Wednesday, December 8, 2010

No Pasta of the Week

When Joe was growing up, Sunday was pasta night at his house, and we try to continue that tradition. But last Sunday the power went out at 4:41, just as I was about to start dinner, and stayed out for nearly two hours, forcing a change of plans.
It was also cooling off - yes, we do get cold in the desert - and I'd just lit a fire in the fireplace.  We also lit the oil lamps on the mantel and several candles, and as it got darker outside, Joe went out to the garage and brought in a couple more oil lamps.  Then he went in the kitchen and washed dishes by lamplight, while I took that opportunity to organize our candle stores - over time we've collected a lot of candles!  There are many more than I'd remembered and now they're organized into two boxes - one for tapers and one for votives - freeing up some much-needed space in the bottom of the china closet.
     As time passed it became clear there would be no Sunday night pasta.  Instead, we had smoked oysters, cheese, crackers, and sliced persimmons by candlelight.  Delightful.  When my daughter was a little girl we did that sometimes as a special treat; she still loves smoked oysters and so do her two boys.  She also learned to love Limburger cheese at the age of three, like her grandmother and great-grandfather (when I was a kid I thought it was totally gross but learned to like it as an adult).
We did have pasta Monday night, but just with red sauce from a jar (Newman's Own Pesto Tomato, which Joe spotted on sale and which is actually pretty good), sausages, and salad. Tasty but hardly worth posting. Then yesterday I knew I wouldn't feel like cooking dinner after work (tomorrow's my last day this semester and I'm pretty tired), so I put some cabbage and potato soup into the slow cooker before leaving in the morning and made a quick Irish soda bread when we got home, for a truly simple peasant dinner.  The soup wasn't terribly exciting - potatoes, cabbage, onion, a carrot, some celery, chicken broth, bay leaves, salt and pepper - but it was warm and comforting and good enough (I should have browned some bacon or added more herbs, but you know how mornings can be).  The bread is incredibly simple, and a warm, dense slab with butter makes me imagine the probably damp and cramped but picturesque cottages of my Irish ancestors, with kettles and cauldrons bubbling over turf fires while the day's loaf baked on the coals. Hopefully my peasant ancestors could afford to keep a cow, so there'd be butter for the soda bread!  

Irish Soda Bread
4 cups white or whole wheat flour (or a mixture of the two - I used 
     the white whole wheat flour from Trader Joe's; King Arthur's 
     Flour sells that too.  All regular whole wheat might be too heavy)
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups buttermilk 

Preheat oven to 450. Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl, make a well in the middle, and stir in the buttermilk, beginning with the smaller amount and adding more only if you need it to make a soft dough.  Don't knead or handle this any more than is absolutely necessary to get it to hold together in a ball, which you'll place in a greased pie pan or 8" cake tin.  Cut a fairly deep (1/4" or so) cross across the top and bake at 450 for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 400 and bake another 25 minutes or until the loaf sounds hollow when you tap the bottom.  Cool on a rack for at least 15 minutes before slicing, if you're not too hungry to wait that long.
     If you don't let it cool some before slicing, those first slices may seem a bit gummy because of the way the knife squishes the delicate crumb together.  It will still taste good, though, and if you slather it with butter and jam you won't see the damage you've done.

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