A Brief History of the Potato Farl

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Lucy’s Grandma Norma, around the time that she arrived in the US from Ireland

It’s Culture Day at my daughter’s school this week, and incidentally we just celebrated St. Patrick’s day, so as much as my daughter’s culture around food usually includes anchovies, blue cheese, sushi, and Mint Confetti Ice Cream from Three Twins, she is also quite Irish indeed and it would make sense for us to bring something Irish to share at school.

After somewhat of a disagreement over whether she could bring anchovies to share with her classmates, I came across a recipe for potato farls, cooked them up, got our girl to eat one whereupon she pronounced it delicious, and Culture Day was decided.  First, I got into a little bit of historical meaning behind this food, which I bring to you now.

The potato farl is similar to a potato pancake and is made basically of fried mashed potatoes. It is highly associated with Northern Ireland, and in particular with its main city Belfast. Lucy’s grandmother Norma emigrated from Belfast with her parents when she was a teenager, so our family is strongly associated with Northern Irish culture.

The word farl is pronounced farrel and derives from the old Scots word fardel, which essentially means “a quarter.” Many types of typically irish breads and potato pancakes are round doughs cut into quarters and cooked in a skillet, which is how the farl got its name.

The potato farl’s history is tied closely together with Irish soda bread (or soda farls) for a few important reasons. Ireland’s climate lends itself to growing softer wheats, which led to a popularity of baking breads without yeast, and hence frying up soda or potato breads in a pan:

In Ireland, ‘plain’ soda bread is as likely to be eaten as an accompaniment to a main meal (to soak up the gravy) as it’s likely to appear at breakfast. It comes in two main colors, brown and white, and two main types: cake and farl. People in the south of Ireland tend to make cake: people in Northern Ireland seem to like farl better – though both kinds appear in both North and South, sometimes under wildly differing names.

– From Peter’s Mum’s Soda Bread Recipe

But Ireland is known through the ages as a particularly poor country, and potatoes were a very economical food. ”About two-fifths of the population was solely reliant on this cheap crop for a number of historical reasons.” (Great Famine (Ireland) – Wikipedia)

Soda bread cooking in a heavy pot on the fire, from http://kitchenproject.com/history/IrishSodaBreads/

Soda bread cooking in a heavy pot on the fire, from http://kitchenproject.com/history/IrishSodaBreads/. Lucy’s great-great grandmother would have cooked in a similar fashion on a hearth on Clementine Drive in Belfast.

A poor country discovered that potatoes and milk made a nutritious enough meal to exist on and you could grow more potatoes per acre than any other crop. Soda bread was probably not made as much because of this reason.

– From The History of Irish Soda Bread

That began to change from potatoes to soda bread in the year of 1845. That year, a devastating blight wiped out Ireland’s potato crop and led to many years of what was known as the famous Great Famine. “During the famine approximately 1 million people died and a million more emigrated from Ireland, causing the island’s population to fall by between 20% and 25%.” (Great Famine (Ireland) – Wikipedia)

Without potatoes, Ireland turned more strongly back to soda breads baked with more of Ireland’s soft wheats instead of potatoes. Both soda breads and potato farls, however, share their use of baking powder (bicarbonate of soda) as leavening agent instead of yeast.

While Lucy’s grandmother’s family didn’t emigrate until a hundred years after the Great Famine, the seeds of what was a mass emigration from Ireland may have been planted at that time.

Today, potatoes have revived and are back on the table. In the US, we are lucky that we can enjoy an abundance of many different kinds of potatoes year-round, and those of us who are Irish will remember our great love of, dependence on, and recovery from the blight of the great food that is the potato, delicious in many ways.

The recipe we are using to bring to school comes from The Guardian at http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/mar/14/how-to-make-potato-farls-back-to-basics. We’ll bring along a healthy slab of Irish butter just for extra decoration.

Cheers — and enjoy your culture and your food.  It’s why we’re all here!

Elizabeth Black, 1914, Belfast

Lucy’s great-great grandmother Elizabeth Black, in 1914 in Belfast, where she would have cooked potato farls on the hearth on Clementine Drive.

12 tips for starting — and growing — an employee network

If you work at a corporation of a certain size, you’ve doubtless heard of “employee networks” — also known as “employee resource groups” or ERGs. These are groups typically started by employees, motivated by the grassroots and sharing a common interest or characteristic, like a culture or race, or playing tennis, or being LGBT.

I’m not sure what percentage of corporations have or support employee networks, and I know that smaller companies and startups don’t usually have such groups (perhaps because they tend to be diverse by default?), but internally at SAP, they’ve grown in prominence over the last few years.

Since part of the reason SAP’s employee networks have been rejuvenated in the past few years parallels and perhaps has been inspired by our LGBT employee network transformation, I wanted to share a group of suggestions I published internally out loud here in the real world, to have a conversation about common experiences and hopefully also learn new tips.

pride@sapThree years ago in 2010, the LGBT presence in our major SAP Bay Area location was lackluster at best. Today, especially since the release of It Gets Better: SAP Employees one year ago, we are a vibrant community – not automatically and not without work, but we are far less disenfranchised.

What did we do to bring this change? As near as I can figure out, these things are what made a difference:

Address an unaddressed need

First make sure you are addressing a real need, and a need that is not addressed elsewhere. Look around and make sure there aren’t other groups that are also trying to attract members — combine and/or build together.

For us, the need was clear: There was practically zero momentum in our local LGBT group – there was much disenfranchisement and no goal or sense of community. We knew there were many of us out there, but we were isolated locally. Meanwhile, national laws still lacked (and are getting better, but in most places continue to lack) protection for LGBT families.

All our goals and activities flowed from knowing these needs.

Start locally

Ask and listen to what your local community needs. The nature of our employee network made it critical that we have a local presence – not only are there differing laws from state to state, but there are differing cultures and levels of acceptance per workplace. For us it was important to create a locally galvanized group — and we also chose a name that expressed our local nature — Pride@SAP Palo Alto. We made it a point to be a sub-group of the larger global group — not a different group, but a part and working together. The larger global group has much established practices and brand value already that has also been essential.

It can start with just one person – but one person alone can’t do it

There needs to be at least one passionate person who can devote some volunteer time to engaging a new initiative. It simply won’t fly without someone organizing things — administering communities, creating mailing lists, and getting monthly lunch rooms and appointments alone can take a lot of time, not to mention actually having activities.

But do not do it alone or expect one unsupported person to make a difference. Tap into resources from Global Diversity and Communications, if available.

It must be grassroots — but ask a local executive to help generate momentum

In my experience it doesn’t work all one way or all the other — it needs to be a grassroots group, but often disenfranchised people will stay this way unless they feel there are executives who care.

In our case, one key moment in kicking off our rejuvenation was a roundtable lunch attended by the Managing Director at Labs. This brought out many many people who were formerly hidden in the woodworks.

Welcome “straight” supporters

For us, it has been absolutely key to welcome straight supporters, who have been key to a successful re-establishment of the group. Staight folks might not always know the discrimination and difficulties you face (all the better to educate), but they often care about LGBT issues, experience homophobia, and have non-straight friends and family just as we do. If you want people across the company and spectrum to care, invite them to share how it is they care too. Be inclusive.

Use your internal platforms to create an internal community

This is essential for easily starting discussions, storing documents, starting activities and collaborating. Decide if you want this group to be open or closed. Inside some companies, LGBT groups are closed and let you enter by approval. In others, they are open. We have a combination of both. This is by design: when people join an open community, everyone in the company can see you joining. However for LGBT folks where not everyone is comfortable being “out” — you may need to welcome people to join at all levels of comfort of being “out.”

Make an email distribution list

And circulate emails with, for example, the notes from the roundtable summary above — linked also in a discussion on Communities. Encourage people to join the discussion online in the group. This is (still) often the most effective way to make sure you reach everyone you want to reach.

Create a core team

Identify 3-4 passionate members to help ramp up the group and to have a diverse start to the goals and activities

Build a list of goals, objectives, and activities

With the core group, build up a list of what you will do and why it matters. Let people know what this is and contextualize why it matters inside your company and in the world.

At a minimum, have regular monthly lunches in a regular room, in which you update on goals and activities, listen to and respond to conversations, and encourage new goals.

Network with similar local groups from other companies; track and talk about relevant external events.

Be specific and precise around “asks”

We developed a list of “asks” of local management as well as Global Diversity that included budget and communications, to help drive visibility. Be clear how these asks contribute to not just helping the employee group, but to the betterment of the company as a whole (according to the goals and objectives, above).

Come together around a cause

Your network can come together as a community around a cause that you collectively feel passionate about. For example, the LGBT community in Labs North America come together as Pride@SAP Palo Alto around the cause of anti-bullying. Our first notable event, a film night screening an anti-bullying film, brought us together around this cause and also set the framework for our It Gets Better film. By doing this it gave more purpose and focus for the group, which lead to an extraordinary outcome—the film and boarder awareness of the issue of teen LGBT suicide, which was cathartic for all of us involved.

Measure growth

Measure growth in the group and achievement of goals and report back to Global Diversity to raise visibility (how the group generates “ROI”).

One interesting way other companies’ LGBT groups measure ROI is by tracking successful hires from diversity recruitment efforts, for example.

Have you created an employee network or been a part of helping one grow? I’d love to hear from you.

The adorable boys who melted everyone’s hearts yesterday at City Hall

San Francisco became the city of love again yesterday when the 9th Circuit lifted its stay on same-sex marriage. Weddings began almost immediately at SF City Hall and continued into the evening.

These adorable boys were handing flowers to every newlywed couple they saw.

Because love is love. So simple even adults know it when they see it.

Mark David Winchester: “Remember that I’m human”

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The last time I heard from Mark, in March, he said:  “Remember that I’m human as I remember that you are as well. I’m not saying goodbye yet. I’ll be around for a bit longer.” I took it to heart, filled my sails with it and went about my life.  He died last week. How very like him that he wanted to spare us the heartache of “goodbye.”

Via post on Mark Winchester:

Mark David Winchester, born on March 27, 1965, passed into light in the early afternoon of Wednesday, May 15th, 2013.

Mark was born in Greene County, Ohio, and reared in the area of Sacramento, California. He graduated from Encina High School in 1983 and from CSU, Sacramento in 1988. Mark then moved to Ohio where he studied at The Ohio State University and earned a MA in 1990 and a PhD in 1995.

Following his graduation, Mark was employed by GATX, first in San Francisco and then in Chicago.

In 2007, Mark was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. He underwent treatment at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University from that time until he moved to Oakland, CA in January of 2012. At that time Mark resumed treatment, this time at UCSF.

Mark is survived by his parents, siblings and their children. But more importantly, Mark is survived by a wide network of chosen family and friends.

Mark died as he lived. Throughout his life, Mark was always more concerned about the comfort and welfare of those around him than he was about his own well being. His life was spent being gentle, caring, kind, funny, creative, patient, perceptive, and wise. He constantly used these qualities to make the lives of everyone with whom he came in contact easier and more pleasant.

Celebrations of Mark’s life will be held in Oakland and Sacramento on weekends at later dates.

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November 2012. Mark and Moya.

Knowing that our daughter Lucy loves board games, Mark brought her several of his favorites so she could play them even after he was gone.  We’ll play some rounds of Dixit and Magic Dance in his honor and will always remember him as we do.

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August 2010. Mark engaging with Victor — an anti-gay-marriage “Yes on 8″ man — on the steps of SF City Hall.

I wish I had a better picture, but Mark was amazing and even and compassionate with this fellow. He just kept asking Victor why we shouldn’t be able to marry and who that was going to hurt.  Victor didn’t really have any answers and kept falling back on Bible verses in the face of Mark’s even and calm logic.  Mark was indeed so very loving, calm, kind, and wise. And in the end, too damn human or we wouldn’t have to say goodbye.

Mark had a very long conversation with Victor.  He had many insightful things to say later about this talk – including this:

“He seemed particularly surprised when I said that I have read the bible. He also noted that his grandfather is an atheist (and Victor prays for his soul) and was also surprised that while I and my father are on either ends of the spectrum of this issue, we still talk about it and other things. We both love each other very much. And that I am quite a bit more than my sexual orientation. I’m sure that Victor is much more than just a protester. It’s easy to get caught up in the us and them at an event like this. He is not the message. He is just a messenger. Misguided by his leaders and not really prepared for the onslaught of gentle discussion and questions about his beliefs.”

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The Eighties.  Oh the Eighties.

Mark and I met at Encina High School in Sacramento where he was a grade younger than me and was known for being brilliant, sensitive, and sincerely individual — and for wearing a cape.  A human. A superhero.

The 53.7% Factor: Conversations on a Long Train Ride to a (Gay) Wedding

When I tell you I live in San Francisco, you may think being gay here is just a done deal.  And most of the time, you might be right: I don’t worry about who I am or whether I am or seem “out” to anyone else. My wonderful wife and child and I can simply exist.

Then I remember the irony of the train ride on the evening of Tuesday, November 4, 2008. A group of us took the F-Market train from the No On Prop 8 headquarters down to the democratic campaign headquarters at the St. Francis hotel, all decked out in our No On Prop 8 shirts, carrying No On Prop 8 signs and generally excited though uncertain about what was to be a long roller-coaster night of heartbreak ahead.

We were taunted on the train.  A group of kids were seething slurs at us, and the slurs were not at all pretty.  We were, basically, publicly humiliated.

It’s true so much has changed even just since then. Five years later we’ve not yet seen the repeal of Prop 8, but other states have managed to overcome the barrier to popular vote for the rights of gays and lesbians to marry.  We feel the tide turning.  But we still have a long ride ahead.

Last week we took the Amtrak Coast Starlight up to Seattle and back for Loret and Aimee’s beautiful wedding on Saturday, April 6.  The thing about these long rides on Amtrak trains is that you’re not just traveling – you’re dining, watching movies, squeezing through tight corridors, and generally hanging out with a bunch of people you don’t know.  For an entire day.

When you go into the dining car for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, unless you’re a party of four already, you’re placed together with others who fill the table.  Each time, you try to have conversations.

“Where did you get on the train?”
“Where are you headed?”
“Oh you’re going to a wedding – how wonderful!”
“Is your daughter going to be in the wedding?”
“Who’s getting married?”

Conversations with strangers are wonderful – even when one is badly slept and unshowered on a rocking train.  Conversations about our gay families though – even in 2013 – are still risky.  Here’s what it’s like:

“Who’s getting married?”

All in a split second, you consider the 2012 election result that approved same-sex marriage in the state to which the train is heading, stick the fact in your back pocket that 53.7% approved the marriage you’re going to witness, and by proxy your own marriage, and come up with the figure that roughly 1 in every two you meet, were they Washington voters and did they vote in this particular election, are going to be thusly supportive of the conversation you’re about to consider having.

And you try to evaluate: which one is this?

Not everybody gets this opportunity to have their relationship status a subject of national debate.  Usually this is considered a good thing – a matter of privacy – but we’re global citizens, sharing the same world, the same country, the same dining car table – and marriage is nothing if not about a societal conversation and recognition.

I don’t always succeed in taking the opportunity to represent who I am, even in the face of a 53.7% chance of being met with frank approval.

On the train, I failed at the first meal, with the couple from Imperial County in California.  Somewhere my mind made a judgment from within the context of the 2008 Prop 8 verdict of their home county, and I answered the dining questions vaguely, for which I felt like a deceptive and bad global traveler.

The rest of the conversations would go differently.  With the mom and her kid, who seemed almost mirror images of my daughter and me and were returning to their home city near Seattle — with them we talked freely, and I thanked them for approving R74 – even though I had no idea how they actually voted.  They reacted supportively – almost like this wedding thing is just a given.

Then there’s an entire other end of the spectrum.  My wife Leanne was practically jumped upon by a self-professed conservative Republican who wanted to apologize for his party and wish us well whatever the hell we wanted to do. Eventually for Leanne it became a matter of choice NOT to keep talking to this fine fellow — she had other things to do on the train, after all.

What a difference indeed the five years – the ten years – the knowing of one out of every two – makes. I should represent like every other person who is alive today can, but I get this extra chance – to represent in the face of a flying social issue.  I do try, and not always very well.

The flip-side of the 53.7% factor is the 46.3% factor.  For this good reason and many better ones, conversations on our journey, still risky, are more and more important, rewarding, and hopeful — every day.

Here it is! Anita Sarkeesian: “Damsel in Distress: Part 1 – Tropes vs Women in Video Games”

Anita Sarkeesian’s first piece investigating representations of women in video games is here at last!

This is just the first in what should be an excellent (and well-backed – one nice ramification of the trauma) series. If you don’t know the background, visit the links Sarkeesian provides at the YouTube page (or watch her talk at TED, also embedded below).

So far I find this work to be compelling, educational, and essential. Leanne says we should share this with our daughter, who is virtually growing up online. I’m looking forward to it. Thank you Anita!