of the Season

Much of the story takes place in an almshouse on the southeast coast of Kent. In fact, it was the house, a medieval ragstone building that was used to house the poor up until the middle of the 20th Century, that inspired the story in the first place. I was looking for a place to stay in that area on the first night of a trip we took last summer. I found the St. Bartholomew’s almshouse, now converted to a wonderful bed and breakfast named Centuries. (Click on the picture above to learn more about this fascinating place.) The owners love history as much (or more) than I do, so it seemed like the perfect setting for a story. I decided my hero would be a down-on-his-luck former soldier turned gambler who ended up there after a night of heavy drinking. And of course he’d have to see the heroine right away, so she had to run the place. And she could be a sweet, caring, nurturing soul, but instead I made her a bully. Specifically, she’s the bully who humiliated the hero years ago when they were neighbors.

Kate Dolan's story Sense of the Season is printed in Cotillion Christmas CelebrationsThe years between their adolescent misadventures and their current meeting have been kind to either of my characters. Neither of them have a close relationship with any family or even much in the way of a true friend. It wasn’t until I was going through my second round of edits until I realized that I’d created two very lonely people who really do help “save” each other. That’s the essence of a romance story, and though I’ve written quite a number over of the last ten years, this is perhaps the first one that really hits that emotional mark. At least in my opinion.

I didn’t set out to do that. I set out to make a place come alive by imagining something that might have happened there. In the Regency period, just as today, one of the traditions of the Christmas season was the giving of gifts to the poor and to those in your service.  It is less personal these days. We drop off toys in a box at the firehouse, bring canned goods to a collection site or write a check to a shelter. It’s still a great reminder that we have much that others lack, but it’s not the same as actually delivering the food to a hungry family.

Godinton, home the Toke family at the time the story is set. Some teal members of the family make a brief appearance in Sense of the Season

Godinton, home the Toke family at the time the story is set. The hero is a fictitious member of this real family, and some members of the family were used as characters in Sense of the Season

My heroine takes advantage of the obligations of the season to canvass the neighborhood for money for food and coal. The one place she does not intend to visit is the hero’s family home. But of course, he’s sure that it’s the best place for her to go, even though he himself is regarded as a blackguard there. When he tricks the heroine into arriving at the family estate (also a real place I visited over the summer, Godinton House), he not only gets her and her father thrown out, but himself as well. Not a very Merry Christmas.

He’s sure he can win the money they need. She’s sure he needs to get as far away from her as possible. And yet, it’s a romance, so somehow they end up together. How? You’ll have to read it to find out. Let’s just say I’m grateful to have the supportive family and friends that these two lack. Not to mention indoor plumbing and central heat, but that’s a whole different story.

In any case, I hope this season everyone can take the time to give thanks for the blessings in their lives and to give to those who lack, whether it be money, food, or companionship.

And I’m thankful you’ve read my post!

Happy Thanksgiving!


Kissing under the what?

Monday, November 25th, 2013

I’ve heard of kissing under the mistletoe, and even knew that there were berries involved somewhere, but I’d never heard of a “kissing bough.”Kate Dolan learns about the Kissing Bough of mistletoeThe author of the most recent release in the Cotillion Christmas series has, however, and she’s written a post to explain the tradition. Without further ado, here is Susana Ellis, author of Twelfth Night Tale:

The Kissing Bough

In the 15th century, it became the custom to create a hoop or sphere woven from ash, willow or hazel (flexible woods that could be manipulated) and place small figures of the Christ child or the Holy Family and hang it above the inside entrance of the home. These were blessed by priests and any callers embraced under the Holy Bough to show their goodwill.

Over the decades, families would vie with each other to decorate their Bough with ribbons, gilded nuts and small apples.

The holy figures disappeared during the Reformation (due to Puritan laws and fear of fines), and were replaced by evergreens.A Kissing Bough

One tradition is that one plucks a berry from the mistletoe each time one claims a kiss, and after all the berries are gone, the game is over.

The Church tended to disapprove of things like kissing boughs and kissing under the mistletoe, no doubt because there are indications that the tradition originated with the Druids, but the tradition still continues today.


Susana credits the Christmas Archives with information for her post ( (More about mistletoe in a future post!)

Susana Ellis

Her story, Twelfth Night Tale, is the seventh in the series of Cotillion Traditional Regency romance Christmas stories for this year. The theme of this year’s series is Christmas Traditions (hence my blog posts exploring different traditions of the season) and so many authors submitted stories this year that the publisher decided to release two separate print anthologies. Twelfth Night Tale is part of the Cotillion Christmas Celebrations Collection, Kate Dolan's story Sense of the Season is in the Cotillion Christmas Celebrations collecgtionwhich was just released.

It’s the story of a wounded soldier who returns home to find the little girl next door is much more than he remembered.

Here’s more:

Without dowries and the opportunity to meet eligible gentlemen, the five Barlow sisters stand little chance of making advantageous marriages. But when the eldest attracts the attention of a wealthy viscount, suddenly it seems as though Fate is smiling upon them.

Lucy knows that she owes it to her younger sisters to encourage Lord Bexley’s attentions, since marriage to a peer will secure their futures as well as hers. The man of her dreams has always looked like Andrew Livingston, her best friend’s brother. But he’s always treated her like a child, and, in any case, is betrothed to another. Perhaps the time has come to put away childhood dreams and accept reality.

Twelfth Night TaleAndrew has returned from the Peninsula with more emotional scars to deal with than just the lame arm. Surprisingly, it’s his sister’s friend “Little Lucy” who shows him the way out of his melancholy. He can’t help noticing that Lucy’s grown up into a lovely young woman, but with an eligible viscount courting her, he’ll need a little Christmas magic to win her for himself.


Like of the Cotillion Christmas stories, Twelfth Night Tale is available as a single story or as part of a print collection.

More traditions coming soon!

Now bring us some figgy pudding

Friday, November 15th, 2013

The Christmas tradition I’m featuring this week is the Christmas pudding, which figures in the newest release in the Cotillion Christmas Traditions series, Helena’s Christmas Beau. I mentioned to my husband that I had incidents with flaming Christmas puddings in my last two Christmas stories, and suddenly he started demanding that I “bring him some figgy pudding.”Christmas pudding

And I married this guy? What the heck is figgy pudding anyway?

For those of us raised to think of pudding as a little cup of Jello® blandness with the texture of baby food, a traditional English Christmas pudding is a completely foreign concept. Just forget “pudding” and think “fruitcake.” But it’s not the dried up prepackaged cake that gets re-gifted for decades. This would be a rich cake full of dried fruit and brandy or other spirits. Ugly as sin, but delicious.

And potentially dangerous. That’s because the traditional way to serve a Christmas pudding (or figgy pudding or plum pudding or whatever you want to call it) is on fire, with a sprig of holly on top.

There are traditions surrounding the making of the pudding, too. The dish was put together on “Stir-up Sunday,” which was traditionally the Sunday before Lent begins, so more than a month before Christmas. Everyone in the household was supposed to take a turn stirring the batter and to make a wish. Sometimes coins would be added, and whoever found them in his or her serving would have good luck for the year, or at least be a few coins richer. After batter was ready, it was poured into a bag and boiled for hours. Then the pudding would be taken out and hung to age for five weeks until the holidays began. The mixture kept so well, in fact, that leftovers could be saved until Easter or even the next Christmas. Maybe that’s where we get the tradition of re-gifting fruitcake.

Helena's Christmas Beau

In this week’s Cotillion Christmas Traditions release, Helena’s Christmas Beau by Aileen Fish, the heroine throws herself heart and soul into Christmas preparations like Stir-up Sunday, but the hero is, well, an anachronistic Scrooge:

Here’s the description:

Facing her second Christmas since the loss of her fiancé, Helena relies on her favorite traditions to bring back the joy of the season. Yet from stir-up day to bringing in the greenery on Christmas Eve, her cousin’s brother-in-law, Duncan, is underfoot, questioning her every action.

As Duncan plays along with the outdated rites, he realizes how much he’s missed Helena’s laughter. When he hears she plans to re-enter the Marriage Mart next spring, he is struck with jealousy. Is he falling in love, or simply under the spell of the holiday season?Aileen Fish

And here’s a little more from the author, Aileen Fish:

What inspired you to start writing? I was always writing when I was a child, and by eight or nine I had announced I wanted to do it when I grew up. When I was twelve, I heard S.E. Hinton wrote The Outsiders at the age of seventeen, so I started my first novel. I think I got three chapters in. It took a lot of spurts of starting and stopping before I submitted my first novel anywhere, and finally came down to seeing everyone else succeed to make me push hard enough to sell my first novella.

What advice would you give to writers just starting out? Don’t be afraid to change critique groups until you find a group you can work with. Feedback is necessary to improving your writing, but don’t let them change your voice! Write, rewrite, polish then submit.

What comes first: the plot or the characters? Each story is different. Sometimes I come up with a plot idea or a trope, then think about who would work best in this setting. My main focus at the start is the conflict. What will make it difficult for them to get together at the end? That line of thought finalizes the plot and characterization.

Thanks for reading about me and my story!


Helena’s Christmas Beau will be part of the print anthology, Cotillion Christmas Celebrations, due out December 17, along with my story, Sense of the Season, Twelfth Night Tale by Susana Ellis and last week’s release, Snug in a Snowstorm by Cynthia Moore.

Two more weeks of Christmas traditions to explore!,


Regency Christmas Traditions Part IV: the Ball

Monday, November 4th, 2013

Cinderella wasn’t the only one who looked forward to a ball as a way to escape humdrum everyday existence.Kate Dolan writes about Regency masked balls During the Regency period, and really up until about 100 years ago, a ball provided the best opportunity to size up and meet members of the opposite sex. You could learn a lot about a potential partner after watching a few lively dances. Did he get out breath easily? Did she have anything interesting to say or did she just giggle a lot? Was the shapely figure real, or was there much readjusting of undergarments to put things back into place (and this could be a question for either sex, since men wore corsets and calf pads under their stockings) Dances at this point were choreographed partner routines similar to an American square dance. You had to pay attention and be in the right place at the right time doing the right step or you’d cause a collision. So you’d probably be able to judge your potential partner’s sense of humor or tendency to anger, too, because if he or she didn’t cause a problem during a dance, very likely someone else would, sooner or later.

A masked ball (masquerade or masque) gave dancers special license to speak to each other in a way they would not dare otherwise. A mask alone was not usually enough to hide identity, so a costume was needed as well. Often this was a simple “domino,” just a dark loose cloak, sometimes with a hood. Masquerades reached the height of popularity in the 18th Century and by the Regency period (and even by the time Frances Burney was writing near the end of the 18th Century), the masked balls had started to develop an unsavory reputation. This was not helped by the fact the annual Cyprian’s Ball (hosted by courtesans) was a masked event.

Since there was so much emphasis on entertainment during the Christmas season in the Regency period, balls were frequent and festive. A Christmas ball is the starting point of the heroine’s dilemma in the next Cotillion Traditional Regency Christmas story, Lydia’s Christmas Charade by Saralee Etter. Her engagement is just about to be announced at a Christmas ball when she learns that her intended husband is in love with someone else. Lydia's Christmas Charade

So what does the poor girl do? You’ll have to read it to find out! This is the fourth book in this year’s series of Regency Christmas stories and the final one to be released in the first print anthology, Cotillion Christmas Traditions. There are four more stories coming this month, and more Christmas traditions to explore.

You can learn more about Saralee’s story by clicking on the cover. Or visit her website or check out her new blog,

Saralee Etter

Saralee Etter

Q. Tell us a little about yourself, Saralee:

A. I love to read, and always knew that writing was the only career for me. What could be better than to think up stories all day long? I day-dreamed constantly, so it seemed ideal.

Sadly, however, I couldn’t see a way to make a living writing the romantic and exciting stories that filled my head. Instead, I wrote other things: Newspaper articles, public relations releases, legal briefs.

Now I’m beginning to share the stories that I’ve been dreaming about for so long. They’re mostly light-hearted and fun.  I’m an armchair time-traveler, so writing stories set during the English Regency period is the perfect way to enjoy history, romance, and delightful adventures all at once.

Q. All that couldn’t have happened overnight. How long did it take you to get published?

A. About 5 years from the time I began writing my first novel. As I mentioned above, I’d been writing newspaper articles and other non-fiction material, but that kind of writing is very different to writing a novel! I had to learn a whole new skill-set.

My first novelistic attempt was a sprawling historical romance/comedy/adventure/spy/mystery/thriller I called “Death in a Powdered Wig.” The entire 128,000-word epic now lives in a three-ring binder on a shelf in the basement – where it will stay.

I wrote one other complete novel before Cerridwen Press (now Blush) published my traditional Regency romance, A Limited Engagement, in 2007. When you read Lydia’s Christmas Charade, you will meet Anthony Moore, one of the characters from that book. I liked young Anthony so much that I really wanted to tell his story, too.

Q. I’d like to know more about what lurks in the powdered wig! But beyond writing, what hobbies do you enjoy?

A. I’m an avid reader, always with my nose in a book. I prefer to feel the weight of a book in my hand, but I also read a lot on my computer or phone (no ebook reader yet, but hope to get one soon). I enjoy making things with my hands – sewing, making beaded jewelry, and crocheting. I’m learning to knit.

Cooking is another fun activity.  I love looking at recipes! There’s something so wonderful about beautiful food in lovely settings. Luckily, I live right near a family-owned you-pick vegetable farm as well as a large orchard, so I’ve got access to plenty of delicious fruits and vegetables.

Thank you Saralee for sharing a little bit about yourself with us. Lydia’s Christmas Charade promises to be an engaging read! You can catch up with Saralee on Facebook: or on Twitter:




Exploding bottles: the history of Champagne

Monday, December 31st, 2012

Champagne, I had always heard, was invented by monks who made a mistake and “ruined” a batch of wine. But this year as I prepared to drink my way into the New Year, I decided to find out if that was actually how my favorite drink came into being.

It turns out the monks didn’t really invent it – it sort of invented itself and they, in fact, were trying to prevent it from doing so.

But let’s take a few steps back to get the full story.Kate Dolan explores the history of Champagne

Most of the fizzy wine referred to as “champagne” is not actually Champagne because to be official, it has to be made from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France. Wine grapes were cultivated in the area at least by A.D. 72, but twenty years later, the Romans outlawed winemaking in the region in order to reduce competition for the wines they produced closer to the capital. The French love wine as much as they hate being told what to do, so they continued to produce wine in secret until the ban was lifted. For hundreds of years the traditional Champagne wine was amber or pink, and it was not fizzy, at least not intentionally.

As the climate cooled during the Middle Ages, challenges mounted for the wine makers in the Champagne region. The growing season became too short for the grapes to fully ripen and develop the rich flavor of grapes produced in neighboring Burgundy. To make matters worse, the onset of winter often stopped the fermentation process too early. When the weather warmed in the spring, the yeast would awaken and begin to ferment again, producing carbon dioxide that put enormous pressure on the bottles, often making them explode. The bottles that didn’t explode were frequently found to be full of bubbles, which was considered a tremendous fault. (more…)

Its no mystery

Friday, December 14th, 2012

I had heard that “Mystery Plays” were once popular entertainment at Christmas and given some of the scary storytelling traditions in the dark days of winter, I expected these mysteries to be like the ones we enjoy today. A dead body appears and we –the audience, reader or viewer—try to figure out who the killer is. But the mystery plays from the “old days” didn’t really have a great deal of mystery about them, at least if you were a good Christian. They were all based on tales from the Bible. So yes, there is a dead body (lots of them, actually) but we know “whodunit” if we know our scripture. If we don’t, the mystery play will teach us. And I assume that’s why they became popular in the first place. (more…)

Have yourself a scary little Christmas

Friday, December 7th, 2012

It took me by surprise. I was viewing a gingerbread town Christmas display at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs and there, right next to the chocolate bison, was a gingerbread graveyard. The sweet, innocent, childlike associations of frosted gingerbread fit our image of Christmas, but seem really out of place with the concept of death, decay and the macabre. Did that graveyard belong in a Christmas display? And how about the zombie Christmas tree (“Dear Santa, pleaz bring me some brains”) I saw at the Festival of Trees? What has happened to our wholesome holiday? Is it being corrupted?Kate Dolan writes about Gingerbread Zombies and other scary signs of Christmas

Nope. It’s just recapturing some of its former gory glory.

Long winter nights have provided the perfect backdrop for storytelling since humans were first able to build a fire and stay awake after sundown. And at the time of year when the sun seems to be in danger of disappearing entirely, it is natural that the darkness would inspire tales of death and evil spirits from beyond. (more…)