Tag Archives: Seasons

Muddy boots and signs of spring

2 Mar

Things have been a little busy in real life so I hope to catch up on my blogging soon. Thankfully, we had some nice moments this week to slow down and cut through the mania with some mud and signs of spring.

We’re lucky that our local park has some great puddles to splash about in at the moment:

Boots in puddle

Nothings beats a bit of a splash about. I think my daughter will be glad to get walking so she can join in the fun instead of watching from the sling! Happy wellies are muddy wellies:

Muddy boots

We were on the hunt for signs of spring so were delighted to find some snow drops:

Snowdrops

These delicate little beauties are truly one of my favourite flowers. It always gives me a little thrill to see their graceful heads nodding, reminding me that the days are lengthening and nature is springing back to life.

We also found a lovely bank of crocuses. Another subtle sign that the seasons are turning.

Crocuses

Today we headed off to the Maple Sugar Festival at the Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center in Chatham, NJ. It was a tremendous amount of fun. My associations with maple syrup were all with Vermont and the like (basically places I’ve never been!) so it was wonderful to realise that our New Jersey patch also has a fine tradition of maple syrup (I guess I now understand why our town is called Maplewood!).  There were some great nature tables for my son to explore as well as crafts. Here he is sporting the rather dashing mask he made: Mask

We also saw a plant new to me:

Skunk cabbage

I thought it was beautiful, with its scarlet fronds creeping through the swampy leaf litter. My husband recognised it immediately, the striking (but stinky) skunk cabbage. It’s a good reminder that beauty comes in all shapes (and smells!).

Dreaming of a Green Christmas

24 Dec

Vintage holly wreath

Bringing greenery into our home is one of my favourite aspects of Christmas. Our picture frames are decorated with sprigs of holly and small fir branches. There’s our Christmas tree, of course. And our gingerbread house has a pine cone garden. I even made a wreath for our front door. All we’re missing is a sprig of mistletoe! It brings back memories of helping my mum decorate in this way. I used to love the way she’d work her magic on the wreath. My own wreath is a much humbler affair!

Decorating with plants like holly (or ivy) and evergreen branches are also a great way to stay green (and save money!) too. Myself and my 2 year old collected the holly and pine cones from our local park. The holly sprigs were all just lying on the ground under the holly bushes. The fir branches for the wreath and decorations came from leftovers from where we bought our Christmas tree. We bought our Christmas tree from the local Rotary Club, who were selling locally grown trees in aid of local charities. The greenery, combined with the paper chains I made with the kids, makes me feel glad that we’ve decorated our new home in a seasonal and sustainable way.

Other little eco steps we’ve made this year are things like making some of our own wrapping paper (mostly involving upcycling the brown paper that arrived with some of our present purchases) and buying from local businesses where possible. We’ve tried to not go mad on the gift giving front and only buy (or make) gifts that are wanted and will be used.

My 2 year old is actually excited about Santa this year. It’s still mostly over his head, but his “ho ho ho” and love of helping me to wrap (and make the paper using his excellent Melissa & Doug stamp set!) have added an extra dimension of fun to the proceedings. My baby girl is 9 months old tomorrow and I’m looking forward to dressing her as an elf and capturing it for posterity – nothing like dressing your babies up in ridiculous outfits to add joy to festivities!

All in all, I’m excited about our first Christmas living in Maplewood. I feel this is the start of our family Christmas traditions, as myself and my husband take the best of what we grew up with, and things we’ve learned together, and weave together the memories our children will cherish. I love this time of year!

So I wish everyone reading a joyful, peaceful and green Christmas.

Getting ready to be thankful

15 Nov

This day next week we’ll be celebrating our first Thanksgiving in the US. We’ll be celebrating with my in-laws in southern NJ and I’m very excited about the prospect. Turkey and mashed potatoes and time with family and pie. It sounds like my kind of holiday!

It’s been such a hectic few months that I’m looking forward to the break and the chance to be together as an extended family – it’s the only chance all year that we’ll all be together as not everyone can make Christmas. Whenever I feel stressed and tired it helps to take a breath and reflect on the good things in life, to see how life is when I look at the big picture. With Thanksgiving coming up, this seems a good time to pause and reflect on what I’m thankful for:

My daughter. This was the year that my incredible baby girl joined us and I can’t remember life when she wasn’t here, with her gummy smiles and lovely, smooshy cuddles. She’s thriving, charming everyone around her with her beautiful smiles and belly laughs. Today she pulled herself up on the coffee table for the first time and delighted herself with her effort! She is sturdy and healthy and gives me so much joy. I can’t believe she’ll be 8 months soon…

My son. He is now a proper little boy, independent and curious and beautifully tender with his sister. He’s learning things like how to share (which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t!) and knows so many colours and letters and his speech develops every day. He loves to scoot along as we walk to the park, stopping to drop leaves into the river from the bridge and wave to the fire engines. He’s funny and caring and great company.

My husband. His patience and good humour helped make this move almost effortless. He is the funniest, most intelligent and caring person I know and I still feel unbelieveably lucky to be sharing my life with him. Raising kids with him is the most exciting adventure yet! The upside of Sandy is that he’s working from home as the trains still aren’t running into his office, so we can have lunch together every day as a family. It’s great!

Autumn. The fall colour has been spectacular here. We live in a very leafy town (even the name, Maplewood, is leafy!) and are close to the stunning South Mountain Reservation. Vivid oranges. Bright reds. Mellow yellows. It’s been a great first season in beautiful northern NJ!

Kretschmer wheat germ. OK, this may seem like a random one but it’s a taste of childhood. My father used to let me eat this off a spoon as a young child and I’ve loved it ever since. It’s hard to track down – at least in London it was, but here in Maplewood our local grocery store stocks it. I was so happy when I found it! So I can now heap it onto my morning Weetabix and hope that one day my own young children love it as much as I do.

I know this is pretty cheesy but I really do find it helps me stay sane to spend a little time thinking about this. When I’m stressed and anxious and trying to keep my cool with a tantrumming toddler and over-tired baby it definitely helps to breathe and remember the good stuff…

How to Make Seville Marmalade

5 Feb

It’s Seville orange season. Seville oranges appear in December and disappear in February, so this is the time to stock up on these slightly odd looking, bitter oranges so you can make delicious marmalade. It’s the perfect way to brighten up a winter weekend. They’re not good for eating (I like to nibble a little flesh and rind as I go along but definitely couldn’t stomach a whole fresh one!) but wonderful for marmalade, as Seville marmalade has an intensity of flavour beats other marmalades (especially shop bought ones) hands-down. It just tastes so very orangey

Seville marmalade

1.5 kg Seville oranges
1 lemon
2 regular oranges
About 2.8 kg of caster sugar (you can mix in a little demerera if you prefer a darker coloured marmalade).

Makes about 9 decent sized jars.

(Tip: I always prepare more jars, as better to have too many ready than not enough! I save jars, so my jars are all different sizes).

Scrub the fruit, cover with water and boil whole for about 2.5 – 3 hours until totally soft (your kitchen will smell divinely orangey!). Leave to cool completely (either overnight or for several hours). Do not throw away the water!

Once cooled, remove the fruit from the water and reduce the orange infused water massively (by at least three-quarters). You may find that some fruit has split during boiling – if this happens, strain the water through a muslin before reducing (as you don’t want any pith in the marmalade).

Meanwhile, chop the oranges and lemon in two, scoop out the centres, seeds and as much pith as possible. Gently strain the centres/seeds/pith through a muslin into the orange water. You can also use a sieve but push it through gently, as you don’t want any pith in the water.

Discard the lemon and regular orange rind (or use in another recipe if you can) and all the pith/centres/seeds.

Thinly slice the Seville orange rind (willing and helpful children come in useful for this part!). Add the rind to the orange water.

Bring to the boil and add most of the sugar (tip: warm the sugar gently in the microwave first).

Keep boiling (and stirring) until it’s sticky – about half an hour to an hour. As it’s boiling, taste and add more sugar if needed.

While it’s boiling, put a plate in the freezer so that it’s nice and cold for when you need to test if it’s set. To test if it’s set, place a small spoonful of marmalade on the cold plate. Let it cool and then run your finger across it. It it wrinkles then it’s ready.

Be careful that it’s not too set/over hard, so it’s better to start checking early. If it’s too set, then just add a little more water.

Ladle into sterilised jars (I sterilise jars in the oven, as I find it the easiest way to sterilise while also making preserves – see here for great tips on how to sterilise). Leave to settle for 15-20 mins before sealing.

Enjoy!

St Brigid’s Day

1 Feb

 

Today is the feast of St Brigid (or Lá Fhéile Bríde in Irish). It’s also the Celtic festival of Imbolc, so it marks the start of Spring in the Irish calendar.

My (American) husband thinks I’m mad, but I really do think of Spring starting on 1 February, Summer (Bealtaine) on 1 May, Autumn (Lughnasadh) on 1 August and Winter (Samhain) on 1 November. In fact, it was only when I moved abroad to study as a teenager that I realised other countries didn’t see it that way! And I’m still never sure when my husband thinks seasons start (is it at the solstices? Or on a particular month day?).

Anyway, St Brigid, the female patron saint of Ireland, featured quite prominently in my childhood as the primary school I went to was named after her. We always made St Brigid’s crosses around her feast day every year. We’d collect reeds from a marsh near our home and weave them together to make the cross, like this:

 

The cross would then hang in the kitchen for the year, gradually drying out and turning brown, before being burnt the following St Brigid’s day and replaced with a fresh cross. I’ve not made a cross in years, but my mum still has an ancient one from when we were still at school hanging way up high in the kitchen.

While St Brigid is an interesting early Irish saint, she shares her name with the mother goddess of Celtic Ireland – the goddess Brighid. I was definitely taught more about the saint, but she and the goddess are bound together in my childhood memories so I can’t really separate the two in my imagination.

For me, this day is a day to reflect on the gradual lengthening of the days, the return of light to our lives after Winter’s darkness. I leave for work at 7.30am and these days it’s now bright (sun isn’t officially up yet but it’s inching closer by the day). I love this time of year, as I can’t help but be cheered by the days getting longer.