Sunday, May 26, 2019

A hearty Sunday lunch

I'd be inclined to marinade the pigeon breasts in the port and herbs overnight. And I'm afraid with that many whole cloves the pie is going to taste of cloves and nothing else - which is a pity considering how expensive those truffles must have been. I would have ground the cloves very fine, mixed them with the other spices and used only two or three at most for the whole mix.

Boiled crust, also called hot water crust or standing crust, is a lost art, but SO easy you won't even believe. It's very forgiving with none of that annoying fussing over not allowing the gluten to develop, making sure everything's ice cold, etc. that can intimidate beginner pie-makers.

My own little efforts, some years ago; piggy pies for an Epiphany dinner party in Santa Marinella. Unfortunately, the juice boiled out of the steam holes and discoloured the top of the pie, rather spoiling the effect, but it was pretty good for a first effort. Make sure the crust on the sides is as thin as you can make it. This is quite a heavy pie crust, and a little goes a long way.

This, of course, is also how you make a classic Melton Mowbray pie, which is served cold at lunch with some nice hot English mustard. You bake it, then pour the gelatine and stock mix into the holes and refrigerate until the gelatine sets. If you can find small spring-form cake tins these really help with forming the crust into the traditional shape. Line the tin with some baking paper, so even if the stock boils out a bit, it won't stick to the tin. Spring form baking pans come in every size and are one of the most useful multi-purpose things you can have in the kitchen.

Raised pies are something that need to be revived. It's an entirely different sort of pie crust than we're used to, being designed to be waterproof. In fact, boiled pie crust was intended to form a seal that helped to preserve the meat inside and they were often kept for a long time in a cool place like a root cellar or dairy. In the old days, one didn't eat the crust (unless one were poor) but treated it the way we do the wrapper on a hamburger.

A standing pie is a great way to use up leftover turkey or chicken or any cooked or roasted meat. They're especially nice with sliced apple or carrots, caramelised onion or some other lightly flavoured, sweetish vegetable. (Pass on the brussel's sprouts though, or any brassicas).

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Garden in May

Expecting great things from my passion flower vine this year. Grown from a seed in Norcia, and one of the few things we managed to rescue in the last escape, it took a while to get going again.

We've had a very strange spring. Dry, cold and incredibly windy in February, that dried out all the soil, then the howling wind continued all through March while the weather became like June. Then the temps dropped in April and we got the rain we were supposed to have in Feb and March. Through April and May it's been raining pretty steadily, interspersed with a few warm days. The result is that not a great deal of the work I'd planned ended up being possible to do.

But the poppies seem to love it. And in fact, everything is looking amazing. This was actually over a week ago, and it's even more lush now, with absolute masses of poppies, and the calendula growing enormous.

Last year I saw that we had very little elder in the area, almost none compared to the small forests of elder we had in Norcia. But then I found out that you can make a fine Robinia flower liqueur that is almost as nice as elder liqueur. So here it is. You just pick a big basket full of the flower heads, strip off the florets and put them in the jar (no washing!) with a layer of sugar over each layer of florets. It "cooks down" in a few hours so they're all in the same jar now. After two or three days, pour in 1.5 L of vodka, seal the lid and let it steep for four months.

I managed to catch the Robinia at its peak. Cascades of flowers and the scent on the air, blowing in through the bedroom window every morning, rain or shine.

Silene vulgaris, "Bladder campion" is one of my favourite wildflowers and I'm so glad it has decided to take up residence on the terrace. The mass of green in the back is the morning glories that are just poised to start leaping up for the sun.

Still having a frustrating time with the nasturtiums. Normally as easy to grow as beans, the ones I've had just refuse to sprout. Even after a good long soak only a few have come up. They flower well, though, so I think I'll get a few more packets and see if it was just getting a bad batch.

How to propagate basil. You know those basil plants you get in the supermarket? You can make them turn into dozens of plants.

Choose the biggest ones with the longest stems, and cut them so there's plenty of stem, stick them in a glass of water and wait. Toss the ones that don't produce roots and then plant them out when they get to about this stage.

Heavy on the strawbs this year.

You can also do basil from seed, of course, but it takes a very long time. I soaked these basil seeds and a great many more sprouted than did last year when I just sowed them straight into a pot on the terrace. To the right are beetroot seedlings, starting late, I hope the coolish weather lasts long enough.

First year's seed experiments still going strong.

Basil, cosmos, hollyhocks and my two beleaguered wisteria - first the snails ate them, then the cutfly ravaged their new leaves, then Pippin decided the seed tray they were in would make a good litter box. Not sure they'll make it. (Cats!)

In the big pots are a combination of self-seeded dill and in the middle, little clusters of sweet peas that are only now really getting going after our weird, cold spring.

At some point I'm going to have to break down and at least buy one of those portable mini-greenhouse things, the kind that's basically just a shelf on wheels with a clear plastic cover. Part of the battle has been the danger of late frost all through April, and the forever-to-be-cursed snails. I have no idea how they get up onto the terrace, but I've been having a snail-pogrom every week. I've had to resort to taking all the seed pots indoors every night, and putting them all back out every morning. A bit tedious.

Today's desk flowers: calendula and love-in-a-mist (Nigella sativa) with a little sprig of thyme.

Been a busy few weeks. Much to write about, but must concentrate on some writing-for-pay... back later.


Monday, May 13, 2019


How the internet makes me feel.


Sunday, May 12, 2019

Hail Mary, full of grace

Our Lady and the Blessed and most holy Trinity,

A talk by a good old friend of mine, Fr. Eduardo Garcia of the Chicago archdiocese, one of my favourite people.


Tuesday, May 07, 2019

The book that started it all

Everyone has a book that started some kind of lifelong interest. This is the one that really got me gardening: "Betty Crocker's Kitchen Gardens" by Mary Mason Campbell and with illustrations by Tasha Tudor.

I had forgotten where the mental image of exactly these illustrations came from until I was looking at a Tasha Tudor page a while back and it hit me like a weird ghostly echo of a thunderclap out of the past.

It's funny how an image can stay in your mind for a lifetime, and how much it can go to forming your inner mental world. I must have only been a child when I first found the book in the library. It seemed almost magical to me, and in some way I don't quite understand it still does.

Even though I must have been very young, I knew when I saw it that this is what I wanted my life to look like. This was the world I wanted to live in. And what an indescribably strange feeling it is to hold it in my hand again and see these pictures and remember how important it was to me so long ago.

Anyway, I mentioned it all to a friend, how strange it was to have these exact images come back to me, and to find them on the internet, like seeing a ghost, and he bought the book for me for my birthday. It arrived in the post today.


First nice sunny day in a few days of rain and wind and chilly temps. Down to 4 C last night. I usually stick my nose out the door before going to bed to see what's happening, and if the kitties want to come in, and I could see my breath on the air. Extremely odd for May in Umbria, and especially after such a strangely warm March. It's as if March and May have changed places.

So much to do at this time of year...

Anna keeps telling me that the field poppies are just weeds, but I love them. I went out last year while they were just getting started and collected a bunch to transplant. Of course, they self-seed, and now they're all over. If you give them decent soil and enough sun they are really magnificent garden plants, though the flowers don't tolerate cutting. They just fall apart before you can even get them into a glass. But they're so beautiful. I love having masses of them all over.

There's actually a big block of tufa in there that he's sitting on. It's for standing on when you need to weed the bed.

The Big Round Bed is divided into three sections with these blocks. But it all turns into a big mass. Right now I'm sinking old bathroom tiles (beautiful blue... would have been awful in the bathroom, but they're nice in the garden) to create a bit of a barrier for the lemon balm in hope it doesn't just drown everything else... or get into a big fight with the white campion.

The Big Round Bed is mostly herbs, with three kinds of thyme, lemon balm, a pot of mint, big patch of sage, calendula (wild and cultivated), some kind of wild oregano that I found in the hills and brought down from Norcia, lavender, borage, garlic, and chamomile interspersed with flowering hellebore, daffodils, gladiolus, day lilies, thrift, dianthus. And now cosmos, which I seeded last year and didn't do anything and that have now come up all over, and is just about to start. I had forgotten I even put them there and thought they were stray carrots when they started. I'm hoping to see the blue corn flowers later too and the nigella sativa that I seeded last year but only got a few of.

Gardening is one of those things you either have to resign yourself to being disorganised about, or go completely OCD and make a list. I've never in my life made a list of things to do in the garden, but the other option means things are a bit disorganised and random. Today I was going to just fill the beet bed. I have a zillion beet seeds sprouting and I desperately need to finish their bed that I started a month ago. So I revved Gertie up and loaded up the buckets and spade and whatnot, and headed out. But we got to the end of the lane to turn around, and I thought, Oh, I need to cut some more canes for the pergola, because the grape vine is already starting to go nuts... So I stopped and got out and started cutting the canes... An hour and 40 canes later...

Now too tired to dig out the soil, so I just did four buckets worth and then went and sat down in the shade, all pooped out and read the Desert Fathers. Then was all... Oh, got to go put some straw under the strawberries... so you go over to the orchard to collect up some of the dried cut grass, and on your way you see the little bag of onion sets, the leftovers from the big onion bed you were going to put around about sort of randomly, just for fun, so you grab a stick to dig some holes and...

But at least nearly all the couch grass in Annamaria's iris bed is gone. For now, anyway. That was nearly two hours. I started it because I was too tired to lift another bucket of dirt.

Anyway, by the end of the day, the beet bed is still not filled. I did get nine buckets in the bed, but need at least that again. And every day the beet sprouts get bigger and more insistent about being planted out.

It all needs doing big and little, and battling the couch grass made me feel like I was fighting Morgoth. Found out why Annamaria's calla lillies aren't blooming. Damn couch grass has drilled into the rhizomes and used them as fuel... bastards. I dug up a bunch of dead and rotting calla rhizomes with very healthy couch grass seedlings growing up through them. I really went after them. Pulled up a bunch of the terrace tiles. Dug way down...Pull! Pull!!! PUUULLLLL!!!!

And then I made a fire and burned them... ha ha HAH! Take that, you jerks!

It's funny how it's so hard to stop, and then even when you're tired and grubby you find you don't want to go in. I remembered there was still a bunch of year-old firewood in the shed and thought, why not. A nice fire in the evening and a little sit-down with my magic book with the bats flickering around, at least until the light goes and the Night Bell rings at Sant'Andrea.

With the bucket of couch grass runners next to my chair. Grab a few now and then...toss em on the fire.


Saturday, May 04, 2019

He covereth the heavens with clouds and prepareth rain for the earth.

Saturday, 1st Vespers of 2nd Sunday after Easter

Ps. 146

Great is our Lord, and great His power *
and His wisdom is beyond measure.


He covereth the heavens with clouds,*
and prepareth rain for the earth.

He maketh the grass to grow on the hills*
and herbs for the service of men.

Happy Sunday.

Just a few pics from the last few days.

On the way home from the shops.

Looking up along our lane to the hamlet of San Fortunato.

 Everything coming along nicely. I really do trim it all back regularly. But the next day it's back to this.

A lot of gardening is just waiting to see what will come up. I didn't plant this. Or at least, I don't remember planting irises here. Quite a lot of the seeds I tried last year have only put out plants this year. Nature has its own ideas about things. 

These beautiful bearded irises did nothing for the first two seasons, but I've been trying to make them more comfortable, mulching with compost. It seems to have worked. 

Had the first two today. Not quite perfectly ripe, but the snails were already having a go. It started pouring or I'd have finished the job of collecting some dried cut grass to use as straw mulch.

California poppies. They came up from a packet of mystery-mix last year and were quite modest. This year I'm having to stake them up and be quite ruthless in cutting them back to give the strawberries enough light and space.


Friday, May 03, 2019

Gigantification and the Enstupidment: Why "easier" isn't better

It's my favourite meme. Be like Grandma. My own Grandma cooked and sewed, kept a garden, painted and made pots in her own studio.

I started writing the following here and then decided it would do for the Remnant's blog. I guess it's more or less a manifesto. Get out of the city. Or at least learn to do things for yourself. Anything. Learn to change your own oil in your car. Learn to knit, or at least sew on a button.

Stop being dependent on the government or Giant-corp for every single thing in life. The government and Monsanto don't love you, don't want you to be happy, healthy or independent.

The Gigantification of life, the doing of everything on a massive and unimaginably distant scale, is all said to be in aid of "saving us labour." But what have we saved all this labour for? So we can live in suburbs and drive cars to go work at a desk doing something that has nothing whatever to do with our own life. So we can forget how do to anything ourselves? It may have saved us all labour but it has also left us with nothing Real to do. What are we saving our labour for? What do most of us do with the time we don't spend weeding a kitchen garden or making beer or milking cows? Have we separated ourselves from the sources of our life only so we can spend more time watching TV? Scrolling Facebook? Arguing for hours over nothing on Twitter? Are we holier? More learned? More enlightened? Do we write poetry and play music? Do we even know any poetry?

My landlady, Annamaria, is a contadina with deep, deep roots in this place. She has been teaching me all the contadina things. She’s taught me what time to plant what, and how the phases of the moon can guide your planting and harvesting. When and how to prune grape vines, fig, plum and pear trees. What kind of carrots you can grow in clay soil (short stubby ones). Today I wanted to clip my grass but discovered my hedge trimmers were busted. She took one look, took them into her big magical garage-of-all-things and ten minutes later handed me my trimmers back in full working order.

But it seems that since the advent of mechanised farming (mass-production of food on the huge scale you see in North America) we've straight-up forgotten the small intimate details of how to do anything. All that about soil management and all the little things that made medieval agriculture work is all gone. Who needs to think about replenishing natural soil nutrients or maintaining the substructure if you've got machines and bags of fertiliser, amirite?

There are good reasons why the referendum on abortion in Ireland went the way it did. The Yes votes all came from the cities - Dublin mostly, while the rest of the country said No. A major task of the Freemasonic take-over of the western world has been to herd people by all means fair or foul out of the countryside and small towns and villages and into the massive conurbations.

In a big city you immediately lose personal control over much of your life, you accept "services" that come from "the government" instead of doing things yourself, living within your means, being self-reliant, "making do and mending". You relinquish control over the intimate things of life while at the same time isolating yourself. You live now far away from your family and the people you grew up around. You don't know your immediate neighbours except to bang on the connecting wall between your flats when he's noisy.

Eventually every aspect of your existence comes under external control, including your interior. Your ideas no longer come from your family or your upbringing or your church but from advertising and government-controlled news. You believe what you are told, you do what the people in charge want you do do, you eat what they deign to give you, you wear what the fashion industry tells you to wear, you want the things they tell you to want. City life is slavery, and in such a complete way that the Romans would have found it shocking. Slavery of the mind, the will, the intentions, the desires.

The artificiality of Gigantified city life, its loneliness and pointlessness, the forcible wresting away of agency, the hopelessness of any thought of escape (false, btw) is literally killing us. Reject it.

You don't have to move to Umbria to escape Gigantification (though I do recommend it most emphatically). You just have to start by rejecting it interiorly. All other stages will come naturally after that. It's like repentance; reject Gigantification the way you reject Stan and all his empty promises. Stop letting Mega-Corp and Monster-Govt do everything for you. Become involved in your own life. You'll be amazed how much more fun it is.


Thursday, May 02, 2019

Medieval whales


Urban farming nuns?

If I were in a missionary/active religious order I'd have the working part of it be urban farming in places like this.

I thought at first it was Detroit. But Kansas City? Holy moly!

Our entire modern experiment in urban life has gone off the rails and the people at the bottom of the social heap are living worse than animals. "Men beat each over who gets first run at the garbage dumpster." Good Lord! They're being literally dehumanised by the post-civilisation they were born into.

The urban farming movement can save us, in the material sense. But what about the eternal, supernatural sense? All it needs is some praying people, a daily Mass offered early in the morning before work starts. Imagine this with habited nuns doing the work. Imagine all this turned into an opportunity to show people the love of God, the love of Christ, directly and explicitly. Offering catechism and confirmation classes to the kids who wanted it. Stopping work at lunchtime with a bell and the Angelus, dedicating an urban farm to Our Lady and St. Isidore.