In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, quickly coming up, I’m reposting an Irish soda bread blog post, and recipe, from Sept. 1, 2009 when I was living in Germany as an au pair. Here’s the original.

I realize that it’s a little bit disjointed at the end. So it goes.

You should be pairing that soda bread with some slow cooker corned beef, potatoes and cabbage made with beer, cider and mustard. Trust me. It’s really good.

Recipe: Irish Soda Bread

I could make excuses or give reasons for not having written about vacation yet, but I won’t. Instead, I’m going to share a recipe for Irish Soda Bread that I made last week. Before I give the recipe or subsequent notes on it, I’ll rap about it because I personally love recipes with a story behind them — a recipe with no notes, no story, no nothin’ is not only less appealing to me but also dry. I should say, the whole reason I made the soda bread was a beef stew which I’ll hopefully make soon again, takes pictures of and write up. A glut from two grills the last two nights engendered the beef stew, which spawned the soda bread.

Out of the oven, on a baking sheet.

I think sourdough bread goes better with beef stew, or lamb stew, or pork stew rather than soda bread, but this may just be nostalgia speaking. The soda bread goes well with the beef stew, is semi-authentic and as a plus the bread is great – it merits repeating – with a little butter and good honey.

I picked up the recipe from allrecipes.com (credit to “MP Welty”) and changed it for my tastes. My tastes at the moment are for whole wheat goodness wherever and whenever possible. So far this has been an apple crisp, the soda bread and pancakes.

Below the recipe will be given in both metric and imperial, but small measurements will be given exclusively in imperial. I personally use metric because I’m in Germany and actually I found measuring by grams to be a bit easier than the normal packing and sifting ways. However, I’ve found with American recipes, this difference can be a bit of a problem.

I made the soda bread with 50 percent normal flour and 50 percent whole wheat. Next time I’ll try all whole wheat. The original recipe calls for only normal flour.

The Irish Soda Bread on a round cutting board.

I added a little bit of extra sugar to my batch – gave the bread a slightly sweeter taste (Ferdinand [my au pair child] told me it tasted like cake, which I don’t agree with at all) that made it incredible with a spread of butter and honey.

Irish Soda Bread belongs to the chemically-leavened bread group. Instead of yeast, soda bread uses baking powder and baking soda.
The dough has a liquid baste that should be applied to the top of the bread as the baker sees fit. I found it problematic to add the baste more than once or twice because of the lost heat of the oven. However, I think the basting helped develop the crust of the bread.

The original recipe calls for a cook time of 45-50 minutes at 375° F/190° C. When the bread is formed into a big ball, the middle stays a little doughy while the crust begins to get a bit too cooked. I suggest decreasing the temperature and cooking the bread for longer. It’s done when a toothpick stuck into the middle comes out clean.

Annotated ingredients (metric):

Dough

250 grams all purpose flour (<– I used a 50/50 mix. Haven’t tried all whole wheat or all all-purpose) and 250 grams whole wheat flour OR 500 grams whole wheat flour OR 500 grams all purpose flour 50 g white sugar (I used a little more than 50 grams [probably 60-65] — gave it a sweeter flavor that went incredible with a little butter and honey as spreads)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
115 g softened butter or margarine
235 ml buttermilk
1 egg

Dough-baste

55 g butter, melted
60 ml buttermilk

Ingredients imperial:

Dough

4 cups flour
4 tablespoons white sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup margarine/butter, softened
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg

Dough-baste
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup buttermilk

Ingredients metric:

Dough

500 g flour
50 g white sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
115 g margarine/butter, softened
235 ml buttermilk
1 egg

Dough-baste

55 g butter, melted
60 ml buttermilk

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to a few degrees below 375° F/190° C

2. Mix together all the dry ingredients. Mix in the butter/margarine. Once the butter is mixed in, add the egg and buttermilk and mix well until a dough forms. Lightly flour a work surface and knead dough briefly.

 

3. Form kneaded dough into a ball and put on a baking sheet prepared with baking paper. Mark an X on the top of the bread ball lightly with a knife or other sharp instrument.

 

4. Put part of the dough-baste on the dough ball and put in the oven.

 

5. Baste the dough 2-3 times over the course of the 50-60 minute cooking period. 50-60 minutes at a lower temperature, 45-50 minutes at a higher (375° F/190° C.)

It’s already 2017 and I’m not much closer to finishing Jake Highton’s five-year reading plan than I was when I started back in the summer of 2013.

(Read the original post here and read the revised, shortened post here.)

I’d just been laid off from the Nevada Appeal, along with a part time person. I had the least seniority in the newsroom, so I was the one to get the ax and go on unemployment.

It was summer, I had a kegerator in the house and I lived next to the river in Reno.  I rode my bicycle up to the university to visit with my former journalism professor, Jake Highton.

Highton gave me two columns he wrote for the Sparks Tribune outlining the list of books, movies, music and plays he thought young journalists should consume, set to a plan of five years.

While I haven’t been doing much to finish off the list, I have made some progress.

At least two years ago now, I read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Considered a masterwork in its time, I found a more critical reading of it took away some from the bluster it is normally buoyed with.

Although it is about environmentalism, chemicals, and the havoc we’ve been wreaking on the planet, I was really worried about some of Carson’s claims because they did not represent the whole truth.

I think the best example is her bemoaning of the havoc certain chemicals had on the lowly earthworm.

We all love earthworms, right? They’re fantastic. They do all sorts of things for the environment.

Except. Well, most of them are not native to North America, the place Carson was writing about. They vastly change the ecology, and according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, they’re really bad, especially in forested areas.

Farad Power Plant in California on the Truckee River

But Carson never acknowledges the lowly earthworm as an invasive species, or that it changes the ecologies of the places it is introduced to, or anything else. She only talks about how bad it is that chemicals are killing them.

While I certainly agree that the widespread use of chemicals is a bad thing, her complete and total lack of either understanding or acknowledgement of their invasive nature casts her entire book into doubt, at least for me.

As a critical reader, I now question every single premise she puts forth. I think to myself, what else is she holding back? What else is she ignorant about?

In short, her credibility is severely damaged for me, and as a result, so too is her book.

There are more examples, but, alas, I have lost or given away the copy I annotated.

Nonetheless, the only answer is to keep on, keepin’ on through Highton’s five-year list.

Since moving to New Mexico, homebrewing has taken a back seat to everything else.

12 packs and 24 packs, recycled, were the best way to store the brew.

I have 15 gallons of cider (in three separate batches) hanging out against one wall in my kitchen, a big bottle of iodopher sitting in my cabinet and a bunch of bottles sitting outside, behind a shed. I even have lactose and corn sugar to get those batches bottled. (I haven’t reinvested in a capper yet).

Unfortunately, with no dish washer to easily sanitize my bottles, I end up putting bottling off time after time after time.

However, when I did have access to a dishwasher, before I moved to kegging (which I cannot recommend enough) and I had friends to consistently drink and brew with, having enough brew on hand was a big issue.

Once we three started brewing, we quickly realized that we liked what we were making, that what we were making took a long time (relatively) and that we needed to be making loads right now for our future selves to have enough to imbibe.

(On another point, if you’re not kegging, getting enough bottles is definitely an issue. Fortunately, when I was living in Reno, there was separated curb side recycling.)

Another of our concerns, as broke young people, was how to maximize our dollars in comparison to our brews. That is, beer is great, but beer can be relatively more expensive to brew, so what about cider?

Cider was easy. Cider was super easy. Cider required less effort and took much easier to get 5-gallon buckets (rather than 6-gallon buckets).

20 gallons of cider in four 4-gallon buckets and one 5-gallon bucket.

So we started making cider, realized we loved it, then had a problem. There was no more cider left. Between ourselves, our friends, the people who lived in the house, the first five gallons of cider were gone in a heartbeat.

The problem was, the cider took a bit of time to age. Unlike beer, that had a pretty quick turnaround time between brewing, bottling and bottle conditioning, cider took a lot longer to really get to that tasty point.

It needed longer to ferment, longer to sit in secondary and longer to mellow out in the bottle.

We then realized we needed a pipeline of cider. We needed to have upwards of 30 gallons (six 5-gallon batches) fermenting at a time, at various stages of completion. When one would be bottled, that meant it was time to start the next batch in the newly opened fermenting bucket.

All of the juice needed for five 4-gallon batches.

Since this was long before we started to keg, that meant we created a literal wall of cider and beer in the basement of the house I was living in, a wall (against the wall) made out of 12-packs and 24 packs of cider and beer. Everything was labeled with batch dates.

It was this pipelining of our homebrew that allowed us, and others, to fully enjoy the fruits of our work. We had enough brew. They had enough brew. We had enough brew for parties.

Everybody won. It was super cheap, we learned how to brew better and we always had something home made to drink on hand.

What’s the lesson?

Pipeline your homebrew if your circumstances are similar. Now, with few people to drink with, and no parties to host, I have no need to make a brewing pipeline. But I know, when circumstances change, I’ll be ready to have more than enough brew on hand.

All of the empty juice bottles.

In New Mexico, Chile is king. No questions. No debate. Red, or green? Christmas? (Christmas is both red and green.)

(If you want just the recipe, see it here.)

Zhug, after the cilantro and jalapenos and citrus and salt have been blended together. Ready for some fiery consumption.

Cilantro certainly plays a second fiddle, in salsa, as do tomatoes, but still: chile, cilantro, these are the building blocks of many New Mexican meals. So, what does that have to do with zhug? Well, combine those two things into one dish. Blew your mind, didn’t it?

Chile and cilantro are not the sole property of New Mexican cuisine and lots of other cultures do complimentary things with them that I think we should all copy, or at least, pay attention to.

That New Mexico can learn a lot from other parts of the world, including from the middle-east, where zhug originated.

What is zhug, anyway?

It can either be described as a cilantro-based hot sauce (and, depending on how you make it, I mean Hot) or as chile and cilantro pesto. Take your pick. I prefer the former, partially because I make mine scalding.

It’s a very simple sauce. Put cilantro, lemon juice, lime juice and, important here, peppers, into a blender. Blend. Blend, blend, blend.

That’s it. Maybe add some salt, to taste. And you’re done. It’s a pesto-like hot sauce or a hot pesto. Either way, zhug goes well with pita bread and tabbouleh, with some hummus. Maybe you’re going to make zucchini fritters. Add some on the side, along with tzatziki.

I should add, this sauce is very dear to my heart. Being such a fan of cilantro, even naming my blog after a proclivity for it, I gotta say. We all should love zhug.

 

Zhug

Ingredients
• Between 10-20 hot peppers, rinsed and chopped (de-seed if heat is an issue)
• 1-3 bunches of cilantro, washed and chopped
• 3-6 garlic cloves, chopped
• ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom or seeds from 6 cardamom pods, crushed
• ¼ teaspoon ground coriander (cilantro seeds)
• ½ teaspoon ground cumin
• 1 lime juice, more to taste
• ¼ to ½ cup lemon juice, more or less to taste
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• Salt to taste
• Optional: 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint

Directions

1. Chop the cilantro, peppers and garlic.
2. Put all the ingredients, sans salt, in a food processor or blender.
3. Blend until it reaches desired consistency.
4. Add a small amount of salt, to taste.

 

If you want the full gallery of full-quality photos, they are licensed under a Creative Commons 2.0 Attribution-only license. See them here.

Jalapenos in a blender, before being blended, to make Zhug. Add liquid (lemon/lime juice) to aid in the blending process.

Cilantro, being being chopped up and put in a blender to make Zhug.

I’ve been a fan of curry pastes for a long time, as well as a fan of buying ingredients in bulk for cost savings.

I don’t just buy curry pastes in bulk. Potatoes, too, as well as chicken thighs when there’s a big sale.

Somehow, and I don’t know how, I alighted on the idea to combine all three of these things. It may have started with pan-fried potatoes, or maybe with oven baked chicken thighs (skin on, bone in). It may have its genesis in yellow curry fried rice, where I first learned that the (Thai) curry paste works incredibly well as a seasoning.

Before I go any further, I need to mention that this dish goes really well with at least tzatziki, and probably zhug as well.

Yellow curry paste!

Irregardless of how it happened, I then used yellow curry paste (the mildest of the pastes) as a seasoning for pan fried potatoes. All of this is being done in a cast-iron skillet, of course.

Finally, I decided that the best of all worlds is to put the chicken thighs on top of the potatoes, and maybe a few other vegetables and then bake to allow the juices and fat to seep into the potatoes, mingling the flavors.

The problem with chicken thighs is they take a long time to cook at a high temperature. It’s not so much a problem as something you need to be aware of going into the cooking process.

(Continued after the jump)

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Having made rice bowls the night before, I had lots of leftover rice. (Part and parcel of making rice bowls is leftover rice, to either be used in future bowls or in other dishes).

Finished spam, rice and (scrambled) eggs. Furikake is on the top of the sushi, or vinegared, rice.

That meant, this morning, it was time to fry up some spam, cook some eggs in the spam fat and heat up that leftover rice to make a (modern) Hawaiian classic, spam, eggs and rice.

Now, a close relative of this is the spam musubi. I wrote about it for the Rio Grande SUN (no link since the columns don’t make it to the website) but I did post the recipe here.

Many people, including the people I work with, cast aspersions on the very idea of spam, or scoff, or express their pure disgust at the idea. Then again, lots of people are scared of lots of things, and if you weren’t put off by the article title, I hope you will keep reading.

Spam, rice and eggs is so ubiquitous in Hawaii that it’s even sold at McDonald’s, part of their breakfast menu. That also indicates what kind of a breakfast it’s going to be. But, never fear. Much like the rice bowl, you can easily add veggies to the top of your rice to make it a more balanced meal.

Spam, rice and eggs is so simple, almost dead simple. Simply cut a couple of pieces off of the spam log, fry them up in a pan, heat up some leftover sushi or vinegared rice (you can also use normal steamed rice, fresh or leftover) and cook a couple of eggs in that same pan, either fried or scrambled. Put some furikake (Japanese seasoning made with seaweed, among other things) on the rice, maybe cut up a few veggies to put over the rice and there, you have it.

Spam, rice and eggs. Simple, wasn’t it?

Next up, according to my thinking? Spam, (sushi) rice and eggs in a burrito. New Mexican and Hawaiian fusion, all the way.

See the full set of photos (see below) on Flickr.

All the photos are released under a Creative Commons Attribution Only (2.0) license.

Spam, Rice and Eggs

Ingredients

1 can of spam

2-5 eggs

Vegetables as desired

Rice, either leftover or fresh

Milk, if making scrambled eggs

1 tablespoon oil

Optional: Butter

Directions

If using fresh rice, make it now. I suggest making sushi/vinegared rice, either fresh or left over.

1. Heat a large pan over medium-high heat.

2. Take the spam out of its package and slice into 1/4 inch slices.

3. Fry the spam until lightly brown on each side

4. Cut up any vegetables desired to be used on the rice

4. Prepare eggs for scrambling, if cooking that way, including mixing and adding milk.

5. Cook the eggs as desired.

6. Serve the spam with the rice and eggs.

 

Spam cut into slices before it goes into the skillet for some light browning.

The spam has pan fried up nicely. Just a little brown. I cook on the grill because it doesn’t make the house smell.

Flippin’ the spam slices.

One-handed egg crackin’.

Pouring milk into the eggs before everything is mixed. Scrambled eggs, this time.

Finished spam, rice and (scrambled) eggs. Furikake is on the top of the sushi, or vinegared, rice.

So, what’s for dinner?

That’s always a problem, right? Pasta, or . . . What else is in the kitchen? Refrigerator? And the time factor? Do I need to go to the store?

In my house, there are a few things always on hand: vegetables, maybe some meat (leftover, marinated or unprepared), always uncooked rice (and often times, leftover sushi/vinegared rice, plain recipe).

For me, the easiest meal is often times the humble rice bowl. I cook up some rice in my rice cooker, I turn it into sushi/vinegared rice (blog post). Then, do I want to make sushi? Or a rice bowl? Or maybe onigiri? Or maybe, a few sushi rolls now and rice bowls for lunch tomorrow, and some onigiri (rice balls) for later? The options are endless.

Peppers, grilled chicken, cucumbers and seaweed, at the very bottom, sit on top of rice in this rice bowl.

So, what is the rice bowl?

Well, it’s simple. You make some vinegared/sushi rice, put it in a bowl, cut up some veggies into bite-sized pieces, maybe cook up some meat and cut it up too, then throw it all on the rice.

Which veggies? Well, cucumbers are always nice, as are avocadoes. If you thinly slice, then deseed lemons, they are delicious. Being in New Mexico, I always add green chile peppers (unroasted) as well as jalepenos. Nori (seaweed) adds much needed taste. Green onions are also a good addition.

What else do you have? Throw it in there! Leftover steak? Cut it up, throw it in. Same goes for chicken, pork, or other meats.

Add some soy sauce, maybe some spicy/Sriracha mayonnaise, maybe some eel sauce, (Link to Amazon; once I make my own, I will post the recipe and update the link. Your local Asian store should have it for cheap.)

Bam! You’ve got a simple, relatively healthy dinner. Veggies, a little meat. Sure, the rice isn’t particularly healthy, but it’s frugal. Very, very frugal.

Avocados! Taste delicious in rice bowls, as do lemons. Seaweed is also a must.

(I buy sushi rice, Kokuho Rose variety, in 40 pound bags to be as frugal as possible. I store them in five-gallon buckets with lids, a carry over from my days as a homebrewer.)

There you go. Rice bowls. Simple. Delicious. Easy.

Seaweed (nori) is the first thing to go on top of the rice.

See all the photos on Flickr, in high quality.

Realized you don’t know how to make sushi rice? Here’s the recipe.

Want just the rice bowls recipe? Right here.

Simple rice bowls

Makes: as many as you have rice for

Ingredients

Sushi/vinegared rice
1/2 to 1/4 cucumber
1-3 green peppers
1 jalapeno (if you like it spicy)
1 piece of cooked meat (heated up if desired)
1/2 sheet of nori (seaweed sheets)
1 avocado
1 lemon, thinly sliced
All other vegetables, cooked or raw, as you see fit
Other ingredients as you see fit, or have seen in a sushi roll
Condiments such as eel sauce, Sriracha mayonnaise and eel sauce or cream cheese

Directions

1, Cut up the vegetables into bite-sized pieces. Cut the lemon slices into quarters.
2. Put enough rice into the bottom of a bowl.
3. Tear up the nori and place on top of the rice.
4. Put the cut up vegetables and meat, if using, on top of the nori, which is on top of the rice.
5. Heat up in the microwave for 30 second to 1 minute if working with leftovers or desire it hotter
6. Add condiments over the top and enjoy.

Tzatziki, a yogurt sauce made with lemon juice, dill, and a few other ingredients, is a fantastic side to a variety of dishes, including zucchini fritters, curry fried rice and hummus, especially when paired with pita bread.

(Skip to just the recipe)

It also goes very well as a compliment to zhug (a hot sauce made of cilantro, peppers and lemon/lime juice) creating what for me is the ultimate quadfecta in pita and falafel sides: zhug, Tzatzikihummus and tabbouleh.

Tzatziki poured over curry fried rice makes an easy and delicious meal. All this is missing is some zhug.

There are a couple of things to consider when making tzatziki, aside from how to spell it.

The first is what kind of yogurt to use. I use full-fat plain yogurt or, if I’m going through a DIY phase, I use yogurt I’ve made from whole milk.

Plain full-fat yogurt is superior (in my opinion) to the more popular and prevalent fat-free and 99 percent fat free options because it has less sugar.

Yogurt makers add sugar to make up for the taste of the lost fat. Naturally occurring fat is a lot more healthy than artificially added sugar. Less sugar, less problems.

Dill piles up in a container of yogurt being used to mix the tzatziki.

Second,  good dill, which can be surprisingly hard to find. When I find it, I buy a large bunch. You can also add some chopped mint to the batch, if you’re feeling a little adventerous or have mint on hand. If I have it, I add it. If I don’t have any available, then it doesn’t go in.

Tzatziki is more like art than science. The amount of lemon juice used, of dill, of lime juice, of salt, of garlic, everything is up for interpretation.

For just the recipe, see the page here, or see it after the jump (more link).

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21. If using buses, protect your stuff if its raining

The first time it happened, I wasn’t angry. I was just sad. After a sleeper bus ride from Hoi An to Nha Trang, arriving at 6 a.m., I got my bag out of the bottom of the bus and found it was soaked. Not just soaked. Sopping wet. Still, I shouldered the bag, moved my smaller day pack to my chest, and trudged toward my hostel, soaking my shirt all the way through.

After getting a few more hours of sleep in one of the hostel’s empty dorm rooms, meant for travelers who don’t get to check in yet, I opened my backpack.

It was the worst possible scenario. All of my clothes in the bag were completely soaked. Not just a little. I could literally wring the water out of each piece of soaked clothing. Worse yet, two of my prime camera lenses had been wrapped in the same clothes. They appeared to be undamaged by the water, but I knew I was going to be staying in my dirty clothes until the following day, when I could pick up my cleaned and dried laundry.

Before I go any further, what should you do?

  1. Wrap your clothes up in plastic bags if you’re worried about the rains
  2. Buy rain covers for your bags.

(Read the rest of the story after the jump.)

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20. Take other travelers’awesome evaluations of tours with salt

Maybe this doesn’t apply if you’re not talking to backpackers, I don’t know. Staying in dorms, that’s who I always ran in to.

Here’s the thing: it seems like most travelers want to be positive, nay, they want to be having the time of their lives and they can’t be having that once-in-a-lifetime experience if they admit that anything they did was less than amazing.

That means when it comes to the tours, either set up through your hotel, hostel or done through a travel agent, people often want the tour to have been fantastic, even if it wasn’t, to keep up the idea that they had a great time. That means often, you can’t trust their evaluation.

My example is Halong Bay, during my 2016 Vietnam trip, which I will write up in a later post. It’s supposed to be amazing! One of the best things in Vietnam, with the limestone islands and whatnot, dotting the sea.

Two guys I met in Hanoi had just been there, and done their tour through the hostel. Later on, I talked to a French couple who have been traveling for a long time. They told me, instead, go to Cat Ba Island (slightly different name, basically the same place), rent a scooter, hang out for a day, scope out day tours, and do that the next day.

I decided the risk of the pair being right was outweighed by the ease of the tour through the hostel, as well as my limited time in country.

A German (right) cheers on an Argentine woman about to jump off of the top of the boat, Dec. 9, 2016, in Halong Bay, Vietnam. The limestone cliffs and palisades and the like can be seen in the background. The tour was described by others as being the best thing during their entire vacations. Taken on Dec. 9, 2016.

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