The great thing about schooling in France has to be the canteen. No lunch box here, I am talking proper refectory, with chefs, commis and a couple of lovely dinner ladies. Believe me; I have eaten in worse restaurants, with worse service! The head chef, Mr Raymond, was a big brash colourful character, quite partial to kids who acknowledged and complemented on his trade; as a reward, he would look at you with a doubtful pouting frown and a raised eyebrow, before topping your plate with extra sauce or roasted potatoes.
Sometimes, dinner ideas come in the weirdest kind of ways. For me, it happens at night, when my mind rambles between two dreams, remembering an anecdote or feeling a story germinating; I must admit, I have found myself waking up and typing a few ideas on my phone, fearing dawn would wipe them all out of my mind. “is it serious Doctor?”. But not this time. Last week, I was an absolute horror to be around, grumpy,grouchy, frustrated and ready to set off like a trapped animal. That is the consequence – at least for me – of tempering with the clock. “Putting the clock forward”, “summer time”, saving day light… What a lot of rubbish! And for 40 years, we have been, like sheep, putting our clock forward of one hour, for the next 6 months. The result? 4 days of pain, at the border of depression. On the third day, I decided that staying around wouldn’t do any good so I took my car, my camera and I headed west toward Sligo…
I was 25 when my mother passed; she was just three weeks in her 50th birthday. I received an early phone call. The morning was early and bright, brisk and clear like the streams pouring out of neighbouring Connemara’s sterile and alkaline lakes. Between two sobbing sentences, my beautiful sister asked me to come home from my adoptive Galway. Time was running out and the unexpected news started to sink in. As I don’t fly, I travelled to Rosslare Harbour to catch a cargo ship. For £60, the Panther II gave you a cabin to yourself and three meals. It was an unsung way to travel at the time, the company didn’t advertise for a service mostly reserved for truck drivers, but in the meantime, didn’t object to the odd pedestrian crossing the channel. It was like travelling in time, travelling in style and honesty as the recent “Tiger” started to roar. As soon as we passed Tuskar lighthouse on our port, a school of common dolphins leaded the way at the bow, I looked at the sunset, dwelling at the inevitable. I was trying to forget about my canned grapefruit segments and the dry chicken Maryland we had for dinner when the ship’s Chef/ Barman brought me a ramekin of his homemade chocolate mousse. It is such a groovy dessert, but in time of need and hardship, old fashioned puddings feel like an unspoken hug. I think he knew what was going on… People of the sea know them things,no matter where you are from!
If there is a dish that has been made by at least three generations of women in my family, it has to be Blanquette. Funny name for the proverbial duvet cover of comfort foods methinks, but I think it refers more to the colour that the dish, which in its final stage, rewards the eye with a beautiful white colour and silky texture.
It is traditionally made with veal but the availability in Ireland is next to nil. On another note, I do not care too much for it, partly for ethical and anthropomorphism reasons… Don’t ask.