Navel Gazing.

I fell off my horse. I cantered up to a hurdle that was way beyond my reach and I took a tumble.

What you have before you now is a woman half way back on the horse, hanging on to the pommel, belly down, trying with all her might to get that left leg up and over but her pelvic floor muscles aren’t what they used to be, and all in all it’s not a pretty picture, and I may have just taken this metaphor too far. Shall we start over?


I’m grand. Totally fine. Not sick, or hurt, or depressed, not even busy. To be honest with you, I don’t know what’s happened to me. I may be eating too much sauerkraut, maybe all that butyrate has gone to my head – who knows- but I can’t write anymore. Not a thing. I couldn’t even come up with clues for the Easter egg hunt. Total block.

I just read back over my East of Eden review, one of the few posts I’m proud of, to convince myself that there was something worth hanging on to here, and of course it’s not as good as I’d like it to be but still, if I could come up with something like that now, I’d be ecstatic.

Nope. Niente. Not a chance.

Hardly anyone even read that post but the stats have never, hardly ever, bothered me. I began this blog with only  a little ambition and no mission beyond pleasing myself. I wanted to say, Hello World, I exist, but not much beyond that. I hoped, for a time, that some greater plan might be spawned if I kept on putting virtual pen to paper but no, niente, etc.

I’ve always said, to myself that is, that all those filler-inner posts about rhubarb cocktails or rude ladies in shops, or whatever, were simply a ploy to keep me going while I waited for a stroke of genius. I knew that if I stopped to think about what I was doing I would get The Fear and stop.

I have taken fright, that much is clear, but getting to the root of what exactly it is that has me petrified has taken weeks of navel gazing. I’m not proud of that, by the way. I’m acutely aware that people have real problems while I live remarkably close to spoilt bitch territory.

Nevertheless, the last few months have been one of those frustrating times in my life when I feel that I don’t know my own mind. It’s a feeling that I hate, a sort of doubt about my own sanity that makes me want to bang my head against something hard and sure, like a brick wall.

On one hand, I’m a total gobshite when it comes to handling criticism and have a paralysing fear of failure. Continuing to write something that’s not quite good enough seems to me like failing, and failing publicly. Calling a halt to writing because it’s difficult also feels like failure. Is that a Catch 22? I’m never certain. Either way, I’m running scared.

On the other hand, I feel as though I’ve just woken up to the insanity of baring my soul to the Whole Wide World. Writing is an addiction for me. It always has been. I’ve kept some form of diary for most of my life. Writing into a void comes easily to me and it has always been an outlet, a release, and oftentimes an unedited (and poorly punctuated, I know) stream of consciousness. I’m not much of a talker so it feels bloody brilliant to let the words out, to get to the end of a thought before fear takes over, to be myself. The joy, practically a miracle, of this blog has been people, you, you know who you are, writing back and saying, Hey, I feel like that too. I cannot overstate how much that has meant to me. That’s a connection that I rarely get in the real, speaking-words-out-loud, world.

The problem is that it feels so good that I have at times lost the run of myself. In chasing that buzz I have revealed too much and come close to worse. It would feel so good to lay every inch of me bare, just for the kick of it, the raucous, out-of-control glee of it, but I can’t, or I shouldn’t, and even if I did, what would I do then?

I think, only think, I’m not sure, that when I started writing this blog my habitual caution was outweighed by grief. Grief gave me enough anger to be brave. I let loose. And, for a while, a glorious while, I did not care one whit what anybody thought of me, or what, or how well, I wrote.

I’ve lost that shield. It has, quite suddenly, dawned on me that I’m not writing into a void anymore. There are too many real world people reading. I introduced myself to a teacher at a PT meeting a few weeks ago and then realised in horror that she knew me from the blog. That, I think, was the clincher. I can’t do this any more.

I want to keep writing something, ideally about books, but I have to stop writing about me. I haven’t figured out, yet, how to do that. I might try Goodreads, although it’s not a platform I’m mad about. I may start all over again in complete anonymity. I should probably spend some time on pelvic floor exercises, figurative and otherwise.

I might just read.

This, by the way, is how much a girl can read in 6 weeks away from social media:


For the record, in one word each, from the top down: boring, horrible, riveting, charming, astounding, grim and magnificent. That last took as long to read as all the others put together but, by God, was it worth it.

As far as writing goes, for the moment, I’m going cold turkey.

And so, with much regret and doubt, and gratitude and even a little guilt, hopefully for a short while only…

…this is Sultanabun, signing off.





The Annual Leap of Faith and…

Do you ever think that all that believing in Christmas is somehow a clever bit of short circuitry to believing that Spring will come again?

Every year, without fail, I have a lapse of faith. While Husband turns his attention to seed catalogues, I burrow under a pile of yarn, hooking stitches as though my life depended on them and muttering despondently, bah, that garden is too much work.

And every year, without fail, we make that sharp turn in our circumnavigation of the sun and, lo, here I am with my nose pressed against the kitchen window wondering when the rain might ease off so that I can go survey my plot of earth.IMG_1059

It was a funny old Christmas. Two people died. They weren’t people I was close to, or even knew well, no need for condolences, but the circumstances of both, young people leaving tiny children behind, were shocking, really shocking, and desperately, awfully sad. A woman said to me that it put all the Christmas ‘stress’ into perspective and I nodded but really I thought, no, it doesn’t. It makes no sense at all. None.


I’m a bore, a steady eddy. I put what must get done ahead of what could be fun. Teenage Son accuses me of constantly procrastinating with the ‘just one more job I have to do.’

I like to believe I am reliable. I work towards security. I don’t buy lottery cards. I’m not interested in gambling.IMG_1022

And yet, here I am stuck, with you and everyone else too, in this great big game of chance.IMG_1018

It was Ophelia who broke those poppy stems, all tipped over at what must have been a weak spot in their stems. I left them there because I admire their tenacity and because, even in decay, they are undeniably beautiful.IMG_1021

There’s very little left now of last year’s fruit. Only a few grim hangers-on, like these rose-hips, have withstood the persistent wet of an Irish winter.IMG_1034

Still and all, it has been another remarkably mild winter and there is probably more life in the garden than, by rights, there should be.

The perennial wallflowers are living up to their name, and then some.IMG_1000 (2)

And surely, there can be nothing in the world more reliable than daffodils.IMG_1007

And rhubarb too, seems like a safe bet.IMG_1027

And there are tiny buds on the Acers…IMG_0998

and bigger buds on the lilac…IMG_1004

and sticky, rosy buds on the Ribes.IMG_1012

And even where there is no sign of Spring, there are signs of life.IMG_1028

And there is reassurance in knowing, knowing because I can see it and knowing because I can rub my thumb against the strength of it, that there will be a rose here…IMG_1043

and a fig here…IMG_1038

and a bunch of blueberries here.IMG_1032

And I think I might say yes next time Teenage Son offers to teach me how to play the guitar. And I think I might venture out of my safety zone. And I might fail. And I think I might risk it.

And, and, and…IMG_1042

and it goes on.IMG_1040

Happy New Year.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

A Fairly Unbiased Book Review: Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks.

Can there ever be such a thing as an unbiased review?


A good portion of the people who pick up Uncommon Type will do so out of curiosity to discover whether Tom Hanks, the Hollywood A-lister, can write. You would expect him make a decent fist of it, wouldn’t you? After all, we already know Tom Hanks is a smart and articulate man. He’s a professional communicator, has an understanding of timing and character development and he’s funny. Does all of that add up to being a good writer? I, for one, was rooting for Forrest Gump to come up trumps.

Occasionally, when Tom Hanks is out and about in the real world, he meets a small child who can’t understand how the man he is facing could possibly claim to be Woody from Toy Story. Hanks knows exactly what to do. He asks the child to close his eyes and then, to the amazement of all, he performs the voice and the child knows without any doubt that he has met the real Woody.

IMG_9876 (2)

Having read Hanks’ first collection of short stories, I’m left with the impression that he intends to play the same trick on his readers. Even the most commercially successful of authors, Stephen King or Dan Brown or Paula Hawkins, don’t have the advantage Hanks has of having a voice so very familiar to us. If I were to say to you, ‘My Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates…’ I’m willing to bet you can hear Tom Hanks’ voice in your head finishing the sentence.

There is no doubt that the actor’s spoken voice shines through, clear as a bell, in his writing and that, absolutely, is a real pleasure. He brings the same affable, jocular manner we’ve all seen on some chat show or other. He sounds like himself – at his ease and, more significantly, in control. Hanks is a natural raconteur, an exemplary story-teller and to read his book is the closest you will come to having the Tom Hanks you know so well from the movies actually take a seat by your fire-side and spin you a yarn.

My problem is this: I think he’s still acting. He’s still performing voices, acting the author, while we, so to speak, read with our eyes shut.

The collection opens with a story called Three Exhausting Weeks in which a man who was previously content to spend his days doing a load or two of laundry and watching a game on TV begins dating an old school friend, a woman who is fit and smart and driven to succeed.

“Being Anna’s boyfriend was like training to be a Navy Seal while working full-time in an Amazon fulfilment center in the Oklahoma Panhandle in tornado season.”

The story charts the increasingly hectic, but mercifully brief, course of their mismatched relationship.

It’s a snappy and entertaining piece of writing and introduces a quirky foursome of friends who appear twice more in later stories. With each reprisal, I liked these characters a little more but even three stories, a trip to the moon and a bowling championship, later, they seemed more like the cast of a sit-com than real people.

Another character who wins himself several appearances in the collection is Hank Fiset. Now, this guy I really like. Hank Fiset is a bit of a crank, a Grumpy Old Man but also an old school, small town, newspaper man who crafts his column so that it can be read in exactly the time it takes to boil an egg. He accompanies his wife on a trip to New York where he finds the Caesar salad too tart, the parking inconvenient and the art for Art’s sake only.

“I saw a movie that was nothing more than time passing – really, a lot of clocks ticking and people looking at their watches. I gave it ten minutes.”

He mourns the demise of print newspapers and recalls a colleague, a re-write man at the old associated press, whose type-writer was a Continental.

“The man made quite a racket doing his job a few hundred times a shift– the chonk-chonkka of his typing with the ba-ding of the bell, the krank of the carriage return, the shripp of the copy ripped from the machine.”

This brings me to the author’s most charming device, the hook on which the collection hangs. In each story there is an individual type-writer. Some are older than others but all can lay claim to the term vintage. In some stories the type-writer plays a starring role, in others it’s an extra hanging about in the background but it’s always there somewhere. The type-writer made me smile, every time.

Close enough to the centre page of this book, and at its very heart, you will find a real gem, a story called These Are the Meditations of My Heart. It’s about a girl who can’t resist buying an old type-writer that’s going cheap at a yard sale.

She brings the type-writer to a repair shop where an old fellow with a, probably, Polish accent teaches her a thing or two about type and type-writers and why we are so attracted to them.

“Because they were built to last forever.”

Can’t you just hear Hanks doing that probably-Polish accent?

“You are seeking permanence,” he says.

It was in this story that I thought we might, just might mind you, be hearing the voice of the real Tom Hanks rather than another of his myriad characters.

“I’m not one who types between sips from a tumbler of booze and drags from a pack of smokes. I just want to set down what few truths I’ve come to know.”


Hanks failed to convince me that he is a writer. He doesn’t display the compulsion to bare his own soul . Sure, Hanks writes and he writes well. He writes convincing scenes of American lives, poignant characters who recall a better past or believe in a better future. But, he doesn’t say anything in these stories that he wouldn’t have said better in a movie. He doesn’t give himself away. He’s still playing Woody, doing a voice, acting.

It may be that Hanks is too good an actor, too smart, too practised at guarding his privacy, to be a writer. It may be that I was looking for something he was never going to give.

When you see Hanks’ name on a movie poster you know you are in safe hands. Tom Hanks is never less than entertaining. Equally, his stories are thoughtful and congenial. Some are moving, others hilarious but they are not provocative and they are not personal. His stories are safe, which is a pity really, because Tom Hanks can write.



The Crazy Days Before the Calm (we hope).

There is always a drama at this time of year involving some daft item that simply must be sourced or the world will possibly end or, at the very least, Christmas will be ruined. One year, it was a very particular Lego set with a Darth Vader mini-figure. Another year, it was a Barbie and Ken wedding. There was the time I set my heart on a pair of burgundy patent shoes for my then two year old eldest daughter. You wouldn’t believe the distance I drove for those shoes but, oh my, she was a picture in her little wool coat and beret. My excuse is that these are the things that give us a sense of having kept Christmas well, that it’s not just a case of buying and wrapping the cheapest or random gifts and receiving the same in return with fingers crossed that the tags are attached. You have to put an effort in; that’s the whole point.

This year, it’s a donkey outfit. Small Girl is to play a donkey in Seó na Nollaig (nativity play). I was all set to make one, had a hat half crocheted, when Middle Daughter informed me, in the kindest terms, that EVERYONE ELSE is buying one from the shops and poor Small Girl will be a laughing stock in a homemade outfit. Sigh. (I’m clearly alone in my views about putting an effort in.)

And so, bowing to peer pressure, I spent this morning trawling the recommended shops for the recommended donkey onesie. I found a very cute dragon onesie, and two different unicorn onesies. I stood stock still in the shop and put serious thought into attaching donkey ears to a unicorn but wasn’t sure how much of a sense of humour the Senior Infants teacher has, or my daughter for that matter. I’ve come home with a pair of grey leggings and a grey hoody and a sinking feeling that I’m getting this one wrong.

I have a few ongoing crafty projects which are Top Secret and Highly Classified. I’ve had to do some very stealthy crocheting. I’ve learned that I can really only get away with giving handmade gifts to my own offspring which is trickier, of course, since they are here all the time.

I’m working on a set of the elf characters from Matt Haig’s A Boy Called Christmas, all of my own imagining and purely for my own satisfaction. They posed for some photos this morning. Here’s a sneak preview:


Aside from under-cover crocheting, I have done a terrifying amount of credit card tapping, a reassuring amount of list-making, including the ultimately comforting booklist-making, and a properly scandalous amount of steeping things in brandy. I blame Nigel Slater.

IMG_0189 (2)

I’ve got vanilla pods in brandy, apricots in brandy and prunes in a mixture of muscat and brandy. I’m seriously considering dunking the last Jerusalem artichokes in brandy – with a label attached saying “Nobody light a match.”

Segueing neatly to another root vegetable, we harvested our first Oca. We were prepared for something that tasted like potato dipped in lemon juice. IMG_0294 (2)

The first attempt to cook them, by boiling, went poorly. They turned out, those that didn’t simply dissolve into the cooking water, as thin-skinned balls of watery, lemony, mush.

The second batch had a big weight on their little knobbly shoulders. If the kids didn’t like them I would be facing a heck of a lot of lemony lunches. What to do?

I applied the same method that I used to convince my kids they likes Brussels sprouts and turnips- I roasted them in the juices of a leg of lamb.  Oh yes, that worked. They may not have been crispy but they tasted like very good new potatoes that had been roasted in lamb fat, and dipped in lemon juice. Yum.

However, a leg of lamb is pretty expensive method of flavouring your homegrown (read, free) vegetables. Anyone have any suggestions for less indulgent (read, cheaper) alternatives?


I am, once again, endeavouring to lose a little blubber – if only enough to make room in my jeans for mince pies. To that end, I am comfort-eating in lieu of puddings.

Jenny Colgan’s The Bookshop on the Corner is as sweet and light as that strawberry pavlova Nigella made last night (is anyone else irritated by the way she abbreviates it to “Pav” ? Sorry, grumpy, hungry woman syndrome).

This book will do you no good whatsoever but you’ll feel marvelous as you devour it, and pleasantly guilty afterwards.

I have one major gripe: I made a list, as I read, of all the books Colgan mentions. There was one children’s book in particular, a magical classic adventure that plays a big role in the story and seemed like just the thing for my Small Girl. Wondering how on Earth I’d missed this one, but you know, it happens, I searched the great bookshop in the sky and came up with…exactly nothing.


She made it up. And I wasn’t alone in my foolish hopefulness; in the reviews of an unrelated book of the same title, two other disappointed souls wrote, “this is not the book from Jenny Colgan’s book!”

That’s not fair! Authors: You can’t be making up books that don’t exist and then telling us they are brilliant, for flip’s sake.

Did you notice the quince there, in the book photo? They have nothing to do with the story at all but happened to match the cover. Or they would, if I could only figure out how to photograph yellow things. Why is yellow so difficult?

My quince tree remains barren. I bought these for a Nigel Slater recipe. There’s something very evocative about quince.

IMG_0254 (2)

They make me think of owls and pussycats…IMG_0263

…and make me long for a runcible spoon.IMG_0274

I’ve been trying to figure out how to take photographs in the scant light available. My family completely ignore me as I wander about the house taking shots of light switches and fruit bowls. This was supposed to be a picture of the chillies, a failure obviously, but I think it is an honest snap shot of my kitchen at dinner time, six o’clock, with the plates laid out and tea towels draped willy-nilly, and me pottering about with the camera when I should be dishing up.IMG_0234

Here’s a nice one:IMG_0214

And here is my little reindeer keeping guard over those apricots in brandy.IMG_0209

One last thing…I threw my cap in the ring for this incredible prize. It’s a competition for a writer’s retreat, open until tomorrow night, and all you have to do is convince the judges that you deserve it. If you are tempted, I wish you luck but, for God’s sake, don’t come back here to tell me that you won!

Right, I’m off to see what can be done about the donkey’s ears and, failing that, to see what else I could possibly steep in brandy. Cheese? Figs? Sultanas?! Oh! Only imagine the brandy-soaked-sultana buns…

Small Joys.

Here’s a thing: I often find myself, completely unintentionally, writing in my head. I form words into sentences, build a pleasing rhythm, hit an excellent (in my mind at least) crescendo and, just as I’m congratulating my inner writer on the marvelous blog post I’ve created, I draw a mental line under it and forget the whole lot. The writing, whether it ever makes it to the page or not, seems to be a lot about drawing lines under things, and moving on.

Not too long ago, I heard an interview with Marie Heaney, Seamus Heaney’s wife. She said that she would watch him tapping out a beat on the steering wheel of the car while he was driving and she would know that he was writing in his head. I thought there was something very moving about that, that she could almost see what was going on inside his head, almost read his thoughts in a kind of tapped out code, and that she let him at it where I would probably have been nagging him about the state of the garden shed.

Anyway, my point is that I have been here in my head, you just couldn’t see me.

I often hit a low at this time of the year, when the light fails but it’s too early for fairy lights. This year though I’m grand and just for that, I am grateful. I do feel the need for quietness, especially after the busy-ness of Halloween and I breathed a long sigh of relief when the kids went back to school.

Let me tell you some of the small joys I’ve been relishing.

I’ve been basking like a cat in the sunshine of these last few days and taking the opportunity to tidy up the garden. We still have a few roses…IMG_9836

…and a few visitors…IMG_9834

…and fruit! I am still managing to nab an alpine strawberry or two most days (I don’t share them) and I have planted (on Rory O’Connell’s advice) a myrtle bush. This is Myrtus ugni, also known as a Chilean strawberry. The berries taste like a strawberry inside a blueberry. To walk out to the garden in November and pick a handful of berries feels like a small miracle.IMG_9816

In previous years I would have cleared the flowerbeds by now but this year I am leaving all the seed heads, including the mighty teasels, for the birds. I can’t tell you how much I love to look up from a book and see a family of goldfinches outside the window. I think they may even be getting used to me sneaking up on them with my camera aloft.IMG_9929 (2)

On our last evening in Paris, after we left Shakespeare and Company, and had a little snog on the street and that kind of thing, Husband and I contrived to bring home a few sprigs of rosemary as a memento. We put them in a water bottle and then transferred them to a smaller-than-100mls shampoo bottle for the flight home and then, with just a little bit of wishful thinking, nursed them in a glass of water for a fortnight until little roots appeared and then potted them up and, hey presto, by the magic of plant science, we have at least one survivor growing strong and making me very happy.IMG_0034

Also making me smile is our substantial crop of chillies. We’ve taken to making fermented chilli sauce about once a month (see this post for more on fermented foods). I’m not certain whether it is the satisfaction of growing the chillies, the prettiness of them, the pride in making the fermented sauce, the kick of eating it or the gastro-intestinal benefits of consuming it but, all in all, the whole affair is making me happy.IMG_9919

Another thing, of even greater joy, is watching the Small Girl playing the piano. She has to climb up on to the piano stool and her feet dangle in mid-air while she reads the notes and counts the beats out loud while she plays and concentrates so hard I can nearly see steam coming out of her ears. The dog, meanwhile, nods his approval.IMG_9914

I could write a whole post about the book in that photo (I did, in fact, in my head). I found it in the wonderful Prim’s Bookshop in Kinsale. It’s Real French Cooking by Savarin, this copy printed in 1956. As well as some hardcore cooking techniques, Savarin includes a generous smattering of cartoons and anecdotes, as he says, “in the hope of pleasing the housewife in a rare moment of leisure.” Did you know, for instance, that the speciality of the Tour d’Argent in Paris is the Canard au Sang, a duck served in the juice of two other ducks? Every duck served has an individual number and a record is kept of who ate it. Number 112,151 was eaten by Franklin Roosevelt in 1929. The Duke of Windsor had number 147,883 in 1935. The late Queen Mother and her guests had numbers 185,197 and 185,198 in 1938.

“Eight months later, number 203,728 went to Marlene Dietrich.”

Is that not fantastic? I’ve suggested to Teenage Daughter that she begin a register of her meringue swans. She continues to think I am nuts.IMG_0033

So far, on Savarin’s instruction, I have recruited the family to help me cook and peel chestnuts and have made a scrumptious Cevennes Pie (pork, chestnuts and apple encased in buttery pastry). There is no photo of the pie, unfortunately, they ate it that fast!IMG_9943

Sticking with the theme of French cookery (yes, I’m a little obsessed of late), I have been watching Julia Child on YouTube. Now listen, I am all to familiar with the feeling of finally getting the joke after everyone else has gone home but forty years late is a record even for me. Alas, so it was. I was two minutes into this clip when the forty-year-old penny finally dropped:

It’s the Swedish chef! For God’s sake, tell me I wasn’t the only Swedish chef fan on the planet who didn’t know this!


Well, Mr. Henson is still making me laugh so that counts as a good thing.

I’m going to lightly trip over this book:IMG_9945

…which I found desperately sad. It has sat on my shelf for nigh on a year because I was afraid it would depress me and, to be honest, it nearly did. It is good but I didn’t like it. Bring on the happy books, I say.

I bought Matt Haig’s A Boy Called Christmas for Middle Daughter last year but didn’t read it myself until January, too late to recommend it. I read it again last week and am currently on a third reading, aloud to the Small Girl, and it is STILL making me laugh. Read it, please, just read it! I’ll post a review soon.

I have a small (literally tiny, elfin even) crochet project on the go which is making bubbles of glee rise up and burst at the top of my head.


Ooh, almost forgot, my Cooking The Books project for November is, if I do say so myself, a good one. It’s a cheering recipe and a flipping brilliant book. Belated thanks to the lovely Kathy at Gluts and Gluttony who recommended The Debt to Pleasure by John Lanchester when we met at Litfest. I loved the book, loved the pudding, and took huge pleasure in writing this article. Find it here.

Now, I have two more joys awaiting my attention. Look what the morning’s post brought:IMG_0032

You will notice I have decided to quietly introduce a few very tiny fairy lights. Sure, why not?

Wishing you many small joys,


A Glut of Gooseberries.

It has occurred to me that I have scuppered my chances of substantial blogging ‘success’ by stubbornly refusing, against advice, to separate the books from the baking, etc. I’m sticking to my guns. I’m a housewife; surely that’s niche enough these days. I bake, I garden, I make and mend, I moan a lot, occasionally rejoice, and I read a ton of books. Because of this blog, my lovely fellow-bloggers, and your kind comments, I know I am not alone. That, my friends, is all I need.

One more thing: while I am fortunate enough to be paid for contributions to, my blog posts are not sponsored in any way and are not affiliate-linked. If I mention a book here, or link on to a review, it is simply because I really love it and want you to know about it. That’s all.

Moving on…

I have no idea what the collective noun is for gooseberries but the word around here is glut. I’ve run short of jam jars and the freezer is already chock-a-block and so, I have been driven to remarkable (by my standards) creativity.

There are, in my garden, two types of gooseberry bush. The first is a vicious creature, intent on impaling its owner with inch-long thorns.The fruits of this bush, which take considerable determination to gather, are massive, green, hirsute, tough-skinned, globules of concentrated citric acid. They make excellent jam (as seen in this post) and now, believe it or not, they make a fabulous kimchi. Now listen, I’m no expert, the only kimchi I’ve eaten thus far are those I’ve made myself. I don’t even know whether it is correct to write kimchi or kimchis in the previous sentence. Whichever, this is tasty stuff. Husband and I have been piling it up on burgers and barbecued chicken. The recipe is a variation on the Rhubarb Kimchi in Fiery Ferments by Christopher and Kristin Shockey. I recommend their book as an excellent guide for any fellow novice fermenters. Take a look at their website, here. If you have a few gooseberries, this is surely worth trying for novelty factor alone.

Gooseberry Kimchi.

300g gooseberries, sliced as finely as patience allows
3 scallions (spring onions), sliced finely
1 tsp salt
3 cloves garlic, crushed to a paste
Generous tablespoon of chilli flakes
Generous tablespoon of grated fresh ginger.
Combine everything together in a bowl and give it a good mix until it all looks a bit juicy. Then, pack the mixture into a small fermenting jar, if you have one. I don’t. I’ve used either small Kilner jars or recycled beetroot jars which seem to be exactly the right size for our appetites. The important thing is to press it down as firmly as you can to eliminate as much air as possible.

Leave the jar in a shady corner of the kitchen for a week, remembering to ‘burp’ it daily by the simple expedient of quickly opening it and closing it again. You should see tiny bubbles so you know it’s alive. The flavours mellow and mingle as the week progresses.

It’s ready to eat. I keep it in the fridge too prevent further fermentation or spoiling.

Gooseberry Kimchi.
Gooseberry Kimchi!


The second variety is a far more gentle gooseberry; smaller, smooth-skinned and turning a rosy pink under the cerulean blue skies of this past week. With a stroke of pure genius (it might have been the sun) I had a notion of making a Gooseberry Clafoutis. This is a variation on a recipe for Rhubarb Clafoutis taken from a children’s cookbook (Yumee by Aoileann Garavaglia) so it’s dead easy and, honestly, very yumee. I doubled the recipe; you could easily halve it again if your home is not populated, as mine is, by ravaging savages.

Gooseberry Clafoutis.

500g gooseberries
4 eggs
350ml cream
200ml good, full fat, natural yogurt (my favourite is the greek-style from Lidl)
4 tb.sp. golden syrup.

Ingredients for gooseberry clafoutis.

Place the topped and tailed gooseberries in a large, oven-proof dish. Mine is a 28cm diameter tart dish but a lasagne dish works fine too.
Whisk together the remaining ingredients to make a custard and pour over the gooseberries.
Bake at 180°C for 35-40 minutes. Watch it closely at the end and try to nab it when the edges are browning but the centre still has a wobble to it.
Serve with cream and a good book. (I’m reading Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield; it’s a joy! Thanks, Sam, for convincing me to treat myself.)


Gooseberry Clafoutis.
Gooseberry Clafoutis.

If even those simple recipes seem too much like hard work or if, like me, you STILL have MORE gooseberries, try this one.

The One-Week-When-The-Sun-Shines-In-Ireland Dinner.


  1. Suggest to husband that he take the barbecue you bought him for Christmas out of the bubble wrap. Allow Husband cook just as much MEAT as his heart desires. Pass everyone a ripe tomato for sake of conscience.barbecue
  2. Suggest to offspring that they pick everything that’s ripe, with a particular emphasis on GOOSEBERRIES, and encourage to have huge fun wrapping fruit in tinfoil parcels (I’ve read, by the way, that Americans find our persistence with tinfoil quaint). Deliver parcels to expert at barbecue.barbecue fruit parcels
  3. Relax in the company of Small Reader and above-mentioned Provincial Lady.IMG_7648
  4. Relish, ideally with vanilla icecream, the fruits of your labour.IMG_7666

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

PS. STILL have more gooseberries!

March is a nervous month.

Japanese quince blossom.

‘March is a nervous month, neither winter nor spring and the winds make people nervous.’ John Steinbeck, East of Eden Diary.

I woke up with a heavy sense of foreboding but I’m hoping that it can all be put down to the weather. Radio One forecasts ‘a very windy day’ with rising gales, strong gusts and spot floods. Looking out the window here, the day is dull but perfectly calm. Too quiet, perhaps, as though that sky is storing something up for later.

Japanese quince blossom.

My teenagers are in the middle of exams. Here in Ireland we have two state examinations, the Junior Cert., taken in the third year of secondary school, and the Leaving Cert., as the name would suggest, taken at the end of the final year of secondary school. I’m lucky enough to have one of each this year.

The Leaving Cert is a brutal experience where your grades are converted into points and the points determine which, if any, university course, you are offered. The Junior Cert is mostly seen as a dry run for the Leaving Cert but the younger teenagers (certainly my one) are liable to be far more emotional. Most schools operate in-house ‘mock’ or ‘pre-leaving/junior cert’ exams with the aim of shaking out all the nerves and anxiety.

Where do we think all that nervous energy gets dumped? Yup, right on top of the beleaguered parents who mistakenly believed they would never again have to face exam stress.

Teenage Son is playing it like an old hack who has been around the exam block a few times, refusing to be harried and making his parents feel as though they are pushing a Massey Ferguson up Everest. Teenage Daughter, the one who is doing the dry run for the dry run, is steaming around in a flurry of colourful study plans and ticked time sheets, her parents merely jogging behind (near catatonic from the Everest experience) waving packets of biscuits and hoping to appear helpful.

Dear Lord, what will I be like when the real thing comes around in June?

This is a truly rubbish blog post. I’ll go edit those pantry photos.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.



Off My Trolley.

Hands up, who remembers The Looting of Doon? Well, that little tea trolley that I got for a fiver at the convent auction has turned out to be a stellar investment. I wheel it around to whichever window is getting the best light, take my snaps and trundle it back again to home position. Usually, it lives here, against the kitchen window which has turned out to be the busiest part of the whole house.


Just take this picture. You can see my sweet geranium cuttings which have taken beautifully over the winter.They must be the easiest cuttings in the world to take which is a good thing as the recent frost wiped out the few I abandoned outside. There are three in that tomato tin so I probably need to pot them on soon but I’m running short of windowsills.

Next up are some of my chitting first early seed potatoes. I think I need to plant those soon. Beyond the potatoes you can make out the Verbena and fennel seed heads which successfully lured goldfinches all winter. They’ve been stripped bare now and need tidying up. Jeanie Mac, this post is starting to make me all too aware of how much work I have to do.

Moving our gaze swiftly past the extremely dusty vase, you see the massive bunch of daffs Husband brought home on Valentine’s Day. He knows what I like. They were all closed on Tuesday too, which is the way I love to get them, and I have been taking great pleasure in watching them open into a blaze of yellow glory. They smell warm and sweet and garden-y. That urge to get out in the garden is rising.

The little jam jar holds a ‘science experiment’ that Small Girl and I are monitoring together. We filled the jar with toilet paper, dampened it, and ‘planted’ two broad beans. One is planted the right way up and the other is upside down.

broad bean geotropism experiment. science for kids.

The one that’s planted the right way up does exactly what you imagine…the root emerges and grows downwards.

broad bean geotropism, science for kidsbroad bean, geotropism, science for kids,

The upside-down root pops out its little head and then turns around and heads down. Geotropism in action, my friends. I know you know all this but it really is fun to watch!

broad bean, geotropism, science for kids.

My brain has been very busy lately and I felt the symptoms of a crash creeping upon me. There is nothing at all wrong, just too many projects on the go and a nasty virus trying its best to floor me. When I saw this tiny embroidery project on the front of a magazine I knew it was exactly the therapy I needed.

Mollie Makes embroidery hoop

I’m actually quite proud of myself for having spotted the signs rather than folding under the wave as occasionally happens. That, I think, counts as progress. Sometimes I just need a tiny boost to keep my head above water.

Mollie Makes embroidery hoop

Small Girl sat beside me with her pencils and colouring book while I did ‘colouring in with thread’ as she called it. Bliss.

Mollie Makes, #molliemakers, embroidery hoop

People always tell you to look at the big picture. I find the whole big picture overwhelming. Making plans for the future, trying to raise decent people, letting them loose, surviving school exams, Trump, Brexit, our faltering government…it’s too much. I do better when I focus in on the best bits, the small things that give me a momentary spark of joy. If I continue to train my eye on one small spark after another…before I know it, there will be a blaze. That’s the plan.img_4203-2

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Head Shot.

I thought I was safe so long as I was the person behind the camera.

Alas, no.

Late last evening, a lovely lady emailed me to request a head shot. She needed a high res, close-up photo of me and she needed it ASAP. Mild panic ensued.

Followed closely by extreme panic.

I tried sending the profile pic on my housewife page.


Nope. The quality is rubbish. Would I have the original?
Nope. That was taken on a tablet shortly before Small (but not small enough) Girl sat on it breaking the screen. I priced buying a new screen but discovered it would cost more than replacing the tablet so, true to form, I did neither.

Would I have any other hi res photo of myself? Without a child, spouse or mucky dog hanging off of me?

Errr… this one?IMG_1079Barefoot, food in mouth and head in book. It’s me but it’s not ideal, is it?

Maybe this one? This is actually one of my favourite photos of myself, taken very early on a summer’s morning by Husband.

IMG_0340Still, I’d rather not be the odd-looking woman in a blue paper jumpsuit.

Now, here’s a good one:


No make-up and a silly hat… not your traditional head shot material.

Those were the only contenders.There is not a single other photo of me since I let my hair grow out grey. There was nothing for it but to get up early this morning and hope for a miracle.

All the stops were pulled out. YSL Touche Eclat, usually saved for weddings and encounters with old flames, was liberally painted on.Eyebrows were coaxed into submission (sort of). Eyeliner (Dior pencil bought for my wedding in 1997) was applied, lips were lined (LINED! Seriously, that’s dedication to the cause!) and the hair was washed, conditioned, anti-frizzed and ferociously hot-brushed. I even put on perfume in the vague hope that it could give me allure, or just fortitude.

Middle Daughter was co-opted to the cause as chief photographer. The kitchen curtains were pinned back in order to catch every photon of available light which is not a whole lot at 8.30 on a February morning in Ireland.

And then I smiled.


‘Mum, that’s not a proper smile.’


‘Mum, can’t you smile without moving your eyebrows?’


‘…or your neck!’



SultanaBun. Photo credit: Alice O’Gorman.


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.