The Soda Bread Wars

I come from a very ethnic Irish American family. A few years ago, I posted the recipe for soda bread that my grandmother, Hanorah Hayes Sullivan, taught me as a youngster. It is the one that they made in her village, Murroe, in Limerick. (She was a servant girl in the house of the Lord who once owned Glenstal Abbey, but that’s a story for another telling.)

The Hanley cousins, descended from my grandmother Margaret Doherty of Longford and John Hanley of Cavan, immediately flew into competitive action. I include my cousin Brian’s narrative for your amusement. Grandma Hanley would give a blank stare at “turbinado” but Brian, who is upright and honest as well as smart and handsome, admits such.

In the interest of familial peace and in rememberance of two very faithful, loving grandmothers, I offer both on my patron’s day. St. Patrick evangelized the Irish and is said to have driven out the snakes. May you, today, find a moment in which you can share your faith, and may the current serpents of doubt and fear be driven far from your table as you celebrate this feast!

Grandma Sullivan’s Irish Soda Bread

Start by turning on the oven and heating until really hot, around 425˚.

4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons granulated sugar

Mix all these dry ingredients together.

1 stick very soft butter

With your hands, cut the butter into the flour until it is very fine and “mealy” feeling.

2 cups raisins

Add the raisins and mix in. (Aunt Mae Keane’s family also puts in caraway seeds but Sullivans reject this practice roundly. Your call.)

3/4 quart buttermilk

Pour in buttermilk. You then want to mix this up until it is a moist but not saturated dough – sticky, but not mushy. Yikes. How do I explain this? Then, take the wet dough and put it on a pile of flour on the counter. Turn it a bit without major kneading, just to shape it into a round loaf and get a smooth exterior.

Put it in a cast iron skillet. (This is pretty essential; it mimics the bottom of a hearth, and also helps the bread keep its form.) Take a knife and cut a + across the center, about a quarter inch deep. Put it in the hot oven, and let it begin baking. It will rise and get very light brown. Then, lower the oven to 350˚. Bake until golden brown and a knife comes out fairly clean. A cooked looking crumb on the knife is okay, but o’gloop is not. By the way, o’gloop is the gaelic word for sticky mess, just so you know. 😉

Grandma Hanley’s Recipe
“So here is the real deal, despite what you may see out and about on the Internets. This is the best Soda Bread from here to the Emerald Isle!!!4 Cups Flour
1 Cup Sugar
4 Tsp Baking Powder
1 Tsp Baking Soda
1 Tsp Salt
4 oz Butter (Softened)
1 Egg
1 cup Golden Raisins
8 oz Sour Cream
1.5 Cups Buttermilk
Combine all ingredients, mix by hand (I am serious).Place dough in a buttered cast iron skillet.

Sprinkle some sugar (We use Turbanado) on the top to really make the crust happen (The addition of sugar to the top is a generational “add-on”. Not that we can improve Grandma’s masterpiece, but it is a nice crunchy addition).


Irish Blessing for St. Patrick’s Day

Beannacht / Blessing
by John O’DonahueOn the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.

And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.


Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Every Lent, I think of this amazing poem by Wendell Berry. It seems even more relevant given the times in which we live. Enjoy!

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

~Wendell Berry

“Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” from The Country of Marriage, copyright © 1973 by Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry was born in Henry County, Kentucky, in 1934. The author of more than 40 works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, Wendell Berry has been the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship (1962), the Vachel Lindsay Prize from Poetry (1962), a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship (1965), a National Institute of Arts and Letters award for writing (1971), the Emily Clark Balch Prize from The Virginia Quarterly Review (1974), the American Academy of Arts and Letters Jean Stein Award (1987), a Lannan Foundation Award for Non-Fiction (1989), Membership in the Fellowship of Southern Writers (1991), the Ingersoll Foundation’s T. S. Eliot Award (1994), the John Hay Award (1997), the Lyndhurst Prize (1997), and the Aitken-Taylor Award for Poetry from The Sewanee Review (1998). His books include the novel Hannah Coulter (2004), the essay collections Citizenship Papers (2005) and The Way of Ignorance (2006), and Given: Poems (2005), all available from Counterpoint. Berry’s latest works include The Mad Farmer Poems (2008) and Whitefoot (2009), which features illustrations by Davis Te Selle.



White Privilege: Let’s Talk

The United Church of Christ curriculum, “White Privilege: Let’s talk. A Resource for Transformational Dialogue” is now available as an online curriculum at The Center for Progressive Renewal. It includes an online discussion board and access to a webinar series from June 2016  featuring authors of the curriculum, John Dorhauer, Traci Blackmon, DaVita McAllister, Stephen G. Ray, Jr. and John Paddock in conversation with CPR Founder and Director, Cameron Trimble.

The cost? “Pay What You Wish!” Talk about commiment. If you have any additional questions, please email Thomas Kleczka, Director of Online Learning for CPR at or go to the web page.


Lent inspiration from Fr. Ed Foley

Ars Praedicandi: Ed Foley’s Homily for the First Sunday of Lent, Year A

by Fr. Ed Foley, Capuchin. 

At this stage of the season
at this stage of the liturgy
it is an exercise in the obvious
to announce that it is Lent …

If we don’t know that
from the music,
the vestments,
the sung Kyrie …
and all the other liturgical signals,
then announcing it in the sermon seems a touch futile.

Knowing that it is Lent,
and understanding the meaning of Lent, however,
are not coterminous.

As illustrated by the decidedly untrue story
of the brilliant magician performing on a cruise ship:

Unfortunately every time he did a trick
the captain’s parrot would yell
“It’s a trick, he’s a phony, that’s not magic”

One evening during a storm while magician was performing,
the ship sank,
the parrot and magician ended up in the same lifeboat.
For several days they just glared at each other
without speaking.

Finally on day three the parrot piped up, and said
“Ok, I give up, what did you do with the ship?”

Having an experience does not always mean that we understand it.
Likewise. experiencing Lent does not ensure
an authentic, even Christian grasp of the season.

And of course innumerable interpretations of Lent abound.

Read the rest of this inspiring, thought-generating homily at the Pray Tell blog.


From Merton’s “Letter to a Young Activist”

From A Letter to a Young Activist

Do not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on, essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. And there too a great deal has to be gone through as gradually you struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. The range tends to narrow down, but it gets much more real. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.

The big results are not in your hands or mine, but they suddenly happen, and we can share in them; but there is no point in building our lives on this personal satisfaction, which may be denied us and which after all is not that important.

The next step in the process is for you to see that your own thinking about what you are doing is crucially important. You are probably striving to build yourself an identity in your work, out of your work and your witness. You are using it, so to speak, to protect yourself against nothingness, annihilation. That is not the right use of your work. All the good that you will do will come not from you but from the fact that you have allowed yourself, in the obedience of faith, to be used by God’s love. Think of this more and gradually you will be free from the need to prove yourself, and you can be more open to the power that will work through you without your knowing it.

The great thing after all is to live, not to pour out your life in the service of a myth: and we turn the best things into myths. If you can get free from the domination of causes and just serve Christ’s truth, you will be able to do more and will be less crushed by the inevitable disappointments. Because I see nothing whatever in sight but much disappointment, frustration and confusion.

The real hope, then, is not in something we think we can do but in God who is making something good out of it in some way we cannot see. If we can do God’s will, we will be helping in this process. But we will not necessarily know all about it before hand.

Enough of this…it is at least a gesture…I will keep you in my prayers.

All the best, in Christ,



With gratitude to Patheos and Frank Weathers for curating.


Blessing the Dust

My spiritual director shared this with me today; now I offer it to you.

Blessing the Dust
A Blessing for Ash Wednesday

All those days
you felt like dust,
like dirt,
as if all you had to do
was turn your face
toward the wind
and be scattered
to the four corners

or swept away
by the smallest breath
as insubstantial—

Did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?

This is the day
we freely say
we are scorched.

This is the hour
we are marked
by what has made it
through the burning.

This is the moment
we ask for the blessing
that lives within
the ancient ashes,
that makes its home
inside the soil of
this sacred earth.

So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are

but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
is made,
and the stars that blaze
in our bones,
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
we bear.

–Jan Richardson