La Chatte Gitane (or The Gypsy Cat) was the name we chose for our cottage in France. We chose it while on the road, moving home, from Ireland to France with 2 dogs and 7 cats in the car.
This blog began its insignificant life as a recipe book for friends and family who would ask me repeatedly for a recipe of this, that and the other.
Since then it has taken many different directions, like gypsies tend to do. Sometimes making a U-turn and revisiting familiar roads and taking a break when necessary.
You'll find recipes here, but also musings about the places we've called home, the gardens that we've established, not always successfully, the homes we've improved and the environments we've lived in. Currently, that is back in Ireland.

Monday, August 31, 2015

A Home for Egg Layers

By being absent from this blog for so long, I have come to the realisation that I sometimes have to catch up and go back in time before I can write about the present day.
Our second volunteer since moving here to this property was Fran from Spain. He arrived mid October 2013.
Fran has a degree in architecture and he wanted to design and build a chicken coop. That is not so strange, because, after leaving our previous hens in Belgium to be cared for by the new owners of the house, we wanted to keep chickens again in the not so distant future.
We found a good spot not too far from the house, with a nice bit of  flat-ish green.
Fran made precise drawing with measurements, before he made a platform on stilts.

He built the wall structures separately and the proceeded to erect them onto the platform. Then the roof timbers went on.
I so wanted to keep it as it was here. Hmm, a garden pavilion.

He clad the outside with off-cuts from the local sawmill.
Made doors for humans and chickens.

We didn't get chickens right away. No, that had to wait till the spring.  
During that winter we had severe storms and we came to the conclusion that this strongly built chicken coop was going to withstand a good battering from high winds.
What Fran didn't think of was rain. And Bert and I didn't check if the roof was water tight.

Somewhere in April, or was it May 2014, Franzi and Silvio arrived from Germany. They got stuck in as soon as they could because they wanted to be here when the planned chickens arrived.

Making the roof water tight was first on the list.

Beautiful nest boxes.

A little recycling for the floor.

That was not the end of it. Oh no.  Before the chickens could come a fence needed to be erected.
Silvio and Franzi made light work of that too.  But you'll see the result in a later post.

For now I'll say till next time.
Patricia xxx...x

Friday, August 28, 2015

Sunday's Dolphin Rescue Attempt - The Aftermath

One always hopes for a good outcome.  It's in our heart, but then our brain says to stay realistic and prepare for the worst.
If you have no idea what I'm talking about, take a look at the blogpost that I wrote last Sunday  dolphin rescue mission

So we all thought the dolphins were reasonably safe in the deeper water inlet. It was kind of agreed that Bert would check up on them the next day.
Waiting for the tide to come in, it was around 1 pm that he set off.
The news was not good.  They lay both side by side in the same spot, dead.
We didn't really know what to do about this, but we let everyone who helped know about the sad news. During the rescue I heard about The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group  and decided to contact them by email.
On Tuesday I got a response from Lucy Hunt, one of the IWDG officers and we made arrangements that she would come over the next day at around 11 am when it was a suitable tide to go out in the dinghy.
Lucy studied a Joint Honours Degree in marine biology/zoology and was awarded with her Masters in Marine Environmental Protection. She also runs Sea Synergy Marine Awareness and Activity Center in Waterville .
She arrived on the dot and together with Bert they went out with the dinghy.

On arrival at the spot where the dolphins were last seen, they only discovered the remains of the calf. And because of tides that had also moved a bit.

Lucy took the necessary samples to be send to the lab.

The calf died because the mother didn't survive. Finding the remains of the adult dolphin would mean she could take samples from it and really find out what had gone amiss.
Unfortunately after a search in all the coves and inlets around the area, there was no sign of her. Maybe swept out to the sea, or well out of sight in an inlet somewhere.

How powerless and terribly saddened by this event we feel is hard to explain.  But I now have Lucy's phone number and email address. She'll be my first port of call if or when this happens again and she can guide us through if she can't be present herself. But I will always call on Etienne, Michael and Vinnie too, because to Bert and to me they are absolutely unmissable in an event that needs clear head thinking and action.

Patricia xxx...x

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Veg Growing Project

It has been a long time coming. I dreamt of a beautiful potager style plot of vegetables and we were going to set it up as soon as we arrived in Ireland, 2.5 years ago.
It just didn't happen. I have plenty of excuses. One of them is : where on our 3.8 ha would be suitable? We have to deal with either rock or windswept bog.
I've always had  raised beds and that's what we needed now. Unfortunately, it never happened. That is until Anna from Germany arrived to help us as a volunteer, at the beginning of May.
My friend Sophie had said to me to start small and pointed to an area in front of the house, that could do with beautifying.

Here is Anna, the only volunteer that ever asked to use the strimmer.
And strimming she did.

She was intend on giving us raised beds, Even if she had never attempted anything like this before.
With a little guidance from Bert she built them from pallets and off cuts.

What a star !  Before she moved on with her travels, she filled some of them with a layer of straw and topped that up with a decent amount of well composted cow muck. The cow muck we acquired from our lovely neighbour, Bernie.

Seeds of lettuce, carrots, spinach, radishes etc sown, Anna left...

And in came Manon, from The Netherlands

Manon filled up the rest of the raised beds with compost and made chicken wire frames to cover them up. Why ? Because the cats had already found out that these new loos were the bees knees.

We are so lucky, having such gorgeous friends like Sophie who has given us many plants to get our veggie patch started this late in the season. Courgette plants, small lettuces, kale, also strawberry plants among other things.

Our chickens have found their way out of their enclosure.
They are allowed for now, as they don't seem to do too much damage. 

It has been a short growing season and it certainly wasn't a great summer.
The variety of veg is minimal.  But it is a start.

 "Oh, hello !" This is Flappy.

Here is our present volunteer, Wen from Malaysia, weeding.
Because weeds don't need a great summer to grow profusely.

A recurring  small harvest of courgettes.

It definitely is a start.
Patricia xxx...x

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

From Free Range Pig to Pork - Part 1

We were rather fortunate that our local butcher's slaughter license for pigs came in around the same time we received our pig herd number.
So far so good. It meant that the stress levels for us, as well as for the piggies, would be kept to an absolute minimum. Better still, our local butcher would pick them up here at home with his trailer.
As the first two went to the butcher, I couldn't help but shed a few tears. It is damned hard. It will always be damned hard.
Now, from the time the pigs leave here, it will take near enough one week before they return as meat.  That is a good time frame for me to distance myself emotionally from them. After all, we know from the start that they are not 'pets' and are meant for meat.
We have up till now sent them to the butcher per two.  So there is never one pig left on their own.
Pigs are very social animals and they need company.

We start off with buying four weaners at a time. They are about 8 weeks old, although we had 12 week old ones twice now, and are ready to be separated from the mother. They will  be used to eating vegetables, fruit, oats and barley by the time we bring them home. And that is what we feed them on for the rest of their stay. But as they are free ranging they will also eat lots of weeds and roots on the plot of land that they are allowed to roam on.
The pigs stay with us until they are at least 6 months old. I say 'at least' because we do try to keep them longer. Especially the last two. They have been with us since January and will probably be staying till November.
Yes, there will be a lot of fat on them, but we don't mind. The melted down fat will keep 'almost' forever in the fridge and certainly in the freezer. It can be used to spread on a slice of brown bread instead of butter.  Try it when pan frying meat, sautéed potatoes..... I even added half and half butter/lard to my shortcrust pastry.
The meat is itself is darker than the pork you would buy at the butcher or supermarket. And, it is divine in flavour.

The butcher will cut the meat into your favourite cuts, but you have to be clear. If not, you will end up with 200 chops and a ham, so to speak.
Cuts of meat here in Ireland seem to be so different from what I am used to from continental Europe.

A chop is all very well, but they need to be cut from a certain part of the pig. If you chop across different muscles, you will get into trouble when cooking. Different parts of the pig require different methods of cooking. That is quite simple, seeing some muscles have worked harder and are therefore tougher. They do better with a slow cook method. The lesser used muscles (ie loin or tenderloin) are ideal for quick and short cooking.
Fatty cuts like pork belly are the yummiest yum yum when slow roasted so the layers of fat have a chance to render down while basting the meaty layers in between. What's left is succulence extraordinaire.
Our butcher will also brine cure anything we like. ham, trotters, bacon, ...
With the first lot we had a ham cured and that was ready just in time for our Christmas dinner. The butcher also minced the meat of a shoulder so that we could make our own sausages. Unfortunately we could only get the artificial sausage casings, but I will tell you about that in another post.
Homemade sausages.

I divided the liver, some for frying and some for making paté.  I did not make photos of the process, as I had fallen out of love with blogging. But believe you me, it was the smoothest and best paté I have ever made. And I've made a few in my time.
I boiled the ham, bone in, with added carrots, celery, onion and spices. After which I put it in a recipient that fit, put weights on it and left it to cool completely. The pressing of the ham means it becomes denser and is easier to cut off slices without them falling apart. After the pressing, you can still give the ham a good crust by roasting for 30 minutes or so in a hot oven. Which is what I did.
The most distressing thing I had to do was making brawn or head cheese, but I did.

Our Christmas buffet with in the middle/left the ham. In the middle/right paté and behind it the brawn or head cheese.

I hear you wondering if we ate all 4 pigs all by ourselves in such a short space of time.  No, we didn't.
There are plenty of takers for half a free range pig, provided that the pricing is fair.
in the end we only had just about half a pig left for ourselves.

There will be a second part to this blog post, so don't forget to come back. In the future I would also like to take you through the process of making brawn and paté.

Thank you for reeeeeeeeeaaaading this long post.
Patricia xxx...x

Monday, August 24, 2015

From Parking Lot to Cottage Garden


It is what it is. Newly built houses here in Ireland often look as if they have been dropped  down from a great height with built-in foliage remover into (or should that be onto ?) the landscape.
It was no different for the property we bought and moved into in April 2013. Surrounded by a flat gravely area that could park 15 busses or thereabouts. 
The driveway led straight towards the living area of the house.  I wasn't having any of that.  

That very summer we had a good part of the hardcore gravel dug out.  Hard as concrete it was and it went deep. How deep, we didn't find out. We stopped at about 50/60cm.

It was then filled in with many tractor loads of good soil.  That summer we didn't have plants in it, because by the time we finished autumn had already arrived.

By next spring we added a little seating area. Many plants were put in and a mixture of wildflower and cottage garden flower seeds sown. I cannot tell you how many plants, cuttings and seeds my mother has given me over the years that now adorn quite a few gardens in Ireland, Belgium and France.

And here we are now. Summer 2015. It hasn't been a great summer, but at last, the house looks like it starts to belong in its setting.

View from the house towards old driveway.


And again from a slightly different angle. Spring/summer 2014

And this year. A bit windswept but nothing can now spoil my view from the sitting room.
To reposition the driveway there was quite a bit of rock breaking to be done.

On the far right is now the driveway.

Nothing like an abundance of flowers to lift the spirit and feed the bees.

Hope you enjoyed the progress. Come again soon.
Patricia xxx...x

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Dolphin Rescue Mission

Never in a month of Sundays was I expecting this mission when I wobbled out of bed this morning !
We were just getting ready to take Bert's sister Imelda and her friend Sonja out for a tour of the Ring of Kerry when Bert ran up the stairs, huffin' and puffin' : " Come downstairs there are 2 dolphins near the house ! " (in the water obviously).
We expect to see seals every now and then but dolphins don't usually come this far up.  Oh the excitement  we felt !
It struck me that what they were doing was not normal. It was soon clear to us that the mother was in distress and the calf (probably from last year) just followed her into shallow water.
Bert and Wen had already taken off their shoes and where in the water in no time, trying to guide them away and into deeper water. To no avail.
Phoned a friend who knew a thing or two about what to do. He arrived not long after, wetsuit, kayaks, more helpers and family and friends.
Mama dolphin was hurt and she was bleeding.  A phone call to Vincent Hyland  from Wild Derrynane  had him here in no time. In the half hour it took for Vincent to arrive the lads tried to keep the dolphins afloat and wet at the top.
Trying to get the pair out into deeper water and out of the bay was impossible. After a stint with dinghy, kayak and a swimming Vinnie, they decided to leave them in the next little inlet where the water is somewhat deeper. There is a neap tide at the moment and that should make things easier. Tomorrow, they'll need checking up on. That is all we can do for now.
It was 9.30 this morning when we first noticed them and 13.30 when the 'rescue team' finally left.

Photo by Wen Chin Ter

 Bert trying to get them into deeper water before all the help arrived

 Unfortunately, the only thing we could do at the time was keep them afloat with belly down

Our friend, Etienne arrived, all dressed up in wetsuit. 

Again, keeping the mama upright. 

The arrival of Vincent Hyland, who is a walking wildlife encyclopedia.

Whenever the dolphins were guided into deeper water they would make it straight back to the water's edge. 

Taking 'swimming with dolphins' to a new level 

 Bert and Michael getting ready for deeper waters

 The others, the supporting team

 Sometimes the only thing one can do is observe. And pet the cat.
Wen, our present volunteer.
"So, what's happening here ? " Xena, the cat who wants to be involved in all the action.

And what have I been doing ? Running to and fro the house for drinking water, coffee, towels to keep the dolphins' backs wet, running to get flippers out of cars. Making coffees, teas and sandwiches, because after 4 hours of rescue, the A-Team could do with a bite to eat.

According to Vinnie, the bleeding on mama dolphin had stopped. Why did they come this far up the inlet will be a mistery. Maybe the mama is sick, maybe they got excluded and chased out of the pod. 
Maybe they thought this was a safe place for them, because there is talk that orcas/killer whales have been spotted in the bay. 
We keep fingers and toes crossed that they will be ok for now, in a deeper water inlet a 100 meters from where we first discovered. them. Because, like Vinnie said, if the mama dies, the calf won't survive on its own.
I will keep you up to date if and when I have more news.

Patricia xxx...x

Thanks to Michael, Etienne, Vincent, Bert - the A-team
To Steffie, Wen, Pam, Ann, Diane & friend, Imelda & Sonja - the supporting team.
Let's add to it and say, this was and international rescue team. Australia, South Africa, Malaysia, Ireland, Germany & Belgium.

Update Monday, 24th August 2015
Unfortunately, they didn't make it.  At 1.15pm Bert went out in the boat to check up on them and he found they both had passed away in the same spot where they had been harboured.  It is sad beyond believe..

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