Mrs. Frings’ Irish Soda Bread

This week’s post, falling on March 17th, was shaping up so nicely. Today is St. Patrick’s Day, a time even for Irish wannabes to make merry. Take advantage of this holiday to laugh and be spontaneously rambunctious. I dare you. Erin Go Bragh.

Also worth sharing, my recent 5-day trip to Monterey, a coastal city located in the northern part of California’s Central Coast. I have a whale of a tale to tell. (FYI, the whales were Humpbacks.)

Now here’s when my post veers off-track. In homage to the mischief making-leprechauns amongst us, I made Sweet Paul’s Mrs. Frings’ Irish Soda Bread. Memo to self: Bake this more than once a year. My Cook-the-Book-Friday’s recipe this week is David Lebovitz’s Caramel Pork Ribs. With those ribs I decided to try Crispy Salt-And-Vinegar Potatoes, a delicious choice.

Located in Castroville, California, the Artichoke Capital of the World, family-owned Pezzini Farms has produced Heirloom Golden Globe artichokes for over 80 years.

David Lebovitz’s Travers de Porc au Caramel flopped. (I decided I’m less embarrassed to fail in French than English.) It was painful to toss out 3 pounds of pork ribs. Plus, while making the caramelized sauce in my dutch oven, I burned my arm three times. Being a glutton for punishment, I’m posting a photo of the ribs. This recipe didn’t work for me. I hope my CTBF’s blogging buddies can save me.

The unsuccessful ribs visiting with the successful Fingerling Potato Chips.

Monterey trip. Check. Irish soda bread. Check. Crispy Salt-and-Vinegar Potatoes. Check. Caramel Pork Ribs. Fail. I’m at 75% this week. Lame.


Driving the Pacific Coast Highway is arguably the most gorgeous scenic drive in America. If I’m headed north out of Cambria, it’s the road I travel. Not this year. In the storm-battered Big Sur area, due to the collapse of the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge to the north and eroding landslides to the south, the highway has been closed indefinitely. While economically devastating to so many, I was still able to leave early one beautiful morning to drive the longer US 101 route to Monterey.

There are almost 12,650 acres of strawberries planted in Monterey County.

The acclaimed Monterey Bay Aquarium was my first stop. Although I planned to spend the day at the Aquarium, with Time and Spontaneity being my friends, I still spent the first ten minutes putting together my day’s schedule. (I really don’t do “spontaneity” well.)

A staff member at the Aquarium suggested I go to The Fish Hopper on Cannery Row for my lunch break.

By day’s end, because I had been simpatico with my wristwatch, I managed to enjoy all four auditorium films, watch five feeding sessions and visit the exhibits in a leisurely manner. Exceeded my expectations.

John Steinbeck’s beautiful boyhood Victorian home in Salinas. It was built in 1897 in the Queen Anne style. I had lunch in the dining room’s restaurant.

The next day I drove to the 90-mile long Salinas Valley, located 25 miles from Monterey, to spend the morning on a fascinating agricultural tour with Evan Oakes of Ag Venture Tours. The valley, affectionally called “America’s Salad Bowl”, produces 59% of our country’s lettuce, 53%, broccoli, and is the state’s #1 producer of many of the 43 fruits and vegetables grown there. Oakes let me personalize the tour with my choosing to visit small producers rather than big boys, like Dole, Driscoll and Earthbound Farm. Would go again.


In the afternoon I went to Salinas and walked in the footsteps of author John Steinbeck who was awarded both the Pulitzer Prize (The Grapes of Wrath) and Nobel Prize in Literature (1962). After visiting his home and having lunch in the dining room’s restaurant, I spent the afternoon at the National Steinbeck Center. Not enough time.

Our Naturalist on board the Elkhorn Slough Safari said we had encountered 78 Southern Sea Otters. Also called California Sea Otters, these otters may be cute but they aren’t cuddly!

The next two days I spent at Moss Landing, a quirky fishing village located 18 miles from Monterey. I took a nature trip into the unique Elkhorn Slough seeing, among many things, 78 Southern Sea Otters. I also took a pelagic trip and saw humpback whales, always a thrill, and a black footed albatross. The albatross, which circled our boat three different times, was a Life Bird for me. This pelagic trip was a time when I didn’t want the camera to get in front of the experience, so no photos. More whale trips planned.

Named for American marine biologist and conservationist Rachel Carson, this former supply vessel was acquired by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in 2011. Located at Moss Landing, founded by David Packard and funded by his foundation, MBARI is doing phenomenal work in understanding our oceans. The Rachel Carson is equipped with the most sophisticated exploring tools and equipment. It was exciting to learn about and to actually see this vessel. Science in Action.

A perfect trip. No glitches. Best of all, sunshine.

“May your thoughts be as glad as the shamrocks. May your heart be as light as a song. May each day bring you bright, happy hours. That stay with you all the year long.” Irish Blessing

Mrs. Frings’ Irish Soda Bread from Sweet Paul by Staffer, Paul Vitale


3 cups all-purpose flour
1 stick of butter (8 TBS) at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 lb. raisins
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp.baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbs. Caraway seeds (optional)
1 and 1/2 cup buttermilk


1. Mix all dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
2. Mix butter into dry mixture by hand until clumps disappear.
3. Slowly add in the buttermilk by hand until you can form one big clump of dough.
4. Place in 8 or 9 inch round, springform, or cast iron pan that’s been coated with butter and flour.
5. Bake until deep golden brown at 400 degrees for 50-60 minutes, checking at the 40 minute mark. (My soda bread took 45 minutes.)
6. Remove from oven, place on rack and drape with damp cloth until cool.
7. Slice and enjoy with Irish butter!

TIP: I love the taste of caraway, but not in my soda bread!
TIP: If you wish and to make your bread sweeter, top with sparkling white decorating sugar before popping it into the oven. (After Step 4.) It is coarse-grained and will not melt. It’s available from King Arthur’s, Michael’s, where Wilton products are sold, or Amazon.) I did not use it.

Crispy Salt-And-Vinegar Potatoes, Bon Appétit. Adapted for the Kitchn by Gina Eykemans

6 Servings


2 pounds baby Yukon Gold potatoes, halved, quartered if large, OR fingerling potatoes, halved
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. distilled white vinegar
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more if necessary
2 tablespoons olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon)

Covered with olive oil and ready for the oven, I was not a fan of the purple fingerlings but only because they didn’t look appetizing to me.


1. Combine potatoes, 1 cup vinegar, and 1 Tbsp. kosher salt in a medium saucepan. Add water to cover by 1”.
2. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until potatoes are tender, 20–25 minutes. Drain and pat dry.
3. Preheat the oven to 425°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
4. Mix the potatoes in a bowl with olive oil until generously coated. Evenly spread the potatoes out onto the prepared baking sheet. Salt the potatoes.
5. Bake for 25 minutes. After 25 minutes, broil the potatoes until crispy, stirring every five minutes to ensure that they don’t burn. Allow them to crisp up to your liking — this might take anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes.
6. Once they are crispy, remove them from the oven. Drizzle lightly with remaining 1-2 Tbsp. vinegar.
7. Season with flaky sea salt salt and sprinkle with chives.
8. Serve immediately.

TIP: Although I used variously colored fingerling potatoes, stick with the lightly-skinned variety which are better-looking eye candy. .


  1. Donna says

    Mary… no way you spent 10 minutes figuring out your itinerary. You needed an excel spreadsheet to make all of these adventures happen.
    Great stuff…
    but what about the ribs… how bad were they and what did they taste like and have your burns healed?

    • Mary says

      POT. KETTLE BLACK. Ms Donna, You and I have traveled enough together for you to know planning my short time in the Monterey area took some time, research and phone calls. Spreadsheet, of course. The anticipation is as much fun as the adventure. When I arrived at the aquarium, I did spend 10 minutes, maybe 15, over a cup of coffee and their Daily Schedule information sheet trying to figure out how I could see everything. There special exhibition, Tentacles: The Astounding Lives of Octopuses, Squid and Cuttlefishes, was, in a word, squirmy!

  2. Cathy O'Connell says

    And may the road rise up to meet you. Happy St. Pat’s. If I baked I might try that soda bread, but will have to settle for the potatoes. Yum! (Spell check just added that ‘e’ to potato.)

  3. says

    Gary and I are out in the RV but we are jealous of your trip to Cannery Row! Cannery Row is one of our favorite movies:). I love all things Steinbeck.

  4. says

    Hello from sunny (and windy!) Florida! You have been one busy gal! I can’t believe how much you pack into each excursion. I’m exhausted reading your adventures 🙂

    Your soda bread looks picture perfect….and I hate to admit it, but I’m a bit relieved it wasn’t MY cake recipe that flopped. But sorry about the ribs.xo

  5. says

    Wonderful post with wonderful pictures. I enjoyed them all, the otters are so cute- but not cuddly, I heard they can be mean. Your ribs look delicious, what went wrong?

  6. says

    I’m sorry the ribs did not turn out well for you! But from the photo, they look delicious! The potatoes looks really yummy! You sure had a fun and interesting field trip! Beautiful artichoke! I don’t think I have seen fresh artichoke around here. I can only find the ones in jars and cans!

  7. Chez Nana says

    Considering the color of my le crueset, I’m surprised my ribs turned out. I definitely thought they were a gonna. Great post Mary, love reading about all your adventures. We visited Cannery Row a few years ago and loved it.

  8. says

    Dear Mary, Oh my goodness, the boat, my grandson, Jason is currently doing a project on Rachel Carson! I love your photos. Monterrey is such a beautiful place and another of your pics reminded me of having visted Castroville, the artichoke capital of the world once. Sorry about the ribs, but your soda bread looks and sounds outstanding! Thanks for another post filled with fun adventures! XO

  9. says

    You certainly packed a lot into your trip! You are looking fabulous (for a stressed out reader of my postings!). Monterey was the name of management’s first entertainment outlet decades ago! Wonderful post of adventure and cooking.. ribs look awesome what. You don’t say, I will not have believed that they were a flop! Take care!

  10. says

    Oh, was this your first time at the aquarium? We love that place and I really need to bring Alaia there again since it’s been a couple years. I always found it magical as a kid. How fun to do the Steinbeck tour and the whale watching trip! And all those gorgeous photos–you really took advantage of the beautiful weather we had! I’m sorry the ribs didn’t work out for you. Mine turned out well, though I’d have liked more heat. Hmmm, ah well, onward and upward and seeing you in a just under 2 weeks!

  11. says

    What a great travelogue. You can really pack it in, though having traveled with you, I know that first hand. I’m sorry your ribs didn’t work out. The potatoes are intriguing. I LOVE fingerling potatoes. So cute.

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