Monthly Archives: March 2013

Easter; Hefezopf, chocolate and painted eggs

Painted eggs on branch

Painted eggs on a branch

As a child I used to adore Easter. In the beautiful Irish countryside Spring had arrived – not this year though – daffodils were blooming, the trees were beginning to shimmer green and blossom, the wildlife were coming out of hibernation and the sun was starting to shine. It also meant painting Easter eggs, eating lots of chocolate and baking Hefezopf.

The weekends leading up to Easter were filled with blowing out eggs – I used to get so dizzy doing that – and then painting them, competing with my sister for the best decorated egg, which she always won. Baking, lots and lots of baking, mainly Hefezopf, a plaited slightly sweet German yeast bread.

Hefezopf

Hefezopf

Every year, either my grandmother – when she visited over Easter -, mother or sister used to bake Hefezopf for Easter Sunday breakfast. The yeast bread is easy to make and quite simply delicious, especially fresh from the oven with butter and jam, mmm. I baked it over the weekend. It is very simple to make with flour, sugar, butter, eggs and lukewarm milk. As with most yeast dough it needs to be left in a warm place to rise for about half an hour before plaiting and popping in the oven for about 40 minutes to bake. My family were very good at celebrating all the Christian festivals, not so much for the religious reasons, but rather as a festival to enjoy, eat specific foods and spend time together.

Cherry blossoms

Cherry blossoms

We used to get up early on Easter Sunday morning to watch the sunrise, followed by a hearty breakfast with Hefezopf, boiled and chocolate eggs and lots of coffee. After breakfast was the Easter egg hunt in the garden, which was always lots of fun. We inevitably manged to fill our baskets with plenty of chocolate eggs which were consumed with gusto over the next few days.

Another of my favourite Easter foods is Hot Cross Buns, which I have yet to bake from scratch. This year I will be spending Easter in Italy with my mum where I’m sure we’ll be eating all sorts of traditional Italian Easter dishes such as lamb, Colomba  – dove shaped bread – artichoke, asparagus and of course chocolate. Like most festivals, the Italian’s celebrate Easter in style with all the family together and lots of food.

In light of that my next post will unsurprisingly  be about Italy, the places we visited and the amazing food we ate, so be prepared for some serious food envy!

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The Spy’s Wife by Janet Coggin; my 2013 World Book Day celebration

World Book Day is about celebrating books and authors. So in light of this I’ve decided to write about an author and her book, both of which mean a lot to me personally. The book is The Spy’s Wife and the author, who passed away in 2010, is Janet Coggin.

It’s strange in life how you may know someone for years, yet not really know them properly or at all. I’m saying this both from my personal experience and also as it is a big part of this book.

Teach-Na-Greine

When I was a child living in the beautiful Irish countryside in the community where my sister and I grew up and my parents lived and worked, we shared a house in a stunning old estate with about 15 other people. The other inhabitants were a mixture of the people with disabilities that my parents worked with and their live-in carers, both long and short-term, my parents being the former. For many years during my childhood and adolescence a lovely lady by the name of Janet Coggin lived on the floor above us. During her free time we could always hear her typing away upstairs, her manual typewriter – which I sometimes borrowed to write my own short stories on – clacking away.

Janet Coggin

Janet Coggin

She was one of the most caring, unselfish, interesting and truly inspirational and amazing women I have ever met in my life. Janet was the one who first got me  into writing.  She believed in me, encouraging me to write and when I wrote my first short story at the age of 12 she read it, critiqued it and then gave me her typewriter to type it up on – a laborious task seeing it was a manual and each and every error unchangeable.

We used to spend hours chatting in the larder after supper or sitting outside on the patio in the gorgeous evening sunshine. She told me about her childhood in Devon with her sister and their horses and all the fun things they got up to. We talked about books and horses, shared passions for both of us as well as many other things.

Like her childhood, mine was idyllic but it was not till much later that I found out about the unbelievable secret and burden she was forced to carry around with her for most of her adult life. She was still living with us when her book, The Spy’s Wife, a true account of her life, was published. At first my parents wouldn’t let me read it but finally when I was a bit older they consented.

I recently finished reread her book, feeling much more keenly the emotions and trials of her life than I did as a teenager. In her early twenties, Janet, or Lilian as she is called in the book, married a South African naval officer and moved with him and their children to Simonstown in South Africa where they lived for a number of years. Over time her husband, who was often away at sea, became increasingly neurotic until finally one day he told her that he was a KGB master spy running a spy network in Europe, and would she become a spy and work as his partner.

Needless to say she didn’t have to think twice about it, but her decision had major consequences on her life and those of her children for years to come. She moved with her children to Dublin where they had to make a new life for themselves. She lived in daily fear of putting a foot wrong and the KGB network ending her life. Her husband had told her on parting that if she ever told anyone or made any bad moves, her life would be ended, ‘as it it were an accident.’

During these years she often returned to visit her father and her family home in Devonshire, which she describes as ‘a place where time stood still, a place where my childhood, adulthood and motherhood were all one.’ Not even to her father, who died before her ex husband was captured and she was free to talk, could she unburden and share her secret with as it would have put his life in danger.

The book is an account of a woman, a wife, a mother  and a daughter who unwittingly enters into a union with a man whose life choices were to have a lasting impact on her life. Throughout the books she narrates calmly and with clarity, soul searching and trying to answer many questions. Even when her ex husband is caught by the FBI and carrying out a life sentence in prison in Pretoria, she is haunted by the repercussions of his choices and actions. She is always under surveillance and monitored, this time by governments and the secret service wherever she goes, she cannot get away from it.  Yet through all of this she keeps going, keeping a sense of normality for her children and her father and in turn for herself. 

When Janet finally left Ireland and moved back to England, we maintained a written correspondence for a number of years. I really missed her when she had gone, she was such an amazing person and as a child I never in a million years could have imagined the life this gentle and kind woman had experienced and the hardship and fear she had lived in for so many years.

So it is in the memory of this extraordinary woman and her life that I would like to celebrate this World Book Day.

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Reacquainting myself with my childhood friends

Anne of Green Gables series

Anne of Green Gables series

As a child I was forever in a corner glued to a book and my sister used to constantly bemoan the fact that I preferred reading to playing with her. When we were on family holidays my mum used to ration me to one book a day, her rational was that I’d go goggle eyed from reading too much. In short, ever since I learnt to read there were and still are very few things that make me happier than reading.

Prince Edward Island, Canada

Prince Edward Island, Canada

Every few years I reread my favourite and most loved books, and one of my most beloved childhood books are the Anne of Green Gables books, which I adore to bits and pieces. I was first acquainted with them when my grandmother bought me Anne of Green Gables, after which I saved every penny of pocket money I got to buy the rest of the series, one at a time. Each and every time I read them I enjoy it just as much as the first time and with every reread I can identify with different stages of Anne’s life. Without a doubt red headed Anne Shirley is one of my all time favourite heroins. Her vivacious spirit, delightful imagination and romantic notions take me back to my childhood and I get lost in the pages.

Prince Edward Island, Canada

Prince Edward Island, Canada

L.M. Mongomery so tenderly describes her heroine, her beloved Green Gables, Prince Edward Island and Avonlea along with all the fabulous characters the books are littered with. In under a month I had reread all of the Anne books. During which time I became a recluse,  preferring an evening in with a cup of tea and my book, to going out or watching TV. And as always I was sad to be finished Anne of Ingleside and to return the books to my bookshelf for another few years.

I’ve visited Canada before, but I’ve always wanted to go to PE Island, to travel around the beautiful island that has been the scene of so many fantastic flights of imagination over the years. Maybe one day, I’ll find myself there.

My books have always been one of my most coveted possessions and among these are all the books of my childhood. Include the Anne of Green Gables and the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, National Velvet, The Borrowers, the Narnia series, Swallows and Amazons and a whole host of other equally well loved books.

Laura Ingles Wilder

Laura Ingles Wilder

Opening up one of these books is almost like revisiting a loved friend who I haven’t seen in a long time. Old feelings and emotions, joys and sadness’s come rushing back as I leaf through the pages and with the adult and older perspective come new emotions and feelings.

Whatever mood or frame of mind I’m in my books always manage to transport me away, and for a while I’m lost in their pages in a completely different world where my imagination and mind is free to wonder at will.

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