Harvey’s Borscht Ballad

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Borscht and Gort na mona goat’s cheese with buckwheat honey

I could start this little story – listening to the news I have now decided to turn off- with the words of Bob Dylan “Hard Rain”, how appropriate as another year is about to roll over this week for me, “The same old story” Billie would whisper, so hell with that I say, and decided to pay a little tribute to an old friend of mine, and how we ended up, my Mother, sister, Harvey his brother and I in a Russian restaurant on my last birthday in my “cosy-cushy” hometown of Vannes…

The ramparts of Vannes

But first, let me draw you a portrait of my old pal Harvey, a tall black haired guy with a deep gravelly voice and often finishing his stories by spasms of laughter. We were all on the left side of things, unimaginable to be anything else! Harvey was more on the left of the left, not quite a sub-cultural Redskin but near enough, implacable in history, a great musician and song writer…

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Harvey and his bass

I wanted to pick a couple of anecdotes and I must say, it wasn’t an easy thing to do. Yet, two kept on coming back, like the night of “National Music Day” when he got arrested by the local police. The owner of our favourite watering hole, rightly named “The Cactus”, had decided to be kind to his neighbours and despite a derogation allowing businesses to stay open late, we stopped the music at midnight and we were all happy to leave at 1 am, only to be welcomed by a squad of cops and a “salad basket” ( Paddy Wagon). You see, the then chief of Police had convinced himself that our bar was the “Lazy Susan” of drug trafficking in town! Seriously? It couldn’t have been further from the truth and we often slagged the owner and laughed about it. The provocation didn’t really fail and after what seemed to be a very very long anti-fascist rant at our local policemen, they let him finished and Harvey got nicked. Maybe it was the beer talking, or the Dutch in it pumping our courage, but we all decided to march to the station, Harvey’s accommodation for the night, chanting and banging “Free our comrade, free our comrade”. Let’s just say it didn’t go down well, Harvey got away with a fine I think, but our beloved “Cactus” got served and had to close for a week as punishment… Man… C’mon!

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The Cactus Bar

But I think the funniest is when we walked into an Irish pub outside the town to go watch a concert of the “Barking Dogs” until we discovered that it had also dragged a few Skinheads out of their holes. I still don’t quite understand why, but hey, there they were and things were about to get volatile. One of them spotted Harvey, his hair to be fair, was a bit short to say the least and his black bomber jacket probably didn’t help. He stood off his bar stool and started “Nazi saluting” our friend. I thought the whole situation was about to get worse when Harvey and his imposing frame stood in front of the “Skin”, his fist in the air and started to sing and shout “The International” : ” This is the final struggle, Let us group together, and tomorrow The Internationale, Will be the human race”. Boom! What a victory! No fist fight but victorious! We even got stopped by the cops and our favourite Police chief on the way home but the driver, Harvey’s brother, was sober as a judge. He just yelled to turn the music down; I guess he was not a Led Zepplin fan… What a night!

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“Rock’n’Roll” Brothers in arms

So April and the day of my birthday came and my mother wanted to invite me and a couple of friends to a new Russian restaurant that had just opened. For her, it was going to be as close as visiting the country itself and I thought it was quite sweet. I didn’t really hesitate on who I was going to invite: Harvey and his brother, I knew they would enjoy the experience and that my mother would appreciate their company. It was a wonderful evening, my last birthday in Brittany as I was to leave six months later. I found out a few years ago when I reconnected with my old friend, that he had blamed himself and others for my departure, for my “running away”, that he felt he had been a bad friend. I was very touched about this, and reassured him that it was my decision and that I had to do this. My good auld pal, good hearted “Red Harvey”, almost as red as the delicious Borscht stew we had for our main course, somewhere in the mid 90’s, in the heart of our “Goodie two shoes” town, “Chez Goulia” I think it was… Yes, that’s it!

My Mother’s Matryoshka dolls

You’ll Need:

  • 2 large organic beetroots
  • 1 large organic carrots
  • 3 small organic red onions
  • 150 g of Beluga lentils
  • 2 cloves of organic garlic
  • 4 cabbage organic leaves
  • 1 tbsp of organic tomato puree
  • 1 tsp of organic dried dill
  • 1 bunch of fresh organic tarragon
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil to start
  • Goat’s brie ( Gort na Mona)
  • Buckwheat honey ( or just honey)
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Artistic cabbage

How To?

I know that this is not the real Bortsch, I just wanted to make my own version. That said, they are so many versions, some looking more like a soup, some more like a stew. I first chopped the roots in small enough cubes and started to sweat them with the onions and garlic cloves that I roughly chopped. I then added the beluga lentils, and the stalks of the beetroots…

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Bortsch in the making

Then the chopped cabbage leaves, thin enough. Let the lot sweat before adding the rest of the ingredients, tomato purée, herbs and water. Let it simmer gently for at least an hour…

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Adding the cabbage

Bortsch is traditionally served with a dollop sour cream and also works very well with thick pro-biotic yogurt. In my case, I grilled some “Gort na Mona” goat’s brie type with buckwheat honey, almost as dark as caramel. It worked really well with the dish, and a way to link the two cultures that are actually quite close in some ways…

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Buckwheat Honey
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Borscht Franckie Style
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Borscht and Gort na mona with buckwheat honey

Keep Well and Eat Happy

Slán Tamall




“March of all Weathers” Roasties

Roasties with eggs and Goat’s cheese

St Patrick’s Day came and went, like every year. A day I used to look forward to, especially when I still lived in Brittany, filling my dreams to be with Celtic romanticism, a  session of music in the “Glasgow Pub” on Verdun Avenue, around a pint of Coreff beer from Morlaix… We did craft beers before it was cool. But the Irish National Day is now an event I tend to shy away from, not in a bad way, it is simply a case of “been there, done that and got the kiss-me-I am- Irish T-shirt”. From Sligo, under the “Free our political prisoners” banner, to Galway and the colourful and pride of the the city of tribes “Macnas”, street performers and their inimitable drum rhythms, to the Dublin parade followed by a few quiet pints before night sets… Yes, done all that, and the memory I have kept from them all apart from my Armorican “joie de vivre”, is that it seems to be always “bleeding cold!” …

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Banana, Comté, toastie…

Rennes, Capital of Brittany, February 1992. For the last year or so, I found myself crossing the city, heading towards my favourite hitchhiking spot on National 24, just outside the Citroën car assembly point; yes, plenty of room there, nice and safe for the generous soul that would bring me closer to Vannes and my Rock’n’Roll mates from the Cactus bar and like the chorus of a song I once wrote, looking forward to “ walk down Butcher Street, with my black leather jacket”; I was just 20, leaving behind for a couple of days my life as a musician for the “Smoking Dogs” theater company, swimming in a pool of doubt and uncertainty like most of my peers, dark, fun and life loving, hopeful. I am always hopeful, even in my most pessimistic days. The anxiety of a young adult then, now and to be… I don’t really know why I was making that weekly journey, partly because I wanted to see some of my friends who weren’t really friends, partly feeling guilty for moving to “The Big City”, afraid of being judged and secretly weaning myself off the provincial town that saw me grow, unfriendly to our lost kinds, “them Rockers”with long hair and short ideas, guys and gals who had to hide in the back streets of this self proclaimed pseudo bourgeois town,  to entertain our love and hunger for rebellion, music, identity and art… We were beautiful, we didn’t care… Rennes fed us and nurtured us in a way our home towns and villages couldn’t anymore.

Continue reading “Busted…”

Beluga lentils Warm Salad

Beluga Lentils Warm Salad

I live in a very interesting place, far enough from my Breton homeland full of Menhirs (standing stones) and Tumulus (cairns), another 800 kms apart. Humbling and interesting thought one might say; descendant of Neolithic tribes, this Breton found himself a comforting home among other far fetched cousins. I guess a lot can happen in 5000 years, but still, it sometimes makes me smile when I contemplate the irony. Not far from where I am writing these words, and in full view – if I was to stand on the roof of my 100 years old cottage that is – proud and time defying are the hills of Loughcrew, better known as “Sliabh na Cailleach” or “Slieve na Caillaigh”, the Hill of the Witch… Full of legends, Loch Craobh named after a hidden lake snugged somewhere in its footstep; the home of St Oliver the martyr, so much blood spilled on a land wrongly taken and yet [ also wrongly] given by Cromwell to some of his Lieutenant… Funny word “Lieutenant”; meaning in French “the keeper of a place” or something like that. But let’s not dwell about this head case. Folks around here call the area “The Stones”, in a walking distance of the house – if you are brave enough- a passage grave, gateway from one world to another; the inside chamber gets illuminated by the sun twice a year, during the autumnal and spring equinoxes, revealing amazing petroglyphs of sun cycles  … Like I said, a magical place, a portal to the “Hereafter”…

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Cajun Veggie Stew

Cajun Veggie Stew

It has been a very sad week I must say. I am not going to extrapolate or elaborate out of respect for the directly concerned, plenty of tears and some kind laughter while reminiscing a memory for the love of a loved one, the unimaginable loss of a good soul now lost. Yes, it’s been a sad week… And a cold one too! It went right through me and believe it or not, I can take cold… To be honest, I have no choice. I remember the words my geography teacher once said to us, reliving his memories with us in a bitterly cold classroom, January 1985… While doing his military service in Germany ( if you were a bit of a hot head, they sent you to cool down there, or in Brest, either or, extremes from East and West, destinations with reputations…), he told us about different types of “cold”. Us pupils, listened to every word, his chattering misdemeanor, master of the banter and the unmistakable Corsican hand gestures, punctuating each sentence.

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Flamed Tart Swirls

Flamed Tart Swirls

I finally woke up, sometimes this week, between two storms, to the sound of silence. It was like opening my eyes after a bad hangover but the pain and the noise were absent, gone. December is a demanding and merciless mistress if you let her have her ways. It wasn’t the tantrums of “Caroline” or the caprices of “Eleanor”, never mind “Dylan” I looked at bemused – yet entertained- from my shelter. For over a month, I woke up, showered, shaved, turned on the lights, raising the curtain while others raised their glasses to “what a great year it has been” and a confused elephant in the room murmuring ” why are we doing this again?” … The pre-show cacophony before sending the overly made up clowns, controlled stage fright and a clap from the ringmaster with a slap on the shoulder for another great performance. Then it was dark again, I could still smell the burning dust from the stage lights, feeling and touching the quietude and tranquility of my room… It felt good. I took some vitamin B and D this year, to face the squalls of the cheery season and it worked like the charm of a good friendship; the reassuring words from my busy cooking years’ colleague “right behind you buddy” resonating in a synchronised tempo, or that girl from Indiana, stranger that I will (hopefully not) never meet, from shores I will (probably) never see… Your words and time have been my lighthouse, my “Ar Men”, three blinks of light in the darkness of night… As a thank you Stephanie for your kind “Amistad” and time, I want to dedicate this recipe to you.

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Planned Obsolescence

Cashel Blue roasted chestnuts buckwheat crepe and celeriac soup

It has been a bit of a strange week, with mixed feelings. It started last Sunday December 3rd; I was on my way to Dublin for a very special evening, my last day out, a night to remember or rather help me forget how busy the next 21 days are going to be. I was listening to P.J Harvey, “Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea”, already looking forward to a rare evening with my friend Domi, and a much older friend that I didn’t see in 20 years, Mr Robert Plant himself, former frontman of the legendary band Led Zeppelin; well, he’s not really my friend, but he is the same age as my Dad and was part of our musical family since I was a very little boy… My rambling mind, smiling face and tapping index finger on the stirring wheel got suddenly interrupted by a rattling noise coming from the engine. I remember saying something like “Fuck!”, four letters that basically resumed what was about to come… No car? No concert?No Domi?No Robert? All was normal, temperature was steady, there was oil in the car as I always make sure all is good before I do a decent journey. Then all hell broke loose, red lights and alarm blaring, I thought “this is my Sully moment” as I made a crash landing to my own Hudson River, aka the hard shoulder between Dunshaughlin and Dunboyne. So close… Yet ( all in unison) so far… I breathed out another “Fuck!”, this time, it was acceptance. On the bright side, and since I was a young boy, I have always wondered what those orange S.O.S phones looked like and since I managed to safely taxi my vehicle close to one, I was about to find out! Well, it’s just a green button and a giant speaker. The chap was very helpful, letting them know I was there; I had insurance to get picked up, but that would mean no concert. Tried the car again, gone, full engine failure. My last resort was “my guy”, the owner of a garage/ shop a mile or so from the house, 80 kms away… Sunday at 4:10 pm. I rang Mr “M” and he just said: ” hey buddy, where are you? Ok, I’ll be there in 40 minutes ( yeah right, but I wasn’t in a negotiating position here), you said you are on the Dublin side? Ok, I’d better bring you a car as well so…”. One hour and 15 minutes later, there he was, bright orange flashing lights, a car on top of the rescue truck, out it went, mine went on, here are the keys and “I’ll see you tomorrow”. I would be able to meet my friend in good time, and see my auld pal “Robert”. As I sat in the “new” car, trying to figure out where the wipers and lights commands were, I just whispered a very respectful “fuck”, this one was more admiration and relief…

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