Monday, 26 November 2012

She Married one of the Rockybottoms.

My mother came from a large family in Castlebar Co. Mayo.  When we were children we loved nothing better than when she and her siblings got together (mainly after funerals or weddings) and told stories about Castlebar in the past.  All were blessed with a great ability to tell a story. I was firmly convinced when I was a child that everyone was completely mad in the town.  However, now I think about it maybe people were better accepted for eccentricity then and not labelled as they are now.

One of the characters often spoken about was a lady called Maimie Graham. To this day I have a picture of her in my mind.  Considering I never saw her or met her, this has to be attributed to my aunts and uncles' ability to create a picture. 

Maimie and her sister Annie used walk into town from a neighbouring village, to sell milk in old-fashioned churns.  For some reason they only did this after dark.  When my mother was a child she was terrified of the shadowy Maimie, walking outside on the road; visible from the driveway of my grandparents' house.  She used wave a torch and as there was little or no street lighting then, my mother was convinced she was a ghost as the light danced about through the trees. The fact that her older sisters perpetuated this myth did not help her fear either. Maimie wore a hat pulled down on her face and grey or dark coloured clothes.

My mental image is of a slightly mad old lady with straggley, grey hair and a dirty face wearing layers of petticoats and an old overcoat.  The hat pulled down over her face and dark sturdy mens' shoes with streaks of dirt on her bare legs.

My grandmother was very fond of saying to us we looked like Maimie Graham particularly when we wore a certain type of hat. Recently I heard myself telling my daughter the exact same thing when she arrived home wearing a hat.  I then had to try to explain to her what I meant.

The Cobweb today

I was talking to my mother on the phone when the subject of the Rockybottoms came up.

My sister had met someone recently who came from Castlebar. She told my mother her name.  My mother trying to place her said that she thought this woman's mother had married one of the Rockybottoms.  When what she had said sank in, I started to laugh and asked her what she was on about.

Apparently the Rockybottoms owned a shop next door to our family pub which at that time was a pub, grocery, undertaker and my great grandmother held court there as the local matchmaker. The Rockeybottoms sold furniture and other various household items.  The proprietor used to stand outside on the footpath shouting "come on in - rock bottom prices" and so the family became known as The Rockybottoms.

They understandably did not like this nickname and apparently there was war if they were called the Rockybottoms. 

Ironically the shop is still there and is called Rocky's.

In the same conversation she then started to tell me about another pub further down the street called Bucko Sheridan's. They had cows and walked the cows through the town and in through the bar for milking, twisting their tails to prevent the inevitable.  My mother said that the locals sat up at the bar never blinked when this procession occurred at the same time every evening. 

This pub is still called Bucko's today.

Sadly, characters such as these seem to have all but disappeared from towns in Ireland or else they are not spoken about.  I really wish that I had had the foresight to record the stories at the time.  Most of my uncles and aunts are now dead and the three that are left are well into their eighties.  But I am so grateful that I got to sit spellbound as a child and listen to all the stories.  It was magic.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Kitchen Hoarder Mincemeat

During my recent kitchen makeover I had to clear out my cupboards and drawers.  What a revelation that turned out to be.  I found various uncashed cheques to the tune of €250 as well as jars of jams, chutneys and a tin of vegetable soup with a best before of 2003.

The best find of all was a huge jar of mincemeat that could be either last years or the previous one.  I opened it and sniffed.  Wow  - the most amazing smell wafted out.  Like a really good dessert wine combined with a brandy and Calvados.

This got me thinking about a comment I read on Twitter criticising the practice of making a Christmas cake or pudding two months before eating it.  This really amazed me considering some of the best food and beverages are eaten after long periods of maturation. I have a Christmas pudding in the fridge from two years ago and once that is boiled up again I know the flavour will be sublime.

Which gets me back to the mincemeat. If the jar is a year old then I can't claim the recipe.  That honour has to go to Margaret at Oldfarm.  Her recipe uses lots of cooking apples which normally at this time of year would not be a problem.  However, this year I had the worst crop in living memory so I will be using my own recipe.  It's actually two recipes I joined together and it works really well.

It helps if you mature it for at least a year or at least the next few weeks before the longing comes on for some mince pies.  And what must mince pies be served with only champagne or a glass of dry white wine. Try it......

75g dates stoned and chopped
250g currants
250g raisins
250g sultanas
75g cherries
100g candied peel
75g chopped almonds
75g unsulphured dried apricots chopped
4 tablespoons of brandy
150g butter
1 large cooking apple grated
zest and juice of an orange and lemon
150g muscovado sugar
some freshly grated nutmeg
1 cinnamon stick
5 whole cloves

Mix all the ingredients with the melted butter and cover. Leave in a large bowl overnight somewhere cool.  Next day spoon into clean jam jars and cover tightly.

If you don't like a particular ingredient leave it out or substitute with something else. 

This quantity will give you 3-4 large (500g) jars, enough to keep a couple for next year.

Tags: Irish Food  Irish Christmas Baking  Mincemeat  Mincepies

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Kitchen Nightmares

Today is my first day in my new kitchen.  

They say moving house is the most stressful thing you can do in your life. This is not true.  Ripping out your kitchen and fitting a new one is.

It has taken two men six days to fit.  It should have taken no more than four.  

I live in a small, old house.  This meant that there was no room to move all the kitchen "stuff" from the kitchen and store it elsewhere.  It was instead piled up mostly in the dining area of the kitchen but also in a small sun porch.

I purchased the kitchen from Ikea and the amount of mistakes on their part so far beggars belief. We were supplied the wrong sized units, had units missing, doors not the correct size, not to mention shelving, legs and handles missing. We were even given parts of units.  It appears that they dispatched units based on two different kitchen plans - the first original draft and the final one.

It was so confusing that even the kitchen planners in Ikea could not figure out what had gone wrong.  The trouble is that Ikea is the DIY equivalent of budget supermarket giants Lidl and Aldi.  If there are items out of stock as happened initially, hard luck, you have to go back to get them .  You deal with literally dozens of staff so there is no follow through.  The communication between departments is virtually non-existant.

Did they handle the complaint well?  Not well enough to my mind.  They ended up refunding me the initial delivery cost.  But this was small compensation for the 5 trips to the shop (an hour's drive both ways).  Plus the cost of having to pay men for six days instead of four.  Not to mention the waste of time trying to figure out how to make a giant jigsaw with vital pieces missing.

Incidentally the unit they neglected to provide at all was given to me today minus legs.....after they knew about the original cock up.

Would I go back to Ikea again? Certainly not.  Would I recommend anyone buy a kitchen there?

Do yourself a favour and go to somewhere they value their customers.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Ireland's Brighton

Less than 13 miles from the centre of Dublin is Ireland's original seaside resort.  Bray is a fine town straddling the Dublin Wicklow border. In 1854 the railway was built out as far as what had been up to this a sleepy market town and thus sparked a building boom.

The town was transformed into a fashionable seaside resort and it became known as the "Brighton of Ireland".  Today there are still magnificent terraces of houses along the sea front and a lovely promenade with views up to Bray Head.  On a sunny day there is no where better to blow the cobwebs away.

Bray has really become a destination in it's own right with lots to do and see and has some fantastic bars and restaurants.  The lonely planet recently listed The Harbour Bar the best bar in the world.  It's cozy, quirky and full of character.  It is also a great live music venue.

There is almost a little Italy developing with restaurants, cafes, gelaterias and even a risto-market selling cheese, charcuterie and coffee as well as pizza, panini, Italian breads and baked goods to eat in or take away.

Pastries and biscuits in the risto-market

We had a lovely lunch here the-day-after-the-night-before, a panino and a glass of "hair of the dog" whilst watching a chef prepare ravioli for the newly relocated restaurant across the road.  Campo di Fiori was originally located where the risto-market is now.  It is owned and run by an Italian couple Marco and Laura from Rome.

There is a Farmers' market in the town every Saturday which is small but there is an excellent vegetable and fruit stall selling all organic produce from a farm run by the Dominicans in Wicklow town.  They also sell some of their own free range organic pork, lamb and beef.

We bought some really fresh fish from a selection of sea bream, hake, langoustines and sole amongst many more while bantering with the Chinese owner.  He supplies a lot of the restaurants in the town and loves to talk.

Bray has lots of little gift and coffee shops perfect for a Saturday morning browse. There are some real gems down the side streets and also some great boutiques. 

When I was a child Bray had degenerated into somewhere slightly seedy and run down. It's former grandeur reduced to has-been status.  My memory of it were dodgems and one armed bandits.  Today it has been transformed into a sophisticated, multi-cultural and cosmopolitan town and I really love spending the weekend there and return feeling as if I have really been away.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Best Things in Life are Free

Two big cooking apples were in the pigs' crate this week.  One had a brown bruise on the side but otherwise was perfect.  A plastic container in the freezer had some of the last of the season's blackberries and there were two pieces of leftover short crust pastry. A benefit of never throwing anything out.

My mother always dusted the pastry base of a tart with semolina to thicken up the juices.  I use arrowroot and it has the same effect.

The result: a delicious apple and blackberry tart served with a dollop of whipped cream.

The best things in life are free.