Soda Bread + A Hearty Potato Sausage Soup Put on some Irish music and grab your apron. Here's a recipe pairing to celebrate St. Patrick's Day this weekend- whether you're a dyed in the wool Celtic lass, a sassy Scott-Irish blend, or only mostly Irish in spirit.
Irish Potato and Cabbage Soup and gluten-free Irish Soda Bread.
Why I've been craving mashed potatoes lately, I don't know. Spring has arrived here in the high desert. The days are longer and kinder. Apple trees are blooming. And all I can think about is a mound of soft creamy mashed potatoes. This means something.
Yeah. What it means is I am craving some serious comfort food in the form of a baked shepherd's pie- only my version is vegan and brimming with fresh vegetables. Forget the meat. And forget the lentils (so 1970's).
And fake meat- er, I mean, highly processed soy protein or vital wheat gluten?
I don't think so.
Seitan is evil.
That's why they call it seitan.
No, my shepherd's pie has to satisfy not only my potato comfort craving, but my hankering for vegetables, spice and flavor. You know what that means. I live lived in New Mexico after all. It's gotta have some green chile in it. It's gotta have a little heat. Comfort food - for this gluten-free goddess, anyway- has got to have a little kick. Something to stir the taste buds awake after a long winter.
Old School Comfort. I have been craving comfort food and shepherd's pie- even though it's been a warm and breezy week here by the Chama River north of Santa Fe. The promise of Spring is tugging at our sluggish winter bodies, cracking and stiff and a tad thicker than one would care to admit. We are itchy to walk- just as the junipers are shedding pollen in curtains of dirty yellow. We walked and sneezed and rubbed gritty eyes. The coyotes are laughing on the rim of the mesa. I listen and note they are closer than usual, emboldened by our wintery hibernation. The land belongs to them now. We're simply tourists. As it should be, I murmur.
Meeting your soul mate (did I just write the words soul mate?) after mid-life will humble you. An autumn meeting of kindred spirits inspires a sharp thirst for more time. More juice. Looking ahead- down the road of your life- can be alarming. It's shorter and rutted and slightly curving downhill, not so far and away anymore. Carpe diem as the wise ones say.
And though (in theory) we should all embrace each day as if it might, indeed, be our last, this effort gains a deeper poignancy at 54. My knuckles are so bumpy with arthritis now I can no longer wear my wedding ring. I twisted it off with pain and dish soap. I didn't want to have it sawed off. Just the thought of the saw buzz made me shiver with separation anxiety.
When I was lying on the gurney outside the operating room, awaiting hip surgery- after ten hours in the ER playing our Movie Game with said soul mate (to play the game you start with A and take turns naming a movie title until you run out of A's; then you move on to the B's) the pony-tailed anesthesiologist told me to remove my wedding ring.
I can't, I said. It won't come off, don't worry.
It's hospital policy, she explained. To remove jewelry before surgery.
You'll need a saw, I said. She smiled. I'll get some surgical tape- we'll tape it, she whispered.
I tilted my face toward my husband. He stood there, stoic and brave, betrayed by a gleam of wetness obscuring his usual clear and steady blue gaze. We both knew the risks of breaking a hip, and undergoing emergency hip surgery. The odds aren't kind. But my age was in my favor. I was twenty years younger than the average woman who falls and breaks a hip. You're a spring chicken, the surgeon had said.
I love you, I told my husband. Tell the boys I love them. I felt the nurse tape my wedding ring. Ready? she asked.
For bakers using wheat, Irish soda bread is one of the easiest no-fuss breads to throw together. The gluten in the wheat works its magic to bind the quick-rising dough without yeast. But if gluten is no longer in the equation, creating a tender loaf of Irish soda bread is a tad more complicated. Gluten-free quick breads can be crumbly and dry. Especially if you use the old school white rice flour and starch combo.
Lucky for us, we have several newer alternative flours to choose from. Millet, sorghum, buckwheat, coconut, brown rice, and quinoa flours have better taste, more protein, and a superior texture than the old school stand-by rice flour.
What do I have against white rice flour? It might simply boil down to personal taste. After baking gluten-free for awhile, one develops personal preferences. I don't like the cooked rice taste, or texture, that rice flour imparts. Ditto for bean flour which tastes vaguely metallic. (And I don't care how much protein and how few carbs a raw bean has, okay?)
So I experiment and tweak my recipes. I try a new flour combination and entertain intuition. I start thinking about how a recipe crumbles a bit, so I add some honey because honey is a humectant. And Hello! The bread bakes up tender and moist (agave does the same thing, by the way).
This whole process of gluten-free baking is a process.
And as an artist, I cultivate a deep affection for process. So even though I have a perfectly acceptable gluten-free Irish Soda Bread recipe on the blog, I felt the need to try again this week and experiment with a new formula. And I came up with a slightly sweet and tender loaf that is rice-free and vegan. No eggs. No milk. And guess what?
It's better than better. It's scrumptious.
My husband declared it his favorite gluten-free bread to date (as he chowed down on a wedge of this soda bread grilled in a dab of olive oil). So why do I tweak recipes? Why do I make it complicated? Why add a touch of honey when I already use sugar? Why do I add millet when I have sorghum?
This is why.
Because there's always room for improvement in gluten-free baking. Recipes aren't precious. They're not written in stone like a commandment.
A recipe is more like a poem. Set to music. And the music?
Today I offer you a recipe spun from the magic of leftover gluten-free spaghetti and eggs- a creamy, light frittata. Perfect for the weekend. Or when you're simply too tired to cook. Or you have nothing in the fridge but a carton of eggs, half a bag of kale salad and last night's leftover spaghetti in eggplant marinara.
It's one of those intuitive, spontaneous recipes I've pulled out of thin air, so many times.
For dairy-free folks- the "cheese" pictured in this version was a vegan "mozzarella" (my current favorite is Vegan Gourmet). But if you prefer using dairy- select one or two of your favorite organic cheeses. I've made this yummy dish using goat cheese (and roasted red peppers!), and another time I tried a blend of real mozzarella and Parmesan. It's a very versatile recipe.
Spring is poised to sprout. I just know it. Despite the frigid fingers of wind that unwrap your scarf and creep-sneak down your spine. Despite the tawny, snow beaten grass that twists between wind blown twigs and scattered patches of silvered ice to the edge of the winter weary woods. Despite the wild and wooly roar of March's lion--- you can feel it. Right?
Green is coming.
Happy (almost- it's coming- hold on) Spring!
And here is an Irish soda bread inspired bun recipe to celebrate.
PIZZA. YES. For years I've missed pizza. Not because there isn't gluten-free pizza available. It's out there. You can find it if you look hard enough. Take a gander in the frozen food aisle of your favorite natural market. Snoop around in the dairy case, next to the gluten-free bagels. You might even hit pay dirt at your local pizza joint (if they understand the ins and outs of cross contamination). So yeah. There are some choices out there. Problem is, most gluten-free pizza sucks.
It's usually heavy on the chewy aspect. Or dry as dirt. With zero flavor. Yawningly bland. Certainly nothing to brag about. I mean, you wouldn't eat it if you didn't have to. You know what I'm sayin'? It's okay in a pinch. If you're famished on a Friday night. But it's not exactly inspiring.
So last week I started experimenting. I tweaked and baked. And lo and behold. A new gluten-free pizza crust was born.
One of the first recipes I shared here on Gluten-Free Goddess was our old school, homemade, family style mac and cheese recipe. I won't mention how long ago that was, or how old the recipe actually is, darling. I first learned to make it in eighth grade Home Ec class (does Home Economics still exist? Do they even teach cooking in middle school any more?). Aside from these ponderings, and the unnerving sensation of years advancing, rolling, as Warren Zevon says, like a rockslide down a hill, I've been craving this simple mac and cheese like mad lately.
So I thought I'd post our latest version of it. Seems like old fashioned comfort food is the medicine I need lately.
Quinoa stuffed cabbage. How's that for nontraditional?
It was a dark and stormy night...
Wait.This is a recipe post. Let me start again. Got your cocoa? Are you settled?
The tight blue tiled kitchen glowed in the afternoon sun that slatted through the western facing junipers and spilled across the cupboards in a honeyed glaze so dazzling she had to lower her eyes to keep from squinting as she grabbed a frayed dish towel and cracked the oven door an inch. The scent of sweet potatoes, apples and onion laced with garlic, nutmeg and cinnamon filled the room. She tugged her worn wooden spoon from the mustard crock and stirred the tender jewels bathed in apple juice. For the first time in days she felt connected to something tangible.
How does a person know this? To peel a cooked cabbage leaf so gently and not tear it. To spoon a spiced and savory filling into its center, wrap and roll it, snugging it into the curve of a empty dish. A row of translucent bundles. Plump. Expectant. Longing for sauce. Which Sophie, Irina or Josefa first boiled a cabbage and thought to stuff a single leaf? What brilliance is this, what simple wisdom born of practicality - or whim? Is memory in the head or in the heart?
Perhaps it lingers in the hands.
Chapter 13 1/2.
When the outside world turns on its axis and flirts with the taste of hate and the ancient flame of violence is paraded as remedy, when the color of your skin or your eyes or your state divides you from your neighbor and you tread in the quicksand of suspicion and anger- let go, Brother. Just breathe, Sister.
Trust the faith you so fervently stoke. If your faith is true and clear will it fail you? Or the harder, deeper question is, will it blind you?
Listen as a child, aware of the bigness, the intricate complexity that weaves a reality not always aligned to your expectations. Loosen your grip on your assumptions. Think about the stars and how your very atoms are stuff of the universe.
When I was small and clueless I ate the world in tiny bites. I chewed apologetically, counting each deliberate grind in time to the spiral beats of a song in my head that only I could hear. A tune not unlike a mosaic of bird calls, and the powdery flutter of wings feeding on the garden lit by young Mozart's star.
Colors were a mysterious and spiritual language infused with deep logic and meaning. A lime green Jello box invited tunneling and confusion, but the sweet brush of balsam as I sought asylum beneath its rooted symmetry petted my pining fatherless heart.
Trust is green and hard to paint, but so is betrayal.
Not only the betrayal by others. The betrayal you participate in. The hammering of your spirit self into propriety. The brittle, safe shell you construct and will curl inside for the rest of your life. You inhabit it sullenly. Sometimes willingly. Because sometimes it works. Mostly to fool them. Fool them into thinking you are someone else. Someone uncomplicated they can love.
Someone like themselves.
In order to keep this armor snug you must give up on certain pieces of yourself. The ugly, muddy parts those in charge find distasteful or irritating or inscrutable. What no one tells you is, you end up missing these rejected quirks and knots. And spend the rest of your life searching for all those abandoned bits and wrinkles. The shining fragments of earlier music and jewels of petaled rain.
But if you are lucky you meet a painter.
A soul adept at conjuring a thicket within their non-judging arms. You learn about green and its secret origin. How to stir ivory black with cadmium yellow and a teaspoonful of cerulean. You dream of butterscotch pines and inhale and your spirit-body becomes too big for the worn out shell.
So you crack it.
Sideways at first. Sticking out fingers and elbows when no one is looking. Digging out fragments long forgotten. Rubbing off neglect and holding wobbly pale parts of yourself closer to the sunlight.
And you meet yourself for the first time in a long, long time.