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Irish Soda Bread and Putting Off Procrastination

16 Mar

This post was supposed to be about procrastination….but I’ve decided to write about that later. 

I know. I love me some irony.

I have a good reason, though, for putting off today’s intended post. Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day, and I wanted to share my tried-and-true Irish Soda Bread Recipe. It is fool-proof easy and I will be making it today as I avoid the rain and attempt to clean up the house. We have Company arriving tonight, so this is not a drill. The difference between visiting relatives and Company? Relatives know exactly how messy you are and are pleasantly surprised when your home reflects something different. With Company, you clean with the foolish hope of tricking them into thinking that you’re better than you are.

Personally, I think that true love means never having to pretend to be something you’re not….and my family just happens to not be organized. This might just be my fear talking, though. I’m terrified that the visiting Company will open the closets or look under the beds. As you know from my 5 Stages of Cleaning, that would not end well.

Anyway, let’s get on with the show–Irish Soda Bread. I love raisin bread and I love Irish Soda Bread for its denseness. It’s one of my comfort foods, really, and it helps that it’s so easy to make. I first saw this recipe in Marin Magazine–see the original recipe here. I think I will be skipping the caraway seeds when I make this bread today, but I have used them in the past.

Joan’s Irish Soda Bread

Makes one large loaf or two medium (four cup) loaves.

Note: For the most tender texture, don’t overmix the batter–combine the dry and wet ingredients just until there is no dry flour left. For all you Catholics (fallen and otherwise), Joan suggests mixing only as long as it takes to say an “Our Father,” a “Hail Mary,” and a “Glory Be.” As for my own suggestions: for the best results, listen to this and this while baking. 

3 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups buttermilk
2 eggs
2 tablespoons caraway seeds
2 tablespoons canola oil or other vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups raisins

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two medium (four-cup) loaf pans. Whisk the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together in a large bowl. Whisk the buttermilk, eggs, caraway seeds, and oil together in a medium bowl. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl with the dry ingredients, and sprinkle the raisins over. Sweeping your whisk thoroughly over the bottom of the bowl, mix the batter only until uniform; do not over-mix. Scrape into the prepared pans and bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the soda bread rest in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn onto a rack to cool.

Happy Baking! Check back soon for my thoughts on procrastination and life as an ostrich. Yeah, that’s right.

Oh, For Pete’s Sake

26 May

Well, I got some bad news about that thing that happened a few weeks ago. Now that the universe doesn’t depend on my silence, I think it’s safe to say that the thing was a job interview and the bad news was a polite no. Though I was not exactly surprised, the news that they had “opted to pursue another candidate” was still a downer. It was the first job I’d been excited about in a long time and oh, how I wanted to be pursued.

My reaction to the rejection included an unusually emotional response to an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the consumption of a (mostly) Gin and (very little) Tonic, and then the obligatory oh-God-what-am-I-doing-with-my-life panic. And I baked. I baked a lot.

I like baking when I’m upset. I can get frustration out through the aggressive whisking of ingredients, or during a forceful round with a rolling pin and some dough. Or, I can be calmed by the careful cracking of eggs, the familiar comfort of recipe cards written by my aunt, my grandma, my mom’s cousins. There’s something satisfying about gently measuring sugar, but I also like to pretend I’m as good a cook as my mom and grandma and eyeball things as they’re poured into our big red bowl. That looks like a cup, I think. Or , That was about a tablespoon. Breezy. Confident. And then at the end of it all, you’re rewarded with something good to eat. I can think of no better therapy.

So, the day after the job letdown, I baked. I made candied nuts, and mercilessly picked apart my interview as the walnuts bubbled and became glittery, crusted vanilla and sugar fossils. I had been nervous, my voice a little higher than usual. I had rambled while answering one question, hadn’t responded long enough during another. My outfit was boring. My shoes were too big. Maybe I should have bragged a little more? I stirred up Raspberry and White Chocolate Chip muffins (more like cupcakes without the frosting) and, spooning the batter into cupcake wrappers, thought about fate and signs and doors that open and close. The recipe should make a dozen muffins—I got eighteen and had to fetch another pan for my runovers.

I zested lemon for my version of Lemon Sugar Cookies (similar to the recipe found on the wonderful blog Let’s Talk Cookies) and the kitchen immediately radiated a crisp citrus smell. I considered making a Lemon Pudding Cake, a favorite of my family’s. Stirring vigorously, I accidentally sloshed some of the liquid onto the counter. I scooped dough onto sheets and growled to the dogs, always hopeful kitchen helpers, to get out of the way.

Then, I dropped an egg. In the grand scheme of things, not a big deal—but it threw me off my game, disrupted my rhythm. I grabbed paper towels violently, and swore louder than necessary. For the first time in hours, I sat and broke into a muffin. I crunched a few nuts and waited for the cookies to turn golden.

In the book The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, the main character can taste the emotions in everything she eats. They are the emotions of the person who made the food, and upon the first bite she immediately knows all the intimate feelings that swirled during the stirring, measuring, heating, kneading. My candied walnuts and Raspberry White Chocolate muffins didn’t taste like any emotion, but imagine if they did. No amount of sugar would cover those insecure nuts. And I definitely wouldn’t want to sample the feelings in those muffins.

I gave half of my baking results away, some to my grandma and some to her neighbor Pete. I feel a little protective of Pete. His wife died recently, and you can see how it weighs on him. Last week, Pete gave me a ride to pick up my car at the garage where it was being serviced. I felt badly, taking him away on an errand (and a little embarrassed that my grandma had roped him into it), so when I thanked him for the lift, I really meant it. “No, thank you,” he said. “Thank you for saving me from a lonely afternoon.” There was silence for a few seconds, then he said quietly, “I’m lonely most of the time, these days.”

So when I was done with my cathartic cooking, I made sure to give Pete a pretty little jar of nuts and an assorted plate of muffins and cookies. Out of a job disappointment, I got tasty gifts for a sweet, lonely senior who, luckily, won’t taste any turbulent emotions in them. I’m not sure if that’s a silver (cupcake) lining, but it’s all I’ve got at the moment.

Looking for some similar kitchen therapy? Scroll this way……

Stop Acting So Candied Nuts
a.k.a Bavarian Sugar Almonds/Candied Nuts from My Baking Addiction.

1 egg white
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (1 tsp. of vanilla extract if you are using regular granulated sugar instead of vanilla sugar)
1 tablespoon water
1 pound nuts (normally like to use almonds or pecans, but this time all I had was walnuts–still good!)
3/4 cup vanilla sugar, or regular granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons of fine grain salt (or vanilla fleur de sel, if you’re the type that would have it)

1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper
2. In a large bowl, combine egg white, vanilla extract, and water. Beat mixture until frothy. Stir in nuts and mix to coat.
3. Gently combine sugar, cinnamon, and sea salt and stir into nut mixture, thoroughly coating all nuts.
4. Evenly spread nuts onto prepared baking sheet and place in oven.
5. Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour, stirring/shifting nuts every 15 minutes. (The stirring part is very important, otherwise the nuts will stick together into one brittle mess.)
6. When cool, pack in an airtight jar. They will keep at room temperature for about 2 weeks.

Shared Joy is Doubled Joy, Shared Sorrow is Half a Sorrow Raspberry and White Chocolate Chip Muffins
a.k.a  Raspberry White Chocolate Muffins from one of my favorite cookbooks, Peace Meals

1/3 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup plain yogurt
1 cup white chocolate chips
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 pint raspberries

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Coat muffin pans with nonstick cooking spray, or line with wrappers.
2. Cream together the butter and sugar in a large bowl.
3. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add the yogurt, then the white chocolate chips.
4. Stir in the flour, baking powder and salt (the batter will be stiff). Overmixing the batter makes muffins tough, so use only 10-15 strokes to incorporate the dry ingredients.
5. Gently fold in the raspberries. Spoon the mixture into the prepared muffin cups.
6. Bake for 22-24 minutes or until golden brown. Cool the muffins in the pan for 5 minutes, then remove and cool completely on a wire rack.

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemon Sugar Cookies
a.k.a the cousin of The “Can’t Eat Just One” Lemon Sugar Cookie
Here, I adapted the recipe from Let’s Talk Cookies.  Once I figure out how I merged the LTC recipe with another one I had, I’ll type it out and share. The problem with merging/experimenting is trying to get the same result a second time!

Weather Forecast: 90% Chance of Snowball Cupcakes

25 Feb

Incredibly, snow could be on the horizon for the San Francisco bay area. Unlike dentists reviewing toothpaste, it seems all of the weathermen and women are in agreement that snow is just about guaranteed in the higher elevations and very likely at sea-level.  This is newsworthy stuff, because if this region sees snow, it will be the first time since 1976. In preparation, I’ve been looking at old photos of the last momentous occasion and digging out my fluffiest, most hibernation-worthy sweaters.

I also decided to bake snowball cupcakes (the perfect possible-snowy-day treat), which seemed like a good idea (and simple enough) but didn’t go quite as I had planned. Maybe I should have made a To-Do list beforehand.

To give you an idea, this was my process:

  1. Look up recipe for White Cake in Better Homes and Gardens New Baking Book. (I cannot stress this enough–you absolutely must use white cake. The point of a snowball cupcake is that it looks like a snowball: white cake, white frosting, a dusting of coconut.)
  2. The recipe is pretty straight forward and calls for flour, baking powder, salt, butter, sugar, vanilla, egg whites, and buttermilk or sour milk. Just thinking about these made-from-scratch treats is exciting. Get out all necessary ingredients and pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Decide to reach for the stars and do laundry while baking. Congratulate self on ability to multi-task and similarity to glamorous 50’s housewife.
  3. Put load of laundry in and notice that stomach is growling. Decide that making delicious cupcakes while hungry would be cruel and just plain silly. Decide to eat lunch while baking cupcakes while doing laundry. Heat up unidentifiable leftovers and reassure stomach that yummy cupcakes are coming.
  4. Phone rings. Answer it and discover that it’s a good buddy. She’s bored and wants to discuss her cute new coworker. Give her the go ahead to describe his eyelashes in exquisite detail but warn her that baking/eating/laundry is in progress and nothing will deter the determination swirling in the kitchen. 
  5. Cute Coworker’s eyelashes prove to be a heavy conversation topic. Must sit down and devote full mental energy to good buddy.
  6. Dogs scratch on back door, want out. Get up, open door, sit down. Dogs scratch on back door, want in. Get up, open door, only one pup comes in. Interrupt good buddy to call dogs. Yell names. Clap hands. Promise dog treats. Finally, dogs come in. Go to cupboard to get promised treats for spoiled dogs.
  7. Find Trader Joe’s Yellow Cake Mix in cupboard. Feel like Eve, tempted by the easy cake-in-a-box. Good buddy senses distraction and serious moral dilemma in the air, says goodbye. Hang up phone and contemplate the good and evil of Trader Joes.
  8. Decide cupcakes don’t have to be made from white cake. Decide that using extra white frosting will cover the yellow. Decide to go with Joe.
  9. Trader Joe’s Yellow Cake Mix only calls for 3 eggs, 1 cup melted butter, and milk. Get out butter, look at handy marking on butter wrapper. Markings say that one cup of butter = 2 sticks. Call wrapper a liar and proceed to measure melted butter. Realize wrapper was correct and mentally apologize to butter wrapper makers everywhere.
  10. Whip up easy Trader Joe’s cupcakes, push down guilt over original cupcakes-from-scratch plan. Decide to make spectacular, EPIC frosting. Use cream cheese, whipping cream, vanilla, tons of powdered sugar. Mix. Taste. Mix. Taste. Mix…Taste. Taste. Taste.
  11. Take cupcakes out of dinging oven. Overcompensate for box-cake mix by plopping ginormous spoonfuls of frosting on cupcakes and swirling with knife into dreamy, sugary cloud. Pour coconut in bowl and twirl cupcakes, upside down, in flakes.
  12. Pause to ooh and aah over pretty snowball effect. Accidentally-on-purpose push thumb into one cupcake. Proclaim that it’s unfit for public viewing and eat it. Inform the dogs that Trader Joe’s mix is darn good stuff.
  13. Remember laundry that’s been done for at least 45 minutes.
  14. Think about sticking thumb in another cupcake.
  15. Do it.
  16. Decide that no matter what the chance of snow is, there’s at least a 10% chance that all snowball cupcakes will be eaten by the time the flurries fall.