Does the book you are reading affect your mood? Is there a word for that? There should be. Can I make one up? Oh, please?!
I’m reading Fahrenheit 451 and it’s making me anxious. This book is stirring up my fear of fire (pyrophobia, I looked that up) and combining it with my love of books (bibliophilia verging on bibliomania). I feel as if a big hairy dog is sitting on my ribcage and the only way to get rid of him is to eat him.
I’ve been thinking (again) about which books I’d save if the house was burning down. It’s like Sophie’s choice.
I’ve decided I would run to save a cookbook, but perhaps that’s because the hairy dog has made me peckish. Are you surprised? Not my first Ladybird Peter and Jane or my dog-eared Pride And Prejudice or my green-biro-annotated Gatsby? Oh Dear Lord, may I never need to choose!
But, I’m not planning to risk a grilling for just any old cookbook. This book is so much a part of our lives, I’d bet that a skilled geneticist could clone each of the six of us from its very pages. These pages have been flicked and licked and thumbed, photographed, photocopied, spilled on, wiped off and stuck together.
I bought this particular cookbook at a time when my life was total mayhem. We were selling a pretty but tiny house in order to buy a pretty but derelict house (go figure). The banks were in the process of collapsing and property prices were in free fall. For months we were a hair’s breadth from absolute ruin. That hairy dog lived on my ribcage and I ate him, daily.
For distraction, I decided to imitate Julie and Julia. I would cook a whole book. The obvious choice, living in Cork and being a fan, was Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe Cookery Course . It is my bible but it’s also 638 pages of small print, weighing in at 2.2 Kg. My mania doesn’t extend quite that far. I went for a slimmer book, with pretty pictures, from the same school. Rachel Allen’s Food For Living.
The deal was that I would cook every single recipe and the family would write their reviews on the book.
Looking back, I can tell you what Teenage Son chose for his twelfth birthday dinner (fish cakes), what I cooked on the day we paid a deposit on this house (fish pie), and how we spent Valentine’s weekend.
That sole in champagne sauce was probably the best plate of food I ever cooked although my memory may have been tinted by the pomegranate cocktail.
Ah yes, that was fun. I’ll say no more.
I made the rhubarb cocktail last week. Husband took brought it (and me) out to the garden and got arty with the camera.
Our life is tame, we take our kicks where we can.
Here is one of my favourite pages.
If you’re not Irish, I can only tell you that The Late Late Toy Show comes second only to Christmas Eve in the calendar of most Irish families. I could earn a Ph.D. by explaining why that is (has anyone done that?). Chocolate biscuit cake is now an essential part of our Toy Show tradition and the making of it has been passed like a baton to the youngest chefs.
Not every dish was a rave success. Neither Irish stew nor calamari went down well.
A dozen, or maybe more, recipes from this book have become fixtures. These are dishes we eat once or twice a month. They’ve been tweaked and modified depending on resources and enthusiasm.
Feast your eyes on burgers with crispy bacon and cucumber relish.
I like to add fennel seeds to the cucumber. You might recall my shenanigans making cucumber relish last summer. Here are the reactions of my nine and eleven year old children ( a.k.a. the teenagers) to the burgers:
Husband’s favourite is the Aztec soup. It’s comforting and nourishing and tasty.
This week I added noodles to fill the ravenous teenagers and sweetcorn because the Small Girl loves it.
The Korean beef with avocado rice is great way to stretch a meagre quantity of sirloin beef steak. Make this. You will lick the plate. I promise.
I make a dish which is an amalgamation of bacon and sausage stew with beans and Spanish chorizo and chickpea soup. It’s sort of an Irish (Gubbeen) chorizo and/or bacon soup with chickpeas and/or beans and/or any root veg (turnip, swede, carrot) hanging about in the fridge. We call it E.T.F. (Empty The Fridge).
I remember the day Husband insisted that I buy that enormous pasta pot. There was just the two of us then and one on the way. I thought he was stone crazy. I couldn’t imagine what need I would ever have for a pot that size, unless perhaps to bathe the baby.
If it came to it now, this pot would be high on the to-save-from-burning-house-list.
This week we had the soup with these hearty, cheese scones. I replace half the white flour in the recipe with wholemeal.
This post is getting too long. Just two more recipes to provide you with the ultimate family meal. The first, slow-roasted shoulder of lamb, turned out to be the most difficult recipe to find for you online. I put this in the oven before I went to the woods in search of bluebells. Three hours later we returned to this:
Be still my hungry tummy.
Now THIS is what I call gravy.
Since we are only six, we had leftovers the following day with homemade pitta breads. Unbelievably, it was even better the second day.
And finally, one of our all time desserts, orange, yogurt and cardamom pannacotta.
It’s easy to make but I always double the recipe. The original photo has raspberries on top. Poached rhubarb and crystallized ginger is pretty yummy too. I’ve also experimented with switching coconut milk for dairy, lime zest for the orange and topping it with mango. The possibilities are many and various.
My story is almost done.
A friend of mine stole the book and showed it to Rachel Allen ( Cork is small, these things happen). By her account, Rachel read each and every scribbled note and comment. A few days later the book was returned to me thus:
She is nice.
You can see from this post that almost all of the Ballymaloe recipes are available online. You don’t need to buy this book. You certainly don’t need to cook this whole book, or one like it. You don’t need to record what you cooked on your daughter’s first day of school, which cookies you brought to the beach or who came to your dinner party.
But, I think you should.
Because, around here at least, this is what living looks like.