Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 14, 2013

Chef spins yarn, cookies for St. Patrick's Day

BY MARTA HEPLER DRAHOS mdrahos@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — It may be blarney, but Tom Sisco swears by the magic of his Shamrock Cookies.

The buttery treats dusted with organic green sugar are created once a year by Lonnie the Leprechaun, said Sisco, kitchen manager for Oryana Natural Foods Market. And the tale of their origin is an integral part of the cookies — and vice versa.

The chef and storyteller will share his original tale — and the cookies, of course — in a free Oryana children’s event at 1 p.m. Saturday. It’s a program he’s been presenting on and off in area schools for the last three decades and brought to Oryana last year.

“I started it 30 years ago when my son was in kindergarten,” said Sisco, who first told the impromptu story at Traverse Heights Elementary after dropping off a batch of cookies to his oldest son’s classroom. “Three kids and two grand-kids later I’m still doing it. The first time it was just a 30-second story about this leprechaun who made cookies. And over the years it has evolved.

“Part of is based on my kids’ experience and, as they were growing, I’ve tried to write them into the story. And my grandkids.”

Besides kindergartners at Traverse Heights, rapt audiences have included second-graders at Silver Lake Elementary, upper elementary students at Leland Public Schools and fourth- and fifth-graders at Cherry Knoll Elementary, where Sisco’s program was so entertaining that one student remembered him as Lonnie the Leprechaun seven years later, after running into him at a local mall.

About 30 kids heard the story at Oryana last year, said store manager Eldon Horner.

“It was really well-received. The kids seemed to like it and it’s kind of a fun little thing to do,” Horner said.

The story’s premise revolves around a “mean, bully of a leprechaun” who uses his magic powers to play “mean, nasty tricks,” Sisco said. Cruel jokes include untying shoes, causing a dog chasing a cat to drag its owner into a thorny hedge and tripping up a roller skater by raising a crack in the sidewalk. Eventually an exasperated King of the Leprechauns strips all but one of Lonnie’s magic powers.

“Every St. Patrick’s Day he has to make cookies to make up for all the nasty tricks he’s played,” said Sisco, assuming a lilting Irish brogue. “He wiggles his fingers and jiggles his toes and there’s cookies there. It’s magic, don’t you know.”

Cookies aren’t the only treats the chef whips up in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. He also makes traditional corned beef and cabbage, Irish soda bread (think raisins and caraway seeds for a sweet yet savory taste) and colcannon, a potato dish with onions and cabbage. Sisco said all will be served occasionally this month at Oryana’s hot bar.

Shamrock Stew, a thick, hearty soup made with housemade stock and beef instead of lamb, is on the menu a little more often.

“I came up with the recipe last year. I was just going to do it for March but we got so many requests we do it year-round,” said Sisco, whose great-grandmother was Irish and whose middle name is Riley.

Still, Shamrock Cookies, with their distinctive shape, Irish-green decoration and snickerdoodle-like taste, are one of the grocery’s most anticipated offerings this time of year — especially when served with a story on the side.

“I think the reason kids relate to it is every kid knows someone who has been picked on or played a trick on and they would love to see those tricksters get their comeuppance,” Sisco said. “And that’s basically what happens to Lonnie. It’s a moralistic tale without moralizing.”

Lonnie’s Shamrock Cookies

½ lb. organic butter

¾ lb. organic cane sugar

2 organic eggs

1 t. organic vanilla

1 lb. organic all-purpose flour

½ t. baking soda

½ t. cream of tartar

¼ c. organic green sugar

Preheat oven to 350°. Cream butter and sugar in mixer on low speed. Scrape bowl. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix well and scrape bowl. Mix together flour, baking soda and cream of tartar. Add to bowl and mix on low speed until combined. Cover and chill for one hour.

Roll out dough about ¼ inch thick. Using a shamrock cookie cutter, cut out shapes. Place shapes on cookie sheet, about one inch apart, and sprinkle tops with green sugar. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until edges begin to brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Yield: 2 dozen.