Category Archives: Food Gifts

Raindrops and Rhubarb

I love living in Ireland. Honestly. There’s always a learning curve when you uproot your life and move to a new place, but I honestly can’t imagine calling anywhere else home right now. I mean, where else in the world can you find this kind of beauty 90 minutes from your doorstep?

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Not to mention enjoy that I can build sand castles on miles of beautiful beaches, go for refreshing sea swims, and devour fantastic fish and chips 20 paces away from the fishermen’s docks – Irish summer can be such a beautiful thing!

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Unfortunately, all of these photos were taken LAST summer.

So far, things have been off to a rough start, with rain almost every day in May. Not gentle little showers either. Mean rain. Steady rain. Hailstones. Substantial gusts of wind. This is pretty much the normal view when I look out my back window.

 

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The upside to all of this is that the garden is growing at a steady rate, which is fantastic news for our crop of rhubarb, which is thriving like never before. Aside from a rosemary bush that won’t quit, rhubarb is the one edible item that I’ve manged to keep alive. We’ve had it for the last three summers and our two plants produce enough fruit for the entire neighborhood…I’m probably known locally as the rhubarb pusher in the middle of the terrace because I’m constantly trying to give it away!

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This year, however, I’m trying to branch out from crumbles and muffins and try to preserve the rhubarb in some new and interesting ways. Unexpectedly, I’ve discovered that rhubarb’s jeweled tones and sweet/tart flavour are the exact antidote to this wild weather. These recipes for Rhubarb and Vanilla Jam and Strawberry Rhubarb Soda Syrup have absolutely brightened these grey days of May.

The jam really couldn’t be any easier, provided you have a few clean jars and a bit of time. I also find a jam funnel very useful for preventing general stickiness and messy drips, but it’s not strictly necessary. It makes a fantastic host or hostess gift, birthday present, or thank you to your father-in-law who has picked up your kid from school on three rainy days this week (yep, I know this one from experience…)  I’m loving it thickly spread on good white toast, or dolloped on corn muffins.

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The simmering stage

 

 

 

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Ladle into warm, clean jars

 

 

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Sure, jam covers and labels are a bit twee, but the kind of twee that people like!

 

 

The next recipe is truly special and a winner even for those who think they don’t like rhubarb. It’s comes from one of my favourite food blogs of all time, Smitten Kitchen. If you don’t already own Deb Perelman’s cookbook, do yourself a favour and order it NOW.  It’s amazing and I’m slowly working my way through everything. But I digress…a few weeks ago, Deb posted this gorgeous recipe, which looks and tastes like summer in a bottle.

 

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Strawberries, rhubarb and lemon zest simmering

 

 

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Fruity pulp left behind after the straining process

 

 

I’ve used it to flavour soda water as a non-alcoholic offering at brunch, splashed it into sippy cups as a bribe to get my kids to drink more water, and made myself an indulgent Friday night cocktail. (Note to the wise: 2 oz. of vodka was probably too generous…1.5 would have been just fine…) This weekend I also see it being poured into a G&T, or possible a Rhubarb Collins, and I plan to use the pulp as an add-in to my yogurt tomorrow morning. I highly recommend RUNNING to your nearest greengrocer/farmer’s market and picking some up this weekend. Unless you’re one of my neighbours – you should probably come over and pick some from my garden. Seriously. It’s getting out of hand…

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Filed under Food Gifts, Seasonal

It’s beginning to taste a lot like Christmas…

Freezing temperatures are the new norm here in Dublin, so my family and I have spent the last few weeks hibernating…we’ve been eating lots of hearty soups with brown bread, and slow-cooked delights such as lamb shanks in red wine and pulled pork.  (We’ve also become COMPLETELY addicted to Masterchef: The Professionals. Best cooking competition on TV, hands down!)

I had to peel myself off the couch, pull out the baking paper, and turn  on my Christmas brain though, as the countdown is now well and truly on! Most of my shopping is done now (my husband and I come from small families!), but there is still some gift-making ahead of me – neighbors, teachers, and co-workers are all taken into account as I begin my annual gift-making bonanza. I began with some sugar cookies for my office cookie tray (now conveniently awaiting their fate in the freezer), and had some very special decorators in to help me!

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The vast majority of the gifts that I give are food related, but not all involve hours slaving over an oven. One year, I filled gift bags with  jars of homemade chutney, Carr’s water biscuits, and a beautifully wrapped wedge of comté cheese. Another year, I filled mugs with a cocoa mix, marshmallows, and candy canes and wrapped them with cellophane and ribbon. Then, about 3 years ago, I discovered a recipe for the most wondrous thing of all: Winter Bark. The first year I gave it as an accompaniment to what I thought was a lovely gift – cashmere scarves for my son’s teachers. They all thanked me for the gifts, but no one actually mentioned the scarves…only these delicious, salty-sweet, totally addictive chocolate treats. The next year, I gave cinema vouchers and  more winter bark – same reaction! The thing is, Winter Bark is EMBARRASSINGLY easy to make, and not even particularly costly! The key is to use good dark chocolate (not necessarily expensive stuff though – I buy mine from Aldi)  and to make sure you buy salted peanuts. I will be making at least 4 batches of this stuff to give to friends and neighbors over the next week or so. It’s also great to have on hand in case someone pops in with an unexpected gift, or if you’re having a drinks party. It’s also a very good last minute gift if you just stock up on the ingredients.

Speaking of drinks parties, my family and I plan to restart our open house tradition this year. We took a year off last year, as we traveled at Christmastime, but we like to invite friends, neighbors, and colleagues over on the Sunday before Christmas for mulled wine, mince pies, and general merriment. I’ll hold my hands up and say that I just don’t have the patience to fuss with a load of handmade mince pies, so I let Marks and Spencer do the honors, but I do put together a few homemade touches. One of my favorite snacks for a get together (aside from a giant cheese platter…) are these Rosemary Brown Sugar Walnuts from one of the most gorgeous food blogs on the web. Sometimes I substitute dried cranberries for the figs, and occasionally I skip the dried fruit altogether, depending on the state of my pantry. You can also swap the walnuts for pecans.

One of the last things I bake every year is a coffee cake for Christmas morning. My mom has made this for Christmas breakfast as long as I can remember; it’s not Christmas morning without it, in my opinion! Perfect with tea or coffee, its nutty, cinnamon flavour is the essence of the holiday season.

Coffee Cake
4 oz. butter
8 oz, sugar
8 oz. sour cream
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
16 oz. flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
For topping:
4 oz. chopped nuts (I think walnuts are nicest!)
4 oz. sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat oven to 180/350. Cream the butter, eggs, sugar, sour cream, eggs, and vanilla.  Add flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Pour batter into one 9×13 inch cake pan, two 9 inch cake pans, or one 10 in ch springform pan.  Swirl the topping throughout the batter and bake  –   time depends on the size of the pan, but the top should be golden brown and springy to the touch. Enjoy!

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Filed under Food Gifts, Seasonal