Tuesday, July 31, 2007

One Local Summer - Week...eh...what?

I've been neglecting my blog even more than usual although I have managed to eat quite locally over the last fews weeks. My sister is home from France for two and a half weeks so I am spending almost all of my free time with her, chatting and playing with the kids. This is the shortest time they've been over (they started with about six weeks and every year it seems a little bit more difficult to find somewhere to rent and arrange trains/boats/flights and they end up coming for a little less time) and I had to go away for a weekend to a friend's wedding so I took three days off work to have a bit of extra time with them. Had a great three days and visited Newgrange on one of them, which is one of those places everyone expects you to have visited but I never had. The centre there is great and well set up to keep the kids interested (although I do have very interested nieces and nephews, especially these three) and then you get a bus up to the site itself. It was very interesting to see it although I didn't feel as much atmosphere as I expected to. I think I'd like to go back sometime when it's not peak tourist season.

My local meal for this week (it was on Sunday, what week is that?) will be one I don't have a photo of as my batteries were recharging. Hamburgers and homemade tomato ketchup. As simple as anything really, bought mince from Coolanowle and made the burgers purely out of the meat. Lovely salad to go with it from the wonderful McNally farm and my own homemade tomato ketchup albeit not entirely local - I used Irish non-organic tomatoes, French organic onions, garlic and spices from the cupboard and German white wine vinegar I think, the bottle has a German label on it, forgot to check provenance althoug it could be Alsace. And organic French mustard which I bought the last time I was over there so that counts as local. Still haven't been able to find any Irish onions, organic or otherwise, will have to look into growing my own I think. I was delighted with my homemade ketchup and can't wait to make more. This was my second batch, the first was a bit vinegary but tasted great all the same (my brother: "tastes like tomatoes instead of tomato-ketchup-flavouring") and didn't last long. This batch is nearly gone as well. My sister heads back to France at the weekend so when I've a bit more time to myself I plan to buy as many local tomatoes as I can and try my hand at bottling them as well as making more ketchup. I've already cooked down a large pile I had left over and frozen them but my freezer is small and freezing large quantities isn't feasible.

I made the ketchup using the recipe in Rachel Allen's Favourite Food at Home. It's very simple - for my second batch I added a bit more sugar (forgot about the sugar, hmm, that wasn't local either but for this batch it was organic, fairtrade raw cane sugar) to offset the vinegar and was also more careful with my vinegar measurement (only needed 75ml and my smallest measure was 100ml so I used two jugs, put 200ml in one then poured 125ml from that into the other and used what was left. Felt very clever - this is the kind of maths they should teach in school!). Next time I might let the tomatoes drain a bit before starting as I did find it a bit more liquid than I like. karl left a comment on my last post and I linked to here from his blog which was lots of food for thought on further variations. I think I prefer the recipe I used which doesn't involve skinning and deseeding the tomatoes although I suppose I'll have to do that when I just want to bottle tomatoes on their own. I have to say I really enjoyed making ketchup and best of all was the bit when I tasted it and it tasted like ketchup. Because I really wasn't expecting it to. Which may sound odd but then odd I am at times.

Anyway, enough rambling for now, I have lots of work to finish before I can get out of here but I'd already nearly posted this all day yesterday and today and it would never have gotten done if I hadn't put work aside for a few minutes.

Oooh, one last thing, I used old jars (ones that had salsa in originally I think) to put the ketchup in. I boiled them and their lids in water for five minutes and then left them drying in a low oven until the ketchup was ready, about fifteen/twenty minutes. I just ladled the ketchup in and put the lids on (note to self to remember that jars and lids coming out of oven are HOT!!!). This time it was all eaten too quickly for correct preservation to be an issue but I was delighted when we opened one jar after a few days and I heard the safety seal pop. That means I did it right doesn't it? Still trying to get my hands on a decent book on bottling/canning through the library, all suggestions for good books welcome but in the meantime will take any advice anyone wants to offer. Especially want to find out about re-using jars and lids that I've bought something in and particularly about if there is a certain type of lid you're not supposed to use.

I will be attempting next week to cook one local meal every day as I really want to get back into the swing of things once the summer holiday hectic is over.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Another (nearly) local meal - spinach soup

It'd be local if I had managed to get anything resembling an Irish onion at the weekend but there were none to be had. I decided to forgo the New Zealand, Argentinian and Brazilian offerings and settled for shallots from France. The potatoes however, couldn't have been more local - they came out of my compost heap. There's been a very impressive looking plant growing out the sides of the pallet and since I needed potatoes for this recipe (really needed to make something to use up the leftover spinach from last week) I decided to investigate.
Here's the haul of edible ones, there were a few green ones which went back into the compost. I was a bit worried about the little white dots on them. These rubbed off easily enough but I decided to play it safe and peel them anyway. So, into a pot with shallots and some butter, sweated for 15 minutes then stock added and let simmer until they were cooked through with the spinach being added for a couple of minutes at the end and everything being blitzed with a mixer. It was delicious although I think I would try it with less potato next time as I felt it overpowered the spinach a good bit. It's a very green looking dish too!

One final picture to show you - here's my first harvest of tomatoes. Unfortunately this is what fell off the plant when the wind blew everything over - oh well, there are a few more like this still on the various plants, maybe we'll even get some sun in August and they might go red! That would be cool. In the meantime I've bought a big bag of Irish tomatoes and am going to try my hand at making ketchup. If that works out well I'm going to get my hands on some nice meat this weekend, use my new mincer to mince it and make hamburgers for the barbeque (I have a big umbrella so am prepared to barbeque in the rain at this stage!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

Sunday, July 08, 2007

One Local Summer 2007 - Week 2

A little late with my entry this week although I did actually cook this meal last Tuesday. And no photo as I loaded it onto my PC in work but am posting this from a (very stuffy, overheated) internet cafe. So, I went to the Temple Bar market last Saturday morning. It was a flying visit and the terrible weather we've been having was very obvious in the lack of selection of Irish produce. McNally's did have a large selection of herbs and salads though. I bought a very big bag of spinach, a smaller bag of watercress, a small packet of edible flowers, a half dozen eggs and some of their new potatoes. I also bought a cheese from Sheridans Cheesemongers which is from Fermoy (but I've forgotten the name of the cheese, doh!) and some not very nice-looking cheddar from Paddy Jacks, which is a farm in Portlaoise. It was extremely tasty though and despite its dry, cracked appearance, very easy to grate and tasted wonderful in my omelette.

Yes, so far I'm sticking with the basics and not trying any new and exciting recipes, although I've never cooked a lot with spinach before. Anyway, that was my local dish last week. Omelette with spinach. I also added a handful of herbs from my garden and had a few of the potatoes on the side. Here the herbs from my garden:

From my garden: oregano, scallions, parsley, rosemary
From McNallys: eggs, potatoes, spinach, edible flowers
From Paddy Jacks (about 55 miles away): cheddar cheese
Avonmore milk: here's an interesting one though, I've always just assumed that milk I buy is Irish but there's actually no reason to believe that. I'm going to write to them and find out. When I was growing up there were two main producers of milk available in Dublin, Avonmore and Premier. They merged some time ago although they still sell under both brands.
Salt, pepper, oil: as before

This was absolutely delicious and I can't wait to eat more of the spinach. Unfortunately I ended up not getting home at a reasonable hour most evenings last week so had to throw out the rest of the watercress yesterday without using much of it. The spinach has been in tupperware though and is okay so I'm going to make spinach soup later. The weather is still basically crap so it's more soup than salad weather anyway.

The bad wind continued last week and I've lost a courgette plant to it. Just snapped it clean off at the stalk and out of the pot - it took me a minute to figure out what was wrong with the picture when I went outside yesterday (the first sunny day we've had for weeks) and then realised it was because on of the pots had no plant in it. At least the potato plant which was bent over completely (the stalk is split) seems to be recovering and continuing to grow.

Friday, July 06, 2007


The wind has been incredibly strong last night and still today although it seems to have died down a bit. I had just sat down to dinner yesterday evening when I heard a crash - tomato tents blown over. Decided to wait until I'd eaten to pick them up. About a minute later I saw a window box full of herbs flying off the windowsill. Couldn't be ignored any longer and oh my, what a mess when I went outside. One of the tomato tents, complete with three big pots had not only blown over, it was halfway down the garden. And of course it was the tent I had only put up the day before, including planting one big pot with the remaining twelve tomato seedlings I had left to see if anything came of them. Only managed to retrieve seven but I'm not sure they'll recover as that entire pot was blown onto its side and everything spilled out. It's all just sitting in my kitchen now as it was still very windy this morning and I didn't want to leave it outside to blow over again while I was at work. My potatoes, which have seemed to be doing really well (here's a photo I took on Monday) have been flattened and I'm not sure if they'll recover from that. One of them is completely bent over the side of the tyre stack.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Debates - Old City, New Dreams

Last week I attended a few debates/discussions which were held as part of The Dubliner week-long event Old City, New Dreams (unfortunately the link on their website seems to be gone now). The debates were hour-long sessions, lots of participation from the audience was encouraged and there were two each evening (with a free cocktail reception inbetween - one of the main sponsors was Diageo and the free cocktail was a foul Smirnoff concoction, I heard someone mention pomengranate and someone else said watermelon. Either way, it tasted like those free cocktails people give you in places like Playa del Ingles to try and lure you into the pubs they're working for. Awful stuff, even my brother wouldn't drink it!) I wish I had taken notes so that I could give a better account but it didn't occur to me until afterwards that it'd be interesting to blog about.

The first one I attended was supposed to be one of the focal points of the week and was called Old City, New Dreams (as the event was). It was a more light-hearted one where eight people on the panel (I'd even heard of some of them :) ) each had four minutes to present a radical idea to completly change life in Dublin. Most of them rambled on a bit more than that without really getting to a point. Some were total pisstakes (or at the very least thought up of at very late notice), some very, very serious and some interesting but generally impractical. It was a fairly unbalanced mix and I got the feeling that the people who were on the panel had not really been given much in the way of pointers or preparation help for the type of level the idea should be at.

After the first round, the audience voted for the four ideas they liked best and those four people got to spend another two minutes elaborating on their ideas. Most of them didn't seem to have much to add to be honest and as the facilitator wasn't really very good at keeping things running along it was all very rushed at the end. The very serious and worthwhile suggestion for mental health visitors to be made available to families with children won the day. I can't remember what was second but I think it was what I voted for - a change in attitude and a "love" campaign. The guy was aiming for a campaign similar to the famous I heart NY one in the 80's but the facilitator (who thought he was very funny but kind of wasn't - you know the type I'm talking about don't you? Everyone has met one at least once!) kept making comments about "free sex for all" which is just a bit different. I probably still would have voted for that, but heh, I'm a single gal with needs. :)

One of the suggestions made which was voted out in the first round was to build a roof over Grafton St and Henry St. These are the two main shopping streets in Dublin. Fergal Quinn, who founded the once excellent Superquin chain of supermarkets (I've lost a bit of faith in them recently given the amount of imported food, especially fruit and veg, they now sell) made this suggestion to improve the shopping experience for people. When his suggestion was voted down the facilitator seemed surprised and I offered the viewpoint from the floor that the reason for it was that shopping does nothing to enhance the cultural life of the city. He made some snide remark about how I wouldn't feel that way when I'm shopping but offered me no chance to say anything more which did irritate as I feel it's an important point. Ah well. As mentioned it was generally a light-hearted event. Probably could have gotten more out of it if it had been better organised but it was something different to do of an evening. It seems to be time I paid more attention to my intellectual side so attending events like this are a good way to do that.

We also attended the second debate that evening on whether nuclear power is the way forward for Ireland. And on Thursday I went to the "What is Irish cooking" debate which was also very interesting. More on those, plus my one local summer meal for this week to come later.