Airbnb has been my got-to for accommodations abroad for the last 4 or 5 years, I’d say. Basically, if I’m going to spend more than two nights somewhere, I want to have the amenities that make a stay feel more like a home – kitchen facilities, perhaps or lounging space when I’m traveling with friends or family. I don’t recall ever having a bad experience with my bookings and really enjoy having a sense of being part of a community rather than a mere tourist. It’s worked so far in Paris, Normandy, Barcelona, Lisbon, Berlin, Vienna, Salzburg, Prague, Galway and Dublin, which is a pretty good run.
In addition to places to stay, Airbnb offers what it calls “Experiences,” and yesterday I took advantage of my first – a baking class outside of central Galway. The class was taught by Kate, an experienced baker and restaurateur, with a focus on brown bread (my favorite) and scones. As I was the only student for the morning, and reliant upon public transport, Kate suggested I come directly to the small, cozy cafe that she owns in a shopping center, rather than her home, only 20 minutes by bus from Galway’s Eyre Square.
I arrived and easily located her cafe upstairs. Within minutes, I had an apron on and was reading through the recipes which she handily provided. We elected to make half batches of the recipes since I would be taking the goods with me and certainly couldn’t eat more than 6 scones and a loaf of bread over the next few days by myself. We began with the scones, weighing the flour rather than measuring by volume. Side note: I think I need a kitchen scale. After using my hands to gently mix the dry ingredients, Kate asked my preference for cranberries or raisins (the former was my pick) and tossed in a casual handful of full, frozen cranberries. Next in was a combination of cream and beaten egg, lightly mixed in with a wooden spoon. The dough was slightly wet, but when turned out onto a floured surface, it firmed up nicely. I formed a 2” or so thick rectangle of the dough and used a glass to cut my circles, which went onto a baking sheet after a quick brush with the remaining milk/egg mixture. They came out gorgeous and fabulously light. Delicious.
The brown bread was a similar process. Again, hands were used to combine the dry ingredients with a spoon only being used for the final stirs. It’s a quick bread, so it feels more like a batter than a dough, and I correctly gauged that it was a bit too loose. Kate rectified that with an addition of oats and the batter ultimately had the consistency of porridge, or oatmeal as we might say at home. I poured it into a loaf pan and it was given a final kiss of oats on the top prior to going in the oven. The result was fantastic.
After about ninety pleasant minutes of baking, chatting and sipping a coffee, I gathered up my baked goods, now placed in handy sacks, and went on my way back to Dublin. On the bus ride east, I inhaled that bag of treats more than once and was powerless to resist eating another half scone. It was a great first “Experience” and I’ll be enjoying my handiwork for breakfast for the remainder of my time in Ireland.
The first time I made challah bread was a snowy day at the beginning of a staycation week. I found a recipe that seemed manageable, gathered together my ingredients and tuned to a jazz station on my Apple Music. I was ready, with a reasonable degree of seriousness, to take on the challenge. Baking intimidates me and other than my brownies (it’s a secret, but I’ll tell you in person if you ask) and No-Knead Bread, it’s most definitely not my strength. But, I’m an optimist and I’m curious about bread and yeast, so I began.
The recipe was straightforward and all seemingly went well. My kitchen is on the cold side of my house and I don’t know that the yeast slurry ever truly thrived, but the ingredients went together nicely and I left the dough to rise while I went for a ski.
About 3 hours later I checked the covered-in-plastic dough and saw some expansion, but not much. I handled the dough a bit and divided it into portions which I hoped to braid together prettily. That part went really well. Once the dough was shaped, it got covered and I placed it in the fridge for overnight. “Overnight” is such a non descriptive word really. This particular night, it meant taking the dough out and placing it on the counter at about 4:00 a.m. I miss sleep, but there’s always something with which to occupy one’s time.
About 3 hours later, I brushed the dough with the recommended beaten egg with a pinch of salt and popped the loaves into a preheated oven. They baked for about 34 minutes and I moved them around the oven a total of three times during the process. I think they’re beautiful, but the taste is kind of bland. I’m going to try them again with freshly purchased yeast, another egg and a touch of honey. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Do you bake bread? Hints? Recipes to share with the baking challenged?
When I carried a two pound loaf of Genovese style pannetone and a dozen bagels in a bag topped with a single bialy around the city, I knew I had to acknowledge how much I sincerely love bread. It might just be my favorite food group and it definitely would be my desert island wish. Truth be told, the thought of being sensitive to gluten makes me sick to my stomach. Yes, I love bread.
Let me counts the ways…
Italian holiday breads such as panettone at Christmas and pane di Pasqua at Easter. I love a bread that marks a holiday, what can I say?
Irish breads like soda bread and whole wheat brown bread lightly dusted with oats. With rough cut orange marmalade, please.
Croissants, particularly those that leave a petite souvenir of their presence in the form of scattered flaky crumbs and a glisten of butter on one’s fingertips.
Bagels and bialys, with whipped cream cheese to smear on, for the win.
Focaccia like the one you get in Genoa, tasting salty like the ocean and herbaceous from rosemary as you tear into it.
Challah, yellow with eggs and used in every single bread pudding and French toast recipe forever and ever.
Naan, stuffed with slightly bitter garlic and a tad oily.
German fruit stollen, the city cousin to the more well-known, country style dark fruit bread that is the perpetual butt of jokes.
My own version of no-knead bread in which I tweak the recipe a tad by increasing both the salt and the yeast.
I don’t remember what made me buy the first one. Despite my mother’s German origins, it wasn’t as if fruit cake was part of my holiday traditions. As a matter of fact, I had distinct and negative memories of an episode involving fruitcakes baked in November, and left to soak in rum until Christmas, and a curious and subsequently drunk puppy that had left my mother pretty damn pissed. Nope, fruitcake didn’t make me feel warm and fuzzy. At all.
But, somehow I found myself leaving Rocco’s with a hefty 2lb loaf of something called panettone that seemed to be the perfect addition to my mornings during the holiday season. I happily carried my panettone to Albany. The next morning when I released the bread from its airtight wrapping I was provided with an intense aromatic assault – citrus, anise, unimagined spices…heaven. Since that first time, Christmas feels incomplete without this baked treat and I make it a point to get to the city in December to score one, or four as the case may be.
I’ve learned that there are two traditional varieties – Milanese and Genovese. The first is a taller version, more like a crown, light and studded with dried fruit. The Genovese is lower, wider and has the addition of anise and pignoli making for a more earthy, denser taste. I like them equally, toasted and slathered with unsalted butter.
My Rome connection (grazie, Alex!) has gifted me with an imported loaf for the last two years. I haven’t yet opened this year’s special panettone, but I’m eager to see how it compares to my beloved Rocco’s version. I noted that by appearance, it looks to be a Milanese version which should be the perfect way to come full circle in my panettone season. Six pounds of panettone later, that is.
Have you had panettone? This article in the NYT gives some excellent information about this special bread, yet doesn’t provide a recipe for baking your own. It seems to be quite complicated, by I’m putting panettone baking on my bucket list. Until I have time to devote to learning how to make it myself, I’m content to travel to NYC for a fix because at this point, Christmas wouldn’t be complete without it. How about you? What baked goods define this season for you?
I’ve decided to abstain from weighing myself from the remainder of the month. That’s right, I’m going to deny myself the chance to feel badly beginning first thing in the morning when I step on the scale. Because that’s what inevitably happens if the number reads higher than I had hoped.
Not checking in daily on my weight makes me uncomfortable. I guess I can be a bit of a control freak and the daily weight check helps me to determine what level of indulgence I “deserve.” I suspect that it will eventually prompt me to eat less, instead of more, since I’m already concerned about what I’ll see when I finally revert to my daily weigh in on January 1st.
On any given day I could probably list every single item I consumed. Confession – sometimes I fall asleep at night counting calories instead of sheep. I try to be a conscious consumer and don’t eat mindlessly. Respecting the connection between what one eats and how much exercise will be needed to balance one’s consumption, requires attention and I try to stay tuned in. I truly consider every day how I’m doing in terms of fruits, vegetables, carbs and protein striving to achieve a reasonable representation from all food groups.
Are you exhausted yet? Or, maybe you approach food in a similarly controlled fashion?
At the holidays when my kitchen is filled with delicious baked goods, I find myself challenged. “Life is short, Silvia, eat the damn cookies,” I say to myself. But, the calories, the sugar, the butter…but the panettone! The chocolates! The linzer cookies! What’s a girl with a tight leash on her appetite to do?
My solution for the rest of 2017 is to put the digital scale on vacation and resort to a more intuitive way of eating. I suspect it will involve lots of baked goods offset by fruits and vegetables in copious amounts, along with as many miles as I can muster. Wish me luck – or better yet, help me eat some cookies.
In the early 90s I visited Washington for the first time. It was easy to see why it was such a magnet for creative, artistic people. There were mountains, rivers, desert, islands, and even a rain forest, to inspire and awe, and as a tourist, I fell in love. I’m no camper, but I’d go back to the San Juan Islands in a heartbeat and sleep in a tent happily.
We spent some time in Seattle, a city I found to be smartly set-up with highways that flexibly changed their direction according to traffic demand and rush hour. Clever. Of course, we went to Pike’s Market and did a little shopping. I don’t remember buying anything from the market other than edibles, but nearby at sidewalk booth, I found some pottery that I immediately loved. The pieces on display were gorgeous – rich colors, weighty and beautifully formed. At the time they seemed expensive, but as a recent college graduate living in NYC, many things were beyond my financial reach.
The replacement piece
It turned out that there was an outlet nearby where Bruning sold their pottery seconds. You know, stuff that might not have turned out as perfectly as planned, yet still was lovely and useful. I came back east with a couple of pieces and an undying love for their work. Over the years the collection has grown (we eventually had dinner service for 6 or 8), divided (divorce) and diminished (breakage), but there was one steadfast piece that I retained and used regularly for making quiche and pies and serving, a deep blue dish that I absolutely loved.
The bonus piece
I noticed a couple of months ago that a crack had formed in this dish and was paralyzed by the thought of no longer having it in my cabinet. I went online, searched Bruning Pottery and got a contact email address. After a series of emails, I selected 2 dishes to replace my old steady, one a very similar color, the other completely unlike any that I’ve owned before. They’re a little fancier with their fluted edges, but when they arrived in the mail I felt like I was welcoming an old friend home again. I just may bake a pie this weekend.
Yeah, you. My reader. It’s been more than 7 years, 2 domains and a divorce since DelSo was born. Over the years I’ve shared a lot of my life and self here, in print. You, as a reader, have come to know me on some level from my words. What makes you return here (assuming you’re not new around these parts) and read what I write? Let me remind you of some of what I’ve related to you in the hope that you might feel inclined to share with me – who you are, reader? Why are you here?
There have been so many miles – more plane rides than I could have ever imagined, along with runs and races and road trips. I’ve explored cities with my boys and my girlfriends and solo. My feet have run in a half dozen different countries and probably about the same number of states.
My home has evolved from a house with two full-time parents to one of three part-time children. There have been physical improvements, rooms repurposed and painted, new rugs and furniture rearranged. It feels different. After a refinance or two, I know it’s mine.
I’ve written about books I’ve read and movies and concerts I’ve seen. Increasingly, politics and my dismay with our current leadership have been topics I’ve felt compelled to write about.
My children and the challenges of being a parent frequently provide fodder for posts. While the joys outweigh the frustrations, parenthood remains a roller coaster ride that keeps me on the edge of my seat with a scream threatening to escape. It’s a heart racing ride.
Sometimes I cook or bake and post recipes and photos of the fruits of my labors. Food and wine are a big part of my life and I’ve happily shared my experiences with you. Oh – and there’s that wine bar that I own.
There have been times when I wrote with sadness or anger, but I think I mostly write from a place of understanding and acceptance. Balance and moderation are woven throughout much of what I write.
Health and wellness have been covered and the miracle of menopause has been mentioned. The heartbreak of addiction and the threat of cancer have been present. I’ve learned to ski and have found bliss in pigeon pose in a room heated to 100+ degrees.
It’s all here – my life. Not perfect, not necessarily what I ever imagined it to be, but a life that I feel grateful for in a city that I have come to love.