Maybe it's because I live passionately. Because when I put myself into something, I give 200%, so when it's over, it's like I've created a black hole. Maybe it's because I am an emotional person.
Whatever it is, I have left some cities on bad terms.
In the middle of graduate school, it was LA. I was the first in my class to take my comprehensive exams. I prepared for them for months, nun-like in my devotion. The day arrived; it went horribly. I had three professors on my committee: an older conservative male writing his magnum opus, a recently tenured modernist powerhouse male, and a young feminist. They used me as a pawn to have an argument about what was important in literature, and I didn't perform. The end came, and I waited outside, in tears. The feminist came out and told me that they passed me "in spite of" my performance, because they knew I was ready to advance. I, on the other hand, knew I was ready to leave. I haven't been back in over twelve years.
More recently, my last position. A bad situation, after twelve years of earning accolades. To this day, I have only driven back to that city once, and then, to its outskirts.
Until the other day.
I had occasion to go back to the city today, to campus, for a meeting. Some consulting work, you might say.
It's a weird thing, to go back to a place like that, where you've left on bad terms. You feel a strange longing for its familiarity; you know its secrets, its shortcuts, its back alleys. You look for the things that have changed in your absence, surprised that it could go on without you, wishing it had all stayed the same. And yet, at the same time, you are thankful for the emotional distance, and you still feel a little sick in the pit of your stomach, finding yourself back there. You feel relief, passing through, knowing that this is just a visit, not a forever-stay; that this place is no longer yours. That you know where you don't belong, and that you have somewhere else to go. Maybe you feel defiance. With any luck, you feel peace.
I know I can't go home again to the places I've left. Even if I left them on better terms, I am a different person, and they've changed, too. And that's not a bad thing. We've created ourselves anew.
The Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread (with thanks to JeCaThRe for posting that link last year) would have us all make it the way it was always made, not the way the grocery stores make it for St. Patrick's Day. There were no eggs or sugar or raisins or baking powder in those breads. They were brown breads, made with everyday ingredients.
But the damage has been done, and most people now think of Irish Soda Bread as that sweet cake-like bread with the raisins that you get at the bakery in March, even if it's actually Spotted Dog or Railway Cake that they're eating.
You can't go home again. We can't turn back the clock and pretend that the name of this bread hasn't been co-opted. But if we don't want to make plain brown bread, we can come to some middle ground, and make peace.
This isn't really Spotted Dog or Railway Cake, because it doesn't have sugar and eggs and all of the other things that make it more like cake; it may have raisins, but at least it's closer to what they had in mind over at the Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread. Hopefully my Irish friends will forgive me.
Have you ever left a city on bad terms? Have you gone back? Where do you fall on the Irish Soda Bread debate?
3 cups (12 oz) of white flour
1 cup (4 oz) of wheat flour
1 1/3 c. buttermilk (pour in a bit at a time until the dough is moist)
1 t. of salt
1 1/2 t. baking soda*
3/4 c. raisins
* if you are cheating and using baking powder, I found that 3/4 t. baking soda and 3/4 T. baking powder will also work
Soak the raisins in warm water for 5-10 minutes; drain well.
Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
Sift all of the dry ingredients into a large bowl and mix well to combine. Add raisins and mix to coat.
Add the buttermilk to form a sticky dough. Place on floured surface and lightly knead (too much allows the gas to escape). Shape into a round flat shape, place on parchment, and cut a cross in the top of the dough.
Bake for 45-55 minutes. Your bread will be done when it sounds hollow if you tap it on the bottom. Cool and serve with a generous slather of butter!