9 January 2016

Beyond belief

News from Europe 2016

Italian female football team play on in face of mafia-style intimidation
Lousy humour or misogyny - a league blog post gives offence among hockey enthusiasts
Mass assualts on women on New Year’s Eve 

Beyond belief.

4 January 2016

Christmas romantic

As well as embracing the Christian reasons and values of the holiday I am also a true Christmas romantic. For as long as I can remember I have cherished and enjoyed the build-up to and celebration of Christmas. And thus, inevitably, I find it hard to let go. With the tedium and crassness of everyday life looming ahead I long to remain in my bubble of season cheer.

Every year, however, the romantic retreats and a life-affirming realist emerges to rule supreme until darkness descends in November when - to the tunes of carols, cinnamon, oranges and wine - I will be cocooning again.

3 January 2016

Ladies who lunch

Having a friend I seldom see over for lunch is one of my favourite pastimes. Yesterday we enjoyed leftovers from the New Year's party and had a long chat that lasted over three courses, Moët Chandon, Valpolicella, tea, biscotti and almond liquer until my friend was picked up to be whisked off to another party. Next time we see each other we will pick up where we left off without the slightest bit of difficulty. The joy of effortless friendship.

11 August 2015

2 August 2015

Survival tip of a returning English teacher 2

Reacquaint yourself with your old neighbourhood and you'll remember why you bought an apartment there in the first place. However, do feel free to hanker for the glow of the setting sun through the windows in your other home.

I miss this.

31 July 2015

Survival tip of a returning English teacher 1

Put the cookie stamp that arrived in the mail to good use, immediately. (The stamp came all the way from America so I'm not too far off topic.) Rejoice in the marvellousness of the ensuing cookies and eat them.

21 November 2014

Gastro tourism

If you have neither time nor money to travel all the 500 and something kilometers northwest of Stockholm for a memorable meal at Fäviken in Åre you can opt for a more accessible option. I did and it was great. Dinner at restaurant EKSTEDT in Stockholm was a revelation. I'm truly fond of any chef who manages to delight, tickle and surprise. 

From the single oyster on a bed of seaweed to the pigeon served with a smooth charred blood pudding my tastebuds were singing. I was nearly crying for it is a rare chef who combines common sense, inspiration and - what Florrie at Ballymaloe called TLC - Tender Loving Care. 

I will go back. Find a cheap flight, be content with cheap accommodation and then splash out on a proper meal. That's my kind of gastro tourism and while waiting I can look forward to another occasion: the unveiling of my very own bresaola

A bundle of joy that needs at least four
weeks to mature in the larder.

8 November 2014

Less sugar

Sugar is our new enemy. I'm telling you now unless you hadn't noticed. I understand the downside of too much sugar; my liver can't cope with it and turns excess sugar into fat. Which is not what I need. So, I decided to abstain. In fact I've resolved to do so often lately but something always happens to derail my plan. 

Yesterday it was the very nice man in the organic food shop who gave me a packet of milk chocolate flakes. Well I couldn't say no to that offer and since chocolate is a product with a finite shelf life (my bag of choc flakes will expire on the 28 November) I made these velvety milk chocolate pots - sans the raspberries. 

If you ask me, these velvety milk chocolate pots will have been eaten by Monday and then I can start avoiding sugar. Again.

Muted November colours

Nature always knows how to put on a show, even in muted November colours. So much beauty on display without anybody making any effort and it's all for free.

22 September 2014

Autumn fare

Temperatures have dropped 10 degrees since Saturday but I'm not complaining. While I suffer in the kind of sticky heat we had in July and August I thrive in cooler temperatures. I get focused and I get things done.

So, yesterday I got working on my autumn fare and made Nigel Slater's lamb hotpot. Gloriously easy and delicious!

9 August 2014

Hot baking

Yeast dough rising like mad in the unusually hot kitchen
Sunflower bread for a wedding in August

26 June 2014

Quiet time

No guests at Klippan means quiet time and time to catch up on laundry - both private and the company kind. The chilly winds blowing in straight from the Artic Sea (feels like it at least) did manage to dry my bed linen in no time at all so I'll have an extremely crisp and clean bed this evening.

20 May 2014

Prepping for Ireland

The Kerrygold Ballymaloe LitFest of Food and Wine proved a great experience. Under the calm tutelage of chef David Tanis I felt I was prepping for Ireland. And boy were we down to details. I was deconstructing wild garlic flowers for a good part of Saturday afternoon and I hope they went down well. They looked beautiful!

Wild garlic grows in great abundance around Ballymaloe

8 May 2014

A thought for Nigerian girls

A quiet morning at work and I have time to catch up on my studies. Religious food practices is the topic for today and I feel fortunate to be able to be sitting here - in peace and quiet - studying and gathering knowledge without some person telling me that I really ought to be sold as a slave in the market or be married off - double quick.

For the abducted Nigerian girls the first is as bad as the other.

7 May 2014

One of the perks

Going for my morning run is a chore no more. Definitely one of the perks of working in a fairly remote location of natural beauty.

4 May 2014

A lunch ruined

Today my lunch was ruined by a senior citizen who sat down opposite me - two tables away - and who wouldn't stop staring. I'm used to walking into cafés and restaurants by myself, sitting down and ordering something from the menu. I did so today and thoroughly enjoyed the fried herring in a butter and capers sauce.

Hadn't it been for the chap who shared every bit of my lunch I would have lingered much longer. From the salad through the fish main course to the cherry rum top with vanilla ice cream my lunch was not my own.

How odd. And annoying.

21 April 2014

What do you do

What do you do when your sister and brother-in-law hand you freshly caught perch - already gutted and filleted? I'll tell you what you should do! You should rush home to harvest the tenderest sprigs of chives and lovage barely poking out of the ground, you should go inside and fry your precious produce in butter with a little salt. I did and now it's bliss and loveliness all around.

20 April 2014

Easter in the kitchen

Four days of cooking for 40 people ended with a finale of chicken tagine and an enormous dish of pascha which was gobbled up in no time at all. What a joy to cook when you have appropriate facilities and a rock-steady crew to help you out.

2 April 2014

At work

After attending the health-and-hygiene-in-food lecture yesterday I drove straight to my workplace and spent my first day just strolling around. We're between seasons and winter still lingers. No food yet but I did try the oven roasting some chicken thighs.

31 March 2014

Next step

After three months of doing work practice in a school kitchen I'm ready to move on to doing a season as matron at a summer camp. Tomorrow is my first day and I will spend it getting an update on the dos and don'ts of kitchen hygiene. Well worth doing since a health inspector is bound to come poking around later on in the season.

Over the next two months I'll do my best to find a way to implement my Ballymaloe-ideas on a low budget. A good place to start is getting that herb garden going!

25 February 2014

April in February

I accept this April weather in February! Without difficulty. Our garden has even started landscaping itself. We now have a pond that threw lovely reflections into the cottage this morning. Too bad I don't have a picture.

6 February 2014

Obsessive compulsive washing-up disorder

An obsessive compulsive disorder emerges whenever I do the washing up at work. I have to do the yellow trays separate from the red ones. Glasses and mugs have to be arranged separately in a certain way in order to allow the maximum amount to go in the machine with each cycle. I always sort the forks before the knives when they come out of the machine and I can't have bits floating around in the sink.

Some (Irish) people might call this being anal.

I prefer efficient. Or organised.

Either or.

5 February 2014

Happy days in the school kitchen

It's a lovely thing to fry homemade fish cakes made from locally caught fish and serve them piping hot IN THE SCHOOL KITCHEN.

I'm happy!

12 January 2014

New insights

I get new insights as I putter around in my kitchen. I did everything right when I made the yoghurt cake with lemon curd from Darina Allen's cookbook Forgotten Skills. Everything, except using cold pressed rapeseed oil instead of sunflower oil.

Please note that the overall result is substandard, it tastes weird and now I will have to make it all again.

22 December 2013

Solidarity and generosity

Just this morning I read about the brutal murder of organist Alan Greaves in Sheffield a year ago. On Christmas Eve this year his widow will embrace his murderers in prayer and all over the country choirs will sing a carol composed by Bob Chilcott especially for this occasion.

"Even before the carol could be printed and distributed, the music publishers Oxford University Press were inundated with requests from choirs who wanted to sing it this Christmas. To cope with demand, Chilcott allowed the printed music to be made available as a free download, meaning the carol can now be sung at midnight masses up and down the country."

I'm always cheered up by such stories of solidarity and generosity. If only we could see more of them in our own small daily lives.

21 December 2013

Faffing around

I still haven't settled back into my everyday rhythm after the mad intensity of the 12 week course. Therefore my Christmas preparations have been slightly erratic. Between walks in the woods, making fudge and decorating the cottage I've been mostly napping and faffing around.

They're yummy
My Christmas branch

9 December 2013

What the!

What just happened there? 12 weeks just zipped past! I'm back amongst people who do not breathe and live food 10 hours a day. Weird.

7 December 2013

Last post from Ballymaloe

Leaving is bittersweet because you leave something of yourself behind but you also take something away with you. Both things make you a richer person than you were before you came.

2 December 2013

Early in December

It is early in December but I can still quote Tove Jansson's novel Late in November. She writes: "A departure is a very abrupt thing, it springs upon you! All of a sudden everything changes and the one who is to travel cherishes every minute."

In one week I'll be on my way home to Finland. I will miss so many things. Walking up to the school early in the morning. Sitting by the fire with my housemates, processing and analysing and laughing. I will miss all the people who have made my twelve weeks at Ballymaloe an adventure and a delight. I will miss the hens and the dogs and the gardens.

I have one week left and I am going to cherish it, just like Tove said.

1 December 2013

The most humane way

Two live lobsters were boiled in demo on Friday. Rachel assured us that she was going to cook them in the most humane way possible. Nowadays I'm not at all squeamish about these things and I didn't flinch as Emer secured the lid of the pan with two weights to prevent the lively lobsters from upsetting the entire arrangement.

I remember the first time I cooked crayfish. There was both shouting and commotion and I was recently reminded that at one point I even managed to pull down the curtains - accidentally I might add. However, as the crayfish quickly changed from dark brown or grey to bright red we accepted the fact that they had suddenly metamorphosed from living beings into food.

Although I'm unfazed by this particular aspect of being a carnivore the next time I put anything that kicks into a saucepan I will recall Rachel's words about the creatures being lulled to sleep in water slowly brought to the boil, images of sunny rockpools floating through their crustacean minds. 

That's humane enough for both human and crustacean.

Emer Fitzgerald and Rachel Allen - chefs extraordinaire