Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to all in Blogland, may it be a peaceful wherever you are.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Robin's Winters' Tale

My first attempt at collages simply because there are so many photos to tell the tale!
Click on pic to enlarge and then click on individual photo to see what the robin is up to!
After the last freeze on the Tues it was sunny and I headed out to the plot, this tiny robin hopped along beside me to see where I was going.He hopped into the shed because during the summer there were usually crumbs etc to be found after the various picnics.I threw him the remains of my sandwich which he pecked at for a few minutes. I left him hopping around where I had dug out the parsnips as the ground was soft after all the frost had thawed.
Tues of this week was a different story, I made it out to the plot as I had no snow photos of the allotments.The robin met me in the car park and hopped ahead of me, stopping every now and then as if to say forget the photos and start digging!He knew exactly where I was headed and was there before me!He got into nearly every photo I took as I moved he moved in front of me.
I did get a fork from the tool shed but could make no impression on the frozen ground, even the snow was frozen hard.
Then he hopped over to our small compost heap which had the wheelbarrow tipped over it and I wondered if it had been protected from the big freeze.

I was able to loosen up the soil which for the most part had broken down and was frost free. The robin was getting quite excited maybe he understood what I was trying to do?! He hopped within about 4 ins of my boot because I had to put down the fork to take a photo.
Success! He flew up to the top of the heap and nabbed himself a nice juicy worm, there was a bit of a tussle as the worm was not giving in without a fight.I had seen a few worms as I dug but whether they escaped deeper down I don't know.
One happy Robin!
This is my last post before Christmas so I would l like to wish all of my readers who have followed the blog over the year a very Happy and Peaceful Christmas where ever you are in the world.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas in our House

I just finished icing the Christmas cakes.I made two cakes and two puddings, one of each is going to S.Billy and DIL Janice who are having us over for Christmas dinner.Getting out Christmas day is very dependent on the condition of the roads as I cannot imagine there will be any gritting or salting being done.
My Christmas tree surrounded by the Secret Santa bags. We do Secret Santa each year as with 8 children and their respective partners and 16 grandchildren the cost of buying presents was going through the roof! Each of us now buys for one child and one adult with a limit of 50e for a child and 30e for an adult, D.Michelle takes on the onerous task of picking the names and matching them each year.The road conditions have meant some have not been able to deliver their presents up to my house or collect as yet, so my sitting room is a bit cluttered!
My very uncoordinated Tree especially for niece Catherine!100 multicoloured lights which play a selection of 24 Christmassy tunes, baubles some of which are years old and some things made by the children over the years.Yards of gold tinsel to finish it off! Christmas is for memories not colour coordination!
A stocking made by S.Barry when he began school, dated 1994, tatty cotton wool etc but he checks the tree every year to see if it is still there!
Empty yogurt carton bell made by Godson Ryan again in his first year in school, he is now 13 years old.
Loo roll Angel again from Ryan, this is a very mischievous looking Angel!
The hallway, on the radiator cover is a small fat Santa which I brought back from a Christmas market in Brussels about 10 years ago and next to him is a handmade glass votive holder which came for Prague about 4 years ago.Two of my daughters, Kathryn & Michelle and myself went to the Christmas market there, its as cold here now as it was over there in central Europe!
The little Christmas tree on the left is Douglas Fir, with batteries in he sings and talks!When some of the children were still living at home he used to scare the daylights out of them. I would leave him switched on and as he has a motion sensor as they were trying to sneak in late at night Douglas would shout 'What time is it, its Christmas Time and launch into a song!
My Nativity is newish, bought about 3 years ago.Its tin and very stylised,I think it is meant to be of Russian style.
Fireplace with ye old Christmas stockings!Various candles and figures have been around for years too.Ann if you are reading this your little Christmas chicken is on the right of the mantlepiece.
I like my 'old' decorations and they are put away each year and I look forward to seeing them again like old friends!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Winter Solstice 21st Dec

Tommorrow is the 21st Dec and the winter solstice will be beamed live from Newgrange in Co Meath,Ireland.
Usually it is dependent on the usual wintry clouds to be visible but this year with clear skies it will actually be dependent on people being able to access the megolithic tomb through the freezing conditions we are experiencing.
Tonight is supposed to be the coldest night of the big freeze,in fact it has been freezing here all day.Some parts of the country were minus 17% degrees last night!
Parts of Dublin are having heavy snowshowers and they will continue into tomorrow around parts of Leinster and north Munster.
Roads are treacherous as stocks of salt are so low only main routes are being treated until fresh stocks arrive from Egypt into Cork port on Wed.
Mayfield is frozen with only main roads getting any attention, footpaths and housing estates have been left under hard packed icy snow.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Last Sunny Day on the Plot

Last Tues was a beautiful sunny day, not very warm but more Spring like than wintry.
As I am writing this on Fri evening we are under 6ins of snow!
I needed to finish off some work on the plot which the last cold spell interrupted.It was quite pleasant from around 12.30 to around 3.30 pm but then I could feel the cold creeping into my bones, a couple of other hardy souls were doing likewise and we wished each other Happy Christmas as we knew we may not be out again with this next cold spell on the way.
I dug the rest of the parsnips, one very big one again not quite as big as the last monster and some normal sized ones.
I pulled some turnips and leeks and brought home the last of the lollo rosso lettuce from the greenhouse.
The sun disappeared behind the old orchard wall at 3.35 pm!It was more to the southwest instead of west which it does in the summer. Once the sun had gone the cold really set in and it was time to pack up and leave.
I extended the rhubarb bed as last season it was growing on the side of the bed because it was too narrow, it was mulched with a few wheel barrow loads of manure to protect it during the winter months when extremely low temps are forecast.
Thyme waiting for the turkey stuffing !
The swede turnips are looking a little forlorn as the recent frosts have got the leaves. I removed the netting from the Brussels sprouts, the sprouts are in the freezer so I left the stalks standing with some smaller sprouts and leaves for the pigeons.
I noticed these strange black fungi growing under the turnips.They may have been lighter before the frosts got them.

The lollo rosso survived the cold and frost in the greenhouse, I pulled them and brought them home as they may not have gotten through the next one.They are in one of the grow bags vacated by the tomatoes.
I tidied the shed and brought home my jackets etc as work on the plot is finished now until Spring 2011!We will only be picking any veg which is still in the ground so visits will be short.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Birds& Baking

The frost and ice have left us for a short time it seems, they are forecasting a return to arctic temps for the end of next week but nobody has mentioned 'snow' as yet just mutterings of 'wintry precipitations!
Our allotment Christmas night was last night, Zwena holds this every year and opens up her home which she has beautifully decorated. We all dress up and sometimes it is hard to recognise a fellow allotmenteer minus wellies, old jackets and windswept hairstyle!Everyone brings some yummy home baking or something to share, I was late arriving last night so I didn't bother taking photos of the empty plates!Zwena had very kindly organised a little presentation for me for winning the RDS award ,there was much congratulations and good natured ribbing!
There was also a presentation for Michael who is leaving us after many years, he was one of the very first plotters before allotments became popular over here.Michael has always been available for advice and giving freebies of plants and cuttings to the newcomers, he is moving for health reasons to a new allotment site nearer home but has promised to come and visit us from time to time.
During the very hard frost which lasted for a few days without thawing out at any time during the day I noticed my tree had frozen cobwebs!This is a small tree in front of the house, it was once a tiny tree in a gift basket, I stuck it into this small section of earth and it has grown over the years to about 2 ft high.
Most of the leaves have gone from the contorted hazel by now but a few determined brown bits are still clinging on and I thought how hard it was to see the small birds on the branches, the perfect camouflage!The birds queued up here while waiting their turn at the feeders hanging on the wall of the house.
I moved one feeder to the branch of the hazel and the birds flock onto the branches now. It is very near the kitchen window so as soon as I try to take a photo they all disappear, but I still enjoy watching them.
My niece Catherine made this absolutely yummy Tobelerone Cheesecake and kindly sent me the link & photo via Facebook.I made it and it has to be the quickest cheesecake I have ever made.Definitely for chocolate lovers, it can only be eaten little and often! It is from Nigella and a link to the recipe is here


Monday, December 6, 2010

December Header and a bit of a Rant

The Dec header photo is of my gardeners, taken way back in 2003.Look how small Aoife is on the right, she was about 3 years old then and she is now ten.Back then, if and when we got any snow to stay long enough on the ground we went out to take photos!This was a very surprising white Christmas morning when we woke up to snow on the ground and the children were amazed!
Has anyone else noticed the Advent calenders becoming TV character chocolate holders?
Advent calenders were supposed to count down the days of advent until Christmas day, now they are TV character themed and there is no hint of the importance of the Christmas message or why we celebrate Christmas as anything other than a shopping spree.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Hospice Christmas Tree

Today was the Christmas Tree lighting ceremony at Marymount Hospice, some members of the family have attended each year since my late Mother was a patient there.Sadly this is the last year as the hospice is moving to the other side of the city to a large new greenfield site.
The hospital has been on this site overlooking the city for 140 years in the charge of the Sisters of Charity. The hospice has been in operation for a number of years but was only on one floor of the building as the remainder is St Patrick's hospital for older people.It is another northside institution moving to the other side of the city and the northside will soon be bereft of hospitals, a battle is ongoing at the moment to prevent St Mary's Orthopaedic hospital from the same fate.Its all part of the HSE 'centres of Excellence' moving all services to one location.Most of the staff of this hospital are from the locality and may not be in a position to commute across the city to work
The city in the gathering dusk, the blue spike is on top of a huge apartment block and shopping area which was finished just in time for the recession and so by all accounts remains empty!
D.Michelle and Kevin well wrapped up against the bitter cold.
The army band of the Southern Command and the Garda choir provided the music and singing.
A tradition which we will miss up here is the provision of Irish Coffee and mince pies in the canteen once the lighting ceremony is over, Michelle waiting patiently for our Irish coffees!
The lights on the Christmas Tree are paid for by donations and everyone on the day and for weeks beforehand 'buys' lights to remember loved ones who have passed on.I took the photo of the tree from the hospital grounds it is much higher to see it from the lower ground level as it is a very old tree which has weathered many a storm over our city.
The Lord Mayor Michael O Connell was in attendance and Kevin was very proud when he agreed to have a photo taken with him.

Scott stayed home warm and cosy!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Bakes and Buns

The baking humours are still on me and today was another cold day so baking in the kitchen seemed a good way to go.D.kathryn saw the Baily's cheesecake on a previous post and put in her order for one for the weekend.Something I should have mentioned with the recipe was because marshmallows are used instead of gelatine this is a very sweet dessert and the calories per slice are probably off the scale!
A second Christmas cake was mixed last night and went into the oven first thing this morning, and once the oven was on I just kept going.
My pastry is melt in the mouth and is from Catherine at over on Dispatches from the Deise blog who has lots of mouthwatering baking and cooking going on.
I lightly cooked the apples earlier in the day for the apple sponge and allowed them to go cold, the pastry was made and rested in the fridge until needed.I lined the pie tin and rolled out the scraps to line a 12 bun cake tin, waste not want not!
The apples are spread over the pastry base, I used all of them as I like plenty of apple in mine, you could use some of the apples in the bun tins also but I used some of the rhubarb and fig jam which I made during the summer.

No need to spread the sponge mixture just put it in blobs around the filling it levels out during the cooking, I have learned over the years not to put too much in the centre or it ends up slightly undercooked.
The sponge mixture is;
4 ozs butter/marge
4ozs caster sugar
6ozs flour
2 eggs
I used Gas mark 5 for the small cakes and gas 4 for the larger pie tin.
Sprinkle caster sugar on the pie while still warm, I iced the buns but this is optional.
I attended a Christmas cookery demo many years ago in the ESB showrooms which were then in Patrick St in Cork. The demonstrator said when using cherries for decoration purposes you could cut 24 pieces out of one cherry which is enough just to pop on a small cake. I have tried numerous times over the years when I think of it but the most I have ever managed is 16.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Birds of a Feather!

D.Aisling and myself modelling our new aprons and pot holders.
Last year I was involved in a gardening by Letter project organized by Anna on the flowergardengirl blog.There were 12 participants and each month we sent cards and gardening related gifts to Anna who then sent them on to that months recipient. I got my bumper parcel in Dec,there were hand made cards,packets of seed, handmade gifts and Anna had included a length of this material. I thought of it recently when searching around for something to do while housebound due to the weather.I was online blog hopping and I love blogs showing crafts, someone had been making aprons and I thought why not?!
Aisling had bought an apron recently for no other reason than there was a cupcake motif on it, but had become convinced that with 2 small children aprons were heaven sent for keeping clothes free of sticky hands etc!
I borrowed Aisling's apron for a pattern and made 2 aprons from the material with large front pockets.
There was some material left over and I set about making 2 pot holders as I am not sure what goes into an oven glove to make it heat proof, these have a layer of wadding sandwiched between 2 layers of hessian inside.The only thing I bought was the bias binding to finish them off, my corner mitering leaves a little to be desired but over all I was quite pleased with them.
While we were modelling Jack was trying to steal the limelight!

Nigel and Scott came into shot, the boys are in matching blue 'jamies and both love the camera.
The sewing machine is still in operation as everything is cancelled due to continuing snow and icy roads so I could be turning out another few masterpieces before I get out dancing again!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Snow and Nice

Arctic weather conditions are still with us here in Ireland, with the north and east of the country are experiencing the worst of it.Here in Cork city we did eventually get some snow which has now frozen.I should have been out this morning but we are being warned to only make essential journeys as schools have been closed in and around the city.
Rome was built on 7 hills according to legend but Cork is all hills so we tend to come to a standstill when snow falls!
My snap dragons which I grew from seed and were late flowering are still in bloom at home and out on the plot, despite snow frost and ice!
While I was usurped from my computer I took up baking again and baked nearly every evening. This is a simple Cheesecake using marshmallows instead of gelatine.
Irish Coffee Cheesecake:
Base: 3 ozs Marge/butter
8 ozs digestive biscuits (crushed)
Melt the butter and mix in the crushed biscuits.Line the base of a greased dish with the mixture, put into fridge to set.
8 ozs of Marshmallows
3 fl ozs milk
1 dessert spoon mild coffee
3 tblsps Whiskey or Baileys
1/2 pint cream
8 ozs cream cheese
2 ozs castor sugar.
Put marshmallows,coffee granules,caster sugar and milk in a saucepan over a medium heat.
Keep Stirring!!
Wait until marshmallows melt and leave to cool
Put cream cheese and whiskey/baileys in a bowl and beat until smooth
Whip cream until it stands in soft peaks
Mix cheese mixture and marshmallow mixture, leave until nearly set,
Fold in whipped cream mixing well.
Pour over biscuit base and chill in fridge for at least 2 hours until set
Cupcakes are a firm favourite since SATC made them sexy!
Pre heat oven to 350F, 180C, gas 4
line a 12 cupcake tine with paper cases
5 oz marge/butter softened
5 ozs caster sugar
6 oz self raising flour
3 eggs
2tbls cocoa powder (I prefer drinking chocolate powder)
1tsp vanilla extract

Beat eggs together
place all ingredients including beaten eggs into a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer for 2 minutes until light and fluffy
Fill cases evenly
Bake for approx 20 mins
Leave cool fully before icing

4 oz icing sugar
2 oz butter
1 oz plain choc
1 tbsp milk.
Melt chocolate and leave to cool
Beat sugar and butter until soft
Add cooled melted chocolate and milk and mix well.
Spread or pipe over cakes and decorate as liked.

Kathryn and the girls went to London for a couple of days to shop and see the sights as they had never been to London.Hyde park was transformed into a huge winter market and playground with skating rink etc. It was very cold as can be seen from the layers of clothing but dry and sunny, they enjoyed the whole experience.