The vegetable garden suffered this year. Not only was the weather appalling but the Husband, lulled into a false sense of security by our bunny-killing machine (aka Puddy Cat), took down the rabbit-proof fence – the week before the cat up and died on us. It didn’t take long before the rabbits realised that our newly planted leeks, beans and kale were an all-you-can-eat buffet. The only things that survived were a few plants of perpetual spinach, some Swiss chard – and, thankfully, the squash.
Although we had at least a week of summertime flip-flop days, May seems to have regressed to the cold and damp of early April. Weather like this – today it rained for the afternoon and just didn’t stop – means a return to cold weather soup recipes, warming comfort food for wintery-feeling evenings. This lentil soup recipe – for I believe that you can never have too many lentil recipes in your repertoire – is from Domini Kemp, of Itsabagel fame (all time favourite bagel? Definitely a Mountaineer), and was published in one of her Irish Times pieces a few weeks ago. I made it that very week and we loved it but then finer weather (and PSB) came on the scene so I put away my soup recipes – but not for too long, as it turned out.
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.
Our last Bibliofemme bookclub – for The Rum Diaries by Hunter S Thompson – was held at my flat on a rapidly-darkening autumn evening. The previous evening had been cold and dreary as I walked home from my webmaster course so I decided to start a soup, leave it sit overnight, and then finish it off as the girls arrived. I’d recently come across a Julie Le Clerk‘s version of Harira in an old copy of Cuisine so this was a good opportunity to try it out. I had made a meatless version of this last year in Christchurch but this time I was going to make a meal in a bowl, stuffed with lamb, lentils, chickpeas and, after a look at Claudia Roden’s version of the fast-breaking soup, haricot beans.
Last week we were going to one of the semi-regular dinner parties hosted by our friend the Tax Advisor. The Tax Advisor loves to host – but he doesn’t cook. For years now he has been hosting these dinner parties in his city centre apartment while the other guests come bearing food and dishes and, on several occasions, spare chairs!For the first dinner in his new flat, there were eight guests. This time there was no point in bringing spare chairs as the Tax Advisor doesn’t have a table. Or many plates. Or any serving spoons. Or a sharp knife. So, faced with such a lack of utensils, I decided to cook the dish that I was going to bring for dinner at home the night before. As a couple of the guests are vegetarian, it gave me an opportunity to work on one of my favourite meatless recipes from last year – Chickpea and Tomato Curry.
Coming across some raw chorizo sausage recently at Verkerks‘ butchers I decided to try out one of the recipes from the Mediterranean Café’s Tapas Evening. I also wanted to try out the Spanish smoked paprika that Chef Nik had used with such success that night but, naturally, the recipe sheet had disappeared. Still, if I’ve something in my mind, I don’t normally let something small like the lack of a recipe dissuade me.
The Middle Eastern soup Harira has cropped up in several of the different cookbooks and magazines that I’ve been reading lately. It’s a thick, near solid, nourishing soup (it can be so thick that it’s close to getting called a stew!) which was traditionally served to break the Muslim fast during the month of Ramadan but what drew me to it was the fact that it combines both chickpeas and lentils – two of my favourite ingredients. Most recipes also include lamb but, due to my lack of funds when I made this, my soup was almost vegetarian, save for the chicken stock.
There are days in winter – and spring, and autumn – when you wake up to wet and wild mornings and the only thing to do is spend the day indoors, with occasional rain-coated excursions for walks to avoid claustrophobia. Digging through Tamasin Day Lewis’ Weekend Food on one such day, I discovered a recipe for Pork Hock and Bean Casserole that made me go digging in the freezer to find the cheap meaty pork hock that I’d purchased last month.