My aunt often says to me that my mother was great at cooking meats; her beef Bourguignon was to die for and the treat for my father, on a cold Sunday, was her osso buco with flageolet beans and boiled potatoes. I guess I took it for granted, as children do, with a nonchalant face while playing with their fork, unaware of the love that was actually put before them. When she passed in 1997, I was only 25; at that stage, I had made my first baby steps in the kitchens of Sligo and Galway, before I got a phone call, before I had to sail away to say farewell, but that moment was never to be as she left before me. I inherited though, some lovely memories and a scrap book full of tender mess and quirky recipes from days long gone. My only regrets? I wish she could have seen Ireland, an Island she loved and supported through the “troubles”, through the struggles… She really did! The other one I guess is, that I would have really loved to have cooked for her… Just once. “But hey! Listen to me! This wasn’t meant to be no sad song” as legend Paul Brady puts it so well… We’ve heard too much of that before… We sure did!
My mother passed away in 1997 this month, only three years after I had moved to Ireland, an untimely and very quick November harvest as she was only three weeks in her 50th birthday. In these short years, I visited a couple of times, in the summer of 96 and April 97. I would always ring a couple of days before sailing, to build up the excitement on both sides I guess and the question from the Gallic side of the channel, and like a good French mother, was always the same: “ What would you like to eat?”… The answer came out bizarrely honest that it even surprised me: “Paupiettes please!” a dish made of sausage meat wrapped in a thin layer of veal or chicken escalope. It is stewed in a mushrooms, white wine and tomato sauce and served with rice. A comforting classic in our house; it wasn’t “cupboard love”, I was never that kind of a young lad, too proud maybe? But my friends, when your Ma asks you what do you want to eat, you better think fast and tell her nice, as I think in the 25 years we’ve known each other, she only popped the question twice…
I am often being asked the question. “What do you miss most about home?” Especially when one has like me “Nationalité Française” printed on his passport; they automatically assume it is food. I was recently over, two weeks ago in fact and as I was about to enter the car deck of Brittany Ferries’ “Pont Aven”, I asked myself the same question. Could it be the “Joie de vivre”, that Anglophile cliché that I can never recall coming out of a compatriot’s mouth? I don’t think so. And frankly, when you look at the head of certain people I know, let me tell you, there ain’t no joy of anything, or maybe the “joie de complaining” about everything.
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.