Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Sometimes you know you won't have to worry.

Mostly when the children come home from school, they burst through the door speeding past me without a word shedding coats, hats and bags with joyous abandon. Straight to rifle through the kitchen cupboards or fridge for a tasty snack. Sometimes, they bounce outside to the garden for some high jinx. Sometimes they then settle down for a chat about their day, what new songs they learnt, who swapped lunch with whom, who dropped a box of marbles all over the library floor. Sometimes though, you hear a little story that fills a parental heart with such joy and pride that it is impossible not to share.

In my daughters class, there is a little girl who has very limited hearing and to facilitate her participation in lessons the teacher uses a microphone. This little girls best friend recently moved back to Poland so she has been without a chum in the play-ground. Some of her classmates have been under the impression that if they play with this child, her hearing difficulties will become contagious and they will "catch" it. E has been very annoyed at this and has insisted that this girl join her 'best-friends club' and has been busy correcting her fellow pupils misunderstandings. 

I feel sad too that it seems to be a human default position to become suspect of difference. That instead of reaching out, we wish to avoid, to classify, to exclude. The Open University has been running a question on their social science Facebook page that asks "What one thing do you wish people would notice about you that maybe they don't see right away?" From the responses, it surprised me at just how often people feel that others are continually making snap judgments about them often based on very flimsy evidence. One of the great quotes from 'The Great Gatsby' and one that I have tried but sometimes failed to carry in my heart is

 "In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since. 'Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone,' he told me, 'just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had.'"
F. Scott Fitzgerald.

I think that one of the benefits of reaching my forties (although that word is still painful to type) is that I am beyond those vulnerable years, I just don't care anyone. I have become somewhat immune, although I wish that for my daughters sake I cared a little more about my appearance. I don't think I would be admitted to the best friends club. On viewing my feet pictured below, E gave a howl of derision and ordered me to "Take those ugly feet off, at once!" She did give me a little squeeze of consolation but it was too late, I had seen her face. There was no hope -in my daughters eyes I was beyond redemption - I was embarrassing; a relic of ancient dowdiness

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Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Jam tomorrow.

The rule is jam tomorrow and jam yesterday but never jam today.

It must come sometime to jam today, Alice objected.

No, it can't said the Queen. Its jam every other day.

Today isn't any other day you know.

Lewis Carroll. Alice in Wonderland.

Some days stand out. They linger in the memory being full of colour and sensory pleasure. They deserve to be captured, in a way this is an impossibility. The high empty sky and the glittering blades of grass. The morning rook-cry in the distant wood. The still warm dun earth and the satisfying pop - crack of stover under boot step. They were not photographed at least not properly.

Purple stained hands from blackberry picking from over-loaded hedgerows, full of berries, wild rose-hips and hawthorn. The giggles of the young tourists who were striking a pose underneath the pub signs on my road. The lovely surprise flower my little O chalked on the wall. All linger on the chill air and then pleasingly fade into the warmth of my kitchen.

Winter is coming, I am looking for little warm dresses and cosy pyjamas. Thinking of filling the coal shed and worrying about the cost of oil. But first a round of preserving. I love jam and chutney making, the smells in the house, the bubbling pots, the rows of sterilized jars and the squirreling away with the loot into the dark of the cupboard. It is one way of capturing the season. Next year I am vowing to try my hand at country wine making especially after re-reading Joanne Harris's evocative book Blackberry Wine which brilliantly entwines both food and memory.

Foraged crab apples for pectin.

Squishing the fruit is very satisfying.

That colour has got to be good to eat.

There will be jam today, eaten on hunks of lovely soft warm bread. There will be blackcurrant and blackberry jam, rhubarb and vanilla jam, Chilli jelly (thanks to Sue at The Quince Tree ) Runner bean chutney and a small but precious amount of pink gooseberry and white currant jelly.

I really must learn to frame the background of my photos a little better! (Thanks to lovely Grandma for E's birthday present.) Anyway, preserving is really very easy and it is a thrifty way of using up a glut of something. I use this dear old book
 and if I ever get back up to my allotment and if there happens to be a marrow I am definitely going to try this recipe:

Marrow and Ginger Jam
1.5kg / 3lb marrow (after peeling and removing seeds)
Finely grated rind and juice of two large lemons
40g/1.5oz root ginger
1.5kg/3lb granulated sugar
15g/0.5oz butter

Cut marrow into small cubes and steam for 20 minutes.
Turn into a bowl and add lemon juice, rind and ginger (tied in a muslin bag) and sugar.
Cover bowl and leave to stand for 24 hours.
Transfer to large saucepan and heat slowly stirring all the time until the sugar dissolves.
Bring to the boil. Boil steadily for 30 to 45 minutes (or until marrow is almost transparent and syrup.)
Draw pan away from heat. Stir in butter to disperse scum
Remove ginger. Pot and cover jam.
According to the book this jam never sets firmly and remains syrupy.

Edit: Well, disappointingly there was a lack of marrow (or over-large zucchini) in our plot. There was however two small courgettes (young zucchini) and an abundance of courgette and pumpkin flowers. These were quickly harvested for one of our favourite starters, Deep-fried, stuffed Courgette Flowers. Alas no photos as they are picked, prepared as eaten with haste. Crunchy and soft scrummyness!

 We eat courgettes around once a week, mostly in a pasta sauce but I really don't know if I grow the plants for the 'fruit' or the flowers. These plants are so easy to grow, even just a couple in a small space will yield lots of yummy goodness.The flowers are such a delicate treat which really herald the beginning of summer and the serving of this dish this week was the last truly summery dish we shall have till next year.

Deep-fried Stuffed Courgette Flowers:
At least two flowers per person.
Grated baby courgette
Grated cheese (we had cheddar but mozzarella or ricotta are beautiful with this dish.)
Tempura batter.

Wash flowers well and remove the stamens.
Mix grated veg and cheese and stuff flowers gently.
Coat with tempura batter and deep-fry for a few minutes until golden and crisp.
When ready, pop onto kitchen paper to remove excess oil. Season with salt and black pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice.
A great dipping sauce for these beauty's is the aforementioned Chilli Jam.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Fear and Loathing.

Meet Nemesis, my fiddle. Look at it lying there silent and smugly polished.

If only I could make it sing. I had violin lessons in school but it was never something that I took to my heart. Later, I went to Galway and fell in love with the musicians who played in the many traditional sessions found in the pubs all over the city. Later still, I happened to see an advert in the local paper for adult fiddle lessons so of-course I went to sign up. Almost a year later I can barely squeak a tune out of the blasted object. The very patient Music Teacher M says that adults always assume that they will be able to play almost immediately.

My problem is that I gain some confidence in the actual lesson but as the week and the practice progresses the sound emerging from my fiddle gets steadily worse! Lessons are on Friday night, so by the time Friday afternoon comes round, I am ready to stamp on Nemesis. I also feel rather queasy as this is the only time I play in front of other people. Well, apart from the family but then the kids rather endearingly and naively think I am fantastic at the old fiddle! Last  lesson, M dropped the bombshell that eventually -and 'by Christmas' was mentioned - she wants us to learn the tunes by ear. What!! In the words of Father Jack, Feck...

Here is one of my favourite tunes played sweetly by the multi-instrumental M. (Of whom I am extremely envious as she also teaches guitar, violin, mandolin, Bodhran and sings in her own band.)

Isn't that nice?

At the risk of public humiliation, here is my interpretation of the same tune.


Not nice. My eardrums gently weep...

Written down on paper, in stark black-and-white, traditional Irish tunes look deceptively simple. For this tune, three strings, seven notes, and much repetition but the rhythm can remain all too elusive. The correct speed and balance can be lost in trying to concentrate on relaxed smooth bowing, accurate tuning and  remembering to hold the instrument correctly to prevent a cricked neck and finger cramp!

One of the most vital aspects of this living cultural tradition is the shared experience of The Session, where the fluidity of style, energy and expression of the songs and tunes becomes a communal dance between  musicians and audience. The necessity of performance becomes gradually more urgent, as the sharing of old and new material prevents the music from becoming staid and antiquated. It is also a brilliant social occasion.

The organisation that runs my (relatively inexpensive) music lessons is our local branch of Comhaltas and they are greatly involved in all manner of local, national and international events and of-course running weekly sessions. So, eventually I will have to venture out of my cosy isolation. It will be good for me and my technique. Character building. Want to hold my trembling hand? Maybe some more additional practise or a mute?

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Sunday, 6 October 2013

I can stop any time I want.

I blame Downton.

Ebay is only a facilitator of my addiction.

I was walking The Madra in the pouring rain this evening when I was disappointed to discover that my waterproofs were not in fact waterproof. That's when I felt the familiar thrill of the chase, the quickening of the heartbeat, a rush of endorphins, Goosebumps. Yes, today is the day when I will find the perfect rain coat for practically no money!. Something with a hood, long, maybe waxed or coated in that lovely rubbery stuff; preferably with Barbour or Ilse Jacobson on the label. A coat that will take me from dog walking to school runs to interactions with adults without pause for thought. A coat to take on the Irish winter in style for a change.

So, why after an hours happy browsing am I bidding on a parchment lace dress suitable only for lounging on a chaise longue drinking absinthe?

The Sleeping Beauty by Edward Burne-Jones.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Last week:The Craic was 90.

It was such a creative, productive and fun week. These veggies actually grew in the allotment! I am delighted, can't you tell by the overly ornamental presentation? I am also surprised because we neglect our patch dreadfully.

We had a Very Important Birthday and had lots of fun making these party favours for our guests:

Peg dolly's for the girls and mini piñata's for the boys. The piñata were inspired really by the lovely Piñata Ruth who hand crafts her own gorgeous piñatas and runs this brilliant website and she will post your very own piñata practically anywhere in the world!
I finished E's slipper and she is very happy with it (despite the shape and the mistakes) and is nagging me to hurry up to complete the other. The yarn is Bergere de France in Magic+ Rosee. I need some beautiful buttons for them though and one of my favourite shops in all of Oriel is The Crafty Fox in Drogheda. It is full of beautiful fabric, yarn and haberdashery, generous with help and advice and they run lots of interesting crafty classes; it is a gem of a shop.
The Best Book-club in the World (TBBITW) was beside itself with excitement as we gathered together in M's lovely house to meet Louise Phillips,  best-selling crime author. Louise has written two very intriguing and deliciously dark novels, 'Red Ribbons' and 'The Dolls House'. We had some gorgeous food, beautiful wine and inspiring conversation. Louise was so generous with her time and her take on the writing process was so interesting, it all made for a fabulous evening. Hopefully we shall be trying to organise a few more 'Meet the Author' events and I would recommend any book-club to give it a try.
Two of these lovely ladies are also fellow bloggers and if you love books perhaps you may like to visit:
Phew, I would just like to add that absolutely no housework was attempted this week...