Cookbook sections in secondhand bookshops can be a little hit or miss. There’s always a pile of microwave cookbooks – no one, for some reason wants to hang onto these dodgy and dated texts – a scattering of horrible diet books and often lots of ancient Family Circle publications, with their “triple-tested in the test kitchens” claim, but, rarely something that you actually want to cook from, let alone buy. Still, I live in hope, so a recent trip to Athlone had to include a browse in the local secondhand bookshop (I still haven’t discovered its name) which turned out to be a most amazing example of its kind.
The Boyfriend and I are about to head off to Morocco in a week’s time so I thought I should use up my last year’s supply of Moroccan spice blend Ras al hanout on a meal for the Writer – who brought me my first taste of spices from Morocco – and her husband. I decided to make my favourite Moroccan Lamb Tagine and, to accompany it, thought that I’d jazz up my usual plain couscous a little.
I’ve often intended to but never quite got round to getting involved in Sugar High Friday. It’s a reoccurring blog event that was originally, once-upon-a-long-time-ago, started by Domestic Goddess Jennifer. This round is being hosted by Ruth, who is physically situated in Toronto – virtually at Once Upon A Feast and the theme she has picked for this month is ginger. I love this spice in all its incarnations, ground and used in a delicious little Ginger Gem, chunks of crystallised ginger studing a moist, sticky slab of Gingerbread or – at the other end of the spectrum – slices of the fresh root simmered in a savory chicken stock for soup.
When the days get brighter and longer, a girl’s thoughts turn to salad lunches. Based about 15 minutes walk away from any shops or cafés and blessed/cursed with a sloppy canteen, I bring my lunch to work year-round. Brown Bread and a fridge in the office are my lifesavers – the bread for toasting in the canteen and the fridge to store endless blocks of cheese for my normal lunch. Sometimes food bloggers eat boring food too! With the arrival of the summer, however, I start wanting a little more variety, particularly as the canteen is closed at the moment so I have no access to my toaster.
Watch out next month for Taste of Dublin 2006, running from 22 June to 25 June in the gardens at Dublin Castle and described in the press release as Dublin’s “first outdoor gourmet food and drink festival”. Ha! There’s a reason why there aren’t more outdoor events in Ireland – talk to the shivering, drenched stallholders at any of the markets around the country and see why. Anyway, festival visitors can expect signature dishes from a selection of the city’s restaurants, including a few of my favourites – the lovely Silk Road Café in the Chester Beatty Library and the more sophisticated Cellar Restaurant at The Merrion.
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.