Monday, April 13, 2015

Knitting: Grey Spring Poncho

While on holiday last week, I was able to catch up on a knitting project that I had started a while back. A friend of mine had given me 3 balls of grey wool that she had leftover from a project. (Everyone knows I love grey!) I was being cheap and decided I wanted to find a project that wouldn't require me to purchase extra wool and I didn't want to pay for a pattern or needles. (Seriously cheap!)

So, I weighed the three balls of wool on my digital kitchen scale and found that I had about 280g of bulky wool. I searched on for a pattern in that range and which used size 15 needles. Mostly I found headbands and gloves, but I also found this lovely Pepper Wrap Poncho

The only glitch was that this pattern used size 15 circular needles! I caved and decided to purchase new needles and give it a go because the poncho looked so cute. Seeing as this is only my second knitting project (third if you consider the teddy bear I knit in third grade/class) I was a little nervous about jumping into circular needles, but it was very intuitive and no problem once I got going. I was more stumped by the YO stitch, but quickly figured it out with the help of youtube.

This poncho is quite comfy and great for throwing over your shoulders as the afternoon turns to evening and the temperatures drop a little. I am not sure I would recommend it for the selfie-obsessed though, as it makes it a little hard to get your arms out very far. That's not a problem for me though!

Friday, April 10, 2015

a weekend in Terryglass, Tipperary

I know, I am way behind on chronicling all of our excursions around Ireland. It is my plan to play catch up very soon (story of my life, I think!) We just got back from a lovely trip that I will write up asap, but for now I want to share a lovely getaway we took a few months ago to Terryglass (on Lough Derg) in County Tipperary.

I have a soft spot for Lough Derg. My dad had a house in the lovely town of Garrykennedy when I was younger. I made some good friends down there and especially love the scenery in that part of Ireland.

I was trolling AirBnB, as I often do, for a nice place to visit and happened on a lovely looking cottage in Terryglass. 

We love old cottages in peaceful, rural locations. Somewhere to escape from the bustle of the city, relax and chill out. We also like to be able to bring our dog along...

This cottage was everything we usually look for and more! Firstly, the cottage was traditional but had all the nice, modern conveniences. It was perfectly clean and outfitted with everything we could need. It was in a nice, tranquil location, not too far from the lake.

The added extras that made it especially great: the sauna!!!! The childrens toys, books and movies that were in one of the bedrooms. The shed full of bikes that we could use. The go-cart!!!

 My kids spent hours riding up and down the country lane on the go-cart.

The play area with a bin full of balls. The fairy door. The swingset. It was a fabulous place to bring kids and that makes for a happy family all around. I also personally appreciated the free-range eggs.

One thing I would like to mention is that there seemed to be 3 or 4 cottages here. No one else was staying in the other cottages while we were visiting. I mention it as it seems like a great place for a group to go to, to have some shared space and also some separate space. I know that if we had friends staying in one of the other cottages, my kids would have had an even better time!

I highly recommend staying in Niall's restored stone cottage in Terryglass.

Tags: AirBnB, Ireland, Travel, Terryglass, Tipperary, Cottage, Vacation

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Bacon, Leek and Barley Soup

I love soup. It is probably my favorite "type" of food. Recently, I landed on my new favorite: Bacon, Leek and Barley!

I believe that bone broth is extremely nourishing and healing. So, I love to get as much of it into my family and myself as possible. 

I recently tried making the English Bacon, Leek and Potato soup from the Nourished Kitchen blog. Seeing as I live in Ireland, I had no trouble finding the right kind of bacon. I loved this soup SOOOO much. 

This soup made me nostalgic for the soup my granny used to make. No one I have asked seems to know what her recipe was and it has been over 30 years since I have tasted it. So I am not sure if it even tastes like this, but this definitely brought me back. One big difference that I did notice though:  Granny's soup had barley in it. 

I tend to oscillate between following a strictly paleo diet and experimenting with traditional grains. So I decided to try their recipe with added barley. It was fabulous and even more like granny's soup. Either with the barley or without, this soup is a winner and my current fave. Here is the recipe:

Bacon, Leek & Barley Soup

250g rashers (English/Irish bacon)
80g leeks chopped
100g carrots chopped
470g potatoes chopped
100g barley
1-2 Tbsp butter
Sea salt to taste
8-10 cups bone broth*

1. Sautee the leeks in butter until they soften.
2. Add the carrots and sautee about one more minute
3. Add the bacon and cook til nicely brown
4. Add bone broth, potatoes and barley. 
5. Simmer until the potatoes and barley are both soft, about 20 minutes
6. Add salt to taste.

*Note. Every week, either on Sunday or Monday I roast a chicken for dinner, so that  afterwards I can stick the bones in the crockpot overnight and then have broth for the weeks cooking. From one chicken I end up with about 10 cups. (I fill three empty passata bottles and keep them in the fridge)

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Knitting : Grey cable tunic sweater

Today I finished knitting my first sweater. Of course, it is grey.

I have actually been able to knit since I was about 7 years old. It's something that we learned in school in Ireland. I'm also very happy to say that both of my children were taught to knit in school last year too.

Anyway, prior to knitting this sweater, I had only ever knit scarves. Maybe three scarves total in my 35 years of being able to knit! My mom is such an amazing knitter, so I never bothered. I would just ask her to knit me what I wanted. 

A few months ago, I was invited to a "knit and stitch" night. My good friend, who is also an expert knitter, convinced me that I actually knew enough (plain, purl, cast on, cast off) to knit something other than a scarf and she showed me how to read a knitting pattern.

I headed to my favorite little wool and craft shop Winnie's Wool Wagon , I bought this Debbie Bliss pattern book:

I also bought ome beautiful bamboo needles (they were a little more expensive than the plastic ones, but so much prettier). I found the most beautiful grey wool,  Drops Andes Light Grey #9020  and got started on my "Cable Yoke Jumper"

I am so very excited. I want to wear my new sweater every day. I have been pinning and pinning sweaters to my to pinterest knitting board. I have joined Ravelry. I am now all set to embark on amassing the ultimate grey sweater collection. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Cottage in Rathfriland

One of the reasons we moved to Ireland is that we really want a little cottage in the Irish countryside. Ideally we want something remote, rural and peaceful, with enough outbuildings to use for workspace. Til we have our own cottage though, there is nothing we love more than escaping the city to explore parts of the countryside that we have not yet been to. With plenty of long weekends and school breaks throughout the year, I am constantly trolling AirBnB looking for our next adventure. Last week the kids had a midterm break and so we decided to explore "up North." I had seen Tullyquilly Cottage on AirBnb a while ago and fell in love with the pictures.

It looked and sounded amazing and it was in an area that we have only really passed through (less than two hours from Dublin, no less!). We were also lured by the prospect of a wood-fired hot tub. So, off we went for three relaxing nights in Rathfriland

The cottage itself was a beautiful space. Unlike most traditional cottages which are usually laid out as several small rooms, the inside of this cottage was a big open space. It was a bit like a loft in a cottage. This was nice for our family to both spread out and be close simultaneously. There was a fabulous collection of musical instruments and vintage toys. The kitchen was the perfect combination of old and new: I enjoyed cooking on the old aga-style stove, especially with the added bonus of under floor heating.

I could see that the grounds would come to fabulous fruition in the summer and be especially magical, but even in winter we still loved the setting, visiting the miniature donkeys (Paddy and Cara) and the chickens. There were potatoes, jerusalum artichokes and the yummiest winter squash ever from the garden. The swings and trampoline were a big hit with the kids and the wood-fired hot tub did not disappoint. Our gracious host had it fired up and warm for us to use on our first night and we used it every night of our stay, even when it rained!

Though we spent most of our time relaxing (and working) at the cottage, we managed to venture out and explore the area a bit, including a beautiful hike in Tollymore Forest Park (where they sometimes film Game of Thrones), a picnic at Murlough Nature Reserve,  a drive through Newcastle and a scenic drive through the countryside around the foothills of the Mourne Mountains. We loved our getaway to Rathfriland and hope to return. Highly recommend it!

Some snaps from our trip:

Tollymore Forest Park

Murlough National Nature Reserve

 Back at "Tullyquilly Cottage"

Visiting Cara and Paddy down the lane from Tullyquilly

The disc swing

The seat swing

Nice light!

The trees are bare, but the ambiance is still special.

The best part!

Check out Tullyquilly for yourselff: AirBnB

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Slow Cooker Butternut Squash Lamb Heart Chili

In the interest of both budget and nutrition, I make a huge effort to feed my family organ meats regularly. Luckily since moving to Ireland, worrying about finding "grass-fed" meat and dairy is not really an issue. Phew. However, I still go out of my way to find meat that is free-range and organic. This is something I am even more serious about when it comes to organ meats.

On Saturday, I was at my local Natural Food Market trying to get as much nutrition as possible for my limited food budget. Along with some ground beef and chicken carcasses (for bone broth), I also picked up very reasonable lambs liver and lamb hearts.

I know my kids will eat the liver pan-fried (just don't tell them it's liver please) but I knew I would have to do something to disguise the hearts. I have made the PaleoMom's pumpkin chili before and really liked the flavor. So, I decided to do something similar, using ingredients I had on hand. I can't say this was a huge hit with my kids (they thought it was "too spicy") but I really loved it and they ate it at least. Sometimes they need to try something a few times before they come around, but even if they don't, this is a recipe I would make again just because I like it so much. I also suppose I could tone down the spice and see what they think. Anyway, it was fab and a great way to incorporate organ meats into your diet.

Slow Cooker Butternut Squash Lamb Heart Chili

1 butternut squash, peeled and chopped
1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped
3 small onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 lamb hearts, chopped small (I remove the very obvious ventricles)
2 tbsp dripping or tallow or oil
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp mild curry powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp cocoa powder
1 jar of tomato passata
1 tsp salt

Heat oven to 350F or 180C.
1. Roast the butternut and sweet potato pieces in the oven for 25 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, sautee the onions, garlic and heart pieces in 2 tsp dripping til onions are translucent and heart pieces are nicely brown.
3. Add the chili powder, curry powder, cinnamon and nutmeg to the sautee pan, toss everything around to combine and then transfer these a crock pot.
4. Remove half the squash/potato pieces from the oven after 25 minutes and transfer to crockpot.
5. Keep cooking the rest of the  squash/ potato for 20 more minutes, til soft.
6. Add bay leaves, tomato passata and salt to slow cooker.
7. When the squash/potato pieces are done and soft, use a stick blender or food processor to puree.
8. Add puree to the crock pot.
9. Cook on low for 6 hours or high for 3. (This will depend a bit on your crock pot. The one I had in the US seemed to cook at much lower temps than the one I have here in Ireland. This one always has stuff bubbling! Not sure I like that.)

So, that's a very simple organ meat dish, that I find quite delicious. We ate it over rice, but you could easily have it with cauliflower rice or on its own. I am also thinking it might be a nice savory filling for my einkorn crepes. It might also be nice with beans added to the mix (if you eat beans).

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

My work-at-home productivity conundrum

As far as I can remember, I don't think that I have ever really made any serious New Year's Resolutions. This year, however, I have made a pact with myself regarding my own productivity and focus. One of the reasons is that, with my advancing age, I feel profoundly aware that I have not necessarily accomplished as much as I would have liked. Since getting pregnant and having kids, I sometimes feel like 10 years of my life has flashed by (even though the days often seemed very long) and I have barely kept my head above water.

I could blame many things for my dissatisfaction and sometimes I do start a blame game, but the only benefit to that really is that I also generally pinpoint something that I have control over and can change myself. 

As an artist, I am fortunate to be able to work from home. This is something I have always wanted. I like the flexibility, especially with a family, and I also really relish regular alone time. I do some freelance vfx work here and there but mostly I am working on my own art/music projects. Now that my children are both in school full time, I finally have consistent, regular and substantial blocks of uninterrupted time in which to get work done (after 9 years of wishing). Almost 7 hours a day! That's a lot. Unfortunately, I have not been nearly as productive as I should be!

There are a few problems that I have identified, most of which seem specifically related to working from home. Firstly, I don't like a mess or clutter, so its hard for me to turn a blind eye to things around the house that need to be done. My instinct is to clean up before I get to work. This might not be such a bad thing except that when I compile the list of "distractions (duties)" that I tend to before I get to work, my block of work-time starts to shrink immeasurably. What started out as a 6.5 hour block of time, can quickly become a 2 hour block of time after I have "just done these dishes" and "just picked up that lego" and "just called the dentist to make an appointment" and "just thrown in this load of laundry" and "just chopped these vegetables and put the dinner in the crockpot" and "just texted the piano teacher" and "just scheduled an oil change for the car" and even maybe "just checked facebook and twitter" etc...

If I then try to add regular, daily exercise into this window of time, combined with the occasional social invitation (which I am usually pretty good at declining) and the fact that I spread myself way too thin with (worthy, I think) activities (like writing a blog!) my nice, big block of time becomes severely compromised. Admittedly, I also need to learn to say "no" more often. Anyway, the day can just easily fly by without me getting much or any work done and yet its not as if I am sitting around eating bonbons.

I am sure this sounds like a ridiculous conundrum to those working parents who work outside of the home. They don't have the luxury of putting in a load of laundry while working, but I think there is something helpful about things being "out of sight, out of mind." At least it would be helpful to me!

So my productivity pact for this new year goes something like this: 
From the time I drop my kids off at school, until I pick them up I will NOT go online, answer the phone, do any dishes, laundry, tidying lego, sorting my desk, bill paying, errands, getting dinner in the crockpot, learning new software, facebooking, blogging, emailing, Grey Sparrow Goods, grocery shopping, socializing, not even exercise! I am clocking in to work after drop off and putting blinders on to all the things that constantly interfere with me getting my work done. These tasks will just have to fit in "after work" or not get done. I will just paint and work on art/music during working hours and that is it! (If I can achieve an 80% success rate, I will be satisfied and probably way more prolific. That's my goal!)

So, there you have it. I am hoping I have more to show for this year than a (barely) tidy house, a minimal level of fitness and well-fed children. I'll keep you posted as I am sure there will be bumps in the road, but I also bet I will come up with new and better solutions to fitting in all of the things that I need and want to do. So many things!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Einkorn Crepes

Today was a lazy Sunday morning and I wanted a quick and easy breakfast that also felt like a weekend treat. Last week, the kids tried pancakes (the way they are made here in Ireland) for the first time. In Ireland, pancakes are what would be called crepes in the US. Here they are just called pancakes and they are usually sprinkled with lemon juice and sugar. I remember how much my brother loved these as a kid. The kind of pancakes we eat in the US, thick and floury, are called American pancakes. There is also another style of pancake here, that they eat up North (Northern Ireland, to you non-Irish) which are a bit like American pancakes, but they are sweet and I have usually had them cold with butter and jam spread on them. They remind me of visiting my granny when I was little.

Anyway, today I decided to try my hand at pancakes or crepes. Because I try to minimize the amount of white flour my family eats, I usually go for alternatives to wheat flour. But lately I have been excited about trying Einkorn or Khorasan (ancient wheat varieties) whenever wheat flour is called for. Today's crepes were made with Einkorn and I think they tasted WAY better than regular crepes. My kids devoured them. They were super easy and I will definitely be making these again!

Here is the recipe:

Ingredients: (makes about 12 crepes)

2 cups einkorn (or regular) flour
4 eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup water
1/2 tsp salt
butter or oil for the pan

If you have time, sift the flour. Whisk in the eggs. Add the milk, water and salt and whisk til combined. Heat oil or butter in frying pan. Ladle or pour batter into hot pan (enough to thinly coat the bottom of the pan). Cook til edges are nicely golden and it seems solid enough to flip. Flip the pancake, cook a little bit more and then slide onto a plate. Super quick and easy!

Look at that lovely pancake!

Today we put a little maple syrup and blueberries on our pancakes. (These pancakes seem to need a lot less syrup than American style ones.) If I had a lemon, I would have gone with the traditional lemon and sugar. I will also be experimenting with an easy, homemade, heathier nutella type spread as well as using these for savory wraps. Stay tuned!