DECEMBER 8, 2014

It’s so hard to sum up the last week much less the last couple of weeks.  Where I am now though is Spain, and I'm going to do some traveling before I head home because why not?  :)

Had my first Spanish meal in the Barcelona airport - Patatas Bravas.  Thought I’d check out “their” potato scene and compare it to Ireland’s.  
Interesting to have so much mayonnaise on it, but the “brave” part - the brownish red sauce - was very good and quite tangy as much as it was spicy.  At the fast food stand, the patatas bravas were advertised under "Zona Fun," and I can confirm that I did indeed have fun eating them.

Now let’s do some time-traveling and go back to the last couple of weeks with some highlights:
Mrs. Walsh’s cottage, with the help of Joann-er, won the beer competition.  To say I was surprised, oh my heavens, is an understatement.  None of us drink beer, and therefore, by simply following directions to a tee (instead of experimenting) our BallymaBrew ended up being the best.  This is not to say that we should open up a micro-brewery, as our high score was only 25/50, but the master brewer judges said it showed great potential.
Yes, I am sampling the other beers with a tea cup because that's how much I like beer.

There was a 2nd award given to the team who was best at marketing and advertising their beer, and these gals won for their humorous approach by dressing as Darina in her trademark denim outfit and red glasses.  Darina was quite pleased and jumped right in for the photo.  
Chambray shirts 4-evah!
As the weeks rolled by, we started to realize that we never organized a project to raise money for charity.  Traditionally, every class raises money for two of Ballymaloe’s chosen charities.  Helen came up with the idea of creating a packet for the students - a collection of the hen bucket poem as well as the other poems and quotes from the Slow Food Event.  The students could buy/donate this packet as a souvenir.  This was a big hit, and the euros started coming in.  In addition to that, we decided to auction off the hen bucket that Liselotte painted as well.

What we didn’t expect was the reaction to auctioning the bucket.  When Helen suggested it, I thought, “Oh gosh.  Will anyone really bid on a bucket when we’re all trying to squeeze things into our suitcases as it is?”  Liselotte also echoed that it would be so embarrassing if nobody bid on it, considering it was her design. 

When I presented the idea of the auction to the class, I suggested that the bucket could be worth a lot of money someday as Liselotte is certain to be a very famous artist.   Darina immediately chimed in, “Yes, it’s what you’d call an ‘early Liselotte.”  

Well, I am happy to report that the bidding war got very competitive, very fast, and on the night of our farewell dinner, I asked Liselotte if she wanted to make one more pitch to the class to inspire a few more bids.  
Indeed.  She spoke of her Mexican inspirations (Frida Kahlo being a favorite) and promised that “her good energy and vibrations” would be with the owner as long as the bucket was in their possession.  This got a huge laugh, but it worked.  Suddenly, I found myself acting as auctioneer, and when Darina Allen herself joined in on the bidding, things got VERY intense and VERY expensive!   Darina bid against fellow student Erin Stavrianos for quite some time, going higher and higher.  Everyone was screaming with applause, excitement and disbelief!   Ladies and gentlemen, I am happy to report that the hen bucket went for...drum roll...250 Euros!  Erin Stavrianos wanted it and wanted it bad, and she was more than willing to go the distance with our headmistress to get it. 

The lovely winner in white.  

Yet another fantastic moment.  When will they end?  They never do because that night I also won an award!  It was already revealed on Facebook, but for the record, you’re looking at the winner of the “Messiest Partner” award. The teachers in the back couldn't have agreed more!
Out of 61 students, I brought home the honor, and this was my prize!  

I really couldn’t be more proud that my kitchen station was both noticed and acknowledged for being unique in some way.  I like to leave a trail of memories where I go....if not some crumbs too.

The exams?  Wow.  Okay, the exams.  Exam week.  Wow.  If you haven’t been tested in a while in any particular topic, it is a real eye-opener both on the current state of your memory and how much studying is enough studying.  I was quite proud of my performance on my wine exam, after reviewing my notes and watching detailed youtube videos on the wine valleys of France, Italy and Spain.  However, I was thrown for a loop during our 6 hour written exam.  It covered so much territory that I found myself chuckling at certain sections because I simply hadn’t a clue what the answers were.  Let’s just say there was more than a little "guess work" at work, but thankfully, I do think I will scratch by in the end.  

For example, we had to list 15 canapés that we learned during that particular demonstration (a million weeks ago!).  Though I studied my canapé section, I did not memorize specific recipes.  3 of the canapés had to be suitable for a vegan guest, and after searching my mind for any mini-appetizer, I just kept drawing blanks.  For the vegan section, I literally wrote down “thinly sliced cucumbers sprinkled with shredded carrots.”  Yummy!  And total BS.  I was making things up now.   Uh-oh.

On another question in the food hygiene section, they asked us to name 3 ways that food can get contaminated inside a dry goods pantry.  I did not study this.  After giving 2 educated BS answers, for the 3rd slot I wrote, “If a fly gets trapped in a bin.”  Yes, a fly.  In the moment, I thought that a fly getting trapped in a bin was a good, solid answer.  A real stretch, I know, but maybe the teaching staff will at least laugh?

And one more - such a basic question that I forgot to memorize - a stupid lapse on my part.  What does HACCP mean?  

Well, since you asked, it stands for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points.

I drew a complete blank on this, and most certainly did not write that down, but then I thought that if I got part of it right, maybe I could get credit for at least those words?  

So I started to think of words starting with HACCP that had to do with food hygiene and safety and I wrote:  Hazard Association of Cleaning and Control Practices.

2 out of 5?  Not too shabby.

Perhaps it didn't help that the night before I was inspired to make authentic fish tacos for a group of students, and while they studied, I cooked and fried these babies up with the help of David "Danger" Dunne.  Did you know that you can get the Rubios fish tacos recipe on the internet?  Amazing.  Here is the link.
Truth be told though, there wasn't that much studying going on that night.  After all, it was also two days until we had to say goodbye.  We were torn on how to spend our time together!

The practical exams - the actual cooking section of the final exams - were held on two different days, splitting up the class into 2 groups.  Now this day was a beast, but it was also so fascinating in terms of emotions.  I was so nervous that I couldn’t sleep the night before, and then when I woke up, my anxiety intensified as my time slot for the kitchen wasn't until noon.  Some of my roommates were in the same situation which meant that there was a lot of pacing around the cottage.  Though we had plenty of studying to do, we couldn’t focus on anything except visualizing our dishes and imagining what could go wrong and how to adapt and keep moving.  It was truly like getting ready for a race or a championship game or going on stage as an actor.  This was going to be about performance and execution, and you had 3 hours to do it once.  No looking back.  One time.  No do-overs.

You wait in the lobby with other students - you wait and wait and wait for them to call your name, and then finally they do.  It feels like you're at the doctor's office.  "Karen, we're ready for you now."  You're instructed to pick out your serving plates for your final presentation.  You get those situated and then walk to your assigned station in your assigned kitchen.  The teacher asks if you're ready.  You nod, and she writes down the time on your grading sheet.  1pm exactly.  {I had to wait an hour in the lobby because the student before me went over time.  I wasn't upset because I knew that that would have been me had our time slots been switched.}

I started to cook and bang, bang, bang.  Got my Lemon Posset done and in the fridge, Brown Yeast Bread rising under a tea towel and beets boiling on the stove.  I was feeling completely in the zone, and no one was more shocked than me.  I jointed my chicken as gracefully as I could and was still chugging along at a nice pace.  In fact, things were going so well, and I was so "on time" that I thought, "Something is going to take a turn for the worse here.  This is too easy."   

When I started making the Spicy Chicken with Almonds, I was suddenly alarmed by the lack of sauce.  I had measured my chicken carefully after deboning (2 pounds), but the spicy paste was barely covering them.  Hmmm.

I had to get my Lentils du Puy going so I left the chicken alone for a bit.  My bread was now in the oven and looked great, and I quickly whipped up some Cucumber Raita....but darn it, that chicken is almost burning now.  What is wrong with the sauce or lack of it?

I re-read the recipe, and nothing stood out except for the fact that there were a LOT of ingredients in this particular dish.  My chicken was almost completely cooked, but it didn't look right.  I tried to remember back to when I made it the first time - but mind you, that was week 3.  Back then, did my teacher say anything in particular about my sauce?  Then suddenly I remembered.  She did critique my dish.  She thought I could have let the water cook off a little more.  THE WATER.  THE WATER.  Was there water in this recipe???   I looked at the recipe again and sure enough, 5 fluid ounces of water.  I was supposed to cook the spicy paste in 5 fluid ounces of water BEFORE I added the chicken.  Shit!

I didn't have much choice but to simply add the water.   The minute I did, the paste turned into an actual sauce - a sauce I remember!  The risk though was that now the chicken was going to be overcooked (definitely not what you want during an exam), but what could I do?  

Next problem.  I had now passed the 3 hour mark, and this water was not cooking off/reducing fast enough.  If I turned the heat higher, then the sauce would boil and cook the already cooked chicken even more.  {I know what some of you chefs/cooks and foodies out there are thinking.  Take the chicken out, add the water, let it reduce, and put the chicken back in, but I didn't think of that at the time, and I had 3 other courses to manage.}  

So I basically had to take the loss.  It was really my only mistake, I think.  Over-cooked chicken.  (Over boiled in a sauce to be exact)  It's not a minor mistake, but it's not horrific either.  My Lemon Posset was glorious, bread was light, rice steamed to perfection, raita in good spirits and beet root and lentil salad was seasoned and dressed just right.  My presentation was "okay," but nothing to write home about.  Despite keeping it in the refrigerator until the last minute, the goat cheese betrayed me, and I couldn't get a clean slice of it to top my salad (after 4 tries) so I had to do some criss cross thingy that looked sloppy, but it was literally all over my fingers.  A hot knife didn't even help.  Here is what my final meal looked like.  Too bad the bread isn't in the shot!
You have to leave the room when the judging panel enters to taste your food which was fine with me.  I was exhausted and happy to be done.

As my roommate Emily and I were driving back to Dublin on Saturday though, we both remarked on what an absolute thrill that day was.  It was so stressful going into it, but a few days later, we already missed the adrenaline.  What fun to be challenged, tested and critiqued in something you love.  Those 4 hours and ten minutes will be with me for a long time.  It was a total rush.

Though I have many parting thoughts, I will have to write them in another blog entry.  My computer is about to die, and I am now sharing a Spanish converter plug in Mallorca because I didn't know I needed a different one than Ireland.  Details.  I will be back...but until then, I had the time of my life!!!  Thank you Ballymaloe Cookery School for this life-changing and life-affirming experience.  You did not disappoint! 

Bon Appetit!

*     *     *     *    *
I have to study for final exams and pack up my room this week - ship packages home (too much weight for my suitcase) and spend time with these lovely people before we say good-bye.  I hope to write an update mid-week once I get organized and finish my 1st practical exam but until then...GO CHARGERS!

My mum so sweetly and generously knitted me not 1 but 2 sweaters while I've been here, and though I was prompt in showing my appreciation the first time, I lagged to show my appreciation the second time.  She simply asked for a photo and confirmation of the 2nd sweater's arrival.  So I brought the sweater to a dinner party I attended last night in order to give mum a proper photo spread.  Who knew it could be so versatile?  I'll tell you who.  My mum.

You can wear this sweater when:
You are getting ready for a dinner party while also 
practicing your appetizer for your final exam.
Or to play a few rounds of tennis before the dinner party 
so that you can indulge in as much Dutch Truffle Cheese as 
you please.   No pain no gain!

You can pose in this sweater, looking hopelessly cute, as you imagine how much the dinner guests will love your new sweater.  Shaking her hips, she brags, "All the way from America, sweetheart."

As the dinner party unfolds, the sweater proves that it goes well with a glass of mulled wine and candle in hand.  Sophistication at its best.  

And to the contrary, you can wear this sweater when you are completely bored at 'said' dinner party - especially after the guest of honor, 
the Dutch Truffle Cheese, has been demolished.  Grrrr....

Thank you for the jumper, mummy!  That's what they call it here.  I love it!  We love it!  You are so talented.  I will still get the photo by the folly, I promise.

Week 11 begins.  Wine exam Wednesday, and at some point, I must make Brioche to get it ticked off my technique sheet.  I don't know how I missed it, but I have.
This sums up how close this experience is to being over.  We don't like to talk about it, but we are being forced to think about it.  The phrase "final exams" kind of gives it away.  Cheers.

*     *     *     *     *

NOVEMBER 22, 2014

"Do you think your cooking has improved since being here?" Sarah asked.

"Yes, definitely," I replied.  "But I do not think my time management has improved."

"Yes, it has, Karen.  I've seen you at lunch earlier," assured Liselotte.

"I finished at 1:50 today." 

Laughter.  (We are supposed to finish at 12:30.)

"But to be fair, there was a long line for the deep fryer," I explained.

"That's terrible!" 

"Yeah, I hate when that happens."

Week 10 proved to be....well, exhausting and ended with me leaving the kitchen mid-morning because I felt light-headed and nauseous.  As I stared at the fruit salad in front of me I thought, "I can finish this, but I cannot do the ribs.  I just cannot do the ribs."  I was scheduled to marinate some pork ribs and fry up them up in a wok, but the sheer idea of it made my stomach turn.

They warned us this might happen during week 5, but honestly, with this amazing class of mine, we sailed passed week 5 still in honeymoon mode.  In week 10, the trials and challenges of what we've been doing here, finally hit me.  It started with my stomach informing me, in no uncertain terms, that it had had enough rich food to last a lifetime.  The sight of certain things started to make me gag (and I wasn't sick).  Lamb, you already know how I feel, but suddenly the thought of eggplant made me want to chuck it across the room.  During demo, I wrote to a friend sitting next to me, "I am so OVER aubergines!"  which admittedly, is a funny thing to write so emphatically, but I meant it.  Then came puff pastry.  You cannot imagine the amount of butter.  You basically put a slab of butter onto your dough - like a massive slab.  It made my teeth hurt.  We also happened to have a fish and chip demo this week - more fried food - more mayo-based dips - and then the pork belly cracklin' appeared on the menu.  I nearly lost it.    

While this was happening, my upper back started to hurt too.  It was a muscular problem, super tight, and yoga poses were only helping a little.  Before I could rest, we had our final menus due, which is a HUGE decision as the staff has to order the food in advance so there can be NO changes made after turning it in.  For our final practical exam, we have to cook a starter, main course and dessert.  We are also assigned a type of bread, chosen from a lottery, and we have to bake that on the same morning.  We get 3 hours to complete this - a nightmare for me as it is less time than we get during the week.  We had to design a menu around an event.  This is what I turned in and what I will be cooking on Dec. 3rd for my final.
There is a lot of strategy behind our choices, but mine is mostly time-based.  The Lemon Posset "should" take me about 10-15 minutes so I picked that.   We're not allowed to repeat ingredients, and you would never go creamy, creamy, creamy or spicy, spicy, spicy either so hopefully, mine is well-balanced -- and ends with something refreshing.  And yes, I am happy to use my niece, whom I have yet to meet, for some sentimental points -- should sentimental points even exist - which, I doubt, they do, but an aunt and her new niece can try!

By Friday, it was all I could do to show up for stock duty at 8 a.m.  I felt miserable.  I didn't think I could make it through the day but wanted to try because these are some of our last days in the kitchen.  However, even with the best intentions, I couldn't bear the smells, sights or organized chaos anymore.  You know that phrase "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen?"  Well, I couldn't.  Culinary overload.

Both my teacher and my partner that day were named Sorcha, (pronounced like "orca" but with an "s" - a very popular Irish name) and so I told both Sorchas that I felt faint.  They said no bones about it.  I had to go home.  (Far too many sharp knives in the kitchen for someone to feel light-headed.)   The Sorchas kindly finished my spicy pork ribs, and I made my way back to my cottage, collapsed on my bed and slept for hours.

It's Saturday now, and I feel "okay" but not 100% yet.  I am not conventionally sick so it is an odd feeling.  Everyone seems to be cooking tonight for practice so dinner invitations are out there, but I will have to wait and see if I'm up for it.  Might have to sleep through my Saturday night so I can get back to business again for the last push of week 11 and 12.

The week wasn't without it's fun though.  I am absolutely fascinated with squid.  Did you know that it's known as the "scribe" of the sea?  You might think it's because of the ink, but it's really something more magical.
Me and my 1st Squid.
You pull out the beak, then you grab the top of the cartilage thingy and...Gary, wait a second, what the heck is this?
It's the "quill."  This magnificent piece of art feels and looks like clear plastic and pulls out so easily from the squid.  Its perfect design looks like an old-fashioned pen.  Pair this with the black ink sacs inside the squid, and now you know why it's called the "scribe" of the sea.  I mean, come on!  I couldn't believe it.
Here is my partner Sorcha pretending to use the quill to make notes on her recipe.   Seriously, I couldn't get over this.  I kept saying to one of my teachers, "Come on, Gary.  In all your years cooking, this HAS to be the coolest thing you have come across."  He just laughed and said, "Yes, Karen.  It's amazing."  Mother Nature floored me that day.
The slicing and frying of the squid was rather anti-climactic after that but tasty nonetheless.
Gary critiqued that this was far too much sauce for the amount of squid on the plate.  I told him he hasn't met my family.  He countered that the pastry chef at the restaurant would be upset because the customers might not order dessert if they had so much of a rich sauce for an appetizer.  I said, "Again, you haven't met my family."   

We had a good laugh about it.  Yes, yes, less sauce.  I get it.  CEPHALOPODS ROCK!

*     *     *     *     *

NOVEMBER 18, 2014
So far behind on blogs!  So sorry.  I have been prepping for my event and had my friend come into town for the screening of my short film and a tour of Ireland, AND we have to decide what menu we're going to present for our final exams room is an absolute mess.   

I'll just get to the point.  The event was incredible.  Tara and I got a standing ovation after the film, and the evening was filled with so much fun, laughter and surprises.  I managed to coerce some of my classmates to perform some food poetry that night, and they absolutely brought down the house.  The night was called "The Joy of Eating."

I passed around Jolly Ranchers to introduce some American candy to the crowd.  Some of my teachers were there and after inspecting the candy, they quietly whispered to me that some of the ingredients are banned in Ireland.  REBEL CANDY!  Another teacher said as she sucked on one, "The flavor just keeps coming. It never wears off!"  

To give you a sense of the night, I wrote a poem called HEN BUCKET which my roommate Helen performed with the sincerity and humor of Maggie Smith.  I assigned her the role because I knew she could kick off the night and set the tone, and she did.  

Here is a copy of HEN BUCKET.  Hopefully, it's not "too inside," as it is a HUGE part of our daily lives and chores here at the school.  Just imagine it's an ode to your compost.


Hen bucket, hen bucket, so full of hen delights

Carried from each kitchen, a beacon in the night 

Hen bucket, hen bucket, you waste not nor decay

and you never tire of feeding Les Palais de Poulet

Your skills are quite formidable, turning scraps into a feast

Those birds have won the lottery, to say the very least

If we ever sent raw chicken back, I do apologize

Cannibalism is always wrong, even such tasty thighs 

Though it is quite strange you do accept egg shells and whites and yolks
But who is it for me to question? I’m just one of those 12 week folks

Never had I heard of such a thing before coming to Ballymaloo
How is it that I ever lived without a hen bucket like you?

You smell at times, and I must admit, you’re my least favorite chore
No, scratch that.  Blitzing I hate, dumping you I adore

But wait....

Let us not forget Mr. Lemon Peel, a man we can admire
Squeeze him, zest him, candy him, and he’ll still light your fire

Do kindly tell the ripe old rind, he’s third only to the stock
But it’s you, oh sweet hen bucket, that makes my heart tick tock.

We plan to auction this amazing hen bucket, designed and painted for the evening by our classmate Liselotte.  We will give the money to one of the charities that the school sponsors.  It will be hard not to be the highest bidder!

The next poem was recited by David, who we affectionally call "Danger" Dunne.  He said he was very nervous, but he came out swinging!  (Remember, these are culinary students - not actors.)  The poem is called SHARE NOT.  I found it on the internet.  Not sure who wrote it.


When I go out to dinner,

I do not want to share.

I don’t care what is on your plate;

I don’t want to compare.

I scan the menu up and down

And then make my selection.

When it arrives, it’s meant for me

And not for your inspection.

“You want to taste my fish?” I’m asked.

Some people never learn;

For then the expectation is

To taste mine in return.

And so the answer’s always No!
Yet comments never cease.
“Your fries look really good!” They are,
So let me eat in peace!

Each morsel on my dish is mine
And I intend to finish.
Perhaps my attitude will make
Your thoughts of me diminish.

I’m sorry if that is the case – 
Dessert I’ll split just fine;
But when the meal’s delivered – 
You eat yours and I’ll eat mine!

We have a woman here who has become somewhat of a legend.  She is 75 years old and from Manhattan.  She has the most amazing attitude and has us in stitches most of the time with her unique take on life.  I wish you could have seen the audience erupt in hysterics as she tried to seduce David (playing an unassuming waiter) during a poem called Linguini by Diane Lockward.  We needed oxygen tanks, we were laughing so hard.  Here is a photo of rehearsal and then the real thing.

Sarah had us in the palm of her hands and knew it!
The grand dame!  Legendary stuff.

I also had a group of classmates read quotes from famous chefs and food lovers.  My roommate Erin read from E.B. White:
"From morning till night, sounds drift from the kitchen, most of them familiar and comforting.  On days when warmth is the most important need of the human heart, the kitchen is the place you can find it; it dries the wet sock, it cools the hot little brain."

Ian, our resident ginger king, read from the likes of Ricky Gervais and Masaharu Morimoto.

Gervais: "Strong, mature, rich.  No, it's not a description of me.  It's how I like my cheese.  The only reason I go to the gym is so that I can eat more cheese."

Morimoto: "Japanese chefs believe that our soul goes into our knives once we start using them.  So don't put your soul into a dishwasher!"

And then there was darling Cleo - who delighted in the opportunity to sing "A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down" from Mary Poppins.  At one point, the whole audience joined in and sang along.  Magical.

Then it was time for the film.  Watching SLICE in a Kitchen Demo Classroom by candlelight in a small village in Ireland is, in my opinion, the only way to internationally debut your film.


And the fact that Tara Kirkland, the lead actress of my short film and one of my longtime besties was there with us, well, it just made the night even more extraordinary - if that's possible.  Darina was also quite pleased with the event and promptly invited Tara and me to join her for dinner that night at the Ballymaloe Country House.  A total honor.

As Dr. Seuss once wrote, "Oh the Places You'll Go!"

*     *     *     *     *

NOVEMBER 7, 2014
So this is happening next week.
I have lots to plan and organize for this event - as if I don't have Brioche and Croissants to make!   I had to suss out a few students to see who had the personality to stand up and publicly read a poem and who did not.  It was pretty funny to see the blood drain out of some people's faces when I asked.  "  I do not want to read a poem, Karen.  Please don't make me do that."   I assured them it wasn't a problem, and I was not looking for any favors but rather general interest in performing.  I asked a few other students, and they said, "I'd LOVE to!"  It will be a blast...just as soon as I get organized.

I tried the 5 plait/braid today with some white yeast dough.
Looks like an octopus and is actually SO fun to work with!
This is the 5 plait.  I meant to take a picture before the egg wash, but you can still see the advanced moves here.  Makes your head spin, doesn't it?
There she is.  Miss America.

Made this uncooked Lemon Souffle where leaf gelatin is used to create the same effect as a baked souffle, only this one was simply refrigerated.  In my attempt to dazzle my teacher with presentation, I crystallized some lemon peel to put on top.  While impressed, she said I still need to think HEIGHT, HEIGHT, HEIGHT.   She dolloped some softly whipped cream on top and relocated the lemon peel.   
Seems so obvious now.  I tried to make the case that there was already enough whipped cream in the souffle so I didn't want to add more.  She said more whipped cream was fine.  

Going on a road trip this weekend -- all the way to WEST CORK!  Woo-hoo!   Seriously, Cork County is SO big.  We are going to drive 2 hours and still be in the same county.  A bunch of us will pile into the car and head to a special dinner at a cafe where they're roasting a pig and serving craft beer.  That's all that I know.  I have some real planners in my house, and it's so nice to be told where I'm going instead of planning it all myself.  Besides, I have my event to cook up -- bringing a little Hollywood glam to Shanagarry.

I am so looking forward to my friend Tara coming into town next week!  Hi Taaaaaa!  I can hardly believe we finished week 8.  Time is flying, and yet the pace of life in the countryside is so wonderful.  Exams are on the horizon - starting with a 100 question wine exam first.  Yowza!  Oh by the way, I got 100% on my herb and salad exam.  Scored lower on my technique exam 87.5%, but it sure was fun to get 100% on something!

Okay, I have a million things to do.  Gotta run but lots of fun to report after the weekend, I'm sure!

*     *     *     *     *

NOVEMBER 5, 2014

And it's a tie!

Helen and I started off the morning at exactly 8 a.m.  I kept walking by her with great speed, trying to emphasize that I was ready do get my "fast" on.  And that I did.  After squeezing the water-life out of some cooked spinach, I whizzed it with 00 flour, added yolks, kneaded it, hand-rolled it through the machine, and soon I had my pasta verde noodles ready for lasagna.
I must say this was a much easier task than expected.  They use the best ingredients here so I think it will be more of a challenge to replicate this at home.
Blanched these babies, put them in cold water to stop them from cooking further and then layered them with homemade Ragu and Bechamel.
This Ragu recipe is very concentrated and is courtesy of the great Italian chef Marcella Hazan.  It was quite rich and stunning (though I don't think it needed olive oil AND butter AND we didn't drain out the beef grease.)  Old school cooking.
Did it need even more butter on top?  Who am I to question?  :)
This is the finished product, and as the clock reached 12:30, Helen and I both said at the same time, "Ready for tasting!"   We literally finished at the exact same time.  So much for talking trash!  Either I improved or she had a more labor intensive pasta, (cappelletti), but we actually sat down for lunch at the same time.  Photo proof.
Man, that was a delicious lunch - very hard to stay awake in demo after a homemade pasta feast!

Had lunch with the Americans on Sunday but failed to take a photo of all of us.  Instead we took photos of the food, as foodies do!  We had southern pimento cheese canapes, New York style bagels, chicken tacos, pumpkin pie, SALAD and my sweet potato, goat cheese and green onion casserole with my powdered sugar tea cakes.
You might be wondering after all of this food, if any of us are gaining any weight?  Well, this has become a very popular video in our cottage.  At this point, you can hear someone humming it while cooking, doing laundry or checking email.   It's our anthem.

*     *     *     *     *

NOVEMBER 3, 2014

"Helen, after working with me this morning, do you have any advice on how I can improve my time management in the kitchen?"  

"Yes.  Do things faster."

This week I am partnered with my English roommate Helen.  I say that she's English so that you can imagine her accent.  We are having loads of fun.  We are assigned several things to cook each day, and as partners, we have to agree on who will do what.  We decided to "rock, paper, scissors" our way through the menu, and I won which meant that Helen had to do the lamb.  (I still cannot deal with the smell of lamb browning in a frying pan, and although we share a station, mentally, the smell is a little less when I don't have to do it.)  

My tasks were Shortbread Biscuits (cookies), Blackberry Fool, Brown Soda Bread and Potted Prawns.  Helen expected me in the kitchen at 8 a.m., but I was 15 minutes late because I had to take down the trash and hen bucket from our cottage.  "Couldn't you have done that at 745?" she asked.  You see how she rolls.

I felt good as the morning progressed and decided to get creative with my cookies by doing a melted white chocolate and dark chocolate drizzle over them.  I also had to practice "feathering" the softly whipped cream on top of the Blackberry Fool - a task I am terrible at!  For being an artsy person, I am not very artsy when it comes to precision pastry stuff.   My cookies looked great because I took a Jackson Pollack approach and splattered and drizzled and flung the white and dark chocolate around the tray of cookies like paint.  FUN!  I wish I had taken a photo, but the morning started to get away from me.  Peeling prawns is a pain in the arse, and I did not expect for it to take me so long.  Soon I was behind again, and while Helen was ready for tasting at noon, it would be another hour before I was ready.

At lunch I asked Helen if she noticed anything in particular that could explain why I can't finish on time.  In her rather blunt British way, she nodded and said, "Yes.  Do things faster."   

I laughed so hard!  Is that all?  You mean I don't suck?  She said, "No, you don't suck, but my God, you are as slow as molasses."  Apparently, my California style of moving through the kitchen as if I'm in flip flops and holding a Corona beer with lime doesn't help my cause.  She says I use way too many bowls and utensils, do not clean up enough throughout the morning, which causes things to pile up on my station, and most of all, I have WAY too many "moves."  

This is a saying in the kitchen that I have not fully grasped, but Helen is a former Head of Finance exec, and she was quite happy to give me an example.  She explained, "I watched you, and instead of gathering the white chocolate and dark chocolate from the shelves at the same time, you first walked across the kitchen and got the white chocolate, walked back, melted it, drizzled it on the cookies and then returned to the shelves to retrieve the dark chocolate for the same process."  She continued, "Why not get all of the supplies you need while you're there and save yourself the 2nd walk?"  

I replied, "Because there's no room on my counter for more," and she replied, "Yes, I noticed.  That's why you need to keep your station clean, petal.  Clean as you go.  There's a reason why we do it.  TOO.  MANY.  MOVES."  

I found this hilarious until Helen said that it doesn't really matter in the long run because I'm not going to work in a kitchen after this.  Oh really?!!  Them are fightin' words.  I told her I am going to come in with guns blazing tomorrow and finish at the same time as her...if not BEFORE!

And life takes those unexpected turns...we had afternoon demo today, and guess what we're making tomorrow?  Homemade feckin' pasta.  Jesus, Mary and Joseph.  Not a great day to outdo myself.  I may have shot myself in the farfalle on this one.

In other news...

Last week, we took a field trip to the Shanagarry Shore to go foraging for all things seaweed.  We've already made Carrageen Moss Pudding, but we finally got to see where it lives under the sea - along with periwinkles and sugar kelp.  By the way, seaweed is the next big thing to hit the world stage, along with Mexican cuisine.  You heard it here, people.
We started singing "Under the Sea" from the Little Mermaid.
Darina Allen - endless information and knowledge.
My goodness!
Those are Periwinkes she's picking.  You eat them 
with a tiny pin after boiling them.  France loves to 
buy these from Ireland.
Carrageen Moss - used this frizzy part on top for the strangest dessert ever, but it worked!
This is sugar kelp.  It's used as a sweetener.  
Seaweed is chock full of good things for the body.  
Spread the word.
Darina says we must try everything.  Giving sugar kelp a go. I'd say it's better than cooked cucumber which I am still whole-heartedly against.
I thought my sister Laura would love 
these natural color schemes. Gorgeous, Mother Nature.  Just grand!

Okay off to do my work order for Lasagna Verde 
which includes making homemade spinach pasta, 
beef ragu and bechamel.  The clock starts now!

*     *     *     *     *

NOVEMBER 1, 2014
Hello!  I've been getting some feedback that people are having withdrawals from by blog.  So sorry!   I got tangled up in House of Cards Season 2, and it's all I want to do at the end of the night.  The good news is I only have 2 episodes left.  

Let's see....

Tomorrow the Americans are gathering for a lunch, and I wonder what everyone will bring.  In one sense, I think we're all craving food from home, and in other ways it's always good to practice the dishes we're learning here.  I'll be sure to take photos.

Which brings me to my next point...I think we might be becoming food snobs!  Oh no!   Everything we eat here is at such a HIGH LEVEL that when we venture outside of this place, we're often disappointed.  At the food festival last weekend, there was a lot of shrugging of the shoulders - everything was "okay" but not outstanding.  And then last night at dinner, I paid 15 euros for a chicken salad that was literally leaves, chicken, some strips of pancetta and mango salsa.  Again, it wasn't bad, but we're all falling into the habit of thinking that these dishes could be more "elevated."

I mean, when you're making things like Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Kumquat Compote, and Darina Allen herself says the "wiggle" in the PC is just right, you do start to get a bit of a swagger. 

But we must stay humbled because Lord knows we can screw things up at any moment, and there is nothing better than having someone cook for you - even if you are paying for it in a restaurant.  

I did introduce Cleo to an American favorite last night, and the results were sensational.  This English gal has now officially fallen for the Jolly Rancher - which I brought from home.  

One of the techniques we have to check off our list is Candied Peel.  This is one that I've been avoiding because I thought the process was labor intensive.  Turns out, it's probably the easiest thing on the list.  First, I must remind you that we waste absolutely nothing here so after we make fresh squeezed lemonade or in my case, grapefruit sorbet, we throw the peels into the candied peel bucket.  {There are a lot of buckets here to be mindful of.}  Then when you're ready, you soak these peels in water overnight, then boil them for three hours and drain.  Scoop out the pith and slice into strips as I did here.
Then you boil water and sugar and put these in for another 3 hours or so until they're translucent and the water and sugar have created a syrup.  Then sterilisation of jars (yes with an "s") and off you go to preserve land.
We're allowed to take them back to our cottage, but I just left them in the kitchen.  I have no use for them.  Honestly, I don't really like the flavor.  {Not being a snob!  Do you like the flavor?}  They'll be used in the kitchen for things like dipping candied peel in chocolate or cutting out shapes to decorate a cake.   If anyone likes the flavor or has uses for them, they're super easy to make.  

Okay I'm off to the Farmer's Market.  Gotta catch a ride when I can.  Will post again tomorrow.   Happy Saturday Football eating with a side of Halloween candy!


*     *     *     *     *

OCTOBER 27, 2014
Three day weekends are the best - especially when they come at the exact halfway point of a 12 week course and after midterms, at that.

We had a fun and restful weekend and did manage to get out of town.  In my quest to visit all of the counties in Ireland, I can now knock off Kilkenny.  We went to their food festival yesterday, and this little guy caught my eye at one of the exhibits.
Because the artist of this piece was a child, it really reminded me to stay playful with this experience.  Yes, it's an intensive course, and we're all taking it very seriously, but at the same time, it's an amazing time in our lives that we'll never have again.  No one likes to talk about the day when this is over so now that we start our 2nd half of the course, we must savor every day - even the tough ones.  Many people have told me I am "living the life" or "living the dream" right now, so I must do so!  Can't let the tarts get me down.

Procrastination is an old friend of mine when it comes to organizing.  I'm a perfectly motivated person EXCEPT when it comes to organizing.  Well, at Ballymaloe Cookery School, you have GOT to stay up on your filing.  A very common question you'll hear students asking is, "How's your filing going?"  We are handed so many recipes per day that keeping them organized is mandatory.  The only thing is, we were supposed to be doing that since day 1, and my claim to fame is that I have not been.  

I had a "Come to Jesus" moment today and locked myself in my room to file once and for all.  I even put Zen music on and lit a candle to help keep me focused.  Helen kept checking on me to make sure I hadn't escaped out the back door.  She knows me too well.  Helen is an A+ student when it comes to organizing.  In fact, her binders are cross-referenced in some magical way, and where I have one category like DESSERTS, she has them separated by: Iced Desserts, Cakes, Pastry, Biscuits (Cookies), Fruit Compotes, Glazes and Icings and any other sub-category you can think of.  She took this photo of me in my room today.
Does this explain why I'm the last one done in the kitchen every day too?  

I did take a break from filing to take my Sunday walk around the farm.  I promised myself I would take a stroll every Sunday to make sure I'm soaking in this incredible wonderland around me.  It started to rain, and as I was debating whether or not to continue, I bumped into my Irish friend who said, "You can't wait for the rain to stop or start in Ireland.  Just go on with your day either way."   So I went on with my walk and selected Maria Callas on my ITUNES.  

Her glorious voice led me on a divine walk through the gardens.  I took photos of raindrops on a variety of wonderful things.  These leaves always remind me of outer space.

Can you see the cobwebs?  Amazing.  My Irish roommate Emily teased me when I got back to the cottage because I was so thrilled with my raindrop photos.  She rolled her eyes and quipped, "Bloody tourist."  

Ha-ha.  I love her.

I'm hoping to have some special guests on my blog this week including a demo/recipe for Dutch pancakes and maybe a schooling on some fish tacos.  This is "after hours" business though.  It's time to get back in the kitchen and start week 7, rested and renewed.  Over the next 6 weeks, I hope to make major improvements on efficiency and time management as well as maintain my flavor profile.  

And look at this....filing complete.  Okay, it's not totally complete but enough to take this photo.
And just what can YOU organize this week?

*     *     *     *     *

OCTOBER 24, 2014

I think I aced my herb and salad leaf exam.  I assembled a Quisinart, poured wine and set a correct table setting.  Afterwards, I was feeling grand as I headed to the technique exam in a different kitchen.  Though I had no idea what I would get, I thought I could probably handle anything at that point.

But I forgot about the tart.  And my history with the tart.  And the trail of marks regarding my tarts in my teachers' possession.

I walked into Kitchen 2, and the teacher guided me to my station.  She said, "You need to sweat an onion, properly chop and cook mushrooms, make a paper piping bag and..." then it was a blur.  

"You have to make shortcrust pastry for a tart and line a flan ring."   

Mother of Christ.

Everything went fine.  Made the dough, chilled it, rolled it out and then placed it gently into the flan ring.  I thought I might get out of there alive until my teacher came over and took a look at me in progress.  The molding job on my crust was a hot mess.   She was not impressed.  This is an example of what it should look like.

I was not allowed to take photos of mine, but it did not look like that.  Lumpy, uneven, thin in some parts, fat in the other.  I know it looks easy, but they expect excellence here.  Getting the right thickness compared to the bottom thickness and making sure the crust is the right height above the ring's edge and completely even all around is ridiculously hard.  I am not one for precision so you can imagine my challenge.  Though she wouldn't tell me the score, my teacher said that she definitely wrote down "needs practice."

Everyone has their thing.  Many students would have loved to be assigned shortcrust pastry, and I would've loved to fillet a fish.  Thank goodness I can sweat an onion, chop a mushroom and make a paper piping bag is all I have to say.  Overall, I think I passed, but of course, the tart.  The tart.  The tart strikes again.

*     *     *     *    *

OCTOBER 23, 2014
I've been studying for the big mid-term exams tomorrow so that's really all that's been on my mind.  Considering that I couldn't get the twist out of my French omelette tonight, I'm a little concerned.  It should be folded perfectly like a pamphlet.  "Let's twist we did last summer." 
We have to know about 20 techniques for tomorrow but will only be asked to do 5 or so.  What I would love to get is something I did the other day: chop mushrooms (properly) and make "mushroom a la creme."  I cannot explain how insanely delicious these are.
We also did some Irish cooking which required me to withstand the smell of lamb being browned again in order to fill this traditional Dingle Pie.  I'm sticking with my star theme because it's movie award season.
I know, I know.  It's gorgeous, but this pie was a pain in the arse for many reasons.  In the middle of browning the lamb, I had to go grab some fig leaves from the garden to prepare the cheeseboard for lunch (one of my duties for the day), and when I came back, the lamb was a bit dry.  To fix it, I added more rendered lamb fat - oh yes - but then my sauce came out too thick once I added the roux....yada, yada, yada.  Secondly, I cut my thumb earlier in the morning while peeling and chopping some feckin' tomatoes so it made finely dicing the carrots and onions quite time-consuming.  I was scheduled to make Carrageen Moss Pudding but ran out of time.  I'm not sure if I got marked down for that or not, but honestly, who can concentrate on culinary snafus like these right now?  Let's get to the exams already.

I had my one-on-one meeting with Darina Allen this week to see if I could screen my short film for the students, and she gave me the green light.  We also talked about making it a bigger event so we'll see what unfolds here in Shanagarry land.  

And can I just say something about shucking oysters which I also had to do today with a cut finger, bandaged and wrapped in a towel?   Shuck off.  They're not worth it.

Sorry this is short and sweet, but I need to go study my weeds -- yes, included in the salad leaf portion of our herb test tomorrow are WEEDS.  Whaaa.

But this made me laugh.  My nephews are amazing!  Check out their Halloween costumes.  

*     *     *     *     *

OCTOBER 20, 2014
Every minute counts as we begin midterm exams this week. I haven't taken a test in 20 years so it should be very interesting.  Basically, we have an herb and lettuce leaf identification exam where we also have to list recipes that we've used them in, AND we have a technique exam where we'll be assigned 5-6 techniques that we have to perform in front of 4 teachers.  This could range from jointing a chicken to making caramel to poaching an egg to presenting and pouring a wine bottle to a guest.  Around the cottage, we're quizzing each other on borage and lovage and fennel vs. dill, and we plan to have a big study group on Wednesday or Thursday.  The teachers tell us not to worry, but how can we not?

When I first got here I signed up for a couple of extracurricular activities including milking the cows.  Well, that early morning came today.  Here are some photos from the lactose encounter.
The woman who was taking me through the steps told me that the cows are happy to step into the dairy each morning because they are so full of milk and ready to let it go.
It appears that this photo might be after she was milked.  Honestly, I was just trying not to get kicked by their legs or swatted by their tails!  I got to clean them and squeeze out some samples to make sure everything was looking good, and then they were hooked up to suction pumps.
Got handed a fresh glass of milk straight from the source.  It was delicious, but I forgot that it was going to be warm.   Mental adjustment and then delicious again.  That calf was born 2 weeks ago.  So cute.

The chickadees have arrived!  OMG, it's so warm in this shed.  As the Irish winds begin to howl, this incubated nook might be the best place to hang out!

As you can see below, I have my work cut out for me.  These are just some of the lettuce leaves I have to identify on Friday.  Can you say Lollo Rosso?  Yep, that's one of them. 

Gotta go study.  Salad spinning in my dreams.  Cheers!

*     *     *     *     *

OCTOBER 17, 2014

A mysterious woman named Alice sits on a bus - destination unknown. She says nothing to anyone - just stares at the grazing cows in the distance.  
In the background, an Irish woman speaks on a very loud microphone, telling tales of Farmer's Markets, meal tickets and the importance of being on time...

Then Alice has a vision: a location, a sense of a place in her mind.  She wonders if they will be welcoming - if there will be snacks, and yet it's all so blurry.

Meanwhile, two rockstars are also on the bus.  They try to
be incognito but are inevitably too cool for their own good.

Two travelers across the aisle quickly notice the pair.  
They squint, gawk and then ask each other... 
"Hey, aren't they in that band Smoked Gubbeen?"


The bus comes to a stop, and soon the travelers are instructed to split into two groups.  Nerves are rattled.
 Follow the geese.

Or board the spaceship.  Your choice.

The travelers are asked to cover their shoes, their hair and to put on lab coats.  Alice didn't like the sound of this, but then again, Alice was nowhere to be found.

Under the caps, only 1/2 of Smoked Gubbeen could be located.  
The other travelers refused to identify themselves.

They all began to worry.  "Why is this place so clean?  Are they going to scrub away our raw, unpasteurized personalities and turn us into a homogenized gallon of white stuff?" 

A woman named Helen was already seduced by the aroma.  
Something about it reminded her of Spain.  The group was losing her and 
losing her quick.  Someone needed to make a move.

But alongside the alluring, spicy smells 
lurked the danger of very sharp hooks...

And strange, steel cutting tools...

...and the sounds of a man in a shed, sharpening his own blades.

"Are these spaceships taking us somewhere?" they panicked.  
"Is our bus still outside?" 

The travelers' anxieties grew as they were given instructions on the aging process in this brave new world.  And then for one split second, color flashed before them, and it went from this:

And this...

To this...
Suddenly, they could see clearly, "Oh my stars!   
It's salami and chorizo!" 
"We're at a salami, cheese and chorizo factory!"  
The travelers' fears turned to exhilaration as they 
raced for the tasting plates. 

And soon it all made sense.  The clues were there all along.

"Rock and roll, you turkeys," said the turkeys.  
"Now go get your salami and cheese on."

The End.

*     *     *     *     *

Some Additional Photos from Jessie's visit...
While they were waiting for me to cook their lunch, they met a dog and named him Gregory.  As a truly trained host of Ballymaloe Cookery School, he never left their side.  Clearly, he has taken a selfie before.
And then another host came over and 
asked if they needed a cup of tea...
Outside my Harry Potter cottage.
VIP guests in demo.  Can you see the 
good, attentive students in the front row?

I don't know who they were more impressed with -- the
 masterful chef Rory O'Connell or that massive Monkfish!

Yum...tasting plates.

Hey Jess, do you want to flip my cheese?  Say what?

This pig ran over to us with the speed of a galloping 
horse, and it completely freaked us out.  PIGS. ARE. FAST.

Around the farm, there are things called "follies," 
and this is one of them.  So random and fun!

Location scouting for "Game of Thrones."


Hiding from Teletubbies.


"Ireland has good grass..."

*     *     *     *     *

OCTOBER 14, 2014
"Haas and Fuerte!" 
"Are they really going to serve fried cheese on a salad?"

New teacher this week.  He quizzes us a lot while we're cooking to prepare us for our mid-terms next week.  Name three different sauces that can be served with this fish.  Name three different options for a continental breakfast.  Name three edible herbs for garnish and three non-edible herbs.  Usually, I duck and cover and pretend to clean when he starts asking questions, hoping and praying that someone else will answer, but then he asked the million dollar question, "Name two types of avocados."

"HAAS AND FUERTE!" I shouted.  He looked surprised or possibly startled by my outburst, and so was I.  He nodded.  Very good, Karen.  

I got one more "Very good, Karen," --  on my Eclairs with lemon curd filling, (first time making choux pastry), but it was all down hill from there.  As it turns out, I fried my fish goujons and added too much salt.  "These are edible, but not servable."  (This means they are not allowed to go out to the dining room for consumption.)  And then of all things, my white soda bread was a disaster as well.  I had already made this bread a few weeks ago with no problem whatsoever, but my nonchalant attitude got me in trouble.  I put a little too much baking soda in the dough, and my bread came out yellow instead of white.  Again, my teacher said, "We're not serving this."  Heartbreak hotel.  It's really humbling to have your food remain in the kitchen.  Thank God my eclairs survived the cut for the showroom floor.

Today my cousin Jessica and her friend Adrian visited me at Ballymaloe!  Woo-hoo!  It was incredibly fun to introduce them to all of my friends...including this guy.  Look how happy he is to see the girls.  He's smiling!  Oink, oink.
I loved showing them the massive gardens and grounds of this special place.  We took some phenomenal photos, but Jessie is currently on her way to Cork City tonight, and she has the photos on her phone so there will have to be a part 2 to this blog post.

Jess and Adriann happened to come on the day where we cooked and served a full Irish breakfast.  I was so happy to see her, but as usual, I was scrambling to finish my fry up.
Jess braved the Black and White pudding (blood sausage) and ate it like a true Irish woman.  Then they stayed and watched the afternoon demo by the masterful Rory O'Connell and were first in line for the tasting plates.  One of the dishes on the menu today was goat cheese croquettes placed on a bed of leaves with olive tapenade and roasted red peppers, to which Jessie said, "They're putting fried cheese on a salad?"   Oh yes, sweet cousin, they sure are.

The girls assured me that they had an amazing time which was a relief because they were only here for one day.  I'll update more when Jess sends me their photos because we had an awesome, glamour photo shoot on the Ballycotton shore that was totally unexpected.  

So until then....sweet dreams of fried cheese!  And for God's sake, don't over salt your fish or over soda your soda bread or IT. WILL. NOT. BE. SERVED.

*     *     *     *     *

Additional scenes...
This is the kind of art you can get in Cork City.  
  Rebel County Robot

OCTOBER 12, 2014
Played a little game at The Blackbird Pub in Ballycotton Friday night.  It was called:
Basically, you write a question on a piece of paper and then throughout the night, everyone joins in and writes down an answer.  First things first though.  I ordered a drink that I could sip on all night and not get chastised for it.  I ended up having 3 Jamie and Gingers - one too many but so delicious.
This led to our first entry - vocabulary to navigate your way through a night at the pub.  And yes, I am covering one with a pen because if I recall, it is not suitable for a blog!
Participating in this kind of tomfoolery only leads to one thing - dancing on table tops and chairs to Euro tech music.  They said it was "90's disco night" at the pub, and I corrected, "Do you mean 70's?"  No, KK.  Outside of America, disco means "club" not sequins, bell bottoms and John Travolta.  

Ah yes.  I recall this from Spanish class in high school.  "Estamos bailando a la discotec."
Next we learned about certain gestures in Ireland - well, Kerry to be specific.  (Again, I am recalling this after a few drinks so I hope I'm remembering it right -- though I do have these photos and a paper document to help support my memory.)  In Kerry, the one finger hello is very important and cherished.  It might even assist you in getting some respect from the locals.  If you're driving, you simply raise one finger above your steering wheel and the opposite driver does the same.  
Here are Ian and Erin demonstrating the gesture again.
So simple, so friendly.  And here are two other Irish entries before we move on.
This I find to be very true and part of their charm and humor.    The Irish easily make fun of themselves and tease each other as well but always with good intentions.  It also means that they're not that impressed with things like having the most famous band in the world hail from Ireland.  Ask Irish folks about U2, and they shrug their shoulders and say, "Yeah, they're alright.  But if they walked down the street, we'd just ignore them.  Only tourists would ask for autographs."
If this is true, I have been in the bonus round since I've arrived.  Sunny and blue -- Oct. 12th.

The next day, everyone seemed to be headed to the Midleton Farmer's Market - party place to be for culinary students.  Since many of my roommates were out of town, I spent the day with some girls from other cottages, and the mission that morning was to have burgers for breakfast.  Yes, big, enormous burgers....for breakfast.
Representing from left to right: England, States, England and the Netherlands.  
Grass fed beef is a whole different flavor here.  I said this before when I traveled around Ireland, and granted it's a funny thing to say, but the cows seem really happy here.  They are wined and dined on the best grass in the world.  It translates to the burger.  At one point, Liselotte from Amsterdam said, "I don't want this to ever end."

From the market, we piled into a mini-van and headed to Cork City for the day.  In the car, we listened to Disney songs --- La Collecion Disney to be exact.  It's so fun to be in a car full of people from around the world, and we all know the words to the same songs.  Most popular were the ones from Mary Poppins -- "Feed the Birds" in particular.  My sisters will completely understand this bonding moment.
Here is where things got interesting.  When we parked inside a garage in Cork City, Liselotte backed her mini-van into a spot.  To say she parks like me would be an accurate assessment.  Just kind of an "Oh, it's fine" attitude -- but not a lot of precision happening between the far edges of the white lines, perhaps even inching into the neighboring sections a bit.  I told the story of how I've gotten the same note 3 or 4 different times on my windshield, and they all said the same thing, "You park like an asshole."  All the girls (and Liam) laughed at this and wondered if the same would happen to us when we returned to the car.

After a bit of a walk, we arrived at the English Market which is something to behold!  It is a massive indoor Farmer's Market very similar to Pike's Place in Seattle.  We all wanted to buy food to practice techniques back at home, and at the fish stand, we stood in awe watching the fishmongers fillet with such grace and speed.  Wow.

We also did a little shopping at a vintage clothing store.  Very odd to be trying on clothes when you have fish and cheese in your bag, but that is the English Market!
Megan, my friend Liselotte here reminds me so much of you.  Such a unique sense of style - (though she opted not to buy that fantastic hat.)  I promised her I would be brave and buy something from this store before I returned to America, but fair play, it may only be a scarf!

On the way out of the market, I stopped to buy some red wine to go with the award-winning Coolea Cheese I purchased.  Like any good culinary student, I asked the wine guy what would go best with it.  Well....let me just say something about the Cork accent....impossible!  I heard the words "nutty" and "aged" in between a whole lot of other words I couldn't decipher, and even when he said how much the wine cost, I just handed him 20 euros and hoped it was enough.  A French red was in tow as I exited the market.  

Now...back at the parking lot, we headed to the car and Liam, who was walking ahead of us, and the only guy in our Cork City crew, started laughing hysterically.  We all wondered what was so funny as we approached, and then he said, "Someone took a shit behind our car!"   Certainly, he must be kidding.  Then Rosie looked and said, "Oh my God!  I guess you really did park like an asshole!"
Now who knows what really happened here.  It could have been a mother who had a child who couldn't "wait," shall we say?  But then I remembered another entry during my Irish game at the pub.  Una and Ian were naming off what each county is known for in Ireland, and it just so happens that Cork is known as.....
That's right....Cork is known as The Rebel County.  Did we piss someone off?  Was there a real rebel in our midst?  Or is this part of the good-natured fun of Irish folk?  As we stood there transfixed, I recalled a time when instead of leaving an asshole note, someone threw their soda across my windshield, leaving my wipers a sticky mess to clean.  Liselotte, however, took one look at the goodies on the ground and said without flinching, "Take a photo.  That is true art."

So we took the photo and piled back into the car, and as we exited the parking garage, Cleo said it best, "We're not in Ballymaloe anymore, kids!"

Yes, indeed.  Big city life is so different than our peaceful 100 acre eden.  And speaking of what certain "counties" are known for, we've learned that our school is sometimes referred to as "Buttermaloe."  This nickname is supported by the bricks of Kerry Gold available 24/7.

End of week 4.  Cheers.

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OCTOBER 9, 2014
Thoughts, highlights and dishes as the weather begins to turn...or has it?
*** I've been here 4 weeks, and though BCS has tried, I am still not convinced that cucumber should be cooked.  (Blah)  Creamed celery, on the other hand, won me over -- though it took forever to cook just right.  Al dente is no bueno for this dish.  I thought it was ready about 5 times before it was.  Apparently, it has to melt in your mouth, and when you finally get it to that point, it is quite extraordinary.

*** Regarding lamb...I discovered that I am not the only person who plugs their nose when they're browning lamb in the demo (before braising it.)  Sure, it tastes delicious later, but good God, the smell is something to deal with.

*** Hail can literally fly out of the sky without any rain or warning here.  It's as if God is dumping out a bucket of ice.  It's incredibly dramatic, and I love it.  A bucket of hail came about 10 minutes after I took this photo.
We are starting to have sporadic storms too, but then blue skies return just as quick.  Yesterday, our teacher warned, "If we get struck by lightning this afternoon, carry on.  We've done many a demo by candlelight."  

*** I am still the last person to finish in Kitchen 1 before lunch despite getting to school at 8 a.m.  (We technically don't start until 9.)  My roommate Emily tries to give me tips.  "Karen, there's a boiling water faucet in the corner of the kitchen.  You don't have to wait for your water to boil."  (Where have I been?)  Then she saw me using the mortar and pestle to ground some coriander, and she was like, "What are you doing?  Whiz it in the grinder!"  

Sometimes it's confusing whether we're supposed do things by hand or use modern appliances.  For example, we had to make cakes by hand this week.  NO MIXERS ALLOWED.  Twas an arm, hand and wrist workout to say the least!  The prospect of baking cakes really got people excited though.  Look at what my artsy roommate Erin did.  She crystalized these flowers on our dining room table the night before.  
Erin's cake was from Day 2 of cakes while my Victoria Sponge was from Day 1 - when we weren't supposed to decorate just yet.

*** I love raw Jersey cream in my tea.  It's my heavenly dessert at night.  I'm eating yogurt made from raw milk too.  Might as well try it when I have healthy cows moo-ing in my midst.

*** I'm still scoring high in flavor but so-so in technique.  This was my gorgeous Vietnamese Butternut Squash soup.  Prior to this photo, I had dusted chopped cilantro (coriander) around the lip of my soup bowl for a little pizzazz, but during tasting, my teacher promptly wiped it off.  "Don't put anything on the lip of the bowl.  Think of it like a frame.  Let it be.  It's framing your soup."
To the contrary, this was my crab toast with lemon aioli from the other day.  Too much chopped parsley as decor?  Not sure.  Plating seems to be like art - very subjective.  I thought it looked like a winter wonderland, but then again, it's only an appetizer.

*** I saw Gone Girl last night with a bunch of students but was so tired today that I'm not sure I can do anything but my nightly routine during the week.  Even going to the movies threw me off of my homework prep and sleep.  I did, however, love feeling connected to awards season in America.  Let the films begin!

*** We also finally got our pale ale beer going for the BCS competition.  No one on my team really drinks beer or likes beer as demonstrated by our choice of spirits whilst making beer.

But who knows?  Maybe this competition will change our minds or maybe it will be our secret ingredient.  We are definitely not trying too hard!

It's nice to make something that we're not going to be tested on (aside from the friendly competition.)  

I went to the country store on campus today to pick up some eggs, stamps and Jersey cream, and when I saw this bag of popcorn, I laughed.  This is my life right now.
Who knew there were so many rules on the path to perfection?

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OCTOBER 6, 2014
For unto a sister a child is born.

On October 1st, my sister delivered a precious baby named Eloise.  Being so far away has been hard these past few days so I wanted to mark Eloise's arrival in a unique way for both of us.  I made a beautiful and wholesome bread in her honor.
I was thinking about what I can teach her when she grows up that no one else can.  Then it dawned on me.  I can teach her how to nurse a pint of Guinness all night long.  
The only downside is that she'll have to deal with the wrath of her Irish friends like I've had to.  The other night they scolded me and ordered me to throw out my Guinness because it had turned to garbage after 2 hours.  (I was pleasantly and cluelessly sipping the garbage.)  I have now been ordered to drink it by the glass (while it's fresh) or I can't sit at their table.  PEER PRESSURE IN THE HOMELAND!  I'd say people here are shocked by how much I don't drink, but alas, I tell them it's something to remember me by.

Today I had to peel about 50 tomatoes for a tomato puree, and though I was annoyed at first, I decided to turn it into a meditation.  I am so grateful to be here.  It continues to be difficult and getting harder each week, but I am so at home in the Irish countryside.  It is so peaceful and serene here, and dare I say, I have learned to adore the call of the rooster each morning.  (at 5 a.m.!)  I haven't driven a car in a month, and I hadn't even noticed.  

My roommates are good-natured, hilarious and creative, and the rest of the students in the class are so friendly.  We commiserate and celebrate and encourage each other.  We talk shop about herbs, chores and knife skills, and everyone here has an amazing appetite for food which is such a bonus!  It's the exact opposite of Los Angeles.  I haven't had a "grilled chicken salad with dressing on the side" for a month!

Tomorrow we have theory day, and then I'm scheduled to make my first cake on Wednesday - a Victoria sponge.  We had our first storm, and we're in for some REAL Irish weather this week.  I'm hoping it comes and goes by next Tuesday because I have my first visitors coming!  I cannot wait to greet, feed and show them around this magical place.

Feeling grateful for things like nieces and nephews and rain and wind and a beer competition brewing on the horizon...cheers!  

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OCTOBER 4, 2014
So this was the idea that started it all.  Last year at work, I was following a few student blogs at the Ballymaloe Cookery School to help me decide whether or not to make the leap and go, and a photo very similar to this one popped up.
The blogger was at the Midleton Farmer's Market, and she wrote something like, "Everyone is so nice here.  They even put chocolates on top of your coffee."   That was the moment I decided to put down my deposit for the fall session at BCS, and today I went to the Midleton Farmer's Market and got that same coffee with chocolates.  A full circle moment indeed.

A word about coffee here.  Scratch that, it's all about tea here.  After three weeks of having tea in the morning, tea in the afternoon and tea at night with my roommates (and my friends Evelyn and Owen in Meath), I simply reach for tea now instead of coffee.  As my roommate Emily says, "Tea will sort out any problem you have."  I absolutely love the ritual around it and hope to continue the daily tradition when I return home.  That being said, it was tremendously exciting to have coffee this morning.  Delicious.  Amazing.  And with chocolates?  Heaven.

Speaking of Emily, this is what you might find if you enter our cottage on a Friday night.  The phrase "technique exam" is starting to be thrown around the kitchens more often now as we head into week 4 so we find ourselves - a bit panicked.  
I'm growing more and more concerned about the herb test.  There are so many herbs here that I've never heard of, and they're all GREEN!   I mean, how many versions of green, leafy herbs can there be?  At some point, they all blend into each other.  My goal tomorrow is to find borage in the garden.  The name of my room is Borage - and come to think of it, the name of my roommate's room is Mizuna so I guess I have two to search for on Sunday.

Friday's cooking went fine and dandy, although what I'm struggling with the most now is filtering out the noise in the kitchen so that I can hear the commands and updates of my teachers throughout the morning.  For example, when one of the teachers hollered out, "Last call for chicken livers!" while another teacher was teaching me how to plait my bread - while the pots and pans were clanging - while the mixers and Quisinarts were whizzing, well, I didn't hear her at all.  Next thing you know, I'm scrambling to find chicken livers in another kitchen (which cost me time), and I was barely able to finish my pâté.  At my job back home....being under headphones all day editing with a singular, auditory focus is quite different than the rowdy concert of the kitchen.  I must learn how to zero in on my teachers' voices as they're the only ones I really need to hear.

My white yeast bread came out smashingly well, but fair play, my teacher was watching and guiding me closely.  (That's another new phrase I've learned and love to use - "fair play")
This was my finishing dish of chicken liver pâté and sweet apple relish with fresh warm rolls.  Chicken liver pâté is extraordinary, but I've already reached my limit here.  It is so rich and extravagant that you need a break from it.  Overall, my teacher said that I did well this week on seasoning and technique, but she emphasized that I need to pick up the pace and present my plates earlier.  (I am still one of the last ones to finish every day.  LAGGER!)
Today I volunteered to work at the wood-fire pizza cafe here at BCS.  It was fascinating to be so close to the fire and see how fast it really cooks those pies.  
I imagine that this pizzeria is the "place to be" once the weather gets cold.  (Btw, still absolutely perfect weather here, and it's October 4th!)  I think I'll take next weekend off though from any extracurricular cooking activities because working in the kitchen 6 days a week is exhausting!  I plan on doing absolutely nothing tomorrow - other than my wee stroll through the herb garden.

Today at the farmer's market, I was so enchanted with the desserts at the Bite Size Bakery stand that I purchased these beauties for our Downton Abbey night.  They are symbolic to me of this journey - from the chocolates on the coffee cup --- to my struggles with the tarts - to the potential of these perfected pieces of art.  
It starts with an idea - then the courage to do it - then lots of challenges, failures and humbling moments - but with a beautiful goal on the horizon, you keep trying and trying and then anything becomes possible.  

So be brave.  What adventure can you start planning for yourself today?

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OCTOBER 2, 2014
Be confident in your idea.  Own it. 
Hire people who understand your vision.
Customers want a sense of belonging.  If you can create that, you've cracked the code.  - seminar on The Business of Food

On Wednesday, we had an amazing speaker and moderator lead us through a riveting seminar on the business of food.  I have to admit, I didn't think I'd get much from it since I don't have any plans to open a restaurant, but what it turned out to be was a motivational seminar on success in pretty much any field of your choosing.  Whatever your passion is and whether you want to make money from it or not, attention to detail is the absolute key.  If you expect others to give more attention to your project than you're giving, it will never be what it can be.  You must own your idea and own your passion.  

As an example, in a restaurant, the owner often doesn't know how to make the recipes and/or even what the recipes are so if the chef quits, the restaurant is in an extremely vulnerable position.  The owner should have systems set up in advance for any emergency - even if the owner has to get in the kitchen and make those artisan muffins himself/herself.  Apparently, there is often a disconnect between the owner and the chef, and it can be disastrous.  The seminar was a fascinating psychological study on human behavior and what can go wrong when there is no clear leader or system in place.  Because our moderator was so excellent, I am posting her link here.  She also highly recommended that we read The E Myth by Michael E. Gerber.

We gathered Wednesday night to get our brewing supplies, but we're so busy this week that we're going to wait until Sunday to get ours going.  We've got a pale ale up first, and we have to think of a logo and label design as well.  The competition has begun.  Photos to come.

UPDATE ON CHEESE - we check in our little babies every day and flip them.  They're looking good.

Today was a great day in the kitchen.  I scored a 10!  It may be my only one, and it came out of nowhere, but I guess when it comes to fish I'm a natural.  Who knew?  We had to fillet a pollock which for some reason came easily to me.  (Again, I have no idea why because I failed miserably at jointing a chicken.)

And this was the winning dish: pan-fried pollock with melted leeks and herbed butter.  The missing bite is due to the fact that I didn't think this dish was anything special so I didn't take a finished photo.  Then my teacher took a bite and said that it was perfectly cooked - juicy and clean, and that I showed the fish respect through the entire process.  10.  I was so shocked that I just stared at her.  I hope I thanked her for the generous scoring, but I think I just stared.  I am not trying to get tens at this point.  Gosh, I'm just trying to finish my dishes so I can eat anybody's fish in the lunch room.  

I know too well though that it's just one fish dish, and it could have been my lucky day.  After all, tomorrow I have to make chicken liver pâté (never in my life) and a really difficult, braided bread as well.  Braided - Kristen and Katie Mary, help!

As far as my dessert, OMG, I have found it here.  It's called Lemon Posset, and it is a revelation.  I would describe it as a very, very light and smooth lemon pudding.  It is so simple and so extraordinary at the same time.  I thought my feather in the hat plating was fun too - though others did the same so I guess it wasn't THAT original.  Ha!
The chefs here are so amazing with their creativity.  These little gems were from demo today.  It's the bread that I have to make tomorrow, but our instructor showed us different ways we could use it -- including potting it like a plant.  So inspired!
Did everyone buy a tart from the bakery?  :)  Cheers.

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SEPTEMBER 30, 2014
"I like your presentation but..."

Today I was back in the kitchen and so happy to be.  As usual, I always think I can handle my day, but being back after being sick found me winded a few times.  I had forgotten how fast paced the kitchen is, and now I've moved to Kitchen 1 so I also had the "time challenge" of not knowing where things were.  I started with Spicy Apple Chutney, and you'd think that throwing a bunch of things in a pot and cooking them for a while would be a breeze, but you need to monitor it and stir it constantly so that it doesn't "catch" or burn.  I got high marks on flavor, but the texture wasn't right.  The apples were too mushy and too much like baby-food, but man, the flavor was so good.  We have to wait 3 weeks before we can use it, and my English roommates have informed me that chutney is great on sausage pies and cheese, among other things, but emphasis on sausage pies and cheese.
Next up was Brown Yeast Bread.  I've never used live yeast before, and it's so fun!  You wait for it to foam almost like a Guinness.  Got good marks on my bread.  This was before - don't have an after.
In the morning before we start, the head teacher of each kitchen gives us a briefing, reminding us of certain things to be mindful of in each recipe or alerting us to whether or not the fish/crabs are coming in.  Today she emphasized the importance of plating the shrimp - and that they were looking for REALLY BEAUTIFUL presentations.  Oh boy, I got an instant knot in my stomach.  When this teacher came by, I warned her that plating is not my specialty.  She advised me to look at the IPAD from demo class for inspiration.

I did and got some ideas, but first I had to make homemade mayonnaise.  Kind of fun - kind of a wrist work-out.  Did you think they'd let us whip it up in the Quisinart?   Oh no.  It had to be made my hand - drop by drop of oil because the egg yolks can only absorb so much at a time.  I have to say though, their mayonnaise recipe is pretty amazing.

FLASH FORWARD to afternoon demo.  Two Kentucky bluegrass musicians showed up today on their int'l tour to give us a little show.  They're called The Moron Brothers, and they're hilarious!  Banjo pickin' and guitar pluckin.'
Their accents were thick.  One of them said, "Now I don't speak European, but I sure did like the lunch you cooked for us today."  Their whole schtick was to make fun of themselves as the southern American stereotype, and it was as well-written as any stand up comedy routine.  They gave a eulogy upon the death of The Pillsbury Doughboy that had us in stitches.  I highly suggest giving them a listen.  I'll post one of their songs at the end.

So drum roll. . . do you want to see if I have improved on my plating?  Voila!

And the second plate....but imagine a warm slice of bread in the empty space because my bread wasn't out of the oven yet.
My teacher was impressed.  She did like it, however, there is apparently only one way to serve lemon wedges with seafood and that is for it to be an actual wedge.  Why?  Because otherwise, it squirts in the customer's eyes and gets all over their hands.  So. . .my beautiful little half moons and my little slices of sun were deemed "a waste of lemon."  Sure, they work for decoration, but you just don't waste lemon like that, particularly if they're meant to be used with the shrimp.
The correct wedge....the little bugger.

So that was my day.  I didn't have enough time to make butter which was a bummer, but I had so much cleaning to do that I barely ate lunch.  Onward and upward.  We have theory all day tomorrow - not sure on what - I like to keep it a surprise.  Then we're all meeting to learn how to make beer and start our cottage competition.  (Oh and a late evening sourdough bread class was scheduled tonight too.  Whew!  Long day.)


Here are The Moron Brothers singing their Bologna Sandwich song, and it makes me want one right now.

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SEPTEMBER 29, 2014
I've been going absolutely bonkers being sick here at Ballymaloe.  Today after a long debate in bed, I decided not to go to class because I was still sick.  I didn't think I could last a full day, plus, I had a bit of a cough - not a nasty one but enough to stay home.  Not an easy decision.  At first, I was glad because I went back to sleep and slept until 11am, but then I had LOADS of hours to kill before my roommates got home.  It's the first time I've had cabin fever here.  This is my cottage which, on any other day, I absolutely adore.  Totes adorbs, right?
So what did I accomplish?  I escorted two bees and a fly from inside to out.  I re-organized my dresser and closet in a manner that now makes sense for culinary school.  I studied ITV and BBC programming on the television which was quite interesting.  In a lot of ways, they have the same kind of talk shows that America has where the guests are taking lie detector tests, confirming infidelity or paternity...lots of screaming, bleeping and running off stage.  What I didn't expect was how many American programs are on - and not just current ones but really vintage ones.  At the very same time today, I had the choice of watching "The Streets of San Francisco," "Highway to Heaven" or "Hart to Hart."  My cup runneth over.  I was suddenly transported to being sick at home in the early 80's. 

It was so difficult being in the cottage by myself while my classmates were learning about prawns and mayonnaise and chocolate fudge puddings.  I tried to read my hand-outs to pretend like I was there, but it wasn't the same.  It's so different going to school when you REALLY want to be here.  You ache at missing out on anything.  My dear roommate Olive brought me home a tasting plate from the afternoon demo so that I could match the taste with the recipes I have to replicate tomorrow.  So sweet.  My roommates have truly taken such good care of me in the past few days.  My partner for this week also came by the cottage to decide who is going to cook what tomorrow, and he made sure to give me tips on my dishes, particularly how to plate the shrimp to their liking.

Tomorrow I will be making butter for the first time, brown yeast bread, spicy apple chutney and boiled shrimp with homemade mayonnaise and wood sorrel.  I am absolutely itching to get back in the kitchen and put my apron on.  I'm excited to get some fresh air, be among the leeks and brussel sprouts, and for God's sake, to have something to write about on this bloody blog again!  :)

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SEPTEMBER 27, 2014
Not much to report except for the fact that this has been my view all day.  
There's a bug going around BCS, and I caught it.  I've been sick in bed, passing the time with Kevin and Robin.  I hadn't seen this series yet, and I am so glad I slipped it into my suitcase.
I'm hoping to get better ASAP - one, so that my roommates allow me to watch Downton Abbey with them tomorrow night.  (Nobody wants germs around.)  And two, so that I can go to school on Monday.  I do not want to miss a single day!

My roommates lovingly brought me soup and menthols and made a community breakfast that was so nice to have, and later this afternoon, I discovered a life-saver in the freezer.  Ah...the blessing of living at culinary school.   You find tremendously yummy things stuffed into your freezer that you forgot about -- like my homemade strawberry ice cream from earlier this week.
So delicious and soothing to my throat.  

Since there won't be much to report tomorrow, my suggestion is that you all go to your nearest bakery/patisserie and buy a tart for Sunday dinner!  Now that we know how difficult they are, let's give it up to all of the pastry chefs out there, who not only nail it every day but serve it to the public.  Mine are miles away from a price tag but much respect to them.

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SEPTEMBER 26, 2014
"Hold your nerve now, Karen.  Go a little longer." - said in a very specific East Cork accent.

This morning I got to my station early and was ready to tackle even, dare I say, conquer the lemon tart.  The mood felt promising as I took this photo just as the sun was breaking through the window.  This is Kitchen 2 - my home for the past 2 weeks.
I move to Kitchen 1 on Monday with a new partner.  There are 4 kitchens, and they switch us around so that we can work with the entire staff of teachers.

As my shortcrust dough was chilling, I began to make my lemon curd, and having been warned by Helen not to take my eyes off of it, I stared into its yellowness for a good ten minutes without moving.  Very meditative.  Though it's under a gentle heat, you don't want to overcook it because the sauce will break.  It's all about a smooth, silky sauce that cools into an equally smooth and silky curd.  You know that it's ready when it's thick enough to cover the back of a wooden spoon. 
I called my teacher over, thinking it had reached the point of no return, but she said very calmly, "Hold your nerve now, Karen.  Go a little longer."   I then kept stirring with my left hand and jotted down her quote on my notepad.  You can't write this stuff!  Irish phrases are the best!

So I held my nerve and waited a little longer and then poured it into a bowl to cool.  Next, I rolled out my dough.  It was looking pretty good.  At this point I'm thinking that three's a charm (my 3rd tart), and I might actually nail it.  I had trouble with the dough being too sticky and too dry the other times, but this time it rolled out like a good friend.
And then into the 7-inch tin it went.  As my Grandma Ciuzak used to say, "Beauty girl!" 
Then it went back into the fridge to chill.  Now here's the fun part.  In the middle of the assigned things we're doing -- which we've carefully timed out on our work order - the teachers ask us to gather around and learn how to fillet (you pronounce the "t" here) a fish.  They did this the other day too when we had to gather around the kitchen and learn how to joint a whole chicken.  This interruption really throws people off their game, and though I was worried about my lemon tart, I actually ended up filleting my first fish as if I were one of my brothers.  Son!  Other fillets did not look so pretty.  I won't mention any names --- which leads me to the question, why is pastry so damn difficult?
Maybe some of you bakers already know this, but before you put the tart in the oven to bake it "blindly" or "sans the filling," we're instructed to fill it with beans to help it bake evenly.  I did that, and all was well.  When it was done, I filled it with the lemon curd and whipped up a double batch of egg whites to achieve the mile high meringue (I'll use a piping bag on a day when I'm not filleting a fish).  Here it is before I put it in the oven. 
And then out it came....looking good!  My teacher told me to put it by the window to cool off.
I was feeling spectacular, and I still feel great now because I did improve on a lot of elements.  However, it seems that once you conquer those details, you then have to deal with the next set of issues.  When I cut into the tart to plate it, all of the lemon curd oozed out which means I didn't let it cool long enough.  And secondly, my choice to do the mile high meringue was totally acceptable, but NO ONE had this much meringue on their tarts, and soon mine looked ridiculous!  Let's take a look.
I used to tease my friend Boomer who loved a ton of butter on her popcorn at the movies, "Would you like a little popcorn with your butter?"  

Well, this is the end result of my tart.  "Would you like a little lemon curd and an invisible bottom crust with your meringue this evening, sir or madame?"  It didn't quite work.  If my curd had cooled longer and showed a little backbone, things would be slightly different, but visually, it's just a massive amount of meringue.  

Again, it tasted magnificent -- and all of us students mumble to ourselves "that's all that really matters anyway" - but we're not here for that.  We all knew we could cook so now it's about getting it right.  Not as easy as it sounds but a really fun day anyway.  No tarts on Monday.  Can I get an Amen?

As a side note, do any of you remember growing up with a hot press?  It's a phrase that is said so often in demo class.  "Put it in your hot press."  Basically, from what I gather, it's a warm cupboard of some sort to put things like bread in to help rise or socks to warm on a cold day.  Another term I learned was Aga, but most agreed that though it's charming to have in your kitchen, it's not efficient, and you just end up using the standard oven anyway.

On the way home this evening, I saw a male student kicking pebbles on the path back to his cottage in frustration.  As I passed him by, he mumbled to himself, "Feckin' tart."

Week 2.  Done-zo.  Cheers.

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SEPTEMBER 25, 2014
"As lovely as that is  It doesn't work." 

I had a GREAT day in the kitchen today.  Hooray!  I nailed a couple of dishes and ticked off a few more items on my technique list.  I made this incredible Spicy Chicken Curry with Almonds alongside perfectly cooked rice.  I will definitely be making this one for family and friends.
I also made a Cucumber and Mint Raita to go alongside it. This got high marks but only because my teacher has eyes in the back of her head.  I was about to chop a red onion and from across the kitchen (filled with students) she said, "Karen, does the recipe say red onion?"  Sure enough, it didn't.  She warned that it would change the color of my cucumbers so I quickly switched to white.  She was also concerned with my knife cutting skills and pointed out that I come in at the onion from an angle, but I need to keep my knife straight.  It's awesome to have someone staring that closely to my technique, but it's still SO awkward to cut an onion the way they want me to....but alas, I will keep trying.
I also made this Beginner's Brown Bread.  Pretty basic, but the trick is that you have about 10 seconds to get it mixed and in the oven before the buttermilk and baking soda start reacting with each other.  My teacher suggested that I move a little faster in that area because it was slightly too dense....but of course, still tasty.

Then came my little moment of inspiration.  I had to steam some spinach.  Very simple task.  My teacher and I agreed that I would put a dab of butter on it with a pinch of salt.  That's it.  However, I got inspired and took the opportunity to bring a little more color and fun to it with some tomatoes and onions.
"As lovely as that is,  It doesn't work."  

I had flashes of working on Project Runway and watching the fashion designers get critiqued by their teachers with phrases like, "That feels like an afterthought."   Well, it was definitely an afterthought!  My teacher explained that it didn't make sense because the tomatoes are raw, and the onions are too strong of a choice when the spinach is the star.  For once, this dish did not need a garnish.  Go figure.  The melted butter was enough.  Boy do I have a long way to go on plating....

It didn't matter though because I had a grand day and even finished in time to return to my cottage and change into regular clothes for the afternoon demo.  I felt like a super hero! 

Tomorrow I have to cook the almighty artichoke.  And guess what else?  Another GD tart!  A lemon one, this time, and just for fun, they've thrown in a meringue and an optional use of a piping bag too.  I have the choice of "mile high meringue" or something more well-coiffed (as shown in demo today.)

We'll see how much time I have.  Mile high meringue seems way more in my range of skill.

Before I came to Ballymaloe, I was experimenting with some of their recipes, still daydreaming about going there someday.  One of the recipes was Rory O'Connell's video instruction on meringues.  He is now one of my teachers!  He has such finesse when he cooks and always catches us off guard with his humor or excuse me,"humour."  All of the instructors are amazing and unique in their own way.  He is also Darina's brother and co-founder of the school.  Here is a link to the very meringue recipe I tried with my nieces and nephews below.  And that's the demo room we're in every day!   
We, of course, turned our meringues into smurf food.

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SEPTEMBER 24, 2014
"Remember the charm of freshness." - Darina Allen

Multi-tasking and being organized is great the day before a dinner party or BBQ, but Darina warns that you can lose a lot of flavor and quality by being too eager to knock things off your "to do" list.  Though it takes a calm mind to orchestrate a menu, be it 1 guest or 50, waiting to cook things so that that they can be served fresh and in the moment can offer a far better experience.  Who doesn't like a warm cookie right out of the oven?  Or freshly roasted pine nuts on top of a salad?  It's worth the wait -- most of the time.

Today we had a morning demo on "tray bakes" which are cookies/bars that you can make on a cookie sheet.  These will be fantastic for my family gatherings as they make so many servings.  Compact and flavorful.  We also had a demo on making butter, cheese and yoghurt, and I didn't fall asleep once!   Speaking of milk.....  
Should I enter this photo into a contest?  Look closely.  Uncle Chris, it's about content more than perfect lighting, right?  :)  

We then had an afternoon demonstration on wine (part 2), and I didn't fall asleep again!  I'm on a roll now.  (Or we just didn't have to cook today.)  These fancy wine guys below taught us how to properly spit in a spittoon like ladies and gentlemen, using water.  Look at that sky....
We tasted wines from South Africa, Australia and the Bordeaux region of France.  Colm McCan, the sommelier at Ballymaloe Country House, encourages us to take notes when drinking wine anywhere and anytime to develop our palates.  He said, "The worst ink will survive the best memory."  
When drinking white wine, please hold the glass by the stem because if you hold it on the bowl, you will warm the wine and change the structure and taste.  With reds, hold as you please.
Things can get a little wild at a wine demo.  That's Emily's arm in the photo.  She's one of my roommates.  At first, she flipped off the camera, but then she thought she should be more demure and allowed her Cabernet Savignon to photobomb instead.  There is a red wine called The Chocolate Box that is all the rage in South Africa right now.  Tip for the day.  

There are loads of lost in translation moments for everyone here, but they often come in surprising ways.  We have a "kitty" going in our cottage to cover the costs of supplies like toilet paper, cleaning products, milk and eggs etc.  In addition, there are other things purchased such as the "brown sauce" I mentioned before, and this jar above called Robinson's.  Helen had said that Robinson's is an absolute staple growing up in the U.K.  Well, the other day, nobody was in the kitchen, and I was so thirsty that I poured myself a tall glass.  It looked so refreshing, and I just love trying local things from other countries.  

I took a sip and nearly gagged.  This can't be right, I thought.  I took another sip.  WTF?  It tasted like an incredibly intense, purified dose of Sweet Tarts.  Pucker, pucker times 1000.  I thought, "Oh no.  I've poured so much in my glass, and I hate it.  What do I do?"  

Naturally, you don't want to offend anyone in your cottage especially if they're from another country, but I thought it was dreadful and couldn't bear the idea of finishing it, cultural sensitivities and all.  

Then the British girls entered and noticed, rather excitedly, that I was drinking their beloved staple.  "Oh you're trying Robinson's!  How do you like it?"  

To myself I was thinking, "I've lost my window to dump it.  Better buck up and put on your yummy face."  I replied, "It's so great.  I was so thirsty.  Thank you."  

Then I see Fiona pour herself some Robinson's, but she only puts about 3 tablespoons in a tall glass and fills the rest with water.  Hmm.  Um.  SMH.  "Fiona, I see that you're adding water.  In all honestly, I do think it is quite strong."  Then she and Helen turned and looked at my glass, "Oh no!  Oh no!  Are you drinking it straight?  It's a concentrate.  You can't possibly drink it straight!"

Well, I did.  Well, some of it anyhow.  The rest remains in the fridge so that I can take a little bit out each day and dilute it. 

And just to clarify, the liquid was not syrupy in any way like concentrates at home.  It had the consistency of juice so it made no sense to me whatsoever.  I was actually so relieved to get this sorted.  After all, they were brave enough to try my corn bread.  I didn't want to turn my nose up to their tarty traditions.

Alright well, I've got to finish my work order for tomorrow, but I will leave you with a link.  Must keep a sense of humor at all times at BCS if we're going to be simply the best.  Thanks, Ricky G for the inspiration!

SEPTEMBER 23, 2014
"COLOR IS FLAVOR." - Rachel Allen

Today we had an afternoon demo with Rachel Allen.  She is Darina's daughter-in-law and is a successful television chef in Ireland and the UK.  She is a ball of sunshine, and after a long day in the kitchen, it was really nice to have such a warm personality teaching us our next set of dishes.  Here she is teaching us how to make pita bread.
She's a whiz at desserts.  She was flicking around melted caramel and making all sorts of different artistic shards including a perfect Christmas tree that she did in one quick wrist movement.  Here is her current cookbook.

I mentioned the baked chicken skins yesterday.  Glory, glory hallelujah with some sweet, hot chili sauce.
In terms of my day, I was assigned two dishes: Traditional Irish Boiled Potatoes and Crunchy Plum and Apple Tart.  It's official.  I now loathe tarts.  At BCS, they make you do things more than once in order to practice techniques like shortbread crusts.  Have not had a moment of "nailed it" yet with this delicate beast.  When I plated my apple plum tart for my teacher today, the fruit wasn't cooked all the way through, despite ages in the oven.  Sure, it tasted fine after 15 more minutes in the oven, but the presentation was already over by then.  I decide when to plate it and call her to my station, and I did it way too soon.  Ugh.  

After lunch, I was sweeping the floor of the kitchen (another of my Cinderella chores), and one of the teachers asked how I was doing.  I said it's amazing that you can feel like a good cook one day and then BLAH the next day.  He said, "Imagine doing it for as long as we have and having one of those days."  He told me to shake it off.  It's all part of the process.  (You really do feel like a primadonna when things don't go if it should turn out perfect every time, but everyone feels this.  It's all we talk about.)

That being said, you'll be proud to know that I excelled at boiling a potato today!  Scored high marks on this million dollar plate right here.  Ain't it a beauty, Kristopher Schwalenberg?  Holla.
The trick is that they boil the "pa-day-das" for 15 minutes, dump most of the water out, and then let them steam for another 15 minutes or so.  Amazing -- especially with that Kerry Gold goodness!

UPDATE ON THE CHEESE.  We turned the cylindrical molds throughout the night for balancing purposes, and they were were all "set" when we visited today.
Then we placed them in the brine where they will sit overnight.  We have to check on them tomorrow for the next step - already forgot what that is.  :)
One of the students here is a brew master from New Zealand, and he has challenged our class to a brew making competition among the cottages.  (Is this place "camp for adults" or what?)  We have to decide by tomorrow.   None of the girls in my cottage drink beer, but we're thinking about doing it.  There are prizes.  How could we resist prizes?

Tomorrow is Wednesday, and we have cheese class in the morning and wine class in the afternoon.  This means we do not cook.  Of course, we love to cook.  We're all here.  However, having a break each Wednesday is heaven sent...except that I have to try and stay awake in class all day instead of just the afternoon.  But now my roommate is dozing off too so I have a friend in the matter.

I'm working on being able to accept comments on my blog but I haven't figured it out yet.   Maybe this weekend...


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SEPTEMBER 22, 2014


This morning I woke up completely prepared for the day and felt rested and ready to go with a new attitude.  I got up early, braided my hair, ate some leftover muesli for fuel and set out to conquer the world, that is, Kitchen 2 at Ballymaloe.  This is the path I take every morning from my cottage to the school.  Notice the mysterious fog in the distance.  That represents what awaits each day - a total mystery.

So off I went into the fog with a pep in my step and whistlin’ a happy tune like Opie on The Andy Griffith show.  "Today is going to be a great day!   Wahoo!"   I had left the cottage early and had all the time in the world to set up my station and gather my ingredients before my teachers arrived.  I felt really, really light on my feet.  

So light, in fact, that I suddenly wondered if I had forgotten anything.  Recipes.  Check.  Notebook and pen.  Check.  IPhone and cottage key.  Check.  What am I missing?  

And then it dawned on me.  "Mother of Christ, I don’t have my knife kit.  No.  No, this is not happening.  Not on my special day of avoiding mistakes I made last week."  When every precious second counts, turning around and going back to your cottage to get your knife kit is a dreadful thought.  The Andy Griffith show instantly switched channels to The Amazing Race as I ran back to my room.  

Jaysus, Mary and Joseph, Karen.  Get it sorted!

That’s what you say here instead of “figure it out.”  You say, “Get it sorted” or “Is that sorted yet?”  I love it.  Everything is like laundry.  Sort that sh*t out.

Overall, the day went much better than Friday, but every day here is so different.  Today my partner and I both thought we were doing the Tomato Basil Soup.  Nope.  Only one of us could do it so I volunteered to do the Petit Fours instead.  (We are assigned a new partner every week so we made sure to be clear what we’re doing tomorrow.)

I made the most amazing homemade strawberry ice cream and strawberry coulis.  I don't really like ice cream, but man, oh man, it was so good.   (Hey dad, I am now 100% certain I could make you Black Cherry ice cream.  No problem.)  I also made my first Irish Soda Bread which was pretty dern excitin.'  

The news there though was I still made a mess - which by now isn’t really news.  When it was time to whip some cream for the ice cream, my teacher took a look at my station and said, “Tell you what.  I’ll whip your cream.  You sort out your station.”  {Hmmn.  For a teacher to offer to whip my cream?  I must really be a standout star on collecting dirty pots, pans, bowls and utensils in a small, contained area.}

Just want to remark that part of the directions for the Irish Soda Bread are to make an "X" cut and then pinch each quarter of dough to “let the fairies out.”  And my teacher did come over, and in her thick Cork accent asked quite seriously, “Now Karen, you did let the fairies out, did ya?” 

Another fun part of the morning was waiting to hear if the crabs would arrive.  The weather plays a big part in the cycle of things here in Shanagarry and Ballycotton so the students who were assigned the Crab Quiche were literally waiting for a call from the fisherman on whether or not they could get the crabs in time to prep them for lunch.  Turns out they had to use frozen crab meat.  Those east winds are still a howlin.'

Slipped up a bit in afternoon demo, as I once again suffered a case of the “nods.”  Darina was giving a lesson on how to joint a chicken.  Mind you, this is a big technique on our mid-terms exams, and though I recall her giving instruction on cutting the leg and thigh off, I must have taken a bit of a snooze because the next thing I know, I woke up, and she was whacking the carcass (for chicken stock) but had all of the other pieces of poultry gently and beautifully laid out.  I somewhat panicked, but you can't exactly ask her to joint another one because you were catching some zzz's.  I’ll have to really practice and ask a lot of questions to make up for it.  

SIDE NOTE: Darina baked the chicken skin - stretched them across a grid on a cookie sheet and baked them into chips.  Then with a little sea salt?  TOO DIE FOR.  I have said this before.  They waste nothing here, but the upside is they know how to make anything taste so good!  

Then later tonight the Americans and Canadians got a lesson in cheese-making.  We can’t ship our cheeses back to the States like other students so they suggested we go first and get our fromage on.  They’ll be ready to eat on our last week on the course.  BCS has its own dairy so we headed there this evening to “cut the cheese” so to speak.

Must wear special dairy shoes upon entering.

Curds and whey.

Be still my heart.  Cheese.

We had to go back and forth to the dairy tonight to 

keep turning our cheese.  It looks like popcorn and tastes like nothing because we haven't added anything yet.

I'm sure you probably want more information on the cheese making process, but I am spent.  Have to turn in now.  Never a dull moment here at "the Loo."  Cheers.

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SEPTEMBER 21, 2014 - additional scenes
So relieved was I to find Helen cooking the duck.  

Doesn't that sound like a great opening line to a novel?  My plan was to purposely hide behind my re-purposed corn bread stuffing because I had no idea how to cook a duck.  Did you know that it's not supposed to be well done?  Lol.  I didn't.  Helen braved the waters and turned the duck into a delicious meal with an inspired addition of pomegranate molasses.  My stuffing turned out good too.  I sauteed onions, bacon/rashers and garlic - added some vedge broth to the corn bread and put it in the oven.  It was a bit salty so I shredded some apples at the last minute and mixed them in.  Delicious.  Erin made raspberry vinaigrette out of raspberry jam, and with the abundance of vegetables we have coming out of our ears, this was our Sunday meal.  Buena Vista Social Club playing in the background.  Week 2 at Ballymaloe begins.... 

And guess what?  Downton Abbey starts this week here!!!  Everyone is super pumped.  We're going to make a night of it.  Lady Mary and the lot.  Can't wait.

SEPTEMBER 21, 2014
The weather here continues to be gorgeous!   We took a walk along the beach in Ballycotton (about 4km) from school, and it was just incredible.  We plan on doing this as a routine, even when we're tired because the fresh air is so revitalizing.  When the sun sets and hits the lighthouse in the distance, it is just magic.  You can take a tour of it which I plan to do - which reminds me, we are encouraged to take fishing trips here as well, but the east wind is too rough right now so it's not safe yet.  

I have a new attitude too about being a better student.  I got up early this morning (Sunday) and made the BCS muesli recipe just to prove to myself I could complete it.  It's so healthy that we naturally had to have some pork sausage with it.  The girls brought out the "brown sauce" which is a lot like our A1 sauce in the States.  How much do you love that it's just called brown sauce?

We had a potluck last night in the courtyard which is a main hub for the younger students.  Our cottage brought chili con carne with all the fixins, and I once again made corn bread because no one seems to have tried it before (other than the Americans/Canadians).  I had to convert an American recipe to the measuring cups we have here so I think it came out a little too dense, but I'm going to turn the leftover cornbread into a rustic stuffing tonight to go alongside the duck.

UPDATE ON THE DUCK:  No photos of the next step because it was our first time, and as delicate as Helen and I tried to be with the birds, it was a shall I  Now they are cleaned and ready to go for Sunday dinner.

At the potluck I told Oscar, one of the younger students, that he reminded me so much of Ewan McGregor.  This got a huge smile as Ewan turns out to be one of his idols.  We then discussed how brilliant the series "The Long Way Round" is and how only a few people truly appreciate it.  It's a motorcycle series with Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman where they ride their bikes around the world.  It has a sedative quality about it, and yet it also motivates you to get off your bum and travel.  So I asked Oscar for a photo to show the comparison.  I will also get one when Oscar is smiling because you really see it then too.  They both have a mischievous quality.
Will hopefully update later to lunch with the girls.

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SEPTEMBER 19, 2014
"We don't make good food here.  We make great food." - PAM - Ballymaloe teacher

Oy.  Ain't that the truth?  Look at this photo.  Doesn't it look grand?  These are my dishes for the day.
What you don't see is that my Heirloom Tomato Salad is swimming in juice (marked down) because I plated them too early (marked down), and my Chocolate Hazelnut Tart lacks any sort of presentation (other than throwing a leaf on it at the end.  The bottom of my crust is also too pale (marked down)-- but in terms of flavor, I still got good marks.

My teacher came over and showed me another possible presentation for my tart.  Dust it with powdered sugar and cocoa powder -- and then dust the cocoa over a fork.

Other than my artistic design shortcomings, I am taking way too long to finish my dishes.  (I also had to make homemade tomato puree.)  I have to pull it together.  I was the last one to sit down for lunch today out of 61 students, and as soon as I ate, I had to get up and do my lunch clearing/setting duties.  I really don't like the "chore" thing.  I'm sure on other days it would be just fine, but today, I didn't have a break to catch my breath.  Grumble, grumble.

Two of my roommates are naturally tidy in the kitchen, and they suggested cleaning as I cook - which I honestly try to do - but it's not working.  They also suggested re-reading the recipe 3 or 4 times the night before so you really understand the steps.  I will do so this weekend.  I will also sleep in and finally get settled.  

I'm scheduled for Irish Soda Bread, Tomato Basil Soup and Strawberry Ice Cream for Monday.  Here's hoping I can straighten myself out.  My only goal is to finish in time to enjoy my lunch and change out of my chef whites before afternoon demo.  So far, I have been in my full outfit - including my dirty apron every day because I'm racing to get there on time.  The good news is that I haven't fallen asleep the past 2 days in demo class.  I think the strong coffee in the morning helps.

It's a lot like playing a sport with coaches and games and performance here.  You can hit a homerun on one day and completely suck the next day.  It's very challenging, very hard, but I think I need to take it a little more seriously.  I need to prep more - which may mean that I can't post a blog every night.  OH NO!

It's berry season here.  We are using them in full force - as we are the tomatoes.  
Every Saturday we have a potluck with all the students and we meet in the courtyard and bring a dish.  Helen and I are hoping to make something of our ducks.  We shall see.  Okay, gonna go grab a nap before we head to the pub.  Week 1 of gastro boot camp is complete.  I hope you cook something fun this weekend!!

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SEPTEMBER 18, 2014
Tonight is going to be a bit short or at least more streamy thoughts because it's 1030 at night, and I still haven't done my work order for tomorrow which will include: Heirloom Tomato Salad with Buffalo Mozzarella and Basil Dressing, Chocolate and Hazelnut Tart and prep the Tomato Puree -- plus I have hosting duties at table 3 during lunch so I have to finish my dishes early to serve.

But I do have 2 great excuses why I'm running late tonight.  As I was leaving our Fire Safety and Health Hazards class, Darina caught my ear and said, "Do you want a duck to pluck?"   Um. . .my roommates and I had avoided that task yesterday, but there I was being asked to do it by Darina herself.  I hesitated, and she urged, "Go on and get a duck in the cold room.  Take two for your cottage."   

Well, I couldn't exactly say no.  I went into the cold room and grabbed two dead mallards (shot yesterday) but wasn't sure how to hold them.  I felt sad and definitely had a moment of pause but not for long as Darina called, "Come quick.  I'll show you how to pluck."  I went outside, and she gave me a quick one-on-one lesson to get started.  Two layers - pluck against the grain.

I walked down the gravel road to my cottage carrying the ducks like some pioneer woman.  Some students walked by, saw the mallards in my arms and said encouragingly, "Cheers, mate."  

I brought them into the cottage, and my roommate Emily immediately said, "You are on your own with those."   I said, "But Darina made me take them!"   Well, at least, she strongly suggested I take them.  Then Helen offered to help pluck, and the rest of my roommates agreed, "We'll take photos of you two."
Topics covered while plucking these ducks:  buying tea in India as a profession, what we know about Buddhism being non-Buddhists, Larousse Gastronomique (the cooking bible - which I apparently must get) and how absurd it is that Americans only get 2 weeks of vacation a year.  (This is Helen.  She's from England and is so awesome.  She made us chorizo risotto tonight, but here you say it with the Spanish pronunciation "choritho.")
I forced myself to pluck the ducks because I want to make the full circle connections here.  When it was explained that these are the feathers that are in down comforters, I felt like a twit.  Of course I knew that, but I had never made the full connection until today when the feathers were in my hand (and flying into my nose - it's windy here!)  I have a down comforter on my bed in my room.  I will appreciate its warmth so much more now.

Then my roommates, who are a mix of Irish, English and Canadian asked if we could screen my short film tonight.  I was quite nervous, but there you go.  (That's a phrase that I love here as well as: "Off you go" and "Well then, there you are."  We watched; they thought it was great, and we had a lively discussion afterwards while eating Malteses.  Here is everyone that I live with except for Fiona who is taking the photo.  (Thanks for the thumbs up, Emily! And thanks for figuring out how to play it on the TV, Erin!)

This pickled egg with garlic mayonnaise was served at lunch.  A revelation.  I am in love with the things they pickle here, and the only thing I can equate it to is that they do everything just right at Ballymaloe.  It's a pickling that's not overly strong in the vinegar department, but rather just right - almost a subtle vinegar flavor.  Amazing.  I hope the pickled herring shows up again soon.  I am absolutely mad for it!   
Alright then, cheers.  We'll be roasting, frying or confit-ing the duck in our cottage over the weekend.  I'll report back.  (And I did try to keep the photos of the ducks tasteful.  Loads of respect for animals here.  Loads.)

Here is another great blog by my friend Joanna who is here.

Additional Scenes....
If you want to follow another blog that is written by a journalist here, check out Una's.  She's got it down!

SEPTEMBER 17, 2014
This is the view from our afternoon demonstration classroom.  This is just one tiny, charming square of the massive 100 acre farm, but on our mid-afternoon breaks, we step out here to get some fresh air.  It's so peaceful amidst the craziness of the kitchen.
We have an afternoon demonstration every day, and we learned this morning that we really need to be taking notes and paying attention because every second counts in the kitchen.  For example, we'll be cooking these scones and fresh raspberry jam on Friday, and they tell us things like, "Don't overwork the dough and leave little clumps of butter because they will melt and cause air pockets which will make the scone lighter."  These things aren't on the recipes.  They are the little golden gems that the teachers spontaneously share.  After our first day in the kitchen working on our own, we now see the importance of this demo/recipe combo.  Here are the exquisite scones they made today with on-the-spot raspberry jam.
Every night we have to do a "work order" which is your plan for how you're going to accomplish your assigned dishes.  It's harder than it looks, and we learned today that even though you plan for mistakes and mishaps, other problems come up that you could never see coming.  The teacher at your assigned station has to approve the work order before you begin cooking and will tell you if you're way off.
I got good marks today on my soup, compote and biscuits (cookies) but marked down on a few things.  The mishaps I didn't anticipate were under-baked cookies (how many batches have I made in my life?!!).  My soup was also too salty, and I forgot to properly plate my dessert.
This photo is plated correctly.  Prior to this photo, there were no cookies on it and less compote in the glass.  My teacher warned that I would have a very unhappy customer on my hands for skimping on the compote and forgetting the cookies when I planned to charge 5 Euros for dessert.  But I'm telling you, it is so crazy in the kitchen that by the time the teachers are ready to taste, you are so exhausted and frazzled that you forget very basic things.  I have SUCH an appreciation for that show Chopped now.  From home you say to the TV, "You forgot the cookies, you idiot!"  However, in the kitchen, you're trying to finish chopping the herbs to garnish the potato soup, while dusting the cookies with vanilla sugar, while cleaning your station (which also has to be spit-spot clean before the teacher arrives.) 

My station.  Yeah.  I had to laugh at the face my teacher gave when she walked by and saw my messy station, mid-morning.  The look was that of, "Good God almighty."  I will take a photo next time, but let's just say that my awesome partner was helping me wash MY dishes at the end because hers were long cleaned and dried.  

We're also graded on presentation.  We have to plate a single portion and then a group portion for lunch and both have to be "presented" - meaning garnished.  I got the idea to dust my biscuit platter with lemon rind (as there is lemon rind in the recipe), and then I pushed the envelope a little and put a few chocolate chips in the corner too.  Pretty, right?  An innovative move?  No, there wasn't any chocolate in the biscuit recipe, but we do have some creative freedom.

First thing my teacher said was, "Right.  Chocolate chips off the plate." buts here.  Doesn't work.

Then she tasted my soup and said, "You're a salty one."  See, this is going to be hard for me.  Too salty.  I don't even think of myself as someone who uses a lot of salt.  As my brother Bryan can attest, they do not use as much salt here in Ireland.  I know that a lower sodium diet is better, but I am going to have to develop a taste for it.  The idea here at BallyM is that the vegetables and herbs are so incredibly delicious that they really want us to taste and enjoy their earthiness.  Don't kill the experience with salt.  Tis a fine balance indeed because you can also be graded for not enough salt.  It's all about getting it just right.

In closing, it was a pretty good and hard day.  The schedule here is tough with extracurricular activities happening all the time.  A group of us went to learn how to make cheese tonight, but the curd didn't curd right - or something like that so we have to return another day.  I'm signed up to learn how to make wood-fire pizza, milk the cows and intern at Ballymaloe Country House for their Sunday brunch service.  They offer so much to students here.  It's incredible.  No second is wasted.  But whew, I'm exhausted, as clearly demonstrated by my continuous nodding off in afternoon demo.  Looking forward to the weekend to catch my breath.  Cheers.

*     *     *     *     *   

SEPTEMBER 16, 2014
One thing is made very clear here.  Do not waste anything.  Darina constantly talks about how important the soil is and gave us a long talk about compost, which is a big part of the cycle and daily routine here at BMaloe or BallyM or Ballymojo, as my Uncle Dan calls it.  We have "hen buckets" at the end of our cooking stations for scraps for the free-rangiest organic chickens in the world here.  Life is truly grand for them hens!  (Animal tour coming this weekend.)  We make lemonade and then save the lemon peels and candy them the next day.  We recycle, jar, freeze - even save onion peels for broth!  Yes, the papery skins of onions can be put into your homemade stock.  Therefore, it is a good idea to either finish your plate or only put on it what you intend to eat.  Do not waste anything.  It can be turned into a sauce or broth - at the very least!

I love Darina's teachings/demonstrations.  She is an encyclopedia of information and passion for what she does here.  She is also very tough, strict and funny.  I'm really having flashbacks of Catholic high school and college.  As I was listening to her demonstration today, I just pinched myself.  I love being around pioneers in their field.  To hear their expertise, complimented by their knack for teaching and engaging students - it's such a privilege.  The way she teaches has really helped me settle in.  It's been a hard transition from America to Ireland, city to farm - working woman to student again....but she has a way of inspiring/demanding you to be here right now, in this moment.  Perhaps it's the repeated lessons of "we are all connected."  I mean, have you talked to your plants lately?  Get on it.  They miss you.  (She didn't say that.  Lol.)

That being said, I'm having a hell of a time staying awake during afternoon demonstration.  After pasta with mushroom a la creme for lunch today and our big lunch yesterday, I am really going to have to come up with a solution.  Tomorrow we have quiche for lunch among other delicious things.  Since I don't want the food to stop (like I have a choice), I have to figure something out.  I went to the Super Value grocery store in Midleton tonight with some fellow students and bought Italian coffee.  I've been drinking tea, but it's not doing the trick.  I need that strong cup in the morning to kick off the day right.  

Tomorrow is the first day we'll be judged on our cooking.  We have to write up "work orders" to demonstrate the manner in which we'll be getting our assigned dishes done by 12:30 sharp.  That's when we all sit down for lunch.  It's a little nerve-wracking to plan your tasks.  I mean, how long will it take to chop and peel 4 cups of potatoes?  10-15 minutes?  I've never timed myself.  I'll be making Potato and Herb Soup, Fork Biscuits (Cookies) with Blackberry and Apple Compote with Sweet Geranium Leaves.  My partner has to do the Quiche Lorraine with homemade short crust as well as some fresh pesto and bread.  We'll see what happens!

This is just an exceptional, magical place.  The whole operation is quite something here - quite stunning.  I have learned so much in 2 days.  I cannot imagine what I'll have in my brain after 12 weeks.  And the chores!   We have loads of chores!   I will talk about them more in another blog.  Gotta get to bed.

In the meantime, here is Darina teaching us about compost.  She was so excited to find a worm inside that clump of earth in her hand.  She said, "And life begins again!"

*     *     *     *     *

SEPTEMBER 15, 2014
Where to begin?  I'm still trying to figure out what this blog should be about: food, adventure, Ireland, farm life, sabbatical, education.  Lots of people here are doing blogs too, and it's pretty hilarious because we all seem to take our phones out at the same time for the same photo op.  

Today was DAY 1, and it consisted of a breakfast and lunch prepared by the Ballymaloe staff, the clear professionals.  There were a number of dishes that nearly brought tears to my eyes.  The experience of eating here is delicious on another level because everything is so fresh, so local and so specialized.  

In terms of the class, I would say most are looking for a career change but only a few are currently in the food industry.  There are a lot of young people here on what they call a "gap year" which is very common in England and Ireland too, I think.  

We also got a tour of the massive farm.  I stopped taking photos because there is no way to capture it.  It goes on forever, and every inch of it is a photographer's dream.  It might be best if I split this day into three parts.  

BREAKFAST - Starting tomorrow, we will be responsible for our own morning meals, but today we were treated to an amazing array of porridge, granola, strawberry and raspberry muesli, fresh fruit and vegetables, warm bread out of the oven, homemade butter and jams, salami and venison sausage and local cheese from the farmer's market.  We also had 2 kinds of pickled herring.  OH. MY. GOD.  I tried it thinking I should try everything, and OH. MY. GOD.  It might be my favorite thing in the world.....but it had tough competition today.
The strawberry and raspberry muesli was made from soaking the oats and adding the fruit -- gosh, I don't know.  They explain everything, but you're honestly too busy eating it to even listen.  I'm sure I'll make it at some point.  Very healthy -- until you add the Jersey cream and brown sugar.
Um. . .Jersey cream.  Wow.  It's luxurious, silky, flavorful, decadent, light and extraordinary.  I cannot explain the difference.  This is when my eyes started to water from sheer awe.  It wouldn't be the first time today.

Yes, bananas in lime syrup.  Amazing.  And this is the local brand of oatmeal they use.


As I said on Facebook, the Ballymaloe greenhouse is like Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory except with fruits and vedge.  It's a magical wonderland and we get to grocery shop there.  They have worked so hard to get it to this point - 30 years!  Darina Allen states very clearly, "Food is our medicine."  And you really believe it in this greenhouse. {We each planted a lettuce starter which will be done at the end of our three months.}

LUNCH - this soup was the other thing that floored me with flavor.  A simple tomato basil soup - but when it's with the freshest tomatoes right outside your door...fantastique!

The chicken pate was mouth-watering.

That's vanilla bean ice cream 
giving you the salute there.

On the left is our demo room where we will spend every afternoon.  On the right is the great culinary legend Darina Allen who has been running Ballymaloe Cookery School for 30 years.  She is slicing a fresh piece of brown bread that just came out of the oven.  We will be replicating it tomorrow, among other things like "Bicky."  Now everyone is ready to put on their aprons.  Full chef whites required tomorrow morning.

*     *     *     *     *

SEPTEMBER 14, 2014
We're here!   Apparently, there are 61 students in my class, and we all arrived at different times today.  I'm in a lovely cottage with 5 other girls, mostly Irish and English.  Everyone is nervous and excited, and we truly don't know what to expect.  It's great to be in the same boat with so many people.  This is my darling cottage, but I'll get more photos in the daytime.  We're next to the chicken coop, and I've already been greeted by the rooster outside my window.
They made pizza and homemade ice cream for us tonight, and it was divine. They also served us fresh tomatoes, spring onions and radishes that had literally just been picked from the garden.  Radish leaves were edible, of course.  We met two of our teachers: Darina Allen and her brother Rory O'Connell.  Sorry this blog is all about the facts, but that's what I've got so far.  It's a bit overwhelming so I can't remember what kind of gourmet pizza this was or what was in this divine chocolate sauce (almond praline on top, I think).

I started a "funny lines" tablet in my cottage, which I do when I go on girls' trips with my college roommates.  You basically keep track of funny lines throughout the weekend, and then by the end, you re-read them and reminisce.  One English girl tonight said, "I'm a cola bottle fiend."  

You see, she doesn't really like "pudding" (a general English term for desserts), so she brought loads of these cola bottle candies.  The specificity of these treats combined with the fact that we are going to break our backs perfecting gourmet tarts, souffles and sticky puddings over the next 3 months made this even funnier.  First line on the list!  

*     *     *     *     * 

SEPTEMBER 13, 2014
For all of the generosity they have shown me in County Meath, I wanted to return the favor so I made Evelyn, Owen and the kids some turkey chili, cornbread and honey butter for our last dinner together.  Here is their reaction to cornbread as they had never tasted it before.
"That's actually gorgeous."
He had nearly 6 pieces.

Wellies have been purchased.  I tried on many, and these are the ones that fit best.  They're either a tribute to Mork from Ork or David Bowie from the 70s.  They'll be covered in mud soon so it won't matter.

Some Irish to English phrases:

"I've got some runners in the boot."  (tennis shoes in the trunk)
Rashers - bacon
Trousers - pants
Petrol station - gas station
Jumpers - sweaters
Chips - French Fries
Crisps - potato chips

Tomorrow I leave for Ballymaloe, and after checking in, students have orientation and mixers to attend.  I'm not sure when I'll be able to write again, but the next few days should be very interesting!


*     *     *     *    *

SEPTEMBER 12, 2014
Today my wonderful friends took me to Trim Castle in Trim, County Meath.  Now that the kids have warmed up to me, they jumped at the chance to ham it up a bit.  Two things to know: The "York" scene in Braveheart was filmed here, and Tiernan and Katie are in their school uniforms.  (They attend school in a Gaeltecht where they're taught in Irish only!)  It didn't take long before they turned from Tiernan and Katie to Harry and Hermione.

That's bubble gum tape in his hand that I brought from the States.  
Better than a wand, I say.
Loads and I mean loads of chances to overcome claustrophobia in this Fort/Castle. The stairs had a "trip factor" on purpose for invaders.
Running down the hill, Braveheart style.
I can't remember what this thing is called, but it was used to shame people back in the day.  For example, if you stole something, you had to stand there and be shamed by people walking by.  I said to Tiernan, "What if you refused to be shamed and stood there and told jokes instead?"   Tiernan replied, "I have absolutely no idea how they would've reacted to that." 
This is Tiernan's "shame" face.  A great actor, he is!  

Forget your BBM and IPHONE, here are the real blackberries.  Along Trim Castle runs the River Boyne.  We stopped to pick blackberries.  Delicious!
I'm teaching Evelyn's husband Owen that in America, once you take an IPhone photo, you must show it to the girls in the photo, possibly re-take that photo until all of the ladies are happy with that said photo, and then and only then, can we move on to the next photo.  I think I made him dizzy, but he's doing a crackin' job!

Still to come....the kids and I are writing a list of phrases and words that we use differently in our countries.  My favorite so far is, "Ah, that's a great shout."   (A reply to someone's great idea or wise call on something.)

*     *     *     *    *

SEPTEMBER 11, 2014
What could be sweeter than a note from a child to welcome your arrival?
After being picked up at the airport by my dear friend Evelyn's husband Owen, I set my mind to stay awake all day to get on this time zone's sleeping schedule.  Must overcome jet lag by Sunday!  On the way to County Meath, we stopped at Monasterboice to see a collection of Celtic crosses at a former monastery.  Stunning.

Then Owen took me to Newgrange, and we had two tours scheduled, but Knowth was first.  As we went inside the dark tomb at Knowth, and the tour guide started talking, I started to fall asleep standing up.  (A true talent)
Once outside, I decided to lay down on top of the ancient "tele-tubby" tomb and contemplate whether I could handle the 2nd tour, as Newgrange is the bigger attraction.  The answer was I could not.  My eyelids were like heavy winter blankets.  I hope to go back there and finish my unfinished business over the next 3 months.  It's an amazing place!!
A quick shot of the River Boyne on the way out - Owen is a history buff, and our day was rich with Irish history.  I am so grateful for this time in County Meath.  Lots to see here if you're planning a trip.  Don't skip it!  

*     *     *     *    *
And we're off!  Poppin' bottles as I say good-bye to my fabulous family.  Here we go.  Leaving in the a.m.  Excited to see some of my classmates on Facebook.  In just a few the dream on the farm.  Thanks to Elise for the champagne!

The story department organized a final potluck for me, and for my part, Irish corned beef and champs were requested.  I found it only fitting to follow Darina Allen's recipes for both since she will be one of my teachers in less than 2 weeks!  She says to toss out the little package that comes with the corned beef and use real vegetables, herbs and dry mustard instead.  Because I'm a bit rebellious, I used more than one sprig of thyme and put it in the crock pot, but her recipe is amazing!  And with a side of Boetje's Mustard, a family favorite, oh mama!

And "champs" for the champs of the 
story department who I will miss dearly. 

*     *     *     *     *

AUGUST 29, 2014
I'm a nutter.  I don't have enough to do right now so I added a short film documentary to the mix.  This summer, I borrowed my friend's fancy camera and shot footage of my nephews and nieces doing whatever they would normally do on a Saturday.  The footage I got was so unique that I decided to edit it together and submit it to the Sundance Film Festival.  NOTE: deadline quickly approaching.  Whether it gets in or not doesn't matter as much as capturing this moment in their lives and locking it into a well-edited time capsule.  That's why a deadline is your best friend.  It forces you to finish projects. 

So...although I am a complete nutter to take this on (starting to use Euro slang), I'm glad to get this project shipped off before I go and in the nick of time. 
Sundance will post their films for the 2015 festival while I'm in Ireland.  If there is a short doc called SATURDAY on the list, feel free to scream. Perhaps I'll hear you on the farm and pick up a dress in Dublin on my way out. 

*     *     *     *     *

AUGUST 26, 2014
Holy heckfire, it's getting close to my first day of school.  I'm starting to have my "last" this and "last" that.  Last chiropractic appointment - last weekend to get my sh*t together for packing purposes.  It's really a trip, literally and figuratively.  I've met two Irish gals on Facebook who will be in my class and just seeing their faces makes it so real.  My dear friend Evelyn, who lives in Ireland, has also been so helpful - advising that I wait to buy my "Wellies" until I get there.  Friends are stopping by to wish me well such as these two Flashdance, one-shoulder beauties who showed up in the same outfit last night.  No, they did not call each other.  This just happens in Los Angeles sometimes.  

Probably the greatest thing that is happening is that I am letting go of any expectations...mainly because I cannot come up with any!   One of my friends is a Zen meditation teacher, and she often suggests that we try and return to a "beginner's mind" where we let go of control and live in the unknown.  That's my mental state right now.  I cannot imagine what's about to happen during this 12 week culinary intensive other than loads of good food in my belly.  Believe me, I have tried to imagine it all, but all that I can muster in my mind are the pictures on the Ballymaloe website.  This is a good thing.  I feel like a student leaving for college.  What will it be like?

*     *     *     *     *

AUGUST 9, 2014
My sister is here for the weekend.  I told her that my weekends at this point consist of prepping for Ireland so we will run errands, squeeze in a movie, walk and have a yummy dinner somewhere.  So much to do.  So exciting.  

On Friday, we said goodbye to a co-worker by having a potluck.  I am so pleased with the way that the story department rallies around a potluck now.  They eagerly sign up for dishes, tie on their aprons and really put themselves in the kitchen (and/or the chips & salsa aisle at the grocery store.)

I've wanted to try Guinness Beef Stew ever since I visited the Guinness Factory in Dublin, and whilst the co-workers gobbled it up like orphans in the musical "Oliver," I reacted with a bit of a shrug of the shoulder.  The recipe insisted on the Foreign Extra Stout brand of Guinness, but I thought it was way too strong.  Oh my.  Not too strong in the "drunk and merry" sense but rather in the Foreign Extra Stoutiness sense.  I still think you should give it a go, but do note that the star flavor is, by far, the beer.  

JULY 22, 2014
No explanation needed.  From a co-worker, picked from her mother's garden.  The best gift.

JULY 14, 2014

As I get closer to leaving, I'm realizing all of the things that I will miss while I'm away - like my baby sister having a baby.  Over the weekend, I cooked her the meal that would normally come after she delivered the baby.  Since it was the final weekend of the World Cup, I asked her if she was craving anything international?  Oh ja ja ja.

This German meal was so tasty that Mario Gotze could smell the schnitzel from Brazil and was motivated to score the winning goal. 

Potato, Apple and Carmelized Onion Gratin

I rarely use Shake and Bake, but they have a new 
Crunchy "Pretzel" Coating mix.  Imagine my delight.  
More "tze" for the schnitzel.

Chicken and Pork Schnitzel
Let the games begin and the grease splatter.

"I love meals where the dominant colors are yellow and brown.  
Anything green would simply clash." - Uncle Chris

Some people are asking questions about Ballymaloe like how much it costs and do I have a job lined up when I get back?    My answer is. . ."If I thought about those things, I wouldn't go!  Now hush, I have a kugel in the oven that needs to rise." 

(Okay, it doesn't need to rise, but let's focus on the adventure 
instead of those pesky details, shall we?)

*     *     *     *     *  

JUNE 27, 2014

Received an official email from Ballymaloe Cookery School outlining all of the things I should bring. Am I really doing this? It seems crazier and crazier the closer I get to leaving. The school advises that we bring reflective arm bands and a "torch" (flashlight) for the dark country roads at night. Apparently, there is a pub about 1/4 mile away that all of the students walk to and hang out at after class.

I know the kind of darkness they're talking about. At a meditation retreat in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I had to find my friend Mary on the grounds of a zen center in the middle of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and lead her back to our pueblo. She had arrived at 10pm, and everyone was asleep because our first meditation was at the crack of dawn. The flashlight I had couldn't be wasted on searching for her through the giant rocks and trees, but rather I had to use it to make sure that I didn't trip and twist an ankle at every turn. The darkness was REAL, people. The New Mexico sky doesn't mess around at night. We had to follow the trail of each other's laughter to find one another. Not a bad remedy but still tricky.

I imagine it's going to be the same in the Irish countryside. No city lights in the distance or street lamps to guide you back to your cottage. Straight up, pitch black, country living, mates. They say Wifi is spotty there too. Other than posting my blog, I think limited access to electronics will be a good thing.

I also have this fear that I'll be the dork who brought illuminated arm and wrist bands, and everyone else will wing it like a local.  But hey, I hear the most coveted thing on the farm is a car, and so it's always good to have something to barter especially when you need to bum a ride into town.  "Anyone need any neon, Wonder Woman power wristies?"

*     *     *     *     *

JUNE 20, 2014

It's nearing the end of June, and I am feverishly reading every blog I can find of former students who attended the 12 week intensive course at Ballymaloe Cookery School.  In 2011, my family and I went on an epic trip to Ireland.  My parents and sister kindly agreed to visit the grounds of a famous cookery school in Shanagarry - a remote village in East Cork.  Twas a windy day, and we had to stop for many a cow to cross the road, but we finally arrived at the 100 acre organic farm.  There were no students in session at the time, but it didn't matter.  I knew I had to attend school there someday.  I can even hear myself saying it on the touristy video we took.  

Thanks to Bobby Flay's one-off cooking show "A Taste of Ireland," I was dialed into the country's most famous chef Darina Allen and her progressive and comprehensive school.  Now 3 years later, I am preparing to leave the comforts of home for a studying abroad adventure in the land of my ancestors.  I am truly TRIPPING OUT that I am going!  I literally have to hang up signs around my apartment to remind myself to buy things for my life overseas.  This is not some silly fantasy. 

Speaking of purchases, my dear friends chipped in and got me Dansko, no-slip, chef shoes for my birthday.  It felt so strange to slip them on my feet, and yet I NEED these shoes desperately because the course is incredibly intense and exhausting, and we will be on our feet all day.  My sister and brother-in-law also gave me my first "chef whites," and I've been advised (by former students' blogs) to buy more of these because laundry detergent is expensive in the Irish countryside, and you're too knackered at the end of the day to do a wash anyway.  

As the summer continues to unfold, I think of my upcoming adventure every day.  I'm watching and TIVO-ing as many "Iron Chef Americas" as I can to ingrain cooking terms into my head:  confit, panzanella, saba, gastrique.

I have not been back to school in over 20 years.  This should be an interesting shift indeed.  I'm going to have mid-terms and finals - not to mention being scored on my dishes every single day!  They warn that it's common for students to have a meltdown at about the 5 week point from information and execution overload, but...there is also lots of butter.  The best butter in the world, in fact.  So a meltdown with butter can't be that bad, right?  

But alas....summer still beckons, and I have 2 meditation events to plan among other things.  Ballymaloe is on my mind constantly though.  I cannot wait!  Tick, tick, tick...goes the kitchen timer.


  1. Love following your blog in Ireland!! Keep 'em coming!

  2. Neato! Awesome pics. love all the details. Feels like I'm there. Great job

  3. Great stories Karen, thanks for sharing your adventures with us!