A New Home

11 Jul Buddha

So much has happened since I last posted. Life has changed beyond my wildest imaginings … Sometimes, I take a moment, a pause, a breath – and I wonder… How did I get here? How was I so lucky? There are times when I realise its not luck – I have had a life which, good and bad, has been a struggle in finding my voice and my truth. Now, in my 40s, I am coming into my self – and it is real grounded happiness. I know this: when you live a life that is true to your core self, when you recognise your passion and your joy – then anything is possible.

Since I graduated from Ballymaloe, I have been traveling the world. But I have always returned to Ireland. There is something about this place – the feel of it – that draws me back. I think I may have found my place in the world. And certainly, for now, I have found my cottage, by the sea, and my bliss.

A few months ago, I was in Ireland, doing an amazing tour of artisan food producers. I traveled 4,000 kms in 1 week and met people passionate and focused on producing the most amazing food, with respect for the earth, kindness and presence. Thats what it is all about really, isnt it? I went to see an abalone farm, sea urchins, the incredible and beautiful women at Burren Smokehouse, lobsters, Dublin Bay prawns… the list goes on. (And I will post that journey, hopefully, when I manage to write it all in a way that is not overwhelmingly gushy!)

Not only was I inspired, but I also decided I needed a base here in Ireland – and I found one. My friends agreed to rent me their cottage, in East Cork, by the sea. I am 5 minutes from Midleton town, in an 1890’s labourers cottage, with a remarkable history. When I first saw the cottage in March, it looked like it needed some work, but the bones of the house were beautiful – I could see that. When I returned to Ireland in May, the house had been transformed – and I did a bit of my own personalisation to make it complete.

As I have settled into my home I have felt it embrace me – and have been grateful for the sacredness of living in a place which is truly nurturing. The silence of living out in the country is amazing – because its not really silence. The sounds of the animals, the wind, the rain, the sea, all surround me. The freshness of the air, the clarity of the sunshine on skin … I soak these moments up after having been cooped up in a city for all my life. I go to the Ballymaloe farm and collect fresh vegetables from the greenhouse and raw milk and I come home and I cook and welcome those I love into my space. I am blessed. And so thankful.

So, this my house – before and after. When I first visited the cottage in March 2012, I took several photographs, and once I had moved in – and made it mine – I took another series. The transformation is amazing – almost a visceral, physical testament to the internal changes that have resonated with in me … And the joy of it is plain to see. This is probably the first home I have ever lived in which is so full of light. And oh, I am embracing it! These photos are for all you who have asked to see … those of you who celebrate my happiness and my joy because you love me as I love you. Know that I hold you in my heart and bring you along with me on this beautiful journey…

Outside

This is the view from my cottage in March 2012 when I first visited. The cottage is located directly across the road from the water, which is an estuary that leads to the sea. So there are tides, and the scent of the sea, without the wildness of being directly in the face of the ocean.

View in June 2012

And this is what I saw when I returned in May 2012… amazing how green it gets! And sometimes, I am pottering around the cottage, and I look out the window and I am transfixed by how the sky changes and melds with the earth and water.

And this is what I see when I wake up in the morning from my bedroom🙂

The front of the cottage as I first saw it! The walls are so thick – its almost soundproof inside, and very warm and dry. The cottage had not been lived in for several years, and definitely needed a little bit of work😉

And when I returned back to Ireland … it had been given some TLC – paint and flowers and gravel. Amazing how different it looks, and feels. Brighter, and lighter, some how. Just goes to show that a little bit of love goes a long way.

My cottage from the road – clean and repainted, with the hedges newly cut.

This is the overgrown backyard in March 2012. It was so chaotic I had no idea how large the garden really was.

And this is the garden when I returned in May. Its been tidied up – but it needs a huge amount of work still. What I didnt realise is, there is an acre of land attached to this cottage, and most of it is wild. It will take a good couple of years I imagine to bring it back to its glory.

This is the back entrance as I first saw it – an extension was built onto the cottage, and the back door you see open here is used really as the main entrance.

And this is how it was when I returned. The paint colour is “Mucky Swan” !!! I think its gorgeous – and I love my plants out there. Ive added a few roses and delphiniums since so there is a riot of colour as you enter.

This is the view from the entrance of the extension. They even put a picnic table up outside! Its gorgeous on the (few) sunny days to sit out there … pure joy.

Extension – Before

This was my first view inside the cottage! This is the inside of the extension – with the internal door going towards the kitchen. On the right side of this photo is the cupboard which holds the washing machine and dryer. The couches were cleaned and eventually moved to the living room. The hideous plastic table cloth disappeared somewhere😉

And this was the view of the extension from the kitchen doorway.

Extension – After

This is the extension as it is now. New lighting fixtures, a lot of cleaning, and paint. I found the St Brigid’s cross (meant to protect hearth and home) at a craft shop on my travels. The rug is from India (via Ballymaloe House shop), the chair covers are from Ikea and the beanbag is from Groupon!

Dining table in the extension. Lovely how some flowers and candles can brighten an entire space. What makes it even more satisfying is that most of the flowers you see are from my garden. Who would have ever thought I would tramp around outside and pick and arrange flowers?

To the left of the entrance, Ive also created a little work space (it will have a desk eventually). Ballymaloers will recognise the four compartment recycling bin. I also have a little composting bucket on top of the bin. I found a great deal on a printer (50 euros) at Tescos. The painting on the wall is by Lydia Allen and is the menu for our graduation dinner at Ballymaloe Summer 2011.

Kitchen – Before

 My first view of the kitchen! Its a galley style kitchen – very well organised and equipped. Obviously needed a very good spring cleaning, but you could see the potential. Cant you?🙂

The kitchen viewed from the living room. Note the little wooden chopping board built into the dividing space between kitchen and living room. I love details like that – because they tell me that this house – and this kitchen were meant to be lived in … functional and clever.

Kitchen – After

The kitchen when I moved in. The “animal head” is from South Africa – made from reclaimed, recycled plastics. The sign on the upper left is an Irish version of “Keep Calm..” which says “Keep Going Sure Its Grand”. Glasses from Ikea. Kilner jars hold raw milk from the farm. Broadbeans also from the farm – freshly picked and about to be eaten!

Kitchen with a new fridge, a sweet geranium plant, new knife magnet, and my favourite coffee maker (Aeropress). I love that the fridge is tiny – It makes me rely on fresh food rather than anything that sits in the fridge for too long. And its really a tiny kitchen – almost as small as my kitchen in KL – but its well organised and very easy to work in.

Double oven (of course) … and my Ballymaloe apron.

The built in wooden cutting board that marks the divide between kitchen and living room. My basil plant – and the amazing print my sister gave me to celebrate my graduation from Ballymaloe. Isnt it gorgeous?

 Living Room – Before

This is the living room as I first saw it in March 2012 – viewed from the kitchen. The front door is on the right. Entrance to the bedroom is on the left.

Living room before I moved in – taken with my back to the bedroom door. Fireplace (and Van Gogh print which I replaced) and view into the galley kitchen. Very faint view of built in bookshelves on the left hand side.

Living room with a view towards the bathroom entrance (next to the built in bookshelves).

 Living Room – After

Living room when I moved in in May 2012 – once it had been repainted and the couches had been restored. Lovely old candle holder on the mirror. This photo is taken from the kitchen.

The fireplace stove with my newly framed picture by David Choe (he of FB fame) … one of my favourite artists ever. I have had this picture for years, and brought it with me from Malaysia. Love it in the living room😉

Second couch, near the entrance to the bathroom. The window looks out onto the sea. On the window sill, I have placed an Irish Ogham script which says … Blessing. Each time I stop to look out that window, it reminds me what grace I live in right now.

Another view from the kitchen – the main couch, beautiful old wooden table and restored wooden lamp. And a lovely painting of milk cans. Im not sure who its by, but it just fits so perfectly into the house.

View into the back yard from the living room. Note the lovely Penan basket – its so nice to be able to incorporate a bit of Malaysia into the house. And what makes me smile is the even lovelier photograph of the beautiful Z!

Bathroom – Before

The bathroom, off the living room, as I first saw it in March 2012. OK I admit, it looks a wee bit grimy.

Bathroom cupboards in March 2012. Even grimier!

View from the bathroom in March 2012 – the hedge hasnt been trimmed in years!

Bathroom – After

Bathroom once I had moved in and it had been painted and cleaned up a bit – I love the blue and white combination. Clean and crisp and bright.

Paint does amazing things – it just cleans it all up! The bathroom looks and feels pristine.

The bathroom windows – with beautiful muslin curtains from Ikea, fresh lavender and flowers … and hedges trimmed so one can see the water!

Bedroom – Before

When I first saw the cottage, the bedroom was the room that inspired me the most – but also worried me the most. It had these gorgeous – what feel like original – wooden floors. Very rough hewn, organic and natural. I loved them. But the rest of the bedroom needed serious care.

To the right of the bedroom entrance was a window that faced the water and two built in cupboards. The cupboards were quite basic – in very rough pine wood. While they gave a huge amount of storage, they werent exactly pretty!

And inside the closets was not much better … However, at least I knew there was good insulation in the room!

To the left of the bedroom door, was the piece of furniture which made me most happy – a gorgeous sleigh bed frame, which fit perfectly into the alcove. A window looks out onto the garden and back yard beyond.

However, this side of the bedroom also contained the part of the house that most concerned me – a very clear case of mold on the walls and the ceiling. Definitely needed some help here!

Bedroom – After

The rickety old bureau at the entrance to the bedroom has been transformed – by a good lick of paint, and a beautiful old mirror placed on top. Simple things make a huge difference.

And what makes a space a home are the meaningful things which are placed carefully. My Ayah, my sayang Adik, my beads from my Goddess Mother, my stones from Spider and my Laughing Buddhas. These welcome me (and my loved ones) every single time we enter the room.

 The built in cupboards have been completely changed – theyve been painted white, and bring such light into the bedroom. I added a gorgeous Indian rug which I felt gave colour and strength to the space. The curtains are linen from Ikea – I was going to buy dark brown velvet (dont ask where my mind was at!) but thank the good Goddess for Gina who insisted I consider plain linen curtains. She was absolutely right – and I realise am learning all the time!

The interior of the closets has also been spruced up with paint and back wall colour. I lined the shelves with bright blue lino which I found very cheap at the local Co-Op – and I bought tons of blue and white wicker baskets to hold all manner of potion and lotion and bits and pieces. I also installed the pegs on the left, and hung all my necklaces in a pretty row.

The window between the two (now cleanly white) built in cupboards holds a lovely antique tray I found at a second hand shop, and a water colour of a view of the sea. It is soul nourishing to wake up in the morning and look out at the sky and the water. Every day is different, and every day is beautiful.

And to the left of the door, is my beloved sleigh bed. I added a mattress topper I got at Ikea (makes for a blissful sleep), and sheets I had always adored from Muji. A lot of work was done here – they actually rebuilt the wall before it was painted and dealt with the mold issue. And I hand carried this precious Tibetan thangka from Malaysia and hung it as soon as I could when I arrived. It is the essence of creation – the yin and the yang – the balancing of opposites – the endless cycle. I sleep and I love in full view of the ultimate truth.

And nestled on the windowsill, by my bed, are always roses from the garden, and a Buddha to remind me of thankfulness and grace, beauty and eternal wisdom.

My home, my solace, my joy.

Thank you for coming along for the journey. x

A Day at Ballymaloe Cookery School

19 Aug

Every day I spent at Ballymaloe Cookery School was different – challenging, interesting, intriguing. I did things I never thought I would do (milk a cow!), I sat for exams (my first in 20 years) and I changed – subtly, indelibly, and for good.

I wish I could explain what was so empowering and positive about the experience, but things happened, and changed, in incremental ways. The satisfaction of cooking something, presenting it, tasting it with your teacher and knowing … that was damn good! The joy of watching the earth unfold its bounty – picking fresh peas off the pod, planting corn and watching it grow, picking herbs and salads in the gardens, making friends with and knowing the animals on the farm.

And being around a glowing, enthusiastic (for the most part!), intelligent, dynamic group of people – teachers, students, support staff – who all were immersed in the culture of Ballymaloe, and who all appreciated good food, from the source – that was just so inspirational. I learned something from everyone I met, and was so humbled to be a part of such a rich tradition.

These images were probably not all taken on the same day (may be a day or two apart, because they are in order in my camera)… but they represent for me, in my memory, what a day at Ballymaloe was like – full of colour, flavour, joy, achievement, quiet amazement, and pure, pure happiness.

Waking up in the gorgeous early morning (again, not something I did regularly in my old life) was always a revelation to me. Granted, I didnt do it every day … but when I did… walking through the gardens before class, saying hi to Trevor and his sister as they waited for their mothers to be milked … all these things sang to me of real abiding joy.

and his luckier sister

I fell in love with Trevor at first sight. Just to be able to interact with the animals on the farm was such an eye opening experience. And one day, I walked into the school, and was motioned into the front office by Tim. There, to my amazement, was a small incubator with eggs that were literally hatching before my eyes. Tiny baby chicks. And we got to hold them in our hands as they were born! For a city-bred woman like me, this was truly beautiful (and also raised some interesting questions as to how baby chicks are made… but thats another story!)

Just born!

And then … the morning spent cooking. In uniforms that in the first few days felt stiff and slightly strange. It made me self conscious to wear a chef’s jacket … but after a while, it got to feel like a second skin. At our house, Mrs Walsh’s Cottage, we were constantly doing laundry to make sure we had our whites and our aprons! Prepping for a days cooking is no easy feat. But when you cook with presence and in the company of people who are in the same rhythm… well, magic happens. Our teachers were so knowledgeable – and shared their depth of cooking expertise freely and with grace.  And they were so incredibly accommodating to me as a vegetarian cook. I was allowed to adapt recipes, and challenge myself to cook vegetarian, the Ballymaloe way. And honestly .. the bounty of the gardens, the farm, the kitchen. It would be difficult to mess up such fresh, extraordinary produce.

And sometimes… I looked at what I had made, and I was proud.

A Caesar’s Salad to start.

Fresh egg from the chickens, fresh salad + flowers from the garden, home made bread

A vegetarian Shepherd’s pie for main course.

With a salad of fresh greens and flowers

And a simple dessert – Victorian sponge cake, layered with whipped cream and home made raspberry jam.

with home made raspberry jam and whipped cream

Of course, sometimes, some of my classmates, decided to show off with a flurry of cakes that were beyond gorgeous!

And then… we would sit down as a group and eat together. Starters of all sorts, main courses, vegetable side dishes, a cheese tray, green salad (always green salad), and desserts of every possible description. And we ate… and ate … and ate…

Sometimes we would have a few minutes before our afternoon demonstration, or else we might have chores to do. But whatever the case, at around 2pm, we would be in the demo room to watch Darina Allen, Rachel Allen or Rory O’Connell demonstrate the dishes we would cook the next day. All three lecturers had their different styles, but they were all vibrant, interesting, and so knowledgeable about food. It was a master class each and every day.

with a big fish!

And yes, in case youre wondering… we got to taste everything they demonstrated… so that we knew what it should taste like when we attempted it the next day!

And sometimes… in the afternoon… after such a full and multi-faceted day…happy and replete, I would look out the window of the demonstration room, to the small courtyard outside the school. The green of Eire and that huge beautiful sky soothed my soul.

And one day, beneath a ponderous sky…. there it was. A breathtaking double rainbow. So perfect. So Ballymaloe.

Perfection

Making Cheese at Ballymaloe Cookery School

17 Aug

One of the wonderful things about going to Ballymaloe Cookery School is that you really get a chance to understand where food comes from – how its sourced, how it is produced, and sometimes… you even get to see the entire cycle. Its a very humbling process, and incredibly powerful. It makes you stop and think about the food that you eat, and how important it is for body, mind and soul to try and eat as cleanly and carefully as possible.

While I was at Ballymaloe, I dont think I ate very many things that were processed. The milk came from the Jersey cows on the farm, and they provided some of the butter, the buttermilk, and the cheese that we ate too! And we got a chance (if we wanted to) to make our own cheese. Mine is still awaiting me at Ballymaloe … I will pick it up in a few weeks and sample it. I cant wait!

Cheese making is a very zen process. Its all about feeling the milk turning into cheese, and knowing when each step is complete. A group of us gathered in the milking shed to help Tim turn milk into a cheddar style cheese… and it was such a powerfully beautiful process…

You can make cheese on the stovetop, but Ballymaloe has a very cool industrial sized container that heats the raw milk very slowly to the correct temperature.  After making sure we had all washed our hands, put on aprons, and hairnets (can you imagine finding a stray curly hair in your cheese?!), Tim added a vegetarian rennet to the warmed milk. This made it solidify … he then checked the temperature.

Making cheese!

When he felt the curd was at a proper temperature, he felt it by dipping his hands into it. He told us that once you start making cheese regularly, you can begin to get a feel for when its ready to be cut. There is a smoothness, a responsiveness to it that happens only at a certain moment.

He then got out what looked to be a massive square metal tennis racquet, and started cutting the curd into smaller chunks. This is when it got fun!

with a big metal tennis racquet!

The curd started separating from the whey – the liquid obviously inherent in milk. Once the curd had been cut by the metal tennis racquet apparatus, we were allowed to plunge our hands into the container and start squeezing and separating the curds out. A small tap was opened at the bottom of the container for the whey to drain out.

For the piggies!

I have to say, the process of separating the curd from the whey was very therapeutic. It felt so lovely to be elbow deep in this textural stuff, knowing that this movement was actually part of the making of the cheese. Tim told us that cheese makers have wonderful skin on their hands! I can believe it … the feeling of dipping into the vat was soft, smooth, warm, comforting. And cheese is a live thing, so you have to treat it with respect, no squeezing too hard, or sudden movements. It was beautiful.

No wonder cheesemakers have such young looking hands!

Once most of the whey was drained off, we started packing the curds into round plastic molds, with holes that allowed drainage. Each of us filled one mold full, and then covered the molds with heavy weights.

Making the cheese!

After about fifteen minutes, we were actually able to take the cheese out of the mold, and flip it over. We then covered it again with the weights (and some extra just for good luck) and waited again for another few hours. This process of flipping the cheese over ensures an even distribution of curd, and gets as much moisture out of the cheese as possible.

in their molds

After a day or two, and some regular flipping (my housemate Gina and I traipsed to flip cheese at midnight!) .. the cheese would be removed from the mold, salted, and set in this temperature controlled ripening cave. We had the responsibility of coming to flip our cheeses on a regular basis. They would be ready in about three months!

Yum ..

Very thorough notes were kept about each batch of cheese. When it was made, how it was made, how much milk, temperature, time of day. But this was not the end of the process! Gina and I accompanied Tim to distribute the whey on the farm…

It was like they knew we were coming!

It was like they knew we were coming! They were extremely happy to drink up every last bit of the whey, and Tim told us that it is very good for them.

They loved it!

The little ones loved it so much, they actually got into the trough to drink it. There was a little bit of a fight to drink it all up, so the runt took advantage of the ruckus, and went directly to the Mama source.

being clever

And this was just one evening in Ballymaloe .. magical, full of learning, part of the cycle, and so very wonderful. It taught me so many things … but most of all that I am connected to all that is around me, and if I treat the earth with respect, and a conscious understanding… well, then, the joy is infinite.

What I Cooked Today – and an Apology

17 Aug

Yes, I know. I havent posted in literally months. I was so excited about the prospect of blogging Ballymaloe Cookery School – and when I got there, I was quite good … but suddenly … I was just immersed. Its not that I didnt have time – it was just that there was so much going on internally and externally, that I needed a moment, every day, to just be.

And unfortunately, that moment that I took for myself on a regular basis, would be the moments when I would have, should have, blogged instead. Apologies. To you, and to myself, for not having documented this extraordinary experience as it was happening. But it was so deep, so life-changing that … to be honest, I didnt have the words.

However, I took loads of photographs … and over the next few days, I will go over them, and share some of my most special Ballymaloe moments with you.

As for now … I am sitting in Provence, in the golden sunshine, at the home of my dear friend… and I am cooking in a brand new way. I learned so many techniques at Ballymaloe which enriched the way I cook, and also the way I see food. Nothing goes to waste… a grapefruit eaten for breakfast gets considered, and the peel gets turned into candied fruit. Stale bread becomes breadcrumbs. And raspberries, which were fresh yesterday, but might not be utterly perfect today, get turned into raspberry jam.

Simple Easy and Gorgeous

And thats what I made today. Raspberry jam – dark, deep, so delicious slathered on a fresh croissant, perfect and bursting with the sunshine and the fruit. And simple beyond words.

To make this jam, you need equal parts fruit and sugar. And thats it. Yes, its really that simple.

I had 125 grams of fresh raspberries, which I washed quickly under the tap. With the water still clinging to them, I put them in a little pot, over a medium high heat. They began to sizzle and disintegrate, and I helped them along a little with a spoon. As soon as they became a glowing red mush (a matter of a few minutes), I added an equal amount (125 grams) of sugar. The sugar melted into the raspberries, and I boiled this mixture for about 4 minutes, or until it had “set.”

You can tell that jam has set if a little of the jam spooned onto a cold plate sets into a wobbly sort of solid consistency. You can draw a line through the jam with your finger, and the line stays.

I poured the jam into a little pot (gorgeous isnt it? It was a yogurt pot from the supermarche!) and set it down to cool. And then I decided to write.

I am glad to be back. If you have a few berries, consider making some jam today. Fresh jam is like nothing else, and it really takes only a few minutes.

Be well!

Ballymaloe Cookery School – Days 10 – 15

17 May

What a whirlwind week it has been. So many extraordinary stories and voices, such bliss and peace, laughter and light. When I look back over the posts on this blog, I see the trepidation with which I approached this trip. I knew it would be life changing – and when one comes to that moment in time where all will change, there is a pause, a hesitation. But time is inevitable – it keeps moving forward. And as long as one goes with it, with the flow of experience, with the grace of the universe … change is beautiful. And experience is precious.

So this past week has been intense on a whole variety of levels. We had some wonderful visits from cheese and wine makers, as well as Ballymaloe House’s resident sommelier. We had cooking demonstrations from Darina and Rachel, did our chores, changed our kitchens, and cooked our hearts out. Every day we are learning new techniques. We are being pushed to consider timing and rhythm, presentation and plating. Every day we produce food that we sit down as a group to eat together, and we are truly blessed. And this past weekend, I found myself wandering to the regginbrow was to be seen ringsome on the aquaface.  And I returned full of grace.

So here we go. Days 10 – 15 in this magical place they call the Emerald Isle, in a little corner called Ballymaloe.

Day 10 – Blessed are the Cheese Makers and Wine Tasters

Wednesdays are always full on theory – demonstration days. And this past Wednesday, we had a morning of cheese making, and an afternoon of wine tasting.

In the morning, we were introduced to Eddie O-Neill, Dairy Artisan Food Specialist at Teagasc’s Moorepark Research Centre. Eddie is a cheese man pure and simple. He is immersed in cheese making and can easily explain the science of milk – and cheese – in an accessible and yet scientific manner. Eddie was fascinating, enthusiastic, passionate and totally immersed in the magic of turning milk into cheese.

Eddie and Darina

We were given a brief and thorough overview of the different kinds of milk, fat content, and methodologies of treating milk. Eddie showed us how to separate the cream from the milk – and from this process, all else follows! He used the gorgeous raw milk from the Jersey cows at Ballymaloe.

Separating the cream and the milk

From that point, we were taken on a whirlwind tour of cheesemaking. Eddie and Darina made butter, yoghurt, labne, buttermilk, srikhand, cottage cheese, mel y mato, paneer, ricotta, couer a la creme and a gouda! It was completely overwhelming, and they would never have been able to accomplish so much without the sure, strong preparedness of the fabulous Emer who was working with them. Once you understand the chemical reactions of milk to heat, to enzymes, to agitation and time, it all doesnt seem quite so difficult. But it was a lot of cheese making going on, and it all looked delicious!

The butter was made with the rich Jersey cream – whipped past whipped cream stage, into butter stage. It was washed and cleaned, cooled and patted into little balls. Incredible!

Jersey Cream, whipped into butter, ready to be cleaned, cooled and eaten! The white liquid at the bottom is whey.

Eddie went through the complex and precise process of making a Gouda type cheese with us. He heated the milk, added the rennet, waited a certain amount of time, and then cut the resulting set milk, and stirred for a set amount of time to release as much of the liquid as possible. It may look mundane, but there was something mystical about the entire process.

Making the Gouda-type Cheese - cutting the curds

And then … before we knew it, it was time for lunch! Wednesdays are the only days we do not cook – so our instructors cook for us. We feasted on the various cheeses that had been made, the first of the new potatoes, and some gorgeous salads (the carnivores also had a roasted piece of bacon, which smelled fantastic, I must admit). I was enjoying the tastes and textures of my lunch, when I looked down and realised how beautiful the colours were, how fresh and clean everything looked. When you are surrounded by such bounty, your body feels healthy and clean and nourished. It is beautiful.

My Multi-Coloured Nourishing Lunch

In the afternoon, we were introduced to Colm McCan, the Sommelier at Ballymaloe House, winner of the Sommelier of the Year award, and our lecturer for the next 12 weeks in the intricacies of wine. He is passionate and funny, and gave us a an in-depth introduction to the world of wine. He introduced us to various white wines – including our first tasting which was an alcohol-free wine! He wanted to ensure that we understood that while he could teach us about the different varietals, introduce us to the rituals and techniques of wine, and guide us through the various established types of wine… our perception, our taste, and our own sense of what we liked and did not like were in the end, intensely personal.

It was a great session, and while I didnt actually drink any of the wine, the intricacies and depth of flavour that Colm introduced us to were fascinating and thought-provoking.

Colm McCan - Sommelier at Ballymaloe House

Day 11 – A Quiet Day

On this day, to be honest, I felt a bit squiffy. I went in in the morning, with my order of work completed, and started gathering together my ingredients. But I just didnt feel “right” and I told Annmarie, my instructor. She immediately told me to go home. Ballymaloe has a very strict policy that if you feel unwell, you dont cook. They dont want students passing on viruses or illnesses to each other, and so off I went, back to the quiet cottage at the top of a tree lined drive. I fell into bed, and slept the morning and through lunch. It felt strange not to cook, but obviously, my body needed to just stop for a moment.

In the afternoon, we had our first demonstration from Rachel Allen. She has a wonderful way about her, funny, quick, and sure, passionate about food, and open to questions and comments from the peanut gallery. It was a pleasure to learn from her.

R & S Cooking Demo

Days 12 & 13 – The Ringsome on the Aquaface

The next day, last Friday, I felt good enough to cook in the morning. I made a white soda bread, a French Peasant soup and a gorgeous almond tartlet with fresh raspberries. The French Peasant soup’s original recipe called for blanching and frying cubes of bacon, and as a vegetarian, I did not particularly want to do this. I thought about possible substitutions, and decided that the soup might taste good with dried mushrooms instead of the bacon – they would give the same smokey note, without the meat. One of the best things about Ballymaloe is the personal interaction with our instructors, who are there to guide, mentor and grade us. But they are also very open to our suggestions, and Annmarie was happy to let me try out the substitution. It worked really well, and instead of chicken stock, I used a combination of the porcini mushroom soaking water and vegetable stock. It was a good, simple, delicious soup, and I was happy with the process.

However, I did not stay for lunch, or for the afternoon demonstration. Instead, I went on an adventure – to the seaside – to West Cork – with an old friend. We stayed at Incheydoney Resort. Its a strange place – it feels like an Italian cruise ship from the 1970’s in the form of a hotel. The food there is dire (as we found to our common dismay on Friday night) but we redeemed ourselves with a meal at Deasey’s by the water in the pretty village of Ring the next evening. Sublime food, wonderful balance, and a perfect setting.

But beyond the food, and the hotel … there was pure bliss. I have no words to describe it so I will let the poets and the pictures say it for me.

Did the sea define the land, or the land the sea?
Each drew new meaning from the waves’ collision. 
Sea broke on land to full identity.
 

Seamus Heaney

I watch 
the sea
your hands
the waves
seep into my bones
 
the sky descends
we sleep in blue
 

Eileen Carney Hulme

Day 14 – Drifting Back

Sunday saw me coming back to my own breath, and drifting back into the beautiful life at Ballymaloe. M and I went to an antiques fair where I picked up a tiny silver rattle for my newest godson, and a gift for my hostess in Provence later this summer. We stopped at the Ballymaloe House Cafe and had coffee and lemon curd cake and a beautiful plum tart. I hope we will make both of these during our time here!

Perfect Plum Tart at Ballymaloe House Cafe

Then the other M and I went for a little outing, and fed Ms. Piggy some organic apples and pears. She was glad to see us again, and I think this may become a regular Sunday visitation. Kind of like church, but better.🙂

Ms. Piggy by the Pub after her organic apple - Happy Piggy

All in all, a blessed and bright weekend.

Day 15 – Monday Happy Monday

And Monday rolls around, and we are back – at school, cooking our passion. New assignments, new partners – I like this rotation. It keeps us on our feet, challenges us to find our way around new kitchens and spaces, and ensures we work with new people every week. R and I are partners this week, and I like his chilled out style. He is relaxed and calm, good natured and knows what he is doing.

On this day I made vegetarian stock, another (very good) white soda bread, a mint sauce (for the lamb that my partner was roasting) and a salad of Crozier Blue Cheese, wild rocket, chervil, caramelised spiced walnuts and chargrilled pears. The salad was stunningly pretty, with many delicious layers of flavour  and texture – salty, sweet, fresh, tart, crunchy, creamy. It was quite complex to make. But it was one of those dishes that offered a lovely meditative space. I spent time on my salad leaves, cleaning each leaf, and gently coating it with dressing. I melted ground spices and sugar, and slowly caramelised toasted walnuts. I peeled a juicy pear, and grilled it over fire. And I scattered petals over the salad and rejoiced in balance and beauty.

Salad of Crozier Blue Cheese, Char Grilled Pears and Caramelised Spiced Walnuts

And I was thrilled with my Irish Soda Bread. It came out beautifully – perfect texture, and lovely deep slashes to let the faeries out!

My Lovely Little Baby Soda Bread

In the afternoon, we had a surprise visit from Niel Ellis, one of South Africa’s top ten most influential wine makers. Colm introduced him, and he spoke to us about the wines he makes, and the importance of handing down knowledge from generation to generation. What struck me the most was the intimate relationship he had with the land, and his connectedness to how it affects all growing things.

And then later, Rachel gave us another demo. It was an amazing array of food – from a lesson on prawns and how to cook them (including prawn bisque, prawns on brown bread, etc) to moussaka and shepherd’s pie to chutneys to mangoes with lime, banana and passion fruit.

What Rachel Cooked

It was quite the spread! And tomorrow morning, I will be making a vegetarian moussaka, a dessert of mango and lime, a brown Irish soda bread, and a spiced apple chutney (the last one in tandem with R). So I best go and do my order of work before I doze off … and wake to another bright and beautiful day at Ballymaloe.

Happiness abounds. All is light.

Ballymaloe Cookery School – Days 5 – 9

11 May

Every day at Ballymaloe brings something new and interesting and inspiring. We have settled (kind of) in to our routine here – ruled by the lists that are put up every day telling us what we are cooking, and by the lists put up every week telling us our daily responsibilities or chores over the coming week. We move kitchens (and cooking partners) every week, and so have to get used to a new environment, a new set of kitchens and placements. Its challenging, but its so much fun!

Every day brings new things to cook, new techniques to master, and new ways of looking at and engaging with the world of food. There is so much to soak in, so much to do and think about. Every day is different – and most are overwhelming in one way or another.

Here, then, are days 5 – 9 at Ballymaloe. Enjoy.

Day 5 – Beginning to Find Our Feet

This was the last day of our first week at Ballymaloe, and reflected, really, the rhythm which will define our lives for the next few months. In the morning, we presented our order of work to our teachers, and we cooked dishes from the demonstration on Day 3 (Day 4 was Theory Day).

Things seemed easier today – the kitchens were more familiar, the processes were a little clearer, and we were having fun.

I made a beautifully simple wild rocket, Ardsallagh Goat’s Cheese salad, drizzled with honey, lemon juice and olive oil, and seasoned with Maldon salt (for that lovely minerally flavour, as Rory says) and cracked black peppercorns. Such a simple combination, but just a gorgeous juxtaposition of flavours. This salad really reflects the philosophy of Ballymaloe – find the best possible ingredients, of the highest quality and the clearest provenance, and present with care and grace. Decorated simply with a chive flower.

Simple Beautiful Complex

I also made brown bread again today, and it was beautiful. Well salted (this time!), warm, solid, rich and comforting. Who knew that bread like this took about 5 minutes to make – and 4 1/2 of those minutes are taken up with measuring ingredients! So simple, and so delicious.

Bread I baked - I am never buying fake plastic bread again!

I also made a chocolate hazelnut tart – I was disappointed with this one. I checked it and it was quite far from done. I then started plating my salad and went into raptures about the taste of fresh chives. When I taste the produce at Ballymaloe, its sometimes like tasting things for the very first time. The flavours are so layered, so intense, so new… Amazing. Anyway. My tart went, in the space of a few minutes, from underdone to overdone. It was still tasty, and the flavours were there, it just wasnt as gooey as it should have been.

Chocolate Hazelnut Tart - just a tad overdone. But still quite tasty.

In the afternoon, we had a demonstration of the dishes we cooked on Monday. It was a beautiful day … and this was the view from the classroom. Nourishment everywhere.

The view from the demonstration room at Ballymaloe. So beautiful. Makes the heart sing.

Day 6 – Exploring

Day 6 was Saturday. My first full week at Ballymaloe over. So intense, and so quick, too.

On this day, I stayed in bed late, though I woke at 730 in the morning (I know, my friends will be shocked!). But it was a lazy morning, slowly inhaling the luxury of my place in the world.

Around 11ish (I think), I ambled over to the White Cottage to see if my new beloved friend K wanted to go over to Midleton (the nearest market town) for the Farmer’s Market. Ballymaloe Cookery School has a stall at the Market, and students can go (at 6 am) to set up and work at the stall on weekends. But this weekend, my first in County Cork, my first in Ireland … I wanted to experience rather than work.

So off we went … Midleton is about 15 – 20 minutes drive away, through gorgeous country side, on small side roads. It was an adventure, and the Farmer’s Market did not disappoint. I think I might have gone a little nuts. I bought 5 loaves of the artisanal Arbutus Bread – another company which works closely with Ballymaloe, and which accepts students (at midnight on a Friday) to work through the night to be ready for the Farmer’s Market on Saturday. I got a gorgeous brown Irish soda bread, a white sourdough, a medieval bread (with figs and hazelnuts), a crocodile loaf and a brown bread. Something had to go on the bread, so I also picked up a smoked Ardsallagh goat’s cheese, a 2 year old Cheddar that blew my mind, and a mild and creamy raw milk Durrus cheese. To go with the cheese, I found some quince paste, smoked sun dried tomatoes, and a garlic, olive and caper paste. There was also some wild honey, a few limes, some wild mushrooms, courgettes, chili and garlic. I couldnt stay away from Frank Hederman’s stall – the smoked salmon (both hot smoked with chili and cold smoked), as well as a bit of smoked mackerel pate. And because I was a tad peckish after all that shopping, a warm cafe latte, a butternut and feta pyhllo pastry, and a caramelised onion and goat’s cheese tart.

I was struck by two things at this market. First of all was the incredibly high quality of the food available. Every supplier had the absolute best, freshest, most extraordinary produce. They knew their product, and were joyful in talking about where it came from, how it was produced or made, and what their favourites were. The second thing that really struck me was that almost every stall holder sent us on to another stall – Arbutus Breads telling us how wonderful the rye would taste with some Ardsallagh cheese, and so on. It was communal, and it was so enjoyable.

The Midleton Farmer's Market - an extraordinary abundance.

K and I also went to the Army Navy surplus store (where I got boots in anticipation of my cow milking shenanigans on Monday), as well as browsing through a lovely health food shop. On our way home, we encountered the pig that lives next to the pub down the road from the school. She is lovely and pink and huge and seemed delighted to meet us.

And then it was home, through the brilliant green, and outside in the back garden of my little cottage. Such bliss, such bliss, I can never express. A carpet of white flowers on the green grass, and an old tree whispering joy to me.

The back garden at Mrs. Walsh’s cottage.

Day 7 – More Adventures

Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest, but it didnt work out that way for me. I was ready for more exploration, and so went to Middleton with three of my housemates – M, C + M. We made the rounds of the Army Navy surplus, the Tesco’s for house supplies, and the health food shop. We then decided to have a wander down Main Street, Midleton, which you can walk in about 5 – 10 minutes. We were obviously very happy.

Walking down Main Street, Midleton. Some of us cant contain our joy🙂

M suggested we stop by Sage restaurant to have a coffee, because she had been there for dinner before the course started, and had raved about it. We all agreed that a coffee sounded good, but when we got there, we were seduced by the lively atmosphere, and enticing scents coming from the open kitchen. Of course, we ended up having a meal there. We were all a bit peckish, and ready to be pampered by good food and good company.

M and M at Sage Restaurant, Midleton

I was really in need of a little chili infusion – as much as I adore the flavours and freshness all around me, I needed some depth of heat. A beautifully prepared Huevos Rancheros, bursting with chili and flavour hit the spot. M had a beautiful green salad and garlicky prawns, M had lamb’s kidneys with black pudding, and C had a traditional roast. We ended with a shared blueberry mousse tart, with the gorgeous addition of chopped chocolate – an intriguing and delicious combination of flavours.

Just what I needed - an infusion of heat🙂

On the way home, I introduced my housemates to the friendly piggy by the pub. Dropping off the shopping, M and I went off on another adventure. First we stopped by the Craft Centre at the bottom of the road, and I was seduced by an Orla Kiely handbag! But we soon decided that we wanted something completely different and so drove to Ballycotton (about 5 minutes away by car) and stood and watched the sea. Deep salt scented breaths filled us with happiness.

View of Ballycotton from the pier. You can buy fresh fish as it comes in, here.

Sky. Water. Freedom. 

Bluest sky

Sometimes, you just need to go and be by the sea, you know? I find it extraordinary that we can be immersed in the country side one  minute, and the next, caught up in the freedom and the wildness of the sea. Stunning contrasts.

And finally, we stopped at the petrol station and bought two apples and went and visited our pub pig. Our friend, Ms. Piggy was very happy to see us again. Have you ever seen a pig canter over to you with joy? I was glad there was a big sturdy gate between us, because she literally raced over to say hello. She was the perfect cap to a wonderful weekend.

Racing over to say Hi!

Is that apple for me?

Day 8 – Monday Bloody Monday

Monday arrived, and with it a whole new week of possibility at Ballymaloe. Unfortunately, due to my own stupidity, this day was a tad overwhelming for me. Every day, we get assigned one chore to do. Sometimes they are difficult – like being the student supervisor for one of the dining rooms, and ensuring that everyone does their duty. Other days, the jobs are simple – feed the hens the slop bucket by the end of lunch, for example.

On Monday morning, bright and early at 730 am, I was in front of the school waiting to go and help to milk the cows. This was not a duty, but rather an experience you could sign up for, and I had been looking forward to it for ages. I suddenly realised I should check and see if my daily duty would intersect with my cow milking – and it did! I was up for making stock at 8am. However, as anyone who knows me well will tell you, 730am is not a good time for me to be functional – and I misread my duties!

So I did half the milking of cows, raced back to the school, and helped to make stock (basically, I chopped some onions for half an hour), and then proceeded to cooking. By lunch time, I was feeling a bit tired so walked back to the cottage for a little rest – only to have a student be sent to fetch me! I had not done my duty – feeding the hens! I went back to school, to protest my innocence (stock making was my deal!) and realised, it was my mistake. So I fed the hens – not really a difficult job – 5 minutes walk in the sunshine and a little chat with the hens while they clamber over each other to get to your slop bucket. But I had really been hoping for a little lie down, and was feeling a bit ragged for the days lecture demonstration.

And then … at the end of the demonstration, we try and taste all the food that has been prepared in front of us. Not only so that there is no waste, but also because we will be cooking it the next day, and they want to ensure that we get the taste and flavour right. Of course, students have extra jobs here, in rota, and help to serve the food and clean up the kitchens afterwards. After all the extra bits I tagged on to my day, I was called up to help serve! So serve I did … but I promise, by the time I got home, I felt like I had been run over by a steam train. I had no capacity for rational thought or movement, whatsoever.

But it was a good lesson – in how hard everyone really works at Ballymaloe, how tough it is to maintain such a balanced and beautiful ecosystem, and how important it is to be responsible for one’s own work. It was an exhausting day, but well worth it.

And oh … the cows! Two Jersey cows, chosen not only for the rich creaminess of their milk, but for their placid nature. They have no problem with new students coming and learning about milking, and asking the same questions over and over again. Neither does Eileen, who brings the cows in every morning and taught me about the process. A happier, more content woman I have never met. Eileen is pure joy – she loves her work, she loves being out in the country, and she loves her cows.

Besides the two Jersey cows, there were two babies – on the left, the lucky girl, who will be raised to be a milk cow. And on the right, the unlucky boy who, in 6 months time, will be veal. Eileen was already in love with him, but I fell completely too. And we stood there with tears in our eyes at his fate – but also totally accepting and understanding that this is life at Ballymaloe – the eternal cycle.

Cows coming in for milking in the early morning

Lucky girl on the left, and gorgeous flirty boy on the right. A lesson in the cycles of life at a farm.

So the two cows were led into the milking shed, and locked into place. They grazed at a big trough of food, while we humans were one level below them. We donned leather aprons, and I followed Eileen as she rinsed off the cows udders to ensure everything was clean clean, pinched each udder to check milk flow and attached a suction cap to each of the four udders. I was terrified that the cows would just casually kick back, but they are so ready to milk by that time – they are swollen with milk – that they just kind of groan in relief when the suction cups go on.

Cows teats with suction cups attached.

The milk gets piped through into this machine and filtered. The Allen family drink raw cow’s milk, and my housemates and I are hoping we will be able to get our hands on a regular supply too! It is so good for you – and tastes … like real milk, nothing you have ever experienced before.

So I had to cut the milking experience short, unfortunately, but stock making with Debbie was educational and then off I went for the morning’s cooking. I made a bean and mushroom stew from a Madhur Jaffrey recipe. It was delicious.

Mushroom and Bean Stew

I also made rice, in a new and fascinating way… and I made some phenomenally out of this world, luxurious and decadent Crunchy Orange Butter Scones . This is an easy recipe, but is decadence piled upon decadence – the scone dough is spread with orange butter, and rolled up like a jelly roll. The scones are cut, dipped in egg wash, and then in sugar, and baked. Out of this world delicious.

Crunchy Orange Butter Scones, so good, so decadent, and so incredibly easy to make.

In the afternoon, we were visited by Robbie Fitzsimmons of East Ferry Free Range – a sixth generation chicken farmer. Robbie spoke to us about the imperatives of supporting local small farmers. We learned that chickens could be imported into Ireland, rebagged, and be called Irish chickens in the supermarket! We learned that the directives and laws from the EU have impacted in how the chickens are reared, slaughtered and fed to the detriment of the small farmer. It was an eye opening, and heart breaking visit. Robbie is obviously someone who cares about his work, who loves what he does, and who is committed to creating a high quality product for the market. But the struggles he has with maintaining his integrity in a world filled with supermarket chains and mass consumption are real and tangible.

Robbie Fitzsimmons from East Ferry Free Range talking to us about the challenges of being a small scale producer in the modern world.

And that afternoon, Darina took us through the jointing of a chicken, to ensure that (at least for those of us who ate meat), we would maximise the potential of the chicken. Every scrap of the chicken is used, and she showed us how to get multiple meals from a single bird. The message was, prepare carefully and with forethought, joint the chicken well and use every bit that you can, and pay more for the expensive, local bird which will be free range at the very least, and organic.

And after demonstration, I served up, and tried not to fall over on my face. I staggered home and went straight to bed, being the princess that I am! But I was determined not to sleep – and so wandered downstairs to be tempted by Gina, my housemate, who felt like a bit of pizza! We went out into the night on a pizza foraging expedition, and found wood fired pizza at Pizzeria San Marco in Midleton (20 minutes or so away!). It is owned and run by a former student of Ballymaloe, so we knew the quality would be of an exacting standard – and it was!

I fell asleep that night with the satisfaction of a woman who had had a full and happy day… and woke at 230am realising I had not done my order of work! It never ends😉

Day 9 – A Good Day

Tuesday, Week 2, was a balanced day for me. Cooking in the morning was both wonderful – I made lemon drizzle biscuits, rhubarb crumble tart and a grapefruit and grape mint cocktail – and a tad traumatic – I had to joint a chicken. As a vegetarian, this was not a pleasurable experience, but I understand why I need to know this skill. Ballymaloe connects us with the cycle of consumption – of the choices we make in our food – and ensures that we really acknowledge what a chicken is made of and how it is jointed and prepared. No styrofoam packaged, cling film wrapped “orphan” chicken of no known provenance here!

My best dish today was the rhubarb crumble tart. The tart shell was perfect – crisp and holding together nicely. The rhubarb was sugared well, and juicy and tart. And the crumble, which included chopped almonds – was beautifuly crumbly and nubbly without being overwhelming. All in all, I was very satisfied.

Rhubarb Crumble Tart - totally delicious

In the afternoon, we had a demonstration by Rory – how to make one of the most valuable Mother sauces – mayonnaise; how to make harissa (yum!!!), brawn, and a variety of warm salads, and sponge puddings. As usual, it was lovely to watch him work.

Rory O'Connell running a cooking demonstration.

And in the gathering softness of the evening, my housemates and I were invited over to Darina and Tim’s beautiful, warm, art filled house for drinks. We went and marveled and chatted – slightly nervous, but so graciously received, and so well fed, that most of us relaxed relatively quickly.

These are the days at Ballymaloe – every day different and challenging, but finding a rhythm that works and is engaging. I am having the time of my life! And tomorrow … we learn how to make cheese!

Ballymaloe Cookery School – Days 1 – 4

5 May

It has begun. Finally, I am in cooking school. I have worn my uniform, cooked good food, forgotten to add salt, tramped in the rainy Irish gardens, and learned so much that my brain feels completely overwhelmed at times. But oh the joy. To immerse oneself in a place where food and cooking, respect for the earth and the environment, laughter and honest hard work are the dominant themes … this is pure joy. This is testing myself – seeing if, as I suspect, I am made for this cooking life.

Before I came to Ballymaloe Cookery School, I was scared. Worried that I would not fit in, wondering if I could get accustomed to living with other people again (6 adults in one house!), and most of all … there was this little, nagging feeling that may be I would be exposed as a fraud-cook – someone who loved food, but really did not have the cojones to live a life of cooking. But fear met, is fear conquered… and the last few days have been real, deep, abiding bliss. I come back to my little room atop Mrs. Walsh’s Cottage every night exhausted, but so excited about what tomorrow will bring.

Of course, there have been adjustments that needed to be made. Negotiating the living space has been one of them, but also learning how to cook in a new kitchen (someone elses, not mine), with new rules and new places for everything. Accepting that I have to ask, and ask again … about just about anything. Being humble. Being present, really present. And pacing myself, and accepting that perfection is in the trying and learning.

I have had an amazing time, and to try and encapsulate the last few days in words… well, I just dont think thats possible. So instead, here are a few photographs, which I hope will give you a feel for the breathtakingly beautiful place I am in, right now – on every level.

Day 1 – The Lay of the Land

The first day was pure confusion. There are 64 people on this course (and 10 teachers – so the student to teacher ratio is 6 to 1, and sometimes even less – amazing!). Trying to introduce everyone to everyone else, and help us learn the lay of the land is a daunting prospect. In the morning, we walked around the farm, though we kept on having to come inside due to the mizzle (mist and drizzle).

From the beginning, the philosophy of Ballymaloe is abundantly clear – respect and tread lightly on the earth, honour and recognise local artisans and producers, be careful and conscious about what you consume and produce, and always maximise the potential for using and re-using the natural gifts all around. The Allens, who run Ballymaloe, raise chickens (in the Palais des Poulets!) and Jersey cows for milking, as well as managing a 100 acre organic farm, including a 1 acre greenhouse. Everything co-exists in an eternal cycle – and they work extremely hard to ensure that there is balance and harmony. Food and waste gets recycled for the hens’ feed every day, and then gets remade into compost, which enriches the earth to grow fruit and vegetable. Its carefully and stringently managed, and we received a crash course in how they expect us to live for the next three months.

Darina welcoming the students in the main lecture room. Note the amazing mirror above so that we can all see the cooking and work as it happens.

Some ducklings near the Palais des Poulets, being fostered by a very proud hen!

Everywhere you look, there are things growing - and most everything is edible in some way.

The lushness - the layers of green - are stunningly beautiful.

The greenhouse is Tim's domain - and its incredible. A full acre of the most beautiful produce, grown organically and with great care and love.

We all planted our own sweet corn plant, and over the next three months will watch the plants growing, and tend them, until right at the end, we will be able to eat sweet corn that we put in the beautiful earth our selves. Such a brilliant way to teach by doing.

We also had our first cooking demonstration and learned some of the basic skills – chopping, slicing, sauteing and making a brown soda bread. We were fed an astonishingly beautiful tasting lunch by our teachers – and were exposed to our first taste of how breathtakingly beautiful good organic food, prepared simply and with grace, can be.

Day 2 – Herding Cats

If Day 1 was confusion, Day 2 was chaos! All fresh and awkward feeling in our new uniforms, we arrived at the school. This was the day when we were given an overview of how Ballymaloe Cookery School actually works – we met our teachers, walked through the kitchens, were given instructions on how everything worked and where everything was, and learned about our duty rosters and kitchen rotations. Its a very organised system at Ballymaloe, but given that 64 people were asking the same questions over and over again, our teachers were remarkably patient and kind.

We also cooked! (Well, with a lot of assistance).

Darina giving us an in-depth demonstration on how to make Ballymaloe Green Salad - a staple at every lunch meal - and a revelation of taste, texture, deliciousness.

Introducing our teachers - the patient and wise women who will guide us through the next 12 weeks.

What bliss ... these are the kitchens I get to cook in for the next 12 weeks! Do note the carrots, onions and potatoes lined up on cooking boards for us - the first and last time that our ingredients are laid out for us during school🙂

Darina demonstrating our first set of recipes in the afternoon. We learn a whole set of recipes in the afternoon, and the next morning, after preparing an order of work, we cook our own lunch from the recipes of the previous day. Each day, they give us new techniques and skills to learn, and we are constantly building on our skill set. We started with simple soup, pastas and crumbles, and we then graduated the next day to more complex tarts, biscuits and compotes.

Day 3 – We Cook!

Having assessed us, and made reasonably sure that none of us were likely to chop fingers or toes off, we were allowed to have our first full morning session of cooking. We had to prepare an order of work – basically a timed list of what we had been assigned to prepare, and the order in which we would go through each step of the cooking process. We were watched carefully by our teachers, who answered all our questions with grace and patience, and we learned the rhythms of the Ballymaloe style. We gathered the ingredients, and worked towards serving ourselves lunch. It was exhilarating and scary, and absolutely wonderful – and totally exhausting. Every day, in addition to our cooking, different people are assigned jobs they need to do – from feeding the hens to picking and making the salad to setting the table to cleaning up the kitchens. This way, students are exposed to the stringent requirements of working in a professional cooking environment, and learn not only the Ballymaloe cooking style, but also how to work in a structured and organised manner.

In the afternoon, we had two visits – one from the inspirational and funny Jane Murphy, who makes the artisanal Ardsallagh Goat’s Cheese – and the second from representatives of Ireland’s food research institute, who spoke to us about GM crops and their effect on the environment. This process of learning is incredibly multi-layered. We are exposed to so many different points of view and ideas – so much information and so many stories. We are given the space to make up our own minds, but we are constantly shown, in the food we cook and eat, and the histories of the land and its cultivators, how important it is to be conscious and aware of what we are doing as a community to our greatest resource – the earth.

We made these breads! I also made a potato and onion soup with a wild garlic pesto, using vegetarian stock, and a mixed berry compote with a wild sweet geranium syrup.

Jane Murphy telling us the story of how she began Ardsallagh Cheeses. The importance of provenance, and knowing your suppliers, and understanding the philosophy of the artisanal food makers is constantly reinforced.

We were also given an afternoon demonstration by Rory O’Connell, who showed us how to make scones, salads with the beautiful Ardsallagh cheese, jams, preserves and a hazelnut chocolate tart, as well as a chorizo pasta. We will be making these dishes for lunch on Friday.

Scones and raspberry jam - amongst the many dishes Rory made for us in afternoon demo.

A composed salad of wild rocket, figs, pomegranates, and Ardsallagh Goat's Cheese

I was so exhausted on this day – but so very very happy and satisfied.

Day 4 – Theory Day

Every week, we have one day which is theory day. This day exposes us to new ideas, concepts and methodologies. Today we learned some basics about cheese and wine, had a visit from William Cahill of Callan Fire Protection, who walked us through basic fire precautions and safety tips, and had a lecture on food hygiene and standards.

The highlight of the day was a visit from Peter and Mary Ward of Country Choice in Nenagh, County Tipperary. Peter spoke to us about his delicatessen, which he opened many years ago, with a focus on highlighting slow food, organic produce, and artisanal products. Peter spoke to us of the imperatives of his business, his philosophy, and the ways he sources products that all have a story, an identity and a clear provenance. His passion was overwhelming, his humour was infectious, and he seduced a roomful of hungry cooking school students by talking to us as he sliced open a huge wheel of parmesan. As he sliced, he told us about the artisan that produces that organic cheese – and knowing the back-story gave the cheese added depth, flavour, resonance.

Peter Ward and his parmesan cheese. An inspirational talk that was at once funny, thought provoking and hunger-making.

And now, I sit here organising my filing system – so many recipes, so many ideas and thoughts and learnings going through my head. Tomorrow I make a hazelnut and chocolate tart, a composed salad of wild rocket, Ardsallagh cheese and honey, and another loaf of brown bread. And I cant wait!

A Nourishing Journey

2 May

I have been on a journey these past few weeks – both internal and external. I have travelled far from home to reach Ballymaloe Cookery School in County Cork, Ireland, where I will remain for the next three months or so learning and refining my skills as a cook. I have been looking forward to this trip for such a long time, that when it finally arrived – as much anticipated moments are wont to do, given the inevitability of time – I was surprised, and slightly overwhelmed.

But before Ireland, I had a moment of time to adjust and refocus my energy and personal space. I spent a wonderful few days in London … in a sun-filled, quiet flat, surrounded by green, a gift of my GoddessMother. I visited with my delicious Karo … and was embraced by my sayang for (and by) MsTina. She brought me a present – the divine chocolate of Amelia Rope – hand made, signed and individually numbered. Fine, beautiful, artisanal, and tasting of love – she gave me the Pale Lemon and Sea Salt edition – such a revelation. I ate and laughed and shared with my Adik at Carluccio’s … and dined at the lovely vegan raw-food Saf restaurant on the 1st Floor at Whole Foods, Kensington.

What a wonderful beginning to the adventure of a lifetime. Opened me up, reoriented my soul … and gave me a little space to just root down a bit. And then… and then… a journey that took me through Bristol, Hay-on-Wye and Fishguard (in Wales), across the Irish Sea to Rosslare, and finally here, to Shanagarry, County Cork. I was nourished along the way … by life – and by food and friends and an abundance of love.

In Bristol, I arrived to the warm embrace of Soph and Hux and Coral – and the beautiful experience of watching mother and daughter make scones with love and light and laughter.

Making Scones

They were perfect – a superb English cream tea.

Eating Scones

And deep, in the still of the night, I found a breath, unexpectedly. And I knew that right now, I am living in pure joy.

The next day, I reconnected with and hugged C+C at the Avenue Cafe in Henleaze and had a perfect latte before heading out onto the open road to Hay-on-Wye – the town of bookshops located in the Wye Valley in Wales. Along the way, I passed through country so beautiful, I just stopped and looked and laughed aloud with happiness.

By the Roadside

Nourished by the green, I stayed the night at the wonderful Old Black Lion – where the welcome was warm and kind, the bed was comfortable, and the building just resonated with stories and voices and laughter. I have decided that one of the great pleasures of life is taking a road trip, and exploring. One’s internal voice becomes strong and clear – and the pace is exactly to one’s own rhythm.

The Old Black Lion

I had dinner at the Old Black Lion – a simple but beautifully made mushroom, roasted tomato, spinach and leek vol-au-vent with mashed potatoes and peas. Fresh ingredients, clarity of flavour, and pure warmth.

Delicious

But it was the salad that really made me stop – crisp, green, sweet, savoury, juicy and perfectly fresh. Sometimes its the most basic of things, presented with a loving hand, that makes the heart glad.

Simple Salad

And then it was across the Brecon Beacons – greens of infinite hue, gently rolling hills, trees singing me along my journey… and a blue blue sky.

Nothing but blue sky

And then, Fishguard, where I was to catch a ferry across the Irish seas. I stayed at the Fishguard Bay Hotel and had dinner there that night. The food was less than memorable, but the view of the harbour was beautiful. Nourishment is where you look for it🙂

The ferry left in the early hours of the morning, and I arrived on the Emerald Isle at 615 in the morning… to mizzle (mist and drizzle combined) and pure sweet air and laughter in the wind. I arrived at Ballymaloe Cookery School at around 930am and was shown my beautiful cottage, where I am to stay for the next three months with five other lovely people – Mrs. Walsh’s cottage. (My room is the second floor window on the left).

Mrs. Walsh's Cottage

It is so beautiful here, my senses and my spirit devour everything – the sounds of the birds and the rain and the wind, the scent of green and sweetness and earth, the lushness and textures of stone and wood and growing things. It is a place to learn, expand and be nourished.

And on that first day, after unpacking and making my own bed, after setting out my Buddhas and laying out my clothes… I went to Ballymaloe House Cafe and Craft Shop. Firstly, to get a warm woolen sweater as an extra layer against the cold! But also, to enjoy a new meal, with a new friend.

Gorgeous, earthy brown bread and Irish soda bread (which I shall know how to make soon!)

Irish Soda Bread

A lovely welcome lunch of fresh salad, light cucumber pickle, spicy tomato chutney and a camembert and caramelised onion tart. Such a gorgeous textural combination – and such lovely company.

Lunch

And then to bed … with the promise and the joy of a new beginning – of cooking every day, being immersed in food and conversation and new souls and spirits. Of living in green and laughter, and using my brain and body and skill. Of breathing deep and true and resonating with joy.

Nourishment is all around … it is the journey.

O’Gourmet Food Hall Vegetarian Tartiflette

22 Apr

Sometimes, inspiration comes from the most surprising sources. I was wandering the halls of O’Gourmet recently, wondering what I could make for a tantalising, delectable meal. I saw M. Seb (the cheese and wine maestro) … and stopped to have a chat. We walked into the cheese cave, and I started asking him to tell me about his favourite dishes – something that I (as a vegetarian) could make and enjoy. “Tartiflette!” he said, with great enthusiasm and excitement. This traditional Savoie dish is a layered potato gratin, given unctuousness and warmth from Reblochon cheese, cream, onions and lardons. Hmmmm. Lardons are pork fat, fried until crisp on the outside and melting on the inside .. and decidedly un-vegetarian! (But M. Seb is French, so I forgive him for being confused!) … However, Reblochon is a gorgeous, creamy raw-milk soft cheese made from the day’s second milking (when the milk is said to be creamier and richer). It is nutty and velvety, and has a soft lusciousness that is hauntingly beautiful.

So, I was definitely interested, and I decided to try and think of a new take on tartiflette that would keep all that rich depth of flavour, and at the same time elevate it to new heights. I had some black truffles (also from O’Gourmet) that I decided to use in place of the lardons, and instead of onions (which would overwhelm the truffles), I used delicate and yet sturdy leeks. This is not a vegan dish – it just cannot be – but it is warming, full of love, easy to make, and joyous. You should serve it with a sharp green salad – arugula or young spinach – simply dressed with a lemon vinaigrette. You need the balance of something clean and bright to offset the richness of this meal. But oh, its worth it. Smooth and comforting, imbued with the scent of truffles, this vegetarian tartiflette is an instant classic.

Its as good cold as it is warm, and can easily be assembled the day before, covered, refrigerated and baked a few hours before you want to serve it. Do try and let it sit for at least 20 minutes before serving – this allows the bubbling cream and cheese to solidify a bit and sink into the potatoes. Bake in a large ceramic ramekin or pot, and enjoy. It soothes the soul while pleasuring the senses. Such a wonderful combination!

Serves 6 – 8 (and wonderful as leftovers!)

  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 leeks, sliced thinly (white and light green stalk only)
  • 1/4 cup white wine (I used a Sauvignon Blanc)
  • 4 – 6 large waxy potatoes
  • 1 Reblochon cheese, refrigerated (or even frozen for a few minutes), rind removed
  • 2 – 3 black truffles, sliced thinly
  • 1 cup creme fraiche
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • Salt and pepper

You can prepare the leeks up to two days in advance. In a large frying pan, melt the butter and olive oil together over medium heat. Slice the leeks thinly, and rinse them under running water to remove any grit. Saute the leeks in the melted butter until they just begin to sweat and soften. Pour over the 1/4 cup white wine, and season with a bit of salt and pepper. Allow the leeks to simmer / saute, stirring every so often, until they just begin to colour. Raise the heat to medium high, and brown the leeks for a few minutes. Transfer the leeks to a small bowl, and allow to come to room temperature. You can refrigerate the leeks, covered for up to two days.

Peel the potatoes, and slice thinly. Submerge in water as you work so the potatoes do not brown. Bring a large pot of water to the boil, and quickly drain the potatoes from their water bath, and tip into the boiling water. Allow the potatoes to soften (but not fully cook) – about 10 – 15 minutes. Drain, and let cool for a few minutes.

If you are baking the tartiflette immediately, preheat the oven to 200 C / 400 F, and prepare a baking sheet by lining it with parchment paper. Place your large ceramic ramekin or pot on top of the baking sheet (this will protect your oven should the cheese/cream bubble over – and it will!). Whisk the creme fraiche and cream together, and season lightly with salt and pepper. Ladle about a tablespoon or two of the cream mixture into the bottom of the ramekin. Place a layer of potatoes over this, a scattering of sliced truffles, a few thin slices of Reblochon cheese, and a sprinkling of leeks. Over all, spoon about 2 tablespoons of cream. Repeat these layers until you run out of ingredients – or reach the top of the ramekin – whichever comes first! Reserve about 5 – 6 thin slices of Reblochon to scatter over the top of the dish.

Do note that you can cover the ramekin at this point and refrigerate up to 24 hours. I would highly suggest that you bake the tartiflette at least 2 hours before serving. This will give it sufficient time to set up.

Bake the tartiflette in the hot oven for at least 1 hour, and up to 1 1/2 hours. The tartiflette is ready when the top is bronzed and bubbling, and the potatoes are soft and yielding to a knife. Do not be alarmed if there seems to be an inordinate amount of liquid and cream bubbling up. Remove the tartiflette from the oven, and allow to rest for about 20 minutes (and even up to an hour) before serving. The cream and cheese will settle, and you will have a wonderfully solid potato gratin.

Serve with a bright, sharp salad for a wonderful and loving meal.

Words of Wisdom from Ayah

12 Apr

So, there is very little time left here in KL until I go off to cooking school. I am overwhelmed by the amount of things I have yet to do in my life here – and also what I need to prepare for the trip. Underneath it all is this low, steady throb. I have been trying to figure out what its been about – and suddenly, I realised. I am scared.

Scared of changing my life at 40, scared of the unknown, scared of going back to school again. Its all a bit daunting – making new friends, being in a new place, opening my mind to learn. But fear, I have found, is a good thing. It pushes me to open the mind and soul and change. I keep saying, these days, that courage is not the absence of fear – it is acting despite it. And today, while trying to sit and acknowledge the fear, I have been inspired by two people close to me.

The first is my dear Pingaling. She posted this Brand Courage blog and in it, she quoted me. She said that I had once said to her, “The life you have is the life you have been courageous enough to live.” I dont remember saying such wisdom, but it is true… and this delectable blog, and the embracing of my true self is all about having the courage to live the life I want and deserve.

The second inspiration is my late Ayah. I have been going through his papers in the last few weeks, and today I found his remarks at my high school graduation in 1988. They are as relevant now as they were more than 20 years ago … and they speak of love, of change, of courage and of living a conscious life. I have decided that today’s blog post will be my Ayah’s words. To remind me to have courage, to live the live that I know I should … and to share his words with all those that I love.

I hope you find the light and the love in these words as I have.

Pure Love

 

Remarks at the High School Graduation, International School Kuala Lumpur

3 June 1988

Memories must now crowd upon you, the graduants, on this last evening of your school life. Memories of Taman and of Phuket spring breaks, of parties and more parties, and curfews broken and the inevitable excuses which look plausible at three in the morning but are so woefully thread-bare in the cold light of day; of crazy midnight drives and Roti runs; and memories, too, of detention classes, and Algebra II and French Grammar, and vocabulary lists and tests and papers and date-lines; and memories also, I hope, of the exhilaration of an intellectual discovery you have made yourself, the thrill of a new skill you have mastered after enormous effort and the joy of companionable friends who have seen you through good times and bad times. You may be surprised to know that your parents, too, share in all these memories. But you have the consolation that there will be many more memories that you will accumulate. But no matter; you will always be part of us. Wherever you are and whatever you do, at the summit and in the valleys and in all the areas in between, you will always have a part of us with you, our unquestioning love above all, and our prayers and our support, and yes, our friendship always.

But let me hasten to assure you that this is not going to be a sentimental speech – that emotion which at this point in your lives you surely abhor above all. You have graduated today, for which you deserve every congratulation. Your dominant emotion must surely be one of freedom – freedom from (dare I say it?) that horrible school uniform which you will never have to wear again, freedom from unreasonably early curfews, freedom from that insistent alarm at seven o’clock or earlier, freedom from those dreary chores of rules and lists and tests. Yes, it is a wonderful thing, that freedom. But freedom, as your philosophy class has taught you, is not license. And so I say, as to that freedom: do what you feel you should do, and all else follows.

You note that I have used the would “should” – what you feel you should do – not simply what you want to do. There is, of course, a world of difference between the two. There are many things that you may want to do – to play or watch television when there is work to do, to stay out every night, to sleep late, loiter, do absolutely nothing, and so on. But freedom is not doing what you want to do. Freedom is doing what you will yourself to do that which you know you should do. Recognising the difference is what education is all about.

You have had the good fortune these past years to be educated at an international school, which has meant exposure to other cultures and values and ways of life. I say this because the world is almost literally a smaller place than it was only a few years ago and, with the increasing pace of technological changes, it will shrink even more each year. The new Century will be upon us in only 12 years. You will then be, most of you, around thirty years in age having recently embarked on the great adventure of life on your own. Who knows what the world will be like then? The Industrial Revolution brought more changes in the last 200 years than in the previous 2,000 – indeed 6,000 – years of  human history. And the technotronic-genetic revolution of the last 20 years – the revolution of technology, electronics and human genetics – have brought about more change than the previous 200 years. And the pace will accelerate.

As you celebrate that midnight hour on 31st December 1999, I hope you will feel that you have done all you can to educate yourselves for the challenges of the 21st Century. Educate yourself, then, first of all for survival – by which I mean for gainful and productive employment whether as teacher or doctor or banker, artist or craftsman or technician, worker of hand or brain. An ageing hipster or beach-bum is not, I assure you, a pleasant sight, nor does she or he have a particularly pleasant existence.

Educate yourself, too, for awareness. Awareness, that is, of the community and the world around you, of the horror and squalor that are too much with us. Do you know, for example, that practically 1 person in 5 in the world is chronically hungry or that practically 1 in 2 is illiterate? We, all of us in this room, in fact lead privileged lives. That privilege carries with it a certain responsibility which we must educate ourselves to discharge.

Educate yourself, also, for living – for the splendour and majesty of this world, the the joys of life, both mental and physical, for music and books and art, for the sunshine and the sea and the mountain-top.

Education, then, is a fearsome thing. It happens also to be a wonderfully exciting and exhilarating thing. It is a multi-dimensional effort for the human being is multi-dimensional. The mind, the heart, the emotion, the moral values of right and wrong, the physical sense of being – all these have to be educated.

You are now about to embark on the next phase, which is perhaps the most crucial phase, of your education. As you do so, I wish you three qualities of mind and heart: I wish for you a sense of curiosity, of courage and of caring.

I wish for you that you will always be curious about everything around you, that you will be curious how a rocket flies or why the stars shine, that you will be curious to learn new skills, whether it is to play tennis better or to work a computer more expertly, that you will be curious to know more about the society around you, about politics and banking and finance.

I wish for you that you will always have courage – the courage of your own conviction, the courage to take risks, courage both physical and moral. And courage, let me remind you, is not the absence of fear – all of us, I assure you, are afraid of something at some point in our lives – but it is the ability to do and act in spite of your fear. Do not be afraid of the unknown. It is much better to make mistakes – you can always learn from your mistakes – than to be so anxious not to make mistakes that you do nothing at all.

And finally, I wish for you that you will always care – that you care enough for your body that you do not do anything to harm it, that you care enough for your mind that you will feed it with new ideas and fresh ways of looking at things, that you care enough for your family and your friends, that you will always give them your support, that you care enough for your community, your country and the world beyond, that you will be willing to do something to make it a better and a happier place.

Youth, as Oscar Wilde said, is the Lord of Life. Youth has a Kingdom waiting for it. Grasp it with all your energy, with all your heart. There is a line of Baudelaire which I commend to you. Get drunk, it says – please do not take this too literally – “Get drunk, with wine, with music or with virtue as you choose. But get drunk.” Drink deep, then, of life – and you will be alright.

May your parents, your families, your friends and your teachers – and above all, you yourself – always be proud of you. May all your years ahead give you joy, stimulation and satisfaction. All the blessings of your parents go with you, tonight and always.

Thank you, Daddy, for shining the Light for me, as always.

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