Earth Day Challenge.

The WordPress Earth Day photo challenge asks that I choose one photo, just one, that means ‘earth’ to me.

The one that immediately materialized in my mind’s eye was Mike Collins’ mind-blowing photograph. It’s here. Who could beat that? It makes my head spin with wonder.

This is mine:

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Just hanging on and sucking up the good stuff.

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Looking Forwards.

Flabbergasted. That’s the best word to describe my response to this package, delivered by hand, last weekend.

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It contains a stack of my own letters, written twenty years ago to a dear friend. Confiding, probably moaning a lot, grieving, figuring stuff out…at least that’s my best guess because I haven’t managed to take more than a cursory glance. I read two lines and felt dizzy. 1996 to 1998 took me from a failing PhD project, through a bereavement, to engagement, marriage, moving to Italy and my first pregnancy.

I hate reading back on my writing. It’s like hearing a recording of yourself, ugh.

Still, that stack is just sitting there. I’m not sure I want to look back? What would you do?IMG_5555 (2)

The break from making school lunches and the Mummy-Taxi service has gifted me lots of quiet moments to faff about with my camera.

Filling a vase with flowers from the garden is one of my greatest pleasures and the first Spring gatherings seem the most joyful of all. These small flowers don’t have a huge impact in the garden but, gosh, don’t they look lovely when you take a close look.

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This tiny jug belongs to Small Girl’s doll’s house. It hardly holds a drop of water but can accommodate a teeny weeny bouquet of forget-me-nots. Good things, small packages, a little silliness, big smiles.

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All that’s missing is a chick…IMG_5478 (2)She’s eyeing up that egg with a suspiciously greedy look.

Oooh, and this one too:IMG_5539 (2)

I didn’t spot the greenfly until just now!

I spent an evening happily churning out little baskets from Eleanora at Coastal Crochet’s lovely pattern. Small girl happily accepted the task of filling each basket with mini-eggs and then we used them to decorate our Easter Tree. It’s a bit wonky and things keep dropping off it with a thud. IMG_5568 (2)

But still, it has made me happy.IMG_5556 (2)

Prepare yourself now for the silliest, cutest picture this side of Easter…this put such a smile on my face…ta-daaah:

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The evenings have stretched and we’ve had glorious golden light streaming in. Our den, a miserable dark cave in winter time, has come back to life. This is the view from my desk if I swivel right. Everything seems lighter, brighter, a little bit easier.

It’s time to look forwards.

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Have I mentioned how much I love April?! I have? Can you blame me?

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All I’m saying, Shakey.

Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves. Rachel Malik.

This will be brief as I am working at working less while the kids are on holidays. So far, my approach has been a complete failure. There was a pause last week, like when the TV goes snowy, while I waited for a half dozen or more promised books to land on my doorstep. It was lovely. I sank mindlessly into Book 6 of the Poldark series (bliss), I made stock and took 74 million bee photographs. Then, my loyal and chipper postman rolled up four days in a row to deliver the avalanche.

I’m digging my way out:

Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves by Rachel Malik.

Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves. Rachel Malik.

This is an unusual but satisfying book. It seems very mild and gentle but turns out to be quite powerful. It strikes me as being very British. Read the full review here.

GRAPE OLIVE PIG by Matt Goulding.

GRAPE OLIVE PIG. Matt Goulding.

I’ve long been a cookbook addict but never much interested in recipe-less food-writing. That may be about to change. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, loved it actually, and would happily armchair-travel again with Mr. Goulding. Read the full review here.

City of Light, City of Poison by Holly Tucker.

City of Light, City of Poison. Holly Tucker.

Ninety percent of my book diet is fiction but, every now and then, I enjoy some historical narrative. What tempts me, always, is a touch of royalty. I’m a sucker for a tiara; when I’m sick or miserable I resort to Hello magazine for the ultimate escapism. If I want to indulge the same fantasy under the cloak of literary merit, I’ll turn to Antonia Fraser.

This book turned out to be more of a gruesome thriller than a royal romance but it kept me turning the pages into the small wee hours. Read the full review here.

I’ve just finished reading Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl but I can’t decide what I want to write about it yet. I think it might be growing into a blog post rather than a review. While mulling that over I spent a lovely afternoon with the girls watching 10 Things I Hate About You. Debate is raging in our household as to whether this or Ferris Bueller is the greatest teen movie of all time. Personally, I was rooting for Michael J. Fox’s Teenwolf. Thoughts?

Teenage Son is studying Hamlet so last night we watched the BBC/RSC version with David Tennant. I thought it was excellent.

Following that, to lighten the mood, we indulged in a little Shakespearean themed Rowan Atkinson. I love this. We have resolved to end every day with a Rowan Atkinson sketch.

‘It’s five hours, Bill, on wooden seats and no toilets this side of the Thames.’

Now, I’ve promised to go play bananagrams with the Small Girl. Anyone want to see the 74 million bee photos?

PS. The title makes no sense at all unless you watch the sketch, and even then very little.

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Smelling like dirt.

‘In Spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.’
Margaret Atwood.

Well, I’ve got that one covered.

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April is, without a shadow of a doubt, my favourite month and the first week of April might be the best week; it’s just so loaded with anticipation. I love, love, LOVE it!

Every spare minute has been spent in the garden, weeding, planting sweetpeas, weeding, planting oca, weeding, staking sweetpeas, weeding, planting broad beans, weeding, racing inside for my camera to catch a bumblebee… you get the picture.

I think I mentioned that I covered two of my rhubarb plants with big buckets in an attempt to force them. It didn’t work. The resulting rhubarb was was white, bland and had the texture of asparagus. Trust me, asparagus with custard is not a good thing. I’ve no idea what went wrong. This is what remains:

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For comparison, if I take two steps to the right where the neighbouring plant was left to its own devices and hold my camera at the same height:

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Not to worry, we’re not likely to go short of the good, green and properly sharp stuff. I can live without the pink.

Aquilegias are surging upward from every nook and cranny. I am a fan of any flower that just gets on with  living without demanding my attention. Aquilegias look so dainty with their delicate shade of green and pretty bonnets but they are resilient little madams and indecent self-seeders.

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And I have bluebells. My first college bedsit had a garden that was completely over run by bluebells. Bluebells, for me, signal exam time. They recall memories of studying with a big jug of flowers on my desk, the window thrown open and a Solero to keep me going. Soleros were new then, mangos too, and very exotic.

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Small Girl is a born gardener. She keeps her wellies outside the back door, like a pro, and follows me every time I sneak outside. She makes mud cakes and searches for ladybirds and tends her little fairy garden.

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The bees are becoming something of an obsession. They are endlessly entertaining. I could, I do, watch them for hours. I’ve followed a few bee people on Instagram and I am slowly picking up a little more knowledge. I learned this week that the flowers of Pulmonaria (Lungwort/Soldiers and sailors) change colour from blue to pink once they’ve been pollinated. I’ve noticed them turning pink but never thought too deeply about it.

Just look at this guy hanging on to his cup. Could anything me more amazing?

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Most of our food-growing efforts are just for fun, to experiment a little, to expose the kids to some unusual produce and for the sheer satisfaction of it. The fruit bushes, on the other hand, are really productive. I used the last of my freezer stocks last month. That was a whole winter of gooseberry cakes, gooseberry jam, red, and white currant jellies and I am halfway through my last jar of crab apple jelly.

And now we get to start all over again. April is my birthday month. In every way, April really is the beginning of a new year. Can you see the little baby gooseberry forming behind the flower?

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April. The smell of dirt, the hum of bees, the relief of new beginnings, and this:IMG_5251 (2)

Wishing you a sunny, humming, dirt-filled weekend.

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Crystallised Flowers.

crystallized flowers.

And breathe.

Last week was a bit nuts. I interviewed Darina Allen (Genie Mac, I can still hardly believe that really happened), published what is without doubt my favourite of my Cooking The Books projects so far ( I truly adore that book) and, AND saw my name in print, for the first time, in a magazine.

Great British Food Magazine. April 2017.

 

Actually, I have been published before. My last publication was in 1997, in the Journal of Applied and Environmental Microbiolgy, and looked like this:

A Mutant of Listeria monocytogenes LO28 Unable To Induce an Acid Tolerance Response Displays Diminished Virulence in a Murine Model
LYNDA MARRON,1 NATHAN EMERSON,1 CORMAC G. M. GAHAN,1,2 AND COLIN HILL1,2* Microbiology Department1 and The National Food Biotechnology Centre,2 University College Cork, Cork, Ireland
Received 27 June 1997/Accepted 25 August 1997
Exposing Listeria monocytogenes LO28 to sublethal pH induces protection against normally lethal pH conditions, a phenomenon known as the acid tolerance response. We identified a mutant, L. monocytogenes ATR1, which is incapable of inducing such tolerance, either against low pH or against any other stress tested. The virulence of this mutant was considerably decreased, suggesting that the acid tolerance response contributes to in vivo survival of L. monocytogenes.

Feel free to indulge in the full article here. Are we still awake?

I’ll put it on the record here that L. monocytogenes LO28 nearly killed me. I so desperately wanted to be scientist and I really thought I could be. I was really good at learning stuff but it turned out that I wasn’t very good at the nitty gritty of discovering stuff and that flipping bug refused, stubbornly, for three stinking years, to do what it was supposed to do. Anyway, I think we can agree that my more recent publications are a good deal prettier and probably more useful too.

Great British Food Magazine. April 2017. Sultanabun.

That’s Mark Diacono, by the way, of River Cottage and Otter Farm fame, who’s sharing my page! My only grip is that they never used that bio pic that Middle Daughter and I went to such great lengths to produce.

Sticking with a theme of prettiness, I want to share the method I used to make those crystallised flowers on top of my ultimate chocolate cake (for recipe see Cooking The Books, here).

The ultimate chocolate cake.

Fittingly, the method is from Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe Cookery Course book but she shares it in this Easter Baking post from the Irish Examiner. (Honest to God, the good people at Ballymaloe are not paying me to advertise for them!)

crystallized flowers

Crystallising  flowers is not difficult, only a little fiddly. You simply paint the flowers gently with egg white and then sprinkle them with very dry caster sugar (dried in a low oven to make sure). The flowers should then be allowed to dry in a warm place.

You can learn from my mistakes: I grew impatient (a perennial flaw of mine) and stuck my flowers into my oven at the very lowest setting. It worked well enough but the colour was dulled and they lost their vibrancy.

Teenage Daughter made a much better job of hers. The Small Girl made some too but ate them before she could be asked to pose for a photograph.

crystallized flowers.

Teenage Daughter has the practical part of her Junior Cert Home Economics exam today. Her task (it’s a lottery) is to make a main course and a dessert from fresh fruit or vegetables. Her dessert will be her own variation of Lilli Higgins carrot cake , this time making one layer carrot and one of courgette cake – it really works! We’ve been eating it on a regular basis for the last few weeks while she practised. My expanding waistline is evidence of my daughter’s diligence. It’s a delicious cake and she will decorate it with this icing and her gorgeous flowers.

I’ll collect her later on with all her bowls and paraphernalia and, fingers crossed, a successful cake with just one neat sliver eaten by the examiner!

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The Ultimate Chocolate Cake and an Extraordinary Book.

Kate Atkinson. Life After Life. Cooking the books.

Kate Atkinson. Life After Life. Cooking the books.

My small girl was born half-strangled, the umbilical cord wrapped four times around her neck. Unlike the birth days of my other children, it’s not a memory I like to revisit. What-ifs crowded so closely against reality that I can’t think about what happened without also re-living the nightmare of what nearly happened. My small girl was born on…

Click here to read more.

In Conversation with Darina Allen.

Darina Allen with kale. Credit. Kristin Perers.

How nervous do you think I was about speaking with Darina Allen?

Double that. Husband spent last weekend re-assuring me that we know Darina is a lovely woman. I mostly ignored him and studied every scrap of information I could find, cramming like I haven’t done since, oh let’s see, 1994 or thereabouts. I don’t know why I imagined Darina Allen would be inclined to quiz me but I was determined that I should not be found wanting.

I may apply for Mastermind now, specialist subject, ‘Ballymaloe 1964-present.’

Interviewing Darina Allen.

Well, yes, he was right. He usually is.

Darina Allen couldn’t have been nicer. She was generous with her time, informative and, to be honest, downright inspiring. She reminds me of all the best teachers I ever had. The ones who truly scared the living daylights out of me, not because of any threats of punishment but because their expectations were so high.

Darina Allen’s gift is that, like all great teachers, she will make you believe you can do better.

Read the full interview by clicking here.

Darina Allen with kale. Credit. Kristin Perers.
Darina Allen at home in her 100 acre organic farm. Credit for photo: Kristin Perers.

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