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29 October 2008

C word, 2

Down in Ballinskelligs, they know a thing or three about chocolate.
Emily and Sarah of Cocoa Bean, and Colm of Skelligs Chocoltes work side by side, two separate companies, two distinct identities, but one location. Remarkable co-operation.
And remarkable chocolates. The girls have just introduced a new bar, Dark Chocolate with Christmas Tree, and it's a beaut: spruce, rosemary, ginger, spices and clementine zest all bundled together in a beautiful bar of chocolate.
Colm, meanwhile, is producing an Apricot Amaretto which is – there is no other way to put this – simply to die for. Intense yet light, this is magnificent sweetie production.
And just in time for filling those stockings...

The C word...

I know, I know: you don't want to hear the C word yet. But, we believe that the following reasons are good enough to merit mentioning it...

Country Choice Xmas Puddings: can Peter and Mary Ward's puddings be bettered? They do make a mighty pud at Nash 19 in Cork, but there is certainly no pud quite like the CC one. Made by hand in 25 unit batches without using a large mixer in order to maintain the correct texture, the CC puds no longer use suet having switched to good Nenagh butter. The good news is that whilst you can get them in Country Choice, Fallon & Byrne, URRU Bandon, Caviston's and at the RDS Craft fair, you can also order them online this year, and get them sent a present all over the world.
Imagine receiving a Country Choice pud as a present, sent through the post to some far-flung corner of the world! Too good to be true...

16 October 2008

Your Retail Therapy

Your Retail Therapy

Of all the weasel words that permeate our culture -– sugar-free; compassionate Conservatism; low-fat; friendly fire; buy-one-get-one-free – there is surely no more egregious expression than “retail therapy”.
When you are down and miserable, it proposes, you only need to flash the cash or pass the plastic to get cured, to find your balance and well-being, to regain your mental confidence.
The reality of this retail therapy, of course, is the hell envisioned by the great writer Mike Davis in his book on Los Angeles, “City of Quartz”, where he describes shopping centres as “a veritable commercial symphony of swarming, consuming nomads moving from one cashpoint to another”.
How on earth can a consuming nomad moving from one cashpoint to another in the midst of a carefully and cynically orchestrated commercial symphony expect to be cured of the blues?
You don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of emerging a happier, better person, and that’s long before the VISA bill swoops through your letterbox.
And yet, I want to propose that there is such a thing as retail therapy, and that it is not just a sure way to beat the blues and regain your mental strength. It is therapy that can also ensure your future health, and the health of the planet and the health of your local economy, all in one fell swoop.
In Waterford recently, I took a trip down the Dunmore road to the Ardkeen shopping centre, a small development of shops at one of the roundabouts on the road. It doesn’t look like much of anything, but it is home to Ardkeen Stores, run by the Jephson family since 1967, a mighty long time in modern retailing.
Ardkeen isn’t one of those mega-stores that have become the new standard for retailing. It’s modest in size, its modesty giving it a very human feeling – a calmness – as you walk in, when you are met by the smell of the fresh bread delivered from the great Barron’s Bakery in Cappoquin, where the bread is still baked in traditional stone ovens.
I picked up a box of Ballycross apple juice from Wexford, then a bag of lovely oakleaf lettuce from Thorpe’s organics. Within 5 minutes I had half a dozen squishy Waterford blaas in the basket, along with Noirin’s breakfast bread, fresh cheese and yogurts from Moonshine Dairy in Westmeath, black and white puddings and a loin of bacon from T.J. Crowe of Tipperary, a local Born Free organic chicken reared by Paul Crotty just a few miles away, and another loaf from Oldtown bakery.
On we went, picking up some new spuds from Wexford, shiitake mushrooms grown in Wexford, and a really fine spicy lamb pie made by Zanna foods, again in Wexford.
Then we hit the Sheridan’s cheese stall where the mature Cashel Blue from Tipperary was sublime, and here we came upon Sheridan’s duck confit for the first time, and I have to tell you that when I cooked it that night – cooked is too elaborate a word: you need only heat it for 20 minutes – it turned out to be one of the best things I have eaten in yonks.
The beauty of this shopping experience lies in the fact that the Jephson brothers had done all the hard work long before I walked in the door of Ardkeen.
Like the best Irish retailers, they know and support their suppliers. They source as much food locally as they can from skilled artisans. And then they present it in a dignified, delightful space, emphasizing the aesthetic of the experience just as they emphasise the aesthetic of the products they sell.
This Saturday morning jaunt was true retail therapy. I felt great, having found all this lovely stuff in one place, and was just dying to get it home and start cooking and eating it.
And the only thing that felt better than me were the local food economies. Wexford and Waterford got the lion’s share of my money, as you would expect, but there was some for Galway, Monaghan, Westmeath, Cork and Tipperary also.
And the longest food miles my foods were going to undertake was the journey from the Dunmore Road back home to West Cork.
This form of retail therapy – where the hard work of sourcing and choosing by the retailer allows you to be virtuous without much effort on your own part – is available to almost all of us.
We simply need to choose the independent supermarket, the farm shop, and the market. The week before my trip to Waterford, I had another delightful dose of retail therapy in Cork city, a city whose collection of idiosyncratic, idiomatic shops is unmatched.
And a month before that, a Saturday morning’s food shopping with my brother-in-law in Belfast’s exuberant St George’s market unveiled a market that has the energy, and the marketeers, to be a rival to Cork’s legendary English Market: the place was rockin’.
Anything theraputic is “of the healing art” says my old concise Oxford Dictionary: Just so: the healing art of true retail therapy.

11 October 2008

Naked in West Waterford

Louise Clark has opened Nude Food in Dungarvan, West Waterford.
Eamon Barrett slips off his robe and is over the moon. Take it away Eamon:

Market stall holder Louise Clark has joined the ranks of the Dungarvan Dynamos with the opening of her super little cafe and restaurant Nude Food in O'Connell Street in the town.

It's an eclectic space: mismatched furniture, old living room lamps and a chandelier made from old bottles but it all works and the place has a lovely ambiance.

My lunch of pork belly with roasted butternut squash, couscous and hummus and char grilled sourdough bread was just outstandingly good. Ju had some Hedermans smoked salmon with cucumber and cream cheese on brown bread and it was lovely, the salmon cut into nice thick pieces. If we'd had time there was a bread and butter pudding bubbling in the oven but a pear and almond tart with glenilen clotted cream was a super alternative. Good coffees, good service, low prices - what more can one want?

Sounds like seriously tasty, Skye Gyngell-style grub to us... lucky Dungarvan.

06 October 2008

Some news...

The Tannery
Paul Flynn's new cookery school at The Tannery in Dungarvan will kick off on November 20th, with the first course being “An Irish Adventure with Food”. The school will be able to accommodate 45 people for demos, and 12 students at each hand-on course. Mr Flynn also has seven new rooms added to the swish mix of suites at the Tannery Townhouse. The Tannnery website is currently being updated which should be completed next week when you will be able to see everything that is going on...

Spanish Stars
Approach Trade Wine Merchants of Carrick-on-Suir has long been one of our favorite wine specialists, and with Rafael Alvarez and Alvaro Vera it has two guys who manage to discover the creme de la creme of modern Spanish winemaking.
Just to prove how superb they are, at the recent Wines From Spain: The Rising Stars event hosted by the Embassy of Spain, Approach Trade scooped the honours for best wines in both the white and red wine categories in the Christmas Stars competition.
The winning white was the superb Mantel Blanco Verdejo 2007, made by Juan de Benito and Eulogio Callejo, whilst the red was Les Terrasses 2005, made by wunderkind winemaker Alvaro Palacios. You will find these brilliant wines in 64 Wine, Michael's Wines; Mitchell & Son; Karwig Wines; Sweeney's; Unwined; Redmond's of Ranelagh; Avoca; Kingdom Stores; Oliesto; Worldwide Wines and On The Grapevine. (Approach Trade Ireland Ltd: Tel 051 640164)

The Recession
Yes we are in recession, officially, but rather like the good folk of Mayo who recently revealed to pollsters that they had no intention of changing their lifestyles in straitened times, we are behaving as if the party is still going on, as these stories reveal...

Searsons wine merchants of Monkstown in South Dublin recently moved a few doors down the road, and discovered that they had a stash or three of clarets that they needed to sell, so they fired out an offer at good prices. Reader, they sold 800 cases in two weeks. “But was it the less-expensive stuff people were buying?” we asked. “It was the expensive stuff they were buying!”, they replied...

A Dublin city restaurant was hosting six business folk, who did the deal over lunch, and decided to order some good bottles to celebrate. Ah sure, let's have another... soon, it is time for evening service, and sure why not order some more good bottles and stay for dinner, say the sextet... soon, it is the wee small hours and our group are getting their taxis sorted and settling the bill. The restaurant gamely decides to comp the cost of the food, given the wine bill the six have amassed, which amounts to?... €7,500.00 euro

The Real World
Back in the real world, where we are always looking for good value wines, house wines as you might call them, bottles you can open anytime for any reason. Well, the latest star is a new bottle from one of Spain's superstar winemakers, Telmo Rodriguez. Gaba do Xil 2007 is made with 100% Godello in Galicia, and it is stunning, a wine that is fruity, spicy, with great texture and refreshing acidity, and would be great as a Friday night special or for a quiet Tuesday dinner, and the Gaba comes at a stunning price – expect to pay about €13. Our Spanish wizards, Approach Trade, have shown once again that no one can match them when it comes to spotting talent and finding great bottles. Contact details for Approach Trade as above.

05 October 2008

The Good News From Georgia

What with the Russians meddling in their affairs, and our soccer heroes battling with them on the pitch, Georgia has uncharacteristically been in the news a lot just recently, with there being little good news from Tiblisis.
Well, here is the good news from Georgia, courtesy of a selection of wines from the Teliani Valley company. Before you throw up your hands in shock-horror – Georgian wines!? – consider that wine making and drinking has been an integral part of Georgia's culture for 5,000 years.
That's right: Five Thousand Years.
When the Georgians embraced Christianity in the fourth century, the first cross was made of vines. “To show that the Christian faith and the vine were the most sacred treasures of the nation” says the Oxford Companion to Wine.
Recently, Jemal Inaishvili, President of the Georgian Chamber of Commerce, told Dan McLaughlin in The Irish Times: “We call Georgia “The Cradle of Wine” because we have been making and drinking it here for millenia”.
All well and good, but in the old days the old Soviet Union swallowed all that Georgia could produce, and as Inaishvili admitted, “In the Soviet period, winemaking was about quantity, not quality”.
In the future, however, you will be able to find a space for Georgian wines in your local wine shop, so what can you expect?
It's not all simple. No fewer than 38 varieties of grape are allowed for commercial viticulture, and whilst cab sauv, chardonnay and pinot noir are amongst the permitted varieties, there are much more interesting varieties, such as Saperavi, Rkatsiteli, Mtsvane and Shavkalito. The Teliani company seems very fond of wines made with Saperavi, a tannic red wine grape. All the red wines pictured above, fo instance, are made from the Saperavi grape, whilst the white Tsinandali is a mix of rkatsiteli and mtsvane.
But the sapaeravi is a chameleon grape: the Mukuzani and Saperavi bottles are full bodied reds, but the Kindzmarauli and the Alazani Valley are actually both semi-sweet red wines, which it is recommended you enjoy with sweet dishes and fruit.
Now these are the most interesting wines, to me, because they work superbly as a red aperitif wine – despite the recommendation that they belong with sweet things. These are the sort of wines that one can imagine having a single glass of in a bar, their almost port-like sweetness being balanced with tannins to keep the wine refreshing, a fact which is helped by their clovey purity.
Whilst the Georgians have invested in the now-ubiquitous modern tech to make their wines, what I most liked about the wines, and the white Tsinandali in particular, was their lack of slickness – these are earthy, natural – and thereby almost anachronistic – wines. The closest comparison I can come up with is a certain resemblance to the wines of another country which is awash with wonderfully strange grape varieties: Portugal. I don't have any prices or stockists as yet for the Teliani Valley wines, but those who are curious should contact Mike Rahmann of Friction Communications who are working on the launch of the brand. Mike is at: