food · Living the Good Life

Milk is milk is milk – or is it?

Over my first cuppa of the day while daughter was still fast asleep and before life kicked in, I was browsing through one of my (many) cookbooks. Another one that I’ve never actually made anything from. Yet. This particular one was ‘Favourite Cornish Recipes’ and I’ve no idea when or where I picked it up. (That’s true of many of my books actually. Sometimes I think they are breeding.) It included a recipe for Cornish clotted cream, something I can’t abide but my husband would love on a freshly baked scone or two. That’s if I get round to baking any.

The method in the recipe says “Pour the milk into a wide-topped basin and leave to stand for a while preferably up to 8 hours in the refrigerator, to allow the cream to rise to the top.” And that sentence stopped me, mug of tea half way to mouth. Let the cream rise to the top. Do kids today (oh that sounds so middle aged) even know what that means? I vividly remember the cream rising to the top of the bottles (real glass bottles not the awful plastic containers that a lot of people refer to as a can of milk) and when it froze in the winter (real winter!) it used to push the foil lid up off the bottle. Top of the milk in our house was poured over apple pie and was a treat to get. I haven’t seen that in years, and I always buy what is labelled as full fat or whole milk.

milk cream
Whole milk – but where’s the cream?

So I took to Facebook and Twitter asking did anyone know could this still be bought.

Still musing about how food has changed over the years, I went on to ask if anyone knew could lard still be bought. I haven’t seen lard in a shop for years. I much prefer lard to solid vegetable oils for making pastry. A friend of mine replied that it can be easily bought up the North, which I didn’t know. So unless I track it down elsewhere it looks like I’ll be doing some cross-border shopping soon. Anyway, back to milk. I took a look at Asda’s online shopping site (I don’t shop online but its great for info) and yes, they sell blocks of lard. I searched for non homogenised milk but got zero results. I’ll be back to that word homogenised later.

I prefer to buy organic when I can (not always easy) so was interested to see that Asda sell organic milk. Its on the right in this pic taken from their website earlier today.

milk
What’s in our milk?

I was quite forcefully struck by the info that the non-organic milk has 9 days typical life whereas the organic milk has 4 days typical life. So what’s in the non-organic milk that gives it a longer shelf life?? I don’t have the answers (although I have emailed Asda) and maybe this is nothing new to some, but it jolted me. What are we really consuming and what is it doing to us? I saw a great thing on Twitter this week posted by the blogger Foodborn whose approach to food and eating I love.   It said “The food you eat can either be the safest and most powerful form of medicine, or the slowest form of poison.”  Food for thought for sure.

Back to homogenised. The milk I usually buy is always homogenised. The dictionary definition of homogenised in relation to milk is “a process in which the fat droplets are emulsified and the cream does not separate.”

Homogenised – or adulterated?

My question is why? Why is this done to milk? Are many of the health problems that we’ve almost come to accept as a society down to the way our food is altered from its more natural state? I’m very aware that many people have been thinking and writing about this far longer than me and are far better informed than me but at least I’m starting to really look at what’s in our food and question what’s best for me and my family to consume.

I think my cookbooks are going to get much more use.

food

What’s gone wrong with the way we eat?

I love to cook (most of the time), I like to try new recipes and taste different things, and while we have had a bit of a lull in the garden this year, we like to grow some of our own food (I’m already drawing up lists of seeds ). I don’t think we are food snobs in this house, and while we don’t have to buy the cheapest (and often worst produced) food on the market, we are cost conscious and try not to eat too much heavily processed food. I freely admit that sometimes we get takeaway and sometimes I bring our daughter to McDonalds (bite me), but overall we try to be aware of what we are eating.

I’ve just started reading Joanna Blythman’s book Swallow This and to say its been an eye opener would be the understatement of the century. If you haven’t read it yet and you care about what you eat, then I’d highly recommend it. It may well put you off some of the food products you might buy on a regular basis, but for all the right reasons. It is most definitely making me reevaluate what I buy and how and where I shop.

food eating cooking
Swallow This

This will be a long process I think but one that is well worth it. Along with this, I’ve also been catching up on episodes of Philip Boucher-Hayes’ series What Are You Eating? that was originally broadcast in spring 2016 and has been rerun on RTÉ One lately. I watched one this morning and all I will say is I will NEVER eat a ‘chicken fillet’ roll again. Watch it and you’ll see why. Between Boucher-Hayes’ series and Blythman’s book, I was thinking about food and the huge industrialisation of food production for a large chunk of the morning. In particular I was wondering how the shift from largely consuming home-cooked meals to substantial reliance on quite heavily processed food came about. Then I popped into a supermarket to pick up a few things and while idly browsing in the chilled section I saw this.

Would you eat this?
Would you eat this?

Now I’ve eaten some things in my time (especially during the broke student years) the mere thought of which makes me queasy now. But this just looks appalling to me. To be quite blunt I have changed nappies that looked like that. How have we gotten to a situation where this is unremarkable? How have we become so divorced from the basics of cooking (and eating) and food production that our shops are increasingly stocked with this kind of thing? And please before anyone gets on their high horse to complain about me not understanding food poverty and not understanding how hard it can be to put food on the table and being a food snob, just ask yourself two things: 1. Would I feed this to a child? 2. What else could I buy for €5 to make a meal from? I didn’t buy this – maybe I should have done to try it out – but I did have a good look at it and I found it hard to see much chicken in there. I would also wonder as how to filling it is, it looks to have a LOT of sauce which won’t go far to fill an empty tummy at the of the day. And don’t get me started on the marketing tagline “Handmade especially for you”. Handmade? REALLY? If I’d been working in a kitchen and handmade this to serve to someone I’d be ashamed of it.

Books · food · Linky

Love Your Cookbooks: Nigella Lawson’s Tarragon Chicken

This post was inspired by the lovely Elizabeth over at Life on Hushabye Farm whose blog I adore.  She has been running a cookbook linky (a linky to the uninitiated is where bloggers write posts on a theme and link them up), called Love Your Cookbooks.  Like Elizabeth I am a demon for buying cookbooks, well books in general really, but I’m not always great at then actually cooking anything from them.  So the idea was that anyone who wanted to take part would choose a recipe from one of their cookbooks, cook it and report back.  So here goes.

Nigella's book on my kitchen table
Nigella’s book on my kitchen table

I chose Tarragon Chicken from Nigella Lawson’s Kitchen.  I love Nigella’s books and have been known to sit and read them like others would a novel.  But I can’t watch her on TV she drives me mad.  I’ve cooked quite a lot from Feast which is probably my favourite of hers, and also from How To Be A Domestic Goddess, but until yesterday hadn’t tried anything from Kitchen.  We eat chicken more than any other meat in this house, and this recipe seemed quick and easy.   And after a long few days with our little girl unwell, that was my primary consideration!

Tarragon chicken recipe

This was just for the two of us, although herself is on the mend her appetite is not back yet.  It was so easy!  There is very little prep, just chopping some scallions and tarragon (both from our garden says the smug gardener), cooking the chicken, making the sauce, which to be honest really made itself, I just poured stuff into the pan and let it bubble away.  I served it with basmati rice, mangetout and green beans.  The mangetout were quite stringy so I’ve thrown the rest of them in the compost but everything else was lovely.  The main difference between my attempt and Nigella’s is that she uses vermouth but I used wine.  Oh and I neglected to sear the chicken breasts so they looked a bit bland but trust me they tasted great!  The finished tarragon chicken

The sauce is made from scallions, tarragon, white wine, salt and double cream.  I thought it might be a little heavy but it wasn’t, just very flavoursome.  The aniseed type flavour of the tarragon matched so well with the wine.  This was a definite hit here and I will make it again.  But I will also continue to try out new recipes from the cookbook shelves!  Thanks Elizabeth for a great idea and bon appetit everyone!

 

A Year of Living Seasonally · food · Ritual food

Imbolc – the coming of spring

Today is 1st February, and traditionally in Ireland this was considered to be the first day of Spring. It falls midway between the winter solstice (21st Dec) and the spring equinox (21st Mar). It marks the turning of the season and is the feast day of Brigid, whether you see her as a goddess, an aspect of the Mother Goddess or the Christian saint. There is a lot I could – and will – write about Imbolc and what it means to me, but that’s for another post.

Imbolc and the arrival of spring signal renewal, rejuvenation, a fresh start. I love watching for the first spring flowers. The spring bulbs are peeping through all over the garden, such vibrant shades of green spring bulbs at imbolc

I haven’t heard of any ritual foods or dishes associated with Imbolc, but Brigid in her Christian form is the patroness of sheep, and an alternative name for the day, Óimelc, is thought to denote the time of ewes coming into milk. The new lambs are always a welcome and lively sight in spring too. This feels like a cleansing time of year – hence the spring clean? – and when thinking about Imbolc this morning I decided to make some lemon curd. Lemon is one of my favourite flavours and scents and the clean tang of lemon appealed to me in keeping with freshness. So after a couple of hours in the kitchen I came up with some lemon and some orange curd. You can see the lemon here. The orange didn’t set quite so well but still tasted great! I made an orange sponge cake filled with it. lemon curd

For dinner I settled on a Darina Allen recipe, Winter Beef Stew – well having a winter meal and a spring inspired dessert seemed as good a way as any other to mark this turning of the season. There is still some snow on the ground, and the gritter went by earlier, but it is spring. Its time to move out of the reflective, restorative period of winter and move into the renewal, rebirth of spring.

A Year of Living Seasonally · food

Hallowe’en baking

Part of my Year of Living Seasonally project is to cook ritual foods. Some people are spooked (how appropriate for today!) by the word ritual. Just stop and think for a minute though about the foods we only eat at certain times. I’m not talking eating that food which is in season, but rather those recipes, dishes that we usually only have on certain dates or occasions. Like Christmas pudding. Or hot cross buns. Or simnel cake. Or brack – barmbrack to give it the full name. These are dishes that for various reasons have become synonymous with these feast days and celebrations. The history and symbolism of ritual foods fascinates me and I thought it would be interesting to incorporate it into the project.

Barmbrack (in Irish bairín breac) would traditionally have some items hidden in it which if you found them were meant to signify something that would happen to you over the coming year. The items and their meanings vary from region to region and over time, but the best known one was a ring, which mean the finder would be married within the year. Other items that I have heard or read of being included were a rag, a holy medal, a thimble, a pea and a coin. The meanings of these vary considerably and I could probably write a thesis on that alone.

In my local supermarket today there were piles of round bracks selling at €1 each. I don’t know if people don’t eat brack anymore or if people still make their own but I did notice that there were very few of the packets of ‘Hallowe’en cupcakes’ and ‘Toffee Terror Treats’ left. I do have a sweet tooth, but honestly cupcakes with orange and black icing say precisely nothing about Hallowe’en and Samhain. At the risk of sounding like a grumpy middle aged woman, I think it would be a shame if we lost these food traditions.

I made two bracks today, one a traditional Irish recipe and the other is an apricot and orange brack. My lovely stepdaughter gave me a recipe for apricot and orange brack last year which was utterly gorgeous but I can’t find it now (sorry R!) so I followed this recipe here from Crafty Mums and the other one is from Darina Allen’s Forgotten Skills of Cooking. Its the Irish Tea Barmbrack recipe rather than her Hallowe’en Barmbrack one which is a yeast recipe (I might make that one next year!) We’ve only tasted one yet but they both look and smell good! Apricot and orange brack on left; traditional Irish brack on right

Jack O Lanterns in Ireland and Scotland were traditionally made from turnips (pumpkins not being a native crop to either country). I haven’t made one this year, although I did buy a pumpkin…… I’ll make something from it on Sunday. Maybe. It looks gorgeous sitting on my table though! pumpkins nuts apples

Oh and if anyone has any ritual food recipes they’d like to share, please do get in touch 🙂

food · Living the Good Life

From jam to jelly

I’ve made a fair few pots of jam this summer – gooseberry, gooseberry & elderflower, marrow & ginger, marrow & orange (divine) and blueberry. While I’m far from an expert jam maker it is getting somewhat easier and less stressful every time, although I am going to invest in a proper jam thermometer soon and try and take more of the guesswork out of the whole setting point palaver.

So today I’m experimenting and stretching my culinary skills (or lack thereof) just that tad further, and I’m making jelly. Blackberry and apple jelly to be precise. I’ve also seen it described as hedgerow jelly. Recipe is simple enough out of a tiny wee book and it really is tiny, look (the ball of string is just for comparison!) photo (5) The blackberries were picked from the hedges bordering our garden and a friend gave me a bag of apples recently so I figured I’d give it a go.

So you take equal amounts of blackberries and apples (I used a pound of each). Chop apples into small pieces but do not peel or core them. Place in a pan with the washed blackberries and barely cover with water. Bring to the boil slowly and then simmer for an hour. (That’s the easy bit). blackberries & apples Then strain the juice through a jelly bag. (Now it got more complicated)

I’m not naturally practical or technically minded and so I was pondering how to safely suspend the jelly bag full of warm cooked fruit (which smells fabulous) without covering the kitchen and myself in purple juice. After a couple of failed attempts I managed it. The jelly bag

And that’s where we are currently at. I’m sitting at my kitchen table looking at the jelly bag suspended over one of my mixing bowls very very slowly dripping juice. The temptation to squeeze it and hurry things along is great but all the books say that will make a cloudy jelly. I’ll report back when its finally done!

food · Parenting

The right to choose how to feed your child

I was cooking dinner for my daughter when I started to write this post. Nothing particularly strange or exciting there, I cook dinner for her – and my husband and myself – most days. I like cooking, I like trying out new recipes and new ingredients. If I’d ever given the subject any thought I would have assumed that most parents of young children cook dinner for them every day. But that’s not the case in Ireland. I have very recently finished studying for a Certificate in Community Work from NUI Maynooth. The last year of study has been an amazing experience, I’ve met some great people and I now number them amongst my friends. The course was focused on Co. Meath and all the students were involved in the community and voluntary sector in Meath. I’ve learnt so much over the last year but one thing I learnt shocked and upset me greatly. And that brings me back to cooking dinner this evening. Some of my fellow students live in Mosney. They are asylum seekers. They all have young children. They cannot choose what to cook for their children for dinner or when to eat dinner. Why? Because they live in direct provision. I am ashamed to say that I knew nothing about direct provision before I met them. Oh sure, I’d heard the term and I knew asylum seekers were living in Mosney but I never gave any thought to how they lived. Mosney is in Co. Meath, its probably about an hour’s drive from where I live. But in every other sense its a world away. I didn’t grow up in Ireland (I grew up in England) so I don’t have the childhood memory that many Irish-born of my age do, of holidays at Mosney.

I’d be willing to bet that the vast majority of people in Ireland have no idea what direct provision really means. It means not having real privacy. It means the management can enter your house at any time without any prior notice. It means you don’t get to teach your children how to cook. It means you don’t have any choice in what your children eat or in when they eat. It means you don’t really have much of a family life. In an Irish Times article Dr Geoffrey Shannon, Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, was quoted as saying that living in direct provision can have a “detrimental effect on children. If we look at the conditions in the centres, by any standard it could not be said to equate to normal family living. These families live in very restricted accommodation, and this can have a profound impact on the mental health of adults and children.” Yet this is how families are living in Ireland, in my county today. To go back to the subject of dinner, some of you may be thinking that surely it doesn’t really matter once the children are being fed? I would disagree. There have been concerns raised over the quality of food provided, but it has also been argued that not being able to cook and eat your traditional food is demeaning and cruel. We eat a range of food in our house at dinnertime, pizza (homemade), various Italian, Chinese and Lebanese dishes as well as more traditional Irish and English dishes, but we get to choose, that’s the important difference.

A few facts you may not know about the realities of direct provision:

1. Adult asylum seekers receive €19.10 weekly as an allowance. Children receive €9.60. This allowance has not changed since 2000.
2. It was originally envisaged that no one would spend more than six months in direct provision. Some people have been living in direct provision for five, six and seven years. Just imagine living under those conditions for that long.
3. Asylum seekers in Ireland are prohibited from working. Yet many of them are highly educated, highly trained people with so much to offer.

I am ashamed this is happening, I am ashamed I didn’t know. But now I do, and so do you. So what can you do? You can contact your elected representatives and ask what they are doing to raise the issue of direct provision with the government. You can support the campaign to end direct provision and read more about that here and here. And you can tell someone. The more people that know about the reality of direct provision, the more pressure will hopefully be brought upon the government to end this abhorrent system. Ireland has for too long turned a blind eye to the incarceration of people who did not fit the ‘norm’ – whatever the norm means. The Madgalene laundries, the mother and baby homes, the industrial schools….. please help end that list now. End direct provision.

food

Making – and taking – stock

I buy a fresh turkey from our local butchers every year for Christmas. And every year I vow that I will be frugal, do the whole domestic goddess thing and make stock from the carcass which I will then use as the basis for nourishing, flavoursome soup for my family. And every year we get sick of looking at the bloody thing and the remains get binned. Well not this year I decided. I’m the proud owner of many cookbooks includng Darina Allen’s Forgotten Skills of Cooking so I figured she’d surely be able to talk me through the process of making stock. Can’t be that complicated really.

Start with the ingredients: a carcass, an onion, a carrot, some lovage or celery leaves, a leek, 6 peppercorns, a few parsley leaves and a sprig of thyme. Or in my case, a carcass, an onion, a carrot, a handful of peppercorns and whatever herbs were left in the fridge after Christmas. So not the best start. But let’s keep on going. stock beginnings

On to method. Ok so chop the carcass as small as you can she says. Now to me chop means use a knife or similar. so I tried my biggest sharpest knife and got fecking nowhere. No cleavers in this kitchen and I draw the line at using the axe I chop kindling with. My husband had broken up the carcass with his hands to get the last of the usable meat of it already so it was in a few pieces. Ah feck it I thought that’ll do.

Chuck it all in the pan and cover with approx 7 pints of water. It took 8 pints to cover it. Hmm. 8 pints of stock is a lot. Bring to the boil – yep that’s easy done. Then skim the fat off with a tablespoon. Peer into pot, lots of foam but nothing that looks like fat. Is that because I didn’t chop it up or did I just have a skinny turkey? Then I realised another problem for me when making stock – a large stockpot full of boiling steaming liquid and glasses do not mix well. I could see bugger all of the fat that I was meant to be skimming off.

After a few minutes I gave up the skimming as a bad job and let it boil for another few minutes before turning down and simmering. For 4 hours. It smelled pretty good I must admit. Rather green in colour but I’m assuming that was down to the proportionately large amount of herbs I threw in. The aroma crept throughout the house and it was one of the first things my husband commented on when he came in from work. Cue enhanced feelings of domestic goddess-ness. hubble bubble

Eventually the time ticked around and the stock is done. The book told me to strain all the fat off completely. I figured the first job was to remove all the solidscreatures from the green lagoon

Hmmm, creatures from the depths. Will this be edible? Well I’ve come this far. I ladled it all through a sieve into another large pan and this is what I’ve ended up with – the stock

Tomorrow I’ll have a go at making soup. This stock making is hard work, I’m curled up with a pizza (homemade cue brownie points) and a much needed glass of red!

food

When life gives you lemons – make lemon curd!!!

Fruit curd for Valentine's

 

Sometimes I get a little carried away in the kitchen.  Yesterday was Valentine’s Day and while I was thinking about the meal I was going to cook for my husband and I (sound like the Queen there!!) I sussed that I had a load of lemons in the kitchen and some cranberries left over from Christmas in the darkest recesses of my fridge.  So – cos I had nothing else to do! – I made cranberry curd and lemon curd.  I had made both of them before but I tried a different lemon curd recipe this time (Darina Allen’s actually and it is by far the nicest ever).  So as well as a meal of crab cakes, T-bone steak with chips, mushrooms and onions followed by lemon meringue pie, I also made these……. I don’t think they will last terribly long!!!

Actually just writing that has made me see how easily I am sucked in by descriptions on restaurant menus.  I cooked T-bone steak and chips – but I could have equally described it as “pan-seared prime Irish T-bone steak (in fact very local – raised and slaughtered less than 5 miles from my kitchen) served with handcut potato chips, sprinkled with sea salt and served with slivers of mushroom and onion sauteed in a delicate garlic butter.”  See what I mean??

Anyway, it all tasted bloody good!!!!

 

food

Experiments and discoveries

I love food.  I love eating it, reading about it, shopping for it…. you get the general idea 🙂  I like to think of myself as a foodie although I would be the first to admit I am not hugely knowledgeable about the subject.  I read cookbooks for the sheer pleasure of imagining myself in a beautiful big kitchen with all the utensils and equipment I could want and lots of space to prepare the food described in them.  And a big pantry where I could store all the preserves, pickles, jams, chutneys, dried beans etc etc etc from my own garden …… well that’s the fantasy anyway.

Well a couple of years ago I joined a Food Club on one of my favourite websites (www.magicmum.com).  The idea was that different posters would post a recipe each week and the rest of the club would try it out, and report back (with pictures of the result if they wanted to).  I liked the idea of trying new dishes so I signed up.  The food club is now in its 3rd year and I can truthfully say I have cooked  – and eaten – dishes I would never have tried if I had seen them in a cookbook.  Not all of them have been a huge success, some we just didn’t like, others tasted good but my presentation left a lot to be desired.  Favourites that stand out for us and that I have made over and again: crab cakes, Jambalaya (heavenly!!), sausage and rasher pasta (sounds odd but is divine), beetroot and feta salad (and that was only a starter), pork loin in fig sauce….. getting hungry now??

It has enabled – or cajoled! – me to attempt things I always thought were beyond my capabilities – gnocchi stands out here, also cannelloni, guacamole (I thought I hated avocado), and it has introduced me to food from various parts of the world that I hadn’t considered previously.  I fell seriouly behind for a few months so I’m playing catch up.  Among the recipes I have still to make are Ecuadorian Pork Leg, Caribbean Platter, and a 4th of July feast 🙂

So a huge thanks to everyone who has taken part in the MMFC – my palate is vastly enriched because of you.