Carrot Cake with Lemon Cheese Icing.

Tuesday 1st May 2012

My beautiful wife has just completed her 42nd year on this mortal coil. This is what I baked to celebrate the occasion.

It’s rare that I bake a cake. Apart from the fact that my baking acutraments leave something to be desired, 2 out of 3 of us in residence aren’t that fussed about cake. Having said that, a birthday is not complete without one & so around this time every year I root out my hand-me-down rusty cake tins & set about making birthday cakes.

Zephy used to take in a cake to celebrate at school which was quite a challenge as it had to be enough for 50 kids (2 classes) but they put a stop to that after only but a few years. It has now been whittled down to two. One for celebrating with friends & another with family.

Last year I made a Barcelona FC flag for him & his friends.

“How did the cake go down?” I enquired.

He generally has a picnic in the park after school on a Friday which means I can’t attend as I work late that night.

“Yeah, good.” He replied not making eye contact with me.

“Really!” I said taken aback, knowing that he doesn’t usually lavish such high praise on a baked good.

“Well,” He continued. “I didn’t actually have any myself,”

“Oh.” I said looking down with a little too much disappointment.

“But everybody else did & they loved it.” He consoled touching my hand.

Blessed are the meek. 1:50

He did, however, manage to force down a slither of Mummy’s though.

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Posted in Dairy-Free, Dessert, Eggs, Vegetarian | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Hamburger & Chips.

Tuesday 24th April 2012

One of the best things about teaching is when one of my students gets whatever it is I’m trying to teach them. Whether it be teaching a 4 year old how to hold a pair of scissors or a teenager the difference between two verb tenses, it always makes me feel like I’ve done my job properly. To see the look on their faces as the penny drops, never fails to choke me up.

Learning another language is incredibly difficult & so this doesn’t happen as much as I’d like but when it does I revel in the glory.

Being able to hold a tune is a prerequisite for teaching primary. Luckily I’m quite partial to belting out a rendition of ‘Sing a rainbow’ or ‘Incy wincy spider’. Of recent, we’ve been working on an arrangement of the classic ‘Old McDonald’ which, not by coincidence, tied in perfectly with an episode of the kids program ‘Big cook little cook’ I wanted to show my group.

“McDonald!” Sacha exclaimed turning round in her chair & beaming at me.

Sacha is a very bright, funny, challenging & mischievous 5 year old student of mine. She loves singing & does it with gusto. I was so taken aback that she had understood something & been able to connect that to something we had been studying in class, I burst into song urging her to join in.

“Yeah, Ol’ McDonald!” I repeated beginning to sing the familiar nursery rhyme in an effort to control the tears.

“Yeah, I love McDonald’s!” She said still smiling.

That Ronald bloody McDonald has got a lot to answer for!

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Posted in Beef, Bread, Dinner, Potatoes | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Sautéed Vegetables with Bacon.

Tuesday 17th April 2012

My beautiful baby boy is growing up.

Zephy pulled open the front door just as Zachy hit the bottom step.

“D’ya wanna come in a play for 5 minutes?” He blurted out.

He has been waiting since 5.30 for him to come home. It’s now 6.40.

“I’m going to get some beans for my Daddy,” He replied a bit taken aback by Zephy’s sudden appearance. “I’ll come back.”

His two best friends in the whole world, Theo & Zachy, live five floors above us. We hear them leave for school most mornings & generally catch them just in time for a quick game of footie on there way home. The 3 of them have lived in each other’s pockets since birth. They are Zephy’s surrogate siblings. They rearly argue but they do tussle for supremacy from time to time.

Theo is the oldest, weighing in at a double figured 10 years old. He’s a typical eldest child making most of the decisions for the collective. He’s a quiet boy in contrast to my son, Zephyrus. Cautious of adults, but in his element when running around with a ball on the concrete concourse in front of our flats. I have a lot of time for Theo, & much to his annoyance, persist with trying to make eye contact & keep his attention. In return, he humours me & quietly grins at my endless stream of ‘Dad jokes’. A far exchange from my point of view.

Zachy is the baby of the group clocking in at nearly 8, & is quite different from his older brother. He has a broad toothless smile that is often encircled by chocolate. Being the youngest, Zachy works hard to gain pole-position. He’s a feisty kids who’s not averse to thumping a fellow football player if he gets unfairly treated. I like kids with character & passion both of which he has in bucket loads.

Zephyrus fits squarely in the middle of the two at 9 years old next month, whereby he is constantly trying to catch up with Theo, while at the same time keeping one step ahead of Zachy. Needless to say, it keeps him on his toes.

Zachy returned 5 mintes later, tin of baked beans in hand, & immediately got down to business; football trading card analysis.

After a while Ben, Zachy’s Dad, called in search of beans & so Zachy headed up for dinner.

“You couldn’t pop down & get me an onion could you Zeph?” I asked realising that I hadn’t been as efficient as I had thought with my shopping list.

“What, downstairs?” He replied.

“Yeah.” I said rummaging around in my bag looking for my purse.

Below our building are two business premises. One is an architects office & the other is a corner shop. It sells a bit of everything & is very handy at times like this. The two Indian guys who work there, are there from 8am until 11pm seven days a week & I am very grateful to them & therefore try to give them as much business as I can, no matter how small.

In the past Zephy has been a bit scared to go down the one flight of stairs, out the front door & out of my sight. Telling me; “I’m not old enough to go out on my own yet Dad.” but today he excepts his mission, presumable spurred on by Zachy’s bravery or maybe just because he didn’t want to be out done by him. I used to run similar inane errands for my Mum when I was a kid. On reflection, I was probably a bit older but would always jump at the chance to assert my independence. There was also the chance to get myself a 10p mix-up with the change which was a good incentive.

I watched Zeph turn the corner of the front door & slip out of sight before going back inside to give him some room to grow.

Two minutes later he returned tumbling the onion across the wooden work top.

“Can I keep the change?” He asked holding onto the change from a €10 note.

Cheeky bugger!

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Posted in Dairy-Free, Dinner, Pork, Potatoes, Vegetarianish | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Quiche Lorraine.

Tuesday 10th April 2012

‘There are moments you remember all your life
There are moments you wait for and dream of all your life
This is one of those moments,’

Barbra Streisand -This is one of those moments.

“What ya doing?” My son, Zephyrus asked.

He has been lolling around in the corridor for the past 30 minutes.

“Making dinner. Can you put 3 ounces of that in there for me?” I asked pointing to the butter.

To my total surprise, he picked up the butter & began spooning it into the mixing bowl. I probably ask him to help me a dozen times a day, to which the usual reply would be;

“I’m just jibbing!”

For some reason the task at hand today, took his fancy & so jibbing was put on the back burner.

“How’d you get it off the spoon?” He asked trying to flick what was left on the spoon into the metal mixing bowl, but instead catapulting shards all around the kitchen.

“Use your finger,” I encouraged taking his finger to scoop off the remaining butter. “Have you washed your hands?” I asked noticing the grime that had been worked into the palm of his hand.

“Oops!” He replied putting a buttered finger to his lips.

“Go & wash your hands & then come back & finish this.” I called after him dashing for the bathroom.

This is the point where, in the past, I lose him to yet more jibbing. Apart from the fact that he has to walk past his jibbing ground to get to the bathroom, washing his hands his not a chore that he relishes & therefore could waylay his return. In his defence, most boys of his age have an eversion to water. But 30 seconds later there he was.

“What shall I do now?” He asked.

For the next 30 minutes we worked together to create our evening meal. I moved swiftly behind him setting up the next step for him to complete.

“Break the eggs in that bowl & then add them to the big bowl. That way if you get any shell you can fish it out easier…Mash the cheese & mix it in with the egg…a bit of salt…& pepper…wipe that round with butter…put flour on there,” I directed.

He moved effortlessly around my tiny kitchen completing each instruction like a pro until he had placed the last slice of tomato on top of the flan.

“Can I watch tele now?” He immediately asked.

“Look at that!” I enthused. “You made that!”

“Yeah I know. Can I watch tele?”

“Well done Zephy, that’s excellent! Yes you can watch tele.” I said trying to catch him off guard so I could plant a smacker on his cheek.

It defiantly was one of those moments.

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Posted in Dinner, Eggs, Pastry, Pork | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Homemade Mushroom Pizza.

Tuesday 27th March 2012

Ever since I was a kid I’ve wanted one night of the week where we always ate the same thing. It appealed to my compulsive obsessive nature. Fish on Fridays or a take-away curry on a Saturday night, it’s all valid. But perhaps the most obvious of them all, the pizza night, was portrayed so well in films that it caught my interest.

I have tried over the years to instigate this very tradition only to be halted by my intolerance to cheese. While the rest of my family could chow-down on such delights I was left with a tomatoey pizza base with the cheesy topping pulled off. A mere shadow of its former self. For this reason I have to make them myself so I can put my cheese substitute on top.

A pizza without cheese is like…(He says trying to think of something super intelligent & witty to compare it to)…well, to be perfectly frank, it’s a pizza without cheese. (Nope, move along! Nothing to see here!)

The problem with ‘pizza night’ being on Fridays is that I work until late & so the baton is passed to my wife for the evening. And although making pizza is relatively easy, it does take a bit of forward thinking. For starters the dough needs to left to rise for an hour before being manipulated into the required shape then topped. Not hard just time consuming.

I used to work in a pizza restaurant while I was studying. I tried all facets of the business from home delivery to waiting tables then prepping the dough to finally putting the pizzas together to be baked. The temptation is to load the base with as many different ingredients as possible but from experience I’ve learnt that this leads to a soggy base with uncooked toppings.

I made a mushroom & black olive one for my wife & Zephyrus (See photo) & a fresh tomato, anchovies & black olive one just for myself. Both were made with lactose free mozzarella.

It was a good start. Let’s hope we can keep this up.

I’ll keep you posted.

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Posted in Dairy-Free, Dinner, Organic, Pastry, Vegetarian | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Smorgasbord

Thursday 22nd March 2012

“I know!” He said excitedly. “Daddy could time 15 minutes & me & Mummy could cook something, without the oven, & see who wins.”

My son, Zephyrus, was up early this morning watching ‘Junior Bake Off.’ It’s a children’s tv program where kids are put through various tests to see who will become crowned junior baker of the year.

“What about Daddy?” My wife chipped in not wanting me to be left out.

“No but, Daddy’s the best cook in our family,” He continued squirming. “So he’ll win but we’re about the same so…” He trailed off realising the hole he was digging for himself was big enough.

“Ok!” Said my wife slightly affronted that her cooking was being compared to that of an 8-year-old boy.

“Why can’t you cook anything?” I asked trying to tactfully change the subject.

“Cos’ I can’t use the oven.” He said in the baby voice he uses when he wants to be seen as a baby.

Sometimes he can revert to type with such ease and dexterity, anyone would think he was a child.

“Ok, so you get 15 minutes to make something without cooking it & I’ll judge the winner?” I reiterated.

“Yeah, time it on your phone!” He ordered.

And with that we were off running down the hall in search of food.

“I must warn you both that there isn’t a lot in at the moment. It’s the end of the month so we’ve run out of a lot of stuff.” I confessed with my cap in hand.

Luckily, they weren’t interested in what we didn’t have, only in what we did have. So they both ignored me.

Zephy knew exactly what he wanted to make, as he was already rummaging around the larder pulling out various tins.

“We’ll do the old favourite, eh Dad?” He said handing me a tin of mackerel.

About 18 months ago, he was off ill from school. I asked what he wanted for lunch & he said; tinned mackerel with two slices of raisin bread. The old favorite was born. We haven’t had it since!

I facilitated by handing them various bowls & plates but the rest was up to them.

“What time is it?” Zephy suddenly demanded to know.

“You’ve got 7 minutes left.” I said.

“Right, you’ve got to make 3 plates then Mum.” He announced.

The heat was on!

For the next 7 minutes we all flew around the tiny kitchen in a perfectly orchestrated fandango, just without the castanets.

Time was called & the dishes were ferried through to the dinning room table.

“And don’t just say 10 for everything, like you always do.” Zephy said in full competitive mode.

“I am offended that you would even think that of me. I am always completely unbiased in every bake-off competition I judge.” I said scrubbing out the 10 I had already written on my makeshift mark sheet.

I then went about diligently tasting the dishes that they had prepared. Taking the time to point out individual excellence with a few minor faults thrown in for good measure & so as not to look too obvious with my final marks.

“I have deliberated long & hard about my decision & let me just say, that this has been the toughest round ever.” I began to announce. “You have both worked incredibly hard to come up with new & innovative creations & your efforts have not gone unnoticed,” At this point I had lost them both but I was enjoying the pomp & ceremony & so ploughed on. “but, unfortunately there can only be one winner here today…Mummy you have been a noble contender,” They’re back with me again. “and a force to be reckoned with but I’m afraid the clear winner here today is Zephyrus for the sheer quantity & quality of his dishes. 9/10” I concluded.

“I knew you’d say that.” He replied matter-of-factly.

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Posted in Afternoon Snack, Bread, Dairy-Free, Dessert, Drinks, Fish, Fruit, Vegetarianish | Tagged | 3 Comments

Shrimps with Garlic & Pernod.

Tuesday 20th March 2012

‘So there I was drinking my tomato juice & eating my complimentary packet of peanuts on a flight bound for a city that takes its extremes and indulgences to the limits.

Las Vegas, home to the ultimate playboy, Frank Sinatra, in the 50s, the king of rock & roll, Elvis Presley, in the 70s & the tennis legend, Pat Cash, in the 90s & now it was mine to explore for just 24 hours.

We were booked into The Dunes Hotel on the strip. My travelling companion, Jon, had been here before & had made all the arrangements before we arrived. We drove from the airport in a black stretch limousine whereupon they deposited us at our destination.

At 8:30am the casino was still going strong on its 24-hour shift. Judy, the receptionist, informed us that it was “89° & sunny” & called a bellboy to escort us to our poolside apartment. Vegas didn’t get going until it became dark, so with time to kill we decided to spend some of it around the swimming-pool drinking cocktails & talking to the Arizona women’s pool champion who was in town for a competition.

Las Vegas can cater for your every need. Prostitution & gambling are legal in Nevada and so too are firearms. You can walk into a gun shop & for $5 shoot an M16 rifle at a cardboard cutout. The barman in our hotel took great pride in telling us that Las Vegas is “the ultimate in adult excess.” At that point I was pleased I was just a tourist here for 24 hours.

By day the strip was deserted of people finding shade from the blazing sun in the huge air-conditioned casinos. By night this small town in the middle of the desert came out in full splendour.

There are no clocks in the hotels and casinos in Las Vegas, so you start your evening when the sun goes down & the huge neon signs, advertising the pleasures within, light up. Walking down the strip you are overwhelmed by the size of the hotels. Each hotel is fighting for your money to be spent in its casino, boasting $1.50 prime rib & fries or shrimp salad $2. These take equal billing to Tom Jones live at Caesar’s Palace. If you play for long enough on the slot machines the waitress will offer you free drinks and food while you play.

Not only inside do you get something for free, but so do the passers by. The Mirage Hotel displays a 150 foot mechanical volcano with lights, water, piped sound effects & running lava that erupts every 15 minutes, bringing the traffic to a stand still. Many of the hotels have a theme, whether it be Circus Circus with its overhead trapeze act or the twice daily display of swordsmanship & jousting in the mediaeval themed hotel The Excalibur.

Every year bigger, better & more extravagant hotels open. And every year thousands of tourists win & lose large amounts of money. As for me, I was a lucky one. I won $40 & retired at around 5am in preparation for an 8am flight.’

I wrote this after my first trip to Vegas in 1989. I was a 19-year-old vegetarian & although I didn’t partake in the prime rib, I did get the opportunity to sample the copius amounts of day-glow orange prawns from the seafood bar. (Not that solids were top of my priority list at that time.)

I remember them very clearly. Shelled & stacked high like a champagne tower of crustaceans. On reflection, I don’t know if they were actually the real-deal or just pulped up bits of who-knows-what in the form of a prawn but what I do know, is that they were in abundance & my fellow dinners were taking great plastic shovelfuls of them.

I’m not mad keen on self-service buffets on the whole. It goes without saying that anything cooked in such huge quantities is rearly going to be as good as something you can get a la carte but beyond quality, I can’t cope very well with gluttony & waste which is what this style of eating breeds.

When I see people piling their plates high & then subsequently leaving at least half of it, takes the pleasure out of having such choice. When we do on occasion frequent an all-you-can-eat Japanese restaurant, I make it know to my son, Zephyrus, that he can have whatever he wants as long as he eats it. Inevitably there are going to be things that he’s going to try & not like or just can’t eat any more of, but it helps to reduce the misuse of the buffet table.

I brought ours to the table still steaming.

“How many have we got each?” Zephy asked coming to the table licking his lips.

“I don’t know.” I replied. “I think there’s 19.”

“What each?” He said eyes popping out of his head.

“Noooo, in total! So how many’s that divided by 3?” I asked.

He likes maths & so we are told by his tutor, he’s pretty good at it too.

“6 each & 1 extra one.” He calculated. “Can I have the extra one?”

I, rather more slowly than him, made my calculation too, just to make sure I wasn’t dealing myself out of dinner.

“Will you eat it?” I questioned.

“Yeah.” He answered breathlessly like a panting dog.

“Go on then! Ya cheeky monkey!”

“Yesss!” He shouted shooting his fist into the air & placing the 7 prawn on his plate.

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Posted in Dairy-Free, Dinner, Seafood | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments