Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Did I ever tell you about the trip I took to Ireland? Probably not. It was before this blog. My junior year of college the Women's Chorale I was singing in took a week long tour of Ireland. It was at about this time of the year. In fact, we arrived back in the States just before St. Patrick's Day, and at this time of year I find myself yearning for Ireland in a way that has nothing to do with green beer.

The Cliffs of Moher were literally one of the first things I saw in Ireland. We had an awesome bus driver by the name of Tom O'Toole who took us to see the ocean, the Cliffs, and through Ennis before we were allowed to check in to our hotel in Limerick. Tom drove us all over Ireland, talking the whole way about Irish history and telling us stories.

In many ways, being in Ireland opened a door for me. I really enjoyed singing, even though it was not my first musical love, but the reaction of the Irish audiences was absolutely incredible. Never have I performed for a more engaged and openly appreciative audience. As we sang, I watched them, and I knew that what I was doing was having a profound and immediate impact on their lives. We never had many people, but those who were there more than made up in sheer joy for their lack in numbers.

One of my favorite places to visit was the Rock of Cashel, a crumbling church where St. Patrick baptised the first high king of Ireland, Angus. It was not crowded (unlike, say, Blarney Castle) and free of most touristy trappings. We wandered for hours in the castle, small museum, and graveyard. It really is that green, even in March.

21-year-old me

Of course, I sampled the local brews - here shown with a pint of Guiness though I think I like Murphy's better. Murphy's is another Irish stout, mostly based out of Cork (where the accents are truly unique!) So every year, I remember the trip, the people, and the incredible green on grey of the Emerald Isle. I remember the way we as a chorale burst into Mouth Music during an evening of authentic medieval food at a posh castle in Limerick out of sheer excitement and gratitude, prompting comments of "who are you people?" from the other diners. And I remember the food.

Food in Ireland is really quite expensive. On every menu is soup and bread which at the time cost about 7 euros, or about $10. I ate a lot of soup and bread. The soup, none of which I ever caught the exact name of, was always delicious and hearty and accompanied by brown bread and butter. Brown bread is a kind of soda bread which is made in a loaf. With all of my interest in cooking, I have never attempted brown bread, even though I can still taste it. In my family we made a version of Irish Soda Bread which I think is more authentic that what you usually get in the States, which for our purposes we'll call Irish-American Soda Bread. You know, the kind with caraway and raisins that's more like dessert or a special breakfast than peasant food. This bread couldn't be easier.

Irish Soda Bread
1c flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 c buttermilk
1. Mix together the dry ingredients and add the buttermilk. Stir until a soft dough forms.
2. Turn the dough out onto a floured board and pat into a circle 1/2" thick. Cut the circle into quarters so that each piece is a rough triangle.
3. In a dry pan (preferably cast iron, but in my case a non-stick skillet) cook the bread over medium heat until the first side is browned and set. Flip to brown and set the other side. Carefully arrange the pieces of bread on each end in turn to brown all sides.
4. Serve warm, the day it's made, with butter and honey.
I had mine with Scotch Broth from The Vegan Table, which, I understand, is not specifically Irish, but bears a strong resemblance to the stews and soups I remember from Ireland. The bread will be floury on the outside, which is what you want to prevent it from sticking to the dry pan.


Kara said...

What a fun way to celebrate St. Patty's Day. I also went to Ireland while I was in college. One of the most beautiful places.

shandy said...

Your post brought back memories of the taste of Irish soda bread when we were there on a cycling trip. We loved the countryside and the people. We didn't love the wind and rain - but it was a cycling trip.