Ballymaloe Week 12 / The final goodbye.

Phew! What a whirlwind. I can't even begin to explain how stressful this week was. My practical exam consisted of the following three course menu:

A Mother's Day Brunch

Deep Fried Oysters with Wild Garlic Aioli & Radish Crudite
Bacon and Poached Egg Caesar Salad with Pickled Beets on Garlic Bruscetta
Rhubarb & Ginger Bakewell Tart with Softly Whipped Cream

All our binders of recipes collected throughout the term on display to be checked at how well we organized them.
All our binders of recipes collected throughout the term on display to be checked at how well we organized them.

Of course the stress wasn't just because of the practical exam (of which I chose oysters.. 12 of them.. and I didn't realize how long it took me to shuck them), it wasn't just because of the set of 3 exams during the Friday, I also decided to extend my visa to stay in Ireland another 5 weeks and had to absorb the emotional turmoil that plagued my indecisive self.

On the one hand, I knew that if I stayed I would get the benefit of attending a 2 week Business of Food course and more time to delve into the aspects of the food scene I didn't get to while on the course. Would I also sacrifice my relationship to stay longer? How would it affect my connections in Canada.. Did I even have money for this!? etc.

I had to wait until I finished writing the exam before I could quickly run out, catch a ride with my friend Eric from the course and get a lift to the closest down, Midleton so that I could beg the Immigration Officer to let me stay.

He did.

I quickly took a taxi back to the school, got dressed for our 'goodbye' party and the rest was history. 12 weeks of hard work and play.

Housemates for 3 months <3 #CoachHouse
Housemates for 3 months <3 #CoachHouse

Goodbye Ireland.

You've been so good to me the past 5 months. Somehow I've become more feisty and ambitious as well as open-hearted and generous. I've learned to laugh at my mistakes, not be ashamed dreaming big and met true mentors whom I can also call friends. All I can hope is to do you proud and help create a world where truly caring about food from soil to seed to the stove is no longer seen as elitist but a fundamental human right that can help heal and free human kind.

I'll miss you.

Ballymaloe Week 11 / Why Ireland?

Seared tuna
Seared tuna

When I had made the decision to come to Ireland for the Ballymaloe 12 week course, I had some people raise their eyebrows at me. To be honest, I had not much of a response other than 'It's the only cooking school in the world on its own organic farm". Of course, people only thought I would be preparing shepherd's pie and loads of potato dishes.

Sushi
Sushi

I did learn about properly roasting, mashing and peeling potatoes.. about 28 recipes dedicated to this versatile vegetable. But, as you can see from the sushi photos, this place is a cultural hub for all things food. I'll let this quote by Darina Allen herself carry my sentiments of Ireland's food culture..

"In the last few years the food scene has seen an acceleration in its influence as a culture maker. It has ‘trendy’ elements to it, what with its focus on foraging, DIY culture, and the rise of food photography, but it’s become apparent that naysayers would be wrong to dismiss the country’s newfound interest and dedication to food as a fad. With its focus on green economy, self-sufficiency, a deeper understanding of the food production systems, and on education, food has become the main portal to politics for a generation generally accused of apathy."

Below is a beautiful video featuring Rachel Allen speaking about Irish food on the world scene.

Of course, this is happening all over the world but Ireland has the advantage of a temperate climate surrounded by the sea.  Not only that but after the recession, Ireland focused its artisnal farming culture to become world-class. There are several food tours of the country, awards that are given out to promote great food. On top of that there is rich farmland and hardworking farmers to produce it all.

My home for 5 months.
My home for 5 months.
Pigs at Ballymaloe
Pigs at Ballymaloe

My first impression from the country was how generous and open they are. This peaceful nation has come out of hard times from the famine and recession but Ballymaloe is a lovely symbol of resilience and how a dedication to self-sustaining practices and good food can enrich ones life no matter how poor you may feel.

Champaign Oysters
Champaign Oysters
Poached Whole Salmon
Poached Whole Salmon
Carpaccio
Carpaccio
My favourite recipe I cooked on my last day of class. French Chocolate Cake.
My favourite recipe I cooked on my last day of class. French Chocolate Cake.
My obsession with puff pastry will never leave.
My obsession with puff pastry will never leave.

Now, it's time to study for the last week of exams!! Some people don't feel so happy about the work ahead..

Ballymaloe Week 10 / The Irish Pub

Happy St. Patrick's Day! I was blessed with my mom visiting from Canada and so we rented a car and did a tour of the Western Cliffs.

Over the few weeks here I've really gotten a sense of how different the pubs can be. In North America, there are attempts at replicating the convivial, communal and homey nature of that the pubs here have but none are as natural as what generations have created as a meeting place in Ireland.

In Ireland.
In Ireland.

Beyond that there are so many different types of pubs. I went to Dingle, which is on the Ring of Kerry, and there I went on an epic pub crawls where I really experienced all the different pubs.

Dingle Harbour
Dingle Harbour

There's the Old Man Pub.. seemingly not as 'Irish' to a tourist but MAN after visiting the other pubs that I would presume to be an 'Irish pub' I really got a sense why a true Irish pub is a relaxing home away from home - no matter the decore.

The other types of pub I discovered were really old buildings that have basically been converted into discos.. the complete juxtaposition of ancient looking stone walls with blaring top 40 music and lazer beams is really something to be seen. This is a good 'last stop' on a pub crawl.. but only if you're up for dancing or are desperate for another drink.

Bachelorette Party
Bachelorette Party

Then there's the Plastic Paddy pub. This is a term here used for Irish stereotypes all put together for tourists to enjoy. From the outside, I am most drawn to these pubs but quickly learn why my friends from Ireland bring me to the least obvious choices for a pint.

I spent St. Patrick's day in Galway. It was grand.

Galway Parade
Galway Parade
HEAR YE HEAR YE
HEAR YE HEAR YE
5km Cliffs! Wild.
5km Cliffs! Wild.

How was your St. Patrick's Day? If you'd like to share, comment below. I'm curious because the whole drive back there were loads of commentary on how the Irish are baffled by how celebrated this day is around the world!

Ballymaloe Week 9 / The Art of Wine

Skype session with Sparkling Wine maker at Wiston Estate in England.
Skype session with Sparkling Wine maker at Wiston Estate in England.

Coming to Ballymaloe, which I have now dubbed 'Appreciation of Food 101', I never knew that I would appreciate wine so much. The way each bite of food can be transformed after a sip of deliciously paired wine can be incredible and change the experience of what you eat.

Gateau Pathivier with Whipped Cream
Gateau Pathivier with Whipped Cream

When you think of eating locally, in terms of how it just tastes so much better when the food is fresh, it's incredible how true that is for a good wine. Wine, like good produce or meat, really depends on the quality of grape vine,  the geology of the region (soil, weather, etc) and how it is matured.

The difference is that it also needs to be matured in carefully selected barrels for several months and is carefully blended by the head honcho of the winery. The best wines are the least amount adulterated after it is blended.

What fascinates me is that food pairing with wine is pretty easy when you know a little bit about the wine regions of the world.

For example, the Loire Valley in France makes excellent dry white wine that goes well with shellfish, especially oysters. Incredibly, the vines grow on limestone made up of millions of oyster fossils. WHAAA??

Tuna steak.
Tuna steak.
Tuna Tartare.
Tuna Tartare.
Port and Chocolate
Port and Chocolate

Beyond wines, if you aren't a wine drinker, fermented drinks don't need to be alcoholic! Kamboucha and Kefir is really easy to make! Check out MASTER FERMENTER Sandor Katz for more information on how to incorporate these healing foods in your diet!

Ballymaloe Week 8 / Butchery

A sensitive subject to most is butchery. However, to truly understand where food comes from, this is one other step closer. When you see a whole animal pretty much in tact in front of you, it can be off-putting at first.

That's why I became a vegetarian for a year at the beginning of university (well, for that as well as the fact that industrial factory farmimg of animals is shocking and revolting beyond just the slaughter of an animal). Knowing and researching a lot about the dietary requirements of a vegetarian, I spent a lot of time making sure I got all the missing nutrients I needed from my lack of meat intake. Coincidentally, it also forced me to learn how to cook (since I grew up in a Serbian household and eating vegetarian wasn't a thing.. except on religious fast days, of course).

I love making sushi.
I love making sushi.

Unfortunately I didn't feel great. I became extremely weak for another 5 years afterward and have struggled to recover my strength. Such is life (although a lot of it was due to what I now know as being a gluten-intolerance). The next best thing one can do is to source locally and ethically raised and slaughtered animals. It's not enough to just look at a package and see whether it says organic or not. A lot of standards for rearing animals in the 'Western' world force small farmers to need extremely expensive and high tech slaughter houses and butchery buildings if they wanted to be farm-to-shop butchers. That being said, the organic meats you find in stores doesn't guarantee you a 'happy cow/pig'. Author, Michael Pollan, illuminated this for me when I read his book, The Omnivore's Dilemma.

He's made waves by saying that many certified-organic farms and feedlots aren't improvements over industrial agriculture, just imitations; to get a piece of the financial premium that organic foods command, farmers simply substitute organic fertilizers and pesticides for synthetic ones. They use as much fossil fuel to produce and ship the food, and certified-organic animals on big farms and feedlots live and die under the same inhumane conditions conventionally raised animals do. The only difference is that their feed is organic. For more, check out an interview with him here.

Making sausages.
Making sausages.
Head Cheese Terrine
Head Cheese Terrine
All of the items we learned to make during our butchery course including salami, bacon, terrine and how to make and use lard, pigs ears, you name it!
All of the items we learned to make during our butchery course including salami, bacon, terrine and how to make and use lard, pigs ears, you name it!

Farmer's markets are the best places to acquaint yourself with a reliable meat producer, who are more often than not, certified organic! The next step then is to learn some basic butchery and cookery skills. Often, the cheaper cuts of meat are the best if you know how to cook them right! Ox Tail Stew, anyone?