Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Yes, today my neck is mangled. Slightly less mangled than yesterday, when I couldn't actually look up, but still mangled. On that theme, I took a little walk through the garden on this frosty misty morning, to witness a few other things that are mangled. Not to mention pork.

The swiss chard. Totally mangled by the severe and persistent frosts we are getting down here. I hope it can be rescued, I need to cover it.

Limpy. Our little chick who had totally mangled legs. Thankfully he recovered. Or she rather. In the background you can see Piper eyeing up another chicken through the gate that she would like to mangle.
On the subject of chickens, (vegetarians avert your gaze), Dinner - that's his name - soon to be mangled in a slightly different form...

Last year's Christmas tree. My mother insisted we take her tree in a pot, which was actually doing well in a city back garden, and proceeded to get totally mangled due to being in a house for two weeks and then suddenly abandoned outdoors in the midlands. Well who wouldn't be mangled in that situation really?

The carnations. I noticed this morning, the cats have been digging up this plant as a nice litter tray, as if the entire rest of the garden, the litter tray in the house, the sink in the utility room, the shopping bags, etc, etc all aren't enough...

This sign, rescued from the N4 where someone had had to drive into it to stop their car from careening uncontrolled out onto the road due to ice. Its scary driving down here, even Rocky slipped on the ice yesterday. Mind you, he slips jumping onto the sofa...

The moss-growing attempt. So far, I have managed to grow mould, by painting yoghurt on the wall. Maybe the moss will come eventually.

Last but not least, the cats. Thankfully, not mangled, unless you consider Rocky's intellect, in which case, totally mangled.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The ocas.

How beautiful is the oca?
The day before yesterday I harvested all the ocas and boiled some up for lunch.
They are a south american tuber (like the humble spud) and taste like a kind of lemony potato. I think it is oxalic acid that makes the lemony flavour. Delicious.

Are they not incredible, all knobbly and brightly coloured, coming out of the rich dark soil?

And they are even more surreal looking scrubbed and ready for the pot.

The garden makes life feel so abundant, especially with all the talk of recession. Being able to dig these magical pink and yellow alien beings out of the soil and pick some bright green chard to wilt and serve with them makes me feel so rich.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Chicken anyone?

Yesterday I went to a friend's house to learn how to kill and butcher a chicken. Having a broody hen this year meant we suddenly have 12 chickens, 4 of which seem to be boys... so I had to decide what to do with them. We can't keep them all as they fight and nobody wants to keep cockerels, so I thought, Ok, I'll give them to someone who will humanely kill and eat them. Then one chick, now called Limpy, had his little problems, or hers I should say (at least I think shes a lady) and after nursing her as much as I could (hot water bottles, fried eggs for breakfast) I realised I would be able to kill her if I had to...and if I had to, baby chick was probably quite tasty, and I thought, why are we giving the cockerels away! So, as a dress rehearsal and training session I went to the master butcher's house yesterday, and helped her kill a cockerel, by chopping his head off. Nasty, but fast.

As expected, the bird moved for several minutes after having his head removed.

After a dunk in hot water and being plucked, we went on to gut him. We cut off the legs, then took all the not-so-nice bits out and cleaned him out, ready for cooking after sitting in the fridge for a few days.

His gizzard was full of grass and stones, all bright green and surreal-looking.

We emptied it out and sliced it up with the heart, liver, and something like a testicle?! and fried the lot up with a little four spice mix - cayenne pepper, black pepper, ginger and cloves.

It was delicious! I thought I would feel funny eating organs as my first brush with chicken in 19 years but it was surprisingly easy and tasty. The whole experience was surprisingly easy. It marked such a change in attitude for me - still marked by a sense of looking after the animal (only in the Al Pacino sense now...)

But joking aside, there was a real sense of care that this animal dies as easily as possible, with as little pain as possible. And a very different engagement with the animal than what I am used to - suddenly relating to the animal as a food source. It made me think of eating eggs too. By buying eggs I end up supporting the chicken industry in general and this means cockerels being killed, whether for animal or human food. I would much rather keep my own chickens and watch them live a happy life in the garden, and produce the most flavourful eggs. But a by-product of keeping chickens for eggs is too many cockerels - and it makes sense to me that this is actually a really good source of protein for me - if I am going to eat meat (which after many years of vegetarianism I seem to be craving with a bloodthirstyness not seen in many meat eaters.)

The whole experience was marked by a sense of respect for the life being taken and gratitude for what was received, which I can only wish is there for every animal being butchered.

Grupat Show

Well, last week was incredibly busy putting up the Grupat show in Red, the South Dublin Arts Centre in Tallaght.

We were installing work by Violetta Mahon, including the above sonic reliquary - My Zang Tam Tuumb, and below, her dream diary - written in a phonetic alphabet used by the Mormons called Deseret.

And the grotto of Our Most Glazegilded Lady of Happiest Daze.

We also put up work by the Parks Service, called Legends of the Fornar Resistance.

Some of the geekier of you may have seen some of the drawings for the Legend of the Fornar Resistance... Under UV light you can see all the secret instructions written on them. The drawings all hang in the shed and there is a sound work to go with them.

Then myself and the Dowager Marchylove, aka Niall Quinlan, took a stroll up the Hellfire Club to shoot some photos and put down a geocache. The geocache contains 6 limited edition artworks by another Grupat member, Bulletin M. Anyone is free to go and get one from the box. Click on the above link to find out more!

We got shouted at a lot on the way down - HaHaah, yeh fuckin leprechaun!

We ended the week at the 12th Lock in Clondalkin, The Dowager Marchylove wowing the world with his/her fabulous dress sense.

All in all, very successful!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Prune cake

What a fabulous week it has been, and, to celebrate the election, I give you... Prune, Orange and Spice cake. I wanted to make a prune and bran cake and looked on the internet for a recipe - I found one with the advice that it was delicious and moist. It was not delicious and moist. It was like eating cardboard. I think I remarked "well, its not disgusting..." It wasn't disgusting. It wasn't anything. It definitely wasn't cake. It was flavourless and texturefull. All the wrong texture - kind of gritty, scratchy, exfoliating texture. Anyway, enough about that one, I have instead come up with a recipe based on the fantastic lemon cake taught to me in Devon by a beautiful woman. A far cry from the first version which had to be fed to the chickens.... (incidentally they loved it. And so did the dog...)

Prune, Orange and Spice Cake

4 oz butter
4 oz sugar
zest of one orange
1/8th tsp ground cinnamon
1/8th tsp ground cloves
a grating of nutmeg
one egg
4 oz self raising flour
1 oz oatbran
4 oz chopped prunes

This cake is very easy to make and can be entirely made in a saucepan.
Melt the butter and add the sugar until dissolved and gooey. (It doesn't take long.) Stir in the orange zest and spices. Let it cool a bit and beat in the egg. Gently mix in the flour and then the oatbran, then stir in the prunes, place in an oiled cake tin and bake for 20 minutes or until done (when a knife stuck in the middle comes out clean) in a hot oven - 180 degrees celcius or so.

It is a lovely buttery, lightly spiced cake, with a moist interior and biscuity top, and above all, very easy to make!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Samhain and terrific secrets about biscuits

Ignoring the fact that my car is broken down... today is a very beautiful day, The first proper frost coating the fields, and golden sunshine breaking through to thaw it out. I'm really enjoying the crisp starry nights and clear mornings. The garden was a treasure trove this morning of frosty dazzling flowers, sparkling fence-tops and ice-jeweled sheep skulls.

I wonder how soon the passionflowers will stop blooming. Look at them go!

The beech woods up the road are looking amazing too - the leaves turning yellow and golden orange, and providing the best carpet in the world...

And I am enjoying warm drinks at the moment - making plenty of hot apple juice with ginger...mmm...

Meanwhile this rather scary mannequin stands in a shop window in Belleek. Isn't he beautiful? I don't think his mashed condition had anything to do with Hallowe'en.

In the spirit I am today wearing a fairly ridiculous witches hat that I made, inspired by one my fabulous friend Felix once made, which in turn was inspired by one I had! The broom may indeed be dragged out, but unfortunately the black cats are in Cavan.

Felix's hat brings to mind the Hallowe'en she made it and turned up where I lived looking very witch-like and colourful, to share some autumn days together. I recall roasting a rabbit - the first meat I had eaten in many years! It must be a tradition - last weekend I found a hare and cooked it up for another now ex-vegetarian to try! Hurray for roadkill.

And speaking of magic and mystery... a quote on women from a Steinbeck novel I am reading...

"She was a thing of mystery. All girls and women hoarded something they never spoke of. His mother had terrific secrets about biscuits, and cried, sometimes, for no known reason."

So here's to celebrating terrific secrets about biscuits.
Happy Samhain.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

And another thing...

I almost crashed the car when I spotted a man outside the vets stuffing his VERY reluctant dog into the box on the back of his moped.

I hope they weren't going too far! The dog definitely needed folding to fit him in there.

Food, life, death and beauty.

Well, the weekend saw some delicious homemade not-so-fast fast food. Ham and vegeburgers with multiple trimmings (including home-made sauerkraut for those so inclined), onion rings with a fizzy water batter (oh so incredibly light), and Patates Lemonata, (greek oven fried potatoes), highly recommended.

Patates Lemonata
For four people of moderate appetite.
Use four large potatoes (ours were home-grown Maris Piper) and chop them into big chip size. Put them in one layer on a baking tray with half a cup of olive oil, half a cup of water, 2 tsp fresh oregano or one of dried, and salt and pepper. Bake for 25 minutes or so at 180 degrees, then add the juice of half a lemon for the last ten minutes. Delicious. And less oily than fried spuds because of the water. Although I would recommend using a very-non-stick baking tray.

And I finally managed to post off a jumper and shoes I knitted for a soon-to-arrive baby. I knitted the jumper in one piece from the bottom up - highly recommended for ease. And the shoes are Saartje's Booties a quick fix for pregnant friends. (I have already knitted several pairs...)

And while we're on the subject of life, I took this photo of St. Ursulla's skull in a reliquary in the museum in Galway.

And I managed to get a quick walk on the beach in...

And caught a smidgen of sun in Salthill.
Ahh, beautiful Galway Bay.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Ode to my saw horse.

Ahh, the beautiful saw horse. I love my saw horse and I love my draw knife. I love the squeak it makes when I use it and the little gnawing sounds of the knife on the wood.
And the fact that it wobbles a lot.

Out on a walk I found a handy piece of wood, perfect for making a rattle for the upcoming birthday of a one year old boy with beautiful brown eyes. So a trip to the saw horse and much dodgy whittling later, and....voila!

It makes a pleasing woody rattle, coming from the seasoned bits of horse chestnut I saved from a tree that grew in our front garden for most of my life.
We moved and sadly the tree was chopped down, but a conker my mother saved grows in this garden.

And I had to share this little fat-stemmed mushroom lurking in the woods.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Garden Tour

It might be cold, but the October sun leaves beautiful treasures in the garden.
First up, a drop of rain on one of the last sweet peas. The sweet peas did amazingly this year and provided a wall of smell that knocked me over at times.

This Kaffir Lily, hiding in an overcrowded flower bed, covered in drops.

Giant daisies, taller than me. Ok, I'm not enormous but they are.

A little oca blossom providing a cosy home for an insect.

Pink rose petals. They even look soft in a photo.

Sun through the clematis leaves.

The ever present calendula. Its name is from the latin for calender as it is here almost all year round.


Another tall one, Black-eyed Susan. Although I don't think its meant to be that tall, there may have been some competition for light this year beneath the seven foot sunflowers.

And some little gouging caterpillar eating my purple sprouting broccoli.

Roll on more sunshine.

Roots Manoeuvre

Well, here we go. This year's entire harvest of beetroot and parsnips. From soil to stomach in record time, and the sweetest I've ever tasted, even if they were miniature.
Here they are pre-cooking:

And here they are post-roasting:

And you wouldn't believe how many spellings of manoeuvre/maneuver are out there.
Or maybe you would.