Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Soda Bread and Other Glories

St. Patrick's Day is awesome. Especially for Grant and I. Back in 2006 we spent St. Patrick's Day studying at the mid-town Borders in Tulsa, eating soup and cafe sandwiches (they served real food back then), reading Mark Twain and George MacDonald to each other, and when evening fell we listened to a live band of seniors play Irish favorites in the cafe. Those were our first moments of flirtation, and the start of something wonderful. Ever since then, when the crabapple trees start to bloom and the public radio stations start playing Irish ballads we get a little bit swoony. 

We celebrated St.Patrick's Day this year with food, booze, some Yeats and a movie or two. The day started with OU's classical music station playing traditional Irish hymns, some ballads, and finished up its late morning segment with Irish rock. We were also blessed with proper Irish weather to help set the mood. A little overcast and a little chilly. With the windows open it was a perfect day for movie watching. On our list this holiday was The Departed (one of our favorites), Ondine  (a new one that we had never seen), The Secret of Kells (If you have not seen this, please watch it!), and The Secret of Roan Inish (a childhood favorite of mine). 

Grant made corned beef sandwiches for lunch and they were amazing. By the way, Grant is a master sandwich maker. If you are ever lucky enough to have him make a sandwich for you, don't question anything he puts on it, just eat it and be dazzled. These corned beef sandwiches were paired with sauerkraut, spicy pickle slices, stone ground mustard, Dubliner's cheddar, and onions - and all this goodness was then housed between two glorious pieces of rye bread. We also had a few bottles of Boulevard's Irish Ale to help wash those sandwiches down. 

For dessert we had the brilliant idea of putting Irish whiskey on top of vanilla ice cream. If you missed my first post about homemade vanilla ice cream, you can follow the link here. But we could not stop there, we also added salted caramels to this glorious concoction....because we are adults and can do what we want. 

But really, the highlight of the festivities was making honest to God Irish soda bread. 

Disclaimer: This recipe will have you baking bread at least once a week. It is just that awesome and easy to make. You have been warned. 

I have had authentic soda bread before and I must admit that I am a bit of a snob when it comes to soda bread. I believe it should be plain. There, I said it. Add raisins, nuts and other goodies to your bread for special occasions, but this is a working man's bread. It is sensible, with no frills about it. 

For those of you protesting, don't worry, there is nothing inherently wrong in adding goodies to your bread (obviously this makes it even more delicious!), but there is something to be said for maintaining tradition. But whatever, experiment all you want, I am off my little soda*box. 

The recipe I ended up using is from The Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread, yes this is a real organization. You can even join them on Facebook. This website is wonderful, you can research the history of soda bread, explore recipes, and even buy Irish baking products that support the website. There are several recipes listed on the site, but the one I used was for White Soda Bread. 

This bread was fantastic, you guys, seriously. And easy to make too. Slop the ingredients together, put it in a dutch oven and bake. We had ours topped with local honey, and served with green grapes and more beer. 

Happy St. Patrick's Day and special traditions, whatever they might be, to you all!

Monday, March 18, 2013


“Liliana Orsi, a 22-year-old beauty in Rome, Italy, displays her new atomic hairdo and the photo of the atomic blast which inspired it. It took a hair stylist 12 hours to arrange Liliana’s coiffure, so it’s not recommended for daily wear. It’s an old fashion and something dangerously new.” Acme Newspictures

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Lemon Shortbread

Grant's birthday was this weekend and he had one request...shortbread cookies.

For me, shortbread cookies are magical. You have to understand that my only knowledge of shortbread cookies for most of my life was contained in a shiny blue Royal Dansk tin. I thought shortbread was some sort of amazingly sweet and salty, buttery, melty cookie-thing that only wizards could make. And after this experiment I want to testify that only wizards can make shortbread cookies look pretty...so I was at least always partially right. 

Grant went in search of a recipe he liked and this lead to his discovery and consequent love of Pintrest. Myself, I am not a Pintrest user, I already spend too much time screwing around on Facebook and checking my e-mail...I don't need another internet 'thing' to keep me distracted. But it was on Pintrest that Grant found a recipe for Lemon Shortbread Cookies that who else but the greatest wizard of them all and her team of lesser magicians had created? 

Martha Stewart. 

Martha's shortbread looked beautiful. The little cookies were delicate, garnished and decorated, and I knew I could make them if Martha told me how. 

Bullshit. Don't be fooled, Martha Stewart is a cooking and crafting demon put on this earth to torture us wanna-be domestic goddesses.

Screw Martha. 

To be fair and despite my bitchin', this is a quick and simple recipe that will have you nibbling delicious treats in no time, but here are some of the snafus I experienced as well as my alterations to the recipe. 

1) MS's recipe has no shortening in it. Not only does this go against EVERY recipe for shortbread I have ever heard of, plus an old (read: racist) children's song that I grew up with, but it also made the dough difficult to work with. It kept breaking apart when I tried to mold it. 

2) Because the dough kept crumbling apart like my culinary confidence, I ended up taking a small handful and patting it together with my hands into a disc shape before placing it on my baking sheet. This worked just fine.

3) Another variation in the method I improvised was the addition of a splash of lemon juice and an equal amount of orange zest to lemon.

4) Do make sure that you rotate the baking sheet halfway during baking!

When it was all said and done, a few swear words and a beer later, these cookies turned out great! And while my cookies look nothing like Martha's, nothing beats the smile I got from Grant when he ate the first one.