It will be quiet around here this week as I have abandoned the Irish summer for some time soaking up the French sun with the Husband, the Teacher and the Tax Advisor. We have taken ourselves camping in the Vendée and Charente-Maritime regions on the Atlantic Coast for ten days, staying in small campsites and spending plenty of time investigating brioche and pain au chocolate, moules, abricots, glaces and galettes, along with cheese and wine of every description. Time now, perhaps, for another café au lait in the sunshine before we hit the beach. I can’t cope with the French keyboard any longer!
The perfect birthday? Take a day off work – this is always nicest if done midweek! – and book a night away in Gort na Nain, a vegetarian guesthouse near Nohoval outside Cork city, run by the welcoming Lucy Stewart and Ultan Walsh, vegetable growers and suppliers of vegetables to Café Paradiso, amongst other Cork restaurants. Drive there after work the day before your birthday, picking up the Husband en route, and arrive just in time for your pre-booked three-course dinner. Relax and savour Lucy’s fabulous cooking, using fresh-picked vegetables and fruit grown by Ultan, with the other (very entertaining) couple that happen to be staying there that night. Take a long walk to see the sea before tucking yourself into a large, comfortable bed in an bright and spacious room.
…in which Bibliocook pays a quick visit in the rain to Blackheath Farmers’ Market, picking up a log of goat’s cheese on the way, has dinner in a rather nice private room at The Punter in Cambridge, eats breakfast in Baker and Spice (while admiring the enormous rectangles of butter and jars of jam for sharing in the middle of the communal table, wondering idly how long it takes before the display is irretrievably destroyed) dashes into The Hummingbird Bakery to take a peep at their cupcakes, walks all the way from Richmond train station to Skye Gyngall‘s tea house at Petersham Nurseries only to discover – oh tragedy – that it is shut on Mondays, cooks dinner (a gnocchi dish, with Gubbeen cheese and chorizo imported by Caroline, very much adapted from an idea in this month’s delicious.) for the London-based Brother and his partner, pays homage – once again – at Books for Cooks and catches up with a former Ballymaloe classmate over dark Americanos, Mushrooms and Goat’s Cheese on Brioche and a Chocolate Loaf Cake at the Grocer on Elgin. Phew!
Transition from a full-time journalist’s job in Dublin to country-based student life is more than just packing a car, cleaning out the old flat and shifting down to the cottage. Mindless routines – the 45-minute stroll to work, a computer-based eight-hour stint, walking home mentally preparing supper, deciding whether to call into one of my favourite shops on the way (Mortons, Donnybrook Fair, Taste of Italy, Al-Khyrat) – suddenly become more precious as the days speed towards leaving the city. Only one thing to do: sidestep the whole situation by flying off to Girona in Spain the day after the move!
Unless absolutely necessary, I tend to avoid bed and breakfasts. I’ve stayed in many around Ireland and most experiences are nothing to write about – unless in a negative manner. Last year’s May Bank Holiday we were forced into B&B accommodation in Westport by weather unsuitable for camping. After we spent the evening avoiding a particularly racist guest, breakfast was enlivened by talk of the May Day flowers that had been left for our piseog-loving landlady. There was a landlady in Navan who thought we were only staying one night and could only offer us bed, no breakfast, for the second night. The best of the lot, however, has to be the Carlingford B&B where the bedroom was painted blood red – the walls, the ceiling, the skirting board, the bathroom even had a matching red toilet and bath! Most disturbing, I spent the night having nightmares about being trapped in a womb.
West Cork is undoubtedly a fantastic place to spend time in even if, as happened to us on last week’s communal honeymoon, it pours for most of the time. We were lucky enough to be staying in a wonderful cottage on Ardagh Castle Goat Farm but, with eight of the Husband’s family nearby in Baltimore and another half-dozen English Engineers staying out on the Sheep’s Head Peninsula, there wasn’t much time to properly appreciate the beautifully restored cottage! We did, however, get a chance to feast on the owner’s crumbly, Wensleydale-style Ardagh Castle Goat’s Cheese. A picnic hamper of Norfolk food specialities from two of the English Engineers yielded up a tube of Letheringsett Watermill Spelt Biscuits which had enough sweetness to marry happily with the cheese. Ardagh Castle Goat’s Cheese is only available locally around Baltimore and at the Saturday farmer’s market in Skibbereen but I’ve managed to export a large chunk of it to North Cork.
I’m heading off to Barcelona with the sister for three days in a few weekend’s time and I’d love some food suggestions! We’ve never been there before so this is completely new ground for us both. The Boyfriend has been recommending the “silky” coffee to me, the sister has lists of places to try out (she arrives several days before me) and, my appetite whetted by the Mediterranean Food Company’s tapas class and several nights consumption at Dublin’s Market Bar, I have every intention of eating my way through as much as possible of everything on offer in Barcelona.
New Zealand cafés still continue to surprise and delight me. A moist Spinach Risotto Cake at Reid’s Store during a break while driving to Nelson the morning after we arrived, eaten in bright sunshine outside on the decking was my re-introduction to café cooking, NZ style on this trip. There were other days of happy eating. Marinated Lamb on a Puy Lentil Salad with lemon yoghurt dressing at Nelson’s Morrison Street Café, with a glass of local sauvignon blanc; a sticky, dried fruit-packed, gluten free Ginger Slice with a long black, milk on the side (my coffee order of choice in NZ) in Muses Café, Motueka, en route to the Boyfriend’s family bach in Ngaio Bay; a last Christchurch breakfast of a fresh-baked savoury Spinach and Cream Cheese Muffin followed by an enormous date-studded sweet scone outside Veronica’s Café on New Regent Street, soaking up the last rays of sun as we watched the tourist trams going past.