BRAD     |     EMILLIE

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

That which doesn't kill you, only makes you stronger

No votes for or against the name of my blog. So I think we'll simply abridge it to Carton Square. Less specific. And better than Earl's Court (our new location). A bit pompous, Earl's Court. But this blog isn't about our new house. It's about the flu we had this weekend.

It was a draggy sort of flu. An achy all over, throbbing head ache and fall into bed with exhaustion sort of flu. Luckily help was close at hand. Sure, sure, Vitamin D and zinc are the cure alls. But that was so yesterday's news. And echinacea has very little evidence proving its worth besides that of an urban legend likely placed in our minds by over-marketing.

I'm talking about the best cure out there for viruses. Recently proven to have a strong anti-viral effect with the H1N1 virus. Generally found to reduce the length of a viral flu by more than half. So, what is it? Well there's more to the bio of this particular cure... It is also deadly poisonous if not properly prepared. So before I continue, let me share my disclaimer... if you decide to partake in harvesting, preparing and eating this plant MAKE SURE you bloody well follow my instructions because I am not responsible if you poison yourself.

So what is this mysterious cure?

Elderberries. The flowers are edible, and the RIPE berries are edible. The twigs, leave, stems and unripe berries are POISONOUS.
Okay, enough with the exclamations. I could have included a photo of the tree, as Maynooth is covered in elderberry trees. But I'm not about to tell anyone to go out picking random black berries from not properly identified trees. However, if you are a Maynooth local you can find the trees lining the canal, by the train station, along Harbour road, down Straffan road (you get the picture).

After harvesting, the berries need to be washed and taken off the stem. I read something on the web about freezing the berries and having them simply fall off the stalks. This did not work for me. Instead I just sort of rubbed the plant and the berries quite easily fell off.

I then processed my berries into three different virus blasting uses.

Frozen berries can be added to pies, crumble, yogurt, applesauce you name it. They aren't sweet, but they aren't that tart either.

I made two bottle of elderberry cordial. This is a concentrated syrup that is meant to be diluted before drinking. I would dilute it 1 part cordial to 8 parts water. You can cut down on the sugar, but that may reduce the shelf life as sugar is a preservative.
Cover your elderberries with water then simmer for 30 minutes. Then strain out the berries and mash them to make sure you get all the elderberry "juice." For every pint (2 cups) of elderberry liquid add 8 oz sugar (or honey), 12 whole cloves, 1 inch of grated fresh ginger and 1 Cinnamon stick. Simmer for another 20 minutes. Pour into sterilized bottles (I just pre-rinsed my bottles with boiling water) and use within the next 6 months.
I got this recipe from the BBC program "Grow Your Own Drugs". As an aside, I absolutely loved the program. The guy is a biologist who decides to cook up scientifically proven remedies. My only complaint would be that many of the remedies take a bit of work to prepare.
However, I would have to say that the elderberries worked! Brad, Nikolai and I were all cured after dosing heavily on the our elderberry stash. And my favorite foraging friend (there's an alliteration for you) also cured her family from similar ailments this weekend using our elderberry cordial. We were so happy with the successes that we went out and picked another lot of berries today!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Do the Locomotion

Well, it's time to reveal my big surprise!! (And only a surprise for those of you who don't talk to me regularly). This past weekend... we MOVED!

But this is not a move back to Canada, it's something more sideways then that.

Maynooth is a town that has a Main street which is literally 2 blocks long. So when we moved from one end of town, to the other... it only took us a total of 1.5 hours (5 car loads of stuff... amazing when you consider that 20 months ago we arrived with only 5 suitcases of stuff!)

-"Why move?" Well that's the big question, one that I asked myself a lot during the process. But let's start with a background on the apartment that we're now renting before delving into the nitty gritty. The apartment belongs to a friend of mine, who was living here up until last week with her husband and their two sons (eldest is Nikolai's friend). But her third child is due in 10 days time, so they'd definitely outgrown this two bedroom apartment.

-"But Emillie, aren't you set to be returning to Canada in December?" Well, that could be true. But Brad's contract here was extended until next August, so until he gets a job we will probably stay put, because an income in Ireland is better than no income in Canada.

-"But why move from a 3 bedroom house, with two courtyards and a big garden to a small two bedroom apartment?"

Well, this is the easy part. Our new apartment is located on top of the only mall in Maynooth. And though it sounds pretty industrial for my sojourn in Ireland, it actually feels more Mediterranean when you're actually up here. The roof of a mall is a warm place to be. And this is a lovely landscaped roof (as seen below). In fact it's so warm that we have 4 windows open at the moment, and I'm quite comfortable sitting still at my computer. However, when we went back to our old place to clean (on this same 15 C day) we left on our outdoor sweaters despite the exertion of cleaning. The temperature difference is that great. So it's no wonder that I was keen to move before embarking on my 3rd Irish winter. And since we're renting from a friend, no lease is required.The other major benefit to our new location is the view. We went from a view of an 18th century cemetery a view of a 13th century castle (from our kitchen and livingroom windows, the bedrooms overlook the commons). A little aside on the Castle... it is an OPW site, and belonged to the Geraldine clan. We're renting from a Fitzgerald... so definitely a descendant of the original castle owners. What's more, I showed paintings at the Geraldine festival held at the castle in July, and ended up with my photo in the Maynooth newsletter. So far, this has only resulted in one elderly man recognizing me on the street and inviting me in to apraise his photography.And if you were planning on visiting us, never fear, we still have two double beds, two bathrooms and two balconies, so there's plenty of space! However, this move does leave us with a technical question... do I now need to change the name of my blog to 6 Earl's Court?!?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

It's a Rather Blustery Day

Three days of windswept hair blowing in my face, three nights of howling wind cursing against my window pane has left me in a poetic mood.

As the hurricanes batter the coastal Americas
they are beaten back by the solidity of land into the ocean currents
only to be swept up along the Gulf Stream
to paw at my door.

Merely a kitten of their former lioness. The 130 km/hour winds sweep across the landscape, causing clouds and weather to rush past as though I were looking through a time lapse camera. Trees and electrical lines mostly hold fast, against this yearly and expected onslaught.

It is my bean trellis, only just born in June, that topples against the might of the endless, endless wind. The beans themselves are older and wiser. They hold fast, unperturbed as I and a fellow gardener struggle to lash them tight again.

As we work on his trellis, he is reminded of his childhood
a childhood dream disturbed
a night time waking to catch fast the boat
before it blows out to sea

Pulling fast the knots in a garden frame requires the same exertion of force to a retired professor as the moorings of a brawling boat to a child.

Endless, endless... the wind rushes through... to blow... my thoughts... to sea...

Monday, September 05, 2011

Catching up on some sights

Claire came to visit us this weekend. And it was perfect, primarily because we just saw her two weeks ago in London. The perfection came from our ability to chat and digest. We'd moved on from the "it poured while we were in Amsterdam", and the "Nikolai's SOOO cute" to the more personal side of things. But I don't blog about truly personal things... that would be creepy.

However, I do blog about sight seeing. Though I have been rather delinquent of late on this particular task. I have Dublin sights that we went to on the August 1st long weekend that I still haven't blogged about... because... it's just that wee bit boring to blog about the usual tourist traps. However, I strive to be a conscientious person... and though I have a more exciting story waiting in the wings, it will have to wait a few more weeks while I discuss a few more Dublin sights.

And this tour is probably the cause of my ennui. Because the tour itself was rather boring. As anyone who's been in Dublin knows... the Liffey is not the highest of rivers... (and is rather more of a slight murky trickle whenever the tides' out). So the canal boat was not able to make it any further upriver than the Ha' Penny bridge. Which means that the rest of the tour featured only about 10 sights... including the bankrupt docklands and associated abandoned construction sites. Notice the lack of cranes at the AIB building site pictured below. Thrilling.

What was exciting was the fact that the boat did not have a toilet... and we'd just come from lunch where Nikolai had drunk a large glass of water... To preserve his personal Internet based privacy, I am not going to tell you what we did about this situation... but it was definitely harrowing.CHRISTCHURCH CATHEDRAL

As you can imagine, Christchurch is a large cathedral, much like most cathedrals... large, glamorous, yet slightly Gothic in nature. We also got to tour the crypt... which sounds a lot more exciting than it was. They had a few interesting artifacts in glass cases, a cafe and gift shop. The only cryptness about it was the smell (ugh) and a petrified cat and mouse who'd been caught behind the organ a long time ago (can you imagine the repair man who had to make that discovery!)

We also got to see Strongbow's coffin... so that was pretty cool.DALKEY CASTLE
This was the only sight that we actually did with Claire (I really have been neglective!) But the tour was by far the best of the bunch, and is definitely recommended if you're into history, and you don't have small children with you... unfortunately we did have a small child with us. However, he seems to have come out unscathed.

Dalkey Castle isn't really a castle as much as a fortified import-export warehouse. The only people who would have lived there are the archers who protected the castle from raiders. As such, the castle is a small and modest place. But they've turned it into an interpretive centre on the area, and for €6 you get an interactive tour of the castle provided by a series of historical characters. The tour is currently about the Tudor period, and focuses on the lesser known and slightly gruesome side of things.

The tour guides remain in character the entire time and assume a lot of general knowledge of the period. Needless to say, they tried to draft Nikolai into their services as an apprentice archer several times.

When selecting pictures for this blog, I realized that I never blogged about our bicycle tour of Pheonix park! First we went to Farmleigh for a tour of the stately guest house. Originally a Guinness family rural cottage, it now is a hotel for visiting dignitaries. Basically everyone has stayed there... including most recently Obama and Queen Elizabeth (though not at the same time). The tour was nice, but I'd recommend the Aras over Farmleigh.

We then went on to Ashtown Castle, primarily because we knew they served up a rather nice lunch. On this trip, the Victorian walled garden was open for visitors. Officially still under renovation, we were very much in awe of the neat rows of vegetables... but as Brad pointed out, it takes a team of gardeners to maintain a walled garden. The best part is that all the produce grown is used in the cafe! Yummy.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

all in all it's just another brick in the wall

Nikolai started his first day at preschool today. He loved it. I loved it. We all loved it. And I knew he would. Nikolai LOVES playing with other children. His social side NEVER wears out. And I am perfectly happy staying home and entertaining myself. Goodness, I am simply the Queen of projects.

So no tearful goodbyes (or even bothering to say good bye as Nikolai ran into the class room and made a beeline for the toy train set that he had seen when he first did his tour in March).

But I do have a bit of a quiver of doubt in my core. In Ireland, preschool is free for one year. And this is a Montessori-based educational preschool. Part of me wonders at putting my innocent one into something so mould making.

Nikolai happily rides a pink bike. He loves his toy kitchen, his baby dolls. He spent most of this week wearing one of Layla's pink hair clips around. He eats EVERYTHING I feed him, and was excited that his first day lunch was humus with carrot and pepper sticks and tapioca cheese buns. He doesn't know what a gun is, is barely interested in cars (we groomed him into a train and bike fascination). He could tell you the name of a few Superheros from his friends at the playground, but he wouldn't actually be able to tell you what a Superhero is.

Ah, la innocent. He's never heard of McDonald's, Disney, or video games. He shares everything to a fault. And at this moment he is mine.

But at preschool the kid next to him might bug him because the colour pink is among his favorite colours, or say that red peppers (Nikolai's favorite) are disgusting. He will probably learn about fighting, and the fact that cars are cool (though he tends to get sick every time he rides in one, so that might be a hard push).

By the end of this year, Nikolai will know the alphabet, the days of the week, how to write his name... but he will also have learned about gender stereotyping, peer pressure and the difference between being included in a group and being excluded by a group. And all I can do is hope that I've taught him enough to know that he is lovable for his skills, his opinions, and his flaws, no matter what anyone else has to say about it.

The picture above is Nikolai setting out for school. Below is after school (3 hour days only) eating beans from our allotment.

Mix together 1/2 cup of tapioca flour (tapioca starch), 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1 cup of grated cheese.  Then mix in 1 egg to form a dough.  Split into 4 balls and bake at 180 C (350F) for 15-20 min until nicely toasted.  Eat warm... or at least within the day as it goes stale rather quickly.