Monday, March 23, 2009

Picking from Fields and Streams

My grandparents, the Doyles, lived in the same house, but spent most of their days separate in different rooms. They were fond of each other or perhaps a better way to describe them is that they had spent more than fifty years being married to each other, and perhaps stayed married because they worked--away from each other. My grandmother, Dorothy, spent her days in the kitchen making molasses cookies, fudge, and any sweet to fill us--while my grandfather, Cedric, spent his days in the basement, working gifts in wood. Cedric and Dorothy Doyle, about as Irish as names as you could come up without even trying. But try they would at about everything from gardening, sewing, doll house making to even vanities and armoires. Their house was a constant smell of brown sugar, sawdust and geraniums. Even in the summer with the windows open and the hint of humidity and fields being tilled, somehow the efforts of their individual pursuits bloomed throughout their house. Upstairs was fudge for Christmas and roses in summer and the basement was the sweet scent of cedar or oak. All year long regardless of which season, each of them worked on some sort of project. But most projects were to be given to loved ones, mostly to us, the grandchildren.

I'd like to tell you that all of us grandchildren know Dorothy's molasses cookie recipe by heart or each of us has Cedric's skill of clean lined furniture. But we don't, not directly. But I will tell you is that each of us does something inspired by these two and their quiet acts of kindness. Each of us has a hint of Cedric's humor and each of us, I believe, acts out of Dorothy's attitude of, if you want to eat well, then you need to learn how to cook well. And I'd like to think each of us, every spring grows something--either rows of beans or bulbs to remind us of simple joys in growing something and the knowledge that food comes from the earth no matter where you live. Each of us grandchildern keep a garden of sorts, some grow orchids, some have acres of squash and sweet corn. Gardening keeps our family closer, even if we are all spread out in cities, mountain towns, and Western fields. We grow either flowers or fresh vegetables to feed ourselves and to give, like our grandparents, to those we love. 

I work with someone who also has Irish grandparents, who like Cedric and Dorothy, have given him endless gifts. Lorn Biros might look like he has an Irish accent with his glinting eyes and rudy complexion, but he is American born, yet hasn't forgotten any of his family's homeland. His grandparents, Joyce and Burton Evans, both came from County Kerry. And like my own grandparents, they work in their separate rooms all day long. Burt was a milkman by trade, but now spends his time wood working and making cabinets and armoires for his grandchildren. Joyce also has a knack for fudge and has even written three cookbooks. So while I was preparing for a Saint Patrick Day Celebration, I knew exactly who to ask for insight.

I planned on making cabbage soup with bacon, soda bread and a gratin with tarragon and Dubliner cheese.  While I was trying  not to cut the tip of my finger off on the mandolin, slicing potatoes, Lorn came in the cooking school kitchen to tell me, " You know Emily,  none of this is really Irish food." 

"Greet, Lauren." I feigned an accent (choosing humor like Cedric would have instead of arguing) while he told me all my work was for naught. And I went back to slicing potatoes.

"Sure, maybe the soda bread, but my grandma told me everything has bacon in it, eeverlything." Lorn kindly joked, seeing my earnest attempts.

I said, "You know Lorn, I've never been to Ireland and all I remember from what my mom told me is that the Guinness is so good there, you drink it with every meal and the pub food is the best, but I don't know what else to make? I don't want to make corned beef, it's so...expected." 

Still slicing potatoes, I looked at the bowl full of white. I knew enough from history that potatoes weren't always the staple of the island. Food is really about what grows where and "traditional" food is mostly from what grows wild. So I asked Lorn, 

"What grows in Ireland, I mean what grows wild? What did your grandma tell you about the landscape?" 

It didn't take Lorn more than thirty seconds to tell me, "watercress is everywhere along the banks and thyme grows like weeds and of course there are cows for butter and meat, or trout in the rivers." Lorn's mind was racing and thankfully, not only was he thinking of details from his grandma's stories, he was also thinking of recipes too.

And here they are based purely upon geography, guesses and bit of creativity. These two spreads are worth making any time of the year. I have mostly Lorn to thank for putting me in the right direction, but somehow I also want to thank my grandparents, for passing on their belief in basic foods and their intrepid natures and their reliance on work. Maybe you could call it Irish stubborness, but I prefer to think of it as determination. I think Cedric and Dorothy would have agreed and probably Joyce and Burt too.

These are both wonderful on fresh Soda bread or on crackers and easy to make in a blender if you don't have a food processor. Enjoy with the love of Dorothy and Joyce. 

Smoked Trout and Watercress Spread

one 1/2 pound of smoked trout, about a six inch fillet
one eight ounce package of cream cheese, at room temp
1/2 a bunch of watercress, only the leaves, rinsed 
one lemon, fresh juice 
salt and pepper to taste

1. Cut up cream cheese into the food processor first
2. Crumble trout and then add the watercress and lemon juice.
3. Puree for one to two minutes
4. Add salt and pepper to taste, pulse the food processor for 30 seconds
5. Put in a bowl, cover and then chill. 

Can be made a day ahead.

Carrot, Honey, Thyme Butter

one large carrot
two tablespoons of honey, warmed
three tablespoons of fresh thyme
one, eight ounce block of Organic Valley Pasture Butter*, room temp

1. Puree carrot in a food processor, then remove any excess water from the carrot pulp.
2. Place the butter, honey, thyme and pureed carrot in a mixer and whip butter until smooth.
3. Serve on fresh bread

* try to find European butter, they are usually sold in a block form and tend to have a better flavor, especially for something like this recipe. I used Organic Valley but there are others just as good.

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