Monthly Archives: July 2014

Dairy Wars

Ah now France. You have the wine, ah French wine. You have the boulangeries filled with croissants, pains aux raisins, baguettes. France, we bow to your pains aux chocolat. France (look away my Italian friends), I’ll give you the oil. En plus, vous avez des crêpes. But France, France, France, listen now, we’ve got the milk.

We have a French dairy farmer’s daughter staying with us for the summer so as you can imagine the subject of milk often arises. Milk might come up when say, subtle hints in the vein of ‘oh-wouldn’t-it-be-lovely-to-have-an-authentic-Breton-crêpe-now’ are dropped. As I say, subtle. And when you have a lovely Breton girl standing eagarly by with a crêpe pan and a litre of Irish milk, some eggs and flour, who are we to refuse!

And this, my friends, is where I begin to betray my city origins. I’m boastful about our milk.  No right thinking and modest North Kerry dairy farmer would be so confident about his dairy product. It could always have more protein and fat content. But you’re not pulling the wool over my eyes North Kerry; as a result of this year’s wonderful summer, the year’s milk yield is delicious. Silky, thick and creamy.

In the face of such betrayal of milky modesty, Adelaide and her family insist we come to Brittany to try their milk. We spoke to our lovely French compatriots via Skype last week and got on like a house on fire.  Although I must have been absent the day they taught us the French for slurry pit and fertilizer spreader at college. At length, we spoke about our respective farming methods and of course we discussed the farming challenges that face our farmers (plus ça change…) but the question of who has the better milk has yet to be settled. Alas, needs must, a trip to Brittany for the blind milk test it must then be.

Until then, in the interest of Franco-Hiberno relations, it’s probably best not to mention the bainne*.  As it turns out, it’s a bit of a sour subject (!).


*bainne – Irish word for milk






Out there, on a parallel 5am, someone is putting on their slippers and stealing the morning. The milky coffee, the silent yawning stretches, the reading of yesterday’s news waiting for the toast to pop. Out there, a city is not yet awake but a grocer goes through his paces at the familiar sound of shop window shutters rolling up. A baker drinks her espresso and relaxes to the smell of buttery croissants. Out there, a road sweeper is paving the way for the day ahead.

Here, there is a foggy mist rising from the fields promising a warm day in Hearthill. I have awoken naturally without prompting from a hungry baby or my farmer’s alarm and so I steal a solitary hour to get ready for the day. My only companions thusfar are the swallows outside, who, in fairness, are no imposition. The mist is rising and the light will soon begin to awaken my merry band and so in leaving you, I luxuriate for a while longer in the 5am shuffle that brings the world to it’s feet.

Come on

Why are you coming in the back door? Never mind. Oh yeah, might want to hold your nose, farmyard odours and nappies battling it out for attention in the back kitchen. Oh, and block your eyes to the mountain of dirty washing and opposing basket of clean washing yet to be folded. Any year now. Come on, to the kitchen. Oh mind the bicycle. And that one.

Ah now, this is a bit more social. Keep it down boys. Yeah, that’s Nina Simone. “Ain’t got no, I got life.” Might want to pick the self pitying mother with no sleep up off the floor and tell her to throw on a bit of lipstick and put on the kettle. French toast and strawberries anyone? Turn off the TV lads. Come on, it’s a bit nippy but there’s sunshine and we’re eating brunch alfresco. Hold the baby a second. Perfect.  Sam, stop scratching! Never work with children or animals they say. Sit down for yourself. One lump or two?

Calor Housewife of the Year

Some girls dream of becoming the Rose of Tralee, but this once young city girl dreamt of becoming the Calor Housewife of the Year. And let it be known, that I blame that competition and it’s sponsors for my current state of affairs.

So imagine (though some of you may not have to try that hard) that you’ve just put the children to bed, you’ve had to cajole the toddler who missed his nap today to pry himself away from the TV and let’s say, he’s not happy about it. Your eldest has learnt how to whistle and believes that creeping up on you to whistle as a surprise into your delicate ear is hilarious and whatsmore you don’t know why the baby is crying. Windy, hungry, tired? Out of ideas.

So then comes the point of bliss when you turn on the ‘telly’ to watch some mindless TV to discover your favourite host, Gay Byrne at the time (1980’s Ireland’s favourite) has a queue of capable countrywomen lined up to woo the country, shame the city women and show them all how it is done. The details are blurry, there may have been jigs, there was definitely cake making, certainly triumphant stories of juggling five plus children and a career as a Home Economics teacher a pre-requisite. But somehow not withstanding what must have had my funny and talented city mother cowering and cringing in the corner, I wanted to be one of those uber capable Calor Housewives on a programme that ignited impossible standards for the already burdened Mna Na hEireann. *

And yet, while that programme is no longer aired, as women, city and country, mothers, wives, sisters at work, we set ourselves and each other impossible standards, raising the bar beyond what is compassionate. Tonight, dear friends, I declare myself the uncrowned Calor Housewife of Hearthill, without a Black Forest Gateau to show for it. No indeed, I have just done the necessary today, I have survived. You know who you are, you’re good enough, give yourself a pat on the back, you’ve done your bit for your country today. I thank you(!)…

Mna Na hEireann. * Women of Ireland.

Oh for a Little Patch of Land…

Well, if you’ve been following of late, you’ll know, we have a new born in Hearthill, our third little boy, Anthony. This week to our family, we added a kitten named Finn and a lovely French girl, Adelaide, who has come to help us out and learn English for the summer. Heaven sent, the lovely Adelaide that is, although the cat may turn out to be indispensable too.  Our new French friend stands at my shoulder asking me if like in the Kerrygold ad of old ‘if zere’s zomezing I can help?’ What’s more, she has come from a dairy farm in France  and so we have a lot to learn from her too.

There is, however, something that has me slightly embarrassed at the moment (besides the general craziness of the household en ce moment), that is our lack of self sufficiency. Before I begin, let it be known that the answer to all her questions is generally ‘Eh, have you seen the three week old baby in the corner?’ lovingly translated of course. So here’s the ongoing list of questions that leaves me feeling slightly inadequate and likewise feeling a little bit, well lazy, shall we say? Here goes; Why don’t we grow our own strawberries? If we have our milk, why do we buy (or indeed not sell) our own butter, cheese, yoghurt, icecream etc. etc.? Where are the chickens? Whose taking the horse to France (sorry, love that ad!)?

In France, farming households are, as a rule, very much self sufficient. Granted they have the beautiful weather for growing fruit, vegetables, vines et al so it is easy for small farm holdings to be the general order of the day. So as to impress our lovely French friend, we went along to visit the Listowel Farmer’s market yesterday and, my, did the market do us proud. It was good enough to rival any French village market. Reasonably priced, packed with lovely produce, we left richer than on arrival with a basket full of fish, cheese, cherries and chowder. The local sellers, not withstanding the rain that was falling softly on them, were full of cheer and banter for passing tourists and locals and so our trip (my first with all three sons) turned out to be a jolly old jaunt, thus making a good first impression on our Adelaide.

Yes people, I see chicken houses, homemade icecream, an overflowing vegetable patch and apple trees in our future! Indeed, as is apparent, I’ll have no shortage of workers with my army of sons to tend to my menagerie and garden of much abundance. All I’m short now is a shovel and full nights sleep….. Any day now.