The fare is classic, the heavy late-winter/early-spring peasant food you don't find, let alone want, any other time of year. Corned beef, boiled potatoes, carrots and cabbage, soda bread. And, of course, the American addition: beer, and lots of it. Since we were celebrating early this year, we got our pick of the corned beef cuts. The slab we took home was thick and well-marbled, a cut that resembled a steak more than the castoff 35% solution meats we usually end up with and, as we all noted while eating, this cut actually had some texture to it. If you too procrastinate buying corned beef until you can only find one in the store, you know this is unfortunately atypical.
To this stellar slab of meat and its heavy spices in the pot of water on our stove, we added half a dozen potatoes, a head of cabbage, and a few carrots. Then, in an act central to our holiday tradition, we stood around drinking beer and roleplaying barbarians and sorceresses while Nicole mixed together and shaped a loaf of Irish Soda Bread. The recipe for this bread originally came from her years ago. The loaf it turns out is dense and satisfyingly chewy, its crust dusted with cinnamon sugar and dotted here and there with plump raisins and little stirrups of crunchy crust-bits. It's an excellent counterpoint to the salty meat and vegetables, one we're always coming back to the kitchen for extra slices of throughout the night.
Irish Soda Bread
makes one large loaf
- 3-1/2 cups AP flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 1-1/2 cups buttermilk
- 1/2 cup raisins (for a bit of a kick, you might soak these in a splash of boiling water and a couple Tbsps of Irish whiskey)
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp sugar
Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in a large bowl. In a separate bowl or measuring cup, beat together eggs and buttermilk. Add wet ingredients and raisins to dry mixture and mix until combined. Pour onto floured board and shape into a round loaf, mixing in more flour if it's too wet to shape.
Place in a lightly greased springform pan or baking sheet (depending on your shape preferences), sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, then slice an X into the top of the loaf with a sharp knife and bake for 1 hour until the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when tapped.
Let cool for 10 or 15 minutes before slicing
The next day, we took advantage of the newly extended day by planting pots of herbs, a long line of tomato seedlings, and a single, lonely jalapeno plant. We're expecting pounds and pounds of salsa by the end of May, and craving sun-drenched produce already. Already the hot summer is threatening. All weekend, the sun was out and the thermometers hovered around the mid-70s. We could hardly stand to go inside for two days. Owing to this, of course, Dana took home her first slight sunburn of the year and I'm already starting to pick up a tan. Yeah, Ireland this is not, but the Irish food (and a good day's worth of leftovers) still fit very beautifully into the places in our bodies that still crave the warm gooey root vegetables of winter, even as the seasons are changing.