When we moved here fifteen years ago it was with the intention of leading a more self-sufficient and sustainable lifestyle. We wanted our children to know where their food originated from and to eat the best we could provide for them.
Grub’s Up for the Old Farm pigs (and just look at those hams)
Life often doesn’t quite go as we’d expect though does it… our original plans changed. The cost and time it took for house renovations seemed to go on and on and the small holding dream has at times seemed unachievable. When we sat down at the beginning of this year and talked about how we could improve our diet without the costs associated with buying organic meat but eat more ethically, we came up with a plan.
Oldfarm piglets getting stuck in
Firstly we’d dramatically reduce our red meat intake and eat more fish. Secondly we’d only buy free range chickens and joint them rather than buy separate breasts or legs. Lastly (for this year) we’d book ourselves onto an Oldfarm pig rearing course and find out exactly what’s involved in rearing pigs for the table.
The course took place this weekend in Alfie and Margaret’s small holding in Tipperary. We covered everything from where to begin right through to breeding and slaughtering before heading outside with the group to meet and feed the Oldfarm pigs. If was such an enjoyable, informative and interesting day that we’ve put our names down for two piglets! Next week Mr G will be applying for a herd number as well as fencing and building an arc in preparation for the two new arrivals that will remain nameless!
Alfies pulled pork
The course included a delicious lunch made by Margaret of Chickpea and Sausage Hotpot and Deluxe Tomato and Sausage Pasta where we were able to taste the flavours of free range pork for ourselves (will never buy factory farmed pork again!). We were truly spoilt however when we were invited to stay for dinner and tasted the scrummy Pulled Pork cooked by Alfie in his Big Green Egg. Margaret accompanied it with a warm rice salad that I’m hoping she’ll add to her blog recipes soon!
The Oldfarm course is well worth taking if you want to rear pigs but if it’s not something you have the space or stomach for, we can definitely vouch for the pork they sell. The food we eat should be bona fide and flavoursome, Oldfarm’s are in abundance.
This week I bought an artificial Christmas tree and I’ve been trying to justify it to myself ever since. You see I’d never researched the old artificial versus real debate, the pros and cons if you like. We’ve always bought a real tree, that’s how it is. We adore the scent and the sense of bringing a real tree indoors at this time of year … deck the halls reverberates around our home.
However, this year has been different. This year Ian, my better half, aka Mr G. has been working away in the US – Albuquerque, New Mexico to be precise.
Other than a few brief weeks together in the summer, for the past eight months I’ve been home alone with the old farmhouse, our children, dogs, cats, chickens, our garden, my business, new seed collections, homework, after schools activities, the highs, the lows, not to mention the emotional hardship of single parenting … the list is endless but think you get the picture. We don’t have any family here so it’s just me and our three children aged 9, 12 and 14.. There are families all over Ireland faced with similar, difficult situations these days – it’s not just the young ones who’ve had to head off – it’s the husbands and fathers too – so I’m not complaining, there are many facing worse hardships in life than we are.
Thankfully, that’s all about to change as this weekend Ian is on his way home, not only for Christmas but he’ll be staying put, which has added to the usual pre-Christmas excitement and flurry of activity. To welcome the return of their Dad, our children have been very keen to have the house decorated in time for his arrival.
All well and good decorating she says, but normally the fetching of the tree is a job for himself. I drive a small little Fiat with no tow bar, we have a double height sitting room and normally buy an enormous tree. How on earth was I to solve this problem?! I’ve managed every dilemma and hardship thrown at me this year – punctures, crashes, shed and polytunnel doors falling off, no well water, sick dogs, sick children, holiday housesitters, plasterers, broken printers, broken mowers. Many situations have been thrown my way this year, but the tree? Oh heck, the tree. Not one to be thwarted, this week I headed in to town to see what was about – if I could find a tree I’d figure out how to get it home afterwards.
First of all I discovered decent real trees are scarce this year – they seem to be tall and thin, very small and bushy (perfect for a regular sized room but lost in a tall one) or worse, many looked half dead.
Secondly, Christmas trees in our neighbourhood are VERY EXPENSIVE. Locally they were looking for €35 for a four footer, garden centre trees average around €50 for similar, but worse, in Carlow where we normally source our trees – €75 to €100 for a 10 foot tree. Sorry Mr Tree Man, you may have sold 17 at €120 each last weekend but I’m not prepared to pay that for a tree that will be in my sitting room for three weeks. So, as a result of having to make too many decisions on my own, my wish to please my children (perhaps they’ll realise when they’re older just how much we try to please them) and of course to surprise himself (who still thinks he’ll be decorating the house when he returns) I decided that this would be the year we bought an artificial tree.
As a prudent shopper I trudged around every store in town that sells them, weighing them up, cost analysing etc. And came home empty-handed. Do I don’t I, do I, don’t I? This was a decision I didn’t want to make on my own. Really – I’m.Done.With.Decision.Making. The tree would have to wait another week – we’d decorate the rest of the house.
What I hadn’t banked on was spotting trees later that evening outside the local hardware shop. “I’ll just pop in, see what they have”…low and behold the shop assistants were just putting the last few branches onto an 8′ bushy artificial tree. “It’s the last one ~ €80 as we have a sale” (equivalent was €160 in Carlow) “I’ll take it please” so they dismantled it, I paid for it and they carried it to my car where it fitted into the back no problem at all.
Thrilled to have finally made the purchase, the box was presented to the waiting children “oh, we wanted a real Christmas tree”
We unpacked the tree anyway, built two-thirds, realised we’d put it together incorrectly, dismantled it and rebuilt it again. We covered it in (sale price hence blue) vibrant LED Christmas lights and I’m burning eco scented candles for that Christmassy scent. It’s really a very pretty tree. Up on a table it’s 11 foot high. It ticks the boxes.
Until I made the BIG mistake of googling artificial Christmas trees versus real trees after it was twinkling away in the corner of the room. As someone who’s so passionately eco minded I suppose I should have known that artificial trees are made from PVC (a dirty product to make), some contain lead so people are advised not to hoover around them unless they have special filters, and children are advised not to touch said leaded trees for fear of contamination. (Mine doesn’t have a warning sticker so I’m assuming all is well in that department at least). In all likelihood my artificial tree has also travelled thousands of air miles before it made it to my sitting room, having been produced in some far-flung country where workers are underpaid. Great. Everything I didn’t want to hear.
But I didn’t know that when I bought my tree. I thought it was a simple artificial versus real what are our preferences kind of decision, not an environmental one. I was merely doing my best. Isn’t that what we all try to do? Isn’t that what I tell my children to do? Try. Your. Best. So ever since I opened up that page on my PC that answers every question at the tap of a few keys, I’ve been trying to think positively about my decision, to justify it and stop beating myself up about it. I have the tree now, like it or not. Therefore, in no particular order, here are my thoughts on why artificial trees aren’t so bad afterall:
I shopped locally. I supported my local store by spending my money with them. Shopping locally keeps businesses open.
This tree will be used for years and years and in all likelihood, will be passed down to one of our children. It’s highly unlikely it will make it to a landfill as we are shocking hoarders (we still have Telly Tubbies and Fireman Sam under the bed). By the time our tree is ready for landfill someone, somewhere will hopefully have devised a method of disposing of it in an environmentally friendly way.
We will no longer have the stress of trying to find a tall, real Christmas tree. Contrary to popular myth, finding a real tree is a nightmare. It usually involves hours of driving around trying to find a decent one, going back another day with an empty car (I’m clocking up the diesel that’s being emitted year after year with the trips back and forth)
There is almost always a disagreement over which is the nicest tree. We have never experienced the whimsical family day out with hot chocolate and Christmas songs, the one where we arrive at the local, snowy, tree plantation where we choose and cut a tree. There are none.
We can put the decorations up early. My children have been pestering me for the past two weeks to venture into our pick and mix attic. We can put the tree up after Halloween if they so desire.
It goes without saying the expense. At the prices mentioned above for a real Christmas tree, our artificial tree will have paid for itself in just two years. Should we find ourselves in the unlikely scenario of having a spare €50 around at Christmas, I’d sooner support our local markets and craft centres.
So the decision has been made, the job has been done and the house is full of light and cheer. We’re ready and waiting to welcome Daddy home, and now our new tree has been covered with baubles and candy canes, our children love it. I might even name it as it is the newest addition to our family and will be around for years, and years to come.
In the meantime I’m researching the possibility of planting a few small fir trees in our little woodland so that we can reduce our carbon footprint against this artificial purchase and at some point, we’ll be able to walk out the door, cut down a small tree and place it in the porch to greet anyone who visits.
Life’s not all about veggies in our house, we enjoy a bit of baking now and again though try not to do it too often as willpower isn’t a strong point when it comes to the sweet and sugary things!
What started as a quick bun making session with my girls last weekend, somehow developed into a full on baking afternoon when we made Zesty Flapjacks care of the River Cottage (recommended), two trays of fairy cakes, a heap of the delicious wedding cake cookies from Mona Wise’s unputadownable family story/recipe book The Chef & I, and a tray of homemade granola bars from one of the girls magazines (torn out and thrust under my nose on several occasions recently until I caved in). The flapjacks barely lasted a day, Mona’s cookies were snacked upon and shared among school friends and teachers, the iced and decorated fairy cakes were bagged into portions and frozen (to save us from ourselves) and the hazelnut bars were added to lunch boxes daily until they ran out.
Once we’ve remembered how much we enjoy baking a flurry of it follows until waist bands tighten then we ease off until the next fancy takes us. The hazelnut bars were therefore made again before breakfast this morning, giving us another few days of home-made treats that aren’t full of additives and preservatives and me a feel good halo at the start of the day for knuckling down to some good old-fashioned baking before the usual busy day of activities follows.
Hazelnut Cake Lunch Bars Recipe
150g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
150g soft brown sugar
1 free range egg, beaten
4 tbsp low fat milk
100g whole hazelnuts, halved
Note: raisins, apple or dried fruit would be a lovely addition to this recipe too
Preheat the oven to 180ºC and line a square cake tin.
Sift the flour, salt and baking powder onto a large bowl. Rub in the butter with your fingers until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the brown sugar then add the beaten egg, milk and nuts to the mixture and stir well until thoroughly combined.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared cake tin and level before baking for about 25 mins until firm to touch. Leave to cool then cut into squares.
Marge it’s 3am. Shouldn’t you be baking? Homer Simpson
It’s a ‘soft’ day here – Structures in the Vegetable Garden
My Vegetable Garden (4th June 2012)
So here we are three months after my first video and it’s starting to look like a ‘proper’ vegetable garden once again. All the frames and structures are in place with seeds, seedlings and plants growing in most of the beds now.
An insect eye’s view of the herbs
We’re picking and harvesting herbs, broad beans, lettuce, spinach and strawberries and with the warm weather a couple of weeks ago, at last we’re all noticing growth in everything. It’s been slow this year with the cold night-time temperatures causing many people I speak with problems. Even the heated benchdidn’t help us much here – my chilli seedlings are still tiny! The hope now is that the potatoes don’t succumb to blight when vegetable growers have only just got over the frost damage.
Slugs have been the most destructive pest here to date. I’ve tried egg shells (not bad), coffee (seems to deter them), organic slug pellets (see the photo on last month’s post – they were rubbish) and NemaSlug (think it was too hot for them and despite watering, the soil just not wet enough). I’m now trying a sample of Slug GoneWool Pellets around a couple of bean plants to see how they fare.
The Greenside Up Garden – 5 June 2012
The best method I’ve found by far has been going out to the garden and picking the slugs off the grass surrounding the beds or even the seedlings themselves. I know Jane Powers suggested in her recent Irish Times article that the kindest way to dispose of slugs is by snipping them in half with scissors but I’m sorry, I just can’t bring myself to do it. So into a bottle of hot water it is for them 🙁 maybe my nerves will strengthen in time and I’ll try the more humane method soon.
If you have any questions, observations or comments on the methods I’m using here please feel free to ask/say. Feedback is good and I might learn something!
I know this isn’t a vegetable recipe but I was trying to decide what to cook with asparagus (as it’s a vegetable that’s at the beginning of its brief season) and our eldest daughter requested one of our family favourite dinners this bank holiday – pork crumble.
Asparagus is a veg that I adore but have yet to grow – it’s not especially tricky, it’s just that we can’t figure out where to make an asparagus bed. We have such an abundance of scutch and creeping buttercup here, and one of the main requirements when planting asparagus is that the roots are in a weed free environment, it’s likely we’ll have to build a raised bed especially for it – and that wont be happening for a while yet! So over the coming few weeks I’ll by picking up asparagus from the supermarket and thinking up different ways to cook it. On this occasion the tougher ends of the stalks were trimmed and the asparagus was simply steamed for ten minutes and served as an accompanying vegetable.
If you’ve been searching for pork recipes then look no further. This recipe for pork crumble takes just 20 minutes to prepare, with a further 30 minutes cooking time in the oven.
If you’re not using a non stick pan, heat some oil in a frying pan and cook the pork until evenly browned then remove from pan with a slotted spoon onto a plate.
Cook the onion in the pan for a few minutes until it starts to soften then add 2 tbsp of the flour, stirring to soak up the juices. Remove the pan from the heat and add the stock and wine , heating until it boils and starts to thicken and reduce. Add the pork and tear the sage leaves into it (or add the dried), mixing until all the pieces are covered. Season to taste.
Spoon the mixture into a ovenproof dish then add a layer of sliced mushrooms. If it looks a little dry add a dash of boiling mixture to moisten.
Rub the butter into the remaining flour until it resembles bread crumbs, add the cheese and oats. Sprinkle over the top of the pork mixture evenly.
Bake in the oven for 30 minutes until golden and the pork is tender.
This dish can be frozen for up to three months – just scatter the crumble mixture over the cooled pork dish, cover and freeze. Thaw completely then bake as above.
If you missed the first video clip in April I mentioned that the food produced here is for family and friends. We don’t sell the fruit or veg but freeze, preserve, dry or make into wine everything that isn’t eaten. Pretty much all of the planting and sowing is done by myself, though Mr G is great with a fork in the autumn and spring months and builds fabulous sturdy structures.
So what’s been happening over the past month? After a slow start the recent rain and then a bit of warmth over the past couple of days has seen the plants (including the grass & weeds) start to pick up again.
Outside the leaves on the potatoes have broken through the soil so they’ve been earthed up protecting them against blight, frost and the tubers rising to the surface and going green. It’s my first time growing potatoes under a mat so I’m interested to see how they compare with the rest of the crop.
The Brussels sprouts and cauliflowers have been planted out having been sown from seed on the heated bench a few weeks ago. Today I sprinkled some organic slug pellets around them in an attempt to protect their new leaves from the hungry little munchkins. The different kales were all started a bit later so a bed has been prepared ready for them.
Mange tout pea seeds were sown directly into the soil yesterday against the pea support and a green manure of phacelia sprinkled in between to prevent weeds taking over the empty space. There are some toilet roll pots with mange tout coming up in the polytunnel that will be ready to plant out soon, filling in any gaps and giving an earlier crop than the seeds.
One veg we like to be self-sufficient in are the onions and garlic so have two beds on the go which I’ll be adding some leeks to in the next few weeks. The onions have been planted at different times with a couple of bags of shallots only added to the collection last week so they’re all at different stages.
The last veg bed outside will host the ‘others’ so parsnips, chard, beetroot, radish and spinach have all be sown directly and I’m patiently waiting for the seedlings to appear. Carrots will be sown shortly.
In the polytunnel there’s a bit more action…. the globe artichoke is forming, peas are growing and sweetcorn, lettuce, carrots, rocket and broad beans all coming along. The strawberries have almost finished flowering and the fruits forming. There are lots of seedlings on the bench too. Tomatoes, peppers, aubergine, mange tout, scarlet, Tuscany and curly kale, courgettes, cucumbers and winter squash – am starting to wonder where to put everything!
So that’s it for this month and as you can see May will be a busy month planting everything out. If you have any questions or observations about anything I’m doing in my veg patch feel free to leave a comment or ask.
Hello from my new WordPress Blog! We’re still tweaking bits and pieces to the website and blog but as I’m impatient and shot this video on 31st March, I’m firing away and sharing it with you now before it’s too out of date. (For anyone new to my blog, I’ve just moved here from Blogger.)
To give you an idea of how a vegetable garden can transform in just a few short months I’m planning to add a monthly upload showing you my own garden. At the moment it’s looking a bit bare and overgrown but in a few weeks time I’ll be adding more seeds, supports and transplants. You’ll be viewing the garden highlights and lows (yes we all have those) and if all goes to plan, seeing how much food can be produced in a few beds.
Potatoes & Companion Plants – spring 2011
Over the winter months most of the beds were covered with cardboard or green manures to protect the soil and they’ve recently been removed or dug in. Most beds except the area where the carrots will be sown have had very well rotted manure or compost dug in to improve the drainage of our clayey soil and replenish it with valuable nutrients.
You may notice from the clip that the soil is looking very dry… well it is, though only on the surface at present after the dry winter. This year I’ll be using straw as a mulch to protect it and to help to preserve moisture.
Hungarian Grazing Rye Green Manure Overwintered 2011/12
In case you’re wondering, we don’t sell any of the fruit or veg we grow. We eat it raw, cook it, store and freeze it, as well as donate some to neighbours who help out with watering occasionally (or give us manure!)
Mr G has done his bit with the digging and manuring and from now on in it will just be me tending to the garden as a working mum with three children (who I hope to bribe to help me…)
So that’s it for now, let me know if it helps which will encourage (or not!) me to update you in the months to come and also ensure that I keep up with it!
Gingerbread houses are lots of fun to make and not as difficult as you might think. I’ve often made basic houses for neighbours and one of our girl’s made a request for one as a birthday cake one year too.
From churches to cabins, barns to farmhouses the book has them all and if you ‘collect’ recipe books, I think you’d love to have this one on the bookshelf.
You’ll find various gingerbread recipes once you start looking but the one below is my tried and tested favourite, found in an old Good Food Magazine (you can find a link to the house template here ).
Gingerbread birthday cake
I also use this recipe for gingerbread people and Christmas shapes as it’s easy to work with and tastes delicious.
Ingredients (enough to make the house in the sweet shop above)
650g self raising flour
3 tsp ground ginger
3 tsp ground cinnamon
225g dark brown sugar
175g black treacle
2 eggs, beaten
Preheat oven to 180ºC
1. Place the flour, ginger, cinnamon and butter in a food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs (in two batches if the bowl is small).
2. Combine the sugar, treacle and egg in a large mixing bowl. Tip in the flour mix and stir, then bring the dough together with your hands.
3. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth.
4. Cover and chill for at least one hour before rolling and cutting into shapes (approx 2 euro coins in thickness.
5. Place the shapes onto baking parchment and bake in the oven for 15 minutes.
If you’re making biscuits rather than the house, this is how many (roughly) the quantity of ingredients listed above makes…. lots of presents (or munchies for you)!! If you’ve children in the house, decorating them will keep them happy for hours.
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.