Monday, March 26, 2012

An Early Summer's Day - in March

Our street in Lismore - with St. Carthage's Church.
Today was a beautiful Spring Day - and I wanted to share some photos with my Blogger friends - I've already put them on Facebook, this way they'll hit the Twitter machine as well. It's been unseasonally warm, with the temperature outside today around 16 degrees C and yesterday 17 degrees. It was windy but sunny and cloudless skies - a real perfect day!

It's also Livia's first birthday and we celebrated it yesterday in Cork, and I'll post some birthday photos soon. She is a sweet baby and it was great to celebrate it out in the garden in balmy weather.
South Mall Lismore with Knockmealdown Mt.

I went to Fermoy this morning with teen daughter and her friend who were starting a week's work experience from school at the Creche there, where she went years ago when I worked in Fermoy. I went to Lidl and SuperValu for some shopping and then home, where I had a nice relaxing morning home alone with my knitting and read the papers from the weekend and today, and did a minimum of housework, like two lots of washing which are now dry after a few hours blowing in the brisk breeze, and making Shepherd's Pie for dinner.
Our back garden in the morning sunshine

List of past participants in Immrama
 We just spent an hour in the polytunnel planting spuds and strawberry plants - and tidying up the ones from last year. Earlier I went down to the Immrama office in the Main Street and helped hubby Jan with the window layout after we took down the Devonshire Day posters and information. Time now to put up the info on the launch where the 2012 programme will be unveiled. That launch is on April 19th so I 'll be  blogging that at the time. Continue to watch this space!  There are some of my frilly scarves in the window in case anyone wants me to make them one, and our friend Jane Jermyn, a renowned Lismore-based ceramic artist has a great selection of her work on display.
Window dressing for Immrama

Some past Immrama posters & programmes
Tomorrow's the last day off before I check back into work on Wednesday, so I'll be off to knitting circle morning and evening sessions. There's a new Ravelry group started by one of the knitters on the home of our Knitting Circle, Angela's Design Workshop, so check it out here and join if you're on Ravelry. We plan an Exhibition in the Autumn, and maybe a bit of guerilla yarn-bombing wouldn't go amiss either. Of course given its nature there's no point of broadcasting it in advance outside of the participants - we wouldn't want it sabotaged, now would we?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Currying Flavour - Beef Curry and Trimmings

Beef Curry with Rice, Dhal and all the trimmings
I've been asked to share my recipe for Beef Curry over on Facebook so I thought the best way is to post it for posterity on my blog! This way everyone can enjoy it and it'll link to Twitter and Facebook. I have a really simple approach to curries - don't be a curry snob is the starting point and then it's straightforward after that!

I lived in Bangladesh over 30 years ago for over 2 years as a young Concern volunteer and that was the start of my love affair with kari or what we know as curry. (Along with another love affair but that's a whole 'nother story!). Ireland in the '70s wouldn't have been a hotbed of exotic epicurean delights and we were just about getting used to yoghurt and pasta as fancy foreign food, so for me going to Asia and encountering Bangladeshi cuisine was a real eye-opener. I got to love the food, the lack of spuds didn't bother me too much as I adored the rice staple, either boiled or fried as Biryani, and there was the added bonus that I lost 2 stone (about 14kg) in the first three months there from a combination of amoebic dysentery and a healthier diet with lots of rice and delicious fruit.

This paradox is quite explainable as I had a steep adjustment to make in relation to building resistance to bugs in water and the environment and I'd say all us sensitive Irish nurses and teachers and engineers and agriculturalists had to cross that Rubicon! Once we got over the first nasty dose we were pretty well assured of cast-iron constitutions for the duration of our stay - which was just as well as I loved street food and lassi and just got sense, with the  maxim "boil it, peel it or forget it" as my mantra. The joys of tropical living were myriad and I've just touched the surface. Another time I'll tell you about the skin problems, the filaria risk and the general day-to-day hazards of daily life in such a challenging climate.

Curry bash at Martin's Oz send-off - a big hit with the lads!
Back to the curry. I fixed on this beef curry a few years ago and it is a big hit with everyone, family and visitors alike. I make it a day before serving as like any decent stew it benefits from standing for a day or so. Think back to your student flat days when the stew made on Monday lasted through to Thursday (or made on Sunday if you had a good Irish mammy and could do some home shopping!) The rice has to be Basmati - I use Lidl or SuperValu Basmati Rice as the cheapest and best. Again no need to be a rice snob either.

Perfect Beef Curry

  • 2lbs/1kg stewing beef (with some fat marbling or trim to give it extra flavour)
  • 2 onions - slice thickly
  • Some garlic - 2-3 cloves
  • Patak's or Sharwood's sauces - I use a mix of the following with 3 tablespoons of three of the following - a combo of mild and medium. I mix the flavours quite randomly and find a combo is better than a single sauce. Totally unscientific and probably give the Patak family the vapours, but it works for me. 
  • Mild = Tikka or Tandoori or Korma; 
  • Medium = Rogan Josh, Jalfrezi or 
  • Hot = Madras, Vindaloo.
  • These last two are for the foolhardy who think they can handle hot curries. You've been warned!
  • 1 can (400g) of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 can (400g) of Coconut Milk
  • Tablespoon of Mango Chutney (optional)
  • Tablespoon of vegetable oil
  • Optional Extra: Dried spices - a teaspoon of each of the following can be fried in hot oil before adding the sauces and meat.
  • Garam Masala
  • Cumin (seeds or powder)
  • Coriander (seeds or powder)
  • Mustard seeds
  1. Put oil in heavy base saucepan - heat to smoking hot.
  2. Add dried spices if using and stir for a minute but don't burn them.
  3. Add the sauces as in 4 above.
  4. Add the meat and onions and garlic and mix well.
  5. Brown the mixture but again don't burn - turn down heat as it will stick if you're not careful.
  6. Add tomatoes and coconut milk and mix well. 
  7. Cover and turn down to simmer, stirring occasionally, for 3-4 hours. 
  8. It's done when the meat is so tender to be falling apart when you cut it. 
    Last family curry - Martin's going-to-Oz party
You could use any quality sauce you can get locally - Patak's and Sharwoods are the commonest avaiable here. I'm sure there are specialty shops where you can get any variety of sauces. I use sauce in preference to dried powder as it gives more intense flavour and they are pretty oily and infuse every pore of the meat.The secret is to add the sauce to the meat before browning it - no point in searing the meat before the flavours can permeate the fibres. There's my science bit for you.

Serve with freshly boiled Basmati Rice.

Perfect Basmati Rice.
NB: I don't do any of the things you should do with rice like washing it or soaking it.
Put 200-300gm rice in heavy base saucepan.
Cover with boiling water to about double the volume of rice - ie. if rice quarter fills the saucepan then add water to half fill the saucepan.
Add a tablespoon of vegetable oil - I use olive oil - and stir through.
Cover and bring to the boil; when rolling, stir again and turn off heat.
Leave on stovetop for 10-15 mins and steam will cook it through dry and perfect. No need for rinsing, draining or anything. Just stir to separate and serve. I use this rice for making fried rice dishes like Nasi Goreng another family favourite for midweek fast food dinners.

Side dish - Garam Masala Fried Eggplant (or Aubergine) - Brinjal
Fried Eggplant
  1. Slice eggplant.
  2. Sprinkle with Garam Masala (a blend of sweet spices - a store-cupboard essential!)
  3. Heat oil in heavy base frying pan to about 0.5cm depth to smoking
  4. Add eggplant slices and fry in hot oil, turning after a few minutes.
  5. When golden brown on both sides remove from pan and drain on kitchen paper (it's pretty oily as the eggplant absorbs a lot of the oil - don't even think about calories!)
  6. Eat with the curry - it's delicious.

Any other side dish like Raita (yogurt with thin slices of onion or cucumber and sprinkled with garam masala or cumin) or sliced banana or just a green salad with chunky beefy tomatoes. Chappatis or Parathas are also delicious Indian Flatbreads to serve with curry and they are the mopper-uppers of the juices as curry is best eaten with no cutlery but with the fingers. Try it sometime - have a bowl of hot water with a slice of lemon on hand to cleanse your hand afterwards.

Enjoy! Ask me anything I didn't explain properly and I'll try to help.

Friday, March 23, 2012

A Birthday Experiment - Blogger to go!

Multitasking me last Tuesday at breakfast!
Today I'm on a day off and it's also my Birthday - not a significant one or anything as at this (st)age I'm not really dwelling too heavily on numbers - and I just found this mobile app for Blogger.

So this is just a trial of blogging on the move from my iPhone. Pretty apt app too as it's also my iPhone's birthday! So far it's just like texting with added bells and whistles. I'll add a few pics and post it off.

I'm having a do-nothing day which is bliss. I'm reading a great book on North Korea (Nothing to Envy, by Barbara Demick) for our Bookclub, a glimpse behind the kimchi curtain, you could say. I'm knitting a second sock with a doty feather and fan cuff, and a bit more of a cotton jumper that's a WIP for a while now.

Cotton jumper - nice lace detail - WIP
I spent ages Skyping Jany in Cork, where Sofia is fast getting the hang of it - she chats away and looks for Opa (hubby Jan) over my shoulder! I know Skype's more associated with far-flung convos with emigrant offspring but I use it a lot here, beats the phone and mobility enabling - ie. I can knit and chat! I've an issue with multitasking but I'd need a twelve-step programme to wean me off it now. Here's a pic hubby took of me last Tuesday at breakfast with a lot of fringe events going on, and it ended up on Facebook garnering amused reactions.

I'm curious how this app will make the post look in it's web version, but here goes. Where will the photos end up? I normally spend a few minutes on the final layout. This is very fast, as little editing seems possible. A good thing for mildly OCD types like me!

My current Bookclub read. Terrific! 
I'd say if you have a Smartphone there's a Blogger app for all platforms, so give it a shot if you're into blogging. Mind you, I'm after updating the blogger appearance and now I can't find the dashboard to read all your great posts! Help if you can and thanks!
Sock no. 1 done - ZigZag yarn
Sock nearly done. King Cole ZigZag.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Devonshire Day 2012 - Another Perfect Mothers' Day

The Upper Gardens Lismore Castle
Yesterday was the 9th Annual Devonshire Day held in Lismore Castle as the main fundraiser for the annual Immrama Festival of Travel writing and this year will  be the 10th Immrama Festival so it's a very special anniversary - watch this space for updates and programme announcements after the launch on April 19th! I just want to share some of the photos of yesterday with you - and link you to previous posts on Devonshire Day which I've blogged about since 2009 - the first Devonshire Day after I started the blog in December 2008. Here are the links to the 2010 and 2011 posts.

We were blessed with perfect weather yesterday - and we always say St. Carthage our Patron Saint of Lismore is looking down on his own home town with favour. Well, he came from Rahan in Co. Offaly but we claim him as our own as his name is synonymous with Lismore, whichever one you want - as the Australian Lismore has a St. Carthage's Cathedral also and is our Twin Town, and we have two St. Carthage's - the Church of Ireland Cathedral and the Catholic Church.

The Joseph Paxton Greenhouse/Vinery and raised beds
The Lower Gardens of Lismore Castle
The day is a series of five guided walks through the spring gardens of Lismore Castle with the Head Gardener Chris Tull at the helm, and his love and enthusiasm for the gardens shines through all the way - he never flags even after six hours or more,  he displays the same humour and passion with the final group as with the first. I should know, as I accompany each group, tasteful in my garish yellow Hi-Viz jacket and carrying my First-Aid kit, just in case anyone decides to take a tumble or keel over - all in the name of "elf'n'safety"! Luckily no-one has thus far, although a few years ago in particularly vile weather some of the punters nearly came a cropper on the slippery slopes of the lower garden where the mud had churned up into a veritable mire. At least this year the mild winter meant the gardens were in magnificent bloom and some of the magnolias were a little early while others were late having not fully recovered from the Arctic winter of 2010/11.

Chris and Antony Gormley's Man Out Of Water
The walks are preceded by the piece de resistance - the Devonshire Cream Tea served by the Butlers of the Duke of Devonshire in the Pugin Room - the Ballroom and former Chapel designed by Pugin, the famous designer of Westminster Houses Of Parliament in London. The tea is served on monogrammed china and with full silver service, and is very posh. As two of our sons worked there for years as butlers when they were students we tend to take it for granted, but it is very other-worldly for the visitors. A taste of how the other half (or more like the 1%) live, if you will. And that's a topic for debate another day!

Devonshire Cream Tea in the Pugin Room
But I digress - back to the tea. The punters are treated to a series of talks during their tea - on the history of the Castle, Lismore, the Pugin connection and the Pugin Room in particular, and then Chris talks about the gardens and during the walkabout he is a mine of information on Joseph Paxton who built the Glasshouses and designed the gardens initially, and then the contemporary influences of the Cavendish family who inaugurated a Sculpture Garden throughout the gardens, with many contemporary artists having permanent exhibits. Eilis O'Connell has a couple of pieces, and Antony Gormley is probably the best known with his "Learning to be I" man figure - a mould of his own body on a cold day as Chris tells it! I leave you to judge. Gormley's signature piece is the Angel of the North in Newcastle in England, and 100 of his body figures are dotting the English coastline at Crosby near Liverpool.

Over the Inches at sunset from the Castle Dining Room
The Castle Arts Gallery will be open throughout the summer along with the gardens and the ticket entry includes both. Each year there's a different  exhibition usually with guest curators, and it is always avant garde and of international renown but not to everyone's taste. So if you're expecting art a-la the National Galleries, you might be disappointed! This is also the first year there was no Sotheby's Irish Sale Preview in Lismore Castle Arts, which is missed by me as I loved it. But that's the downside of the recession, and we have to put up with it. I'm sure it cost someone a fortune to tour with those artworks worth millions.

Knitter extraordinaire Agnes, with Kevin 
So I  hope you enjoy the photos  and the post - I met a lady who was here last year and she had the most amazing Aran outfit, which she designed and knitted herself - I was gobsmacked by her skill and tenacity - she had a beret, mittens, cowl, bag and calf-length coat - all in fabulous intricate Aran patterns. You can see the photo here as I took some to send her, and I hope she likes them as much as I did seeing them and meeting her. She's called Agnes and she comes from Waterford.

Chris Tull stands on the Ice-House talking to the crowd
I've been asked to do a Guest Post over on the Immrama Blog that hubby Jan moderates in his role as the Immrama Festival Administrator and coordinator of Devonshire Day, and it's a nice family collaboration. Hope you enjoy browsing the blog which is linked to the Immrama Website. 

You can see the full gallery of photos from yesterday over on the Immrama Facebook page here and do click Like when you visit!

Dates for your Diary: 

  • April 19th for the Launch of Immrama 2012 - the Tenth Immrama which will be very special! 
  • Immrama 2012 will take place in Lismore from 7th-10th June 2012. Save the weekend! 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Where in the World? Monkeying about in Dublin

The famous monkeys on the plinth 
In this post from last  month I posed a question for your next Pub Quiz - along the lines of Where in Dublin will you find monkeys playing snooker? (or billiards if you prefer or are pedantic!) 

I can now reveal all - thanks to hubby Jan who took this photo on the day I was hanging out in Powerscourt Town Centre and he was in a business meeting in the Alliance Francaise next door to the monkeys. 

It's in 2-3 Kildare Street on the plinth of a column on the National Library of Ireland Manuscripts Office. I did a bit of research (ok, I Googled it) and found out this little pair of monkeys are featured in a few blogs like this one  and this one

Here's the Wikipedia entry on the NLI - no mention of monkeys. I think it emanated from the building's glory days as a Gentleman's Club!

However, the information on the NLI website is the most enlightening and I quote from it here: 

"This building was originally a gentleman's club (the Kildare Street Club) and it is remarkable for the carvings on the base of the capitals on its facade.  The most unusual carving is three monkeys playing billiards".

It's all rather intriguing and I hope you get to see them whenever you visit Dublin - right next to the Alliance Francaise which is on the corner of Nassau St. and Kildare St. right beside the Trinity College railings around the campus and the sportfields. It's a lovely area to browse around when you've had your fill of shopping in Grafton St. and environs. If you feel so moved you can always wander up Kildare Street to visit Leinster House, home of our D áil or National Parliament, and see the famous plinth where many a politician has come a cropper - monkey business by another name!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Local Knitting Hall of Fame Moment - The Lismore Cable

The Lismore Cable - Finished Swatch
I want to share this Aran pattern with you - it's got a lot of sentimental resonance for me, especially this week which is my mother's second anniversary. It's called the Lismore Cable, and was designed  by Cyril Cullen, who is a Knitwear designer. He worked as a Social Welfare Officer in the "Dole Office" in Lismore when I was a child and he branched out into knitwear design for the American market to meet the demand for Aran knitwear. I alluded to him in this post some years ago when I made Shayne a cricket vest.

It was always  more popular Stateside than here at home, despite the fact that the clothes were made from appallingly scratchy pure wool,  very coarse and often replete with twigs and bits of grass and thorns, depending on the living quarters of the sheep.

My mother and many local women knitted for this designer and it was a veritable cottage industry. I guess it was a major success as he went on to leave the Civil Service and become a full-time designer, and he went on to live in Farney Castle in Co. Tipperary where he designed porcelain as well as knitwear.

Lismore Cable swatch blocked 
A friend found some of his late mother's patterns lately when he was doing a clearout, and gave them to me. I was fascinated to find some of the original Gestetner copied patterns and marvelled at the skill of my mother and all those 1960s possibly Desperate Housewives who knitted from home while raising their families in order to supplement meagre incomes.

I can't but think there was a certain irony in the fact that many of the home knitters like my widowed mother would have been clients of Cyril in his role as the Social Welfare officer. I wonder did they fear if they were too prolific in their output of jumpers would it have a negative impact on their pensions? The fear of "having your pension cut" was a very real one for people like my mother, who was a single mother through widowhood in the age when there were no supports other than the Widow's Pension and the Children's Allowance. I found a letter recently from the 1960's where her pension was noted to be 10/6 a week - that's 10 shillings and sixpence, or 55pence in old money, or about 70 EuroCent.

It can't have been easy, as they were under pressure to have the garments done in a certain timeframe, and the pattern sheet carries all kinds of dire warnings and admonishments of the consequences of getting the wool and/or garment soiled. Such transgressions had to be paid for by the knitter, and if a garment couldn't be cleaned to satisfaction the home knitter had to buy it for the cost of the wool. Now I know why my mother was always in a state to keep the wool clean, keeping it in pillow cases in the pre-plastic bag ubiquity era.

Tivoli Twirl scarf
I can remember her winding skeins of wool into balls, while I sat with the skeins on my outstretched arms, or else she used the back of a kitchen chair. It was a time where any extra household income was welcome, before Ireland joined the EEC (later the EU) and discovered prosperity, and certainly before the Celtic Tiger era.

ChaChaCha scarf
I guess many people think that the current recession might lead to a return to those not-so-halcyon days - but I think not, as Knitting is anything but an economic necessity now, and rather a luxury, given the cost of clothing vs. the cost of yarn and labour - so for me knitting is purely a hobby and a labour of love and if I am lucky to sell an item of clothing that's a bonus. I sold two scarves lately via Facebook, incidentally, to a Blogger friend, and got a great buzz out of it, but I don't think I'll be quitting the day job yet!

Some of the Frilly Scarves I made recently

Saturday, March 10, 2012

My New Noro Scarf - a Colourful Labour of Love

Ta-dah  - finished!
This is the end result of the fabulous wool I got from Caroline (on Twitter @Scattyhats). I started this scarf a month or more ago after agonising (well, thinking for a bit) over what I'd make with the Knitmas present. I had never seen such fine yarn before, let alone work with it. It's like a 2-ply, with some knobbly slubby bits where the yarn changes texture. It's Noro Sekku, a mix of Silk, Cotton, Wool and Nylon. So I'm guessing it's pretty strong and it's very very long at 420 metres/459yards - which is why I got such a long scarf from a mere 50gm ball!

I was in This is Knit in Dublin a few weekends ago and I wrote about the visit here so you can see I got a lovely Noro Yarns book there - it's got a fantastic selection of patterns with the gorgeous colourways that Noro seem to specialise in. I really love them and I have no idea whether they'll look good pr gaudy but they are very aesthetically pleasing to look at!

The Pattern - Feather and Fan stitch
Ready for blocking
Stitch detail on scarf
I decided on a Feather and Fan stitch for the scarf as it has a built-in wave which goes brilliantly with the colourful striped pattern in the yarn.  I like the lacy look of it too. It was a project I picked up from time to time in between other small projects like phone covers and starting a new jumper. (or sweater is the word in some places.)

There are loads of free patterns on Ravelry for Feather and Fan scarves so you can just find one you like - remember the pattern is a multiple of 18 stitches so you can make it as wide or narrow as you like - and the edges are half a fan - so that's what I did - with a garter stitch border of 3 stitches on each row to minimise curling.

Feather and Fan Scarf.

  • Cast on 60 stitches
  • Garter stitch x 3 rows, then start pattern Row 1
  • Row 1: K3 (K2 tog) x 3 times, [(YO, K1) x 6 times, (K2 tog) x 6 times] repeat from [ to ] as desired, K2 tog x 3 times,  K3.
  • Row 2: K3, purl to last 3, K3.
  • Row 3: Knit
  • Row 4: As Row 2.
  • Repeat these four rows until desired length. End scarf with 3 rows Garter Stitch, cast off.
  • Noro book and WIP scarf
  • Block to define lace and shape.

Right now the scarf is blocked and drying out - I did a wet blocking - something that's totally new to me as I had never blocked things before but as this was curling in at the edges I thought I'd better! I used a wet blocking method from my Knitting and Crochet Bible - with rust-proof stainless steel pins, pin the garment on a soft base (I used a doubled lengthways bathtowel) and shape as you want it finished. Then get a clean cloth and wring out in water, place over the garment and leave to dry naturally, can take a couple of days. When cover cloth is dry, remove, and leave garment to dry naturally. Then unpin and enjoy!
Drying on the spare room floor!

The Sekku Label.
I'll be back to post a pic of the finished scarf post-blocking. Hope you like the results thus far - and thanks to Caroline - who's recently given birth to twin girls and certainly has her hands full - Congratulations to her and thanks a million for introducing me to this wonderful new brand - and to Feather and Fan stitch as she made me the beautiful Knitmas Cowl with the Debbie Bliss Andes Alpaca and Silk blend yarn - heavenly. I'm really grateful to her, and wish her a wonderful life!