Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Myself and other cabbages

Just back from a fantastic week in Ireland. Ireland is always special for me but this week included preparing a celebratory dinner in honour of my Dad's 80th birthday; visiting Newgrange  - a 5000 year old megalithic passage tomb (older than the pyramids of Egypt!)  and getting a look into Francis Bacon's studio in the centre of Dublin.   

One of the pictures my father painted for me is of himself in his garden working on his cabbage patch. It is titled "myself and other cabbages" and so it was appropriate that we dressed the dining table with three hearty savoy cabbages each of which held two wonderful white candles! Cooking dinner for 20 persons is always a challenge but when it's done in someone else's kitchen, that does bring unique challenges. We spend all day searching the markets for saucepans large enough for our soups and stews but all went exceedingly well in the end! 

My Dad had been a dairy farmer and so we decided to prepare a basic Irish recipe of Cauliflower soup with the famous Cashel Blue cheese, followed by a Beef and Guinness stew served with creamed mashed potato and fresh chives.  A wonderful green pesto sauce was also served in honour of St Patrick's Day which was close at hand! The cheese board offered an opportunity to try the excellent range of local Cavan brands now available. Outstanding were of course O'Reilly's, a soft goat cheese and Boilie, a cow cheese from the Brodie Family who also offer a Corleggy, a stronger hard goats cheese; all three were simply delicious. Further afield we sampled Ardrahan - a semi soft wonderful washed rind cheese from the Burns Family of Co Cork; a Carrigaline hard cheese from O'Farrells also from Co Cork along with a Cahhil Cheaddar from Co Limerick. It is wonderful that Irish cheeses are now making a significant impact on the international market winning awards galore into the bargain. A birthday cake of immense proportions was then served after the candles were extinguished by the great octogenarian himself, who not to be outdone by his musical children and grandchildren, gave a redition of  numerous Irish Ballads including The Croppy Boy, Spansil Hill and The Mountains of Mourne - always a popular Ulster song from the  poet and musician Percy French (Inspector of Drains - Cavan Council 1881!) Needless to say it was a great night and thank you Michelle, Gabriel, Liam, Clare, Joan, Stephen, Lydia, Georgina, Verity, Dermott, Agnes, Joe, Ciaran, Trish, Stephen, Pat, Annamay, Oliver and Poul for making it all a night to remember!!

After all the festivities were over it was appropriate to retreat back 5000 years in time to Newgrange - the famous Irish Passage Tomb located along the beautiful River Boyne in County Meath. The tomb which was built around 3200 bc is well worth a visit particularly out of season when you get a chance to stand alone within the stone chamber and let your imagination run amock in megalithic proportions. Words fail today when we try to comprehend the enormity of the task facing those few thousand farmers. How they managed to design and build such a beautiful, harmonic and integral stone structure at a time long before the pyrimads and Stonehenge. To realise  that they knew how to get a sunbeam to pass down inside a stone chamber 19 metres long once a year for the solstice at sunrise is indeed mindblowing. Such a civilisation deserved to have all its cultural heritage preserved so that we could know more of their secrets.  The few quiet moments you stand inside their 5000 year old chamber you know that this humbling experience will remain with you always.

It's all very well to dwell in the past but one has to finally recognise that we live in the present and with a joyous relief we took the back road to Dublin only a few hours away. We arrived to find an empty parking space immediately opposite the entrance to the Hugh Lane Gallery so it was indeed our lucky day. The Francis Bacon Studio is situated at the rear of the gallery so you can also take the opportunity to explore all the other works on display as well as the beautiful interior of what was once a very beautiful home. We were struck by the number of Renoir's on display but took particular delight in Monet's picture titled Waterloo bridge (1900) a beautiful picture as well as an historical picture of London's South Bank before development of the South Bank Centre and National Theatre. Also in the permanent colection is a wonderful picture of the Young Breton Girl by Roderick O'Connor presented to the gallery in 1904 which for us now living in Brittany was an addditional surprise.  However the Francis Bacon Studio was for us the most extraordionary aspect of the collection. To move entirely his London  studio mews home and all its crazy mad and delightful contents to Dublin and resurrect them as they were positioned on his death for all to see is an amazing acomplishment.  Thank you John Edwards for this kind gift to Ireland and I hope all Irish citizens take the opportunity to visit the gallery and take a look inside the private home of  this most wonderful painter who enjoyed and required chaos in creativity and drew forth form from disorder. Wonderful mad rude character who anyone lucky enough to drink regularly at the Colony Rooms in London's Soho will well remember!!

Back home now to Brittany as we must get started on our cooking school menus!

Bye for now