In my “celtic tigress” days I would have thought nothing of roasting a chicken, picking what meat I liked and then throwing away the carcass. It’s far from throwing away the carcass I was reared and my mother still makes her own stock from roast chicken which I now do as well.
It’s the Wednesday after Easter and himself has taken the 3 year old off for the day to help digging a garden. This leaves me on my own with the baby, who has just fallen asleep.
Sitting on the kitchen table are a number of Easter Eggs, unopened and while I would really like to crack 1 open and demolish it on the spot I’m craving something a bit more filling so I wander to the cupboard to check out the bread stock. I was originally intending a crisp and chocolate sandwich which would marry the two salty and sweet flavours in a savoury bit of bread. I begin to salivate a bit.
I’m a foodblogger with good intentions. Plenty of good intentions, and since last Wednesday I’ve been tormented by my homemade Easter Eggs.
Tomorrow is Good Friday, it’s a “day of fasting” and traditionally we don’t eat meat on that day. Actually we rarely eat meat on a Friday at all because my mother in law almost always cooks fish and welcomes all of her children and her extended family to dinner that day. So much so that it has been renamed “Fresh Fish Friday” in our house.
When growing up Good Friday the “stations of the cross” along with Ma in our parish church, then a trip to the graveyard in Sutton to visit the grave of my Grandfather (her husband), after which we’d head over to Howth to get fish fresh from the pier. There was, and still is, only one shop on the pier where we buy our fish and that is Nicky’s Plaice.
My Granda (grandfather) came to visit for dinner yesterday. He’s 95 years young. I say young because I can only hope that I will have his energy and enthusiasm for life at his age. I wanted to treat him so I made a big dish of mashed potatoes flavoured with fresh Irish butter, milk and chives cut from my plant by the door, not forgetting a sprinkling of salt & pepper. It was light, fluffy, soft and matched the slices of roast chicken, homemade gravy and fresh vegetables perfectly.
The only thing is I’m dreadful when it comes to portion sizes. Ask me to cook for our family and I, more often than not, am left with leftovers. Today I still had a big dish of mash sitting in the fridge and I really didn’t fancy mash a second day in a row. The kids are off school for the next two weeks for the Easter holidays and I had hungry mouths to feed. I got a knock to the door at about 9.30am and was handed 4 fresh, still warm, duck eggs. They are gorgeous with pale shells and it seemed that the only way to do them justice was to poach them.
I love my 3 year old (E) to bits. He is possibly the funniest person on the planet. His favourite phrases at the moment include “that sounds loike a gwreat idea mammy” (no clue who taught him that one, ahem) and “you’re a codfwish” (courtesy of Captain Hook). There are some days that I’m not his favourite person, like days when I have to clean or when the baby is niggling so much that I find it hard to dedicate some time just to him.
The hour went forward in Ireland this weekend and the change in daytime brought a run of incredibly sunny days with it. Everyday since Sunday we have been treated to temperatures of up to 20 degrees celcius (and sometimes more) and glorious sunshine. I live in County Dublin so while I’m close enough to the city centre to be able to get there within 1 hour’s journey, I’m also beside farmland, and the seaside. In fact if I open my windows on a quiet day I can hear the waves crashing on the shore and/or the cows in the next field over. Yes, that close.
With the sunny weather it has heralded the arrival of the ice cream vans. Not just the odd one hoping to get a bit of business on a chilly day (I spotted a van here over the Christmas holidays), but sometimes more than 4 vans in the one day. If we were to buy ice cream from these vans even once a day we’d be broke and at this point I hang my head in shame. This is because this very mean mammy has been known to inform the toddler with much confidence that ice cream vans only make music when they are empty. But there is something about the tinny sound of “O Sole Mio/Just One Cornetto” being piped through the tannoy along with the chug of the diesel engine that powers the vans that makes me feel like I want something cold and sweet straight away.
Okay I admit it, I have a bit of an obsession with Rhubarb. It is one of my favourite fruits and because it’s in season at the moment it’s very easy, and cheap to get a hold of. I will do some chutneys towards the end of the season but at the moment it’s so tender there is very little cooking to do with it. The only ingredient in this recipe that isn’t Irish is the fruit sugar that I used to poach the rhubarb, however if you can get your hands on a decent Irish apple juice then that would be perfect instead of sugar.
Since January close friends and family of mine have been on a health kick. Not in a New Year resolution sort of way, more in a life-changing way. Himself has lost nearly 2.5stone at this stage and his pals and my two gorgeous friends, A & S, aren’t too far behind. Their diet can be restrictive when it comes to sweet treats. Since they started this journey towards a healthier self when I cook or bake something particularly bold I get admonished, just a little bit, but all the same it’s very unfair of me to taunt them when they are doing so well.
This morning we were out early. I needed more milk for the fridge and strong flour for breadmaking. On the way to the Supermarket I noticed some wild garlic nestled in between some shrubby and flowering daffodils. There isn’t so much growing there this year as last year somebody ripped almost the full amount up. I took only what I needed from 1 plant, even though there was more than one there. I didn’t take more than 1/3 to allow it to flourish again. There were some buds and I know more will flower over the coming weeks so I can take a little more in a few days time.
Today is Mother’s Day in Ireland, or to give it the old title, “Mothering Sunday”. Traditionally celebrated in our home by me being given free license to cook what I want in the kitchen as I have a very able sous-chef (my husband) and visiting/commemorating the mothering figures in our lives. While yesterday was St Patrick’s Day we didn’t mark it in the traditional way of going to watch a local parade or cooking dishes on a green theme. Instead we went to a family reunion in memory of some close family members who are no longer with us. It was a refreshing way to spend St Patrick’s Day and probably just as well because I believe we would have been very wet if we had gone to the parade.
However I am signed up to participate in the Very Good Recipes St Patrick Challenge and so I did need to cook something a little green this week.
There is little in season in the outdoor kitchen garden by way of fruit but rhubarb is just coming into season. The rhubarb plant we cut from is very young and very pink right now. I’m almost afraid to cut from it as I really want to make some chutney and perhaps some wine later on in the Spring. I did get 5 small stalks on Friday and while I was cutting them I noticed a thyme bush nearby and caught the light fragrant scent on the air. The thought struck me then that perhaps the two ingredients would be a good combination providing the thyme wasn’t too overpowering and this is where this recipe started. The thyme flavour lingers in the background and breaks up the sweetness of the tartlet.
Many of my food memories are woven around my paternal Grandmother, and they are normally sweet ones. I refer to her now as Granny Ma to our children as she passed away while I was still pregnant with my first child; but to me, all her other grandchildren and her own children she was simply “Ma”. For a while when we were younger we shared her home and then later she moved to live right beside us. You would pass her door every morning on the way to school and do so quietly, so as not to wake her. On the way home from school you’d often hear a tap-tap on the window and see her beckoning you in to share a cup of tea, watch Countdown and a sneaky treat before dinner.
I only remember her making doughnuts once but my Mam tells me that she always made them at Halloween. The time I do remember her making doughnuts it was a weekend and once the word went around to all of our Aunts, Uncles & Cousins that there was a batch on the go her kitchen filled with family members. The smell of warm sugar filled the air, many cups of tea were drunk and we scoffed the lot between about 20 of us. Ma didn’t do things by halves; something I think I’ve inherited.
Doughnuts are something that even now I don’t eat without the memories of that day. The thing is that I’m not a fan of hot pans of oil, even if it is a deep fat fryer, when I have such small children in the house and a small kitchen. So I’ve taken a basic doughnut recipe and tweaked it so that they can be baked in the oven which is far safer and probably a little more heart healthy too. I prefer these jam filled doughnuts without the sugar on top but the kids had to have the real deal. Oh and apologies to my neighbours, as I dropped over a batch of sugar coated doughnuts at their childrens’ bedtime on a Sunday evening. I will try in future to give you advance warning! My name is mud now I think.
You’re probably thinking this is an Irish family food blog so what the heck has hummus, a Middle Eastern dish have to do with Irish food?
I believe that our food experiences define our tastes and flavours as a family. My father served with UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) more than once as I was growing up. On one of his tours of duty my family was lucky enough to spend a number of months living across the border in Israel while he commuted to Lebanon for work everyday.
I am still in awe of my mother who packed up the house, put it up for rent while we were away, and took 4 children on her own to Israel to meet him. I celebrated my 12th Birthday while we were there and I have very vivid memories of the time we spent in the Middle East. We did get to visit Naquora in South Lebanon many times and the food and meze that we experienced there lives strong in my food memories. The bright orange of carrots cut into batons served with pink peanuts, a sprinkle of sea salt and a squeeze of lemon, crunchy white cabbage served in the same way, soft chewy lebanese flatbread still warm from the oven and of course every table included hummus and tabouleh. You would tear off a smaller piece of this gigantic flatbread which was bigger than my youngest sister (2 at the time) and use it to scoop up dollops of fragrant hummus while the breeze came in off the sea and the scent of meat grilling in the kitchen got your taste buds screaming for more.
I could talk and write of our stay for hours on end and I will revisit it and my food memories again. In the meantime here is a simple recipe for hummus that is best prepared 4/5 hours before eating to let the flavours develop. Items like lemon, garlic, pepper & salt you add or remove from the recipe to taste. Personally I like my hummus bursting with fresh lemon juice flavour. If you haven’t come across tahini before it is ground sesame seed paste and easily found in jars most ethnic food stores.
I serve hummus with toasted pita breads, crunchy carrot sticks, and if I’m very bold, crisps. It’s also delicious in a sandwich or wrap as dressing for grilled meat with a leafy salad. In the picture here it has a small bit of paprika sprinkled on top to give your taste buds a zing if you’re lucky enough to scoop up some.