Category Archives: A Year of Living Seasonally

What is seasonal food?

As some of you may have read here before, I have been undertaking a project which I’m calling A Year of Living Seasonally. It occurs to me typing this that I haven’t written much on it in the last couple of months – is that possibly something to do with the quietness and hibernation-type elements of winter? Maybe. Living seasonally – for me anyway – means being more aware of the seasons , more aware of the changes that each new season brings and one element of that which interests me is food. I love to cook and to try out new recipes, I love to eat, and I will happily read a good cookbook in the same way that I would read a novel. Or any half decent book come to that.

But back to food. Food, glorious food! I do most of the cooking and food shopping in our house and try to ensure we eat a range of different foods. We also grow vegetables and fruit and this year I am determined to plan our eating more around what we can grow for ourselves. We don’t have any animals (yet!). I am fairly choosy about the food I buy on the whole – 90% of the meat we eat comes from our local butcher’s shop who not only sell meat, they also have their own abattoir and as they are also farmers, produce some of the meat themselves. I buy very little heavily processed food, yes on occasion we do have takeaways, and yes on the odd occasion we eat with our daughter in fast food outlets (I cannot bring myself to term them restaurants), but overall we try at the very least to be aware of what we are eating. I am hoping to get hold of Joanna Blythman’s new book Swallow This, soon which may well be an eye opener for me.

So tying all of this into my Year of Living Seasonally project, I began to wonder what is seasonal food anyway? I would understand it to be food that is naturally ready for eating at any specific time. In terms of fruit and vegetables, it is those which have finished growing and are ready for harvesting. With regard to meat it is that which has grown to the stage at which those people who eat meat consider it ready to eat. Pulses, nuts, legumes, same as fruit and veg I would have thought. I have a feeling this year of living seasonally might change my understanding of what is seasonal food and might see me trying out some new foods.

I’ve been doing a bit of a declutter of late and I realised I have stacks of cookery magazines, many of which I’ve never even read. So this morning I decided to start looking at them. I started with Country Kitchen, a British based magazine. I freely admit I was seduced by the title and the tagline which reads “Cooking with traditional, seasonal and fresh food.” It’s interesting to realise that I’ve been thinking along these lines for years but have never done anything much about it. Country Kitchen magazine (I’m not sure if it is still in publication) listed the foods that were in season (presumably in Britain) every month. As I live in Ireland, the seasons are much the same as those in Britain so I’m going to take these as a starting point. I compiled this into a list of my own. (I love lists) Some of it was quite fascinating. To take this month – March – as an example, they say the meat currently in season is rabbit, spring lamb and venison. You won’t get rabbit or venison in any shop in my town (a small town I grant you) and round here unless you shoot or know someone who does, you’ll be hard pushed to get them. On to fish. Wild salmon, oysters, mussels, sea trout, razor clams, scallops and elvers. How easy are these to get hold of for most people? With the exception of the sea trout they are not easy for me that’s for sure. Fruit? They say apples, pears, forced rhubarb are all seasonal. Yes, I’d agree on the rhubarb, although I’d question if forced rhubarb is really adhering to having in its natural season. We have rhubarb in the garden and this year’s new leaves are just beginning to emerge. We don’t force it, never have. Apples and pears? Well if they are stored well from last year then I suppose they could be called seasonal. And what vegetables are supposed to be seasonal this month according to the magazine? Beetroot, purple sprouting broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, chard, chicory, endive, garlic, kale, leek, lettuce, nettle, onion, scallion (spring onion), parsnip, potato, radish, seakale, sorrel, spinach,squash, turnip. Hmmm. I might not be thinking about seasonality the right way. We have grown many of these in our garden and none would be harvested around now. Garlic and onions yes we have had our own supply of those harvested the previous autumn and still using in spring (not this year though, last year’s onions and garlic didn’t do so well)

So is something considered seasonal if is still available from storage? That I am not sure about. I just discovered a lovely website Eat the Seasons which looks at all of this in more detail, and gives recipes too. While I am clearly still learning about what exactly constitutes seasonal food, I can make sure that I buy food produced and grown as locally as possible. I will not be buying strawberries in March, or asparagus in April, not unless the Irish seasons change dramatically!

Ranting and loving for Valentine’s Day

So tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. I hated it in my teens when all the popular pretty girls in our secondary school got inundated with cards and flowers (the sixth form used to sell single roses which they would deliver to the classroom of your Valentine – I think the proceeds went to charity) and it very quickly escalated into a contest to see who could get the most. I never got – or for that matter sent – any, and in our school that singled you out for sneering and ridicule.

In my 20’s although I had some relationships I never actually managed to be in one on Valentine’s Day and by the time I was in my mid 20’s I was heartily (ha!) sick of the whole overblown marketing fiasco that I considered it to be.

Then I fell in love. Big time. And the man I fell in love with is very romantic. Not just in the hearts and flowers way but in the little gestures and moments that mean so much. I still have the roses (now dried) that he gave me on the Valentine’s Day he asked me to marry him. The first Valentine’s Day after we were married I sent a bouquet to him at work. Over the intervening years our lives have changed, and we agree that for us spending a load of money on flowers and gifts each Feb 14th is not what we want to do – we have other things we’d sooner do with our money and we mark the day each year in a way that means something to us. A couple of years ago we bought the box set of one of our favourite TV shows and had a lovely evening cuddled up watching it.

One thing that drives us both mad about the marketing of Valentine’s Day is the way so much of it seems to be saying that it is a day when men should buy things for the woman in their life. A lot of the ads I’ve seen and heard over the last few weeks have been “what should I get her? will she like this card? Is that a big enough bunch of roses?” etc etc. If Valentine’s Day is about (so the card companies tell us) celebrating love and romance and being with the one you love the most, then doesn’t that work both ways? I cannot think of an ad on mainstream TV or radio that I have seen or heard which portrays a woman choosing a Valentine’s gift for a man. Don’t even get me started on the dominance of heterosexual relationships in these ads!

You might say that’s just marketing and advertising, well maybe so, but I have seen on social media over the last few years a tendency amongst some women to expect gifts on Valentine’s Day from their husband/boyfriend yet not even consider that maybe it should be reciprocal. I know women personally who would be upset if they did not get a card/bunch of roses/chocolates tomorrow but have not bought their lover anything. They seem to see it as a day for women to be spoiled by men. Since when did this come about? And I know that not all women think that way so please don’t jump down my throat, but in my experience and observations there are a sizeable number that do. Rant over.

So how, you might wonder, am I going to spend Valentine’s Day this year? Well, firstly and most importantly, with the two people I love the most. The three of us (that’s me, husband and daughter just in case you were wondering) are going to Termonfeckin in Co. Louth to take part in Erin’s Run, a 5km run (in my case a walk) in memory of my friend’s beautiful daughter Erin who died last year. It’s also to raise money for BUMBLEance who do such an amazing job and get no state funding at all. Other very dear friends of mine will also be there – with assorted husbands and children – so I will get to spend some time with some of the other people in my life who I love and who mean so much to me.

In the evening we are treating ourselves to a great meal from a local restaurant that does take out, a good movie or two and each other’s company. Comfort, love and contentment. That’s all I want or need. However and with whomever you spend it, Happy Valentine’s Day.

Imbolc – the coming of spring

Today is 1st February, and traditionally in Ireland this was considered to be the first day of Spring. It falls midway between the winter solstice (21st Dec) and the spring equinox (21st Mar). It marks the turning of the season and is the feast day of Brigid, whether you see her as a goddess, an aspect of the Mother Goddess or the Christian saint. There is a lot I could – and will – write about Imbolc and what it means to me, but that’s for another post.

Imbolc and the arrival of spring signal renewal, rejuvenation, a fresh start. I love watching for the first spring flowers. The spring bulbs are peeping through all over the garden, such vibrant shades of green spring bulbs at imbolc

I haven’t heard of any ritual foods or dishes associated with Imbolc, but Brigid in her Christian form is the patroness of sheep, and an alternative name for the day, Óimelc, is thought to denote the time of ewes coming into milk. The new lambs are always a welcome and lively sight in spring too. This feels like a cleansing time of year – hence the spring clean? – and when thinking about Imbolc this morning I decided to make some lemon curd. Lemon is one of my favourite flavours and scents and the clean tang of lemon appealed to me in keeping with freshness. So after a couple of hours in the kitchen I came up with some lemon and some orange curd. You can see the lemon here. The orange didn’t set quite so well but still tasted great! I made an orange sponge cake filled with it. lemon curd

For dinner I settled on a Darina Allen recipe, Winter Beef Stew – well having a winter meal and a spring inspired dessert seemed as good a way as any other to mark this turning of the season. There is still some snow on the ground, and the gritter went by earlier, but it is spring. Its time to move out of the reflective, restorative period of winter and move into the renewal, rebirth of spring.

How is it nearly February already?

I know I have been talking about my Year of Living Seasonally on here from time to time but seriously, how the hell is it nearly February already?  It seems like only a few days ago since my husband went back to work and our daughter back to school – more like 3 weeks ago.  I was pondering this while gazing out at the falling snow earlier, mug of tea firmly clasped in hand.  This January (2015 in case anyone’s reading this in years to come) has been a bit of an mixed bag weather wise.  Its been cold, we’ve had some snow (not much really), some very strong winds and now its gorgeously sunny and bracing out there.  But it hasn’t felt like a typical January to me.  Is that because I am trying to slow down and notice things more?  If that’s the case then why has the end of the month snuck up on me?   Time to take stock I think.

So what did I do in January?  Well, I’ve been working on a new course to teach, picked up another rotten cold which I then shared with everyone else (why should I suffer alone??), didn’t make any New Year resolutions (not my thing – see here), got more into knitting, read a few books…… yeah it was a good enough month all told.  But it seems to have just slipped by me in some ways.  Aha!  That’s the slowing down and taking time thing isn’t it?  This Year of Living Seasonally lark must be starting to kick in.  January is a cold month, evenings still dark, weather can be dodgy, so its a good time to chill and hibernate a bit.  THAT’S what I’ve been doing – I just didn’t realise it.

Imbolc is just around the corner.  I feel its time to step up a gear.

Mindfulness

Its become something of a buzz word or term over the last couple of years hasn’t it? Mindfulness. Being mindful. Living mindfully. I kind of got the concept but never really thought about it any more than that. At least not consciously. Then last year when I began my Year of Living Seasonally project and started thinking about what that meant for me, I realised that some of it anyway was about mindfulness. Or living in the moment. And that is something I have never been very good at. My blog is titled Musings and Chatterings of a busy mind for a reason – I find it incredibly hard to switch my mind off and just BE. I’m always either looking back and thinking about the past (that’s the historian in me) or making plans, lists and starting projects for the future. As I am now firmly in my middle age (and proud of it) I can look back over probably 30 years of being that way and understand why at times my brain almost aches with tiredness. So its time to slow down – or at least stop from time to time and just be.

Of course life doesn’t always go according to plan and I have caught myself lapsing into old habits over the last few weeks. This weekend (I’m writing this on a Sunday night), the three of us have had a rotten cold. Its just a cold, nothing serious, but we all know how miserable a cold can make you feel. Its especially hard on Fionnuala who is unable to understand why she feels rotten and is equally unable to communicate exactly what she wants or needs. Add to that a mother who has never been a good patient and who has very little innate patience and you can imagine there’s been a few tetchy moments in this house today! Thankfully my husband remains a beacon of levelheadedness and calm and separates us when we are driving each other mad. I have felt bad today for occasionally being a bit short with our little girl and have been trying to remind myself to stop and breathe deeply before I say something. (It hasn’t always worked)

Instead of beating myself up over it, I thought about it for a while and decided this was a good opportunity to practise a bit of mindfulness. So when a fellow blogger, Aisling from Babysteps posted about doing a linky on mindfulness, it seemed like the universe was telling me something! So – mindfulness. I admit I find it hard to practise at times. Having a child with special needs has made me look at the world in a different way that’s for sure, and yes it does make me slow down. A lot of things now have to be done at Fionnuala’s pace. But I have to force myself at times to just be rather than always be doing. One thing that I find works is to wander around our garden and just look, listen, smell and observe. The last couple of days have been rather inclement to say the least, but I did manage to get outside for a while earlier and amongst the snow, I found these Snowdrops!

Spring is coming, its time to stop and breathe and just be. Thanks Aisling for the timely reminder! You can see her post on this here

Borrowing a tradition

I’ve been a bit busy of late but my Year of Living Seasonally project is still ongoing. Its now late November and my attention has been turning to Christmas but it occurred to me the other day that November gets a bit of a raw deal in terms of calendar celebrations, occasions etc. Musing this over a cuppa I was reminded of Mary Feely’s piece in the Irish Times earlier this month. Here in Ireland it would be fair to say that November is seen by many as a nothing month, or a month to lay off drink in order to gear up for December, or more recently a month when a lot of men become decidedly hairy in a good cause. But in terms of seasonal living and thinking, there’s not a huge lot going on. I grew up in England where “Remember remember the 5th of November” meant huge excitement with bonfires, fireworks and in our house a dinner of baked potatoes and sausage rolls. As a child I was more excited about Bonfire Night than Hallowe’en. Its not marked over here and I still kind of miss it. Ah well.

After reading the article linked above I started thinking about the American holiday of Thanksgiving. I’ve never celebrated or observed it, not being American, having never lived with an American and having never been to America (yet) and so I don’t pretend to be an expert on it. But from what I understand its to do with giving thanks for the harvest (please do correct me if I’m wrong) and that quite appeals to me, again its the idea of marking a turn in the year. So I think I might have a go at doing some kind of a Thanksgiving dinner. I’ve asked a few American friends for the essentials of such a dinner but I’m open to all suggestions! So any Thanksgiving veterans out there, do please share your meal plans/recipes etc with me, I’d love to hear them.

Finally the season changed!

As part of my Year of Living Seasonally, I’ve been trying to pay more attention to changes in the weather and the impact of that on our garden and surroundings. Well November so far has been quite mild and very wet at times and there hasn’t been a whole lot to observe. I am sure you would all get bored with me writing about getting wet in the rain again! But this morning – finally – there was a real sense that winter is here. We woke to the first real frost of the winter and I had a very strong sense of change in the air. The air was beautifully clean and crisp, not so cold as to take my breath away but sharp enough to feel invigorating. The sky was a perfect canvas of blue and the grass crunched as I walked over it. Finally winter is here! I’ve always liked clean cold winter days and today was just a perfect example.IMG_1426 [640x480]IMG_1429IMG_1427 [640x480]

Guidebooks for my journey

I’m only a few days into my Year of Living Seasonally, but its been quite thought-provoking so far. One thing I’ve realised is that I’ve actually been thinking – albeit very vaguely – along these lines for a few years. The evidence for that can be found on my bookshelves. I was watching a documentary last night which made me go to check up on something I’d read in a book I have for a few years now. Getting up to look for the book I saw a couple of others that are on a loosely similar topic, and then a few more popped into my head all of which will be useful re-reading for the Year of Living Seasonally project. This morning I gathered them together and spent a good hour leafing through them and realised these books – along with myriad magazine articles, websites I’ve bookmarked and various notes I’ve jotted down over the years – would act as a pretty good set of guides for my journey through this Year of Living Seasonally. The books are Beverly Pagram Heaven and Hearth: A Seasonal Compendium of Women’s Spiritual and Domestic Lore; Sarah Ban Breathnach Romancing the Ordinary: A Year of Simple Splendour and Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy, Jane Alexander’s The Natural Year: A Seasonal Guide to Alternative Health and Beauty and a book I adore by one of my favourite writers, Barbara Kingsolver‘s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: Our year of seasonal eating Some of these deserve a bit of time devoted to them, to read and savour. Others are ideal for dipping into each day. Either way, I feel sure I will be using and revisiting them time and again over this coming year. Why not take a look at them yourself?

Guidebooks

A few things I wasn’t expecting to see today

leaves changing colours in autumnAs part of my Year of Living Seasonally project, I am going to try and spend more time outside observing the seasons and their impact on my surroundings. All too often I spend time outside rushing from one place to the next, or working at something but not really BEING outside. So around noon today I spent about 45 minutes in my garden, just looking, listening. Much of what I saw I expected to see, falling leaves with such a glorious spectrum of colours from green to gold to copper to every shade of brown and finally to black before they decay completely. The last few vivid yellow berries on the rowan tree in the middle of the lower garden, a contrast to the vibrant blue sky. The starkness of branches no longer clothed in leaves but standing naked in the November garden.
Autumn leaves falling Yellow rowan tree berries against blue sky

However I also saw a few things I wasn’t expecting to see: a buttercup in flower, a dandelion holding on to its last few seeds, rose buds on my daughter’s rose bush. Today is November 3rd, Samhain has passed, according to the Celtic calendar we are now in the season of winter. But how much can we take the changing of the seasons for what they used to be? Last week (the last week of October) was incredibly mild, both here in Ireland and in parts of England. I saw a news report from the Tower of London with people in tshirts and shorts. It was 24 degrees!!! It wasn’t that warm here, but average temperatures here last week were around 16 or 17 degrees. Yes, while people were commenting on this, no one seemed terribly surprised. Our climate is most certainly changing. What will living seasonally mean in thirty years time?

Hallowe’en baking

Part of my Year of Living Seasonally project is to cook ritual foods. Some people are spooked (how appropriate for today!) by the word ritual. Just stop and think for a minute though about the foods we only eat at certain times. I’m not talking eating that food which is in season, but rather those recipes, dishes that we usually only have on certain dates or occasions. Like Christmas pudding. Or hot cross buns. Or simnel cake. Or brack – barmbrack to give it the full name. These are dishes that for various reasons have become synonymous with these feast days and celebrations. The history and symbolism of ritual foods fascinates me and I thought it would be interesting to incorporate it into the project.

Barmbrack (in Irish bairín breac) would traditionally have some items hidden in it which if you found them were meant to signify something that would happen to you over the coming year. The items and their meanings vary from region to region and over time, but the best known one was a ring, which mean the finder would be married within the year. Other items that I have heard or read of being included were a rag, a holy medal, a thimble, a pea and a coin. The meanings of these vary considerably and I could probably write a thesis on that alone.

In my local supermarket today there were piles of round bracks selling at €1 each. I don’t know if people don’t eat brack anymore or if people still make their own but I did notice that there were very few of the packets of ‘Hallowe’en cupcakes’ and ‘Toffee Terror Treats’ left. I do have a sweet tooth, but honestly cupcakes with orange and black icing say precisely nothing about Hallowe’en and Samhain. At the risk of sounding like a grumpy middle aged woman, I think it would be a shame if we lost these food traditions.

I made two bracks today, one a traditional Irish recipe and the other is an apricot and orange brack. My lovely stepdaughter gave me a recipe for apricot and orange brack last year which was utterly gorgeous but I can’t find it now (sorry R!) so I followed this recipe here from Crafty Mums and the other one is from Darina Allen’s Forgotten Skills of Cooking. Its the Irish Tea Barmbrack recipe rather than her Hallowe’en Barmbrack one which is a yeast recipe (I might make that one next year!) We’ve only tasted one yet but they both look and smell good! Apricot and orange brack on left; traditional Irish brack on right

Jack O Lanterns in Ireland and Scotland were traditionally made from turnips (pumpkins not being a native crop to either country). I haven’t made one this year, although I did buy a pumpkin…… I’ll make something from it on Sunday. Maybe. It looks gorgeous sitting on my table though! pumpkins nuts apples

Oh and if anyone has any ritual food recipes they’d like to share, please do get in touch 🙂

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