Friday, February 26, 2016

Tarta de Santiago - a 'merienda' snack in Madrid.

Since our move to Madrid last September we have experienced a wealth of new tastes, cultures, a new language, a different rhythm of live and have above all availed of priceless time just being together as a family. We have learnt more about ourselves and our children amid managing our daily routines in a new environment and language - even if challenging, it is incredibly rewarding and I feel blessed that we have the opportunity to do this. I have been able to focus on new product designs for Old Rectory and Simon has been able to put much needed hours and concentration into his technology business. One year away from the hectic pace of home life is allowing this time for these things. Crazy really that we should allow our lives to become so busy...

Art in Madrid 

Madrid is an exciting city which could leave one's mind exhausted if trying to see too much. I am literally bowled over by the fact that I can be standing in front of Picasso's Guernica or a Dennis Hopper within a short train ride on the Renfe. So as not to feel overwhelmed by the vast availability of art and design alongside keeping the children settled and happy I distilled down where and on what delights I would direct my free-time. To think that I could cover everything would put me into a spin! The big and small art galleries make up most of my list. I'm also tasting typical spanish dishes and trying new spanish recipes, after all there are many mouths to feed in this house. Cooking is something that we can all do together; the children find it relaxing and are learning new vocabulary by following spanish recipes. Another good way to learn the language is by watching the spanish cookery shows - I'm secretly addicted!!

After school at around 5pm the spanish children have what's know as a 'merienda' snack. It's the equivalent of our tea-time - a simple light meal that often consists of a piece of fruit, biscuits, cake, yogurt, and other snacks paired with juice, tea, coffee or hot chocolate. Our kids come home ravenous - the kitchen is chaos around 5pm with 5 hungry mouths to feed.

Tarta de Santiago (with a hint of Irish)

After spending a lovely 2 days with friends in the northern city of Burgos (a half way point on the Camino de Santiago), I was inspired to bake a Tarta de Santiago which is a typical Galician cake from that region. Gluten free recipes pique my attention as I'm of the opinion that too much of today's bleached flour puts a lot of pressure on our digestive system. We added a touch of the Irish to our cake with our shamrock stencil! Typically a Tarta de Santiago would have the stencil of the Santiago cross on it - you could add your own choice of stencil by simply cutting out a paper or card design.

Preparation is quite simple and including time in the oven I would allow 1hr.

Ground almonds, lemon zest and cinnamon.

Ingredients -
  • 6 eggs (separated)
  • 250 gr of unrefined golden caster sugar
  • 250 gr of ground almonds (preferably freshly ground from whole blanched almonds)
  • freshly grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp of cinnamon
  • icing sugar to dust
  • stencil of your choice

Separated egg yolks and sugar.

  • Preheat the oven to 170°C (fan 150°C, gas mark 3) and grease an 18cm (7in) springform cake tin.

  • Cream the egg yolks and sugar with an electric whisk (or by hand if you're abroad and didn't bring your KitchenAid with you!). Add the ground almonds, lemon zests and cinnamon and mix gently to combine.

Whisked egg whites and egg yolk mixture.
  • Whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Take a large tablespoon of the egg whites and mix into the almond/egg yolk mixture just to loosen as the almond texture is heavy going. Next fold the rest of the egg whites into the almond mixture carefully until combined. Scrape this mixture into the prepared cake tin and bake for 45 minutes until firm to the touch and pale golden brown - I love simple and easy recipes and don't forget this is gluten free which is a double win.
Pour mixture into a greased springform tin.

  • Allow to cool on a wire rack. Dust with sifted icing sugar over the stencil of your choice. Enjoyed as a 'merienda' snack and I would recommend a scoop of vanilla ice cream with it!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Visiting our manufacturers in Portugal

I'm sitting in the airport waiting for my flight out of Oporto. I've just spent a day in Guimaraes, North Portugal with our manufacturing partners. I know that I mention this time and again but I am so pleased and proud that Old Rectory products are made in Europe. We work towards ensuring that our products have as little impact on the environment as possible within the textile industry and being in our manufacturing centre today gave me that familiar good-vibes feeling that I get whenever I visit. Guimareas is instilled in the culture of textiles, pottery, embroidery, leathercrafting, tanning and many other crafts which I noticed as I strolled around the town's historical centre this evening. Any lover of textiles will find themselves admiring the exquisite hand crafted embroidered cottons and linens which the town seems to be famous for. I recommend a visit to the town if only for the embroidered tablecloths although one cannot ignore the incredible medieval architecture - it was a something that took me by surprise as generally I've only concentrated on getting to and from the factory with not much time to spare.

Interior of manufacturing centre, Portugal

Interior of manufacturing centre, Portugal

The local economy took a devastating hit when the great surge of manufacturing moved to China. Local employees within the industry were either made redundant or, as many did, moved to Moroccan factories in order to provide for their families. Whilst chatting to my work collegue in her factory today I asked if there has there been a return of manufacturing back to Portugal and she said that there has been some - a small but steady movement back. I found myself making associations to parts of Ireland that were dependent on certain industries like the textile one in Guimareas. Those industries aren't really coming back yet - the one that springs to mind is fishing. However the fishing towns in Ireland currently have a thriving tourist industry which we seem to promote well and enjoy. Lets hope we protect their indigenous architecture and maybe in centuries to come someone will refer to them as I am refering to this lovely medieval town of Guimaraes.

Historical centre, Guimaraes.

I got confirmation from our manufacturers that the GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certification will be accredited to all of our future products which I'm extremely pleased about. This will stand along our Oek-o-tex certification.

I heard this one chattering for sure.

Oh and my sons will be so pleased to hear that Guimaraes is mad about parrots. It was quite dreamy walking through the narrow cobbled streets listening to the sing-song chatter of parrots high above on potted terraces and balconies whilst a gentle warm breeze was stroking my face.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Junior Cert and GOTS Cert.

The children are settling back into the new term and their various group activities are gathering momentum. On the academic front we get a reprieve from end-of-year state exams in our household - Yippee. Our eldest son sat his Junior Cert in June and our second son will sit his Junior Cert in June 2017 so no 'study talks' or 'student time-management talks' this year for me - nothing like an exam-tethered child to keep you on tenterhooks in the kitchen, making sure that every corner of their nutritional needs are met - glad to have a break from it!

Studio news - Our new prints will be in shortly which I am really excited about. I am also close to having our range GOTS certified as well as it's current Oek-o-tex certification label. As all of our products are 100% organic cotton we fall into the category of a GOTS cert. This is just fantastic as our ethical and sustainable commitment is of up-most importance to us.

The upstream manufacturing process in the fashion industry is wrought with abusive practices in the farming industry and dying industry which are destroying our natural resources at the rate of knots. Sweat-shops in Bangladesh and other countries are in abundance; young workers are robbed of their health and education whilst spending cripplingly long hours huddled over sewing machines in poor light. I am proud to be working towards ensuring that our products have a lower impact on the environment, and that the people making our products are healthy and paid fairly.

Here are a few photo-reminders of our gorgeous Swallow print which will be back in stock shortly.

Swallow T-shirt

Swallow Romper
Swallow blanket

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Sleep and 'continual partial attention'

Up until about 8 months ago I felt reasonably on top of what I would be close to describing as a ‘bedtime routine’ cutting some slack for periods of sickness, travel or the like which might upset things. I say ‘close to’ because if someone were to ask me what our bedtime routine was I’d have to fumble through a few explanations that would depend on the mood, work load and the emotional needs of the children and parents at the time. Admittedly I have to fabricate patience for the emotional needs of the family (even if they don’t reach the height of a chair rail) after 8pm in the evening - but I suppose if they don’t reach the height of a chair rail they should probably be in bed by 8pm – Hmmm…moving on…Yes, in general bedtime had been manageable with the 5 boys. To sum a typical evening  - our eldest would take himself off to bed with a book, that is after I’d gone through the habitual goodnights, ‘What are you reading and are you enjoying it?’ ‘Have you done your teeth and are you wearing your elastics?’ ‘Is your mobile phone downstairs?, at which point he blatantly extracts his mobile phone from under the pillow. ’Ok put it downstairs please’ ‘Goodnight’. The 11 year old would dawdle along to bed already in his dreamlike state but awake enough to not want to go to bed, brush his teeth or organize anything for the following morning but we’ll excuse him that  - he was 11 yrs old and sometimes trying to fall asleep for him plays havoc as it interrupts his lofty imagination, or the other way round, not sure. The twins would tumble and wrestle their way upstairs as one being, eventually separate into two beings and fall asleep before the end of a story. I’m afraid we’ve been lax with the 3 yr old and too jaded to worry about his bedtime - it just happened somewhere, anywhere.

That was then, but this is now….8 months later.

With two weeks to go until the 12 year old’s piano exam and a text home from his teacher saying that if he doesn’t put a lot of practice in between now and then it could be a struggle for him– what better excuse not to go to bed than do your piano practice at around 9pm at night. ‘After all, Mum you do want me to pass, right?’ What can I say? ‘Practice earlier in the day?’ but too late for that when we just haven’t been organized enough to get around to it. Currently twin 1 is going through a phase of falling asleep in pitch black and in total silence away from twin 2 (they have now developed different bedtimes) – sound’s daft but it’s a bit of time that they seem to have carved out in the day away from each other and it suits them – one sleeps and one winds down with some lego building or sports watching. So piano playing is upsetting twin 1 whose hearing the chromatic scales thumping through the floorboards (and played with such love- not!) The 4 year old now goes to sleep in a bed, our bed mind you but no longer on the sofa. He also demands 2 stories, a chat, a leg rub, arm rub and possibly a back rub. Being of the positive frame of mind I think it’s all a step closer to him graduating to his own bed very soon. Summer exam fever is approaching for the 14 yr old so out comes the clarinet late at night for his practical music exam. It’s all feeling quite surreal around bedtime. Somehow it eventually falls into place and the house is silent, we sleep and get up but as for a routine, what was that?

There seem to be an increasing number of articles and books about unplugging and detoxing from our digital devices and a list of new phrases and terms surrounding the conundrum – We are tethered? Addicted? Obsessed? On permanent phone IV? One term that comes to mind is ‘continual partial attention’ meaning that due to our electrical devices we’re partly tuned into everything but never completely tuned into anything. I had to smile when I read this as it struck a familiar chord with me. This term sums up how I often feel about parenting the age spread of boys. I’ve convinced myself that it’s not a bad thing - it’s just the way it is and instead of fighting the syndrome I’ll embrace it. Now I can give this feeling a label….the trending way to excuse ourselves out of behavior that may not fit the norm – give it a title and explanation. 'Continual partial attention' runs something like this in our house -  engaged conversations are broken into sound bites whereby fragments of sentences fly in every direction. – there is no linear order to the sound bites or sentences. If you’re not used to them they can sound pretty dysfunctional. - Everyone avoids social etiquette and hangs on for dear life to their own train of thought. You just ‘get your word in’ regardless of patience and manners. It’s like catching curve balls coming at you in every direction.  I tend to delve into my 'continual partial attention' condition in a big way on Saturday mornings and always hear the same little voice in my head asking – “Who on earth is calling the shots here, everything feels like it’s up for discussion?’

Last Saturday morning’s sound bite session went something like this -

Me - (during a staggered breakfast sitting) I’m going to IKEA to buy the Billy shelves, I’m tired talking about them and I have a window of opportunity.

Husband – Careful of Saturday crowds, it could be a nightmare.

Me – It’s early, gonna get going in 15 minutes, think I can be back in 3 hours.

14yr old - YOU CAN’T GO, I’m going to the cinema

Me – What?

14 yr old – I told you yesterday and you said it what fine.

Me  - WHAT, I did not, you didn’t’ tell me (‘fight or flight’ stress kicking in)

14yr old – OMG, you never keep promises, you said it was fine, I’ve to be there at 2.

Me – WHAT, have you booked and paid? I can’t believe it!

4yr old – I want to play Xbox

14 yrs old  - YES and ____‘s coming also.

Me – WHAT, ____ please turn on the Xbox, who paid for the tickets? (glowering at husband, blame game kicking in?)

Husband – It’s fine, we’ll get them there (good cop!)

Me – (to husband and 2 of the kids) Well, you need to study this morning. Please turn on the Xbox, ____ stop kicking your brother.(resignation and exasperation kicking in)

12 yr old – I want to go too.

8 yr old is continuously hitting tennis ball against kitchen counters

Me –  (to husband) I dunno, what do you think? (to 8yr old) PLEASE stop playing tennis in the kitchen. (back to husband) Him on the Luas, he hasn’t been on it before. He’s only 12. (rhetorical question - deep down I know he’s gonna win this battle as I’ve shown signs of rushing, CPA syndrome AND I am in the minority)

Husband – Anything else we need in IKEA?


Me  - (still trying to compute logistics of cinema trip, tennis and IKEA) But YOU have tennis as well, ____ needs to be in Sutton for his tournament, I’m going to Ikea, PLEASE TURN ON the Xbox I can’t hear myself think and STOP playing tennis in the kitchen.


Fast forward to me pulling out of our drive. Phone rings. I answer. ‘Mum are you sure you’ll be back in time to get me to the cinema? And I’m hungry, what can I eat?’

‘Open the cupboards dear, open the cupboards’ I say as I breathe deeply and take a break from 'continual partial attention'.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Patience and Tolerance.

Some have oodles of patience and tolerance. 
In what feels like a distant past (although it could have been last month) I think I had these very useful parenting attributes. I even had the benign gentle smile that works in tandem with patience and tolerance – that smile which I could adopt at short notice to cover up the domestic carnage that a family of 5 boys and two adults goes through just to get out of the house with all required body parts covered up, no bloody noses and hopefully with my cardigan on the right way around.
I was so good at that smile it was like driving an automatic car  - my body knew when to change to this socially acceptable gear without any messaging trips to my brain.
In appearance this smile is quite characterless and humourless. It can say a number of things or nothing at all if one cares to enquire. For example it can say ‘don’t ask me which team my twin sons are playing in the next round of their rugby league because I don’t know’ or ‘don’t ask me which piano grade my 12 year old is doing or when because I don’t know’ or ‘please don’t glower at me when my 4 yr old gives his big brother a left hook as he tries to snatch his dad’s mobile phone from him because in fact…I didn’t see that happen and actually my mind has moved to big global issues like whether a one state solution in Israel will ever be achieved and what on earth does Tony Blair do as Special Envoy to the Middle East? Why is he special? Huh, Eh Tony try bringing peace talks to these stick-wielding, wrestling, knee-jerking clutch of future Google programmers - then you might make peace inroads in the Middle East.
So with grinding consideration I have decided that this benign smile is far too passive aggressive and an untrue form of communication. It’s not what it seems and I must ‘practice what I preach’ in this responsibility laden arena of child rearing.  If worn too often one could become aloof and untouchable. Why not just be up front and admit everything isn’t rosy and grand rearing 5 lads  - moving forward I will only bring  out 'the smile' for very special occasions or in times of extreme emotional crises when it’s just too distressing for the listener to have to hear why I feel like doing any or all of the following  - checking into a spa retreat for 4 days just because I’m worth it, eating my youngest son’s weight in hydrogenated fats, driving around the block more times than is healthy with Alanis Morrisette blaring her lyrics through the car…I can relate to being [I’m sane but I'm overwhelmed, I'm lost but I'm hopeful, baby].
After my 4th lap around the block I return home feeling convinced that [what it all comes down to is that everything's gonna be fine, fine, fine…cause I’ve got one hand in my pocket and other one is giving a high-five] Thanks Alanis for memories of what it was like before school lunch boxes and the shrilling experience of piano duet practice with the 8 year olds.

We decided to go out for lunch on Sunday.  Everyone was physically tired after sporting activities and a school sponsored walk on Saturday.  Summer exams are looming for the 14 yr old. He’s finding it hard to focus and he knows he’s heading into 3 weeks of his parents badgering him to do ‘effective studying’. I notice he’s already making himself invisible around the house and avoiding ‘kitchen time’ where pending family agendas get discussed.  Admittedly I’m also not in the mood for 'effective studying' and I'm too hungry for the discipline and organization that I need to instill around this task. It would mean suggesting a quiet activity for the younger ones and trying to instill calm in the house. I’m preoccupied fantasizing about roast chicken and chips in a basket with a cold restorative glass of Coke. Off we trundle to a local country Inn renowned for this aforementioned dish. The seating arrangements are perfect for a family of 7 in the bar area as they have relatively long tables with comfortable padded benches either side. We arrive before the lunch rush and procure the best table close to the open fire. The boys are in good form. I feel calm and relieved not to be standing at our Aga wondering how to invent a good meal from leftovers and poorly stocked cupboards. We order our Cokes and my husband nips over to the shop to buy the papers. I’m attempting to deflect our lunch conversation away from WIFI connections, mobile phone apps and sports so I try launching into some politics….’I mean this is kind of studying right?’ I think as the parenting guilt sinks in We try and work out the ‘who, when, what, why, where’ surrounding the posters for local elections and European elections – a matrix we’re not knowledgeable enough to work out. ‘I think I’m politically ‘apathetic’ and ‘cynical’ on domestic political affairs’, I vaguely tell the family….the children look at me blankly but all is not lost as the twins now know two new words that  they can use in their ‘new word’ list  for next week’s homework. Academia by osmosis is your best friend when it works.
We enjoy our main courses and allow the 4 yr old his 21st century addiction – my husband’s mobile phone equipped with the latest buzz games so all is peaceful and well with the world. That is until the 14 yr old springs forward with his latest incendiary question that we as adults only think but not say. Just to put you in the picture, he’s great at these conversation stoppers and has been known to put our extended family into moments of cold war with his flame throwing remarks.
Sitting back tapping his fingers on the table, assuming the posture of the gentle interrogator he nonchalantly says
‘So when you two divorce who’s going with who, I mean you have far too many children and it’s not possible for one of you to look after 5 of us?’
I say’ Honestly, why are you asking such a question?’
My husband says ‘Well I don’t know about you lot but I’m going with your Mum’, you’ll all just have to work out the rest yourselves.
The 12 yr old goes ‘See, I told you, he prefers Mum to us’
The 14yr old says ‘Well it’s 2.2 for me…and I’ll be living in the city, 5 is just ridiculous….well, maybe…I think…’
These are wise words from the boy’s mouth. Rearing kids can be ridiculously exhausting and funny especially if they are 5 boys between the ages of 4 and 14.

Monday, March 26, 2012


The sun is shining, we are officially in 'summer time' and Easter is just around the corner. 'Four more sleeps' till the holidays - Yippee.

Well, it's time to hand over the spotlight to the bunnies. Sheep, horses, squirrels et al are only bit part players for the next couple of weeks. Oh bunnies, we love you but just please stay away from my vegetable garden. I was reminded of these cute creature's mischief very early this morning whilst taking up hems and sewing on name tags to my eldest son's cricket trousers and shirt - a sure sign summer.  A touch bleary eyed, needle, thread and cup of tea in hand I gradually normalised to a somewhat civil state. All the signs of a beautiful day were outside - blue sky, bird song, dew on the grass and BUNNIES hopping delightfully in and out of our vegetable garden - checking out the lay of the land; seeing what's new in the herbaceous border. The cheeky little things....and you thought I was sleeping and wouldn't see, but as you are so fluffy and adorable I shall sit and observe and enjoy...we celebrate you with our designs..

To celebrate Easter we want to introduce our first colouring sheet inspired by our graphic print range. Time to get out the pencils and put your colourful mark on our Easter bunnies at Ballard Farm design. To print out click on


Enjoy colouring and if you'd like to see your finished works up on our blog please do email a photo or scanned copy of them back to us and we will post them up.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

What is a fair price for a fair product?

Currently the textile industry is facing challenges at the coalface; shops are having to pare back on the amount of stock that they carry; consumers have far more choice with the advent of discount stores and websites; In general the worldwide shift away from abundant consumerism is no longer a choice for most in the west. That said I have great belief that smaller businesses and brands will fare well in the future. Mass production will catch up with the bigger cheaper brands; there is a glut of at-a-glance-bargain-priced last season's styles filling up the discount stores' rails - great for the typical shopper who doesn't care for this season's shade of canary yellow, seemingly good for our household budgets but our grandchildren will not thank us for the long term knock on effects that today's consumer society will leave as a legacy. This selling model is a testament to the fact that there is still overproduction of goods in the world - a quandary for any manufacturer as we(the consumer) all want to buy cheaper goods, or do we? Cheap production equals massive minimum production runs which is why big brands can firstly afford to sell to discount companies and secondly have so much surplus stock. It's a daunting scenario as retail has bred consumers who are addicted to shopping in sale or discount outlets. Middle and lower priced brands have fallen for the trap of short term discounting at the expense of long term viability, ie; if you cross this threshold of discounting you can never go back. Once you become a discounting brand, that price tag becomes the only relevant price that the consumer cares about - the RRP price(above the discount price) becomes only a selling gimmick in tricking the customer into assuming a big saving has just been made by making that purchase. What we want for our brand is 'a fair price for a fair product' and to spend our energy communicating this to our customers; A transparent understanding of our design and manufacturing ethos is part of what we want to share with our customer. Your feedback is important.

On a visit to a Tibetan refugee camp in India we met with fair trade weavers. Gorgeous hand made rugs can be commissioned - by no means a cheap product but priced in accordance with giving a fair living wage to workers.

Deflationary Spirals 

Nothing like the instant rush of scoring a bargain.. Recession puts choice and options into perspective; need to get somewhere- we look for the cheapest option, not the most comfortable or scenic one. I am guilty of the parody of thrift. Groupon is a buzz word -tempting! But I know that basing my life around Groupon offers is undermining the viability of those businesses. By saving money we are deflating the world; Good on the one hand - cheaper essential items and so on and so forth but eventually we will all deflate ourselves out of a job. As we say, deflation is great until it happens to us and our pay or jobs have been cut. 
So remember when you're buying something, you are buying it from a person and that someone, somewhere in the world has made it. The price that you pay needs to reflect a true cost and needs to give that person a living wage - One day you might be that person.
Workers live and educate their families at the Tibetan centre. A communal feeling of good work ethics and sensible husbandry of the land is felt throughout. I bought into what I believe to be 'a fair price for a fair product'.