MAGICAL WINTER WALK

First I would like to wish all my friends and followers a beautiful new year ~ Let 2021 be a year filled with hope, many blessings, happiness and good health. That is my wish for everyone of you.
My walk took me around our little town on the ring road, this road is relatively new and is flanked with interesting shrubs. It also gives lovely views towards the town and behind it some the hills that surround us. At some stage the road crosses the river Ilen. The view is always spectacular, the river is tidal, today the tide was high which saw the sun sparkling in the water.

I am hoping that you all stay healthy and happy during these frequent lockdowns. Sending you all much love. Let 2021 be a year full of hope and happiness.

CHRISTMAS EVE IN IRELAND

This Christmas eve we are cosy inside, candles are lit and nice music fills the room. I am still inclined to go with the Flemish way of celebrating Christmas on the eve of the 24th. However, Ian being British has hugely different traditions and I try to do a bit of both, I find though that we celebrate Christmas totally in our own special way. I guess like everyone else we like to build memories and this of course also involves family. But this year Christmas is different, there is no family gathering for most people. We are lucky that we can have one set of grandchildren coming to open presents and enjoy the customary meatballs with red cabbage and apples. Many people are not so lucky and so we are grateful. As I have never cooked a turkey in my life, and don’t know how to make a Christmas cake or pudding I usually buy a good quality one for Ian and make him sweet white sauce to go with it. For me most important at Christmas are people, candles, music and the scent of pine and spices, oh and a walk in nature. So this afternoon the sun was shining and though bitterly cold it was a great opportunity to get some fresh air. Yesterday there was snow on the hills surrounding the town and I wanted to check if I could get some pictures of them, unfortunately the snow was mostly gone again. I came across so much fresh green, little plants that are either still growing from last season, and new plants like the foxgloves. These are the darkest days of the year but already I can feel fresh energy building up which once it is January will burst forth and there will be no holding it. January is my most productive month, my energy at its highest. But for now I seek peace and quiet, it’s too early to give way to high spirits.
View overlooking part of the town and surrounding hills, one of which is still snow-capped.
After a lovely walk the sun was setting over some houses, a beautiful day, a peaceful Christmas eve.

As an afterthought, this evening I received from my sister two Christmas card dating back to 1920, my grandmother and grandfather exchanged those back then. I found it so touching and they are beautiful, that’s why I am sharing them here with you all. A great present from the past.

I would like to wish all my dear friends and followers all over the earth a blessed and joyous Christmas time, or Yule time, or Solstice, or end of year or mid-winter celebrations. I love a good story and am very interested in traditions from all over the world. How do you like to spend this time of year?

IT MADE ME COME ALIVE

On the way home, a very scenic view in the village of Leap.

A beautiful evening at almost mid-winter time of year. Today saw me driving the 91 km to the nearest city from where we live. Cork city is beautiful and as I had to drive through some of the oldest part of it in the area of the Shandon tower and the butter market, I was absolutely delighted to have had a reason to travel up. It does not happen so often these days, partly due to all the lock-downs and partly because I do not like to leave Ian alone for too long. It takes about one and a half hours one way from our little town to the city, and along the way you travel through two other small towns. What I noticed today is that these little towns are growing rapidly, but they also have lovely older areas with interesting architecture.

But to talk some more about Cork city, it is a place that I love, I learnt my English there originally. There are so many interesting places to see and take in. Today I could not stop to linger where I wanted to take photos and just admire the old quarters as I had an appointment for a Covid test, routine before any procedure in hospital which is to follow on Thursday. The test centre was right up the hill through a residential area, many of these are small one story Irish houses, some of them have interesting features of Irish vernacular architecture. (taking a note to come back some time with my camera). The streets were fairly quiet which I was happy about as I do not drive often in the city. I felt relaxed and glad.

It made me realise that in these troubled times where for most of the year we have all been very restricted in our movements, it is so uplifting to be among people, to feel the buzz of the city, to admire the beauty of it all. It made me come alive and it energized me.

HUMBLE WINTER VEGETABLES TELL A STORY

Kale, or to use its botanical name Brassica oleracea L. var. acephala, belongs to the Brassicaceae family. It is considered closest to the wild brassica plants. Wandering Celtic tribes most probably brought knowledge of its use to Northern Europe from the Mediterranean regions where it was cultivated even before the middle ages or long before that. These days it is a popular autumn and winter vegetable for the kitchen garden. It grows easy and is a pick and come back plant, it does not crop and leaves can be taken as needed. The Kale plant is full of vitamins, minerals like calcium or potassium, and it is said to be very beneficial, all though people with certain medical conditions should only eat it in moderation. Kale is also high in oxalic acid but that can be reduced during cooking.

A traditional dish in Ireland is called ‘Colcannon’, it is a mixture of mashed potatoes and kale. At Halloween it is served with sausages. I cannot remember ever having had kale in Belgium, not the present day kale as we know it here, but we did have ‘boerenkoolstampot’, this was a dish made using a very large dark green type of curly cabbage which was used in a similar way to Colcannon. It was mixed with mashed potatoes and served with fried bacon or worst. It was consumed when it was very cold. I remember seeing these dark green cabbages in our garden, covered in snow.

Beat leaf, or chard as it is known (Beta vulgaris) is a plant belonging to the family Amaranthaceae. I find that interesting, to think that chard belongs to the same family as the Amaranth. It is also full of vitamins and minerals, Iron being one of them. Chard was already grown 2500 years ago in the Middle East and spread from there all over the Europe and America. Again Chard is said to be high in Oxalate, the older leaves having a higher content than the younger leaves.

This season I have grown a Russian red kale, but decades ago we used to grow curly kale and ate from it all winter long. I’m also growing swiss chard in smaller numbers (only three plants).

This type of kale grew extremely well and so easily. It took very little attention or looking after. At some stage during the summer though I had to take off many caterpillars, and they did eat a good bit of the leaves but I had grown extra plants just for that reason.

Kale and chard is not only easy to grow, it’s very easy to cook and delicious too. Full of vitamins and minerals and adds a lovely fresh dimension to any dish. Today I made meatballs and mashed potatoes to go with this great greenery, it was a success with Ian. While washing these greens I had to rescue two earwigs and three shield bugs! Thank goodness I discovered those before cooking! They continue to live happily in the garden 🙂

“I’M SO GLAD I LIVE IN A WORLD WHERE THERE ARE OCTOBERS” L. M. Montgomery,

It was a mellow October afternoon and I decided to plant out some spinach seedlings which I still had growing in a pot. I had a wander through the rest of the garden and saw that there is actually quite a lot of winter produce doing well, and it pleased me. I also saw how beautiful everything looked, the colours, the autumn shades which are wonderful. An October sun illuminated everything. It was a perfect afternoon.
Glorious colours of the hydrangea even after the summer.
Pleasure can be gained both from tending to the garden and growing some things, or from just having a wander around.

Enjoy a lovely weekend everyone, and I would love to hear about your autumn garden too.

AN AUTUMN DRIVE IN OUR NEIGHBORHOOD

A week or so ago we took a drive along the road taking us over Lick Hill and further along towards Ballyalla lake and Trabano Cove. It was a pleasant drive and it was something that I wanted to do for a while, mainly because it’s rather trilling to know that the Atlantic Ocean lies a little way beyond this hill.

A few kilometres further we reached Trabano Cove, to the right we could see Bullock island which lies at the entrance where Loch Ine enters the ocean via the rapids. Loch Ine is a Marine Nature Reserve.
People enjoying the kayaking or swimming in the cove.
The young people set off on a kayak spin towards Loch Ine.

I have been looking up more information on the hills surrounding the town of Skibbereen. I found some interesting facts about Lick Hill but that is for another blog post, I will do a bit more work on this. While it is recommended that we travel no further than 5km from our homes for the next six weeks, I am taking even more interest in my immediate surroundings. Might as well.

FURTHER RESTRICTIONS….BUT MEANWHILE

Dandelion coffee

Yes we are all experiencing more restrictions because of a recent increase in covid cases. We find ourselves living in quite a changed world these days, but the most important thing now I think is to look after our mental health, and the mental health of our loved ones and of the wider community if we can help in any way. Staying positive and finding things of interest to do where we don’t have to travel, as even taking a journey to other areas of Ireland is now not possible. And this is something that requires some pondering over, and adjusting to, for many of us.

So far for us personally it has not caused a problem as it seems we don’t get time enough to do all the things we want to do. Ian has started on his book again and bought some new software to help him understand more about writing using characters, personalities and settings. It is complicated and hugely interesting he says, and he is busy with it all day. His book is progressing well and he’s enjoying himself.

Last year I let our garden do mostly its own thing. No wild plants got pulled up and it all ended in a delightful wilderness. It also ended up in quite a bit of work and in a huge pile of compostable plant material. I decided to keep a little more order in the garden this year and have been pleased that I am finding quite a number of wild plants still growing which I am now learning about. Plants like plantain, cleavers, nettles, mullein, evening primrose, borage, dandelion for example, are all there for the picking. I find it such a luxury, and it makes it easy for me getting material for my herbal course. We study the plants in detail, having to draw the different parts of the plant which makes us more familiar with the whole structure, including roots and seeds. A very absorbing activity it is.

So that is one small part of our lives here in West Cork. I hope that wherever you are, all my dear readers and friends that you are well and that you stay well.

Blessings

Oh and I enjoyed that cup of dandelion coffee very much indeed 🙂

A HOUSE FULL OF HERBS

Just lately it’s all been about herbs, harvesting them from the garden, drying them, putting them in oil, making powder and so fort. It has been a busy but rewarding time. I’ve learnt a lot more about Dandelion plants and this means that the Dandelion is now been promoted to a primary plant in our garden. Luckily we have a lot of them as I’ve always been reluctant to pull them up from among the other vegetables. Now they have gained a firm status of valuable nutritional source. So far I have dried roots and leaves. The roots are for tea and the leaves are for either a soak in water overnight making a cool drink, or to be grinded into powder to add a touch to soups. I am looking forward to spring when I will use some of the flowers when baking biscuits, only some though as they are earmarked mainly as food for the bees. Nettles are another good source of minerals and they have been growing so well this past summer in our garden. I’ve harvested many and again grinded some into powder for the soups and will use the leaves for a green drink.

Dandelion leaves
Sometimes I hang my herbs, but mostly now I dry them in the oven with the pilot light on and the oven door a little ajar.

Just recently I had bought the long desired book by Rosalee De La Foret: ‘Alchemy of Herbs’, and I am finding it a brilliant work. So much information, and beautiful photography too. As well as this book I have once again signed on to Herb mentor from Learning Herbs, it’s an amazing informative website and course, a hands on type of learning which is great fun as well as being very interesting. (It’s online; https://learningherbs.com/herbmentor/)

A start in making use of Dandelions in different ways.
I’ve got two different types of Oregano and they grow so very well. There is the variegated Mediterranean type with white flowers, so loved by the bees, and the all green regular one with the pink flowers, which this one is. A lovely herb.

All these herbs are humble plants, many of them are even considered to be weeds by some people. I’m so very grateful that they come growing in my garden. Some, like the Yarrow, plantain and violets grow in the boreen close to where we live. On my walks I always keep an eye out for useful wild plants in case I should ever need them, then I know where to find them.

We may be very thankful for the wealth of wild plants and herbs in our gardens.

A SINGULAR BEAUTY

This is a flower of one of the hypericums and it came growing in our front garden sharing a tub with another shrub. I only discovered it a few days ago and it’s made me very happy because I thought that this plant, which I used to grow many years ago, had totally disappeared from our garden. My flower identification app tells me that it is hypericum perforatum. A first I could not see the little perforations in the leaves and there was no reddish juice to be seen when I crushed a leaf. So there was a question of whether the identification was right. But when I enlarged my photos of the leaves I could clearly see the little perforations, so yes I agree that it is H.perforatum. Decades ago I used to make hypericum oil and we used to use it for nerve pain in the legs, the hypericum would colour the oil slightly red. I love this little plant and I think that it will turn out to be very useful.
Its leaves.