One of the downsides of writing a blog in which you disparage Irish food is that your Irish in-laws are sure to read it. I should have known better. My in-laws are pretty committed to their Irish roots. This is the clan, afterall, that wouldn't go see The King's Speech because of what the English have done to the Irish. Suffice it to say that Oscar night was no picnic around here.
Bashing Irish cuisine was not meant to be unkind, and I meant no ill-will. Even if they can't cook, the Irish, and my in-laws in particular, are my kind of people: they drink well and often. Still, it seems like my recent rantings regarding Irish food were not well received, and I need to make amends. Given that Lent is basically here I'll offer up both a confession and my penance. First, my confession: I can't bake for squat.
Candidly, I don't know what the big hoopla is about baking. I think it's more like chemistry than cooking. I simply have no patience for the precision of it and much prefer the tasting, testing, and tinkering of real cooking. I am more than happy to leave all that "level teaspoon" nonsense to the nice people at Betty Crocker, add my 2 eggs and a cup of water and move on with it. But among my husband's family, my inability to bake is a fact that will forever diminish my value as a cook. For 15 years I've been regaled with tales of Richard's grandmother and how she never let a day go by without making something that involved flour, butter, and sugar. Her kitchen was a vertitable factory that every day turned out cakes, pastries, pies, and my personal nemesis, Irish Soda Bread. I wear this woman's wedding ring, and I named my youngest daughter after her, so really--there's no bad blood between us. Except, damn it, for that soda bread.
My loaf always comes out of the oven full of promise--a golden crust studded with raisins. The first cut yeilds a delightfully crumbly texture, right up until the center. At that point, my knife always gets stuck in the putty that comprises the uncooked core. And with baking, just keeping it in the oven a little longer or turning up the heat never works. It just dries it out or burns the top. I typically salvage the mess by cutting away the interior and then do what I can to coax my family into eating what's left, which by that point looks something like a mutant bundt cake. Irish soda bread is my culinary comeuppance.
The karma is not lost on me. Mock Irish cuisine and you will be forever destined to make a crappy soda bread. But. Lent is almost here. I've made my confession. Now for the penance: I am going to make Irish soda bread and keep making it until I get it right. If there is a kind, loving, and forgiving God, I can bake my penance and be redeemed. Three Hail Mary's probably won't hurt either.