Saturday, October 27, 2018

Corn Muffins

I made corn muffins this afternoon. Haven't had them in ages. They're so good!
I use an altered version of a recipe I used to have in The New Laurel's Kitchen Cookbook. That recipe called for honey, but I don't like honey and it doesn't like me (upsets my stomach), so I never buy it. I just use sugar. The recipe may also call for wheat germ (I don't remember now and the book didn't make it to Ireland with us). I don't use wheat germ and have no idea whether one can even buy that here, so if that was part of the recipe, I would have just used extra cornmeal or flour.

Usually when I would make these in the past, I would end up with batter that was far too wet and runny and then I'd have to add more dry ingredients. I remembered this time, so altered things from the start, cutting down on the amount of milk by 3/4 cup and adding an extra 1/4 cup of flour. In the original recipe, there was a range given for eggs and oil/melted butter. I use the lower end of that range.

Here's my version:
Stir together the following dry ingredients:
--2 cups coarse ground maize/corn meal
--3/4 cup wholemeal/whole wheat flour (the original recipe may have called for whole wheat pastry flour, which I've never seen here, but even when I was in the US, I just used regular whole wheat flour)
--1 teaspoon each salt and baking powder
--1/2 teaspoon bread soda/baking soda
--1-3 tablespoons of sugar (I used 2)

In a separate container, mix together
--1 1/4 c buttermilk or soured milk
--1 egg
--1 tablespoon oil or melted butter

Add wet ingredients to dry and stir just until batter is moistened and still lumpy. Here is where I can evaluate--if it's too dry, I can add another egg or a splash of milk. If too wet, I throw in a tad more flour. Today it was perfect.

Spoon into lined or greased muffin tins and bake at 220C in a fan oven or 425F for 20-25 minutes.

I have always loved hot corn bread with butter--it was nice to have that again. I threw together a quick veggie chilli/chili to go with the muffins by stirring around a chopped onion, chopped yellow bell pepper, a few cloves of garlic(chopped) in some olive oil. When the onion was translucent, I tossed in some oregano, parsley, coriander leaf, ground coriander, and cumin and stirred everything around for another minute or so. Then I added a can of chopped tomatoes in juice, a can of kidney beans (drained), and the rest of a container of tomato puree (tomato paste) that I had left from making last night's pizza. I let that all simmer, then ladled it out and added some cheddar cheese and grated some hot chilli mixture on top. Yum!
 Tonight we change the clocks back, so I will have an extra hour available to me to do whatever it is I am doing at 2 a.m. Winter time, here we come!!! Yippee!

Friday, October 26, 2018

Election Day!

It's an election day here today. There is no set date for elections here--they happen when necessary and for various reasons. This is the first presidential election that has happened since we've been here, so the first time Bill has cast a vote in one of those. When we first arrived, there was an election for MEPs (EU parliament). The following year there was an election to form a government. Since no party among the many got a clear majority, there were lengthy negotiations to form a government. I think they lasted 6 or 8 weeks. There are many parties to choose from here--Fine Gael, Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein, Independents, Greens, Labour, Anti-Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit, and a newish party called Renua that doesn't seem to be going anywhere. I might have forgotten some. There is no far right nationalist party here equivalent to Republicans in the US, UKIP in the UK or the ones in various other places. A few people have tried--I've read that the ringleader was a guy from the US--but they always flop and quickly fade away. So after the last election and the negotiations, Fine Gael formed a coalition government with Independents and with a confidence and supply agreement with Fianna Fail. That agreement was to last for three budgets (as I understand it, Fianna Fail agreed not to contest them, which would bring down the government).

There have been referendum questions a couple of times since we've been here. A few years ago, Ireland became the first country in the world to enshrine marriage equality into law by popular vote--and it was overwhelming support. There was such a feeling of jubilation throughout the country. Then a few months ago, they voted overwhelmingly to remove abortion restrictions from the constitution. Today people are voting for president and on whether to remove the blasphemy law from the constitution. The blasphemy thing is interesting. They wanted to remove the law years ago, but legal experts said it couldn't be done without a vote. This was during the times of recession and austerity and they didn't want to spend the money on a referendum, so they changed the law, which could be done without a vote. The people that rewrote it apparently made it unenforceable.

So this is where Bill went in to vote. I was thinking about his grandmother again today, as I do most days. She is why we get to be here and I am so grateful. When she left this country, probably in the 1890s, it wasn't even a country. It was under British colonial rule. She certainly would not have been able to vote, but now, in this young country, still not yet a century old, her grandson does get to vote. It's a ranked choice system, and 6 candidates (only one was affiliated with any party), so Bill had to take some time to decide how to rank them after his #1 choice.

I admit I was a bit miffed when we left just before noon. I'd been looking forward to the cool, crisp, windy day that was promised by the weather people. There was even supposed to be wind chill!!! I was thrilled, though I did pause while pulling the sweater over my head this morning to wonder whether it might be a bit too much. It was. When we went out, the sun was shining and while there was a bit of a breeze, no wind chill was forthcoming. While Bill voted, I waited outside, looking hopefully at the dark clouds just beyond the patch of blue.

There was a bit of misty rain, but the sun stayed out and I kept roasting as we walked the long way home, through town and then beyond to the grocery store.

For a few hours, Killybegs had a couple of streetlights.
But by the time were coming home with our groceries, the road was clear and Killybegs was once again street light free.

 I guess it will be tomorrow before we have election results. The current president, Michael D Higgins, is expected to win by a large margin. People love him and even knit Michael T Higgins tea cosies! Last poll I saw had him up by over 50 percentage points over his nearest rival. It would be a shocking upset if he did not come out on top.

Hope it's a good day in your neck of the woods!

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Food Delivery

I've been trying to replenish my supply of yeast for months, to no avail. In Moville, I could get it at the Organic Farm Shop, which was about a minute away from our house. I'd pick up a couple of bags and it lasted for a year. We meant to pick up a couple more before we left, but forgot and the amount I have has been dwindling. The local grocery store only carries a box of yeast with 8 individual packets inside, which is too little yeast and too much packaging. Lidl and Aldi don't have yeast at all. I tried the SuperValu in Donegal Town, which only offered the same box as the one here. I made a mental note to check when we were in Ballina, so I tried the grocery store there--same kind of box, but different brand. I found the health food store and asked there--only yeast they have is nutritional yeast. Who knew something like yeast would be so hard to find?

Fortunately for me, Bill takes such situations as a challenge and he went clicking around to find somewhere to buy yeast without a landfill's worth of plastic pouches and cardboard. He discovered Evergreen Healthfoods--a shop in Galway which also has an online shop. He sent me the link. I started clicking around. I found more stuff that I cannot find here. I started a tally to see if it would be worth placing an order--delivery is free if you spend over €30 and I didn't want to buy a package of yeast for €1.80 and pay €5 to ship it. But between the items I cannot get here, some of which were on sale, and the couple of things I wanted to try, minus 10% off the entire order because it's their 10th birthday, my total came to €30.67 😊

Bill placed the order over the weekend and it arrived this afternoon. I am well pleased!
The order was packed very well in a box that was just the right size to fit everything without having to stuff it with excess packing material (and which also worked perfectly as an under-the-bed storage box). The two bottles of jam were wrapped in bubble wrap, but not an excessive amount. Other than that, things like the maizemeal were wrapped in brown paper.

I was quite happy to see the soya mince and soya chunks while I was scrolling through the site. I used to get blocks of tofu from Andrew, the veg man who came to Moville on Tuesdays, but that's another thing I can't get here, unless I get a small block of pressed smoked tofu at a shop in Donegal Town or a jar of water with a small blob of tofu floating in it. This is essentially dehydrated tofu, so even easier to use than Andrew's, and it's organic (so GMO-free) and made from European soy. Since we have not eaten beef in decades, and have decided to stop eating chicken and the occasional pork, this will come in handy. I'm also very pleased to get the coarse maizemeal to use for polenta and corn muffins. We can get the all-fruit jam at our local shop, but not apricot. They didn't have the orange coconut tea I wanted to try, so I got some tomato pepper pate instead. I'm looking forward to trying the chocolate chai. I got two of most things, but one each of the things I wanted to try out and the yeast. I'm going to do some experimenting with sourdough, so might not have as much need for yeast as has been the case. We'll see how it goes. That pouch will last me 6 months once I open it and I still have some from the batch I bought earlier this year. I won't need to buy yeast from Evergreen for a while now, but I'm so glad Bill found them while looking for it! I wouldn't hesitate to buy from them again and to encourage that, they gave us a voucher code for a discount on our next order. Maybe they'll have the orange coconut tea by then! I hope so--sounds so good! And now, I think I'll make myself a cup of chocolate chai.

I hope there are a few minutes in your day for some relaxation and a nice hot (or cold) beverage!

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Pausing to Smile!

I've been trying to catch up with myself all day. We'd thought about going to Donegal Town today and I thought maybe I could get to sleep a little early last night, so I put down my tatting, turned off the light and pulled up the covers at about 1. No sleep for me until after 4, though. As a result, I should not have been surprised to wake up at 11:15 this morning! Now, this is really only an hour off at each end. I often go to sleep at 3 or thereabouts and wake up anywhere between 9:30 and 10:30, but that hour difference has thrown me off all day. Guess I'm a creature of habit and routine.

Even the postman came a bit later than he usually does, but he tossed a happy surprise through the slot and I've been smiling ever since!
Is this not a beautiful stitch marker? It was sent to me by a blogging/Facebook friend who bought it from her friend, who made it using scrap fabric. I love, love, love it! I love that it was made by an independent artisan, using scraps, and that it is both beautiful and functional. Because it's got the clippy part, I can use it for knitting, crocheting, and tatting, and it will make me smile every time.

The shop name has changed from Tooth Fairy Handmade to The Scrap Faerie--the Etsy shop is here. She has a lot of lovely items in the shop.

Thank you, Laurie, for taking time out of the proofreading process for your new book, Library Lost (find information about this book and the first in the series at Laurie's blog, here) to pop this in the post for me. I appreciate you thinking of me!

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Finally! Old Bananas!

One thing that I very rarely see in grocery stores here are very ripe bananas for baking. I've seen them a few times through the years, and about 6 weeks ago we were in a shop in Donegal Town that had them. I'd been thinking about making banana bread (not the really sweet quick kind, but a yeasted loaf), but we had enough bread at that moment and I knew that if I made more, some of it would go bad. I figured I'd just go back to that store the next time we were there and get bananas then. Of course, when I went back, they didn't have any of the very ripe ones. We buy bananas regularly, but they're usually greenish. We end up eating them before they start getting the spots that mean they're perfect for baking. I kept wanting banana bread, but, yes, I had no bananas with which to make it.

Last week when we went off to Ballina, I seized the opportunity to leave some bananas on the table. When we got back, they had black spots. I left them for a few more days and today, I made the bread. I timed it to be ready in enough time to cool a bit but still be warm at suppertime. I made a simple supper of omelettes with veggies, fruit, and the warm bread. It was delicious!
One reason I like to make bread myself is because even wholemeal bread here is very airy. It's OK sometimes, but we prefer bread to be a bit more dense and I can make it the way we like it. I find that adding coconut and oats makes it a bit lighter than using all wholemeal flour, so that's what I do. The bread has substance, but isn't brick-like.

This bread has the usual butter, salt, and water, along with a couple of tablespoons of sugar, a couple of mashed bananas, coconut, oats, flax seed, ground walnuts, cinnamon, vanilla, strong wholemeal flour and a bit of plain wholemeal flour. I set the machine to the whole wheat setting. I do have to monitor the bread (and pizza crust) dough when I first put it in to make sure it's not too wet or too dry, but once it's just right, I leave it to do its thing.

I'm glad to have finally made the banana bread. It's yummy. And I'll keep my eyes open for more old bananas when I'm in a grocery store. Or maybe I'll just buy some greenish ones and hide them so we don't end up eating them before they're ripe enough to mash up for bread.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Along the River Moy

I saved the best part of Ballina for the last post about our little trip there. It's definitely the river. It runs right through town and they seem to have done a good job of making it a community focal point. There are two bridges for vehicular traffic--both allow for one-way traffic only. Where the roads run alongside the river, there are footpaths (sidewalks) with lots of benches along the way, where people can stop, sit, and enjoy the river. One of these leads to the town park, which has a playground for the kids. On one side of the river, heading south, there is no road, but there is a cycle/pedestrian path that runs right along the river. It's not long before you're out in more rural surroundings. In town, there are steps leading down to cobblestones riverside areas, where people can fish and, I suppose, swim. On the path, there are steps or footpaths leading to smallish platforms for fishing, with the proper licence (license). One day, we spent a good deal of time by the river, walking one way, then turning back into town.
I'm not sure what these little gates are for

There are stairs there, but no longer used

There was a storm Thursday night into Friday, so I assume all the leaves are off these wee trees now

The same problem everywhere--'please clean it up'

One black bird on the post in front of the yellow tree--barely visible

These ducks suddenly rushed out from the river bank--then several more followed

The river meandering towards Killala Bay
Later, we set off in the opposite direction, first crossing the river, where we sat for a time just listening to the birds and the rushing of the river near the salmon weir a short distance from us. I did a short video right near the weir just to get the sound--it's here. Then we walked over the pedestrian bridge and headed south on the walking/cycling path.

the back of the Ballina Arts Centre with the sun shining through the back windows and lighting up the front ones

If you want to know how to say 'scoop the poop' in Irish--here you go!

a fishing spot

this narrow path leads to a fishing spot, but please don't drive off the edge (?)

wee tree

I liked the leaves
We enjoyed our few days in Ballina. We both agreed that we would go back there sometime, as there are at least a couple more walks that we didn't get to. But we both know that there are also many other places in this beautiful country that we've not yet seen, so whether we would go back to Ballina before heading off to walk around someplace where we've not yet been remains to be seen!

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Tucked Away on Pearse Street: The Jackie Clarke Garden

We came across the Jackie Clarke Collection building shortly after getting off the bus in Ballina. It was closed that day, but we popped into the garden and spent some time there a couple of days later. Jackie Clarke was a Ballina businessman who had collected a lot of Irish historical material during his life.  He died in 2000 and in 2005, his widow donated it to Mayo County Council. They acquired an old bank building in which to house it. 

The garden is a lovely spot, even in October when flowers are not as abundant.

This was in a gazebo which was roped off, so we could not read the information on the paper near this sculpture. The eye twirls in the wind and the body is covered with foil pie tins.

This buddy bench was built by the Ballina Men's Shed.

There were also apple trees and some raised beds with veggies still growing--lettuce, chard, bok choy.

There was also a small shed-like space in which a replica of an old Irish classroom had been set up, complete with nun in the corner.

From Pearse Street, which is one of the main roads in town, you'd never know that this lovely spot was just behind the fence, which is covered with this mural.

The side street, where we came out, has a different look.
It was beautiful on the October day we were there. We sat for a little while and enjoyed the peace and quiet. I'm sure it's quite lovely when all the flowers are in bloom!

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Abandoned, Willingly or Not

As we randomly wander around various places, we see the sad things as well as the good things. Because we're on foot, we see small things we'd otherwise miss, or at least not see in as much detail. So it was in Ballina. When we left the hotel one morning, we decided to walk along the river, opting to take a left (we turned right later in the day). We walked along until we came to the end of the footpath (sidewalk) and turned up the road that went up the hill. There we started to see some boarded up houses.
When we came to the T-junction at the end of that road, we went left again to head back towards town and found ourselves on a street with well-kept, sometimes fairly large homes on one side and abandoned homes along the other side of the street.

This one in particular seems like it would have been cute once--and from a distance, just seeing the facade, I commented that it looked like a nice little house coming up. Then we got closer and saw the broken windows. Sad.

 We've been told that the west of Ireland never did feel the benefits of the Celtic Tiger economy, so when the crash came, it was that much worse for people in this part of the country. I don't know whether people left these houses during the crash or whether they left willingly or unwillingly. It's kind of sad to see them, though, especially all clustered together this way, and to wonder where the former inhabitants are now. I wish them well and hope they're safe, adequately nourished, warm, and dry. I wish the same for you!

Friday, October 12, 2018

Random Bits of Ballina

We came home yesterday from our few days away. It's always nice to come home! A friend asked me a month or so ago how long we were going to be in Ballina and I said we were leaving on the Monday and coming home on Thursday, so 2 1/2 days there. It sounds like such a short time, but it doesn't feel like that when we're in a place. It seems like a good amount of time--we get a feel for whatever place we're in, but we don't get tired of being there. These little excursions also remind me every time that I'm pretty happy with my regular everyday life, so while I enjoy seeing new places, I don't feel like I need a holiday or to 'get away from it all.'

Anyway, Ballina seems like a nice town. Some areas looked sad, some seemed vibrant, and the river is the focal point. I posted first impressions the other day here Today I'm posting some random things that caught my eye as we walked around and the next few posts will be less random. When we go places, what we like to do best is simply walk around. We get an interesting feel for a place this way and we see things that are not on the usual tourist trail. Bill enjoys having new places to photograph and I get to observe new things and notice similarities and contrasts between places. When we see something we'd like to check out, we do, otherwise, we just go where the mood strikes us. Usually, when making choices about what to do, we skip the more touristy stuff in favour of just wandering around, choosing this lane or that, as the mood strikes.

So here are some things I saw in Ballina.
mayo flag blowing in the wind
I just thought this was funny wording. It's on one of those informational boards they put up for tourists. 'Spiritual attractions' seemed amusing to me--like a carnival or something.


and more colour--not sure what this building was when built, but it's now a tile and paint shop
library building history

library building history

old bracket, new sign



didn't see a dog

gate was open, so maybe the dog is no longer in this house or on these grounds!
plenty of pubs--this one is called The Snug

old pump in the sun

mural above Clarke's Salmon Smokery--Ballina is known for salmon and there's a Salmon Festival every summer
I hope that, wherever you find yourself today, you're having a peaceful and very pleasant day!