Saturday, 29 September 2012

On Today's Walk

If April can borrow days than  I think September borrowed today from mid-summer.
Warm and sunny, with blue skies and towering white clouds, the sun felt warm on our backs and melted the tar on the road.
It was a beautiful day to ease us into autumn and the winter ahead.
Today I saw wildflowers and butterflies, late blooming roses and turning leaves; sights to cherish and lift the spirits.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Why I'm Not Toasting Arthur

It's Arthurs Day today or at least that's what the marketing gurus at drinks giant Diageo would like us to believe.
It is, of course, a brilliant marketing ploy to get the whole country to celebrate the anniversary of the foundation of Guinness.
While Guinness is a brand that is associated with Ireland across the world, the famous St James Gate brewery is now owned by the British multi-national  Diageo which. despite sentimental advertising, is solely concerned with making profits.
True, Guinness has become  symbolic of Irish culture, of the craic that's to be found in the traditional local pub.  Decades of clever advertising...the pint balancing Toucan, the slogan 'Guinness is Good For You' which would never be allowed these days, and more recently, the tv ads, 'Tá Siad Ag Teach',  The Surfer, Micheal Fassbender swimming across the Atlantic to make up with his brother,  have etched Guinness onto the national psyche.
But should we really be celebrating an event aimed at making people drink more, given the concerns about how excessive drinking is blighting so many lives? Do we need another occasion to re-inforce the myth of the 'drunken Irish'?
And there's more.  Irish musicians Steve Wall and Declan O'Rourke have been outspoken in their criticism  of the event and the fact that while it's ostensibly a celebration of Irish culture, the  headline acts for the gigs taking place around the country are almost all from Britain,.
On a local level, we in Dundalk have little reason to celebrate Arthur's Day. Having already closed the
MacArdle Brewery, the company is now  planning to close the Great Northern Brewery or  Harp Brewery  next year, bringing to an end a centuries old brewing tradition in the town.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

The Deserted Village

Once it proudly claimed to be Ireland's smallest village, featured on many postcards. I pass it every day on my way to work but never take it for granted.
 A cluster of quaint cottages including a shop and a post office, Ballymascanlon village was originally built for the workers of the nearby estate which at one time was the home of the Foster and  Plunkett families, and is now a four-star hotel owned by the Quinn family.
 Among those who resided in the Big House were Miss Katherine Plunkett who was the oldest  recognised person in the world when she died on October 14th 1931, aged 102, and Count Plunkett, the first Speaker of  Dail Eireann, the Irish parliament, and father of the Irish patriot Joseph Mary Plunkett.
I wonder what stories those yellow-washed cottage walls could tell, of lives lived in very different times, when the only sounds to be heard were birdsong and  passing hooves.
  I remember families living there. Olive and Bob Covey who ran a small shop from the front room in their home - the central cottage with the peaked roof. As children, we used to go there to buy ice-cream and bottles of lemonade. And for one enterprising escapade we collected old glass bottles which had been discarded by the nearby hotel and brought them to the unfortunate shop-keeper to claim back the deposit for returning the bottles!
Over the years the families moved out of the tiny cottages  and the village became vacant. At one stage it looked as though it would fall into decay but fortunately some much needed repairs were carried out last  year and it is once again an attractive landmark on the road from Dundalk to Carlingford.

Friday, 21 September 2012

The Fields

I walked through the fields this evening as the sun was setting and bathing the world in a golden light.
These poor small fields are in my DNA and I re-aquainted myself with their contours as one would an
old lover. I followed the paths made by sheep under the towering hawthorns and along the reed-lined ditches.
They had names, these fields. The near field, the hay field and the hill field.  Fields where generations
had kept small herds of cattle,  had fretted over the weather during hay-making season, had taken flasks of tea to the hay-makers, and where I  had camped with friends as a teenager. Fields now grazed by our neighbour's sheep as sadly farming has left our family.
J B Keane captured, not just the greed as some thought, but the love of land which flows through the
veins of those who know the hedges and ditches, the hallows and hills of their land.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Mellow Fruitfulness

Autumn has arrived. Chilly mornings and hedgerows bursting with mellow fruitfulness.  Nature has bestowed a rich harvest for humans and wildlife alike.
The bushes are laden with berries and fruits, the brambles bear flowers and a rich palette of berries from the palest green to deepest black.  There are sloes and elderberries for gin and wine and blackberries for crumbles and pies.
I caught a few minutes of an interview on local radio yesterday about foraging and how much free food there is to be found in the hedges and ditches.  Not just berries and fruits, but dandelions and nettles which can be used in salads, teas or soups.  
We seem to have lost our knowledge of the wild harvest which can be gathered on our doorsteps. 
Aside from the obvious blackberries and field mushrooms, I know I would be loathe to cook anything else growing outside of the garden for fear of poisoning the family even though we may be missing out on some free delights. 

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Irish Soda Bread

We have some very good food producers in Co Louth so when, in the space of a few days, I came across organic wholemeal which is made on Dunany Farm for sale in Strandfield Flower Market and buttermilk in Aldi, I decided that I just had to make brown bread.
Of course, it was so long since I had made real brown bread as opposed to taking the lazy  option of using a ready-made mix, that I had to hunt for a recipe.
There is a nice one for brown bread with treacle and Guinness in the beautiful Year in Avoca cookery book, but I was looking for a basic soda bread recipe.
A hunt through my collection of cookery books unearthed 'The Food Advisors' Cook Book'  produced some years ago by Quinnsworth (now Tesco) which was just what I wanted.
With dinner cooking in the oven, I made the bread, taking some photos with my new to me macro lens.

What you need:
340g/12oz wholewheat flour
110g/4oz white flour
1 teaspoon bread soda
A little salt
500ml/1/2pint buttermilk

Mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl
Add buttermilk until mixture is moist and firm.

Knead on a floured board and put mixture
into greased baking tin.
Bake in a preheated oven at 200 degrees Celsius for 50 minutes,
reducing temperature to 180 after 30 minutes

Unfortunately daylight had faded by the time the bread came out of the oven so I'm not too happy with that shot but I'm not at all sure if the loaf will last intact until tomorrow as it could be on the menu for supper with some cheese.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

September Blues

The last few days have tilted the balance.  Summer is over and we have slipped into autumn.  
A trip to Gyles Quay at the weekend confirmed that the warm lazy evenings of summer have gone.
There's a chill in the air and the long  days of the northern summer are growing shorter once more. 
If we look to the Irish for September, Mi Mean Fomhair,  we are reminded that  we are in fact  in  the middle of autumn or the harvest season.
And while autumn is my favourite season which seldom disappoints with wonderful light and colourful foliage, this  year I find myself unprepared to let go of summer just yet.
Maybe it's because I feel cheated by our disappointing summer and am not yet ready for dark evenings and warm clothes. 
I want to say to summer 'Don't go, stay a little longer'.