Almost Spring Brown Bread Breakfast

I have been a fan of Irish Brown Bread since I moved away to college nearly six years ago, and wanting to make my own bread, but never having the time to knead and proof, fell back on a staple of the Old Country.  Brown Bread is wholemeal or wholegrain soda bread, and unlike the many American versions floating around this time of year, it’s truly the real deal.     Brown bread is always the best bread for a thick bowl of steaming vegetable soup, a quick yogurt and toast breakfast, and an open-faced sandwich with all the toppings.  In fact, I make it whenever the whim strikes or I have extra buttermilk hanging about in the kitchen, as was the case today.

Brown Bread is one of those national pastimes that arose out of necessity–due to the type of soft wheat grown in the cool Irish climate, which doesn’t yield an adequate rise for yeast bread, the abundance of buttermilk or sour milk left about in homes where there were always cows producing fresh milk, and the fact that it was filling and cheap during a time when the majority of residents were impoverished.

I’ve tried what seems like hundreds of brown bread recipes over the years in search of a perfectly moist loaf, as the bread can tend to be dry, all the while wanting a bread  that still has a sweet wholesome flavor, without sacrificing it’s simple nature.  After spending a Bank Holiday weekend last summer at Ballymaloe House in Shanagarry, County Cork, I found it–Myrtle Allen’s Brown Bread recipe.  It’s truly perfection.  I would expect nothing less from the famed woman who started the Ballymaloe Cookery School.

Myrtle Allen’s Brown Soda Bread
4 cups wheat flour
1 cup white flour
1/2 cup steel-cut oatmeal, oat bran, or thick-cut oats
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2-4 cups buttermilk
  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Grease or oil a baking sheet or large loaf pan and set aside.
  • Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
  • Make a well in the middle of the bowl and add the buttermilk, stirring with a wooden spoon until dough is soft but not too wet, with no dry flour left.  (About 2 1/2 cups of buttermilk but more or less may be necessary).
  • Turn the dough out on a floured board and shape into a round about 3 inches thick.  Alternatively, pour the dough mixture from the bowl into an oiled loaf pan and spread evenly.  Cut a deep cross in the top of the loaf with a wet or floured knife.  If making a round, transfer to a large baking sheet.
  • Bake for 45 to 60 minutes, until the the bottom is nicely browned and the bottom of the load sounds hollow.

For a beautiful tasty breakfast that makes me think of spring with all it’s fresh colors and flavors, thinly slice bread and toast.  Top with plain yogurt, sliced mango, and fresh blueberries.  Delicious!

Embracing Change Amidst Confetti Fried Rice

Many aspects of my life have changed in the last couple of years.  I spent some time wandering the planet, nailing down life dreams.  I finished my undergrad program and began, got through, and graduated with my masters degree (with sanity)!  I met someone, my new best friend. I’ve gradually started shifting away from (sadly) some of my high school and college buddies.  I met a couple of my greatest friends.  I finally arrived at some downtime in my life in between temporary work after graduation and a real job.  I had time this year to really put great thought into giving Christmas gifts.  I began to volunteer again, something I’ve been longing to do for at least the past two years of finishing school.  I’ve accomplished many things on my post-graduation to-do list.  I just started an exciting new job.  And I’ve embraced Chinese foods.  That’s right.  It’s the singular most-defining aspect of what has changed.

I blame it on him.  That one who comes in like a whirlwind, all quiet and soft-spoken, and all that should be awkward or wrong is just so right in every way.  The one who loves greasy Chinese food in all its glory–and because I love to cook, got me to feel all sweet and giving by making it for him.  Only now he–and I– are embracing how good Chinese food can be when it’s not greasy but home-cooked, with an extra fistful of fresh veggies thrown in, and a little more care in seasoning.  I would have never guessed that I’d fall for soy sauce with honey and sesame oil.  Or long, thin noodles that are missing an accompanying Italian sauce and lovely baguette.  Or rice in all its egg-fried-glory.

I never really thought I’d fall for anything–anyone–at all.  I always thought I’d simply float along.  And be okay with it.  But now, here I am with all this change about me.  With a new outlook on life before me.  And the acknowledgement that even more change is ahead in the coming months.  And that whatever fortune falls my way, it may possibly be the good kind.

Confetti Fried Rice

1 cup rice, uncooked
1 Tbs. + 1 tsp. canola oil
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. ground ginger or 1 Tbs. grated, fresh ginger
1 large carrot, diced
1/4 onion, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
3 brown mushrooms, diced
3 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 cup green peas
about 1 cup diced red cabbage
1 leftover pork loin chop, or similar amount of meat
2 to 3 Tbs. soy sauce
freshly ground black pepper
  • Cook rice and set aside.  (I used a brown rice mix but any type works fine).
  • Heat a wok or large, deep skillet.  When it is hot, add 1 tsp. oil and scrambled eggs. Scramble and then transfer to a plate and set aside.
  • Add remaining Tbs. oil to wok and add onions, carrots, celery, mushroom, ginger, and garlic.  Sauté over high heat until soft, about 5-8 minutes.  Add the peas, cabbage, and pork, and stir-fry for about a minute more.
  • Add scrambled egg, rice, and soy sauce. Heat through about one minute.
  • Add freshly ground black pepper to taste and enjoy!

Black Bean & Vegetable Grain Bowl

I am a sandwich person.  I willingly strive to eat a sandwich every day for lunch.  Every single day.  Mind you, I never make the same sandwich twice.  I enjoy making my own bread, experimenting with different toppings, mixing unusual ingredients.  But I’ve decided to try something new.  Just for a few weeks, mind.

I’ve decided to take the 28-day Whole Living Challenge.  I like the idea of detoxing the body after the holidays, forgoing the things we’ve had until we’re sick of them (sweets) but not sick enough to actively stop eating on our own.  And to try new recipes that we otherwise wouldn’t.  I’m even planning to try things I formally didn’t like.  Such as avocado.  We’ll see how it goes.

For now (at least for a week) I’m giving up sandwiches.  I’m removing wheat, dairy, eggs, coffee, and processed ingredients from my diet.  I feel like I’m in a culinary heaven of vegetables that not only taste delicious, but are good for me.

Which brings me to today’s recipe.  It’s an amazing concoction of grains, beans, vegetables, spices, and flavors.  I was surprised that I gobbled up every bit of it, and was craving more.  It seemed like a simple enough meal.  But let me tell you, it was better than anything I can remember having in grain and bean form.  Try it.  You’ll like it.

This recipe features millet, which I’ve never used outside of baking.  Millet has a mild taste, and reminded me of quinoa in texture, and couscous in flavor.  Feel free to substitute either or any form of rice, if you have no millet on hand.

Black Bean & Vegetable Grain Bowl (adapted from Whole Living)
1/4 cup millet
1 15-oz. can black beans, rinsed
2 Tbs. minced fresh ginger
pinch of salt
1 cup water
2 oz. mushrooms, sliced thickly
1/4 large onion
1 medium carrot, peeled and sliced into rounds
1 small bunch broccoli
1/2 cup shredded red cabbage
Freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbs. toasted sunflower seeds
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 tsp. rice vinegar
Place millet, black beans, and ginger in a small saucepan.  Add 1/2 tsp. salt to water. Bring to a boil, stir once, then reduce heat and simmer, covered for 25 minutes.  Allow to rest for 10 minutes, and then fluff with a fork.
Steam mushrooms, covered for 3 minutes.  Add carrots, onions, and broccoli, and steam for 4 minutes more.  Remove steamer from heat.
In a small bowl, whisk together oil and vinegar.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Transfer millet and beans to bowl, spoon vegetables over grain, and garnish with remaining vegetables and seeds.  Toss with dressing.