A day that starts at 6.30am (with a wake-up at 5.30am to switch on the immersion as its timer has refused to co-operate with its owners) and continues until I step out of the car at the cottage after 7pm is, naturally enough, very tiring. When it’s the first day of the 12-week course at Ballymaloe, it is also incredibly exhilarating. Today was a whistle-stop tour of the large gardens and greenhouses at the cookery school, grabbing an Asian pear and a couple of sun-warmed dusky cherry tomatoes to eat en route, a fabulous lunch of products from local artisans and garden produce and an afternoon crammed full of demonstrations, all helmed by the ever-energetic Darina Allen. There are 58 other students from seven different countries in the class, ranging from gap year students to people looking for a career change but, no matter what you’re there for, there’s one thing certain: days are going to be long. We start at 8.45am, will take turns at collecting the fruit and vegetables needed for the day’s cooking from 8am, can volunteer to milk cows at 7.30am – and that’s before we do any cooking. Tomorrow starts with kitchen tours and, with us cooking in pairs, making our own lunch. Now, it’s time for hot chocolate and bed.
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!
Well, I’ve taken the plunge. Notice has been given at work. Going away parties (the Baggott Inn’s self-serve Guinness taps proved particularly popular), dinners and drinks have been partaken in. After ten years living in Dublin and five years in Cork city, it’s time to return to the country. This weekend, the Husband and I move out of our horrible little Dublin flat and, in less than two weeks, on 17 September, I start the 12-week certificate course at Ballymaloe Cookery School.
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.
Dishes that we cooked or were cooked for us as children always hold a special luster. I had a set of kids’ cookery cards from Irish sugar company Siúcra which had great recipes like The Last of the Mohicans Baked Beans (think the recipes were based on classic books!) and a desert of bananas warmed in a sauce made of orange juice (Swiss Family Robinson Bananas, perhaps?).
Beware when you’re sowing seeds. Especially if, as happened to us, you’ve ordered them from the Irish Seed Savers Association or Brown Envelope Seeds and every single last one of the seeds sprout forth. We planted way too many in March, didn’t thin the seedlings enough, and now have copious amounts of kale, purple sprouting broccoli and leeks for later in the season so I’m keeping my eye out for recipes for those (will definitely have to check out some of Sarah‘s ideas for the broccoli!). The squash is trying to escape from the confines of our rabbit-proof fenced veggie garden while I try to figure out what to do with armloads of silverbeet.
Just a reminder that the Festival of World Cultures kicks off tonight in Dún Laoghaire. It is taking place all weekend with lots of free music and plenty of good eating. Slow Food has a stand in the Cool Earth eco-fair in the Town Hall so, if you’re interested in learning about SF – and tasting some products from artisan producers! – call in over the weekend.
Chocolate Chippies are big in New Zealand. Also known as a chocolate chip cookie, none of the Husband’s family gatherings are complete without a box – or several – of these small addictive biscuits, made by the Husband’s Mother or Sisters. When we were in Nelson in January, I spent time going through the Husband’s Mother’s great collection of recipe notebooks, taking down details of dishes I have enjoyed in the past – especially Gracie’s Brown Rice and Chickpea Salad and the Chocolate Chippies.