My last Christmas in France was 25 years ago, having since dedicated my life to my new found love: food and wine; from the kitchen first to specialized retail adventures. My point is, in the world of fine dining (I am trying real hard not to use the word “Gourmet” here), when the last few days before the climax of Christmas reach its peak, it’s all hands on deck to advise, suggest and supply the goods for all the gentle folks of a well tuned-in modern Ireland. Rushing to Dublin airport on the 24th to head back to France for a couple of days wasn’t somewhat appealing to me so I didn’t bother. And since I don’t fly and the Ferries are off duty, the choice was somewhat simple…
Potato and Mont d’Or Vacherin Tart
My Aunt is a very beautiful woman; she married a beautiful man and they had three beautiful children. This is the perfect start to a Fairy Tale and I am going to leave it like that, as all I have from them are just good memories. One day, we got invited ( or we invited ourselves, not sure) in the remote parts of “La Creuse”, an unfortunately named region of France wedged between Limoges and Clermont-Ferrand, near the Auvergne. Translated in English, it basically means “The Dig”. They unsuccessfully tried to change the name of the the “County” or department as we call them in the hexagon, but with no luck. Yes, we got invited by Mrs Gillet, the old lady on the right of the picture, mother of Bernard, father of my beautiful cousins who always smelled nice of some softener and after shave. She invited us to spend a bit of time, us Bretons – because we loved her son like our own. She made a local recipe that day, while my sister, my cousins and I entertained the soon to be dinner rabbits in the cage outside; a potato tart! What? It was so good that my mother spoke about it on a regular basis for at least 20 years after that!!! But never tried to recreate it… I craved for many years, this simple and humble recipe. So today, as the fairy tale of December is on its way, I decided to make my own version… My December recipe perfect for this rainy week!
This little recipe is just a follow up of my awesome story “The Con Artist”. I hope you read it, because the following recipe is going to make a lot of sense; well, at least, I hope so. You see, when we grew up in the unforgiving world of Rock’n’Roll fueled, penny less like many in the city of Rennes, administrative Capital of Brittany ( we all know Quimper is the real one!), we young Bretons had to treat each other once in a while. As I am writing these words, I noticed that a little red zig-zag appeared underneath the noun; this aggravates me greatly! Anyhow, it also appear to happen for the word “Zigzag” … Sigh! We drank bear during concerts and gigs and yet, we didn’t go to the temptation of “Mr Mc”… If we were lucky enough to have a few credits left, we went to the Lebanese, the Turks or even the Greeks for a soaking Shawarma. There was many different names for it, especially on St Anne’s square, our hunting ground, but we didn’t care… Our left wing upbringing made us all friends… 22 Francs for a Shawarma or a Djeros? Big money then for the poor, but we valued what was good to us!
The Con Artist
You know, when you have to survive, one has to do some pretty crazy things. Well, when I mean survive, I really mean having enough money to have a bite to eat and most importantly, a few bob for a beer or two with your friends. It was in November 1991, and the autumnal air was brisk in Rennes, the Breton Capital. I had recently joined my comrades from secondary school and their rogue theater company called “The Smoking Dogs”, a “troop” made of former students from the college (Lycée) Alain-Renée Lesage, conveniently named after the Breton born playwright from the 17th/18th century. Funny really, the irony, knowing that he was born in Sarzeau, the birth place of our theatrical mutiny, where the father of my friend “ The Hero” had a country restaurant, HQ of our young lucubration. We moved to Rennes, Breton Mecca for students of all kinds: Law, psychology, history of art to just name a few and an absolute magnet for late teenagers and young adults who had a thirst for identity, music and art in general. The City allowed us to be us, yet to feed the need to be unknown again. We were broke but we managed with our few gigs here and there, chipping in when the going was good. I wasn’t an actor in the company, but a musician; Tom, our friend and director had had a vision and he wanted the dark concept of our plays to mix circus themes and live music on stage. I was happy to get the job, accompanying the talented Ronan on guitar with my tin whistles and sometimes playing riffs of bass to the performing actors. “The Hero” and Sergio were in charge of the lights, especially the pursuit projector following the every moves of the comedians, not an easy task!
Fore God Sake, A Polpette Recipe
Just down the road from where I live, there lies quite a magical place. Fore in County Westmeath is better known for its 7th century Franciscan Abbey, hard to believe that 2000 monks used to live there at some stage, most coming from France… 1,300 years ago; humbling, I know…
Butternut Squash Gnocchi
You know, when it comes to legends and superstitions – or rather popular beliefs- Brittany is not too far off Ireland in that department. Hollsent is our Hallowe’en, when we celebrate the dead, the departed to another world but the rules don’t always start and end in October! Oh no! We have a whole lot of characters that most of us take very seriously, oh yeah! We have of course An Ankoù, from the old Celtic God of Death Ankouvos, the tall, skinny and lanky valet of Death, patrolling our beautiful country at night to collect the passed over souls with his horse, as meager as him, his squeaky carriage for the lift. If you are unfortunate enough to cross his path at night, well, it was nice to meet you as you are probably on the list and I think it’s too late I am afraid… If you hear the creaking of his cart’s axle, the tip is to run away in the other direction, home will do, hide under the duvet and keep singing “lalalalalala…” and you might have a chance to live for another year!
Chocolate and Banana Tart
I don’t really go back home to Brittany often and if I do it is in September, sometimes in May, but most likely in September. Nine years ago, we went in October, almost to the date and around my sister’s birthday. The weather was amazing and my Father drove all of us to the North Western coast of the Celtic peninsula, an area I have always been a bit less familiar with, yet with breathtaking beauty, giant boulders of granite, cute villages and lonely lighthouses…
Chili Sin Carne
” You know what would be great lads? Let’s sail our 130 ships to invade England, but instead we will go by Scotland and we’ll take them by surprise by coming from the West of Ireland… It’s gonna be great, who’s in?”. And so I was amusing myself imagining the unlikely conversation between a Spaniard Captain and his crew somewhere in the 16th century while standing on Streedagh beach in Co. Sligo, just off Grange. A place where one can still see at low tide, a wreck of the Spanish Armada, some 430 years ago, quite humbling standing there really, 24 ships were lost in the campaign and around the coast of Ireland due to bad weather and treacherous shores, poorly mapped then and where the survivors at Streedagh met a very grim fate at the hands of the locals and some “Red Coats” joining the killing spree… It must have been quite a sight, and I was there, standing on the strand, taking it all in and thankful for more peaceful times, well at least here and for now.
Roasted Cherry Toms and Pea Quiche
It was a funny day yesterday… I was enjoying my breakfast, a nice mug of breakfast tea in one hand, the other holding the left side of my face, elbow on the table while listening to the usual gobbledygook on the radio, bis repetita placent blabla that it becomes quite entertaining and then voosh! Lights and radio out, silence broken only by the cats purring somewhere under the table. I just cursed a bit but without real conviction, accepting while looking at the ESB reminder pinned on the “do not forget” board in front of me and for the past ten days. The skies were grey, raining and humid, it was going to be a long afternoon… No TV, no internet, too sad out to go for a walk or even a drive so I did what I do sometimes, sat in the hall of the cottage and went through six boxes of pictures, a life documented like many others, six boxes and something like 25 years in the making, moments I remembered a bit more than others, I couldn’t stop…
Leaving Glenveagh and Saffron Scones
I had my first real interview radio yesterday; not about work, just about me and my Hungry Breton Alter-Ego. It was quite fun, exciting and intriguing to have a producer and radio presenter interested about my life! During the pre-interview of the “Late Lunch with Gerry Kelly”, the lady asked me a few questions about myself and what caught their attention was my time I had spent in Glenveagh National park, summer of 1991, working on a clearance project of the cute but deadly Rhododendrons that has plagued Ireland since it had been introduced from Asia… Rhododendrons acidify the soil and create erosion as a consequence, as pretty as it may look, it is a curse for native species… If you want to hear my interview, click on the link, it starts at 32:50…