raisin-studded irish soda bread + very unfortunate news in the kitchen

Although it’s nearly two week’s after the holiday, I’ve been enjoying the fruits of my belated tribute to the Irish: sweet, dense soda bread.  Sadly, with nothing to recommend St. Patrick’s Day here in the land of the rising sun, and even despite my quarter-self given to Irish heritage, March 17th quite passed my notice entirely! But when I began my research on locating a suitable soda bread recipe, it seemed the culinary world had not forgotten the happy green day as I had, and it was a pleasure to peruse the assorted loaves: some craggly, some smooth, some studded with currants or nuts or laced with sharp caraway seeds, but all engraved with a deep cross on top. Yet the more loaves I visually devoured, I was surprised to find that the rich, butter and eggs glorified scone version I thought to be the traditional soda bread seemed to be actually more of an American embellishment. The most basic recipe I found claiming authenticity was simply four ingredients: flour, salt, baking soda, and buttermilk. I was genuinely curious then to find out where, in this spectrum of soda breads, the true, authentic Irish notion lay…

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I sent an inquiring email to my good friend, a fellow JET and Irishman himself, to ask his opinion and personal taste in a food marked with such national pride. And in his experience, growing up with homemade loaves from his grandmother and mother’s kitchen, using eggs did not make it any less authentic by any means. He surmised that eggs and/or butter were traditionally not used due to poverty in the country, rather than particulars of taste. Using butter and eggs would certainly have been a luxury at that time, I imagine.

So, in the end I decided to work from a basic recipe and took only modest liberties with some add-ins: continuing with the dried-fruits-in-breads-kick, I tossed in a generous quarter-cup of raisins, mixed a tablespoon of milk with yogurt for buttermilk, and added a scant tablespoon of sugar for some added sweetness. And since there’s only one of me, I cut down the recipe’s original call for 4 cups of flour down to just over one :) And out of the oven came a beautiful, golden, raisin-full loaf of sweet soda bread, perfect for breakfast spread with a spoonful of the homemade marmalade, its citrus-punch mellowed with a few days in the fridge and cutting the sweetness of the bread delightfully.  Continue reading

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homemade grapefruit marmalade

Thriftiness, I’m convinced, lends even the most mediocre fare a flavorful radiance that can only be achieved by repurposing formerly wilting produce. The satisfaction of resourcefully using otherwise neglected ingredients seems to tuck in a particular palatable delight. However, I say this only so far as my experiments in the world of sugared confections go. I have a decidedly less-stellar performance record of savory culinary adaptations in the kitchen (read: pantry stir-fries gone awry). But I was truly ecstatic over my first batch of homemade marmalade, finally making use of a bag of delicious (but seemingly bottomless) Japanese grapefruits given to me by a good friend.

Although I have never envisioned myself as a jam-maker or marmalade brewer (?), thanks to the inspiration from a favorite blogger (thank you She Who Eats) and a Saturday afternoon to while away while my laundry dried outside in the intermittent sunshine, I felt emboldened to give marmalade-making a go.  Continue reading

fruit and nut cake + travels to yokohama

Spring made a fleeting appearance last week in the early plum blossoms and briefest of warm spells, but this week winter seems to be dragging its feet and making its ill-humor known through bouts of cold rain. For a few days, however, I made a short escape of the dreariness and took a holiday to visit a dear friend in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture. On Friday I boarded the local train to Kyoto, where I spent a leisurely hour browsing the many wonderful cafes and shops in the crowded station. After an extravagant late-morning meal of darjeeling tea, matcha ice cream, and a chestnut and creme de marron muffin (a less than wholesome, but completely satisfying lunch), I set off to catch my 1:00 Shinkansen train, ascending escalator upon escalator to finally arrive at the bright platform, encased in clear glass roofs above the whole of Kyoto station. 

For five wonderful days, I had the pleasure of being a guest among my friend and her family. With a daughter nearing three in May and a ten-month old baby boy, there was never a dull moment or lack of endless entertainment at hand in the form of picture books, crafts, or make-believe with a multitude of stuffed animals. On my arrival Friday evening, we celebrated with a fabulous home-cooked Japanese meal, champagne, and beautiful, exquisite little cakes my friend’s husband picked up on his way from work. Over the next few days, with kids in tow and me the happy pack-animal to dispense sippy cups, snacks, toys, or hand wipes at any moment, we traveled to Mitaka to see the magical Studio Ghibli art museum, drove to historical Kamakura to stand beneath (and inside!) the bronze Buddha Statue, strolled along the Yokohama harbor, and even immersed ourselves in the bulky overstock haven of Costco!  Continue reading