Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Grow your own - part 3

And here are some pics of the vegetable patch.
Starting to reap rewards...

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The miracle Apricot tree

A few weeks ago, Mr M was weeding the vegetable patch when he pulled this very unusual looking weed. At the end of it was, to his surprise, half an apricot stone.

The 'apricot weed' was about 8cms long and Mr M potted it and put it on the windowsill, keeping the parsley some company. We wondered what would happen to the miracle apricot seedling... And here it is now, some month and a half later: re-potted again and four times its original size, loving the indoor climate of the Sunny South East of Ireland...

How the stone ended up in the vegetable patch has been the subject of much speculation. We have settled for the compost heap theory as the official one.

I have estimated we have probably eaten about 190 apricots since moving to the house - taking 80 apricots per year (at a rate of 20 per week for only four weeks a year - unfortunately) as a conservative average.

Let's leave a margin or error and say of those 190 stones, only most of them, let's say 150, made it to the compost heap. Then from the compost heap, some of them must have rotten. Some might be still in the heap and some other might be still in the veggie patch. But ONLY one has managed to grow into an apricot seedling.

This is a hell of an achievement for this resilient apricot stone, that has managed not only to germinate in the unwelcoming Irish climate (for apricots at least!) but also battle its coldest winter in 50 years. And that, my friends, is why we had to call it the Miracle Apricot Tree...

it is my favourite gardening story by far... and a tough one to beat, I reckon. Unless we manage to get rid of the slugs altogether and that will be a proper gardening miracle, technically speaking.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

How to cook a lobster - humanely

Mister M doesn't let me tell people we ate lobster for dinner at the weekend, as he doesn't want them to think we are posh (which we aren't). Lobster eating, he says, sounds too uppity to be admitted in public.

However, Martin the fishmonger (not Martin as in Martin is Mad about Fish but other Martin, also mad about fish) has lobster every now and then for very cheap (around €10-12 a piece) and it is difficult to resist temptation. If you think about it, you would spend that money on a cheap trip to the chipper or the Chinese take away, so what's wrong with spending it on a juicy tasty fresh-looking lobster? uppityness and all...

I think Mister M is warming up to the idea though. To start with, he found it a bit heart-breaking, eyeing the creature (still alive) every time he opened the fridge (someone told him lobster are very intelligent creatures - I find it hard to believe somehow).

Once it's in your mouth, any guilt surely disappears... and why would a lobster be more intelligent than a Dublin Bay prawn, let's say... just because it's bigger, it doesn't mean it's more sensitive...

so that takes us to the issue of how to kill a lobster humanely. These are some options I came across but no unified opinion on the Top Most Humane Tecnique to Kill a Lobster:

-Stab in the head - so it's cooking once it's dead

-Drop in pot with boiling water

-Drop in pot with cold water, and let it boil (surely this sound more horrific than anything else)

-Let it roam free in your bath (fresh water) for a few hours before cooking. (lobsters are sea creatures though!)

I went for the boiling water option, mainly because I didn't fancy stabbing the lobster while still moving. Since there is no bath in the house, the roaming taste of freedom was out of the question - sorry lobster!

15 minutes later, it was ready to eat...

Useless tips for hayfever sufferers

According to weather forecasts (and my long-suffering eyes and nose) 22nd June is the day of the year with the highest level of grass pollen floating around, making life for hayfever sufferers truly miserable. Here are some useless tips I have received and tried over the years that have been of little or no relief - feel free to add your own...

-Close windows at home and in the car
All very well but isolation is hardly a long-term solution. What about in between car-home-office? or the weekends? Maybe it's just worth locking us all up until the summer is over, house arrest (remember to feed us a couple of times a week, please!). That will definitely eliminate the sneezing, itching, puffy-eyes, headache problem... or even better, maybe we should get under work arrest and work 24/7 from May til August: no outdoors allowed. That would actually increase Ireland's productivity and help us get out of the recession as well... This is certainly worth taking into consideration... I wonder why I didn't think of it and submitted it to the Your Country, Your Call competition...

-Wear sunglasses
Check. Maybe they meant gogles? plus people will think you are a tosser if you wear sunglasses at night...

-Wear a mask
Tried that a while back. It wasn't particularly practical, since my nose was running most of the day. Unless they patent a special mask with a drainage system in place it is highly unlikely will make it as a main hayfever relief method. Other downsides: you could get mistaken for a loopy Michael Jackson fan or a swine flu freak.

-Eat local honey all year around
This must be my fifth year on the 'local honey' diet and either: A- it hasn't affected my suffering in the slightlest or B-I would have been much worse if I hadn't taken it. In any case, it is difficult to assess results so we'll add it to the category of tasty tips, while not very clear effects.

-Don't dry your clothes outdoors
Not much of an option here, I'm afraid.

having tried many, I can't really say they solve my problem, although I'm sure other cases will be sorted with some anti-histamine. I keep taking them in the hope one day they'll will...

so this leaves us with one option:

-stop breathing altogether, which is not very practical at all either, for obvious reasons...

However, some website is claiming since the main problem is reducing the amount of pollen we ingest, hayfever symptoms will be reduced by reducing breathing...

I rest my case

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Life of Cod

Following my attraction to books with all-things edible I found myself reading the Voluptuous delights of Peanut Butter and Jam, as mentioned a couple of posts earlier.

The book turned out to be a great read - if not much of a culinary experience (I can't say I didn't see that one coming... )

The story focuses on the childhood memories of the main character and her little sister in a rural area of colonial Rodhesia (now Zimbabwe). The backdrop: the dramatic social changes affecting the country in the late 70s. It reminded me a little of the God of Small Things, partly because of the delicate writing and the exotic location, and partly because of the childhood memory story line mixed with tragedy and loss of inocence tale. I truly recommend it.

Following the food theme (at least in the title!) I finally got hold of Mark Kurlansky's 'Cod: the biography of the fish that changed the world'. This is a different kettle of fish (easy joke).

The book has some recipes (with Cod of course) rescued from publications from different countries at various times in history (did you know bechamel sauce was originally invented to go with salted cod?) but mainly it is a history book - a very good one though. It was originally published in 1999 but it feels pretty current still.

A bit like Bill Bryson, Kurlansky turns historic events into something enjoyable and readable - this is not your average history essay or text book. This history of many peoples around the globe are interlinked because of one single thing: cod fishing. From the Basque and Viking fishermen crossing the Atlantic to the Cod Wars and modern-day fish quotas, building riches but also taking them back. Who would think one single fish could have such power over so many nations?? No wonder Cod deserved a biography of its own. Next time I have cod on my plate, I'll have to think twice before munching it...

Plenty of interesting facts about the fish itself make it an unusual breed of book: part cookbook, part nature science, part historic tale.

Kurlansky is also the author of The Basque History of the World. (another superb book) and Salt, which might come next in my list of tasty sounding titles...

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Scottish castles, weddings Eurovision and other random incidents

So it is wedding season again. The worst thing about turning 30 is not the inevitable new decade crises: it is the amount wedding invitations you'll get per year. If you thought it was bad in the past couple of years... it is only about to get worse...
Is it some 30s nuptial virus? it is worth looking into it more scientifically, for sure.

You better forget about choosing a destination to go on holidays or for a short break. Sorry pals, the truth is the destination will choose YOU, or more like it: your soon-to-be-married friends will do it!

It also has its pros, of course. Since 2005, I have visited great places from Slovakia to Iowa, from Poland to Cork. Knots being tied all over the place. We had to leave out a couple of wedding invitations to Galicia and the Pyrenees that we couldn't attend (probably clashing with another wedding??) but it has been the perfect excuse to travel around and check out the local nuptial customs.

This year's invitations have come from Ireland (for a wedding in South Scotland), Swizterland, Wales and Slovakia again (not the same people though!).

So off we went a couple of weekends ago on our first wedding of the season. Destination: Scotland. The volcanic ash troubles were over, not that it affected us anyway: we were taking the ferry from Larne. Mark likes taking the mickey out of ferry travellers, mainly time-rich 'fuddy duddies' (and this is not my terminology) apparently.

The wedding location was Cromlongon Castle just outside Dumfries which is stunning, specially if you are lucky enough to have a sunny day, and more importantly: it celebrates civil ceremonies. I love civil ceremonies. I'll rephrase that: I loathe religious ceremonies.

It is bad enough this whole tradition of fathers giving away daugthers (talk to the Swedes about that!), whithout having to endure some patronising moral tale about sinners, judgement day and all the rest on top of things. So I was delighted to attend a civil ceremony in a castle. I was delighted as well for the bride and groom, of course, because I really like them, they have been together for years and they deserve their day as much as the next. Everything was so relaxed and easy going, you could almost get used to it: on holidays, being fed in a fantastic looking castle and drinking Pimms.

At 12, like Cinderella, we were packed on the bus back to the hotel (a golf hotel overlooking the bay) to get our beauty sleep and Saturday morning was back to normal and off to the Maldives for the happy couple.

Little Green Polo took us all the way up to Edimburgh, despite some issues with a flat battery (pure Murphy's law) where we met with another friend, Chris, who isn't getting married as far as I know, but lives there - so it was kind of handy to go up and say hello for a night or two.

He took us up to Arthur's seat, which is the dead volcano landmark of the city, with great views of Edimburgh all the way to the port. And to the port area he took us too, Leith, for a top notch lunch at a seafood restaurant called Skippers. If you are ever in Edimburgh .... you must go and try their crab and smoked salmon caneloni.

Another sign of being 30 is when you go to visit friends and, instead of going out clubbing and drinking , you go sightseeing during the day, go for fancy lunch and stay at home with wine and telly at night (Saturday night!). And this is exactly what happened in Edimburgh. But then, who would like to miss Eurovision??? it might be tackiest show in the continent but boy is it fun? Chris' German housemate was having a ball and, happiness, as we all know, can be very contagious in these sort of situations.

If you think that was bad, Sunday evening plans (on a Bank Holiday weekend) included some pseudo-golfing at the Meadows and a game of Scrabble. And they were both fun, I must admit.

Monday was back to Cairnryan ferry port and home to Ireland.

I wonder if all this ferry travelling is turning us into fuddy duddies at the tender age of 30...

next wedding in two weeks' time.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Organic lamb from the Wicklow hills!

so you might have read the feature on young farmers publised by the Irish Times magazine a couple of weeks ago. It was a very interesting article on the lives and farming challenges of Debbie Johnston and her hubbie David, who run Sweetbank Farm in Co. Wicklow (you can read it here).

The farm specialises in organic farming, including artisan lamb and beef.
Debbie is also very actively involved with the Irish Horse Welfare Trust and for every box of meat purchased at the farm, Sweetbank donates €10 to the horse charity, helping them develop their horse rescue and re-training programmes.

The point is that this artisan organic lamb from the hills of Co. Wicklow is now available directly from them. Since there is now middle-man, and you can buy it from the producers (Debbie and her husband) it tursn out to be much better value than your average supermarket/butcher meat (something like 35% cheaper). It is certified organic, from a local business focusing on sustainability and you even get to meet Debbie in person!

Half boxes are €95 and a whole box costs €195 - cut to customers specifications. For more information check out the farm's website or give them a call on 0868184162

reBlog from We Are Family | gaelick

I completely agree: if every straight person knew a gay friend or colleague, there'd be no discrimination. The world would definitely be a much better place if we applied that principle a bit more freely in our every day lives ... MarriagEquality is launching a new campaign to put pressure on the Irish government to give equal rights to gay couples. Give them a hand. No one should have to fight to be equal, surely:

Forty years after the death of Harvey Milk and we’re still following his idea that, if every straight person knew an out LGBT person, there would be no discrimination. Most straight people have no idea that there is discrimination in Ireland; they go about their business oblivious. It’s campaigns like We Are Family, that will, hopefully, show the unfairness within their, We Are Family gaelick, Jun 2010

Read the whole article on their site