I’m very fond of Easter as a holiday. It involves none of the frenetic nature of Christmas, the gifts are easy; a chocolate egg or a chocolate egg and (usually) the weather is milder and of course days longer. As a child I always dreaded the boredom of Good Friday when absolutely everything shut down in this country and yet today, having now experienced many ‘shops open’ Good Fridays, I yearn for the ones of my childhood. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t enjoy the simplicity of a seemingly endless day with absolutely no distractions.
While much of what I learned in school is buried deep in the mind’s recesses, probably never to see the light of day again, I still frequently go back to a saying by one of my teachers; “Proper planning prevents poor performance”. He would refer to it as the 5 Ps. Leaving aside the clever alliteration I can add to his by saying “Proper planning prevents unnecessary stress” and, of even greater concern these days, “Proper planning saves you money”. Easter is on the horizon and Confirmation and Holy Communion parties are also in the lens of many right now. Whether it is a buffet style party for thirty or an Easter Sunday lunch for ten, it can all be accomplished relatively easy and without needing to remortgage the house to finance it, with a little forward planning. How many times have you tried that free style approach only to end up with far too much food left over, a kitchen that looked like it had been hit by an earthquake, and an ulcer inducing level of stress and exhaustion? If that sounds all too familiar stick with me and the lessons learned can be used at any time of year.
Driving to Dublin yesterday, I couldn’t help but notice the snow-capped mountains and their resemblance to having been heavily dusted with icing sugar, by some gargantuan sieve. The
But with its many weathers, March also brings a great sense of hope – that perennial rejuvenation and regeneration that Spring brings with it. The days are getting longer, there is a stretch in the evenings - the children are collected from schools and dropped off at their various extra-curricular activities, for once, not in 4.30pm pitch darkness. I notice customers calling into the shop with a renewed vigour and a Spring –like variance in their purchases – the traditional ingredients for winter stews and casseroles is being slowly diluted with the requirement to tailor seasonal recipes – refreshing Spring dishes. Rhubarb, purple broccoli and spinach are all in season right now and are bursting with flavour, while spring lamb is also a traditional favourite for the next while.weather forecaster on the hourly news bulletin made specific reference to the cold snap of course, but consoled that temperatures would be creeping up again in the next few days. This mountain-top vista and the imminent promise of better, warmer days, coupled with snatched glimpses on Twitter and Facebook, of friends around the world who are enduring the coldest winters for years, reminded me that we are living in a time of extreme weathers right now – gently returning me to childhood classrooms where we were instilled with the March of many weathers truism.
One of the most popular dishes in our James Whelan Butchers range is the great family favourite, Mama’s Meatballs in a sumptuously rich Italian sauce and topped with local cheese. It’s filling, comforting and fantastic value. This is important as you can’t pick up a food magazine or go to a food website these days without seeing the words ‘budget’, ‘eat well, or spend less’. I don’t want to be controversial, but surely the wise amongst us were always interested in value and many people I know always worked to a budget. Savvy customers at James Whelan Butchers have always expected value without the compromise on taste or nutrition. In a recent chat with another retailer he relayed a sad tale that he has noticed people buying the lower end range in food while they continue to buy the high end brands of pet food. So Fido is getting the good stuff while little Johnny is being fed the less nutritious processed stuff. There is definitely something wrong with that picture.
What a week, Valentines Day and Pancake Day just three days apart! Such celebratory alignments indicate that between March and early April we’ll be very busy with all the spring celebrations; St Patrick’s Day, Mothers Day and Easter will come quickly on the heels of each other. The retailer in me has to look ahead but the farmer and natural instincts that I bear tell me that all we have is now.
I don’t think there is anything more disappointing in life than eyeing a fabulous looking piece of pie, sweet or savoury it doesn’t matter, only for the taste to be less than exciting. Indeed many shop bought pies, particularly the meat variety, have a way of over delivering on the picture on the outside and being severely underwhelming once cooked. The only answer was to make my own and it all starts with the pastry.
It had to happen at some stage but for someone in the meat business it was probably the best New Year’s gift and a great way to start 2015. What am I talking about? The small fact that there has been a dramatic swell in the research emerging from the US that confirms grass fed beef is full of health benefits. Not that I want to say, “I told you so” but for years I told you so. It has been hard to convince certain quarters of this particularly with the loudness of the healthy vegetarian and vegan messages but it doesn’t make it any less true or valid. Does it make vegetarianism or veganism wrong? Not at all! Thankfully we live in a free society where I would highly value our freedoms and choices but these lifestyles are just that, choices, and should be entered into on that basis and not because they are believed to be a healthier alternative.
It’s really great to be alive at this time of technological breakthroughs, tremendous convenience, and working central heating! We have a lot to be thankful for and yet I see the stress on the faces all around me. For every smile there’s at least one frown. Some people truly delight in this time of year, they thrive on the planning and the busyness of the season. They appear to love the anticipation of friends and family during the festivities. For others it’s just a downright hassle. To the latter group I say “Let go and just make it easy on yourself this year. There are plenty of ways to do it”.
There will always be those prepared for Christmas in September and while we may admire their industriousness for most of us it just isn’t practical. So here we find ourselves in the first week of December, the public lights are up, the Christmas songs are playing in the shops and it’s time to get festive. It’s time to focus on what Christmas is all about – family, friends and, oh yes, food. Even if the gifts fall short, as long as the grub is great it all pales into insignificance.
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An egg is among the most nutritious foods that we have access to with many believing that the egg is ‘nature’s multivitamin.’ Eggs contain unique antioxidants and powerful brain nutrients that many people are deficient in. Eggs are loaded with vitamins, minerals, high quality proteins, good fats and various other lesser-known nutrients. An average large egg contains Vitamin B12, Vitamin B2, Vitamin A, Vitamin B5 and Selenium along with small amounts of almost every vitamin and mineral required by the human body such as calcium, iron, potassium, zinc, manganese, Vitamin E and many more. A large egg contains 77 calories, with 6 grams of quality protein, 5 grams of fat and trace amounts of carbohydrates. Almost all the nutrients are contained in the yolk, the white contains only protein. So what we really need to take away from the above is that for 77 calories you are getting an incredibly nutritious food; serious bang for your calorie intake buck!
I find that when you mention pork chops there isn’t the instant appeal that other meat often elicits. The problem is that the chop has generally been maligned for being too dry, dull and altogether boring. I can understand this because I too, as a child, witnessed the abuses visited on the chop. What started out as a relatively nice looking cut of raw meat ended up horribly pale and leathery and tasted the same. For years there was a fear of raw pork and so everything had to be cooked to a crisp. I feel very sorry for the pork chop because today it really has a lot of untapped potential. The chop makes a lovely alternative to the chicken fillet. It also has great autumnal value as it works well with the glut of apples and other fruits in season.