I have had another week of being a cereal-killer. This time courtesy a band of bacteria brothers who are partying their way through my digestive system. Everyone I know seems to be laid up with a tummy infection. Since I ignored mine for a couple of weeks, and compounded it with hypochondria and a low threshold of pain, I was reduced to silently mouthing my favorite childhood song
“Got a stomach ache, got a stomach ache,
Got a stomach just now,
Called the doctor, called the doctor,
Called the doctor just now,
Operation just now,
Just now an operation,
An operation just now.”
(Aside: You should pity my family. I was given to belting this out, loud and raucous, each time there was even a hint of childhood tummy ache.)
I did not have the energy to do anything but make guttural pain induced noises, while sipping on water and occasionally eating a bowl of cereal or yogurt. Tough and merciless times.
If it was music and being fit that helped me through the last week, it was books and cats to the rescue this week. I would have spent 6,392 minutes this week looking at cat pictures and videos (everything from cat shows, to small cats, large cats, confused cats, cats taking a bath, eejit cats). Once the universe cottoned on to my cat obsession, I was inundated with cat links. Friends sent me links and pictures, and Facebook’s algorithms spewed cats on my newsfeed. One of my favorites is from Brain Pickings.
The other savior were books. I discovered – fell in love – with two authors this week, Kate Atkinson and Maeve Binchy. Kate writes as if she swallowed a couple of limes for breakfast and then laconically abetted a few murders before lunch. Her characters, in even very minor roles, jump out of the pages and sit by your side while you read – that’s how powerful her writing is. Maeve, on the other hand, writes frothy light stuff, like a long gentle bath with scented bubbles. Her books are set in Ireland, and given my obsession with the country, they make for delightful reading. The one I read, Quentins, was about a restaurant and Dublin, and there is something delicious about relating to ‘getting a coffee by the Liffey’. So tummy ache keeping you awake till wee hours of the morning ceases to become a problem and instead becomes an opportunity for a reading marathon. I get thrilled when I experiment with reading, discover an author I like, and realize that he or she has written tons of books already. The start of a beautiful friendship, when you know that there are many long and joyous days awaiting the both of you!
There were occasional period of lucidity – remember how we had folks over for dinner last week? As a nod to my days working in the middle east, I dished up babaghanoush, hummus and tzatziki, all David Lebovitz recipes. Served with lightly toasted pita bread. There was also a creamy corn in bread muffin cups, which you don’t see here. Will put up a pic and recipe for that when I make it next. Meanwhile, let me know if you need help sourcing Tahini. The friends brought the main meal and dessert to our place. The cinnamon swirl cake was the most delicious ever, and on enquiring, they told us it was baked from a box. Determined to figure out how to make it from scratch sans a pre-mix. This sounds close.
Anyhow, I should experiment this week. SG is packing his bags for the work week, and I am looking forward to some more cereal, cats, and reading.
I am running several stories behind. have not shared with you the fantastic recipe for the wheat-semolina cake made to celebrate a family birthday. You are blissfully unaware of the kitchen disaster called the apple doughnut muffins. I have not even begun extolling the virtues of my new air fryer (it is jealousy that killed the toaster).
Before all that (and how I have all the makings for a Tex-Mex party tonight), I need to talk about Ireland. The toaster’s demise sidetracked me horrendously. I am determined, though, to pen down my best food experiences from the vacation; else the tastes and memories shall fade into the Irish misty drizzle and be forgotten.
So here goes, without further ado – a list (ranked in ascending order) of my top ten food memories from an Indian summer in Ireland.
# 10: A Sub for breakfast from the local SPAR: What’s the big deal, I hear you ask. What’s so special about some lettuce, bell peppers and corn in fresh bread? The sub, ordinary as it was, that morning in Dublin, symbolized my victory over public transport in a strange country. If you ever feel that you know it all, do yourself a favor: travel to a new country, and take the tube or catch a bus to somewhere alone. It is both humbling and empowering.
The sub therefore, was the result of me figuring out that one needs change in coins to pay the fare in a bus in Dublin. Which, in turn, was the result of me figuring out all the buses to and fro my little B&B tucked away in the suburbs. It also marked the start of my day alone in Dublin, spent primarily being lost and for some unexplained reason, marching alongside tens of thousands of Irish protesting the water charges. That is a story for a different day, and for a different blog.
#9: Noodles on a rainy evening: Sorry, I am crap at being a food reporter. I have completely forgotten the name of this little Asian eatery – one of those chain ones, complete with rickety tables and a laminated menu with supposedly tempting pictures of food. It was just off O’Connell in Dublin, our last evening in Ireland. Exhausted with all the driving and walking we had done that day, all my husband and I wanted was a warm meal. So a big bowl of noodles, with some spring rolls and spicy chilli sauce, had steaming hot on a drizzly evening, clutching wet umbrellas, while hordes of Dubliners and tourist swarmed past us, more than hit the spot.
#8 Temple Bar Area: I might as well finish with Dublin. Now shut your eyes and imagine. (Okay, you have to open your eyes to read this. First read this, and then shut your eyes and imagine.) You are floating in space, only to plummet to earth, hover over Ireland, zero onto Dublin, dive into the center of the city, zoom along narrow cobble stone streets, thrumming with people and dotted with crooning buskers, pass the various eateries and pubs, wait as a door swings open and the music – perhaps Irish, some American – dances out, pass by couple of bachelor parties in full costume and full swing, listen in on strange accents meeting and mingling with the Irish lilt, and feel the gradual crescendo of energy and excitement on a Friday night in the pulsing heart of a city at the center of the world.
The Temple Bar Area is supposed to be over-hyped, but I had a thoroughly good time, both on the Friday evening spent with the girls from work, after a long week of toil, and my time there the next day. While Friday was about learning the local custom of standing at the bar, squeezed against several strangers, sipping on a pint (of Bulmers Cider), and swaying to the music, the day after was about gratefully sinking into the window seat at the Norseman and watching the world go by. When in Dublin, a pint in one of the bars here is a must do, firmly recommended.
#7: Hyland’s Burren Restaurant: Leave the noisy pubs of Dublin for this quiet and charming place in the little village of Ballyvaughan. The husband and I spent a perfectly pleasant evening, over pale ale and a perfectly grilled vegetarian platter. In Ireland, the lonelier, colder and darker the night, the more welcoming and warm are the local bars and restaurants. Hyland’s is no exception, and the staff know exactly when you need something and leave you alone the rest of the time. A wonderful end to a long drive and imagining Daniel Radcliff suddenly apparating at the Cliffs of Moher.
I am getting hungry for lunch so subsequent descriptions are about to get a lot of shorter, so hang on for the remaining 6.
# 6: McGann’ Pub in Doolin: First off, how great a name is Doolin? Doolin is a little village, on the Wild Atlantic Way, in County Clare, made famous on the tourist circuit by being a pit-stop for those visiting the Cliffs of Moher. It is next to a town called Lisdoonvarna. You don’t know need to know that, except for how great a name is Lisdoonvarna? Anyhow, we ate at McGann’s at Doolin on a sunny afternoon on the way to the Cliffs. Despite arriving at the same time as a bus load of tourists, we were served in a jiffy. S had the day’s special, a big bowl of hot mushroom soup while I ate pasta. There wasn’t a single place in Ireland, where the wait staff was not extremely good at coming up with vegetarian food options or modifying their dishes to suit us. The pasta was done exactly to my liking and the soup was delicious.
The reason why McGann’s is on the list is because this is where I met Smythwick’s pale ale. The friendly bartender helped me with a few samples, and lo and behold, I found my best friend for the trip (the beer, the not the bartender.) People will go on and on about Guinness, but my recommendation is to sample other brew as well. Stay clear of the obnoxious Coor’s and try the local beer in the towns that you visit.
#5: Oslo Bar, Galway: Which brings me nicely to #5. 5 things that put Oslo so high on the list – they craft their own beer and stock plenty from around the world, they are right by the gorgeous Galway Bay, they have great falafel, the décor is quirky and welcoming, and in the ladies’ loo they have the most gorgeous hand painted poster. Need I say more?
#4: Pablo Picante in Dublin: Oh, I forgot, we need to go back to Dublin for Pablo Picante. In fact go to Dublin for Pablo Picante. Why? Because they put the picante in Mexican! Trust me on the picante, what’s salsa if it does not cause smoke to stream out of the ears. I ordered the Victorian Verde, both times I visited. (Yes, I liked it so much that I went back the next day!). The girls got some chips with guacamole which was also delish. Far from being doughy or dry, my burrito packed quite a punch and had the perfect ratio of flour, fillings, rice, and sauce.
So inspired am I with the Pablo Picante memories, that I am dishing up Tex-Mex for dinner. Home-made guacamole, refried beans, tomato salsa with grilled vegetables, marinated in my special secret recipe (which I shall reveal only at gun point, or if you ask real nice.)
#3 Arches at Adare: On a long cross country drive from Dingle to Kilkenny, we stopped at Arches to have lunch, proving that sometimes the most random choices are the best ones. While the food is good enough, the service is what it makes it super. The owner personally ensured that we were comfortable, customizing because I wanted my sandwiches grilled; the service staff had an awesome sense of humor and truly cared for our and other diners’ comfort. Tip: The apple pie was as light and flaky as a cinnamon-vanilla cloud. You just have to order dessert.
#2: Stoney Kebabish: We stayed near Kilkenny, at this dear farmhouse called Lawcus. The owner (Ann- Marie) recommended that we check out the nearby eatery at Stoneyford. And thus it comes to pass, that my second most favorite food memory from Ireland is actually that of an Indian place run by a Pakistani gentleman! I do believe that it is pointless to go seeking familiar home-food when you can sample all the local delights in a ‘foreign’ country, but chips with curry sauce washed down with Smythwick’s, is just impossible to pass up. The owner is such a dear and I hope he continues to do roaring trade.
#1 Breakfast at Lawcus Farmhouse: Ann Marie had also thoughtfully given us a hand drawn map of the local area, and we woke up early next morning and for a stroll around the nearby ruins of a twelfth century priory (in Kells). As we wandered through the stone tower houses, I imagined a bustling priory straight from Ken Follet’s Pillars of the Earth. The presence of several sheep with their woolly gazes was a bit out of place, though. After the priory, we walked by an old water wheel and made our way along the meandering King’s river, with birds and swans for company. While leprechauns were scarce, or in hiding, they did serve up a rainbow to tie the morning up (my birthday gift, as the husband put it!)
The walk gave us just the right appetite for Ann Marie’s breakfast, pictured here. We left the menu to her and she dished up the perfect omelet with cheese and spinach, in her open kitchen. And the lovely birthday breakfast is, rightfully, the #1 food memory.
As you can imagine, I left Ireland with lasting visions of shamrock and potatoes, mixed up with picante and curry sauce. What makes the food scene in Ireland the best, is undoubtedly the caring and warm hospitality of the hosts, owners, bar tenders and service staff. My best advice to you, that when in Ireland, ask for recommendations, the day’s specials, sit at the bar first, and strike up a conversation. Time flows different in the country, a lot more relaxed, perhaps stopping for beer and some spuds. The only way to understand the pulse of this nation is to join in, sit back with a drink, and drift along.
My horoscope for the last few months might have read “The period will be marked by bursts of frenetic activity, with socializing and spending time with family and loved ones. Travel, for social and professional reasons is indicated, in which you shall explore exciting places and meet new people. Those with an interest in art shall enjoy literary indulgences. You shall celebrate your birthday in an unexpected manner.”
Numerous, and mostly good, things happened over the last two months, on my frenetic-activities-enforced blogging break. I travelled to Ireland and met lifelike replicas of Oscar Wilde (on our common birthday, no less) and Pierce Brosnan. Then there was a quick vacation to Pondicherry where many bottles of jam and one packet of flower seeds were purchased. A couple of work trips took place, which took me from the Bay of Bengal to the Arabian Sea; festivals were celebrated, much fuss made over birthdays, family came a-visiting, huge meals were cooked and/or eaten, and about a trillion liters of beer were consumed.
Then my toaster died.
Honestly, this post started off as a tribute to Ireland’s food and drinks scene. Cue: the rather upbeat tone of the preceding paragraphs. But, this Tuesday morning, my world came to a juddering halt when while I was popping the bread into it, my toaster gave a couple of bleak sparks, and well, popped it.
Bad times never seemed so bad.
To add salt to injury, my dear friends would not stop ribbing about my relationship with my toaster. You see, I don’t see the point of sliced bread, or indeed the world, without a toaster. What good are eggs, however fluffy, without toast? What good is butter, rich and golden, without toast? What good is breakfast without toast? Oh my God! What is the point of waking up if not for breakfast, if not for toast, if not for the toaster?! The battle was not lost for the want of a nail, indeed, the world was lost for the want of a toaster!
My so-called friends, though, punned galore about my toaster being toast, getting fried, and of course, burning out.
Enter my brother in law (all my blogs feature sisters and sisters in law, time for some diversity, I say). This dear BIL writes software code by day and plays in a metal band at night. To add to his very marriageable charms, he makes the best udon and pizza (from scratch) that I have ever eaten. He is also a really cool DIY person and can fix everything from decrepit furniture to a broken fridge. His most sterling quality, though, is his deep empathy for my toaster-less existence. When I moaned that only an ode can adequately express my toaster feelings, this is what he sent me.
An ode to a broken and lifeless toaster
(Well… more like a metal song)
Why do we live in a world where we suffer?
All I wanted to do was melt down some butter.
On a slice of fresh bread, made warm inside.
Woke up one day, and found that you’d died.
Oh, the pain.
I’ll never know
True love again.
One day you may find
It comes to an end.
The good things in life
The reason to strive
For toasted, fresh bread.
I stand here this morning
My stomach gives warning
Of something very wrong on this Earth.
God who’s all knowing
Never gave warning
Or sent me so much as a sign
Of this curse.
I’m left all alone.
No one but you
Can fill this void inside.
One day you may find
It comes to an end.
The good things in life
The reason to strive
For toasted, fresh bread.
The pangs of hunger
You’re torn asunder
That’s it. You’ve had your last, good fry.
He’s had his vengeance
And now you’re all spent
And now I say goodbye.
I’ll live on….
Must go on…
(Insert wicked guitar solo here)
Is he not the best ever?
The BIL has a really sweet tooth, as evinced by his dessert desires after every meal. He was in India this last month, to celebrate Diwali with the family. I had a long list of desserts planned for him and his wife, but got around to making only hot chocolate pudding, literally hours before their flight back. I scaled down David Lebovitz’s hot chocolate pudding recipe and dished this up in 40 minutes, start to finish. Quickly break 55 gm of good chocolate into a bowl, and add 30 gm of butter. Heat gently over a low flame till melted. Whisk together (for 5 minutes) a large egg, 2 tbsp sugar and a pinch of salt, till the mix forms soft peaks. Bit by bit, gently fold together the eggs and chocolate. I divided the mix into 3 ramekins/oven proof ceramic dishes and baked for 15 minutes in a 190c oven.
To make the pudding less cake-like and more gooey, dial up the butter to about 40 gm.
That’s it, bye for now. You go make this pudding, I gotta run buy a new toaster.