Time for Tea & Brown Bread!

A Recipe for Irish Brown Bread to

Share on St. Patrick’s Day


O’Donoghue House,   Listowel, Co. Kerry

“There are no strangers, only friends you have not met.”- W.B. Yeats

When visiting an Irish home, you are immediately welcomed in and offered a cup of tea.  If you are lucky, there will be a loaf of brown bread cooling and ready to be freshly sliced.   The blarney is often as thick as the slather of butter and jam that the bread deserves!

tea time

Bread and a pot of Barry’s ready to Share

Every Irish mum has her own version of brown bread, some a little sweeter, some with currants, and some with seeds.  Here is my recipe for brown bread, adapted using ingredients found in your local grocery, and slightly more precise measurements.  (Original version included “a fistful of sugar”!)


Note: Measurements use regular kitchen items.  Where recipe calls for “a cup”, it is a coffee mug; and “teaspoon” is a spoon that you use to put sugar in your tea.


Ingredients6 cups all-purpose flour

3 cups bran

1 cup sugar

2 spoons baking soda

4 spoons baking powder (use aluminum-free!)

2 sticks margarine, softened

3-4 cups buttermilk, not low-fat

Preheat oven to 350°Fadd bran

1) In a large bowl, toss and “fluff” all of the dry ingredients until they are well mixed.

2) With your hands, mix in margarine; mix until it is fully incorporated.

cut in margarine

Don’t Overmix! Just get margarine fully incorporated.

3) Make a wedoughll in the middle of the bowl, and pour in 3 cups of buttermilk.  Stir with a wooden spoon until mixed.  Add a little more buttermilk if necessary till the dough comes together.




4) Turn dough out on floured surface.  Knead until all ingredients are mixed well and dough is like a soft bread dough.



5) Cut into 3 equal portions.  Form each portion into a round loaf and place on a cookie sheet.  “Bless” the bread by cutting a shallow cross in the top to vent.

bless the bread

6) Bake for 40-50 minutes.  Bread will sound hollow when you knock on the bottom.

with butter and jam

Cool on a rack.  Slice in half, then turn the semi-circle on its side and slice the loaf.  Serve with butter, jam, and a cup of tea.


Streamstown House

Cloonan House, Clifden Co. Galway






Buying Your First Home?

Here are 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me…..

Buying your first home is so exciting!  You share thoughts about the parties you will host, teaching your future children how to ride a two-wheeler, decorating for the holidays.  And then you wake in the middle of the night… your sweet dreams have changed to nightmares of delayed closings, faulty pipes, and what was that smell?

On the day we closed on ourmattress on the roof first home, I found errors in the closing statement, had to dispute a charge by a mortgage broker, which forced the closing to be delayed while new paperwork was drawn. After several hours, we finally left with the keys to our new home!  We packed as much of our little studio apartment as we could into the truck, threw a mattress on the roof, and stopped for a bottle of wine on the way to our first home!  As soon as I put the key in the door, the seller appeared and said, “You can’t stay here tonight, the babies are already upstairs sleeping”.                                           Strap the mattress back on the roof….

I did not know what to do, who to call, how I could get some money back?  When we bought our first home, we relied on a dear older neighbor of my father-in-law, who happened to be a real estate agent.  Though she would have been a lovely neighbor, I realize that I should have done my own homework on the process, the financing, and my agent!

Here are a few things I wish I knew at the time:                                                              

State laws vary and change, please consult your Realtor® or State Real Estate Commission for your situation.

1) Be picky about your Real Estate Agent:  The seller usually pays your Buyer Agent Commission, but that doesn’t mean that your agent won’t cost you moneybad salesman When signing any Real Estate contract, remember that the duration and commission are always negotiable.  Your agent’s capability will be apparent within the first few weeks of house hunting.  How long does he take to respond to inquiries?  Is she showing you homes that meet your “Must Have/Would Like” lists? Is he knowledgeable about the neighborhood market where you want to live?  Is she insisting that you use her recommended vendors for mortgage, inspections, etc.?

2) Your Pre-Approval: Take the time to get a pre-approval from a lender who will thoroughly assess your financial situation.  An on-line 5 minute application, may lead to unexpected delays in closing.  A professional will take the time to explain the difference between FHA/VA or Conventional. You may consider recommendations from your agent, but consider other sources as well.  When considering the best home for you, look in the price range about 20% less than your maximum amount.  This may alleviate future financial stress in the case of major improvements, job loss, growing family, etc.  Exercise fiscal caution at this time…. in other words, “Don’t Make any Big Purchases”! Buying a new car, new furniture, or taking a big vacation may lead to a delay in closing.

3) Don’t Fall in Love:  If you think you’ve found “The One”, there is work to do before making an offer!  A good real estate agent will help with this, but it is ultimately your
responsibility.   Get copies of current utility bills, to make sure you can meet your monthly payments or note that you may need to upgrade the HVAC.  If applicable, vet the Homeowners Association.  Have the HOA put in writing: Fees, Schedules, and Future Improvements, etc.  Talk to the neighbors!  Your real estate agent is prohibited by law to talk about certain things (school quality, history of past homeowners, rumors of near-by development, etc.).  The neighbors will share these things!

high electric bill

4) Making an Offer: The time has come to present your sales agreement.  Some things to keep in mind: Know what your walk-away price is.  The ultimate goal is for both the buyers and sellers to be happy with the transaction.  Take caution with low-ball offers in a sellers’ market.  If there are only a few houses in that price range in your neighborhood, your offer may be considered insulting and may make additional negotiations stressful.  If you are purchasing a FSBO property, make sure that your Buyer Agent Commission is included, or you may be left paying for it after the sale. Instead of reducing the Listing Price, consider requesting “Seller Assist” which will reduce your out of pocket costs.  Several thousand dollars of cash in hand may be more valuable than reducing your monthly payment by a few dollars for 30 years.   Use contingency addendums only as necessary.  Every offer has two parts, the price and the terms.  If another buyer presents an offer at the same price for better terms, they will get the house!

5) Getting to the Closing:  Again, this is a time when YOU have work to do!  Meet all of the deadlines set in your sales agreement and quickly reply to your lender’s requests.  If an inspection finds a big problem and you have to void the contract, you may lose your hand money if the inspection was not done on time.sold Understand that every house is sold “As Is”, and inspection reports will be filled with page after page of “problems”.  Not having door stops in the bedrooms is not a deal-breaker, a leaky roof might be.  Be reasonable in your requests for seller accommodation. Keep in communication with your lender.  If your lender requests a piece of documentation, get it back to him/her that day if possible.  Take advantage of your final walk-throughs, be sure that the lamps that were included are still the lamps that were in place when you made the offer!

The Real Estate laws have changed in many states to protect the buyer, but you must still make the effort to ensure an on-time and smooth closing.  Talk to friends, family, coworkers to find an agent who will be on your side and is knowledgeable about current laws, new real estate technology, and the market where you want to live.

TrishCloonan.com                     Follow me on Facebook!        Follow me on Linked In

Getting Married and Buying a House?

Use These 8 Tips to Pay Your Closing Costs!

January 25, 2016

                                                             Trish Cloonan, Realtor®                                                                    “Catering to all of YOUR Real Estate Needs”

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Your dream wedding is quickly approaching and you are taking care of all of the final details.  You are going to be gorgeous, the venue is going to be fantastic, and your guests are going to enjoy a night they’ll never forget!  This dream to reality is going to have a big price tag. In the Pittsburgh area, weddings average between $4,000 and $8,000 AN HOUR.   What???

When you finally walk down the aisle, all of the appointments, the cake and hors d’oeuvre tastings, the rearranging of guest seating, the dress fittings, the color swatches, and the cookie baking will fade away and the only thing that will matter is the fact that you are about to share the rest of your life with the person at your side.   Your future together in your first home will last many years, so it is a good idea to include it in your wedding day plans.

As a former wedding coordinator and caterer for 20 years, I advised my clients that there are certain wedding details that should always be given budget priority.  These include the food, the drinks (if having a bar), and the D.J. or band.  However, many of the extras that are listed in your wedding guide can be excluded, or modified, allowing you to free up some of your budget to put toward your new home.  No one is going to leave receptions saying “I can’t believe they didn’t give us a menu card!”

Looking at the Pittsburgh housing market, you can find a great 3 bedroom home in a preferred neighborhood for around $175,000.  With a 20% down payment (that you have been saving of course!) closing costs totaling about $11,000 would be reasonable.

Let’s see how we can come up with your closing costs, based on a wedding with 175 guests:               * NOTE: Costs listed are estimates.  Actual costs will vary, talk with your Realtor® .

1)  The Cakewedding cake

Unless it is included in the venue package price, be very selective

  • Opt to NOT SAVE the top.  You will be paying for 10 extra slices
  • Decorate in a simple elegant style, using buttercream instead of fondant
  • You will only need a pretty display of 2-3 layers.  Have the bakery prepare a sheet cake the same flavor, kept in the kitchen for serving guests.                        

COST SAVINGS:  Appx.  $7/person = $1,225                                                                             COST OF TITLE INSURANCE: $1,500 

2) The Reception Stationary

Less is more. If you are working with a stationer, be sure that your designs & calligraphy  are easy to read. Not worth the money if no one can read it!

  •  Many venues have table numbers that you can borrow.  Or ask to use their stands and print off numbers at home.
  •  If the dinner is a buffet, or everyone is getting the same entrée, there is no need for individual escort cards.  A fun poster, chalkboard, etc. on an easel can direct guests to their assigned tables.
  • Menu Cards will only be glanced at and then thrown away.  Have a framed menu on each table if you’d like the guests to know what they can look forward to.

Programs will also only be read once and thrown away.  You only need one per couple.                                                                                                                                                      COST SAVINGS:  Appx.  $5/person = $875                                                                              COST OF HOME INSURANCE ESCROW: $900

3) The Invitations

Please don’t omit the response card! Emailed RSVP’s are unreliable and you will find yourself on the phone calling all of your guests two weeks before the wedding!heart stamp

  •  Before you put in your order, take your “fully loaded” samples of your favorite choices to the post office to determine the mailing cost.  Square envelopes, invitations with gems or bows, and extra thick invites will cost more to mail.
  •  Embossed invites will cost considerably more than printed.
  •  Keep most of the information on the invite.  Everyone has GPS, they don’t need a direction card.  Ask the hotel that is holding your room block to provide a card that can be included.
  • This is the time when you make it clear to your guests if children are included.  Plan on paying at least $30/child in most hotels for chicken nuggets if you want to include them!

             COST SAVINGS:  Appx.  $6/couple = $525                                                                                                COST OF APPRAISAL and CREDIT CHECK: $450

4) The Favors

This is Pittsburgh… the Cookie Table is the favor!

  • The majority of favors left by couples are left behind by the guests.
  •  The only favors that staff is not left packing up at the end of the night are candy bars and unscratched lottery tickets.
  • Most venues cannot legally allow the consumption of alcohol not provided by a staff member, so wine bottles, etc. cannot be opened at the wedding.

COST SAVINGS:  Appx.  $5/person = $875                                                                              COST OF LENDER FEES: $850

5) The Linens

Creatively combining linens with centerpieces can create a big impact!

  • Use overlays, glitzy throws, etc. only on the accessory tables. (Cake, Gift, etc.)
  • If you are using chair covers in the same color as cloths, you may not need floor-length linens.  Floor-length are recommended if using chivairi or other “open backed” chairs.
  • Skip silky, sequined, shiny napkins.  They are useless when trying to wipe off some butter from your face.
  • Keep the fold simple and elegant.  Some venues may charge labor cost if an intricate design is required, or they may just get really agitated with you before you even arrive!

COST SAVINGS:  Appx.  $25/table = $550                                                                               COST OF HOME, PEST, RADON INSPECTION: $575

6) The Dresses

Let’s be real, very few people will wear them again. Keep your bridesmaids happy by selecting a gorgeous dress “off the rack”.

  • If ordering dresses, the only person who will likely lose the weight they want to is the bride.  Bridesmaids should order for the size they are today.  Letting a dress out is much harder (more expensive) than taking a dress in!
  • For the Moms- find a designer dress from https://www.renttherunway.com/.  High end designer gowns that retail up to $3,000 can be rented for $80-$125.

COST SAVINGS:  Appx.  $500/per mom = $1000                                                                   COST OF RECORDING + BROKER FEES + MISCELLANEOUS: $900

7) The Bar

If your venue allows you to provide the alcohol, Great!  Trying to save money by using “well” spirits is not advised. Your guests WILL notice.

Be sure to ask for a Certificate of Insurance from the venue and caterer (if they are supplying the bartenders). Consider getting a day permit from your own homeowner’s policy.  Hopefully you won’t need the insurance, but if you do you will be glad you paid the $75.

  • The least expensive bar is a Beer/Wine option.  Adding a signature drinkwine and beer etsy is a fun way to personalize.
  • Close the bar during dinner.  One hour is recommended, but 30 minutes is needed.  This allows the bartenders time to restock and focuses the guest’s attention on the reason why they are here: YOU!
  • Skip the Champagne toast for all but the bridal party and family tables.  It is usually poured long before the toast which makes it flat, and most of it goes down the drain in the dish room.

COST SAVINGS:  No Champagne- Appx.  $5/per guest = $875                                Beer/Wine Only- Appx $15/per guest= $2,625                                           COST OF ONE YEAR TAX ESCROW: $3,500

8) The Guest List

This one is the toughest. Mom wants to invite her coworkers, you want to invite everyone in the fraternity plus a guest, the list can go on indefinitely, and each guest costs $100-$150!  Invite the people you really love and will have a great time, and then you may even have enough money left over to invite them all to your housewarming too!

  • Children change the atmosphere of a wedding reception.  In fact, many parents of young children are thrilled to receive an “adult only” invitation.  Finally a night out to enjoy!
  • If you both have a lot of single friends, eliminate the “& Guest”.  A room full of single people will have no problem meeting each other and having a great time.  You may even be responsible for the next wedding.
  • Just because some neighbors or parents’ friends came to your sister’s wedding does not require that they have to be invited to yours.

COST SAVINGS:  Eliminating 20 people from guest list = $2,540 (at $100 + tax/gratuity) COST OF TRANSFER TAX: $2,187

Having a Realtor® on your side is the best way to make these decisions, “you have an expert who is looking out for your best financial interests, an expert who’s contractually bound to do everything in their power to protect you”.

As your Realtor®, I am committed to working with you to make your dreams possible.  I look forward to the opportunity to advise you on ways to keep your wedding day perfect while not losing sight of the reason you are walking down the aisle.

Please call me anytime for advice, market information, or a free planning guide.                  Trish Cloonan, Realtor


6 Reasons to Use a Realtor

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