Our first weekend of the year under canvas couldn’t exactly be called an unqualified success. We did actually remember to pack the sleeping bags (and Anzac Biscuit morale) but, despite such forethought, it wasn’t exactly the weather for camping in the west of Ireland. The heavens opened early on Sunday morning, raining us off Achill Island and we had to retreat to an old-school bed & breakfast in Westport back on mainland Mayo. At least we managed to have a cold, but fine, Friday night breaking our journey at the ever-reliable Lough Ree campsite in Ballykerran, near Athlone before moving on to the beautiful-on-a-fine-evening Seal Caves Park in Dugort on the north side of Achill Island. We cooked dinner outdoors on our little gas burner – a typical simple one-pot camping meal of Clonakilty Black Pudding, roughly chopped mushrooms and baked beans – and drank red wine in the still-warm late evening sunshine, feeling like summer had finally arrived.
A new arrival on the Dublin grocery scene is the gorgeous-looking Fallon & Byrne, a classy supermarket along the lines of Donnybrook Fair, on Exchequer Street in the city centre. They’ve been renovating the building for a while and, seeing it opened at last, I just popped in for a few minutes last Saturday week. A former telephone exchange, it’s an airy, echo-y space, all parquet floors and food everywhere. Right inside the door is a juice bar and, dotted around the periphery of the vast floor space, were also an in-store butchers, a long deli counter filled with take-home dishes, a coffee bar, complete with high stools and tables, and a well-stocked cheese and charcuterie counter which I could have spent the rest of the afternoon poring over.
Being back in Ireland now, I nearly forgot all about Anzac Day this year on 25 April and it wasn’t until a few days later that I got round to making the traditional batch of Anzac Biscuits for the Boyfriend. Although late for the day itself, this baking stint was perfectly timed for the weekend as we’re about to embark on a camping trip – the first one of the year (we hope to remember the sleeping bags this time!) – and it’s good to have some oaty biscuits to stave off starvation, or “for morale,” as the Boyfriend puts it.
With the unfamiliar sun putting on a show this past Sunday, it wasn’t a day to be spent indoors so the Boyfriend and I headed out to Dún Laoghaire for a walk. As we wandered along the seafront, I had to make the inevitable detour to the People’s Park for the Sunday market (check out Caitriona’s photos of a market in February here).
If you’re interested in learning about cooking, last week’s final RTÉ Winter Food radio programme focused on cookery schools in Ireland and abroad. I haven’t yet embarked on any cookery classes here but I very much enjoyed the few that I did in New Zealand at the Mediterranean Food Company and with cookery teacher extraordinaire Judith Cullen.
Ever since I’ve discovered the glories of butternut squash, there’s rarely a week goes by without it being added to a dish or several. As with pumpkin, I tend to use more Middle Eastern or Indian flavours in my squash dishes – cumin and coriander seeds are particular favourites – but, as it’s been a while since we’ve had a curry, I turned to the January edition of delicious. magazine for a recipe with more Asian leanings.
If there’s one thing nicer than Murphy’s Seacláid (chocolate) Ice Cream, eaten straight from the tub beside the fire (yep, it’s still cold in Ireland!), then it’s got to be that self same cold, intensely flavoured ice cream topped with great generous spoonfuls of creamy sweet/salty confiture de lait. Perfect for an Easter treat! Literally translated as milk jam, confiture de lait is a truly luxurious, indulgent toffee caramel sauce, similar to the Argentinean dulce de leche, and often used as a spread for bread, or even to sandwich cookies together.
In London there is a wonderful shop called Books for Cooks. A bookshop, filled with – what else – cookbooks, it is situated at 4 Blenheim Crescent in Notting Hill and is the kind of place that Sunday supplements wax lyrical about. As does anyone who visits the shop. It is small, not so very wide, and has bookshelves from floor to ceiling, crammed with hundreds upon hundreds books of amazing dishes, foods, ingredients, people. There is a cosy, albeit battered, couch in the middle of the floor, right between a piled-high table and a low shelf – just the place to sit and leaf through one of the many books that will take you on a journey to far off lands or reveal more about your own culinary surroundings. All this, and I haven’t yet got to the best bit.