Thursday, May 24, 2012

Meet the...Organic Farmer

Michael Seymour is one of the driving forces behind The Nenagh Farmers Market.  Every Saturday morning you will find him selling his organic lamb and beef products in Quentin’s Way, Nenagh.  He is the man with the smiling face, the gentle manner and happy and appreciative customers.  Not only does he have the best meat to buy and take home but will also cook you a lamb or beef burger or south African style sausage to eat there on the spot…mmm who can resist.  He farms on Sheepwalk Farm in Borrisokane with his family.  I spoke to Michael or “Farmer Michael” as he said he is commonly known as, about farming and selling.

Did you grow up on this farm and have you always been a farmer?
Yes, I grew up on the farm but I wasn’t always a farmer per say.  I had considered other occupations but was drawn back to the farm.  I wanted to leave my mark on the farm.
North Tipperary has very good land and is known for its cattle.  The local town provides a market for these with the creamery and beef processing plant…so why sheep?
My Dad, and his father before him, was a livestock dealer and specialised in store lambs and breeding ewes. I spent a lot of time at sheep marts and there was always sheep on the farm, so it was to be expected for me to farm sheep.  Actually North Tipperary and South Offaly was renowned for fattening lambs and hoggets. But I farm cattle as well and keep an Angus Herd.

As consumers we know about the benefits of organic to the land and also to our bodies, as a farmer why did you make the decision to become organic?
We always farmed extensively and wanted to maintain and develop this type of farming.   Back in the mid 90s the only way to put that stamp of natural production was to be certified organic.
How long did this process take and did it involve a nightmare amount of paperwork and monitoring?
There is a two year conversion period and yes, there is plenty of paperwork and monitoring. But it has to be that way to ensure the integrity of the certification.

Is this a route you would encourage other food producers to go and what advice would you offer them?
To succeed at organic farming you must believe in it and your heart must be in it.  It doesn’t suit every farmer but if you are considering organic then find out as much as possible about it before you start converting.

You sell direct to your customers, how important is this for you and what are the benefits of this to you and to the customer?
I believe and have value in what I am producing. I know it is a very natural product and nobody can sell this produce as good as you can yourself.  The benefit to the consumer is that they know where their meat is coming from and they are assured of consistency in it.  The benefit to me is that I can sell my product as organic 12 months of the year.
OK two cheeky questions about money.  Firstly what do you say to the customer that says your meat is too expensive and they can get it elsewhere much cheaper?
Like everything in life you get what you pay for.  I keep an eye on what others are charging so I know I am not that much more expensive.  If you want good quality food then you have to pay for it.
And secondly, most farmers are saying there is no money in farming, they just continue because it’s what they’ve always done, is it possible to make a liveable income from a farm or will it always need to be subsidised with income from elsewhere?
If farm subsidies stopped then farmers would stop farming, the income from farm activity just covers the cost of production. Farmers live on the subsidies they receive from the EU.  It is staggering to think that 100 acres could not sustain a farmer but that is the case, however if the price per kilo was higher then a living could be made. But people have become used to a cheap food society.

You were part of the group that set up the Nenagh Farmers Market and are now involved in starting one in Borrisokane.  Why do you feel farmers markets are important?It is important to be able to sell direct to the consumer as they get the best food and the farmers realises how important his job is and can take great pride in what he is producing and selling from his land.
Why do you feel this is the right time to start a market in Borrisokane?
Now, is always the right time! We can’t wait or expect others to give us a leg up, we must take the initiative ourselves.  We are a great food producing country, let’s celebrate that locally in every town.  When people visit us in our area they will feel pride in what we can do for ourselves.  My own experiences tell me that local food and craft markets are the starting point for regeneration.
What would you like to say to customers to bring them to this market?
I don’t know the figures but for every euro you spend locally at least half of that is circulated back into the local economy.  But it is a different way of shopping; meet the producer, meet a lot of new people, experience the buzz of an outdoor market – it’s more fun and less stress.
If you weren’t farming what would you do?
Something in the economics or accountancy area I think.
Any final words of wisdom?
Be positive, think positive.  Surround yourself with positive people.  Count your blessings, appreciate good health and remember there is a solution to every problem.
I think Michael has a great attitude to work and to life in general, I have never seem him stressed and he seems to enjoy what he does.  He passes this good feeling onto his customers.  I can vouch for the quality of his meat and this week our family haver dined on the most fantastic bolognese sauce made with his beef mince and tonight is slowed cooked ox-tongue stroganoff, my husbands favourite dish.

You can buy from Michael at Borrisokane Food and Craft Market Friday's 2pm to 6pm or Nenagh Farmers Market Saturday 10pm to 2pm

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Backhanded compliments

The weather has finally started to behave itself and my wardrobe screamed with excitment.  I can finally stop wearing leggings and wellies and big woolly jumpers and ear warmers.  At last with a bit of scrubbing and some other body maintainence summer clothes and sandals can come out.

Or so I thought...
I am at work today so thought a light cotton shirt and white linen trousers would work...but I'm having a fat day and the white linen trousers wouldn't co-operarate. I had a root through and found something to wear including a green fancy t-shirt/top from  M&S 3 years ago that is fairly respectable.  When I put it on it reminded me of a back-handed compliment I got from someone know when they mean to give you a compliment and it goes wrong.  It set me off thinking about a number of these I have received.

So, the one with the green top went as follows:
I was teaching a class and at the break one of the older ladies came up to me,
Her: I love your top, it's so bright
Me: Thanks, it's really comfortable for work
Her: Were did you get it, I haven't seen it around
Me: Marks and Spencer's
Her: Was it recently, I might pop in
Me: No, it was last spring I got it
Her: That's a pity, it would be perfect on my daughter...she has a really big belly too.

How do you respond to that.....

Another one was a family member at our house at Christmas, me in a floaty top.
Her: That top is really nice on you, the shape suits you.
Me: Thanks, I didn't want a whole new outfit, I had the trousers and was lucky to find this top in Next last week.
Her: Wow, you were very lucky, I didn't think they did sizes that big

One night after a hectic day at work I stopped at the Chinese takeaway to get a lazy dinner for us all. The owner knows us all and had a surprised look on her face when she seen me and asked was I sick, nope, I replied and she said there was something wrong with my hair so she thought I was sick.  I just replied that I was trying to save a little money and hadn't got my hair colour done.  She was very surprised and said she didn't realise I was that old!!!!!!

A short final one...someone came into the office looking for me but didn't know my name..she asked for the pleasant stout girl.

So, have you ever received a similar "compliment?

Borrisokane Market

Here it is...a total and complete plug.  We have been working really hard to get a market started in Borrisokane and now the start date is almost here, June 1st.  It is a food a craft market with stalls from North Tipperary and will take place in the square each Friday 2pm to 6pm.   We have a press release going into The Nenagh Guardian today...we have been told it's on the front page.

We have a facebook page and every few days it features one of the businesses that will be participating.

and I have made this little picture for us all to put on our blogs, facebook pages, websites...nice and colourful.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sunday Roast Dinner

I have been a bit lax in posting lately…that’s actually good because it means I have been busy.  I have missed the weekend make-a-long and the Wednesday recipe so I am going to make up for it today. Warning this is a super long post and I am going to share some family secrets with you.  Today’s post is how to make a wonderful family roast chicken dinner with all the trimmings for your favourite family members.

The menu:

Stuffed Roast Chicken
Mashed potato
Roast potatoes
Stuffed tomatoes
and two vegetables

I like sprouts and carrots
Maeve hates sprouts
Mam doesn’t like carrots
David likes carrots…so does Oisín
Dad loves mashed cauliflower
If it’s food Oliver will eat it
Áine’s not fussy, neither is Fiona
and I don’t think I’ve seen Gina eat a vegetable…even though she’s a vegetarian

So, to start you will need the following:

A clean kitchen: Empty of other people is best, I like to cook on my own.
Good music: The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, U2 or maybe The Beatles, a compilation on shuffle works well.
Two hours: You may get the actual cooking done in1 hour but need 2 hours to get everything else done.
Wine: Chilled bottle of white wine, Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay. Red wine, Merlot or Malbec.

Note: If you don’t have music but have a TV then a really old classic Sunday afternoon film will do just aswell.  A musical would be really good or a cheesy Christmas film if it is that time of the year

Ok let’s start:
Take out all the pots you have-all different sizes, and two frying pans and leave them all on top of the cooker.
Pour out a glass of white wine for yourself and take a sip, turn on the music and sing while you cook.  Refresh your wine and change the music as necessary.

The first thing to make is the stuffing, you will need lots of it.
Enough to go inside the chicken,
Enough for the tomatoes,
Enough to make some in a dish,
and then another big pile of it if Maeve is eating.

Chop two onions finely and put in a pan with about ¼ lb of butter.  Sweat gently until they are soft.  Get a big bowl and half fill with breadcrumbs. Add in loads of chopped herbs, pick your favourite (I like parsley, thyme, sage and rosemary and have these in the garden) …you want it to look really green. Next add a packet of chopped mixed nuts and half a packet of chopped apricots. Stir in the onion and butter mix. Taste for seasoning, add some pepper and chilli flakes if you want, be careful of adding salt as the butter has salt in it. If you are not cooking the chicken straight away make sure the stuffing is cold before you put it into it.

Note: If anyone else comes to help,
let them taste,
let them stir,
then give them a glass of red wine, tell them it will be ready soon and send them into the sitting room to watch TV.
If you have a lot of people you may need more than one bottle of red wine.

The chicken: Ideally kill it the night before and leave it in the fridge.
Failing that, take it out of the wrapping and take off the funny elastic string thingy.  Look inside it and take out the extra flap of fat and MAKE SURE there isn’t a plastic bag of giblets still inside.
If you want you can cut out the wishbone, it makes it easier to carve.  Put the stuffing inside, don’t pack it too tight you want some hot air to circulate in there to cook it through. Put the stuffed chicken into an oven dish UPSIDE DOWN…it is best to cook the bottom first. Put it into a pre-heated oven at 180 degrees, it will take about an hour to cook.

Wash your hands.
Clean down the counter.
Go to the loo.
and then it’s time for another glass of wine and maybe a 5 minute sit down.

The potatoes: I find roosters are great for mash and roast but use your favourites.
Peel the potatoes and put into a big pot. When you think you have enough add lots more. If Oisín is eating with you it’s best just to double the amount. Cut them so they are all even sized, rinse and cover with cold water.  Add some sea salt, cover and bring to the boil.

Open the oven and carefully take out the chicken and turn it over so the breast is now on the top and can cook and crisp.

If you have hens put the potato peeling into a casserole dish with a splash of water and put into the bottom of the oven to cook…feed to hens when cold.

Hint: Vegetables, hot or cold water.
This is simple, if it grows in the ground start cooking in cold water, if it grows above ground start cooking in boiling water.  Don’t ever put a lid on green vegetables it makes them go a yucky grey colour.  Only ever add salt to potatoes to cook.

Back to the potatoes: When they boil turn down and simmer for 10 minutes.  Then take out half of the potatoes and leave to dry, these will become the roasted ones.
Get a big frying pan and add some goose or duck fat or some olive oil with a knob of butter. Add some chopped garlic, put in the potatoes and toss around until covered in the fat.  Place on a roasting dish and sprinkle with smoked paprika or dried mixed herbs, whichever you like best.  Put into oven to roast.  Check a few times and turn around a bit and baste in the oil.  They should be crispy in about 30 minutes.

Check the chicken, if it is getting brown then cover it in foil.  If the tray has a lot of juices or fat then carefully pour it off and keep.  The potato skins for the hens should be cooked now, take them out to cool and then sprinkle on the grass for them to peck through. If you don’t have hens then give them raw to the pigs…if you don’t have either then save them for me.

Note: Some people like to cook the potatoes around the chicken, I don’t as I find with the juices and the fat they get too soggy.  It’s better to save the juices for the gravy and keep the fat for the next lot of roast spuds.

Go into the sitting room and tell everyone that the potatoes are in the oven so it won’t be much longer. You can get them to set the table and sort drinks out for everyone. If they are complaining that they are hungry give them a bowl of olives to nibble.

Sneak back into the kitchen and top up your own white wine.  Change the music, it’s probably time to slow it down a little now, Enya or Maria Doyle Kennedy are good choices.

Sprouts: Open the net of sprouts, cut each one in half and take off any black leaves. Put into a pot, cover in boiling water, bring back to the boil and simmer for about 15 minutes.
Carrots: Cut off the top and bottom, I don’t bother to peel them.  Cut in half lengthwise and cut into chunks about 3cm long, then cut each chunk into two diagonally, they will look like mini carrots. Put into pot, cover with boiling water, bring back to boil and then  simmer about 15 minutes.
The carrot top and bottoms can be used for stock, or let the children grow the tops in a saucer of water.  Don’t keep the sprout peelings for stock, and the hens won’t eat them either…so it’s the pigs or compost heap. Watch out of Dad comes in as he will eat all the raw carrots.

Stuffed Tomatoes: Cut the tops of the tomatoes and scoop out all the seeds. Put some stuffing into the tomatoes.  Put some more stuffing into an ovenproof dish and place the tomatoes on top, they will balance well here.  

Open the oven, it’s probably full now so check the chicken. Cut open the thigh of the chicken, if the juices are clear it is cooked.  Take it out and leave it to rest, cover lightly with foil to keep warm.

Important: Make sure there are no cats in the kitchen…or Oliver, because he will eat all the chicken now.
Put the stuffing and tomatoes into the oven, check the roast potatoes and baste.
The boiled potatoes should now be done, drain and leave to dry for a minute or two.  Mash with a knob of butter, a splash of milk and some salt and pepper. Keep warm somewhere.  For a different mash use some olive oil and some minced garlic…or some grated cheese…or scallions…or parsley.  Or what I like to add is a raw egg and stir well.

Check to see how everyone is, they may be getting more hungry but should be in good humour from the wine.  Offer some garlic bread.

Garlic Bread: Cut a baguette or ciabatta in half, rub with garlic and drizzle with olive oil and put under the grill until golden. Or add minced garlic to butter, spread on bread and toast.  You can sprinkle either of these with some grated parmesan.

The Gravy: Chop an onion finely and sweat in a little oil. Go into the sitting room and get the red wine…nag them all because the table isn’t set. Pour a good splash of red wine into the gravy pan. Now pour the juices of the chicken into the pan aswell. Add a dessert spoonful of chutney, or relish, or cranberry sauce, or even a glug of ketchup… that will add a depth of flavour. Top up with water and add a spoonful of instant gravy mix and stir well (yes, I know, gravy mix…but it does work well). Taste and see if anything else is needed...herbs or seasoning.

Check the vegetable and if ready drain them…if any fall in the sink, just pick them out and ad back to the pot, they’ll be fine. Add a knob of butter to the sprouts.  Add a splash of orange juice and some coriander seeds to the carrots. Put everything into dishes ready to be served.

Now the most important part: Carve some chicken and put it onto your plate and serve yourself everything you want.  Hide some roast potatoes so you can have seconds if you want some later. And only then tell everyone else that food is ready. Get someone else to pour you a glass of red wine, complain that the bottle is almost empty and don’t let on that you finished a bottle of white wine while cooking.  Pick some music that everyone likes, maybe Coldplay, and enjoy dinner.
…and don’t forget the best part of a big roast dinner is the leftovers sandwich later on for tea.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Weekend make-a-long: Welly garden

Apologies for this being late and also in terms of a make-a-long it's a bit of a cop out. I have had such a busy week and weekend, good I suppose.  So this week it was about re-using or upcycling things about the house.  We all have wellies, well I mean you need them in the country.  But some of them are a bit old and had perished and no longer no longer a functioning welly.  These wellies have served us well, they have been on welly walks, they have been puddle jumping with nieces and nephews and cousins, they have forded many a stream and more importantly kept us cosy at more than one Slane concert.  I believe they have seen The Rolling Stones, Madonna and The Red Hot Chilli Peppers.  So with service like that they deserve more than the bin, in fact they need a new purpose in life where they can be admired.

And so they became a welly herb garden.

I just plonked them on the ground but some of them seemed to have taken on a human stance and attitude of their own.  These were mine so naturally I prefer them.

I filled the bottom with stones, up to about ankle length.  This was to provide drainage and also stability, I don't want them blowing over.  It was suggested that I put drainage holes in them first but I didn't as I didn't have anything to hand to do that and also they had holes in them anyway...that's why they didn't work as wellies.  Then in went potting compost, the herbs and some more compost to fill up gaps, plenty of water and that was that.  For me the advantage of this welly garden is they are too small for the hens and cats to want to sit in and to tall for them to pee or poop in.  That was the problem I had with window boxes, they have just become locations for animals to lie in and sunbathe. I went to Woodies yesterday to get some plants and couldn't believe that the first thing I saw was a ceramic plant pot shaped like a pair of wellies...mine are better.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Wednesday recipe: Potato nibbles and other veggies

Not really a recipe today, just some ideas for using potatoes and other veggies for parties and drinks.

Curry potato wedges:
Some nice oval potatoes like Pinks that have tasty skins
Sunflower or other light tasting vegetable oil (don't waste good olive oil on these as you wont taste it)
Medium Curry powder.

Heat the oven to 180 degress centigrade.
Cut the potatoes in half and then each into wedges. You want a decent size to eat with fingers.
You can decide weather to peel them or not.
Put wedges into a bowl and drizzle with oil and add some curry powder, about a teaspoon to each potato.
Toss together and then place on an oven tray.
Roast in oven for about 20 minutes or until crispy.

Sweet potato wedges:
These need to be cooked slightly different as they are softer than potato and absorb all the oil.
Put a small amount of sunflower or vegetable oil on an ovenproof dish and put in an oven at 180 degress to heat.
Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into wedges.
Put on the heated tray and toss slighty.
Roast for about 15 minutes or until crispy.

Deep fried aubergine:
Make a batter with 4oz flour, 1 egg and 1/2 pint milk, beat all togther and make sure it isn't lumpy.  Leave to settle for a few minutes.
Heat oil in a pot or deep fat fryer.
Slice aubergine into rings and dust in flour.
Dip into the batter, shake off excess and drop carefully into hot oil.
These only take about 2 minutes to cook.
Drain and eat immediately.

Some dipping saiuces are good with these, simple mayonaisse, garlic mayonaisse and chutney are my favourites.