A Glut of Gooseberries.

It has occurred to me that I have scuppered my chances of substantial blogging ‘success’ by stubbornly refusing, against advice, to separate the books from the baking, etc. I’m sticking to my guns. I’m a housewife; surely that’s niche enough these days. I bake, I garden, I make and mend, I moan a lot, occasionally rejoice, and I read a ton of books. Because of this blog, my lovely fellow-bloggers, and your kind comments, I know I am not alone. That, my friends, is all I need.

One more thing: while I am fortunate enough to be paid for contributions to Bookwitty.com, my blog posts are not sponsored in any way and are not affiliate-linked. If I mention a book here, or link on to a review, it is simply because I really love it and want you to know about it. That’s all.

Moving on…

I have no idea what the collective noun is for gooseberries but the word around here is glut. I’ve run short of jam jars and the freezer is already chock-a-block and so, I have been driven to remarkable (by my standards) creativity.

There are, in my garden, two types of gooseberry bush. The first is a vicious creature, intent on impaling its owner with inch-long thorns.The fruits of this bush, which take considerable determination to gather, are massive, green, hirsute, tough-skinned, globules of concentrated citric acid. They make excellent jam (as seen in this post) and now, believe it or not, they make a fabulous kimchi. Now listen, I’m no expert, the only kimchi I’ve eaten thus far are those I’ve made myself. I don’t even know whether it is correct to write kimchi or kimchis in the previous sentence. Whichever, this is tasty stuff. Husband and I have been piling it up on burgers and barbecued chicken. The recipe is a variation on the Rhubarb Kimchi in Fiery Ferments by Christopher and Kristin Shockey. I recommend their book as an excellent guide for any fellow novice fermenters. Take a look at their website, here. If you have a few gooseberries, this is surely worth trying for novelty factor alone.

Gooseberry Kimchi.

300g gooseberries, sliced as finely as patience allows
3 scallions (spring onions), sliced finely
1 tsp salt
3 cloves garlic, crushed to a paste
Generous tablespoon of chilli flakes
Generous tablespoon of grated fresh ginger.
Combine everything together in a bowl and give it a good mix until it all looks a bit juicy. Then, pack the mixture into a small fermenting jar, if you have one. I don’t. I’ve used either small Kilner jars or recycled beetroot jars which seem to be exactly the right size for our appetites. The important thing is to press it down as firmly as you can to eliminate as much air as possible.

Leave the jar in a shady corner of the kitchen for a week, remembering to ‘burp’ it daily by the simple expedient of quickly opening it and closing it again. You should see tiny bubbles so you know it’s alive. The flavours mellow and mingle as the week progresses.

It’s ready to eat. I keep it in the fridge too prevent further fermentation or spoiling.

Gooseberry Kimchi.
Gooseberry Kimchi!

 

The second variety is a far more gentle gooseberry; smaller, smooth-skinned and turning a rosy pink under the cerulean blue skies of this past week. With a stroke of pure genius (it might have been the sun) I had a notion of making a Gooseberry Clafoutis. This is a variation on a recipe for Rhubarb Clafoutis taken from a children’s cookbook (Yumee by Aoileann Garavaglia) so it’s dead easy and, honestly, very yumee. I doubled the recipe; you could easily halve it again if your home is not populated, as mine is, by ravaging savages.

Gooseberry Clafoutis.

500g gooseberries
4 eggs
350ml cream
200ml good, full fat, natural yogurt (my favourite is the greek-style from Lidl)
4 tb.sp. golden syrup.

Ingredients for gooseberry clafoutis.

Place the topped and tailed gooseberries in a large, oven-proof dish. Mine is a 28cm diameter tart dish but a lasagne dish works fine too.
Whisk together the remaining ingredients to make a custard and pour over the gooseberries.
Bake at 180°C for 35-40 minutes. Watch it closely at the end and try to nab it when the edges are browning but the centre still has a wobble to it.
Serve with cream and a good book. (I’m reading Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield; it’s a joy! Thanks, Sam, for convincing me to treat myself.)

 

Gooseberry Clafoutis.
Gooseberry Clafoutis.

If even those simple recipes seem too much like hard work or if, like me, you STILL have MORE gooseberries, try this one.

The One-Week-When-The-Sun-Shines-In-Ireland Dinner.

Method:

  1. Suggest to husband that he take the barbecue you bought him for Christmas out of the bubble wrap. Allow Husband cook just as much MEAT as his heart desires. Pass everyone a ripe tomato for sake of conscience.barbecue
  2. Suggest to offspring that they pick everything that’s ripe, with a particular emphasis on GOOSEBERRIES, and encourage to have huge fun wrapping fruit in tinfoil parcels (I’ve read, by the way, that Americans find our persistence with tinfoil quaint). Deliver parcels to expert at barbecue.barbecue fruit parcels
  3. Relax in the company of Small Reader and above-mentioned Provincial Lady.IMG_7648
  4. Relish, ideally with vanilla icecream, the fruits of your labour.IMG_7666

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PS. STILL have more gooseberries!

March is a nervous month.

Japanese quince blossom.

‘March is a nervous month, neither winter nor spring and the winds make people nervous.’ John Steinbeck, East of Eden Diary.

I woke up with a heavy sense of foreboding but I’m hoping that it can all be put down to the weather. Radio One forecasts ‘a very windy day’ with rising gales, strong gusts and spot floods. Looking out the window here, the day is dull but perfectly calm. Too quiet, perhaps, as though that sky is storing something up for later.

Japanese quince blossom.

My teenagers are in the middle of exams. Here in Ireland we have two state examinations, the Junior Cert., taken in the third year of secondary school, and the Leaving Cert., as the name would suggest, taken at the end of the final year of secondary school. I’m lucky enough to have one of each this year.

The Leaving Cert is a brutal experience where your grades are converted into points and the points determine which, if any, university course, you are offered. The Junior Cert is mostly seen as a dry run for the Leaving Cert but the younger teenagers (certainly my one) are liable to be far more emotional. Most schools operate in-house ‘mock’ or ‘pre-leaving/junior cert’ exams with the aim of shaking out all the nerves and anxiety.

Where do we think all that nervous energy gets dumped? Yup, right on top of the beleaguered parents who mistakenly believed they would never again have to face exam stress.

Teenage Son is playing it like an old hack who has been around the exam block a few times, refusing to be harried and making his parents feel as though they are pushing a Massey Ferguson up Everest. Teenage Daughter, the one who is doing the dry run for the dry run, is steaming around in a flurry of colourful study plans and ticked time sheets, her parents merely jogging behind (near catatonic from the Everest experience) waving packets of biscuits and hoping to appear helpful.

Dear Lord, what will I be like when the real thing comes around in June?

This is a truly rubbish blog post. I’ll go edit those pantry photos.

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Off My Trolley.

Hands up, who remembers The Looting of Doon? Well, that little tea trolley that I got for a fiver at the convent auction has turned out to be a stellar investment. I wheel it around to whichever window is getting the best light, take my snaps and trundle it back again to home position. Usually, it lives here, against the kitchen window which has turned out to be the busiest part of the whole house.

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Just take this picture. You can see my sweet geranium cuttings which have taken beautifully over the winter.They must be the easiest cuttings in the world to take which is a good thing as the recent frost wiped out the few I abandoned outside. There are three in that tomato tin so I probably need to pot them on soon but I’m running short of windowsills.

Next up are some of my chitting first early seed potatoes. I think I need to plant those soon. Beyond the potatoes you can make out the Verbena and fennel seed heads which successfully lured goldfinches all winter. They’ve been stripped bare now and need tidying up. Jeanie Mac, this post is starting to make me all too aware of how much work I have to do.

Moving our gaze swiftly past the extremely dusty vase, you see the massive bunch of daffs Husband brought home on Valentine’s Day. He knows what I like. They were all closed on Tuesday too, which is the way I love to get them, and I have been taking great pleasure in watching them open into a blaze of yellow glory. They smell warm and sweet and garden-y. That urge to get out in the garden is rising.

The little jam jar holds a ‘science experiment’ that Small Girl and I are monitoring together. We filled the jar with toilet paper, dampened it, and ‘planted’ two broad beans. One is planted the right way up and the other is upside down.

broad bean geotropism experiment. science for kids.

The one that’s planted the right way up does exactly what you imagine…the root emerges and grows downwards.

broad bean geotropism, science for kidsbroad bean, geotropism, science for kids,

The upside-down root pops out its little head and then turns around and heads down. Geotropism in action, my friends. I know you know all this but it really is fun to watch!

broad bean, geotropism, science for kids.

My brain has been very busy lately and I felt the symptoms of a crash creeping upon me. There is nothing at all wrong, just too many projects on the go and a nasty virus trying its best to floor me. When I saw this tiny embroidery project on the front of a magazine I knew it was exactly the therapy I needed.

Mollie Makes embroidery hoop

I’m actually quite proud of myself for having spotted the signs rather than folding under the wave as occasionally happens. That, I think, counts as progress. Sometimes I just need a tiny boost to keep my head above water.

Mollie Makes embroidery hoop

Small Girl sat beside me with her pencils and colouring book while I did ‘colouring in with thread’ as she called it. Bliss.

Mollie Makes, #molliemakers, embroidery hoop

People always tell you to look at the big picture. I find the whole big picture overwhelming. Making plans for the future, trying to raise decent people, letting them loose, surviving school exams, Trump, Brexit, our faltering government…it’s too much. I do better when I focus in on the best bits, the small things that give me a momentary spark of joy. If I continue to train my eye on one small spark after another…before I know it, there will be a blaze. That’s the plan.img_4203-2

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Head Shot.

I thought I was safe so long as I was the person behind the camera.

Alas, no.

Late last evening, a lovely lady emailed me to request a head shot. She needed a high res, close-up photo of me and she needed it ASAP. Mild panic ensued.

Followed closely by extreme panic.

I tried sending the profile pic on my housewife page.

image

Nope. The quality is rubbish. Would I have the original?
Nope. That was taken on a tablet shortly before Small (but not small enough) Girl sat on it breaking the screen. I priced buying a new screen but discovered it would cost more than replacing the tablet so, true to form, I did neither.

Would I have any other hi res photo of myself? Without a child, spouse or mucky dog hanging off of me?

Errr… this one?IMG_1079Barefoot, food in mouth and head in book. It’s me but it’s not ideal, is it?

Maybe this one? This is actually one of my favourite photos of myself, taken very early on a summer’s morning by Husband.

IMG_0340Still, I’d rather not be the odd-looking woman in a blue paper jumpsuit.

Now, here’s a good one:

IMG_0184

No make-up and a silly hat… not your traditional head shot material.

Those were the only contenders.There is not a single other photo of me since I let my hair grow out grey. There was nothing for it but to get up early this morning and hope for a miracle.

All the stops were pulled out. YSL Touche Eclat, usually saved for weddings and encounters with old flames, was liberally painted on.Eyebrows were coaxed into submission (sort of). Eyeliner (Dior pencil bought for my wedding in 1997) was applied, lips were lined (LINED! Seriously, that’s dedication to the cause!) and the hair was washed, conditioned, anti-frizzed and ferociously hot-brushed. I even put on perfume in the vague hope that it could give me allure, or just fortitude.

Middle Daughter was co-opted to the cause as chief photographer. The kitchen curtains were pinned back in order to catch every photon of available light which is not a whole lot at 8.30 on a February morning in Ireland.

And then I smiled.

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Nope.
‘Mum, that’s not a proper smile.’

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Nope.
‘Mum, can’t you smile without moving your eyebrows?’

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‘…or your neck!’

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‘Muh-um!!’

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SultanaBun. Photo credit: Alice O’Gorman.

‘Gotcha.’

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A Jedi Jacket, an Atlas Apron and a Dream Coming True.

The land the sun forgot. That’s where I live these days.

Thankfully, it hasn’t been getting me down. The form has been steadily upbeat of late which I am attributing to my recent discovery of Evening Primrose Oil. That, and a long list of enjoyable indoor projects to keep my gaze averted from the sodden garden.

My only gripe is that it’s almost impossible to photograph, and therefore to show you, my projects.

I have a new niece or nephew (don’t know which yet) on the way so I indulged myself in the very best kind of knitting: garter stitch in newborn size. The pattern calls this a baby kimono but my kids have christened it the Baby Jedi jacket.

Baby Jedi Jacket.

This is a free pattern which you can find here. I’ve been researching complementary Baby Jedi hats. This Princess Leia Beanie is superb.

My favourite apron is in tatters. I’ve been loathe to part with it but the button of my jeans has worn a whole in the middle which makes it look as though I’m about to burst, incredible hulk style, out of my clothes.

I took a trip to town with the intention of buying some hard-wearing, practical, striped cotton.Alas, my inner map-junkie prevailed.

Atlas Apron.

So, now I look like a walking globe armed with spoons.

I’m not the greatest seamstress so I am quite proud of this creation, in particular my pattern-matched, equatorial pocket. Naturally, this is an Ireland-centric atlas-apron.

We demolished and rebuilt this house in 2011 but it is far from finished. Husband has a to-be-completed list which seems to grow annually. I am beside myself with excitement at the moment because we are tackling one of the biggest tasks on his list which also happens to be my heart’s greatest desire.

We drew a space on our house plans and labelled it ‘pantry’ but we never had the funds to furnish it. We bought a couple of second-hand shelf units on Donedeal.ie and stacked the weetabix willy-nilly.

Here are some unedited, untidied, not-even-wiped-clean, before photos.

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Sigh. I’m a hopeless housewife.

Anyway, moving swiftly along, here are some equally unedited work-in-progress photos:

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Husband is project manager/carpenter while I am chief painter/measuring-tape-locater. It’s working out grand. Tune in next week to discover whether the pantry is completed or the marriage wrecked. It could go either way.

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It’s a bit early to be thinking about Valentines but…

‘I loves him ‘cos he brings me chips.’

That was my line, borrowed from some forgotten joke, when he used to turn up on my doorstep on Thursday evenings after rugby training, hot and hungry, with a steaming parcel of chips in curry sauce.

Quarter of a century later, I love him because he builds me shelves.
And, because he knows exactly the spot to rub on the Voltarol.
Because he brings me coffee every morning without turning on the light.
Because he doesn’t mind digging in the rain so long as we do it together.
Because he knows my tell
and hasn’t told.
Because he believes that I am good.
and tells me that I can.
Because his hands…

I’m saying this now because, if I wait for an occasion, my hormones will have fluctuated and my mood will have nose-dived and I will have forgotten why, WHY?, I love him, though never that I do.

This grey and windy Wednesday morning, when for one precious, terrifying, moment, everyone is OK, we are all happy and healthy and muddling along just grand, planning, plotting and looking forward, I am over-whelmed with reasons why.img_3666

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Tried and Tested: Nadiya’s Bake Me a Story.

Nadiya's Bake Me a Story. Nadiya Hussein. Review

It was nearly elevenses time, and a little old lady was at home with nothing to dunk in her cup of tea. She rooted through her cupboards. There were no chocolate cookies, no figgie rolls- not even any plain old crackers. But she could see lots of flour, brown sugar, honey and jars upon jars of spices.

Nadiya Hussein was the baker who made Mary Berry cry for all the right reasons. Probably the most popular ever winner of The Great British Bake-Off, Nadiya’s daring use of spices won over the judges, while her self-effacing humour and charming smile melted viewers’ hearts.

 

Nadiya's Bake Me a Story. Nadiya Hussein. Review

A role as judge on the BBC’s Junior Bake-Off followed, where Nadiya conquered a younger audience with similar ease. Next, came a documentary about her family’s roots in Bangladesh, magazine columns, and regular TV slots. Nadiya has proven herself a natural TV personality. She is pretty and likeable, she is funny, she can tell a good story, and she comes across as just a nice, average mum.

There is nothing average, however, about Nadiya Hussein. Debrett’s listed this…(read on here).