Getting Ahead

A good friend of mine used to describe the highly organised as both anal and smug. Of course now that she has advanced in years, learned the art and the benefits of planning ahead and joined the tribe she once so despised, her view has changed. I tease her mercilessly about it, but her good nature ensures she doesn’t get annoyed. Sadly I don’t visit with her that often but last weekend we made some time to catch up. The basis for our friendship is our shared love of all things edible and so it makes for an interesting relationship. While I consider her a good friend, we never have time to discuss politics, the economy, emotions, work or even our individual families; just food. I also find her a fantastic muse when it comes to reenergising my gastro mojo. I usually come away inspired and excited.   I love what I do and have dedicated my life to working with food but her passion is even more admirable in that it is pure hobby. Because of this she can explore new trends, emerging chefs and interesting recipes with abandon and without consequence.

733A6664As predicted, when I arrived the house was full of wonderful aromas. The wafts of freshly made coffee were making love to, rather than competing with, hints of warm vanilla emanating from buns just out of the oven. In the kitchen there was a plate of chunky homemade butter biscuits; highly calorific and calling out to be dunked in a mug of steaming liquid. And finally, although unseen, the savoury smell of bacon, cheese and mushrooms seemed to be the low notes of this epicurean perfume. “Can I smell cheese and bacon?”   “Yes”, she said and if you hang around long enough you might even get to taste them. I’m doing some Christmas experimenting this weekend; today it’s cheese and bacon twists”. I should mention that Katie is originally from New York. She is a larger than life half Italian, half Jewish wonder that married an Irish man 35 years ago and moved here. While Ireland has infiltrated her heart and influenced her food, her accent and New York state of mind has, thankfully, remained untouched.

So here she was, the first weekend in November, experimenting and preparing for Christmas! I couldn’t help but think that this was both luxury and discipline in motion. When I pointed that out she instantly defended the suggestion of privilege and luxury and settled on disciplined. What she was doing now would save a huge amount of time and money in the coming weeks. For the benefit of this column I asked for some of her best known tips. She instantly revealed that she doesn’t ‘cook’ that many meals come December, a huge time saver during the busy period. She considers her freezer a God send and from about the middle of October she starts to fill it with meals for December and January. Several times during the week in late Autumn and November she will double or treble up and freeze extra portions. The logic is marvellous. Firstly buying meat in larger quantities is usually much more economical as she can avail of all the offers. The same goes for store cupboard items such as tins of tomatoes and puree for example.   You are chopping and cooking anyway and so why not just do a little extra now. It means that in the busy month of December when there are people to visit, gifts to make, buy and wrap, trees to trim, cards to write and, even, lighting and cleaning out fires or stoves every day – the dinner is sorted. Her food and menu choices are very much influenced by the seasons, and in particular, the weather. Winter, she will tell you, is for warm, comfort food and warm comfort food tends to be good freezer food also.

733A6681 copyHer other great tip was spreading the shopping over several weeks. She pointed out that for years, when she didn’t ‘believe’ in organisation, she would dedicate one day for festive food shopping. A long list would be created and one day chosen to source the booty. This never quite worked out the way she wanted it to. First of all on top of her list she would also see a myriad of other stuff that she would inevitably pick up and spontaneously buy. The ensuing weight of the trolley would cause severe whiplash. Loading such an amount all at once into the car, sometimes in the rain, was unpleasant and the subsequent unloading into a kitchen was overwhelming. Suddenly the cupboards were full to the brim and instead of being exciting, it just indicated the amount of work ahead. It was also jolly expensive to be handing over hundreds on the one day and so it also felt like a huge financial burden which would often make her feel quite guilty, particularly about the impulse buys. Now she does it little and often. From November onwards Katie buys a few extra things with her ordinary shopping each week. At James Whelan Butchers we always know Christmas is on the horizon when she starts buying a jar of chutney, a cranberry sauce or such like with each meat order.

We had a fantastic lunch. We started with a wonderful homemade mushroom soup made with several different varieties of mushroom and brown bread. That was followed by garlic and ginger king prawns on a bed of warmed rocket. (And you and I both thought rocket and prawns were really only for summer!). This was a real treat. It was light, tasty but thoroughly warming with the real ginger complementing the gingery undertones of the warmed rocket magnificently. For afters we tried the freshly made cheese and bacon twists with a small cheese board and a garlic and onion dip, rather than crackers. It was all topped off with coffee and butter cookies. Get organised and to hell with what anyone else thinks of you. The smug will definitely have an easier and less expensive Christmas. I welcome your feedback to

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