That’s what the old man, who did not look a day over 130, said to me as I reached for my drink.
It was raw and rainy that first night in Ireland. We were in a hiccup of a town, situated on the Southern coast. Mostly residential but, of course, with a pub that was as active as a bee hive on that dark evening. Nothing but black outside (nary a streetlamp to be found), and nothing but an amber glow, belting live music and wall-to-wall townspeople inside. We were, seemingly, entering the heart of that little seaside village. As we made our way through the crowd, we signaled to the bartender for two irish coffees. The hope was that those would keep us up a little longer and help with the jet lag. Somehow, word got around quickly that we were newlyweds just arrived from NYC for our honeymoon. That was it….those Irish folks embraced us that night, wished us well and sang to us. A night never to forget, that’s for sure. And that old man? He sat at that bar all night…tweed cap sitting on his grayed hair, coat pulled up around his ears, slugging down his beloved pints of Guinness, extolling it’s nutritional values. He must have been doing something right, though, because he certainly had a twinkle in those Irish eyes. And he was smiling.
Now I’d like to offer you one mainstay of that enchanting land of 1,000 greens (they aren’t kidding either. You’ve never seen so much gorgeous color in one place) and one new twist on an ol’ favorite.
Irish Soda Bread-The Fanny Farmer Cookbook
A classic. I’ve tried a bunch of recipes, but this one is one of the easiest and most authentic. Some folks like raisins or currants thrown in. Not my thing-I’m a purist when it comes to soda bread.
4 cups flour
1.5 tsp. baking salt
1 tsp. baking soda
2 cups buttermilk (did you know that in a pinch you can make your own buttermilk? In a one cup measuring cup, put in 1 Tb. white vinegar. Then fill to the top with milk. Let sit for a few minutes and wah-lah! Works just as well.)
Preheat oven to 375. Grease a baking sheet or an 8-inch round cake pan. In a large mixing bowl, stir and toss together the flour, salt and soda. Add the buttermilk and stir briskly with a fork until the dough holds together in a rough mass. Knead on a lightly floured surface for about 30 seconds (not too long, we want bread. Not a brick), then pat into an 8-inch round about 1.5 inches thick. With a sharp knife, slash a large “x” across the top. This step is imperative. We DO NOT want the faeries taking off with our bread. This “x” protects it. I’m serious. Place the formed dough on the prepared sheet or in pan and bake for about 45-50 minutes, until it is nicely browned and the “x” has spread open. Transfer to a rack to cool, then wrap in a slightly damp towel and let rest, on the rack, for at least 8 hours. Really, Fanny? I don’t think so. I let it just cool down and then serve it up! They say that soda bread should be totally cooled before serving, but that really depends on your willpower.
Every parade needs a float and here’s one for you. Is it a drink or a dessert? You can decide.
1 bottle Guinness Stout
Vanilla ice cream
Put one or two scoops ice cream in a glass. Top with Guinness. Kind of crazy, kind of good. Before long, you’ll proclaim yourself Irish and start speaking with a brogue.