- Food & Drink
2010 was the year I got fat.
I began the year soft yet sprightly and ended it beached on a sofa, greasy with chocolate, huffing and puffing with effort every time I heaved a limb across my rippling barrel body.
Much of the blame for this can be laid at the door of Darina Allen, who gave me the gift of butter during my 3 months at Ballymaloe. It’s a gift I won’t be returning and the sticky sweet smell of onions sweating in butter is how you know you’re in my kitchen, eating soda bread and anticipating a bowl of surprisingly unhealthy vegetable soup.
Some of the blame can also be attached to Christmas, which comes garlanded with sweet wrappers and icing sugar. My Christmas weight gain this year came in at 4.4lbs (accrued over 5 days) and at the moment I’m suffering the Sherry Shakes as I try to wean myself off the festive fare.
But most of the blame belongs to me. I have no discipline in the presence of food and 2010 was a year of pure, happy greed.
Recipe of the month: The notion of a New Year diet passed me by (with the exception of a foray into gruel for New Year’s Day) and January was full of cakes, cheese and hot toddies. But my favorite recipe is the moreish Smoky salted tablet, which I made for Burn’s Night and reprised for Christmas. Friends can expect to receive bags of this as gifts for years to come.
Restaurant of the month: Hix Oyster and Chop House ought to walk away with this for the magnificent Sunday lunch I shared with friends at the end of the month but my favourite meal by a snowy mile was the plate of ham, egg and chips I ate at The Henry Green Pub in Borough Green after a long, blizzard-beset walk in the countryside. With a pint of beer on the side and apple crumble and custard for afters, it was a perfect pub meal.
Recipe of the month: After the indulgence came the mortification of the flesh in the form of sort of giving up meat for Lent. In practice what this meant was not cooking meat at home and instead tucking into spicy Lentils with spring greens on an excessively regular basis.
Restaurant of the month: We wore pirate costumes, drank grog and ate Stargazy Pie. It was The Underground Restaurant’s Patrick O’Brian Night, which meant plates of hard tack and dead baby and lots of historically accurate fun (we got drunk, just like proper 19th century sailors).
Recipe of the month: Another good month for cakes, my favourite is the Brownies with stem ginger. I made these again for a Christmas party and biting into the soft, yielding chocolate brownie spiked with nuggets of stem ginger reminded me of why I first thought this would be a good combination.
Restaurant of the month: The roast dinner came with a pewter jug of ale and a Yorkshire pudding you could wear as a hat, so it has to be the Fox and Anchor in Smithfields. Sadly, I hadn’t ordered the roast beef and had to content myself with a basket of fish and goose fat cooked chips. I felt consoled.
Recipe of the month: Before I ran off to Ballymaloe to learn how to cook, I managed to squeeze in a few recipes and the most used since then is Bubble and Squeak. Yet another reason why roast dinners are magnificent things: you get to eat a huge hunk of roasted meat and potatoes one day and then mash it all together, fry it and top it with an egg the next. What’s not to adore?
Restaurant of the month: One of my meals of the year was at The Sportsman in Seasalter. Leonard and I took a day’s holiday in order to slowly chug down to the south coast and spend hours eating briny oysters with chorizo, plump pickled herring, creamily sauced halibut and all the focaccia (I will never forget that, Leonard. Never).
Ballymaloe moment of the month: My 2nd day at Ballymaloe, my 1st day wearing whites and my 1st day in the kitchen. I made potato soup with chorizo, strawberry and rhubarb compote and a loaf of bright green brown soda bread and counted it a success.
Ballymaloe moment of the month: It would’ve been the height of chutzpah to continue writing recipes while I was at Ballymaloe learning to cook, so I abandoned my own ideas and humbly knuckled down and got to grips with chopping, slicing, dicing and, importantly, baking. Mossy-hued soda breads, bouncy yeast breads and I brewed up a sourdough in my spare time. Mr Bubbles the Sourdough Starter was born and he’s still going strong.
Restaurant of the month: In spite of the 3 course lunches, we still managed the occasional meal out and in May I made my first trip to Nautilus in Ballycotton. Not wowed on my first visit (mostly due to the cost of eating out in Ireland, which still astonishes me), I ended up eating there twice more and taking my parents there for my final meal in Ireland. Well executed Frenchish food with gorgeous views over the harbour, I miss it.
Ballymaloe moment of the month: It has to be chopping my hand, doesn’t it? A moment of carelessness with a bread knife lead to a fortnight of dressings and bandages followed by an afternoon in A&E waiting for the dead flesh to be cut off the healthy bits sewn back together. 6 months later and I still have a permanent souvenir in the form of a lumpy little finger.
Restaurant of the month: When I go back to Cork, and I inevitably will, my first plan will involve hiring a car, driving to Lismore and eating in the O’Brien Chop House. Meat slaughtered in the local butchers, vegetables from the owner’s garden and the puddings. Oh, the puddings. The rhubarb Eton Mess lives on in my heart and mind, long after it left my digestive tract.