Monday, 30 December 2013

Replete

 
 
I love these in-between days slotted in between Christmas and the New Year, they are a lovely time to chill and think about how lucky we are. Time to hide inside, to lounge around in pyjama's, eat leftovers, read our Christmas books and then if the sun comes out head off on a long long walk through crisp aromatic pine forests.

 
We have been replete, abounding, and brimming with not only food, drink and presents but surrounded by our family and friends. It was so nice to visit all the relatives especially those that we only see maybe once or twice a year but it is so relaxing to come back home too. I was amazed at how good it was to see our wee doggy again. She was so excited to be home and has been so spoilt, E took this of her taking advantage of a lapse in law enforcement.



The weekend before Christmas we caught up with my relatives and then it was off to Mr S's clan to eat, drink and be merry. Thanks to Mr and Mrs P for their wonderful hospitality and scrumptious cooking.The children had been fizzing with excitement for weeks so they could not wait to pack their bags and jump on a plane to Grandma's where they made themselves at home immediately.
Santa managed to navigate the absence of chimneys and high winds to deliver two wonderfully lumpy stockings and a wondrous pile of presents under the tree. We were awoken at 4.15am Christmas morning by lots of squeaks and giggles until they ran into our room armed with Christmas torches to jump on the bed and blind us like two mini-dervishes.

As, I type here in my messy but homely house as the fairy lights flicker and the glitter still sparkles in dusty corners and the dying desiccated holly tumbles from the picture frames I was remembering all the plans that I made before Christmas and what a lot I didn't get around to doing. Did it matter, no indeed! Christmas was still Christmas, despite the fact that I did not:
  • Bake gingerbread men or orange and cardamom shortbread
  • or order a New Years Eve duck from the butcher
  • make paper chains
  • or a ivy and holly wreath with gold stars
  • or twig star and Christmas tree decorations for the garden
  • read 'A Christmas Carol'/Little Dorrit/Bleak House
  • or 'The Dark is Rising.'
  • buy more candles
  • or the dog a Christmas present!
  • paint the stairs
  • or varnish the back door...
I did get around to doing a bit of crochet though and now have six granny squares mastered by a combination of youtube and this nice blog, Little Tin Bird. I wonder how long it takes to finish a double blanket? I am using yarn from Bergere de France collected from that weekly magazine Knit and Stitch. To be honest I got very bored with that magazine and it seemed prohibitively expensive for a couple of patterns and a little yarn. The main project was a knitted throw but I much prefer turning that stash into a granny blanket. To crochet with acrylic is fine but some of the yarns have extra wool content and they are beautiful to hold and work, so pure natural wool must be gorgeous.



Mr S bought me the cutest little red sewing machine for Christmas which due to the crochet addiction I haven't taken out of its box yet so I have two lovely projects to take me into the New Year. I never make New Year resolutions as for me they are synonymous with failure but crafty projects usually get finished eventually!

What are your New Year plans, dreams and projects? Happy New Year and I hope 2014 will be one of Joy! xxx
EDIT:(The lovely gingerbread shop was in the window of 'Cinnamon Square' in Rickmansworth, Herts, UK. This is a gorgeous bakery and cookery school, we had a selection of the most scrumptious cupcakes and pink sparkly strawberry macaroons.)

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Five


My little Christmas boy who was born in the breaking dawn in a rush of fear, pain and exultation.
Five years of happy-go lucky fun.
Food fussy, quick to laugh and quick to love.
Creative, loves to sing and loves to dig.
Generous, especially with his adored sister.
Independent and brave, yet still small enough to cry for his mummy.


Happy Birthday, little man! We are so proud of you and how you have settled in so well in your first term at 'big school'. x

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

He's Back!

 
Actually, he has been down from the attic for about three weeks now. The kids demanded that we put the decorations up ages ago. I was insisting that this year we have a real tree for the scent but there wasn't any for sale when the munchkins were decorating so back came our little plastic leaner. Mr S did buy me a teeny living one which I will try to keep alive until next year.

I blame flippin' Marks and Spenser, for M&S Christmas begins simultaneously with Halloween. Groan, how much life and hard earned cash can the marketing and advertising execs squeeze out of us this year. Although having had that whine, it has been nice here, we have sort of dandered (Northern Irish slang for a slow wander) into Christmas, doing Christmassy things when the notion takes us before popping off to complete real-life chores and taking the time to recover from prolonged seasonal maladies.

The first week in December found us visiting Santa at the lovely Tankardstown House in County Meath and even though lots of unexpected numbers of children turned up, we bought some nice gifts for some nice relations and got to see the big man in the end for as long as the children wanted and then we had a gorgeous run around the walled garden at dusk.





Even though at the moment I feel quite physically and mentally drained due to a four week long cold virus and having to write 2000 painful torturous words on the economic liberalization of India, I feel very content and inspired. I also bought some beautiful handmade gifts from Jelly Jam who has a wonderful Etsy shop, I adore the Christmas lavender cushions and had to get one for myself.
 



While having a read of Jelly Jam's blog, I discovered a new-to-me blog Bobo Bun, I was so inspired by Mrs Bun's take on living with vintage and am very envious of her ability to make beautiful clothes. Energised by all this loveliness off I went to trundle around the charity shops and to my delight I found four sweet little vintage desert dishes for 50 cents a piece!




These are just like the ones my Granny used to serve her desert in. Desert was quite rare in her house for some reason, she preferred a strong cup of tea and a biscuit after her dinner but occasionally she would treat you to some ice-cream topped with tinned mandarin oranges. So these dishes are both a stroll down memory lane and filled with some baubles and tea-lights give out some lovely thrifty sparkle. Christmas, for me is full of nostalgic moments and the drawing in of light is a powerful symbol at this time of year. Especially tonight as it is blowing up a tempest.

So as much as Christmas is about drawing the light around oneself in the dark days of mid-winter (oh I love that word) so it symbolises the end of one year and the birth and regrowth beginning in the next. We all went to the allotment on Sunday to plant our new baby apple trees, I got two from the brilliant Future Forests in Bantry, Co Cork. They are old heritage varieties  and I love all the names and the tasting notes, we bought a 'Lough Tree of Wexford which is a small red eating apple and a 'Ballyfatten' which is a big fat cooker. It will take around two more years before there is any apples but it is so nice to plan for the future.

(Oops, I pressed the wrong button there, writing a draft post while drinking wine is a mistake -extra photos tomorrow.!!!)

Tomorrow: the storm has passed leaving little damage here in Oriel but others were not so lucky so today I am taking it easy and concentrating on the real importance of Christmas. This is the first day in a long time when I have not had to rush off and do something or have realms of study to complete. Yes, there is too much dust and a mountain of ironing and packing to do but more important is to spend slow, luxurious time with the ones we love and read a couple of great books.

At Christmas, I usually return to some much-loved childhood favourites and one special book is Alison Uttley's 'The Country Child' . The descriptions of the chill of the landscape, the bounty achieved by hard work stored within the farm and of Susan decorating the farmhouse are enchanting.

"Holly decked every picture and ornament. Sprays hung over the bacon and twisted round the hams and herb bunches. The clock carried a crown on his head and every dish-cover had a little sprig."

What are your favourite Christmas books and traditions? Oh, only six more sleeps!

Monday, 2 December 2013

Hidden Mother: Imagining the Past.

 (Image from Tuesday-Johnson.tumblr.com)

This blog is supposed to be a little bit of this and a wee bit of that, books, cooking, a bit of craft nothing too taxing or controversial but I am beginning to understand that the process of writing sometimes is not that agreeable to self-bound perimeters. Sometimes subjects collide in such a way that they crowd other thoughts and will not go away almost like the residue of a half-forgotten dream that invades the rest of the day. But to begin to write it out; I have to retreat a little into digression.

I am a self-confessed vintage and antique junkie, there is nothing I like better than a dusty old junk shop, charity shop or even over-priced high end retail establishment dealing in exquisite Georgian furniture that I could never afford much less fit into my little 1930's dolls house. I love vintage French linens, 17th century glass and pottery, Victorian jewellery, hand-turned treen, mid century Danish design, 1950's kitchenalia. I get a little bit silly over vintage clothes, Victorian to Mod, it doesn't really matter just as long as it is a little bit atmospheric. Or probably as someone said (only a little disparagingly) just as long as it has belonged to a dead person.

Occasionally a new fetish befalls me, lately I am fascinated by those 1960's tourist scarfs, my favourite is this one from Panama. One day, when I learn to machine sew it is going to be a big squashy cushion on my swing seat.



Holding it in my hand I feel connected to another age, one of glamour, long long sea journeys and perhaps a brief encounter. However there is a down side of the acquisitive collector -apart from the financial-it is the story of regret of 'the one that got away' the 'if only I had bought that' piece. I have two such pieces that occasionally pop back into my head and I sigh and have to console myself with a frustratingly unsuccessful (re) search on eBay.

One was a Victorian mirror, it was framed in pewter-coloured iron and bedecked with such a perfusion of climbing cherubs, vines and flowers it was a perfect riot of over-the-top-ness. It was for sale in a little shop in South London, it was heartbreakingly inexpensive but back-creakingly heavy. My lifestyle was unfortunately peripatetic in those days for such a weighty addition. The other was also a Victorian piece, a large beautifully framed portrait of a baby, and what a gorgeous, chubby cheeked child it was. Sweetly dimpled, it smiled right out from it's smooth rose-wood and gilt frame.

I have no real idea why this piece continues to fascinate me. I was outbid which was annoying I suppose and I am attracted to the idea of living in a house with a history and filled with ordinary domestic objects with a past, not necessarily my own historical narrative. it is also fascinating to conjecture why this portrait had become detached from its own familial narrative. Then while 'searching' for a similar portrait, I happened to stumble across some 'hidden-mother' photography.

Divested of their contextualizing and literal frames, these images are strange and other worldly, alien and un-readable. Usually they are written about in connection with that other artistic anachronism, the Victorian post-mortem. However, the explanation for these images is quite mundane and common-sensorial. The obscuring of the 'mother' was down to a desire to capture only the image of the child and to hold them still for the exposure times. Nevertheless, there is some quality about these photos that really fascinate me so I am so excited about Linda Fregni Nagler's new book 'The Hidden Mother', which is reviewed in today's Guardian. Thank goodness for Christmas coming up.

Occasionally, I worry that all this desire to construct an atmosphere of nostalgia is somehow linked to my own very real and occasionally still raw disconnection from a part of the fabric of familial relationships. At the weekend my daughter was compiling a list of all her family members (we are part of a very big and blended family) and asked me if she could add at particular name, my mothers name. I have not seen her for twenty -two years.

For twenty of those years I have attempted to remain pragmatic about this situation and sought to build my own family and forge my own connections and have not really had time consider the absence of this relationship. But E is now at the age of hard to answer questions and so my mother is slowly becoming more present in our family life simply because of this absence. She is becoming like the ghostly figures in the photographs, a hidden mother, present but without an appropriate frame.










Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Breathe.

Sometimes it is just enough to be 100% alive and 95% sane.

 


 

Monday, 18 November 2013

Pull a chair closer to the fire, turn your back on the dark.

Yesterday was the most Novemberish Sunday as yet, a dry breezy morning tumbling with drifts of golden, russet and amber leaves into a misty drizzle of a darkening afternoon. The lamps are lighted early and I am rummaging for candles to bring a glow to gloomy corners.


 
The children refused to leave the warmth of the house and have played old-school board games and read stories most of the day. We had spiced pear and apricot porridge for breakfast and will have a great bowl of Mr S's sausage casserole for dinner. Food is an important source of comfort and sustenance this time of year.



I like this period of calm retreat, post Halloween and far enough from Christmas (despite all the decorations in the shops) to delay all the hectic preparations for that holiday. It is a time for fire lighting, and curling up with the family to drink hot chocolate, read the papers and bar the door to the elements. The papers have been gleefully full of this sort of weather forecast.


Some of us in 'the best book-club in the world' have been attempting to compile our top ten must reads, our desert island essentials it is a very hard list to construct I can tell you. What are your most favourite books? I am on my second attempt and will probably have to do a third definitive list as I forgot to include a book that I adore and one book that I love re-reading at this time of year. This is Frank Delaney's 'Ireland', a beautiful book full of the mythology of this island, retold by vibrant authentic characters and brilliantly evokes the noble tradition of storytelling and the role of the Seanachi and the art of a living oral history.

 (image from www.frankdelaney.com)

The Seanachai is a wandering journeyman who hones his or her craft of storytelling as they travel the length and breath of the country re-telling old stories and collecting new ones. Open your door and offer your hospitality to the Seanachai and together enjoy the comfort of your fireside and perhaps a wee hot whiskey and the stories you will hear will send you off to sleep with many voices added to your dreams. At this time of year as dusk gathers quickly and as bare branches scape against your window, what better way to indulge this most spooky of seasons than with a few wee ghost stories. Have you heard the one about the headless horseman, The Dullahan? Remember that all strange travellers in the countryside are not so benevolent as The Storyteller.

The Dullahan rides a wild black horse after sunset, he travels with his own head under his arm and he encourages his steed with a whip made of a human spine. The Dullahan is said to travel so quickly that the very hedgerows burst into flames as he speeds by, there is not a locked door or gate in the land that can prevent him entry. If you are unfortunate enough to hear him passing by turn your gaze away or a bucket of blood will be thrown into your face but if he pulls up, stops and calls out your name then there is no hope. He is calling out your soul and you will surely die.

Well now, they say that the Dullahan is mortally afraid of anything made of gold, I think that with this recipe containing warm golden Irish Whiskey served with your evening tea, you will have nothing to fear from our headless harbinger.

Sticky Toffee tray bake with Irish Whiskey Sauce
(I think I first seen this recipe on the Great British Bake-off but I cannot find the original recipe and the caramel sauce is adapted from nevenmaguire.com)

Ingredients:
FOR THE SPONGE
200g pitted dates, chopped
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
300ml boiling water
80g unsalted butter, softened
160g light brown sugar
2 large free-range eggs, at room temperature, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
175g self raising flour
good pinch of seasalt
75g walnut pieces
 
FOR THE CARAMEL SAUCE
300g  caster sugar
250ml cream
75g  unsalted butter
1 vanilla pod, split with seeds scraped out
splash of whiskey
 
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 180oC. Grease and line a 25.5cm x 20.5cm x 5cm tin. Put the dates into a suacepan, add the bicarb soda and pour over the boiling water. Simmer over a low heat for a minute, then remove from the heat and leave to cool and soften for 15 minutes.
  2. Put butter into a mixing bowl and beat with a wooden spoon or an electric beater until creamy. Add the sugar and beat until fluffy, then gradually add the eggs. Beat in the vanilla. Sift the flour and salt into the bowl and fold in with a large metal spoon. Add the cooled date mixture and the walnuts, and fold in.
  3. Transfer the mixture to the prepared tin and spread evenly. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the sponge feels springy when gently pressed in the centre. Cool for 15 minutes in the tin, then carefully turn out and leave to cool completely on a wire rack.
 
To make the caramel whiskey sauce,
  1. Place the caster sugar in a pan with 300ml (1/2 pint) of water.
  2. Bring slowly to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes until golden brown.
  3. Stir in the cream, butter and vanilla seeds until well combined, then swirl in the whiskey and continue to cook gently for another 8-10 minutes until shiny and thickened.

Here, I am using up our wee collection of Scottish miniatures and a fine selection they are too but I think The Dullahan would only settle for the Irish. ;)

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

The Comfort of Books.

"Good morning, Pooh Bear," said Eeyore gloomily. "If it is a good morning," he said. "Which I doubt," said he.
"Why, what's the matter?"
"Nothing, Pooh Bear, nothing. We can't all, and some of us don't. That's all there is to it."
"Can't all what?" said Pooh, rubbing his nose.
"Gaiety. Song-and-dance. Here we go round the mulberry bush."
 



One of my most vivid memories is running home from primary school with my new reading book tucked away safety in my bag. I could not wait to get settled down beside my Grannies fragrant turf fire and devour it from front to back while munching banana on hot buttery toast. Sometimes there would be an exciting pile of second hand paperbacks that she had gathered for me in one of her favourite charity shops, The Famous Five, Anne of Green Gables, The Treasure Seekers, Nancy Drew, Heidi and Jane Eyre. I lived in these books, they had a vivid cinemagraphic clarity; the characters leaping from the page, beckoning and beguiling.
 
My Dad used to read to us also, at bedtime but I can only remember listening to The Wind in the Willows and The Water Babies. Perhaps I could read on my own quickly because after we would be packed off to bed, lingering summer evenings would be spent squinting in the poor light trying to surreptitiously finish just one more chapter.
 
For ever books have been my comfort, solace and escape, they have kept me alive in bad times and enhanced the good. I have developed a bit of an addiction to their acquisition; great piles totter beside my bed, bookcases groan overloaded, library books long overdue and a stack of shabby boxes still litter my Dad's house waiting to be brought to my house eight years after being left there temporarily while Mr S and I went travelling. Every-now and then I find some more, like the hidden stash of the alcoholic, they emerge into daylight to be re-united with me like some dear old friends from way back.
 
The children have thankfully inherited their mothers passion, we love reading together, Julia Donaldson, Lauren Child, Oliver Jeffers are just some of the brilliant authors that we read over and over again. Oh and the illustrations! I just love buying children's books and seeing their little faces concentrate on a wonderful story. So if ever there was a time for an escape into the world of books, this Halloween was just that time. E came down with the most violent bout of eczema she has ever had, all over her wee self it is.
 
So she has been itchy, sore, grumpy, distraught and listless, the nights have been particularly disturbed and enduring. On the Winnie the Pooh scale of happiness, she says she is only on Eeyore. Sticky buns managed to get to the Piglet level but we have yet to reach Tigger. Steroids, antibiotics, antihistamines and three different creams have not so far manage to diminish the horrible itch/scratch cycle. What else to do but read to try and take our minds of it all, between the pages of 'The Wind in The Willows and in the company of Ratty, Mole, Toad and the formidable Badger.

Re-reading the book, it strikes me that while it still stands as a classic of children's literature and is full of excitement and emotive imaginative language, it is in parts a strange little book. The chapters dealing with the exciting exploits of the insufferable Toad (E's favourite) are interlaced with quite contemplative dream-like chapters like 'Piper at the Gates of Dawn' and 'Wayfarers All'. I love the tale of how Ratty gets seduced by the alluring adventuring tales of the Sea-Rat and has to be restrained by the loyal Mole  and returned to mental health by poetry. It is a book while slightly antiquated and tells of a disappeared or even imagined English pastoral idyll, can on return be read on a number of different levels.

 
 

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. Enjoy.xxx


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.)

video
 
Isn't that nice?

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

video


 


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...
 
 
 

Monday, 30 September 2013

Seven

As, you proudly announce that you are seven, the golden autumn light dances in your blue eyes.
You are generous, loyal and brave.
You are funny, clever and cautious.
Like your Father, you run and climb like a fearless cat.
Like your Mother, you love the still escape of reading.
Yet, you are completely your own independent little self.
The world belongs to you and you will run to meet it.
You cry easily, love easily and dance spontaneously!
Everyday is still full of wonder.




Morning Song

  by Sylvia Plath
Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements.

Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival.  New statue.
In a drafty museum, your nakedness
Shadows our safety.  We stand round blankly as walls.

I'm no more your mother
Than the cloud that distills a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind's hand.

All night your moth-breath
Flickers among the flat pink roses.  I wake to listen:
A far sea moves in my ear.

One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral
In my Victorian nightgown.
Your mouth opens clean as a cat's.  The window square

Whitens and swallows its dull stars.  And now you try
Your handful of notes;
The clear vowels rise like balloons.