Monthly Archives: September 2013

So one day I got all existential in the garden…

So, this post isn’t as garden related as perhaps it should be seeing as it is garden blog. However, this is what I thought about while transplanting a load of plants today. That must count for something.

AND, just in case you are only reading this for gardening tips…skip to the end.

So there I was, moving plants from here to there and back again, pondering some articles I had read this morning via friend’s posts on Facebook. I was thinking how I had really enjoyed the articles but when I went to share them all of a sudden I shrunk back from the computer, mentally slapping my own hand. “Don’t post those articles silly Mrs Quirke. People might think you’ve taken to bed. People might think you’re off in America hugging trees and trying to find yourself”.  And I realized I was afraid of my Irish friends. Afraid they would worry about me and more likely take the ‘piss out of me’ when I go back in a week. They would worry that I had gone all sappy and soft, worrying about things like happiness and the human existence.  Because in Ireland, as Ciaran’s ma said it “Sure, what does happiness have to do with anything”.

I have been back in the States only just long enough to re-acquire my American accent. I have been here, working away in gardens, doing the American thing – potlucks and potato chips, 60-hr weeks and begging for more, acquiring Apple products and hankering for more.

This hankering has had me thinking for the past five years that I have been in Ireland. The longer I have lived there, the more gob smacked I am, upon my return to the States, at what incredibly well trained consumers we Americans are. This is something I have struggled with because every time I leave the States I feel more or less content with everything I have and the minute I come back my Amazon wish list doubles or triples in length.

I remember my little brother going through his own philosophical phase. I remember his despondent comment: “I feel like my value as a person is based purely on my value as a consumer. How much money can I spend.”

Well, I thought that was a bit dramatic, but fresh off the flight from Dublin, fresh out of a country in the throes of a deep recession where consumption is more akin to ‘did you have enough to eat last night’, I could see what he meant.

So, this brings me back to those articles I read this morning. They were fantastic. They hit the nail on the head about how we need to just be ourselves and not worry about what others think or what the media tells us who we should be. And I got all nostalgic for Ireland because in Ireland, no one has realized they might not be themselves. The innocence and naivete is so charming.

No really though, I find it refreshing and comforting to know these places exist. These places like Ireland and probably the rest of the world. I feel privileged to know that I can get away from the obsession with trying to figure ourselves out and then when we do, getting caught up in the next wave of fad diets, self-help books, six pack abs, cleanses and essential electronics to keep track of our heartbeat/footsteps/calories/headaches/sneezes, just to be back at the start again, Who Am I Again Stage, when a new trend comes along.

Im pretty sure in Ireland the most important thing to keep track of is: how many people are in the family, are they all sitting at the table for Sunday dinner and if they are not, how many miles away are they. There is a direct relationship to how far away they are and how guilty you are allowed to make them feel about not being at the table.

It’s just that maybe my little brother was right in a way. If we are most valuable as consumers then we need to buy. We get told what to buy through advertising but therefore are at the mercy of what’s for sale. And we end up defining ourselves by what we buy.

Don’t get me wrong. I have things. Lots of things. and I like new things and want more things as much as I loathe to admit that. And yes, I bought some ridiculous things to bring home to Ireland. But I enjoy bringing these crazy things back to Ireland because it’s funny. It’s laughing at consumerism. It’s laughing at myself. And really, no one can believe you can buy that stuff.

Stuff like Banana Guards and tape dispensers shaped like high heels.

I enjoy bringing these things back and having a laugh and making fun of us Americans. But, once we’ve done laughing, it’s a relief to huddle around the fire or in the one warm room, because no one could afford to fill the oil tank. To be drinking cheap prosecco from Lidl out of mugs and jam jars and just taking a head count, see who is missing. Just having a laugh. No advertisements. Little money to buy anything even if there were.

It has made me appreciate that there is another way and another place.  And I know we can do it right here at home in America. It’s just a matter of shutting out the noise.

SO there it is. Its not advice or answers or probably even that coherent. But more just a thought that being ourselves is much easier than we are led to believe. The rest of the world is doing it.

It is also a clear sign that I shouldn’t be left alone in the garden for too long.

As for the garden tip of the day: Plant more Asters and plant them in large groups. They are one of the most incredible flowers this time of year. Also, it’s a great time of year for transplanting.

– Mrs. Quirke…I think


Green Tomatoes and Pickled Potatoes….

Green tomatoes ready for pickling

Green tomatoes ready for pickling

Pickled potatoes, you say?

Oh yes, I have been inspired by the glut of green tomatoes and the pickling epidemic that appears to be sweeping the nation.

In fact, it’s funny how just because I have become a Mrs I have been thinking about things like pickling and canning and jarring and ironing the linens and boxer shorts. Oh wait, maybe not ironing so much. And I imagine this could just be a romantic, newlywed phase that brings out the latent domestic goddess hiding deep inside.

But phase or not I DO have a surfeit of green tomatoes that must be dealt with.

I have tried frying them with a classic Fried Green Tomato approach but really, there is no tomato excitement. This is just really a vehicle for the fried batter which is tasty but not quite what I am looking for.

So it struck me, perhaps you could pickle tomatoes and it turns out, of course you can! You can pickle anything and lets face it…the end of the tomato season in Ireland, no matter how good a summer we’ve had, there’s nary a red tomato in site. Just luscious, lovely tomato plants bending with the weight of their goods which will never, ever ripen.

I only just started liking pickled things recently. And while I was there imagining the perfect pickled green tomato, what it would taste like, what the texture would be like, when I started thinking about Ireland and what else you could pickle and of course, the next thought was…potatoes!

It reminded me a bit of a surf trip to the Dominican Republic years ago with five friends. The six of us were crammed into a five seater banged up old SUV. We took turns sitting in the way back with the luggage and the surf gear, a rough spot to be sitting as every bump in the road you were hitting your head on the roof of the car, swaying back and forth with the motion of the driver’s pothole dodging.

Our first couple hours driving we realized the Dominicans beep for EVERYTHING. It appears everything you do in a vehicle requires use of the horn. This was incredibly abrasive to our polite New England ears. What was everyone’s problem?

When we realized it wasn’t meant to be taken personally we also realized that we should probably join in and use the horn to alert drivers, pedestrians, cyclists, donkeys, carts etc of our approaching vehicle as we swerved from side to side to avoid craterous potholes. So we started honking the horn excessively.

But no one paid us any attention. Not a glance, not a glare, not a smile. No acknowledgement whatsoever. A bit taken aback we began to wonder if we could manage to honk enough that even the Dominicans would look. This became our new mission – honk enough that someone, somebody would throw a glance, give us a nod, move out of the way, at least raise an eyebrow!

Which brings me back to Ireland and my mad notion of pickling a potato.

It was my first Christmas in Ireland and my very first Irish Christmas dinner.  I said yes to everything bar the gravy which has become a taste I am working to acquire.

I said yes to the turkey and the ham, the mashed carrots and parsnips, the brussel sprouts and stuffing, cheesy cauliflower, the potato stuffing, mashed potatoes and baked potatoes. I said yes to everything and my plate was mounded high and overflowing with Christmas Dinner. And just as I was making a bit of headway with my mound of food, the original Mrs Quirke came over with a bowl of potatoes. Boiled potatoes I believed. And she ever so politely asked if I would like some potatoes.

Potatoes? Really? I am pretty sure I got some potatoes I mean I am pretty sure I have at least four types of potatoes on my plate, don’t I?

Oh no, you didn’t get the boiled-baked potatoes, here have some, you’ll love them and there are some cheesy-garlic potatoes in the oven that will be ready any minute, so make some room.

I will forever remember this moment. It was a  “welcome to Ireland” moment, devoid of any irony, where I realized how many different ways you could eat a potato in one meal. And ever since, I have dreamed of bringing a potato dish to Christmas dinner and waiting until everyone’s plates are full and mounded high with potatoes and then, without any irony in my voice, offer everyone some potatoes.

Just to see if I can raise an eyebrow. Just to see if I can ever so politely insist that people eat MY potatoes despite the obvious excess of potatoes already on the plate.

So here are the recipes I will be trying, one Mexican and one Indian. Two recipes that I hope will raise an eyebrow at the Christmas Dinner table.

Indian Style Pickled Potato


500 gms potatoes, slightly boiled, peeled and cut into small pieces
50 gms chili powder
Salt to taste
25 gms garlic, crushed
25 gms methi (fenugreek) seeds, powdered
4 lemons
100 gms oil
5 gms mustard seeds
4-5 red chilies
A pinch of asafoetida

1. Pat dry the potato pieces with a cloth or paper towel and place in a clean bowl; add chili powder, salt, crushed garlic, methi seeds powder and mix well.
2. Heat oil in a pan; add red chilies, mustard seeds, asafoetida and pour over the potato pieces.
3. Finally add lemon juice; mix well and store in an air-tight container.
4. After 3 days, mix the mixture well and serve

And for what sounds like an authentic and delicious Mexican recipe for pickled potatoes head to the Daily Spud:

Pickled Potato

And for those lovely green Irish tomatoes, after hours of trawling the web for a good recipe, here are a couple of pickle recipes which I will be trying with wedges of regular tomatoes as opposed to cherry tomatoes:

Four Ways to Pickle Tomatoes

And that’s me, signing off to go dream of more things to pickle. Give pickling a lash and when you get a raised eyebrow with your offering of pickled potatoes…think of me.

Good Luck from yours truly

                               – Mrs Quirke

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