Cookbooks Tried and Tested: Rory O’Connell’s Cook Well, Eat Well.

Sicilian Cassata Cake. Rory O'Connell.

For the sake of full disclosure, let me remind you all that I live in Cork and that Rory O’Connell is a local food hero. I am, in this case, a biased reviewer. Fortunately, his book lived up to expectations…and then some.

Rory O’Connell’s first book, Master It, won the prestigious André Simon Food Book Award in 2013. It is, in essence, a concise cookery course with sections devoted to various techniques: stocks and soups, pan-frying, casserole-roasting, hot puddings, a few cakes, and so on. In his second book, Cook Well, Eat Well, O’Connell continues in the role of teacher but this time presents his recipes in a series of separate menus.

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Each menu contains three courses, a starter, a complementary main course and something sweet to close. The meals are arranged according to the seasons and for each season there is one vegetarian meal. O’Connell takes seasonal cooking as his starting point …Click here to read on.

Heartburn, Bread Pudding and October Books.

Nora Ephron's Heartburn. Bread Pudding.

Nora Ephron‘s Heartburn made me laugh and made me cook. I built my October Cooking the Books column around her recipe for bread pudding. Read more by clicking here. Trust me, this one is worth it.Nora Ephron's Heartburn. Bread Pudding.

I get a particular satisfaction out of reading books in the appropriate season and it is all the sweeter when I can match reading material to the month at hand. Am I alone?

The Hunt For Red October. Tom Clancy

I compiled a list of October books, strictly those which have October in the title. You can read that by clicking here.

I would write more for you but I’ve used up all my time on France (that sounds better if you sing it to the tune of This Charming Man); 9,000 words –I’ve made it to Midday on Saturday. I can’t stop now, I’m committed to it.

Bisous,
Lynda.

 

Books for Francophiles.

Shakespeare and Company

I bet you’re wondering how the write-up of My Weekend in Paris is going. Très lentement, I believe, is the phrase. I’m up to 5000 words and I haven’t got through dinner on Friday night. C’est fou!.

While you wait, I thought I might catch you up on what I’ve been reading. You’ll notice a francophile theme. In fact, the eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed a preponderance of books set in France in recent months.

Coeurs a la Creme and Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

I compiled a list of great love stories set in France which you can find HERE. Les Liaisons Dangereuses is an old favourite, and certainly bore a second reading but my most beloved on that last has to be A Tale of Two Cities. Is it the best of books or the worst of books? I’ve never found anyone who loves it as much as I do. I think it’s one of the most romantic stories ever told but then, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m a sucker for a bit of unrequited love. I happened across an ancient copy, in French, in the library of Shakespeare and Company which seemed to me like it could have magical powers. It seemed to weigh more in my hands than the weight of the pages. Does that make sense?

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Back in August, I followed Hemingway to Paris in this article about A Moveable Feast, complete with a fine recipe ( if I do say so myself) for crabe mexicaine, a dish which Hem and Hadley had as a great treat after a big win at the races. If you missed that, it’s HERE.

Beatrice Colin’s To Capture What We Cannot Keep was my holiday reading. I couldn’t resist the beautiful cover. My review is HERE.

To Capture What We Cannot Keep. Beatrice Colin

I’ve spent this past week with my head stuck in the glorious, inspiring and very moving history of Shakespeare and Company– The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Here’s a tip if you’re contemplating Christmas gift shopping: buy it from the Shakepeare and Company, online, and they will add the legendary shop stamp for you along with customising your gift in the sweetest ways.

Anyway, we made a pretty picture, the family glued to Bake-Off while I sat in the corner with tears streaming down my face. Ethan Hawke made me cry, not for the first time. He can write.

Shakespeare and Company

I stole an hour extra in bed this morning to begin Julia Child’s My Life in France. Already, I adore it. From page one it is warm and funny and self-effacing and fascinating and lovely.

With Julia’s voice in my head, the day has been spent cooking. I’m testing/reviewing Rory O’Connell’s new book– by golly, we are eating well!

Sicilian Cassata Cake. Rory O'Connell.

There’s a slice of Sicilian Cassata cake with my name on it waiting patiently so I will bid you adieu and a good weekend,

Lynda.

Sultanabun goes to Paris.

If you follow my Instagram you know that Husband whisked me away to Paris for our wedding anniversary. I write that now, as if it was a normal, run of the mill occurrence but trust me, this was HUGE. I can’t remember when last I’ve felt such a surge of unadulterated excitement.

Not only did he bring me to Paris, he willingly carried all the heavy stuff and never questioned my lengthy list of things to do and places to see.

Number one, naturally, was Shakespeare and Company. This photo was taken less than 90 minutes after the plane touched down at Charles de Gaulle. You can probably tell, I’m almost crying with joy. That feeling lasted for pretty much the entire three days.IMG_2430 (2)

Around lunch time on Saturday, Husband quipped, ‘this is going to be a very long blog post.’

I started writing this morning and got to 1600 words and I haven’t even got as far as stepping inside the bookshop…IMG_2515

…I can’t imagine that any of you will ever want to read it but I have to write it because I need, really need to remember as much as I possibly can. I need to wrap up this weekend and carry it with me for the rest of my days. It was that good. It will sustain me, if only I can hold on to it.

So, forgive me if I’m not here too much for a small while. When I’ve got all the words out of my head I’ll try to decide what to do with them. All I know for now is that I have to write like the bejaysus before it’s all just a blur.

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These are the spoils: IMG_9370 (2)

À bientôt, mes amis,

Lynda.

But now in September the garden has cooled…

But now in September the garden has cooled, and with it my possessiveness. The sun warms my back instead of beating on my head … The harvest has dwindled, and I have grown apart from the intense midsummer relationship that brought it on.   Robert Finch.

To be honest with you, the garden has broken loose of my feeble attempts to keep it under control. Our Irish summer lived up to its damp reputation and my mind has been occupied with indoor projects (the room!). I can never manage to keep both inside and outside of the house the way I’d like to. They seem to require two different, mutually exclusive, states of mind. Or, maybe I’m just lazy.

Small Girl’s outdoor café has been invaded by nasturtiums. I’ve suggested she call on The Doctor for a solution but she has, rather inventively I thought, taken to selling nasturtium sushi rolls. The kick you get from eating nasturtium seeds is very similar to wasabi; she could be on to something.IMG_9078 (2)

Despite the weather, we’ve had huge satisfaction from the edible end of our garden. Husband’s elephant garlic, aside from giving me a near-concussion, has provided endless amusement. Incredibly, the advice for using this is to add exactly the same number of cloves as you would of regular garlic. The flavour is sweeter and less pungent and the garlic breath, we think, less noxious. It’s hard to tell , since we are all eating it. At the other end, unfortunately, there seems to be a payback in pungent gaseous emissions. IMG_8816 (2)

The fruit trees are coming on. We had four dozen, or so, delicious apples. There were, I swear, seven perfect cherries but the birds picked us clean. Gah.

Our pear tree has us flummoxed. It’s growing at a great rate and rapidly approaching some overhead lines that we, stupidly, failed to notice when we planted it. However, it produced only a handful of pears, half of which were blown off in a storm.

This was the only one to reach the kitchen, hard as a bullet and free from juice. I don’t mind, I don’t really like pears anyway.

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Figs. I thought I didn’t like figs. That’s clearly because I’d never had a fresh fig, straight from the tree. I was flabbergasted. There must be some fragile flavour components that deteriorate quite quickly in figs because these, honestly, were fragrant and delicious. We had about thirty from our five-year-old tree. It’s a Brown Turkey. We followed advice to plant it in a big pot with a hole made in the bottom and sunk into the ground because figs like their roots to be restrained. IMG_8702

AND, we have olives, can you believe it? IMG_9108

There are still a few crops to harvest. The girls forage for raspberries, blackberries and fairy strawberries when they come in from school. We’ve planted some winter salad and beetroot. I’m sharing the kale with the butterflies. What harm?IMG_9155

There will be turnips.IMG_9207

Also, there will be oca, and plenty of it. I think it will be ready to eat around November and my fingers are crossed that we will like it because it is a pretty plant and spectacularly easy to grow. I’ve heard it described as something that looks like a potato and tastes like a lemon. Regardless, the combination of oca and rampant nasturtiums is making a neglected corner look rather lush.IMG_9211

I’m not brilliant at getting plant combinations right. I think it takes tremendous knowledge, forethought and skill to put the right plants together and keep beds looking good through the seasons. Nevertheless, I’ve had some happy accidents that, truly, make my heart skip a beat. It is these gifts of loveliness that make you believe in an all-knowing Mother Nature. The Verbena bonariensis seems to look good wherever it grows but particularly vibrant against the weeping cotoneaster.IMG_9203

When we had narry a plant, a friend gave me a plastic bag filled with Japanese anenome seedlings which she had weeded out of her own garden and promised would soon fill up mine. I have to admit that I don’t really like the plant part, the leaves are too grey and thuggish. Every year since, I have decided to dig them out and then, when the flowers have finally come, changed my mind. I think they look especially lovely coming through this crab apple tree.IMG_9170

If I could only have one tree, it would be a crab apple tree.

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I went out early this morning, to gather photos and my thoughts. I have made an effort not to look at the garden as another list of jobs to be done. It will never be perfect. It will never be finished.

It is simply the space outside my back door where I go to breathe deeply, to look for small wonders, to indulge my inner farmer,IMG_9157

to see beauty in the everyday, every day.IMG_9160

Dew-drops…IMG_9171

Pollen…IMG_9191

Sweet-peas, still…IMG_9100

Giant, ugly, brutish, prickly teasels, back-lit by the sun’s rays reflecting off apples…IMG_9179

Fallen petals caught by rhubarb leaves…IMG_8620

Tired, ragged butterfly taking one more leap onwards…IMG_8624

Wishing you a lovely weekend.
Lynda.

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How To Stop Time.

How To Stop Time. Matt Haig. Review

Dear Matt Haig,

Are you out there?

I think you are brilliant.

How To Stop Time. Matt Haig. Review

Thank you for making me laugh, and for reminding me that life, long or short, is precious.

Do you know this song? It’s, sort of, the same story and a waltz, like a heartbeat…

P.S. I reviewed How To Stop Time : here.

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The Story of My Shelves.

‘Where are we going on our holidays?’ asked the Small Girl, for the umpteenth time.
‘We are going to Sofa,’ replied Teenage Daughter with admirable resignation.

You see, following last year’s fiasco (matchbox chalet teetering over a cliff in driving rain), I determined that the family’s holiday budget would, instead, be spent on a blue velvet sofa. Yes, I do feel guilty. Not very, but a bit. In fairness, with some teasing, the holiday budget stretched to a sofa, a chair, two rugs and SEVENTY-SIX (!) shelves.

I put a post on Instagram back a bit. This picture:

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With these words:

When Husband first came to call on me in my college bedsit my fledgling book collection was lined up on a lovely marble mantelpiece. To his dismay, my microbiology/biochemistry tomes were liable to topple over the edge at inopportune moments. ‘I should build you a book shelf,’ he said. I replied, in my head or maybe even out loud, ‘you’re the one.’

The One and I have a history with book shelves.

That first set of shelves was handsome. He built a tall space for my folders of lecture notes, a middle shelf for science books and two shelves that snugly accommodated my rapidly expanding collection of fiction…there were signs of things to come there.

He carried that bookcase on the bus to deliver it to my bedsit and I was certain then that no-one on Earth had ever loved me more.

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It was, let me think, nine years later that we moved into our first house, together with Toddler Boy and Baby Girl. We had just spent 12 weeks in Florida while Husband went through training for his new job. We were forced to cancel a week’s holiday in New York because of visa difficulties but we were happy enough to come home and pick up our very own house keys from the Auctioneer and use Husband’s holiday (clearly, I have form on this one) to build some bookshelves. We hadn’t a stick of furniture, you know. The in-laws donated an old garden table and two deck chairs so that we wouldn’t have to eat off the floor and still, my priority was the bookshelves.

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Husband was younger then, weren’t we all, and he banged up those shelves in a couple of days. We gave them a coat of gloss and took a day off while the paint dried.

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There was an abandoned summer house in Glandore, owned by Husband’s Godfather but not used, where we knew that there were trees laden with forgotten apples. We made peanut butter sandwiches for Toddler Boy (it was a phase) and filled a flask of coffee and drove our rusty banger down the road to West Cork. We were so happy, bubbling with joy. We were totally besotted with each other and with the children and so excited about decorating the house and so convinced that we could never want for more.

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We picked bags of apples, cookers and eaters, and then lay back on the grass and soaked up the golden light. It was an exceptionally golden day.

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The garden ran all the way down to a private beach and we were much taken by surprise when a naked man emerged from a gap in the hedge. Mind you, he was caught even more off-guard. We sheepishly explained our tenuous entitlement to have trespassed while he covered his assets and admitted he was the gardener. We parted with a mutual confidentiality agreement.

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Cast out of Paradise, we took a stroll through the village of Glandore. It’s a spectacularly beautiful place, a sheltered bay dotted with picturesque islands, handsome Georgian houses standing guard around the coast and a neat row of pubs holding the centre. You couldn’t find any place prettier on a sunny September afternoon which is why we had our wedding reception there.

(This next photo, by the way, is probably the best representation of the paint colour, it looks a bit, more than a bit, lurid in most of them.)

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As we passed an open pub door we overheard an odd sound, a collective gasp followed by a low groan. The sort of sound you might associate with a narrowly missed opportunity to score at football only with a sense of greater anguish. A man strode purposefully out the door as if looking for someone to tell:

‘A plane crashed into a building in New York.’

You know the rest.

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We drove home with the kids asleep in the back and the radio on. We were on the Clonakilty by-pass when the second tower fell. Funny the things you remember.

When we got home we set up the telly on a box of books (the shelves still weren’t dry) and sat on our two deckchairs and thanked God for visa difficulties.

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We moved into this house exactly ten years later. Through all the two-year-nightmare of purchasing, planning, demolishing, building and near bankruptcy I maintained my sanity by living mostly in my imagination.

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Officially, our planning permission was for an ‘extension’ but, in reality, we knocked everything except the front facade and this room. When there was nothing else, genuinely nothing at all, I sat in here with a flask and a bag of scones and built shelves in my head.

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We managed to have the floor put down before the budget ran dry. It was a basketball court in a previous life and came complete with all the lines and markings in yellow paint. Small Girl was six weeks old. I used to carry her in a sling when I came in here and mopped the floor of this otherwise empty room and I spun around and the imagined picture of those shelves got a little sharper in my head.

That painting, by the way, was a wedding gift from the godfather whose apples we stole.

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It has taken six years of imagining, eight if you count the nightmare two, but it’s done.

Seventy-six shelves.

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Yep, he’s the one.

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