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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.

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.