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Family Time

This past Easter weekend was all about family here at Oldfarm.

I had volunteered some months back to take care of my nephew and two nieces…. and in the end it was decided that rather than me stay in Dublin with them, I would bring them here.

That got Easter off to an early start with me travelling up to Dublin on Thursday and spending the evening with my brother and his family.  We went to Soulful Bistro – their neighbourhood hangout – for a lovely dinner.  I loved the quotes that were written on the walls and recesses of this place.

As luck would have it my sister (who lives in L.A.) happened to be in Dublin for a few days, so as Friday was such a glorious day, myself and the two nieces headed off to meet with her.  We wandered into the Battle of Clontarf Event which was still in the ‘being set up’ stage, but we were in time to watch some of the rehearsals of the battle! The nieces did wonder why the event wasn’t being celebrated on Good Friday as that was the actual anniversary???

Battle of Clontarf Rehearsals

Battle of Clontarf Rehearsals

Then rather than suggest a ‘walk’ to a 10 and 11 year old, we went for a beach photoshoot!  The schemes!  It was fun though – and 160+ photos later we’d had a lovely time on Portmarnock beach and had had a walk too! :)

Portmarnock Beach

Portmarnock Beach

Next up was lunch in Malahide with Dad, aka Gaga, in Cafe Provence.  Gosh was it busy for a Good Friday – queues out the door!

Finally at 4.30 it was time to get into the car and head to Tipperary.

Fair play to the kids…. they prepared sushi for us for dinner.  Another good plan as I wasn’t sure I had the energy left at this stage to cook dinner.

Sushi

Sushi

Saturday was nominated as baking day…… the 15 year old boy even wanted to get involved in this.  The baking list changed a few times, but final decision was….

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Nutella Cookies with Smarties

Chocolate Brownies with raspberries

Nutella Cookies

Nutella Cookies

Reckon there was a bit of a theme going on there :)

I have to admit I’d never had Nutella before…. it was interesting chocolate and nut combination

Easter Sunday was a beautiful day so the girls helped me in the polytunnel planting peas and beans.  Then it was weeding in the garden. While the boy helped Alfie with more manly tasks.

Their parents arrived on Sunday evening in time for dinner.  For the first time this year we were able to sit outside (even if it was with the chiminea lit).  It was just lovely to be able to sit, chill and chat while dinner cooked on the Big Green Egg.

It was also lovely to spend quality time with the nieces and nephew….. there were lots and lots of silly jokes and giggles.

How did you spend your Easter?

Friday Photo

Happy happy days….. salad days, straight from the garden, are here again :)

Salad days are back :)

Salad days are back :)

Who doesn’t love sponge cake?  And yet it is so seldom seen as an option in cafes or restaurants.  I guess it is just perceived as too ‘old-fashioned’ but hey, sometimes old-fashioned is good folks!

Classic Sponge Cake

Classic Sponge Cake

When we were growing up …. sponge cake was a regular treat, especially for birthdays.  My Mum bless her never quite mastered sponge cakes – but then she did make the best pastry ever – so you can’t be great at everything.

Since we’ve had our own hens and ducks I have learned that sponge cake is made even more delicious when made with duck eggs…. the sponge is so much airier and lighter.

So here’s my recipe for a deliciously light sponge cake…

Ingredients:

  • 220 g/8 oz. spelt flour (or you could use self-raising flour)
  • 4 tsp. baking powder (if you are using self-raising flour just use half the quantity, i.e. 2 teasp.)
  • 220 g/8 oz. soft butter.
  • 220 g/8 oz. caster sugar
  • 4 duck eggs
  • a few drops of vanilla essence (optional)

Sandwich Filling:

  • Whatever your heart desires…. only limited by your imagination!  I generally use whipped cream and fruit, or jam.

Method:

Grease and line 2 x 9 inch sponge tins with parchment paper.

Preheat oven to 170 deg C/325 deg F/Gas Mark 3.

Sift your flour and baking powder into large bowl…. allowing plenty of air to get into the mixture.  Add the butter, sugar, vanilla essence and eggs whisking all the time until light and fluffy.

Divide the mixture between the two lined tins.  Level off the mixture and bake in the oven for 30 minutes.  Allow to cool slightly before turning out onto a wire rack and gently peeling off the parchment paper.

When cool enough place one half on plate and dollop on your sandwich filling. Place other half on top, decorate or sprinkle with icing sugar.

Now time to go put the kettle on.

Sponge cake with whipped cream and raspberries

Sponge cake with whipped cream and raspberries

Enjoy :)

(And should you need to…. you can freeze this cake even with the filling in it…. I’ve been known to do that too.  It is not quite as nice as just baked but it isn’t bad at all)

Our participants on Saturday’s pig-rearing course were another great bunch….. and among them was a fellow-blogger.  I hadn’t come across Matt’s blog – Deefer Dawg – before, but I have to admit I spent quite a bit of time yesterday morning, reading back through some of his stories.   So, of course, I had to ask Matt if I could share his post about his experience on our course…..  so over to Matt

Course Participants - April 2014

Course Participants – April 2014

Yesterday, saw me up early again (OK, not quite so early) for my own education, my Pig Rearing (one day) Course all the way down in Tipperary, almost a 2 hour drive. This proved to be a thoroughly enjoyable and brilliant day in which we all learned a huge amount and, in my case, finally got to get hands-on with live pigs; we’d been feeling a bit like ‘book experts’ with both pigs and the bees – a wealth of ‘book-learning’ but zero practical experience!

The course happened at Old Farm, near Portumna in North County Tipperary which is a lovely small holding centred around a beautiful old house and with a goodly rambling collection of outbuildings and ‘Pop Larkin’ style piles of “stuff” which are all works in progress and projects which will get completed “when there is time”. The people were a superb couple, Alfie and Margaret, friendly and welcoming but obviously capable, practical and very knowledgeable, him a stockily built former off-shore commercial diver (North Sea Oil Platforms etc) and later diving instructor all around the world, a natural speaker and presenter with a fascinating style of training which had us all gripped, engaged and amused throughout. Margaret took more of a support role, on this course anyway, and looked after the admin and catering side of things but she is an award winning Blog Writer with a very enjoyable ‘voice’ (by her own admission sometimes given to rants against officialdom in the food industry). Her ‘A Year in Redwood’ blog (http://ayearinredwood.com/) has won “Best Blog of an Artisan Producer (Ireland and UK) 2014″ and Best Lifestyle Blog 2012. She served up scones and coffee as we arrived and a superb lunch which gave us a choice of pork meatballs in tomato-y sauce or casserole of sausages and chick peas, all their own pork, naturally.

They are both driven advocates of all things organic, welfare, free range, low food-miles, Transition-Town and non GMO and were a big part in establishing a Free Range outdoor pig Quality standard mark (Q-Mark) within the Irish ‘Bord Bia’ food production quality standards people. Prior to that Bord Bia officials were almost entirely interested in meat for export and pigs by the tens of thousands from “nice clean, healthy” factories, all pink and free from mud, but who never see the daylight or (gasp!) dirt from which they might catch disease. Old Farm had quite a task on their hands trying to get Bord Bia to even come and have a look at their small production set-up, which was interested more in local markets and where pigs went (another gasp!) OUTSIDE and got muddy! Alfie raves against their rules which do not allow him to use brewers grains from the local organic micro-brewery or whey from the local organic cheese maker in his feeds. He despairs that he can sell pork mince but not as meat balls or burgers – for us the lunch had meat balls with (fresh) chopped onion and herbs in and their own eggs to bind them, where commercially he’d have to use sterile, dried onion and herb and some kind of chemical gloop to bind.

The pigs were an obviously happy, healthy collection which he keeps as full families. One enormous Saddleback sow was showing off 4 remaining youngsters in one pen, and we rousted another whole gang out of their siesta during our walk-about – a massive cross-bred boar, 2 huge sows, one pregnant and the other with 8 4-month old piglets ‘at foot’. Further round still were a group of market-ready boys and girls who we could scratch, tickle and get to know a bit better; the piglets with sow and the big old boar we had to just admire over the fence. I was amused to find that the 8 piglets were not some kind of blurry mix of all the breeds of pig in their make up, but were all different and all close to one or another of them, so you had recognise-able black and white “nearly Saddlebacks”, Gloucester Old Spots, Duroc and so on.

I could see immediately what is meant by pigs being like rotovators, rooting up the ground and clearing any brambles and weeds. The pig pens were finally reasonably dry after a very wet winter and were now a grass-less, dark brown/black crumbly tilth which you could have raked smooth and planted veg straight into. There was not a weed or leaf anywhere. Old Farm keep quite a few pigs and have them all year round, so they rest fields regularly and even have doors both ends of their pig arks so that they can split fields with electric fencing and the pigs get access to the ark from either half.

All in all an excellent, enjoyable day and a superb course. Thank you Alfie and Margaret and the menagerie at Old Farm, and also to my co-students who were all a great bunch, all beginners like us. Good luck with your own pigs; I think we were all going to go ahead with pigs; even those who were a bit undecided to start with and were on the course to see if they still thought it was a good plan. My only ‘negative outcome’ (as they say) was that Old Farm are firm advocates of electric fencing throughout, and Alfie was a bit doubtful (though politely and nicely so) whether my style of fencing would do the job, but we’ll see. If Mapp and Lucia manage a breakout and we find them picking up their own windfall apples, we can always add electric fence strands at a later date.

 

Friday Photo

Crepinette

Oldfarm Crepinette

Oldfarm Crepinette

I miss my salads in the winter.

I love the colour of summertime salads…. adding nasturtiums and borage just adds such brightness to any meal.

This winter seems to have been particularly bleak and grey so I’ve been experimenting with some ‘not green’ salads but using quinoa and noodles.  We most definitely need colour in winter!  This quinoa salad is delicious with a spicy piece of chicken.

Greek-style Quinoa Salad

Greek-style Quinoa Salad

Ingredients:

  • 225 gr. quinoa
  • 3oo gr. cherry tomatoes halved (or quartered bigger tomatoes)
  • Handful of olives
  • Red onion – very finely chopped
  • 100 gr. St. Tola cheese, crumbled
  • A few chopped mint leaves (my mint is just coming on again!)
  • Zest and juice of half a lime
  • 1/2 teasp. olive oil
  • Salt & Pepper

Method:

Prepare your quinoa….. rinse it well under cold running water.  Place in saucepan, cover with water, bring to the boil for c. 10 minutes.  Drain.  Set aside to cool.

Mix your prepared tomatoes, olives, onion and cheese in bowl.

Stir in your now cooled quinoa.

Mix in the chopped mint, zest and juice of lime and olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper.

Serve with some spicy chicken.

Quinoa Salad with Spicy Chicken

Quinoa Salad with Spicy Chicken

This quantity is enough for 4 for dinner…. or do as there are only 2 of us, have some for dinner and enough left over for lunch the next day.

Enjoy :)

 

We’ve had a busy few days here with some AirBnB guests during which time I felt I’d hardly been outside, so the sun shone this afternoon, and I just decided it was time to get out and walk.

From my study window I can see a huge field of rapeseed…. I challenged myself to go walk through it and see what it was really like.

Rapeseed as far as the eye can see :)

Rapeseed as far as the eye can see :)

I’m guessing here, but I presume rapeseed must be a member of the brassica family, as there was just the faintest smell of cabbage…. anyone know?  And the flower head is awfully like kale that has bolted.

Rapeseed flower head

Rapeseed flower head

It is also much much taller than I thought.  You know you drive past these bright gold fields, but I had not realised that the plant is actually taller than me.

I kept on walking until I could go no further and enjoyed taking photos of other plants and insects along the way.

We reckon this busy bee is probably one from our own hive

We reckon this busy bee is probably one from our own hive

Blackthorn

Can summer be too far away when you see this in bloom?

Bullrushes

Bullrushes

It is years since I’ve seen bullrushes aren’t they such an interesting plant?  It was an absolute delight to see lots and lots of ladybirds around.

Ladybird

Ladybird

This stream brought my wanderings to an end….. not very large but deeper than my boots :)

Dappled Light