A Irishwoman in Paris

03 Feb 2010

Born and raised on a farm in the countryside near Belfast, Trish DeSeine fell in love with France on a childhood visit.  Little did we know that she would later become a celebrated French cookery writer and television personality living in Paris. {Don’t you just love how life works sometimes?}

After 20+ years in Paris, Mme. DeSeine could be dubbed a real Parisian…but she’ll always have that warm Irish spirit and charm in her heart. I am honored to be able to share a little about about Trish and her Irish heritage with you this week.

Bon Appetit!

What was it like growing up on a farm in Ireland?

Of the three of us (I am in the middle of two brothers) I was probably the one who took most interest. I would spend many Saturday mornings with my father as he  did his weekly check on the cattle over at Belfast’s Cavehill. We helped out a bit when the hay was made, and that was great fun, but my father had an ace team of 5 burly brothers from Belfast who looked after everything. My mother was a teacher, so away during the week, but diligently cooked for any farmhands needing sustenance on Saturdays. This was nearly always mince, potatoes and carrots.  Or sometimes a pot roast or chicken and vegetable soup with barley.

Which Irish dishes do you miss…or have redesigned to be more ooh la la?

None really, you can get most ingrédients all over the world now, and happily Irish ones are pretty simple.  I do love cream and butter from home, though, and barmbrack and wheaten bread.  I certainly would not redesign Irish food. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. It’s true attraction is in its very simplicity, quality and purity. I cannot imagine destructing an Irish stew or beef in Guinness !

Are there Irish traditions or sensibilities that you get nostalgic about?

I ‘d like to be romantic and affectionate but, you see, I grew up in County Antrim, in a fiercely Unionist, Presbyterian family and community during the worst of the Troubles. Irish traditions, ie « Southern » were certainly not celebrated ! My family’s affinities leaned more towards Scotland and Great Britain. Therefore, both traditions and cultures got a bit diluted, somehow.  I studied  English in school, a Protestant Grammar school in Belfast, where only a few Irish authors and poets found their way onto the curriculum .  It’s only now that I can see how biased our upbringing was. It’s very sad, I think, that due to the violence , our entire childhood we were being prepared to « get out »  The result of this is not true nostalgia, but a type of retro-nostalgia, for an imaginary Irish childhood I would loved to have had.I always suspected people on the other side of the border were having a hell of a good time . I realise now this was absolutely true.

When I did my TV shows for RTE, this  fantasy came alive for me a little, I started to believe that the nearly unified Ireland was indeed now ALL mine, and that it embraced me right back. Now, with the situation so bad again, I’m not so sure. People  in the street or in pubs and shops are adorable when I’m in Dublin. But I was treated very shabbily by RTE Cork, despite my shows’ good ratings and that spoiled the homecoming expérience slightly.

I guess I miss the way folk would pop in unannounced, for a cup of tea and a piece of cake, and how we would call with friends in a very unceremonious way.  The Irish kitchens of my childhood always had a good stash of traybakes, scones or Victoria sandwich.

Do your children love their Irish heritage..what do they like about Ireland?

They know very little of it, having spent much more time in Scotland and London. They feel more what the French would call « Anglo Saxon »  or « from an English speaking culture » than Irish.  Hopefully we’ll have time in the future to go back and explore a little more.

Do you ever use Irish slang?

Rarely, I don’t get much of a chance in France ! But my nows and my downs with that NornOrn impossible vowel sound are still perfectly intact. My children have a slight NIrish accent in their English which is really lovely.

Any tips on acclimating to another culture?

Fall in love !

What are some of your favourite places in Ireland that you would recommend visiting?

The Hugh Lane in Dublin and the Bacon exhibit in particular. Ballyvolane House near Cork for a long lazy weekend and fantastic food .

Would you ever move back to Ireland?

No. Home is here in Paris with my children.

Luckily, even though she now calls Paris her home, we can still have her via her remarkable culinary treasures.

Trish has written a hugely popular series of illustrated cookbooks. Her most recent is “Comme Au Resto” which shows how to take the latest trends and le presentation from restaurant meals to give your own entertaining a bit of glamour without all the cheffy fuss. My favourite? “I Want Chocolate”, you will never think of chocolate in the same way again. You can find Trish’s books available worldwide on Amazon, Barnes & Noble & Easons or for more information visit her beautiful website Trish DeSeine.com

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

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Our dear son, Geoffrey, is technically Irish because he was born in Ireland. But naturally I had to make sure that he would legally be both Irish and American. (You’d be amazed at how patriotic you become when you move out of your home country.) Being pragmatic, I immediately requested an American birth certificate and then applied for a USA passport so now he has 2 passports and 2 birth certs. He is fortunate to have dual citizenship and I hope he will take full advantage of all the wonderful opportunities that this will afford him.  Of course, I practically have him admitted to Harvard or Yale on a full scholarship straight after his Irish secondary schooling (and on the crew team, no less)

It’s fascinating to observe both his Irish and American characteristics as he grows up.  The best of the Irish traits has to be his absolute LOVE of tea. He simply loves to sip cups of tea with loads of milk and copious amounts of sugar cubes, “mommy, mommy, mommy, can I have a cream tea?” It started when he was about 2 and now he will have a cup of tea nearly every afternoon on it’s own or with a queen cake (i.e. yummy cupcake with buttercream frosting in the middle) or possibly a slice of brown bread with butter and raspberry jam. It is all very dramatic, he insists on doing it all on his own–boiling the tea kettle, steeping the tea in the teapot, putting milk into the tiny milk pouring cup, bringing over the dainty little brown sugar cubes, his distinctive porcelain cup & saucer and special teaspoon.  I suppose he picked this up from everyone around him, but I personally think it’s innate because I don’t drink tea and I don’t ever remember small children taking up coffee drinking like our parents in the States….in fact, just the opposite, my friends and I thought that coffee was the most disgusting smelling, bitter tasting thing ever and could not fathom how anyone could bear to drink it. No, I think his fondness for tea is part of his Irish-ness and it’s just the sweetest thing.  Plus, it’s great way to get more milk into his tummy.

On the other hand, he cannot live without mac-n-cheese. And by mac-n-cheese, I mean that all-American, orange-coloured, boxed-up, macaroni and cheese. We have to stock up on Annie’s Organic each trip to the States because you can’t get anything like it here. I’ve tried to make it from scratch and it just doesn’t cut the mustard..something about that salty orange powdered cheese is wondrous to him I guess.  One of his all time favorite lunches is a hot dog with mac and cheese. Doesn’t get more American than that!

When it comes to potatoes..he is still on the fence. Sometimes he’ll eat mashed potatoes, but dislikes chips (french fries), baked, boiled, fried, hashbrowned or cold potatoes. He will eat the odd crisp (chip), but is not really crazy about them either. I swore I heard him mention the South Beach Diet on one occasion, but he vehemently denied it when I asked him to clarify. Dislike of potatoes=Clearly American.  But, the Irish in him will trump that by the fact that he absolutely hates peanut butter. Yes, indeed, we are a “no PBJ household”. I still find that unbelievable. I’ve tried and tried but can’t get him to eat a peanut butter and jelly sammy, or just plain peanut butter, reeses peanut butter cups or pieces, monkey munch, ants on a log, Nutter Butter cookies, nothing! He completely loathes the taste and texture of it. It’s really disappointing because it’s a good protein packed snack or lunch option that all my American mommy friends can rely on. Perhaps I should give Nutella a try…we’ll see.

I will be off next week for a girly trip to Paris. Geoffrey has asked me to bring back some new teas for him to try and I will most certainly oblige, a’ Mariage Freres!

Slainte,

Imen

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