Lent

LENT

 

 The meaning and importance of Lent has changed immensely since I was a child. In those days ,and I mean in the 1970’s not the 1900’s, Lent was strictly adhered to. As we were young and we hadn’t formed the bad habits of our later lives we were all ‘made’ give up sweets, biscuits and cake. Now it wasn’t all that hard because we never really had loads anyway ( before you can here violins playing sad tunes everybody was in the same boat so it was the norm). We did have treats and there was nearly always an apple tart or other baked dessert on a Sunday. But the thought of 40 days of no treats of any kind filled every kid with dread. The big plus before Lent was Shrove Tuesday aka Pancake Tuesday aka Jif Lemon Day! The only topping ever put on pancakes was sugar and lemon juice. When you see what people put on them now it’s mindboggling. All pancakes were homemade. This was before Fergal Quinn came up with the brainwave of making thousands of pancakes so the poor hard working mothers didn’t have to go through the time consuming process. Because of the time it took to individually make pancakes for five people it was also the one and only day out of 365 that pancakes were ever made in our house. We each got one or a maximum of two but never anymore. I remember the following day in school kids used to boast about eating 5,10,12,15….. but always reckoned they had one or two the same as everybody else! Ash Wednesday was a Black Fast day and after Mass at school and getting smudged with ashes (that I always suspected rightly or wrongly came from the ashtrays’ in the staffroom!) it was fish for dinner. The problem in our house was that my Mam who was and still is an absolutely brilliant cook hated cooking fish. So while other dinners were feasts any fish dinners although lovely were fairly basic (where I got my taste for eating everything in the sea apart from a ship God knows!) So Lent dragged on for 40 days and nights with the sometimes futile attempt by our Dad to get us to say the Rosary on a Sunday night. The main thing that kept us going was the reward at the end of it all of a then  single Easter Egg (but felt like having the key to Willy Wonkas’ chocolate factory) Then came Good Friday another Black Fast day and fish for all. In fact the Catholic Church had such a vice grip on Ireland at the time you would not for a second even let yourself think about eating meat for fear of causing a ‘Mortaler’ or Mortal Sin, a fate worse than death itself! I can still see the hard faced Brothers who beat this superstitious mumbo jumbo into petrified little kids. Ironic that so many of these ‘Christian’ Brothers were the most cold calculating evil bastards that ever lived! Now not all of them were evil, there certainly were some very good honest decent men but you have to try hard to remember their names. But that’s another story and it has been told over and over again. Finally Lent came to an end and after Mass on Easter Sunday we could have a piece of Easter Egg, not a full one or even a half but a ‘piece’  which we savoured and tasted sweet, creamy, luxurious…….. So what to give up this year, strangely enough I have not formed too many bad habits……

  

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Life in the Dark

Life in the Dark
2pm Wednesday txt msg ‘Jesus its wild trampoline secured, electricity gone take care coming home X’ and so it began, six days with no power. At first its lovely with candles all over the house. Thankfully we have a gas hob on our electric cooker and a stove in the kitchen/dining room a fire in the sitting room and lots and lots of candles, so as long as you didn’t stray too far from the kitchen we had heat and food and candlelight. The  kids are old enough to entertain themselves and I arrived home to a kitchen table resembling Hamleys toy store with all manner of games. Not the games that need ipads,ipods, laptops,wifi…. but board games. It brought back memories of being a kid. Now the names have changed, its no longer kerplunk,snakes and ladders….. they are now called Ratuki and Kerfuffle…. but the family fun never dates. So we settled in to this new strange life of never leaving the room without a candle or a torch. The big hole in my life was having  no radio. I prefer it to TV and would listen to it day and night. There is an old battered one somewhere in the polytunnel but there were few volunteers to go and look and I vaguely remember it was left out in a torrential downpour a few weeks back and as far as I recall it’s not waterproof! So we were radio less with no way of knowing news or how storm Darwin was going. Thanks to Aldi or Lidl my darling wife got a little radio the next day so at least we were able to have some news and music. The next problem was alarms for the mornings. Thankfully I have some defective gene that makes me wake up about 5.30 every day Summer or Winter so I wasn’t too bad but the rest of the family would happily sleep until the power was restored! But we all managed to get up for work and school each day probably because the house was fecking freezing every morning. On the way to work the morning after the storm news reports estimated 250 ,000 homes without power which was 249,999 plus us. In fairness the ESB were working through some terrible weather to restore power and on Friday a second storm swept  across the country hampering their efforts. We had high hopes of being back on line after a day or so but no such luck. One day became two then three… my son and heir who I thought would need counselling if WiFi wasn’t restored  soon said ‘… it was like being in an episode of lost….I’m not sure he has ever seen an episode of Lost but I knew what he meant. In the country when your power goes you don’t only loose light and heat but also water as the pump wont work so you are rightly snookered. My biggest concern was the deep freezer where the surplus Bronze Turkeys from our plot were resting among the other usual stuff but with a couple of bags of vac packed ice from work everything stayed rock hard right through all we lost was icecream.
Cooking consisted of plenty of one pot meals that were delicious and our usual Sunday grill was a less healthy option of an old traditional fry. Just like the old days we all pulled together in our ‘estate’ as one oul fella from the local pub called it. Three houses together in the country constitutes an ‘estate’ !!! One house had a generator so we could get water and the kids could charge up a laptop to watch a movie and as we had gas our other neighbour was able to cook and boil water so we had most of the basics. Speaking of water, washing and shaving in a sink of hot water from the kettle was not ideal but needs must. After about four days the novelty was wearing fairly thin and we had been told by the ESB that we would be back on soon but no sign.
On day 6 I transported about 70-80 ltrs of water from the neighbours up into the tank in the attic and as I was pouring in the last 5lt bottle I thought to myself it would be just typical if the power came back on…
Myself and my darling wife went out for a run as we are training for the 10k in Waterford later in the year and met another neighbour who told us that his power had just come back on. We skipped home even though our run was finished and happy days we were reconnected. First thing was to check all the trip switches and put the water on for what was by far the best shower I have ever had!!! Normality was restored.
   

The End of an Era

THE END OF AN ERA
The end of an era takes place today 13 February 2014,(1960-2014). It started for me aged 15 on a Wednesday after school in 1984. We had a half day every Wednesday back then and most kids of my age got a weekend job with a few extra hours on Wednesdays. I remember the day as my then football team Spurs were playing in the UEFA cup final against Anderlecht and as many long suffering Spurs fans know finals were not that common! There was a trainee manager who’s name escapes me and I sheepishly approached him and ask if I could finish early explaining about the upcoming match ‘When did you start?’ he asked having never seen me before ‘2.30 Today’ I said. So he says ‘ well I’ve gotta hand it to ye you’ve some neck!… Go on so’
And so the adventure began. I went from being what was know as a ‘Coolie’ to serving my time as an apprentice butcher ,once I had completed my leaving cert, to a qualified butcher spending 9 great years under the stewardship of Fergal Quinn. It was a fantastic company to work for and was ‘THE’ store for customer service leaving the Dunnes Stores,Quinnsworth and everybody else in the shade. Superquinn was renowned worldwide as the innovators and leaders in fresh foods and even through all the ups and downs is still regarded as fresh food leaders with their famous Superquinn sausages,meat,in store bakery. Fergal looked after his staff so well that they would have and did anything for the company. There was the time we worked straight through the day and night to turn his Bray store around after Hurricane Charlie had flooded it.( Its ironic that on the eve of the Superquinn brand going that the country was lashed by hurricane force winds!) The days we spent dressed as giant fruit to take part in St Patrick’s Day parades. Nights spent with local ICA groups talking about our products. We did all this because we believed that we were privileged to work for Fergal and if my then girlfriend now wife had not suggested that we take a year out to go to Australia I would probably have continued working for him.
Strangely enough having gone to Oz,ran my own photography business and worked for a couple of other supermarkets I returned to Superquinn where it all started one Wednesday 30 years ago.
Great memories will remain with me but as the SuperValu ad says ‘ It’s time to say HELLO!’ so onwards and upwards. Thanks Fergal for training and experience. 
 

Cod Roe

COD ROE

The short cod roe season is now here so for the next month or so, for those of us who love the taste and texture (which is the bit that turns the kids off it) LETS EAT!!!

There are a few different ways to enjoy it poached, fried or smoked. My favourite is to gently poached it in some water flavoured with lemon juice and rind and a little salt and pepper and allowed to cool in the liquid. Then carefully peel off the membrane and slice and fry in some butter and oil with a couple of fresh duck eggs for breakfast.

I have also smoked it and eaten it cold.

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The Wedding and Passport

                                                             The Wedding and Passport

 Normally my Blogs are about food, catching, killing, preparing, cooking and enjoying it but this one is a bit different. It is about the Wedding and the Passport!

Late last year my little brother informed us that he was getting married in January. A bit of a rush job but not for the usual Irish ‘shotgun’ reason he was changing jobs and January was the only opportunity. The wheels were put in motion and the ‘Low Fare’ airlines cheap seats were booked. As I had spent several years in a previous life as a Wedding Photographer I offered my services to the happy couple and was hired. All was well days off booked, jacket adjusted (I’d lost a few stone since last wearing it) cameras checked, cards cleared and after the usual trying on of uncountable shoes and dresses even the Missus was happy. The night before the flight I arrived home to a bit of a bombshell as in my Passport was 9 days out of date!!! and as the now ‘cuddly customer friendly’ airline ONLY accepts VALID Passports we had a problem. After several hours of searching the net for boats, planes, trains, horse and carts, bicycles……. I had to ring the little brother and give him the bad news.. ‘I don’t think I’m going to make the Wedding’ but inside I was in turmoil as I didn’t want to let him and his new bride down with the photos. I doubt that there would be too many Wedding photographers (of my high standards!!!) available at a days notice in London.

There was nothing for it but to head to the airport the following day and try my luck. I would like to state that I am mostly a very law abiding citizen…. although I think I may have inadvertently done 72 kph in a 70 kph once!!! but I had no choice. So after a broken nights sleep we headed north to the airport and with all sorts of pleading, begging, threatening and crying plans B, C, D, E and F in my head we only needed plan A! Like two criminals we studied the two checkers at the gate settling for the more smiley chatty one and as I held the cases my now compliant accomplice handed the boarding passes and passports over with a ‘How’s it Going…How’s things’… we sailed through! The text was sent ‘On the flight Wedding Back On!!!’ and gratefully received on the ‘Mainland’.

The next few days were fantastic and even the photos were pretty good!

The way back was just as easy even though the stern faced checker asked me to move my thumb from the expiry date (still out of date by the way!) she didn’t notice and we boarded another plane. After arriving ahead of schedule ‘Doodododododooooo’ hopefully that won’t give away the name of the ‘Low Fares Airline’ the Gardai Passport control waved me through. To and from the mainland with a non Valid passport who would have thought it possible……..     

Decsplot turkeys 2013

Decsplot Turkeys 2013
This is the fifth year that we have had turkeys here on decsplot and this year I decided to try a couple of whites as well as the bronze. I got 9 bronze and two whites from Kehoe’s poultry farm in New Ross a great place for all poultry. They were happy in their house and run, which is about 30ft square and let grow wild all year, they had plenty of fresh grass and a plentiful supply of bread from work (thanks to all the bakers) and fresh clean water. As usual Jamie got the task of letting them out and locking them up, which he hates! but he then sells one and pockets the money even though myself and his mother probably do more putting in/letting out and he never pays me for the expense of buying,feeding and despatching. Despite a few times when a couple of the Turkeys had a sleep out under the stars (thankfully avoiding becoming dinner for the foxes) and during their teenage stage wanting to stay out all night it was fairly uneventful.
One evening when all the grass was gone and they were happily going through what was left of the spinach or anything else green like a plague of locusts some of them decided to visit the neighbours garden. The neighbours are more than happy to feed them any kitchen scraps and lock them in the odd night and they get two beautiful free range bronze turkeys every year but as you can imagine with all that greenery going in it has to come out again and can be vast in quantity! So when Mrs G spotted the tearaways she set a military operation in progress ‘Operation Retrieve’. A simple enough task you might think (well I would anyway!) to walk slowly and calmly (Jamie!!!) shaking a bucket of pellets and like the Pied Piper they would follow you back to base camp. But the fact that ‘Operation Retrieve’ happened in the middle of some Wii or Xbox game slow/calm was not on the agenda (note to makers of games/apps could you please invent a poultry rounding up app Thanks!) After the first charge and subsequent scatter one of the escapees jumped the fence and ended up in the farmers field which is surrounded by an electric fence! Chivalry being alive and well Jamie sent his little sister, Faye, to capture the runaway while he scattered the rest losing the little bit of patience he had left!  Thankfully Mrs G intervened and after a few ‘calming’ expletives and the threat of decapitation (not for the turkeys!) order was finally restored.
We had one fatality at Halloween for no apparent reason and a worrying few days in case it was a virus but thankfully the remaining 10 survived to oven ready status. Over the next few weeks they happily munched everything green they could find along with kitchen scraps,bread and a few growers pellets for brekkie and got good and fat. A couple hit the scales at 15lbs oven ready. They spent their last few days roosting on the rail around the decking and on the BBQ which was good way of getting them used to the idea of what was to come!
D-day finally arrived and Eugene (who had 12 turkeys of his own and had already been dispatched,plucked,boned and rolled and frozen earlier) brought our soon to be patented MDU (mobile dispatch unit) a very clever,if I do say so myself, use of an old basketball hoop,a metal post,a bucket,some twisted metal,cable ties and spot welding! You screw it to a wooden post and you are ready for dispatching anywhere you like hence ‘mobile’. I always get a strange feeling on dispatch day as nobody likes having to take the life of any animal but somebodies got to do it. Once  it’s done and it goes from being a live creature to meat, which I have been dealing with for over 25 years, it gets easier.  There are a few schools of thought when it comes to which method to use. Some swear by breaking the neck which is no problem in a chicken but as the turkeys’ neck is a lot thicker and to avoid unnecessary suffering I prefer to use a really sharpe knife and remove the head in one stroke. We turn the bird upside down,the wings tuck in and the head comes through the hole and before it can blink it’s all over. Stressing or injuring any animal is not only cruel but means the finished meat can be tough. Once the nerves have stopped causing movement it’s important to pluck while the carcass is still warm. So we have a good system of killing two at a time and plucking them before moving on. Now as we only pluck a few chickens during the year by the time Christmas comes we are fairly rusty, but it’s like falling off a bike, we soon get into a fairly good rhythm and had the 10 done in just over 2 hours. Also 8 of the 10 turned out to be hen turkeys which is an usually high average. We leave them hanging in a cold (thankfully it did get cold as up until the 17th December it had been unseasonably mild) garage overnight and I cleaned, portioned and boned and rolled them the following day. They were then distributed to the neighbours,J’s customer, Mrs G’s sister and anybody who had done me a favour during the year (I think this is the real spirit if community living) and finally one to a friend who has a young family and been out of work for a while and despite doing everything possible has not been able to get a job. Now while this seems on the face of it as a big gesture (and I could easily have sold the spare) I know this guy is a keen hunter and a nice fore quarter of venison never goes a stray!
Preparing and cooking will be the next step………   
          

Bills Lollipops

Bill Fenelon’s Chicken Lollipops

 

 

I first made these gorgeous ‘Lollipops’ 17 years ago in Bill Fenelon’s Emerald Meats in Sydney Australia


Here’s what you need

 

Chicken Drumsticks at least three per person

10/12 Garlic Cloves roughly chopped

2/3 inches of Fresh Ginger roughly chopped

2/3 Red Chillies roughly chopped

A Bucket/Big Container with a lid

Tomato Ketchup

Plum Sauce

Honey

 

Mix the Ginger, Garlic and Chillies with a half bucket of water add the drumsticks and leave for a couple of days-stirring each day

 

Rinse the drumsticks, snip off the knuckle with a secateurs or sharp scissors trying not to splinter the bone and trim a couple of cm’s off the other end (this is so the drumstick will stand flat on a tray in the oven) Push the meat to the bottom of the drumstick- pushing through a small hole is the best way (I used half a red brick!!!). Put the drumsticks on a roasting tray deep enough so as not to let any liquid drip into your oven and roast for 25 mins or until fully cooked. While still warm remove the skin and any sinews.

Mix the ketchup, plum sauce and honey.

Dip the ‘lollipop’ into the sauce and enjoy. I guarantee you will not have enough once people start eating them! 

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Beer Can Chicken

Beer Can Chicken

This sounds strange but everybody who enjoys cooking MUST try this. I don’t know who came up with this recipe and try as I might I can not get into the head of the lunatic who on a sunny day decided to open a can of beer drink half and shove the rest, can and all, up the nearest chickens jacksy!! But I am very glad that the lunatic, who may have been suffering from sun stroke did, because it is superb. The original recipe is done on a BBQ with a lid but it works just as well in the oven. Any beer will do and I have also read that if you don’t want to use beer a can of beans (with the paper removed) will work and the chicken juices would make the beans a lovely side dish. One blogger suggests that Guinness makes the best BCC. I can’t vouch for that as I have only cooked it once and that was with larger. Rest assured, as it was a huge success, in the near future I will be trying it with Guinness, cider, ale, other beers and anything else I can think of.

It makes the perfect chicken with crispy skin and moist flesh. The simple idea is that the beer evaporates and keeps the inside of the bird juicy and succulent. The basic recipe is to rub the skin with olive oil and salt and pepper but you can use any marinade or rub that you like. I used a lemon, chilli, garlic, oil and salt and pepper marinade which I massaged into the skin the night before. Pre heat the oven to 220º. Use a 500ml can half full and at room temperature. You will need at least a 4lb/1.8kg chicken, any smaller and how do I put this politely??………………………….. I know ‘its ass won’t be big enough!!’ So the skin will rip. Stand the can in an oven tray and put the chicken on top. As soon as you put it in the oven turn it down to 170º and roast for 1-1.5 hours (check it after an hour). While it’s roasting put some large potatoes which have been pricked with a fork and coated in olive oil and coarse salt and pepper on a tray and into the same oven.

 

 

Rest the chicken and thicken the juices to make a fab gravy. Serve with a salad and a glass of your favourite white wine or beer.

You will need:

 

4/5lb (2-2.5kg) free range chicken

A 500ml can of beer/Guinness/Larger/Ale/Cider/Beans

Olive Oil

Coarse Salt and Black Pepper

Any Marinade/Rub (optional)

 

 

 

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