Tasty Tuesday: Irish Soda Bread

In the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day, here’s a recipe for traditional Irish soda bread.  Several sources I’ve come across in searching for today’s recipe state that traditional soda bread contains only four ingredients:  flour, baking soda, buttermilk and salt, so that’s what I’ve included below.  There’s a wheat and white version, both from the Society for Preservation of Irish Soda Bread.

Soda bread

Brown Bread

  • 3 cups (12 oz) of wheat flour
  • 1 cup (4 oz) of white flour (do not use self-rising as it already contains baking powder and salt)
  • 14 ounces of buttermilk (pour in a bit at a time until the dough is moist)
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda.
  • 2 ounces of butter if you want to deviate a bit.


  1. Preheat the oven to 425 F. degrees. Lightly grease and flour a cake pan. In a large bowl sieve and combine all the dry ingredients. Rub in the butter until the flour is crumbly.
  2. Add the buttermilk to form a sticky dough. Place on floured surface and lightly knead (too much allows the gas to escape)
  3. Shape into a round flat shape in a round cake pan and cut a cross in the top of the dough.
  4. Cover the pan with another pan and bake for 30 minutes (this simulates the bastible pot). Remove cover and bake for an additional 15 minutes.
  5. The bottom of the bread will have a hollow sound when tapped to show it is done.
  6. Cover the bread in a tea towel and lightly sprinkle water on the cloth to keep the bread moist.
  7. Let cool and you are ready to have a buttered slice with a nice cup of tea or coffee.

White Soda Bread

  • 4 cups (16 oz) of all purpose flour.
  • 1 Teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 Teaspoon salt
  • 14 oz of buttermilk


  1. Preheat the oven to 425 F. degrees. Lightly crease and flour a cake pan.
  2. In a large bowl sieve and combine all the dry ingredients.
  3. Add the buttermilk to form a sticky dough. Place on floured surface and lightly knead (too much allows the gas to escape)
  4. Shape into a round flat shape in a round cake pan and cut a cross in the top of the dough.
  5. Cover the pan with another pan and bake for 30 minutes (this simulates the bastible pot). Remove cover and bake for an additional 15 minutes.
  6. The bottom of the bread will have a hollow sound when tapped so show it is done.
  7. Cover the bread in a tea towel and lightly sprinkle water on the cloth to keep the bread moist.
  8. Let cool and you are ready to have a buttered slice with a nice cup of tea or coffee.



Irish Food for St. Patrick’s Day (gimmetherecipe.com)
What to eat on St. Patrick’s Day (megliovivere.wordpress.com)
Food Love:  White Soda Bread (nyandla.wordpress.com)
Is Traditional Irish Food in America Accurate? (beatcancer2010.wordpress.com)
Irish Brown Bread (inanirishhome.com)


Multicultural Monday: St Patrick’s Day

March 17th is St Patrick’s Day and in the US serves as a cause to celebrate one’s Irish heritage.  The date of March 17th is significant because it is the feast day of St Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland.  Legend has it that he used the shamrock, a clover, to explain the Holy Trinity to pagans and helped convert Ireland to Christianity.

Although not an official holiday in the US, it is celebrated with parades, eating and drinking and wearing the color green.  The city of Chicago even dyes the river green!

The FDNY EMS Pipes and Drums Band Took Part In The New York Parade On Sunday And Then Jetted To Dublin To March In Dublin On Sunday (8566206960)
FDNY Pipes & Drums, NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade

St. Patricks Day Parade (2013) In Dublin Was Excellent But The Weather And The Turnout Was Disappointing (8565108095)
St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin, Ireland

Green Chicago River on Saint Patricks Day 2009
The Chicago River, dyed green for St. Patrick’s Day


Happy St Patty’s Day (mahoganywanderlust.com)
St Patrick’s Day Activities (honestlymotherhood.wordpress.com)
St Patrick’s Day (preservationinpink.wordpress.com)
St Patrick:  patron saint of the Irish and a ‘Great Briton’ (historysshadow.wordpress.com)
Happy St Patrick’s Day!  (paperbackwriter28.net)

Tasty Tuesday: Fastnacht Day!

Today is known as Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday in the Christian tradition.  There are lots of celebrations around the world today – Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Carneval in Brazil, Pancake Day in the UK and Fasching in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.  The point of these celebrations is to get rid of anything that is forbidden during the time of Lent, which is meant for abstention and penitence.  Lent begins tomorrow, on Ash Wednesday.

Within my own Pennsylvania Dutch background, we celebrate Fastnacht Day.  Traditionally, it was custom to use up all the lard, sugar, butter, eggs, etc. before the fasting time of Lent.  This was done through the making of Fastnachts, which are a type of doughnut.  There are many different recipes for Fastnachts; some with baking powder, some with yeast, some with potatoes.  For anyone wanting to try their hand at homemade Fastnachts, here’s a recipe from Teri’s Kitchen.

Fastnachts (Pennsylvania Dutch/German Yeast Doughnuts)

Makes 4 to 5 dozen

Fastnacht Day is a special Pennsylvania Dutch celebration that falls on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. The word translates to “Fast Night”. The tradition is to eat the very best, and lots of it, before the Lenten fast. Fastnachts (pronounced fost-nokts) are doughnuts. There are three types of Fastnachts, one made with yeast, one made with baking powder, and one made with potatoes and yeast. All are slightly crispy on the outside and not as sweet as standard doughnuts. My family usually had crullers, spelled cruellers in PA Dutch country, which do not use yeast. I have recipes for both the yeast Fastnachts, as in this posting, and crullers, a less time-consuming doughnut and my personal favorite. A cousin shared her family’s recipe for potato Fastnachts, but I have not tried it as yet. Both of those recipes are on the full page view linked above. Traditionally, all Fastnachts were made with, and fried in, lard. I have altered that in the recipes since it is so difficult to find nowadays but, if you can find it, lard would be my first choice.



  • 2 cups milk, room temperature
  • 1 package (2-1/4 teaspoons) rapid-rise dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup lukewarm water
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour


  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup vegetable shortening (preferably non-hydrogenated)
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, more if needed
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground mace
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • Vegetable or canola oil for frying, about 2 quarts

For the sponge: Scald the milk and cool. (This can be done in a pan on the stovetop, or in a bowl in the microwave on High for about 3 minutes, depending on wattage. Heat but do not boil.) Dissolve the yeast in the water and let rest until it starts to bubble to make certain it is alive. Place the milk, 1 teaspoon sugar, 3 cups flour and yeast mixture in a large bowl of an electric mixer. Stir on low just until combined. Cover and let rise in a draft-free area until doubled, about 30 minutes.

For the dough: Beat the eggs in a small bowl. Melt the shortening and let cool. Place 3 cups of the remaining flour in a medium bowl. Add the salt and mace; stir with a whisk to combine. When the sponge has doubled, add the eggs, melted shortening and the 3/4 cup sugar; stir just to combine. On the lowest setting of the mixer, add the flour mixture, about one-third at a time. Stir just to combine. Do not over mix. The dough should be very soft and just dry enough to roll. If it is very sticky, incorporate just a little more flour, about 2 tablespoons at a time. Cover and let rise until doubled, 1-1/2 to 2 hours.

When doubled, place dough on a lightly floured surface. Gently roll to about 1/2-inch thickness, as close to a square or rectangle as possible. Cut into 2-inch squares. If desired, cut a slit down the center of each square, being careful not to go all the way through the dough. (This is traditional for Fastnachts. Supposedly, it makes them crispier all over the outside. But it is not necessary.) Place on large baking sheets lined with parchment or waxed paper. Cover and let rise again until nearly doubled, about 1-1/2 to 2 hours.

To fry doughnuts: Place the oil in a deep pan high enough to hold the oil half way up the sides. Heat to 360° over medium heat. Carefully fry the doughnuts, about 5 to 7 at a time, until well-browned on one side, about 3 minutes. Flip to other side and brown another 3 minutes. Remove from oil and drain on paper towels.

Notes: I like to use my stand-up mixer, but these are relatively easy to make by hand. Doughnuts may be sprinkled with granulated or confectioner’s sugar while still warm. The PA Dutch tradition is to cut open the doughnut horizontally, and drizzle the cut sides with molasses or corn syrup. I prefer them plain. They are best served the same day because they are so good when crispy on the outside. However, they are still good, stored in plastic bags in the refrigerator for up to a week, or in the freezer for several months (they will never last that long). Leftover Fastnachts are best placed in a preheated 350° oven for about 5 minutes to recrisp slightly. Watch them carefully to prevent burning.


Carnival in Germany! (biancarasmussen.wordpress.com/)
Carnevale di Venezia (thebeautyofdecisions.wordpress.com)
Mardi Gras is here!!! (castledale.wordpress.com/)
Happy Pancake Day! (heatheranddaisy.wordpress.com)
It’s Fat Tuesday!  Mardi Gras!  (thesinceregift.wordpress.com)

Foreign Exchange Friday: EF Exchange Stories

Recently, EF Foundation for Foreign Study launched a new website (exchangestories.com) and magazine (The Exchange) to share all the wonderful stories our exchange students and families have to offer, like this one:


You can also follow EF Foundation on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.





Share your great stories and pictures with us and you could be included in a future issue of The Exchange or even in one of our YouTube videos!




The Little Things (overwaters.wordpress.com)
Settled In (cnino91.wordpress.com)
Eyes Widened (somewordplay.wordpress.com)
Intoxicating and Overwhelming (thewandererthedreamerthemakebeliever.wordpress.com)
as the romans do.  (danicarog.wordpress.com)


Cultural Celebrations: Nikolaustag & Krampus

Picture of the Pennsylvania Dutch version of t...

Picture of the Pennsylvania Dutch version of the Belsnickel, taken in the 1950s at an event near Philadelphia to which young children were brought for the specific purpose of being scared into good behavior by this creature. This particular figure is carrying a switch with which he threatened the children in the room. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nikolaus with Knecht Ruprecht

Nikolaus with Knecht Ruprecht (Photo credit: ancientartpodcast.org)

December 6th was the feast day of St. Nicholas.  This also means it was Nikolaustag in Germany! It is tradition for children to put their boots (or shoes, nowadays) outside their bedroom door in hopes of receiving treats and small gifts from Nikolaus for being good throughout the year.  These gifts usually consist of sweets or cookies, fruit or small toys.  If a child has been naughty, they are left with birch twigs.  Nikolaus or the Weihnachtsmann is said to resemble what we envision in the US as Santa Claus.



Weihnachtsmann (Photo credit: Manuel Bartsch)

In some parts of Germany, Austria and other areas around the Alps, it is believed that Nikolaus has a companion known as Krampus.  Krampus resembles a devil and is responsible for distributing “gifts” to the naughty children, such as the twigs or lumps of coal.


Krampus is the Austrian name, but he is also known as Knecht Ruprecht in Germany, Schmutzli in Switzerland, Zwarte Piet in the Netherlands and Flanders and Belsnickel in the Pennsylvania Dutch tradition.


Krampus (Photo credit: Paolo Vercesi)

Cultural Traditions: Advent

Homemade Advent calendar

Homemade Advent calendar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Advent is a celebration in the Christian religion that begins the fourth Sunday before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve.  Some American families celebrate this and students may share in this with them.

Families of Germanic and Nordic traditions may count down the days until Christmas with an Advent Calendar.  These begin on December 1st and have small windows to open for each day of Advent.  Each window may contain a surprise, such as a piece of chocolate.  Some may only contain pictures, poems or something religious in nature.

Learn more about the observance of Advent here.

Make your own Advent calendar!

Does your family have any special Advent traditions or activities to share?

Tasty Tuesday: Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkin pie with whipped cream topping.

Pumpkin pie with whipped cream topping. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the most well known dishes at American Thanksgiving celebrations is pumpkin pie.  This is usually something new, fun and delicious for exchange students to try at the holidays with their host families.

Here’s a recipe you could try at home for your holiday meal.  Enjoy!


Tasty Tuesday: Caramel Apples

A traditional American fall treat is candy or caramel apples.  Apples are fresh and in season this time of year in much of the country, so what better time to make them!  Here’s an easy recipe for them from The Pioneer Woman.

Salted (and Other) Caramel Apples

Added by Ree on October 24, 2011 in CandyDesserts

Prep Time 30 Minutes
Cook Time 20 Minutes
Servings 8 Difficulty Easy


  • 8 whole Apples (more, If Apples Are Small)
  • 4 packages (11-ounce Each) Caramel Melts
  • 2 Tablespoons Heavy Cream (a Little More Is Fine)
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla
  • Dash Of Salt
  • Toppings: Mini M&Ms, Crushed Pretzels, Kosher Salt, Chocolate Chips, Coconut, Crushed Pecans, Crushed Saltines, Etc.
  • Chopsticks

Preparation Instructions

Melt caramel with cream in a double boiler or glass bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Add vanilla and salt and stir until smooth.

Stick one chopstick in the bottom of each apple. One at a time, dip the apple in the caramel, coating it all the way to the base of the stick. Allow excess to drip back into the pan for a couple of seconds, then carefully roll the apple in whatever topping you’d like. (There’s a small window of opportunity for the toppings to easily stick!)

Repeat with all the apples, refrigerating apples as soon as they’re coated. Once cool, wrap apples with cellophane or plastic wrap.

A photograph of a peanut and caramel coated Ca...

A photograph of a peanut and caramel coated Caramel apple.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


American Holidays & Traditions: Halloween

Halloween is one of the holidays exchange students most look forward to experiencing during their year, as most of them don’t do much (if anything) in celebration of this at home.  Halloween didn’t actually originate in the U.S. though.

Halloween is celebrated on October 31st and stems from the Christian observance of All Hallows’ Eve.  It is also influenced by the ancient Celtic fall harvest celebration of Samhain.  The word Halloween means “hallowed evening (e’en).”  These observances brought about the modern day traditions of trick or treating, wearing costumes, lighting bonfires and making jack o’lanterns.  Halloween and All Saints Day celebrations do take place in other places around the world; some countries do have similar traditions to those held here.

Halloween costumes started out as more scary or supernatural beings, such as vampires, ghosts, witches, devils and skeletons.  Over the years, costumes have evolved quite a bit and can usually be whatever the wearer decides.  Some can be quite elaborate, while others more simple.  Adults and children alike can be found getting into the spirit of Halloween by dressing up in costume.

Tomorrow night, local communities will have trick or treating time, when the neighborhood children will go door-to-door for candy and goodies.  Perhaps exchange students can be the ones to answer doors and hand out candy!  Or maybe they want to really go all out and trick or treat themselves or with younger host siblings.  Either way, it’s a great way to experience something American!


Jack-o-lantern (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our Thai exchange student, Ra, went with us to choose our pumpkins for jack o’lantern making.

Our son and exchange student cleaning out the pumpkin guts 😛