North by North West

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Traffic Jam in Mayo

I haven’t been very well for the passed three weeks, a bit of a dose I often get in Spring, people say it is the change of season, I blame the “put the clock forward for a bit of light” malarkey; this messes me up big time! I mean, seriously? Who had the brain wave? A former French President claimed it was to save energy, I think there is something much more sinister behind it, a hidden agenda… I told you I was feeling feverish. Anyhoo, instead of taking a good rest, I went gallivanting in Killybegs with a healthy stock of paper handkerchiefs, and the week after my colleague “Murph” and I had planned to visit a few customers out west, and a cheese and wine tasting in Letterkenny. It was on the card for a couple of months, and the sensible thing would have been to stay at home; I really wanted to go, helping my colleague of course, but I also wanted to see what was happening out there. Sniffling and coughing I went, stubborn like a pig headed Breton, delusional like a teenager who keeps believing that “it’ll be alright”! Thinking about it, I must have been a charming traveling companion, trumpeting like John Coltrane one minute, sounding like a husky hoarse Barry White an other. Our first stop was in Oughterard, a lovely shop in the heart of the town, O’Sullivan’s…

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The Chimney Sweeper

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The Chimney Sweeper

Summer 1995, Galway; I guess this could be the sequel to the “Fleá na bPratai” story. Having moved a couple of months before to the City of Tribes, I had tried to work in some of the multiple cafés and small “restaurants” the town had to offer, without too much luck. Lack of confidence and experience in the domain surely played a role in my misfortune, but believe it or not, the summer that year was so hot, that there was very little trade during day time. Our landlord Mícheál was a nice guy, he popped in sometimes for a cuppa – and to pick up the rent- , a former Irish Army Peace Keeper, a “Blue Helmet” with squinting blue eyes; he would suss you out, like a Blade Runner before you could even open your mouth.

– “I hear you are finding it hard to get a job in our fine City; how are you on a ladder?”

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Fleá na bPratai

“Fleá na bPratai” meaning Potato Festival…

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Organic potatoes
Organic potatoes

A “Potato Festival” you said? I know, only in Ireland you might think? But the story is a little more complex than that I am afraid. It started in the summer of 1995; my girlfriend had been assigned for a five months placement in Galway Co. Council, water quality department, if you don’t mind, with the white lab coat and goggles… But enough with the romance here, I, had to find a job! Or actually design myself one. My ornithological and wildlife guide experiences wasn’t going to put food on the table, not in the “City of Tribes”, not on this Island, not for now. And before anyone puts anything on the proverbial table, we needed to find a place to live for the summer. 1995, the best, hottest and sunniest summer since ever… I am serious, people still speak about it! And as I am looking outside the window, they probably will do so for another twenty years!

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A wee mousse

Chocolate Mousse
Chocolate Mousse

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!

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Lemon Breton Biscuits

Last Thursday, I was missing the ocean. It happens from time to time and like Baudelaire once wrote: ” Free man, you will always cherish the sea“. I was hungry for freedom I guess, and facing difficult times. The ocean always provides me with good advice, the Atlantic with some comfort and Breton biscuits a mini hug around a cup of coffee. The day after, I came back to my wee cottage in the midlands with amazing pictures and a savage need for a spot of baking…

Lemon Bretons ready to bake
Lemon Bretons ready to bake

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