A Lemon Tart for Nikki

Lemon Tart and Coffee

In 1982, we left the city for an idyllic life by the shores of the “Golfe”. Building a house was a big deal then, and I guess it always kind of is, especially the first home you are going to owe, move in as a family. The wonderful adventure lasted 8 years, all the ingredients for happiness were obvious, laid magically in front of us, vocations were born there, the start of a long life as a “Blown In”, a life of never really belonging anywhere and a talent for making new friends quite easily… Yes, a lot happened under that roof in 8 years; life changing moments? Absolutely! Life shattering? Definitely! By 1990, it was all over, my parents separated and my sister and I kindly refer to our childhood and teenage years’ abode as “The House of Hell”…

Our house by the sea…

But we made friends in our innocent years, neighbours’ kids; we built tree houses, cycled a lot around the village and to the beach nearby, made adventures in the abandoned salt marshes by the “Solong” way. The road to the marshes was actually called “So Long”… No joke. Chris was my friend, blonde wavy hair, freckled snow white face and a wonderful laugh. She was a good kid, a bit of a Tom Boy with a pure heart. She told me one day that when she was a little girl, five toddlers from the area died of leukaemia and that she had been the sole survivor. She was my age, and to this day, it has affected me. “How on Earth do five kids from a small Breton village get Leukaemia at the same time!?! “ I thought… I still think.

Age of innocence, village friends… Young Hungry Breton(s)

Chris had a younger sister named Nikki; she was my sister’s friend; both a bit quieter, they suited each other. My sister used to tell her stories and Nikki listened to her with big eyes wide open. Apart from with my sister and her own family, she rarely spoke; she just smiled or said a rare “it’s OK” or even “I don’t mind”. On a hot May or June Saturday, the end of the school year was getting close, Nikki’s class mate got killed by a City bus on the new roundabout. I remember feeling sick, the other kids explained that she was Nikki’s friend. I went to see her over the weekend; she was playing with my sister in the garage. “Hey Nikki, I am sorry for your friend!” I said clumsily with a dry mouth. She kept on brushing meticulously the hair of her doll, she didn’t look at me but just whispered a gentle and almost inaudible “it’s ok, thank you”. Chris was much more vocal and tempestuous, speaking to her mother with colourful language; “Pfff…Why did you buy that bread Mum? It sticks to my teeth!” “ I can’t believe you got the wrong soda” and my favourite “ Dallas, Dallas?!? I can’t believe you are watching that tripe! Dallas is for losers Mum! Loo-sers…”.

Organic lemons

Later that summer, we all got invited to Nikki’s birthday, a simple affair in the kitchen across the road. Mrs Reed’s house was pristine, honest and hardworking people raising four kids on one salary; she was a savvy lady from the old block, growing her own food as much as she could, proud, nothing wasted. She had returned from town with a cake for Nikki’s birthday; we were all waiting around the table, impatient while downing another of that delicious French orange soda rightly called “Pschitt”… When you think about it, naming a sparkling lemonade after the sound of the gas escaping the bottle when you open it is pretty clever.  Mrs Reed opened the big white box, and inside was a beautiful lemon tart, a bit of a letdown when you are 12; I am not going to lie to you. Chris went on a rant: “ Mum, seriously? A lemon tart? For a birthday? Pfff… Who does that? Seriously?” we couldn’t stop laughing and Chris kept on going in her frustrating monologue, while Mrs Reed patiently waited until she was done. Then something happened, Nikki slammed the table with her little hand, putting an end to the anarchic brouhaha that had taken place over Mrs Reed’s Kitchen. In a semi deep loud voice Nikki shouted: “It is my birthday, and “I” like Lemon Tarts!”. We all looked at Nikki, a bit baffled, then at each other, soon followed by a huge and relieving burst of laughter. I learnt something that day, and thought: “good for you Nikki”. Every time I make or eat Lemon Tart, I think of Nikki and that wonderful innocent afternoon. I had meant to write and share it a good while ago now, today is the day, that’s all. Recipe below.

Organic Italian Durum semola (flour, semolina) and traditional Breton Buckwheat flour…

Four The Flaky Pastry: You’ll Need…

  • 80g of Organic Durum (triticum) semola or flour
  • 80g of Buckwheat flour
  • 100g of grated butter
  • 30g of organic caster sugar
  • 5 tbsp of cold water
Durum and buckwheat flours…

For The Flaky Pastry: How to?

In a large bowl, put the two flours together with the sugar; put the butter in the freezer for 5 to 10 minutes and coarse grate it over. With a metal spatula, mix gently until the butter is well covered. Add the water little by little, keep stirring with the spatula and then use your hands for a quick knead. If it’s too wet, add more flour, too dry, a bit more water. Make a dough ball, wrap in cling film and cool in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Butter over flour…

And a thorough stir…

Flaky pastry, ready to roll…

For The Lemon Curd: You’ll Need…

  • 6 happy eggs ( free range and organic, from small producer if possible).
  • 100g of salted butter ( in Ireland and Brittany, that is the way we go)
  • 200g of organic caster sugar
  • The juice of 4 organic lemons
  • The zest of 1 organic lemon

For the Lemon Curd: How to?

First, beat the eggs in a bowl. Cut the butter in small pieces ( 1 cm2); put all the ingredients in a sauce pan apart from the eggs. Let them mix together, keep stirring on low heat; when the butter has melted, pour the beaten eggs and keep stirring until it gets slightly thicker. Be aware that the filling will keep thickening even after you turn off the heat. They have to do a wee trip in the oven as well, so don’t over do it…

Stir the lemon curd…

I don’t believe in blind baking for this kind of recipe ( plus I find it to be a massive pain in the butt); roll the pastry with plenty of semola flour ( or just flour) and place it gently on a buttered and floured oven baking dish; pour the cooled mix inside, beat an extra egg and egg wash the edges of the pastry… Bake at 180c in the oven for about 25 minutes, until all is set with a gentle colour on top. I swear, the pastry will be as straight as a spirit level on a wall. ( as long as the wall is straight that is).

Lemon Tart out of the oven…

And that’s it folks; serve with a good coffee, I like mine with honey but hey… Whatever rocks your boat…

Lemon Tart and Coffee

Keep Well and Eat Happy,

Slán Tamall,


Quick Provençale Tart

Tarte provençale ( Provençale tart)

Oh man! Between my ornithological outings, and organising our 8th annual Irish Food Festival at work ( plus a disastrous broadband at home), blogging recipes and stories has been have been a bit of a challenge! Anyhoo, I couldn’t let this little ripper being unshared! I make this great recipe in the summer, to put me in the mood I guess; I call it “Tarte provençale” or ” Provençale Tart” it’s all good I swear, all good!

Continue reading “Quick Provençale Tart”

Gnocchi, on Heaven’s Door

Gnocchi with saffron and red peppers sauce

Yesterday was a strange kind of day. This time of year is Dawn Chorus month and for the last five or six years, my two compadre from “Birdwatch Ireland Meath” and myself lead a group of very brave people, on a nocturnal procession in various locations of our county to listen to a new Dominical Dawn, bird waking up, welcoming daylight by the banks of the Boyne river. This good natured affair is also an early one, as we start the walk at 4 am, meaning I have to be up at 2:30 am, and in my car by 3:15 am latest. I normally return to bed between 6 and 7 am, waking up again later, never feeling fully restored and having that uneasy feeling that I have already had a full Sunday… As you can see, I don’t do too well on sleep deprivation!

Continue reading “Gnocchi, on Heaven’s Door”

Homemade Baked Beans

Choice 1
Baked Beans, poached eggs, buckwheat pan cake and asparagus.

I realised that I have been away from the house quite a bit lately; for work and leisure or a bit of both, spending a bit of time North Westward has been good to me. Then my sister came to visit, we haven’t seen each other in a year and a half and spending a bit of time with her, her partner and my nephews was refreshing and made me concentrate on other things. We visited the area, Fore and the Cairns of Loughcrew, Dublin for a bite and a bit of shopping, the Natural History for the boys or a day trip to Sligo, Mullaghmore and Glencar. They left on the Friday, and when my birthday came the following Tuesday, I felt a great sense of emptiness – not necessarily unpleasant- rather a time to reflect on the things in life that matters; nature and nurture… I needed to treat myself; I had soaked some beans the night before, stuck “Siouxie & the Banshees” in the CD player, opened a bottle of wine and started cooking…

Continue reading “Homemade Baked Beans”

North by North West

Traffic Jam in Mayo

I haven’t been very well for the passed three weeks, a bit of a dose I often get in Spring, people say it is the change of season, I blame the “put the clock forward for a bit of light” malarkey; this messes me up big time! I mean, seriously? Who had the brain wave? A former French President claimed it was to save energy, I think there is something much more sinister behind it, a hidden agenda… I told you I was feeling feverish. Anyhoo, instead of taking a good rest, I went gallivanting in Killybegs with a healthy stock of paper handkerchiefs, and the week after my colleague “Murph” and I had planned to visit a few customers out west, and a cheese and wine tasting in Letterkenny. It was on the card for a couple of months, and the sensible thing would have been to stay at home; I really wanted to go, helping my colleague of course, but I also wanted to see what was happening out there. Sniffling and coughing I went, stubborn like a pig headed Breton, delusional like a teenager who keeps believing that “it’ll be alright”! Thinking about it, I must have been a charming traveling companion, trumpeting like John Coltrane one minute, sounding like a husky hoarse Barry White an other. Our first stop was in Oughterard, a lovely shop in the heart of the town, O’Sullivan’s…

Continue reading “North by North West”

Killybegs, Diplomatic Ties

Killybegs Seafood Platter
Killybegs Seafood Platter

I love my job; I know it is cold in this old railway train engine maintenance stone building from the 19th century, pretty much winter for seven months of the year, yes, perishing actually! I have often joked about my age with customers, claiming that I was in fact 78 years old, preserved like a Dorian Gray Popsicle if you wish… Yes, I love my job, being surrounded by great food all day, food and farmhouse cheese, made by people with incredible stories that I like to pass on. But what really gets me going is the people; you never really know who is going to walk through the door, folks with lives and stories, big and small and I love that! I really like listening to them, the quirks and anecdotes, “queer as folk” the expression says, or like the local accent dictates, it is often pronounced “quare” in that unmistakable Irish twang.

Continue reading “Killybegs, Diplomatic Ties”

Tongue and Cheek

“Tal An Lliz” Creperie, Roscoff, Brittany

I believe that this time of year is for planning holidays… I can’t blame you really; if you lived in a country like ours, having our fair share of wind, rain and snow that is never really over until the end of March or even April, you’d be thinking of sunnier shores. Saying that, and while you are behind your computer, you might want to check Brittany out; not only you would make an excellent choice of destination, but you will also realise first hand, what global warming is all about… You see, Brittany has been plagued for years with a reputation of a cold, windy and very rainy country… I blame the Parisians. When it is cold and miserable in their beautiful city, I’d rather be on the Atlantic coast and get a full blast of South Westerlies while looking at a demented sea. Sadly, it is no more – or not as much- temperatures have risen, frost and ice are a rare occurrence, there is a vineyard on the outskirts of Quimper, and yes, you might get the odd shower… Sometimes. But this is the least of your problems…. And I want you to be prepared, that’s all!

Continue reading “Tongue and Cheek”