In my food column this month for The Gloss magazine I write about Spring lamb and a time for learning.
New born lambs are appearing in the fields around our house. This happens just as my friends and neighbours bear the weary eyes of long nights in sheds with bawling ewes, or bottle feeding the unwanted or third in a triplet set in the kitchen.
The valley I live in is mountainy marginal land and has very few cattle anymore. Most of the sheep farms have consolidated into a remaining ten to twenty farmers with their own home farm and sheds, who rent extra land from families that have left farming. Close to us the Hogans, McKees and Keegan's of @waterfallfarm shop are in the thick of the lambing season. In a fickle marketplace it's a business with price rises and crashes like everything else. Sheep are also notoriously tricky to rear and I've witnessed myself the old adage - the first indication of illness in a sheep is mortality. Yet the farmers still stay up all night, both men and women, to lamb ewes, to get the newborn started on feeding and nurse the ones not thriving.
Lambing season here is something both myself and my children delight in. The squeals of delight in response to newly born lambs bucking and skipping on their first day out on grass say it all. It's a pity that as a foodstuff in Ireland we are eating less lamb and it's now purchased by mainly older consumers. I love lamb. I buy half a lamb from the farm across the lane every year and for me it tastes like home.
This Edible Life March 2014
One of my Spring pleasures - holding a new born lamb is unfortunately contraindicated to eating one. Not only are they too cute with their little velvet muzzles, early lamb can have a jelly-like texture and is much better killed at about five months old. While the garden eases into Spring I´m still cooking plenty of dark cabbage and have successfully converted all cabbage sceptics with my fabulous Gnocci with Savoy cabbage and Wicklow Blue or fried off with chorizo and garlic for an easy soup with vegetable stock and cream.
Around Dublin I´ve fallen in love with The Green Bench cafe on Montague Street (as if those pesky Dublin 8-ers aren´t served with enough great spots for a quick lunch). The serve lovingly-made take out for at your desk or if you´re like me - on the run from one venue to the next. Super moreish is their wrap of citrus marinated feta with avocado, olive tapenade and hummus.
Not far away on Stephen´s Street, P. macs is a more comfy version of the cocktail zinc bars populating the South William street area. There´s lampshades straight from your grandmothers, patchwork armchairs and if you don´t feel like wearing towering heels it’s cosy for a quiet drink in the snug and some decent pizza. Another dress-down hide out for early evening is open downstairs on Dawson street. FAATBAAT serves a multitrip of cuisines – everything from Japanese ramen dishes to Malaysian “Drunken Prawns”. Their Go Go Bar is what this place is all about though with great tunes and decent cocktails.Always a hot social ticket, the best food producers in the country compete on the 12th March for a gong from my own parish – the Irish Food Writers Guild. The awards will be hosted by Derry and Sally-Ann Clarke in the wonderful L´Ecrivain. We have some stunning food and drink entries, all Irish artisan-produced but I am sworn to secrecy. Follow the winners and recommendations from the day at twitter @foodguild.
No better time than Spring to sharpen cookery skills. To mark her new book The Extra Virgin Cookbook, Susan Jane White is hosting an evening of cooking and tasting at Fallon and Byrne on the 12th. Countrywide, it´s great to see many people I admire in food offering their expertise. JP McMahon, Michelin-starred chef and owner of Aniar in Galway has day workshops this month in “Nose to Tail Eating” and “The Whole Hen”. Down in Thomastown the inspiring Mag Kirwan is holding classes in smoking at her Goatsbridge Trout Farm.
Close to the beautiful beach at Termonfeckin in County Louth, the Tasty Tart Tara Walker has classes in cooking fresh fish landed at nearby Clogherhead and Foods of the Middle East, timely with the huge popularity of Ottolenghi. If you have a few bob ditch Ottolenghi and go to Beirut, one of my favorite cities for food - figs, hummus fatteh, baba ghanoui… Or closer to home check out Silvena Rowe´s cooking in at Quince in London´s Mayfair Hotel and her gorgeous book Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume: Cuisine of the Eastern Mediterranean