Hi, I'm Theresa Storey and I run The Green Apron Artisan Preserve Company and blog and write and garden and teach and.....

Nettle Soup

Nettle Soup

serves 4-6

I love nettle soup and try to have it at least 3 times in the spring when the new nettle leaves appear. Nettles are full of vitamins and minerals and have been used as a treatment for arthritis and as a blood tonic for generations. Only pick new young leaves as the older leaves can get quite fibrous.

3 medium leek or 2 large leeks washed and roughly chopped

1 kg potatoes washed

30g butter

1 ½ l water

2 veg stock cubes

2 good handfuls of nettle leaves roughly chopped

Salt and pepper

Step 1 Roughly chop the potatoes (I usually leave the skins on unless they are manky)

Step 2 Fry the vegetables in the butter for a few minutes over medium heat until they start to brown.

Step 3 Add the stock cubes and water to the pot and cover

Step4 simmer on a medium heat until the potatoes are soft

Step 5 Add the nettles and stir in well – the nettles should soften immediately.

Step 6 Blend to a smooth consistency

Step 7 add salt and pepper to taste

Serve with crusty bread and I like to add a dollop of greek yougurt and a drizzle of olive oil.

Optional extras.

For a vegan version of the soup just swop out olive oil for the butter.

For a meattastic version use chicken stock instead of veg stock and add chopped cooked chicken to the finished soup.

I sometimes substitute half of the nettles with cleavers for a mixed spring green soup.

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This week at the market – Saturday 16th July 2016

 

IMG_5886       Its been a while since I’ve done one of these -I’ll try to be more regular.

It was quite a misty moisty morning in Limerick. Warm and muggy with intermittent heavy drizzle showers-  typical July (even if we wish it wasn’t). It was a slow day in the market. Lots of American and German tourists came through but many of the regular customers seemed to be holidaying. The Pride Parade was happening yesterday in Limerick and lots of our regulars were also busy preparing for the parade.

This is what I learned from people this week.

One of my customers took pity on Athene when she heard that she’d had to top and tail twenty pounds of gooseberries last week so she gave her this tip-Freeze your gooseberries without topping and tailing them and then when they are frozen, rub them between two cloths and then pop the fruit into a basin of water and the blossoms and stems float to the top to be poured off. Genius- why didn’t I know that before?. Athene is happy – she’ll never have to top and tail again.

I chatted to a couple from British Columbia who’s daughters live in the Okanagan Valley in BC. Farmers grow peaches, cherries, apricots and are rapidly expanding their vinyards there. They are able to grow such tender plants because the temperature seldom goes below freezing in Winter. That’s a better growing climate than we have!. Well that’s certainly not the picture that I have in my head of Canada – I see snowy forestedness or endless farmland and I’m sure I’m not the only one. I guess I need to improve my geographical knowledge.

We have ginger mint growing in our poly-tunnel. It’s much less vigorous than regular mints- if fact I’ve had it disappear twice on me, thats why I have it in the polytunnel where its protected from the elements. I got it from a lady called Madge who sold plants and bric a brac for years in the market. The money she made from the stall was sent to her son who was a missionary in Africa. She had the most amazing garden and often brought in old fashioned, rare and interesting plants ( I also have a lot of her bric a brac on my shelves- I’m waiting for Antiques Roadshow to tell me its worth a fortune). Anyway I potted some plants up and have them for sale on the stall. Last week a Belgian customer told me that they call in “Eel Herb ” in Belgium  as that’s what they eat with their jellied eel – he didnt know it was called ginger mint.  Thats so interesting – I love finding out the names of plants in other countries and what they are used for. I think I like the name ginger mint better though.

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So this is what I brought home from the market this week.

Lots of veg and fruit. The mushrooms were picked on Friday night – so were as fresh as can be and boy did they taste like it, so much better than “supermarket bought, been sitting around for days ‘shrooms”. They came from the stall next to me – Tipperary Mushrooms. I fried them in butter for dinner straight after the market- they tasted as good as any just picked from the field. The rest of my veg came from Steve- the organic grower from Meelick Bay Nurseries. The beets will become fermented Beet Kvass – a great healthy, reputedly blood cleansing, liver supporting drink. I bought washed and non washed carrots- the non washed will keep longer. The carrots will be used in coleslaw, as carrot sticks  and in spring rolls. I also bought sugar snap peas for making pod pesto and  regular peas which I added to the spring rolls.The celery will become snackage with peanut butter. The cabbage and red onions  will also be used in the colelaw.  The kohl rabi  will get steamed/fried in water and butter in a covered frying pan. That’s the best way we’ve found to retain the flavour (I love it so much I may eat them both and not share).IMG_5894

I love the doughnut peaches from the Quinns stall. I prefer them to regular peaches – they are a bit easier to eat and you don’t drip juice all down your chin. I also got the strawberries and figs from the Quinns. I would have grilled the figs with some crumbley goat cheese but I munched them all as soon as I took the picture. Maybe I can restrain myself next week.IMG_5893

I picked up an organic Olive and Rosemary bread from Vi at the Sunflower Bakery. I couldn’t decide between the olive/rosemary or the cheese/onion  bread, they are equally delicious- Vi had to choose for me. I love her Rye Sourdough too.IMG_5889

The tub of olives and the hummus came from The Real Olive Company. This weeks hummus is a pesto one which is deliciously different.

Mimi from Crawfords Farm delivered our regular 2 litres of Raw Milk. I do love their milk- Athene makes yougurt with it every Sunday night. Breakfasts and smoothiness for the week.IMG_5891

The last thing we came home with were Quinoa Melts from Aileen at the Felafel stall. She mixes quinoa and cheese and veg and bakes them into  slices of gluten free carbo/cheesey yumminess.

I have no tea because I forgot to pick it up (I’m getting the tealess jitters already) and no fish because the weather was too warm to have fish sitting behind my stall – (last week I had the fishmonger keep my fish in their van on ice to hand over at the end of the market, but they forgot and my lovely mackeral ended up in Cork and I ended up eating olive tapenade on toast for dinner ).

Tonight we made Korean Spring Rolls with rice paper skins. We just stuffed them with julienned carrots, courgette and fresh peas. They were so good.IMG_5914IMG_5916IMG_5915

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12 Tips and Ideas for Parties

Living out in the country means we don’t see most of our friends as often as we’d like, so we try to have at least one party per summer in order to catch up with everyone.  As our friends get partners and have kids, and our kids invite their friends, the numbers coming to the parties grows constantly and we’ve had to learn how to deal with that. A few sausages and some potato salad just doesn’t cut it anymore.  Here are a few tips I’ve learned over the years to hopefully help all of you out there planning  your birthday, communion, confirmation or whatever party.

1 Barbecuing is out for large groups. I mean more than say 25. Unless you have couple of barbies and a gang of willing barbecue gods that is. Its expensive to buy that much meat and then you have to fit in the fridge and to make sure its actually cooked and people have to wait around to long for their food. Go with something else. By all means have the barbecue going  and cook a few things on it but don’t make it the main event. For example  for Alex’s 13th birthday party we had pulled pork sandwiches as the main attraction (I’d made it the day before) and just cooked some hotdogs and fish on the barbie. (Oh and a Pigs head just for fun).

2 You will never have enough time.  Pare down that grandiose list of food to a few items. Pick your theme or style for the party, pick a  menu, cut half of the things off that list of food cos you don’t need 25 different items. Pick your costume and  party decorations. Figure out a timetable to get everything done then double the time you allotted to each job – it always takes more time. Be prepared to just say to hell with it. Sometimes there isn’t enough time to do everything. Be flexible.

3 Accept help- anytime somebody says can I bring anything – your answer is a resounding ” Yes Please!”. Anything to take the pressure off. Conversely some will say they will help and then get sidetracked and not help-  so have a contingency plan.

4 Precook everything you can. There are  2 reasons for this- salmonella and time. Nobody wants undercooked food but nobody wants to wait for the food to cook either. Precook anything you can and just heat it through on the day. You don’t want to be slaving at the stove when you have guests. We may cook things weeks beforehand and then bung it in the freezer.

5 Use small plates and glasses and bottles. This is a great tip that my friend Deirdre gave me (she has a party mom)  years ago when we were catering my wedding. People fill their plates no matter what size they are. If the plate is big they won’t eat all the food and so much gets wasted, same with drinks -how often have you seen abandoned cups of coke or juice at parties.We also get the small stubby beer bottles  for the same reason. Waste not want not.

6 Make a  lightly alcoholic Punch. -something like Pimms or Sangria. Serve this to people when they arrive. We do this in the summer as when its warm people drink more – better that they are drinking  something only vaguely boozy than they start on beer or liquor too early and end up squiffy by dinner.

7 People will arrive earlier than they say– be ready for that. Get dressed well before the party and slap on an apron if you still have to finish in the kitchen. However if they arrive too early have no qualms about making them help you finish everything -they should have read the time on the invite.

8 Make kids work. Whether your kids or somebody elses, get those little hands helping-set them to chopping, pouring crisps, handing out drinks whatever -it’ll keep them out from under your feet and they are so happy to help.

9 Nobody really wants to eat that green salad. Its always the last man standing on the party table, sitting there all wilted and forlorn when its fun pasta, rice and potato salad friends are long gone.The same goes for other healthy foods-its a party, nobody wants to eat rabbit food.

10  Buy Partyware At the end of the summer when the stores sell off the summer party ware buy it all. I’ve got boxes of heavy duty plastic wine and beer glasses that I picked up years ago. They are trotted out for every party and are so handy. I always know I have glassware and I don’t need to worry about broken glass through my house and garden. Grab serving platters and bowls and serving spoons too. Or take a trip to IKEA to pick up eveything. Apart from that I use paper plates and wooden spoons and forks-easy to get rid of and compostable.

11 Put Bins everywhere and boxes for recycling. People usually will dump stuff  in a bin rather than just putting it down so that will save you a lot of clean up.

12 Chillax!. .Its a party-  have fun .- only you care if everything is perfect, so what if you just dumped a cake on the floor or you forgot the icecream or that the sausage rolls are a tad overcooked. Next year nobody will remember what they ate- just that they had fun.

Party on Dude!

 

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10 things not to do at a Farmers Market

I’d like to start  by saying I like my job. It may not seem so from the theme of this post but I really do like it.

At the start of the week I work in my garden and I also try and fit in some writing. I usually teach on Wednesdays and  then I cram all my preserving into Thursday and Friday. On Saturday I  go to The Milk Market in Limerick and sell my wares. I think that going to the market and interacting with so many people was the only thing that kept me sane whilst my kids were very young and my weekday life revolved around toilet training, alphabets and Barney the Dinosaur.

I still like going to the market on Saturday after all these years. I love the smells of the coffee, olives and spices. I love the rainbow colours of the flower stalls. I love the sweet yeastiness of cinnamon rolls or the vinegariness of our sneaky bags of hot steaming breakfast chips. I love both the rough and smooth  textures of the handcrafts  and  I love the sounds of the market -people chatting  and laughing , buskers on whistles or accordions vying for attention and the static from the  odd radio, on surreptitiously so someone can keep tuned into a match.

I’m getting older however and I’m starting to creak a little on the cold mornings. I’m also getting a bit crankier and crone-like and so much less tolerant.

Here’s a little list of things that can get on your nerves as a trader at a market. They are little things and are just thoughtless and not intentional, but they accumulate and some days I ‘m pretty worn out after the market. ( Though sometimes we just laugh at some of them in disbelief). I’ve also been guilty of doing most of these but I do try and monitor myself.

This doesn’t just apply to markets but anywhere people sell stuff they made or grew themselves. I’ve been having a chat with my planty, arty and crafty friends and they have similar issues .

 

1 Don’t exclaim at the price and then discuss at the top of your lungs how you can get it for so much cheaper at LiDL or Tesco.

No you cant buy the same product in a Multinational store. Its not handmade and local like this is. If you must discuss it please move away  and stop putting off potential customers.

 2 Don’t bring big cash notes to the market.

I know, I know, it seems such a  little thing but traders bring a limited size float of change and some days it seems we all  spend our time chasing change. If you do only have big notes,( I know the banks seem to only give out 50 euros here ), try not to take all of someones change for a small item. ie  handing over a  50 euro for a 50 cent item.

3 Don’t stand in front of a stall and discuss with your friends how  easily you could make their products yourself.

Move on Lady. Sure you can make it, but the person standing next to you who was about to buy it  may now feel they should attempt making it and that trader has just lost a sale. Then that potential customer will feel like a failure when they can’t make it so you’ve ruined two peoples days.

4 Don’t say  how your mothers Cake /jam /craft was so much better than the one for sale.

If you do say it, back it up with evidence, for example” My mothers crabapple jelly was better because she always added cloves.”. I’m happy to get constructive advice ,in fact one of our best jelly recipes.  Blackcurrant and Mint came from a French customer. If you aren’t being constructive you are just being rude.

I had one lady -not even one of my customers bring her marmalade into the market to show me how much neater her orange peel was cut than mine. Why?

5 Do not stand blocking  someones stall chatting to your friends, drinking coffee, listening to music.

This is very inconsiderate. The stallholder has a limited time, maybe only 4 hours, in which to make what may be their entire weeks  income and you are stopping them from being able to do so.  I had a local politician stand in front of my stall for 2 hours handing out leaflets and chatting one saturday, I was young and didn’t have the nerve to whoosh her on -I would now. Needless to say she’ll never get my vote.

6 Do not try and haggle.

We aren’t in a Souk in Morocco.The prices do not have built in haggleroom. They are a fair price and what the market will bear (otherwise the seller would go out of business)  Haggling  makes the trader uncomfortable  and  you look cheap.

7 Do not  stand in front of a stall and eat your own weight of samples (or let your kids)

Samples are what they say. Samples -so you can try the product and see do you like it, not something you can fill yourself up for free. They cost the trader money!

A few years ago , I was at  ” Bloom” in Dublin (the food and plant festival) demonstrating for a national  gardening organisation. When I said to the rest of the group I was going off to buy lunch they replied why not go and fill yourself up on samples in the food tent. They’d been doing this all day with no intention of buying anything . They figured the samples were lovely free gifts from the traders and weren’t they nice. Doh!

8 Don’t be rude.

Apparently being  at a market gives some people a licence to be rude. Sometimes they think they are being funny and sometimes they are just mean. I’ve been hassled for having an American accent, told to go home to the US, told I’m a bad parent for having  my kids at work with me and told that I’m a bad business woman by someone who wanted a sample from my last unopened jar of jam. This doesn’t happen often but it kind of messes up your whole day when it does. I’m not rude to people and I’m kind of shocked when people are gratuitously rude to me.

9 Do not pass the buck. Take some responsibility for your own actions.

I know when you drop something in a supermarket they don’t expect you to pay for it (although I always offer). That’s okay for big business but for small businesses, if you break it, you buy it.

If you buy a hot dog  then drop it on the ground do not expect a free replacement. This happened recently to a friend who would have actually replaced the hot dog but the customer got all rude .

The trader may in fact replace a dropped item, or not expect you to pay  for an item you broke,  but don’t expect it.

Do not take something home, for example cheese, let it go fester for a bit and  go mouldy, then bring it back and say you didn’t like it. What!!

Do not buy a plant, let it die in the pot from neglect then bring it back and complain. This does actually happen quite often.

Do not buy a cake, carry it around the market in a shopping  bag, find a hole in the bag and in the cake (presumably a dog ate it as you walked around ) and then take this cake back to the trader to complain.

10 Do not explain to the seller how poorly they are running their business and this is how they could make it better.

I’ve had strangers expound at length to me on how I should be running my business. Literally- they just come up and  start explaining how I’m doing it wrong. Its not just me – I’ve seen or overheard them doing it to lots of the traders- well the traders who are tolerant enough to listen.

Please go away. No one wants you to explain to them how their life’s work is all wrong  and how they are foolish to continue.

 

There- I think I’ve bitched enough for one day. I will admit again I’ve done lots of the above items, but like I said, I try and stop myself when I find myself holding  forth etc. And really -I do Like my job.

I’ll write one  for 10 things not to do at a farmers market for traders next, I think.

One more point.

When you buy from a small business what you pay them literally pays for their living expenses that week. That is their salary. Its the difference between steak or  beans for dinner, pays for everything  from school trips for the kids , trips to the vet  to new tyres for the car. People often don’t seem to make the connection but do keep that in mind next time you are at  a market.

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Breakfast Raw Energy Bars

Over the last couple of months I’ve sampled a lot of energy/breakfast  bars. Not for good blogging research purposes I’m sad to say. Its because I keep forgetting to eat or am just not ready to eat before I rush off for a meeting or class. I end up grabbing a coffee and  bar in some service station on the way(not the best breakfast choice)

Yuk! Most of them taste like artificial garbage or the fake healthy ones taste of raw porridge slathered in suga. I do however like those Belvita breakfast biscuits ( they taste a bit like Liga) however its just wrong to have biccys for brekkie no matter what the ad says. And really how nutritious are they?.

I also want some sort of bar I can shove at the children, who once again have taken over an hour to put on their school uniform and thus need to eat in the car or else thats another late slip.

So what do I want in a bar.

They need to be tasty-early morning taste buds dont want to eat worthy tasting food.

They need to be nutritious – not empty calories

They need to be energising -my brain needs to be working at its optimum after eating it.

They need to last without refridgeration for a few months (so they can live in the glove compartment). A lot of the recipes for breakfast bars seem to require refridgeration-I’ll never remember to and take it out of the fridge put it in the car.

They need to be realatively inexpensive to make .

They need to be able to be made from whatever is readily available.

I met Natasha from Natashas Living Foods last year at the Clare Slow Food Festival and picked up a bunch of her raw products, cacao,cacoa nibs, and cacao butter meaning to make bars similar to her excellent energy bars.Everytime I open the cupboard I see them there reproaching me for my slothfulness. So today was the day they finally got used and the resulting bars were delicious. They taste like a  nutty, rich, chocolate  truffle.

I used the cacao as a base because really who doesn’t want chocolate as a base for their breakfast. Especially as its guilt free because its raw. I added lots of dried fruit and seeds to the  chocolate base. I picked apricots, figs and prunes because I like them and I feel they give the rich layers of flavour I was looking for, but you could substitute your own favoured  dried fruits like pineapple, apple or banana and maybe add some coconut. Similarily with the seed , I like sunflower and pumpkin seed so I added them. Think carefully what seeds you add – for instance, I dont know if sesame seeds are a breakfast taste for many people.

 

Raw Energy Bars

Makes 12 bars.  Time 15 mins making, 1 hour setting.

100g  dried prunes (pitted)

100g dried apricots

100g dried figs

100g raw cacao butter

100g raw cacao powder

2 tablespoons  Agave syrup

200g sunflower seeds

100g pumpkin seeds.

In a food processor, whizz the prunes apricots and figs  together until  smooth ish-about 2 mins

Add the cacao butter and powder and whizz again -the mix will start to look like brown breadcrumbs, (2mins) then add the agave syrup and whizz untill  everything looks reasonably well blended- approx another 2 mins

Add the seeds and whizz on low power to try to incorporate the seeds. This may not work very well so if it doesn’t just dump everything into a bowl and mix by hand .  You are now left with a very thick mix . Divide into 12 portions and  shape – I shaped them into croquettes  because that seemed easiest. Leave to sit on a plate for about an hour then wrap individual  bars in clingfilm or parchment paper.Store in an airtight container and these should last a few months . Well they should ,but wont cos they are deeeelicious!

 

Substitute  normal cocoa powder  if you dont have raw cacao and coconut oil for the cacao butter. Try adding  raw porridge oats to the mix for added carbohydrate.

 

 

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Fruity Autumn Chutney

autumn chutneyThis is a fabulous recipe if I may say so myself. Its an adaptation of  my mothers  famous Green Tomato Chutney Recipe only better as  you can use up all of those fruits and vegetables that are sitting around at the end of the season, especially those giant marrows you’ve just discovered lurking under the leaves and no matter what your mix of fruit it turns out  pretty much the same each time. Cant beat that in a recipe. The allspice gives it a spicy lift (without making it taste christmassy) and enhances the fruitiness and the mustard seeds add a savory depth.

Its easy and you can adapt the recipe to whatever vegetables and fruit are available . The chutney will hold for at least 6 months. It also makes an excellent edible present-who wouldnt want  a jar of homemade chutney to slather on their burgers , pies or sandwiches or to accompany a curry..

Fruity Autumn Chutney

8 pounds of assorted fruit (marrow, plum, apple, green tomato, etc.) chopped into 1cm cubes

2 pounds onion(chopped)

2lb brown sugar

6 tablespoon mustard seed

1 pound sultanas

2 tablespoons salt

2 tablespoons allspice

2 pints vinegar

1 teaspoon ginger powder

Pinch of cayenne pepper

 

Place all the ingredients in a preserving pan or non-aluminum heavy bottomed pot.

 

Autumn Chutney

Autumn Chutney

 

Cook over medium heat for 1 ½ – 2 hours until the fruit has all pulped and liquid has started to float on top of the chutney. Pour into sterilized jars and cover with sterilized lids. Serve chutneys with meats, cold cheese, pies, sausages, whatever!

I always use a minimum of 2 lb of apples in this recipe to help to thicken the chutney. If there are wild blackberrys around I’ll also throw in a handful of these to give a nice purple color.I also use wild plums (pit removed) and  a few crabapples if available.

 

A good  variation of this would be to add some ginger, garlic and  a few tablespoons of treacle to give you a chutney reminiscent of an English-style brown pickle.

 

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Green Garden Stuffing

2012 summer 092

“Green stuffing!” I hear you say. “why ever would I make that”. Thats what I thought the first time I saw  it  but it is well worth the making.

The  first time I had it was at my friend Donkeys wedding  in a hotel in Louth (dont ask why a girl has a nickname of Donkey- its long and involved using 17 yr old college kid logic-we’ve known each other a loooong time and her real name is Deirdre). Anyway it was pretty fantastic and so I tried and tried until I achieved a recipe pretty similar and all through the spring and summer, when I have a polytunnel full of  soft  sweet greens. This is an excellent use of my garden green surplus and is a sneaky way to get extra vegetables into a meal.

I make this kind of stuffing for my roast chicken but it is a vegitarian recipe and can be made to accompany a range of other foods. It tastes fresh and heathy which masks the fact that you are actually eating a  truckload of carbohydrate slathered in gravy.

Use any soft green you have growing or can buy like chard ,kale,spinach or salad greens.The greens I used are a mix of kale ,celery leaves, swiss chard,ruby chard, mustard greens and a few stalks of parsley.2012 summer 078

I also added about 12 leaves of french tarragon for a french twist as the day I took the pictures was Bastille Day but they did make it quite aniseedy so be aware.

Ive also made it with basil as the herb ingredient which was quite fantastic.Oregano and parsley are also acceptable as the herbal element. I do have polytunnel bed chock full of sage but didnt use it in the stuffing as it can be quite overpowering and we would have lost the fresh flavour (dont use rosemary,winter savoury or thyme for this either).

Green  Garden Stuffing.

2 large handfuls of  soft mixed greens

green herbs-tarragon(only  few leaves) or small handful basil , parsley or oregano

2 medium onions, chopped

1/2 large crusty loaf

about 3 Tablespoons of butter

salt and pepper

rougly chop your greens and herbs and whizz up in a food processor or chop very finely by hand- you should end up with about 2 cups of chopped green. 2012 summer 082Fry the chopped onions in one of the tablespoons of butter untill they are golden and starting to carmelise and stick to the bottom of the pan (this adds and excellent extra layer of flavour).2012 summer 079 Whizz up your bread until it is in large crumbs.2012 summer 081 Mix the greens,breadcrumbs and onion together by hand.2012 summer 085Grab a piece and taste it and add enough salt and pepperfor your taste-add more greens or herbs at this point if you like and pat into a buttered casserole dish.(We always cook our stuffing seperate to our birds  to decrease cooking times and prevent the bird from being underdone in the middle).2012 summer 087 Dab the remaining butter on top and bake uncovered at 200deg for approx 30 mins.Check if its golden on top and if not- try 5 more minutes .2012 summer 089

Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes and then scoop it out and slather it with gravy- Divine!2012 summer 092

I like my stuffing chunky but if you like a finer texture make your breadcrumbs onions andherbs finer before mixing together.

As I said -We usually eat this with chicken but  it would accompany pork or duck well  and as its a vegetarian recipe you can make it for your vegetarian friends with a nut roast and they’ll feel you made an extra effort for them. substitute olive oil for the butterin the recipe and it becomes vegan.

Optional extras-My son feels that the addition of cooked bacon lardons and bacon fat to the stuffing would make it truly sublime.2012 summer 077

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Hot Cross Bun Muffins

Hot Cross Bun Muffins

Hot Cross Bun Muffins

In our family Easter is the holiday with the most family traditions. I figure thats probably because you aren’t rushing around sorting presents and feast food like at Christmas and you dont have to sort costumes and parties like at Halloween.

I was over at my friend Imens (I married an Irish Farmer) the other day for an egg painting party with the daughters. It was a revelation to the Irish and English moms there that you can paint/color hardboiled eggs which is something we of american extraction  assume everyone knows and does. Although Imen showed up my feeble crayon and foodcoloring on brown eggs  attempts with her beautiful white eggs, american egg dyes , stickers, gold leaf and beads. Im going to have to seriously up my game this year.

Adam Bunny and Chocolate Bunny minding our painted eggs

Adam Bunny and Chocolate Bunny minding our painted eggs

Easter here starts at 7.30 Good Friday  morning when I get up and put on the dough for the hot cross buns. This is the only day of the year I get up that early to bake.Then the phone call comes at 9 from Dad asking are the buns ready, so I tramp down to the castle with hot Hot Cross Buns with dripping icing  cos I was too impatient to let the buns cool . We  then feast on buns and coffee down there (my kids don’t love hot cross buns so most of them go down to the parents).

Hot Cross Buns

Hot Cross Buns

Next is the buying of dozens of eggs on saturday afternoon and the hardboiling of them saturday evening. Half get painted and left out for the Easter Bunny to hide and the other half get sent to mom who we have begged to make Finnish Easter Breads. These are our traditional easter breakfast (my Granny being Finnish an all). Hard boiled eggs are baked into a sweet enriched yeast dough basket and eaten sunday morning with lots of ham and  cheeses.Its not Easter without them.

Easter Breakfast

Easter Breakfast

The painted eggs get hidden by the easter bunny around the house -usually just before kids get up as we have learned  that if you hide those and the chocolate eggs earlier, dogs and cats find them and eat them and then you have sad children and sick animals.

The kids also leave out their easter baskets which get filled with small chocolate eggs, flower and veg seeds, eggcups (we’ve quite a collection now) , coloring pencils, chocolate moneyand small stuffed toys (bunnies and chicks).The easter bunny does not give big eggs here as thats just too much chocolate.

We are all stuffed still from breakfast so about lunchtime we trek down  to Mom and Dads for “THE GREAT GIN RUMMY TOURNAMENT”. This is our favorite tradition.  As much of the family as possible gets together and plays about 20 games of Gin Rummy  then the scores are totted up. Mom buys a range of  Easter eggs  from super fancy Lily O’ Brien eggs down to a crappy  chocolate flavoured  egg. Then the winner picks first, then runner up and so on . The last egg left is usually fairly nasty. One year it was  candy Refreshers egg. But my brother Ed says  it has to be a nasty egg , if you are a loser  you need to know it and it will inspire you to improve, and indeed it does . The brother in law went from winning the Refreshers egg  with the lowest score ever seen in our house to Top Dog -claiming the Lily O Brien  in the space of one year. He spends a few weeks every summer in Armenia mapping some caves there with a bunch of anthropologists, archaologists and other palentologists. They live in tents and have nothing to do in the evenings but play cards. A few weeks of playing  gin rummy against Chess Grandmasters means you never need to worry about getting the crappy egg again.

Anyway- to the recipe.

I woke up this morning with a hot cross bun craving  but with a reluctance to  actually make a yeast dough and wait for them to be ready. Then a lightbulb moment. Take the elements that make a hot cross bun and stick them into the fastest bread product to make – a muffin.

The elements I consider fundamental to a Hot Cross Bun are Mixed Spice (beloved flavouring  of old Irish ladies), candied or mixed peel and raisins or currants.  We used raisins as we have our own from our grapevine in the Polytunnel. We took our basic muffin recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook and added these elements and voila- yummy hot cross bun muffins in a fraction of the time to make real buns.

Hot Cross Bun Muffins.

1 3/4 cup Flour

1/3  cup sugar

2 teaspoons Baking Powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon mixed spice

3 tablespoons candied/mixed peel

1 cup raisins or currants

1 beaten egg

3/4 cup milk

1/4 cup cooking oil


Combine the dry ingredients in abowl and make a well in the center. In another bowl mix the egg,milk and oil togetherand then add to the dry ingredients.NB mix until just combined. The batter should still be lumpy If you over mix you get a dense, nasty  muffin.

Put into baking cases and cook for around 15- 20 mins until golden at 200 degrees.

Let cool on a wire tray for a few minutes then  make a cross on the top of the muffin  using icing sugar and water or orange juice and water. Serve with lashings of butter.

The girls made these for me this morning  and we ate the pretty ones before we got a picture taken but you get the general idea. The girls also like these a lot better than Hot Cross Buns so I never need to get up and make buns again. Yay.

Hot Cross Bun Muffins

Hot Cross Bun Muffins



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In Praise of Willow

Dragon neck willow

Dragon neck willow

I must say I absolutely love my willow trees. When their pussy willow buds are out its the promise of  spring to come and the end of winter. Its also an extremely valuable plant for wildlife  as its one of the first sources of nectar in the spring  for insects and  it supports almost three hundred species of insects through the year. bees harvesting nectar

I was just out in the sunshine watching my willow flowers being swarmed by bees and hoverflies.

Hoverflies sunning themselves

Hoverflies sunning themselves

The bark of the willow contains salicylic acid which is the main component of asprin and the bark has been used medicinally for thousands of years.

Peking Willow-the one on willow pattern delph.

Peking Willow-the one on willow pattern delph.

Willow also has more than its fair share of plant hormones -especially rooting hormones.Stick a bit of willow in the ground and it will root  like you wouldnt believe . You can also use willow tea made from willow twigs as a rooting solution . Soak cuttings of other species of plants  in the tea for a few hours and voila.

Contorted willow

Contorted willow

Willow cames in all  sorts of colours ( from black through purple to beige) and forms (weeping tostandard to contorted).  We have about a dozen varieties here. Some are large varieties for Biomass(grows 18ft perannum) and for building garden structures and others are more light and are used for wildcrafting and basketmaking.Basket that our February wwoofer Majka made.

Wiilow can be woven to make all sorts of  living garden structures , fences and sculptures.

willow arch

Living Willow Fence

Often the willow branches will then graft together .Grafted willow

Young willow shoots have the best colour and should be cut in th elate autumn to early spring  .wait until there has been a hard frost-it helps make the color more vibrant.

Willow is so useful as a biomass crop because it grows extremely fast so do think of that if you decide to use it in your garden.In the picture below you can see the willow fence whick was woven and cut this year.I didnt cut the branch thats sticking up at the end of the fence last year or this year so thats two seasons growth. Ginormous.two years growth of willow

Willow thrives in damp and wet areas of the garden  and dries those areas up a treat . If its not in a wet area it will send roots out searching for a wter supply thus the problems with willows damaging drains. So be careful where you plant.

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Native Trees

One of my new crabappples planted into the bank besise the orchard for extra pollinationAlthough I love having such a large garden (and attatched field )it does mean it takes a lot of maintenance and planting. Where we live is called Derryclough -The  Stone of the Oak and this used to be all woodland but was cleared in the 1960’s.We are  trying to replant but its slow work. We’ve put in hundreds of trees but need much more.

Ive been trying to put in native species-birch, scots pine,oak,hazel,hawthorn ,rowan,elder, viburnum,willow and alder. Huge problem. The majority of trees being sold here as native grown, native species are in fact imported as micro plants(clones) from Holland and then grown on here. This means they are all genetically identical -no biodiversity and susceptable to full die off from a single disease. Also as they have been imported from Holland they are not  best suited for our climate and growing conditions even if they are grown on here.Birch at The Organic College

Coillte used to collect  irish seed  and grew on the trees but this practice seems to have beem discontinued, so apart from growing our own, where can we get  real native trees is the question.

The Organic College in Dromcolloher, Limerick  has a nice little tree nursery with seed grown trees. Ive gotten some oaks from them in previous years  and they are happily growing about 1 ft per year. One of the oaks from the organic college . Been in 3 years and now 6 1/2 ft tall from a 3 ft seedlingThis spring I picked up a selection from their nursery of wild crabapples,oaks ,native aspen and poplar, birch and hazel. Fantastic trees and fantastic value.Tree Nursery at the Organic College

Also try Seedsavers in Scarrif in Clare and the Organic Center in County Leitrim.

Go to your local market and look for the stall selling homegrown organic produce. The stallholder there will either have sometrees he’s grown from seed or knows a man who  has some.

Look at  the plant stall at local garden fetes, school fairs ,ICA meetings. Often you find seedling trees for sale (often in yougurt or milk cartons)

Ask your neighbours- theres always someone near you who’s a tree nut  and who collects and plants seeds and ends up with more trees than they will ever need and are happy to share (in my case its my father in law).

And if all else fails go foraging for trees.

Watch the sides of the roadways.You often find seedlings growing there which will be cut back eventually by the road cutter. Save them from such a horrible fate and dig them up and take them home. Ash and Elder  are especiallycommon on our local verges.

Elder  roots very easily and if you look carefully at the base of an elder tree you can often find a fallen branch which has rooted and is waiting to be cut off and dug up.

Alder has gazillions of seeds and spreads those babies every where. Look around the tree out to about 20 ft from the trunk for them.Alder seedlings in our gravel pile

Look out for willow at the side or rivers or streanms and take cuttings from them . look for long straight branches coming up from the base of the tree, cut this off and into snip into 18 in  pieces and plant these .Willow roots like a dream and grows like a weed – you’ll have 5-6 ft trees by mid summer.Wiilow cuttings waiting to be planted ,3 different varieties

Planted willow cuttingsGo to your local forest.Your trees will thus be suitable for your local  growing conditions .You can find seedling trees which are in very poor positions -edge of path ,too close to other trees etc, and the tree wont survive there (At least thats how I justify it). Carefully dig them up disturbing the ground as little as possible. Ive also found sprouted oak  and hazel seeds mixed in with leaves on  forest paths and at the edge of roads which will only be mouse or squirrel food. I rescued them and they are now 3 ft trees.

Have a look where timber has been recently cut in the forest  as there are often seedlings stuck in the ruts left by the giant machinery which need rescuing.

Do not take trees that have been planted by the forestry.

Happy Planting.

Majka my Wwoofer trying to cram all our tree loot into my car

Majka my Wwoofer trying to cram all our tree loot into my car

Look at all our new tree babies

Look at all our new tree babies

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