To the lighthouse, maybe the moon…

Now, Listen, I’m no poet, but today is National Poetry Day in Ireland and I’ve decided to make a bibliophilic stab at it. I was much impressed by some book spine poetry which passed under my instagram-glancing finger recently. I piled up a stack of lines and words into this:

If on a winter’s night a traveller,
Let the great world spin,
All quiet on the western front,
Long day’s journey into night.

To the lighthouse,
Maybe the moon,
A noble radiance,
Burning bright,
As if by magic.

Echoes
Jump,
Extremely loud and incredibly close.

A time for voices,
Persuasion,
Talking it over.

First time,
Love,
She’s come undone.

The last time they met,
The marble kiss.

Two lives,
Enduring love,
Unbroken.
Holding,
Night without end.

I know this much is true:
I’d die for you.

Thank you for having me.

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That was fun.

In other poetic goings-on, I have discovered a simply beautiful book which combines poetry and recipes. It would be the ideal gift for any poetic foodies or foodie poets. Read about Eat This Poem here.

Please, do go and find a real poem today and take two minutes to drink it in. This one falls into the category of poems we learned at school. It came to mind the other day as I watched hailstones knock the petals from my roses. I still like it:

SNOW BY LOUIS MACNEICE

The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was
Spawning snow and pink roses against it
Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:
World is suddener than we fancy it.

World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion
A tangerine and spit the pips and feel
The drunkenness of things being various.

And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world
Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes –
On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of one’s hands –
There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.

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Not one, but two of beautiful daughters celebrate their birthdays today so I must go and make chocolate cake and trifle, as per requests.

(credit: Italo Calvino, Colum McCann, Erich Maria Remarque, Eugene O’Neill, Virginia Woolf, Donna Leon, Tracy Chevalier, Angus Wilson, Maeve Binchy, Jilly Cooper, Jonathan Safran Foer, Brendan Kennelly, Jane Austen, Julian Barnes, Lara Harte, Pablo Neruda, Wally Lamb, Anita Shreve, Jay Rayner, William Trevor, Ian McEwan, Laura Hillenbrand, Graham Norton, Alistair MacLean, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Maureen Lipman.)

The bluebells made such a pool…

I’m never certain when the right time has arrived to make the bluebell pilgrimage. This year, as ever, I doubted myself. As we walked the first 500 yards or so along the lowest path I thought, darn it, I’m too early. We’ve talked about this before, haven’t we? For hair appointments and coffee dates, school collections and bean plantings, always I err on the side of earliness. (I wrote last year about being early for bluebells but Never Too Early For Fairies.)

I scanned the verges but nary a speck of blue could I find. Then, Husband said, ‘look up,’ pointing above the next bank and there I could just make out a fringe of blue haze along the horizon. We clambered up the bank and there they were. Hang on, pause a moment in anticipation.IMG_6131 (2)

There.IMG_6131

One bluebell doesn’t smell like much, just a faint floral scent, but this many packed quite the olfactory punch. I can’t remember ever smelling air so sweetly perfumed. When ever they give us smellyvision I’ll go back and capture it for you.

This is the view up to the top of the hill.IMG_6170

And, if I turn on my heel and swivel, this is the view down to the road and, beyond that, the River Bandon.IMG_6176

This is a place where I usually find myself breathing deeper, relaxing, but this time I was almost breathless at the beauty of it. I ambled along with a silly grin on my face, resigned to the knowledge that there was no hope at all of capturing anything but a pale impression of it.

By the way, to the person who climbed a huge tree and placed a mirror in the perfect position, thank you.

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Dromkeen is a small Wood where fairies are well known to wander. In fact, we believe our resident fairies sometimes go on their holidays to Dromkeen. If you look closely, you can spot fairy doors, fairy windows and fairy washing hung out to dry. Some unscrupulous parents would have their children believe that the fairies leave messages. IMG_6198

Up and up we scampered. The dog, I’ve got to tell you, thought he had died and gone to doggy nirvana. IMG_6206

And then turned around and down again.IMG_6218

‘The bluebells made such a pool that the earth had become like water, and all the trees and bushes seemed to have grown out of the water. And the sky above seemed to have fallen down to the earth floor; and I didn’t know if the sky was the earth or the earth was water. I had been turned upside down. I had to hold the rock with my fingernails to stop me falling into the sky of the earth or the water of the sky.’ Graham Joyce. Some Kind of Fairytale.

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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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