Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Smoked Salmon Potato Pancakes

I had leftover mashed potatoes. I had leftover smoked salmon. In the freezer I had a small container of finely chopped broccoli, cauliflower, onion, and red bell pepper that I had sauteed in olive oil and had left over from another meal. I decided to make potato pancakes. I put the mashed potatoes in a bowl and added 2 eggs, incorporating well. Then I added some garlic powder, black pepper, parsley, and enough wholemeal flour to make a wet dough. In went some shredded cheddar and chopped smoked salmon. These were folded in. A bit of olive oil in a pan, a heaping large spoonful of the dough, which then got spread out, and some patience while each pancake cooked and got golden brown was all that was required after that!! They are really good. And there are a couple left for tomorrow, too-new leftovers from the old leftovers. Yay!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Happy Christmas!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Season's Greetings

I have been feeling more and more disconnected from Christmas for a few years now. This seemed weird at first, because I used to love it. And of course, I started seeing all of the angry posts on Facebook from people demanding to be wished a merry Christmas instead of any other greeting. It struck me that this hostility and childishness could be one reason I was getting tired of the whole thing. It was never a religious holiday for me, so it wasn't that. I did not even fit into the cultural celebration that is Christmas for most people, because I was in my very early 20s when I made a conscious decision, as a young wife and mother, to not buy into the commercialism .Of course we bought gifts--modest ones. Our daughter was fine getting used books from Powell's for Christmas. For her Christmas morning was always the least of the celebration anyway. We had to wake her up some years so we could get the Christmas morning activities done in enough time to get somewhere or prepare for guests. It was a lot easier all around when we moved across the country and had no obligations for the holiday, except to each other. We planned it as a low key family day and declined invitations. In the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas we listened to Christmas music, watched certain holiday specials on TV (usually from the VCR tapes we'd made, with the commercials edited out), baked cookies and cinnamon rolls, enjoyed the decorations and twinkling lights and I made ornaments and stuff. It was very low stress and simply peaceful and fun.

Over the years I have known people who are really into solstice. Some of these folks are indifferent to Christmas and some have really bad childhood memories and loathe it. I considered the solstice thing for myself, but realized that what they love about solstice and what is always the focus of everything I hear and read about it, is the return of the light. This is exactly the thing that depresses me about solstice--I love the fact that there is more darkness than on any other day, but I am sad that it is now over and the light will start coming back.I get rather sad at this time of year and by March or April, I am depressed because it is spring. So, while I appreciate the darkness of a winter solstice, it doesn't really work as a ritual time or celebration for me. But in thinking about this, I did figure it out. For me this time of year is a celebration of autumn and winter. I am most content, peaceful, happy, and feel at my best in October, November, and December. So my "celebration" happens then. Christmas Day is pretty much the end of that, only because that is the culturally agreed upon winter celebration day.

As it happened, this lack of interest in how Christmas is done coincided with our move here, which included us leaving all our Christmas stuff behind and starting over. As I looked around, I realized that instead of stockings and Santas, we have gravitated towards snowmen and women and I have started to think a lot about trees as a creative focus. Looking at the ornaments I made last year and this, I see that they are all about the natural world--floral, trees, snowpeople, snowflakes, and stuff like that. Twigs are really popular here and I really like that. A friend collected a bunch of sticks and twigs with moss and lichens growing on them and we have those in an arrangement outside, and some inside. We have a branch that she brought outside with wool ornaments on it. She got me an arrangement of twigs with orange slices and berries. I hung some tiny ornaments on that.

It is a far cry from the things we used to have dripping from every available surface at Christmas time--we collected so much in the 3+ decades of our marriage. I made a few more things each year and people gave us so much. Even though we gave away some over the year, going from 6 large boxes (for 3 of us) to nothing to a small bag now (for two of us), in between it seemed like we had way too much!

I am glad to have figured this out, simply because it was a little sad and like I was missing something that used to be important to me. Now that I know what I am really celebrating, I can do it in ways that make sense for me.

So, the most appropriate way to wish me well at this time of year would be "Season's Greetings!" I won't go around demanding that though! "Merry Christmas" is lovely. "Happy Holidays" is just dandy.

Whatever you celebrate, I hope it's a great time, filled with lots of health, happiness, and love.

Oh yeah, have a happy solstice, too :-)

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

December Stroll Through Donegal Town

Bill and I rode along with a friend to Donegal Town this morning. He had to go there to pick someone up and we thought it would work out well, on this fairly dry day, for us to be dropped off there with enough time to take a walk along the path by the bay before going to Aldi and calling in at the health food store to get some peanut butter with no stuff added. We can usually get this locally, but it's cheaper there. Not only did we get our peanut butter, but I grabbed a box of ginger orange tea with vanilla to try--it is quite good!--and I found a big bag of dried parsley. Much better than always buying those small jars, even though they are only 35 cents at Aldi and at Lidl. That was our last stop, though. Before that we wandered around town a little and found ourselves across from Donegal Castle.

We stopped on a bridge over the river and watched some birds--this guy stayed in his sheltered spot the whole time we were there.

 Then we went back up towards town and the Bank Walk. I stopped again on a different bridge over the same river because I was taken with this big, mossy tree. The green was much brighter in person.
When we got to the beginning of the path, we found out that we would be changing our plans.

So instead of heading down the path, we stopped and admired the same tree from the other side.
The cream-coloured branches across the river were striking.
We meandered back to The Diamond in the centre of town and sat there to eat the cheese and muffins we'd brought for lunch. Then we went to Aldi. I quite appreciate these instructions on the edge of each crosswalk here at the roundabout. I am getting better at it, but with cars moving in opposite directions from what I am used to, I always have to hesitate when crossing the street and think which way to look first.
We got our stuff in Aldi and got it packed up in our backpacks, with one carrier bag besides, made our stop in Simple Simon's, and headed back for The Diamond to wait there for a few minutes until it was time to catch the bus home. As we left, Bill nudged me and said, "There's your song." I had made it through weeks of Christmas music and successfully avoided hearing the songs I loathe, including the horrible, detestable, and obnoxious, "Santa Baby." My luck ran out this afternoon as the tail end of it was playing as we walked outside. A song or two later, it was my turn to nudge Bill and say, "And here's one for you!" It was Michael Buble and Bill is not a fan! Not long after that we had walked over to the bus stop when Mr Buble's invitation to have a holly, jolly Christmas began coming at us from the opposite direction. Bill growled that he really hated Buble's guts. Most unfestive!

It was a pleasant day. Donegal Town is a nice place. But I am always happy to get home. Now to avoid "Last Christmas" for another week and a half!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tomorrow is Thursday in Ireland, but here at the Old Coast Guard Station (aka "The Commune") it will be Thanksgiving. We will all gather for a meal tomorrow and enjoy good food, conversation, and friendship. Last night I had two slow cookers (one mine and one borrowed) cooking squash. Tonight they will be in use for sweet potatoes. In the morning I will make the stuffing for the turkey a friend and neighbour special-ordered from Dave and Kath, the butchers downtown. Early in the afternoon I will make the mashed potatoes. We are working together, borrowing stuff, and using various refrigerators to keep the food. It takes a village :-)

If you will be celebrating Thanksgiving, I wish you a wonderful day. If not, then I wish you a wonderful Thursday :-)

Friday, November 20, 2015

Orange Banana Walnut Muffins

I used to make muffins a lot, but when we moved to Ireland I was not baking much. First of all I did not have the pans and we did not want to accumulate a lot of stuff, knowing as we did that we were likely to to move at some point after our lease was up. Secondly, the cost of baking supplies, such as what are known as "jumbo oats" here (as opposed to porridge oats which are small flakes and are everywhere) and wholemeal flour, both of which are staples in my baking, were priced such that it was simply cheaper to buy ready baked goods, which were readily available, reasonably priced, and of good quality. Finally, my oven was a small fan oven and it took a bit of getting used to so I was unsure how baked goods would come out. I remember having an oven once that was impossible to use for some things, which would be burnt on the outside and still gooey on the inside.

We've been here a year and a half now and things have changed. We've landed in our little cottage in Killybegs and I have no intention of leaving. I tell Bill that if anyone wants me out of here they can rent a crane to hoist me out, because I won't leave willingly :-) Our friend and neighbour, Tim, gave me muffin tins that belonged to his late wife, Mary. We have access to both an Aldi and a Lidl in Donegal Town, which means that I can get baking supplies, including jumbo oats and wholemeal flour at very low prices and I stock up. I still have a dinky fan oven, but I am getting used to it now and have started baking muffins once again. Turns out I've missed them quite a bit!

Today I made some orange banana walnut muffins. These are a variation on the Lynne's Muffin recipe that I first came across in The New Laurel's Kitchen Cookbook over 25 years ago--you can find it here. They are excellent as written, but I have varied them in many different ways over the years, depending on what I have around.

Here is this version:
Place 2 cups jumbo oats (rolled oats in the US--not quick cooking) and 1 1/2 cups orange juice in a container, place in fridge and refrigerate overnight for for 8 hours or more.

To the oat mixture, add:
2 Tablespoons maple syrup (could use brown sugar or regular sugar instead)
cinnamon or vanilla extract can be added, but these are optional
2 eggs
1 teaspoon each baking soda and salt
1 cup wholemeal (whole wheat in US) flour

Mix until blended and then fold in some chopped walnut pieces and chopped banana.

Spoon batter into greased or papered muffin tins and bake in a 180C fan oven (US 400F) for about 20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on wire rack.

This makes a big batch of batter and the muffin tins here run small, so once I had 12 muffins baking and I still had batter left, I added some small dark chocolate chips, stirred them in and baked 6 more muffins :-) They are yummy! They are quite healthy and quite delicious, so great to have as part of a meal or as a snack. We often have one as dessert/nighttime snack.

We went to Aldi and Lidl yesterday afternoon and I got some baking cocoa. Next batch will be chocolate!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015


It has been a very strange year here, weatherwise. It seemed like summer arrived during the first week of April, hung around for a couple of weeks and then left again. That was just fine and dandy with me and I loved the cool, rainy, grey summer we did have. Then it started warming up a little and October was actually warmer, sunnier, and drier than usual. Now in November there are still warm temperatures and sunny blue skies. Weird.

I walked down into the lower garden this afternoon and it was autumnal and at the same time almost springlike, depending on where I looked. I was surrounded by brightly coloured fall leaves, flowers in bud and in bloom, new growth, and old growth, all with the sun shining overhead.

I wonder what winter will be like!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Greetings from Belfast

We are staying in Belfast this week at the home of a friend while he is on his own holiday. He brought us here, showed us around the place, and surprised us with 7-day bus passes! The place where he lives is very quiet and peaceful, which is a lovely thing, especially after the hustle and bustle of the city centre. We stayed close to home the first full day we were here, but went into the city centre yesterday and today. Belfast is a small city, as cities go, but it seems quite big to us. We were reminded that we have not been in a city this size in quite a long time.

Yesterday we walked into the city from where we are just to get a sense of the area. We stopped in at St George's Market and then walked to City Hall where there is a grassy area with benches. It seemed like a good place to stop and eat the sandwiches and fruit we'd brought with us. I was shocked to see this huge TV screen there in this park-like setting. Is there not enough noise around without this thing blaring stuff at people? I have still not been able to get the words "Orwellian" and "dystopia" out of my mind when I see this thing.
There are a lot of statues in this park area and Bill walked around and took a lot of photos of them. Then we walked around the square before heading home--it was a 6 mile round trip.

As we crossed the bridge over the River Lagan, the sun was coming through at just the right angle to create this nice design on the footpath:
Today we wanted to walk around in the city so we took the bus into the city centre and it dropped us off right at City Hall. From there we walked to Donegall Quay. There is a little square there with a big blue fish, some seals, and some benches.
Many of the tiles that make up the fish are printed with designs.
Fish eye:

Lots of tourist stuff geared to Titanic here, but I thought this sign was particularly amusing:
"Not our fault, man!"

I thought this building across the street was interestng:
And the foliage across the river was beautiful:
There is a footpath along the river and as we walked along there I happened to turn my head to the left and saw a glimpse of another part of the city and the hills beyond.
We walked back to the fish and kept going to have a closer look at the sculpture we could see in the distance.

She is Beacon of Hope and stands in Thanksgiving Square at the end of the Queen Elizabeth Bridge. From the Discover Northern Ireland webpage, we read,
"Whilst it is easy to become impressed by the sheer magnitude and aesthetic appeal of the sculpture, Artist, Andy Scott who designed the iconic statue, has highlighted his hope that the true value in terms of civic pride, should not go unnoticed by the people of Northern Ireland-
'I hope that the figure is adopted by the people of Belfast as a symbol of peace and reconciliation, and as a shining beacon of modernity and progress'."

With that we concluded our river walk, got our bus home, and settled in for a quiet evening.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Walking Around in Donegal Town

The other day we went to Donegal Town for a few hours. We'd been told about the bank walk--a wooded trail that runs along the bay--and we wanted to walk there. It is a beautiful spot.

The walk starts right next to the library, so before we began we went in and got our library cards. Yay!

On the way back into town, we went over the River Eske.

We stopped and had lunch at a little coffee shop/cafe/bakery sort of place. I had the best caramel square there. Had I known they were so excellent, I would have been scarfing them down all those times we waited right outside for the bus during the month we were moving! I know now and can pop in and get one whenever we are in town. We plan to make regular trips there. We want to see how everything changes with the seasons along the bank walk, use the library, and stop in at Aldi.