Potato and Boyne Valley Bán Gratin

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Potato and Boyne Valley Bán Gratin

Don’t you just love it? You are at work, you have a recipe in mind, you know that you have all the ingredients at home and in this case it was a head of broccoli, I needed to use for a simple but tasty gratin. I also wanted to use Michael Finnegan’s new cheese from Slane in County Meath called Boyne Valley Bán; a goat’s cheese tomme he has been experimenting for a while… I love it! Anyhow, I made it back home to the house at 6:30pm, only to realise that the broccoli in question had turned completely yellow, it was actually warm, the whole top shelf of the fridge had been bathed by the light bulb of the once cold appliance. I thought: ” Great! What now? A new fridge?”. The culprit was in fact one of my cats, “Shaky Leo”, a charming young black panther who suffers from “C.H” ( Cerebellar Hypoplasia) which causes him a lack of full control of his movements and some great “Free Styling” moves… In one of his “Parcour”, my little friend ended up opening the fridge slightly… All day… Good bye broccoli…

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Licorice and Lima Bean Stew

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Lima Bean stew, with licorice stick and garlic croutons…

As I mentioned in my latest drama/ action pumped story Duck or Die ( that’s right, you have to go and read it now… Mwah-ha-ha…) my mother used to make – to the delight of my father – a wonderful haricot bean and beef stew. Here is a vegetarian dish I have created, based on the original, packed with summer flavours and memories. There are the beans, of course, and I used dried Lima beans from my Italian friend Roberto who runs the wonderful organic Mariangela Prunotto farm in Alba, Italy. I also found some licorice sticks in the health food shop the other day; when we were kids we used to buy these aniseed roots from the local pharmacy, and munch on them old day like cowboys on under a hot sun… Talk about a funny trend! I also added fresh local organic tomatoes, my mother was crazy about them at this time of year! I’d better get on with that recipe, which I realised is also vegan… What do you know?

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Duck or Die…

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Gun of freedom…

When I opened the big gate of adolescence, a frightening squeak from a giant cast iron secondary school entrance welcomed and absorbed me in a solemn vacuum. Of course, and like today, there were kids who just wanted to blend in, ride those teenage years under the radar with minimum collateral damage, wanting to be acknowledged and noticed, yet having the skills to keep your cards close to your chest; not showing too much, dodging rain drops and other potential scraps or punches because you looked at, or aggravated with smart words a tougher kid with social or rather deeper personal issues than yours. Some built themselves with a strong and bold shell: Punks, Goths, Skinheads and Red Skins (the left wing ones; their Doc Martens were burgundy rather than black), right down to a couple of old fashioned black leather jacket bullies with learning difficulties, easy enough to manipulate if you knew how to; keeping them sweet by sharing candies, giving a few test wagers that would up some grades, preventing them from repeating the class… Again. I was a “bullet dodger”, or at least that is what I have been called once by that big fucker – who was actually pretty smart- as he tried to pound my face into the granite wall of the refectory. I used words, and it seemed to work.

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Bretonised Aubergines, Roasted Butternut and Red Lentils Stack

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Buckwheat and aubergine stack, with roasted butternut squash and red lentils…

I am not very fond of summer in Ireland, not very fond of summer in general, that is just the way I am, don’t judge me or call me a miserable bastard. Since I have been leaving here, we’ve had two great summers; 1995 and 2006. The legend says that as the heat waves hugged and cuddled the land of Hibernia, someone, somewhere, on the Island said:” no, the summer is great, but it’s almost too hot”. A divine intervention then punished that poor soul by ruining  it for everybody else… How dare he or she said that?!? For the record your honor, it wasn’t me; I know too well how not to aggravate the natives, refraining from expressing my dislike for July and August. Last week, I decided to be more positive, tackling my cabin fever with long walks, five, nine kilometers, enjoying the wonderful nature of the midlands, butterfly hunting with my camera and rediscovering long lost smells from childhood summers. No saline breeze, no redshanks piping, just a dead dry heat with clear blue skies, thousands of flies and a few remaining chiffchaffs and swallows already thinking of heading back to the African continent…

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Buckwheat and Blackcurrant Chocolate Slab

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Chocolate Cake with Blackcurrants

Every year, in the field at the back of the cottage, I plant something meaningful. A mighty oak now 8 foot tall, found as an acorn in a wood near Gort, co. Galway in 1995; another one a little bit smaller, given years ago by my Dad, from my Grand Parents’ house in Brittany. I want the wildlife to be happy, as this is not really for me, a mere contribution, a legacy maybe? Maybe… I have Hazel, Chestnut and Walnut trees in there, Aronia and Sea Buckthorn for the crazy berries and a couple of years ago, I planted some goose berries and blackcurrants… At last, a decent crop!

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Raw Beetroot and Watermelon Carpaccio

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Organic beetroot and watermelon Carpaccio

Something weird happened yesterday; that guy I know came in to buy a few bits, olive oil and some cheese of course. Always friendly, touching fifty, a happy family man who runs a retail business not too far from here, in the middle of the Island some might say. Like a lot of people from this area, being involved or even from a farming background is almost inevitable. We were chatting and he shared with me some good news he had just received regarding his own business, that that extension will happen after all…

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Butternut Squash Ravioli with Young Buck Cheese Sauce

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Butternut Squash Ravioli with fennel pistou

It was July 1996, I had moved a couple of months earlier in Galway, over staying my welcome from my West Belfast friends I had met the previous summer. The company and the craíc were good which didn’t entice me to find my own place. I didn’t take up too much space, a sleeping bag behind the sofa and a few boxes in the corner, a safe little space, peaceful… But the peace got broken that night in July; a stand off over the annual orange order parade in Drumcree, outside Portadown in County Armagh, escalating in riots that spread across the North, resulting in two deaths and hundreds injured. The North was on lock down and the house turned into a refugee centre, friends literally fleeing violence, others, holidaying in the south, unable to go home. The TV was on all the time, the radio and the huge anxiety was palpable when the phone rang in the middle of the night, fearing for the safety of a loved one as most of them had experienced at some stage. I was going to throw a bit of humour on the whole thing, calling this post “Orange is the old Black”, but instead this story inspired me to do a little recipe, with butternut squash, a cheese from Newtownards in the North, called Young Buck  Buckwheat from Brittany, and fresh fennel from the garden, to more peaceful times, may long it continues!

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