Believe it or not, I think I’ve learned more about food and cooking while living in Ireland than anywhere else.
While it may be true that we eat our fair share of battered fish, Full Irish Breakfasts and chips doused in salt and vinegar, I have definitely broaded my palate tenfold since landing on these shores nearly 3 years ago.
Part of it is actually due to the cooking programmes I watch (don’t laugh! I’m not joking!) – MasterChef, Great British Menu, Jamie Oliver, River Cottage, Nigella Lawson and What to Eat Now, just to name a few. Through these shows and the cookbooks and magazines I read, I’m also expanding my cultural tastes, too – who would have thought I’d ever be attempting French classics like Boeuf Bourguignon and Navarin Printanier (which I can’t even pronounce)???
Then there’s been the practical side, gained from all the one-on-one tutoring I’ve received working for local restaurants and shops around town.
When I was at The Salthouse, I learned huge amounts about proper food preparation and storage, and got loads of practice with stir fries, soups, crepes, salads, fresh fish, and bruschetta. I use these skills constantly and still sneak back for lunch or dinner whenever I can because, try as I might, there are still some things I can never do as well as they can!
I was lucky enough to take a Wine Tasting course with The Wine Buff just shortly after I moved here in 2008. While I admittedly don’t remember everything, I learned a lot about where different European wines come from, what they pair well with, and how they should be drunk. I enjoy good wine sooo much more now, and really look forward to splashing out on pricier bottles now and again. I’d also love to take a real wine country tour in Spain, France or Italy to really get a feel for these complex beverages.
Then, of course, there is Traders. The longer I work there, the more I “get” the simplicity of good food. I’ve learned so much about flavours and how powerful they can be when left to their own devices. My taste for coffee has also been stripped down, and I find myself more often reaching for a strong Americano than anything else.
Looking back to when I lived in America, I know I never saw just how limited my food knowledge was. There are so many things I wouldn’t have touched then that I’ve learned to LOVE here… things like sundried tomatoes, spicey curries, rocket (arugula) salads, blackcurrant preserves, mince pies, lamb shanks and many different kinds of fish! Plus things I’d never even heard of, like celeriac or samphire.
Another aspect to this education of food, it must be said, is out of necessity. I get really bored with my standard run of meals for Frank and me, so I find myself taking the time to learn and branch out a lot more than I did before. I knew about coriander (cilantro) back in America, but it wasn’t until recently that I started to buy it, use it properly and actually LIKE eating it. The same goes for sweet potatoes, courgettes (zucchini) and parsnips.
Here’s the funny paradox – back in the USA, I was slim but did not eat well. I did a little home cooking for myself, but much of it was pre-packaged and I ate meals sporadically, if at all when I was busy or stressed! I drank lots of frilly coffees and soft drinks to stave my appetite. In Ireland, I eat 3 meals nearly every day and they’re fresh, healthy and almost always homemade. But! I am not so slim anymore. Add to that the nasty habit of tea and biscuits (or scones, crumpets, pastries, cakes, or cherry bakewells…) several times a day and you get plump little me! It begs the question – was I healthier then, or now? 🙂
Maybe food seems like a silly thing to get so excited about. But it’s nice to be good at something, isn’t it? And to find yourself itching to learn more about that something… and it’s nice to be proud of whatever you’ve created, especially if it makes another person smile, or laugh, or just feel better. Perhaps food is more than just a shallow fascination or hobby or even fuel – I think it’s a journey. And I love to travel.