Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Irish Soda Bread

 I was watching an episode of Jacques Pepin a few evenings ago and one of the items he made for a meal was Irish Soda Bread. He made it in a pan, not the oven. There's not a simpler bread I know of. The bread rises as it "bakes" and the cooking time necessary for this recipe is mere minutes.

 When I was watching Pepin, I didn't have paper and pencil handy so I made mental notes as he time-shared between the bread and other items. Since then I've read a few recipes on the net and what I made is perhaps a combination of many ideas.

 I wasn't much counting on it working ... not this first time anyway. But it did. Perfectly.

There are but four ingredients in this bread:

1 cup white flour (I had bread flour but it shouldn't be necessary)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
About 1/2 pint buttermilk (read below)

 I just added the dry ingredients in a small mixing bowl and stirred them together with a spoon.
 You are to add a "large splash" of buttermilk to the dry ingredients. You want the dough to be thick and workable with your hands but certainly not wet like pancake mix. I found 1/2 pint of buttermilk - maybe a little less - to be about right.

I stirred this with a spoon and then poured it onto a pastry cloth that I'd dusted with flour. I added a little more flour to my hands and lightly dusted the top of the dough ball. I kneaded it just a little.

The dry ingredients 

The dough poured onto a dusted pastry cloth 

Formed into a flat circle, I added it to a non-stick pan

 This recipe makes one "farl" - the name for a traditional Irish Soda bread. It can be cut into pie-shaped wedges for individual servings.

 When one side is done, the bread can be flipped onto the other side. It should be at least this brown.

 How do you know when it's done? It takes 5-10 minutes per side. The only way to check that it is done is to insert a skewer (such as a toothpick) and see if it comes out clean. Initially I set the electric burner to medium and backed off a bit as it cooked.

 The pan I used was non-stick but I still coated it lightly with Crisco. Also, as the farl cooks, a little more buttermilk can be poured around the edges. This seems to enhance cooking and prevent sticking.

 A word of warning: this doesn't taste like traditional bread. Without yeast and sugar is tastes much more "plain". With a slab of butter (which I've already tried) and maybe a spoonful of jam, it serves as an understated bread.

But it is a way to turn out a serving of bread quickly, without all the kneading and rise times.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Northside's Early Phone Company

 It's now The Cincinnati Bartending school but in its earlier years it was the Parkside Telephone Exchange. Located at 4141 Hamilton Avenue, it's Tom's nearest neighbor.

 Originally opened in 1904, author Dann Woellert, says this place "opened when telephone service was a luxury". Check out his book: Cincinnati's Northside Neighborhood,

 For information on the bartending school, click here.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Golden Tajine

 In general I prefer good old American cooking ... the basics, nothing fancy, nothing too spicy, too outlandish. Tom has been expanding my culinary horizons these past two years, though. We've had Indian cuisine a couple of times, Oriental, Mexican (which I already loved) and perhaps a small sampling of another nationality or two.

 Yesterday Tom suggested Mediterranean - for a second time. The first time I remember opting out. I must have been hungry for something a little more standard so we passed on a Northside restaurant. Yesterday he tired again ... and I bit. Mostly I wanted to see the building. But more about that later.

We went to The Golden Tajine on Spring Grove Avenue not far from Tom's apartment.

 We perused the menu and each chose the same thing: a Pita sandwich called a Med Wrap that is considered vegan. It included hummus, Romaine lettuce, tomatoes, Kalamata olives, onions, cucumbers and olive oil. While we waited (not long at all), Tom ordered a couple of more items: Mediterranean potatoes (seasoned French Fries) and Baba Ghanoush.

Baba Ghanoush

 This dish comes with warmed, sliced Pita bread. It is an eggplant dip with olive oil and cumin and has a very unique (and delicious) smoky flavor. I think I could make a meal of nothing more than this. Our waitress said it was her favorite.

Mediterranean Fries with Feta Cheese

 Though standard French Fries beneath, the season sprinkled on and the chunks of Feta cheese made this dish something special. The fries were crispy on the outside and soft and baked potato-like on the inside.

Med Wrap

 Tom and I each ordered a Med Wrap (descried above). It was a handful and could have only been improved by the inclusion of a fork. This dish is also spicy though we chose the "medium" heat version.

 This is a place I'd willingly return to. For my taste, it's exotic enough to offer something quite different and yet not so far out to seem absolutely foreign.

 On the way out, I admired the building ...

 According to Dann Woellert author of Cincinnati's Northside Neighborhood, this building was originally the Liberty Theater. You can see some of the original pediment in this shot. Built in 1909, the word Liberty was placed there with red, white and blue lights illuminating the word.

 There was a live piano accompaniment to the silent pictures of the era - by William H Schmitt no less - "and a vaudeville show on Friday nights" according to Woellert. The Liberty closed in 1929 and has since housed various restaurants.

 The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

 Woellert's fine book is available from Arcadia Publishing.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Mini-Reunion at Captain 9's

 Yesterday (09/17) we held a mini-reunion of sorts for Mom's side of the family. As you know, Dad's side of the family gets together twice a year at Rob's Restaurant in Brookville in January and July. But Mom's group hasn't been together in many years - perhaps never with this same group of people. So the time had come, Mom suggested a time and place and we all gathered at Captain 9's in Germantown yesterday at noon.

 And here we are ...


Gary and Sue

Mom and Gary


Bentley and Jason

Emily, Hadley, Mel, Doug and Bob

Emily, Hadley and Mel

Jason, Annette and Charlie Mae


 We spent about an hour and a half eating and talking and left stuffed. Great food. Great times. Great people.

The Beatles Documentary

 Some months ago I heard that director Ron Howard was working on a Beatles documentary. Tom and I mentally added it to our fall "to do" list. Last Friday (09/16) the Esquire Theater on Ludlow Street in Cincinnati offered a first-run matinee at 2 pm. I drove to Cincinnati especially for the showing.

 While Tom bought tickets I stood in front of an advertisement for the show.

 Tom ordered a large tub of buttered popcorn (real butter, not the synthetic stuff) and two very large Cokes. That was enough that both of us needed to find the restroom before the show had ended.

 Tom's always on the lookout for a bargain and he had a coupon for a free ticket. They would have been $6.50 each. The food, though, brought the total to $18 so I don't think the Esquire lost too much money in the deal.

 The lights dim and the show begins and Tom's bathed in a low-level glow.

 I took one picture during the show. This is Paul during a concert in the early days of their career.

 Yesterday when Tom came here he brought me the companion CD for the movie. It's the Beatles Hollywood Bowl concert. After the movie, by the way, the complete Shea Stadium concert was shown ... digitally remastered and so clear we could have been there.

 I'll take the CD out of the plastic wrap and listen to it ... today.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Inaugurating Cincinnati's New Streetcars

 With Cincinnati's newest street cars taking to the tracks on Friday, Tom and I arrived at Findlay Market about noon on Saturday ready to take a ride. Currently five streetcars operate on a 3.6 mile downtown track. They'll operate up to 18 hours a day, 365 days a year.

 Regular (and paid) operation begins Monday but we, and hoards of others, enjoyed the weekend ride for free.

 Self-service kiosks are located at 18 stops along the route. Planners say this downtown loop will service 70,000 potential riders.

 On Saturday, freebies were passed out (different ones at every stop, I believe). Tom and I both got stickers which we placed on our t-shirts.

 We didn't know how long the wait would be for the first streetcar to show up. But it wouldn't be long.

 Electronic signs - both at the stops and on the streetcars - indicate where the cars are located and the approximate times of arrival.

 The stops (to the right of Tom) are glass-enclosed (or merely covered) so riders can stay out of the weather.

 Another freebie I was given. There was a route map printed on the back.

 You can buy tickets at any stop using cash, credit cards or - I believe - your smartphone.

 And here comes the streetcar ...

 We're on-board - and so are plenty of others. Eventually we'll be packed like sardines, surely well beyond the maximum capacity of the streetcars. But, hey!, it's free and everyone wants to see what the electric ride feels like. The acceleration is fast and you really do have to hang on.

 Tom's found a good spot, wedged near a door. I'm on the opposite side.

 We're heading south. Findlay Market is near the northern point of the loop. The Banks, near the Ohio River is near the southern point. In between, the streetcar passes (and stops) at Music Hall, the public library, Washington Park and Fountain Square and plenty more.

 We returned to our starting point in about an hour (I understand the route takes as little as 35 minutes).

 After we returned home, I heard that service was halted in the late afternoon due to a bomb threat. That's the problem with any popular venue and the number of crazy people living among us.

 For information on the Cincinnati Bell Connector, including a detailed route map, click here.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Puffball for Lunch

 Yesterday (08/31) I walked over to the henhouse to get some potting supplies. At the edge of the meadow I saw what I first thought was a spaghetti squash, still young and white. But who would have stolen one of my squash and carried it to the meadow and left it there uneaten? I walked over to better see what it was.

What I found was a Giant Puffball (Calvatia gigantea) right on its annual schedule. They appear in Ohio, especially in late August and early September. I measured it to be 8" in its longest direction (it was a little lop-sided). For information on this mushroom, click here.

 This morning (09/01) I picked it and brought it into the kitchen so that Mom and I could fry it for lunch. It was still quite fresh ... clean, firm, white underneath except for a small area which we removed. I'm holding it against me for a size comparison. It could have been a human skull.

 The white undersides were firm and solid, just as they should be. It feels something like cutting sponge rubber, though much more tender.

 We first cut it into large, thick slices, something along the lines of slicing a loaf of fresh bread.

 Mom cleans up as she goes. You don't make a mess when Miss Mary is around.

 She fried the puffball in butter and added just salt and pepper to taste. We did not remove the "skin" but made sure everything was well-washed before use.

 Here's a single slice of the delicacy. It reminds me somewhat of a scrambled egg in both taste and texture. The butter gives it a golden color. Breading would have been a nice addition but Mom didn't want to bother with an egg wash. The smell of the puffball, both before and during frying, exhibits a true woodland scent.

 I sat down to a couple of slices before lunch. Mom ate quite a few slices as she fried them.

 We haven't had puffballs in years. They're really quite a delicious find and another of nature's free gifts. You have only to standby, watch and wait.