Comfort in a cast-iron pan.
Even though I lived in New York City for more than a decade, had eaten food by some of the city’s best chefs, and edited many cookbooks by some of these chefs, I did not sincerely appreciate food until I was pregnant. In fact, it was food that told my now-husband Thomas and I that we were pregnant. We were at the International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam, and had just eaten a fantastic lunch of butternut squash soup and salad, when we walked by one of the city’s many shwarma shops, and I just turned in, ordered a chicken kebab, and inhaled it before Thomas could vocalize his shock. Until that moment, I had been oscillating between vegetarianism and veganism for years. A day later, I told him I wanted — no, needed — a burger. He suggested that we get a burger and a pregnancy test. Sure enough I was, as they say in Dutch, zwanger.
For the nearly 10 months I was pregnant with our daughter, I felt like I was eating every food, every flavor, for the first time. It was amazing. I felt liberated. After years of being ridiculously careful about every piece of food I put in my mouth, I ate what I was craving. This included wheat, some meat and poultry, and cheese. Oh my god, cheese! And bread. I no longer cared what anyone had to say about gluten, bread was … no, is … a miracle.
A day or so after our daughter Emma was born, we left the hospital and went to my parents’ house. It was early August, and we were lucky that they were delighted to house two new, overwhelmed parents. I remember sitting down in a big white chair with Emma sleeping in my arms, and feeling the weight of parenthood descend. This incredible creature was now out in the world, and it was my job to keep her alive. Could I do it? The terror came flying in. This was not haunted house terror, it was visceral, I-am-drowning-will-I-survive terror. At that moment, my mom walked into the room bearing a plate of warm Irish soda bread. I could smell the grated orange peel. I slathered a slice with salty butter and took a bite. The sweetness of the currents with the bite of citrus told me it was all going to be OK. I could do this. All that was ahead of me. Known and unknown.
So I share this recipe with you because it is one of those special memory foods for me. Because this Irish soda bread reminds me of food’s incredible power to soothe, heal, and inspire. Because it is delicious.
Irish Soda Bread
Great for a scared new parent, or anyone who loves yummy bread.
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus a tsp. for currants
3 Tbsp. sugar (or less)
1 tsp. baking soda
1½ tsp. kosher salt
4 Tbsp. butter, cut into cubes
1¾ cups buttermilk (make sure you shake it!)
1 tsp. orange or lemon zest
1 cup dried currants
Preheat the oven to 375°. Line a 10-inch cast iron skillet with parchment paper.
Combine the dry ingredients. Add the butter to the dry ingredients, and mix until the butter is well incorporated.
Lightly beat the eggs and buttermilk together. Add the zest. Add the eggs, buttermilk, and zest to the dry mixture with butter. Mix the currants with a bit of flour, and then add to the dough. Knead the dough into a large, round disk. Place the disk in the center of the skillet, and slash an x across the top (a serrated knife works well here). Bake for 45 to 50 minutes.
Serve warm or at room temperature. Same day is best! Yummiest with scrambled eggs .. .maybe some lox. And lots of salty butter.
Why Cast Iron Skillets Are the Sustainable Tool of Choice
- Unlike many pans, cast iron is not coated in harmful toxic chemicals.
- A well-seasoned cast iron pan is as nonstick as any coated, nonstick pan .. .but again, no chemicals!
- Except by copper, the even heat distribution of a cast iron skillet is unparalleled.
- Cast iron skillets are a relative bargain. A Lodge 12-inch skillet is around $28, whereas an All-Clad skillet is around $140, and an enameled cast iron 12-inch Le Creuset skillet is about $210.
- They are tremendously versatile. You can cook with cast iron on your stovetop — from sauces to poaching — and use it for grilling or baking in your oven.