Monday, October 25, 2010

Variations on a Theme - Socks of a different colour, Crochet Revisited, and a Nation on the Brink.

The socks in the morning sunshine
It's a sunny October Bank Holiday Monday and I am looking out the garden at the banana trees that have been burnt by the first sharp frost of the autumn. It's a sign that we're looking down the barrel of winter and while I hope it won't be as harsh as last winter the prophets of doom and gloom are predicting a worse one - in line with the economic forecast and a December budget which promises to leave last year's hairshirt budget in the cashmere stakes.

At times it seems like the revolution must be just around the corner as there's so much anger in the populace. The perception that the government is bailing out the banks at the expense of the ordinary folk was reinforced by the news today that the developers whose assets are in our toxic bank NAMA (The National Asset Management Agency) are planning to pay themselves salaries of around €200,000 p.a. - a drop from their accustomed €1million+ salaries. Not that we feel their pain - some of these wheelers and dealers have been shifting assets to their spouses as fast as their lawyers can draft the documents and moving themselves offshore and beyond extradition in some cases.

The finished coral socks
There are court appearances every week of developers or local Councillors implicated in corruption charges - even this week one developer who has even had the brass neck to revoke his Irish citizenship for expediency and tax purposes was charged along with some former government Councillors who took his bribes - allegedly - and he was granted bail if he had an Irish address - so he gave the Four Seasons Hotel in leafy Ballsbridge as the address! If this isn't giving the finger to the authorities and those of us who are still proud to be Irish I don't know what is.

Detail of the heel and foot.
But to calm me down and stay sane I have sought refuge in (amongst other therapeutic activities like baking!) knitting and have revived a long-dormant skill in crochet. Regular followers of the blog will know I've made legwarmers and socks lately, and now I have finished another pair of textured open-patterned socks this time in a peachy Coral. The photo taken on the clothes line is truer than in those taken indoors. The pattern is a free download from Ravelry - Fixation Cascade Yarn is the recommended yarn but I used ordinary DK yarn - cheap and cheerful. (on the Cascade link they are the ones labelled Fixation Lacy Multicolored Socks W135)

Simple Crochet flowers
Granny Squares and little flowers
Over the weekend Jany (D-i-L to be) and myself dabbled in crochet and made some Granny Squares and flowers, finding an online tutorial on YouTube. (There are lots of tutorials on knitting and crochet on YouTube so no excuse for not trying something new). This was a lot of fun and Jany has been amazingly quick at picking it up. So I hope you get some inspiration from this post and realise it's never too late to start afresh. I loved crochet as a teenager and made some clothes from Granny Squares - a waistcoat and a bag come to mind - but this was the '70s (the decade that taste forgot, some would say!) and I doubt I'll be going down that road again.

Banana plants in the sun
Banana plant after the frost
As for the banana trees - here are photos of them last week in their green glory juxtaposed with some taken today after the frost. They die off each winter and then phoenix-like arise from the ground in May to grow and thrive for the summer. We had so many suckers (little ones) this year we gave some away and brought some into the sunroom for overwintering - and they are already growing like proverbial Triffids! It's lovely to have a mini-tropical garden in the house and it keeps us in touch with our past life in the real tropics - a nostalgia trip for every day.

Banana plant post-frost
Banana plant last week - with Ben

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Woolly Legwarmers and Ripping Recession Recycling

The finished legwarmers
I've just updated my blog posting settings to the recommended easy-to-use one so I look forward to hassle-free uploading of posts in the future - or going forward as our ghastly politicians say. The doom and gloom is getting worse by the minute so I thought I'd just share my latest knitting project with you all.

It's short and sweet - a pair of black cable and rib legwarmers for our son Shayne's fiancée and mother of our beloved granddaughter Sofia. Jany asked if I'd knit legwarmers for the winter so here they are. It's a bit hard to see the cable and rib textured pattern in the black but they are quite cosy and warm, (doh, so that's why they're called legwarmers - never have guessed!) and hopefully they'll fit the bill nicely.

I knitted them over about two weeks - I wish I had more time to just knit but work tends to get in the way - as does life in general! I got the pattern as a free download from Ravelry and that is a terrific resource for someone like me who enjoys making new things but might be afraid to venture into unchartered waters. There are millions of patterns - many free downloads - out there and in various knitting blogs there are links to patterns or actual patterns available. You might even be able to read this pattern if you click on the photo. Otherwise here's the link. 

The Pattern for the legwarmers
Just click on the PDF button to get the pattern - it's that simple! You can use pure Merino wool which would be lovely but I didn't - just got a 2 x100g. acrylic yarn, which was cheap and easy to knit. I might make Merino ones later on if I see how these ones look and wear - certainly for warmth you can't beat Merino!

Cable and Rib pattern - legwarmers

Here you can see the finished legwarmers with the cable and rib pattern clearly visible. It was a 12 stitch repeat over 4 rows, and a doddle to do if you have ever worked cable - I used a cable needle for convenience and 4 x UK size 11 DPNs (Double Pointed Needles) - that's 3mm metric and between 2 & 3 US size - how confusing is all that?

The end result
The other innovation for me was to recycle a ribbon-yarn jumper I bought for €7 in Shaws department store in Dungarvan, the town where I'm based for work. It was fine on the rack but not on this hanger - I looked a sight - frumpy and chunky. I'm definitely not as bad as this made me look. So it was at the back of my clothes rail for over a year, and I was clearing clothes out for charity and found it. I thought what a shame to discard it (or foist it on a charity recipient!) as the yarn was lovely. So I decided to rip it - never having done this for a shop-bought item before. Most rip-offs are my own disasters - so it was a new challenge.

A close-up of the yarn
 I got busy with the seam ripper and scissors and had to decide where to cut and unpick - the neck I abandoned as a lost cause as it wasn't worth the few grams of wool I'd salvage - so the stash came from the back, two sleeves, and the front from the V-neck down. Totally - 350 grams - about 12 ozs if my calculations are correct. I have a nice ribbon yarn pattern for a jumper, or I might make a nice cardigan - not sure yet - any ideas out there? I already have a burgundy ribbon yarn cardi - nice and loose and comfy - so if I had a jumper I'd be in the Twin-Set set!

Yes! the makings of another jumper!

Today is 20-10-2010 - some clever clogs even took photos of their clocks at 20:10 - 'fraid I wasn't that ahead of the posse so I didn't, but that's probably the last of the interesting dates till next year - Armistice Day will be cool - 11-11-11.

Monday, October 18, 2010

And the Award goes to....Me!

I'd like to thank Mimi in Dublin for giving me this versatile blogger award - it's very nice to get an accolade like this and I do appreciate it - though I have to look at what I'm supposed to do with it.

Right - just checked and I have to tell you 8 things about me.
Then I have to pass it onto some fellow-bloggers - the number seems unspecified so I'll just select some random victims but tell you why I chose them.

Here goes!

1. I have lived in three continents in my lifetime - Europe, Asia and Africa. In Europe I lived in Ireland, England and Wales, and spent long periods of time in The Netherlands with hubby's family. In Asia I spent 2 years in Bangladesh and over 2 years in Laos or Lao PDR to give it its correct title. In Africa I lived in Tanzania for 11 years over a 13 year period.

2. I met my hubby Jan in Bangladesh and he comes from The Netherlands; we got married in Ireland and have spent more of our married life abroad than in Ireland. He has lived in more countries than me as he was in the Philippines as a Dutch volunteer before we met. We have never lived in his country, only visited there many times over the past 30 years. I speak reasonable Dutch and can converse and read it easily, a proud achievement for someone who still can't speak Irish after years of schooling and working in the Gaeltacht.

3. I have four children. Two of our children were born in Tanzania, and two in Ireland. The Tanzanian birth experience was far less high-tech and more memorable for many reasons - outside the scope of this list! They are all grown up now - including teen daughter who's taller than me now! The three boys are in their twenties - 28, 25 and 23. I can't believe how the years flew by.

4. I wanted to become a nurse since I was 12 and had my appendix out in Ardkeen Hospital in Waterford. It appealed to my romantic nature and had more to do with Cherry Ames books than the reality I encountered five years later! No regrets though, it's been a career that took me to wonderful countries and opened up opportunities I might otherwise never have had. Certainly life-changing - as if I hadn't gone to Bangladesh to save the world I wouldn't have met hubby!

5. My father died two months before my third birthday. People I went to school with thought I was an only child but in reality I had a sister who died in infancy who was born two months after my father's death. So it was tough on my mother - losing her husband and a baby in the space of four months. Regular blog-readers will know how close I was to my mother all my life and how I miss her since her death in March this year. I am grateful to have had her for so long, and it's a small consolation.

6. My maternal grandfather was a master tailor and I credit those genes with my love of dressmaking and knitting and sewing. We now live in the same house he lived in and practiced his craft - and called it (in his honour) Tailor's Cottage. Any skills I have in this line I owe him. He died when I was six weeks old so I never knew him, but we have his ledgers from the late 1920s for a decade, creating a rich tapestry of social history - all his clients and their suit measurements and the cost of the work is detailed meticulously, and we have fun recognising ancestors of local people from this area.

7. I didn't go to university until I was in my forties - I trained as a nurse under the old apprenticeship system - 3 years hard labour and block study with exams at intervals and finals - and my midwifery was the old one-year practical course - thrown in at the deep end with 90 deliveries clocked up in the course of the year. So I never had to go to college - until I went to do Public Health and became a full-time UCC student for a year and had a ball!

8. I became a granny this year and am enjoying it immensely - all the clichés are true - all of the fun and none of the responsibility of parenthood. I'll become a granny again next March as Sofia will get a brother or sister so happy days ahead. It brings back all the happy memories of my own children's babyhood as I watch Sofia grow up!

So now to select the lucky recipients of this Versatile Blogger Award - and don't worry if you don't fulfil the terms & conditions - it's not a bank loan, you know! So just enjoy reading it and if you feel  moved then by all means do write 8 things about yourself you are happy to share with your readers.

1.Diane @ Adventure before Dementia - she has had a peripatetic life and writes with humour about her life and travels.

2. Rudee @ A Knitting Nurse  - she inspires me with her wonderful knitting skills and her wry take on our shared profession - just what you need in community nursing.

3. Marguerite @ Cajun Delights - she's a foodie blogger and a writer and shares her wonderfully different corner of her world with us - the music, the food, and the atmosphere of Louisiana and Cajun Country comes shining through her blog.

4. Peggy @ Organic Growing Pains - she's a terrific gardener and makes me feel guilty for not being as industrious in the garden as she is - but I live it through her endeavours. 

5.  Lilly @ Stuff I make, bake and love - her gusto for food and innovation are always entertaining and enjoyable - and she writes a funny, quirky blog well worth a visit.

6. Padraic @ Window across Dublin Bay - not merely the token man amongst women but a recent blog for me that I enjoy - plenty of food for thought, and we found some serendipitous links in our past.

That's enough bloggers to target with the award - I just hope you are all happy to receive it and carry out the task of writing 7 or 8 things - random - about yourself. I enjoyed this and hope you do too. It's not meant to be confessional, just stuff you are happy to share with the world.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Apple Jelly - autumnal delights in an Indian Summer

I am making Apple Jelly this balmy Indian Summer weekend and when I realised I didn't have the recipe on my blog I thought I'd better rectify that omission right away. I have made apple jelly numerous times over the past years with the exception of last year when we had a disastrous summer resulting in no apple crop - a total of six apples from our three trees!

This year has more than compensated, with a great harvest and lots of lovely big cookers on the trees - they are probably Bramleys, but I really don't know the variety as they are there forever.

My grandfather planted one or two of the trees in the 1920s as we found a letter from Power's Plant Nursery in Waterford from that era pricing apple trees. The third we know from family lore was transplanted from the local vet's garden back in the Twenties or Thirties; they were throwing out this tree and Granddad rescued it. It is the one nearest the house now and supports my clothes line on one of its dead branches. They are all quite wonky and one looks like it could tip over and probably need a prop one of these years. Another is so tall there is no way we can ever reach the top branches so rely on the wind to knock 'em off as literal windfalls.

Here are some photos of the trees for posterity. They have served us well over the years - I am making lots of apple tarts this year and bringing them to work for the teabreaks as I would balloon if I kept them all for home though I'll always have one on the go for visitors.

The house is quite quiet nowadays with only hubby and teen daughter and myself here - two sons in Cork and one in Dublin mean we're travelling at weekends to visit them and happy to do so but they don't come home as often as they did from college. So while I still channel my baking muse the beneficiaries are work colleagues and friends more than the family.

I haven't made apple jelly for two years now, of necessity, and still have lots of the last batch, which is perfect - "preserves" in name and nature! Home-made stuff doesn't have a sell-by or best-before date but with the jars sterilised before filling (in the oven) it means bacteria don't get a look-in. It's only when the jar is opened that you have to watch out, though it's very unlikely to go off in the lifetime of a pot of jelly, as it'll be eaten before mould can take hold!

A caveat for any newcomers to Apple Jelly - you need TIME! It has to be made over two
days or one day if you start stage one in the morning. That doesn't equate to lots of work - that's minimal and is perfect for an intrinsic lazybones like me - no need to prep fruit, only wash the apples.

Apple Jelly

Stage One - Ingredients

  1. 3 Kilos Windfall apples or any cooking apples in good nick - no rotten apples.
  2. 2 litres/3-4 pints water (no need for great accuracy here)
  3. Rind of lemon (use potato peeler to peel off, as you need rest of lemon later)
  4. A Jelly Bag. (Any cotton bag with handles or an old cotton pillow case will do - it's to strain the apple pulp and will stain horribly so nothing can be used for anything else ever again!)
  5. Two Kitchen Chairs (To hang jelly bag between the chairbacks)
  6. Large bowl or basin to catch the juice from the jelly bag.

  1. Wash apples - no need to cut or core or peel
  2. Put whole apples in large saucepan or pressure cooker with water and lemon rind
  3. Bring to boil and cover
  4. Simmer or pressure cook for an hour/until completely pulped
  5. Mash up with wooden spoon or potato masher
  6. Carefully pour into the jelly bag hanging between the two chair backs with the basin on the floor
Stage Two - Ingredients

  1. Sugar
  2. Apple juice - obtained after pulp straining
  3. Juice of one lemon
  4. Cloves a few- optional if you like the flavour
  5. Measure a pound of sugar to each pint of juice obtained after straining overnight or until pulp no longer drips.
  6. (For Metric types - that's 450gms sugar to each 600ml juice)
  7. Jam Pots warmed in oven (put in cold oven and turn on heat to about 140C/285F so they warm gradually .
  8. (I use any clean glass jars with metal lids as they have a much longer shelf life than using cellophane jam pot covers as more sterile)


  1. Measure Apple Juice into large pot
  2. Bring to boil
  3. Add measured sugar
  4. Add Lemon Juice
  5. Add cloves if desired
  6. Boil and skim off foam/scum that forms on surface - use a spoon
  7. Reduce volume by about a third and test occasionally for setting point - reached when jelly wrinkles if poured on a plate and left to cool.
  8. Remove jars from oven (careful now!) and turn off cooker - jelly shouldn't be boiling or you'll get tiny bubbles in it.
  9. Ladle or pour jelly into the warm jars, fill to brim, and cap immediately.
  10. Stand on heatproof surface to cool, and listen for the pop as the jars vacuum seal - the little button on most lids will pop in. That's your seal of guaranteed preservation!

Enjoy fresh baked crusty bread, real butter and just-cooled jelly - heaven with a cuppa tea!

Photos from the top:
  • Finished product - nicely labelled by hubby!
  • The three apple trees in the garden
  • Jelly bag hanging between the chair backs
  • Jelly pulp straining into basin
  • Pulp in bag
  • Juice after pulp strained overnight
  • Foamy scum when jelly boils after adding sugar
  • Ready to pot - warm jars, Pyrex jug and ladle, plate for testing setting point/holding foamy skim-off.
  • Payback time - bread and jelly, a cuppa and set jelly in dish!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Alternator Altercations - Trouble on the Rocky Road from Dublin

My trip to Dublin on Saturday got off to an uneventful start - taking four teenage girls to the city for a day trip is enough fodder for potential mishaps to begin with - and we were on the road by 9:00a.m and arrived in the city at 11:40a.m. Not bad for 130 miles given that the first 25 were on narrow country roads over the Knockmealdown mountains

We headed for the motorway - the M8 from Cork-Dublin which segues into the M7 once it joins the Limerick-Dublin road after the Abbeyleix bypass. This completed the Cork-Dublin motorway when it opened a few months back and brought us into the 21st Century transport-wise. That would be the 20th Century for the rest of the West, as Ireland has been about half a century behind most countries in its transport infrastructure, and we are only now getting used to toll roads and bridges.

There's still a certain mistrust of tolls as the money collected is not ring-fenced for further investment; that's because the toll motorways and bridges are almost all built by PPP (public-private partnerships) and tolls are collected by the private company National Toll Roads (you might be forgiven for thinking it was a state body with such a name!) for years - which is another example of the government sell-out of our assets.

With only one toll at the Abbeyleix bypass the journey went uneventfully and we arrived in Dublin after 2 hrs and 40 mins. Not bad for 130 miles given that the first 25 are on narrow country roads! I had some work to do there so I didn't actually get to see the sights I'd hoped to that I wrote about in my previous post. I deposited the four teenagers in the city centre in Parnell Street where they headed into the ILAC Centre on the start of their shopping odyssey.

The weather was showery but very mild, so I had a nice afternoon visiting friends and doing some shopping in the suburbs. The only sights I saw for the blog was this great sculpture of a Dublin icon, playwright Brendan Behan, sitting on a bench near Mountjoy Jail, the setting for his play The Quare Fella. He's sitting beside a pigeon and an "Auld Triangle" or more, in honour of the classic Dublin ballad he composed. Here's a few of his insightful, irreverent and often hilarious sayings - he was a genius who loved to drink and wrote about Borstal from firsthand experience, and he reminds me of Dylan Thomas in his approach and attitude to life.

Here are some photos of the Royal Canal near Binn's Bridge on Dorset Street beside the lock where the sculpture is placed. It was lashing rain when I took the photos with my Samsung camera phone - not bad with a 3.2MP camera and I have only just downloaded the software to transfer them to my PC for posterity.

And here's a videoclip of the late great Luke Kelly of the Dubliners giving it welly; his is one of the best renditions, though I think the Pogues and Shane McGowan gave it a good cover too.

As I normally bring our friends Darina and Tom some home baked goodies but didn't have time to bake anything for this visit, I overcompensated by splashing out on fancies in Thunders Bakery on Dorset Street. It's one of the best bakeries around - certainly in North Dublin - and I got some vanilla slices, coffee slices, carrot cake and custard slices. The sugar rush kept me going for the afternoon and we headed for the road home at about 7:00p.m., leaving hubby Jan behind in Dublin where he'd been for the previous few days for work and meetings.

This is where it all went pear-shaped - I was about an hour from home when the car started acting up - the lights started dipping and the engine lost power from time to time, and I began to pray that I'd get home in one piece. I thought for a moment it might have been the car drained of energy from all the loud music that was threatening to deafen me since early morning. As I predicted I didn't get a listen in to either the radio or any of my podcasts - instead, my FiTrip (fake iTrip) was appropriated and my space colonised with their music from Lady Gaga to whatever is hot in the charts at the moment blasting forth from their phones as well as my iPod.

About two miles from home, the car gave up the ghost and everything died - lights, engine, and battery as flat as a pancake. Luckily we were able to summon help from one of the girl's parents who came to bring us home, and another girl's dad (a mechanic) correctly diagnosed the problem as alternator trouble and he managed to roll it into the grass margin where it wasn't blocking the road.

Thankfully I had a powerful torch in the boot of the car, and I was able to ring my garage owner - who is available 24/7 by the looks of things. He assured me he'd sort it out in the morning (Sunday, no less) and true to his word he gave me a replacement car on the following morning. The girls found it all a great adventure to be stranded on a dark moonless night in the middle of nowhere, but the fact we were close to home made it easier to enjoy the excitement.

I have my own car back and as good as new - with a secondhand alternator (a new one was too costly given the mileage of my car) and a new battery. I still know nothing about the innards of the internal combustion engine and with a service like that from my local garage I'm happy to live on in ignorant bliss.

Friday, October 1, 2010

From Calatrava to Hot Limos - a Cultural Clash in our Capital City

I'm off to Dublin in the morning with teen daughter and three of her pals - for a day trip. I have some things to do there so I will let them loose in the city to mooch around the shops and do some shopping - what they love to do in the city. Dublin is a nice easy place to wander safely around in the centre, once they are all together, and but a bus ride away from me.

The mobile phone access makes me feel a lot more relaxed about letting them off the leash for a few hours. Who knows, I might even get some nice photos for a post. There are some wonderful new and iconic buildings in Dublin, and there's even a Big Wheel - which the Irish Times has been asking readers to suggest names for it, which brought out some good Dublin wit - along the lines of the London Eye albeit half as big.

I'd love to see the Grand Canal Theatre designed by Daniel Liebeskind, which rivals the Point - or the 02 as it's now Pointlessly called - I hate this branding of buildings in the name of sponsorship advertising. Landsdowne Road Stadium has been rebuilt and rebranded as the Aviva Stadium after the eponymous insurance company, much to the chagrin of fans of rugby and Ireland home soccer matches who will always carry a bit of Landsdowne Road in their hearts. Middle son is attending the Offset Design Exhibition/Mecca Linkthis weekend in the Grand Canal Theatre, so he'll have an intimate encounter with it.

The new Convention Centre has a lovely barrelly facade which looks out on the River Liffey near the new Samuel Beckett Bridge which I haven't yet seen - it's the second Santiago Calatrava Bridge in Dublin. The middle photo shows the bridge with the Convention Centre in the background. (image courtesy of The bottom photo was taken by me in February 2009 and shows the barrel of the Convention Centre as it was still being built. The Beckett bridge is nowhere to be seen as it only floated into position December 2009.

What I wanted to share with you on this post was this great photo of a hot pink stretch limo - snapped while sitting at traffic lights in the oldest part of the city - The Liberties, which dates back to Viking Dublin (988 or thereabouts if we can believe those who celebrated Dublin's Millenium in 1988!). I'm sure the happy lady hanging out the window waving her champagne glass was getting in the mood for a great night on the tiles and I wondered was it a mad hen party heading down to Temple Bar to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting public!

Enjoy the photos - there'll be updates if I get a chance to be snaphappy tomorrow.