So much time, so little to cheese (misquoting Mr. Wonka).
The delightful market at Saint Vivian de Medoc. I shopped for food and cooked everyday but you could hardly call this work.
My mornings looked like this…
…and I spent a lot of time in this position:
The first thing I buy whenever I visit France is a tray of petit suisse. It’s a soft, creamy cheese that the French eat with a spoonful of sugar. I ate at least one every day of the holiday which might explain the extra three kilos I carried home on my person.
As might this…
…confit de canard. Oh Dear Lord, this stuff is mighty good. The duck joints must be carefully extracted from the encasing fat and then crisped up in a hot pan. I sautéed potato cubes in the fat for good measure.
Follow that up with a fine apricot custard tart and some chilled Sauternes on the side.
On the anniversary of the first barbecue that Husband made for me, twenty-five years ago, he and Teenage Son took over the cooking (and Teenage Son fired the clay pots he made at the beach).
Those foil bundles are potatoes shmeared with leftover goosefat. Point of information: should you ever find yourself with half a French baguette, a cup of leftover goosefat and a barbecue…go for it, Nirvana awaits.
Not neglecting any opportunity to add cheese:
Our second batch of foil packages contained peaches and cherries. The cake was an almond sponge.
A petit suisse for complete indulgence and the last of the Sauternes. I cannot remember any better dessert. Ever.
I was tipsy enough to wear a daisy tiara and attempt a Titanic pose but stopped short of singing…
The farmyard at Ballymaloe was a hive of activity during Litfest 2016, thronged with celebrity participants and eager foodies. Pork crackled on spits and craft cider was swilled with an air of orgiastic revelry.
Just a stone’s throw away, the gardens remained an oasis of serenity and order.
The walled kitchen garden was a particular delight.
I was wildly impressed to see these cherries ripening against a wall. My mind is spinning with possibilities…if I only had a wall!
But then, these beauties took my breath away. I couldn’t resist rubbing my thumb against the, well, peachy skin. Wonderful.
A few links I liked:
I bought some seeds from Brown Envelope Seeds. http://www.brownenvelopeseeds.com/
They have a huge selection, beautifully packaged and their brown paper catalogue is a thing of beauty in itself. Their blog is fascinating.
They have some cute gift box ideas. I thought the idea of giving new parents the seeds to grow their baby’s first dinner was a sweet one. Wouldn’t this be a fantastic baby shower gift?
Impressed as I am by Teenage Son’s talent as a whittler (read here), I have been drooling over Hewn.ie. Eamonn has the embryo of a very well written blog and it’s just impossible not to like him. It’s quite shocking to the system when you come across a talented craftsman and your first thought is, ‘his mother must be very proud’.
Middle Girl went on a school tour yesterday to The West Cork Secret (http://www.westcorksecret.ie/) and had the time of her life. If you are looking for somewhere you can bring your kids to, literally, roll around in the mud, this is your spot.
Keeping it Local, I bought chocolate and cocoa husk tea from Clonakilty Chocolate . The chocolate is amazing. It’s not cheap but they deliver free in Ireland. The jury is split on the tea. I like it and have discovered that I can make the tea and then use the tea to top up an espresso, making a chocolate-hinted Americano. Now that is stupendous. I could start a new trend.
My Granny was habitually early. People consider punctuality a virtue but it’s not necessarily so. Being early for mass meant that we sat much longer than required on the hard benches of the church. Being early for the bus exposed us for longer to the freezing wind and the neighbour’s curiousity.
Granny’s clock-watching drove my Mum crazy. If Gran wanted to get the 6.30 train back to Dublin she would tell Mum that she was aiming for the 5.30. She would insist on being dropped at the train station an hour early, to get her ticket and use the bathroom and buy the newspaper and get a good non-smoking, forward-facing seat close to the restaurant carriage. Like as not, she’d wouldn’t be able to resist hopping on to the last seat on the 4.30 train. You see, it wasn’t the bathroom or the newspaper or the quality of seat that mattered, it was the being early.
My mother, perhaps in rebellion, became the World Champion of Tardiness. She seems to believe that, if she has an appointment at X O’Clock, then as long as she leaves the house by one minute to X, she will defeat laws of physics and travel to her destination in exactly zero time, leaving her one minute to change out of her magic ruby driving shoes and check her phone messages.
I have long, tedious memories of hanging over the school railings, waiting. I invented waiting games. I would decide that Mum was sure to arrive after the next orange car passed. Nope. Following that, I might determine that she would surely arrive before twenty more cars drove by. Thirty. Still no sign of her. Fifty?
To be fair, I am sure there were days when she was there, on time, as the melee of screaming girls packaged themselves into cars, slamming doors and driving away. I just don’t remember those days. I remember the long, quiet, tedious waiting days.
Whether it’s one of those weird recessive genes that sometimes skips a generation, or merely a reaction to all that time watching out for orange cars… I lean heavily towards punctuality. That’s an understatement. In fact, it’s a downright lie. I am chronically and incurably early.
It’s a boring affliction. I rush about in a panic and worry that I will be late just as much as the genuinely late person…I just do it with time to spare.
The result is that I, and the people attached to me, spend far too much time in that most soul-destroying of activities…waiting.
At the cinema, I watch every trailer and wait for the movie to start. I arrive too early to parties and stand awkwardly waiting for the room to fill. I have, no word of a lie, sat with my children in the car waiting for their school to open. I have learned to be comfortable sitting alone in coffee shops…waiting. I have been the first person on the train, right next to the coffee cart, facing forward …waiting.
Remember last week when I told you that I put all my seedlings out too early… and lost them all to a late frost. That wouldn’t be the first time.
Of course, earliness has advantages. I WILL get those concert tickets, or the early-bird bargain or the bird’s-eye view. When we went to see Billy Joel, I was practically sitting in his lap.
But it’s not about all that stuff. That’s just like Granny’s newspaper and forward-facing seat. The point is to be prepared. To be ready for anything. The point is to be early so that when life, as it so often does, throws some unscheduled crisis into the works, I have an advantage. Time.
Time, considered by many to be their enemy, is my most reliable ally.
So, I set my alarm and pack a good book and prepare myself for waiting. The hope is that, when the catastrophe comes, I will at least have time on my side.
This weekend, I brought my family on a forest walk to see the bluebells. Take a good look at the photograph above. All that those green plants…bluebells. Sigh. Yes, I was too early. We walked farther and farther into the woods in hope of discovering a glade in full bloom. There were a few flowers, dotted here and there, but the big show is still a few weeks away.
As it turned out, we had a glorious afternoon.
The girls searched for fairy dwellings.
The dog ran around gleefully. Have you ever seen a gleeful Cockapoo? It takes some beating, I can tell you. There was no possibility of photgraphing him…he was just a furry blur of glee for the duration.
We were early for bluebells but exactly on time for wood anenomes (Anenome nemorosa). All the way up, at the top of the hill, we found the perfect sunny glade. We sat on the forest floor and laughed at the dog and took a few selfies and lived in the moment.
And then we went berry-picking. No really, actual berry-picking.
I could tell you where we went to pick blackberries, sloes and damsons but then, as the saying goes, I’d have to kill you.
While out gathering wild garlic this Spring I met a chef on the same mission.
The over-powering force of my wit and beauty charmed him into giving me the secret location of the damson trees. Sadly, I had to kill him.
Discovering the secret location was but half the adventure. The ripe damsons were in the highest branches so a volunteer was required to clamber up. Fourth baby was not kind to my pelvic floor. Her departure from my body looked like this:
Let’s just say my tree-climbing days are over. Brave Husband took up the challenge.
He threw the damsons down and I stood below catching. I have to tell you; it was more fun than shopping. Berry-picking wins.
Even Brave Husband couldn’t reach these apples.
He approached that tree from every angle but was rebuffed at every attempt. A win for the birds.
The blackberries this year are insipid.
We picked a few but had a better prize within our sights.
Sloes. These are the fruit of the blackthorn. These little suckers are bitter and astringent. I kick myself every time for being daft enough to try one. It’s like trying to eat a doughnut without licking your lips; you just can’t pick berries without eating them. Your question is; why are they such a prize?
My answer to you is; Sloe gin.
Is gin featuring too prominently on this blog? Perhaps I took Fagin’s words too much to heart. Watch this, it’s only 4 seconds of good advice.
I’ve slightly altered my theory.
Shopping gratifies the instinct to go berry-picking but that urge can only be truly satisfied by, obviously, going berry-picking.
I have a theory about shopping. It’s just berry-picking. I think that shopping satisfies our innate urge to pick berries. To scan, select, check, reject, pick, stroll, repeat. It feels good, doesn’t it? It feels better than it logically should.
I grow-my-own, sew-my-own, do-it-myself week in, week out and all that can be extremely satisfying, but, I still love shopping.
I’m not talking about the nightmare late-August trip to get shoes for four feral children. I’m thinking of the leisurely browse through a bookshop, judiciously scanning shelves, considering and rejecting book after book; too serious, too frivolous, just right. I’m imagining the tension-busting hour in a yarn shop, considering whether this one will complement my hair or that one will feel scratchy against my neck. I think the feel-good factor relies on having the expectation of finding some good, ripe and within budget berries. In the short term, there’s no fun if you don’t find any berries at all. In the longer term, a berry-stained Visa bill isn’t much fun either.
Husband and I were badly in need of some quiet time together. A berry-picking expedition seemed like just the thing. My shopping list was a short one; I needed to stock up on spices and I thought I might continue my search for a brooch.
As we walked out of the car park I heard my favourite busker. This man manages to produce a thundering noise from that small piano that reverberates in my chest and makes my heart swell. I only see him once or twice a year, rarely enough to still be a treat, just often enough to seem a familiar face.
A shortcut through a bookshop took twice as long, of course. Then to the market. This is berry-picking heaven.
Mind you, I can live without the tripe and drisheen (tripe is the lining of a sheep’s stomach, drisheen a type of blood pudding).
Our reward, for successfully buying spices, was lunch at the Triskel.
I love this place.
It’s an oasis of calm with superb cheese sandwiches. What more could you ask for?
A custard tart maybe?
It was just about perfect, despite the rain. I made one completely frivolous and unnecessary purchase. A friend of mine years ago gifted me the golden rule question to ask myself when I’m deliberating about buying something: Does it make you do a little dance? Husband watched me try this hat on and declared that I was actually jiggling up and down so, I guess that counts.
We couldn’t resist a nosey around The Vintage Quarter. Nostalgia Quarter more like, they seem to rely on selling you things you had as a child (vintage Ludo, toy typewriter) or things you didn’t have as a child but desired (toy loom, chopper bike). I love browsing vintage and secondhand shops. It sparks my sense of quirky.
I couldn’t convince Husband that what we really need in our hall is an old church candle stand (you know, the kind that you put five pence in and lit a candle before your exams?). But, guess what?
I found a brooch.
Can shopping make you happy? I felt happy when I was looking forward to a day out with my husband. I felt happy when I heard the piano guy. I felt happy as we strolled, hand-in-hand past the tripe and drisheen. I feel happy writing about our day out and I plan on spending some happy hours making a scarf to match my new hat. Of course, that will involve some more happy yarn-shopping. I think the baby toe on my right foot is getting a little bit jiggy.
Venice has Murano, Sorrento has Capri, San Francisco has Alcatraz and Cork, well… Cork has Spike. For well over two hundred years the people of Cork could admire, but never set foot on, Spike Island. Now we can and it makes a great day out.
The island housed a monastery as early as the 7th century. In 1779 a defensive star-fort was built on the island due to its strategic position in the centre of the harbour. The fort was later used as a military prison and a holding centre for convicts awaiting deportation. The British army finally left Fort Westmoreland in 1938. It was renamed Fort Mitchell but continued to serve as a prison until 2004.
I’ve never quite managed to picture the geography of the harbour in my head. It’s huge. It’s a wiggly shape and it’s dotted all over with islands. A walk around the star-shaped fort walls gave a 360 degree tour of Cork that should probably be on the school curriculum!
We got tea and scones from the prison gym and ate at picnic tables in the courtyard.
A tour of the modern prison cells was shocking. This place must have been a pit of misery.
On our return journey we got a nice view of the offices of the White Star Line in Cobh (Queenstown).
Irish emigrants, in their thousands, embarked for a new life from this jetty.
On January 1st 1892, 17 year-old Annie Moore and her two brothers were the first emigrants processed through the newly opened Ellis Island facility. They were reunited with their parents who had been living in Manhattan for four years.
Most famously, on April 10th, 1912, 123 passengers (you can read their names here) boarded small tenders here which then rowed, around Spike Island, to the join the Titanic which lay anchored in deep water at the mouth of the harbour. They were the last to board.
On our way home today we stopped off at Coole Park, the home of Lady Augusta Gregory. Lady Gregory was a dramatist and co-founder of the Abbey Theatre. Her house served as a meeting place for the stars of the Irish literary scene during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
Here we see WB Yeats waxing lyrical with the ladies in the garden.
Here he is again, posing on the steps. He was a great man for a good pose.
I think this is my favourite. What a pair! They seem to have been hugely fond of each other.
Tragically, the contents of this house were auctioned off following Lady Gregory’s death in 1932 and the house was demolished in 1941. The 1000 acre park remains as a nature reserve and the stable block now houses a small visitors centre.
In 1898, Lady Gregory asked the visiting W.B. Yeats to carve his name in a copper beech tree in her walled garden. A long list of luminaries followed his example.
The woods are even more magical than the gardens. The trees stand as silent witnesses.
Mr. Finch, Mr. Darcy, guard your pedestals; there is a new hero on the horizon. Captain Poldark has fairly taken my breath away.
I’ve finished the first book, Ross Poldark. I enjoyed it so much I braved the rain yesterday to walk up to Charlie Byrne’s for the next two books. There are twelve books and I am all aquiver to be at the start of an adventure with the handsome Captain.
I’m not sure what to say; it’s just a good story, well written. The young Captain Poldark is sent off to war as a trouble -magnet boy and returns a man. In his absence, his one true love has gone and married his cousin and Ross retreats to Nampara, his home, to re-build the family business.
I hadn’t realised how old the books were. They have a really pleasant, old-fashioned feel about them. The first book was published in 1945. The BBC have twice adapted these stories into TV dramas. When the first series aired in the 1970s, it was deemed unsuitable for children (ie, me) and it was surrounded by an air of scandal.
I somehow missed the start of the new series earlier this year but it has had great reviews. I’m told that Colin Firth’s magnificent wet shirt scene has been superseded by Aidan Turner with a scythe. I will be looking that up as soon as I get home!
The photos are from the coral strand at Carraroe but I imagine the land around Nampara is not so different.
We had a lovely day today at this very special place. To the lady who recommended a midnight swim on this beach; I want the details. Exactly when and with whom were you swimming????!!!! lol.
Five days in Galway and we have had torrential rain broken only by intermittant drizzle and spiced up by gale force winds.
We frog-marched the family up the promenade last night only to watch Teenage Daughter’s ice-cream get blown off her cone. That’s a first. We’ve been to the museum (‘it’s alright’), the aquarium (‘it’s very good’) and the swimming pool (twice). We’ve read A LOT of books and even had a draughts (checkers) championship.
Guess who won.
Ice-cream malfunction aside, food (and Charlie Byrne’s) has been our greatest consolation. The streets of Galway are lined, cheek by jowl, with purveyors of fine food.
Sheridans is cheesie heaven. They offer a three tier cheese wedding cake for which I would consider a second marriage.
I happened across Griffin’s Conger sourdough on our first day and we haven’t looked back.
I guess the loaf is about the size of a conger eel and the staff cut off a piece to suit you. Genius.
The outright winner has been Dough Bros Pizza. These guys have a wood-fired oven at the back of a small, pretty basic shop.
The furnishings seem to be a mix of upcycled, recycled and borrowed from their Granny’s dining room. The pizzas, served on brown bags, were smoky, charred, proper and utterly scrumptious.
There was only one option for dessert; a Double Decker chocolate bar wrapped in dough and baked in the oven. Who could resist? Oh my, this was twice as good as it looks.
Salty, chewy dough around stretchy nougat, crispy bits and melty chocolate.
I haven’t seen my family so happy since the day the puppy arrived.