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: 2014 Winter Olympics

The Opening Ceremonies of the 2014 Winter Olympics will be televised tonight.  The ceremonies are a great way to bring some cultural awareness to your home, as the hosting country (this year, Russia) will typically inject some of their own culture and traditions into the show.  Are you currently a host family?  Cheer on the home country of your exchange student!  Many of our EF High School Year countries compete.

Here are some fun facts about the 2014 Olympics:

  • This is the first Winter Olympics to be held in Russia.
  • Sochi is the warmest city to have served as host to the Winter Olympics.
  • 12 new events will be debuting at this year’s games.
  • 88 countries will compete in the games.
  • The 2014 games are the most expensive in Olympic history.

Want a fun activity to do with your kids during tonight’s Opening Ceremonies, try this Scavenger Hunt from Kid World Citizen.

I’m also proud to point out that EF is the Official Supplier of Language Training Services at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.  Our language partners trained about 70,000 athletes, volunteers and judges for the games.  If you’ve seen any arrival pictures, you may have seen the pink EF logo on the luggage carts.

Tune in tonight at 7:30 ET to watch the Opening Ceremonies!


5 Things to Watch in Sochi (madelineauerbach.wordpress.com)
The Best Social Media Sources for the 2014 Winter Olympics (mrittel.wordpress.com)
It’s Upon Us!  5 Things to Know About the Sochi Olympics (newyork.cbslocal.com)
Why A Russian Beach Town Is Hosting the Winter Olympics (culturebinging.wordpress.com)
A Taste of Russia:  Perogies, salad Olivier, herring, caviar and borscht (o.canada.com)

Cultural Celebrations: St Lucia Day in Scandinavia

December 13th is a day of celebration in Sweden.  It’s St. Lucia (or St. Lucy’s) Day!

St Lucia Day stems from a pagan winter solstice celebration that was combined with remembrance of St Lucy.  She helped persecuted Christians in Rome by bringing them food.  In order to carry things in both hands, she would wear a ring of candles on her head to help her find her way through the dark tunnels to the prisoners.

Today, Swedish girls dress in white dresses with red sashes and crowns of candles for celebrations at schools and churches.  A national Lucia is even chosen.  Lucias usually go around and visit patients in hospitals and nursing homes, singing songs and handing out Pepparkakor.

St Lucia Day

St Lucia Day (Photo credit: m.gifford)

St Lucia Day is also celebrated in Norway, Denmark and Finland and has been since the 1700s.

Kids can make their own St. Lucia Day crowns!

St. Lucy crowns are ready.

St. Lucy crowns are ready. (Photo credit: Messiah Lutheran (Mechanicsville, VA))

Here’s a recipe for Lussekatter (St Lucia Buns):


Lussekatter (Photo credit: Mle-Mle)


St. Lucia buns may be made ahead of time, frozen, and quickly reheated in the microwave before serving.


Prep Time: 2 hours


Cook Time: 15 minutes


Total Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes




  • 1 cup melted butter
  • 1/2 tsp. saffron threads, finely crumbled (or 1 tsp. powdered saffron)
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 pkg. dry active yeast (4 1/2 tsp)
  • 6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 eggs, well-beaten, plus one egg white
  • raisins or currants to decorate


Crumble saffron threads into melted butter. Let sit 30 minutes to an hour (this intensifies the saffron flavor).

Heat milk to a light boil, turning off heat when it reaches the scalding point (with small bubbles across the top). Stir in melted butter, sugar, and salt. Pour mixture into mixing bowl and allow to cool until “finger-warm” (still quite warm, but just cool enough to touch). Stir in yeast and let sit for 10 minutes.

Mix 3 1/2 cups flour into liquid. Stir in two well-beaten eggs. Add enough of the remaining flour to form a soft dough (just until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. You don’t want to add too much flour).

Transfer dough to a large greased bowl and turn to coat all sides. Cover with a clean towel and allow to rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

Punch down risen dough. Lightly knead two or three times on a floured surface. Pinch off small handfuls of dough (about the size of a racquetball) and roll into “snakes.” Shape snakes into “S”-shaped buns or other desired shapes (please see my photo gallery of Lucia buns for traditional examples). Place on a lightly greased baking sheet, cover with the towel again, and allow to rise until doubled (about an hour).

Decorate buns with raisins, brush with egg white, and bake in preheated 375º oven about 15 minutes, just until brown. Yield: 20 St. Lucia Buns (“Lussekatter”)

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)

Tasty Tuesday: Nürnberger Lebkuchen

English: Lebkuchen at the Nuremberg Christmas ...

English: Lebkuchen at the Nuremberg Christmas Market (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lebkuchen is a commonly found Christmas treat at Weihnachtsmärkte throughout German-speaking Europe.  Here in the US, we know this as gingerbread.  However, German Lebkuchen, especially the kind from the area around the city of Nürnberg in northern Bavaria, tends to be softer and a bit different than what Americans might be used to.  It’s still a yummy way to share a German Christmas tradition with your family.


Nuernberger Lebkuchen - Homemade German CookiesNuernberger Lebkuchen – Homemade German Cookies


Nürnberger Lebkuchen or gingerbread has been around since the 14th century, when Nürnberg was a rich city with good trade associations. Now you can make Nürnberger Lebkuchen in your home without any special German ingredients. These soft, spicy cookies keep for several weeks.

Makes about 32 three-inch cookies.

Prep Time: 25 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 45 minutes


***Cookie Dough***

  • 1/2 c. softened butter (113 grams)
  • 1 c. sugar (200 grams)
  • 4 eggs
  • 3 c. white flour (360 grams)
  • 1 T. Lebkuchen spices (6 grams)(see note)
  • 2 T. cocoa powder (12 grams)
  • 1 1/2 tsp. double acting baking powder
  • 1 c. milk (225 ml)
  • 1 3/4 c. ground almonds (150 grams)
  • 1/2 c. candied lemon peel, chopped (100 grams)
  • 1 T. rum or orange liqueur


  • 1/2 c. granulated sugar
  • 1/4 c. water
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 – 2 T. rum or liqueur
  • 1/2 c. powdered sugar


  • 32 Oblaten (baking wafers) 3 inch size
  • 1/2 c. raisins, soaked in rum and chopped
  • 1/4 c. shredded coconut

Note about “Lebkuchen spices”. If you do not buy premixed “Lebkuchen Gewürz” from a German store, you may mix your own.

  • 2 T. ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. ground anise seed

Use 1 to 2 tablespoons per recipe.


  1. Cream butter, sugar and eggs until light and fluffy.
  2. Mix in flour, spices, cocoa powder and baking powder, alternating with milk.
  3. Fold in nuts and lemon peel. Stir in rum. Stir in raisins and coconut if you are using them.
  4. If you are not using the “Oblaten” (they look like Catholic communion wafers and are purchased in Germany or at a German deli, etc.) draw 3-inch diameter circles on parchment paper using a cup or biscuit cutter as a template.
  5. Drop about 3 tablespoons cookie dough into the center of each circle. (If you are using “Oblaten” drop the dough onto the wafer and smooth to the edges.) When tray is full, use the back of the spoon to fill out circle, slightly mounding the dough towards the center.
  6. Bake at 375°F for 15-20 minutes. Turn down oven to 350°F if cookies are browning too much.
  7. Let cool for a few minutes, then remove to a cookie or cake rack to cool.
  8. While they are still warm, make the glaze.
  9. Place 1/2 c. sugar and 1/4 c. water in a small saucepan on the stove. Bring to a boil and boil for a few minutes. Add vanilla and liqueur or rum. Sift powdered sugar over hot sugar syrup and stir.
  10. Using a pastry brush, brush warm glaze over warm cookies. Let dry completely.
  11. Dry glazed cookies for a day (to dry the glaze so it stays a bit crunchy) then store in an airtight container or freeze.

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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!


Multicultural Monday: Loi Krathong Festival

English: Celebrating Loy Krathong in Lumpini P...

English: Celebrating Loy Krathong in Lumpini Park, Bangkok, Thailand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Loy Krathong

Loy Krathong (Photo credit: MY-XpaT)

Recently, we received pictures from our exchange student‘s family in Thailand celebrating Loi Krathong.

This is the “festival of lights” and is one of the most popular festivals in the country.  Some people believe there are a few different origins for the celebration, but it is always held “on the full moon night of the twelfth lunar month, the tide in the rivers is highest and the moon at its brightest,” usually in November.

You can read all about the Thai festival of Loi Krathong here.


Create your own Loi Krathong lantern!

To build your own Loy Krathong lantern, follow these steps:


1 piece of 18-inch x 6-inch tissue or rice paper
2 18-inch x 1-inch strips of cardboard
1 piece of string, about 12 inches long
1 wooden craft stick, about 12 inches long
Glitter and cutouts for decoration


1. Decorate one 18 x 6 piece of tissue or rice paper with glitter, cutouts, drawings or Bible verses of your choice.
2. Glue the two strips of cardboard to the tissue paper – one at the bottom and one at the top.
3. Form the tissue paper into a cylinder and staple along the seam.
4. Tie the string to the wooden stick, leaving about 6 inches of string on either side.
5. Staple both ends of the string to opposite ends of the top of the cylinder.
6. Hang and enjoy!