Archive | May, 2011

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.


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.


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.