Monday, December 17, 2007

Peasants and reprobates

I heard today that the results of the census of 1911 have been put online (at least the records for Dublin, not for the rest of the country yet). My surname is not that common, as far as I know there's only one family of us in Ireland so I thought I'd take a look and see what I could find. Only one family came up but they had a two-year-old son called Patrick, which is very likely my paternal grandad. His dad was Charles and I do have an Uncle Charlie on that side as well so that would tie in too.

The website is for anyone with ties here who might like a look. I find it fascinating. I now know my great-grandad's name, that he had very nice hand-writing but was terrible at following instructions on how to fill the form out, worked as a vice man (or rice man?) and was married at 18 to my great-granny of the same age. I can also see that they lived in one room of a house with nine rooms, which altogether housed nine families (42 people). And none of them were deaf, dumb, blind, imbecile/idiot or lunatic.

There were dozens of my granny's family name and I don't think she was born until 1913 so I'd need to find out her parents' names before searching again. I do have a copy of my dad's maternal grandad's military record somewhere for around the same time. Not so much full of heroic deeds and valour as it is full of things like "two days in the hold for drunk and disorderly behaviour" and "arrested for drunkeness". Ah well, in the fairytale version of my past it's easy to think I would have been a very sophisticated, well-read young lady attending balls and parties every other night - but I think my family stock was something far more earthy than that.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Sisters doing it not for themselves, but for me!

I just spoke to one of my older sisters who made a comment about not having bought me a birthday present yet because she was thinking of buying me a plant or something and wanted to wait and ask me. She went on to say that the reason for this is that she with the whole thing I'm doing she didn't just want to buy me anything random. And, here's the best bit, she said that she has also starting getting rid of loads of clutter from her house and is just refusing to buy any more crap. She said that she's kept thinking about when I said to her "live simply, to simply live". What a great compliment and a fantastic feeling to think I've influenced someone to make changes that are making them feel good. Of course her husband is now accusing her of contributing to the collapse of the economy but thankfully she's ignoring him and trying to get him to focus on the fact that not spending money means they have more money. Anyway, that conversation has kind of made my day and we've arranged to meet for breakfast on Saturday, which will also be good. Mind you, I promised her a scarf a while ago so I may need to get knitting tomorrow to try and have it at least nearly finished by then!

Earlier in the week, on Monday my day was made when I got a phonecall from the security guard in work to come down and collect something from him and it turned out to be a lovely basket sent by my younger sister, who's still in Australia (and just got her sponsorship visa through so it looks like she'll be there for another few years anyway). It was my birthday last week but I was away (staying with another sister in France for a few days) and so she decided to wait until I was back to send it. I was having a really, really bad morning so it really cheered me up. It's only the third time in my life that anyone has sent me something like that. The basket (which I am really looking forward to getting to use now) had a bottle of wine, a box of fancy handmade chocolates and a lovely little plant, which I've since learned is a cyclamen.

The sister I was staying with in France gave me a lovely present of a gift bag with lots of organic products in it that I might not necessarily get here. There were a few different types of teabags, gingerbread, biscuits, truffles, jam and she also bought me a set of six small canning jars as she knows it can be hard to get hold of them over here. Such a thoughtful and wonderful present.

Sisters can be the best things ever sometimes!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Giving blood and avoiding Nestlé

I was going to post about giving blood and then noticed that Hedgewizard has also just done that. He also mentions Nestlé and the boycott thereof in the same post so I thought I might as well do that too. (Me, a big copycat*? Never!)

Anyway, back to my own life. Where was I? Oh yes, giving blood. Very important to do it if you can I think. I didn't donate for years because I thought I wasn't eligible due to jaundice but then I found out (cannot remember how anymore) that I didn't actually have jaundice but rather a jaundice-like reaction to some medication during my one stay in hospital not long after my 18th birthday. There's a difference between the two and apparently it's the jaundice you get because of a virus which makes you ineligible to donate. Or something like that. If you're not sure, it's worth it to ask your doctor or your local blood donor clinic.

I'm always amazed at the number of people who don't donate. Maybe it's because my oldest sister started to donate when I was still quite young and so it seemed just like a normal thing to do. Like the way it always seemed normal to me to learn languages because both my parents spoke Spanish (they took lessons when I was a very young so although I vaguely remember them going to lessons I don't really remember them not being able to speak it). I'm doing a first aid course in work at the moment and last week the doctor who was in to give the lecture asked how many of us donate - out of 30 people only 4 do. There are so many reasons for people to be excluded I think it's important that everyone who can, does. I have very deep veins but the doc the last time I donated was great and I didn't even have a hint of a bruise. And they've stopped making me take iron tablets for a week after donating now since my iron count is always very high. They were always the only part of the process I didn't like. Well, I also hate needles. And blood. But I'm fine so long as I look at something other than my arm while it's happening.

As for Nestlé, I half-heartedly boycotted them as a teenager. Wasn't quite sure why but someone had told me they were "bad" and I was a very unquestioning kind of a teenager. Could never quite manage to give up Smarties though. They were my favourite sweets and I had the Smarties shades, the coin purse, the Smarties Disco Party record...(by the way, has anyone else read the essay on the strange coincidence of blue smarties appearing around the same time the Smurfs disappeared?). I'm more conscientious now but as they're such a huge company they make a range of products and it's hard to know sometimes who actually made what you're buying. Hedgewizard discovered that they also make cereal for several supermarket own-brands, have a look at the link on his post for more information. I agree with him that it's definitely much easier to boycott any particular company once you stop buying so many processed foods.

This has all reminded me of another huge global conglomerate type company. Dove has what seems like a very worthwhile campaign for real beauty. Unfortunately they are part of the Unilever group which also brings you things like Lynx - see here for a blog post on this issue. But enough about corporates. Who cares if L'Oreal owns The Body Shop! Who cares that Cadbury's bought Green & Blacks! Well, I do, but it's lunchtime and I need to eat.

In home news I have more or less finished my room and it's a great feeling to have some space back. There will be further sorting of different things but everything is in it's place now and so I can take my time with each box as I come to it. I have a pile of stuff to freecycle and all the books (80+) lined up in the hall for my brother to go through tonight and reclaim any that might belong to him before they're off to the second-hand book shop.

I'm leaving a note here to remind myself to post about Fallon & Byrne and my very disappointing experiences with them another day.

*Hedgie, if you read this I hope you're appropriately flattered not only by my usage of your wonderful foot-noting style but also my cat reference, in keeping with the whole cat thing you have going on at the moment! :-)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Going to be broke for December

Considering I don't often buy anything (well, not anything tangible at any rate) I sometimes manage to go through a huge amount of money. Not having much of the stuff in the first place, this can lead to difficulties. Looking back through my budget/spending for the last few months I can see that for some reason which now escapes me, I didn't pay off my credit card in July. I have a card with a €500 limit (actually €1,000 but tell myself it's €500 and it usually works or did), which I use to buy certain things during the month (petrol, bus tickets and anything online) and then pay off immmediately. Not sure why I didn't do that in July and, as these things go, and as I already know they go goddammit, I've paid a few hundred every month since but then still used the card until hey presto, there's €800 back on it. This is how I got myself into trouble a few years ago and I cannot let it go on any longer. I have been continuing to clear out my room (and hence my life), it is taking much longer than I thought it would but is nearly finished and I need to make sure I don't lose track of too much while focussing on that.

It's payday next week and I've decided to just pay the full credit card off then. Together with paying rent, loan and putting money aside for bills this will mean that from 1 December I'll be on a very tight budget of about €50 for the rest of the month. I will be away for the first week and already have Swiss francs which will cover most of my expenses while over there. Am staying with my sister in France (only real expense is train ticket to/from Geneva) and will not need any money for food or accomodation. That'll be week one over and done with. I do have three lunches/dinners which I'm supposed to go to over the Christmas period and I'll decide on each one as it comes up. Attending them means using my overdraft facility, something I don't like to do. I may be able to get some overtime at the weekend for one of the partners here who always gives a small amount of cash as a thank you which would solve that problem. I'll try and get a Tupperware order or two as well, which would also generate a bit of cash. I also still haven't brought my books to the second-hand bookshop yet to sell so will try and get that done and use the proceeds to buy one or two small books or similar to bring over to the kids in France (you get a higher value for what you sell if you take a voucher for the shop rather than cash - will see how big the difference is before deciding for definite).

It's going to be difficult but I have no-one but myself to blame and I think I need to do it this way rather than tell myself I'll pay half now and half in January, which will then become February etc. etc. It's time the cupboards had a clear-out anyway and if plain pasta and rice doesn't seem too appetising, it's amazing what you can come up with when you've no choice. It'll be made slightly easier by the fact that we usually get paid a week before Christmas. Given the way Christmas is falling this year, we may not get paid till 21st but that still means only two weeks of absolutely broke and then six weeks of living on one month's salary, which should be possible.

I really need to do this as I will need to save money for moving to Germany and want to do that sooner rather than later. My boss usually gives me a present in the form of vouchers or cash at Christmas and while there are a couple of things I do need (new shoes for work are top of that list), I want to try and keep most of anything I do get for my Germany fund.

From 1 December I also plan to keep a diary of consumer spending for one year. I will not be including food spending in this diary but am curious as to how often I really do go out and buy "stuff". I also just remembered that someone owes me €50 for some translation/editing help I gave them with a paper a while back. Will follow up on that and if I can get it, hey presto, my December budget just doubled!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Of decluttering and weed tea

I've been making some good progress on the decluttering front. I started on Saturday morning by bringing all of the folders, files, boxes and piles of paper strewn throughout my room downstairs to the sitting room. I went back up to my room and was sitting on the bed admiring the fact that there were now surfaces to be seen when I could feel myself nearly dozing off again. Fortunately my housemate (who I thought was away for the weekend but had just been away for Friday night) came in just about that time and it was just the impetus I needed. She came upstairs and, as it turned out was also about to begin a big clean up of her room so we spent a very pleasant half-hour working away and shouting back and forth between the two rooms. She has been reading a book called The Secret and says that it has really reminded her of the way she wants her life to be. It's great to be around such a positive outlook at the moment. I think that just as negativity can feed off itself and create more negativity so too can positivity and so I'm trying hard to stay on track and contribute a bit of positivity to the house as well.

While doing all of this I also finally remembered to dig out the gardening diary I started to keep early in the summer. I must say I'm impressed with how well I did with it. Well, better than most attempts at diary-keeping so far in my life. 22 April was the first day I wrote in it and I wrote regularly up to 2 July. Mostly I wrote things like "nothing is growing" or "bloody snails/slugs/aphids" or "it's raining again" but still, it's the thought that counts.

So I can see that on 17 June I started a weed tea and I have to admit I have ignored it for so long I'd completely forgotten about it. So here's a question for anyone out there with weed tea experience - do you reckon it'll be okay to just dump the whole lot onto the compost now? Bearing in mind that it hasn't rained here (apart from a short drizzle yesterday) for about a month or so so my compost is very dry anyway at the moment. Or should I siphon off the liquid (would it still be useful?) and just put the black gunk (which I assume is in there - haven't actually braved the smell to have a peek yet) onto the compost? These are the things no gardening book really mentions. They all assume that you'll go back to things as soon as you are "supposed" to!

My decluttering continues and I hope to finish sorting all the papers etc. tonight which will leave me free on Thursday and Friday evenings to file things properly. I unearthed my bag of bits and bobs as well and will recommence my 3 little things a day next week to get rid of or find a proper home for all those little annoying bits. I've done well so far in gathering photos into one place, cards and letters I've received into a box together, cards and postcards I've bought but never written into another and so on. Once the major decluttering is done then I can go back to each of these things and sort them out properly as well. For now, it's a huge step to have things all together.

This weekend then the Great Bbook Clearout (planned for, oh, last January or so) begins. At the moment I'm planning on moving the furniture around a little bit in my room which means I'll have to take the books off the shelves anyway. I'm aiming for three lots: have read more than once and will read again; have read before and thought I would read again but can't remember what it's even about (I suspect I will re-read many of this pile before finally getting rid of them); and, bought because I thought I would read it but never had (will have to try and be realistic about chances of actually ever reading any of this lot). Of those latter two groups I aim to get rid of at least 80%. I suspect it'll take me a while to get through this task though because I'll keep getting sidetracked into actually reading. We'll see how it goes.

Friday, October 19, 2007


It must be a time of year thing (can't really say it's a cold weather thing as we've been having far better weather the last few weeks than we had all summer). Howandever, I've been knitting lots recently and really enjoying it.

I finally finished the scarf I started for myself in March. It's a pattern called mistake rib, which is with 20 stiches - row 1:knit 2, purl 1 and row 2: knit all, repeating those rows to the end. Of course I didn't realise that when you purl on a line you've been knitting you're supposed to bring the yarn over and so I have a mistake-mistake rib. Or maybe a reverse mistake rib? But it's pretty I think.

I've also made a couple of hats.
The dark one is Sirdar Denim Ultra, which is what I have a pattern for. The other one is a different wool called Gedifra Charme which was left over from what I bought to make a scarf for my friend when I was Germany (that one I knit as a proper mistake rib one). It's much smaller and I don't know how to size a pattern up so will need to figure that one out or else find a new hat pattern for less chunky wool. The range of colours I can get of the Sirdar isn't great and I'm bored with dark grey and dark brown hats.

And finally I've started two new scarves. One for my sister as a birthday present - I met her the other day for brunch and dragged her into This is Knit to choose some wool. Very much a girl after my own heart she went straight for the bargain bin and chose a nice Debbie Bliss merino dk in light purple and then proceeded to look longingly at a scarf which looked complicated. Good thing she was standing beside me or I might have bottled it. I didn't though and it turns out to be not too bad. I needed a couple of starts to get it right but it's going well now. It involves a lot of "yarn over" so it's good I'd figured out how to do that properly from my own scarf mistake already. I also dug out a few balls of Taos wool from Crystal Palace Yarns which I thought were really pretty and have started a similar scarf in that. Haven't decided who it's for yet but am liking it a lot so it may just be another one for me! Have loads more wool to keep me occupied now.

The Knitting and Stitching Show is back in Dublin on November 1 - 4 and I've just booked tickets. If I don't book ahead of time I never make it to these things so not only have I booked a ticket for the Saturday and Sunday, I've also signed up for workshops on Crochet, Continental Knitting (not actually sure what it is but was told it's knitting for left-handers and being a citeog that'll suit me alright) and Felt & Beaded Flowers. I meant to book on to the Knitting Flowers one but got all mixed up so decided to just leave it. Felting and beading will be interesting too and I can always see if there's a free space on the day for the other. I remember last year that I didn't really buy anything as I found nothing that I couldn't get any time from my normal suppliers at the same price (or less) so this year decided to use my budget for attending workshops instead. Anyone else in the area going to be there on the Saturday or Sunday?

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Potato harvest

Yes, there were actually some potatoes in there - can't really believe it because the plants were only in a couple of weeks before I had to chop them down. I got three potatoes from the two plants which were planted in a tyre stack in the back garden. Two were very squishy and one, which was a big potato, had a baby slug and lots of slime on it and also felt a bit squishy - they all went straight in the bin.

From the plants I put out in the front garden later in the year though (thinking they'd give me some potatoes for Christmas), I got this lot:
That's just over 1.2 kilos although I admit I did also weigh the teeny tiny ones. I also picked the last of the scallions.

It was all very exciting and with yesterday being such a lovely sunny day it reminded me of something I'd forgotten over the course of our miserable, wet summer -it's all worth it when you get to pick stuff and then eat it!

I'm wondering now if I need to wait a year or two before planting anything in the same space - do blight spores live a long time?

I got a lot done yesterday. I made a trip to my sister's storage unit and brought back all the spare duvets and bed clothes which I'd taken out in July for my other sister (visiting from France) to use. That has cleared a hugh space on my bedroom floor which is a big incentive to finish tidying up the rest of it too. I also brought over three small vacuum pack bags of clothes in sizes too small for me to wear at the moment, which has cleared a bit more space (both physcial and psycholoigal) in my room. She's decided to stay on in Australia for a while longer so renewed her storage contract for another year. It's handy for me as I can make use of the small amount of space left in it without falling into the trap of just shifting all my clutter somewhere else without properly dealing with it.

I also made it to Spring Wools to pick up a couple of balls to make hats with. I need something simple to knit and I did a good few of these last year so it'll keep my hands busy without needing a huge amount of concentration.

And finally I managed to get to the library with my overdue books. I finished Awarenes by Anthony Mello and thought it was good but not necessarily one I'd bother reading again. Barely got a few chapters into Gestalt Therapy Verbatim but a large part of the reason for that is that someone had underlined huge parts of the book and made notes in the margin and I find that really distracting. Particularly as it was a library book I was adding annoyance at how inconsiderate people are to that distraction.

I did enjoy the book on preserving I got but it's not the "one". I think I'll have to spend a bit of time in a good bookshop to find one which suits me better. And finally, there was the Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. I still haven't actually finished this book but have bought my own copy because I really like what part of it I have read. It's funny really because a lot of the ideas are very similar to Awareness but that didn't resonate with me half as much. I'm looking forward to reading further in it but think this is a book I'll probably come back to again and again.

And then I ended the day by heading in to Christchurch Cathedral which was hosting Voices for Hospice. People from lots of different choirs gathered at 5 or so to rehearse excerpts from Messiah, which we then performed at 7.30. I was on time (for once) for the rehearsal and we had a half-hour break between rehearsal and performance, which was just enough to get out to get a drink of water and introduce myself to the people sitting near me. The evening flew by and I was wondering why I was starting to feel tired towards the end of the performance when I realised that it was after nine and we'd been there (and singing) for almost four hours. What a great way to spend a Saturday evening.

Friday, October 05, 2007


I've decided I want to move back to Germany. Lots of different reasons which I've been finding difficult to put into words. When I was over there recently and said this to friends they asked why I'd want to leave Ireland especially since I'm settled here, have a good job, friends and family, choir, nice place to live etc. I was finding it hard to explain properly until last week my therapist asked me a different question. He asked why I would stay in Ireland, what would hold me here. I couldn't think of anything to say apart from my brother, but that's not really a reason to stay because I know he'd come to visit often (and potentially move over some time in the future if he liked it as well), it's more the one thing that would give me pause. Otherwise I couldn't think of one single reason that I might stay here rather than live there. I've decided to wait until after Christmas to really set things in motion but there are a lot of things I would like to achieve before then which would be a big help:

1. Get decent German CV put together (including organising decent photos)- have already asked friends over there to send me theirs to get an idea of current standards. Have also found and joined a German discussion forum for secretaries.
2. Declutter bedroom, especially books and notes etc. from school and college which I still have. Sell as much of that as I can and freecycle the rest.
3. Finish proofreading correspondence course I started years ago and never got around to completing.
4. Start a German conversation group in work/find and join a German conversation class to keep my language level fluent.
5. Lose weight/increase fitness - always a goal but especially important from a point of view of increasing confidence when going for interview.
6. No. 5 would also help with decluttering wardrobe.
7. Get things in work well organised and finally start writing down procedures etc. so that someone coming in after me has a good starting point.
8. Finally get around to submitting tax relief claim forms for medical expenses.

Need to have this list here as a reminder and will add to it as things occur to me.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


Finally reclaimed camera and recharged it so can let you see some photos of the place I was in Germany.

These are the steps leading from the stone house I was staying in up to the hut they lived in. Steep enough, one of these steps was more than halfway up to my knee.

This is the path from the top of those steps over to their hut (red building)

Okay, bear with me, not so good with this whole photo thing. This one is the view from outside the stone house - the town looks serene enough from there but the sound really was something else.

Here we have part of the path up to the toilet - this is the part which steps were built into the day I was there. When I arrived, it was just steep - if you look at the plants beside where the steps are you can get an idea of the gradient.

This is the most of the rest of the path taken from up at the toilet. I thought I was getting a good shot of how the path sloped from left to right as well as up/down but it hasn't really come out that well and just looks like a crooked photo. The tree trunk on the left, I assume is probably fairly upright so that gives an idea.

At left the toilet.
At right, the view from said toilet.

And not forgetting the pile of wood which I carried a lot of down from the entrance to the hut and then spent a few hours pulling nails out of. It looks like such a small pile but it didn't feel like it.

And finally, the shower, for those of you interested in how that worked. The sun is shining right through so you can't really see the hose and nozzle but I think you can see the bag okay.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Apple Day

Yesterday I left a very wet, dreary Dublin behind and set off with my brother (got my camera back too, yippee!) to attend the Irish Seed Savers Association's Apple Day. They're based in Scariff, Co. Clare and it's just about a three-hour drive which was worth every second of it. Gorgeous scenery driving around Lough Derg and it was a fabulously sunny day down there. I even got a bit of colour on my face and that's making me feel slightly better about the cold I'm starting.

I've been to wine tastings before but have never thought I have a particularly refined palate as I could never really see where they were coming from with their descriptions "hint of blackcurrants and strawberries" etc. But boy, could I taste the difference between different varieties of apple. It was amazing. We had a little booklet and I think I managed to mark down all of the ones I tasted and there were a few which I really, really loved. It was interesting to hear other people talking about their reactions too. At one stage I had just tasted an apple and all I could say was "mmmmm, that's fantastic", and the guy standing beside me tasted it and said, "hmm, well now, that's an interesting taste". My brother and I have very different tastes as well (I like sweet and for him the more sour the better) and it was great fun tasting the different types of apple and seeing which ones we both liked. Even just reading through the names is fun.

I tried:
Bloody Butcher aka Bloodhound or Winesap
Ecklinville Seedling aka Glory of the West
Eight Square aka Kill Apple
Golden Spire
Kerry Pippin
Lough Key Crab
Mrs. Perry
Peach Melba
Sam Young
Widow's Friend
Yellow Pitcher

And I really like yellow pitcher, Mrs. Perry and golden spire apples - I even bought a bag of dried golden spire rings but unfortunately they weren't selling any fresh apples. I also liked the Lough Key Crab purely because it was so pretty - it's a lovely pink/purple colour even inside. A couple of those listed above are cooking apples but were still okay to taste raw.

There was also a short talk by Aoife Ni Giollacoda (leader of the regional Slow Food group and keeper of native black bees) and another on growing apples by a local commercial apple grower, Con Traas of Karmine Juice. It was very interesting and although I'm not in a position to be growing any apple trees myself I figure it wouldn't hurt to pick up any tips I can. Obviously I should have brought a notebook though because apart from the fact that planting trees on a slope is good because they don't like to have wet roots I don't remember many details. Following those talks we went on a guided tour of the heritage orchards and were also free to wander around the gardens and polytunnels. Our tour guide was a guy called Will Softly who seems to be very passionate about local food and was certainly very enthusiastic about the orchard and his work. Everything they do is not just organic but also biodynamic and it certainly seems to be working for them.

We were also able to take a look at a cob house currently under construction and I got some seeds for greens which should grow over winter and some garlic to plant out soon. I bought the biodynamic calendar for 2008 and am glad to have bought it now as a quick glance through makes me feel that I'm going to need the next few months to try and figure it out!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Misadventures in WWOOFing - ah, it wasn't that bad really

Am back in Ireland now for over a week and wishing I was somewhere else. After such a long holiday (17 days if you include the weekends - haven't had a holiday that long for 15 years) I thought I'd be full of energy and get right back in to the swing of things but I'm really struggling. I'm going down to Clare for the Irish Seedsavers Apple Day this Sunday so maybe getting out of Dublin again for the day will help.

So, to the WWOOFing, basically the whole farm thing didn't really work out. For a start it wasn't a farm, it was two 21-year-old students who live in a hut on the side of a hill overlooking the town they go to college in (and it was really loud, even just the noise levels from the town were very stressy). And then I'd say I probably have a bigger garden than they did and they'd harvested all their herbs weeks ago so bang went my thoughts of maybe learning a bit about that side of things. They were just looking for help with building and renovations. While I accept that that is part and parcel of what needs to be done on a farm and also that I'm at fault because I didn't ask ahead of time what exactly their setup is and what I'd be doing (didn't want to put myself off really) I do think they should have volunteered some more information and give me an idea of what I'd be doing and what to expect. Like for example the fact that it's nearly an hour's walk uphill to get there and there's no access by car. That there was no running water or electricity. Composting toilet was on a platform above a four meter deep hole (good from the point of view of safety that they covered the hole over but nonetheless a bit scary to use) and at the top of a very steep trail. I’m all in favour of composting toilets but they also told me I only needed to use it for..em..number twos and that if I needed to pee I could just do it anywhere so long as it wasn’t too close to the house. Not terribly hygienic. And a bit wasteful to be honest - I’d have preferred to be given a bucket to pee in and asked to add it to the compost every day, at least then it’s not going to waste. And I wasn't too keen on the pet rats either to be honest.

I arrived at the train station to be met by this very young guy with a bike and he said we'd be cycling for about 10 minutes and then we'd have to walk and it'd take maybe 20 minutes and then expressed surprise that I had a big bag with me (and I was so proud of myself that I only had one bag with me, a rucksack and not the big giant type!). I explained to him that I'd injured my foot a year ago and had gotten very out of condition but he didn't seem too bothered. Finally made it up there (it probably does only take a very fit person about 20 minutes, but for me it was twice that). Anyway, all that walking uphill and down on the first day more or less did my foot in again so I worked for the half day I arrived and full day the next day (carrying wood down the hill to outside their hut, spent hours pulling nails out of it and also spent a few hours sawing trees into logs so yer man could build steps into some of the steeper trails - all the time thinking "so much for three to four hours work in return for learning about farming and a quiet country holiday"!) and all the time pretty scared because all of the trails around the place were so narrow and steep (have I mentioned before I'm not too good with heights? I didn't even have walking sticks with me, which while not practical to use while hauling wood, would at least have given me a measure of security sometimes). I have some photos but my brother has run off with my camera again so will post them at a later stage.

So, I told them I wasn't going to stay any longer, mainly because I didn't want my foot to get even worse and partly because, as one friend said to me the other night, "when you're in your thirties, you not as bothered about just saying you've had enough". They didn't seem bothered and when I said I felt he'd probably get work done just as quickly without me agreed. All in all a disappointing experience but I think I will try again and next time make sure to be very careful to find out what's in store for me.

And what does one do when standing in a train station in Germany and not needing to go home for another 12 days? It went something like this -

Me to train station person: when are the trains to Lübeck-Travemünde? There are three stations there? I'll check which one and be back in a second.

Runs to telephone to ring friend: H., did you move into your apartment at the weekened? (H. only moved up there in June and had been living in a guesthouse while looking for a place to live)

H: Yes, I did.

Me: Okay, if I come tonight will you have a place for me to stay?

H: Oh. It would be my greatest pleasure to see you.

Me: Okay, which station is it? Thanks, see you later.

Runs back to counter: It's the Hafen station. Great, train leaves in two minutes? On my way.

Made it onto the platform with about half a minute to spare, got onto train (the holiday ended up costing me quite a bit more than planned but was worth every cent) and just about six hours later walked into the restaurant on the Baltic Coast where H. was working. Great to see him again and I stayed there for a week. There are not many people you could just turn up like that and be sure of a welcome and I am very lucky to have a friend like that. I had to hang around until midnight as he had to work until then but by nine it wasn’t too busy so at least he was able to come out and sit with me for a while. And to cook for me - I was really hungry although I offended his cook’s sensibilities by asking for a Bauernfruhstuck, which is basically fried potatoes with ham and eggs - to me the ultimate in comfort food after a long, tiring day. To him, an insult to be asked to cook it. Ah well.

I stayed with him for a week, although he was working from 9 every morning and usually until about 10.30 at night. Still I had a good time, sleeping late, pottering around, going to the market to buy loads of nice food, cooking for myself (or going to the restaurant to let him cook dinner for me), drinking lots of different teas, listening to the radio (found a good classical station among other things and there were loads of programs about Pavarotti on which I really enjoyed), going to the cinema, I found a wool shop and spent loads of time knitting. I made him a lovely scarf to wear when it starts to get colder there but forgot to take a photo of it. I also went to Lübeck one day and to Hamburg another day. Wasn’t too keen on Lübeck but Hamburg is lovely. I’m very tempted now to try and move back to Germany but I’m trying to wait and see if that’s just a post-holiday feeling or if it will last a bit longer.

So, after all that I went back down to Frankfurt and spent the last four or five days with my friend there who I had stayed with at the beginning of the holiday. I had a fantastic holiday and think things worked out well in the end because I would never normally have taken two weeks off and just spent them visiting friends and chilling out. I think that amount of time sort of makes you feel obliged to “do” things but it was exactly what I needed.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

One Local Summer - Week 10

Still no photos as I still haven't managed to retrieve my camera from little bro. However, I did finally manage to roast that chicken and it's delicious. Pulled the rest of the meat off the bones today and am making stock with the carcass, which is also a good excuse to use up the last few veg in my fridge before going away. I'm off to Germany to WWOOF for two weeks. Heading over on Friday and will be singing on Saturday in Limburg with choir - we're singing Dream of Girontius again with the German choir who came over to Dublin in May for a performance of it here. Have the rest of the weekend to spend with friends and then on Monday will be heading off into the unknown to spend two weeks on a farm with people I've never met before. I'm trying not to think about it too much as I think I'll just get nervous. I know it's going to be physically challenging as well as I'm so unfit but I'm planning to bring much gusto with me and hope that helps.

So, to my local meal this evening. Cold roast chicken with fresh garden peas and chutney.

Chicken - from Coolanowle (60 miles)
Green tomato and lemon chutney - McNally's Farm (30 miles)
Peas - from my back garden. Yum.

Is this the last week of OLS? I can't remember. However, I expect that I'll be eating a fair amount of local in Germany - it'll be interesting to see what kind of a set-up it turns out to be. As far as I could tell from the description they grow mostly herbs. I'm hoping the onion harvest is already underway though because I remember Zwiebelkuchen (onion cake) from around this time of year with great fondness but can't quite remember if it was a bit earlier or later than this.

I'm not sure how much I'll be posting until after my return - bis zum nächsten Mal!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

One Local Summer - Week 9 - part 2

I wrote the post down below as Part 1 as I fully intended to have at least one more local meal to talk about by the end of the week. I did but all leftovers from previous weeks (going on holidays next week so trying to use up everything from the freezer) and eh, basically, bread and cheese.

I did remember to take the chicken a bought a couple of weeks ago out of the freezer this morning. Have been in work much later than planned though so am meeting my brother in town to use up some vouchers for Wagamama I have. If the chicken is actually defrosted by the time I get home I will cook it and use it for sandwiches and other meals during the week. So there is a very, very slight chance that I will get a photo up of something I've cooked this week.

I've worked all weekend but have made some real progress. Bloody filing. I actually enjoy filing (think there's a closes librarian in me somewhere) but when you're trying to work someone else's filing system and it doesn't seem to make sense it's tough. I've been here three years now and still had a few bits that I'd never been able to find places for. Have just about cracked it now and although I've spent nearly the entire weekend here (one of the few non-raining weekends we've had!) I am glad to have done it and will be able to relax far better when I'm away (am trying to mitigate any don't-want-to-go-back feelings ahead of time, not sure two weeks WWOOFing in Germany will do much for my feelings of (dis)content at living in Dublin).

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Irish Green Gathering

Haven't managed to post about the Irish Green Gathering yet. I do intend to and will hopefully get to it this weekend. I can certainly say that it was the muddiest weekend I've every spent! Roll on our Indian summer - we must surely be due one!

One Local Summer - Week 9 - part 1

Well, no picture to prove it as my brother borrowed my camera (he's gotten some work recently as an extra for The Tudors and wanted to take some photos of himself in the frilly shirt and pantaloons) but yesterday evening after working very late I was nearly too tired to bother cooking and faced with that familiar dilemna of having no food in the house, only ingredients.

Thankfully, as my brother had come over (minus my camera, I may not see it again for a while!) I made an effort and didn't just fall into my old bad habit of ordering a take-away.

So, my local meal this week was even more simple than usual, let's just call it Plate of Veg, shall we?

Potatoes - McNallys - 30-odd miles
Broccoli - McNallys as above
Beans - not sure what type, my brother got them from a friend who picked them from his garden, I think in Wexford.
Cheese - a very nice cheddar from Tipperary, I did ask the name when I bought it from Sheridans but have forgotten again - must start carrying a notebook with me at all times!
Home-made tomato ketchup - the ketchup I made last Friday which just wouldn't thicken but was very nice as a sauce with this dinner.


For the most part I do tend to believe that things happen for a reason, rather than just coincidence. This theory always seems to resonate with me and carry me through until something bad happens. Then life is just a bitch and they're all out to get me.

Try to find the reason why my car was stolen from the driveway of my house a year or so ago? Nope, sorry, still can't do it. Don't feel it was the least bit character building and it just ended up costing me money, a lot of stress (to be honest it took me a good while to even be able to feel comfortable in the house again) and made me just that bit more cynical.

Similarly, the week before last I was out of work early one afternoon to head to a social function - you know, one of those team-building afternoon type things. I was helping one of the organisers carry things to the venue and we were running late so she decided we should get a taxi rather than walk. She got into the back of the taxi (which was stopped at a red light), the other girl with us got into the front, I had one foot into the back and the guy took off, dragging me with him for a few feet before he realised. I did feel sorry for the poor guy, he genuinely hadn't seen me (I'm still not sure how as I'm easily twice the size of the girl I was behind!) but I felt way more sorry for me. I wasn't hurt apart from a mildly twisted thumb (still haven't figured out how I managed to do that) but was in shock for a good while, partially because I couldn't let myself react much until much later that evening after the event I was going to had finished and I was heading home. But again, I haven't been able to find any good (or otherwise) reason for that to have happened.

On the other hand, I recently got a list of books from my counsellor to read as I've kind of hit an impasse in therapy and wanted something extra to do. One of these is called the Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. I started to read this book a while ago when in a cafe having breakfast. Now, I'd rarely spend an hour on a weekend morning in a cafe but had been trying to arrange to meet my sister and although I hadn't managed to confirm a time with her I went to the place we'd normally meet and decided I'd take my time having some breakfast, wander around the market for a while and then try and see if she was coming down or not. So, I was in a place I wouldn't normally be, doing something I'd rarely take the time to do. As I was leaving the cafe, a guy sitting near the door stood up and said hello and told me that he had noticed I was reading The Power of Now, that it was an amazing book he had read a while ago and he decided when he saw me reading it that he would say hello to me when I passed. He said that he knew once he saw the book that he was looking at somebody starting a journey and just wanted to acknowledge it. I was absolutely blown away and this is the kind of seemingly random thing which can lead me to be able to believe that sometimes things just happen for a reason. It was really nice to chat to someone like that for a minute or two and it was a fantastic start to my day.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

One Local Summer - Week 8

Earlier this week I had a wonderful omelette. What's so wonderful about this omelette? It had peas and tomatoes from my very own garden in it! Absolutely yummy. Organic, free-rang eggs from Co. Meath and a tiny bit of cheese from Paddy Jacks were the only other things that went into this. The peas were a bit on the small side and there weren't many because I just couldn't restrain myself from picking them any more. There are a good few still growing on the plant so I'm going to try and wait for those ones to grow to a decent size before picking them. I definitely need to grow more peas next year. And get bigger canes to allow them to grow higher too.

Will try and get the photo uploaded soon. Am off to the Irish Green Gathering tomorrow so have a day off. Am taking advantage of being off on a Friday to go to the market in Leopardstown in the morning. Hope to get there early enough to meet my sister before she has to go for a physio appointment and to get a chicken from the guys from Coolanowle. Then rush home to cook that chicken so that I can take it with me in sandwiches for the weekend or (much more likely) to put it in the freezer to cook next week.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

One Local Summer - Week 7

This week it was another very simple meal. I've also noticed that all of my meals seem to kind of look the same. A sauce that's a kind of murky red/brown colour and a pile of potatoes. Hmmm. May try to get my hands on a chicken next week for a bit of variety. They sell out very early at the market and I'm not often up early on a Sunday.

This week I had a dish which, in my house as a kid, was simply called "mince". It was usually served with mashed potato and I wished I had mashed what I had but it was nice with just boiled potatoes too.

Beef mince - Coolanowle (57 miles)
Onions - organic, bought from Denis Healy, (not Irish, exception)
Bisto - from cupboard, still haven't figured out where it was made, either UK or Ireland
Potatoes - Irish, organic, bought from Denis Healy

Brown mince, take off some of the excess fat, add onions to fry for a minute then pour over the gravy. Leave simmering in pan while potatoes are cooking. Add more water if needed. No spices, no extra flavouring, just a plain, hearty meal like Mum used to make. In fact, I think this may be the only thing my mum ever did teach me to make (she died when I was 11 so we didn't have much time for things like cooking lessons, especially bearing in mind that she apparently hated cooking).

In other news, I now have 11 pea-pods and two of them look big enough to pick so I'm heading home now to do that and add them, along with five more small tomatoes I picked yesterday evening to a big omelette. If I still have good eggs that is. Came in to work for just a couple of hours today and have been here all day so didn't get to the market to buy more. Have gotten a lot done here but have to admit I also spent a couple of hours reading blogs. Am really enjoying catching up on the goings-on at O'Melays, a blog discovered recently when Karl left a comment here. They're building a root cellar you see and I just got Root Cellaring out of the library and am finding it very interesting reading but not always able to picture it - seeing theirs in progress is fun.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Language and accents

It occurred to me that I'm very bad at putting flesh to words. What I mean is, when I read something, I'm not very good at really picturing it in my mind - I just sort of let the words flow over me without having concrete images in my mind. This doesn't really bother me but it recently occurred to me that I do something similar when I'm reading blogs. It's slightly different though because reading a blog is nearly like having to imagine a conversation with somebody. Only all of these conversations with people end up sounding the same in my head - like me!

Considering, for example, that Stonehead is an Aussie living in Scotland, the chances of him sounding anything like me are fairly remote. And then there are all the people from the other side of the pond. For example Laurie is from Carolina and I'm not sure what accent that would be exactly except southern so I kind of imagine something like from a film that's set in New Orleans. Sorry, Laurie if that's really insulting. I don't speak like Tom Cruise in Far and Away (that was our big bank holiday movie yesterday - I ask you!), don't often sound like I'm one of the Commitments nor anything like Darby O'Gill so there's absolutely no logical reason you should sound like someone from the Big Easy :). And then there are all the little things which I know most people in the States would say differently (and I don't just mean saying sidewalk instead of footpath, pacifier instead of soother etc). I mean basil being pronounced bay-sil instead of baa-sil and so on. No particular reason for this post, just something that occurred to me. Language is a funny, endlessly fascinating thing.

One Local Summer - Week 6

I'm late again, sorry. However, I had a marathon cooking session yesterday (not really, but it felt a bit like it) and have made lots of extras so that I'll be eating local or nearly local every day this week. I also checked the place I got my white wine vinegar from as mentioned in my post on tomato ketchup below and it's from Breisach in Germany which according to ViaMichelin is 1,263 km (bit less than 800 miles) away - so definitely not local then.

First up then is bistecca all' pizzaiola which is beef in a tomatoey garlicy sauce but that description really doesn't do this dish justice so I stick with the Italian name.

For the beef, I used a housekeepers cut (which is only €10.50 a kilo, I got about 500g) cut into four slices - more or less, decent knives are one thing I don't have so it was more like three slices and some diced bits for a fourth portion. Meat was browned on each side and then put into a casserole dish. Meanwhile I chopped an onion and a couple of cloves of garlic and fried them in some olive oil. A tin of tomatoes was added to this with salt, pepper, basil and oregano and the whole lot simmered for fifteen minutes then poured over the beef and put into a low oven for an hour or so. This should normally be served with a baked potato and peas or a green salad but I had no greens so just did some potato. It was absolutely fabulous, the meat was meltingly good and very, very tasty.

Beef - from Coolanowle about 57 miles
Potatoes - organic, from market, Denis Healy sold, definitely Irish but not sure if from his farm or not.
Onion - forgot to ask, also organic, Denis Healy sold but not Irish (onions are on my list of exceptions)
Garlic - French (also an exception)
Tomatoes - I used a tin from the cupboard, Italian tomatoes so not local but have been in the cupboard for ages so I'm counting them as a storecupboard ingredient. I did intend to use the tomatoes I had cooked and frozen a couple of weeks ago but had already added them to my lentils (see below) by the time I remembered I was aiming for local on this meal! So, instead of one almost entirely local meal and one not, I have a mixture.
Dried basil and oregano from cupboard.

My second dish was not very local at all (bar the tomatoes which should have gone with the beef above!) but will last me for at least six meals I think.

Lentil stew with chorizo.

Lentils - from cupboard. Another item that's been sitting in my cupboard for ages but in Tupperware so no label to tell me where they're from. I'm pretty certain you can't get Irish lentils but that these are organic.
Chorizo - from local cheesemongers - label was blurry but I believe this was from France.
Tomatoes - Irish, bought and cooked down a few weeks ago and used from freezer
Potatoes - Irish, organice, bought from Denis Healy
Onion - as above
Garlic - as above
Rosemary - garden

I also made a broccoli and herb quiche - tried to be clever and make wholewheat pastry for this but obviously there's a different technique for making pastry using wholewheat flour so it ended up more like biscuit than anything else. Haven't tasted it yet so will be interesting to see what it's like.

Pastry made using organic Irish wholewheat flour (Co. Tipperary) and handmade butter (purchased from Coolanowle but made by a neighbour of theirs).
Eggs - Co. Meath
Broccoli - Irish, organic, bought from Denis Healy
Courgette - garden (only a mini one)
Tomato - first from the garden, a cherry tomato, half of which I ate (soooo good) and the other half sliced in two to add a bit of colour
Scallions - garden
Chives, thyme, oregano - garden

Doing a bit better on the local front for this one. Next time I think I'll just do a pastryless quiche.

I still have some mince at home which I bought from Coolanowle as well, will be doing something with that this evening. I think a bolognese style sauce made using the Irish tomatoes I bought at the market this weekend.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Best blog for photos?

Just wondering if anyone has experience of what type of blog (the free type that is) is best for a blog which would involve a lot of photos? I don't like posting photos of people I know for all and sundry to see, especially photos of kids. However, I was thinking of setting up a blog with restricted access which I and a few of my siblings could use to keep in touch and shares news, photos etc. Does anyone do anything like that already? Is it even possible to have a private blog? Any pointers on the best place to start looking into this appreciated.

Garden July 2007 or, is this blight?

How many posts have I seen with the "is this blight?" title on them over the last month or so? Quite a few, so you'd think by now I'd know what it looks like but honestly every picture I've seen and description I've read seems to be just a bit different from the last. So, is this blight?

I've taken off the few leaves that looked like that but I'm wondering whether to cut the whole plant back, wait a couple of weeks then dig up whatever's there. Or to take a chance and wait to see if any more brown spots develop. I did try to dig down into the soil a few weeks ago to see if there were any small potatoes there but only found one eensy one so to be honest I'm really not sure there's anything happening down below at all.

There were a couple of flowers on the other plant in the tyres with this one a few weeks ago but they didn't stay for very long. This opened just the same day as I noticed the brown spots though, isn't it pretty?

These other potatoes are out in the front garden, just a few old ones from the cupboard which I didn't think would do anything but they seem to like it there (even though it's in shade for a good part of the day and until this week it has been raining a lot). I'm kind of hoping these will be a crop for Christmas.

In other garden news (apart from the brown spots I found) Tuesday was a very exciting day. So, with my apologies for the quality of the photos, here's exhibit number 1:

Cue me jumping up and down exclaiming (in a weirdly high-pitched voice), "Ooh, it's a pea. I have a pea!".

And exhibit number 2:

Me: "it's gone red, it's gone red!!!". Aaah, it really is the simple things in life that can bring the most pleasure.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

One Local Summer -

I've been neglecting my blog even more than usual although I have managed to eat quite locally over the last fews weeks. My sister is home from France for two and a half weeks so I am spending almost all of my free time with her, chatting and playing with the kids. This is the shortest time they've been over (they started with about six weeks and every year it seems a little bit more difficult to find somewhere to rent and arrange trains/boats/flights and they end up coming for a little less time) and I had to go away for a weekend to a friend's wedding so I took three days off work to have a bit of extra time with them. Had a great three days and visited Newgrange on one of them, which is one of those places everyone expects you to have visited but I never had. The centre there is great and well set up to keep the kids interested (although I do have very interested nieces and nephews, especially these three) and then you get a bus up to the site itself. It was very interesting to see it although I didn't feel as much atmosphere as I expected to. I think I'd like to go back sometime when it's not peak tourist season.

My local meal for this week (it was on Sunday, what week is that?) will be one I don't have a photo of as my batteries were recharging. Hamburgers and homemade tomato ketchup. As simple as anything really, bought mince from Coolanowle and made the burgers purely out of the meat. Lovely salad to go with it from the wonderful McNally farm and my own homemade tomato ketchup albeit not entirely local - I used Irish non-organic tomatoes, French organic onions, garlic and spices from the cupboard and German white wine vinegar I think, the bottle has a German label on it, forgot to check provenance althoug it could be Alsace. And organic French mustard which I bought the last time I was over there so that counts as local. Still haven't been able to find any Irish onions, organic or otherwise, will have to look into growing my own I think. I was delighted with my homemade ketchup and can't wait to make more. This was my second batch, the first was a bit vinegary but tasted great all the same (my brother: "tastes like tomatoes instead of tomato-ketchup-flavouring") and didn't last long. This batch is nearly gone as well. My sister heads back to France at the weekend so when I've a bit more time to myself I plan to buy as many local tomatoes as I can and try my hand at bottling them as well as making more ketchup. I've already cooked down a large pile I had left over and frozen them but my freezer is small and freezing large quantities isn't feasible.

I made the ketchup using the recipe in Rachel Allen's Favourite Food at Home. It's very simple - for my second batch I added a bit more sugar (forgot about the sugar, hmm, that wasn't local either but for this batch it was organic, fairtrade raw cane sugar) to offset the vinegar and was also more careful with my vinegar measurement (only needed 75ml and my smallest measure was 100ml so I used two jugs, put 200ml in one then poured 125ml from that into the other and used what was left. Felt very clever - this is the kind of maths they should teach in school!). Next time I might let the tomatoes drain a bit before starting as I did find it a bit more liquid than I like. karl left a comment on my last post and I linked to here from his blog which was lots of food for thought on further variations. I think I prefer the recipe I used which doesn't involve skinning and deseeding the tomatoes although I suppose I'll have to do that when I just want to bottle tomatoes on their own. I have to say I really enjoyed making ketchup and best of all was the bit when I tasted it and it tasted like ketchup. Because I really wasn't expecting it to. Which may sound odd but then odd I am at times.

Anyway, enough rambling for now, I have lots of work to finish before I can get out of here but I'd already nearly posted this all day yesterday and today and it would never have gotten done if I hadn't put work aside for a few minutes.

Oooh, one last thing, I used old jars (ones that had salsa in originally I think) to put the ketchup in. I boiled them and their lids in water for five minutes and then left them drying in a low oven until the ketchup was ready, about fifteen/twenty minutes. I just ladled the ketchup in and put the lids on (note to self to remember that jars and lids coming out of oven are HOT!!!). This time it was all eaten too quickly for correct preservation to be an issue but I was delighted when we opened one jar after a few days and I heard the safety seal pop. That means I did it right doesn't it? Still trying to get my hands on a decent book on bottling/canning through the library, all suggestions for good books welcome but in the meantime will take any advice anyone wants to offer. Especially want to find out about re-using jars and lids that I've bought something in and particularly about if there is a certain type of lid you're not supposed to use.

I will be attempting next week to cook one local meal every day as I really want to get back into the swing of things once the summer holiday hectic is over.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Another (nearly) local meal - spinach soup

It'd be local if I had managed to get anything resembling an Irish onion at the weekend but there were none to be had. I decided to forgo the New Zealand, Argentinian and Brazilian offerings and settled for shallots from France. The potatoes however, couldn't have been more local - they came out of my compost heap. There's been a very impressive looking plant growing out the sides of the pallet and since I needed potatoes for this recipe (really needed to make something to use up the leftover spinach from last week) I decided to investigate.
Here's the haul of edible ones, there were a few green ones which went back into the compost. I was a bit worried about the little white dots on them. These rubbed off easily enough but I decided to play it safe and peel them anyway. So, into a pot with shallots and some butter, sweated for 15 minutes then stock added and let simmer until they were cooked through with the spinach being added for a couple of minutes at the end and everything being blitzed with a mixer. It was delicious although I think I would try it with less potato next time as I felt it overpowered the spinach a good bit. It's a very green looking dish too!

One final picture to show you - here's my first harvest of tomatoes. Unfortunately this is what fell off the plant when the wind blew everything over - oh well, there are a few more like this still on the various plants, maybe we'll even get some sun in August and they might go red! That would be cool. In the meantime I've bought a big bag of Irish tomatoes and am going to try my hand at making ketchup. If that works out well I'm going to get my hands on some nice meat this weekend, use my new mincer to mince it and make hamburgers for the barbeque (I have a big umbrella so am prepared to barbeque in the rain at this stage!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

Sunday, July 08, 2007

One Local Summer 2007 - Week 2

A little late with my entry this week although I did actually cook this meal last Tuesday. And no photo as I loaded it onto my PC in work but am posting this from a (very stuffy, overheated) internet cafe. So, I went to the Temple Bar market last Saturday morning. It was a flying visit and the terrible weather we've been having was very obvious in the lack of selection of Irish produce. McNally's did have a large selection of herbs and salads though. I bought a very big bag of spinach, a smaller bag of watercress, a small packet of edible flowers, a half dozen eggs and some of their new potatoes. I also bought a cheese from Sheridans Cheesemongers which is from Fermoy (but I've forgotten the name of the cheese, doh!) and some not very nice-looking cheddar from Paddy Jacks, which is a farm in Portlaoise. It was extremely tasty though and despite its dry, cracked appearance, very easy to grate and tasted wonderful in my omelette.

Yes, so far I'm sticking with the basics and not trying any new and exciting recipes, although I've never cooked a lot with spinach before. Anyway, that was my local dish last week. Omelette with spinach. I also added a handful of herbs from my garden and had a few of the potatoes on the side. Here the herbs from my garden:

From my garden: oregano, scallions, parsley, rosemary
From McNallys: eggs, potatoes, spinach, edible flowers
From Paddy Jacks (about 55 miles away): cheddar cheese
Avonmore milk: here's an interesting one though, I've always just assumed that milk I buy is Irish but there's actually no reason to believe that. I'm going to write to them and find out. When I was growing up there were two main producers of milk available in Dublin, Avonmore and Premier. They merged some time ago although they still sell under both brands.
Salt, pepper, oil: as before

This was absolutely delicious and I can't wait to eat more of the spinach. Unfortunately I ended up not getting home at a reasonable hour most evenings last week so had to throw out the rest of the watercress yesterday without using much of it. The spinach has been in tupperware though and is okay so I'm going to make spinach soup later. The weather is still basically crap so it's more soup than salad weather anyway.

The bad wind continued last week and I've lost a courgette plant to it. Just snapped it clean off at the stalk and out of the pot - it took me a minute to figure out what was wrong with the picture when I went outside yesterday (the first sunny day we've had for weeks) and then realised it was because on of the pots had no plant in it. At least the potato plant which was bent over completely (the stalk is split) seems to be recovering and continuing to grow.

Friday, July 06, 2007


The wind has been incredibly strong last night and still today although it seems to have died down a bit. I had just sat down to dinner yesterday evening when I heard a crash - tomato tents blown over. Decided to wait until I'd eaten to pick them up. About a minute later I saw a window box full of herbs flying off the windowsill. Couldn't be ignored any longer and oh my, what a mess when I went outside. One of the tomato tents, complete with three big pots had not only blown over, it was halfway down the garden. And of course it was the tent I had only put up the day before, including planting one big pot with the remaining twelve tomato seedlings I had left to see if anything came of them. Only managed to retrieve seven but I'm not sure they'll recover as that entire pot was blown onto its side and everything spilled out. It's all just sitting in my kitchen now as it was still very windy this morning and I didn't want to leave it outside to blow over again while I was at work. My potatoes, which have seemed to be doing really well (here's a photo I took on Monday) have been flattened and I'm not sure if they'll recover from that. One of them is completely bent over the side of the tyre stack.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Debates - Old City, New Dreams

Last week I attended a few debates/discussions which were held as part of The Dubliner week-long event Old City, New Dreams (unfortunately the link on their website seems to be gone now). The debates were hour-long sessions, lots of participation from the audience was encouraged and there were two each evening (with a free cocktail reception inbetween - one of the main sponsors was Diageo and the free cocktail was a foul Smirnoff concoction, I heard someone mention pomengranate and someone else said watermelon. Either way, it tasted like those free cocktails people give you in places like Playa del Ingles to try and lure you into the pubs they're working for. Awful stuff, even my brother wouldn't drink it!) I wish I had taken notes so that I could give a better account but it didn't occur to me until afterwards that it'd be interesting to blog about.

The first one I attended was supposed to be one of the focal points of the week and was called Old City, New Dreams (as the event was). It was a more light-hearted one where eight people on the panel (I'd even heard of some of them :) ) each had four minutes to present a radical idea to completly change life in Dublin. Most of them rambled on a bit more than that without really getting to a point. Some were total pisstakes (or at the very least thought up of at very late notice), some very, very serious and some interesting but generally impractical. It was a fairly unbalanced mix and I got the feeling that the people who were on the panel had not really been given much in the way of pointers or preparation help for the type of level the idea should be at.

After the first round, the audience voted for the four ideas they liked best and those four people got to spend another two minutes elaborating on their ideas. Most of them didn't seem to have much to add to be honest and as the facilitator wasn't really very good at keeping things running along it was all very rushed at the end. The very serious and worthwhile suggestion for mental health visitors to be made available to families with children won the day. I can't remember what was second but I think it was what I voted for - a change in attitude and a "love" campaign. The guy was aiming for a campaign similar to the famous I heart NY one in the 80's but the facilitator (who thought he was very funny but kind of wasn't - you know the type I'm talking about don't you? Everyone has met one at least once!) kept making comments about "free sex for all" which is just a bit different. I probably still would have voted for that, but heh, I'm a single gal with needs. :)

One of the suggestions made which was voted out in the first round was to build a roof over Grafton St and Henry St. These are the two main shopping streets in Dublin. Fergal Quinn, who founded the once excellent Superquin chain of supermarkets (I've lost a bit of faith in them recently given the amount of imported food, especially fruit and veg, they now sell) made this suggestion to improve the shopping experience for people. When his suggestion was voted down the facilitator seemed surprised and I offered the viewpoint from the floor that the reason for it was that shopping does nothing to enhance the cultural life of the city. He made some snide remark about how I wouldn't feel that way when I'm shopping but offered me no chance to say anything more which did irritate as I feel it's an important point. Ah well. As mentioned it was generally a light-hearted event. Probably could have gotten more out of it if it had been better organised but it was something different to do of an evening. It seems to be time I paid more attention to my intellectual side so attending events like this are a good way to do that.

We also attended the second debate that evening on whether nuclear power is the way forward for Ireland. And on Thursday I went to the "What is Irish cooking" debate which was also very interesting. More on those, plus my one local summer meal for this week to come later.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

One Local Summer - Week 1

Liz from Pocket Farm has once again decided to host One Local Summer and I've signed up this year. I found the Pocket Farm blog just as it was coming to the end of the OLS challenge last year and thought it was a great idea so was glad to be able to sign up for it this year. The idea is that once a week you cook a meal which is local and then blog about it (and also post in a flickr group - have to figure that one out at the weekend). The first week began last Sunday but as I was away at the weekend and have been erratic at buying and preparing food over the last couple of months I wasn't quite prepared. Still, I'm hoping it'll help to focus my mind again and to get me back in the kitchen cooking proper food again.

So, not wanting the week to run away with me I spent all day Monday trying to figure out what to cook (additionally challenged this week as I don't get paid till Friday and am very, very broke and had basically been planning on living on pasta and porridge all week). Then I remembered that I had some beef pieces in the freezer which had been intended for a dinner which ended up being cancelled a few weeks ago. I also still had a few potatoes left from my visit to Ranelagh market two weeks ago. Stew it was and with the weather the way it is at the moment it didn't feel at all strange to be eating this wintry comfort food at all!
I browned the beef pieces in a little bit of sunflower oil, then added some boiled water, salt and pepper, a dash of worchestershire sauce and some bisto. Meanwhile I boiled the potatoes and a couple of carrots I also found in fridge. As I had been delayed in work yesterday and the traffic was appalling to boot I ended up cooking this much quicker than I wanted to but it still tasted great. And I was particularly proud that I did it even after the day I'd had and even though it was already half-eight by the time I started cooking.

Beef pieces from Coolanowle Farm (according to the AA routeplanner about 57 miles from me)
Potatoes from the Berry Farm, Kiltiernan (about 10 miles from me)
Carrots had been in the fridge for a while but I think they are from McNally's Farm in Naul (which is in north Co. Dublin about 24 miles from me)

Salt, pepper, worchestershire sauce and bisto powder were from the cupboard. Worchestershire sauce and bisto made in England. Salt is, I think, French - the only unrefined salt available. No idea where the peppercorns came from as I bought a huge bag from an oriental shop a few months ago and just have them stored in an airtight container. The sunflower oil was the last dribble from a Lidl bottle purchased last year.

So, a delicious meal, everything for it was already there in my kitchen and it reminded me that the most important ingredient in any meal is a bit of enthusiasm (and lack of laziness!). If I hadn't been participating in this challenge I would have had a very boring dinner - in fact I reminded myself of the moany kid I heard on a reality TV show once complaining that there was no food in the house, only ingredients! And the best part is I had more than enough for three servings so that's lunch sorted for a couple of days too!

I'll post my general guidelines for the OLS challenge soon. Basically I will be aiming for one entirely local meal a week with some exceptions such as oil/condiments/spices.

Monday, June 18, 2007

How does your garden grow?

To be honest, not too well at the moment. Today it feels like we're back in winter again with a horrible gray day and pouring rain. It's supposed to clear up later but then more of the same for the rest of the week, some respite on Friday and even more rain on Saturday and Sunday. Dontcha just love the summer!

I still haven't managed to grow any lettuce of any kinds or spinach. My scallions are tiny but at least still doing something. All of my courgettes seem to have been infested with aphids. I've rubbed off as many as I could and sprayed a couple of times with soapy water so hopefully that might work. Unfortunately it seems to keep raining not long after doing that so I don't know if the rain is just washing the soapy water away (wouldn't wash the bloody aphids away though would it!?!). My potatoe plants are growing away at a furious pace and I ended up having to go and buy some topsoil to earth them up a bit more - at this rate they're going to be the most expensive potatoes I've ever eaten but at least I'll get to use the soil again for something else. Unless they get blight which everyone seems to keep telling me I'll get since the weather is so wet now. No wonder I'm having a less-than-positive outlook day. They seem fine so I'm not going to worry about blight until/unless it happens. Of course, the plants are growing away wonderfully but I don't actually know if there are any potatoes under the ground. Root vegetables are a bit frustrating like that I think - you can only assume that if the bit on top is growing well then the bit belowground is as well.

I haven't managed to get any more tomato seedlings past the two leaf stage but was able to buy two plants yesterday at the market (didn't buy much else as almost everything seemed to be from South America or have no sign up showing the origin - drives me mad! I asked them where the onions were from and they said "assume they're Irish" - why would they assume that when almost nothing else was! Grrrr!). I try to avoid buying fruit or veg from Denis Healy who is a big wholesaler of organic stuff (is also supposed to have a farm in Wexford but I'm not sure it's terribly big) who has a presence, often the only one, at most farmers' markets and certainly all of the Dublin ones! I need to get my act together to get into Temple Bar Market early on Saturday mornings to buy from MacNally's Farm, one of the few (if not only) stalls run by the actual farmer who has grown everything being sold. She also makes lovely chutney, relishes and jams.

I did buy a big bin with a secure clip-on lid this weekend and pulled up as many weeds as I could easily get to (mostly dock I think but there are plenty of dandelions waiting for me to get to them in the front garden), put them into the bin with lots of water and will just wait now for it to turn into wonderful (but smelly) weed tea which I can dilute to use for fertilising. In the meantime I bought some liquid seaweed feed to try and encourage my courgettes and tomatoes along a bit more.

No other gardening news really. It's solstice this week and for once I've remembered it before it happens so I may plan something nice for that evening after work. I've been thinking about getting up to watch the sun rise but then I looked it up and that'll be about half-four in the morning, which would mean getting up before four to drive up the mountains - if you're going to watch a sunrise might as well go for the best view. I still might do it but it will depend a bit on the weather as well. I'm not sure I'll be too tempted to drag myself out if it's raining like it is today. But on the other hand we should appreciate nature in all her guises. But on the other hand - dark, cold and wet won't necessarily make for the best way to start the day. But on the other hand...will have to wait and see on this one.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Might even get some salad now

And finally for today (time to skedaddle home from work now, I've stayed late when I wasn't supposed to - have to run now to make it to a meeting of volunteers for the local tool shed) is what I got up to yesterday afternoon in between rain showers.
Actually, I was very lucky and the rain stayed away for a good three hours in the afternoon - it started to pour just as I was finishing putting away the bits and pieces I'd been using in the garden. Which explains this also slightly blurry picture (it's absolutely nothing to do with my shakiness and lack of skill - yet - with a digital camera. I swear!). Do you like it?

That part of the garden is where very little grows and so I made the bed by covering the yellow grass and mossy bits with cardboard and newspaper and piling topsoil and compost onto it. That was late last year and this year a few months ago I planted phacelia, a green manure crop. That seemed to grow well enough and I dug it in about three weeks ago. If you look closely in the background of this photo you can see the bed before I started putting up my mini-tunnel. This part of the garden gets almost no direct sun, maybe an hour a day, so I'm hoping to grow some salad crops and thought the tunnel might help a bit (not to mention keep the birds away. Of course, this way I also get to show off how well some of my courgette seedlings are doing :)

I planted some perpetual spinach, babyleaf lettuce, some more scallions, something I can't recall at the moment and then in the final section I planted out all the seedlings I started in April, most of which seemed to have just given up the ghost. It's a mixture of spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, a pea (maybe, it might be just something that was in the soil anyway as it only grew about 2cm) and all the other pots of soil which nothing grew in at all. I wasn't particularly careful about the planting either - if anything survives it survives and if it doesn't I'll consider it more manure for that patch. I plan to start more seeds inside this evening - it's pretty late in the year to be doing it but with the weird hot then cold then warm again weather it's probably worth a try anyway.

Are these potatoes?

I'd seen no action in my tyre and all of a sudden last week I spotted this:

Does this mean I have potatoes growing at last? Or has something weird and wonderful blown in to my soil-filled tyre?

Three days later here is what they look like now (bit blurry this picture from yesterday - it started to lash rain so the last few shots had to be taken from the safety of the kitchen door).

And while we're at it, can anyone help in identifying this? It's a blowin in my front garden - this picture was taken about four weeks ago, the flowers didn't last long but there's a lot more greenery now.


Well, I finally managed to get the time, camera and weather all working together for once and managed to get a few photos taken of the garden. I bought seeds for a hanging type of tomato (Tumblers) and of all my seeds these three are the only ones starting to look like real tomato plants. I bought a hanging basket and then realised that it was my old hosue that had several hooks hanging up already for baskets. So, not being willing to start trying to hammer into concrete (I just have visions of bringing walls crashing down around my ears) I am considering putting the basket on top of the shed and favouring the planting to one side which could then hang over the side of the shed as needed.

Here's a photo of the shed, what do you reckon my chances are? It was tricky trying to take this photo by stretching my hand out around my bedroom window and trying not to take a picture of my neighbours' garden as well ('cos that just felt wrong somehow)! The lighter part of the shed roof you can see is where the sun is shining. It's one of the few places in the garden which probably gets sun most of the day so could be an ideal spot for tomatoes. Here's the same shed taken from the ground. It seems quite big but really only half of it is ours. From the right edge of the door back to the hedge is our shed. When you open the door there is a wall immediately to the right and from there up as far as the house is our neighbours' shed. I bought a hanging basket which is just one of the plastic types and it has a slightly flattened bottom so it should be possible to just rest it on that flat roof. Would welcome any comments/suggestions.

Here are the three seedlings I have at the moment. I'm so proud of them.