Old-Fashioned Winter Oatmeal Bread

Old-Fashioned Winter Oatmeal Bread

I haven’t made this one in years but it’s the best.

I don’t have many notes on this one because it wasn’t totally new to me and it also worked pretty much as flawlessly as I can get so far.  I did try using Hovis Super Strong white bread flour for it instead of normal-strong bread flour, partly because it was cheaper and partly because I wanted to know if it would compensate for the low gluten oats.  I can’t tell if it worked better than a not-super flour because I didn’t actually have anything to compare it to, but the loaf was very tasty and easy to work, with a good crumb, so I’m happy.

Because of the oats, it’s very moisty when warm and still stays pretty moist  a few days later.  Not that there’s likely to be much left in a couple of days, the way we’ve been eating it.  I’m planning to make it again soon, with the granola Hensperger recommends instead of oatmeal — I’ve had such hopes for a good granola bread but the last recipe I tried just sucked.  (Honestly, I probably made it wrong, but it’s not clear to me from the recipe how I screwed it up and it definitely didn’t turn out great.)

Anyway, this oatmeal bread is among the best bread I’ve ever eaten.  We had it with a lentil, tomato, bacon and rosemary soup, which was a very tasty mix for a cold couple of days.


Rain and Sun

Rain and Sun loaf

So this thing was a catastrophe pretty much from start to finish, redeemed only by the fact it’s tasty enough.

I made Beth Hensperger’s Rain and Sun bread (acquiring the full recipe I’ll leave as an exercise to the intrepid/moderately competent reader), a braid of mild, orangey buckwheat bread and a light yeasted cornbread.

It’s not as “light and dark” as she described, probably because the proportion of buckwheat is pretty low and because she points out that European buckwheat flour tends to be milder than American — next time I’d probably double the buckwheat unless I could find something imported.  Also you might notice it has been baked thoroughly enough to have any contrast browned out, a combination byproduct of egg wash and my timer failing fifteen minutes into baking without me noticing.

Successes: I’ve never done a braided loaf before and I’m pretty happy with my results.  The bread smelled unbelievably good while baking.  It’s tasty enough to eat up instead of having to bin it because of the numerous fuck-ups.

Regarding the fuck-ups: I think the Universe either didn’t want this loaf made or didn’t want me to enjoy it, because even though I have been planning this bread for a couple days, I somehow didn’t have a couple of staples for it.  The buckwheat dough was fine, but as it was rising and I began to start the cornmeal dough, I realized I was out of maple syrup.  Wanting to do things right, I tried my normal grocery store but they seem to have stopped carrying maple syrup: I had to go to the other side of town to get a bottle.  With the road works and lunatic drivers and suicidal pedestrians and everything, it took me a bit more than half an hour to get back to the kitchen.

I’m allergic to dairy so I use soymilk and a commercial dairy-free baking margarine, so I figured the fat from the margarine would balance out just using soymilk for the half-and-half.  It probably would have, if I hadn’t forgotten to put it in.  I was also just shy of the two-thirds cup of fine cornmeal it wanted.

But on top of forgetting the fat about the time I was putting the cornmeal bolus into a greased bowl to rise, the buckwheat dough had had probably thirty or forty more minutes to rise than the cornmeal by the time I had to punch it down and shape the loaves.  Not disastrous but definitely noticeable.  The loaves also probably should have proofed longer than thirty minutes before baking, but I was frankly in a hurry to get them into the oven and back out so I could leave for an errand.

I was out of baking parchment (notice a theme?) so I just put them on greased and floured trays and put them into bake.  After thirteen minutes and twenty-seven seconds, I peeked into the oven to see how they were going; I knocked the timer off the oven and it knocked the battery shield off.  I reassembled it but didn’t double-check to make sure it was still counting down.  After something more than thirty more minutes, I grew suspicious that my timer hadn’t gone off yet and I noticed that the loaves are the deep brown of too damn cooked (with a thick, crispy crust, which I don’t particularly like) and the timer was still at twenty-seven minutes and something.

Only one of the loaves was a bit blackened at the bottom, but even cooling off wrapped in tea towels only slightly improved the crust.

A qualified failure, though I hope, in keeping with the other aspects of my life that the Universe has tried hard to prevent, that these loaves end up as some sort of initiatory talisman with sinister effects. Or sandwiches.




I finally got a copy of Pleyn Delit, which I’d only been planning on doing for… fourteen years.  Literally. In celebration of my rather ridiculous wait and because upon moving into our new house I was suddenly in possession of an elder tree in full bloom, I elected to start cooking through the book with the recipe for sambocade, an elderflower cheesecake found in The Forme of Cury:

Take and make a crust in a trap & take cruddes and wryng out þe wheyƺe and draw hem þurgh a straynour and put hit in þe crust. Do þerto sugur the þridde part, & somdel whyte of ayren, & shake þerin blomes of elren; and bake it up with eurose, & messe it forth.

I used Pleyn Delit‘s redaction with my own usual rich shortcrust recipe in a ceramic 10-inch tart dish, very similar to the traps that Peter Brears describes: “broad, round and shallow, the walls only an inch or two in height… around 7-19 inches in diameter.” The only difference in my version from Pleyn Delit‘s was in estimating my four egg whites by weight – we had a tupperware full of whites, so I did a bit of googling and used 160g – and in using 5 moderately-sized clusters of fresh elderflower, since I’d read that the floral note can be quite subtle.


While I used the redaction’s ingredients, I used the original’s method. Instead of blending or pureeing the ingredients together using a non-medieval appliance, I forced the drained cottage cheese curds through a fine metal sieve and beat it with the eggs and sugar with a heavy whisk, the closest utensil I had to a medieval whisk, much less delicate than most today.

The redaction doesn’t specify the size of the trap but I was struck by how thin the filling seemed, especially compared to others’ photos – I think my tart dish, despite being quite shallow, would’ve been fine nearly doubling the recipe.


The final dish was, well, odd; the texture was almost crumbly, especially in comparison to a modern cheesecake. I found the elderflower flavor frustratingly faint despite the extra I added, behind a teaspoon of strong rosewater – a flavor I prefer in small confections or moderation. The texture of the cottage cheese after being forced through the sieve was similar to ricotta, which might make a nicer and simpler substitute for the cruddes – apparently not an unusual conclusion. The mild lemony acidity of the ricotta would likely also improve the elderflower flavor, which should be stronger; the rosewater I found overpowering and should be toned down.

Assuming I didn’t vastly miscalculate the weight of an egg white, then I think the ratio of curds to egg white should be higher. My finished tart had, despite the crumbly texture when cut into, a rubbery and slightly bouncy top. More cheese and less egg would hopefully correct that.

Looks lovely and shows promise, but not quite a success as redacted.

Brears, Peter C. D. Cooking and dining in Medieval England. Blackawton, Totnes, Devon: Prospect Books, 2008. Pg. 127-128.


I’ve updated the Taphophilia page, which now includes a schmancy world map of cemeteries I’ve visited and photographed (though regrettably not the ones that I’ve only visited and not photographed).  For several of them there’s more photos in the Photography section.

Preparing for Halloween, a list of marvelous things

Usually Halloween’s a big holiday for me. I hit the harvest season at full tilt and come skidding into Halloween ready for deep fall and preparing for Yule. This year, not so much. The death motifs of Halloween are hitting a bittersweet note and with such a rainy and unpredictable summer, the harvest season I was hoping for was pretty much trashed. The bottles of gin in my cupboard — saved up for the sloe harvest which does not seem to be happening — is going to turn into blueberry and pear (separately) liqueurs, not sloe gin to replace the bottle we nursed all year. Without a hot summer, I’m not as anxious for fall. I feel like I have the Janus problem: one part of me is so over the lingering almost-maybe-not-quite summer and just wants proper cold, something definite; the other part of me is dismayed and wants to keep the okay weather we’ve had, hopefully squeeze another squash out of the vine. It’s breaking my head a little — the shops were putting up Christmas food and decor before the Halloween stuff, but I still got ripe greenhouse tomatoes this week. First it’s freezing, then it’s just pleasantly cool.

october morning

At least it’s really beautiful in the mornings. This morning was foggy — grey fog against red-gold trees is stunning. In lieu of my own detailed recipe, I’m going to leave you with a list of things I’m loving right now, in my weird transitional state.

blue fingerless gloves

This fingerless glove pattern. It’s easy and worked flat, for those knitters who are anxious about working in the round or who don’t have DPNs. The original pattern there is for men’s gloves which seems to run a little big in DK; I did a version in dark blue Norse Chunky (Viking!) yarn which fits my hands better and this is the version I did for the wife. Unlike the other pair of fingerless gloves I have, with individual fingers (keeps my hands warmer for winter photography), these ones I think will be easier to type or knit with.

orange marmalade cake

This orange marmalade cake recipe. I made a two-thirds-scale version with a really beautiful three-fruits marmalade from a local producer. It was just sweet enough with a nice buzz from the marmalade.  Also it’s vegan, so bonus.

Most of what I accumulate, food-wise, is condiments and liquor, apparently to an exceptional degree.  That said, I am really loving my homemade pear sauce (no recipe, it’s made the same as applesauce, though I go very easy on the spice and no sugar — to clarify, that’s American-style applesauce, not the greenish Bramley jam-type stuff I can find here) which goes very nicely in these pancakes, should you be at a loss to use it. This apple-fennel butter also looks very promising indeed.

Speaking of accumulating liquor, this strawberry wine recipe is a million kinds of delicious and I am seriously sorry we only made a bottle and a half this summer. (Sauvignon Blanc worked very nicely with our local organic Irish strawberries.) Since the gin’s going blueberry and pear, we decided to try this recipe out with pomegranate — we’re macerating a big jar and a little jar with the crushed arils of five pomegranates, a bottle of pale rosé and about 3/4 cup caster sugar in total. It’s only about 2 weeks into the 6-week maceration but it looks good.

I was really surprised when I heard about Felix Baumgartner’s jump — not because I hadn’t heard of it, but because I unexpectedly had. He came up in Mary Roach’s book Packing for Mars, which is really interesting and funny and kind of made a lengthy solo trans-Atlantic, transcontinental round-trip flight a little less epically boring. Now I feel deep sympathy for astronauts and not so bad about the state of airline food and bathrooms. Salt Lake City is still a boring, efficient airport though. (But better than JFK. Ye gods.)

Besides Packing for Mars, I am really enjoying a book of poetry I bought back in Canada for something like $2 off a table outside a fairly poor bookshop. John Steffler’s That Night We Were Ravenous is neither new nor famous but is really clean and rooted. I’ll leave you with one of my favorites from that book, which is one of my favorite poems bar none:

“February First” (by John Steffler)

beyond the glass doors: light
that hurts,
snow marked by a few bird tracks, scant
purple cuneiform

near the house wall little flakes
of ice, weightless
are flitting around in the breeze
like static on a video screen, as though
excessive light
condensed in crystals.

I want to respond
somehow, drink tea straight
from the pot, jump through the glass
and hang like Nureyev
all day,
the burst glass chiming around me
pure outer space

Rosehip syrup and the state of the hedgerow

I knew I should be, but I wasn’t feeling the equinox at all.  This whole summer has been one long disappointing Ray Bradbury reference punctuated only by a depressing trip back to the States (all our summer heat has been shifted there; they could use some rain and cold and my vitamin D levels and butternut squash could use some sun).  Around late August I kind of had a feel about the holiday but when it rolled around a few days ago, I could not muster a damn.  Last year I threw literally a Dionysian revel and this year… meh.  I didn’t want to do much except take a walk, maybe start a demijohn of wine, enjoy what was really clearly finally autumn weather.  I’d thought about going to pick some just-ripe elderberries as a deliberate observation but I honestly didn’t care enough.  My brain barely took Harvest Home as a speed bump on the way to Halloween.  It keeps lying to me that it’s late October and we should really have a blowout for Halloween, even though it’s late September.  (Perhaps this is because Tesco has begun seriously taking the piss and has had a slew of Christmas decorations and food out for around a week now.)

With the vague equinoctial intent of Taking A Walk and Not Getting Rained On and maybe Finding Some Elderberries For Wine, we headed out.

M down the lane

I haven’t foraged nearly as much as I wanted to this year, through a combination of lousy weather, haphazard fruiting and too much else to get done, though the Telegraph notes it’s been a bad year for hedgefood.  We managed to get a few pounds of blackberries a week ago, on the sunny half of a blocked-off lane, but they flowered late and fruited late and most of them are still seedy and green.  I’m worried about the sloes — I’ve got a few bottles of Plymouth waiting for October but blackthorn has been unusually barren.  I wished I could find tasty haws because there’s plenty of those little red bastards, but I didn’t like to eat glue in elementary school so I haven’t developed a taste for them.  I hadn’t been down the lane before so I was hoping for elderberries, and while I was technically granted some — enough to individually count, in a few patchy picked-over clumps hanging off a tree at the very end of the lane — we hit the jackpot on rosehips.


The syrup I tried making last year wasn’t very good (probably because I don’t recall looking up a recipe for it) in that it was very weak and therefore boring and therefore a waste of fruit and fridge space until I finally poured it out.  This year, success.

dog rosehips

We ended up picking just over a pound of dog rosehips in the course of our walk; not bad for the area and enough to mitigate having turned around halfway through to pick up a bucket and a camera.  The air had that refreshing crispness and the sun stayed out for the duration.  It was subtly strange, though.  I’d gone to the States and driven up into the mountains, where I was hoping to see huckleberries and didn’t.  Instead I’d seen several big elder bushes, covered in sprays of frothy white flowers simultaneously with generous clumps of ripe berries, for the first time I could consciously remember.  Between that and the other weirdo coincidences, Ireland was stalking me Transatlantically.  And when I came back, the hedgerow patterns I’ve gotten used to the last few years seemed totally wrong.  Instead of the black fruits I was expecting (blackberries and sloes ripening) or the meadowsweet I’d planned to pick which seemed to vanish, leaving scarcer green budding plants behind, I kept getting red fruit.  Haws.  Rosehips.  It was like walking through a familiar neighborhood which was changed overnight just enough to throw me off.

bucket of fruit

With a pound of rosehips, making syrup seemed the obvious choice.  The next batch is for chutney, but some vitamin C rich syrup for the winter was our priority.  And with the limited space in the freezer (my ice cream basin takes up most of the spare volume) we wanted something I could can.  This recipe is delicious, canning-friendly and turns out an intense thick syrup with a beautiful deep reddish-salmon color.

Rosehip Syrup
(Our yield was 1 full 250mL Kilner jar and 3/4 of one to stash in the fridge)

1 lb. fresh rosehips, chopped coarsely in a food processor
4.5 c. water
.5 lb. sugar

Bring half the water to a boil in a large saucepan with a lid on. Once it’s boiling, add all the chopped rosehips, replace the lid and bring back to the boil. Take it off the heat and let steep 20 min. with the lid on.

Strain all the pulpy rosehips out of the liquid and save both. You can either let this drip an hour through a jelly bag or smush it around in a fine sieve.

If you’re going to can it, prepare your jars and lids for boiling water processing.

Repeat the boil/add rosehips/boil/steep/strain procedure again, with the other half of the water.

Take all the steeped solution in a saucepan and reduce over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it is only 1.5 cups. Add the sugar and stir to dissolve, then bring to the boil and boil 5 min.

If canning, immediately pack into jars, leaving .5 inch headspace and process 5 min. in boiling water canner. If not, allow to cool and freeze or refrigerate promptly. It keeps about 2 weeks in the fridge.

jar of syrup

I had felt really lukewarm about rosehip syrup but this stuff changed my mind. It’s intense and slightly tart without being sour and has a vague, inexplicable vanilla undertone. The color of it makes me want to mix it with pink grapefruit juice, and that makes me want to mix both with gin, so… maybe this is going to end up going the way of a Dionysian revel after all.

Tea and biscuits and ice cream

I recently justified buying an ice cream maker through the non-logic that I would eventually buy one anyway (I’ve been looking at them longingly for three summers now) and this way I’d pay half as much than if I waited.  And while the amount of stuff I have in my kitchen almost beggars belief (especially since we recently moved and lost about 1/3 of a kitchen’s worth of storage space) I really needed this one, you guys.  Really.  We don’t need a toaster but we definitely do need an ice cream maker.

Actually, I can lay my nonlogical ice cream maker purchase squarely at the feet of Outrageous Food, which is a Food Network masterpiece that we have been watching while I knit and M hooks a huge GOD BLESS AMERICA flag-emblazoned rug.  It has episode titles like “The 2-Foot Pancake” and “Rattlesnake Pierogies” and “The 72-Inch Burrito”.  The entire premise is that the guy runs around with unflappable enthusiasm and joie de vivre, eating weird or grossly oversized food and cheerfully egging on competitive eating stunts.  Given that he is one of the few television personalities I’ve seen without the joyless stink of irony, and given that I enjoyed a well-spent $1 on Horsemen of the Esophagus, this is pretty much failproof.  The moment I realized that I needed an ice cream maker was the moment that he helped make pizza ice cream at an ice cream parlor with more than 5,000 flavors.  Pizza.  Ice.  Cream.

Somehow M could see the glimmer of pizza ice cream in my eye as we queued to buy my ice cream maker and made me promise to inaugurate it with nectarine ice cream, which ended up such a frustrating mess that let’s never speak of it again.  The second batch I made was also her idea, but ended up much better.

custard creams

She suggested black tea and biscuits, the Anglo/Irish riff on coffee & doughnut ice cream.  I based my attempt on this recipe, but with three changes: first, I swapped the Earl Grey tea for Twinings English Breakfast.  I used the Twinings because it was already decaffeinated (which is a necessity for me) but I’ve found it brews up so weak, no matter how long you leave it, that I think next time I’d use a nice Assam instead.  You want the tea to be strong, since it’ll get diluted with all the cream.  Secondly, I mixed in 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste to the custard while it was cooling, to make sure the ice cream tasted rich enough.  Lastly, I cut up a dozen custard cream biscuits into largish chunks and folded them into the just-churned ice cream before packing it into the freezer to harden.  M observed that the best part of cookies-and-cream is the combination of cookie and filling inherent in sandwich cookies and that custard creams therefore outweighed rich tea or shortbread biscuits.  (Shortbread would still be very nice.  Nice biscuits would probably be very nice too.)

milky tea and custard cream ice cream

It was good, really good.  It was so tasty it wiped my frustration at the nectarine ice cream, which is the dessert pastry chefs have to make in hell.  This tea ice cream is what very lucky people have instead of tea and biscuits or breakfast.  In fact, since you want to let it sit in the freezer overnight to let the biscuits soak up some moisture and soften up a bit, it would be ideal for breakfast (or start a batch of coffee-and-doughnuts for breakfast and make the tea-and-biscuits for the afternoon).


Five pounds of fresh chanterelles starts with me craving bread and butter pickles.

If Ireland is possessed of these pickles, I have yet to find them.  Dill pickles are vile, evil things and I had gone a few years without my favored pickles until I got a mad craving.  Sometimes the food you can’t get is like an itch in the middle of your back you can’t quite reach.  It makes you a little crazy.  I visited the States a few weeks ago and ate half a jar straight up, sitting in the cloistered shade on the patio behind my parents’ house while the sun beat down all afternoon.  Idaho was equatorial compared to the non-summer we’ve been having in Ireland.  I lit our woodstove a few times in July here while the rain poured continuously and unseasonably; meanwhile my hometown was baking in weeks of cloudless, relentless desert heat.

Anyway, what I mean to say is that I didn’t get to eat enough pickles to kill the craving, and set about canning a few jars when I got back.  I had already bought jars and picked a promising recipe, which left only buying cucumbers between me and pickles.

Of course, everywhere I’d seen them was out by the time I got there.  Like the rowan berries I’d planned to pick, by the time I got back from the States I couldn’t find any damn cucumbers.  My wife suggested, as a final attempt, trying the last Polish shop in town.  Tucked back in a corner, flanked by bookies and other forgettable shops, we’d never been in before.  More the fools us.

Somehow, with improbably good luck, not only was it the best-stocked Polish shop I’d been in since Edmonton, and not only did they have pickling cucumbers (and pierogies, and chocolates, and crunchy vanilla biscuits to be jerry-rigged into tiramisu), they had an entire flat of fresh chanterelles at an obscenely good price.

At first we bought a reasonable quantity — about half a pound — but the next day we went back for more.  Much more.  Pretty much all they had left more.  We were rich in mushrooms.

The first batch we ate simply: I melted a knob of butter in a pan and sauteed the chanterelles — the larger ones cut into halves or quarters — with finely chopped dried apricot.  Chanterelles have a natural apricot-y fragrance and lack most of the musty earthiness of other mushrooms.  If the apricot’s chopped small enough, it practically melts away, the texture blending into the mushrooms and the flavor amping up the savory fruitiness.  I finished it off with a bit of fresh lemon thyme and piled it on mascarpone-smeared bread.  We pretty much couldn’t stop high-fiving each other over our good fortune.  (Mushroom fortune.)

The second batch I prepared nearly the same way, but stirred it into scrambled egg instead of over toast.  It was ugly but edible; I mention it only to caution against doing it.  Whatever I did, the egg ended up watery, and instead of being a luxurious take on normal scrambled eggs, it ended up weird.

The rest, maybe two pounds, I made duxelles out of.  Now the scrambled eggs would likely have done very well with chanterelle duxelles through it instead.  Making duxelles is almost criminally easy, though I don’t claim to be adhering strictly to any recipe.  I had a bottle of thyme-infused olive oil from a friend, in which I sauteed my cleaned chopped mushrooms and a chopped onion in a few batches — it’s important not to crowd the pan or use much oil, since you’re trying to cook the liquid out.  Once all the mushrooms had been cooked, I put them back in the pan and simmered them with a generous glass of white wine, a couple of sprigs of fresh thyme and one-third cup or so of the infused olive oil and cooked them down until the liquid was gone again.  You could do crimini or portobello with red wine, button mushrooms either white or red.  Then you season them with nice salt (I am a good salt evangelist) and fresh black pepper and you can put them in whatever (like your mouth, with a spoon or your fingers).  Scrambled eggs.  Mashed potatoes.  Risotto.  Good stuff.