In the Irish Times Magazine last Saturday there was a feature on Country Choice‘s Peter Ward. Prestigious American foodie magazine Saveur is about to publish an edition extolling the virtues of Ireland’s artisanal food industry. One of the people mentioned in their “detailed who’s who of artisanal food in Ireland” is Peter, who has brought Saveur editor Colman Andrews to Nenagh several times over the last few years. Coleman celebrated the St Patrick’s weekend by coming to Ireland to cook with Peter and his wife, Mary, at a Slow Food Seasonal Irish Spring Produce meal in Country Choice and he has now marked Ireland as a destination for “gastrotourists”. All I’ll say is that they’re in for a lot of disappointment if they go anywhere off the trail as marked out by Georgina Campbell and the McKennas‘ good food guides.
One of the big advantages of being settled back in Dublin, with book shelves once again, is having all my old cookbooks to pore over and rediscover. Although I did manage to build up a fair collection in New Zealand, it couldn’t really compare to my beloved older stacks of books by Nigel Slater, Darina Allen, Tamasin Day-Lewis, Nigella Lawson and my ancient copies of the Paula Daly-written McDonnell’s Cook Books. The first and second books in this series, bought from saving up the tokens on Stork Margarine packets, were two of the first cookbooks owned by my mother.
As I finished up at work on Friday, I suddenly, as I looked out into the showery evening, got a yearning for gingerbread. No fancy stuff, I just wanted a damp and aromatically spicy loaf, the sort of teabread that would go perfectly with a cup of tea on a weather-swept Saturday. When I was younger, this kind of longing would be easily satisfied with a squashed loaf in a packet that said “Jamaica Gingerbread” but now, with a well-stocked baking cupboard, spur-of-the-moment cooking decisions aren’t too much of a problem.
Although the huge green-lipped New Zealand monsters nearly put me off mussels for life – too big and way too chewy! – last week I tried cooking Irish mussels for the first time. Coming home from work one evening I nipped in to a local shop called Donnybrook Fair to pick up some essential supper supplies. Walking past the seafood counter down the back, a big sack of navy-shelled mussels caught my eye, along with the price – €2.99 a kilo. Instantly, all thoughts of cheese on toast went out the window as I got a kilo of the mussels, picking up a length of crusty French bread and a bottle of sauvignon blanc en route to the checkout.
As charity cookbooks go, Real Food for Real People is a real gem. The book is part of a fundraising drive for Moneystown National School’s building fund and was produced and published by the Parents’ Committee in this County Wicklow village. But, even though Real Food for Real People was evidentially done on a shoestring, the design quality still shines out. Illustrated mainly with children’s drawings and photos, and scattered with quotations from, amongst others, Shakespeare and Lenin, it is a simple and well laid-out book.
After making Nic‘s Buttermilk Pancakes twice in the last ten days, I just have to sing their praises here. They take minutes to put together, don’t involve getting out the weighing scales (just use the cup measurements), are easy to cook, and – if you’re on a weekend away – the dry ingredients sit happily together in a zip-locked baggie until you choose to combine them with the buttermilk, butter and egg. Most importantly, they turn out delectable, light, fluffy, American-style thick pancakes without having to resort to a mix. We ate them this morning with oodles of fragrant organic maple syrup from Nenagh’s wonderful Country Choice deli, grilled rashers of bacon and, in my case, a little extra butter to further lubricate the sweet/savoury combination taste combination.
Equipped with one very large mixing bowl (also useful as a basin!) and a scattering of much smaller ones, I was in the market for a medium sized bowl or bowls. When the Boyfriend and I were in Avoca Handweavers a few weeks ago, queuing for our late lunch, I did some wandering around all the gorgeous goods on display. Piles of enticing cookbooks, soft and richly coloured blankets and throws, sparkling jewellery, jars of jams and jellies, sweet-smelling breads – all laid out to entice browsers and shoppers alike.
After so many years of steering clear of potato dishes or any recipes involving even a hint of the spud, it’s now like a whole new world has opened to me. I’m still not a fan of the floury potato, much loved in Ireland, but I have been experimenting with waxy new potatoes in dishes like Frittata. Well, at least it’s a step on from the tinned potatoes I tried in New Zealand that first got me interested in the tuber.