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Festive foods for St. Patrick's Day

Did you know that St. Patrick was an English missionary who shared the message of Christianity with the people of Ireland and that his color was actually blue? (See history.com and catholic.org.) Or that corned beef was an American food that Irish immigrants ate when they moved to New York? (See history.com.)

Facts aside, the cheery green-tinted holiday that graces March 17 provides a treasure trove of possibilities for service, celebration and fun.

Leading up to the big day, my family has a Shamrock Service Week. We each receive glittery shamrocks and the challenge to do secret acts of service for one another, leaving a shamrock to mark the spot. At the end of the week, the shamrocks are collected and sprinkled on the table as a visual reminder of the kindness we have extended and received. We also have a Leprechaun Treasure Hunt where each family member has a personal treasure hunt with a small gift left by the leprechauns, which have apparently been converted to Christianity and are now more generous than their forebearers, at least at our house.

As a caterer and artist, I tried — and ruled out — green-tinted pancakes and milk for our St. Patrick's Day breakfast. Green egg and bacon burritos made with spinach tortillas and green smoothies were more successful. We follow the trend of serving a glazed corned beef, potato and cabbage meal; it's a great way to enjoy a lot of healthy vegetables. We top off the day with shortbread shamrock cookies that are easy for children to make and fun to decorate with green sugar sprinkles.

GLAZED CORNED BEEF

1 corned beef brisket, about 4 pounds, rinsed with visible fat removed

1 can of ginger ale

1 tablespoon whole cloves

Glaze:

½ cup prepared mustard

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the corned beef fat side up in a baking pan. Cover with foil and bake for 2½ hours or until fork-tender. Drain off any liquid, then baste with the ginger ale. Score the meat and stud with the cloves.

For the glaze, stir together brown sugar and mustard, heat in a small saucepan until the sugar is melted and the glaze is almost boiling.

Brush on the glaze and return to the oven to bake for 30-40 minutes uncovered. Let the beef rest for 15 minutes, then remove the cloves, slice the corned beef across the grain and serve with additional glaze.

SHAMROCK SHORTBREAD COOKIES

1 cup butter, softened

2/3 cup powdered sugar

1½ teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ cup cornstarch

green sugar sprinkles

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. With a mixer, cream the butter until soft. Add the powdered sugar and blend until the mixture is soft and fluffy, then stir in the vanilla. Sift together the flour, salt and cornstarch and add to the creamed ingredients, mixing just until the dough is crumbly and holds together.

Between two sheets of parchment or waxed paper, roll the dough to ½-inch thickness. Cut the cookies with a shamrock cookie cutter and place on ungreased baking sheets. Sprinkle with green sugar if desired. Bake at 325 degrees for 15-20 minutes, or until barely golden around the edges.

Pam McMurtry is a wife, parent, artist and writer with a bachelor's degree in art teaching. Her "A Harvest and Halloween Handbook" is available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.