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Wednesday, January 11, 2017
The Mare’s Fart and Dirty Dick
All found in Herbarium
Shortly before Christmas I bought the newly published Herbarium by Caz Hildebrand. It covers 100 herbs with text and illustration. The Mare’s Fart and Dirty Dick are among the details
Most of us will know that Pissabed is a common, very common, name for the Dandelion. But it is also called Naked Ladies, Twitch ballock, Hounds-piss, pen-arse, Bum towel and, yes, Mare's Fart. Its proper name, and this is given for every herb in the book, is Taraxacum species.
And Dirty Dick is one of the names for Fat Hen, also called Lamb’s Quarters, and White Goose. In Latin it is Chenopodium Album and was “the food supplement of primitive peoples”.
Herbs are used in cuisine but also for their curative properties. Got the hiccups? Then get yourself some honeysuckle. A headache? The Meadowsweet is what you need as it contains the key ingredient for aspirin.
And then there’s Alecost, originally very popular in the 16th century and used for flavouring ales and spiced wines. Herb celery is grown for its leaves and speaking of leaves. Ramsoms (Wild Garlic) is a favourite food of brown bears (be careful when foraging!).
It is a fascinating subject, with the odd myth or two. Take Tarragon, for example. If you use it, do so sparingly. Had Catherine of Aragon been less reckless in its use, her marriage to Henry VIII have had endured. At least, that’s the poet Ogden Nash’s version, though perhaps he just needed a word to rhyme with Tarragon! After all, he said “too much Chablis can make you whablis"!
It’s not all fun in Herbarium. Some serious bits. Takes Monkshood for example. This is extremely poisonous, the toxins once used to kill wolves.
And then there’s the Wasabi alarm! It may not wake the dead but, in 2011, a group of chemists won an Ig Nobel Prize for inventing a “wasabi alarm” to wake deaf people, using the herb’s powerful scent!
Each of the 100 herbs in the book has a page of text devoted to it, mostly a general history. Practical information is listed on the side, under four headings: Grow, Eat with, Try, Heal.
For instance (and I’m being very brief here), you are told that dandelion grows freely, Eat them with beetroot, lettuce, bacon…, Try them sautéed as you would spinach, and for Heal, a concoction of dandelion can be helpful for osteoarthritis, acne and psoriasis.
At the back of the book, there is a quick guide with headings such as Wellbeing, Beauty, Symbolism, Flavours, Cocktails (try mint with strawberry, kiwi and rum), Salads, and many more.
Herbarium is colourfully illustrated with each herb having an illustration to itself. The author says herbarium “echoes the history of herbal illustration, but with the intention of taking it forward, achieved by using a contemporary style, inspired by Modernist design, simple geometric forms and vibrant colours. I love the patterns that come through.”
I must say, I love the patterns too. But, beware, while they are gorgeous and striking, they are not necessarily true to life. You’ll definitely need an illustrated growing/foraging guide as well as this lovely and worthwhile book if you are to journey among the herbs.
Herbarium by Caz Hildebrand
Published by Thames and Hudson
Monday, December 5, 2016
All that’s left to know about beer.
|Brewer Cormac hard at it in Dungarvan Brewery|
Beer FAQ, by Jeff Cioletti, packs a lot into its 400 pages. It claims to be a no-nonsense guide to the world of beer, answering many burning questions about the diverse array of styles, ingredients, and international brewing and drinking and the traditions that drive the world’s most celebrated beverage.
And it certainly does that. Just be aware that this is an American publication so you’ll see the odd geographical faux pas, like placing the University of Sunderland in Scotland. Generally though the contribution of the old world, especially England, Belgium, Germany (he suggests that Munich is not the “beeriest city” in Germany, giving that accolade to Bamberg) and the old Czechoslovakia is handsomely acknowledged before the big statement (pretty well backed up) in which the origin of the latest wave of craft brewing is claimed for the USA.
|Beer selection at recent festival in Cork's Franciscan Well|
And since the US is our next parish, we do have an interest there as residents, relations, visitors, drinkers and importers. Many of the US beers - Sierra Nevada and Brooklyn Brewery - have long been favourites here.
In a chapter titled The Birth of Beer, Jeff says that beer, “for both the Romans and the Greeks, was the beverage of barbarians”. Long after the fall of the wine-drinking Roman Empire, beer “was considered an underclass drink”.
Later on, the monasteries took a hand and started to brew beer, “a central form of sustenance when you couldn't trust the water”. Later, science and the industrial revolution would play major roles in spreading beer globally.
He delves into the history and the different types of hops, concentrating on a few including Cascade, Hallertau, Simcoe and Sorachi Ace. You can learn too about malt and yeast. And the various styles of beer.
Beer in the New World is covered in great detail, even recalling some old advertisements, many of them openly sexist. Remember “Mabel. Black Label” and the subservient doting wife. Some detailed insight too into the renaissance of American beer that was led by the craft revolution. In 1873, the number of US breweries reached 4,131. In 1941, it was down to just 857 and stayed around that mark until 1995. Now there are close to five thousand!
The breweries that were prominent in the rise of craft are detailed. Anchor Beer, Boston Brewing and Brooklyn are included. By the way, did you know that Brooklyn have partnered Carlsberg in two breweries, one in Sweden, one in Norway.
And Jeff poses the question: “but what exactly defines ‘craft beer’? That answer is a little complicated”. He gives it a few pages, pointing out that micro-breweries, by their very nature start out small and some then get large. Can a large brewery be a craft brewery?
The author looks to his colleague John Holl who has written an editorial in the March edition of the All about Beer magazine with the title: “Craft Beer is Dead. Long Live Craft Beer!” Holl went on to write that the simple five letter word “has caused so much ‘confusion, blind passion, and confrontation’”.
|Black's of Kinsale, one of the first Irish craft brewers to can.|
“Most people silently agree with me,” Holl reveals. “It’s a word that’s been fraught with all kinds of baggage. It’ll continue to change. Most brewers simply are thinking of making beer of exceptional taste and quality.”
Cioletti claims that beer is a better match with cheese than wine. “..cheese’s fat content coats the palate and beer’s carbonation scrubs the palate clean, preparing it for the next course.” In fairness he also acknowledges that sparkling wines can do the same.
|Garrett Oliver at Ballymaloe LitFest|
Pizza, pasta, burgers and Barbecue have been the traditional invitation to open the beer. But go that bit further, Cioletti suggests. Try a delicate beer, a Belgian wit for instance, with sushi.
And then he moves on to fish in general, including crustaceans - “stouts are a winning match with oysters”, “spicier options with crab”. Porters and stouts are “quite comfortable” with stews. “..now, if we’re talking..beef Carbonnade, which usually has a wine base, consider something on the sour side..” If you’re on a wild game stew, “the strong flavours should harmonize with something on the wilder side: perhaps a saison with brett.”
|Peter Curtin in his tiny brewery over the Roadside Tavern in Clare|
There are chapters on pubs in the US and around the world (just one in Ireland, Dublin’s Against the Grain, gets a mention), on beer in films and TV (think Jaws, Cheers), on containers including cans (started in 1935!), on beer cocktails, and a nod (a small one) to Kindred Spirits eg cider, mead and spirits.
Quite a tome if not quite the encyclopaedia, packed with info and insights from leading figures over the decades, something here both for the beer beginner and the expert.
|Jack Lynch in Cork's Cotton Ball brewery, under the pub of the same name|
Beer FAQ is “the ultimate primer for getting better acquainted with the world’s favorite adult beverage” and is published by Backbeat Books. Available at Amazon for £17.95.
Thursday, November 1, 2012
Food and Drink Spotting
|Kate Lawlor's Spiced Beef, Horseradish Croquette|
Well done to Margaret Smith and Goodall’s on publishing A Modern Irish Cookbook in double quick time. Well illustrated and uncluttered, it is packed with recipes provided by dozens of bloggers and it neatly divided into sections: Light Bites, Brunch, Dinner, Bread and Sweet Things.
Lots of us don’t like Raw Oysters but have you ever tried them grilled. Zack has just the recipe for you: Grilled Oysters with a Bacon and Blue Cheese Crumb. Many eye catching pics in the book and one features Potato Cakes with Smoked Salmon and Hollandaise by Donna.
Lots and lots of Dinner recipes including Potato and Scallion Strudel with Local Pork and Apple Velouté by Fritz, the chef proprietor of County Down’s Strudel Bistro. From Kildare’s Kenny’s Kitchen comes a tasty looking Sausages with Lentils.
Some really promising looking bread recipes including the famous one by Avril of Rosscarbery Recipes titled: Cheddar, Stout and Black Pudding Bread.
Hard to resist the Sweet Things, especially the Plum, Cardamom and Almond Cake by JensKitchen and the Beetroot and Orange Blossom Fudge by Kate from Fenn’s Quay, known as FQChefess on Twitter.
I even got roped in – hard to say no to Margaret! You’ll find my Marinated Mushroom Salad on Page 9. The trick here is to skip the marination, entirely possible if you live in Cork. Just go to your local market and buy a jar of the delicious marinated mushrooms by Ballyhoura Mountain Mushrooms, remove the top and pour them out onto your salad. Top class and no bother at all!
But do take a look at the book. Check it out on the top right corner of the screen and, remember, that proceeds go to two charities, including Cork’s own Penny Dinners!
Time for Port
I’m partial to a glass of Port at any time of year but know that many prefer it during the winter season and particularly at Christmas time. Some of you will have a favourite but, if not and even if you have, why not try the Taylor’s First Estate Reserve available at €11.99 from Bradley’s in North Main Street. It comes in a full bodied traditional classic style and is an excellent introduction to the Taylor’s style.
It is blended from young red wines and then mellowed for several years in oak casks and is a lovely after meal drink. Use it on its own or as a match with a salty cheese. The Taylor Port website is a very enjoyable one, with lots of information laid out in a simple clear way – see the entertaining section on Port traditions, for example.
My current coffee is the most recent offering from the Robert Roberts’ Club and is a relative rarity in that it comes from Panama.
Gareth Scully says that coffees from Panama are few and far between and are highly sought after in the US and Germany. “Rancho Gotta Coffee Estate has been producing specialty coffee since 1985 and now produces solely Arabica coffee. The harvest is all done by hand. Rancho Gotta Coffee was one of the few coffees used at the 2011 World Coffee Tasters Championship in the Netherlands. I roasted this one to a medium level which is always important to make sure all the flavours in a coffee like this come through.”
“The medium roast compliments all the unique flavours, with strawberry, peach and dark chocolate notes. Among other things, are hints of blueberries as it cools. An incredible body to this coffee with a butterly feel to it too. Poetic license I know, but another great example of what specialty coffee should taste like….. Enjoy!”
David Hohnen, who visited Ballymaloe last month,tells us about his Margaret River Porkers
Christmas offers from Amandine Confectionery
Blair’s Inn nominated for Good Food Ireland Award!
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
What to Eat
What to Eat (Joanna Blythman), Eason’s €20.40
What to Eat is the title of the latest eye-opening book by experienced food writer Joanna Blythman and comes highly recommended.
Darina Allen: “A badly needed encyclopaedia of facts and common sense on food and nutrition fro which I am truly grateful.”
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall: “Joanna Blythman has one of the sanest heads in the western world – and this brilliant book encapsulates her admirably clear thinking in a wonderful accessible, entertaining way.”
I’ve seen the accessible bit questioned elsewhere because, amazingly, the almost 400 page book has no overall index. True, each chapter starts with a list of items to be found there. That helps but an overall index would have been so much better.
That quibble aside, this is an enormously helpful book about “Food that’s good for your health, for your pocket and plate”.
The title is, by the way, a statement, not a question. Basically, Joanna sets out her food philosophy in the introduction which features “The 20 principles of eating, made simple” and “10 ways to save money on food without compromising your principles”.
The sensible principles include:
- Get your food variety over the year, not in a week.
- Understand the benefits of organic food.
- Don’t eat foods that trash the planet.
Principles sometimes lead to an uncompromising rigidity. Not so with author Blythman: “You don’t have to get hung up on eating 100 per cent organic though. There are many high-quality, wholesome foods around that do not come with organic certification – such as grass-reared meat, game, wild fish and hand-made cheeses.”
She then moves on to what Darina rightly terms the “encyclopaedia of facts and commonsense”. Chapter headings are: Vegetables, Meat, Dairy, Fish, Fruit, Larder.
Each food gets its own few pages, Take the humble spud, for instance. There is a general discussion, also helpful hints on “how to buy real spuds, not duds” and a variety of ways on how best to use them.
Virtually every food item (I’ve used potatoes as an example below) in the book is treated in the same manner and the very detailed info comes under various headings:
- What to do with potatoes
- Are potatoes good for me
- How are potatoes grown
- Are potatoes a green choice
- When and where should I buy potatoes
- Will potatoes break the bank?
Quite a lot of info in the 400 pages and all delivered in a clear style and in some detail (potatoes, for instance, get six pages to themselves).
This hard cover un-illustrated book cost me €20.40 at Eason’s. I reckon it is very good vale indeed.
Thursday, October 20, 2011
RIOJA: THE BOOK
The Finest Wines of Rioja and Northwest Spain, by Jesus Barquin Luis Gutierrez and Victor De La Serna.
While vines have been grown in the north west of Spain since Roman times, the wines only came to international prominence after the French were hit by phylloxera in the middle of the 19th century and the Bordeaux negociants crossed the border in search of replacement wines.
The new trade led to surge of prosperity in the area and the town of Haro, the centre of the Rioja trade though not the region, was one of the first areas in Spain to get electricity.
But the good times didn't last and decline had set in even before the devastating double whammy of the Civil War and World War 2. Then, a few wrong turns (including the use of “international” grape varieties) wasted further decades and it is only in relatively recent times that Rioja has regained its leading status while neighbouring Navarra is still trying to shed its mistakes.
The details of all these developments are listed and discussed in this fascinating new book (2011) by a trio of well qualified authors. “Lavishly illustrated with photographs of the people and of the landscape and with detailed maps, this guide ranges over a diverse area, including not only Rioja but Navarra, Bierzo, Galicia and the Basque Country as it explores winemaking from the ancient to the traditional and modern.”
“.. It provides insider information on a region that is home to Spain’s finest Tempranillo, its exciting Albarino, and many other indigenous grape varieties, such as Garnacha, Mazuelo and Viura.”
“The authors look in depth at topics including climate and soil, grape varieties and viticulture, and they profile more than 85 individual wineries. They also include information not available elsewhere, several top ten lists plus secret addresses for the best restaurants and shops in which to find aged and historic vintages of Rioja.”
Indeed, they do and then they also provide quite a lot of detail about the individual wineries and of the people that run them. The likes of CVNE, Lopez de Heredia/Tondonia, Bodegas Faustino, and Telmo Rodriguez (Spain’s “most famous itinerant vigneron”) are among those profiled.
Each winery’s best wines are listed. There is a year by year account of the vintages from 1990 to 2010, a chapter on the magic of aged Rioja and one on the best restaurants in the area. I just can't wait to visit Haro and its vineyards and this 320 page book will be coming south with me in 2012.