Hard to believe that we are already getting close to the middle of February. Winter is giving way slowly to early spring, though today you would not think so. We are experiencing a bitterly cold wind from the East and lower temperatures than is normal for this part of the country, which usually has mild winters.
But while the cold spell lasts there is plenty of planning and creativity going on inside. I made a true to scale plan of the garden so as to have a good oversight of it (and for the fun of it too). And I tested the soil on all of the 12 raised beds and found that they are poor, some beds depleted even in Phosphorus, and Nitrogen, but did a little better on Potash. So now I know what to add and where. I’m also cutting out snippets from gardening magazines that apply to our garden in particular. I do have some good gardening books but I find this somehow more personalised as I only keep what applies to my experience here.
Here in the small market town of Skibbereen a spice and exotic vegetable shop has opened and it did not take me long to go and check out the vegetables with which I learnt to cook in both S.India and in Mauritius. The delicious meals made thereof and the pleasure of the memories got me to buy quite a selection and for a whole week those dishes were on the menu. Among them okra and bitter gourd would have been most know to me, also the chayote squash. Some of the vegetables did not make it into the cooking pan as I want to root them and I was lucky enough to see a shoot coming out of both the taro root and the chayote squash, this is an experiment. Once before I grew a large plant from a taro root but it died when I went travelling.
And then there is the garden! Well we have had so much rain now for many weeks that the garden is saturated and I am hoping that this present wind will dry the things out a bit. The garden looks forlorn at the moment and I am not doing much in it until the weather turns. I have lots of spring bulbs coming on though and they are a pleasure to see. (in my home-made small greenhouses to protect from heavy rains). There are still quite some vegetables ready for use, the cut and come back Kale and the leeks among them.
And to finish off a picture of how cosy it is inside while out there the icy wind rages, throwing lashes of hail and sleet against the window panes. The wood burner keeps us nice and warm.
I’m finding that although we are quite isolated here and especially so with the current lockdown, I am making very many interesting contacts online, being invited to interesting social media groups on culture and art and on growing in calmness, quietness and reflection. Some of these groups are in my mother tongue (Flemish) and I enjoy that very much. Making new friends and maintaining existing connections with old friends. I was also invited to become part of a meditation group. It all goes to make this lockdown time quite interesting and a place of growth for me.
I hope that all your activities and experiences are keeping you inspired too.
I just want to add a little note here. I am not being very active at the moment both in posting and in reading posts from others. I am very busy but also my inspiration seems to have taken a downturn. I know this won’t last so I am just going with it. It is good to have a period of reflection as well as a period of posting a lot. I’ll soon be reading all your blogs again dear friends and followers and I wish you all the very best. Thank you for reading my words.
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?
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.
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).
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 🙂
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.
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.
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.
Oh and I enjoyed that cup of dandelion coffee very much indeed 🙂