Huge congratulations to all the wonderful blogs that have made it onto the Finalist list of Blog Awards Ireland 2013. Even though Wait Til I Tell You isn’t in the final round this year, I am super delighted to have made it to the shortlist.
I must give a shout out to fellow blogger and Waterfordian Mark Graham, whose blog A Year of Festivals in Ireland is one of this year’s finalists. Mark recently released an app to go with his very popular blog. Unlike some (many?) apps out there, this one is actually useful and nice to look at.
The winners in this year’s blog awards will be announced at the awards ceremony in Naas on October 13th. Exciting!
PS. The whole Blog Awards Ireland effort is run on a not-for-profit basis by three women who are also full-time business women. No doubt they wear a wardrobe-full of other hats too. Thanks, Lorna Sixsmith, Amanda Webb and Beatrice Whelan!
I’m also delighted that the following writerly friends join me on the shortlist:
- Writing.ie – needs no introduction to anyone interested in writing in Ireland, run by writerly powerhouse Vanessa O’Loughlin
- Women Rule Writer – by prolific Irish writer Nuala ní Chonchúir. Nuala’s is one of the longest-running Irish writer blogs.
- K. S. Moore – by writer K. S. Moore
- A Year of Festivals in Ireland – by the much-travelled Mark Graham
- Rant, with Occasional Music - by writer and musician Derek Flynn
Best of luck to all the other shortlistees for the next stage of the competition: the Finalist List, to be published on September 29th.
Here are the other blogs in the Arts and Culture category. Do check them out and subscribe to any that grab you!
- Westown Life
- We Love Town
- Vintage Irish Book Covers
- Vagabond Language
- Time Travel Ireland
- The Woolly Way of Ireland
- The Thursday Interview
- The Irish Aesthete
- The Brightness Project
- PJLynch Gallery
- No More Workhorse
- Mcs Irish Art
- Literary Flotsam & Jetsam by an Attempted Human
- Epitome Absolute
- Built Dublin
- Arts Management
I’ve recently become a little obsessed with rhubarb. How is it that such an unattractive-looking plant can yield, with the addition of sugar and spices, a flavour so surprisingly sublime?
(Some years ago, German friends of ours came to visit and were very taken with Actimel rhubarb yogurt. There is no such thing in Germany as rhubarb yogurt. I’m not sure if this says anything significant about the German nation.)
Back to the here and now. This year’s rhubarb season is over, but thanks to the recipe for Rhubarb Tea Cake on the Wise Words blog, I had some rhubarb cordial in the fridge, crying out to be used. The cordial is a by-product of the rhubarb roasting process, flavoured after roasting with crushed cardamom and vanilla pods, reduced to a syrup on the hob, and left to infuse overnight with the roasted rhubarb.
And what better way to use up rhubarb cordial than in a rhubarb whiskey cocktail? (The recipe I used is the one contained in the tea cake recipe above.)
So I took advantage of a surprise evening nap on the part of my obliging seven-month-old and got to work.
The first task, as with all cocktails, is assembling the ingredients. I love this part. It makes me feel like I have practically made the cocktail already:
Almost instantly, I made a mistake. In my enthusiasm to put my under-used ice crusher to work, I crushed the ice first. I then had to race through the rest of the process so the ice would not melt too much. So, crush the ice last, folks.
The Other Half wanted a cocktail, too, as Other Halves will. So I doubled all the quantities in Mona Wise‘s recipe. (Come to think of it, isn’t it strange that most cocktail recipes – the ones in my Mixology book, anyway – are for one drink only? Even if you’re on your own, you have two, right?)
I took the rhubarb cordial from the fridge with a graceful little skip of delight. (In my head, anyway.) It is almost viscous after the reduction process, flecked with dots of vanilla, cloudy with cardamom, and most deliciously of all, it is a seductive, flaming pink colour:
I got on with the work of juicing the oranges and lemons. Now for the mixing. In went the crushed ice (not too watery, luckily), citrus juices, rhubarb cordial (you get to drain the glass, woop!), whiskey, bitters, and sprigs of mint. Then a good mix. (I used the blade of the kitchen knife, slattern-fashion.)
I was out of ice at this point, so I couldn’t top up the glasses with crushed ice. The garnished results looked good, nonetheless:
And they tasted MMM.
PS. Picking up on the German theme from earlier, our Teutonic friends at Lidl are stocking rhubarb, with cheerful disregard for the season. If you can’t wait til next year, you have my blessing to go and get rhubarb from Lidl now. If anyone objects, tell them the internet said so.
The longlist for Blog Awards Ireland 2013 has just been published and… Wait Til I Tell You is on it!
I’m nominated in the Best Arts and Culture Blog category.
The Blog Awards Ireland competition has been running for a few years now. Last year’s winner of the Best Overall Blog award was Wise Words, the hugely popular food blog by run by writer and blogger Mona Wise.
I’m feeling pretty pleased to be associated, however loosely, with Mona. I had the pleasure of meeting her at this year’s Waterford Writers’ Weekend. Not only is she is a great blogger and food writer, she is also a lovely person and very generous with advice and feedback.
I’m also delighted to see many other bloggers whom I follow and chat to also included in this year’s longlist.
The Blog Awards Ireland shortlist is out on September 8th. The winning blogs are announced on September 29th and awards are presented at a ceremony on October 8th.
I found this recipe on the inside of a wrapper of Green & Black’s milk chocolate (currently my favourite chocolate, in case anyone feels like sending me some…) and propped it optimistically on the book stand on my kitchen windowsill, where it languished for some time:
To be honest, the recipe kind of intimidated me. It’s obvious that this is some serious, knock-your-socks-off confectionery. It uses ginger biscuits and pistachios, for goodness’ sake!
Finally, yesterday, the planets aligned. It was time for some serious tiffin-making.
Assembling and preparing the ingredients took some time. As usual when I bake, off I went with the young one to my local independent supermarket for the supplies. Needless to say, the recipe calls for Green & Black’s chocolate, but I had some Lindt to use up:
The cocoa was Green & Black’s, and the golden syrup – well, in this part of the world, the only show in town is Lyle’s:
I have a feeling that tins of Lyle’s golden syrup would be left rattling down the streets after a nuclear apocalypse. Golden syrup is based on inverted sugar syrup, a substance I would rather not know any more about. And once you open the tin, some syrup inevitably drips over the side, despite the little gully around the edge, and you have a sticky tin for ever more:
Next up are the nuts. This recipe calls for blanched whole almonds and pistachios. I couldn’t get pistachios pre-blanched, so I had to do it myself. Some of those babies are stubborn to prise open – cue a little swearing …
Another challenge at the preparation stage: how to crush the ginger biscuits? Being a lazy sort, I decided to get down the food processor from its position on high…
… and whizz the biscuits. This produced an inconsistent mixture of biscuit dust and almost-whole pieces:
So I overcame my laziness and out came the plastic bag and rolling pin. The results were more even:
If you do this, remember to be restrained in your battering of the biscuits, or you will end up with more dust. (Oh, and hold the opening of the bag closed in one hand, as semi-crushed biscuits all over the kitchen floor rarely leads to happiness.)
Next up was the roasting of the nuts, which takes only five minutes. But what a five minutes! The aroma of the pistachios as the heat of the oven draws out their oils is beyond words, so a picture will have to do:
The next step called for a little “necessity is the mother of invention”. I didn’t know what to do about the skins on the pistachios, and I temporarily forgot about the existence of the internet. So first I swirled them around in a colander…
… but not many bits of skin came off. I then wrapped them in a damp tea-towel, rolled them up and roughed them around a bit:
This process removed most of the skins.
Now for some actual mixing of ingredients. The crushed biscuits, sultanas, cocoa and roasted nuts come together first:
Then in go the melted butter and apocalypse syrup – I mean, golden syrup:
As you can see in the picture, an ordinary kitchen knife does a good job of mixing sticky, unctuous mixtures like this.
That’s your mixture done. Grab a nearby small child (ideally one of your own) and get them to help you to scrape the mixture into the baking tin (my last food post contains a quick-and-dirty method of lining a baking tin). The child can lick the bowl and utensils clean as a reward:
Smooth off the surface of the tiffin with the back of a metal spoon:
Now for the chocolate. Some fancy folks melt their chocolate in the microwave. Call me old-fashioned, but I do it on the hob, in a perspex bowl over a saucepan of gently simmering water.
Now pour that liquid joy over the biscuit mixture. The Green & Black’s recipe instructs us to do this in two stages, and who are we to disagree?
Clear a space in your fridge and in it goes for half an hour (the recipe says five to 10 minutes, which I don’t trust. Not that I think I know better than the Green & Black’s recipe designers – but they can’t be right all the time, can they?).
When it comes out, it looks like this:
At this point, your family or house-mates will be starting to circle, so cut it up quickly into the tiniest squares you can manage. This is how my finished product looked:
Now take a deep breath before biting in. This is powerful stuff, and only small pieces are needed to produce a truly heady sensation.
After almost six years of blogging, I’ve decided to add a new topic: food. I seem to spend quite a bit of time cooking these days (four children definitely has something to do with it), and I certainly spend lots of time eating, so I have lots to share. Here goes…
Peanut butter and white chocolate: a treatment for chicken pox
No, not to rub onto the sores… To eat, in the form of peanut butter and white chocolate blondies.
Poor Daughter 2 was home with chicken pox all last week. Since baking is a known treatment for all minor childhood illnesses, I thought I’d try to take her mind off things with this incredibly more-ish recipe from Rachel Allen:
Having peeled Daughter 2 away from her zillionth episode of Peppa Pig (hey, it’s summer in Ireland, which means it was too wet and cold to go outside), we got started by creaming the softened butter and peanut butter:
If you forget to take the butter out of the fridge in advance to soften, cut it roughly into cubes, put it in the microwave on the Defrost setting for 30 seconds at a time and check after each interval until it has softened.
We used fancy organic peanut butter. I’m not the most confident baker so I tend to overcompensate by using good ingredients and hoping they will balance out any deficiencies in the cooking. Also, I live near Ardkeen Quality Food Store, which besides being an Irish small business success story, gives me all too easy access to high quality foods that can be hard to find elsewhere. (No, they didn’t pay me to write that!)
Back to peanut butter… I’ve used cheap-n-cheerful brands of peanut butter before and the results are also delicious.
At last! I’ve been itching to finish the old bottle of vanilla essence for ages, so I can open this one – organic Madagascar bourbon vanilla extract:
The sick child doesn’t get to just watch – she got to work at this point (yes, the pox-y arms in the photo are hers):
It would be quicker to use a food processor for the mixing, but the good old-fashioned wooden spoon is better when cooking with children. It means they can get involved in mixing the ingredients and feel more ownership of the finished product. (Nice bit of corporate-speak there!)
The next bit of magic is the white chocolate:
We used Swiss patisserie chocolate (told you we were being fancy). White chocolate buttons or drops would do fine as well, though you do get more substantial gooey splodges of melted chocolate in the finished blondies if you chop up a slab of white chocolate into pieces like this.
Rachel instructs us to butter and line the baking tin. She has three children so she should know better. Any volunteers for cutting out the correctly sized pieces of paper, then buttering and lining the tin while a be-poxed four-year-old fidgets, fusses and possibly even wails with impatience? Didn’t think so. Instead, get the child to tear off a good-sized piece of baking parchment and lay it on top of the tin like this:
And smooth out the top:
And into the oven it goes.
Lastly, persuade the child that waiting thirty minutes to eat something yummy is a GOOD thing (I leave this part up to you).
I completely love the internet. (I suppose I wouldn’t be much of a blogger if I didn’t.) Just this morning, it presented me with a little piece of joy: Thomas Hardy’s poem Afterwards read by the actor Jeremy Irons, with music and performance by Jon Lord, formerly of Deep Purple, and images by YouTube user AntPDC. The clip is here, and the full text of the poem is here.
The recording is a real gem of blended media. At the risk of indulging in hyperbole, I’m not sure how the piece could be better. Irons’ sonorous, seductive voice, Hardy’s sensuous, nature-steeped word-picture, the deep beauty of the original photography by AntPDC and Lord’s soothing, flowing piano are simply a perfect combination.
Hardy’s poem is also a joy to experience on its own. I’ve always loved the dusky, musky, earthy world of Hardy’s poems. (During Wind and Rain is another lifelong favourite of mine, with its “creeping moss” and “rotten rose”.)
One of the things about Afterwards that tickles my fancy are the little insights it gives us into how the English language has changed, even in the relatively short time since the poem was first published (1917). A lovely example is Hardy’s use of the phrase “at last” in the first line of verse four:
“If, when hearing that I have been stilled at last…”
In Hardy’s day, “at last” was used simply to mean “at the end”. That usage is now all but obsolete and we now use it to mean “after a long wait”, with overtones of irritation and relief. Despite how this line sounds to our 2013 ears, we can safely assume that Hardy was not waiting impatiently for his own death. I love how the line shows the effects of time on language usage, with the resulting unintended humour.
My thanks go to Irish playwright and novelist John Mac Kenna, who alerted me to the recording.
Today is World Meningitis Day. To mark the day, I’m re-blogging a post by Carmel Harrington in which Carmel interviews Irish paediatrician Dr Siobhan Connor. Essential reading for parents and anyone who looks after small children:
Nick Hornby’s character Rob Fleming in the novel High Fidelity is famous for, among other things, categorising his music collection in autobiographical order. The same thing can happen with writings and books. For example, you always feel a twinge of pain when you see Catcher in the Rye on your bookshelf, because you were reading it when your teenage boyfriend / girlfriend dumped you; you will never throw out that copy of Generation X, because you were reading it when you first left home to go to college; and so on.
I think I had an autobiographical writing-related experience last week. I had a lovely Wednesday evening tucked up in bed with the latest issue of The New Yorker. In the Fiction section was a short story called The Judge’s Will by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.
It seems odd, but I had never heard of her; that she was a prolific and highly-regarded writer of novels and screenplays as well as short stories, and the recipient of many awards, including two Oscars and the Booker Prize, I learned only afterwards.
The next day, I opened up my Twitter feed and read that Ruth Prawer Jhabvala had died that morning.The news gave me pause for quite some time. The story I had read just the night before was still playing out in my mind. It was so different from what I had been reading recently – the stories of Ireland’s current crop of masterly short story writers – that I had to turn it over and over in my mind to try to get the measure of it. I had a feeling that its author was one I wanted to get to know much better.
The fact that the next time I heard about her, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala had died, should make no difference to how I will read her from now on – but it will. Rightly or wrongly, I feel lucky that when I first got to know Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s work, she was a living author, if only for a few hours.
To honour her memory, The New Yorker has unlocked six of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s stories, so they are free for anyone to read. The Judge’s Will is here.