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”…
Bretonised Aubergines, Roasted Butternut and Red Lentils Stack
I am not very fond of summer in Ireland, not very fond of summer in general, that is just the way I am, don’t judge me or call me a miserable bastard. Since I have been leaving here, we’ve had two great summers; 1995 and 2006. The legend says that as the heat waves hugged and cuddled the land of Hibernia, someone, somewhere, on the Island said:” no, the summer is great, but it’s almost too hot”. A divine intervention then punished that poor soul by ruining it for everybody else… How dare he or she said that?!? For the record your honor, it wasn’t me; I know too well how not to aggravate the natives, refraining from expressing my dislike for July and August. Last week, I decided to be more positive, tackling my cabin fever with long walks, five, nine kilometers, enjoying the wonderful nature of the midlands, butterfly hunting with my camera and rediscovering long lost smells from childhood summers. No saline breeze, no redshanks piping, just a dead dry heat with clear blue skies, thousands of flies and a few remaining chiffchaffs and swallows already thinking of heading back to the African continent…
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Buckwheat and Blackcurrant Chocolate Slab
Every year, in the field at the back of the cottage, I plant something meaningful. A mighty oak now 8 foot tall, found as an acorn in a wood near Gort, co. Galway in 1995; another one a little bit smaller, given years ago by my Dad, from my Grand Parents’ house in Brittany. I want the wildlife to be happy, as this is not really for me, a mere contribution, a legacy maybe? Maybe… I have Hazel, Chestnut and Walnut trees in there, Aronia and Sea Buckthorn for the crazy berries and a couple of years ago, I planted some goose berries and blackcurrants… At last, a decent crop!
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Conchiglioni Butternut Squash “Al Forno”
I went for a walk last Sunday; “a walk?” says my alter-ego ” more like a freaking pilgrimage!”. Ok, ok, a pilgrimage so… I like to sleep with the window open, no matter what the season, how cold or windy the weather is, I listen to the sound – or rather the consequences- of our blue home rotating… I woke up and all was calm, the sky was blue and I found myself inextricably drawn outside, I wanted to feel it, be a part of it… I put my walking shoes on, and like “Travis” in “Paris, Texas”, I started to walk…
Cherry Flan Tart
As promised, here is the recipe for my Cherry Flan Tart( or is it Cherries Flan tart?), featured in one of my previous post a couple of days ago in “The Cherry Picker”.We are right on cherry season, so many memories, especially in my Grandparents’ house, climbing the tree by the terrace and gorging ourselves with this wonderful summer treat! Before you ever start to do this dish, make sure you taste the cherries first. If they lack zing or a bit of body, you can soak them in some Kirsch or even lime juice for a couple of hours. It will give your tart an extra dimension when it comes to the final taste. Just dry them well before putting them in the cast, that’s all. But hey… First things first, the secret to a great tart, is a great homemade shortcrust pastry. And this is how I do mine…
The Cherry Picker
The story takes place in Rennes, Brittany, during the famous summer of 1968; my Dad and his best friend Yves have more or less finished their studies, and the country is still in turmoil after the students and workers’ revolution of the notorious month of May. Youth is still pissed off, there is a hunger for things to change, anger against the more conservative previous generation; the parents. My father was raised in a strict patriarchal environment, as my grandfather was in the military, now stationed in the offices of the Breton Capital where I was to do my military service 25 years later… Well, two days of it anyway, as I managed to get away with it in the most spectacular manner. I didn’t pretend to be suffering from anything, it just happened by telling the truth, the fact that I couldn’t be bothered. In Ireland, we call those guys “Jammy Bastards”… But that is a story for another time. Despite the fact that my Dad’s father was pretty tough, his mother was a gentle soul, balancing the family cocoon quite well. Yves wasn’t as lucky and basically told his own family to fuck off and left to make it on his own… He was soon to be hungry and realised that before he could get a job with all his good qualifications, he ought to get himself sorted through the summer…
Franckie’s Filet Mignon
I often make this dish, it has it all. Tasty, easy to make, it makes a great Sunday dinner, a midweek special treat or a feast after a grand day out. My mother used to make pork steaks in a big pot, slow cooked with onions, garlic and peas, slightly burnt at the bottom, it was delicious too. To save on a lot of dishes during and after cooking, I do mine in a papillote , which is really between two sheets of tin foil. It keeps all the flavours of the ingredients that you put together. One tip though, leave the greens out or they will turn brown. Apart from that, go for it!
Left Overs Irish Bacon Fusion
Well, to be fair, there is so much Bacon and Cabbage one can eat, and those of you who read my Bacon and Cabbage post will understand. I am a busy guy, and Friday is a big day for me and my lovely colleagues as we have to get the place ready for a busy Saturday; once home, I normally go for something quick, but tasty. I had some of my lovely roast bacon left and I decided to go “fusion” with the left overs. Was I inspired by the fact England is about to “sign off” from the European Community? Maybe or “surely” like they say in “The North”( my Belfast friends get very upset when I call it “Northern Ireland”, keep that in mind). Saying that, we all need a bit of comfort and humour, especially when things are about to hit the fan… My God!!! I am becoming way too Irish!
Bacon and Cabbage
Well I don’t know what took me, I mean the weather was beautiful and all, maybe it was the long walk in Mullaghmeen forest with Doggie Woggie that gave me the Munchies, or the fact that Ireland was playing Italy, for an ultimate football showdown in France that evening, but I started to develop some serious cravings for a good auld bacon and cabbage… I know, I know, it is one of them self satirical and self derision thing the Irish enjoy so much. The funny part is, Brittany has very similar dishes; not one, but several! ( some are frankly gross, like that one rolled in bread dough and then boiled in a cloth, from an Island where I used to work). Some of France’s most famous traditional dishes, like Choucroute, Potée or even Garbure are just different versions of Bacon and Cabbage… Here is the way I make mine…
Since I was a little boy, I have loved rhubarb in the simplest of its cooking forms: compote. There was nothing fancy about it, stewed with a bit of sugar and served for breakfast, in a big old clay bowl that would make the food safety authority scream a loud and demented “J’accuse”. Sometimes, “His Highness” like my father called me, as I was a fussy little fecker, got served some rhubarb jam instead, in a jar, from the shop! Maybe she didn’t read the label? Maybe the beautiful rhizomes weren’t in season? With a disappointed pout and an exaggerated lift of the left eyebrow, I would push the jam jar away from me, in protest, with the tips of my fingers, before being clipped behind the ears by my father’s.