food · Living the Good Life

Milk is milk is milk – or is it?

Over my first cuppa of the day while daughter was still fast asleep and before life kicked in, I was browsing through one of my (many) cookbooks. Another one that I’ve never actually made anything from. Yet. This particular one was ‘Favourite Cornish Recipes’ and I’ve no idea when or where I picked it up. (That’s true of many of my books actually. Sometimes I think they are breeding.) It included a recipe for Cornish clotted cream, something I can’t abide but my husband would love on a freshly baked scone or two. That’s if I get round to baking any.

The method in the recipe says “Pour the milk into a wide-topped basin and leave to stand for a while preferably up to 8 hours in the refrigerator, to allow the cream to rise to the top.” And that sentence stopped me, mug of tea half way to mouth. Let the cream rise to the top. Do kids today (oh that sounds so middle aged) even know what that means? I vividly remember the cream rising to the top of the bottles (real glass bottles not the awful plastic containers that a lot of people refer to as a can of milk) and when it froze in the winter (real winter!) it used to push the foil lid up off the bottle. Top of the milk in our house was poured over apple pie and was a treat to get. I haven’t seen that in years, and I always buy what is labelled as full fat or whole milk.

milk cream
Whole milk – but where’s the cream?

So I took to Facebook and Twitter asking did anyone know could this still be bought.

Still musing about how food has changed over the years, I went on to ask if anyone knew could lard still be bought. I haven’t seen lard in a shop for years. I much prefer lard to solid vegetable oils for making pastry. A friend of mine replied that it can be easily bought up the North, which I didn’t know. So unless I track it down elsewhere it looks like I’ll be doing some cross-border shopping soon. Anyway, back to milk. I took a look at Asda’s online shopping site (I don’t shop online but its great for info) and yes, they sell blocks of lard. I searched for non homogenised milk but got zero results. I’ll be back to that word homogenised later.

I prefer to buy organic when I can (not always easy) so was interested to see that Asda sell organic milk. Its on the right in this pic taken from their website earlier today.

milk
What’s in our milk?

I was quite forcefully struck by the info that the non-organic milk has 9 days typical life whereas the organic milk has 4 days typical life. So what’s in the non-organic milk that gives it a longer shelf life?? I don’t have the answers (although I have emailed Asda) and maybe this is nothing new to some, but it jolted me. What are we really consuming and what is it doing to us? I saw a great thing on Twitter this week posted by the blogger Foodborn whose approach to food and eating I love.   It said “The food you eat can either be the safest and most powerful form of medicine, or the slowest form of poison.”  Food for thought for sure.

Back to homogenised. The milk I usually buy is always homogenised. The dictionary definition of homogenised in relation to milk is “a process in which the fat droplets are emulsified and the cream does not separate.”

Homogenised – or adulterated?

My question is why? Why is this done to milk? Are many of the health problems that we’ve almost come to accept as a society down to the way our food is altered from its more natural state? I’m very aware that many people have been thinking and writing about this far longer than me and are far better informed than me but at least I’m starting to really look at what’s in our food and question what’s best for me and my family to consume.

I think my cookbooks are going to get much more use.

food

What’s gone wrong with the way we eat?

I love to cook (most of the time), I like to try new recipes and taste different things, and while we have had a bit of a lull in the garden this year, we like to grow some of our own food (I’m already drawing up lists of seeds ). I don’t think we are food snobs in this house, and while we don’t have to buy the cheapest (and often worst produced) food on the market, we are cost conscious and try not to eat too much heavily processed food. I freely admit that sometimes we get takeaway and sometimes I bring our daughter to McDonalds (bite me), but overall we try to be aware of what we are eating.

I’ve just started reading Joanna Blythman’s book Swallow This and to say its been an eye opener would be the understatement of the century. If you haven’t read it yet and you care about what you eat, then I’d highly recommend it. It may well put you off some of the food products you might buy on a regular basis, but for all the right reasons. It is most definitely making me reevaluate what I buy and how and where I shop.

food eating cooking
Swallow This

This will be a long process I think but one that is well worth it. Along with this, I’ve also been catching up on episodes of Philip Boucher-Hayes’ series What Are You Eating? that was originally broadcast in spring 2016 and has been rerun on RTÉ One lately. I watched one this morning and all I will say is I will NEVER eat a ‘chicken fillet’ roll again. Watch it and you’ll see why. Between Boucher-Hayes’ series and Blythman’s book, I was thinking about food and the huge industrialisation of food production for a large chunk of the morning. In particular I was wondering how the shift from largely consuming home-cooked meals to substantial reliance on quite heavily processed food came about. Then I popped into a supermarket to pick up a few things and while idly browsing in the chilled section I saw this.

Would you eat this?
Would you eat this?

Now I’ve eaten some things in my time (especially during the broke student years) the mere thought of which makes me queasy now. But this just looks appalling to me. To be quite blunt I have changed nappies that looked like that. How have we gotten to a situation where this is unremarkable? How have we become so divorced from the basics of cooking (and eating) and food production that our shops are increasingly stocked with this kind of thing? And please before anyone gets on their high horse to complain about me not understanding food poverty and not understanding how hard it can be to put food on the table and being a food snob, just ask yourself two things: 1. Would I feed this to a child? 2. What else could I buy for €5 to make a meal from? I didn’t buy this – maybe I should have done to try it out – but I did have a good look at it and I found it hard to see much chicken in there. I would also wonder as how to filling it is, it looks to have a LOT of sauce which won’t go far to fill an empty tummy at the of the day. And don’t get me started on the marketing tagline “Handmade especially for you”. Handmade? REALLY? If I’d been working in a kitchen and handmade this to serve to someone I’d be ashamed of it.

Bits and Bobs · Uncategorized

The A-Z of me

A couple of weeks ago some of the very talented writers in the Irish Parenting Bloggers group started writing A-Z’s about themselves.  As ever, I’m a bit late to the party, but was tagged by Clare who writes at The Clevs to add mine, so here goes!

A  One of the things that infuriates me is apathy.  I really can’t get my head around the mindset of people who have no interest in what’s happening in the world, or who just sit around and whine things are bad but do nothing about it.  Drives me demented.

B All I want in life isBooks. Well there was never going to be anything else for B really was there?  I have everything in this list except not enough of 5 and 11 and will always need more 12’s.

Chocolate, crisps and cake, three of my biggest weaknesses when it comes to snacking.  I’ve never tried to make crisps or chocolate, but love to make cake……. These were my first attempt at hot cross buns (before baking)DSCF3332

D  Dandy Walker Syndrome, the rare neurological condition our beautiful daughter was born with nearly eight years ago.  Becoming a parent for the first time changes your life in ways you could never have imagined, but this diagnosis (which came prenatally) took our lives in a direction we never knew existed.

E  I love elephants, no idea where this came from or why but I just love them.

F    I can’t remember when I first heard the word feminism or discovered what it meant (and then went on to discover how it has many different interpretations) but I vividly remember the first time it was used in a derogatory sense towards me. Yes it was the classic “You must be a bra-burning feminist then” when I expressed an opinion aged 15 in the school library that I didn’t think it necessary for women to change their surname upon marriage.  F is also for Fionnuala, my amazing and adored daughter.

G  On a good day (and today is dry at least!) I can easily spend an hour just sitting in the garden listening to birds and daydreaming.  A great way to switch off.

H  my truly wonderful husband. Falling in love with him changed my life in ways I could never have imagined, and has enriched it immeasurably. And following on from F above, I didn’t take his name when we married. As he put it so well when talking to another person “She has a perfectly good name of her own.”

I  Imagination  – mine is always on the go.  Sometimes it would be nice to turn it off for a little while.

J  Growing our own fruit and veg has made me come up with ways to preserve our bounty.  Jam is something I made rather a lot of last year – gooseberry, gooseberry & elderflower, blueberry, marrow & orange, marrow & ginger, blackberry & apple (ok that was jelly).  I haven’t entirely got the hang of it yet but there’s a nice feeling in seeing the jars all full and neatly labelled.

K  One of my forms of therapy is knitting.  I don’t claim to be very good at it and I’m not terribly fast, but I enjoy it and it helps me to relax and unwind.  Apart from when a pattern goes wrong and I curse it to the pit of hell.

L   Liverpool, a city very dear to me and the football team I’ve supported since I was 6 years old. The latter fact played a small part in my choices for university applications and I’ve never regretted going there as a very nervous fresher 23 years ago.  Great city, great people.  I ended up staying for 10 years.

Money.  Like many people I spend a certain amount of time having to think about money and usually how to make it go further.  I’m not however motivated by it and have zero desire to accumulate a lot of it.  Once I have enough to meet my living expenses I’m not bothered about having more.  Here’s another mindset I can’t understand: people who have made more money than they could spend in 20 lifetimes yet they carry on making more.  WHY???? A certain wealthy businessman who lives in Malta comes to mind here.

N Current affairs, politics, news, I’m a news junkie.  Two daily newspapers, the news/current affairs radio programmes, never miss at least one evening news show on TV.

O   I hold very strong opinions on a lot of topics and am not afraid to express them.  Sometimes this annoys people. See F above.  However, I maintain – well I would wouldn’t I ? – that my opinions are as valid as anyone else’s.  And hopefully better thought out than some.  I am working hard on listening better to other people’s opinions too.

P  powerPower. I had some fascinating discussions and arguments about power and its meaning, use and abuse while studying community development last year.  Still pondering this one through but I think its something we hand over way too easily.  And see A above.  

Q  As a child I asked questions constantly.  Why this? Why that?  Why does…. ? why doesn’t…….?  I keep questioning, always will.

R  A rose by any other name would smell as sweet apparently.  They are my favourite flower, apart from yellow ones.  They don’t feel or look right to me.

  Being by the sea is one of my favourite places.  It doesn’t matter which sea or where I’m near it.  But I wouldn’t want to live on the coast  – I like to keep it as somewhere to go for a treat and to relax.

T  I was never that keen on or interested in gardening as a child and teenager (probably not that unusual) but developed an interest in growing food around the time I really learnt to cook.  This would be 20 odd years ago now.  Over the years this has deepened and now we grow some fruit, some veg and herbs.  So why is this not under G for garden or F for food?  Cos deep down I really want to be Barbara from The Good Life!! Love the idea of self-sufficiency and hope to make more moves in this direction.  The Good Life

U University.  Sometimes I feel I didn’t make enough of my time at university.  Don’t be too surprised if I end up at one again in the not too distant future!

V  Vino. Red for preference.  There is something incredibly relaxing for me about sipping a glass of good red on a Friday evening.  A good way to start the weekend!

W  Walking.   I have started to walk between 4 and 5kms every day, don’t hugely enjoy it (I could be at home reading a book!!!) but I can feel the benefits so will persevere!

X  Xenophobia – the fear or hatred of foreigners or strangers or their politics or culture.  That is the definition from the online Collins English Dictionary.  I cannot, and never could, understand prejudice.  Its the most frightening mindset out there and I do my best to challenge it when I hear it.

Y  I’ve only done Yoga a few times, but every time I have loved it and found it a great stress reliever.  I would love to incorporate it into my weekly routine somehow.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz  I love my sleep and I love my bed!  Curling up in there with a good book is a great pleasure.

Books · food · Linky

Love Your Cookbooks: Nigella Lawson’s Tarragon Chicken

This post was inspired by the lovely Elizabeth over at Life on Hushabye Farm whose blog I adore.  She has been running a cookbook linky (a linky to the uninitiated is where bloggers write posts on a theme and link them up), called Love Your Cookbooks.  Like Elizabeth I am a demon for buying cookbooks, well books in general really, but I’m not always great at then actually cooking anything from them.  So the idea was that anyone who wanted to take part would choose a recipe from one of their cookbooks, cook it and report back.  So here goes.

Nigella's book on my kitchen table
Nigella’s book on my kitchen table

I chose Tarragon Chicken from Nigella Lawson’s Kitchen.  I love Nigella’s books and have been known to sit and read them like others would a novel.  But I can’t watch her on TV she drives me mad.  I’ve cooked quite a lot from Feast which is probably my favourite of hers, and also from How To Be A Domestic Goddess, but until yesterday hadn’t tried anything from Kitchen.  We eat chicken more than any other meat in this house, and this recipe seemed quick and easy.   And after a long few days with our little girl unwell, that was my primary consideration!

Tarragon chicken recipe

This was just for the two of us, although herself is on the mend her appetite is not back yet.  It was so easy!  There is very little prep, just chopping some scallions and tarragon (both from our garden says the smug gardener), cooking the chicken, making the sauce, which to be honest really made itself, I just poured stuff into the pan and let it bubble away.  I served it with basmati rice, mangetout and green beans.  The mangetout were quite stringy so I’ve thrown the rest of them in the compost but everything else was lovely.  The main difference between my attempt and Nigella’s is that she uses vermouth but I used wine.  Oh and I neglected to sear the chicken breasts so they looked a bit bland but trust me they tasted great!  The finished tarragon chicken

The sauce is made from scallions, tarragon, white wine, salt and double cream.  I thought it might be a little heavy but it wasn’t, just very flavoursome.  The aniseed type flavour of the tarragon matched so well with the wine.  This was a definite hit here and I will make it again.  But I will also continue to try out new recipes from the cookbook shelves!  Thanks Elizabeth for a great idea and bon appetit everyone!

 

A Year of Living Seasonally · Living the Good Life · Parenting

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!

A Year of Living Seasonally · food · Ritual food

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.

A Year of Living Seasonally · Ritual food

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.

A Year of Living Seasonally · food

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 🙂

A Year of Living Seasonally

A year of living seasonally

I’m not sure exactly when or why the idea of living seasonally took hold with me but I’ve been thinking about it for the last few weeks. It occurs to me that for all that I live in a rural part of the world, and grow vegetables and fruit and mark certain calendar occasions, I am a bit distanced from actually LIVING seasonally. So what do I mean by living seasonally? If you Google the term ‘living seasonally’ a lot of sites come up, many of them to do with food – cooking seasonal produce and not using food that has been shipped halfway around the world just so we can have strawberries and asparagus all year round. Other sites focus on the natural cycles of night and day, of the moon and of the seasons and how they can impact on our health and wellbeing. I found Mountain Spring Herbals very interesting on this front. There are a number of sites which look at the idea of living seasonally from a homesteading/simpler life perspective. One I like is Little House in the Suburbs, escaping from the Rat Race has long appealed to me and its no surprise that The Good Life has long been one of my favourite TV programmes.

But back to living seasonally. How many times do you find yourself saying “I don’t know where this year has gone” or “How can it be [insert relevant month here] already?” My beloved and much-missed Granny always said that time – and by this she meant the years – passed more quickly as you got older. At 43 I now understand what she meant. I am frequently running to catch up with myself, always jumping from one project to the next, never taking time to really stop. Anyone reading this who knows me well is well aware of this! But I’m getting tired of that and I need to change things a bit. So for the next year I’m going to live seasonally as much as I can. You could call it living in the moment either I suppose. As someone who is fascinated by history, by myth and legend my head spends a fair amount of time in the past. On the other hand my involvement in my community and interest in politics keeps my head looking to the future a lot. None of which leaves a whole lot of time for the here and now.

My version of living seasonally – and this is just what suits me, its not a prescription for anyone else to follow – is to spend more time aware of the seasons, of the changes. Over the next year I will try to spend some time outside every day. I will explore ways of marking certain calendar dates and rituals that appeal to me, without strictly adhering to any one belief system. I will try and eat more seasonally (and hopefully better). Cooking is no hardship for me, I love trying out new recipes and new ingredients. I will observe the physical changes each season brings to my little piece of the planet. And I will come on here and share it all with you!

I’ve titled this post a Year of Living Seasonally which implies this will finish in a year – 365 days, 12 months, 4 seasons whatever way you like to mark the passage of time. That is my plan. I’m starting this project in 2 days time – this is just a little taster – when here in Ireland and in other countries too – it will be Hallowe’en, or All Hallows Eve. But it is also the festival – or cross quarter day – of Samhain, which for many marks the start of the Celtic New Year. Many of the Pagan or Wiccan persuasions also mark this festival as the start of the year.

Now I could here get into a whole big long discussion about how we mark the passing of time and how dates and calendars are somewhat artificial but I won’t (I might come back to that in the future though). Suffice it to say that I like this time of year – the start of the darker half of the year, the approach of winter, the end of the harvest season and I like to mark it as the start of a new year. (I mark the more usual New Year in January too). Its a time to reflect, to rest, to ponder the quietness and the darkness that winter ushers in. That’s what I need to do right now. I hope you’ll enjoy reading about it.

the wheel of the year the cycle of the year
A Celtic Calendar

food · Living the Good Life

From jam to jelly

I’ve made a fair few pots of jam this summer – gooseberry, gooseberry & elderflower, marrow & ginger, marrow & orange (divine) and blueberry. While I’m far from an expert jam maker it is getting somewhat easier and less stressful every time, although I am going to invest in a proper jam thermometer soon and try and take more of the guesswork out of the whole setting point palaver.

So today I’m experimenting and stretching my culinary skills (or lack thereof) just that tad further, and I’m making jelly. Blackberry and apple jelly to be precise. I’ve also seen it described as hedgerow jelly. Recipe is simple enough out of a tiny wee book and it really is tiny, look (the ball of string is just for comparison!) photo (5) The blackberries were picked from the hedges bordering our garden and a friend gave me a bag of apples recently so I figured I’d give it a go.

So you take equal amounts of blackberries and apples (I used a pound of each). Chop apples into small pieces but do not peel or core them. Place in a pan with the washed blackberries and barely cover with water. Bring to the boil slowly and then simmer for an hour. (That’s the easy bit). blackberries & apples Then strain the juice through a jelly bag. (Now it got more complicated)

I’m not naturally practical or technically minded and so I was pondering how to safely suspend the jelly bag full of warm cooked fruit (which smells fabulous) without covering the kitchen and myself in purple juice. After a couple of failed attempts I managed it. The jelly bag

And that’s where we are currently at. I’m sitting at my kitchen table looking at the jelly bag suspended over one of my mixing bowls very very slowly dripping juice. The temptation to squeeze it and hurry things along is great but all the books say that will make a cloudy jelly. I’ll report back when its finally done!