Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone!
Okay, I’m going to admit this. It’s a little sad. When I was a kid — and sort of well into my adulthood — I only had three associations with St. Patrick’s Day. Leprechauns with leering grins. Green shirts for fear of being pinched. And the Shamrock Shake.
Remember that? The McDonald’s shake, a lurid green?
It’s gross. I would never, ever eat one now. But when I was a kid? Oh my goodness, my little heart went flitter-flutter the first day they were on the menu.
(We ate at McDonald’s a fair amount when I was a kid. My favorite field trip of all time meant walking three blocks from my elementary school to our McDonald’s and being shown how they made the fries and burgers. The fact that I had to wear a hair net didn’t dampen my enthusiasm. I still remember the warmth of the red cardboard sleeve in my hands when they gave us free fries. Now, I think, “Wait, this was a school field trip?”)
My mom made a great corned beef and cabbage. I loved the softened carrots that slipped on the plate as I tried to cut them, the almost-limp cabbage, the briny-salty beef, and the clean simple taste of boiled potatoes. (Danny’s mom made a great corned beef and cabbage too, apparently.) If St. Patrick’s Day meant corned beef and cabbage, I was happy.
Over a decade ago, I spent St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland with my dear friend Sharon. We were lucky enough to be on the west coast, rugged country right by the sea. We drove on one-lane dirt roads, passing white horses in green fields, looking out at the ocean far down the cliffs. She and I could not have been happier. We ended up in a tiny town in time for the St. Patrick’s Day parade. Everyone in the town either stood on the streets watching or walked in the parade. There was rag-tag marching, blaring horns, and a lot of flatbed trucks. Women in rocking chairs, knitting, on a flatbed truck. Sharon and I couldn’t believe our luck. Our favorite moment? We heard the annoying song “Barbie Girl,” which had been ubiquitous in New York about 8 months before, floating from around the corner. We looked at each other, surprised. What followed? A flatbed truck filled with senior citizens, all dressed as various Barbie dolls. The man in long underwear, rouged cheeks, and a tutu (Ballerina Barbie) was my favorite.
That was my favorite St. Patrick’s Day ever, in Ireland.
And to my surprise, I found that no one was eating corned beef and cabbage.
Turns out that’s a tourist thing. It was invented by Irish-Americans, the “corning” part influenced by Jewish immigrants, and brought back to Ireland for the tourists.
Next you’ll tell me that Shamrock shakes didn’t really have shamrocks in them.
We didn’t make this corned beef for St. Patrick’s Day, therefore. There’s another gathering of good folks, celebrating food, that intrigues us even more. Charcutepalooza.
Our friends Mrs. Wheelbarrow and The Yummy Mummy started a revolution. They’re encouraging folks to make their own charcuterie all year long. It is — as I have found to be true for everything I have learned to make from scratch — much easier than you imagine. If you want to join, all you need to do is follow this link to find out the rules (or Ruhls, as they are calling them, in honor of Michael Ruhlman).
There’s a new challenge every month. Play along!
(Those of you who are interested in making more foods from scratch, we highly recommend this brilliant collection from The New York Times: DIY Cooking Handbook. You don’t need a big kitchen or fancy equipment to make great food. Fresh cheese! Maple vinegar! Tomato-chili jam!)
The fact that our corned beef was ready to eat on St. Patrick’s Day was pretty great, even if it’s not authentically Irish. Neither are we.
This, however? This soda bread is Irish.
(Okay, apparently the currants are an American thing.)
We adapted a soda bread recipe from Colman Andrews’ The Country Cooking of Ireland. This is an absolutely gorgeous book. We adore it.
And this soda bread. Soda breads appeal to me right now. Take a few flours, a little buttermilk, some salt and soda, and you have bread. It’s slightly dense bread without being leaden. It’s light with a heft. It’s definitely not a baguette. It makes no attempt to be so. It’s humble and plainspoken and the kind of bread you want as a friend.
We couldn’t stop eating this one.
The recipe is on the Healthy Eats section of the Food Network website. They’ve asked us to develop some gluten-free recipes for them. We’re thrilled.
(Since there were some questions on the recipe, I answered a few questions about the recipe. I’ll put that answer here too:
“For those of you who may not have all the flours on hand, you can substitute your favorite gluten-free flour mix as long as you substitute by weight. This mix of flours was our favorite for flavor and texture, but you can find your own.
We post the ingredients in weight for the benefit of you who have different food allergies. If you can’t have the almond or potato flour, for example, you can sub in a flour you CAN eat, as long as you replace it by weight.
There are certified gluten-free oats, such as those produced by Bob’s Red Mill. Most of us with celiac seem to be able to tolerate them. Those of you who cannot might try rice bran or quinoa flakes here. Or, simply add additional flour.
The 2 to 4 cups of buttermilk is actually from Colman Andrews’ recipe, which is adapted from Myrtle Allen of Ballymaloe House in Cork. It’s not imprecise. It’s asking you to trust your instincts instead. As he wrote: ‘She allows considerable variation in the amount of milk used, which I find to be liberating; I just keep adding it until the dough reaches the perfect consistency.’ Flours can vary in humidity based on the season or where you live. And once you substitute different gluten-free flours, all of which are different weight and protein levels from each other, you will have a big difference in the need for liquid. Like Colman Andrews, I’m trying to give everyone the best chance of making a great soda bread!”
Now, go make some soda bread!
Good stories and celebration — that’s my kind of St. Patrick’s Day.