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St Patrick’s day has come and gone and I haven’t yet reviewed an Irish short story as I had planned.

The story I read this week is “Irish Revel” by Edna O’Brien.  O’Brien was born in 1930 in county Clare.  Books were not well viewed in her family, especially if read by girls.  Although O’Brien trained as a pharmacist, she pursued her dream and became a writer.  O’Brien went against the path prescribed by her family and has often been banned in Ireland.  Since her first publication in 1960, O’Brien has become a respected and well-established writer. 

“Irish Revel” was originally published in 1969 in her first short story collection, The Love Object.  The story is that of Mary, 17, a country girl who lives up in the mountain.  For the first time, Mary is allowed to go to a party.  There, she is hoping to meet John Roland, a married English painter who stayed with her family two summers before and with whom she became enamoured.  However, once she arrives at the party, Mary is disillusioned as she is treated as barely more than a maid and is made fun of by the town girls.  As the small party gets going, the men there get increasingly drunk and boisterous.  Soon, Mary’s hopes and wishes are shattered and she realises she would have been better staying at home.

This story is typically Irish in its themes, but also evokes universal feelings of exclusion and alienation.  I found it painful: I felt for Mary, whose dreams of love and freedom are destroyed.  Mary has to face the reality of her world and maybe her illusions were preferable to that. 

O’Brien’s story reminds me of Joyce’s Dubliners with its painful epiphany and its description of Irish society as small-minded and driven by drink.  From what I have read about O’Brien’s life, it is reflective of the atmosphere in which she grew up, a suffocating atmosphere in which day-dreaming was the only means of escapism.

If you would like to read about more Irish short stories, visit The Reading Life where Mel U is holding an Irish Short Story Week.

This is my 4th year taking part in the Earth Hour, a global event aimed at raising awareness about sustainability issues.  This year, I have decided to write a daily post during the month leading to the event in order to share some thoughts about the environment and give tips the little changes we can make in our daily lives.  There will also be some guest posts by fellow bloggers who will share their own views on a topic related to the environment.  You can read my introductory post here and access the Earth Hour website here.

I encourage you to comment and share your own tips, ideas and experience.  In the last couple of days before the event I will do a few posts about what readers had to say.  I believe we can learn a lot by sharing!

The other day, I highlighted a few food issues and particularly the fact that we should make informed decisions about what we eat.  I discussed this issue further yesterday by suggesting to shop locally or at the market, where it is easier to know about your food’s provenance.  There is another way to know where your food comes from and it is by growing it yourself.  You might not be able to grow everything, for climatic or space reasons, but whatever you grow will supplement what you eat and the money you will save can thus be spent on better quality products at the market.  I started growing my own veg two years ago.  Food shopping that summer was only minimal because I would eat a lot of my own veg and would buy nearly everything else at the market, such as lovely local cheese and eggs.

Chillis

The first thing you can grow, even if you do not have a garden, are herbs.  I have always been horrified by the price of herbs and the packaging involved.  Most of the time, you buy a few stems packed in a huge plastic box and they only last a couple of days.  It is not difficult to have a small herb garden or a few pots of your favourite herbs on your window sill.  Most herbs will not even require much attention and can survive cold-ish winters. 

I think that the only herb I have never managed to grow is basil, but I will try again this year and I am determined to succeed because I love basil!  On the other hand, I was quite proud to have managed to keep these chilli plants for a few year, and the chillis got hotter with time.

Now I have also planted camomile and lemon balm, which come handy for medicinal purposes or simply if you like infusion.

What you can do, is freeze or dry those herbs to have your own stock for the winter.  Some gardening books will give you explanations about the various processes to keep herbs. 

Parsley growing in a window-sill pot

Parsley thriving in the middle of winter

Herb garden the first year

Herb garden two years later

It survived the winter despite minus temperatures

If you have a small garden, growing veg can become a bit of a problem, but a veg patch does not necessitate that much space if you organise it properly.  For instance, you can plant radishes in between plants that need more space to grow.  The first year, I made the mistake to plant courgettes in the patch, but the plant ended up taking a lot of space.  Now, I plant it in the garden. 

Temporary veg patch

Getting more organised

Some veg, such as chard, can also be decorative and thus fulfil two purposes at once.  Also, if you need more space in your patch, you can always plant salads in a box as they don’t necessitate much depth.

Chard, decorative as well as tasty

You learn with time what works best for you and experimenting can be fun.  For instance, I find dwarf beans very handy; they don’t require much attention, don’t need much space, but give a lot of beans.  I also have a wild strawberry plant, which is very resistant, grows on its own and gives very tasty fruits.

Young wild strawberry plant, I kept it for a few years in a pot until I owned my house

It is even bigger now!

Looking after your veg can take a little bit of time, but not more than going to the shop to buy veg on a regular basis, and it is so rewarding.  I had never eaten a courgette so tasty (I was very proud of my courgette plant)!

Baby courgette

They take space but are so tasty!

I hope this year to manage to grow a few winter veg as well.  We will see how I get on…

Another way to get your food for free is to go foraging.  It is amazing what nature can give us in the wild.  And if you live by the sea, the seashore will provide you with a lot of shellfish (I love periwinkles, for instance!).  And for the most courageous, rent a boat and go fishing.  You will have a fun time and, if you’re lucky, you might get a catch that lasts you for a little while if you have a freezer!

A good catch!

This is my 4th year taking part in the Earth Hour, a global event aimed at raising awareness about sustainability issues.  This year, I have decided to write a daily post during the month leading to the event in order to share some thoughts about the environment and give tips the little changes we can make in our daily lives.  There will also be some guest posts by fellow bloggers who will share their own views on a topic related to the environment.  You can read my introductory post here and access the Earth Hour website here.

I encourage you to comment and share your own tips, ideas and experience.  In the last couple of days before the event I will do a few posts about what readers had to say.  I believe we can learn a lot by sharing!

I was talking yesterday about the food choices we face in our daily life.  I don’t know if it is also the case where you live, but in Ireland we have seen a resurgence of farmers’ markets.  Markets and local shops are one of the best ways to know where your food comes from (although you still need to be cautious), but in our societies they are not readily available anymore. 

I remember when growing up in France, going to the market was just a thing people did.  There was a covered one open every day of the week (it still is, I think) in the city centre and, then, each district would have a weekly or bi-weekly market, so it was possible to buy the most part of your shopping from those markets.  Most of our food would come from the market and, when it wasn’t, we would often get it from local specialised shops: la boulangerie, la boucherie, la charcuterie and so on.  However, these shops have increasingly been replaced by supermarkets and going to the market has become a special outing rather than a way to shop.

Supermarkets have killed local production: they import or, when they buy locally, it is at discounted prices, making it difficult for local producers to survive.  As I told you, I spent most of my holidays; for the first thirteen years of my life, on a farm.  This farm was self-sustainable, they used to produce and sell eggs, milk and cereals, but also had their own veg, rabbits and one pig to feed the family.  I went to visit the farm again a few years ago.  It had drastically changed and their production was limited to cereals and gone were all the farm animals; it broke my heart.

Now, farms have become specialised and consequently sell in huge quantity, which, of course, has negative effects as they try to produce more (leading to situations in which they use chemicals or have battery chickens, for instance) to be able to survive when faced with prices that are broken down.  We have replaced quality by quantity.

Some of these farms are struggling but are still alive and this is why I find it so important to support them.  You can find small producers on markets, but also in your local shop where you will be able to buy potatoes (a typical Irish example) from a particular farm, for instance.  Even better, try to visit those farms; it is always nice to know where your food comes from and you will often get it at a cheaper price.

There is something I have remarked though on Irish markets: their prices are fixed and it can be difficult to get a bargain.  In France, markets open at about 7 am (or used to, anyway).  Early risers would get the best products, but late comers would get all the bargains – two for the price of one – as producers would try to get rid of the day’s products in order to welcome fresh ones on the following day.  This is something I also encountered in Ottawa.  I happened to pass the ByWard market just before the stalls were put away and got some lovely red fruits from Quebec at fantastic prices.

ByWard market in Ottawa

Now, there is another choice I am confronted to when I am at the market, or the supermarket for that matter.  Organic or local?  The choice is quite difficult.  Ideally, I would choose both, but this is not always an option.  There are a lot of things to take into consideration and we are not always in a position to make an informed decision. 

Organic stall at Mahon Point market in Cork

Maybe the first thing to be aware of are the laws of your country.  Obtaining the organic label is not always easy.  I know some farmers around here who still do not have the label when they are actually producing organically.  The second thing that strikes me is that the food might be organic but coming from far away: transportation and how it is preserved are elements to be taken into account.  Therefore, I generally prefer local products and I might extend that to European products if those cannot be grown in Ireland.  At least, that way, you help your local economy and you might have more chances to know exactly where your food comes from.

Another thing I love in markets is that you are able to taste and see the food you are about to buy (and it saves on packaging as well).  These are little, often forgotten, pleasures.  I actually like going to the market with my empty egg box and refill it again and see slowly my bag getting filled with products I have been able to carefully choose.

I have found that shopping at markets is actually not as expensive as it might appear at first and I like the idea that the same people might then come to spend their money in the restaurant I work in…

Atwater market in Montreal

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