Monthly Archives: May 2013


We have a small patch of back garden to tend with at the moment. It’s not getting a great deal of attention, mainly because the bambino is the priority at the moment. The lawn needs to be cut and some of the plants should be pruned and tied back. But they’ll have to wait until we have time to deal with all these things.

The garden at home in Kilkenny is a very large thing, and takes over an hour to tend to the grass alone. The flowers were always so well looked after by Mum, and I’m sorry to say I never inherited that knack of hers. I’ve killed heather, tulips, cacti, even bog plants. Yes, even blog plants. Interestingly, the only thing that seemed to survive my care was orchids. I instigated the prime directive – just leave them the hell alone – and that seemed to do the trick. They flourished, even flowered. There’s no telling these things.

(Quick aside – did you know that the Tree of Knowledge wasn’t an apple tree? Doesn’t say so in the Bible. Instead, I think it was a pomegranate. And, if you watch Alton Brown, you know that is a total pain to get the seeds out.   At least, until he showed us how. )

Is there anything this man cannot do? …. No. 

So that’s the plan soon; get out into the garden and sort this thing. Something like this might be in order… Enjoy!

The Great Bake Off…

Hello! And good evening, wherever you are tonight. I’m typing away at the kitchen table while the baby sleeps next door. The jobs are all done, and a slow dusk is spreading over the garden. It’s been a busy weekend.

This weekend was my cheat weekend. It came about as a result of a cancellation. Myself and the husband had received a gift voucher to some cookery course, and we chose from their list of options ‘Biscuits and Tray Bakes’.


An opportunity to dust off my Questionable Content apron again....

An opportunity to dust off my Questionable Content apron again….

However, they cancelled. The woman on the phone couldn’t understand why I was so upset, but frankly you’d be upset too. I never eat anything pleasant any more, and I wasn’t sure I would know how to if I tried. This evening was going to be a cheat, a treat, a night off from all the relentless dieting. And now that night off, was off.

Bah. Bah, say I. So I decided to have this weekend to be about the treats. I would find myself at random moments of the day planning what would be included in my tray of vice. Biscuits, of course, for obvious reasons. But also a Victoria sponge, as it was one of my mother’s favorites, and baking is all about sentiment. Chocolate cake, of course. And a Lemon tart.

And, in keeping with the idea of sentiment, we should have others about as well. So I invited my dear friend Fiona (who also bakes like a demon) over with her hubby and three children, and my brother Paul, who has a sweet tooth to beat the band. Now all I needed to do was get the stuff cooked by Sunday at 2pm.

The whole thing started on Saturday morning. I had the pastry done and in the fridge in no time.

Pastry already chilling, babes....

Pastry already chilling, babes….

Then the cookie dough.

With recipe sheet to avoid obvious mistakes. Just like this blog.

With recipe sheet to avoid obvious mistakes. Just like this blog.

And then the base for the chocolate cake.

Chocolate Cake a-making...

Chocolate Cake a-making…

By now I was wondering if I was, perhaps, overdoing it too much? Me, go to extremes? Naaaah!!!!

Sunday, up and at ’em. Cakes iced. Victoria sponges, cooked and cooled. Biscuits, done. All that had to be done was the lemon tart. I actually had three recipes to consider; Mary Berry’s, Claire Clarke of the French Laundry, and Michele Roux. Claire Clarke is regarded as one of the best pastry and dessert cooks in the world, but it was Michele Roux’s recipe that was by far the most complex. Instead I went for Mary Berry’s. She had included all manner of tips to ensure that the tart was presented perfectly.

Thank you, Mary Berry....

Thank you, Mary Berry….

At ten to two, things were pretty much wrapped up, but I still had to tell the two men in my life to start setting the table and get the place ready for visitors. Before long, the guests had arrived with the best brownies I’ve ever tasted, buns, lemon cake, roulade… Mark had made scones with cherries and white chocolate as well. Ruddy heck.

It speaks for itself, and what it says is 'Eat me.....'

It speaks for itself, and what it says is ‘Eat me…..’

Photos don’t do it justice. We’re still eating now, I’ll have you know, and it’s only the fact that I swim 1500 meters three times a week that stops me from panicking. And what was it like?

I’ll tell you. My mum was a lovely cook. Home was where there was largess, richness of flavor, all manner of lovely things. I still have a Pavlovian response to bad weather, because it was then that Mum would pile on the desserts. If it rains, I still expect nice things. I want that. I want to continue that. I have in my head an image of a kitchen table holding a vase of flowers in bloom and a plate with something kind waiting for whoever lives there. I want that for my son and to create that kind of home. It’s a way of being near to my Mum. Men get history books, women inherit cook books. Spending the weekend the way I did, with family and friends, I feel as though a ritual as old and important as a tribal rain dance has been enacted. We weren’t alone, and we were loved. We didn’t wait till Friday, but we made joy today. That is a very good thing.

So yes, it was a good weekend. I hope there will be more. I intend there to be.

Richard II

I went out this weekend! Yes! I did! I really did, I left the house and everything. I went to see a play in the Peacock Theatre. The Peacock aims to show modern plays, and it is affiliated with the Abbey, Ireland’s national theatre. I went to see Richard II, which was produced by the Ouroboros Theatre Company.

Exterior of the theatre, in one of the roughest neighbourhoods in Dublin…

It’s been so long since I was in the city centre, I will be honest with you, I found it loud and rushed. And I, who used to love my walks through the city streets more than anything! But all I could think of was how much I enjoyed life now I didn’t have to deal with all this insanity. This was especially true the closer I got to the theatre, as Abbey Street is a very rough area.

The play itself five acts, all verse, and centred solely on the political story of how Richard II lost his throne through his own errors of character. The King has had his head turned by flatters, who convince him of his power and his might. He himself is also convinced that the status he holds is his by Divine Right. Hence, his being right, in charge, top of the heap is the right and honourable position for him to hold and anything less is a perversion (a failure to understand noblesse oblige, if you will). That’s his weakness. His failure, however, is that he does not prevent or settle an argument between two noblemen. Diverted himself to Ireland, he is unprepared when one of them returns from exile and invades and gathers supporters. Eventually, the King is deposed, made human and humble, and faces his death with more courage than he faced life.

image for this article

L-R Jane McGrath (Queen), Denis Conway (Duke of York), Michael Power (Northumberland), Patrick Moy (King Richard II) and Jonathan White (Lord Ross) in Richard II by William Shakespeare. Directed by Michael Barker-Caven. Photo by Monika Chmielarz

Richard becomes more human the further away he is removed from the throne. We see him initially surrounded by flatters, who seem sexually suggestive and sensual as they weave about him. It is to be presumed that they are lovers, at least, that is one of the charges that is made against them when they are arrested. The Queen is ignored and neglected. (I’m not suggesting that homosexuality is a defect of character, but I’m guessing that in Shakespeare’s time it wasn’t looked on too highly). As his power goes from him, we see his assurance fade, his panic grow. His outbursts become more manic and terrified. Eventually, when all is removed from him, we see him become a resigned person. Despair leaves him, and he is almost cheerful to have nothing on his shoulders.  He even becomes reconciled to his Queen, the two giving each other a tearful goodbye. In prison, about to be murdered, he speaks with honesty from the heart (and, in this production, he speaks it while on the loo). A man who failed at being great, made good by being just a man.

L-R Michael Power (Northumberland), Frank McCusker (Bolingbroke), Denis Conway (Duke of York), Damian Kearney (Bagot), Frank Mackey (Bushy), Patrick Moy (King Richard II), James Browne (Green), Jane McGrath (Queen), Shane O’Reilly (Aumerle) and Jonathan White (Mowbray) in Richard II by William Shakespeare. Directed by Michael Barker-Caven. Photo by Monika Chmielarz.

L-R Michael Power (Northumberland), Frank McCusker (Bolingbroke), Denis Conway (Duke of York), Damian Kearney (Bagot), Frank Mackey (Bushy), Patrick Moy (King Richard II), James Browne (Green), Jane McGrath (Queen), Shane O’Reilly (Aumerle) and Jonathan White (Mowbray) in Richard II by William Shakespeare. Directed by Michael Barker-Caven. Photo by Monika Chmielarz.

And I loved it. I’ve been away from anything like a live performance for years, but it was a majestic experience to be be in an audience again. I do hope very much to go again!

May Day

My  Mother made a point of not being political, but she did always say Happy May Day on the first of May. The day itself seemed to carry connotations of rebellion, and revolution, the way she said it, as if the proletariat were only just a few slogans from rising up. There was also a huge dislike of authority hidden, I thought, in the intonation she put into the words. May Day. Happy May Day. One day, comrade, we’ll beat them.

I think she remembered what it meant, you see. May Day is the day for the labour movement, for the fight then and now for workers’ rights. It is about not just looking up at our betters but at looking at those that made the betters succeed. The slide against slavery is one that has to be fought against for each geneneration.

Don’t believe me? Try being a worker in a developing nation, where you have no rights, not even the rights of survival. Try being a worker in the US, where the corruption of Libor and of things like this remove the currency of rights that is money, and where there is no hope for safety for the little person except through the power of combining under a common purpose.

A photo by Zoriah, showing the brick workers of Bangladesh.

There’s no reason to believe that workers’ rights should be removed or lessened. According to Elizabeth Warren, if minimum wage had kept pace with productivity in the States, it would now be €22 per hour. I don’t know if that is true, but I do know that the majority of the poor in the modern world, are working poor, made that way by a collection of policies that remove power and autonomy, while others grow rich on their work. They earn enough to live, but not to breath, and so are always two steps behind, four steps below.

And so today I remember my Mother’s hinted-at rebellion, remember to fight the good fight for those who can’t, and say out loud, “Happy May Day”.