CHRISTMAS GREENERY

I went picking some greenery to make a wreath and flower piece this afternoon, close by there is a boreen ( Irish word for a little pathway with lots of greenery), and during the year I saw lots of ivy growing there, some of which won’t be damaged by a little pruning, so I set out to cut some and bring it in for decoration. There was ivy with lots of the most beautiful berries, some quite dark and bright green. There was also quite a bit of gorse in flower, these bright yellow flowers are usually open end of January but already they are fully in bloom. Then I spotted some of the last Hawthorn berries, the birds have so much food in this mild winter that there are many berries left for them. The beautiful red berries stand out lovely against the dark green of the foliage. At home I raided some of our cotoneaster hedge very profuse with fruits this year, and I picked some ivy and holly from along the hedges.

I know that I am too late to make an advent wreath which is what I normally would do but that is for the four Sundays before Christmas, so I will just make a wreath for the front door, and a piece for the dining room table. Candles and greenery do make it for me around this time of the year, and pine cones!

Tomorrow is mid-winter and the days will start to lengthen, this winter more than most has been very dark, we will all welcome the light again.

CHRISTMAS GREENERY

A SENTINEL OVER THE LAND – AND OTHER BIRD STORIES

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We have a dozen or so Rooks that come and feed at the patio and bird table during the colder months, and it’s quite an entertainment to see them busy.  All of the Crow family, there are the Rooks, black as coal but with a lovely delicate sheen on their coats.  A smaller member of the Crow family is the Jackdaw, they don’t mind the Rooks and feed together.  We also have the Hooded Crows which are very beautiful, grey and black and quite large just like the Rooks.  And lastly here we have the Magpies which also belong to the Crow family and are a very nice looking species, the sheen on their coats are is a beautiful Lapis lazuli blue.  A noisy lot of them, that is for sure, squabbling and getting quite greedy when hungry, taking several pieces of food at once in their beaks.  The beaks of the Rooks are enormous, Wow, they do look dangerous, and what with their beady eyes looking at you, they invite respect.  During breeding times in spring they bite off little twigs of the Birch tree in our garden and use them to make nests, these nests can get very large and are often done in empty chimney pots around here, the chimney sweeps know all about it.  The year we put in a stove, and had not used our chimney for some time, the chimney sweep knew of no better plan than to throw petrol down the chimney and put a light to it, it cleared the nest all right but gave my partner an awful fright as he was standing near the stove in the living room!  These members of the Crow family also seem to be good carers for their fledglings, we often see them feeding their young when the young are already quite big.  In Ireland there are still other member of the Crow family found, but not here in our neighbourhood.  Further into the mountainous area of West Cork there still are Ravens, a bird that I’d like to see more of.  And at coastal areas you will find the Chough, they are noticed by their bright orange beaks and pitch black feathers.  And there is the Jay which we don’t see here in the gardens either and he is one of the most beautiful birds of the Crow family with multi colours.

Our breakfast time is spent watching the birds as they too come for their morning food.  It is a very nice way to start the day.  Apart from the Crows we do have Doves, Finches, Tits, Sparrows, Dunnocks, Robins, Wrens, Starlings and more.  I feel very blessed to have this free wildlife around me, and it gives me immense joy to be able to feed and watch them from day to day.

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HARVESTING AND HERBAL CONCOCTIONS

Catching up with some of the harvest activities was fun today and very necessary too.  Some weeks ago I harvested Calendula flowers from the garden to cover with a good quality oil, put it on a sunny window sill for 6 weeks and then my oil is ready, it is now. The next step is to make a salve out of the oil with the use of Beeswax. This salve is very healing and useful for all sorts of skin problems or hurts. I will be making this in the next few days, my first time ever. Exciting!

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Chamomile oil brewing now in the same way as the Calendula oil, that will also be made in a salve.

And the plenty of lovely Nettles growing around here have been dried also and will be used to add to soups, broths, or make into a tea.  Full of minerals and natural.  There is so much to harvest, all wild growing things.

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All along there have been huge Poppies growing in the garden, self seeding and plentiful.  This year I have kept most of the seeds and have 75gr which I will have to share out as I don’t want to waste it of course, the flowers are so beautiful and grow easy.  .I’m not sure if the seeds could be used in baking as the type of Poppy they come from is a cultivated one, not even sure now how it came to grow in the garden many years ago.

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Coriander seeds and Dandelion leaves drying for use during the winter months.

AFTER THE THUNDERSTORM

Here where I live in the South West of Ireland,  we seldom get to experience a thunderstorm.  I have lived here for many years now, and always used to miss the almost daily thunder storms we used to get over Antwerp during the summer,  when I was young.  But that seems to be changing here, and over the last two days we had at least 24 hours of thunder and lightning on and off, some flashes were so brilliant, and the thunder claps rumbling on for minutes, it was amazing!  As a result very many people have been without electricity all day.  But around here the sun was shining again today.  I had a look at possible damage in my garden as the rain had been very heavy, but there was none, all is well and the Kale that I planted out the other day is doing good.

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Fall garden produce, and an empty garden seat under the Hawthorn tree, which is what this weather brings….. more inside activities, cooking up warming broths and dealing with drying herbs and seeds, enjoyable activities for sure.

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The seeds of the Nasturtium, not sure what I will do with them yet.  And this little insect on the growing Coriander seeds, I had not seen it when I took the photo.  The seeds are nearly ready to harvest.  I love cooking with Coriander, it’s a lovely pungent spice which makes any dish more interesting and tasty.

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My Hydrangeas are still doing good and add a little interest in a garden that is preparing for winter.  I did sow some autumn leaves the other day, hoping that they will provide us with some fresh greens for the table during the coming months.

PRUNES OF DAMASCUS and jam making

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I decided to make some Damson, Plum, and Apple jam today.  It’s the first time that I use Damsons, bought them at a market a few days ago.  I ate some of them and quite liked their astringent taste.  The Damson is actually a small plum, it’s from the plum family and it has been used for centuries in parts of Europe and the Middle East.  One story goes that they were very popular grown around the city of Damascus and that is where their name derives from.  Prunes of Damascus.  They were apparently introduced into Great Britain by the Romans.  It is a fruit that I never see in the super markets here in West Cork, and have not seen so far at the farmers markets either, so I was happy to find them the other day as quite rare.

Lately I have been discovering something precious, like my grandmother and mother used to do, it is taking time, while sitting down, to get peas out of their peels, or stoning small fruits, or cutting up runner beans etc…. I find it very meditative work, it takes me back through the generations of women who would actually do this daily, drying herbs, foraging for wild foods that take much longer to prepare etc..  There was a time, many years, while working in the library, when I used to think that life is too short to be busy shelling peas ~ now I am discovering the benefit it can bring to mind and body.  Besides, food prepared with love and attention is supposed to be better for the digestion.

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A TASTE OF WEST CORK FOOD FESTIVAL

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Skibbereen is a small town in West Cork, Ireland.  Yearly there is a food festival which attracts food artisans from the area.  It showcases food from all farming to fisheries, to speciality cheese and other foods of the area, and West Cork has a lot of good food to offer.  This is where I hung out today, hence the photos.  The day was beautiful and dry.  The myriads of people from all over the place were really having a good time.  Families were very well represented, and there was stuff for the children to do, like a merry-go-round, and a bouncing castle.  Many different stalls with delicious samples to taste.  A perfect day for community effort and enjoyment, long may this festival last, from year to year!

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