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Food

Houellebecq on farming in Ireland and France

Tuesday, 8 January, 2019

After a publicity tour for his novel Platforme, which was published in 2001, Michel Houellebecq was taken to court in France for inciting racial hatred, so he moved to Ireland for several years and lived on Bere Island off the west coast of Cork. The rugged landscape there has much in common with rural Normandy, the backdrop to Sérotonine, his latest novel.

The protagonist of Sérotonine is Florent-Claude Labrouste, a European Union agronomist. Coincidentally, Houellebecq worked as an agronomist before he took up novel writing and this fact gives substance to his observations of rural life. Although he lives in Paris, Labrouste spends considerable time in the countryside and, while he sympathizes with farmers, he knows he’s powerless to halt the decline of their traditional way of life. “Where there are now slightly more than 60,000 dairy farmers,” he notes, “there will be in 15 years 20,000. In short, what is taking place with French agriculture is a vast redundancy plan, but one that is secret and invisible, where people disappear one by one, on their plots of land, without ever being noticed.”

As with the farmers on Ireland’s smallholdings, the farmers of Normandy are caught between the rock of agribusiness and the hard place of the European Union, with its unending regulations that make their miserable lives even more miserable. In a Satanic Mills description of a modern poultry farm, Labrouste notes that the “300,000 or so inmates, plucked and emaciated, struggled to live among the decomposing cadavers of their fellow chickens.” On entering these vast white-meat factories, the first thing the visitor notices is the birds with their “look of panic and incomprehension, who don’t understand the conditions into which they’ve been dragged.” The link in this section of Sérotonine between the luckless chickens and France’s farmers, despised by Brussels bureaucrats and uncared for by the urban elites who demand premier Calvados and the urban masses who demand cheap food, is obvious. Struggling, panicked and desperate, the small farmers of France have nothing to lose when they don those gilets jaunes.

More Sérotonine here tomorrow.


Whiting with turnip and carrot

Saturday, 5 January, 2019

The turnip (Brassica rapa) is a root vegetable grown in temperate climates worldwide and Ireland’s damp weather is ideal for it. The word turnip, by the way, comprises tur- as in turned/rounded on a lathe and neep, derived from Latin napus, the word for the plant. In Scotland, the turnip is often called a neep, while in North America turnip (or neep) usually refers to rutabaga, a yellow root vegetable in the same genus (Brassica) and also known in England as a swede (from “Swedish turnip”). Interestingly, the term rutabaga comes from the Swedish word “rotabagge.”

In Irish cuisine, boiled turnip is a popular side dish with a bacon dinner. Today, mixed with carrot, it accompanied whiting. Delicious, delightful, delectable.

Turnip and whiting


Siracusa: home of the world’s best sandwich

Thursday, 25 October, 2018

Described by Cicero as “the greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of them all”, Siracusa (Syracuse) is one of Sicily’s most historic places. It’s mentioned in the Bible in the Acts of the Apostles 28:12 as Saint Paul stayed there, and its patron saint is Saint Lucy, who was born there. Her feast day, Saint Lucy’s Day, is celebrated on 13 December.

Today, Siracusa is home to a street-food artist who makes the very best sandwich in the world. Watch this.

Back on 19 September, our post here was about the affordable and delicious street food sold at markets and train stations and from ‘pojangmacha’ (carts) in most of South Korea’s urban areas. The featured Korean Egg Toast was made with remarkable efficiency and an almost Confucianistic solemnity, and while we’re warned today by our PC overlords about comparing cultures, we’re still allowed to express preferences and the making of this sandwich is Siracusa wins. It’s craft and art; it’s theatre with an enthusiastic audience; it’s loving, passionate, creative and, especially noteworthy, it nourishes a community that appreciates good food prepared with local ingredients.

Talking of the ingredients, one very thoughtful YouTube commentator has listed them:

Filoncino bread, olive oil, Parmesan, dried ciliegini (sweet tomatoes) with basil, fresh salad (radicchio + lettuce + lemon juice and lemon zest), fresh tomatoes, grated Caciotta, grated sheep Ricotta (the same he serves on a plate in the meanwhile). The one in the plate has been aromatized at the moment with fresh garlic, olive oil and oregano, more Ricotta, olives, red sweet onions and some more dried ciliegini.

The filling roll: Slices of a massive Caciocavallo cheese, mashed potatoes with parsley and oil, ham, more Ricotta, more sweet onions (with a drop of lemon this time), parsley.

Divine. Sublime. The way the ham is added is magical.


Porridge with pomegranate seeds

Friday, 12 October, 2018

The list of benefits from starting the day with porridge is legendary. This simple mix of oats and water contains protein, zinc, iron, magnesium, vitamin B, vitamin E and phytochemicals, while the high fibre content in porridge is said to improve digestion, reduce high blood cholesterol and help prevent heart disease. In other words, the package of nutrients that is porridge will fill your tummy at breakfast and help boost your immune system throughout the day.

The pomegranate (Punica granatum) is a beautiful fruit filled with red “jewels” or arils that contain juicy nectar. Pomegranate seeds are rich in vitamin C and potassium and they contain a high number of antioxidants, which help protect the body against inflammation and free radical damage. Formula: porridge + pomegranate = goodness.

Porridge with pomegranate seeds


Seoul Food and confidence building measures

Wednesday, 19 September, 2018

FOOD: South Korea is famous for affordable and delicious street food that’s sold at markets and train stations and from ‘pojangmacha’ (carts) in most urban areas. Dishes cost from 2,000 to 5,000 Won (€1.50 to €3.50) and one of the most popular items is Korean Egg Toast, which comes with lots of “trimmings”, as Mrs Fitz used to say.

POLITICS: The excellent 38 North, which is a must-read on all things concerning North Korea, has this to say about the meeting in Pyongyang between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in:

“The two countries should also eventually set their sights higher to make the peninsula, in their words, a ‘land of peace.’ Given the great wall of mistrust that Moon and Kim are attempting to tear down and the still fragile North-South relationship, the two leaders are right to adopt an incremental, step-by-step approach to CBMs [confidence building measures] and not burden their dialogue with unrealistic ambitions. But as the mutual mistrust melts and both countries create a successful track record on implementation, they should consider a more robust CBM agenda consisting of: 1) more aggressive measures to eliminate the NLL [Northern Limit Line] as a flashpoint for North-South conflict; 2) greater transparency and information sharing on military plans, programs, and operations; and 3) constraints on military movements and activities to reduce the risk of a North Korean surprise attack.”


Things that kept the darkness at bay

Tuesday, 4 September, 2018

“Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.” — J.R.R. Tolkien

The small acts of kindness and love here involved baking. Flour, milk, eggs, sugar, salt, butter and raisins were converted into energy in acts of “improvised tradition”. A pinch of this and a fistful of that altered the balance each time my mother made the scones. Each batch was different. Creativity was at work.

Scones of love


Catch of the day

Friday, 1 June, 2018

It is said that some people in Limerick deliberately self-harm just so they can visit Ford’s fish & chip shop after being discharged from the nearby St. John’s Hospital. Located on John’s Street in one of the city’s more rugged quarters, Ford’s offers solid comfort at reasonable prices. For example, a whiting filet costs just €2.80. The fish is covered in a batter that was traditionally made from beef dripping and then deep fried, although oil is used today. For those in need of food, fast, Ford’s offers substantial filling, affordably, and St. John’s Hospital is at hand when it comes to healing the customers.

Ford's


Scouse vegan carrot and apple cake

Wednesday, 30 May, 2018

Created especially for us by Helena McGivern, who bakes for the very lucky customers at Greeendays Café in Merseyside. Poor old Jürgen Klopp and his grieving Reds have cack-handed Loris Karius on their plate but we’ve got Liverpool’s best vegan cake sliced.

Helen's cake


Effin (good) cheese

Thursday, 24 May, 2018

Effin is a townland in County Limerick named after Saint Eimhin, a sixth-century cleric. Effin borders on the townlands of Garrynancoonagh North to the south, Garrynderk North to the west, Ballyshonikin to the east, Gortnacrank to the east and Tobernea West to the east.

In 2011, the people of Effin were told by Facebook that they could not register their townland as “Effin” because this word was deemed to be “offensive”. The conflict led The Guardian to headline the story as “Effin woman launches online fight for Facebook recognition.” In the end, Anne Marie Kennedy won.

Effin Irish Cheddar, by the way, is a creamy pleasure made from Golden Vale milk.

Effin cheddar


Champion of breakfasts

Sunday, 22 April, 2018 0 Comments

Ingredients:

  • Half a cup of oatmeal
  • Tablespoon of chia seeds
  • Handful of blueberries
  • Handful of pomegranate seeds
  • Half a cup of almond milk

Method: Mix and store in fridge overnight. Eat early morning. Greet the day.

Breakfast


Last Suppers

Thursday, 29 March, 2018 0 Comments

Today, Holy Thursday, commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus Christ with the Apostles. That simple meal of bread and wine was to be the last time he dined with his disciples.

The English journalist A. A. Gill set out to write about “Last Suppers” in September 2009, but he abandoned the project on the grounds that it was one of those things like “Make a list of the 10 sexiest women ever.” He said: “You have all the anxiety of choice but none of the pleasure of execution.” So, in the middle of the project he switched from last suppers to the challenge of picking the food he would choose for the rest of his life, if he had to live with other people’s national cuisine. Gill couldn’t settle on one, so he picked four regional cuisines:

South-west France: “Foie gras and cassoulet, all sorts of duck, figs and Roquefort… This is the food of old Gascony, of Cyrano de Bergerac: a cuisine for the last leg of life, of post-prandial naps, of meals that soak into each other, of a languid, replete and easy life. I could live with that.”

Northern Italy: “Piedmont and the Po Valley, where they grow rice, make risottos, collect truffles, cook with butters, lard and the light olive oil of Genoa and have the youngest veal. I’d have to stretch it a bit to Parma, to take in hams, cheese and ice-cream, but that would do me.”

The North-West Frontier: “The mountainous, tribal lands of Northern Pakistan and Afghanistan: the very best lamb curries, biryanis, pilaus, apricots and quail, Peshawari naan, yoghurt and pomegranate juice eaten with gusto and arguments.”

Vietnam: “I love the food of Vietnam. It is an ideal combination of delicacy and panache. It has enormous variety of flavours and textures without being irredeemably twee. It’s refined but it’s also assertive. It has tiny little finger food and dog.”

In the end, Gill came to the following conclusion: “If you’re going to have a perfect food retirement, it would be Vietnam for breakfast, northern Italy for lunch and then alternately south-west France and the North-West Frontier for dinner.”

Background: A. A. Gill died of cancer in London in December 2016, at the age of 62. Adrian Anthony Gill was also an alcoholic who stopped drinking at 29 and he followed the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) “12-step plan” to recovery. In tribute to the fellowship, he began using the name ‘A. A.’ Gill professionally. His finest writing is collected in The Best of A. A. Gill and it covers his observations on food, television, life and travel.

The Last Supper