Tag Archives: ireland

A New Home

11 Jul

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ๐Ÿ˜‰

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 ๐Ÿ˜‰

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

ย 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? ๐Ÿ™‚

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?

ย 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).

ย 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 ๐Ÿ˜‰

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.

ย 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

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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-Wyeย – 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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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.