”Are you busy on the 1st of March?” A simple question which elicited another simple question “why?” Our daughter and fiancé had decided to get married! In such a simple way, the advent of a wonderful day was announced. Ferry tickets booked, wedding cake made,  house sitters arranged, an alarm call booked and the morning of departure arrived.

Katy on the way to her wedding

Katy on the way to her wedding

So on the 1st March, St. David’s Day, we waited to take Katy to her wedding. On the way out of the hotel, she was serenaded by the Flint Male Voice choir who were also staying in the hotel. I do not think any bride could have received a more rousing send off. Particularly appropriate as her great grandfather, Evan Evans, was Welsh. As the young couple are living and working in England, they opted for a small family wedding near to their new home in Cumbria. It gave Warwick and I the opportunity to visit an area that we have visited a number of times in the past.

Katy and John in Cartmel

Katy and John in Cartmel

1238120_10152058124626220_679439364_n Walking to reception

Walking to the reception

1798616_10152058134926220_606723512_n Wedding Cake

Katy and John’s Wedding cake with shamrocks and roses

 

Portion of wedding cake

Portion of wedding cake served to guests

* I am including the recipe for the gluten free cake later in the blog.

Another Great Celebration

Last Saturday, nerves jangling and kept sitting on the edge of our seats as the Irish rugby team edged towards a win against France and at the same time winning this year’s  Six Nations Championship. For Brian O’Driscoll, it was his last match in an Irish Jersey so we were already in great spirits on St. Patrick’s Day. In the past, St. Patrick’s Day was an occasion to pack up the car and travel either to the local parade with uniforms and tin whistles or to Pony Club hunter Trials. This year, it was spent in the garden cutting shrubs back as we get ready for the opening of our season and the arrival of our first guests. All day long, we were serenaded by a robin, who hopped from branch to branch, occasionally, dropping down onto the freshly turned soil to hunt for worms or other tasty morsels. At one point, there was a quick scuffle in one bush as two cock robins ‘squared off ‘ against each other. Fighting for territory, no doubt. Dispute over and the hunt for food continued.

Cock Robin, the entertainer in the 'Sheep'snose' apple tree.

Cock Robin, the entertainer,  in the ‘Sheep’snose’ apple tree.

Potato Plantinag and St. Patrick’s Day

Country people traditionally begin planting potatoes about the time of St. Patrick’s Day, beginning with  ‘first earlies’,  Main crop potatoes are planted later. However, the  seed potatoes, we had ‘ chitted’ in February had developed good shoots, so they were planted last week. We laid the potatoes out in tray and covered them with newspapers to keep out the light. In Warwick’s father’s time the men on the farm would sit in the harness room or the coach-house and cut some of the previous year’s potatoes into pieces, ensuring that each piece had shoot buds.This would usually be done in February and was dirty, cold work.

Chitted potatoes ready for planting.

Chitted potatoes ready for planting.

The Renovation takes shape.

Faced with a semi derelict stable block apparently in terminal decline we took a big step in deciding to convert it into Studios and Exhibition spaces. In partnership with Leader, we started to halt that decline which we began by emptying the stable block last autumn. (see November’s Blog). Now re-roofed with some of the original and other salvaged slates; new floors have been poured  and the plumbing and electrical systems are going in. The project is heading towards completion.  The plan is to  provide facilities for guests staying in the house and other similar accommodation operators in the area.  For small business meetings, family events, possibly even small weddings.

Clumps of daffodils moved from side lawn during landscaping.

Clumps of daffodils and snowdrops  moved from side lawn during landscaping.

Daffodils in Lady's walk wood

Daffodils in Lady’s walk wood

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Next landscaping project is to conceal lids of tanks!

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February Filldyke, once the old name for the month of  February, has been particularly apt this year as dykes or ditches are not only full but overflowing. Poets have written many poems linking weather to months of the year. The Loughan or Pond at Mornington Cottage empty at Christmas is now is filling up.

Baked Lemon Souffle

Baked Lemon Soufflé Recipe is at Bottom of page.

Living in the Midlands of Ireland, we have been spared the storms and resulting high tides that have occurred in the much of the coastal areas of the country.

Builders replacing the roof on the stable block have been blessed to escape the worst of the weather. It is wonderful to see the old building being restored. Old slates have been recycled  for the roof. Old blocked up window spaces have been opened and we are waiting for windows to go in. The plan is to create four studios or exhibition spaces which can be rented out to artists, craft workers or small business meetings. We hope to have the project completed by St. Patrick’s Day. Keep your fingers crossed for us!

South side of Stable Block-Feb'14

South side of Stable Block-Feb’14

Vegetable Gardening 2014

In the last few years growing our own vegetables has become rewarding; it has provided the kitchen with a variety of fresh vegetables for family and guests. Frustratingly, success cannot be guaranteed and can vary from year to year. In 2011 the parsnips were gigantic, whilst in 2013, the crop was disappointingly stunted. This was probably due to the lack of rain in the winter of 2012-2013.

Can you have too much garlic or too many onions?

Onions in Raised bed.

Onions in Raised bed.

I have just been told that we have planted too many garlic and onion sets! So as our crop rotation plan needs to be changed. Now we must work out where the rest of the vegetables can be grown. It may be necessary to plough a patch of ground outside the garden for potatoes and root crops.In the ‘old days’ a patch of ground would be ploughed for oats and barley and for ridges* of potatoes and root crops for the ‘house’**

Pepper and tomato seeds need to be planted this month so we have already purchased and planted same.
Seed potatoes need to be ‘chitted’ this month. Tired of loosing potatoes to blight we have used a variety of ‘blight-resistant’ potatoes for the past three years with great success. Most garden centres and some traditional hardware stores will be carrying them at the moment. Interestingly the main seed companies appear to have an increased selection of such varieties this year.
Shallots and onion sets should be available from the end of the month.
Seeds can be expensive so share your seedlings with friends. Do you really need 40 chilli pepper plants? If not pass on or ‘swop’ the extras on with friends.
It is not too late to split herbaceous plants.
Do check the roots of exchanged plants for weevils and other pests before planting out.
Only a few of the broad bean plants planted out in November have survived this winter, so I plan to start some more in pots in the greenhouse.
We enjoy the sweet early broad beans cooked in very little water with a little butter, salt and pepper and a handful golden oregano leaves.Herb bed needs weeding.

Herb bed needs weeding.

The herb bed with parsley, thyme, rosemary and fennel showing between the weeds.The soil in the new herb bed has sunk down so more top soil will be needed to be added.

Perpetual spinach and Ruby Chard

Perpetual Spinach and Ruby Chard

Perpetual spinach and ruby chard are still being cut for use in the kitchen as are the red cabbage and leeks. We still have parsnips to dig which will probably be served to the donkeys as they are too small for kitchen use.

Globe artichokes have survived thus far!

Globe artichokes have survived thus far!

Globe artichokes appear to have wintered well, so hope there are no late frosts to kill the leaves.

Remains of a pigeon

Remains of a pigeon

“Nature is red in tooth and claw” The remains of a pigeon killed by a hawk lie on the grass between two of the raised beds.

A cock robin sings his heart out from the top of an apple tree.

A cock robin sings his heart out from the top of an apple tree.

A cock Robin singing his heart out in the Worcester Pearman apple tree. The apple trees will need to be pruned in the next week or two; before the sap starts to rise. They also need to be sprayed with dormant spray to prevent codling moths.

Be ready for Shrove Tuesday this year (pancake day)

Shrove Tuesday will be upon us in a couple of weeks.  Here is a contribution to your recipe file.

Lemon soufflé filled crêpes

Lemon soufflé filled crêpes

Lemon Souffle filled pancakes
Lemon Souffle filled pancakes

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.

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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

March garden 013

Newly emerged early rhubarb

Sunny day in april-2013 020

Noddy after rolling in dry leaves

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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.