As a nation we like to talk about the weather it is our ‘got to’ ice breaker for any and every occasion. It is strange that we have such a fascination with the elements given that we live in a relatively moderate climate and extremes are unusual. However, this winter has been one of them. It has been very difficult to watch as the farmers in the North of Ireland struggle against high walls of compacted snow. It’s lambing season, but one seriously hampered by the weather and, sad to say, in some situations completely annihilated. It seems so wrong to see little lambs with snow all around when they should be lolloping around green, dewy fields.
Inspiration for food, how we eat and how we cook is all around us. It is often a simple phrase, something in a newspaper, an innocent observation perhaps that will strike a mental chord and turn into a food thought. Writing also shares that space of infinite inspiration in the world around and about us. The news this week has been particularly fruitful for both. The Conclave in Vatican City has been to the fore and the faithful of all creeds, the agnostic and the atheist all looked on together in anticipation of the new head of the Catholic Church, united in a moment of pure theatre and curiosity. Believer and non believer mesmerised by the cloak and dagger, smoke and mirrors ritual the church engages for such elections. The doors close, we watch and wait and then, just like a stage magician, there is a puff of smoke and, ‘boom’, a shiny new pope emerges. He is the first Pope from outside Europe for a long time and the first ever Pope from South America and so immediately his hometown comes into sharp relief. Argentina is of interest and I immediately wonder about their food.
If we’ve never met then I can say with some degree of certainty that no one would ever choose to use the word ‘dainty’ in a description of me. The food I like and enjoy also falls into the more robust category. For example I like meaty, rustic, slow cooked one pots that are drenched in flavour. I’m rather partial to the idea of being the overarching creator in the kitchen, where I constantly adjust to taste with a pinch of this or a smidge of that until the bubbling meaty gravy sings on my taste buds. I always follow some vague cooking principles from my head but I add my own twists here and there. As I sample and savour the juices it usually elicits an audible ‘Oh yes’ or ‘Lovely’ to myself, which heralds an even greater taste sensation when we finally get to the actual ‘meat on a plate’ moment. I also enjoy succulent joints of meat and luscious pies accompanied by in season vegetables. While I’m fond of the new and always keen to try it, I’m not ashamed to say that I love the traditional and in particular old dishes that have undergone a modern make over. My point in sharing these insights is really to emphasise that my subject this week is not an obvious fit for me. Cooking and serving food in small portions in little pots is something I didn’t think I’d ever particularly enjoy and yet here I am extolling the virtues of ……….wait for it……..the ramekin!
It’s been a while since Shrove Tuesday and Valentines Day came in the same week but an early Easter for 2013 has decreed it. Looking ahead it’s going to be a very busy March as we seem to be packing all the spring celebrations together; St Patrick’s Day, Mothers Day and Easter will come close together. The retailer in me that has a habit of looking ahead while, according to the current trend for ‘mindfulness’ I should be living in the ‘now’. Well here I am being mindful of the fact that the year is whizzing by. By the time you read this another tonne of pancakes will have been consumed and the annual batter fest will be over and we’ll definitely be hurtling towards spring.
Christmas is such as special time in the business, the excitement, the fun, the laughter and the great food. This year, I brought the camera with me on one of the days leading up to Christmas. I’d like to share with you some of the images here. They capture the spirit of the season and the uniqueness of our trade. Enjoy!
If there are positives to be taken from the current financial climate then for butchers it has to be the renewed interest in the cheaper and less regarded cuts of meat. I’m quite thrilled by this because in our more affluent years we gradually lost out on so much when it came to taste and flavour as we turned our noses up at some of the cheaper cuts of meat. I am also conscious of the environmental impact we made when we disregarded so much of an animal that was perfectly good for human consumption, purely on the basis of our arrogance and perceived sophistication which really boiled down to nothing less than ignorance.
The Irish Times continued the coverage of our Beef Bonds. Here’s what Marie-Claire Digby writes
“Financial markets may be volatile, but beef bonds are a sure thing writes MARIE-CLAIRE DIGBY
The financial world may be in turmoil, but for holders of beef bonds, the future is bright. Fifth generation butcher Pat Whelan, whose James Whelan Butchers has outlets in Clonmel and the Avoca foodmarket in Monkstown, Dublin, launched his innovative scheme this week.
Tipperary butcher launches world’s first Beef Bonds
Delicious dividends guaranteed with novel new investment idea
An innovative Tipperary butcher is giving Irish investors an alternative to the financial markets by offering them the opportunity to put their money into Beef Bonds!
“Street Food” is something I’m hearing and reading a lot about and I’m still not sure I fully understand what it is, but it has certainly elevated the standard of food-to-go generally and it seems to be creating great excitement. On a recent trip to America you can imagine my excitement when I not just discovered “Street Food” but also a Food Truck Rodeo. This is really clever and seems to be capturing the imagination of both public and stakeholders alike. Food Trucks in the states are trendily designed retro vehicles, some the same shape as the classic UPS vans but adapted as mobile gourmet kitchens. The magic that’s behind this whole rodeo concept is that a number of these vehicles each with a unique menu and offering come together in one place and create a market feeling leveraging off each others strengths. The consumer is exposed to many different food cultures and on a recent visit I discovered everything from Gravalax to Cuban Sandwiches, great barbecued beef and a unique vehicle which allowed you dispense your own chosen flavour of organic frozen yogurt. What further intrigued me was that all of these vendors use social media as a significant medium to communicate with their customers and these Rodeo events pop-up in different communities and at different events and are managed by gourmet food trucks, a website used to promote these gatherings.
I don’t watch a great deal of television, but certainly I see more in the autumn and winter than I would on brighter evenings in the middle of the year. When I return to television having been away for the summer months it can be quite exciting and the winter schedules always contain new programmes
After meeting Patricia Michelson last year, I’m delighted to announce I’ve been invited to speak at the upcoming Beaujolais Noveau event at La Fromagerie, Moxon Street, London on November 15th. The La Fromagerie is run by Patricia and Danny Michelson and as the name suggests, they specialize in farmhouse cheeses and have been doing so since opening their first shop in 1992. La Fromagerie opened their second shop in 2002 and both shops feature cheese maturing cellars with on-site affinage and their signature walk in cheese rooms.