Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Simplicity is something I both appreciate and pursue. I envy the minimalist life, and am a light packer. If you've seen the way I dress, you know I will rarely be swayed from my basic uniform of jeans, beater tank, gray zip-up hoodie, and flip flops by anything other than weather or dress code. I'm not good with trends or fussy new styles; rather, they're not so good with me. I like my simple routines, and their familiarity keeps my life feeling orderly in a disorderly world.
In the kitchen, I get a bit bolder. I actually play a bit, although I still keep things relatively simple to let good food be treated with little flash and lots of love. I'm comfortable enough with flavors and ingredients' personalities that I will tweak and nudge and twist recipes, or not use one at all. Cooking is a merciful art in which mistakes are seldom, but if I make one, seldom does it hurt anything besides the chances that I'll go back for seconds.
Baking, on the other hand, is less forgiving and puts me right back in my orderly place. Recipes are followed to the letter as if I'm expecting a gold star from the teacher. I'll try new things, sure, but knowing I'm at the mercy of chemistry, I tend to bake with tradition over tricks. I always read the directions like a good girl, and I know what tastes good and go with it. And oh, the things that taste good. So good that when whatever I've baked is out of the oven, I hope someone is there to shame me out of stuffing the entire batch in my mouth like a squirrel on uppers.
With Irish Soda Bread, I'm about as purist as they come. Real, traditional soda bread has only four humble ingredients, and none of that silliness of sugar or caraway seeds. It's just flour, baking soda, buttermilk, and salt - that's it. I'll happily eat other versions because they can be incredibly yummy, but those are just gussied-up step-sisters to the soda bread Cinderella. Sure, she looked nice at the ball, but we all know she didn't need the fancy-schmance. She was just as lovely at home by the fire, and soda bread is no different.
Last week, I was feeling impulsive and daring and itched to do something a little crazy. I knew better than to dash out to chop off my hair or get another tattoo while my sanity took a holiday, so I holed myself up in the kitchen to gather my thoughts. When one of those thoughts found its way to the top of the heap, I felt a little mischief curl my grin. Even I wouldn't have imagined what happened.
I bastardized the hell out of soda bread.
I wanted something that would last longer than the usual loaf - unless it's eaten in a day, it dries out quickly once it's been sliced. I know! I thought. I'll make mini soda breads! Everything's cuter when tinier! Just look at tiny owls!
I wanted something a little more like a treat than everyday soda bread, maybe a little sweeter, a little meltier on the tongue. I'll add sugar! And BUTTER! Like a baby scone! I WILL HOLD BAKED AWESOME IN MY HAND AND IT WILL TASTE LIKE MAGIC!
Oh, my ancestors must have been rolling under the peat.
In less than 48 hours, I made 4 batches with little variation of what I came to call Irish Soda Bread Scuffins. They're sweeter like muffins and shaped like them (as I made them in a muffin pan, although I'm sure they'd be just as nice drop-biscuit style), but their texture isn't quite dense or muffinish enough to call them muffins proper. Smooshing cold butter into the flour - technically the technique is "rubbing in," but rubbing butter into anything just sounds dirty - made the texture closer to that of scones, but these definitely aren't your typical scone. And so, behold, the liger of baked goods, the tasty bee in my bonnet: the simple scuffin.
Baking can make some of us feel like we should swap our aprons for lab coats, but I promise that's not the case here. The recipe is quite flexible, so feel free to play around with the amounts of butter and sugar. You can even leave out the sugar all together if you want a more biscuit-y scuffin (a scuffit?). Maybe add cheese and herbs instead. But, sweet or savory, these are addictive little guys. I burned my tongue because I was too impatient to let them cool properly, practically using the muffin tin as a plate. Anyway, you might want to share these so you don't eat half the batch yourself... in 20 minutes. Not that I did that (twice).
Irish Soda Bread Scuffins
Your first batch might take about 10 minutes to come together if you're not too familiar with the rubbing process, but the more comfortable you are, the more quickly this recipe comes together.
3 cups all-purpose flour*
1/3 cup sugar**
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes***
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 425°F and prepare a standard muffin tin by buttering the cups or using non-stick spray. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Rub the butter pieces into the flour mixture with clean fingers until the mixture looks coarse like breadcrumbs and any lumps are no bigger than a pea, as Molly says. (If you're adding anything special to the scuffins like spices or cheese or anything, go ahead and add them to the mixture now.)
Make a well in the center of the flour and pour the buttermilk into the well. Gently stir the flour into the buttermilk until all the buttermilk is absorbed and the flour is moist. Be careful not to over-mix so the scuffins don't turn out tough or too chewy. Form the mixture into a loose, slightly sticky ball with your hands like you're forming a loaf - if it's too sticky to work with, sprinkle a bit of flour onto your hands.
Pull off 12 equal pieces of the dough and place them into the cups of the muffin tin. If you want, you can cut a cross-shape into the tops with a knife like traditional loaves of soda bread, but if that's more work than you want to do, you can just not give a crap like I did after 2 batches and they'll taste just as lovely. You can also brush the tops with buttermilk to give them a bit of tanginess, with melted butter to make them extra melty (and make your eyes roll to the back of your head while you moan out loud alone in your apartment while leaning on the oven for support), or with egg whites to give them a glossy shine.
Bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool in the tin for a few minutes before removing the scuffins to cool on a rack for a few minutes more. Eat with butter or jam, or coffee or beer. Or eat them straight from the tin, plain and compulsively, like I did.
Yield: 12 scuffins
*I used King Arthur white whole wheat flour 3 times out of 4 (I like a slightly heftier taste) so whole wheat flour works just fine.
**I used as little as 1/4 and as much as 1/2 a cup in different batches - it just depends on how sweet you'd like your scuffins.
***Again, you don't need to use all the butter - these taste just as good with half as much, just not as rich. Okay, just kidding, of course they taste better with full butter, but they're still yummy enough for me with less when I'm feeling a little diet guilt.
Friday, December 16, 2011
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
When the swelling of flagrant vanity subsides, I float back down to reality, where maybe I could pass as Poehler's younger, funny-enough sister - I know I'm no doppelganger. But I will happily settle for a passing observation of "Hey, you remind me of that blonde chick from Baby Mama..." and I will blithely thank them and hope they meant it in a nice way. Tina Fey beat me to it by writing her own love letters to Amy Poehler, but let this be my overture - Amy Poehler is brilliant and I idolize her, but more than my idol, she's my inspiration. She's unapologetically funny and she won't be pigeonholed, and she doesn't give a crap what you think or who you think she is (her quote at the top of this post says it all). My lucky kitty would high-five her in a heartbeat. While she may not be curing cancer, she's making people laugh by doing things her way, and with her as my role model, I hope I can say I've always dreamed of growing up to be Kait... but that it doesn't hurt to be Amy Poehler.
*Don't worry, mom - I think you're pretty cool.
Monday, November 21, 2011
The unfortunate dark side to this particular moon, however, is what this means. While I may be just fine in transit out in the world, I can't move on the inside. Physical crossroads are no problem, exciting even. Figurative ones are frightening.
For me, fear is at once a great motivator and a cause of paralysis. When I first left my family, two jobs, and my comfort zone of California for Seattle, I luckily had the wonderful distractions of my boyfriend, Adam, and my dear friend and sometimes-roommate, Stacy, as well as the task of the move itself. While I had saved as much money as I could for the life change, I still needed to find a way to support it. I had only two familiar faces for hundreds of miles among the constellation of unfamiliar lights that was my new city-home, and suddenly, I needed to become an urban astronaut (or an adult, as some might more commonly call it).
I found a job with a Seattle-based bank less than 2 months and hundreds of resume-attached emails later – out of fear, out of simply needing money. I am grateful for the lessons learned and the enormous amount of growth I experienced over nearly 3 years, as well as the invaluable friends I made. But after all that time, I couldn’t work at a bank anymore. That’s not who I was when I started, not while I worked there, not who child-version of Kait ever wanted to be (in fact, she was probably sitting in a corner somewhere with her head in her hands, moping that she wasn’t Indiana Jones, or at least, a teacher like she’d always wanted as a close second to adventurer/archeologist). So I couldn’t do it. I had known it for a while, but I was terrified of the change it would bring if I actually acted. With enough nudges – both patient and frustrated – from friends and family and my incredibly supportive boyfriend alike, I finally left.
I could barely recognize the old writery, canvas-wielding me obscured by the gray pencil skirts and numb talk of debits and credits, but with a trusty pair of jeans and a few sketches later, I think I see her in there. But she’s scared. She’s terrified, seeking refuge in a stairwell because she doesn’t know what to do. No longer with the trappings of standard “success,” I am now voluntarily without job and income. For someone growing up crying if she got less than an A (that first B from my high school chemistry class will always haunt me) and who always knew what came next, not over-achieving or even just achieving by choice is a lot to swallow. But I have to keep reminding myself, when I catch own my unemployed eye in the mirror, that while I may not be considered successful by convention, what I am doing is allowing myself the opportunity to find my own version. And that in itself can hopefully be considered a success in some small way.So now, here I am, afraid, in transit, and in pajamas (I am unemployed and at home, after all, and it’s cold – let’s not judge). Said incredibly supportive boyfriend kissed me goodbye before leaving for work, and my cat is snoring at my side with his paws over his nose. There is laundry and grocery-buying to be done, and then there is anything I like. I don’t know what comes next. But I will sing and paint and cook and create and write write write, and if I’m lucky, I will be too busy being successful to be afraid. And if some days I do feel a little fearful, that’s okay – there’s a lovely stairwell just outside my door.