Silence

My voice is quiet.

So quiet I can hear the sand songs.

Sand songsI kneel

Where once my shadow stood

And from beneath, I call my soul.

misty beachIn shades of blue,

Like grey on rainy summers,

I spot an island in the mist of thoughts. shellI hold my breath

In this encountering of selves

There is only one of us.

As Above So Below
As above, so below.
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Feeling at home

Listening to the ‘A returning islander’ by Pat Gallagher. That’s how I felt when I first came to Bun na Leaca in Donegal.

Memory wallI remember approaching the house we were considering buying and, even though I had not seen it before, I knew immediately that the view and the smells and the sounds surrounding these walls are what I strangely felt like calling home. I did not have to be born here to know that. But what is home?

Door to my dreamsWho invented the notion of ‘home’ and what did they really feel when they came up with this combination of comforting sounds?

Was it something related to the longing we feel, ever so often in life, especially when everything seems to be perfect and in the right place, for just a few moments…

Looking for the lost timeOr was it something one sees in the loved one’s eyes, that flicker, that suddenly lights our world and we feel we belong…

Or simply the essence of who we are, our selves, distilled by years and experiences, and bottled in a taste of a home-backed cake or a smell of a lilac flower or the sound of a wave…

Scent of ParisI feel home when I smell fresh pines as I have been brought up with the lullaby of the deep forests of Transylvania.

Lulaby to thinkingAnd I feel home when I am close to the sea, its rhythm taming my thoughts.

HomeAnd I feel home when I can sit in front of a turf fire and the air is so fresh that I can recall the scents of different memories I have of me in different parts of the world, of me in the past and me in the future….

For the love of taste

Since my first experience, about ten years ago, of an eight-course tasting menu at the Tasting Room restaurant in Franschhoek, South Africa – a much more interesting area to visit by the way, than its rival Stellenbosch – I believe this is the way food should be presented if the intention is to show the skills behind the creations on the plate.

A restaurant is a place where I expect a culinary experience, even a sensatory journey – I have my own kitchen or the market if I am simply looking for food.

No better way to encourage one to pay attention to the multitude of tastes, colors and flavors than knowing that you only have two or three mouthfuls of a serving that took hours in preparation and the work of a whole team of people.

In contrast, with a full plate in front, we tend to move our attention to conversation, checking our phones, or anything else – by the simple fact that there is more, we tend to take it for granted. Whereas when a nibble or two is all we have, we start looking for the different ingredients by waking up the taste buds, we are stretching time by being in that moment, paying attention to what we feel when flavors stir things inside.

We are actually adding years to our lives, not only because we learn to be picky about what we eat, but also because we get to discover that we actually might love foods we never thought we would – when the combinations are right.

I confess, I cannot think of many blends I would not try if set in front of me by a chef, and I have become impatient and unforgiving with the lazy approach of some establishments – grill the fish and call it ‘a classic.’

So over the course of two days in Belfast, I explored the city’s renewed energy of encouraging creativity on the culinary scene and I was more than impressed with the Ox restaurant and the Malt Room. I hope the city gives them enough credit for putting it on the gourmet international map. Here are some highlights.

Truffled egg yolk, cauliflower, crispy chicken skin

‘Truffled egg yolk, cauliflower, crispy chicken skin – cauliflower becomes center stage as it the ingredient that lifts up the palate while the egg yolk and the truffles make a strong statement (OX)

Squid, chorizo, romanesco, squid ink, oyster

If you thought squid is not your thing, think twice as the presentation and the tenderness is remarkable and the presence of chorizo flavor and the romanesco textures gives this dish a more complex dimension – Squid, chorizo, romanesco, squid ink, oyster (OX)

It has to be chocolate

If it’s chocolate, it must be dark chocolate. And I savored the desert with even more pleasure as the flavor of the ice cream brought me back to my childhood when I always loved the remaining crust on the bottom of the pot where milk had been boiled – Valrhona chocolate 70%, banana, burnt milk ice-cream (OX)

Mackerel and olives

A rainbow of colors and Provençale flavors in a dish of Mackerel (undeservingly underestimated fish), stuffed with olives and served with red caviar. Ok, you have to like fish and love olives…but how can one wouldn’t? (Malt Room)

Kid goat, locally sourced, slow-cooked, tender and moist

Finally an interesting and healthy meat dish in Belfast – kid goat, locally sourced, slow-cooked, tender and moist, with a crusty pie pouring out a volcano of goat cheese and goat meat. Even if you had never read Coehlo’s Alchemist, images of herds of goats still come to mind, or more likely the evenings around the fire. (Malt Room)

Roast pear with buttermilk and Nougatine parfait

Maybe it’s because I could live on pistachio nuts but I can say the desert is memorable at the Malt Room: Roast pear, pistachio, buttermilk and Nougatine parfait. Parfait!

In my humble opinion, a restaurant without a tasting menu is not serious about food as a form of art or as a means to offer a memorable experience – less is more.

As the proof is in the pudding, try it for yourself and prove me wrong….or right.

Porridge with blue cheese and honey-glazed roasted walnuts

Growing up in Transylvania, one of the local delicacies was a dish called ‘blankets,’ made with polenta and cheese, as well as cream and bacon.

Moving away from home and discovering oats (which is not a common ingredient in Transylvanian food), I thought about mixing the cultures and came up with a savory breakfast or lunch dish, ‘porridge with blue cheese and honey-glazed roasted walnuts.’

Porridge with blue cheese and honey-glazed roasted walnuts

Have a try at this simple recipe and let me know what you think.

1 cup of porridge

2 cups of milk (goats milk or almond milk are nice alternatives)

100 gr blue cheese

a pinch Cayenne pepper

half a cup walnuts, roasted and then dipped in honey

Mix porridge and milk and let soak for half an hour before cooking. Then crumble in the blue cheese and cook on a medium heat, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon until it thickens – about 5 minutes if you like it thicker or less if you like it thinner.

Pour it in bowl and sprinkle extra pieces of blue cheese if you are fond of it or just the honey-glazed walnuts.

To roast the walnuts, just place them in a dry tray in the oven at 180 degrees for about 15 minutes.

Pofta buna!” or Enjoy!

Recipe was published by the Guardian newspaper on Saturday March 8 – delightful Women’s Day gift – Readers’ recipe swap: salty-sweet

Lured by the land of Lugh

… a photographic meander.

As the announcement of the Wild Atlantic Way was made this week, I decided to revisit one of Donegal’s most magical areas along this 2,500 km drive – the Poisoned Glen in Donegal. I had just been to say hello to the ‘old man and the sea’ in Bloody Foreland, but he was in no mood for conversation, so I left him counting the waves, with his seagulls.

Old man and the sea
Bloody Foreland, Donegal Ireland

As I drove down the winding road into Dunlewey valley, I found myself drawn to the mighty, silver-haired Errigal, surveying the northwest coast. The White Witch living in the valley once told me how on certain days, she can see the castle the fairies have built on top of the mountain. That’s why, she said, “Donegal still retains the mystical air, because the little people still survive here.”

Errigal mountain Donegal Ireland
Errigal mountain Donegal Ireland

It is this valley that still holds secrets about an ancient battle between the one-eyed Balor and his grandson, Lugh. And there is no shortage of local people who are willing to tell you a story or two about it. For some, Lugh means the ‘Sun God’ and others say he is an Irish deity represented in mythological texts as a hero and High King of the distant past. Other sources describe Lugh as “a god of both skill and the distribution of talent. He and his nature goddess consort (Rosmerta) were worshipped during the 30 day Lugnasad midsummer feast in Ireland. Fertility magic during this festival ensured ripening of the crops and good harvest. He was called Lamfhada or ‘of the long arm’ in Gaelic because of his great spear and sling. His animal attributes were the raven and the lynx. Lugh mirrors Hindu Karttikeya, the spiritual warrior, and Roman Mercury, the swift messenger.”

Lugh
Lugh

In his quiet, stoic way, he guards the valley so one can still walk in peace and enjoy its wonders. As you make your way the marked road, make Time your servant and stop. And listen to the sounds coming either from under the ground…

Whispers

or the ones coming down from the sky.

Lullaby for Lugh
Lullaby for Lugh

And if you really look, you might even find a bog diamond…Make sure you leave it where you found it, everything in the valley is well accounted for and if you move only a blade of grass, you might awaken Balor’s rage.

Bog diamond
Bog diamond

And if you were inspired enough to bring some chocolate or shortbread with you, there is not a better gift you can leave for the fairies, than a small piece of one of these treats, on one of their favorite tree (no wrapping please, they can choke on that).

Fairy tree
Fairy tree

That gesture might even convince them to pay extra attention to the wishes you might make on your way back, at the Waterfall of Dreams.

Waterfall of dreams
Waterfall of dreams

No need to thrown in coins or anything – the waterfall fairies get very annoyed with that.

Listening to water fairies
Listening to water fairies

Just sit down and really listen to their song. They’ll know if you did.