Oh, Ireland. On a warm, sunny day, all is forgiven. The coldest spring on record that we just had? Let’s not speak of it. The past few washout summers? A distant memory. That day last year in July that I looked out my window at yet another cold, rainy day and actually cried? I’m not holding a grudge.
I’m not greedy. I don’t need, or even want, sweltering Continental temperatures. 20°C (70°F) qualifies as a scorcher here and suits me just fine: warm enough to sit outside with a book, maybe even without a jacket. Is a mere 20°C too much to ask for? Well, yes, apparently. Two weeks ago we had the best weather we’ve seen in years and it was “only” in the low 20°s (70°s) — old American me is laughing at how I now consider that to be a heat wave. In the 14 years I’ve been living here, I’ve never seen the beach as crowded as it was that weekend. Just look at that blue! Not a cloud in the sky, not a care in the world.
Such (rare) spectacular summer weather calls for something cold and refreshing to drink. There are the obvious choices — Pimm’s, G&Ts, maybe even an elderflower Bellini — and those are all fine if you just want one or two. But if you’re looking for something to sip over a long, hot afternoon, a shandy is the drink for you.
Beer cocktails are all the rage now, but the old school shandy isn’t getting much air time. In Ireland, a shandy is simply half beer, half lemonade, but check out all the versions of a shandy around the world, from a black shandy in Canada (stout and lemon soda) to a brass monkey in the US (beer and orange juice) or a tango in Portugal (beer and gooseberry cordial). A rock shandy refers to a non-alcoholic shandy, usually half lemon soda, half orange soda. And despite its wimpy image, shandy is a great drink if you’re out for the night and want to pace yourself.
My idea of a perfect summer day is pretty simple: a good book, a lounger, plenty of sun and something nice to drink. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for lots more shandy weather this year.
light lager beer or pilsner
Half-fill a pint glass with the beer, then top up with sparkling lemonade — though you can of course adjust the ratio of beer to lemonade to your own taste. You could also try some of these variations in place of the lemonade:
Ginger beer or ginger ale (in which case, it becomes a shandygaff)
Orange soda (called a quianti in Argentina)
7Up (called a Snow White in the Netherlands or a panaché in France)
I have high expectations when it comes to farmers’ markets. Before I moved to Ireland I was living in Madison, the capital city of Wisconsin and home to the biggest producer-only farmers’ market in America. With 300 vendors, it completely encircles the huge capitol building and has everything you could possible need or want and a great buzz. It’s pretty hard to compete with.
Nicola from The Big Red Kitchen
I’ve been to plenty of fantastic markets around Ireland — the English Market in Cork, Limerick’s Milk Market or Belfast’s St George’s Market — but there’s no market in Louth, where I live, where you could do all your weekly shopping. A weekly market has finally started up in Drogheda, but only after I moved away and it’s on Fridays, which would mean taking a day off work to go to it. Until recently, any local markets were usually only run once a month, which is all well and good for a fun little weekend outing and if all you want is some nice olives or a pot pie to have for lunch or some handmade candles. But it’s no use at all if you’re hoping to connect with and support local producers in a meaningful way.
Lisa from The Natural Sauce Company
Which is all to say that Honest2Goodness is the market I’ve been hoping to find all these years. It does what it says on the tin — it’s a real deal, honest to goodness market where you can buy everything from basics like bread, milk and eggs to meat, fish and preserves through to baked treats and wine. Brid Carter, who runs the market, also set up The Pantry section specifically to stock everyday essentials so that regular market customers would only need to visit a big supermarket about once a month.
Pat O’Dwyer, aka The Spud Man
There’s a café on site too, where everything is sourced from the market. You can have a ham sandwich, then go meet the people who baked the bread and raised the pigs for the ham. How’s that for provenance?
Beautiful treats from The Wild Flour Bakery
The market is full of many, many good things, but here are some of my highlights:
The romesco, muhammara and harissa sauces from Lisa and Ailbhe’s Natural Sauce Company are the best new products I’ve tasted this year. I was blown away by the bold, fresh flavours. The sauces last for a month in the fridge and can be frozen too, so stock up if you can.
Gorgeous sourdough breads from Arun Bakery, made by Vlad Rannis, a master baker from Prague.
Pat O’Dwyer, aka the Spud Man, sells a wide range of seasonal fruit and vegetables, which are Irish wherever possible. Anyone looking for Irish apples or picture perfect produce (food bloggers, I’m looking at you), head here for beautiful French garlic or unwaxed lemons with the stems and leaves still attached.
Anything and everything from My Mexican Shop. I’ve been buying toritllas, tostadas and chipotles from Lily since she launched her business, but I’m crazy about the Gran Luchito Chili Paste she just started stocking.
Kate Packwood at the Wild Flour Bakery is surely one of Ireland’s most innovative, creative bakers, layering flavours in imaginative and beautiful ways. Weeks after visiting, I’m still thinking about her caramel and sea salt brownies — the best I’ve ever had. Get to her stall early though, because she regularly sells out.
Brid’s enthusiasm, energy and generosity are infectious and I only wish her market was closer to where I live. Couldn’t the Honest2Goodness market be copied elsewhere, especially given all the empty industrial estates all over the country? And wouldn’t everyone — farmers, food producers, consumers and the community — all be the better for it if it was?
I was under deadline pressure, so my husband threw the wellies into the car and took the kids out of the house on a recent Saturday so I could get some work done. They came back a few hours later, running in to where I sat at my computer, saying, “We got you a surprise. Close your eyes!” I could smell it before I saw it — a bag full of freshly picked wild garlic.
My mother used to say that she felt like spring had arrived when the pastel-coloured M&Ms arrived in the shop. I know spring is here when the forest floor becomes a carpet of wild garlic. It gives new meaning to the Emerald Isle nickname at this time of year.
Wild garlic has long been prized in Ireland. In their new book, Wild Food* (a must-have for anyone interested in foraging), Biddy White Lennon and Evan Doyle write: “The early Celts appreciated wild garlic so much that annual wild garlic feasts had to be provided by the lower orders for their chiefs and kings … The Irish Brehon Law tracts (in use in Ireland from two and a half thousand years ago to until nearly the end of the sixteenth century) define the amount of garlic to be served as a relish as four stalks to each loaf of bread. It is widely used in salads, as a pot herb with fish, to flavour soups, stews, potato dishes, breads, scones, savoury pies and tarts. As a medicine it was mixed with honey for coughs, colds and chest complaints.”
If you want to know more about wild garlic (and a range of other wild foods), you can find fantastic downloads on the Wild & Slow website, including details of where to find it, colour photos of what it looks like, instructions on how to pick it, use it and preserve it plus a few recipes that include it. Georgina Campbell has also featured a few recipes from Wild Food in her April ezine.
I love to slice it into ribbons and add it to soda bread or stir it into mashed potatoes — like a wild version of colcannon — and this wild garlic, leek and potato bake from the Wild Food book sounds tempting too, but my favourite thing to do with it is to make big batches of pesto. It has all the same ingredients as a regular basil pesto, but the zippy, slightly grassy wild garlic makes a much punchier pesto. “Use it to impress as a dressing over salads, bake into your favourite bread dough, add to any pasta dish or mix with butter and slip under the skin of a chicken roast,” say Biddy White Lennon and Evan Doyle. Whatever you plan to do with it, just be sure to make a lot — it freezes beautifully, so scale up this recipe to make extra for a taste of springtime later in the year.
Wild Garlic Pesto
Makes 250ml (1 cup)
In their book Wild Food,* Biddy White Lennon and Evan Doyle advise using Kilner jars to store your pesto in, as the wild garlic and oil react with metal lids. I always make wild garlic pesto with a good squeeze of lemon juice to brighten the flavour, but feel free to leave it out.
50g (2 oz) Parmesan cheese
25g (1/4 cup) pine nuts
50g (2 oz) wild garlic leaves, stems removed
200ml (3/4 cup) rapeseed oil or extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, or to taste
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Break off a 50g (2 oz) chunk of Parmesan cheese and cut it into a few slices. Place in a food processor and whizz until it’s roughly grated. Tip the cheese into a bowl and set aside. Place the pine nuts in the food processor and pulse until they’re roughly chopped. Tip into the bowl with the cheese. Doing it this way makes a pesto with some texture to it, which I love; if you’re not fussy about it, just blend the cheese, pine nuts and wild garlic together all at the same time.
Place the wild garlic in the food processor and whizz until it’s finely chopped. With the motor running, slowly pour in the oil until a thick sauce has formed (you might not need all the oil). Add in the lemon juice and pulse again to combine. Remove the blade from the food processor and stir in the Parmesan, pine nuts and a generous amount of salt and pepper. Taste the pesto and adjust the seasoning or add in more lemon juice if you want a little more zing.
Spoon the pesto into a clean Kilner jar (see note above) and store in the fridge for 1 or 2 weeks. This also freezes very well.
*I received a review copy of Wild Food from the publisher, O’Brien Press.
At my first publishing job in Temple Bar in Dublin, the five of us who worked there would often go to the pub for lunch together, and the man from Manchester who I worked with would sometimes skip food altogether and only have a pint of plain. My husband would order it in the pub, sigh contentedly after the first long sip and say, Now that’s a good pint, not that I could ever tell the difference between a good one and all the rest.
My first six months here I kept ordering it in pubs in the hopes that it might be an acquired taste, but I could only ever get halfway through the pints. I moved to Ireland in May but I officially gave up by Christmas. I was out with the same publishing crowd at the Stag’s Head in Dublin and they suggested I order it with a shot of blackcurrant syrup, saying a lot of girls drink it that way. It made it taste even worse — think cough syrup mixed with beer — and I could only take one sip before pushing away the glass. It was ales and lagers and Pinot Grigio for me after that.
But here’s the thing: it took me over 10 years to realise that Guinness and stout are not one and the same, and that even though I don’t like Guinness, Ireland has more to offer than that. The light bulb moment came at a beer tasting at the first Inishfood festival in 2011, when I was handed a cup of Dark Arts. Ugh, stout, I thought, but I guess I may as well try it, it would be rude not to. Instead of the metallic tang of Guinness, I tasted roasted coffee. I took another sip, and tasted chocolate. Cue Green Eggs and Ham–style revelation: Say! I do like stout! I’ve been making up for lost time ever since. Oh hello, Belfast Black, Carraig Dubh, Leann Folláin and Knockmealdown Porter, where have you been all my life?
Before I started drinking stout, I would still buy a few bottles from time to time to cook with when I made Nigella Lawson’s chocolate Guinness cake, Catherine Fulvio’s apricot, date and Guinness slices or Jamie Oliver’s steak, cheddar and Guinness pot pie. These days, though, I cook with (and drink!) a craft beer instead — all that flavour goes right into the pot, making a classic beef and stout stew even better. As the saying goes, there’s both eating and drinking in it. Sláinte!
Beef and Irish Stout Stew
My version of this classic stew has a secret ingredient: some dried porcini mushrooms and their soaking liquid for an extra umami hit. To make this into a one-pot meal, add some whole or halved baby potatoes right into the stew along with the stout, beef stock and herbs instead of serving with mashed potatoes. Or for an extra-comforting version, try adding dumplings to the stew, like Nessa does.
Craft beers to try in this recipe — and, of course, to sip alongside it — are Dungarvan Black Rock Irish Stout, Eight Degrees Knockmealdown Porter, O’Hara’s Leann Folláin Stout or Whitewater Brewery Belfast Black.
1 kg (2 lb) stewing beef, cut into 1-inch pieces
25 g (1/4 cup) flour
salt and freshly ground black pepper
10 g (1/3 cup) dried porcini mushrooms
4 carrots, cut into thick slices
2 onions, roughly chopped
3 large garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
500 ml (2 cups) Irish stout
500 to 750 ml (2 to 3 cups) beef stock
freshly ground black pepper
2 bay leaves
champ, colcannon or mashed potatoes, to serve
chopped fresh parsley, to garnish
Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).
Heat some olive oil over a medium heat in a Dutch oven or a large, heavy-bottomed pot. While the oil is heating up, pat the beef dry with paper towels and toss it in the flour seasoned with some salt and pepper, making sure all the pieces have a dusting of flour. Tap off any excess flour, then brown the beef in batches in the pot for about 5 minutes per batch, turning occasionally. Don’t crowd the pot, otherwise the beef will steam instead of brown, and don’t be tempted to raise the heat too high or the flour will stick to the bottom of the pot too much. Transfer the browned beef to a plate and set aside.
While the beef is browning, put the dried mushrooms in a bowl and pour over 125 ml (1/2 cup) just-boiled water to rehydrate them. Set them aside to steep.
Once all the beef is browned, add the carrots and onions to the pot along with a pinch of salt to keep the onions from browning. Cook for 10 minutes, until the vegetables are softened. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Strain the mushrooms from their soaking liquid (save the liquid!) and finely chop them, then add them to the pot along with the tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce and thyme, stirring to coat all the vegetables. Cook for 1 minute more.
Add in a little of the stout to deglaze the pot, scraping up as much of the browned bits as you can. Add in the rest of the stout, the mushroom soaking liquid and 500 ml (2 cups) of the beef stock, then add the beef back to the pot along with any juices from the plate and a generous grinding of black pepper. Stir to combine everything, then drop in 2 bay leaves.
Cover the stew and bring it to a boil, then either transfer it to the oven and let it cook for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or else reduce the heat to medium and simmer it, uncovered, on the stovetop. Either way, stir it from time to time and add in any or all of the remaining 250 ml (1 cup) of beef stock if you think it needs it. The stew is done when the beef is fork tender and the liquid has reduced and thickened a bit.
To serve, spoon off any fat that may have risen to the top of the stew and taste for seasoning. Spoon some champ, colcannon or mashed potatoes into individual shallow bowls or plates, making a well in the centre. Ladle the stew on top of the potatoes, garnish with the chopped parsley and serve. Like most stews, this one actually improves in flavour after a day, so the leftovers are even better.
In Ireland, people don’t say How are you?, they say, What’s the story? They say, Sit down. Have a cup of tea. Come here to me, wait till I tell you. Because people want to hear the story. There’s always a story.
Ireland is a country in love with language, with words, with writing. The Long Hall in Trinity College, built in the 1700s, is one of the most beautiful libraries in the world. Before the euro, there was even a writer, James Joyce, on the £10 note. In his visit to Dublin last year for his Layover TV show, Anthony Bourdain said, ‘It seems that every great poem, every great story, every great thing ever written not by a Russian was written by an Irishman. Point is, they like books around here.’
Then there’s the slang. When I moved here, not only did I have to work hard to understand the accent, but Irish slang is like a language all its own. Fourteen years later, I’m still learning. Go away out of that. I’m as sick as the plane to Lourdes. The head on him and the price of turnips. Sure this is it. I still sometimes get that panicked, apologetic smile when I haven’t quite caught someone’s meaning or the lilt of their accent and have to lean in closer while I ask them to repeat themselves.
Roddy Doyle said, ‘Dublin is the sound of people talking. Dublin city is the sound of people who love talking, people who love words, who love taking words and playing with them, twisting and bending them, making short ones longer and the long ones shorter, people who love inventing words and giving fresh meaning to old ones.’
Take this, the capital’s namesake dish: Dublin coddle. When I asked some Irish friends if anyone actually ever eats it, a born and bred Dub compared the boiled sausages you’d commonly find in it to ‘widows’ memories’ (I’ll leave that one to your imagination). It was said to be a favourite dish of Jonathan Swift and Seán O’Casey, two more wordsmiths, and James Joyce referred to it in Finnegan’s Wake (‘to cuddle up in a coddlepot’). The name of the dish itself comes from the verb coddle, which means to gently cook in liquid just below boiling, which itself comes from the word caudle, a hot drink given to the sick in the Middle Ages.
Can an expat – a blow-in no matter how long you live here, no matter how firmly you try to put your roots down since they don’t go deep – ever really know a place? The way I finally hit on was through the lens of Ireland’s food. I may not have grown up eating Dublin coddle or soda bread or seed cake, but I’m learning to love them now. I’m still trying to make this place mine, one new dish, one new word at a time: barmbrack, boxty, colcannon, coddle.
‘If you’ve got any kind of a heart, a soul, an appreciation for your fellow man, or any kind of appreciation for the written word … then there’s no way you could avoid loving this city,’ said Anthony Bourdain. Beneath its tough, gritty, ‘dirty old town’ veneer, Dublin is all heart. And the city — this country — now has mine. Come here to me and wait till I tell you.
Traditionally, Dublin coddle is made simply by throwing all the ingredients into a pot and cooking them together for hours. The result, though, isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing, or the tastiest: ‘slimy onions and slimy sausages’, as someone put it on Twitter. Even Darina Allen says in her book Irish Traditional Cooking that when cooked that way, it looks ‘distinctly unappetising (lots of chopped parsley scattered over the top would take the harm out of the sausages, which still appear to be raw)’. Like any good soup, the key to this dish is to spend a bit of time at the start by browning the sausages and onions, though apparently this step is a bit controversial. ‘The sausages are supposed to be pink and raw looking. Sorts the men from the boys,’ said Séan. ‘You browned the sausages? I heard only Protestants do that!’ said Claire. And of course, since there are so few ingredients, use the best sausages, the best bacon and the best produce you can find for some pure Dub comfort food.
olive oil or rapeseed oil
450 g (1 lb) good-quality butcher’s sausages
200 g smoked streaky bacon or rashers, chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 onions, sliced
450 g (1 lb) baby potatoes, halved
500 ml (2 cups) chicken stock
salt and freshly ground black pepper
a small bunch of fresh parsley, chopped
good crusty bread, to serve
Heat a splash of olive or rapeseed oil in the bottom of a large, heavy-bottomed pot over a medium heat. Add in the sausages and cook on all sides just until they have a nice colour. Transfer them to a plate, then add the bacon and sliced onions to the pot. Cook for about 10 minutes, until the onions have softened and have a little colour. Add in the halved baby potatoes and transfer the sausages back to the pot, then pour over the stock. Season with some salt and pepper, but go easy on the salt because the sausages, bacon and stock will already be salty. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat, cover the pot and simmer for 1 hour, until the potatoes are cooked through. Stir through the chopped fresh parsley and ladle into soup bowls. Serve with plenty of crusty bread to soak up the broth.
I’ve never been a fan of Valentine’s Day. When I was 17 years old and working in the town grocery store, I remember the line of men in the express checkout lane, all clutching their last-minute bouquets of tired-looking roses, picked-over cards and a box of Fannie May chocolates, bought in a rush on their way home from work. It all seemed arbitrary instead of romantic and it made an early cynic out of me.
Dungarvan Brewing Company’s Coffee and Oatmeal Stout, Eight Degrees Brewing Company’s Knockmealdown Porter or Trouble Brewing’s Dark Arts Porter would all be excellent choices, either to use in the truffles themselves or to sip alongside them. In the future, I’m going to take a cue from Adrienne at Bake for the Border and roll these truffles in crushed pretzels instead of cocoa powder. A little finely chopped candied bacon sprinkled on top wouldn’t be half bad either.
250 ml (1 cup) stout
200 g (7 oz) dark chocolate, chopped or broken into pieces
100 ml (3.5 fl oz) double cream
a few tablespoons of cocoa powder, to dust (or crushed pretzels; see note above)
Place the stout in a saucepan and bring to the boil, watching it carefully to make sure it doesn’t bubble over, which it’s bound to do the moment you turn your back on it. Reduce the heat to a lively simmer until the stout has reduced to 50 ml (1/4 cup). Remove from the heat.
Meanwhile, put the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water (a bain marie), making sure the chocolate never comes into direct contact with the water. Place the cream in a separate small saucepan and heat it through. Allow the chocolate to melt, then stir in the cream, which will thicken the chocolate. Gradually whisk in the reduced stout. Don’t worry if the mixture looks grainy or if it starts to separate – just whisk like mad until it turns smooth and shiny and the stout is fully incorporated.
Spread the chocolate into a shallow casserole dish or tray. Cover the dish with cling film and set aside at room temperature for a few hours, until the mixture firms up. You could also put it in the fridge overnight, then set it out to come back to room temperature when you’re ready to form the truffles (fridge-cold chocolate will be too hard to scoop).
Fill up your sink with some warm soapy water or have a damp cloth ready so that you can clean your hands if you need to as you go along. Sift a few tablespoons of cocoa powder into a bowl or a shallow plate. Use a teaspoon or melon baller to scoop out a little chocolate, then form the chocolate into small, bite-sized balls by rolling the mixture between your hands. Gently roll the truffles around in the cocoa power until they’re thinly coated. Store the truffles in the fridge.
Looking back at 2012, the most popular recipe by far is the one that kicked off the year, my oven baked Scotch eggs, though this chocolate biscuit cake and a classic Irish soda bread aren’t too far behind. Scrolling back through the recipes I shared is a reminder that whatever else blogging might be about, at the end of the day it all comes back to the kitchen, to celebrating our farmers, our food producers, our friends and family with the food we share and put on the table every day.