Monthly Archives: May 2012

Earthy Chicken with Capers and Onions (serves 6)

 In the past week we had settled back into a kind of routine, and part of that routine definitely included a trip out to our friend Tom’s house to see what he had been up to these past few months, (also a nice distraction from unpacking, and weeding the garden). It was a very hot day, and hard to believe that we went from boots and scarves (in Ireland & Italy) to shorts and sandals in 24 hours.

Earthy Chicken with Capers and Onions

He was the same old Tom with a million things going on at once: cleaning out the barn for a possible Art Gallery and Antique Shop, restocking his bee hives, trying to keep up with his blog: Pizza Daily (posting a pizza recipe a day, and using his great pizza paddle invention to get them in and out of the oven), and a million other projects too numerous to mention. His recent retirement had done the opposite of slowing this maniac of a man down!

My daughter at the little formal fountain outside of my friend Tom’s front door

He was invited to dinner that same evening and I was planning on making some variation on a pork spring roll? This kind of meal requires an amount of fiddle-y preparation and so it was important that I get an early start. Usually when Tom comes to dinner he is hungry, and usually when Tom comes to dinner I am invariably late getting the food on the table. I did not want to resort to giving him chips to keep him from passing out, so we kept our visit short and I sped away determined to be efficient.

Eastern Pennsylvania Countryside (taken by sticking my camera out the window of my car coming home from a visit to Tom’s)

Somehow I got distracted (I tend to start reading or doing mindless housework and forget the time) and before I knew it, the idea of making spring rolls was out of the question. I raced into the kitchen and it is no lie to say I had dinner in the oven in about 5 minutes. I felt guilty about not putting in more time, but equally smug, knowing dinner would be pretty darn good either way. When we tasted the dish I was assured that I was correct. Why I wanted to laboriously make spring rolls is beyond me.

The funny part is when Tom showed up and I proudly announced that dinner would be “on time”, he told me he wasn’t hungry yet! Finally, when he did eat, he described the dish as “earthy”, which gave me the name of yet another chicken dish.

____________________________________

* This dinner is good for blood type A: just omit the capers and brine water. I made this with a romaine salad and fresh pineapple, which is also beneficial for type A’s*

Preheat oven 450*

You will need: 1 whole cut-up chicken, 2 large sweet onions, sliced into half moons, 2 cups veggie or chicken stock (or 1 good quality bouillon cube & 2 cups water), 1/4 cup capers, rinsed, 1 tbs brined caper water, (the liquid from the caper jar), 1 tsp course sea salt (I use Maldon salt), several grinds black pepper, 2 tbs extra-virgin olive oil.

Place onions in bottom of casserole

1 – Place onions in bottom of heavy casserole (with lid) and add the broth (or water and cube). Place the chicken on top in an even (ish) layer and add the salt, pepper and capers. sprinkle chicken skin with oil. place lid on pot and place in oven.

put chicken in pot with rest of ingredients

2 – Cook for 1 hour. Turn off oven and leave chicken in oven for another 15 minutes. Remove and set aside until ready to serve.

1 hour, 15 minutes later; deliciousness

You can serve this with any number of things (or alone). This is good with potatoes, rice, pasta, or bread. Some of us had it with a salad (me) while others choose rice.

Fresh Pineapple and Romaine Salad

Fresh pineapple for dessert was a lovely refreshing end to this meal.

Birthday Potatoes (serves 4)

Of all of the things I have cooked in my life, the lowly potato is the food that I am the most familiar with. I am Irish: need I say more.  Potatoes were part of every single dinner I ate when growing up. They are part of both a triumphant and tragic history. They kept us alive, and they starved us to death. But for now, I want to focus on this vegetable for a different reason.

Roasted potato Wedges with Olive oil, Sea Salt Flakes and Fresh Rosemary

I made this dish to celebrate a friend’s birthday. Every meal I ever saw him eat included roasted potatoes, or some sort of potato side-dish. He is far away, and roasting these potatoes was a way to  be part of his special day.

The world’s joy

is spluttering,

sizzling in olive oil.

potatoes

to be fried

enter the skillet,

snowy wings

of a morning swan-

and they leave

half-braised in gold,

gift of the crackling amber

of olives.

Garlic

embellishes the potato

with its earthy perfume,

and the pepper

is pollen that has traveled

beyond the reefs,

and so,

freshly

dressed

in marbled suit,

plates are filled

with the echoes of potatoey abundance:

delicious simplicity of the earth.

by Pablo Neruda

________________________________

You will need: 5 large yellow potatoes, washed and dried, 2 springs fresh rosemary, 2 tsp sea salt flakes (if using fine salt, use 1 tsp), 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil.

Preheat the oven 450*

Yellow or Golden potatoes are best

1 – Cut the potatoes in half lengthways and cut each half lengthways into 3 wedges. Place in a bowl and add the oil. Coat the potatoes well with 3 tbs of the oil (hands work best!). Sprinkle with salt and break up the rosemary and add to bowl.

Mix in a bowl with rest of ingredients

2 – Spread the last tbs of oil on a baking sheet (one that will hold the potatoes in a single, even layer) and place in the preheated oven for 3 or 4 minutes. Take out and immediately spread the potatoes on the sheet. Roast for 15 minutes, before taking out and turning. Return to oven for another 12 to 15 minutes, or until they are golden brown and a knife goes through the center of a wedge easily.

lovely roasted potatoes

Serve with Birthday Cake!

A Puppy Story: Ketut

This is a food blog where I have also taken the opportunity to write about my observations on people and food, restaurants, interesting places and various other topics that divert me. My diversion at this moment is driven by love actually.

Ketut

When I arrived in Ireland in January my sister June was the proud owner of a new puppy. At this point I have to say that the thoughts of my meeting this puppy was not something I was looking forward to. It was not the puppy I was nervous about, but his mother Suki, who is a purebred rottweiler and tried to bite my face off on our last visit (I’m not exaggerating)!

Suki and Ide

June assured me that this was my fault because I was not sensitive enough when I approached her to pet her head , as I was instructed when re-introducing myself. Needless to say the whole trip (6 weeks) was full of my being completely petrified of the 150 lbs of raw muscle all the while everyone telling me to get a grip of myself, and that she wouldn’t harm a fly.

Suki and her 3 week-old puppy

So, meeting her offspring named Ketut was not high on my list of things to do when visiting in January. Have you ever seen a four week-old rottweiler puppy; extremely adorable was the conclusion I was forced to come to , and, another complete surprise is that Suki was too exhausted to attack me. She even wagged her tail and let me pet her. When I touched her head I felt something was different, she was different. Wow, being a mother softened this big strong dog and I was not afraid anymore, truly. What a relief.

Miriam, Suki, Ketut and Ide on the beach in Wexford

Over the course of the next two weeks I became more and more smitten with June’s little dog family. This tiny thing, who dragged his back legs behind him and bumped into furniture, had a captive audience. All seven people in the house would run to see him when beckoned to watch his cuteness in action. We left at the beginning of February (a job in Italy for three months: poor us) and would be returning in April on our way back to the United States. We knew that Ketut would quadruple in size, and were kept well-informed of his progress while away.

Mother and pup playing

Three months later he was a different puppy altogether. He looked like a black bear cub who ran to anyone who gave him a cursory glance or a modicum of interest. He totally ran June’s household, and she let him! One day we came home from town to find a shirt of her’s in absolute ribbons in the front garden. For a girl who practically disowned me every time I misplaced one of her socks in the laundry, I was afraid for Ketut, and how she might admonish him. All she did was laugh and pat him on the head while saying “bad puppy, bad puppy”

Ketut

Suki and Ketut played, ate and slept together twenty-four hours a day. Suki was a mother for the first time at nine, and this was June’s dream. She loved her dog (scary as she was to me) so much she wanted her legacy, her bloodline, a way to hold on to something dear. She now had this miracle of a puppy and life was good.

Miriam, Ketut, Calder

I am writing this because two days before our three-week visit ended Ketut was stolen while no one was home. We spent that first day driving around, calling people and putting up posters, and, on the second day we did something that was a little more extreme, or it may seem so to some people reading this post.

Hanging out at the beach

I come from Ireland and grew up going to Faith Healers to remove warts instead of doctors, and Bone Setters to fix dislocated and broken bones instead of to hospitals and surgeons. It was not unusual, just another option. When we were excavating for water on our property we called a Water Diviner, not an engineer. I remember the diviner walking the land with a stick that looked like a giant catapult frame, and where it pointed to the ground and trembled, that was were we dug and found our water supply.

Ide flanked by Suki and Ketut

When June spoke to her vet she made the timid suggestion of perhaps using a Diviner she knew about, and June, who was very open to trying anything, agreed to give him a call. We arrived at his house on the evening before our plane took off and waited in the farmyard to be beckoned in. When no one came out, we rang the doorbell and waited a little nervously. Eighty-nine year old Mr. Hill answered the door and we all sat in the kitchen.

The land beside the yard where we waited.

He wanted June to sit beside him and tell her story of how Ketut went missing. He took out a little notebook and wrote down information that was important to him. Then, he disappeared behind a door and up some stairs. We were left sitting, waiting, hoping for good news. It was an odd feeling. Here we were, perfectly logical, sane people hoping that this old man would put a pin in a map ad tell us where the dog was right at this moment.

good puppy

We chatted to his daughter-in-law who came in to clear off the dinner things. We talked about how the women are always left to clean the house and how beautiful her fruit trees and bushes were. She complained cheerfully about how she had wasted so much good fruit trying to make jam, and how someone had put chicken bones in the “dog’s bucket” When June asked if her father-in-law liked Divining, she replied, “he revels in it, but he would never tell you that” It made me believe that whatever he said would be gospel.

Mr. hill and his map

He returned with a big map of Dublin, placed it on the kitchen table and pointed to a precise intersection on the outskirts of Dublin City. He was so adamant, so sure. We listened to some of his stories about other cases and left promising to let him know what happened.

When June and I got home, I served everyone dinner and then she, Dave and Miriam’s boyfriend Kevin hopped into a car, map in hand and drove to Dublin. We crossed our fingers and wished them luck. I felt like we had bought a ticket for the grand prize and were hopeful that our number would be pulled. Alas, they came home with no puppy dog. We would all have been surprised if they did, but we were all secretly hoping that Mr. Hill the diviner could work a miracle for us, because we deserved it.

sleepy puppy

It has been ten days since we have seen Ketut. We are back in the United States, while June and my sister Miriam continue their search for this little bear of a puppy dog. We have to think there is still hope, and that finding him is not beyond the realm of possibility. And, if he is lost forever, we have to also believe that he has found his way to people who will love him dearly, and take good care of him.

This is for June and Ketut, because she called him “her new best friend” and she deserved to read something sweet when she woke up this morning.

Come Ketut!

Salmon with Festival Rice Pancake (serves 4)

Again back to the dilemma I am faced with so often in the evening; finishing work late resulting in a late start to dinner. There is nothing worse than cantankerously hungry people snapping at one’s heels.

Salmon with Festive Rice Pancake

My solution for this has always been to grab the eternal bowl of leftover rice from the fridge and some fish from the freezer. This dinner can be whipped up in about 35 minutes, and pleases most palates.

I used salmon, but feel free to use whatever fish you have on hand. I am not a fan of running off to the supermarket to satisfy recipe instructions.

________________________________

* Blood Type A friendly Dinner *

You will need: 4 6oz salmon fillets, 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1 tbs sugar, 1 tsp sesame oil (omit if Blood type A), 3 tbs extra-virgin olive oil (more for frying rice pancake), 1 lrg sweet onion, diced, 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped, 1/2 lb mushrooms (any type), sliced, 3 stalks celery including leaves, sliced, 2 medium carrots, 12 or so green beans, chopped, (or 1 cup frozen peas), sliced, 1 1/2 chicken cups stock (or 1 good quality veggie stock cube and 1 1/2 cups water), 1 tsp cayenne pepper flakes (optional), 4 eggs, beaten,  4 cups cooked basmati rice (a good way to use left-over rice), salt and freshly ground black pepper as needed.

1 – place fish in shallow dish and mix the soy sauce, sesame oil and sugar in a small bowl and pour over the fish. Let the fish marinate for a 1/2 hour (or longer in the fridge if it more convenient)

2 – If you have no cooked rice, cook it at this point.

Cook onions, celery and garlic

3 – Prep all veggies and put big saute pan on medium heat. add oil and add the celery, onions and garlic. saute for 5 minutes. Add the carrots, mushrooms, green beans (or peas), and pepper flakes and continue to cook for another 10 minutes.

Add rest of veggies and pepper flakes

4 – Add the stock (or water and stock cube), and bring to a boil. Simmer for a couple of minutes. Taste for addition of salt and pepper and add according to your taste.

add stock, then rice

5 – Add the rice and stir. Turn off pan and set aside. In large bowl, beat the eggs. Add the rice mixture and stir until incorporated.

fry salmon

6 – Wipe pan clean and put on med to high heat. Add 3 tbs oil and when it is hot arrange fish on pan. Fry on both sides until cooked through (about 3 to 4 minutes per side). Remove to a place and keep warm.

fry rice pancake

7 – Put small pan on med/high heat (I used an 8″ pan & it can be non-stick) and add some extra-virgin oil to coat the pan. When it is hot add a big scoop (1 1/4 cups) of the rice mixture and flatten down gently to cover the entire surface of the pan. Fry for 3 minutes, flip and fry on other side until lightly browned. Remove to a plate and proceed with the next pancakes.

You can also serve with a little sour cream or hot sauce (or a mixture of both)

Serve each person a pancake, a piece of fish and a drizzle of juice (this juice is from the fried fish after it has rested while cooking the rice cakes).

Coffee Pots and Remembering Tom In Italy

What is the difference between these two identical coffee pots? (I know, identical and difference= oxymoron)

My new coffee pot

When Dave dug this out from his hoard of flea market finds when we got back from Italy (where my love for coffee became intense and more discerning) it looked so familiar to me. He said it was from the 1950’s or ’60’s, made in Italy and is probably not being made anymore; La “Signora” caffettiera.

My friend Tom’s coffee pot in Italy

Then I remembered where I had seen this pot before; at my new-found friend Tom’s house and Agriturismo Colle Puccioli situated in the idyllic Tuscan countryside outside of Siena, Italy. We had been invited to stay the night in March and it was a glorious night and day (clink on link above to read my epic 3 part story!).

Colle Puccioli back courtyard leading to the kitchen door.

When I awoke that morning at his house, and quietly entered the kitchen, my friend John, who made the trip with us, was already sitting at the kitchen table reading. Of course he hadn’t made any coffee so I began to rummage through Tom’s crazy kitchen for coffee and a coffee pot.

A view of Tom’s wild and beautiful kitchen

I found a very used and sturdy-looking pot and made myself and John a nice strong brew. As I was rinsing it out and carefully pouring the grounds into the little perforated container  I began to think about how this pot had seen many mornings in this kitchen. All of the hands on it’s black plastic handle doling out coffee in all kinds of situations; happy, sad and every emotion in-between.

The instructions for the pot were still tucked inside the pot when Dave bought it.

So the difference between these two identical pots is not so much that Tom’s pot is worn and has a permanent coffee patina baked into it’s aluminum body , and mine is shiny and in top-notch condition; I like to think that my pot has a lot to learn if it wants to exude the character and style of its counterpart sitting amid the myriad of treasures in Tom’s kitchen in lovely Tuscany.

Another lovely view of Tom’s kitchen

Spaghetti With Turkey Ragu (serves 4)

Spaghetti with Turkey Ragu

Today was a lazy Sunday. I dubbed it a lazy day when I watched my daughter cutting long strips of pale lilac paper, stopping short at the end, and then cutting another strip until the whole sheet looked like the fringe of a fancy dress. She then cut them across and the pieces fell to the table in a cascade of tiny squares. I inquired if she was making confetti, and if so, “why”? She said “yes”, and “because it was something to do”.  That made it official. If someone resorts to idly making confetti, you can be sure they have nothing to do.

Hand-cut lilac confetti

I didn’t see this as a bad thing. We have been busy for far too long, and this action indicated to me we had begun to exhale, to relax, to breath. The piles of paper dropping from her scissors reminded me of the campo in Siena, where only a few months earlier I watched my daughter collect the tiny colorful confetti that lay in every space between the bricks and then fling it all into the air for the pure fun of it (type “Lunch in Siena; Spectacular” in search box to read more). Now everyone is in bed as I write, all the while itching to fling into the air her painstakingly made confetti that sits on the table beside me. I just can’t do it, as then I will have to clean it all up in case she races down the stairs in the morning to find it.

The confetti-covered campo in Siena

Thinking about Siena, made me think about Italy, and that made me remember how much this daughter of mine always ordered ragu everywhere we went. I had ground turkey in the fridge and a can of tomatoes in my cupboard, and so, I was going to make ragu for dinner, all because of confetti. It was the perfect dish to end our lazy day (and delicious).

_______________________________

You will need: 3 or 4 tbs extra-virgin olive oil,2 cloves garlic, finely chopped, 1 large sweet onion, diced, 1 thinly carrot, sliced or diced, 1 stalk celery, chopped, 3 slices streaky bacon, chopped, 1 lb ground turkey, 1 28oz can tomatoes and their juices, chopped, 1 tbs tomato paste concentrate, 2 tbs freshly chopped oregano, 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper flakes, 1/4 cup heavy cream (optional), 1 tsp sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, 1 lb spaghetti pasta (I use Barilla brand).

1 – Prep all ingredients as instructed above.

Saute veggies

2 – Put large saute pan on medium heat and add oil. When it warms, add the bacon,  garlic, onions, celery and carrots. Saute for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add oregano, pepper flakes, salt and several grinds of pepper and cook for another 2 minutes.

add turkey, then tomatoes

3 – Add turkey and cook for another 5 minutes (turn heat up if you need to). Add the tomatoes, paste and bring to a boil. Turn heat down until sauce reaches a gentle simmer. Cover and cook for 30 minutes.

*while sauce is cooking, put pot of water on for pasta and cook according to instruction. time the pasta to be ready when the sauce is completely finished. Reserve a cup of pasta water in case you need it to loosen your sauce*

Serve plain or with cheese

4 – Stir in cream and take off of heat.

To serve; place spaghetti in the bottom of a bowl, top with sauce, and add cheese if you like.

Things to do with cut-up paper and a single flower petal!

Pasta Chicken Salad for Lenny’s Annual Picnic (serves 8 as main course)

 My pasta salad was pretty great (I know, very modest), and the picnic was certainly something that needs to be talked about!

Robust and zesty salad for picnic

Dave has a friend named Lenny and he has an annual picnic at his place to hail in the coming of warm days. We were not invited this year as Lenny thought we were still away in Italy (read previous posts), but found out through our mutual friend Tom, that it was happening last night. We decided to picnic-crash as a surprise!

Blacksmith’s Metal Tong Fence

One of the reasons to be excited about going to this picnic was the prospect of wandering around Lenny’s veritable jungle of a sculpture garden. This is a man who sees beauty in the everyday object, and exhibits  them on his land akin to an art installation at the Museum of Modern Art.

Ceramic Chimney tops on the flagstones on the back patio

From the moment we parked the car, (surprising Lenny who playfully greeted us in Italian) my eyes were constantly pleasingly distracted with curious things that upon closer inspection turned out to be things like antique blacksmithing tools (anvils, swage blocks, giant tongs, stakes…), and various architectural elements (like the backdoor frame which looked curiously like a carved wooden fire mantlepiece, which I forgot to ask him about).

The pond

To say the setting was idyllic is an understatement, and to say that his hundreds of iron, stone, wooden, glass, marble and ceramic objects scattered about this picturesque place looked out-of-place and cluttered would be a gross untruth. Lenny is apparently the master of balance. His outbuildings and sheds may be filled sky-high with a boggling amount of “stuff’, but he has learned the art of placement when it comes to the natural unnatural existing harmoniously.

Marble picnic table

It was difficult for me to join the dozens and dozens of people who were congregating around the back porch, and giant bonfire that was blazing almost out of control. But eventually, after much exploring and picture-taking, I headed over to see what kind of spread was laid out on the long tables under the trees beside the kitchen door.

Rum and fresh watermelon cocktail anyone?

The first thing that caught my eye was the freshwater melon with an upended bottle of rum sticking out of it’s flesh, and sporting a spigot to boot! I had never seen such a wonderful invention. The rum seemed to instantly dissolve into the fruit and break down the sugars into a cocktail that was rich, but not too sweet. I knew to keep well away from it if I wanted to enjoy my Sunday.

Lenny’s kitchen sink

There was also a leg of lamb, beef brisket, barbecued pork, a cucumber and dill salad, an amazing guacamole with puffy pastry triangles, baba ganoush, baby chocolate cake sandwiched together with fresh cream and strawberries, along with mountains of yummy things to drink, like…dark and light rums, red and white wines, fresh pulpy pineapple juice laced with dark rum, citrus-y vodkas and lemonades.

Lenny’s kitchen mantle

Myself, Tom, Dave and the kids went for a walk to sit by the river running through the property. As we made our way over, I discovered that quite a few tents were going up. This was apparently an affair that left you so exhausted, staying the night was a prerequisite!

Not a bad thinking spot

After devouring food, and chatting with strangers, the band Lenny had hired began their session on the porch. It was raucous fun and my vodka and watermelon juice felt refreshingly cool as the sun went down.

Crosscut Saw Band jamming away!

Thank you Lenny for the all-encompassing treat!

____________________________________

My new citrus squeezing tool from Orvieto, Italy

You will Need: 3 chicken breast fillets, 1 small/medium red onion, finely diced, 6 scallions including green parts, sliced, 1 red pepper, finely diced, 1/2 cup celery leaves, chopped, 1/2 cup crushed peanuts, 1 1/2 lbs mini ridged penne pasta (I used Barilla brand), 1 1/2 cups chicken broth, 2 tbs extra-virgin olive oil, 1 tsp sea salt (I used Maldon), several grinds of black pepper.

For the Dressing; You will need: 6 tbs soy sauce, 1 tsp cayenne pepper flakes, 2 tbs fine white sugar, juice from 1 lime.

Make dressing

1 – Put dressing ingredients into a bowl and mix together vigorously. Set aside.

2 – Put pot of water on high heat and when boiling add penne and cook according to instructions. Drain into a colander and rinse thoroughly with cold water. Place pasta in big bowl and set aside.

Sear chicken

3 – While penne is cooking, put medium pan on high heat and add oil. Season the breasts with salt and pepper and brown quickly on both sides. Turn heat down to low and add chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then cover. Simmer very gently for 12 minutes. Turn off heat and leave in liquid until cool enough to handle. Remove to a chopping board and slice into bite-sized pieces. add to pasta.

diced red onion & celery leaves

4 – Chop remaining ingredients according to instructions and add to pasta. Add crushed peanuts and mix everything together.

Add nuts and other ingredients

5 – Add the dressing and mix again.

Serve at room temperature.

Summer is here.

Tintern Abbey And Dunbrody House For Lunch (Yes, A very Good Day)

Tintern Abbey, Hook Head, Wexford, Ireland

I am sitting at my dining room table and my daughter has just burst into song, “I’m a sentimental sap that’s all” These words ring in my ears, as I was remembering that just yesterday, I left my sisters and home in Ireland for where I am living now; the United States. I have been away since January (read previous blogs about Ireland and Italy) and my return is something I am trying to be happy about. Being sentimental is a burden right at this moment, but writing about one of my last days before I left will hopefully heal my pathetic heart.

View of Tintern Abbey

This day was not especially planned, and, isn’t that usually the case when a day works out perfectly? I suppose when you start out with no expectations, there is little to be disappointed about.

Grounds at Tintern Abbey

This past Sunday (my last Sunday) I was awake earlier than everyone in the house, which was actually not that unusual since I rise way earlier than most normal people. I was quietly drinking a strong cup of coffee and relishing the fact that I could read in peace, when the thought crossed my mind that it was nearly my last day at home in Ireland, with my two lovely sisters, and we had no special plan for the day?

Stone Bridge on grounds at Tintern Abbey

By the time everyone was up, bathed, had breakfast, and the three sisters finished their crossword puzzle (my sister June had been printing three of the Irish Times puzzles everyday, and we have literally raced to see who can finish first; you know, to find out who is the smartest!), it was well into late morning. Then that dreaded question was posed to me, “what do you want to do today?” It has been up to me to figure this out (as well as to make dinner in the evening) because it is my precious time I have chosen to spend here, and so I should be the one making the plans.

Graveyard on the grounds of Tintern Abbey

I hate this! I want someone else to plan something amazing and then tag along! I suggested some sort of castle or other and then perhaps a walk on a blustery beach. Miriam and June haggled over which castle, and when they couldn’t decide suggested two castles, well, a Cistercian Abbey and a castle to be precise. I said “great!” Miriam then groaned when she remembered she had to go to a 5 year old’s birthday party with her boyfriend, while we jumped into the car shouting “have fun, see you later!”

Bridge at Tintern Abbey from a distance

The first stop was Tintern Abbey; absolutely beautiful. The weather couldn’t have been better (by Irish standards, that is) and when we stepped into the abbey yard I was filled with breezy sun and the prospect of a perfect day. Tintern Abbey is located on Hook Head peninsula in county Wexford, Ireland. It was built at the very beginning of the 13th century. The Cistercian monks from the abbey known as Tintern in Wales colonized the abbey, and Tintern Abbey in Ireland became it’s sister abbey.

abbey from across the fields

The abbey is now in ruins with a partially restored section, but it was impressive, irregardless of it’s condition. We walked around it’s substantial grounds, including a beautiful dilapidated old cemetery, and marvelled at the stone bridge that crossed the river running through it all.

Curious daughter.

I caught myself trying to be mindful of taking it all in, and, what a hard thing to do? It was like trying to take in big gulps of air without feeling a heady rush. It is virtually impossible for me to completely appreciate what I am doing until just after the moment. I need time to comprehend and take it all in.

more adventuring

We wound our way through little paths in a wooded area where Spring was secretly rearing it’s beautiful head in the form of masses of bluebells covering the grassy floor. My kids got no end of pleasure disappearing down windy paths to see where they would end up; pure heaven.

The ruin at Dunbrody

Then it was back into the car and either take the ferry to Waterford, see a hillfort in Ballyhacket or the lighthouse at Hook Head!

Dunbrody House

We ended up doing none of the three, as on our way, June wanted me to have a look at a place called Dunbrody House. She said it was run by the famous Irish chef Kevin Dundon, who headed up a Cookery School, a fabulous restaurant and bar, a spa, and a farm that supplied the kitchens on the 200 acre estate. As we were all getting peckish for lunch, there were no objections to indulging my obsession with all things food-related.

Dunbrody House (back yard)

As June drove around the grounds trying to find the main entrance to the house and restaurant it was apparent that she was a little unsure (I’m being nice). On our third go-around she stopped at what looked like the front door. It had no big sign directing us in, so out jumped June with the car running and disappeared inside. Within a second she peeked out and beckoned me in, and then I left also, leaving everyone in the back with the still-running car!

Grounds at Dunbrody House

This 1830’s Manor House built in the Georgian style felt warm and pleasant the moment I entered the spacious hall.  The walls were painted in rich hues which complimented the equally vivid curtains. The furniture was Queen Anne style and ornate chandeliers hung from molded ceiling mounts. The big windows flooded the place with light, and on this particular day the sun was unmasked by clouds, allowing the whole house to be awash with comforting heat; all very affable.

Dunbrody House

There was a little more getting lost (I’m blaming June of course) until we found the dining room. It looked way too fancy for a bunch of people dressed in attire more suitable for a walk in the woods than a formal lunch, but before we could discreetly leave, we were greeted by Olive, the extremely charming restaurant manager.

The guy that keeps the chicken laying.

She chatted away about what was available by way of lunch, and took us into the elegant bar area which was also set up with bistro-style tables in front of large french glass doors into which the sun streamed. After glancing at the menu, I looked at my sister and said “why not!” We decided to throw caution to our wallets and splurge on a fabulous lunch, and raced off to find the rest of the gang. Dave had already decided that sitting around in a running car that blocked the entrance was a bad idea and had moved the car and he and the kids were already on their way in.

Fish, Chips & Wine

Places like this tend to be stuffy, but this was not the case at Dunbrody House. Olive talked and joked with my children as we settled in with menus, and a wine list. She told them about the gardens, chickens and their pot-bellied pig. She insisted that we take a tour of the grounds when we left. Well of course we would!

The kitchen

The majority of us choose lightly battered fish and chips and when I told one of the staff I wanted to take some pictures Olive was summoned. She told me that Mr. Dundon had an “open kitchen policy” and that not only could we roam the whole manor to snap some pictures, but we could also invade the kitchen and watch our food being prepared.

The scale in the kitchen.

All five of us jumped straight out of our seats and headed for the kitchen. At that moment the chef was cutting our flaky cod pieces in preparation for battering and frying. The place was open, cheery and spotlessly clean. There is something a little voyeuristic about being able to see the inner workings of a restaurant.

My daughter’s pork mini burgers

Sometimes when food just appears in a dining room that is devoid of the aroma of cooking onions and garlic, it is hard to imagine that it came from anywhere. This kitchen was full of starchly clad young men and women keeping busy at the various prep stations. I wanted to grab a knife and make my own lunch (they may even have let me if I had the nerve to ask!).

Fish with a splash of lemon juice

I was expecting the food to be good, considering our surroundings and the prices, and my expectations were met in abundance. The presentation was very fun, with the chips coming in a wire cone wrapped in newspaper, and the salad in little copper saucepans.

The ultimate Fish n’ Chips

  However, the very best thing was the fish, with the batter being my absolute favorite part. It was so light and had a delicate crispy-ness when I bit into it. Olive went to the kitchen to find out what was in the batter and came back with an exact recipe. The secret to the lightness was a combination of cornflour (corn starch in the States) and all-purpose flour. I will post a recipe when I test it out.

Pot-bellied pig

After lunch we headed out to explore the grounds and to work off the sticky toffee pudding we had devoured for dessert. The grounds next to the house had pathways shooting off in all directions. One of these tree-lined paths led to the vegetable garden and greenhouses, while another took us to the herb garden and chicken coop. We also managed to find the pot-bellied pig and a path that led to the bay, and what I assumed was Mr. Dundon’s residence tucked behind a myriad of trees and bluebells. Yes, it was idyllic, and yes, I was very jealous indeed.

Formal dining room at Dunbrody house

Not as jealous however as my sister Miriam will be when she reads this post. When we got home she had just arrived back from the birthday party. We said we had a nice time, and hoped she had too. Don’t worry Miriam, next time, we will go for dinner, and you can sit in the kitchen with your glass of wine and enjoy the clamour. Olive will arrange everything!

My sister June shamelessly promoting herself as a hand-model (cool ring by David Jones)


Good-Bye Brunch At My Place In Cortona, Italy (and Fabulous Frittata Recipe for 10)

Road above the UGA Art School in Cortona on a misty Spring morning.

When I wanted to say goodbye to a group of six students I had become fond of in Cortona, Italy this Spring, I immediately felt the urge to say it with food. There is a reason why people gather over food to celebrate or for that matter commiserate with each other.

The School Yard

Almost always when people want to connect they arrange a meal of some sort. It can be a lavish or intimate affair. There is something about food (and in my case, with a little wine) that allows strangers to become easier with each other, and old friends to become closer.

Pathway at the Severini building winding towards outside altar

I remember when my mother died I found a piece of lamb she had been de-frosting to have for dinner possibly the next day. When the droves of people came to our house to pay their last respects all I wanted to do was hide away in the kitchen and cook. I wanted to feed people, while consoling myself, cutting with her knives, and stirring with her spoons. I used the lamb to make a rich, sumptuous stew, using fresh rosemary from her giant bush of it outside the kitchen door. The smell of the flavors wafted through the house, and as sad as people were, the smell gave them a modicum of happiness. As friends and relatives came into the kitchen to say goodbye, I told them about the lamb and everyone wanted a taste. The big pot of stew was never dished into bowls, but eaten spoonful by spoonful by everyone passing through.

Frothy mimosas

When I wanted to say my farewells to six beautiful women who had studied at the school in Cortona for 3 months, I wanted to do it from my kitchen. I wanted to invite them to something special, a kind of meal that is usually a special occasion sort of moment, so I asked them to Brunch & Mimosas on our last Sunday.

View from school

We arranged for the ladies to provide the prosecco and blood oranges for the mimosa, and the food would be taken care of by me. It was the end of the semester, and our time in Cortona was coming to a close, so I was up to my eyes with all sorts of other things. When the Saturday before the brunch descended upon me, the last thing I wanted to do was trek around town with my grocery bags to shop for dozens of eggs and a multitude of fillings for frittatas!

Bird made by Thib from prosecco bottle closure (see; beauty in most everything)

Anything that is worthwhile requires an effort, demands work. There would be no such thing as appreciation if that were not the case. So the effort it took to pull myself together on Sunday in preparation for brunch was nothing compared to the genuine gratitude I received in return. When you say things like this out loud, it can sound trite and sentimental, but that doesn’t stop me from saying it. I am passed being stoic about my emotions when it comes to people I care about.

Arrington deftly getting the maximum amount of juice from each orange.

The girls arrived all dressed up and ready to squeeze oranges for their morning cocktails. They had been living for the past several months in a dormitory with a common kitchen, so it was a treat to be in a more homey place with someone like their mother in the kitchen cooking especially for them.

Stacked rocks in Severini garden

They sat around our big kitchen table with my two children (who had formed lovely friendships with them also), and, while I cooked and doled out triangular pieces of frittata, we all ate while enjoying our delicious prosecco-spiked orange juice.  The chatter was warm and familiar, and I was very happy that over the past three months I had been giving the chance to meet new people and found friends among them.

Spring in Cortona

I now am sitting here miles away from them, but wishing them well, and looking forward to keeping in touch. Thank you Thib, Arrington, Brittany, Natalie, Elizabeth and Ellen for the pleasure of your company at Sunday Brunch.

see you again

______________________________________

You will need: 24 large eggs, and some or all of the following toppings; 4 celery stalks with leaves, finely chopped, 3 yellow onions, finely diced, 2 carrots, cut into thing match sticks, 6 cups sliced white or crimini mushrooms, 2 zucchini, diced, 2 peppers (red or green or combo of both), diced, 1 lb bacon (1/2 kg), cut into pieces. Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, cayenne pepper flakes (optional), grated strong cheese (optional), extra virgin olive oil for frying veggies and cooking eggs.

* These are just suggestions. feel free to add your favorite ingredients to the list*

Prep all ingredients before you begin actual cooking

1 – Prep all topping ingredients as instructed above before you begin.

2 – Crack eggs into a big bowl, adding 1 tsp salt, several grinds of pepper and 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper flakes into the bowl and whisk briskly for a minute or two, until well incorporated.

3 – Put saute pan on medium heat and add about 2 tbs of oil and add the onions. Cook until soft (about 10 minutes). Remove to a bowl and continue to fry all of the rest of the ingredients until cooked, placing in different little bowls as you proceed, (including the bacon). You will need to add more oil as needed.

4 – When everything is cooked, put an oven rack close to the grill and turn it on. Put clean saute pan on medium to high heat and add 1 tbs of oil. When the oil is hot add about 2 1/2 to 3 cups of the egg mixture to the pan and immediately sprinkle on the toppings of your choice. Try to distribute evenly.

add toppings to eggs

5 – After about 3 minutes of undisturbed cooking (in other words; no touching the eggs with a spatula or spoons), place pan under the grill. Check after 1 minute, and when the top is beginning to turn a golden brown, and the sides pull away and become fluffy, remove the pan and slide the frittata onto a plate or wooden board. After 1 minutes it is ready to be cut into wedges and served.

place under hot grill to brown and become fluffy

Serve alone, with a green salad or potato wedges. Make sure you have condiments on hand such as hot sauce, sweet chilli sauce, tabasco, and salsa.



A Day in Dublin

View of Dublin city bus around Merrion Square

I remember when I was sixteen hitchhiking to Dublin with my friend Siobhan.  We would tell our parents we were taking the train and then walk for the train station to the “Dublin road” and stick out our thumbs. I did this for years and it was a great way to get around. It cost nothing and we were not tied to train or bus schedules. That was Ireland thirty years ago, and unfortunately I wouldn’t recommend doing it today. 

Daniel O’ Connell monument on O’Connell Street

On Wednesday myself and the family took a train to Dublin (read previous post on our lovely train trip) arriving safe and sound at ten in the morning ready for the very packed day I had planned.

Really cool ad campaign against littering (posters everywhere in Dublin city)

I wanted to see two very different things; a late 18th century gaol (jail), and a Caravaggio painting. I had also worked in our lunch spot, a bookshop visit, and a detour through Stephan’s Green via Grafton Street. We had eight hours, and so, from O Connolly train station in Dublin we headed straight to Aston Quay by the river Liffey for our bus to Kilmainham Gaol! 

graffiti written by inmates over one of the doors (quote from poem by an executed Irish Freedom fighter Patrick Pearse)

This gaol was completed in 1794 whose state-of-the-art design replaced the antiquated dungeon style jail that had been used for years. I was interested in seeing the jail not so much to learn about how the new system worked, but to see the cells and hear the story of the Irish rebel leaders from the early 20th century, who were imprisoned, and some executed, for the part they played in gaining independence from England.

Wall Mural of Madonna and Child painted by prisoner Grace Gifford Plunkett (her husband Joseph Plunkett was executed for his part in the 1916 Rising)

It was a bone-chilling place where the very lively and informative guide told us stories of the youngest prisoner being 5 years old, and a little boy of 10 being transported, along with a ship-full of convicts, to Australia, for stealing a cloak. We stood in the Stone Breakers Yard where five Irish Freedom fighters were shot, and toured the East Wing where many political prisoners were held. All very grim, but thought-provoking stuff, and a definite rude awakening for my nearly 11 and 13-year-old; no stealing cloaks for them!

Cell Door in Kilmainham

Then it was back onto the double-decker bus (rode on the top deck of course) to Exchequer Street to have lunch at Fallon & Byrne. I picked this place for a few a few reasons; it has a specialty gourmet food shop, a deli, and restaurant, complete with a wine cellar all under one roof. It was also the home of the old telephone exchange, built in 1898. The main floor was once a throng of telephone operators, while the wine cellar’s now trendy-looking giant metal columns housed the thousands of telephone wires and cables feeding the system.

The wine cellar at Fallon & Byrne

I also knew there was enough variety to satisfy all of our palates without burning a big hole in our pocket. The ground floor was buzzing with diners trying to grab something delicious to eat before it was back to work, and, the more packed it was, the more I enjoyed being there. I like noisy restaurants where I can get lost, and eat in crowded anonymity.

One of our tasty sandwiches

We decided to order from the massive choices at the deli counter and then take our food down to the wine cellar where we could eat comfortably and buy a bottle of wine from the huge selection lining the walls. The atmosphere was warm and inviting, with an imposing long bar whose surface was neatly stacked with old-fashioned water bottles, glasses, condiments, fresh flowers and a variety of  wine. The dining tables mimicked tasting tables, with a few high tables made from wooden barrels dotted in between. It was pretty packed but we managed to grab a high table and settled into the business of eating and drinking.

The dim bar at Fallon & Byrne

There is nothing more satisfying than a good lunch, washed down by wine, after a tour of a depressing prison! The food was good, but the wine was better (from Puglia, Italy), and I was glum when my last sip was drained. I left Fallon & Byrne (not before hearing a story about the haunted elevator by one of the friendly bar staff), ready for our convoluted walk to our next destination, the National Gallery of Ireland, where The Taking Of Christ by Caravaggio awaited.

Fusiliers Arch at the entrance to St Stephan’s Green

I was compelled to see this because having just left Italy (where we had been for 3 months – see past posts for more stories about my experiences), my brain was saturated with all things Italian, and I needed to prolong my connection, my love affair with the things that had imprinted themselves on me forever. The other reason I dragged my family across Dublin city to see one painting was to say a roundabout “hello” to my friend Danielle, who is back in Italy, and is an Art Historian who has a professional and deeply personal interest in the painter.

One of the many tree-lined path in Stephan’s Green, Dublin

Our walk took us up the busy and cosmopolitan Grafton street where my daughter insisted on giving a very mediocre busker a euro for her lacklustre singing. We entered St. Stephan’s Green through the grand Fusiliers Arch following a path towards Merrion Square. Stephens Green (as it is more commonly known) is a public park, impeccably maintained, lined with lime trees and immaculate flower gardens, and fountains. It has been a place of respite from the busy city, within the city, since 1880 and on every visit I make to Dublin, I try to step inside the gates if even for a few moments. It is an endlessly cheerful distraction from the noisy and bustling streets.

17th century Hughenot cemetery (Hi Mario!)

When we left the park Dave spotted and old gated Hughenot cemetery, which was a reminder of another friend I left behind in Italy, (odd, but one of his specialties is Death). I managed to take a few pictures for him by standing on a street bench and lifting my camera above the high wrought-iron fence before strolling on.

A view into the Hughenot cemetery near Stephan’s Green on North Merrion Row

The Caravaggio was in the second room of the upstairs gallery, and while my kids ran ahead to find it, I decided to be patient and enjoy the rest of the art on the walls, (I liked this Fra Angelico, a 15th century renaissance painting below (1439- 1442), probably influenced by the fact that he was Florentine and a Dominican monk in Fiesole, a place I had visited with a friend a month or so earlier)

Saints Cosmas and Damian and their Brothers Surviving the Stake

The Caravaggio painting was so beautiful, and I was completely content to stand in front of it for as long as I could and recall what I had learned about this master, and smile when I thought about my time in Italy.

The Taking Of Christ by Caravaggio in the National Galley In Dublin

The jail, lunch and painting were neatly ticked off of my list and then we stopped at a bookshop where I was in dire need of a peruse, before heading for a last cup of tea (and a glass of wine) at the famous Bewley’s cafe on Grafton. I’m not one for patronizing tourist-traps but I wanted the kids to have tea in Bewley’s at least once in their lifetime. I must say, it was not as tacky as I thought it might have become over the years.

Bewley’s Cafe, Dublin

Bewleys opened it’s doors in 1927 and has been humming along ever since. The Bewley’s were a Quaker family from France and were the first real tea merchants to bring tea into Ireland in a big way (2,099 chests from China to be exact) in around 1834.

Harry Clarke’s stained-glass windows in Bewley’s

This is the largest cafe in Ireland and it’s interior is pretty magnificent. It was built in the style of the grand Parisian cafes of the day, with added oriental touches (partly inspired by Tutankhamen’s Tomb). The most spectacular feature are the six stained glass windows commissioned from the renowned artist Harry Clarke.

“O commemorate me with no hero courageous
Tomb – just a canal bank seat for the passer-by”  poet, Patrick Kavanagh

It became the center of the literary, cultural and artistic scene in Dublin, with James Joyce, poet Patrick Kavanagh (one of my favorites), and Samuel Beckett being some of it’s clientele. It also became a handy meeting point for me years ago when in Dublin and needed to arrange to meet friends beforehand (no cell phones then!). Upon opening the doors on Wednesday last I got that familiar smell of coffee beans mixed with the sweet smell of cakes and pastries.

Marble-topped cafe tables

We sat in view of the stained glass windows, and it felt very homey and familiar. It was also as busy as ever, and we ate our treats amid the din of trays rattling and boisterous conversations.

There are 44 of these bike stations in Dublin (dublinbikes) and are a fantastic way to get around the city

The last part of out trip was a bit stressful as we misjudged the walk back to catch the last train at 6.30pm, and it turned into a frantic run, resulting in us jumping onto the train ten seconds before the doors closed. Despite the mad rush at the end, it was close to a perfect day in lovely Dublin AND, it didn’t rain once.