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,


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…

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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.

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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!

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Conchiglioni Butternut Squash “Al Forno”

Conchiglioni "Al forno"

I went for a walk last Sunday; “a walk?” says my alter-ego ” more like a freaking pilgrimage!”. Ok, ok, a pilgrimage so… I like to sleep with the window open, no matter what the season, how cold or windy the weather is, I listen to the sound – or rather the consequences- of our blue home rotating… I woke up and all was calm, the sky was blue and I found myself inextricably drawn outside, I wanted to feel it, be a part of it… I put my walking shoes on, and like “Travis” in “Paris, Texas”, I started to walk…

Cardinal Points

When I am in that mood, I keep on going; I hate turning back, I get bored so I try to do a loop, a great way to discover your neighbourhood, a way to reflect, a “communion” a friend of mine called it once. I realised that my little spin was going to take me on a 12 km journey, on hard tarmac. I didn’t care, the mind was talking, and I felt a wee project drawing itself near my parish of Dromone, the old church and grave, a Divine motivation, a pilgrimage, self inflicted flagellation and pain… When my mind is set on something, I never turn back. Us Bretons, are known in France as the most stubborn folks on the planet… Hence the expression “Breton head”…

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Boyne Valley Blue Fritter

Boyne Valley Blue Fritter, with beetroot leaves pesto and blood orange…

I have been living in Co. Meath since late 2002, “The Royal”, a County full of history, legends and myths. Home of some neolithic settlers, reminding me sometimes – and for obvious reasons- of the early art and petroglyphs both our cultures share. You probably heard of the cairns of Loughcrew, or maybe even Knowth and Dowth? But I am sure you have heard of Newgrange, Solstice and equinox sun beams getaway to the other world, another world. And right bang in the middle, lies the legendary Boyne River…

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Chicory Endeavour

Young Hungry Breton preparing his steamed veg

I woke up one morning, in this big bare one room bachelor pad; a friend had given her the keys, you know, to water the plants and open the windows once in a while, until he would come back from abroad… It was a small but cool place to crash in, a secret space for young broke and starving lovers. My girlfriend was already up, making coffee and smoking Pall Malls while listening to “Barbara”… The rain was battering the old zinc roof and I kept staring at a painting of ” Keith Haring” precariously hung beside the portable gas rings, just over the sink; Prevert came to mind and while Brest was calm at last, Sarajevo was getting battered. It was 1992, I was twenty and free, with a girl five years older than me, hiding from nothing – or rather from a future too scary to contemplate-right in the heart of the Breton Capital.

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