Made it to 18.

Sultanabun and son, 1999.

I am the mother of a grown-up child. I am relieved to have made it this far, apprehensive about letting go, nostalgic for the saturated joy of his babyhood and, above all else, bowled over with pride. My son, in my totally biased opinion, is smart, opinionated,witty, kind, interested and interesting. In short, leaving aside a most irritating habit of taking off his shirts without first opening the buttons, a fine young man.

His future belongs to him, his for the taking and his for the making.

But this memory, of a shuttered bedroom on a snowy morning in Padova, is mine.

Sultanabun and son, 1999.
SultanaBun and Son, 1999.

Happy Birthday, Grown-Up Son.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Heart and Sole.

Coeurs a la Creme and Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

Long, long ago, back in the mists of the last millenium, the restaurant at the Crawford Gallery used to stay open late for dinner and that is where he brought me to celebrate our first St. Valentine’s Day together.

It was a very special place; Myrtle Allen and her daughter Fern were running it at that time. They had the Ballymaloe trick (they invented it, of course) of combining faded grandeur with homeliness so that you felt you belonged. Can you imagine? Two starving, grubby students, scrubbed up and loved up, playing grown-ups and acting posh. I have no idea to this day how he paid the bill. He may have left a portion of his liver behind.

It was magical, everything about that night, from beginning to end. There were masses of candles on the windowsills, reflecting in those long windows, and a harpist strumming away in the corner. As seduction scenes go, he was on to a winner.

We ate Dover Sole, stuffed with salmon and served with champagne sauce. It was, without a shadow of a doubt, the very best dish I had ever eaten and indeed, I can’t think of a thing that has surpassed it. Honest to God, I was in ecstasy.

For dessert we had Coeurs à la Crème, something I have never seen on a menu before or since. They had me at à la Crème. It was sublime.

I was lost.

We had, by that date, broken up more than once. In fact, I believe I had sent him packing no fewer than six, SIX, times! But, he won in the end. Well played, mon amour!

There was no going back from the Coeurs à la Crème.

I was his.

A couple of months later, for my birthday, we went to see the the RSC production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses at Cork Opera House. Oh, it was wonderful. I adored it. The two nights remain associated in my brain, a tangle of memories from a time of golden, libidinous, joyful adventure.

When I sat down to choose a book for my February edition of Cooking the Books on Bookwitty, there was only one possibility. It was beyond my control.

Coeurs a la Creme and Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

I scoured the internet and found the moulds for Coeurs à la Crème here. I referred to my trusted Ballymaloe Cookery Course for Myrtle’s recipe but it was for four servings which seems remarkably silly. I cut it down to two and tweaked it a little, reducing the amount of cream and adding vanilla. I’ve lost count of how many Coeurs à la Crème I’ve eaten in the last month but it has been fun, like playing grown-up and acting posh all over again.

Click here to read my review of Les Liaisons Dangereuses and my slightly risqué recipe for Coeurs à la Crème.

For anyone else who believes that Rickman owns the role of Valmont, here is a precious snippet of the master on stage:

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

 

 

It’s a bit early to be thinking about Valentines but…

‘I loves him ‘cos he brings me chips.’

That was my line, borrowed from some forgotten joke, when he used to turn up on my doorstep on Thursday evenings after rugby training, hot and hungry, with a steaming parcel of chips in curry sauce.

Quarter of a century later, I love him because he builds me shelves.
And, because he knows exactly the spot to rub on the Voltarol.
Because he brings me coffee every morning without turning on the light.
Because he doesn’t mind digging in the rain so long as we do it together.
Because he knows my tell
and hasn’t told.
Because he believes that I am good.
and tells me that I can.
Because his hands…

I’m saying this now because, if I wait for an occasion, my hormones will have fluctuated and my mood will have nose-dived and I will have forgotten why, WHY?, I love him, though never that I do.

This grey and windy Wednesday morning, when for one precious, terrifying, moment, everyone is OK, we are all happy and healthy and muddling along just grand, planning, plotting and looking forward, I am over-whelmed with reasons why.img_3666

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Introducing Agnes.

notebook. diary. keeping a diary. Agnes.

I was a miserable thirteen-year-old. Is there any other kind? Thirteen is a bewildering age. Too old for minding, too young for freedom and all that news of impending womanhood is hardly a barrel of laughs.

To my rescue came an English teacher whose name, to my shame, has escaped me. She was still a trainee teacher. She had dark, wavy hair and wore clogs and fringed skirts. There were beads and feathers about her person. She was a bona fide hippie. Fabulous.

She scratched new words on the blackboard which we recited like magic spells: metaphor, alliteration and, oh, my absolute favourite, onomatopoeia. She had us write rhyming couplets in the style of Ezra Pound and praised our efforts regardless of their dedication to George Michael or Spandau Ballet.

She instructed us to keep a diary. Write what you feel, she said, and I did. I bought a blue, fake-leather-bound (I thought it was real leather) diary and I wrote. For a girl who spoke little, who found it near impossible to say what she felt, that writing was like putting a tap on my soul. All the angst, sadness, despair, and yes, God damn it, unrequited lust just poured out of me.notebook. diary. keeping a diary. Agnes.

I wrote for years and years and years, long past my teens. Then, I wrote long letters to friends and discovered the thrill of a response. Then, I wrote this blog. Without Miss Hippie-Clogs, I wouldn’t be here writing to you. I wouldn’t have known how to do this. In fact, I believe that without that outlet I wouldn’t be here, full stop. I would have drowned in that rising tide of feelings.

I was delighted, honoured in fact, when the magnificent Sam of Agnesforgirls encouraged me to pass Miss Hippie-Clogs’ message on to a new generation of girls. I expounded the benefits of keeping a diary HERE. I also contributed to THIS list of suggested reading for girls.

Agnesforgirls.com, just Agnes to her friends, is a brilliant new website, launching today, for girls aged from 11 to 18 (or thereabouts). Agnes aims to provide girls with all the information and encouragement they might need to become competent, brave and happy young women. I wish Agnes had been around in my day.

As a mother, I would put my trust in Agnes. I’ve read just about every page of the site and I am convinced that my teenage daughters are safe and well-cared for in Agnes’ hands.

I hope you will take a look at the site and spread the word to any parents or daughters who might appreciate it.

Agnes is on Facebook here and on Instagram here and, lest you have missed the links above, the website is here.

The future is a blank page, my friends.

notebook. diary. keeping a diary. Agnes.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

 

Gourmet Rhapsody.

Muriel Barbery. Gourmet Rhapsody. toast.

Cardiac insufficiency. A man is dying because he has not heart enough to support his own passions (food, mainly, and possibly wine). This near-heartless man cares not a whisker about final adieus to his long-suffering wife or steadfast mistress. He has no wisdom to impart to his under-valued children. In the space that his heart should have filled there is only an insatiable longing for one particular food, a flavor par excellence, that he cannot quite identify. From his deathbed, Monsieur Arthens explores his culinary memories from appreciation of his grandmother’s gravy to becoming France’s most revered food critic.

In a lifetime of writing about food the gourmet has entirely missed the point. Food should be relished, not picked apart. In dissecting every meal he has let the heart of it escape. By excluding his family he has turned his back on the most essential of all seasonings. In bite-sized  chapters his wife, children, neighbours, employees and protégé each take turns to pour scorn, defend or grieve the dying gourmet. Meanwhile, Monsieur continues his search for a single, elusive taste of…something.

Muriel Barbery. Gourmet Rhapsody. toast.

Muriel Barbery‘s Gourmet Rhapsody is a book to make your mouth water. Every single page exudes an aroma of browning butter, or drips a deeply reduced jus, or is stained with a ring of Burgundian wine. It is a delicious book but, like a balanced cocktail, Gourmet Rhapsody has an Angostura bitter note. It brings to mind the very best of food you have ever eaten while at the same time reminding you that you will most likely never experience that food, in the same place and in the same way, ever again.

Sometimes, most times, when we recall a food it is the whole experience that is stamped upon our hearts. Rice pudding with jam by firelight. Mince pies by fairylight. Sausages on a barbecue in a midsummer garden. Red wine at a long table in the dim cellar of a house in the Pyrenees. Tayto sandwiches on the beach and dripping 99s in the car on the way home. Toast in bed at 2AM in a maternity ward. Toast in bed on a Sunday morning with a good book and a frothy coffee. Toast.

I have long sought to rediscover a certain whiskey-orange sorbet. Husband and I were in Co. Clare on our first holiday together. The climax of our week was a meal in a restaurant called Barr Trá. We ate in the conservatory which had a spectacular view of sunset on Liscannor Bay. I can’t remember a single other thing I ate, I suspect there were mussels and I’m certain there was brandy, but that sorbet has taunted me for two decades.

How could I possibly recreate that moment? I can’t get back the perfect ninety seconds, with my foot wrapped around his calf, that it took to let five or six sunlit spoonfuls dissolve on my tongue. I hope, when I am on my deathbed, that it comes to mind.

Once a year or so, maybe even less, I take a fancy for an egg-in-a-cup. That’s the official name, at least in my head. My Granny used to make this for my breakfast along with bread which was first buttered and then toasted under the grill, most importantly, on the buttered side only. Monsieur Arthens has something to say about buttering bread before you toast it:

‘Why is it that in France we obstinately refrain from buttering our bread until after it has been toasted? The reason the two entities should be subjected together to the flickering flame is that in this intimate moment of burning they attain an unequalled complicity. The butter loses some of its creamy consistency, but nevertheless is not as liquid as when it is melted on its own, in a bain-marie or a saucepan. Likewise, the toast is spared a somewhat dreary dryness, an becomes a moist, warm substance, neither sponge nor bread but something in between, ready to tantalize one’s taste buds with its contemplative delicacy.’

The egg, or two, should be placed in a small pot of cold water and brought to the boil. Simmer for three minutes for a runny yolk. A dear friend gave me a brilliant and fool-proof egg-timer gadget that goes in the pot and changes colour as the egg cooks. You can find one here.

When the time is up, chip the top off the egg with a spoon and scrape the innards into a cup. Add a generous corner off a block of butter and a pinch of salt. Now, use the spoon to whack the egg around the sides of the cup until it has absorbed the butter into itself. You don’t want to liquidise the whole thing, just break it up. The chipping and the scraping and the whacking and the eating are all marvellously satisfying.

I watched my mother make eggs-in-a-cup like this for all my little sisters when they were babies so I can only presume she made them like this for me too. I know that when she handed me the cup to spoon feed a hungry sibling I was as likely as not to eat most of it myself between turns of chugga-chugga-here-comes-the-train. I made eggs-in-a-cup for my own babies and it always made me feel that I was doing my job right.

img_2698

Unlike the whiskey-orange sorbet, egg-in-a-cup is a blend of many memories. It doesn’t rely upon an Atlantic sunset, a particular whiskey or the added frisson of young love. I needs only a warm kitchen, an egg, bread, butter and a spoon. The bare essentials.

Muriel Barbery has created a book which defies criticism. How could I tear asunder a meal, I mean book, which has so painstakingly been constructed. This is a book to be savoured, meditated upon and remembered. Like the very best of books, I mean meals, there is a lesson in it. Live. Live and love and eat every bit of it now. Now.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

 

 

 

 

 

The Ocean At The End Of The Bed.

It’s late. The house is asleep or pretending to be. The smelly dog has padded down the stairs beside me in the almost dark and taken up his guard at my feet. Why is it so easy to believe that the dog can read my mind?

I have a thousand words swimming at the front of my head fighting for daylight and bright red warning lights burning at the sides telling me to self-edit, to just stop now and let it be.

I was away. We were in France. It was paradise. Almost.

We arrived at a wood cabin just in time for an Atlantic sunset. Down three steps and six leisurely paces from our door took us to a rickety picket fence and beyond that a thirty foot drop to the beach. The water was still warm, lapping turquoise and gold over tangerine sand. It was, truly, that good, like an ad for a perfect holiday.

We went to bed, toes pointing west, and the tide came in.

Waves crashed against the cliff, Ka-Boooommm, and dragged back sand, ki-shhishhhhhhhh.

At the top of the tide the waves hitting the cliff reverberated through the dune, across six paces, up three steps and rattled the house.

Ki-shhishhhhhh-Ka-Boooommm-rattlerattlerattle.

The draw back from each slapping wave sounded as though it was pulling the very ground from under me. The wind rose and a loose shutter took to banging in time.

Ki-shhishhhhhh-Pullll-Ka-Boooommm-rattlerattlerattle-BANG,  Ki-shhishhhhhh-Pullll-Ka-Boooommm-rattlerattlerattle-BANG,  Ki-shhishhhhhh-Pullll-Ka-Boooommm-rattlerattlerattle-BANG…

I lay awake with the certain knowledge that we were about be be tipped into the ocean, that feeling of spiders scuttling about in my chest. I listened closely for the ultimate sound that should send me dashing to throw my children out the windows. I listened and calculated, how long to drop thirty feet, how far to sink, and tried to breathe and dared not think the words it-will-be-alright.

Now. I have to go back and just typing that makes my head spin.

When I was eight my mother took a holiday with her girlfriends and my father brought my four year old sister and I to a seaside hotel. There’s a long story there, obviously, but it’s not mine to tell. We can skip to me, trying to get to sleep in a hotel bedroom. It was, I think, our fourth night in the hotel, my fourth night in any hotel and it still felt strange. My Dad had gone downstairs to the bar. My sister was asleep. I had read a few chapters of Black Beauty. It was a lovely hard back copy from a collection of children’s classics. My mother had bought them from the travelling salesman who sold her the World Book encyclopedia and she kept them all in the breakfront bookcase which was her pride and joy. The book retained the smell of pledge furniture polish. It smelled of home.

I had a bedtime ritual. Oh Angel of God, my guardian dear, and now I lay me down to sleep and if I die before I wake and then God bless Mammy and Daddy and Everyone Who Loves Me and then I said to myself, Holy God will take care of us, it-will-be-alright.

Then my Daddy was shouting Get Up, Lynda, Get Out Of Bed and I did what I was told and rolled out unto my feet and he was lifting my sister from her bed and urging me towards the bathroom and my feet were burning because the ground was hot and it was dark but I could see the orange light outside the curtains.

We went to the bathroom window and he lifted me out to the ledge and I looked down and saw a cluster of men holding their hands up and telling me to jump and I worried that my nightdress would billow out but I did what I was told and I jumped and, after a second, they caught me. My sister was dropped behind me and we were bundled to the other side of the street and wrapped in stranger’s coats.

There was heat, infernal heat and flames and sparks falling but mostly I remember a roaring noise and staring at that bathroom window waiting to see Daddy come out. He went back in you see, to save a baby. There’s another long story there. We had played with her all week on the beach. He went back through our room and tried to get down the corridor to her room but he couldn’t make it. He didn’t get her. They never found her. She was so little, I suppose there was nothing left.

Eventually, he came out the same window.

We were on the six o’clock news and the front page of the newspaper.

We don’t talk about it.

I don’t know what the triggers are. It’s not every holiday but some. It might have been the smell of Malibu sun cream or the hot sand or the booming noise. I don’t know.

I am so, so glad to be home. In a house that doesn’t shake and has a shitload of smoke alarms. I’m sorry I ruined my Husband’s holiday because I couldn’t speak.

It wasn’t all bad. The cheese was smelly, in the best possible way, and the wine was red and plentiful. I nearly have a tan. Well, many freckles. I have dozens of photos to show you but not tonight.

There are reasons, I’m sure, why I shouldn’t publish this post but I can’t, in my sleep-deprived state, remember what they are.

Now, to sleep.

Thanks for listening.

http://www.bundoranfirebrigade.com/1980_Hotel_Fire.html