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Actively preparing for retirement (2)

Updated on April 22, 2014

Rhubarb compote

Rhubarb and ginger jam is one of my favorite breakfast spreads for toast, with yogurt on porridge oats or as a dessert with custard or ice-cream. I've called this a compote as it's neither a jelly nor a jam as I used the gelatin sachet primarily as a preservative. It's tart because of the rhubarb, and though I added a lemon and ginger teabag to infuse a hint of ginger, those two flavors are negligible (I had no fresh or ground ginger to add to the mixture so tried this, in future I'll add two bags and infuse it while the fruit's stewing). I could still taste the lemon while it was warm, but once cooled just the distinctive rhubarb is the primary taste. I added two dessert spoons of muscavado sugar to sweeten it.


  • Four stalks of rhubarb
  • Two dessertspoons Tesco Light Brown Muscavado sugar
  • One and a half pints of water
  • One sachet of Dr Oetker's gelatin

Put the water, sugar and rhubarb in a saucepan over a low heat and simmer for half an hour. Pour the mixture into a calibrated jug before sprinkling the sachet of gelatin powder into the fruit, (because a single sachet sets one pint of liquid). Stir thoroughly to disperse the gelatin and allow to set.

Nine types of tulips

I got a lot from the garden yesterday, tulips from the front and back that had snapped and wouldn't develop any more out there were taken indoors for the table dressing. They're full double yellow late tulips that look as full as peony roses. We've nine types of tulips in our garden ranging from short-stemmed to tall, single to double, and the color palette ranges from yellow through salmon pink, orange to reds ranging from a 'geranium' red which is like British post boxes to a 'Chanel' red, which has a sharper, blue-tinted hue. For a great guide to buying tulips, see here. I also got three rhubarb stalks, four or five sprigs of rosemary and thyme, and as the menu didn't pan out exactly as planned, I got the chance to re-use some of the ingredients for another day.

The planned menu was a salad to start, roast mutton as the entrée and ice-cream with Amorena cherries for dessert. We got a present of some divine cherries from the two beloveds who visited us last weekend (the brand name's Cuccina, they taste like morello cherries and the syrup's delish), so with HB raspberry ripple, some Avonmore dessert cream (otherwise known as pouring or clotted cream that doesn't whip easily, so is to be poured rather than dolloped onto the cherries), the meal was for me, Himself and a new beloved who is a friend of Himself's that's happily now become one of mine.

Also in gathering the ingredients for this dinner I bought a couple of potted herbs from SuperValu for €2.50 each – expensive as seed plants but cheap as wonderfully convenient 'cut and come again' insertions into the garden. The parsley will thrive (as last year's still just starting to appear above ground again) but the basil will quite possibly last for about three meals.

Himself spotted his first couple of swallows flying over the garden yesterday, so summer is officially here. There are yellowhammers singing sporadically over in the Church of Ireland graveyard (at least, with my quarter-deaf hearing, that's the direction I think the sound's coming from). That churchyard also has the bungee-jumping squirrels and is possibly the happy hunting ground for hedgehogs.

For two years in a row, a hedgehog mistakenly rambled into our garden, fell into the cobble-locked circular pit and ran around in frantic panic when it realized it was still there in daylight. Though I took pity on the prickly little hare-brain and rescued it the first year without drama, the second year it happened to be spotted by the Alzheimer's patient who also lived here at the time, (and who'd reverted to the farmer's child he had been), and so he instinctively lit out after the vermin with the coal shovel. (He could fairly hoof it for a man in his late 70s.)

However, there's a happy ending to that story for a townie who was raised to rear pets not livestock. When I saw him trundling out of the house with the shovel in hand and a grimly earnest look on his face, I managed to remember in time that I was 30 years his junior. I dashed into the kitchen for the oven gloves, out-ran the septugenarian to reach the hedgehog first and released it back into the wild. It stayed curled in its protective ball for a few minutes before scurrying off into the undergrowth.

Companion planting: flowers and herbs for color, scent and flavor

Salmon pink tulips (24" tall) in herb bed, April 14. The herbs here include rosemary, thyme, sage, parsley and mint.
Salmon pink tulips (24" tall) in herb bed, April 14. The herbs here include rosemary, thyme, sage, parsley and mint. | Source
Red tulips (18" high) and striped salmon pink and green crumple-petalled tulips (12"), April 14. Rhubarb leaves in top right corner
Red tulips (18" high) and striped salmon pink and green crumple-petalled tulips (12"), April 14. Rhubarb leaves in top right corner
One of two flowerbeds before planting with parsley and basil, April 14.
One of two flowerbeds before planting with parsley and basil, April 14.
A pink and red color combination of frilly-petalled (12" high) tulips seen here with crocosmia foliage.
A pink and red color combination of frilly-petalled (12" high) tulips seen here with crocosmia foliage.

The patio cook: Cottage garden herb and rhubarb recipes. We've two spots for herbs and rhubarb this year – one in the back in patio planters, and the other in a clay bed among thyme, parsley, sage, rosemary, mint, lavender and some flowers and shrubs.

The first part of the menu that didn't work out was that I'd hoped to use some of the rhubarb leaves as a salad leaf, which YOU MUST NEVER DO as it's poisonous.

Rather than stuffing the shoulder of mutton with a breadcrumb, I simply added the sprigs of rosemary and thyme inside the meat and turned the joint in the oven a few times during cooking to baste it.

The second part of the planned menu that didn't work out was that we were so stuffed after the main course that I didn't get to use the pourable cream. I added a swirl of vanilla syrup (Madagascar Vanilla Bean Paste) and some of the cherry syrup to make a home-made ice-cream. (The cream was just on its use-by date and had to be frozen.)

Tulips from elegance to lush romantic blooms

Hilton Park House

The house and gardens in Hilton Park, Co Monaghan, Ireland are an exquisite treat for the gourmet traveller. Its lavender ice-cream is one of the most delicately delicious flavors I've tried, and forms just one part of the slow-food menus you can enjoy here. See my hub on Hidden Ireland accommodation for a hint of the pleasures in store for those who love great food and interesting garden visits.


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