Do you have a cupboard under your stairs? Is it a cloakroom, a storeroom, a darkroom  or do you, like “Mrs Brown” of ”Mrs Brown’s Boys,” have a loo in it? Ours is used a store for the ‘children’s ‘ toys and Christmas decorations, as well as those things that we need to get ‘out of sight’ of visitors. Each year, as we put away the collection of Christmas tree decorations, we try to reduce the amount of ‘stuff’ to be stored. Our children are kids no longer, however, the toys are sorted, washed or cleaned and put away so that young visitors can play with them. The Fisher-Price castle is a great favourite, so is the old toy garage. Spring cleaning has begun and more ‘stuff’ is heading out for recycling and charity shops!

Early Morning at Mornington

Early Morning from front steps at Mornington 

The winter solstice has passed, days are stretching. Shadows are shortening and it’s time to think about gardening.

Yesterday, we made a trip to Dublin; to Mr Middleton’s store on Mary Street. Chatting to John, a fellow peruser of the racks of seeds; I was looking for chilli pepper seeds, he was about to purchase parsnip seeds. Telling us that he was planning to grow them in a tube. Living in North Dublin and is lucky to have deep soil  but prefers to grow them in a tube. A brief chat and we went about our separate ways. Gardeners always compare notes. Certainly our guests delight in telling us about their gardens and inevitably we compare notes on the difficulties we each face. Whether it is ‘disappearing soil’ the area just south of the great lakes in the U.S., the invading deer, or the neighbours cattle, wandering donkeys, gardeners are eternal optimists. So in spite of difficulties, we still plan, purchase, sow, nurture, harvest and give away much of our crop.

Rhubarb and onions

Rhubarb and onions

The onions and garlic had a good start. Planted November, they benefited from the relatively mild weather in November and December. At least this year, they got sufficient rain!

A new year and a new start. I was full of good intentions for 2014. My new year resolution is to keep up with my fellow bloggers. However, we have been somewhat overtaken by family events with both offspring announcing their engagements! Whilst much of the country has been battling gales, fallen trees and flooding we are playing catch-up to get on with the regular (perhaps boring?) but important chores in garden and house.

So it looks as if 2014 is going to be a monumental year for the O’Haras. as both our young have announced their engagements and will be married before the year is out. We celebrated Christmas with family and close friends. The house is quiet again. So spring cleaning has begun.

January sunset

January sun on Knock Eyon

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The rock wood on the side of Knockbody in full autumn colour.

The rock wood on the side of Knockbody in full autumn colour.

We have been blessed with an an ‘Indian Summer’; a period of bright clear days of milder weather. One night of frost and the trees in the Rock Wood have donned their autumn colours. It has been an opportunity to catch up in the garden Work had been delayed by a massive clear-out of the old stable block as we began it’s restoration.Old farm machinery, tractor parts, bedsteads, incubators, horsehair mattresses, butter churn, and a 1961 Vauxhall Victor ‘One Owner’ car.(Warwick’s mother’s car)

Granny's Old Car

Granny’s Old Car

Renovation of the stable block long planned was finally beginning.

Fortunately and coincidentally, our local Community Centre in Multyfarnham held a Scrap Saturday so several trailer loads of old drainpipes, tractor parts, feed bins, paint tins, barbed wire and even Warwick’s old pram headed off to Multy. More trailer loads of recyclables were taken to the Recycling Centre in Mullingar.

Warwick's old pram

Warwick’s old pram

Work has continued steadily. Old slates which had already fallen into one section of the stables were rescued and other parts of the roof taken down. Removal of the panelling in the Harness Room revealed a mass of wheat and oat bran left by the mice which had obviously taken up residence there.The loft above the stables was used to store the bags of wheat, oats and barley after ‘threshing’. The hoist used for lifting the bags of grain into the loft was removed several years ago and stored in the garage. It is still in working order and we plan to install it in the stables once renovated.

Harness Room clearout

Spaces between the batons behind the panelling were full of bran.

Bran left by generations of mice beneath the panelling in the harness room

Bran left by generations of mice beneath the panelling in the harness room

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The stable roof has been removed. Slates saved will be reused in the on the new roof.

Scaffolding on the southside of stableblock

Scaffolding on the southside of stableblock

Halloween

Young callers on Halloween had us completely foxed as to their identity.

Halloween guests whosev completely fooled us as to thir identity

Halloween guests whosev completely fooled us as to their identity

Updating the Septic Tank

Last year Ireland implemented an inspection system for septic tanks. The existing tank installed in 1896 and updated in 1987,  has been deemed unsuitable, so a new sophisticated tank is being installed. Indeed the team are currently working under floodlights!

The project has involved creating a massive percolation field as well as digging a massive hole. Several young trees, roses and shrubs have needed moving and branches cut, to allow access for the digger.

So no doubt we will be left with piles of soil to move and landscaping to be done.

Digging to Australia? No, only hole for new septic tank.

Digging to Australia? No, only hole for new septic tank.

Tank being lowered into ground

Tank being lowered into ground

Christmas Mincemeat

Ingredients for mincemeat

As children, the approach of Christmas was announced not by a massive television advertising campaign but by bowls of dried fruit being stirred as we each made a wish. Steam filled kitchens as the Christmas puddings were boiled seemingly for days. Always with the instruction not to let the pot go dry! These days we continue making our pudding and mincemeat for mince pies. Indeed we have a cookie jar from Canada which is used for storage when deemed the mix has been stirred enough. It is veritably’ pickled’ with  a drop of ‘the hard stuff”

The following recipe is one we have been using for years. Each year we make a batch of our own mincemeat

Mincemeat

(Makes 6-8lb)

1 ½ lb. stoned raisins

1 ½ lb. currants

1 ½ lb  suet*

3 large  lemons (rind and juice)

2lb       soft brown or muscovada sugar

8oz.      mixed peel

2lb       large apples peeled and grated

3Tbsp orange marmalade

8 floz.  Brandy or whiskey

Method

  1. Mix together all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Stir every day for a week.
  3. Put into jars and store for at least a month to ensure development of flavour.

*Vegetable suet is available from Atora

Harvesting is well under way so roads have been busy with tractors, trailers and combine harvesters.  Moving From field to field and farm to farm as farmers and contractors race to bring in crops. So different from late spring when farmers were bringing in straw and hay from England and France to feed their stock. In the walled garden, seeds initially slow to germinate, saw growth ‘take off’ as the hot weather arrived in June. In July and August growth accelerated at a rate not seen for several years.The garden has raced through summer resulting in an early harvest of onions, shallots,  beans and peas. Jam and chutney making has been going on alongside our main priority, welcoming guests.

Runner beans and leeks in the walled garden.

Runner beans, red cabbages and leeks in the walled garden.

Herbaceous border in full bloom.

Herbaceous border in full bloom.

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Mushrooms growing under an old oak tree.

Mushrooms growing under an old oak tree.

Preparing for the Fair

Warwick picking peppers in the greenhouse.

Warwick picking tomatoes and peppers in the greenhouse.

Warwick and his tomatoes. From Seed to Fork!

Warwick and his tomatoes. From Seed to Fork!

Multyfarnham Country Fair

Multyfarnham Country Fair was held this past weekend.This year it was a two-day event, with Talent and Cake Competitions running alongside the sale. The stall-holders were very grateful for the cover provided by the new marquees, as on Saturday, it was very wet. Musicians and dancers entertained the crowd under cover, and sales were brisk.

Sunday by contrast dawned sunny and warm. We were up before the dawn chorus. It  wakes us later these mornings as we are over the cusp of summer. The crowds came and were certainly prepared to buy our jams, chutneys and beans. The advertising campaign had featured scarecrows at strategic locations beside the roads of Co. Westmeath. Some were on display at the fair itself. The hard-working committee members are certainly to be congratulated for the success of the fair.

Multyfarnham Country Fair '13 010

competion

Taking a break at Multyfarnham Country Fair.

Sales force ready for action

Sales force ready for action.

Toadstools for sale at the fair.Taste before you purchase is a good motto!

ot sure who this is meant to be. Do you know?

Not sure who this is meant to be.                   Do you know?

Multyfarnham Country Fair '13 014

Our own 'Best customers?'

Our own ‘Best customers’?

Runner beans'13 003                   Red admiral and peacock butterflies taking advantage of late summer sun.

Noddy and Holly munching on windfall apples.

Noddy and Holly munching on windfall apples.

We use peppers and other vegetables in the a dish of  couscous. It is very tasty and goes down well with guests, friends and family. A useful dish for entertaining.

Cous cous Mornington style

Cous Cous – Mornington style

Cous Cous Allow 250gm / 1 cup for two people

Water 375ml/ 1 ½ Boiling water and other liquid*

1-2                     Shallots-finely chopped

1-2                     Cloves of garlic-crushed

1                         Chilli Peppers, de-seeded and finely chopped

1 Centre of head of celery-Remove outer stalks from head.(retain for stock or other uses)

1-2 Tbsp            Turmeric ground

Olive Oil

Butter

1                         Orange rind and juice*

1                         Lemon rind and juice*

1                         Lime rind and juice*

Small bunch Coriander fresh -snipped

½ Red Pepper, De-seeded and finely diced

½ Green Pepper, De-seeded and finely diced

Dried Apricots  ½ cup cut into strips

Dried cranberries ¼ cup

Dried blueberries ¼ cup

Salt & black pepper

Cashew nuts toasted or browned in a little butter and olive oil, then chopped.

Method

  1. In a small sauté pan sauté shallots and garlic in a little olive oil and butter, until golden brown.
  2. Add turmeric and continue to fry for 3-5 min. until raw taste has gone.

.*May need a little more oil.

  1. Add orange juice, lime juice and lemon juice to make a smooth paste.
  2. Add boiling water to couscous a little at a time until ½ the amount has been absorbed.
  3. Add turmeric / juice mix and stir into cous cous until well combined.
  4. Add remaining water.
  5. Add chopped vegetables, dried fruit and herbs.
  6. Adjust seasoning as needed

May Day arrived and warmth in the sun has brought the wild flowers into bloom. Primroses, violets and bluebells are carpeting the wood. I spotted a clump of wood anemones in the lady’s walk wood this morning as we explored to check whether the wild bluebells were in flower.

may weekend 006

I am delighted to say they were.

Trees 11th May'13 003

The leaves are finally opening creating the ‘forty shades of green’ so often referred to in Irish writings.

Warwick has been busy in the garden planting seeds and weeding the onions and garlic planted last autumn; whilst Adam, our gardener, has been rotovating the soil of the vegetable beds.  Weeding fills any spare time.

Holly watching Warwick approaching with a bucket of carrots.

Holly watching Warwick approaching with a bucket of carrots.

Last Tuesday I headed to Ravensburg’s Nurseries in Clara, Co. Offaly to purchase a few replacement shrubs. Their magnolias were in full flower and the air was full of their perfume.

Magnolias in Flower at Ravensburg's Nuseries. Clara, Co. Offaly.

Magnolias in flower at Ravensburg’s Nuseries. Clara, Co. Offaly.

On the way back to Mornington we stopped at Kilbeggan Distillery for a light lunch. The car and coach park was full with tourist coaches. The distillery was purchased recently by the U.S. Company Jim Beam.

www.kilbeggandistillery.com

Kilbeggan Distillery

Kilbeggan Distillery

On Wednesday we were back in the car again and this time we headed to Co. Wexford and to Kilmokea, another member of The Hidden Ireland. We travelled on the N7/ M7, a new motorway thus avoiding  Carlow and Kilkenny. Arriving at Kilmokea is always wonderful as their fruit trees and magnolias were all in full flower and the air was fragrant with their perfume.

IMG_2379[1]

www.kilmokea.com

Frustration on Friday

Attempting to pass Dexter the gardener’s dog in the space between a box hedge and the greenhouse I manage to crash into the greenhouse!!!! The left-hand front wheel promptly fell off!!!!! So I was marooned!  Gravel and wheelchairs are not compatible! So I was pushed back to the house rather than being able to make my own way. The wheel bolt has been replaced and I am mobile once more!

Spring has finally arrived.
April showers and blustery milder weather has announced Spring is finally here. Growth has been very slow, so the donkeys took matters into their own hooves. Breaking through the electric fencing tapes they have had a great time grazing on the newly emerged perennial geranium leaves, pulmonaria and other tasty morsels in the front bed.

Noddy and Holly look as if butter wouldn't melt in their mouths.

Noddy and Holly look as if butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths.

As we emerge from short days of winter to the longer daylight hours of April we have been spending more time in the garden. In the past we have almost been able to tell the date by looking at the plants which have emerged. Snowdrops, often visible in the new year, Daffodils, if not in bloom by Warwick’s mother’s birthday certainly by his own birthday in early March. Primroses, violets and then bluebells all followed in quick succession. Not this year! So at in the middle of April the daffodils have only just emerged into full flower and the wild flowers are still to open fully. With the Gulf Stream back in it’s usual place we have the promise of milder, sunny, showery April days. So it has been “all hands to the plough” so to speak to get the garden in order.

I have just been reminded that this year The Festival of Fires presents Gathering at Uisneach at The Uischneach Inn on  4th  & 5th  May.  Not on the The Hill of Uisneach but at the bottom of the hill at The  Uisneach Inn in Kilare, Co. Westmeath. There will be a 2-day celebration of music, culture and more For details of this exciting event see: http://festivaloffires.com/

On Sunday, 5th May at 11.30a.m. Multyfarnham Country Fair will be taking place in the village park opposite the Catholic Church. Stalls range from jams, chutneys and cakes to chicken, ducks and turf.

A fine cockerel or sale at  Multyfarnham Country Fair

A fine cockerel or sale at Multyfarnham Country Fair

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Newly emerged early rhubarb

Sunny day in april-2013 020

Noddy after rolling in dry leaves

Sunny day in april-2013 009

Blustery day in walled garden at Mornington

Walled Garden Notes

The chitted potatoes have been planted in the walled garden. More potatoes were planted in a newly ploughed area outside the chicken house. Only after the job was done to have our very kind neighbour call in to tell us that as he hadn’t been satisfied the job he had done the first tim, so  he had come back and cross ploughed and harrowed again. Resulting with potatoes no longer in ridges!!!! No doubt they will still come up.

Beetroot and seeds for vegetables and herbs are all planted.

The greenhouse has been tidied and moss removed from the outside of the roof.

Rhubarb and ginger jam is in the process of being made.

Margaret and Julia

Margaret and Julia were friends. Each week, Margaret would mount her ‘sit up and beg’ bicycle and head off to meet her friend Julia. They had first met when working as members of the staff at Ballinagall House. Working from early morning they would have dusted, polished, laid tables, served trays of afternoon tea in the conservatory or small drawing room and polished the brass stair rails weekly.  Ballinagall displayed the finest of Irish craftsmanship and was owned by the Smyth family. In Irish houses, just as in Downtown Abbey, history brought about changes in the fortunes of landed families and the next generation was not always in a position to take on responsibility for the ‘family place’. So after Mrs Smyth’s death the estate was sold, furniture auctioned and staff retired.

When I first saw it it the front door was hanging open, the enormous gilt mirrors were standing propped against the wall in the front hall. Where the gentry had once danced at The Westmeath Hunt Ball, someone had tried to remove the ornamental stone slabs of the floor apparently with mixed success. The brass stair rails were still in place and the fine shamrock plasterwork of the library ceiling still beautiful, although showing evidence of damp; forecasting its’ ignominious end on the floor below. The ornamental lake in the land below the house was long drained, and was now being grazed by cattle, or used for growing barley.

The shelves of the butler’s pantry still housed the remnants of the Meissen and other fine china dinner and tea services which had once been used for the dinner parties and afternoon tea for the ladies. Overlooked by the auctioneers who had catalogued the contents of the house for “The Auction”, the odd cups were being taken over to the stud manager’s house to be used by manager and his wife. Better that they had the dignity of coming to the end of their days ‘in service’ than that they ended in a pile of broken china as the roof finally fell in.

However, back to Julia and Margaret’s story. After Mrs Smyth’s death it was arranged that Julia would go to work for Mrs Harvey Kelly at Clonhugh, whilst Margaret would go to Mrs O’Hara at Mornington. So Julia and her belongings were collected in a donkey and cart and driven over to Clonhugh by young neighbours. Margaret, her bicycle and all her belongings came to Mornington.
The two ladies would meet up each week on their ‘half day’, taking it in turns to mount their ‘sit up and beg’ cycles and ride fearlessly, through the country lanes to each others ‘houses’. There they would ‘take tea’, enjoy the latest ‘chat’* It was on such an occasion that I first met Julia. Margaret had  invited me into to meet ‘her friend’, to take tea and sample her home made cake specially made for the occasion. So on a sunny August afternoon, after a morning of great flurry  in the main kitchen; with a even more  ‘toing and frowing’ after lunch, all was ready. So on the stroke of four o’clock  as instructed by my mother in law I knocked on the door of the servant’s hall and entered to take tea.

*local gossip

‘sit up and beg’ was a type of bicycle often used by women. They were very heavy but allowed a woman to ride in skirts.

This morning, Warwick had his first sighting of our Mad March Hares as they cavorted around the lawn meadow and clump field here at Mornington. Fascinated, he watched two hares as they put on their acrobatic performance, all part of their mating ritual. Rolling down the hill, squaring off against each other, racing across the face of the hill, disappear, only to shoot back in the other direction. The donkeys, Holly and Noddy, ears upright, were concentrating their gaze towards the hillside, this was the first indication that today’s performance had started. The spectacle is so riveting that coffee was late this morning!

Sadly, the timing is so unpredictable that it is difficult to have the camera at the ready, so sorry, no pics. Just great memories. Larger than the rabbit, more details about the Irish Brown Hare are available at:http://www.conserveireland.com/mammals/brown-hare.php

Lengthening daylight hours have brought bulbs and perennials out of their winter hibernation. Slowly, at the moment as we are still a having cold weather. The daffodils are still deciding whether to open and log fires are particularly welcoming in the evening. However, ‘time and tide wait for no man’, so work goes on putting the house back into shape for our ‘season’. So in between laundering, polishing and using a great deal of elbow grease we snatched a day away to The Euro Toques A.G.M. at Brooklodge, Co Wicklow. I was delighted to meet Myrtle Alan, of Ballymaloe, the great doyenne of Irish Cuisine.

Since I wrote the first part of this blog, winter has descended again! We have been fortunate that the snow has not ‘hung around’. However, the log store is going down rapidly.

More Mad March Hares descended on Mornington, last weekend, when we celebrated three family birthdays. Friends and family arrived from far and wide. We had spent days cooking, moving furniture, and, of course, making a birthday cake for, our daughter, Katy. She had particularly requested a chocolate cake just like the one’s Suzie the Cat used to like!

The Saga of the Cat who liked Chocolate Cake; Black-Eyed Suzie was eldest offspring of our first cat, Tippy Tip Toes. She was of an independent disposition, fierce ratter and endowed with great patience. Her sole aim in life was to patrol the stable yard and barns keeping them free of pesky vermin. She was an ‘outside’ cat. Her one weakness was Chocolate Chiffon Cake!

Expecting friends for tea, I had made such a cake, and had left it on the sideboard in the dining room to cool overnight. The next morning a sizeable piece of the cake was missing. Not best pleased, I am afraid I accused children, hubbie, father-in-law, anyone to hand of helping themselves. No one owned up least of all Suzie. Partially eaten cake was dispatched to the hens and a new one made for tea.

On a subsequent occasion, the same depredation of a chocolate cake took place. This time the culprit was caught virtually red-handed, she had fallen asleep next to the cake with a great chunk of the cake missing! I learned my lesson. Screens went on the kitchen window and doors were kept closed! Our cats have long departed to the ‘happy hunting ground’. Cats and guests don’t mix!

So I made a chocolate birthday cake for Katy, whilst our good friend, Kamilika of ‘Just Baked, Mullingar, made Warwick’s cake.

Birthdays 2013 030
Mad march hares
Cordalines revived after the killing frosts two years ago. Last planting of 000 white garlic
Chocolate Chiffon Cake

Cocoa ¼ Cup 1. Mix together into smooth paste.
Boiling Water 3/8 Cup 2. Allow to cool

Plain Flour ¾ Cup-Sieved 3. Sieve together dry ingredients into large bowl.
Baking Powder 2 teaspoons 4. Make well in centre of mix.
Salt ¼ teaspoon
Castor Sugar 7/8 Cup* *Hold back 1/3 Cup to use with egg whites

Egg Yolks 4 5. Make well in centre of dry ingredients.
Cooking Oil ¼ Cup 6. Put oil into well in centre of dry ingredients.
7. Add cooled cocoa mix to egg yolks and oil, etc.
8. Fold together until just mixed.

Egg whites 4 ½ Cup 9. Put into clean, dry mixing bowl.
Cream of tartar ¼ tspn. 10. Add to egg whites
11. Beat egg whites until soft peak stage
Castor Sugar 1/3 cup 12. Beat together with egg whites until stiff and forms stiff peaks
13. Fold egg whites into cocoa / flour mix, in three stages.
14. Using a spatula put mix into 9 inch spring form pan.
15. Bake at 375°f / 160°C. for 50-55min.
16. Remove from oven.
17. Cool upside down on cooling wire until cool.