I live in a very interesting place, far enough from my Breton homeland full of Menhirs (standing stones) and Tumulus (cairns), another 800 kms apart. Humbling and interesting thought one might say; descendant of Neolithic tribes, this Breton found himself a comforting home among other far fetched cousins. I guess a lot can happen in 5000 years, but still, it sometimes makes me smile when I contemplate the irony. Not far from where I am writing these words, and in full view – if I was to stand on the roof of my 100 years old cottage that is – proud and time defying are the hills of Loughcrew, better known as “Sliabh na Cailleach” or “Slieve na Caillaigh”, the Hill of the Witch… Full of legends, Loch Craobh named after a hidden lake snugged somewhere in its footstep; the home of St Oliver the martyr, so much blood spilled on a land wrongly taken and yet [ also wrongly] given by Cromwell to some of his Lieutenant… Funny word “Lieutenant”; meaning in French “the keeper of a place” or something like that. But let’s not dwell about this head case. Folks around here call the area “The Stones”, in a walking distance of the house – if you are brave enough- a passage grave, gateway from one world to another; the inside chamber gets illuminated by the sun twice a year, during the autumnal and spring equinoxes, revealing amazing petroglyphs of sun cycles … Like I said, a magical place, a portal to the “Hereafter”…
I saw your name in a paper
Of people loved does it matter?
A few words patched our stories
And reversed our gravities…
As a child, growing up on the south coast of Brittany, I remember how rare the winters with snow were. Like the native Inuit or Yupik around and within the polar circle, we have several words referring to rain but only one describing snow. It’s a native people thing I guess. Saying that, I get overwhelmed every time a heavy wintry shower makes landfall on the midlands of the isle of Ireland; finding an uncontrollable need to get out there. Geared up with my camera and fitted with recently purchased removable spiked snow boots (yes, I owe a pair), I got out there, taking it all in; “the heavy salted peanuts knowing a cool beer is waiting for you” syndrome, exposure to the elements knowing that some comfort food is waiting for you.
This is based on a stew Story
If I was to be asked about Irish Optimism, my left eyebrow would probably rise ½ an inch higher than it would normally sit. While my – normally placid – face would stare at my interlocutor, I would find very hard to swallow the fact that February 2nd is, to some, the beginning of springtime. I have, to my advantage, a strong case to present. Exhibit 1./ A giant poster of the Moon that saw me growing up. Exhibit2./ A light globe that has been at my bedside table for the best part of my youth… Exhibit3/. The fact that there is still a lot of snow on my townland and that the lovely lady from RTE TV Irish weather forecast, warned us that our area could reach a possible- 8c tonight; With a potential risk of snow. Call me weird, but when it comes to Spring, I am more of a March 20th kinda guy.
Saying that, I love winter. I love the fact that Mother Nature covers the land with an icing sugar like dusting. My simple pleasure is to roam the hills and forest of the western “Royal”, on a quest for inner reflexion, ballet of pain and joy while being exfoliated by battering frozen snow. The motivation behind that self inflicted punishment could probably be measured and evaluated on a psychoanalytic level. After physical pain, comes the healing of a hot bath, ready salted peanuts binge, might be tamed – elbow style- by a cold bottle of beer… In the case of a self inflicted winter hike around Oldcastle’s Loughcrew Cairns… All I wanted was just a bit of comfort, a hand knitted scarf, a turf fire ,a hug and a feed that would illustrate the latter.
I went to my local butcher and got a pound (500g) of stewing beef. I had bought some juniper berries a while back and despite the harsh temperatures of January, some rosemary and thyme remained healthy enough. I got a wee bottle of Gin from the local Pub (20cl) and I infused the lot together to release the flavours. No boiling though, just gentle.
First, in a hot oiled pan, sear the beef until you get a rich brown colour; half way through, I put a clove of garlic or two. Chop the selected vegetables, in this case carrots, two cloves of garlic, celery and a large onion; I also thinly sliced a bit of ginger for extra kick. While all is sweating for a bit, pour in the gin and herbs. A healthy glass of red wine goes in too, for colour and “carpentry”, then let the lot reduce for a bit; A pinch of salt and pepper for luck and cover the dish with water. Let the whole pot simmer for at least two hours. Serve the stew with a parmesan flavoured mash… A simple hug, in a world of brutes!