Great-great Aunt Bridget’s Irish Soda Bread

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I wanted to post this recipe. The recipe comes from my Great-great Aunt Bridget. She brought my Great-grandfather over to the States from Ireland when he was orphaned in the early 1900’s. Without her, I wouldn’t be here, so she definitely deserves a mention. I mean, right?

If you ever decide to make it yourself, give me a shout, and let me know how you liked it.

3 C flour
5 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 T sugar

MIX dry ingredients together, then add:

2 eggs, beaten
3/4 C milk
1 C raisins
1 T caraway seeds

BAKE at 375 degrees for 45 minutes.

Pie Shops and Pins

Happy Pi(e) Day!

I have a confession: I once planned to open up a pie business. I mean, who wouldn’t want a pie shop? Pie may just be the perfect food. You can go sweet or you can go savory. You can eat most pies either warm or cold. Or warm with something cold on top – a la mode! You can make it the traditional way – to be eaten with a fork – or fold it in half, crimp the edges, and make it portable. Amish hand pie? Don’t mind if I do. 

There are fruit pies, cream pies, pudding pies, steak and mushroom pies, leek pies, shepherd’s pie, chicken pot pies, quiche anything… You can switch up the crusts, too. Use a pecan crust with your bourbon pumpkin pie or a gruyere infused crust for your tomato pie. Or vice versa. There are just so many options!

Pies are so good there are children’s rhymes about them: Sing a Song of Six Pence, anyone? Little Jack Horner ate what in the corner? Georgie Porgie Pudding and ___? Come to think of it, that would have been an excellent name for a pie shop.

I’m actually quite fascinated with the idea of uncommon and heirloom pie recipes right now, and for some reason I’m especially drawn to custard pies, like Cinnamon Pie and Sugar Pie. I just came across a recipe for a Salted Lavender Honey Pie. Super excited to give that one a whirl.

I recently signed up for a Toastmasters meeting because I do a lot of public speaking in my job, and I think there’s always room for improvement. Don’t you?

I arrive at the meeting site, which turns out to be a Village Inn restaurant up the road from me. I walk past the claw machine and front counter displaying their specialty. Hmm… Pie.

The room is surprisingly full, and I’m immediately accosted by a slim Indian man asking me to sign the guestbook. As I begin to sign, I’m told to bow my head. We pray for various causes. Amen.

I start to sign again but have to stop again to pledge allegiance.

I’m finally able to complete my signature and contact information. It’s official. When I hear the man at the front of the room say that, as the one and only guest, I’ll be asked to give my remarks at the end of the evening. Well, crap.

I find a seat at the front of the room across from a nice looking man with an equally nice looking Rolex.

Maybe this won’t be so bad.

And it’s not. These people are having a blast. They laugh together and cheer each other on. There’s even a game where everyone speaking is supposed to incorporate the Toastmasters word of the night into his or her speech.

I make the mistake of winking at one of the men during a particularly un-amusing speech about seat belts, believing him to be in on the joke. He’s not. And when he raises an eyebrow, seeming to want to take it further, I blink both eyes furiously, pretending there’s something in my eye. A relatively graceful save for both of us, I think.

We come to the constructive criticism part of the night, where we cast votes for the speakers we think did the best job. I say to Mr. Rolex who’s sitting across from me, “Write big, because I’m going to cheat off you.”

He laughs and tells me, “I was going to cheat off you.”

At the end of the night, I stand up to address the room; thanking them for opening up their meeting to me and for making me feel so welcome. I even get a laugh when I tell one of the evening’s judges they call “The Hammer” that he scares the crap out of me.

After I sit back down, a woman at the next table leans back in her chair and whispers to me conspiratorially, “He scares the crap out of the rest of us, too.”

When I get home, I run into my neighbor, Lily, home from her trip to Kansas of all places. We take the dog for a walk, and when she points out an owl perched on a tree branch, I notice the stars are out, suspended and unfaltering against the sky. We walk a little while longer while Lily tells me about her trip. Lily would have fun in a paper bag. She’s that cool.

We get back to my place and end up talking for hours. I tell her about my outing with Toastmasters and my once upon a dream to open a pie shop and hopes for the future. Then I pull myself back in, and remind myself that living in the future or in the past wastes today. Right now, if I’m completely honest, I want to leave the past in the past and just stick a pin in the future, suspend it in the sky, and come back to it when it’s here. It’s not going anywhere. I want to live without lists, resolutions or goals, plans a, b, or c. Whatever will be, will be. It’s so appealing to me, the idea of living in contentment, without expectations, and to even, just for a bit, leave the past unexamined and the future unimagined – an enigma.

Incidentally, that was the Toastmasters word of the night.

You’re a Very Bad Dog Carrot Cake

I grated six cups of carrots yesterday. (I did this by hand because the truth is, there are times I’m too lazy to pull out the food processor yet not too lazy to grate a bunch of carrots by hand. It makes not a bit a sense to me either.) The grated carrots soaked in one cup of brown sugar overnight. I hydrated jumbo raisins in pineapple juice. I used four eggs, three cups of flour and one-and-a-half cups of sugar – all organic. I beat together, by hand so that the frosting wouldn’t get too soft, eight ounces of cream cheese, a stick of butter, two teaspoons of vanilla, and two-and-a-half cups of powdered sugar – sifted. I even pulled out the cute little designer paper liners to distinguish from nuts and no nuts. I made a complete mess of my teeny, tiny kitchen that I suspect was actually built for pixies and in which I have a total of twenty-four inches of counter space.

Result: eighteen perfect standard-sized carrot cake cupcakes with walnuts and twenty-four mini carrot cake cupcakes without. I packed up six of the larger cupcakes crowned with mounds of cream cheese frosting and walked them down the street to Dog’s Girlfriend’s house to give to her family. I didn’t take Dog with me because I couldn’t see me making it down my driveway with a tray of cupcakes in one hand and a hundred-pound Lab at the end of a leash in the other.

After I dropped off the cupcakes without incident and walked home, I went into the kitchen to find ten mini-cupcakes on the cooling rack instead of the twenty-three that were there when I left.

The cupcake thief left no crumbs or any of those cute little paper liners anywhere. I’m telling you, CSI wouldn’t be able to find a thing.

Dog is in his room.

Carrot Cake
6 C grated carrots
1 C brown sugar
1 C raisins
1 C crushed pineapple, well drained (reserve juice)
4 eggs
1 C vegetable oil
1 ½ C sugar
2 t vanilla extract
3 C flour
2 t baking soda
½ t salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 C chopped walnuts

GREASE and flour two 10- or three 8-inch cake pans.

COMBINE carrots and brown sugar in a medium bowl or large Ziploc bag. Let sit for at least an hour. Add raisins. You can plump up the raisins in warm water, rum, some of the juice from the crushed pineapple or all three. I threw it all in a Pyrex cup and heated it in the microwave for a minute on high and let it sit for a bit before draining the raisins and adding them to the carrots and brown sugar.

DRAIN the carrots, too, after you add the raisins to the carrots, or your cake will end up a big squishy mess. Press out as much of the extra juice as you can with a wooden spoon or whatever you have on hand.

BEAT the eggs and then add oil, sugar and 2 teaspoons vanilla in a REALLY big bowl. Mix in pineapple. In a medium bowl combine flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Gradually add to egg mixture. Stir in carrots and raisins. Fold in walnuts. Pour into prepared pans.

BAKE at 350 degrees for about 30 to 40 minutes or until the cake springs back to the touch or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Let cool completely before frosting.

As for the frosting…

Cream Cheese Frosting
½ C butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 ½ C powdered sugar
2 t vanilla extract

COMBINE butter, cream cheese, powdered sugar and vanilla in a medium-sized bowl.

BEAT until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Don’t overdo it!

This frosting is so awesome that you’ll want to lick the beaters. Just be sure to turn off the mixer first… Alternately, you can do as I do: mix it by hand and just lick the spoon. Less call for stitches that way.