Irish Soda Bread

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A little known fact about me – I actually have a cow named after me living in a small town in Ireland. Ever since I spent three weeks in County Monaghan in high school, I’ve felt a deep affinity for Ireland, despite having no genealogical ties. Ireland is one of those rare places that actually exceeds its stereotypes (like New York City, California, and Paris). It really is that green. People are that friendly and love to make you laugh. Ireland was the first place I heard a sheep – coincidently sheep exceed expectations too; they really say “baaa, baaaa” – drove on the left side of the road, and fell deeply in love with a country.

I recently re-visited Ireland during the summer. It’s a rare thing to find a place with worse weather than the pacific northwest but I can say that Ireland is just such a place. It was cold and rainy every day for the two weeks I was there in August. Interestingly enough I learned while I was there that in the Gaelic calendar seasons are defined differently. Summer is observed in May, June, and July. I’d recommend either visiting in May – July or bringing a sturdy waterproof coat, warm socks, and a sense of adventure.

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While Ireland isn’t known as a culinary destination per say, we managed to find some great places.

Places to Eat in Dublin:

  • The Winding Stair – a great little spot in a historic building along the quays of the River Liffey. Thick, old, stripped wood stairs lead you up past a bookstore on the first floor to this spot looking out over the river. The Winding Stair serves traditional Irish food like potted crab, roasted lamb, and seafood chowder that highlight ingredients sourced from local, artisanal farms. We loved this place enough to go back a second time. Everything tasted fresh with flavors perfectly balanced in presentations that felt every bit as approachable as they felt polished.
  • Locks Brasserie – Tucked away in a great neighborhood along a canal outside the regular tourist destinations, this fine dining restaurant offers fresh, bright food presented with lots of polish. It’s a great place to visit for a romantic dinner. Dishes feature a lot of fresh seafood and local ingredients.
  • The Bakehouse – a cute little café, perfect for breakfast and a pot of tea tucked away along the banks of the River Liffey not far from The Winding Stair. This bakery features traditional baked goods and dishes including lovely scones, fresh baked bread and giant plates of sausages and ham.
  • Leo Burdocks – a fish and chips institution in Dublin with several spots, we tried the walk-up spot on Werbugh Street near the Christ Church Cathedral. While there’s nothing healthy about the amount of grease your fish and chips are cooked in or the portion size, it was still an experience we wouldn’t have wanted to miss, especially eating on the Cathedral grounds.

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Lemon Rhubarb Buttermilk Bundt Cake

I swore once I started a writing a food blog that I would never write about the weather. It seemed like a sure sign that you just didn’t have any better ideas and were complaining because you had an audience. But when you’re living in the Pacific Northwest and spring is a slog through months and months of chilly rain, it’s hard not to find yourself obsessively checking radar maps, mumbling about the unfairness of it all, and dreaming of east coast spring.

I grew up in the south where the only nice time of year as far as I was concerned was the spring. And children’s books, magazines, and tv ads all agree that spring is about blooming flowers, bright sunshine, singing birds, and lovely pedicures in shades of pink. Here in Bellingham there’s no chance our toes will see the light of day for at least another three months, sigh, and we won’t be out rolling around in fresh meadows unless we wear a rain coat and want to get very muddy. Everyone tells you when you move here that you can get used to the rain, and it’s true. But I still find that after seven years here I just can’t quite shake the memory of what spring is supposed to be like and have to drag myself through April, May, and yes even June.

Facing cold spring rain lashing our window panes, I decided to manufacture a little spring of my own. One of my go-to cookbooks written by the owners of my favorite bakery in Portland Baker and Spice is Rustic Fruit Desserts. It’s organized by season so you can cook delicious baked goods that reflect what’s fresh at the market. I’ve gone to this book time and time again. I’m never able to get through all the recipes for a season so my copy is stuffed with post-it-notes marking recipes to try out next year, and I love flipping through it anticipating the fresh fruit of another season.

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M&M Cookies

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I have another better recipe to write up, a lengthy to-do list, ideas to jot down and research, and yet it was just one of those kinds of days. It was right about when my son threw his second attempt at lunch everywhere and then smushed his third attempt at lunch through his chubby fingers while climbing up a set of stairs he knows he’s not supposed to go near that I decided to put everything on hold and make these cookies.

We all have our guilty pleasures in the kitchen – those things you secretly crave but won’t admit to anyone, not even your partner. It’s the first thing we want to get our hands on when we’re feeling out of sorts and the thing that gives us more pleasure than most anything else, no matter how healthy, fresh, or gourmet. You know what I’m talking about. Don’t pretend.
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Apple Cake

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Forget all those other apple recipes you’ve been thinking about trying. I’m sharing with you the best apple recipe that ever was. It’s the perfect amount of caramel-y, brown sugar-y, fall sweetness, cushioning bite-sized pieces of apple in a light spice cake. I make it every year to put a small dent in my apple hoard. And even though it seems like this cake will be too much to eat, we consume every bite, lick our plates, and run our fingers around the edges of the cake pan to capture every last crumb.

I think the best chefs create recipes that showcase the essence of a flavor. Maria Hines at Tilth in Seattle comes to mind with a carrot soup that tastes more carrot than any carrot you’ve chomped. Likewise Scott Peacock, formerly of Watershed, in Atlanta develops recipes that capture the flavor pure and simple of the south. I worked under Scott for one formative summer at Watershed. He is a larger than life personality, spending every day doing 3 hours of meticulous prep listening to Ricky Martin’s La Vida Loca on repeat at full volume while downing pitchers of iced tea. His recipes pack all the flavor of the South into simple recipes that turn out well every time you make them. And I value every lesson I’ve learned from him.

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Peach Caramel Hand Pies

I’m a secret southern. Outside of my inability to pronounce r’s (think tire, wire, perspire) and my refusal to drink tea that’s not sweetened, you would never know that I grew up in the thick of it – hot muggy nights teaming with the sound of crickets and other bugs too big to think about and steamy, humid days with my shorts sticking to the back of my knees and the back of my knees sticking to my chair. And for the most part I don’t miss it one bit. But I do miss the food and I miss the fresh peaches.

There are many wonderful things about the west coast, and while I know I’ll never leave my newfound home, I long for the peaches of my old home. I’m talking enormous peaches with soft downy skin that gets stuck between your teeth and juice that spurts out from your first bite and trickles down your elbows. You can’t eat these peaches without getting your clothes messy and feeling thoroughly satiated. And each bite brings memories of days spent by the pool, meat and three on Styrofoam plates, and running between huge drops of rain as a summer deluge pours down.

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