Irish Soda Bread

Next Sunday is St. Patrick’s Day, and in keeping with the season I’ve made a huge round loaf of Irish Soda Bread. Note the sorrel leaves just popping up to the right of the bread – early in this year of no winter.

Soda bread and sorrel leaves

There are probably as many variations of this recipe as there are descendants of Old Eire. My mother’s Irish Soda Bread was dry and crumbly and very, very white. Mine is tan (1 C of whole wheat flour) and quite moist; my mother’s recipe didn’t list any butter and mine requires 1/2 a cup -more if you’re feeling celebratory. I’m sure Great-great grandmother Bell’s differed from both of ours, back in Co. Cork.

All versions have a few items in common: raisins, caraway seeds, buttermilk and baking (or bread) soda. Something else – most of these recipes call for 5 C of flour and a cup of sugar. That’s a big batch of quick bread! I use a 12″ cast iron fricasse pot with 4″ sides and you’ll need something like that unless you divide the dough into two parts, which will bake nicely in nine or ten inch pie plates.

4 cups all purpose flour and 1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted (see below)
2 1/2 cups raisins, 1/2 C orange juice, 3 Tbs whiskey
2 tablespoons caraway seeds
2 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 large egg

Preheat oven to 350°F. Use a heavy ovenproof 10- to 12-inch-diameter skillet with at least 2- to 2 1/2-inch-high sides. Melt the butter in the skillet and then turn the heat off (this butters the skillet nicely while providing melted butter for the recipe).

Put the raisins in a small sauce pan with the orange juice and whiskey (optional, but very nice). Bring the mixture to a boil then turn off the heat and let them soak while you make the dough.

In a large bowl, whisk first 5 ingredients to blend. Stir in the butter, using fingertips, rub in until coarse crumbs form. Stir in raisins and caraway seeds. Whisk buttermilk and egg in medium bowl to blend. Add to dough; using wooden spoon, stir just until well incorporated.


Transfer dough to prepared skillet; smooth top, mounding slightly in center.  Bake until bread is cooked through and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool bread in skillet 10 minutes. Turn out onto rack and cool completely.

This bread is wonderful fresh from the oven with butter, as a side for beef stew, and even better the next day toasted with Dundee marmalade.

I happy am, if well with you.

packed up and gone

. . when each of you shall in your nest
Among your young ones take your rest,
In chirping languages oft them tell
You had a Dame that lov’d you well,
That did what could be done for young
And nurst you up till you were strong
And ‘fore she once would let you fly
She shew’d you joy and misery,
Taught what was good, and what was ill,
What would save life, and what would kill.
Thus gone, amongst you I may live,
And dead, yet speak and counsel give.
Farewell, my birds, farewell, adieu,
I happy am, if well with you.

Excerpted from “In Reference to her Children, 23 June 1659”

By Anne Bradstreet

The 7% solution

Did you know that only 7% of us in the US don’t use an electrical appliance to dry  our laundry?

A and J at the bungalow, S. Portland, 1992

After thinking about it, I couldn’t say that 7% of us technically use a “clothesline” because I can only hang laundry outside for 1/3 of the year. When it’s cold and damp (easily 2/3 of the year) we have an Amish “finger” contraption that hangs on the wall by the woodstove. Growing up my son referred to it as the “clothes toaster” which is fairly apt – when the tiny woodstove is going full bore it only takes about 20 minutes to dry a rack of laundry.

I love it when I can hang a full load of laundry (or two, or three) outside on the line. Yes, the texture of line-dried towels is a little rough, but soon enough the dryer version begins to feel a little slimy. I have nothing but sympathy for folks who have no place to string a line indoors or out but for the rest of us – get with the new program! Your clothes will last longer, and so will the ozone layer.

There’s even a handy website (when is there not?) to get started with facts and hints: Project Laundry List. See you out in the yard on the next nice day!

Serious cookies

Today I took off from work – somehow a day off is even better when it’s a really bad idea – and made cookies. I did errands, cleaned the house, visited my mother, cleaned the house some more, put up the tree, and made cookies. That last item is the important part, because these are serious cookies – you need the whole day.

I lived in Philadelphia in the 70’s and had a wide selection of part time jobs while I went to art school. Around Christmas-time I worked evenings at an Italian bakery that had plaster models of fantastical wedding cakes in the windows and specialized in traditional, labor-intensive treats for the holidays. We made anise biscotti and weird sponge cakes filled with lemon cream, almond crescents, white fruit cakes studded with golden raisins and sprinkled with gold leaf, but mostly we made seven-layer-cookies. Pink, white and green almond cake layers with apricot filling and a chocolate frosting on both sides, we made them in huge sheet pans, sold them all to happy housewives the next day and spent the night making more. I know all about how to make them in a bakery , with a walk-in freezer and professional ovens, but I’d never thought of making them at home until I read this post at SmittenKitchen.

I love this site and I’ve found that I can completely trust her work. So – hop right over there and read the recipe, study the comments, and then take tomorrow off to make cookies! Let me know how it goes.

One hint that’s not on SK’s list – at the bakery we added a 1/2 tsp of baking powder to the batter, and were free to add a Tbs (or more, if the ovens were blasting heat) of cream to the colored divisions right before laying them out in the pan. Both additions made the batter easier to spread in a thin, even layer. As a bonus, here’s a pic of the pink layer (colored with Ameri-Color Super Red gel paste) cooling on the table. Doesn’t that look like a fun way to spend an afternoon?


PS Because I just posted this and someone is already asking, the other cookies on the plate (equally delicious and a lot easier) are Excalibur cookies from Food from the Field’s blog. Great stuff!

Time travel souvenir

I was never here, but I have pictures.

Your mother would know, your mother would know.

Occasionally I use this blog to keep track of information that passes through my hands, and this house. Much as I’d like to sometimes, I can’t keep everything – I can’t even keep track of everything.

My brother would like a few family pictures for his son’s room and I’m sending him this photo of our great-grandparent’s house in central Connecticut when it was newly built. I have several copies of the photo, but this one has details written in my mother’s small, lefty handwriting on the back:

House was Dark Aqua on top with a gray bottom and cream trim, built around 1900 by Louis Harrison Barnard on the “V” corner of Bloomfield and Tunxis Avenues in Bloomfield, Ct., across the street from his “Wintonbury Farm”.

Raymond Barnard married Martha Louise Miller, and they moved into the house in 1938 after Louis died. They had previously lived in the “little house” across the street with their four children (including my mother, Phillip’s grandmother).

Hope Phillip likes the photo!


I had a post ready to go tonight about mulching strawberry plants with re-purposed slate shingles. It’s a great idea but it’s going to have to wait because I just came across pictures of my father’s dog, Ching.


Ching won a blue ribbon at the pet show in 1938. My father would have been 12 years old. I don’t think I could have picked the breed but on the bottom left of this piece of newsprint there’s a note, “Dwight’s Chow”, in my mother’s printing. There are also photos of Ching on the hood of my father’s car (probably four years later, when Dwight could drive?), and another of him with his bowl of kibble.

Ching on topCould the car geeks help me out here? My grandfather ran Burnham’s Garage in Bloomfield, CT. for many years, and all the boys had cars. Click on the photo to enlarge and tell me, is that a Buick? Very classy, especially with the canine hood ornament.

No fair!That’s a happy dog. Kind of a weird photo, but a happy dog.

A boy and his dog, with apologies to Harlan Ellison.



This photo shows Hellen Anzonetta Parcels Miller, my 3 x Great Grandmother, demonstrating the proper use of a hand auger to Great Uncle Reuben on a milk crate.

I have a great many studio portraits of family members, but this is a rare snapshot. It is printed on thin photo paper and has turned almost black with age; scanning and Photoshop brought the image closer to the original.

Rueben was born 14 January 1893 and appears to be about age 7 – 9. Hellen died 31 January, 1910 so I estimate the date of this photo @ 1900. The clothes are wonderful: Rueben’s flowing shirt and boy cap, and his Grandma’s flowered dress and capable hands. I have no idea who took the photo, but I’m grateful for their grasp of new technology for this slice of life.

It’s summer and. . .

the traffic is terrible. U turns in traffic, K turns downtown on one-way streets, and I think I saw an “M” turn (hint – it involved a boat trailer) down at the town dock on Saturday. On the up side, the Boy is home on holiday and brought the Girl with him and we are having a wonderful time.

Tonight we had La Piana squash ravioli with “everything” pesto. I picked handfuls of oregano, summer savory, Genovese basil, parsley, and a few carrot tops, processed them with garlic, sea salt, and olive oil and served topped with grated Parm. The tiny ravioli cook up soft and flavorful, and each box makes a huge amount. Fantastic.

I’ve also made brown butter rice crispie bars and blueberry boy bait from Smitten Kitchen, blueberry muffins, green curry, poverty cake, buttermilk waffles, and bog juice. I just can’t seem to help making all the family favorites, and I can’t regret it, either.

So I was out in the garden, watching the green hive (Pistachio) buzzing madly at their front entrance, no doubt screaming about the fantastic patch of goldenrod down the road at Triple Chick Farm. The buzzing seemed to be coming from two places at once, though, and I turned around to see a swarm of bees approaching from the swamp. They circled the big spruce tree a few times and then coalesced on a branch about 45′ above the hives. They stayed the night and were gone by 9 a.m. the next morning. Our current hives, Vanilla and Pistachio, seem unaffected by the visitors. The football shaped swarm is in the middle of this photo, right above our electrical wires.

Second plantings are in for kale, cabbage, broccoli, green beans (hedging my bets on a late frost), basil, lettuce, radishes, carrots, parsnips, and beet greens. We’ve had a respectable amount of rain for a Maine August and the garden is lush and productive at the moment.

While our son is here on break we tried out Eden, the new (or rather, resurrected) vegetarian restaurant in town. “Plant-based cuisine” for the win!  I had a bento box of grilled baby bok choi, spring rolls, maple roasted tofu, steamed soy beans – it was fantastic. Bonus points for being right next door to Mount Desert Ice Cream (Fearless Flavor!), where we had incredible cones: blackstrap banana, chocolate wasabi, and pralines and cream. We found out too late from another local that the shop will combine two flavors, so we’re headed back there this weekend for a “Cherie Special”: pralines and cream with salt caramel.

This seems to be the perfect year for corn. Now if the 7′ tall Silver Queen can withstand whatever we get from Hurricane Irene, there will be another post about dinner.

Hot water good

Isn’t this a beautiful thing? It’s our new Rinnai on demand hot water heater, and spreading out all around it is a plumbing sculpture made of pipes, vents, valves and wiring. It’s even more beautiful to me because we went without hot water for two weeks while we figured out whether we could repair the old one, and when that didn’t work, what we should replace it with. And by “we”, I mean my husband. We trade off on a lot of chores around the house but plumbing? I go to work and he talks to Randy Sprague.

The new Rennai is 1/4 size the size of the old one – which was significantly smaller than a regular tanked hot water heater. It hangs on the wall and frees up a lot of space around it, which I have already sworn to my self and family that I will not fill up with canning jars or historical documents. Really.

Infrastructure is important. Small living space, insulation, and efficient appliances allow us to live well for very little, both in terms of finances and footprint. Now for a shower…