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Well here we are.  How many weeks into this ‘lockdown’/pandemic?  I’m not sure. Some days I even struggle to figure out what day of the week it is!

How are you doing?

I have to admit some days are better than others here.  There are days when I feel like I’ve no motivation, and could quite happily just sneak back to bed!!!

Then there are days when we get lots done.  So let’s concentrate on the positive, right?

The weather has been glorious since this all started, sunshine for the most part. April was actually warm. We got to dine al fresco quite a bit.  May has not been so warm…. dry but actually quite cold.

The pizza/clay oven has been completed…. eight years after the base was originally built!

clay/pizza oven

New clay oven being checked out as a possible nesting site!!!

My social distancing honesty table has put egg sales through the roof!  I cannot keep up with sales.  Some days there are no eggs for us.

This week we’ve started on a new evening seating area… will keep you posted on progress on that.

I’ve planted so many vegetables, a few outdoors, but mostly in the tunnel.  I’ve tons of vegetables waiting patiently in the polytunnel for the weather to warm up a bit, so I can get them outside.

Harvest 2020 has started with rhubarb and radishes.  It looks like we should have a huge crop of fruit this year, the trees and bushes are laden with fruit.

We are thankful for our very fully stocked freezers.  There is now space in them for the first time in many years, as we work our way through our stock.  There have been a few UFOs discovered… Unknown Freezer Objects!

I’ve been taking a photo or video a day to share especially with people who cannot get out into the countryside.

I’ve also been editing our YouTube channel which I set up, probably 10 years ago, loaded videos to and never did anything more.  So this too is a learning curve.

We’re also learning lots about Webex and Zoom.  There has been a family birthday party via Zoom, as well as a virtual dinner party with friends via Zoom.  Maybe Zoom will be the new ‘going out’?

Like so many other small businesses, we’ve had to rethink ways to make an income.  We’re not sure when/if the bed and breakfast business will ever return to a semblance of normality.  All bookings for this year (which looked like being extremely busy) have been cancelled, every single one!

And because people aren’t allow to travel beyond 5 km from home, or gather with strangers, our courses were hit hard too.  However, we decided we can at least see how they would work online.  I know, it does seem strange doing ‘free range pig-rearing’ on line.  It is working though.  We’ve our third group joining us next week. Over 2 sessions we cover all the theory, and because I’ve been working on the YouTube channel, I’ve unearthed videos of pigs to show everyone!

White soda and griddle bread made during online bread making class

We started the online bread making course last week, and so far, it seems folks like the idea of this class on a Sunday morning.  We can’t do the complete course on line, but we do share the recipes, and do two of the three breads over the course of an hour and a half.

Within hours of posting my last post, our lives changed even further and now 2 weeks on, we’ve had big changes again!  We are in what is being called ‘lock down’ with travel restrictions and businesses having to close unless deemed essential.  If you can work from home you can, but if your job outside the home is not deemed ‘essential’, then you stay at home.

All schools are still closed, no visiting hospitals or nursing homes.  No travel further than 2 km from your home…. and allowed to do that only for light exercise.

‘Essential’ shops are still open.  Groceries stores can’t cope with the requests for home deliveries.

There is talk of even more restrictions coming in the next day or so.

A whole new language has developed around this Corona Virus.

Stay at home….. is the main phrase being used.  Families not being allowed to visit each other.  Grandparents and grandchildren being separated.  It is tough but it is for the good of all.

Cocooning…. anyone over 70 is being asked to stay indoors, other than to maybe go into the garden (if they have one).

Flattening the Curve…. they are trying to slow down the spread of the disease, hence all the measures that have been put in place.

Self-Isolation… as many people rushed to get back into the country/home from abroad, all are being asked to go into ‘self-isolation’ for a period of 14 days, the length of time it can take for symptoms to develop.

As I say live has changed utterly.

However, there are pluses to this.

We Irish can be very proud of how our politicians have taken the lead.  It is not easy.  And no matter what you may think of their politics, I think they are doing a wonderful job and deserve every praise we can give them.  This was our Taoiseach (Prime Minister) on St. Patrick’s Day.

Also, the majority of Irish people are adhering to the requested restrictions to our lives.  Of course, there are the lunatics who still gather and have parties, but they will regret this.  In typical Irish fashion there has to be an upside… and instead of referring to the current situation as a ‘lock down’, we are referring to it as a ‘lock-in’.

For the uninitiated a ‘lock-in’ happens when you go to the pub, closing time arrives, but everyone is having such fun… the doors are locked with the people still inside partying, often in a back room, so that the front rooms have no lights on, and no-one knows you are in there!!!  It does sound a lot better doesn’t it?

We are keeping ourselves busy with outside jobs at the moment as the weather has been good.  If, and when, the weather changes there are plenty of indoor jobs to be tackled.

How has Corona Virus impacted on your life?

Strange times indeed.

Since last Thursday (12th March) our country has changed.  The government announced measures to contain the now infamous #CoronaVirus by asking us all to restrict our movements.  Large gatherings were banned and sporting events cancelled.

At times it is almost unbelievable.  You look out at a beautiful Spring morning where the place looks so glorious, and yet there is so much sickness about.

Primroses

Primroses

We’ve all developed a whole new language with phrases like ‘social distancing’ in there at the top of the pile.

My poor aunt (in her 80s) found this particularly perplexing.  What are you supposed to do at a funeral, she asked?  Not sure she listened when I told her she will have to stop going to funerals!

By Sunday (15th) more changes were introduced.  There had been videos circulating of crazy people out partying in pubs on Saturday night, so the government once again had to intervene and insist the pubs close.  For the first time in the history of this little country there have been no St. Patrick Day parades.  However, that did not stop the fun.  Check these people having private parades!

We are lucky here.  We have freezers full of food.  Although it is that time of year when the garden has very few fresh vegetables, but we will manage.

The past weekend was spent dealing with guest cancellations.  When we had thought we would have a busy April and May, that is now all gone.  We still have a booking for June.  When/if this blows over will people start to travel again?  Who knows.

Five days into this new ‘normal’, where it has mostly been listening to the radio and watching news programmes.

I feel I am going to have to start putting more ‘structure’ on the days as this drags on.  We could be in this for quite a bit of time.  While I have been trying to put variety into the day… doing indoor jobs, baking, cleaning, nipping to the garden when the weather permits ….I still feel as if I am floundering a bit.  I think I need to find a specific project to tackle… just need to identify one!!!

For the time being stay safe and Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

You all know that I make liqueurs at Christmas time… mainly as gifts for friends, but it would be wrong not to keep some for ourselves, wouldn’t it?

I’m not that into desserts myself … hand me a cheeseboard any time.

However, we always offer guests a dessert option.  And, last month I was struggling hard to come up with a gluten-free option, especially with the poor selection of fresh fruit available at this time of year.

Then, I had a ‘light bulb’ moment.

Why not make a cheesecake using some of my homemade liqueurs!!!

Even if I say so myself the result was wonderful.  And I guess the request for ‘seconds’ from guests means that they enjoyed it too!

Cointreau

Ingredients:

  • 250 g gluten-free digestive biscuits, crushed.
  • 110 g butter, melted.
  • 450 g cream cheese at room temperature
  • 2 tbsp Cointreau
  • 100 g icing sugar
  • 200 ml cream
  • 2 small Cadbury flake bars

Method:

Mix the crushed biscuits and melted butter together.  Press mixture into a lined 9 inch flat tin.  Place in fridge for at least 1 hour.

Whip the cream until it forms soft peaks.

Separately beat the cream cheese to soften it, add in the sugar and coffee liqueur.  Fold in the whipped cream and finally crumble in 3 of the flake bars.

Spoon mixture onto now set base and smooth out.

Place in fridge for at least 2 hours to allow to ‘set’.

Decorate with mandarin segments prior to serving.

As a side note… this cake freezes really well too!

I hope you try it and enjoy!

 

 

Late last year I was asked to recommend some organic places to stay and eat in Ireland. I was caught off guard to be honest.  So I set about developing a list.

There is only one certified organic restaurant in Ireland that I know of – The Strawberry Tree at Macreddin Village.

My list, therefore, is based on the premise that the cafe/restaurant is growing, or sourcing, produce that has been grown organically without the use of chemicals.  Some have told me that it is not possible to source completely organic, but that they do their utmost to, and if it is not organic, it is local.

Some interesting observations – when I asked people for recommendations, folks immediately gave me names of vegan and/or vegetarian places.  Damn it, even Google, throws up vegan/vegetarian as their search results!!

Here’s the thing… being vegan or vegetarian does not make a place organic.

On building the map, the other thing that struck me is the concentration of places across the middle of the country.  Interesting isn’t it?

I am sure there are places I’ve missed.  I’m also hopeful that the list will evolve.

I will also preface this by saying that I have not visited all, just some of these places.

Let me know if there are places you think should be included.

I cannot believe it is almost 2 months since we went on our little trip, and I’ve yet to share part 2 with you!!

I apologise.

Day 2 of our stay at Groomsport was wet.  It rained, and it rained well.  Thankfully we had done all the outdoor stuff the day before!

On the agenda for day 2 was the Titanic Centre.  Many guests who have stayed with us, and been to the Titanic Centre had described the experience. However, it was still not quite what I was expecting.  Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with the visit, but I just had a completely different idea about it in my head.

Titanic Centre

Titanic Centre, Belfast

I had expected to see dusty old drawing rooms, which I did, but only on film.  Even though it was late November, the centre was really quite crowded.

If you do visit, make sure to go across the road and visit the Titanic’s sister ship, the Nomadic.  It is the last White Star Line ship still ‘alive’.

As the rain continued to pour down we decided we’d go visit Queen’s University.  I had heard it was beautiful, but had never been.  And, I must say, even on a terrible wet November day, it is a beautiful building.  We had a wander around, checked out their wonderful silver museum section, admired those who have been awarded honorary degrees… spotted Brian O’Driscoll in among them.

Queen’s University, Belfast

There was time for a quick tea/coffee stop at The Pocket… a quirky little coffee shop across the road from Queen’s.

Then it was time to head back to Groomsport to visit their local pub.

For our final day, I was all excited to be going to St. George’s Market.  It was another dreadful day weather-wise but our spirits were high with the thought of all the lovely food we were going to be able to indulge in.  We had invited Laura and Matt for dinner, so we headed off to the market with a vague idea that we would just buy lots of gorgeous food to share.

How disappointed we were!  The market was abuzz, but most of the food stalls were of the take-away variety.  Neither of us are great ‘walk around eating food’ people.  We are more the sit down, be served and chat type.

There were some nice non-food stalls, but overall we were disappointed.

As we were leaving we did come across a mostly-organic vegetable stall… so suddenly dinner became steaks with organic salad and potatoes.  Good, but not what we had planned!!

Despite the last minute change to the menu we had a wonderful evening with friends sharing food, drinking nice wine, and finishing off with some delicious local cheeses.

A nice way to end our wee break.

For the first time in 5 years we had the chance to get away for a few days.  Besides doing bed and breakfast, it is the animals that are the greatest tie for us, most especially the dogs.  They are about us all day, every day, so if we go away we need to organise ‘company’ for them.

This year, friends, who had come into our lives as b and b guests, volunteered to come house-sit for us.  Other friends offered us a place to stay… so with a bit of juggling it finally all came together and we headed to Northern Ireland.  I thought I’d share with you how we planned (using that term very loosely) our days away.

We had three full days staying in Groomsport – a village located outside of Belfast. We were overlooking the beach.  Even in November this was wonderful!

Our view every morning

We had broad ideas of the things we’d like to do… me : Giant’s Causeway and Carrig a Rede Bridge; Alfie:  Bushmill’s and the Titanic Centre.

Our approach was this… we choose 3 things for each day, a mix of indoor and outdoor activities .. and then stay flexible as weather and time/daylight especially comes into play in November.

Our first day, Thursday, was bright and windy so we headed straight to the Giant’s Causeway.  We took the self-guided audio tour which is well worth it for the myths and legends that the guide was telling.  The views are spectacular.  It is quite a walk down to the Causeway.  Let me say, the columns are way way smaller than all those photos you’ve seen lead you to believe!

The columns are smaller than I expected!

We climbed to Finn McCool’s organ, and then even tackled the 162 Shepherd’s Steps.  Well worth the climb for the views.  I swear you could just about make out Scotland across the water.

Causeway View from Top

In total we spent about 2.5 hours at the Causeway.

As it started to spit rain we decided to head back into Bushmills about 2 miles away to visit the distillery.  This was where we got our first indication of the ‘currency’ charges.  Most visitor centres in Northern Ireland add an extra 30% onto the charge when you are using a ‘euro’ Visa card.  That was a shock!

We still did the tour, which is definitely worth doing (btw no photos allowed in there).  However, we didn’t buy any whiskey as weirdly we can buy it cheaper back at home!!!!

When we came out from tour, rain had stopped so a short drive over to Carrig A Rede bridge.  However, luck was not on our side.  As I say it was a bright and windy day… but the wind meant that the bridge was closed.  It was also at this point that we made the discovery that it gets darker earlier up North!  I know makes common sense, but hadn’t thought about it before we left.  There was at least half an hour in the difference!

While there was still a little bit of light left in the day we continued along the coastal route heading back towards Belfast.  Quite a spectacular route.

More details of our trip coming later.