Free food over here

A post about the joys of foraging!  I’ve been theoretically all into foraging for wild food since I started reading some pieces about it last year but, in practice, foraging expeditions were limited until recently to a few auld blackberries in the autumn.  It’s just so hard to know how to start when you’ve never done it before.  But then my very own CaveMammy (who is the antithesis of cave-life really, living as she does in a den of electronics and computing, but she appreciates the dirt-under-the-fingernails lifestyle from an acceptable distance) bought me a copy of Wild Food for my birthday and I came over all committed to the project again.  The book’s a really nice read and describes the main types of wild food that can be gathered in Ireland over the year and gives loads of details on how they can be recognised, collected, eaten and preserved.  A good one to have on the shelf.

So first stop – wild garlic.  I was lucky enough to be out with a friend who had previously gathered and eaten it because I would have been very doubtful otherwise about picking a clump of stuff what had grown all by itself and putting it in my dinner.  The season for wild garlic is just about over now unfortunately but when it’s out it is plentiful!  This is what it looks like up close:

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And here is CaveBaby gathering some in the Phoenix Park:

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You can eat the leaves, stalks and flowers although some people apparently find the garlic flavour from the flowers too strong.  On our first trip we picked a big bagful (see artful arrangement in bowl below)

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and I used it as filling along with bacon pieces and some cheese in a crustless quiche (which, by the way, is not an omelette as it is cooked in the oven so nah).  The basic crustless quiche recipe is here but I just used cheddar in place of the recommended cheeses.  And it was seriously to die for tasty.  The texture of the wild garlic leaves means that they stand in as a kind of spinach substitute in the dish but also gave it a gorgeous garlicky flavour.  I mean look at this, how could you resist this?!!

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On the same day I’d decided to go hell for leather and harvest some dandelions for dandelion fitters as well, inspired by this great post from the daily spud.  CaveHusband was dubious.  He was tentatively agreeing to eat the wild garlic but was threatening to put the foot down at flower heads.  I pressed on and sent CaveBoy out the back garden with a scissors to cut off six of the best.  Unfortunately it was evening and they’d started to close up a bit and so they didn’t look anywhere near as pretty as the daily spudsis ones but I said we’d give it a lash anyway.  Here they are sizzling in a little batter:

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I served them and, by dint of what I call infectious enthusiasm and CaveHusband calls smiley-faced bullying, I managed to convince him AND CaveBoy to try.  CaveBoy was actually quite swept away with my talking-up of the whole thing (he trusts me, bless him) and bit in happily with an mmm, isn’t that nice dad?.  A few chews later and he politely said you know I don’t think I want to finish this one mammy.  This is how trust is eroded I guess.  CaveHusband actually said he didn’t mind them and I think he may have had a second.  The rest were all mine.  I thought they were quite tasty but then, most things deep fried in batter are.

We went on another foraging trip to the Phoenix Park shortly after and this time we collected a big old bag of the wild garlic leaves plus some nettle tips.

nettles

None of us were quite sure what we were doing with the nettles but the Wild Food book said to take the youngest little parts at the top so that we did.  With gloves and scissors of course!  I had popped CaveBaby up on to my back in the sling while we were gathering as he was being exceedingly uncooperative with regards to staying within a safe distance and not jumping off a cliff.  I must say, crouching down in a forested area, gathering wild food for your dinner, with a child slung to your back, makes you feel quite primal.  This was an intense Cave moment.

I had inspiration from the book to preserve some of the garlic in oil, make some wild garlic pesto and do up a nettle, garlic and potato soup.  So that evening CaveHusband came home to a crazy kitchen with its walls dripping in steam: kilner jars were bubbling away in boiling water to be sterilised, the soup was simmering on the back burner, there were bowls of chopped garlic leaves waiting to be submerged in olive oil for preserving and the food processor was going ninety chopping up hazelnuts, garlic leaves and cheese for the pesto.  He said nothing and walked back out.  Wise move.

And here are some of the fruits of the madness (be warned, there is much greenness).

The preserved garlic

preserved garlic

The wild garlic pesto (really strong and fresh tasting)

pesto

And the nettle and garlic soup which was DELICIOUS.

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And that’s the foraging round-up for the minute.  The book talks about some seaweed varieties that can be gathered all year round on rocky shores so I may take a coastal scavenge soon.  Also elderflower has just come into season and I’ve heard tell of a recipe for elderflower champagne which sounds just gorgeous so am hoping to experiment with that.  The menu for garden parties at the Cave this summer will be … different.

Love, from a patch of forest and free food near you xx

CaveMammy

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Free Range Christmas

All has been very quiet on the CaveMammy front for the last few weeks!  We’ve been keeping the home fires burning at the cave and getting out in the Irish winter for our Free Range Tuesdays but there’s been precious little time for writing up our adventures.  So just a little post to say hello before we say goodbye to 2012.

This week we had a special Christmas day out for Free Range Tuesday in Powerscourt House and Gardens in Enniskerry, about a half an hour’s drive south of Dublin.  There was a discounted family ticket going on a deals page a month or so ago and the website had the promise of some Christmas trimmings during the month of December so we nabbed it.  CaveDaddy is on hiatus from the hunt this month (otherwise known as Annual Leave) so he was able to come with us for the trip.

We knew this was going to be a relatively civilised day out so we didn’t go for full rain gear (mistake! ALWAYS go for full rain gear).  The boys just wore their wellies, the adults had hiking boots and CaveBaby and me were resplendent in our new (to us) Suse’s Kindercoat which is a lovely warm waterproof baby wearing jacket that allows babs to pop up through the back in back carry.  It also has an insert at the front that allows you to zip it up over a front carry passenger but still have a part of the coat closed across your chest and throat to keep you warm.  And there are mini hoods on the inserts for baby! So cute.

Peadar on back

It was very foggy in Dublin when we were leaving but by the time we got to Wicklow it had brightened up nicely and had turned into a nice crisp December day.  The stable area beside Powerscourt was set up well with a lovely wintery feel – the Christmas trees for sale were arranged like a little forest and there was a big fire pit in the middle with a heap of burning logs that the boys loved (see photo, complete with CaveDaddy doing jazz hands).

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There were “Christmas animals” in the stables.  Christmas animals, apparently, are deer, goats, guinea pigs and, em, rabbits. Eyebrow raise.  God bless CaveBoy, he does a good wow and gave each animal an oooh look at that mammy.  CaveCousin is street-smarter and was not so impressed.  So after more warming at the fire, we wandered over to the main house which was decorated really nicely with lights and trees and the like and we were only thrilled to meet the Powerscourt Santa walking through the hallway with an elf and a basket of reindeer food.  There was a Free Range detour when CaveMammy realised that Tara’s Palace, the beautiful dollshouse that used to live in Malahide Castle, had moved home to Powerscourt.  I persuaded the boys to come up and look at it with me, but sure of course a toy that you can’t play with is of no use to a four year old so they hit the attached playroom while I walked around the HUGE dollshouse, grinning like a loon at little versions of everything.  OK, I know dollshouses are not related to the caveman life in any way but I can’t resist posting a pic of the kitchen.  Just LOOK at it!

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And then CaveDaddy dragged me back out to the open air and lifesize objects.  The gardens are laid out at the back of the house and there is a spectacular view of the Sugarloaf mountain as you walk out.  The first section, the Italian Garden, is an immaculate sequence of terraced, manicured lawns, balustrades and stepped walkways, that stretches down to the lake.  The lads were having fun running up and down the steps but I was a bit concerned that they’d get bored here quickly if there was nothing but nicely cut grass.  But as it turned out, there was loads more to do.  Down by the lake, they spotted some steps and found the boat house hidden underneath (boathouse, batcave, take your pick).  Bit of heart pounding for the two adults as they went around and around the narrow ledge, scarily close to the very murky, reedy looking lake and the signs saying caution, deep water.  Deep breaths.  Count to ten.  Consider the “hidden risk”, the risk of the child NOT doing this thing that scares the life out of you, the risk that they don’t get the experience, the thrill, the sense of adventure.

OK and that’s enough thrill!  Adventure over, now get back up on that path where I know you’re not going to risk life and limb for at least another five minutes.

Powerscourt give out a nice little hand drawn map of the gardens at the ticket desk so I kneeled down with the boys then and got them to do some map reading and figure out which way to go for the Japanese Garden.

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And it was great there for playing!  Steps, raised paths, mossy nooks, streams and bridges – loads of chasing and hiding and upping and downing.  Poor CaveBaby, he was getting impatient in the sling as he’s at that awkward stage where he can’t walk around and explore but wants to be down in the action nonetheless.  So there was much jigging and singing to keep him happy.

Japanese Garden

The next exciting looking thing on the map was Tower Valley and the Pepperpot Tower.  The boys navigated us again and we got a very impressive glimpse of the tower through the trees on the way there.  We wondered if we would be able to go inside (CaveMammy managing expectations in case if was some kind of blocked up unsafe structure).  We discussed the possibilities as we circled up the path that approached it,

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got excited when we found an open doorway through the ramparts,

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and were thoroughly thrilled when we made out way to the roof!

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Great fun, the boys were happily exhausted running up and down the stairs and CaveBaby was placated somewhat by the views from the roof.  CaveBoy had to be roared at once or twice to get down off those fecking railings at the top before he either killed himself or gave me a premature death through heart failure but calm was restored very quickly after each outburst.

After that it was time to mosey back to the big house.  There was splashing in puddles on the way back (from whence the new rule, always wear full rain gear) and then we came over all modern and went into the Avoca cafe there for a coffee and cake in the tea room.  It has a beautiful view of the Sugarloaf.  CaveCousin was disappointed by the pain au chocolat with sugar dusting that just didn’t live up to his expecations but CaveBaby was happy to hoover it up for him , along with CaveBoy’s plateful of scone crumbs.  Bellies full, we made one last visit to the fire and the Christmas rabbits and then it was time to head for home in the greying light of an Irish winter’s afternoon.

Merry Christmas to all, from our cave to yours! xx CaveMammy

Slingin’ It

Babywearing – because cavemen didn’t have travel systems.

I try to wear CaveBaby as much as possible.  This means carrying him close to me in a suitably supportive baby carrier, sometimes to get places, sometimes just to have a cuddle, sometimes to comfort him when he’s sick or feeling a bit off.  We own a buggy but it’s gathering dust at the minute and I can’t remember the last time he was in it!

I could talk all day about the benefits we’ve got from babywearing.  He is infinitely portable in a sling.  We can go anywhere: up mountains, through rivers, on the 17a bus that isn’t accessible for buggies.  He’s happy out wrapped up close to me and very rarely gives out which makes life so stress-free. I get to have him close and smell his baby hair and nuzzle his soft warm head and kiss him for no good reason at all and he gets to lay his head on my chest to have a snooze, or he snuggles into my back or he can knead my arms with his hot little hands (sometimes not a benefit, especially when he’s growing talons that could fell a tiger, but still cute).  He will be restful in the sling in a way he wouldn’t be sitting on my lap and it’s a godsend for keeping him safe and quiet while I’m trying to do something else, especially when we’re out and about.  And on top of all that, it’s great exercise, like walking with weights the whole time!  The slings are great for distributing the weight evenly so you don’t get a sore back but you still get a workout, especially if you’re powerwalking for the naoínra pickup because you got distracted by Facebook.

There are so many types of slings: wraps (long pieces of either stretchy or woven material that you tie around the body), ring slings (that sit across one shoulder like a kind of sash), mei tais (a material panel with four long ties that you use to secure baby to body) and soft structured carriers (a material panel secured to body with buckled straps).  And then there are the hybrids: wraps converted to soft structured carriers with all different combinations of buckles and straps.  It’s a bewildering world when you start but very easy to get addicted to.  Babywearing Ireland is a good place to start if you’re interested – you can get advice and information there and hire slings to try out before you buy.  There’s also a very active Irish Facebook group.

Our babywearing career started back in May last year when a pregnant CaveMammy popped in to a breastfeeding coffee morning that’s held once a month in the cafe of the Draíocht theatre in Blanchardstown.  I was taking all the advice I’d read which said to build up a bit of a breastfeeding network before baby came along, for help, support and friendship.  This network was key for us when we ran into problems actually but sure, more of that in another post.  What I didn’t expect that day was to see so many mams wearing their babies in really cosy looking wraps.  I asked about them and before I knew it, I had been trussed up in the material and was cuddling a mini occupant who looked as shocked to see me in close proximity to his face as I was to be wearing him.  As I was four months pregnant at the time, this was my first tandem carry.

I was so impressed with the comfort of the wrap and was completely sold on the idea of being hands-free with a new baby when I had to be running after CaveBoy.  So I got myself a Je Porte Mon Bebe Bebe, a type of stretchy wrap, and waited patiently for its rider to arrive.  Now I won’t lie, there’s a bit of a learning curve to the wrapping and I spent many hours watching online demos, pausing and replaying and driving CaveHusband to distraction asking him to check knots and folds while CaveBaby roared!  In the end, I got a face-to-face demo and we flew it from there – I could now put on the wrap in my sleep. The JPMBB is suitable right up to toddler age because of the kind of fabric it’s made from.  I used it regularly from birth up to about 8 months, when it started to feel a bit too warm for the weather and it was getting kind of awkward to do serious walking with him in front.  Here he is in the woods this spring, snug as a bug:

Over the next few months, I used a ring sling for general carries and a framed hiking backpack carrier for proper walking.  The ring sling is great but can get a bit sore on one shoulder after a while and the backpack carrier, while very handy for its pockets and ease of use, is VERY bulky.  Pictures of both below:

And then along came the Tula, the carrier du jour!  The Tula is a soft structured carrier with buckle straps and we can do front and back carries in it (pics of both below).  It is so handy: he will sit comfy in it for hours, I never get sore shoulders or back and it is a cinch to get on and off.  For winter walks, we got the waterproof fleece-lined cover that’s in the back-carry photo and so he is as cosy as can be while CaveBoy and CaveCousin do their thang of a Tuesday.  Tulas rock!

In short, I really can’t say enough good things about babywearing and if CaveBaby could talk, I’m sure he’d say the same.  And listen, as if that wasn’t enough, slings might even be the missing link!

Over and out, CaveMammy.