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When my great-grandfather passed away a couple years ago, my dad gave me one of the last jars of pear jelly he made. The top of the jar is marked with a sharpie, “PP 07,” for pear preserves. I’ve kept it in my fridge since he died, wondering what I should do with it.

It seemed that these pear preserves, as my great-grandpa’s legacy, should have been destined for something great. Maybe the golden contents of this jar should fill a tart. Possibly I could use them to add a surprise flavor to apple pie. Mayhaps I could reduce the preserves and use them to top French toast or pancakes, or to fill a shortbread cookie. So many possibilities, none of which seemed appropriate. So the jelly jar has languished in my fridge for the past couple of years, surviving one refrigerator breakdown and one cross-town move.

I’m more like him and my late great-grandmother than I ever thought I would be. I garden, I bake things, I feed people. I try to be forgiving of other’s faults, being mindful of my own imperfections and shortcomings. I try to be welcoming to everyone– at my great-grandfather’s funeral, his son (my grandpa) said that his motto was, “If you claim us, we’ll claim you.” My family tree is a knotted tangle of stepchildren, divorces, half-siblings, second and third marriages, and a few strays. Each branch, regardless of any blood relation or lack thereof, bears the Williams name in heart if not on paper. For this man, “family” meant more than a marriage certificate or a genetic connection; family was the feeling created when all of us were together in that tiny house, elbowing around each other to get another glass of tea or another slice of chocolate pie.

At Christmas last year, my father’s house was full of people: my dad and his wife; my sister and her boyfriend; my grandparents; my aunt and her two near-grown children; my uncle with his wife, two sons, one daughter, all of their partners and his three grandchildren; my dad’s daughter-in-law with her new husband and their four children; and my boyfriend and I. He whispered to me, “This is when I like having a small house.” I looked around, and saw the half-dozen conversations, the way we all interrupt each other. The way we all helped ourselves to cans of soda from the fridge and watched the little ones open their presents. The way no one watched the TV that played in the background. It made me happy that I’ve never lived in a big house. I’ve always had a big family in small houses, packed together like sardines when we all make the time to be in the same place at the same moment. We bump into each other, wrap our arms around each other, and smile in the warm comfort of wooden floors and warm ovens.

So when I started baking my own bread a few weeks ago with the book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, I knew what to do with the pear jelly. I’ve been working through it exactly the way my great-grandfather, my grandpa, and my dad would have: one piece of toast at a time.

Note: I’m not going to post the whole recipe here. Suffice it to say, it’s a reliable recipe and I’ve had success making bread, rolls, and pizza with it. See the introduction to the method on the Mother Earth News web site and give it a shot.

My boyfriend and I had the best evening last week. I came home from work, made dinner and chocolate pudding before he got home from work, and we had a relaxed meal on the sofa while watching the new Parks and Recreation. Wanna know what we had for dinner?

These biscuits. That’s all.

In the mood for comfort food after a stressful work day, I intended to make risotto. And then chocolate pudding happened, and the baking urge kept me going through these biscuits, and pretty soon we were snacking on the biscuits and deciding what to do for dinner when we made a startling discovery. We were no longer hungry, as we had eaten an entire batch of cheddar-scallion biscuits.

And you know what? It was awesome. We didn’t feel guilty or worry about finding a way to burn off all that butter and cheese. We giggled, split the last one, and had chilled chocolate pudding for dessert. Adulthood is marvelous that way: You can make a batch of biscuits for dinner and have nothing else. And then you get chocolate.

Or you can, you know, be a grownup about it and have these biscuits alongside tomato soup (instead of the usual grilled cheese), with some sort of vegetable stew, or on the Sunday dinner table. But if you make them and quickly lose the will to make anything else ever again, I won’t judge. Or tell.

Cheddar-Scallion Drop Biscuits
Adapted from Three Many Cooks
Makes 10 biscuits

You will need:
2 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking  soda
3/4 tsp. salt
1 c. grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 c. thinly sliced scallions
1 stick unsalted butter, frozen
1 c. cold buttermilk

Preheat oven to 450, and either grease a cookie sheet or line it with parchment paper.

Combine dry ingredients in a medium-sized bowl.

Using the large holes in a box grater, grate the butter directly into the dry mixture. Using the tips of your fingers, work the butter into the dry mixture until it resembles peas, but don’t work it too long. (Don’t worry. It will be fine. It’s not scary, like pie dough.) Add cheddar and scallions, and toss with a fork. Add buttermilk, and stir with a fork until combined, but do not overmix. (Calm down. You didn’t overmix. Don’t worry about the small bits of flour. When the butter melts in the oven, it will all be okay.)

Using your hands, take a palmful of dough and loosely form it into a round. Drop onto the cookie sheet. Repeat until you have 10 biscuits, and bake about 15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from pan and eat immediately.

I’ve been on a bit of a blogging hiatus, but I’m back now! Settling into a new job and new kittens has been an adventure, but I’m back in the saddle. And I bring you… Irish soda bread!

Half-Price Books had a Labor Day sale last weekend, and (never one to turn down a cheap book) Handsome braved the throngs of deal-seekers while I was at work to emerge victorious with Irish Food & Cooking, a beautiful book that details the history of Irish cuisine. For example, did you know that Irish cheese is quite a recent thing, and has only been popular for the last thirty or so years? (Do you care?) It also describes the standard Irish kitchen and meal, the cuts of meat most frequently used, the methods of preparation. It’s a great introduction to traditional Irish cuisine.

Which isn’t to say that “traditional Irish cuisine” is something I have spent much time yearning to know more about. Handsome has been on a whiskey kick lately, and is therefore enamored with all things Irish and Scottish. Also, we are experiencing quite the deluge thanks to Hurricane Hermine, which begs for some stout, warm Irish food.

I can’t quite bring myself to tackle the various ways in which fish can be made into cakes or pies, or game made into homemade sausages, but I’ve always been fond of a soda bread that’s sold at a small grocery store I used to live near. The ingredients for the bread are pretty basic (although finding cream of tartar required a trip to two grocery stores, one of which has apparently never stocked it and the other which apparently never hasn’t), and the bread comes together quickly. It isn’t nearly as intimidating as yeast breads, which I’ve attempted only once, with limited success. And it’s customizable: you can leave it as written, or add dried fruits or caraway seeds. Up to you! It also makes the house smell wonderful, and comes out of the oven a beautiful brown. It’s a nice, basic country bread, though it is best eaten the day it’s made or soon after.

Irish Soda Bread with Cranberries
Adapted from Irish Food & Cooking: Traditional Irish Cuisine with Over 150 Delicious Step-By-Step Recipes from the Emerald Isle, by Biddy White Lennon and Georgina Campbell
Note: The addition of dried cranberries is definitely not traditional, even for American-style Irish soda bread. Raisins are much more expected, but I like cranberries. So there.

You will need:
4 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
pinch salt
2 tbsp. butter, at room temperature
1 egg
1 1/4 c. buttermilk
1 c. dried cranberries or other dried fruit (optional)
2 tbsp. sugar (optional)

Preheat the oven to 425 and grease a baking sheet. Sift flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt into a large bowl. Add butter and cut into flour with a fork or your fingers until butter is evenly distributed. The book says the mixture should “resemble fine bread crumbs.”

If using, add dried fruit and sugar; mix well.

Whisk the egg and buttermilk together. Make a well in the dry mixture and add the buttermilk/ egg; mix well until you have a dough.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead 1-2 minutes, until dough comes together. Shape into a round, flatten slightly, and score the dough with a deep cross.

Bake for 30 minutes (if using no fruit) and 45 minutes (if using fruit) until the crust is deep brown and the bread makes a hollow sound when tapped on the bottom. Slice and serve with “lashings of butter and home-made jam.” Or, you know, with some butter and jelly.

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