Mid Summer

The year unfolds and rolls out to midsummer when the sun floats  to its highest point. A lazy clam settles on the growth and nestles in the air. All the new life has been sucked up out of the soil and once again the green mantle settles on the earth. A slow roll on through July and August and then on  to the distant Autumn. 

Lunasa looms ahead too and a taste of the years harvest but for now settle in to the summertime. Take a breath and some time out to read and plan. New routs and ideas to explore. A map unfolds for the comming months.

Bealtaine

Our seasons are blending, spring is crushed into summer as winter keeps its icy grip well into where spring once reigned. Autumn the same, we enjoy balmy weather sometimes up until the very edge of December. I sometimes wonder about the Celtic festivals and imagine them as being these totally in sync time keepers of the passing seasons. Bealtaine, now time to work on raising crops and animals, Lunasa, now time to gather in the years efforts , etc. Where are we now?

A couple of weeks back it was time for takingaleaf to sync with Bealtaine. A feast to welcome the Summer months is what I billed it as. And as luck and magic would have it the clouds parted an hour or so before drinks were served. Ans so the celebration took off with seasonly tuned food, drinks and sunshine.

About six weeks before the event I had synchronistically found a venue which provided all the character and mystery that the occasion called for. I the heart of Inchicore, not far from where I do a lot of my foraging, is the CIE Works, and in the heart of the works is a sports and pleasure centre. Built in the 1840's as a social and community centre for CIE workers who were working on the then new railroads. It boasted a sprung ballroom and also had sewing rooms to make and maintain uniforms. Since then it has been through several incarnations and today still serves the community and is run by a fiercely loyal and committed committee. 

The ballroom provided the perfect atmospheric backdrop with lighting kept to a minimal except for a single mirror ball giving a desired ballroom of romance in a forest glade appeal.

Bow Lane

I have been in and out of town on my bike several times today. Defiantly one more journey than I really wanted  or planned, having left my laptop in a cafe, I needed to go back for it. Sailing up and down bow lane a couple of times though was enough to connect me with this day and time. If you are not familiar with Bow lane, it connects Jamses St to Kilmainham. It winds round the side of Imma and takes a steep incline, or decline depending on which way you are headed as it heads up to the Royal Oak. One side of this narrow road is a complete wilderness, and some day I will record in detail all the plants and animals that dwell here.

At this time of year the air there is heavy with the smell of Hawthorn in full bloom. A heady and sweet perfume which transports you away from your everyday details and cares. Thats if you let it. As the summer progresses Hawthorn will be replaced by Elder and then Buddleia, each sent leading to the next and each promising all that this season offers as well as unlocking older olfactory memories. 

Imbolc

Imbolc traditionally heralds the end of winter and the first signs of spring. Takingaleaf will be marking this ancient occasion on the evening of the 30th of January. You will be greeted with a warming drink at 7:30 and dinner will commence 8ish. Expect a slow evening of local and foraged foods. For tickets and further information email Miceal at takingaleaf@gmail.com

Dinner, Luncheonette

Any cafe,restaurant, bistro, pub, hole in the wall that serves mint tea made with fresh mint is alright by me. Its a small thing I know but it says “we care” louder and clearer than any amount of barista gymnastics can. And when said establishment has a great big jar of mint sitting on the counter top it almost makes my heart skip with joy.
Lunchonette in the deaths of the National College of Art and Design on Dublin,s Tomas street is one such place. Its an oasis of cool hidden away from a street not know for its sartorial elegance but more so for its old fashioned stalls selling cheap washing up liquid and lighters.

When the college lost its cafe about 18 months ago former student Jennie Moran stepped in offering a sort of soup kitchen to students. It operated on just Wednesdays to begin with but has since expanded to breakfast and lunch 5 days a week. Dinner is only for special occasions at the moment and so I was delighted to be invited to dinner there last Friday night as reward for a hard days workshopping. A full and exciting day spent with  an international and local group keen to work on ideas in relation to urbanising bees. Fascinating stuff. Conversations and connections spilled out of the new college campus in Grangegorman and into a blustery and wet night. We trailed our way across the city and the dividing river pointing out bits and bobs of interest and history along the way to the visitors.

Ravenously hungry and high on utopian ideals we made the last leg of the journey through the archway into the art college and down the stairs into the basement. Jennie greets us all warmly and encourages us too take our seats, at an extremely long refectory style table, before our soup goes cold. Starvation thwarts formality as we all scramble for the nearest free space and grab sourdough rolls from the piled high wooden bowls dotted around the table. In front of each of us is one of those utilitarian enamelled metal bowls, you know the white and blue ones that service prisons, girl guides and family picnics alike. Into each one has been labeled a generous portion of kelly green kale and potato soup. Deliciously warm and nourishing. A menu is spied and 8 courses including soup made out. Its a one menu fits all with no decisions to be made all courses vegetable based with one fish dish.BRING IT ON.

Soup bowls and plates are quickly swept away by a team of delightfully friendly wait staff. Large plates offering a barley and blue cheese risotto placed on top of pieces of buttery roast leek. Grains retain bite and texture and give contrast to creamy allium base. Exceptional. Group sighs and exclamations concur. Conversation dropped over soup is picking up again and a sort of group consciousness of delight reigns.

Sweet potato wedges topped with sharp yoghurt and pomegranate. Mountains of them quickly reduced to molehills and beyond. Enough said.

Spears of chicory topped with hazelnut gremolata. Baked to perfection. One of those deceptively simple dishes behind which lurks careful timing and flavour balancing. Bullseye.  Someone mentions killing a close relative for the recipe before retuning to the feasting.  

Whole salt baked Salmon with lemon and caper butter. Now if you are going to bake something do yourself and the object of your baking a favour and bake it whole encased in salt with an egg wash. You will never go back. I however  pass on this course as I can t bare the thought of farmed salmon and I know in my heart and sole that farming the noble salmon of knowledge is a mortal sin. But fear thee not I did not go hungry in the name of animal liberation instead I scoffed remaining portions of chicory. Yum.

So 5 down and 3 desserts to go. Pears baked with chocolate served with shortbread, plum pancakes and hunks of chocolate brownie all come down the line and bowls heaped with greek yoghurt are generously left between every 4 diners. A triumphant ending.

Well not quite ending. We break up into groups to discuss further plans for the morning and are revived by draughts of mint tea made with, you guessed right, fresh mint.

Raw V Burnt

What makes a food a comfort food?   Of course the food itself varies
from person to person and place to place but the sense of comfort it
delivers is pretty universal.  It conjures up feelings of homeliness
and security, and can offer temporary relief from anxiety, heartache
and hangover. Burnt toast is  like my own personal Rescue Remedy,
although with a slightly more carcinogenic side affect. This, like my
other cannon of favourites, mashed potatoes,fried eggs,baked beans etc
comes from my mid eighties childhood. Saturday mornings me and my
sisters would be left to fend for ourselves for a couple of hours. A
brief respite from the strictly regimented meal times in our home.
Lolling in front of the telly and forgetting all about bread left
under the grill until it had long passed the golden brown stage. Focus
only returning when smoke and the smell of burning wafted from the
kitchen to the living room. Then of course not wanting to waste
precious moments of Anything Goes redoing or scraping off the burnt
bits burnt, blackened bread was duly consumed. Over time this became
and still is the much preferred form.

Moving on a few years from here into my later teens and the first
dabbling with vegetarianism. In its infancy merely a Morrisey inspired
affectation and nothing to do with the moral and health choice of my
adult self. The dietary naivety of youth brought me down a path paved
solely with aforementioned comfort foods along with a host of other
convenience unsavouries. I could easily have faded away from scurvy or
some other malnourishment had I not landed my first ever restaurant
job in Cranks Vegetarian Restaurant and take away in Covent Garden
London. Here I was introduced to an array of vegetarian
exotica,mushroom lasagna,potato pie,spinach pizza and soups both hot
and cold of the most outlandish flavour combinations. It was also here
that I learned about whole foods, organic foods and the relationship
between food and health. It didnt change my life or convert me in any
way at the time but it did educate and stimulate me enough to allow my
mind to open to the concepts. I flip flopped for many more years
between healthy, unhealthy, meat eating vegetarian etc, until I
settled where I am now  with mainly vegetarian diet with a little fish
now and then.

I do however dream of taking a more radical dietary step and entering
the world of the raw vegan diet. For me there is something very
attractive about ridding myself to caffeine,refined
sugars,dairy,cooked foods and other acid forming foods and embracing a
world fueled by nuts, legumes,seaweed, grains, seeds, sprouts, agave
and fruits. A purged and pure self free of all comfort foods and
unhealthy indulgences. Do I have the strength of character and will
power on a cold winters evening to resist a delicious lentil Shepard’s
pie with a half pound of butter melted on top followed by a packet of
chocy bickies and large mugs of hot chocolate. Or plates of burnt
toast while in bed with the Sunday papers. Hmmmm I’m perhaps not quite
yet ready to fully embrace cold comfort.

Butter Making

There is  of course more than a hint of smugness implied by dropping the line “I make my own butter” into conversation. But I just can’t help it and am delighting in reactions. 

To be honest it’s actually very easy to make and in the time it takes to nip down to the shop for a pound you can whip up a bit of your own. All you do is pour cream into bowl. Whip and then keep on whipping past the point you would normally go to for dessert. Just keep going and eventually the butter milk and butter will split into liquid and solid. Pour out buttermilk and keep for baking with.

The butter will then need to be washed. To do this you will need ice cold water. Throw a few cubes of ice into a jug of tap water. Then work the water through the butter, use a spatula for this and not your hands as they will bring the temperature up. You will need to do this several times until the water comes clean. 

Keep your eyes peeled in flea markets etc for those lovely old butter paddles because they make beautiful work of bringing the butter together into a loaf.

Add salt if you like salted butter and I have added wild marjoram for extra flavour. 

A half litre of cream yields about a half pound of butter.

Go on join me in smugness.

Tailtu Dinner, 31st October Oiche Shamhain

A slow dinner inspired by foraging expeditions to little patches of urban wilderness  and a nostalgic nod to a vintage cookbook, Maura Lavertys “Full and Plenty”. 

Drinks are served at 7:30 and dinner in and around 8, meandering towards the witching hour. 

Ghost Stories and other Halloween appropriate conversations will be encouraged.

Space is limited. All enquiries to takingaleaf@gmail.com.

Sloes

I set off today with rose-hips in mind. I imagined a nice big bag of them and in my mind had them already lightly smashed and added to apple cider vinegar. I knew exactly where to go as I had spotted masses of them from the just over a wall on what looked like  a pretty accessible spot, the other day while I was out for a cycle. Accessible spot proved completely inaccessible and I could spy the rose-hips tantalisingly  ahead through thick bushes and brambles.

But just as I was about to give up and head off my eyes focused in on some little black yeasty beauties, the fruits of the blackthorn our native plum. Still deliciously bitter with a hint of sweet they will remain so until frost gets hold and  releases some sugar. They can be hard to see on the bush but once you notice one cluster others miraculously appear and I soon had a half bag full. Delighted with myself.