Irish Soda Bread

I just made some soda bread.

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Fresh out the oven and ready to have some decadent butter slathered all over it while it’s still hot.

Irish soda bread is my go-to bread recipe for about a year now. Simply because it is so delicious. I just love how substantial and dense it is. So lovely to dunk into things like olive oil and curries. On top of that it also has other major bonus points going for it:

  • Quick to prepare, within minutes. No rise time required!
  • So incredibly easy.
  • Just 4 ingredients: flour, salt, baking soda, and buttermilk

Well, 5, if you include lemon or white vinegar to make a buttermilk substitute. Buttermilk is not an ingredient I’m familiar with, and I found it is available in the supermarkets here but it’s expensive. It costs quite a lot more than regular milk. Happily enough I have learned I can quickly and easily make my own substitute. It’s basically just mixing in 2 tablespoons of lemon or white vinegar to every cup of milk, and letting it stand for a while so it thickens, about 10 minutes or so.

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Here’s the video where I discovered the wonderful Irish Soda Bread, and the charming presenter Darina Allen. It’s only 4 minutes long. I’ve since learned that Darina is a famous and highly-respected chef and food writer. I like her manner of presenting. I’m not a fan of all TV chefs, some I just find too loud and brash. I guess trying too hard to be interesting. I like the ones like this lady here who is engaging and enthusiastic enough, charismatic but still calm and soothing to watch. And of course the Irish accent is always lovely to hear.

In case the video above doesn’t work, the recipe is also available at: Darina Allen’s Irish Soda Bread. Variations such as turning the dough into cheese scones are also suggested there. I’ve tried the cheese scone version and they were very nice too.

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The loaf I just made is smaller than the prescribed recipe, because I only wanted to make 1 Cup of the buttermilk substitute. The amount of flour I therefore also reduced, from 3.5 Cups to 2.5 Cups.

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To add on to all the things I already mentioned about why I love Irish Soda Bread, I also love the ‘rustic’ look about it, which also puts a smile on my face because anything rustic makes me think of that sometimes-pretentiously-used word, artisanal :-)

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And here’s another short video, on how to make a buttermilk substitute. Really short at only 1 minute and 19 seconds! I love these short videos! I hate it when these tutorials are unnecessarily long because the presenters yak and yak on and on. This one is concise, with another lovely presenter with a lovely Irish accent to boot.

 

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Take me to church by Hozier

First seen via Gaybros.

A stunning music video by new Irish singer-songwriter Andrew Hozier Byrne, known simply as Hozier. It was directed by Brendan Canty and Conal Thomson from Feel Good Lost, a visual arts production house based in Cork, Ireland, also where the video was filmed.

The song is really beautiful, and so is his voice.

One thing I don’t understand is that in the song the lover is refered to in the feminine, ‘she‘ and ‘her‘. Maybe I’m wrong, but my guess is that Hozier is not gay, he’s just pro-gay, like Macklemore and Cosmo Jarvis. Which is just an amazing thing to be. It takes an amazing person with a huge heart.

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Singer-songwriter Hozier. Image seen on mytvisnotworking.tumblr.com. Click to go there.

According to Ireland’s online magazine State:

Hozier says the video “references the recent increase of organised attacks and torturing of homosexuals in Russia, which is subsequent to a long, hateful, and oppressive political campaign against the LGBT community. The song was always about humanity at its most natural, and how that is undermined ceaselessly by religious organisations and those who would have us believe they act in its interests. What has been seen growing in Russia is no less than nightmarish, I proposed bringing these themes into the story and Brendan liked the idea.”

Related:

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Update (15 Nov 2013) to include a video of Hozier and friends performing the song live, uploaded by Dublin’s RTÉ 2fm onto their YouTube channel.

And that’s how real men do it, part 2

Too damn cute! A newscaster in Ireland, with a nicely manly voice, merrily powdering his face.

From Gawker, seen via Tastefully Offensive. Youtube video posted by Kathy Gill.

Immediately reminded me of this guy in the same situation last year.

Harmattan by Gaye Shortland

I actually read up to about a third of the book last year around October, then misplaced it shortly after. Gosh that’s almost a year ago. It was very annoying because I was so into the book. Fortunately I found it a few weeks ago in a backpack I had chucked someplace and only found it because I wanted to use that bag again. So I started all over again. I devoured it in one sitting earlier today.

Harmattan by Gaye Shortland, published in 1999 by Poolbeg Press Ltd of Dublin, Ireland

The protagonist is Ellen, an Irish expat lecturer in the city of Zaria in Nigeria, who was pining for her missing lover Amodi. They were supposed to meet in Zaria upon her return from Ireland on leave, but weeks passed with no news of him. Amodi is a Tuareg from Niger, nomads of the Saharan desert who also form a small community in neighbouring Nigeria, where the men work as security guards and nightwatchmen.

When Yusuf, another Tuareg watchman who was a friend of Ellen’s and who was working for her acquaintances in the expat community, died in an accident, his employers made the request to Ellen to personally deliver his belongings and wages to Yusuf’s wife and daughters in Niger.

It was a huge favour to ask, as she would need to take time off from work and the destination was some five hundred kilometres away, not to mention the fact that it was dangerous to be on the road due to the political unrest in Niger. But Ellen grabbed the chance to hit the road to find her beloved Amodi. She set off for the journey in her Land Cruiser with three young local friends: Haruna, Ataka and Ilyas. Lads who did odd jobs for her.

Their journey hit a snag practically right at the beginning, when they were told at the border that the military were not allowing vehicles to travel to their destination, which resulted in them having to take an alternative route that was a massive loop, a long way round which added another thousand kilometres to their journey.

The book is far too short (207 pages), or at least I wish more was revealed about how some of the characters fared in the end. It’s a bit painful to fall for characters and root for them yet not know by the time the book’s ended whether they’re safe or not. Well maybe not fall for them, but become fond of them as Ellen was. I need the closure dammit. Yeah it’s a novel, fiction, but still. I think I’m just sad, and a bit shaken by what happened to some of the other villagers towards the end of the book, especially one of the women.

Ms. Shortland describes Ellen’s shock and grief so eloquently. Words which brutally cut through to what Ellen saw and what her mind registered and which slyly snaked around my heart. It was a painful scene to read, especially since it came quite suddenly. Most of the book were Ellen’s accounts of her interactions and relationships with the nomadic people she met along the way, immersed in a huge and entertaining dose of wit and humour and her no-nonsense attitude. Her observations of the different aspects of their culture, sometimes touchingly comparing their quirks to her own Irish people. Her extensive knowledge of the region and its people, spurred by her passion and deep love for them. However she’s no sentimental fool; she’s infuriated and pained by some of their ways, and to add to her frustration she had to rein in her anger and keep her honest thoughts to herself so as not to alienate them.

I was hoping to read some reviews of this beautiful book I’ll never forget, but I can’t seem to find them though. I’m so lucky to have come across it at a second-hand bookstore.

Oh and Harmattan is the name of the wind that blows south to the area from the Sahara between the end of November and the middle of March.

Michael Fassbender

Michael Fassbender. Born 2nd April 1977. Actor. Photo by Gage Skidmore. Click photo to go to source: Wikipedia.

An Irish-German actor who is red hot right now. As an actor, Michael Fassbender is very talented. I enjoyed his performance in X-Men:First Class. And I think the reviews that I’ve come across of his other work are consistently positive.

I keep forgetting to rent the following movies starring him, but I must soon. They feature other actors I admire as well, and as a bonus I think all three movies are critically acclaimed:

The cover photo of him below that I saw some months ago is the kind of thing that makes me wonder why Michael Fassbender is considered attractive. It’s meant to be sexy, I think, with him being shirtless. But he looks all pale and a little malnourished. I’m just not into thin or slender guys. And I don’t get that expression. It hardly says, “Oh hey come fuck with me on this bed I’m warming up for you.” It looks to me more like it’s saying, “I’m kinda perplexed myself why you think I’m sexy.” Like he’s agreeing with me! LOL just kidding.

Click photo to go to source: The Hollywood Reporter.

I guess many people, fans or not, think the above is a hot picture of a hot actor. I honestly think that’s a bad picture of him. Why was a picture of him looking unhappy selected for a cover when he actually has a terrific smile? And he can be quite good-looking sometimes. Like in X-Men:First Class. Maybe it’s just that I think dark wavy locks look far better on him than a crop like that.

In related news, he apparently has a big dick. Big enough for Charlize Theron, who happens to be one of my favourite actresses, to mention it for a laugh, apparently.

It’s just that, his ‘broody, manly, intense, smoldering’ type of sex appeal, I find it far sexier on guys like Christian Bale and Daniel Craig, maybe because they are beefier. I’ve noted here that I don’t find some thin or lean and lanky types attractive, especially when it comes to Caucasian guys. Hairless and with skin so fair and pale, makes me think of morgue scenes in police shows like CSI, I’ll just put it that way.

An exception I can think of right now is James McAvoy, who happens to be the other leading man in X-Men. Now, there’s a pale guy who for some reason I think is sexy.

That’s cute: The Bono Coexist tee

The tee in the title of this post refers to this one I saw on ebay. Click photo to go to the seller's page.

Here’s a 2005 article about the different parties connected with regards to the idea of having those symbols to form the ‘coexist’ word: Can’t We All Just Coexist?

There’s a Foundation set up in 2006 ‘to promote better understanding between Jews, Christians and Muslims’: Coexist Foundation

There are many blogs/sites out there against the ‘coexist’ thing. The ones I read, I understand it as this: they are either anti-Islam/Muslim or take it as a threat or challenge to their beliefs. I think it’s crazy how they can take a simple and sweet gesture and turn it to spread hate.

Just as interesting are the following designs of bumper stickers I found on the net, similar in concept to the ‘coexist’ one. There are other words used out there I’m sure. Click each image to go to the site of source:

from starshinearts.com

And the silly spoofs I came across LOL. Again, click images to go to their sites:

from sadhillnews.com

 

The Truth About You by Melissa Hill

At the hotel in Rome where we’ve been staying for weeks now, there are the usual common seating areas. Here one can find a few books on the coffee table, kindly left behind by previous guests so that other guests may enjoy them. This is only the second hotel where I’ve come across this; a spontaneous initiative where guests can drop off books they’ve read and pick up something else. But then I don’t travel often. The first hotel I came across this was the one we stayed in Phuket I think a few years ago. An entire bookshelf dedicated to this exchange thing, of books in various languages, mostly European.

Anyway, I got to enjoy two books this way here. The first I got my hands on was this The Truth About You. With its girly cover and title, it was easy to guess it was chick lit. For women who perhaps enjoy gossip articles to keep up-to-date about favourite celebrities, and who enjoy movies and tv and fashion. Stereotyping here, even though I a grown man pushing 40, enjoyed it.

A light pleasant read even though it was almost 400 pages long. I felt fascinated but a little detached, in the sense that I could not root for any of the characters. Which is okay since I’m not the targeted demography for this. I turned page after page from beginning to end, and I discovered no point from where I wanted to dive in. It was like watching a television show to while away the time. Observing, quietly content with what’s on for now. Perhaps an episode of a mid-season tv series I stumbled upon. I don’t know its history, and I probably won’t make a point to catch future episodes, but it’s interesting and enjoyable for now.

I imagine a lot of sweat goes into creating a novel, never mind whether it’s what snooty people consider high-brow or not. Like this one; there are so many characters to this. Three main ones and an endless stream of supporting ones. And the story is so layered , so much drama going on, and weaving in and out one another. When I think about it: how do you even begin to construct a story like this? So much hard work and talent needs to go into creating a novel. And then there’s the question of individualizing each of the many characters, crafting each of them a personality and purpose through action and dialogue. Movement and how they view things. Just a thought.

Another thing I find interesting is that it’s set in Ireland. I don’t know why that’s interesting. I have never been to the UK and I’m guessing in that part of the world, London/England are more heard about. Interesting perhaps because another recent novel I was reading halfway was by an Irish author (until I misplaced the book somewhere, distressing me as I loved that book) Harmattan by Gaye Shortland.

Then there was that Irish couple last week we crossed paths with. A middle aged couple with grown kids back home in Cork. They were staying in the same hotel here in Rome. They were so friendly and polite, and happily and enthusiastically relating the sights here they were enjoying. We ran into each other in a restaurant near the hotel, and they invited us to sit at their table so we can chat the entire meal. That was nice. We never did that before, making friends with other travellers to that extent.

Now, in the travel section of the clouds in my head, where the shores and mountains, the people and rain, the music and dance and long long walks of New Zealand already reside, Ireland unexpectedly glides in and parks itself there. I want to drop by Dublin and Cork for a week or two of sightseeing the next time I’m in Europe. Dubious when that is going to happen, but oh well good things start with a dream.