Friday, November 5, 2010

Winter Warmers- Aromatic Pork Belly in Broth

This should definitely help banish the winter blues, and cure any sniffles that are beginning as we make our way into the colder months. It's gutsy and warming, but still feels light and fresh. This recipe was concocted for the Irish Foodies Cookalong for November, the theme of which is Winter Warmers. The Cookalong is a lot of fun and a great way to showcase the brilliant Irish food bloggers.
  • 1 piece of whole pork belly, about 500g, skin on
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground all spice
  • 1/4 tsp cumin seed
  • 1/4 tsp chilli flakes
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 onion quartered
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 3/4 whole red chilli sliced
  • 2 thumb-sized pieces of ginger, peeled and sliced
  • 1 litre of chicken stock

1. Mix together the spices (ginger, chilli flakes etc.) with a splash of water to make a paste. Rub this all over the pork belly in the casserole dish. You can leave it at this stage for a few hours, overnight, or just go ahead with it now.

2. Preheat the oven to 170c. Add the soy sauce and star anise to the casserole, then cover the whole pork belly with chicken stock. Place in the preheated oven and cook for 2-2 1/2 hours, until the pork is meltingly tender and shreds easily with a fork.

3. Cook some noodles according to packet instructions, place in a bowl, and ladle some of the broth over the top. Top with some shredded pork, and garnish with chopped coriander and sliced fresh red chilli.


Friday, October 29, 2010

London Calling, part 2!

Hello lovely readers!

I’m sorry if you thought that you had been abandoned by us in the past few months, you would be forgiven for thinking so. We have not disappeared, but have both been going through some major life changes. On my part, this involved a move to London, England; home of red telephone boxes, double decker buses, pie and mash shops, and y’know, the Queen. It’s been an exhausting two months, but I am no longer homeless (it was touch and go for a while though, the rental market here is more cutthroat than a department store sale the day after Christmas) and am now able to return to this, one of my favourite places.

In another potentially life changing move, I am taking part in a competition for a once in a lifetime place at Ballymaloe cooking school in Co. Cork, Ireland. I have been dreaming about attending this school for a really long time now, ask the friends and family who have patiently listened to me talking about it for the past several years! My move to London was actually made as I got a job here, so that I could save to go to Ballymaloe. It would however take quite a few years for me to save the tuition fee, so this competiton sponsored by wonderful Irish food brand Cully and Sully (seriously, their chicken soup tastes like your Grandmother’s homemade recipe) really is a dream-come-true kind of opportunity. If you would care to vote for me to win, and I do wish you would, please just follow this link (also to be found in its entirely below this post), and click the ‘like’ tab above my entry. Every vote really will count, and it only takes a second!
It feels great to be back here again, I have missed Cake and Cordial so, and look forward to spending much more time in your most excellent company.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Songs To Feel A Bit Sad To

Hello again everyone! I have a post in the works about delicious, delicious food but in the meantime I've been procrastinating by making this mixtape for the the Poppytalk Mixtape Contest. I was also inspired by Sarah at Pink of Perfection's September mixtape about her autumn melancholy. It got me thinking about how the sound of an anguished female voice somehow always gets to me, especially as the weather cools and cozy sweater season approaches.

The mix contains some of my favourite angsty-female-singer numbers (and I know that Nico only sings back-up on "Sunday Morning" but I wanted it anyway, and it's my mix, so no complaining!). I made it with with a rainy day mood, but even if it's sunny where you are I'm sure you'll find some enjoyment in it.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Prodigal Blogger

Vanilla Ruby Sunshine (Gina) 2010.

Hello again friends! It's been awhile, but I'm back from my hiatus. A few things have changed since we last met. I've obtained a steady source of internet access again, and I've relocated out of Toronto to the bustling metropolis of Kitchener-Waterloo. For those of you unfamiliar with the area, its about an hour and a half northwest of Toronto. Let me know if you're in the neighbourhood - we'll grab a cookie together!

A while back I mentioned that the world seemed to have gone baby crazy. One such baby, that I've recently had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of, is the reason the cake pictured above came to be. I made these mini-cakes for a dear friend's baby shower and thought I'd share the results with all of you.

Also, to get back into the swing of things I thought I'd pass on some of the stuff I've been getting a kick out of over the past few months. So here ya go!
  • On a recent trip to Quebec City we came across the work of Tibor Timar on display at the Chateau Frontenac. His primary medium is ironwork and I really enjoy the industrial meets organic feel of his functional art.
  • I love this colourful seasonality chart from the Leon restaurants.
  • The World of Playing Cards has an endless array of entertaining and beautiful vintage cards. I especially like the Souvenir Cards.
  • I would love to get my hands on some of these candies from Papabubble. I love the artisanal approach to simple sweets.
  • Right before I left Toronto I had brunch with two lovely ladies at Mitzi's Sister. Andrew Shay Hahn's paintings were on display and I couldn't stop looking. They seem so textured, yet fresh. It somehow reminds me of how ocean mist feels.
  • The nerdy-baker in me is so impressed with this Periodic Table of Desserts. It's so well thought out and amusingly accurate. (The same fellow has also compiled an interesting list of a variety of different flavour wheels.)
That's all from me for now, but I promise to be back much sooner than before! I hope you enjoy these links as much as I do!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Recipe time!! Chocolate Chip Cookies

Apologies for my lack of posts lately, I have been all over the county recently and often with a lack of internet access. To make up for my bad blogging, here’s a treat; warm, chewy, melty, and delicious chocolate chip cookies. They are the perfect accompaniment for an afternoon movie, for a chat with friends, or for a solitary hour spend flipping through a magazine, or lost in a book. Don’t forget a glass of milk.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes 16
140g soft butter
200g plain flour
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp cornflour
½ tsp salt
125g soft brown sugar
100g caster sugar
1 egg
1tsp vanilla
130g chocolate chips

1. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cornflour, and salt into a bowl

2. Cream the butter with a wooden spoon until very soft. Add the sugars, and beat until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg.

3. Add the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Add the chocolate and stir to incorporate, but don’t overmix.

4. Drop tablespoons of the mixture onto baking trays – if they’re non-stick there’s no need to grease, and if not, then only a light greasing will do. Keep them fairly well spaced, I do 6 at a time on a standard tray. Don’t flatten them.

5. Bake for about 10mins until the cookies are just taking a golden colour. They may seem a little underdone, but leave them on the tray for about 3 minutes to firm up before removing to a wire rack. This way they are firm enough to handle, but still deliciously soft and chewy.

6. Repeat until all of the dough is used up. They will then keep happily in a tin or an airtight container for a further 24 hours. Alternatively (and this is what I usually do) make as many as you want to eat now, then keep the rest of the dough in the fridge for up to 72 hours, baking the cookies as desired. This is handy, and in my experience chocolate chip cookies are actually better when the dough has rested in the fridge overnight. Plus, you get warm cookies on demand! Yum!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

In Praise of a Rainy Day

I can't be the only person out there who really loves a rainy day. These run the range of those grey, mizzly days, the torrential downpour ones, and even (or maybe especially) the stormy, windy, rain lashing against the window ones. Perhaps this stems from my deep rooted laziness; I mean, what could possibly be better than sitting in a squishy chair reading or watching a movie with the rain pouring down outside? It's practically an excuse to loll around and do nothing, and that is a-ok with me. My favourite things to watch on rainy days are usually old tv boxsets, which are practically the only dvds I own; favourites include Sherlock Holmes with Jeremy Brett (my personal favourite Holmes), and, major guilty pleasure territory, Sharpe, with Sean Bean. I lately managed to watch the entire Pride and Prejudice series (you know, the one with Colin Firth and the wet tunic Jennifer Ehle) in one sitting, and it runs into 6 hours. So clearly, I've got the laziness aspect down.

But there are so many other things I love about a rain soaked day; pottering about the kitchen, maybe braising something, maybe baking something, enjoying the aromas of home and comfort. Reading some classic literature or a mystery novel, or currently a mixture of the two, in the shape of Bleak House. Turning my attention to a task which a sunny day is likely to distract me from, like finally sorting through years of photos, or reading all of the newspaper supplements I didn't get around to on Sunday. And, should you find yourself absolutely in need of venturing out into the elements, try to see the (proverbial) sunny side. Donning a raincoat and walking in the rain can be a pleasure in itself; the pelting sensation on your umbrella, a sprinkling of rain on your face, and then the coming into a warm, dry indoors, shaking off and having a restorative cup of tea, making it all worthwhile. One of my most memorable holiday moments was walking along the Seine from Notre Dame Cathedral to the Musee d'Orsay in Paris in the middle of an electrical storm with a torrential downpour; watching the rain make angry, muscular splashes in the wide, elegant river, taking shelter under the red awning of a streetside cafe, admiring the great works of Lautrec and Degas accompanied by a sense of taking shelter from the elements - so romantic! So Paris!

Closer to the everyday, my favourite time to be on a beach is with rain coming down, the sea restless and turbulent, wind whipping around. It's the perfect cure for the cotton wool feeling of an overtaxed brain, for blowing away mental cobwebs, and it is wonderfully uplifting the morning after a few too many glasses of wine. And there is something so wonderful about the landscape after a rainstorm; the grass seems lusher and greener, the sun seems to shine brighter, there is a feeling that the world has been washed and is clean and fresh again.

I don't know if my precipitation love is a self-protective measure arising from the almost perpetually wet and damp Irish climate, or just a strange perversion which I can’t explain, but I do encourage you to treat yourself to a proper lazy rainy afternoon at the next opportunity. Being a particularly lashy, windy, day here today I made a batch of chocolate chip cookies and watched several episodes of The Good Life, appreciating both that, without really realising it, my life is starting to look an awful lot like that of the Good’s, and also that I am utterly defenceless against Felicity Kendal’s charms. And if you happen to be somewhere dry and sunny but still want to indulge, why then, you can always fake it.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Rock Lobster: Further Adventures in Free Food

Although there are lots of things I miss about living in a city; like access to bars and cinemas and live music, second hand bookstores, great bakeries and coffee houses, and places to get brunch, among others, I can’t say that I ever look out my window or step outside and don’t love being in the country. There may be less brunching, but there are wonderful things too, like seeing the buttery orb of a full moon against the inky night sky, without the rude interruption of streetlights, the undiluted sounds of rustling leaves and birdsong, and even something so simple as growing your own food. It’s just another way of living, with its own quirks and appeals.

One of these quirks which I am getting used to again is the countryside barter system. For instance, a friend of my family’s grows a lot of rhubarb in her garden, so this Spring she gave us bags of it, which I used to make lots of cakes and jam, some of which I send her way. Another keeps chickens and is always in need of egg cartons, so we stack ours up and keep them for her, and then every so often she brings us a dozen of lovely fresh free range eggs; with their bright orange yolks and still bearing the traces of the farmyard, they’re a million miles away from the uniform white eggs of intensive rearing.

There are also lots of great exchanges to be had when a member of your family is involved in rural sports. My father happens to be an angler, and lately the gift of a few trout to a neighbour brought a really unique exchange: two fresh lobsters. I have seen lobster crawling around in tanks in restaurants before, but this was the first time I have ever seen them up close, and fresh from the sea. They scuttled around on the draining board as I tried to find a suitably gigantic pot, and then get lots of heavily salted water up to a lukewarm temperature. Then it was time to, carefully and avoiding contact with pincers, lower little Lenny and Louis into the water and pop on the lid. I was very aware of the scene from Julie and Julia, where the lobster makes an escape attempt from the cooking pot, but my guys were clearly less spirited as they stayed put.

I gave them about 25 minutes boiling time as they were about 2lb each, but in any case you can tell that they’re cooked when the shells are completely bright red with no hint of blue. Once they were cool enough to handle, and with the occasional aid of a hammer, we extracted all of the meat from the body and claws.

I’m afraid that when it came time to eat everyone was too excited, and it all disappeared so fast, that I neglected to take any photos. In any case, I tossed the lobster meat in lots of melted butter on a frying pan, with a little fresh thyme and some lemon juice, and then piled it up on brown toast. It was absolutely delicious, and free to boot. Now, to find some friends who are truffle hunters..

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Recipe time!: Elderflower Champagne

A little while ago I mentioned that elderflowers were in bloom all over the hedgerows here at the moment; their little star like flowers grow in cheerful profusion, and they smell beautifully sweet and floral. Inspired by Darina Allen’s wonderful Forgotten Skills of Cooking, I decided to give my own elderflower fizz a go. Theoretically this blend of water, sugar, lemon juice, vinegar, and elderflowers will transform into a sweet and bubbly champagne-ish drink after fermenting in well sealed, sterilised bottles for about two weeks. I tried mine exactly two weeks later, and it was feeling a little lively, but still somewhat flat. I’ll give it another week and see if that improves matters.

It’s pretty much the end of the elderflower season now, but if there’s a tree near you which still has lovely big blooms, which smell sweet and don’t lose petals when gently shaken, give it a go for yourself.

This recipe is from Darina Allen's weekly letter of June 26 2010, available in it's original here

Elderflower Champagne

This magical recipe transforms perfectly ordinary ingredients into a delicious sparkling drink. The children make it religiously every year and then share the bubbly with their friends.

2 heads of elderflowers
560g (11/4lb) sugar
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
4.5L (8pints) water
1 lemon
Remove the peel from the lemon with a swivel top peeler. Pick the elderflowers in full bloom. Put into a bowl with the lemon peel, lemon juice, sugar, vinegar and cold water. Leave for 24 hours, and then strain into strong screw top bottles. Lay them on their sides in a cool place. After 2 weeks it should be sparkling and ready to drink. Despite the sparkle this drink is non-alcoholic.
The bottles need to be strong and well sealed; otherwise the Elderflower champagne will pop its cork.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Little Things

I must apologise, I have been a little bit remiss in my blogging duties of late. This is probably due to the general malaise I’ve been feeling the past few weeks, a sort of persistent ennui which is very unlike my usual temperament. I think this condition is pretty common in Ireland these days; there is really high unemployment, which has left a lot of skilled and talented people with nothing to do except sit around the house all day drinking tea, eating digestive biscuits and watching E4. (Other people are doing that, right?) The thing is, that sounds like my perfect day off, or a brilliant lazy Sunday, but these are special precisely because they’re a break from regular duties. Doing it all the time is much less awesome, and sometimes it feels like the gulf between never needing to get out of my pyjamas and living in a way which is fun and vibrant and worthwhile is growing insurmountably huge. Hence the malaise. But melancholy, like anything else, can become a habit if left unchecked, and I am doing all I can to get back on the wagon. One thing which is making me feel better is watching my little garden grow. (pictured below) I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing, but so far everything has grown and nothing has died, so I reckon I’m on the right track.

Another is to take advantage of the loveliness of where I live by walking a lot, keeping an eye on the sheep population and the progress of this year’s apple crop at a local orchard.

They may be small things, but at least they’re keeping me sane, and hopefully, when I am back in the business of regular day to day life again, I will be better equipped to deal with those inevitable times of feeling a little bit lost.

What do you do to deal with those lost-at-sea feelings?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Recipe Time! Apple and Raspberry Pie

Baking a pie must be one of the most satisfying experiences in the world. There is a careful craft to making the pastry; it’s not exactly difficult, but it takes practice, and an understanding of your ingredients. Cold butter, cold water, or, going against all other baking protocol, an egg straight from the fridge. You must work quickly in rubbing the butter into the flour until it golden and finely crumbed in texture. Add the icy liquid and combine quickly, quickly, until it just comes together into one piece. Now refrigerate to let the dough relax, I usually give it about 30 minutes at this stage, wrapped in clingfilm. After following a tip from a Rachel Allen book, I now roll my pastry between two sheets of clingfilm, it saves a lot of floury mess (both on the countertop and my clothes), then line my tin, and pop back in the fridge for anything from another half an hour, to overnight. The sight of a tin lined with pastry is lovely and heavy with promise, and almost as beautiful as when it is filled to the brim with fruit and other good things.

A filling of apples makes the quintessential fruit pie, but there are plenty of variations given what’s at hand in the season; rhubarb is delicious, as is a combination of rhubarb and strawberries. Anyone lucky enough to have gooseberries growing in their garden, or a good greengrocer, could make a lovely tart, slightly perfumed perhaps with a head of elderflower (and more on that particular subject soon.) Apples on their own are great with warming spices like cinnamon and cloves, or with the likes of berries, walnuts, or sultanas. And then, from relatively few ingredients and just a little work, there emerges from the oven a gorgeous, fragrant, bubbling pie to reward your efforts.

Here I’ve combined the Irish favourite, Bramley apples, with fresh summer raspberries, which is a fantastic combination. If you don't have Bramleys where you are, use a good cooking apple, like Cortland, Empire, or Granny Smith.

175g plain flour
75g butter, cold
150g + 2tbsp caster sugar
1 egg, fridge cold, beaten
3 bramley apples
150g raspberries
1 egg, beaten (for an egg wash – if there’s any beaten egg left from making the pastry, that’ll do lovely)

1. Cut the butter into small cubes. Put the flour and 1 tablespoon of sugar into a bowl and whisk to combine. Rub in the cubed butter until it resembles breadcrumbs in texture.

2. Add the beaten egg a little at a time, mixing with a knife until the whole lot just comes together in one piece.

3. Tip the dough onto some cling film, and bring it together. Form into a slightly flattened disc shape – this makes it easier to roll later on. Pop in the fridge for 30 minutes or so.

4. After that time take it out of the fridge and cut it in half. Roll one half between two sheets of clingfilm until it fits your tin – I used a 20cm/8in fluted pie dish. Remove one piece of film, then lay the pastry, dough side down, into the tin. Press to fit, then peel off the top layer of film. Roll the second half between the two clingfilm sheets, to fit the top of the pie, with a little overhang. Pop the whole lot back in the fridge until your filling is sorted.

5. Switch the oven on at 180C/350F.

6. Peel and core the apples, then cut into slices/dice, depending on what you fancy. Toss them in a bowl with the 150g of sugar and the raspberries.

7. Take the pie dish from the fridge and pile in the filling. Brush a little water around the rim of pastry. Lay the lid over the top and crimp the base and lid together around the edge with your thumb. Trim any overhanging pastry with a paring knife. If you fancy, use the trimmings to make pretty decorations for the top of your pie – a couple of overlapping circles or some leaves are easy to carve with a knife, or put your cookie cutters to use for stars, hearts, letters, etc.

8. Using a pastry brush, brush the top of the tart with egg wash. Sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of sugar. Place the pie on a baking tray – useful in case your filling bubbles out anywhere. It’s makes a mess on the bottom of your oven (I know from experience).

9. Bake for about 45 minutes, the top should be golden brown, and the apples tender. Enjoy warm or room temperature, with whipped cream, ice cream, or custard.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Pinny For Your Thoughts?

I never thought of myself as one of those slightly unusual collector types, but reviewing my possessions I have found a couple of recurring trends; I have several teapots, far more eggcups than I will ever have need for, and a kitchen drawer packed full of aprons. I get a lot of these as presents, some for Christmas and birthdays, and others from other people’s vacations, like a beautiful all white Belgian lace one which feels too good to wear. Once in a while I wash and iron them all, and marvel at how these practical everyday items can be so pretty, but by and large I can’t say I’m very kind to them. I need my things to be functional as well as beautiful, and they get covered in melted chocolate, dustings of flour, bits of dough, and various other pieces of cooking detritus. My latest apron acquisition (pictured above) was a gift from my mum, and I have been keeping it especially clean and neat because it’s just so gorgeous. It’s from the Clodagh McKenna Love Aprons range, and these aprons are designed to be beautiful enough to wear when you’re having people over for dinner, which is definitely preferable to wearing one which has the ghosts of meals past imprinted upon it. Pictured above is the one I have, but I have my eye on this vintage inspired floral half pinny too.

Here are a couple of other cute aprons I found while browsing on etsy. Just another reason to get cracking in the kitchen!

Top Left, Day Red LOVE Apron, by Clodagh McKenna's Love Aprons range

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Guilty Pleasures #2

The man I really want to be in the back of a car with...

So has anyone else on this side of the Atlantic seen/tasted these new Walkers crisp flavours? There are very many places where Canada beats Ireland; the existence of brunch, great sourdough, more than say, 3, sushi restaurants in the entire country. But when it comes to the humble spud, we have it covered. My favourite potato based snack food is Tayto Cheese and Onion flavour crisps – a conservative choice perhaps, but they’ve stood me in good stead since childhood, and I am loyal to anything which consistently feeds me. My preferred method of eating them is in a classic Irish dish: the crisp sandwich. Take two slices of white bread, the rubbery sliced stuff is fine here, butter generously, then fill with as much of the crisp packet as you can. Press down gently to make it easier to hold. If in need of something more substantial, some cheddar can be added to the mix. How this has never made it to a book of traditional Irish cooking is beyond me. How half of the population isn’t dying of heart disease is also a mystery.

In any case, Walkers, the same snack company which had Heston Blumenthal on the brainstorming team not too long ago, have a range of new flavours, including Spanish paella, French garlic bread, and Italian spaghetti Bolognese, to name the three types which I snaffled greedily in the back of the car last week. (In the name of culinary research and all that.) And fancy and fun as they were, none could trump my beloved cheese and onion. Despite generally being a liberal, progressive type of gal, I simply can't get past my conservative attitude towards junk food. I always go for the classic option - usually the one most reminiscent of being a kid and spending all of my pocket money in the local corner shop. When it comes to hanging out on the sofa watching tv, I will go for the regular bar of cocoa-butter-heavy milk chocolate over the organic, single estate 70% dark chocolate every time. But surely I’m not the only one with a junk food guilty pleasure or two. Any confessions?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Beginners' Luck

Lime & Basil (Gina) 2010.

This week my friend Liz and I decided it was high time to conquer the challenge of French marcarons. After hearing horror stories of the difficulties, and Liz decidedly rating these little morsels as 9/10 on the hard-to-make scale, we dove in.

We used the recipe for lime and basil macarons from much loved Ottolenghi cookbook. The recipe was appealing because although it gave specific directions on how to best achieve success, it wasn't overwhelming and stupefying. Also, lime and basil! Yum!

And you know what? With two sets of hands and some (limited) patience, the process wasn't nearly as scary as everyone had told us. Not a 9/10 at all. Perhaps only a six. Our marcarons were definitely delicious, although perhaps a bit more rustic looking than fancy-pants Paris patisseries produce. Some work on piping technique is due, but all in all I consider this a triumph.

Along with a potentially large share of beginner's luck, here are some tips that helped us learn to stop worrying and love the marcaron.
  1. Sift those dry ingredients. Like, three times.
  2. Be really nice to your egg whites. Especially after they enter meringue stage (i.e. fold carefully).
  3. Once you've piped your cookies out, don't be afraid to bang the bejesus out of the cookie sheet to get rid of air bubbles - we didn't bang enough.
  4. Also, don't be afraid to let them sit out before you bake them. For some magic reason this helps.
  5. While they are baking, open the oven door a few times to let some steam escape.
Now go forth, with macaron recipes in hand, and conquer!

And please feel free to share any tips you might know or come across!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A letter of thanks to Eyjafjallajökull

I know you’ve been getting a lot of bad press recently, but I for one would like to say a great, big thank you. When I went to London for three days I had a list of things I wanted to do, and not nearly enough time to do them all. Sure, I managed to go to Notting Hill and see the beautiful food at Ottolenghi; fruit tarts striped with green pistachios, and piles of cloudy, billowy meringues. I browsed in Books for Cooks and Rough Trade in Notting Hill, ate carrot cake and red velvet cupcakes from the Hummingbird bakery at the water’s edge in Hyde Park, and was surprised by the deliciousness of smoked herring tostadas and huitlacoche quesadillas in Wahaca. And all of that was great, and I really enjoyed it. But if it wasn’t for you, Eyjafjallajökull, and your spewing clouds of ash which blanketed Great Britain and shut down airspace, there are lots of things I would not have been able to do.
I would never have made the trip to Brixton market and drank tea from a cup and saucer, poured from a giant gold teapot in Rosie Lovell’s lovely deli and cafe. I wouldn’t have had time to explore Borough Market, to watch the skilled butchers at the Ginger Pig prepare meat, marvel at the beauty of the cheese in Neal’s Yard Dairy, and learn a little more about Montgomery cheddar from their hugely knowledgeable staff. I wouldn’t have sat on the kerb and eaten a chorizo, piquillo pepper, and rocket sandwich from the infamous Spanish deli Brindisa, whose deliciousness left me in silent awe for a full five minutes. I might never have seen the amazingly large but perfectly chosen selection at Foyle’s bookshop, or discovered their beautiful jazz cafe, with its huge windows and plain wooden tables, and I might never have found out that the humble Barry’s tea (my own brew of choice) is seen as a rather fancy cuppa in London. I would never have had such a brilliant catch up with my friend Gill, and we would not have eaten veal stew and pork chops in the original London gastropub, The Eagle, watching the chefs cook the most amazing Mediterranean food on a single stovetop right behind the bar. I may never have gone for a walk in Hampstead and quite accidentally come across the grave of Penelope Fitzgerald in a quiet little cemetery full of cherry blossoms. Or gotten lost looking for a Primrose Bakery in Primrose Hill, but found one behind Covent Garden.
Without you Eyjafjallajökull, it’s very unlikely that I would have ever taken a bus from London to Dublin. And while perhaps being crammed into a vehicle with fifty tired and irate fellow passengers, many of whom had spent days sleeping in airports, wasn’t exactly fun, seeing little sleeping Welsh towns in the middle of the night was. So here’s a big cheers from me. Yes, you may have caused hundreds of thousands of air passengers to be stranded abroad, and in many cases pay extortionate amounts of money to get home. Sure, you may have cost the air industry millions, stopped international mail for a couple of days, and disrupted the everyday workings of life all over the world for a little while. But there were some silver linings, and I would like to heartily thank you for mine.
Alison x

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Cake for Breakfast

I was thinking I would like to write about the rhubarb recipe that I made the other night, but then I realized that everyone. is. already. writing. about. rhubarb. Such are the dangers of loving the excitement and flavours of seasonal foods. So I'm leaving the virtures of rhubarb to others' capable hands. Why not focus on a different delightful subject.

I am eating cake for breakfast.

Cake for Breakfast (Gina) 2010.

I did it yesterday. I did it today. I will probably do it again tomorrow. And you know what? I am a grown-up (sort of) and no one can stop me! Granted, it is not an icing-laden monstrosity - more of a rustic snackcake... but Cake! for Breakfast! Luxury.

Akin to the joys of cold pizza or leftover Chinese food, these breakfasts that are not really breakfast are sometimes just the reward needed to get out of bed and start the day. Another guilty pleasure for the file.

What are you favourite non-traditional breakfast items?

(For more (healthy) breakfast inspiration I love the blog Simply Breakfast.)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Life is a Musical: Flash Mobs, Glee and My Dirty Little Secret

I am infatuated with flash mobs. In fact - and here's the dirty little secret - it is a rare occurence when I watch a flash mob video that I don't get choked up... sometimes actually full on crying. I don't know what it is! I realize it is ridiculous, but something inside of me just cracks... perhaps it's the drama of it all, or the excitement of a large group of people coming together to produce an event that brings a bit of the extraordinary to the everyday.

Perhaps its just a throwback to the theatre-nerd I was in high school (and still a little bit today), but also I think it has something to do with the magical feeling that ANYTHING could happen.

This is the first that I remember watching, and it still makes me blubber. All the spectators are so happy, and I must say that it is one of the better choreographed of the bunch I've viewed (sometimes the crowds are too big and it loses the clarity of the whole event and starts to look a bit messy).

Tonight the long anticipated new epidose of Glee airs - chockfull (we can only hope) of hilarious antics, cheesy musical numbers and teenage drama. Despite my better judgement I have given myself over to this show, and was so excited to come across this flash mob that occured in Seattle this past weekend.

I also discovered the group Improv Everywhere through the delightful blog of one of their "senior agents" - Katie Sokoler of Color me Katie. This group has been at it for awhile, and they conduct all sorts of amusing "missions". Some of my favourites - true to today's theme - include their Spontaneous Musicals. So much fun.

I hope that the above links all bring a smile to your face. Or, if you're like a Gleek like me, a tear to your eye.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Daytripping: Galway

Galway has always been one of my favourite towns in Ireland. I think this stems from spending an occasional weekend there when I was growing up. Going to the Saturday market and eating potato curry from a stall felt terribly exotic, weird and wonderful street performers sang Dylan and breathed fire, and I even saw my first live gig here. (Ash in case you’re wondering.) Galway has always had a thriving cultural scene, with its annual arts festival reaching its 33rd year this summer, and this is reflected in the laid back pace of life and creative atmosphere you feel from the people and businesses which make this town such a great place to spend some time.

My first port of call on my recent trip was to a cafe I first visited a couple of years ago, Ard Bia, an Irish name which roughly translates as great food. The food here is predominantly locally sourced, and is a curious fusion of traditional Irish and Eastern Mediterranean influences. The dining room is sweetly ramshackle, and pots of tea come in vintage teapots with mismatched china. To give all the Torontonian readers a point of reference, it wouldn’t be out of place in Leslieville. My smoked chicken sandwich with avocado and peach chutney was deliciousness itself, while my dining companion declared a wholesome yellow split pea dahl with tatziki good for both body and soul.

Continuing through some winding medieval lanes we reached Sheridans Cheesemongers, which is bright and airy and full of wonderful things. There’s a fantastic display of both Irish and international cheeses on offer here, and despite eyeing up a quivering brick of membrillo, I left with a piece of Durrus cheese and a square block of Inch House black pudding, dense and squidgy as fruitcake. Dessert takes the form of Murphy’s ice cream from McCambridges, one scoop of brown bread and one of chocolate and whiskey. Both are delicious, and a taste of the Kerry cream variety is also heavenly.

No trip to Galway is complete without a visit to Charlie Byrne’s bookshop; a rambling Aladdin’s cave of, mainly secondhand, books. A new purchase in hand, it’s a hop, skip and a jump to Tigh Neachtain (or Naughton's pub) for a cold, creamy pint of the black stuff. A good natured discussion concerning the future of Irish politics is in full swing at the bar, the music of Nick Drake plays softly in the background, and the patio is full of chat and laughter as locals take advantage of the afternoon sunshine. Galway’s still got that old magic.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Chocolate Haze!

The Easter Tree (Gina). 2010.

We wanted to share some favourite things that are on our minds this long weekend. Hope you're all enjoying the Spring weather - be it April showers or April sunshine!
  • These table settings over at Design*Sponge, from Liz Belton's new book, have us geared up for warm-weather entertaining.
  • Bigos, a traditional Polish Easter dish, looks like a delicious meal for a rainy spring day. (via The Kitchn)
  • The trailer for the new season of Dr. Who is leaving Alison in anticipation, and Gina wondering if she should add yet another TV series to her line-up.
  • Watch your choice from a selection of awesome movies - for FREE!
  • What's more Easter-y than eggs? Boil eggs to your liking with this cute online egg timer.
  • Indulge in Easter candy without the chocolate hangover, by spending some time on the adorable Cadbury website. (Still fun, despite the recent drama.)
  • And who can forget... Hot Cross Buns!

Happy Easter!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

I Guess I've Got the Easter Blues...

Do you recall the Dean Martin song “The Christmas Blues”? Well this Good Friday morning I awoke with what I can only explain as the Easter Blues. I'd ended up with no long weekend plans, and upon realizing this immediately slumped into a solid sulk. Easter is not the most important holiday on my calendar, but it was unusual to have no plans at all for this weekend of beautiful spring weather. It was making me feel lonely.

So what’s a girl to do? Well, this girl first takes awhile to feel sorry for herself and complain over the phone to a loved one. Then once the whining ceases, decides to get off her heiny and take a walk through the neighbourhood. What wonders the first day of no-jacket-wearing can work! The bustle of Roncesvalles was pleasantly distracting and I got over my self-pity while poking around the shops that remained open for the holiday. Here are some things that helped to get me out of my funk:

Springtime Flowers on Roncy (Gina). 2010.
  • Bushels of spring flowers at the corner greenmarkets
  • The smells of the Polish bakeries dishing out delicious loaves and sweets for holiday dining tables
  • Flipping through books in a second-hand bookstore and scoring a copy of Nigel Slater’s Real Fast Food for $10!
  • A late lunch in a restaurant I’d never been to before
  • Listening to the charming chatter of a family next to me (twenty-something son trying to explain a vegan diet to his mother, in anticipation of his new girlfriend arriving at the family celebration)
  • Fresh ground coffee beans
  • Looking for baby presents (as it seems the world has gone baby crazy – but more about that later)
  • Grabbing this week's NOW with their Top 50 Toronto Restaurants list, and indulging in my a guilty pleasure of tallying how many I’ve eaten at (13!), how many I’d still like to visit (7) and how many I disagree with (2.5)
Arriving home feeling much better, I discovered that my father was heading down the street on Sunday for a dinner with my aunt and uncle, and that I was welcome to join them out in the suburbs. All that wallowing for naught. Getting out of my own personal-space put me into a better head-space, and made me consider that good things come to those who seek them out.

What little things do you folks consciously seek out to turn a sad mood around?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Greetings from the Old Country!

Having lived in Toronto for the past year, I have just moved back to my native County Sligo, Ireland, and am (slowly) adjusting to being back. I miss a lot about Toronto; my lovely apartment, my local brunch spot, and most of all, the friends I had to leave behind. But although there were many things I loved about living in Toronto, I could never quite get used to being so far from the sea. Ireland is a teensy, tiny, island, and you’re generally not far from the sea on any side; be it the mighty Altantic, or that lesser body of water, the Irish sea. Coming from the North West Coast means that I always had easy access to the Atlantic shoreline. It’s a beautiful thing in any weather, as it charms while sparkling azure under the sunshine, or as it tumbles, rolls, and crashes fiercely against the Strandhill rocks on a stormy day. The weekend I arrived home I went for a walk along the shore, breathing in salty air and the smell of seaweed, watching dogs running and relishing their beachy freedoms, and playing chicken with a fast tide.

Photo credit, Alison (2010).

The sea also surrounds County Sligo in the form of lots of small bays and inlets, and I took advantage of a break in the rain to take a walk to Ballisodare Bay; past the church founded by St Fechin in the seventh century, the creepy/cool cemetery (there’s talk that the angel statue moves, but I’ve never seen any evidence of it), the quarry which still displays the housing of monks who traded salt in the area, and the cows who call the surrounding fields home.

Photo credit, Alison (2010).

The views are spectacular, showing off that very unique light of the West Coast. It may be impossible to get a decent loaf of sourdough, they’d think you were mad if you asked for a pitcher of beer, and by 8pm on a weekday the place is like a ghost town compared to Toronto’s 24-hour bustle, but there are some things which make up for having to move home.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Happy Birthday

Photo by Nina Leen (1950). Courtesy of

We are still in our infancy here at Cake and Cordial, so please be patient with us as we ease into a schedule of posting. In the meantime, know that we are brainstorming lots of sunshiny material for your future enjoyment.

In current happy events, it is Alison - the Irish member of this blogging team's - birthday! Please join me in wishing her the happiest of days!

Even though we cannot celebrate this occasion together in person, I want to express how glad I am that she has come into my life. I greatly look forward to the next time we can enjoy a treat together - similar to the lovely young ladies above.

I remember hearing this poem recited in a film some years ago, and although the movie has now escaped me (can anyone help me here?) the poem remains. I find its quiet attitude of wonder, in how the course of things comes together, both comforting and enchanting.    

The Earth Turned to Bring Us Closer

by Eugenio Montejo
translated by Peter Boyle

The earth turned to bring us closer,
it spun on itself and within us,
and finally joined us together in this dream
as written in the Symposium.
Nights passed by, snowfalls and solstices;
time passed in minutes and millennia.
An ox cart that was on its way to Nineveh
arrived in Nebraska.
A rooster was singing some distance from the world,
in one of the thousand pre-lives of our fathers.
The earth was spinning with its music
carrying us on board;
it didn't stop turning a single moment
as if so much love, so much that's miraculous
was only an adagio written long ago
in the Symposium's score.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Willkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome

Spring in High Park, Toronto (2009). Gina.

Spring has sprung, and with it - this blog!

There's two of us here, behind the curtain. Two friends who found each other working at this wonderful store. Alison had arrived in Toronto, Canada from County Sligo, Ireland for a year's worth of new experiences. I (Gina) had been kicking around the city for ages already. Looking for a project to keep us both inspired and motivated, we agreed to start this blog as a way to explore what makes us happy. And perhaps more importantly, to keep in touch.

Alison returned to Ireland (fittingly on St. Patrick's Day). As she reacquaintaned herself with the rainy, green hills I've been in sunny TO participating in an art project - Building Together, curated by Amber Landgraff, hosted by Toronto Free Gallery and part of Portland, Oregan-based artist Zach Springer's larger-encompassing project Build Something Together.  (Phew! Did you get all that?) Zach helped me put the site together so that it looks as beautiful as it does. Thanks Zach! And thanks Amber for bringing him here to Toronto!

You can view the project page for the blog here.

What can you expect to see on this blog? Well, we hope to keep it a living, breathing thing - a constant work in progress - but if we must give criteria our focuses are such: Pleasure, Camaraderie, Creativity and Frugality. There will also probably be a lot of food (NB: how we met). We hope to bring light to our cross-Atlantic perspectives, while still find synchronicity in the small things that make us smile.

In here life is beautiful.