Sunday, April 28, 2013

Stalking the Wild Everything

 Saturday,  April 28, 2013

            There are two types of walkers… those who powerwalk, burn calories, extend their muscles and their stamina. The other group of us likes to linger, see the sights, notice the little things. We are born foragers. While the first group sees with the destination in sight, WE see (and enjoy) the little things around us:  the trees IN the forest and maybe even name them! My father and sisters are power walkers. I am like my mother… I like the scenery along the way. I linger longer, and press my nose against the Ponderosa Pine bark that smells like vanilla. I do NOT return from a walk all sweaty.

            So back to foraging.  That was the purpose, theme, and anticipation of today’s class-in-motion with Darina Allen. You see while I LONG to forage, I don’t know that much about it. Oh, I know a blackberry when I see it, and grew up picking sour grass from the side of the road, occasionally sucking the nectar out of those purple flowers from the low growing foliage, and I took a Field Biology in College where I ate sea urchin gonads. But I really don’t know anything about foraging … and I have always wanted to!

Fab Wellies, Darina!

            Darina gathered the 22 of us as a hen gathering her chicks. This was to be a full day class (9am – 5pm). She told about how foraging was a way of life for her as a girl with her family, but didn’t even know the word “forage.” It’s just what they did to procure most of their food: berries, fruit, nuts, herbs, leaves, shellfish, etc. Eating from nature does not only fill one’s stomach, but there is lost lore in how these plants help our bodies: Nettle keeps away “the rheumatics” .. Hawthorne for cardio vascular, feverfew for headaches, comfrey draws out infection, and carrageen (seaweed) that makes metabolism work optimally.

We begin in the garden...

            Then we were all out and about on the grounds of Ballymaloe where she pointed out the countless edible plants! We traipsed over fully half of the hundred acres (well, it seemed like it anyway), a 180 year old garden, seeing the edible gems hidden only from the uneducated eye:  

  1. stinging nettle
  2. primrose
  3. wild garlic
  4. lemon balm
  5. bitter cress
  6. Hawthorne leaves
  7. feverfew
  8. spruce tips
  9. lichen (yup lichen.. who knew?)
  10. borage
  11. hogweed flowers
  12. goosefoot
  13. sweet woodruff
  14. tansy (I thought those were poisonous)
  15. ground elder
  16. Bishop weed
  17. Beech 
  18. wood sorrel
  19. salad burnet
  20. chamomile
  21. sweet cicely
  22. Angelica
  23. Walnut leaves
  24. Cowslip
  25. plantain
  26. chickweed
Sea Kale grows on the coast, but folks plant it in their yards. When it first comes up,                        you cover it (blanch) so it remains pale. We had it steamed. It is a luscious flavor combination of asparagus and celery.
We tasted, evaluated, wrote down, and snapped pictures.  After some 90 minutes, we piled in four cars and drove the bumpy back roads, turning at random places to arrive at Ballyandreen right on the coast! Alexanders lined the roads.

The bluffs above Ballyandreen

            We had the luck of the Irish having a sunny day. First we climbed the bluff with Darina pointing out wild violets, mallow, wild sorrel, gorse, and wild thyme.  Straight below us were rocks and tide pools. Descending to those tide pools, we saw the stream picked clean of water cress, rock and marsh samphire .

Dorina in her outdoor classroom.
tiny periwinkles

                But the biggest bang for my buck($$$), came in discovering the shellfish that are there for the taking (responsibly of course … like manna in the wilderness). Darina pointed out limpets and periwinkles and muscles (they all looked pretty small to me and I’ll admit I had my doubts that this country Swede could fill up on them). Not at this shore, but nearby would be clams and cockles.  We looked at seaweeds (all types are edible) - laver, dulse, carrageen, sea spinach. Local farmers spread it on their land as a fertilizer. And cooking in seawater is the best medium for all of these – not just because it already has salt, but for all the many minerals and goodness.

My Wellies working well!
the coastal haul...
         Then back to the school for a quick lunch and into the classroom to see the alchemy of fire and nature’s bounty:

  1. Foragers Soup and Foragers Salad
  2. Cooked Alexanders
  3. Dandelion Flower Fritters
  4. Crystallised Flowers
  5. Candied Angelica
  6. Nettle Beer
  7. Salad of Hot-smoked salmon, beetroot, horseradish cream and watercress
  8. Knotweed with melted butter
  9. Elderflower Lemonade
  10. Wild Garlic Pesto
  11. Nettle and Ricotta Pizza
  12. Rock Samphire with Melted Butter
  13. Gorse Wine
  14. Compote of Rhubarb with Sweet cicely
  15. Herb Tea Tisanes 

                       How many of these can you identify?

I spy with my little eye this blog's author!

            Darina and her assistant Emer, moved in an almost choreographed dance of teaching, commenting, preparing, and plating all what we had brought back! So, here are the pictures. 

All manner of crystallized edible flowers

Amazing periwinkles! You take the pin to get the meat out and dip in the freshly made mayonnaise.

Believe it or not these are dandelion flowers dipped in batter, fried, and sugared.

Amazing muscles we had just gathered... ethereal! 

fresh hot smoked salmon and foraged greens.

           I can tell you that it was delicious. The periwinkles while microscopically small were amazing, and the muscles intoxicating. There is even an "oyster leaf" that tastes uncannily like an oyster when you bite into it!

            Now… to remember what's what when I see it!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Try This at Home

the view from our bedroom

            Today was the first of our weekly lecture days. Once a week we have no kitchen work, but come to school in our regular clothes and absorb 6+ hours of lecture. From now on, these lecture days will be on Wednesday. Believe me.. it’s a needed hiatus from the hectic schedule.  But it was an absolutely fascinating and engrossing day with several topics: Irish cheese, Wine, Fire and Food safety.

            Darina talks a mile a minute, each sentence is packed with information, and she is always enthusiastic. It hit me today that she follows in the best national and cultural tradition of story telling about all things culinary. She had us riveted telling us a possible scenario about “why” of the turkey stuffing scare.

            I marvel at this woman who came to Balleymaloe in the late 1960s as a Hotel Management graduate wanting to do something with food. She heard about Myrtle Allen who was putting together meals that were locally sourced (no one was doing that). Darina joined the Allen family, marrying Myrtle’s son Tim. Four children followed, and Darina wanted to make a go of living off the land. She began teaching cooking classes, and pursued more culinary education for herself in Italy. But most of all she believed in her dream and herself and hard work. Now the whole family works in one or another enterprise.

            So, as I sit in class, I look at this Irish icon and count myself lucky to e exposed to her knowledge, passion and expertise. She has led the charge in this country, taking it from obscure food to  world class and world leading in local sourcing local promoting of Ireland's finest and freshest. She has made important contacts and friends all over the world.  She is always positive, polite, yet firm about her boundaries. She has an easy laugh and often refers to herself as “an aging hippie!”

            She is a huge advocate of everything and anything natural, and a dedicated foe to anything processed, fake, or with additives. With the zeal of an evangelist, she lifts up the benefits of raw milk, and battles for her and her countryfolk’s right to choose more natural alternatives.

Today Darina:

  • made cheese biscuits (no, not like Red Lobster… crackers that go with cheese), and red current jelly in a matter of minutes in a “quick method.
  • taught us to make a proper cup of tea. Evidently tea bags use the lower grade tea. Use loose tea and a strainer. Also, pick herbs from the garden and pour hot water over the fresh bruised leaves (or use a combination of fresh and dry). And start with water from the tap; it’s cold and aerated, which will produce the best tea. Did you know that in Ireland, more tea is consumed per capita than anywhere in the world?
  • shared about Ireland being historically famous for it’s cheeses.  Between 1759 and 1870, the biggest cheese market in the world was in Ireland. Some 30 years ago a Veronica Steel from Dublin and her husband inherited a farm on the Dublin peninsula. She started experimenting with making her own cheese, beginning a new epoch in Irish farm cheeses.

  • talked about wines and wine service. Ireland has the highest excise tax in the European Union. The tax is not relative to the bottle’s price, but s standard for any wine. For still wine, the Irish tax is E1.97, the UK is L1.77, France is .o3, and Greece/Italy/Spain/Portugal have none.
  • brought in  a fire safety guy who let students put out fires on the stovetop with a CO2 extinguisher.

  • taught about all things sanitation, and how in our rush to mechanize we have de-skilled ourselves from the basics of living close to our food. Did you know that if cows are totally grass fed, there is little to no problem with e.coli 0157!

I finally had enough oomph to come home and cook. French onion quiche was on the menu. Only one problem: no beans to blind bake the crust. Brian checked two stores within a 5-mile radius. Nada. Hmmm.  I found a pan with a removable bottom… lined it with dough and parchment. Then I nested a stainless saucepan inside, and prayed. It worked!!  It was a far cry from the very French-looking tarts of our class … but dare I say it tasted better? Must have been the smoked Irish cheese I put in!

Tonight on the bay...

Tomorrow I’m off for a full day learning how to forage with Darina.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Offal Food?


            Shall we call today easy because I had no extra “duties?” .. or shall we call it intense because what can be done in 2 hours in my kitchen, takes 3 hrs here as I stand in line for everything: washing dishes, oven time, weighing ingredients.

            The day began at home with 1.5 hrs in prep… prep being copying my recipes and making out my minute by minute schedule. Although I don’t like having to do it, I have to admit that it gets everything in my head.

            I ditched the wimpy little knife bag and hauled out my heavy duty one. It is still not big enough to hold all my tools. Classmates now eye my wares and have micro-plane and bench scraper envy. Don’t hate me because I’m beautifully well-equipped!

            I did figure out this morning what I did wrong yesterday with my Soda Bread:  I weighed my ingredients on the pounds program of the scale. What I thought were “ounces” were really tenths of a pound. Well, everything was in proportion to itself.

            My today assignments: Hazelnut chocolate baked tart and Spicy Chorizo pasta and cream. My partner made raspberry jam, soda bread, and scones. The scone recipe is fantastic… I’ve never seen scones raise so much and be so not-dry!

a bit too full, but luscious

            My grading critique: filled my pasta bowl too full… and oh yes.. left out an ingredient in my chocolate tart. I had everything weighed and measured and prepped ahead of time. But there are no prep little dishes, so I had an array of plastic bags and paper towel packets. I had finally made and blind-baked my crust, and mixed by hand everything for the tart (no mechanizations for now like chopping the hazelnuts and chocolate, creaming butter … we do everything by hand). After it was filled and safely ensconced in the oven, I was cleaning up my station. As I went through the empty plastic bags and paper towels I ran across an oh-oh: ½ cup of flour! Yikes!
But the tart had 2 eggs – enough to bind everything… however the consistency was more custardy.
And success today: blind baking my tart! First of all the recipe is uber-easy and comes together like all the ingredients were waiting for this moment in time. Second, I’ve NEVER made a blind-baked crust that didn’t shrink like new cotton meeting  boiling water. But a few hints like including extra side dough and then folding it and crimping it under worked “brilliantly!” The dry beans  baked en croute for 25 minutes. I think I can fearlessly face pre-baked crust from now on!  Gotta love those tart pans… so much more presentable than pie tins!
The afternoon struggle was James Bond meets Sleeping Beauty. Rory had fabulous dishes to demonstrate, and I could not keep my eyes open. I stand.. I do leg exercises.. I wipe tears from my eyes. Nothing helps. The eyelids weigh two tons.

know your beans...

            But I digress. Let me temp you with the amazing array of dishes he demonstrated in the short span of 3 hours.  OK… so some of this might turn off a number of you. Remember though that everything is organic and green and humanely raised. And I can tell you it was all delicious. I can’t help but remember working at Adam’s Place in Eugene (OR), and how these dishes and concepts would have fit like my hand inside of Adam’s glove. Sigh…. Here’s the list:

  1. Warm Salad of Lamb Kidneys with Oyster Mushroom
  2. Warm Salad of Lamb Kidneys, Straw Potatoes and Caramelized Shallots
  3. Warm Salad with Sweetbreads and Walnuts
  4. Salad of Warm Sweetbreads with Potato Crisps, Anchovies and Wild Garlic
  5. Black-Eyed Beans with Mushrooms
  6. Black Bean and Salsa Salad
  7. Crème Caramel with Caramel Shards
  8. Crunchy Orange Butter Scones

           One tidbit Rory gave on the Creme Caramel was to soak some sultana raisins in Pedro Jimeniz sherry and use as a garnish. Note to self: must try with or without the flan! 

           Orange scones were brilliant. You roll out/pat scone dough into a rectangle. Then you slather on the orange butter. Roll it up and cut it like cinnamon rolls. Serve with more orange butter.  Num!!! The salads and combinations were amazing.

Rory and some amazing shrooms!

Tips for today:

  1. Rory was talking about soaking beans and said the left-over water can be poured on the garden as fertilizer.
  2. The water you cook the beans in can be used as a vegetarian/vegan soup stock (makes sense).
  3. You can line the bottom of a ban-marie with newspaper to make a more secure platform that wont rock, for the custard cups.
  4. When you’re roasting seeds on the stovetop, save back the unroasted version of the seeds so you can visually check the doneness during the process.
  5. Add a pinch of sugar to dishes with peppers, tomatoes, carrots – as it lifts their flavor.
  6. Killer strawberry variety recommended:  Gariguette.

        Tomorrow we don’t cook, don’t dress down … in class all day.  At least I hope that’s right, and I’m not the only one who shows up without my uniform!  And being the glutton for punishment I am, I’ve signed up for a day-long Spring Foraging field trip on Saturday with Darina.  

         Wellies required.