Monday, March 9, 2009

Hearty Irish Soda Bread

Hearty Irish Soda Bread
This weekend I set about making some of my favorite comfort foods. It had been a long week at work and I felt the need to bake. With St. Patrick's Day just around the corner I ended up with an old favorite Irish Soda Bread. There to seal the deal was my boyfriend, Chris, who had never had this wonderful brown bread before. I had thought to serve it with some delicious soup and sandwiches; however it was quick to disappear. We ended up enjoying it with butter hot out of the pan and then the next morning toasted along with jam and eggs.

Irish Soda Bread is what is known as a quick bread. Quick breads usually use baking soda or baking powder as leavener instead of yeast (which usually takes a couple hours to rise). This ingredient distinction is what gives this bread its name. It is a quick and easy option for beginners and will turn out warm, hearty, whole wheat bread. This bread is amazing for corned beef sandwiches, served alongside soups and stews, or on its own hot out of the oven with a slather of butter. The following recipe is based on one from a favorite foodie of mine Heidi, from 101 cookbooks. I have made several changes making this bread a full flavored twist on her original basic version.

4 cups coarse whole wheat flour
*2 cups spelt flour
2 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
2 ½ cups buttermilk
2 tbs. salted butter
2 eggs
¼ cup flax seed (optional)
Oatmeal, seeds, nuts, coarse sea salt (optional)
*Spelt flour is nice and it adds a little to the texture and nutritional value of the bread but you can use all whole wheat flour or a combination of your favorite flours to achieve the texture/color you want.

Use a medium sized bowl and beat the eggs buttermilk and butter (softened) until light and golden in color, it should take about 30 seconds, do not over mix.
In another bowl combine dry ingredients, including flax if using, and be sure to break up any clumps.
Mix in the beaten buttermilk until a batter is formed.

If cooking in traditional loaf pans you will want to stop when the batter is thick but still very wet so you can pour it into the pan. Pour batter into one standard 9x5 in. loaf pan or two mini loaf pans. Dust with oatmeal, seeds, or maybe coarse sea salt! Bake on center rack at 400° for about 50 minutes or until golden brown and toothpick in center comes out clean.

* If cooking as a free standing round reduce buttermilk by ½ cup and stir in wet ingredients until a sticky dough forms. Dust with additional flower and other ingredients if desired and shape into a round. Bake on parchment paper lined baking sheet on center rack at 350° for about 60 minutes or until golden brown and toothpick in center comes out clean.

Makes 1 loaf

The Natural Way

Another choice we make about what goes into our bodies is whether or not to buy organic or all natural products. Personally I will more often that not choose a local, organic or all natural product over a conventionally produced item. I love going to farmers markets where I can talk to the people who produce my food. During the winter months I like to frequent locally owned stores where the staff is knowledgeable and always willing to help. The owners will even special order lots of stuff upon request. Another great source I use is a local all natural deli who carries a dizzying array of local and international artisan products. If you feel like you can't find the products you want in the grocery store try a farmers market or local co-op, often they will have more of a selection in this category and you will be more connected with the local sources of food in your community. If you are really hard pressed there are some online services that allow you to order food for delivery. If you feel that this type of food may be too expensive consider buying only a few organic or natural products. The produce that benefits the most from these pesticide free farming practices are those with thin skins that you eat e.g. berries, tomatoes, lettuces. Things you peel like bananas and oranges have slightly less chemical contamination due to the fact most people do not eat the outside. Animal products also benefit significantly from more conscientious farming practices for example they will often times have less bad cholesterol and fats and more of the good heart healthy stuff. Even small things like peanuts and soybeans can be heavily treated with chemicals and pesticides. If you are trying to go more natural then take the time and do some research on foods you eat a lot. This is a personal choice that everyone must consider for themselves.

Best wishes,

P.S. I will do my best to name my favorite local sources for amazing products, or any specialty products I use in my posts. The picture is of three artisan chocolate products that can be found at Zingerman's Deli in Ann Arbor or on-line at

Grocery Shopping

It is hard to believe the shear numbers of products on grocery shelves. It is estimated that and average of 10,000 new products have been hitting our shelves for the past few years. The sad thing is most of it is junk. I am a firm believer that no matter where you shop whether it is Whole Foods or Kroger 70% of groceries should be from the fresh produce section, 20% should be from the dry goods bins, and the last 10% should be the dairy and meat. If you approach the process of buying food and ingredients like this you will find it hard to fail as far as good choices. This is not to say that frozen meat and vegetables are not a great resource, they are a great way to save a little money and preserve food. Canned vegetables are also an option; though remember that many of them are stored in salt solutions and need to be rinsed before use. Still the same percentages above apply. Americans tend to eat a lot of simple, refined, carbohydrates (white breads) and meat. If you are looking to make a few small changes to your diet to help with attaining a healthy weight or just to feel better and have more energy start every trip to the store with fresh produce.

When I buy produce I try to buy what is in season as it is usually fresh and priced to move. As a shop I look for produce that has dark rich colures and I try to buy at least three different colors. For example I might buy a bunch of beautiful dark green kale, some orange bell peppers, a few tomatoes, and some blueberries. The dark colors let me know I am choosing foods with high nutrient content and the rainbow lets me know that I am getting a variety of nutrients. Remember that nuts, beans, and roots all fall into produce and if you are a vegetarian they can be an important source of protein.

Often I won't find the nuts or beans with the produce and will seek them out in the next stop which is the dry goods bins. These bins may be intimidating but they have a lot of nutrition to offer for a great price if you are unsure about something don't hesitate to ask for help. I try and buy my grain staples here, different types of rice, and flour. Then I stalk up on beans, lentils, and nuts. I look for lots of color again and the same idea of variety applies here. Depending on the store you may also find things like spices, honey, fresh ground nut butter, dried fruit and other treasures in this isle.

Next stop on the list is dairy. I am an avid milk drinker; I drink low fat or skim cow's milk as well as plain soymilk and the occasional almond or oatmeal milk thrown in for variety. I also find that I like to use different milks for different recipes. If you are a straight from the cow milk drink with no substitutions that is just fine; but if you haven't tried the others recently you may be pleasantly surprised. This is not you crazy Aunt Luna's soy milk from 20 years ago. Be adventurous and pick up a small container and give it a go. Eggs are also on the list, another great way to get some protein in the diet. Cheese, yogurt, and sour cream are on list as well but in very small portions. I will also buy low fat options here depending on what I will be using it for. Only one caveat, read the labels. Some products will remove fat and substitute large quantities of sugar, salt or unrecognizable fillers.*

On to the meat! I am not a vegetarian but I can respect and honor people's personal choices about what they put into their bodies. Nutritionally meat is an important part of most people's diets. However, in our American culture we often over do it and without the beneficial variety found in other cultures. I eat red meat occasionally maybe three times a month and I usually will opt for an organic grass fed, beef or bison when and where available (I only eat pork on the rarest of occasions). Other than that I eat lots of chicken and fish. I am specifically a big fan of chicken sausage and boneless skinless breasts. The two types of fish on my plate most often are fresh wild varieties like salmon and tuna. It's typical for me to have meat in small portions once a day (usually lunch) though I will often have a vegetarian day or two in any given week.

When I follow these guidelines I find I spend less time shopping and I leave the store with better choices. By focusing on fresh whole foods and not walking down the isles with candy, soda, chips, prepared meals, or processed foods I bypass a lot of temptation and lots of empty calories.

*A helpful checklist I use to read labels:
Can I pronounce all of the ingredients?
Do I know what they are?
Are the first three ingredients what I would expect?
Is a type of sugar in the first 3 things listed?
Could I explain to a 5th grader how it's made?

Welcome Note

Welcome to Be Felicitas,

Be Felicitas is a space where I hope people will come for inspiration. Some days when we are trampled by our ever hectic lives or our overly complex relationships we need a place to go, to just enjoy the simple things. This blog will be my escape and my heaven for all of you in those moments. I will share my passion for nourishing homemade, natural food. I will share knowledge about healthy lifestyles. I will discuss choices that can help make the world become the kind of place we can all live in balance and coexist. I am young, an ever changing work in progress, and this blog is just my latest development. I hope you enjoy this space as much as I have enjoyed its inception.

Best wishes,