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

St. Paddy’s Day


“Every country has a St. Paddy’s Day, but here in Ireland we have St. Paddy’s Week!”

No school this week, we’re off for a “study break”. Which only makes sense, due to the fact that a week of celebrations would probably inhibit lecture attendance anyway. 😉

Other than the need for wearing green so that I didn’t get pinched at school, I never knew much about the holiday. Since I’m living in Ireland during the holiday this year, it seemed like a perfect time to find out.

Who was St. Patrick?

The patron saint of Ireland was born in the 5th century, a son of wealthy British. Some sources reference that his given name was Maewyn Succat (but I’ll stick with Patrick). Patrick was captured by Irish raiders at the age of 16. He was taken to Ireland where he remained in captivity for six years. During this time, he worked as a shepherd, outdoors and away from people. Lonely and afraid, he turned to his religion for solace, becoming a devout Christian. (It is also believed that Patrick first began to dream of converting the Irish people to Christianity during his captivity.)

According to Patrick’s writings, he escaped after God spoke to him in a dream, telling him it was time to leave Ireland. After returning to Britain, he writes about a second dream where an angel told him to return to Ireland as a missionary. Patrick became an ordained priest (after 15 years of study) and was sent to Ireland with a dual mission; to minister to the Christians who were already living in Ireland and to begin to convert the Irish. This dual mission contradicts the widely-held belief that Patrick introduced Christianity to Ireland.


[singlepic=30,320,240,,left]Most of the Irish practiced a nature-based pagan religion and Patrick, familiar with the Irish language and culture, chose to incorporate familiar symbols into his teachings. He superimposed the sun (a powerful Irish symbol) over the Christian cross to create what is now called a Celtic cross in order to make it more familiar to the Irish.



A commonly held myth is that Patrick banished all of the snakes from Ireland. In truth, there never were any snakes on the island. The “banishing of the snakes” is a metaphor for the triumph of Christianity and the eradication of pagan worship from Ireland. The island was completely Christianized within 200 years of Patrick’s arrival.


[singlepic=34,320,240,,right]What do “seamroy” (as the Celts called them) have to do with St. Patrick? Nothing so far as I can tell. The Celts saw them as a sacred plant, symbolizing the rebirth of spring. As the English began to seize Irish land and outlaw against the use of Irish language and the practice of Catholicism in the seventeenth century, many Irish began to wear the shamrock as a symbol of pride in their heritage.

Corned Beef & Cabbage

[singlepic=31,320,240,,left]Where does this tradition come from? The United States, of all places! Cabbage has long been a traditional Irish food, with bacon (pork) being the common meat. Upon arrival in America, Irish immigrants found salted beef (often corn-sized grains of salt were rubbed into the meat to cure it, hence the name) to be a cheaper and more readily avialable option than the pork they were familiar with. While both cabbage and salted meat have historic relations with Ireland, St. Patrick’s day celebrations did not include any traditional foods until the early 1900’s. It was around this time that Irish Americans began to include corned beef and cabbage as a tradition.

Little Men

[singlepic=32,320,240,,left]Leprechauns also have nothing to do with St. Patrick. Celts believed in fairies, tiny men and women who could use their magical powers to serve good or evil. They were called “lobaircin,” meaning “small-bodied fellow.” In Celtic folktales, leprechauns were cranky souls, responsible for mending the shoes of the other fairies. Though only minor figures in Celtic folklore, leprechauns were known for their trickery, which they often used to protect their much-fabled treasure. It wasn’t until Disney’s film in 1959 called Darby O’Gill & the Little People that Americans were introduced to a very different sort of leprechaun. This cheerful, friendly leprechaun is a purely American invention, but has quickly evolved into an easily recognizable symbol of both St. Patrick’s Day and Ireland in general.

The Holiday

March 17th is believed to be the date of Patrick’s death and became his feast day. So far as I have found, Patrick was never officially canonised (sainted) by a Pope, but was declaired a Saint in Heaven (he is in the List of Saints) by a number of churches. He is still widely venerated in Ireland and elsewhere today.


You might be asking “How should I celebrate?” It’s taken many years for most of our St. Patrick’s Day traditions to be established. Now that you know more of their origins, you can better appreciate them, and partake in them! Make a traditional bacon and cabbage meal, watch the parade (complete with leprechauns and shamrocks) and enjoy a pint of your favorite beverage.

Traditional Irish Recipe – Bacon and Cabbage


You might be thinking, “Shouldn’t this be Corned Beef?” Indeed, it should not. Bacon (pork) was the most readily available meat in Ireland for centuries. Cattle were prized for their dairy products rather than their beef and sheep were used for their wool. Pork could be cured by local farmers, who also grew their own vegetables. Pork and cabbage were simmered together for a long time in a large pot and the two tastes merged. Potatoes in their skins were always cooked separately.

Nowadays we like cooking our vegetables more quickly, so the cabbage for the dish is usually boiled just before the meal. However, if some of the bacon water is used for this, we have the authentic bacon and cabbage taste.


  • 2 lb lean bacon (pork belly including the rind or a boiling ham)
  • 1 head chopped cabbage, chopped roughly
  • browned breadcrumbs


Place bacon in pot (you can add 10 cloves and a chopped onion if you wish) and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and skim the white scum off the top. Simmer gently for about 1 1/2 hours. When tender, keep the bacon in a warm place in its water.

Take 1/2 cup of the bacon water and the same amount of water and bring to a boil. Throw in the cabbage and cook it quickly (about 10 minutes) until the cabbage is tender. Drain well.

(If you wish to have potatoes as a side, boil 4 lbs of them in the bacon liquid for approximately 30 minutes. You can then add the cabbage to the water, cover and cook for a further 10 minutes until the cabbage is tender.)

Sprinkle the bacon with browned breadcrumbs and serve everything very hot with parsley sauce.


Parsley Sauce

This simple but popular sauce is relished with boiled bacon or boiled salt beef. The good taste of the sauce depends on using parsley lavishly. For family meals, there’s no need to cop finely. Just snip the parsley with scissors; it’s much quicker.


  • 3 3/4 tsp parsley, chopped roughly
  • 1/4 stick butter or margering
  • 2 tbs plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/2 tsp salt


Keeping the chopped parsley beside you, melt the butter gently in a saucepan. Add the flour and mix to a smooth paste.
Add the milk very gradually, stirring carefully all the time. Add the salt.
As soon as the sauce starts to simmer, add 3/4 of the parsley and cook for several minutes. The mixture should become thick but pourable.
Add the rest of the parsley, stir, and pour into a very hot sauceboat. Serve at once.


My wife and I will be giving this a try today, in honor of tomorrow’s celebration. I hope you’ll try it too!

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!

Have You had Your Chocolate Today?

Have you tried a GOOD chocolate bar recently? I have found two options: a rich and creamy milk chocolate or a bitter chocolate with a high cacao concentration. These two options will appeal to different palates, so try them both to determine which you prefer.

Cacao is actually very good for you, so eating a dark chocolate is a pretty decent snack. It is the high amount of sugar found in milk chocolate that makes it unhealthy, so if you end up liking the milk chocolate you might want to be aware of this fact. You can still enjoy it on a regular basis, as I do, and by eating it “properly” you will automatically moderate your intake.

Whichever you end up prefering, here is how to eat it. Instead of just gobbling it down and not really tasting it, try breaking off a small chunk and letting it melt in your mouth. You are better able to taste and enjoy the flavor this way. If you are eating a bitter chocolate, you might want to start with smaller pieces and work your way to larger ones. Of course, your chocolate will also last longer; my previous chocolate bar (an extra large one from Valentine’s Day) lasted me over a week, even with two of us eating it.

I have heard some chocolate snobs say that a bitter chocolate’s flavor is “far more interesting than the simple flavor of milk chocolate.” I have not sampled a bitter chocolate recently, and so cannot comment on this. My only advice in exploring different chocolates is to avoid any kind of baking chocolate, as it is generally pretty unpalatable in its straight form.

Since you are eating smaller portions each time, you can actually eat chocolate more often! By eating only a small chunk after every meal, I can satisfy my sweet tooth while stretching my chocolate bar over the course of a week. Previously, that same bar would have last me no more than two sittings. However, I would not have enjoyed it nearly as much.

Three cheers for chocolate!

Keep Your Eyes Open for New Opportunities: Winter Veggie Soup Recipe

You never know where you will stumble on the next great thing. It could be a new hobby, a new widget for your collection, or a great vacation deal. My most recent find was a new recipe, discovered in the folds of the grocery store coupon book. I was waiting in line at the store and flipping through it to see if there were any deals that I couldn’t pass up. Turns out there was: Winter Veggie Soup.

With the weather cold and over-cast, some hot home-made soup seemed like a perfect fit. My wife and I gathered the ingredients and set about putting everything together. Once the preparation is done, this recipe is about as simple as they come, you just have to sit back and wait for everything to cook once it is all combined in the saucepan.


  • Large pot
  • Knife
  • Chopping board
  • Hand Blender
  • Vegetable Peeler

  • 3 tsp of Butter
  • 3 medium Carrots (peeled and finely sliced) [Ours were a bit small, so we used 5]
  • 3 leeks white part only (washed and finely sliced)
  • 1 1/2 medium sized Onions (peeled and finely sliced)
  • 4 cloves Garlic (finely sliced)
  • 4 medium Potatoes (peeled and finely sliced) [Again on the small side, so we used 6]
  • 1 Chicken Stock Cube
  • 4 cups Water
  • 2 tbs chopped Parsley
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Put 2 tsp butter, carrots, leeks, onions and garlic in pot over low to medium heat. Cover and cook for 15 minutes, stirring once after 5 minutes.

Add potatoes, stock cube and water and bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for a further 25 minutes.

Blend until smooth or leave a little chunk if desired (since we don’t have a hand blender, we used a potato masher. It worked just fine for us!), then add the remaining butter. Salt and pepper to taste.

Garnish with chopped parsley.

For a side, we sliced a demi-baguette, buttered the slices and toasted them in the oven. The slices were delicious with the soup, either dipped into or simply eaten along with it.

This soup was much better than we anticipated (we weren’t quite sure about the amount of onion called for in the recipe) and we will definitely be having it again. We both had second helpings and scraped the bowls clean with our last pieces of bread. The next day we finished it off. Our only complaint about this delicious meal is that we just didn’t make enough. There’s nothing better than an easy recipe that results in a delicious meal!

3 Paths to Culinary Adventure

Want to introduce some quick excitement into your daily life? Would an easy culinary adventure fit the bill? There are three simple ways to do this. Three easy things that fit easily into your daily schedule while spicing it up. Without further ado, here are three quick culinary adventures you can try today:

1) Try something you don’t think you will like.
If you haven’t tried it, how do you know you won’t like it? Try it with an open mind and adventuresome palate and you might be pleasantly surprised. This adventure is simple; choose something that you do not think that you will like and give it a try. I do not suggest forcing yourself to eat it as a whole meal, or even the main course. A small portion as a side is enough. If you don’t like it after a bite or two, large amounts of it are not likely to improve its taste. (Don’t forget that this can be a beverage as well as food.)

My suggestion for this adventure is to make it a total experience as much as a tasting adventure. Go to a fitting setting for whatever you are trying. In this way, the focus is not as much on the food as the whole trip. If then you end up being correct about not liking the food, the adventure continues, un-spoiled by the tasting attempt.

Personally, I tried some Guinness. I have yet to find a beer of any kind that I like, and had no great expectations for this one. While exploring Dublin on foot, I decided to head into the Temple Bar and give it a try. What better place to try an Irish beer than an Irish pub that opened in 1840? (The Guinness brewery was closing soon and I couldn’t make it in time for a tour, so they were out of the question.) I ordered a pint of Guinness and then managed to find an empty stool. The first sip wasn’t too bad, better than I expected. About halfway through the glass, however, I came to the conclusion that I still am not a beer drinker. While I did not enjoy the beverage, I enjoyed the experience. I will return and try something different while enjoying the live music, which was fantastic.

2) Re-try something you don’t like.
Over time, your tastes change. You might have loved mac-and-cheese as a kid, but can’t stand it now. Or you hated asparagus but now enjoy it. Every so often it is worth re-trying things that you used to dislike. This easy adventure involves just choosing something that you did not like the last time you tried it, and giving it another chance. As with the first adventure, I recommend trying only a small portion, definitely not as the main course.

You may want to alter some things from the last time that you tried it. Perhaps a new cook (different restaurant), or a new recipe is what you need to begin enjoying it. Last time it might simply have been overcooked,or under-seasoned. You might have had a portion of lesser quality, so you may want to pay a bit extra when you purchase your raw ingredients if you are making it yourself.

My wife is not a fan of seafood. She has tried it a number of times throughout the years and simply cannot stand it. Recently, some friends invited us over for dinner, and we did not realize until arriving that they had prepared tilapia. I assured her that she could have my side dishes and I eat her fish so that she would not go hungry. Bravely she sampled a fillet, and found that she enjoyed it. She even had seconds! This unexpected culinary venture was successful due to a number of variables: new type of fish, new chef, and a new recipe. She is still not eager to order fish as her meal, but she is willing to give it a try in the hopes that she finds more that is to her liking.

3) Try a new version of something you do like.
In case your previous two adventures did not turn out as well as you hoped, this one is almost guaranteed to be good. Everyone has their favorite foods, here’s your chance to enjoy one of yours. Simply pick one of your favorite foods and try a new version of it. This can be as simple as going to a different restaurant than normal and having it there (made by someone new, perhaps with a new recipe), looking up recipes and trying a different one from normal, or finding a new version of it at the store. Unlike the previous two adventures, I do recommend a generous helping this time around. Eat up and enjoy!

This was a simple enough adventure for me. While out shopping, my wife and I picked up some Irish Sausage links. For supper we fried them up, scrambled some eggs, made some toast, and topped it off with some orange juice. Those sausages were delicious! (Not that any of it was bad.) The entire meal took only a few minutes to prepare, and will definitely be repeated on a regular basis.