Warning! Spoiler Alert
This post contains approx. 500,000 calories
Perhaps I need to write more about the drab weather in Ireland because since my last posting the weather has been absolutely gorgeous! Blue skies and sun for 4 full days so far. I must say, this makes life here so much more agreeable.
One really nice thing about living on an Irish farm is the “farm dinner” as it is affectionately known here by people-both country dwellers and city folks alike. Farm dinners usually consist of a large plate of tender roasted meat–possibly beef, lamb, pork, chicken or ham; a couple portions of soft, buttery, vegetables, namely cabbage, carrots, peas, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower… and of course, some form of potato–typically boiled in their jackets or mashed. Pretty standard stuff, but exquisitely delicious and totally comforting (and sustaining)….especially on a gray, rainy Irish day. My mother-in-law, Peggy, still insists on lovingly cooking these massive dinners for “the men” (her sons, husband, farm apprentices and whoever else drops in at a moment’s notice) each and every single day. She is truly a saint. Of course, I’d love to join them each day, but try not to overdo it, as I would only be adding more work for her and more inches around my waist. When I do have lunch at the farm I will usually bring a dessert to share…they especially love my rhubarb/berry cobbler and the All-American Angelfood cake with cream and berries. Sometimes I will bake a flourless chocolate cake, which always goes over well too. There is always a slice of something for dessert and a cup of tea with sweetmeal biscuits (cookies) after dinner. These biscuits are called “digestives” because they were once thought to have antacid properties…this clarification works for me, as these little shortbread-y cookies, which are not too sweet, are remarkably delectable. And addicting. And basically, my weight-loss arch nemesis.
At the end of the day, the supper or the “tea” as it is commonly referred to as, is served. Tea occurs at the farm at around 630PM and may consist of a light sandwich or a “country salad” of boiled egg with mayonnaise, tomato slices and cole slaw with a slice of brown soda bread. The odd smoked salmon or a “fry” which is like a mini Irish breakfast is also a possibility. A cup of tea or two is compulsory. Thus, the big meal on the farm (and in many Irish homes) is dinner or lunch, which is probably better for you than our big American heavy supper in the evening and a light lunch at noon. Still, I have yet to fully embrace the tea concept and I tend to make a substantial family evening meal each night. Luckily, there have been no complaints, but I am sure that eventually we will transition to this style of eating.
During the holidays we take our meals in the formal dining room in the main farmhouse. Peggy has this wonderful mid-century modern, heated hostess trolley and dessert cart. We have the same indispensable and lavish menu for each big holiday gathering. The menu reads like this: Prawn cocktail with Mary-Rose sauce for a starter, and then a rustic, creamy soup followed by the main entrée. She will usually prepare a goose for one the holidays with her special potato stuffing, along with mashed potatoes, potato croquettes, 2-3 vegetables, a bread dressing and gravy. Yes, there are 3 different potato preparations listed there. Each plate is pre-made, designed with each tasty element, sized appropriately and waiting patiently in the trolley for its assigned dinner guest. After the main course, there will be 5 or 6 desserts to choose from as well as ice creams galore. A boozy trifle, a plucky plum pudding, a delicate pavlova with fresh berries and cream, a twice-frosted chocolate gateaux and some other kind of wonderful sweet treat. You are required to try a little of each on your plate and you don’t mind. By that time, you’re drunk with food (and possibly wine) and your defenses are most certainly down. After all those desserts, would you believe the “after dinner” chocolates are brought out? Why yes, indeed…After Eight chocolate mints and Chocolate Liqueurs to linger over accompanied by tea to sip (or just more wine if you’re me). I am sure you can make out that there isn’t a lot of moving around after these feasts. This type of banquet is not just taking place at our farm, but in homes all around the country. It’s like for one day everyone receives a permission slip from God to commit one the seven deadly sins: Gluttony!
Being a breakfast person, the piece de résistance for me is The Full Irish Breakfast. Eggs, sausages, rashers (bacon, thick cut and very lean), sautéed mushrooms and tomato halves, baked beans, and black and white puddings with toast. Not that I eat the puddings, but still, something about all of rest is just fully satisfying to me. Puddings, forgive me, taste like what I can only imagine a scab would taste like. And rightly so-they are basically dried blood. But enough of that—Richard makes THE BEST Irish breakfast ever. Him, the Shannon Airport restaurant and BIA in Adare-sheer perfection. Yummy, scrummy and positively del-ish.
Irish stew, seafood chowders, fresh fish with exquisitely prepared velvety sauces, slow roasted, melt-in-your mouth roasts covered with creative reductions, sticky toffee pudding, Banoffee pie, bakewell tarts with cream and a persimmon on the side, a beautiful glazed ham sandwich or a Ploughman’s with pickles and chutney, a filet mignon that you can cut with a butter knife, flavourful roasted parsnips and swede, chocolate biscuit cake, raspberry roulade, savoury Shepard’s pie or Fisherman’s Pie, honey and lemon glazed turnips that taste like mango, cranberry/mushroom/nut filo parcels, spicy curries….a mother’s simple stuffed chicken. From the fancy Mustard Seed in Ballingarry or the distinguished Chapter One in Dublin to delightful organic lunches at the Avoca cafe or an inventive vegetarian dish at Ciaran’s….even a simple tasty fish n chip from chippers ‘round the country: you are definitely spoilt for choice.
Without question, and contrary to popular belief, Irish food is fabulous….from farm dinners to high-priced gourmet meals. It seems that all Irish chefs, professional and domestic, have a way with food…they prepare it with love, a love you can most certainly taste.