For The Love of Irish Soda Bread

I have no memories of my mother. I never knew my grandparents. My older father was as silent as a rock. All the history of my family was in the grave or locked in people who were silent or was locked inside kin I didn’t know. So it’s no wonder that in my adult years I yearned, clamored and even demanded to know my heritage. With the help of  ancestry.com, a hired genealogist and scraps of clues the first ship from Ireland emerged from the mist.

Photos of the Emerald Isle and recipes in various cookbooks were my first contact with my origins, my homeland. In 1990 Jeff Smith’s cookbook, “The Frugal Gourmet On Our Immigrant Ancestors” was the first to introduce me to Irish Soda Bread.

Like a first kiss and a first child, Irish Soda Bread introduced me to the world of food as history and heritage.

Jeff Smith’s recipe has been followed and cherished in my family for 29 years now. My daughter now makes it for her family on St. Patrick’s Day which has become one of our family’s favorite holidays.

So, even though this article by Chowhound, “What Is Soda Bread And Is It Really Irish?” denounces that the origin of soda bread is actually Irish, it does state that the Irish have claimed it as their own! By virtue that there is a Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread I think that even if history doesn’t prove it out, we can give Soda Bread to the Irish!

This is Jeff Smith’s Irish Soda Bread recipe that we’ve used every year. I’m putting it here because I think his cookbook is out of print, although, you can get it used pretty cheap on Amazon.

Jeff Smith’s Irish Soda Bread

Makes 2 Loaves

6 cups all-purpose flour     

2 teaspoons baking soda                                                                                                                       

2 teaspoons baking powder                                                                                                                 

3 tablespoons cornstarch                                                                                                                     

2 teaspoons sugar                                                                                                                                 

1 teaspoon salt 

2 1/2 cups buttermilk

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Add all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix very well. Pour all of the buttermilk into the bowl at once and stir, using a wooden spoon, just until a soft dough is formed. Do not try to make it smooth at this point. Pour the contents of the bowl out onto a plastic counter and knead for a minute or so until everything comes together.

Divide the loaf into two portions and shape each into a round loaf, pressing the top down a bit to just barely flatten it. Place the loaves on a large ungreased baking sheet. (I like to use the nonstick kind.) Sprinkle some additional flour on the top of each loaf and, using a sharp paring knife, make the sign of the Cross in slashes on the top of each.

Allow the loaves to rest for 10 minutes and then bake on the middle rack of the oven for 40 minutes, or until the loaves are golden brown and done to taste.

Cool on racks.

New Year, New Recipe!

Even though I am grateful for Jeff’s recipe that has kept me for years, I decided to take a chance and try the SPISB’s recipe that they have online. The recipe intrigued me in its simplicity. I liked that it had no sugar, too.

So, I made it! I mixed up the 4 ingredients and in the time it took the oven to preheat, I had it mixed and shaped.

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(That little gadget is a dough scoring tool I bought. You can use a sharp knife, but I love gadgets, haha! You can buy one here. )Risingbreadtool Bread Lame Dough Scoring Tool with Fixed Blade and Cover - Baking Baguettes, Sourdough and French Bread Quick and Easy

 

 

 

I deviated from the recipe in that it calls for you to cook the bread in a covered cake pan. I decided to use my cast iron dutch oven instead.

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It worked amazingly well! It looks, smells and tastes delicious! The crust is delightfully crunchy and the center is moist and hearty! I slathered the hot bread with real butter and it was “slap-your-mama” good! I hate to say it but it’s better than Jeff’s! I can’t believe I said that!

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(That beautiful end-grain cutting board was made by my woodworker friend, Pete, at PMG Woodworks in Georgia. Look him up on Facebook!)

I’ve included the link to the recipe but here’s the recipe straight from the SPISB’s site:

White Soda Bread (reminder: 4oz by weight is a dry “cup”)

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

Method:

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.

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 in a round cake pan and cut a cross in the top of the dough.

Cover the pan with another pan and bake for 30 minutes (this simulates the bastible  (I think they mean like a dutch oven) pot).  Remove cover and bake for an additional 15 minutes.

The bottom of the bread will have a hollow sound when tapped so show it is done.

Cover the bread in a tea towel and lightly sprinkle water on the cloth to keep the bread moist.

 

I wonder if my Irish grandmother, Mano Kennedy, every made Soda Bread?

mama mano kennedy hay

 

Enjoy!

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Erin Go Bragh!

The Most Amazing (Amateur) Christmas Light Display!

Right around the corner from our house is a home that has the most amazing display of Christmas lights I have ever seen on a private residence.

IMG_3532From a distance, you can see it lighting up the night sky! It looks like every inch is covered in lights!

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There are all kinds of stuff! A buffalo statue, the Statue of Liberty and this display of uniforms.

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There’s even a pumpkin. I don’t get it. But it’s festive! IMG_3544

Crazy!

Hope your holiday is merry and BRIGHT!

Peace,

Jill

Backyard Birthday Party!

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My daughter-in-law’s birthday party was fun! I told you in a previous post that she had sent me a few photos and said she wanted hot dogs for her birthday. I picked up on the vibe and ran with it. I think she really liked it!

We had gotten a lot of rain which brought cooler temps, so our backyard was rather cold and swampish. The wood got wet, and a few of our guests could not make it, but we managed to “puddle” through, haha!

It was just a small, family get-together but so much fun!

I’d like to give a shout out to my son, Joel Libramento, for taking photos. The top 3 are his work.

Peace,

Jill

Snowed In!

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This is a photo of my house this past weekend. Haha! My house is really under all that snow somewhere. We’ve not had this much snow in the years that I’ve lived in Georgia. It was pretty and amazing and now it’s all dirty slush because the temperature shot back up pretty quick.

We were without power for 24 hours which was not too bad considering some of my friends in neighboring areas were without it for 67+ hours! We got along fine with the wood stove and I pulled out my inner pioneer woman and made soup and hoecakes and eggs every way imaginable on the woodstove. The Huz made quesadillas on the woodstove. He thought he was something else! We put select items in the snow on the back deck to keep them cool. It was fun for a minute.

But I have a bad case of screen addiction (and that is how I make my money now as a social media manager) so I was jonesing to get back into cyberspace. So, actually, 24 hours without power was good for me.

Here are a few more photos for your enjoyment, unless you live near me in which case you are sick and tired of looking at snow photos.

For those of you who are used to snow, remember this is a novelty for us down here in the South!

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Peace,

Jill

Why I Love Virtual Photo Walks

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I’ve mentioned Virtual Photo Walks before and I’ll probably keep mentioning it because I think it is SO great!

When I was in my 30’s my older sister was diagnosed with a terminal heart condition and given a few months to live. Being a stubborn, disciplined person, she did everything the doctor told her to do and she lived 6 years longer than they expected. I was one of her main caregivers. Having 2 small kids and caring for her was quite a challenge. My kids spent much of those 6 years in waiting rooms, hanging out with my sister as she gradually became housebound. We watched a lot of TV. We watched all of the O.J. Simpson trial. All of it. (Can you detect my sigh and eye rolling?)

Fast forward to 2015. My best friend was diagnosed with breast cancer. Like my sister, I walked by her side until she passed. Again, I spent many hours and days in waiting rooms and hanging out at her house watching TV and dreaming of trips we could take if we could.

I don’t know how I forgot about Virtual Photo Walks, but I did. Too many things on my mind, I think.

I remember when I initially found it I thought, “This is the greatest idea ever!” And when I ever have time I’m going to volunteer to be a photographer for them.

Since I’ve “retired” I have started volunteering with them and I want to spread the word, that’s why I’m writing another post about it.

What Is Virtual Photo Walks? 

VPW is a non-profit organization run by volunteers who are passionate about giving those isolated by illness, age or disability the chance to “escape” their isolation and travel the world!

John Butterill, the founder, organizes the walks through a video conferencing app called Zoom. Photographers from all over the world work with John and plan walks and visits to sites from archaeological digs in Russia to volcanoes in Hawaii to sites in Japan. John sets up the video conferencing meeting and connects the participants who may be in their homes or rehabs, day care centers, nursing homes or are in the hospital and they connect with their computers to participate in the walk.

“The Secret Sauce” 

The magic of Virtual Photo Walks is the live, real time interaction the participants can have with the photographer and also the others who are on the walk with them.

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The participants can talk to the photographer, ask questions and make requests like, “Can we see what’s to your right?” or “Can you take a photo of that tree?” Everyone laughs together and are amazed together in real time. It is a completely different experience than watching a video.

I joined a walk to Yosemite a couple of weeks ago from my office. It was so moving to be with the other participants as we saw the mountains and a beautiful waterfall together. On another walk to an archaeological dig in Russia we had participants from Israel and Japan. It was so interesting.

What VPW Can Do

I remember spending endless hours, days, months and years indoors with my sister and later, my best friend. Too weak to go out and sometimes even to leave the bed. Both of them had to restrict their exposure to germs so even though they might have felt okay, it was too dangerous for them to go out. It was isolating! They were lonely!

Virtual Photo Walks can give people who are isolated a chance to travel to another place and do it with a community of people! Nobody cares what you look like – you can cut the camera off to yourself so no one sees you if you’re worried. Everyone is just glad you joined. And away you go to some beautiful or interesting place together to get away from your bed or hospital room for an hour.

It really does carry you away for a while. It’s magical.

Please Share! 

Here is a great video about VPW. Please share with people you know. Share on social media!

As I said, VPW is a non-profit organization. It’s free to join. The participant just needs internet access to their computer.

You are required to make a request to join because John makes sure all the participants are safe and he protects their privacy.

If you or someone you know would like to participate in a walk, you can join here: 

http://www.virtualphotowalks.org/be-invited-to-virtual-photo-wa/

If you’d like to volunteer to be a photographer and share the beauty of the world around where you live or where you travel, you can volunteer here:

http://www.virtualphotowalks.org/sign-up-to-be-a-vpw-photograph/

You’ll need a smart phone, a good data plan and a tripod.

If you’d like to donate, that would be amazing! Please share with businesses who could possibly donate to help provide equipment and internet access. Donate here:

http://www.virtualphotowalks.org/donate/

Thanks for your help in this very worthy cause!

Peace,

Jill

 

 

 

5 Reasons to Digitize Your Family Photos & Videos Now!

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We had a flood last year!

A pipe burst in the kitchen and it flooded the kitchen and the water flowed through the floor into the basement into our laundry room, the storage room, my husband’s shop and into my studio. It was horrible. It ruined a lot of things, but thankfully nothing super important. But almost. My photo albums and boxes of loose photos and my home videos were very nearly destroyed.

And that “almost” motivated me to get off my bohunkus and finally get around to digitizing my photos and videos that I had been saying I was going to do.  And it was one of the best things I ever did!

Here are the 5 reasons why you should digitize all your family photos and videos now!

  1. You will have a copy of everything in case your originals get damaged or destroyed.
  2. You can give a thumb drive to different family members so you are not the sole owner of the family history in photographs and videos. It’s a relief to know that if something happens to your copies someone else has them.
  3. It is SO easy to share the photos and videos with others or on social media. And you have them handy for special events like wedding, reunion, anniversary slide shows. ( A thumb drive of family photos and a digital photo frame makes the best gift ever for an adult child!)
  4. You will enjoy them more often because they are so easily accessible and organized. It will be easier to share your family’s story with kids and grandkids which is so important!
  5. It will cut down on clutter if you choose to dispose of or give away the originals.

So, having convinced you that you need to digitize your photos and videos NOW, here’s how I did it:

Before I get started, let me tell you that it took quite a while. It was time consuming and tedious! I had just retired from my job so I was able to make it a full time job for about a week. So, before you tackle the job, just get it in your head that it’s going to take a while.

012(This was my messy, junky workspace for several weeks while I was transferring videos! ) 

Now, my goal was to get a copy of ALL photos and videos onto thumb drives and give both of my children the exact same photos and videos. There were photos of just my son or just my daughter but I decided to give them both ALL of them. You may have a different goal, so adjust as needed.

  • The first thing I did was to purchase a reasonably priced color scanner from Amazon.  I had a pretty good scanner on my printer, but I knew I was going to scan my brains out and I didn’t want to have it break down in the middle of the project.
  • Then I got an external hard drive. My husband already had one, so I didn’t have to purchase one. I didn’t want all the memory on my computer being used for this project. You can get one from Amazon between $50-$120.
  • I then created a work space where I wouldn’t be bothered for the week or so (or more if you can’t devote consistent time to it) it took to finish the project. I wanted to be able to walk away and then come back and know exactly where I was.
  • Then I began to organize my photos. So, this is a decision you’ll have to make to suit your style and needs. I started with my loose photos which were actually duplicates or extra shots of events that I had organized photo albums. I decided to make piles of my loose photos into different categories (which ended up how I organized them in files on the computer) like: old family photos, wedding & early married life, kid’s births, kid’s school days, church family, vacations, etc.
  • Then I got out the photo albums. I could have pulled all the photos out and included them into my organized piles, but my photo albums were already in chronological order of events, so I decided to use the photo albums as my guide and input the extra shots as I went along. When I came across duplicates or those blurry indecipherable photos, I threw them out!
  • I started scanning! Once I finished going through the photo albums and including the extra shots from my piles, I found I had a ton of other random photos. So, I scanned them and put them into the categories that they most closely fit.
  • TIP: When scanning the old ancestor photos or really old family photos, I put them into photoshop and typed a caption with all the names that I knew. That way my kids and grandkids would know who the people are that they’ve never met.

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THE PHOTOS WERE DONE! Now on to the videos! Whew!

  • Most of our home movies were on VHS, so I bought a video converter from Amazon. I hooked up our old VHS player to my computer with the converter and began to transfer the videos. There was no way to speed up the transfer, so I had to let the videos play for days! I did not edit because I found that my kids like to watch them all, every minute! They like to see all the detail, hair styles, house decor, all the details that I would probably edit out.
  • I ran into a problem! I had some videos on Hi-8 or 8mm tapes and I didn’t have a player or an old camera. After some asking around I found one from my father-in-law and I was able to get the movies off of the old tapes.

FINALLY I WAS READY TO TRANSFER!

I went out and bought some thumb drives. I estimated how many photos I scanned and checked the size of thumb drive I needed. Then estimated how much space I needed for the videos. To be honest I had to go back to the store twice! I ended up using 3 thumbdrives, 2 64GB and 1 32GB for each set of photos and videos. I should have not been so cheap to begin with and gotten the larger thumbdrive!

HERE’S A RECORD OF YOUR WHOLE CHILDHOOD!

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That’s what I said when I gave the thumbdrives to my kids for Christmas. I put the 3 thumbdrives on a ball chain with a couple of charms (just for fun!) and made a box with an old photo of them on it. They loved it!

I hope this helps you to get your family memories safe and easily accessible.

Peace,

Jill