FOOD FOR THE SOUL Sharing a meal in the company of friends and family is one of life’s great pleasures.
Rekindling the comfort of table talk and simple food
Since moving to make Mayo my home in 2001, I have loved a good dinner party. I landed first in Tullabawn, then Durlus, Killadangan, Clogher, Carnalurgan, Kilsallagh, before finally settling presently in lovely Lanmore. Every house and location saw food parties being hosted.
I’m all in favour of a good dinner, fresh local foods, a moderate drink, some excellent chat, occasional dancing and nights of friendships and memories. I find that sitting around a table is an excellent opportunity to hear people’s stories. Opinions can be expressed, tried and tested, with the safety net of three courses ensuring disagreements remain only that. Nothing will stop a row in its tracks like a new dish arriving to the table.
It is always a pleasure to have some local fish or meat, or vegetables that you know where they came from. My ideal dinner is not a wow showcase, but one that lets the ingredients’ true quality shine through in a fairly simple way. Poached wild salmon with Hollandaise sauce, or local lamb with rosemary and garlic, or some local vegetables matched with interesting textures and flavours.
Here are a couple of foodie thoughts and intentions for the coming year.
Regardless of space, you can grow things like lettuce, whether that’s on a windowsill or in a fancy planned garden. Like walking and being outside, growing any type of plant roots you closer to the natural world and the ever-changing seasons – two very important things in life!
It’s a joy to know who in your county is producing what, and where. Learn or ask about local meat producers, local vegetable growers, local fish sellers. Talk to your local sellers about their produce and where it comes from. Find out about a local market you have not been to, and visit it with the aim of returning home with three new items to try.
Humans are creatures of habit. We form patterns and then spend the rest of our lines repeating them. However, a little elasticity goes a long way. It lets us learn we like new things. Adopt and adapt food ideas from your friends, books or the media. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Go on, try new things! Don’t be scared of mistakes, we learn from them.
Get in the swing
Ireland is a relatively new post-colonial society. Centuries of invasion or foreign rule may have somewhat interrupted native food heritage and traditions. But we’re a social lot, and we love to eat! We must embrace the things we are good at with our own Irish food heritage.
The act of gathering groups of people around tables to eat and chat is very important. Let’s make sure we get back in the swing of sociable dinners as soon as we feel safe to do so, and let’s always make time for chats around the table at home.
Keep it simple
With the above in mind, why not pick one of the follow simple meals to try? (If you’re hosting tell people you’re planning nothing fancy, and keep it simple.)
Oven-bake some cod or hake fillets for ten minutes on parchment paper, with knobs of butter on top and seasoned with black pepper and salt. Whisk half a cup of cream stiff and stir in two tablespoons of wholegrain mustard and half a leek sliced into rings (as finely as possible). Spoon the mixture over your fish and grill for five minutes on high heat. Serve with pinch of paprika, a squeeze of lemon, baked potato and greens.
Or buy some winter kale, remove any ‘woody’ stalks and rip it up. Chop up a white onion and fry it over low-medium heat for six minutes. Add the ripped kale to the onions and stir for a minute or two. Pour in half a cup of cream and boil well for three to four minutes, then stir in a half teaspoon of turmeric. Delicious served over rice, pasta, potatoes or fish!
Or, for a totally stress-free dinner, pre-bake two spuds for each guest and leave ready and warm in the oven. When the time comes, fry everyone two burgers from your local butchers with some cut onions, and heat up some frozen peas in butter. Serve with mayonnaise and some cheese. For starters, leave out some warmed sourdough and/or soda bread and hummus, and let everyone help themselves. For dessert, you can’t go wrong with ice cream and a dash of Baileys.
What’s most important is that the cook is under no pressure to impress! It should be about enjoying the basic warmth and comfort of a gathering. Pressure is for tyres. This year, let’s just enjoy every day.
The Cabot family live and work in Lanmore, outside Westport. Fresh, seasonal foods are their passion, from country markets to growing, making and selling. They love cooking and eating at the kitchen table, while Redmond and Sandra are kept on their toes with children Penny and Louis. Here they share their favourite recipes.