Every year in Ireland, something magical happen. Under the initiative of Birdwatch Ireland, each county around the Island celebrates the return of our migratory birds, all the way from Africa. The local avifauna seems to be the loudest, with our Robins, Tits, Blackbirds and the unusual Yellowhammers.
Hungry Breton parsnip soup
With coriander and Camelina oil
It was in 1998, the first time I got reacquainted with an old vegetable; to be honest, I had never heard about Parsnips until I moved to Ireland. Shame on me I know, but this wonderful root had almost disappeared from the French culinary landscape. Related to carrots and funny enough parsley (the vegetable Kingdom is full of surprises, just as much as the animal one; did you know that cranes and coots are related?), it is amazing that one of the world’s gastronomic nations had lost its touch with “Le panais”… I am dying with embarrassment here, as I haven’t even heard of its French word until then. Ireland though, never gave up. Before fancy restaurants and fancy chefs put it back on the menu, often as a roasted form, I first fell in love with parsnip when I tasted it in a soup. My Parisian colleague, who hailed from a long line of chefs and cooks, knew all about the auld root.
Before being catapulted into adult life, we were taught a couple of life saving skills. After lunch, wait at least two hours before you go swimming in the sea, never EVER drink white after red, it takes ten minutes to get a hardboiled egg from the boiling point, spaghettis are cooked when they stick to the wall, how to make a vinaigrette, and, what was going to separate the men from the boys, the sheep from the goats; how to make your own mayonnaise. In a region almost surrounded by water, it was only going to be a matter of time before a friend or a family member would ask nonchalantly while preparing the crab claws and meat: “You do the mayonnaise, yeah?” You knew then that the last task of your right of passage had come before you.
As long as I can remember, there was a chipper, Citroën van, parked on the main harbour. We used to call in, as a family, for a drive and a small “barquette” of chips, strolling along the quiet sleepy harbour. My mother, like a lot of other vagabonds, bohemian chip buffs, asked for a dollop of mustard; so was the way most of the crepuscular dreamers enjoyed them.
“Chipper Man” had a beautiful daughter; he was a single father, and worked every night but Mondays, in order to provide for the education, security and well being of Sandra; Sandra was my age, we were at school together. At first, I didn’t really pay attention to her; when my parents decided to drive downtown in our 1978 504 Burgundy Peugeot, I was too young, and too glad to enjoy the sober and simple joys of a family outing. Yet, while the Atlantic and omnipresent south western breeze caressed my forehead, I kept looking at Sandra, helping her father at the weekend, with her beautiful long fairy hair, and a smile that could tame and ease the toughest of customers.
I was a shy teenager. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed a good laugh, sometimes I even got in trouble; my mother was a teacher and a date in the Principal’s office, meant a kick up the arse, my hair pulled, my face slapped and a lecture on how I put shame on the “Mujahideen” of French National Education herself and her mates sworn allegiance to…
Anyway, Sandra and I found ourselves in the waiting room of our secondary school Principal’s office, Judge and Executioner. He was a tough, but fair man; I knew I had a chance to come clean; I had a way with words. Sandra though… She didn’t take it so well. A little “Bourgeois” kid made fun of her and her Dad, her father, the chipper guy, in a grey Citroën van… Fun of the fact that her Mum had gone. She didn’t leave them, she just died; way before her time. Children – like grownups – can be cruel, and shelter themselves from the inevitable… The inevitable that sometimes comes too soon.
“ I don’t know what took me… I punched him in the face… Twice”, she said between two spasms while sitting next to me on that old wooden bench; she cried out of anger, she cried out of regrets. To break the ice, I told her that I loved her Dad’s chips, with mustard… She laughed at my naive, yet sincere statement and said with a drowned smile, while placing her snow white hand on my right knee: “You haven’t lived until you try fries with mayonnaise!!!”
Keep Well and Eat Happy