Irish Soda Bread

The idea of making my own bread fascinates me. There’s nothing like the smell of bread fresh from the oven, and there’s nothing like the taste of that same bread sliced while still warm and then smothered in butter. I haven’t tried many bread recipes, and none that involve a packet of yeast (there’s an art to yeast bread, it seems). I’ve learned from the ones that I have tried and will continue to make them.

Irish Soda Bread

When people talk about Irish country bread, they mean bread made without yeast, leavened by bread (baking) soda or baking powder. The Irish love this traditional bread and its solid nourishment gives them more pleasure than almost any Irish food. It also gives them a feeling of continuity with the past; the Irish have never stopped making soda bread at home.
It is doubtful if anything was weighed much in the old days, people just didn’t have time. They threw handfuls of flour and oatmeal of different sorts into a bowl and mixed them with buttermilk. When the texture felt right, the dough was crossed deeply and bundled into a hot oven or cooking pot. Forty minutes later, it had become a loaf which was robust and individual.

Making Soda Bread

No bread pan is needed for country bread. It bakes far better when placed straight onto a floured baking sheet in the oven. You will need a wire rack and a clean tea towel (dish cloth) to wrap the loaf in after it is baked.


  • 1 cup white (all-purpose) flour
  • 3 cups brown (whole-wheat) flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp bread (baking) soda
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/4 cups buttermilk (approx.)

This is the classic Irish recipe for brown soda bread. You can make white soda bread by using 4 cups of white flour. Some people put herbs into their bread, with good results. After you’ve tried it a time or two, feel free to experiment and see what you can come up with.

Sieve/sift the flour, salt and baking soda into a bowl. Make a well in the center. Pour in most of the buttermilk to make a loose dough, adding more if necessary. Turn the dough on to a floured board and knead it lightly. Form a round loaf. Turn the smooth side up. Flatten it carefully and cut a deep cross in the top of the loaf.
Place on a baking sheet and bake at 400 F for about 40 minutes. The loaf should sound hollow if you tap the base (you may need to turn it over for 5 minutes or so to achieve this.) Wrap the loaf in a clean dish towel and put it on a rack to cool.

Some Advice

I’ve made this hearty loaf a couple of times now and plan on doing so well into the future. While I greatly enjoyed my first loaf, be careful not to add too much buttermilk, as you can end up with a sticky mess of dough to contend with. Likewise, it does make a difference if you flip the loaf over for the last 5 or so minutes to let the bottom fully bake, you might have some doughy spots in the bottom if you don’t. If you don’t sift the flour you can end up with a brick-like loaf; if you don’t have a sifter, use a spoon to scoop out the flour so that it doesn’t get compressed in the measuring cup.


A few slices of this bread make for a quite filling sandwich, or a single buttered slice for a snack. A thick slice goes wonderfully with a soup or stew. I’m comfortable enough with the recipe to start experimenting now. I will be trying various herbs, some sugar, perhaps even some molasses. Who knows what I’ll end up with!
Now it’s your turn! Spend a few minutes mixing, set the timer for the oven and enjoy your freshly-baked homemade bread!

Indoor Picnic

Is the weather not quite right to head outside for a picnic? Have one indoors! Indoor picnics have a number of advantages:

  • It doesn’t matter what the weather is
  • It doesn’t matter what time of day it is
  • You already have everything you need
  • You have a wider range of cooking options

Setting up

Clear an opening on the floor (a carpet or rug provides some padding) and spread out a blanket or sheet. Put some placemats down, and “set the table” with dishes, silverware and glasses. (I generally opt to go with the nice dishes and long-stemmed glasses). Turn down the lights and set up some candles.


Since your kitchen is readily accessible, you can make anything you want. Pick your favorite meal and get to cooking! I would suggest putting some focus on presentation. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but since you’re using candles for lighting, you can easily create a dramatic effect.

Serve and Enjoy!

Serve your meal, sit (or lie) down and enjoy! No worries with bugs, gusts of wind or sudden bad weather. Ahh… it doesn’t get much better than this!

What are you waiting for? There’s no excuse needed for an indoor picnic. Celebrate Wednesday, the fact that you’re alive and well, or just some good food. Enjoy!

It’s Picnic Time!


The weather’s turning warm, the flowers are blooming, and everything is beginning to turn green. It’s picnic time! My wife and I love going on picnics. We are always on the lookout for new places to stop. You can too!

What you need

Picnics can be as plain or as fancy as the situation calls for. Sometimes we just carry our meal in a lunchbox and use a picnic table in the park. Other times we load up the picnic basket and find a secluded beach or grassy field to spread our blanket out on.

I looked at a number of local stores before finding a picnic basket that I was happy with. This meant a few weekends of exploring shops, looking for just the right one. If I had started out by asking family members, I could have saved a bit of time, as it turns out that there were two sitting unused in attics. (hint, hint) You can pick up a number of different varieties online, such as this one, this one or this one. Most of these come with a set of dishes. If not, you can get a set from the local “everything for $1” store (insert the name of yours). For only a few dollars I had a set of plates, bowls, silverware, long-stemmed glasses , napkins, placemats and candles. Due to the low cost I can easily replace any that happen to break. I picked up a set of sheets at a yardsale for about $2, and have been using them as a blanket. Cheap, easily cleaned, and can be doubled up if desired. My whole picnic set cost around $30-40.

Packing tips

It took me a couple of tries to figure out how best to pack everything inside my basket. I don’t take everything if I don’t expect to need it (the bowls often stay home). Generally, I start with the plates on bottom, layering a napkin in between for padding. The silverware is wrapped inside the other napkin and tucked inside a glass. The glasses are rolled inside the placemats for protection and laid on top of the plates. The candles (tea candles in small glasses) are tucked into the corners of the basket. All of this takes up about 1/4 of the basket. I generally lay the blanket/sheet on top of the dishes and begin packing the food. The heavier/sturdier (tupperware/thermos/bottle) items go on the bottom, with the other items stacked on top.

What to eat

I don’t know that there is such a thing as a “picnic meal”. I’ve had everything from sandwiches to grilled chicken. It all depends on your location, how much time you have, and most importantly, your tastes. If the picnic is only part of a larger day, you will want something that travels well, such as sandwiches or a salad. Is the picnic the main focus? Try something a bit fancier; grilled chicken, rice and veggies.

Whatever you choose, it doesn’t have to be fancy. You might find that food you have everyday tastes better, simply by having it in a new setting. This means that a sandwich and chips might be exactly what you want. Try some bread and cheese, a selection of fresh fruit and a nice drink to compliment them. Maybe you won’t want more than a salad. See what sounds good and go with that.

Where to cook

Where are you going to prepare the food? If I’m having a picnic later in the day (say lunch during a day trip) I often choose to go with sandwiches and just pack the ingredients. I can actually put the sandwich together at the location so that it is freshly-made. When the picnic is the main focus, I sometimes prepare the food at home just before leaving. This generally means that I have to pack it so that it stays warm. Soup and liquids will go in a thermos, chicken and other solids are often wrapped in aluminum and then in a towel for insulation. Sometimes I take one of my camping stoves and simply prepare the meal at the spot.

Where to go

Now that you’ve got your equipment and decided what you’re eating, it’s time to figure out where to go. There are countless options available here. You can go to the local park and either use one of the picnic tables or find a grassy area where you won’t be interrupted. Perhaps you want to find a spot overlooking a ball game. Find a stream or beach and eat beside the water. Go hiking to a favorite overlook. Boat out to an island and eat there. My wife and I have tried all of these options, and are continually on the lookout for new ones.

Make it special

It’s easy to add those few small touches to make a picnic extra special. Have some fresh fruit for dessert. Bring some long-stemmed candles (be sure to catch the wax with something, or it can get stuck to your blanket). I always try to surprise my wife during our picnics, so I do all the packing; I try to slip in a bottle of sparkling juice, some favored dessert, or something else to make it special for her.

Picnicing alone

For those times when you don’t have someone with you, picnicing can still be greatly enjoyable. A past job of mine included traveling about the area, and I enjoyed the opportunity to eat my lunch in many wonderful locations. I focused on the good food that I had, and on the beautiful settings I was in. A picnic is as special as you make it.

It’s picnic time!

Paper bag or a hand-woven teak basket makes no difference. Doesn’t matter if it’s the same sandwich you have every day or chicken breast in a special sauce. Bench in a park or an island all to yourself, it’s all the same. Savor your food, drink in your surroundings and focus on the good things in life. What is important is that you get out there and go picnicing!

Banana Leaf Picnic Basket

Pick Up an Old Skill

Following up on Wednesday’s post about learning a new skill, maybe you are unable to pursue new interests at the moment. Perhaps the necessary equipment costs more than you can currently afford, you really don’t have time for a new hobby, or some other reason (these become more than excuses when they are true.) If that is the case, and you still want more excitement in your daily life, what about pursuing a previous interest? Perhaps you used to paint, play a sport or instrument, or maybe you collected baseball cards. It could be that you have a punching bag hanging in the garage or fishing tackle in the attic. Whatever it was, you likely still have the necessary equipment, you just have to invest some time and energy into it.

Personally, I have always had an interest in juggling. I bought a copy of The Klutz Book of Juggling some years ago and learned the basic three-ball cascade. After a few weeks of messing around with it (I worked at a grocery store as a stock-boy and would juggle the bruised fruits in the back of the store) I quit progressing and gradually lost interest.

During my tour of the school here in Ireland, I discovered that there was a juggling club. My interest was piqued. I went to the first meeting that I could and there I learned the basics of juggling clubs. I also had some good practice with juggling balls. I did some research online and discovered many new tricks that I could learn.

Want another example? I’ve been drawing or painting in some form since I can remember, at least up until recent years. I allowed myself to get busy with other things and quit making the time. However, I have a pretty good supply of materials. Recently I stumbled across The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain at the library and decided that I should work through it. Not only would I get back into practice, but I could learn some new skills while I was at it. My re-entry to this beloved hobby cost nothing more than the time. I checked out the book, grabbed a drawing pad that was lying around, and the pencil that was beside it.

Your hobby doesn’t have to be new and “in fashion”. As long as it is something that interests you, that is all that matters. So get out there and pursue your interests!

Learn a New Skill

[singlepic=56,320,240,,right]Is there something that you have been interested in taking up? Why are you putting it it off? You can see what I think about excuses here. There are many worthwhile hobbies that one can do without spending a lot of money.

I have the desire to play an instrument. I need something small and lightweight, easily portable. (One problem that I had with the guitar was I couldn’t take it on trips with me, so I’d lose my momentum and quit practicing.) As fun as a harmonica might be, I wanted something different. While browsing an Irish gift shop back home, I stumbled across a Tin Whistle. This was exactly what I was looking for! It is easily portable while also being something that you don’t see everyday. Once I learn to play it, I can play most any whistle, so I can improvise when need be.

After a few months of looking for a “better price” and “just the right whistle” (see making excuses above) I finally decided to just buy the next one that I saw. (I ended up with a cheaper price than the one at home and it was within a couple Euros of the cheapest price I have seen.)

I haven’t gotten very far yet, I’m not great at making myself sit down and practice. However, I have learned a couple of songs. The first, Mary Had a Little Lamb, didn’t take me too long, while the second Weile Waile (an old Irish tune) took me a bit longer. (I can’t get a good video on the camera I’ve got. I’ll keep messing with it and see if I can figure it out, though.)

So what hobby captures your interest? Why are you making excuses? Go out there and pursue your interests!

Want 2 Extra Weeks Every Year?

If you are like the average American*, you are spending over two weeks every year with your television! Just think how many more adventures you could have in two weeks!

How much television do you watch every day? Just one show? Assuming you watch a single hour-long show each day, that adds up to 365 hours each year: 15.2 days! You’re spending over two weeks staring at the TV! I know it doesn’t seem like much when you only watch a small amount at a time, but a small amount every day adds up quickly.

What if you watch more on weekends? If you watch an extra two hours on the weekend (one show each day), that is 104 more hours, bringing the yearly total up to 469 hours. That’s nearly three weeks! 19.5 days.

Many people complain that they don’t have enough vacation time, but those same people are often spending even more time just sitting in front of the TV. Don’t get me wrong, there are some great shows out there; some are fun to watch and some can be educational. I’ve even got a couple that I like to watch. However, I would rather really live my own life than watch someone else live theirs (whether it’s made up or not).

What to Do With This New-Found Time:

“But it’s only an hour a day, what can I do with an hour a day?” First of all, that’s just an excuse. Second, you can do a great deal in less than an hour a day. Here are some suggestions:

  • Spend more time with your family
  • Spend more time with your friends
  • Learn a New Skill
  • Pick Up an Old Skill
  • Baby Step toward your next adventure
  • Try out a new recipe each night
  • Spend more time on a current hobby

Because my time is not taken up by TV watching, I can pursue many of my other interests. I have a camping list prepared for a variety of different situations, and can be ready to go in an hour. This preparation allows me to be ready to go for spur of the moment trips. I am continually tinkering with my gear, modifying and improving it. I am working through a drawing course and will be able to complete it in a couple of weeks because I have the time available to spend on it. This website is often produced when others are watching TV.

When my wife and I moved into our last apartment, we left our TV in storage. Because it wasn’t there to tempt us, we were able to spend more time with each other. We weren’t just sitting beside each other watching TV, but made our relationship even stronger by talking to each other and sharing experiences/activities. Your time doesn’t have to be spent on hobbies, it can be used to build relationships.

But I really like my shows!

I’ve got some shows that I love to watch, too. Unfortunately, I’m horrible about catching them when they’re on; I’ll get caught up in what I’m doing and lose track of time. Furthermore, I dislike commercials and hate having to wait until next week to see what happens. In order to get around all of these troubles, I wait until the season comes out on DVD and watch it then. Often I can borrow it from the library or from friends. I can watch when it’s convenient for me (ideal for when I’m sick and stuck in bed) and don’t have to worry about commercials. I can have friends over and make it into a group activity.

You have to be in control of your time. By watching a 12-episode season on DVD, you can save 4 hours just by cutting out commercials. Since there are no other shows on the DVD, you don’t have to worry about flipping through channels to see what else is on.

Change the Habit

I know that it’s habit to sit down after work and watch some TV to relax. Like any habit, it can be hard to break. You will have to replace it with another activity, and you might need support from others. Take control of your time, choose your activities and be amazed at how many more adventures you can be a part of!

* Actually, the average American watches over 4 hours of Television per day. That’s 60 days, almost 9 weeks!

Seek Out a New Version of Your Everyday Products

I hate chores and don’t like doing them. Unfortunately, my life tends to include some chores that I have to take care of. Shopping, for example. In order to work around the idea that it is a chore, I make it into an adventure. Looking at it as an expedition, I enjoy shopping and look forward to trips to the store.

One of the things that I do is to explore the different versions of the stuff that I have to buy. When you go shopping, do you always buy X brand of yogurt, Y brand of toilet paper and Z brand of clothes? Unless I have tried most of the options out there and settled on one that I prefer, I will continue to try new versions. This does make the trip a bit longer, but it helps keep it from seeming like just another chore.

Here’s a recent example: Before leaving for Ireland, I was perusing the food co-cop’s hygeine section and came across J.R. Liggett’s Old-Fashioned Bar Shampoo. It particularly caught my interest at that time because a shampoo bar would take up much less room in my luggage than a bottle and also cause no trouble when passing through security checkpoints. (Even better, if I liked it, it would not only work for this trip but also for camping.) I purchased a bar, put it in my luggage, and away I went!

I’ve never used a bar shampoo but figured it couldn’t hurt to try. The label states “This shampoo will not strip the natural oils from your hair so most people do not need a conditioner.” Since I was trying to save room while packing, not having to carrry conditioner sounded good to me! Worst-case scenario, I would not like the shampoo and would have to buy a bottle to replace the bar.

By now, a couple of months have passed since I purchased my shampoo bar, and I doubt that I will be returning to a liquid shampoo. My hair feels healthier than before, and I haven’t used any conditioner. My wife also tried the shampoo bar and liked it, except for the fact that I purchased an unscented bar. Once I told her that it also comes in a variety of smells, she was interested in gettting some for herself.

Without taking the time to explore a new section at the store (which was only a recent find itself), my hair would not be healthier, my haircare routine would involve an extra step and I would have bought yet another bottle of the same shampoo that I had been using for years. Who knows what I will find next time…

Now, instead of just blindly following your list, take the extra bit of time to seek out the adventures that shopping list of yours points to. Explore the offerings of the deodorant department, peruse the sock selections and try a new fresh fruit flavor! Your new favorite might be waiting just behind the next purchase!

The Chocolate Follow-Up

I made it a point to pick up some dark chocolate over the weekend. I decided on some Moser-Roth 70% Cocoa. Eating it as described in my last post, I can say that it does have a more complex flavor than milk chocolate. It tastes a bit bitter when I first put it in my mouth, but as it melts the bitterness seems to recede. I wish that I were better at describing tastes, so that I could give you a better understanding of what it is like.

By the time that the chocolate is all melted away, I don’t notice any bitterness. I think that the aftertaste may be even better than the actual chocolate.

I have always been a dessert fan. A meal just does not seem complete unless it includes a finishing sweet taste. After supper tonight, a small bite of dark chocolate seemed to be exactly the compliment that the pasta needed. The sweetness of the chocolate seemed to balance out the lingering saltiness.

A whole new world of tastes is now open to me! While perusing the grocery store I noticed the wide selection of dark chocolates and am eager to try them all. This is so exciting! Writing about it made me want more… so I’m off to grab another bite!

Photo Scavenger Hunt

I am taking part in a photo scavenger hunt. This has been something that I have been interested in trying for some time. I happened to stumble upon one over at Nicole’s site recently and decided to go ahead and jump in and give it a try.

What is a photo scavenger hunt? Exactly like it sounds, it is a scavenger hunt where, instead of bringing back the item, you take a photo of it. Of course, this presents some interesting options, as your list can contain items that are impossible in a conventional hunt. For example, you cannot bring back a building, but you can take a photo of one.

Now keep in mind that I am not a good photographer. However, this is part of why I am interested in joining in this hunt. By “forcing” myself to photograph subjects that I might normally overlook I will get invaluable practice and improve my skills.

I have completed the list and added all of my photos. You can click on the pictures to see them full-sized. This was my first ever photo scavenger hunt and greatly enjoyed it. I’ll definitely be looking to take part of more in the future. Who knows, I might even host one!

    Here is the scavenger hunt list:

  1. local currency
  2. local flag – Everyone’s decorated for St. Paddy’s Day!
  3. local food – Because what’s more Irish than potatoes?
  4. something rusty
  5. local wildlife – I couldn’t decide between these two, so I just included them both.
  6. local nature
  7. local stamp – it was local once it got here. 😀
  8. part of your neighborhood (it can be a very small part)
  9. traditional house
  10. a local person
  11. local weather
  12. local transportation
  13. traditional local clothing – I don’t know if it’s traditional, but how could I pass up a photo like this?
  14. night sky – this was my first ever picture with the nighttime setting. I’ll have to play with it some more!
  15. sunrise
  16. local product non food – this is the product I was going to photo, and my wife happened to spot this one on the way to the store… just hanging in the tree!
  17. something furry
  18. something feathery
  19. a sign of the season
  20. a part of you
  21. your main hobby – had to go back in the archives for this one. It’s a combo of my two favorite hobbies, hiking & geocaching!
  22. a local shop
  23. a local restaurant
  24. a street sign – For some reason, this sign hits my funny bone. Something about traffic calming being the answer to road rage. (I know, I know, but it’s what I think when I see the sign.)
  25. a local mail box

Go With the Flow – An Exercise In Changing the Plan

A few weekends ago some friends from school came down and visited us. They wanted to spend some time together before we headed off to Ireland for the semester. Of course, their plan changed at least 7 times over the course of the weekend. They were going to come down Saturday; no, they were coming down Friday; they were leaving Monday morning to head to St. Louis to meet some other friends; they weren’t going to St. Louis, so they were staying with us till Monday evening; we were going with them to St. Louis…. In the end, no one went to St. Louis (we all hit snooze and then just turned our alarms off), so we showed them some of our favorite local spots (including some fabulous cake… if you’re ever in the Paducah, KY area, be sure and visit The Upper Crust bakery).

How many adventures do you miss out on because they’re not “part of the plan”? My wife and I debated if we should go to St. Louis, as it hadn’t been figured into our budget. Finally we decided that it was silly to miss out on an adventure with some good friends over a small budget overlook (we had the money, we just knew that a bunch of expenses were coming up with the Ireland trip. Don’t over-extend yourself financially, as that will really mess up your adventuring.) We could have saved ourselves some stress if we had been a little more open to short-term changes in our long-term plan.

Going to Paducah was never even mentioned. We had plans for Saturday, which were not all completed due to a shortage of time and sunlight. Sunday was dictated by the whims of my niece, who led us around on some fabulous adventures there at the house. Monday, the fabled trip to St. Louis. We all slept late (apparently we needed it), then decided to head to the city for some exploring. We tried a new restaurant, walked briskly around town (too cold for us!), explored the local painters’ gallery, and headed over to the Upper Crust for some cake and coffee. The whole weekend was wonderful, even if 2/3 of our plans didn’t quite work out. We didn’t allow them to upset us or ruin the rest of our day. We laughed about it and continued on in a new direction.

If something doesn’t go according to plan, it does not have to be a bad thing. New opportunities are now open. You have the perfect chance, and excuse, to explore! Maybe your car broke down in an unknown area; while waiting for help to arrive, explore the area. Perhaps someone you are meeting is running a bit late; grab the camera and snap some photos. Are you hungry and happen to see a new restaurant? Stop by and try them out, you don’t always have to go somewhere familiar.

Take advantage of this chance to do something new!