Baked Flowers, Poofed Yeast, and Bee Worries

By Elizabeth Speth 

The bees should be here.

I know this because my rosemary plants are blooming in wild profusion, a dusky mass of purple only a few shades lighter than a ripe plum.   They smell heavenly, and usually I cannot get near them because they are swarmed with bees, buzzing around, rifling through the tiny blossoms, swilling pollen, busy as — well, you know.

This, multiplied by one billion bees, is what the rosemary looked like last year on January 26:

bee 1

This is what it looks like this morning, February 26, one year and one month later:

bee 2

Naked and bee-less.  I am very worried.  The bees are missing the purple party, and I’m not sure what this means for the future of my vegetable and flower gardens, but I’ve got a pretty big uh-oh feeling about the whole thing.

I brought up the subject on my community’s Facebook page, looking to stir up some outrage over the situation, maybe galvanize a grass-roots ‘Bring Back the Bees’ campaign. Barring that, I hoped for reassurance.  Maybe all the rain we’ve had has delayed things.  Maybe last year’s drought is the culprit.  Maybe my neighbors will see my post and fess up to crop dusting with bee-killing poisons during the night.  Someone must know something.  The answer is out there, and maybe it’s not scary.

“It’s too early for bees,” someone finally wrote.

“Too cold,” said someone else.  I felt marginally better.

Then this popped up.

“I’ve got yer bees,” (I’m paraphrasing, but, trust me, the words seemed menacing.) “My plants and flowers are filthy with ’em.”  Or something to that effect.  So what was I doing wrong?

Maybe my rosemary flowers aren’t as attractive as everyone else’s.  Maybe it’s because I wear unflattering clothing in the garden.  Sometimes I think uncharitable thoughts when I am weeding and, I admit it, I swear and yell at the dog sometimes for digging.  Once I thinned a whole row of carrots while slightly tipsy.

How do I clean up my act, become a Bee-Pleasing Zone?  How do I call them home?

Maybe put up some ‘Free Pollen’ signs?

Think, Elizabeth, think.  Calm down and ask yourself:  if you were a bee, what would attract you?

Other bees.

Stop it.  That’s not helpful.  What would lure you in, if you just happened to be buzzing by, looking for a place to land and tickle flower petals with your delightful bee feet.

Well, the smell of something baking.

What?  Now you’re being ridiculous.

No.  I mean it.  If the flowers alone aren’t enough to attract these darned hoity-toity, highfalutin bees, then what if we upped the ante, and baked them?  I know!  Put them in cookies!

No, wait.  Bees are dealing with sweet stuff all day.  Something savory.  Bread.  Bingo.   Who can resist the waft of homemade bread?

And I love rosemary bread, with a nice crust of salt on top.

Just to make sure I don’t kill anyone, I did Google it, and according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, rosemary blooms are perfectly edible, not poisonous, but they do have a very strong flavor.

Now, because you have stuck with me so far through this laborious narrative, here is your reward.  My favorite and easy-enough-to-use-every-day bread recipe.

Mark Bittman’s No-Knead Bread, Courtesy of Your Food Processor

3 1/2 cup flour

2 teaspoons salt

1 1/2 teaspoons instant or bread machine yeast

1 cup of water, or more as needed.

Bittman advocates throwing all of this together in your food processor, whirling it around for thirty seconds and calling it rising time.  I’m not kidding.  And it works.

But.  I like to proof the yeast, or, as my daughter used to say, ‘poof’ it, which is not actually a bad description.  I can’t bring myself to skip this step, this puffy, bubbling, frothing grand gesture.  Maybe I just don’t have enough drama in my life.  Well, I didn’t have enough drama in my life.  Now, with the bees and all…

Still, I poof it, mixing the yeast with a little warm water, a tiny bit of honey in honor of all the missing honey-makers all over the world (honey gets yeast very excited), and I let it come to life before adding it to the other ingredients and whirling it around electronically.

The dough is very sticky and ragged.  It doesn’t look bee-worthy at all at this stage, but just wait.  Every great undertaking, every world-saving crusade, has an awkward phase.

It gets plopped into a bowl, covered with plastic wrap or a towel, and it doubles in size in an hour or so.

I go outside and harvest the rosemary and some flowers, and chop them up finely.  I taste a flower, and they are indeed very strong.  They are like, well, like a bee sting in your mouth.  I decide to use them sparingly.

bee 4

By this time, my dough has plastered its face against the window of my plastic wrap.

bee 5

It’s time to knead the dough a second time, incorporating the rosemary and flowers.   It rises quickly a second time while I pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.

I sprinkle the top with sea salt.

bee 6

bee 9

And in it goes, until the loaf is brown and lovely and sounds hollow when tapped.

bee 7

I let it cool and slice it.  It smells heavenly.  I open all the windows, so the bees can smell it.

bee 8

I put out ‘Free Butter’ signs.

And I wait.

bee 10

Irish History, Warm, with Butter


By Elizabeth Speth

I am an early riser.

I have been all my life, and 4 am is my preferred wake-up time.  Mostly because I want breakfast.  Well, always and only because I want breakfast.

I am also Irish.  Somewhat. My great-grandmother Margaret Mary was a blue-eyed Mundy, and I took custody, after her passing, of her Irish drinking habits.

Therefore I must have Irish soda bread for breakfast every day.  Sliced thinly, toasted thoroughly, slathered with butter and orange marmalade.  This is non-negotiable for my peace of mind.  Just Google: ‘Irish, negotiation, peace’.  You will see how serious I am on the subject.

The history of Irish Soda Bread is humble and excruciatingly violent.

It originated around the middle of the 15th Century when the Boers, during a brief and fragile alliance with the voracious and pillaging Mongol hordes, invaded Ireland.  The poor, beleaguered Irish peasants needed something hearty, portable and delicious to sustain them as they fled, but they did not have time to wait for bread to leaven.  They only had time to run to the grocery store and grab a box of baking soda, and so was born this glorious loaf.

Tragically, there are no existing photographs from this time period due to the Great Irish Fire of ’23, but please enjoy this illustration, which is loosely related to Chaucer’s Canturbury Tales.


I think these fellows look vaguely as though they might be fleeing with soda bread in their bellies.

You can verify all of this history for yourself, if you like doing that sort of thing.  But I hope you don’t.  We have baking to do, and research can be tedious.  Let’s just move on, shall we?

Before I share my great grandmother’s recipe, I will ask your forgiveness in advance for two untraditional elements.  The first is the spice Cardamom.  If you don’t know what it is, get a bottle immediately.  Get a bottle just to smell, and you will realize that you never really understood the smell of Christmas.  Cardamom is the smell of Christmas.  And childhood, and fairy tales.


The second deviation from the classic recipe, which dominated Pinterest for all of the 1450s, is grated orange peel.  Neither cardamom nor orange peel made an appearance in any recipe from that period, according to historians, but let’s not blame the fleeing Irish (bless them), for they were highly distracted.

Are you ready?  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Please assemble:

4 cups flour

1/2 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/2 cup very cold butter, cut into small pieces

1 3/4 cup buttermilk

1 egg

Grated zest of one orange

1/2 cup currants, which you can plump up by soaking in a bit of rum if you are that sort of person

You must proceed in the traditional, centuries-old way, with an electric mixer.  Put the first five dry ingredients into a bowl and set on low speed, and then add the cold sliced butter and wait until the blade turns the mixture into fine crumbs, three or four minutes.  Add the buttermilk, egg, orange zest and drunken currants.

Don’t overmix this.  The dough will be wet.  It should look like the beautiful Irish countryside after a devastating flood.  Like this:


Turn it out onto a floured board, and try to coax it into some sort of a roundish shape, which you will then plunk onto a greased cookie sheet, or one covered with parchment paper.  Sprinkle with granulated sugar.

Traditionally, you are meant to cut two intersecting slashes across the top of the bread before baking, but don’t ask me why.  Just do it.  Make the sign of the cross and drink a prayer that your bread comes out.

Yes.  I said drink a prayer.  Jameson is widely considered a good Catholic whiskey and Bushmills is the Protestant invocation.  You are going to have to decide where you stand on this one, for it is not my place to tell you.  Just give me whichever one you don’t want.

Bake the bread for 50 or so minutes.  Until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped, and your house smells heavenly, so good you would never want to flee it, even to escape an invading army.


Here is our merry little loaf in the oven on parchment paper.  I added very finely ground earl gray tea to this one.  It was delicious.

Enjoy it toasted with butter and jelly in the morning, perhaps a little fruit, and coffee or tea.  You will go into the world better for it.

In the late afternoon, slice it thinly and eat it as you would a cracker, with a glass of wine.

If you are not drinking wine and eating crackers in the late afternoon, then please do take this as an earnest suggestion to start.  Leave work early to do it.  Add some cheese, figs, savory spreads.  Whatever you like.

Jumping briefly back into my role as tradition-spoiler, here are a few suggested add-ins, if you feel like mixing it up:

Golden raisins

Rum-soaked golden raisins


Rum-soaked walnuts

Crystallized ginger

Rum-soaked crystallized ginger

Fennel seeds

Rum-soaked fennel seeds

Rosemary, chopped finely

Rosemary, chopped finely, soaked in rum.

I think you understand what I am trying to say here.

In summation, my friends, and in the lilting and whiskey-soaked words of my bonny great grandmother, may the roads rise with you, may the wind be at your back, and may you be in heaven a half hour before the devil knows you’re dead, with warm bread in your belly.