Monday, 30 June 2008

An evening of Eastern European food

My stay at the Ballymaloe school ended on a high note - on the eve of my leave the Irish Slow Food movement organised an evening dedicated to Eastern European food. Ok, I'd love to be able to say that my skills and creativy were just so amazing that Darina Allen - the woman who runs the show at the school and is also a leading member of the movement - decided to organise the event in my honour, but I would be slightly exageratting...:) No, the evening had been planned some weeks in advance (well, 'planned' is probably another exagerattion, but on that some other time;): Julia Makejeva - a Russian from Lithuania, one of the school's cooks and the mastermind (or masterhands??) behind Darina's market produce; and Kate - a Polish girl from Dublin who runs her own catering company (mainly making delicious vegitarian Indian (?!!) dishes) were to prepare their favorite dishes and present them. I volunteered to help Julia - mainly 'morally', as we Russians say, ie stand by her side and say ocassional witty and/or useful things.

I loved the idea of showing off some of the Russian dishes, and especially make them using fresh, farm ingridients. In fact the latter was a bit of a challenge, considering that a lot of Russian food is stodge - a lovely and very tasty, but nevertheless stodge (I'm prepared to fight off all the angry defenders of the Soviet cuisine). So I came up with a few recipes, so did Julia, and here's what we made at the end:

Tsepeliny (Potato and meat dumplings - a Lithuanian national dish)

картофельные цепелины I have to be brutally honest here. Julia had invited me for dinner a few days prior to the event, serving Tsepeliny, and I was not very impressed....I'm sure Julichka will not be upset if I say:) that the dumplings in question looked more like 2 eggs from some strange Marcian creature (the taste was all right, but not of the potato..;). However, the second attempt, at the school, was a lot better. I wonder if it was something to do with the farm's lovely new potatoes or serving the Tsepeliny with some crispy bacon..Here's how you make this famous Lithuanian dish:

Serves 3-5

  • 3 large potatoes
  • 200g minced pork
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 medium onions: 1chopped and 1 whole
  • 1.5-2 litre of salted boiling water
  • 125 g sour cream
  • Salt, pepper

You will also need a muslin cloth.

Make the filling by mixing the mincemeat with 1 beaten egg, 1 chopped onion, and salt and pepper. Set aside.

Peel the potatoes. Finely grate them together with 1 onion. Put the potatoes and the onions into the muslin cloth, and squeeze the excess liquid out into a bowl. Then, carefully pour the liquid into a smaller bowl, so that the starch left at the bottom of the first bowl stays at the bottom of the bowl. Take half of the starch left behind and mix it into the boiling water so that there are no lumps.

Next, add the remaining half of the starch to the bowl of potato/onion mixture. Mix it well, divide it into 3-5 equal portions. Take one portion and put it into your palm, flatten so it is approx. 1 centimeter high; put a tablespoon of the mincemeat mixture into the centre and seal the potato mixture around it. Place the tsepeliny into simmering water and cook for 40-45 minutes.

Just before the tsepeliny are ready, fry the bacon bits in a frying pan until they release the fat and are crispy (optional: add chopped onions at this stage and fry them together). Add the sour cream and let it simmer for a few minutes.

Serve 1 piece of tsepeliny per person, topped with the sour cream/bacon sauce.


We also made Vinigret - just in case, horror, someone doesn't know what it is. It's a beetroot and potato salad. I call it 'a light, summary, version of the (in?) famous Russian potato salad, or Olivier'.

Serves 6-8 people

  • 180 g potatoes
  • 130 g beetroot
  • 90 g carrot
  • 90 g onions
  • 60 g gherkins (preferably salted, not marinated in sugar)
  • 60 g sauerkraut
  • 30 g peas (fresh, or frozen or canned)
  • 50 g olive oil
  • lemon juice
  • salt and pepper
Cook the beetroot, carrots and potatoes until tender, let them cool and peel them. Dice all the vegetables and combine them in a large bowl.

Make the dressing by mixing olive oil with lemon juice. Add salt and pepper and mix the salad well. Vinigret is best eaten chilled with rye bread.

Oladushki (Russian fluffy pancakes)

As a desert we made these amazing, probably about 2 cm high, pancakes. By mistake Julia put one extra egg, which made oladushki even fluffier! I made a point to the audience about eating them with a mixture of sourcream and granulated sugar. The combination had been tested on the Irish before and they loved it! These lovely airy oladushki really reminded me many breakfasts made by my mum. She used to make lots of them before I was even awake and keep them warm in a pan. I would then have them with coffee and cream - rare occasions I had coffee in those days.

Serves 4

160 g white flour

225 ml buttermilk

1 egg

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp sugar

1 tsp vegetable oil, for pan frying

First, measure the buttermilk into a small bowl and sprinkle the baking soda on top and allow the mixture bubble. Then, whisk the egg, salt, and sugar into the buttermilk mixture. Next, slowly add the flour to the batter by whisking until mixture appears to have an even consistency, set aside. Heat pan to medium high heat and add the vegetable oil. Scoop the batter with a tablespoon and drop by tablespoonfuls into the pan. Fill the pan with 6-7 tablespoonfuls spaced evenly apart. Fry until golden brown, flip once bubbles have appeared on the surface and popped. Repeat frying process until all of the batter is used.

Serving suggestions:

Make several dips by mixing sour cream with jam; sourcream with granulated sugar, and honey.

Kate, the Polish girl, made some scruptious vegetarian dishes, such as Pirogi (the stress is on the second syllabus) - which are in fact what we, Russians, call Vareniki - pelmeni like dumplings, slightly bigger than Russian pelmeni, usually made with vegeterian fillings, in this case potatoes, onions and cream cheese; served with hot sizzling melted butter.....the evening was a success (Julia was a star:))! If we could serve the dishes with some frozen shorts of vodka - we would have probably had to stay and make some Eastern European concoctions in the morning for breakfast.

Tomorrow is a start of the second leg of my trip - France, south of France. I'm staying in a small farm with a family, not far from Carcasonne. They've asked me to take a swimming costume. Apparently, there are rivers around in which I could swim after a hard day of gardening..a bientot!

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Glimpses of the farm life

This will be a short, but hopefully a colourful one - I'm too knacked. But still, it is most probably my last day in the gardens here. I'm back to London on Thursday, before heading to the warmer climates next week.

Today has been an onion day. It's been quite a satisfying job, with beautiful and very wholesome results. They grow zillions of onions here; all sorts - spring ('scallions'), shallots, white...we bunch them up and put them up to dry, where they stay until they are needed (in the picture below are two of my co-workers: Pam - a choppy Englishwoman from Porthsmouth, married to an Irishman; and Vlasta - a silent farm hero - from the Check republic).
After a day or two of hanging the onions turn brown and start slowly rotating - an amazing and eerie vision...
There is a certain clever technique of putting them up, using what seems to me like a sailor's knot! Manu - my lovely French neighbour - is tiying them up below.

I took this picture below because onions remind me of some medieval criminals - sentensed and hanged. The red hands of the executor are tiying the last knot on the prisoners' necks...

And these are the bodies of the dead..

the job is done - now we can take a break;)

Tomorrow Julia and myself are doing a demonstration for the Slow Food movement event here - it's an Eastern European night. We are doing tsepeliny (a Lithuanian national dish: potatoes with minced pork), Borsh, venigret (a beetroot salad) and fluffy little pancakes served with sourcream and honey. Hope to report when back in 40b.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Bazaar numero one

It is time to get closer to the main topic.

Today I have worked in the market in Cork. It’s a beautiful little market, cleverly situated right next to Debenhams (of all places…), which was established a couple of years ago by Rupert and Lydia, the latter is Darina Allen’s daughter. Ok, perhaps I should go back a bit and explain who Darina Allen is. She is a combination of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Gordon Ramsey, with a bit of Margaret Thatcher thrown in for good measure. Some have called her ‘the face behind Irish food renaissance’. She has published more than a dozen of cookery books, established the first farmers’ market in Ireland (now there are over a hundred) and runs a world-renowned cookery school that sees hundreds of students from all over the world coming the learn the basics, to introduce themselves to the landJ This is also the way where I’ve been living for the last week.

The energy of the person is ground-breaking, and the fact that all of her children (four) including their partners, as well as her brother and her husband, all live nearby and involved in the business one way or the other, says a lot I think. The lovely market in Cork mentioned at the beginning is an off-shoot of Darina’s activities. Although its success (and it is doing so well that I’ve heard various people refering to it in that ‘if only my/our/that/this market was run like this’ manner) is thanks to Darina’s eldest daughter and her partner who have a flair of aristocracy about them, but who up until the birth of the first child a few months ago lived in an ancient looking hut really:) with no hot water or a telephone line, located not far from the school with wind-sweeping views of the sea.

Today I was working next to Rupert, but quite separately – our stall was selling just two things: steak sandwiches and cupcakes. As promised in the earlier correspondence, below is a picture of the divine cupcakes and a little further on of their maker (on the left) - Phillip (on the right is Ollie - another stagier like myself, from California).

I was on the grill, in Emilia’s domain – Phillip’s girlfriend and…Darina’s youngest daughter. Apparently I am a really good ‘griller’ (maybe it’s my KGB grandfather’s dna??). Whatever the case we worked flat out for good couple of hours, with people wanting so much of the grilled stuff that by the end anything that had two slices of bread around it was selling. Most of the cakes were sold too – amazing! The sandwich was a simple baguette with a spread of thick home-made mayonnaise, onions, that were earlier caramelised and so were very sweet and tender, and a few drops of (‘legendary’ apparently;)) sweet chilly sauce. I just loved the fact that such a simple formula works over and over again – good quality, simple food sold at honest prices – works (god, I sound like one of those Masterchef judges – please excuse me).

About an hour into the, I was going to say ‘service’, after the market officially opened this ‘dude’ appeared with four enormous trays of…spinach! He had just started his farm nearby (eehh, too much wwoofing experience in New Zealand?? I should have asked really) and had lots – loads – of lovely, fresh, organic spinach!

This reminded me of another stall just a few days ago at another local market, in Middleton. There was a guy – beary looking bearded fellar – selling buckets of potatoes. Just that. The potatoes from his own farm, needless to say organic. They were selling like hot cakes (I did buy some and had them for the next three days for dinner, just cooked with lots of olive oil and salt – new potatoes, with very thin and pale skin just falling off ahhhh).

This is what I love about farmers’ markets, about the whole ‘real’ agriculture thing. I am not going to deny the omnipresent power of the Borough market – you can’t beat its art-gallery like quality and the sheer variety of produce (and the quantity of free nahalyavu tasters). But of course the reality of many people, not just in our oh so highly developed society, is like this – one guy growing loads of great potatoes (beetroot, lettuce, lemons) and wanting to sell them – because she, he needs to make a living; because it’s their soul, their baby. Because they have put a lot of hard labour into it and are proud of it; and because they can’t imagine doing anything else.
p.s. apologies for some of the odd placed text, alongside the photographs - no idea. have tried to fix, nop.

Monday, 16 June 2008

Weeding, weeding, weeding and....more weeding

Ok, I'm here, in the Irish ('Ierrysh') land, in fact this is my 5th day here. I thought I'd give you a little update (fingers crossed the internet connection doesn't f*ck up, as it normally does here), before posting more envy-endusing Corsican pictures:)

The title above should give you an idea of what I've been doing for the last few days. Yes, I've arrived! Right now, I'm typing with the fingers that are so dirty and dusty that I don't envy the next person taking over this station. The picture below was taken literally 10 minutes ago, on the way from my weeding place to the high-tech comps. Am I enjoying it? Oh yes (zyu, I have this image of you now in your Churchill impression!), especially since the amounts of food I've been consuming for the last few days means that weeding is the only solution (to get your saliva going: Friday was a pasta day - I had about 5 types of ravioli, 2 types of lasange with just cut young corgettes from the garden and long freshly made pasta made pale tomato sauce...) .

Rewinding a bit back: Thursday, I had a wonderful 14 hour trip from London Euston to my current place of residence: Euston-Crew-Holyhead by train, ferry to Dublin, tram to the train station, another 3 hour train journey to Cork, then a half an hour taxi drive to the Cookery school. I was a bit tired;), but then was quite refreshed by meeting two of my new house mates - les fils francaises (or francaises fils??). I am actually sharing a house with two very young and lovely French girls (that in addition to a telly that my hub would be very jeolous of right now) . They speak as little English as I speak French - the girls that is, not the telly - per-fec-to I say! I am obviously not having long philosophical conversations with them - yet;) - but the situation is very reminisent of the scenario about 11 years ago when I started conquering English. I just keep telling myself it's a beginning:)

The other comforting fact about this place is that I've already met a very warm and funny Russian girl, called Julia, who is a (!!) cook at the school and who (!!!) lives next door to me. Below is us on Saturday - we already had a shashlyk session with lots of wine and beer...;)

You might be wondering - amongst all the random talk here - what the hell am I actually doing. I am actually working, and apart from soul-inspiring weeding have also worked in the glass-house (un sere en francaise apparently;) and at the local market in Middleton selling various produce from the school's gardens (picked by my own hands the night before) and wonderful cutesy cupcakes made by yet another member of the family involved in Ballamaloe business - a charming German guy called Phillip who looks (ginger) and talks (very shhh) like a native Irish. Pictures - of the cupcakes, not Phillip - might follow soon..
and on Sunday, following in my habushka's steps I did a wonderful little walk from my cottage to a near-by town called Ballycotton (which I keep calling Bellybutton....). I even hitched my first lift on the way back, of which I'm particularly proud (she said sitting up right, looking like a proper little robin). The view below is of the bay in Ballycutton...

'Thanks a million!' as everyone seems to be saying here and I promise to write something a bit more engaging, or 'writy' next time:) I'll have a glass of....the creamiest loveliest milk for you later, the London folk!

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Up in the air (and in the tent)

Voila! After 10 years of hard labour in London, I've taken the plunge - as of 23 May 2008 I am officially unemployed. I've taken a conscious decision to become a hippy, happy-go-lucky chick that wears no high hills (well, almost, leisure promenades on cote d'azur - or similar - are in the itinerary), breaks her back from carrying all her possessions in a rucksack and - importantly - doesn't know what she'll be doing the next day.

I am taking a break from 9-5 life. A friend has recently asked, so what’s the point, the objective of all of this inactivity. I said – I want to stop. Not stop and do nothing, but slow down, to have time, energy and desire to notice things; to be uncertain of what’s to come and be excited about it, even if that means sh*ting myself about it at the same time. I know all of this sounds like new age bullshit, but I honestly have to choice..

The photograph above is an image of what's to come. Well, to be precise some part of it has already come and gone, but it's to give you, and myself, a flavour of how I’d like my next few months to shape up.

The picture was taken in a little municipal camping site in the Corsican mountains, near a little place evocatively called Zonza. As you can see I am sitting in a tent - yes, a real tent. I know that many (including myself) doubted our camping aspirations - after all in my almost 29 years on this planet I had never had pleasure of spending nights under the stars in a 2 by 2 plastic box. Guys, now it's official - camping is fan-tas-tic! Ok, I must admit that we only camped 4 out of 12 nights, but I am mainly going to blame my hubby for such inflexibility (wink-wink), well, again, almost..

I’m writing this sitting in 40B (my base in London for those not in the know). We are already back from the La Corse and tomorrow I’m leaving for my next venture – two weeks in a Ballimaloe cookery school in Ireland (see the link below). However, I am planning to write more about our adventures in Corsica (including my camping experience) in the next few weeks.

Most probably, it’ll end up being a mixture of Irish and French impressions:)…hey, we’ll see….for now, I’d like to leave you with something to be ferociously envious about – the view of Bonifacio lagoon, we had just arrived in Corsica from Sardinia…