Monthly Archives: March 2014

COMFORT FOOD: BREAD

DSCF4060We all have our comfort foods—mine is bread. White bread was a staple of my Irish childhood—the sliced pan, as it was known. It made excellent toast images-1fingers for dipping in soft boiled eggs, or for spreading with honey, or munching with a heap of baked beans.

When I was a little kid my mother and her friends went through a hippie phase—transcendental meditation, yoga, lentils, you know the kind of thing. The upside was delicious homemade yogurt and yeast bread. That distinct sour yeasty smell when you took a big sniff of crusty baguette hot out of the oven still lingers. Later, brown-soda-bread-234x260she made wonderful, dense brown soda bread with a dollop of sticky treacle added for sweetness.

At Granny’s house, the bread came from Eileen’s, the tiny corner shop. You bought an uncut loaf, big as a doorstep, and so fresh it could get up and dance a jig. It was the perfect bed for a slab of bright yellow salty butter from the farm down the road. You had to watch out for the collie dog though, he was a nipper. And of course you had to top it off with Granny’s raspberry or gooseberry jam.

My other grandmother allowed me the treat of butter and peanut butter on my bread. But my abiding memory is of my grandfather’s breakfast ritual. When we came downstairs he was already seated at the table in a low-slung armchair, hair neatly combed, his thin body all jutting angles of knees and elbows. Arranged in front of him were his plate of toast, his gold-colored teapot and mug, and a book perched on a stand he’d made specifically for reading at mealtimes. His chin hovered no more than an inch or two above all this. But the beauty of the arrangement was that it allowed him—ever a fastidious man—to eat and read without taking his eyes off his book, and with no fear of crumbs cascading down his cardigan.

When I was seven we went to live on the Greek island of Corfu. The strange new foods were a shock to my bland Irish palette. Luckily, the coarse bread (an artisanal country loaf in today’s vlcsnap-2013-10-14-22h02m50s148parlance) made by the village baker was delicious. My sisters and I would get up early and gallop through the narrow, whitewashed streets to arrive in time to watch the loaves being pulled from the oven on long wooden paddles. The bread never made it home in one piece. On days when we went filming with my parents for the documentaries they made on the island, we would take along a picnic lunch. In a shady olive grove we’d listen to the cicadas zithering, eating chunks of bread doused in green olive oil and topped with sweet tomato slices and slabs of salty feta.

My first year in college, I’d come home late at night, starving, awash with experiences from my new adult world, yet still craving childhood comforts, and make myself a round of hot-buttered toast and marmalade.

Bread is still one of the great joys of my life. One of my favorite things to do is share a weekend imagesbrunch with my family: a crusty loaf of sourdough from the farmer’s market with a homemade soup to dunk it in, jars of hummus and basil pesto from the garden, slices of pungent local cheese, and plates brimming with cucumber and tomato slices and a handful of briny Kalamata olives. Heaven on a plate!

Advertisements

Time Worn

IMG_3752

Last March my family and I spent an amazing ten days in Istanbul. Of course I took way too many photographs. Everywhere you turn, the city is a repository of history.  Looking back on them, a particular series of shots stood out. One of the most famous sights is Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya), built as a Christian basilica in 537 AD, later an imperial mosque, and now a museum. Of course it’s difficult to drag your eyes away from the soaring architecture and magnificent domes and mosaics all around you. But what really caught my attention were the floors. How many millions of people have come from all over the world to worship and marvel at this stunning building? The grooves and cracks worn into the marble tiles and cobblestones by their feet tell it all.

IMG_3698IMG_3546IMG_3537IMG_3700IMG_3701IMG_3688IMG_3615IMG_3827

If you have any similar photos of the passage of time, I would love to see them. Please feel free to share by putting in a link in the comments section.

SIGNS OF SPRING

IMG_8134A sure sign of spring—the kids are going crazy. Notes home from the teacher about rambunctious behavior. And no wonder, they haven’t had an outdoor recess in months!

To combat the stir crazies, I took my little fella out to tramp through the woods over the snowpack, joining the dots of deer and fox tracks. He scrambled over, and jumped off downed tree-trunks to his little heart’s content. I noticed the ever-increasing rings of melted snow at the base of trees. Squirrels chased each other round and round the trunk of the giant black walnut. A flash of ginger fur at the corner of my eye was a chipmunk scampering down the old stone wall. The red cardinal perched amongst the brown, yet swelling buds of the forsythia bush, laying claim to his territory. His no less stylish, yet more subdued partner was close by. The Carolina wren scolded from the dogwood. And the darling nuthatches, cheeped softly to each other as they, scampered, headfirst down the trunk.

The other evening as I stood on the lawn watching a silvery sunset, a pair of Canada geese honked from the pond. Not two feet from me a half-awake possum snuffled here and there amongst dried grasses poking out of the snow. He reminded me of a drunk old fella on his way home from the pub.

When I got up this morning the air was ripe with skunk love. An ardent suitor had left his calling card in the night. Perhaps it was the same stylish black and white mop top I’d had to brake for coming home the other night. He was oblivious to my presence, so hot was he on the scent of his ladylove.

Other dozy animals have not been so lucky. The turkey vultures circle over sad heaps of roadkill. So far I’ve counted raccoon, rabbit, groundhog, and squirrel. Time to look up some spring woodland recipes!

The tips of the young willow trees have turned amazing mustard yellow. The silver pussy willows are swelling out of their hard casings. At the edge of the village the sap buckets are hung on the maple trees.

Yes, everything’s still blanketed with snow, but yesterday the first crocuses opened their faces to the sun. The bees can’t be far behind.

Bee! I’m expecting you!
By Emily Dickinson

Bee! I’m expecting you!
Was saying Yesterday
To Somebody you know
That you were due—

The Frogs got Home last Week—
Are settled, and at work—
Birds, mostly back—
The Clover warm and thick—

You’ll get my Letter by
The seventeenth; Reply
Or better, be with me—
Yours, Fly.

DSCF3797

Just a Hint of Spring

Hysterical chickens squawk from the neighbors yard.
They couldn’t be more chuffed
At having laid the first eggs of the year.
A rivulet of ice-melt
Gushes from the broken gutter—
Add that to the list of post winter chores:
Cut back the dried grasses,
Rake out the flowerbeds,
Push frost-heaved garlic back into the cold earth,
Pull handfuls of chickweed from around the crocuses,
Sit in a patch of early sunlight with just a hint of warmth.

DSCF3793

READY FOR HER CLOSE-UP: THE WRECK OF THE SUNBEAM

IMG_1715

Built to be a working girl,
Stout wooden timbers,
Eighty-four tonnes, seventy-nine feet long,
A coastal schooner
Plying her trade from Slyne Head to Mizen Head,
The English Channel and the Irish Sea.
And yet her name, the Sunbeam,
Forecast a more glamorous life—
A starlet in the making.

Her course was set for good
On a run from Kinvarra to Cork,
Her hold weighed down with flour,
Connemara rocks, perhaps, for ballast.
A winter storm sent her running for shelter,
Driving her ashore on Rossbeigh beach,
That sandy spit reaching across Dingle Bay.
No loss of life.

And so began her second career.
For more than a century
Flocks of beach-walkers and holidaymakers
Came to admire her oval hull
Sinking into the sand,
Gradually reduced to a skeleton,
Plucked clean by waves
And scuttling sea creatures.
With a backdrop of scudding clouds
Or an incoming tide,
She posed for countless photographs,
Like an old-time movie star
Whose great legs and high cheekbones never fail to catch the light, just so.

It was a sedentary life
For one designed to be in constant motion,
Riding high on Atlantic swells.
That is until the violent tidal surge
Of another New Year storm
Lifted her clean out of the sand
And carried her up the beach to rest against the dunes.
The frail, elderly star
Shook the dust off her silk robe,
And revealed what the ravages of time
Could not diminish:
A raw-boned beauty,
Not ashamed of her working-class origins,
Catching the sunlight for her close-up
One last time.

IMG_7234

The Sunbeam, built in 1860 in Exmouth, England, was shipwrecked on January 3rd, 1903. For more than a hundred years, she has been drawing visitors to Rossbeigh beach, just outside the town of Glenbeigh in Co. Kerry. I had photographed her on several occasions while visiting my sister who lives nearby.

This January, when I arrived in Kerry, a violent winter storm had swept the West and Southwest coast of Ireland, just a few days before. Huge boulders were strewn across the road leading down to the beach, and the playground and public bathrooms were awash with purple and grey rocks. When the high tide receded, the locals were amazed to see that the Sunbeam had been lifted clean out of the sand, and moved up the beach about 400 yards.

Such was her reputation, that it didn’t take long before the sightseers and camera crews arrived on the scene to start taking her picture all over again.

IMG_1713

The Sunbeam, August 2013

IMG_7235

The Sunbeam, January 2014

Thanks to Mick O’Rourke for his informative site: http://www.irishshipwrecks.com/