Triumph of Simplicity

St. Patrick’s Day on Sunday, so Oren turns Gwyrdd (Green) for a week.   Yes, the grass is definitely greener in Ireland. Havent been there for 15 years now, but it was my travel hotspot in the nineties. In fact, Ireland is the reason that I am where I am today. After deciding I wanted to leave crowded and overregulated Holland, living in Ireland seemed a perfect plan. It didnt work out completely, I got as far as North Wales. Although I am perfectly happy here now, I stll think the emerald isle. Especally of  the Aran Islands on the West Coast, which is the most beautiful spot I have been to.

inish

So time to put my love for Eire into a special menu.

  • Brotchan Roy
  • Braised Oxtail
  • Cod with Cream & Bayleaves
  • Vegetarian Buckwheat Balls & Guiness Stew
  • served with Wild Garlic Champ
  • Rhubarb Pie.

I am leaning heavily on recipes from Darina Allen’s Irish Traditonal Cooking. They are examples of the triumph of simplicity.

Brotchan Roy – Broth for a King – is a soup made of Leeks & Oatmeal. Yep, basically just that. Sweat leeks in butter, add stock or milk, stir in oatmeal, cook for 45 min. Ancient recipe but you end up with the most flavourful soup, which has a beautiful celtic mist colour. Darina suggests a bit of mace for flavour, but  I guess thyme (my favourite bedfellow for leeks) or white pepper will do as well.

Ehm…Oxtail isnt particularly Irish, but I just fancied cooking it before winter is really over.

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It feels so good to have something fresh green on the menu again. Yesterday I went for a walk to my secret spot for picking wild garlic, and discovered that despite the wintery temperatures of  the last couple of months it had already come up in abundance. I got enough to use for the champ – potatoes mashed with milk which has been infused with the wild garlic. Not only it has the fresh Irish green colour, but for me, the taste of wild garlic anounces the arrival of spring. It cuts through the stodgyness of wintery food.

The acidity of rhubarb does the same, and that makes it one of my favourite spring ingredients. The recipe from’ Irish Traditional Cooking’  for Rhubarb Pie, with a bread-cake base (using baking soda as a rising agent, in combination with buttermilk). This recipe works perfect, as the base soaks up the juices from the rhubarb.

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I was surprised how good these simple dishes tasted. But it is a good reminder that Ireland once signified a life of simplicity, and that I am still striving to lead that life.

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Imagination & Silent Force

 

 

Indonesian Menu for this week:

  • Sweetcorn Cakes with Fruit & Vegetable Salsa
  • Soto Ajam – Chicken in Broth with Noodles
  • Mackerel with Green Beans & Cauliflower in Spicy Coconut Sauce
  • Lotek with Petjil sauce (vegetables with peanut sauce)
  • Bananas, Ginger & Cream with Sesame Cookies

It is World Book Day and where better to spend it then in my local bookstore, Palas Print. Caernarfon is lucky enough to have this excellent independent bookshop.

For me, as a wanderer, it is a lovely place to browse through the selection. I feel strangely old fashioned to go into a bookshop and wanting to discover the next book I will be reading. Instead of knowing what I want and ordering the cheapest copy through the internet.

Today I have cooked some dishes out of cookery books which are currently on the shelf of Palas Print and serve them in the shop for lunch. Most intriguing for me is a Ploughmans Pie from the Fabulous Baker Boys. My cooking is described as imaginative but I have never thougt of cooking cheese & chutney in a pie.

http://www.channel4.com/4food/recipes/tv-show-recipes/the-fabulous-baker-brothers-recipes/ploughmans-pie-recipe

The evening menu this week is Indonesian, a cuisine which is to the Dutch like Indian to the British. In the Netherlands most Chinese takeways serve a mix of Chinese & Indonesian cooking adapted to Dutch taste. Take away favourite Babi Pangang for instance is Char Siu pork with a sauce which seems to be a mix of Chinese Sweet n Sour and Indonesian Satay.

sukarno

Since my childhood I’ve eaten Nasi Goreng. But I didnt connect the dilluted Dutch version  with the spice islands.  The image I had of Indonesia (evoked by stamps I collected as a child) was of  a far flung exotic place, where deep and dark  forces are at work. Smouldering heat, rice fields and waving palms. Parts of that image I found back when I started to cook more authentic Indonesian food, heavily spiced and aromatic dishes as Nasi Rames (beef) and Soto Ajam  (chicken).

A famous Dutch novel set in colonial Indonesia is called ‘The silent force’. It is to you to discover to nature of this force working through all these spices, when I put the food on the table this weekend.

rural life & human spirit

 

Welsh Smorgasbord
Lamb Shank with Jones’  Surprise
Seafood Hotfood
Vegetarian Welsh Hash with Poached Egg
Pear Tart

It is St David’s day this Friday, Wales’ National Day. But on Thursday Oren’s bookclub is gathering to discuss ‘The Hundred-Year-Old-Man  who climbed out of the window and disappeared’ by the Swedish author Jonas Jonasson. Thus this week’s menu ended up as a fusion between Nordic & Welsh cuisine.

Quite fashionable, something Nordic. It’s clear, crystalline esthetics are conquering the world. The world’s best restaurant, according to in-the-know-critics, is Noma in Kopenhagen, where you are fed whole ecosystems  on a plate. Best crime fiction seems to come from Scandinavia and after being glued to the television for ‘The Killing’, Sarah Lund’s Nordic knitted christmas jumpers were on everybody’s wish list. And it might not be easy to construct, but the simplicity of Ikea furniture has made it to homes all over the world.

My last holiday (3 years ago,sigh) was to Sweden, this time of the year. The sky seemed blue-er then anywhere in the world, providing a clear & crisp light. Dense forests and heavy clean snow & ice gave me the feeling that something exuberant of life was hidden in it.  Nordic freshness with a heavy beating heart is part of the Scandinavian succes story, I think.

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I enjoyed ‘The Hundred-Year-Old-Man….’. It fits into a tradition of Swedish literature which has produced some of my all time favourite books.  Jonasson’s book is combination of world history and comic road trip, and made me think of Selma Lagerloff’s ‘The Wonderful Adventures of Nils’. That is the best road trip book ever, published in 1906, about a boy travelling on geese, having adventures in all the provinces of Sweden. The book paints a beautiful picture of regional folklore & life in rural Sweden at the beginnning of the 20th century.

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The simplicity of pre-industrial agricultural Sweden forms the backdrop to one of my all time favourites as well, ‘The six Bullerby children’ by Astrid Lindgren. Just the story of day to day life of 7 children on 3 remote farms. A life led by the seasons, which seems so far from these modern times. It might look now that those children were living in a small world, but with their imagination their world might be bigger than that of some children nowadays.

Astrid Lindgren is also responsible for one of my childhood heroes, Pippi Longstocking.  Despite all the technical shortcomings I can see now, I still like to watch the televesion series I was addicted to as a 4-7 year old boy. In honour of this girl of extraordinary fysical strength & human spirit, who showed me as a child the farcical complexity of adult life, a recipe for Swedish Princes Cake.

pippi

http://makeandbakeblog.blogspot.co.uk/2010/11/swedish-princess-cake.html#!/2010/11/swedish-princess-cake.html

sweet memory

In these dark days before christmas  I was called home because my dad was near the end of his life.  He died last Sunday, and we said our final goodbyes on December 21st, the day darkness turns lighter again.

I have been able to spend one week with my dad on the last bit of his way. It was hard but I will always be thankful for it. At one point in this week I was making a puzzel in the newspaper. The solution was ‘Every sadness will turn into a sweet memory in the end’.

That made me think of rosemary. The ever fragrant rosemary is a symbol of memories of love and friendship. In Mediterranean countries it was traditionally used at weddings and funerals. It is mentioned in Shakespeares Hamlet as the herb of remembrance.

For me poignant is that you have to do something to smell it, it releases it’s scent through touch.

rosemary

I put a recipe for Rosemary Buttercake in ‘Hemelse Spijzen’, the book I had the pleasure of writing with Tini Brugge, in 2004. It will be on the menu this coming week. I hope it releases your own sweet memories, maybe when you think of this year gone by.

(it is called Buttercake but think Shortbread when you make it)

  • 160 g plain flour
  • 160 g butter
  • 80 g light soft brown sugar
  • 80 ground almonds
  • 2 teasp chopped fresh rosemary (or 1 teasp dried)
  • 1 teasp vanilla sugar (caster sugar infused with vanilla)

Mix butter & sugar to a creamy mass. Add the rosemary and ground almonds and sieve in the flour. Mix to a smooth pastry. Bake in a round tin, 2o mins on 170 in a preheated oven. Take the tin from the oven and make wedges by cutting with the blunt side of a knife into the still soft cake. Sprinkle with the sugar and leave to cool.

St. Nicolas and Ivan Denisovich

It is St. Nicolas time back home in the Netherlands. In the middle of November he arrived on his steamboat from Spain, with his Moorish servants, all called (very political incorrectly) Black Pete. Since then he has been riding on his dapple horse over the rooftops, to have a look if children have been behaving well. Young believers, say under the age of 7, have put their shoes at the bottom of the chimney, sang their special St. Nicolas songs, and have found some treats the next morning as a reward. It all culminates on the eve of December the 5th, when the bag with presents for all the well behaved children arrives.

sinterklaas

Here a recipe for Kruidnoten – say a Dutch version of Amaretti biscuits. Crunchy gingerbread drops, perfect to leave some in a shoe at the bottom of the chimney.

  • 1 cup of self raising flour
  • 3/4 cup of dark brown sugar
  • 2 teasp of cinnamon
  • 1 teasp of ground ginger
  • 1 teasp of ground aniseed
  • 1/2 a teaspoon of white pepper
  • 1/2 a teaspoon of ground cardamom
  • 1/2 a teaspoon of cloves
  • 1/2 a teaspoon of nutmeg
  • 2 tablesp of butter

Mix everything together into a dough, adding a tablespoon or 2 of cold milk if necessary. Wrap & rest in a fridge for at least 2 hours, but preferrably overnight for the flavours to blend. Roll small pieces (think amaretti) from the dough and flatten them a bit on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Bake for 15 mins in a preheated oven of 200°.

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My pedantic site always wants to point out that the Santa Claus living with this elves and reindeer on the North Pole is a poor Americanised version of our original. ‘Sinterklaas’. But than I realise the Dutch myths around him are as far away from the original St. Nicolas story as well. That Saint Nicolas was a bishop in Turkey who saved some children from being cooked in a pot!

St. Nicolas is since then regarded as a protector of the weak, and as such Russia’s most beloved saint. The Russian champion of the disadvantaged. And by sheer coincidence we are having a Russian menu this week! But that is because Louise from Oren’s bookclub (gathering this Thursday) has chosen ‘A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich’ by Alexander Solzenytchin to read. I had to put  the book down, because it made me feel so cold. Maybe that’s why I chose the ham cooked in hay. That hay just said ‘warmth’ to me.

  • Zakuski (Russian Tapas)
  • Lazy S’chee (Cabbage Soup)
  • Ham Cooked with Hay & Beer
  • Salmon Steak in Madeira with Shrimp Sauce
  • Vegetarian Forshmak  (smoked tofu baked in cream)
  • served with baked Kasha (buckwheat) and mixed winter vegetables
  • Russian Brown Betty

We are cooking from ‘The Best of Russian Cooking’ by Alexandra Kropotkin this week.