Saturday, May 25, 2013

We’re All In Our Places, With Bright Shiny Faces…

Finally got a taste of what Pam goes through.  Last February, as we were putting together plans for the trip, a notice came by email of a special class that would be offered in addition to the regular Ballymaloe Cookery Course.  An entire day’s seminar on how to butcher a pig.

 The Pig is My Friend

Pamela of course was ecstatic.  But instead of signing just her up for the day’s festivities, she wanted me to join her.  Oh Joy….  Now, I’ve done my share of hunting and fishing, gutting and skinning, but facing a whole pig at nine in the morning with sharp knives flying in different directions wielded by God knows who… Ah c’mon.

But like many experienced husbands, (notice I did not say noble, wise or intelligent husbands) I knew a happy wife makes for a happy me.  Besides, in four months the world could come to an end, Ireland could fall into the sea, the pig could make its great escape.  I said O.K., sign me up.

The morning dawned bright and shiny over Ballycotton.  Not too much rain, or wind.  The car didn’t break down.  I didn’t (couldn’t) oversleep.  It was me vs. the pig.

Lo and behold, my first break came when I learned it was demonstration only… no hands on cutting.  Actually, I’ve been practicing my knife sharpening skills and was almost looking forward to the challenge.  Almost.  About forty of us arrived to coffee, tea and cakes to calm our fears and let us get to know one another.

We walked into the modern classroom, mirror over the presenter to show his every move and close circuit television to project the scene on flat screens to the sides.  And there in all it’s glory was… The PIG… or rather just half of it.

First part of the course, with the pig staring right at me, was a short lesson on knife sharpening.  As a consistent failure at this culinary art, I was fascinated, almost hopeful, but mostly wistful that at least some people in the world know how to keep a sharp blade. 

With a meat saw and two 6-8 inch blades (very sharp), our host proceeded over the next three hours ( with a civilized break for tea and biscuits) to expertly follow the joint lines and reduce the hunk of meat to its beautiful constituent parts.  The rule of thumb is ‘nothing is wasted’

The head was boiled to make head cheese, including the ears and snout.  The only items immediately thrown out were the lymph glands… give a bitter taste to the meat and contain far too many bacteria.  Remember you health 101 class and the purpose of the lymph glands???

  The Pig is My Food

After a lunch of wood fired pizza ( a Saturday specialty at Ballymaloe), fresh salad and cream puffs in chocolate sauce with rhubarb compote, we trudged back to the slave shop (classroom) and were treated to an afternoon of making sausages, salamis, stocks, and terrines of potted meat.

I’ve always heard that if I saw what went into a hotdog or sausage I wouldn’t want to eat it.  But watching the process in person with quality ingredients was an impressive experience.  

Was it my idea of JOY on a Saturday.  No… But I was with a beautiful woman, who was having a great time.  We had delicious food, an entertaining host, an international group of charming people and delicious pig to eat at the end of the day.  Not bad for OMOTIC.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Settling in....

From grey to blue... challenging to the budding water colorist...

As you may have surmised, my favorite spot at home is looking out the window at Ballycotton Bay.  Day or night, always something happening.  From local lads fishing off the pier to substantial trawlers bringing in the catch for the Ballycotton Seafood Company, Becky's Home Delivery Seafood, and other sellers of seafood in the area, including the renowned and ancient English Market in Cork.

Hope to get out on one of the charters before we leave.  Diabetes, arthritis and wobbly legs do not necessarily make for a joyous seafaring adventure... but I can't resist.  With just under 500 permanent residents, Ballycotton is both working fishing village and resort town for those escaping their normal lives.  It's also home to a famous and effective rescue boat station.

Pamela and I are settling into what passes for domestic routines.  I have her at school by 8 a.m..  Then I go to the nearby Garyvoe Hotel which offered a special deal to Ballymaloe people in their Health Spa.  It's not the YMCA in Ashland, but I get in a ninety minute workout in the pool before doing the day's shopping in one of several local villages.  Once or twice a week I'll go into Midleton, a community of about 12,000 with major chain outlets.  On Wednesdays I go to my watercolour painting class (with several delightful ladies, learning to paint flowers and landscapes).  

Home to more domestic chores, dishes, laundry, light cleaning.  With luck I get a short nap before picking up Pamela between 5 and 6.  Back home to cook dinner or have it cooked for me (yes it blessedly happens more than I deserve.) We watched TV a little in the beginning days, but haven't turned it on for several weeks now.  Pamela works very hard on her next days lessons and plans and ironing her professional outfits.  And then it begins again.

Too soon after our arrival, all three daughters plus grandson, plus son-in-law descended on us for a week.  Wish we had more time to get to know the area before they came.  But it was fun.  Got Noak (grandson) into the house turned him towards the window and he joyfully cried out AGUA... BIRDIES...  


Of course the white caps glistened and the seagulls swooped in for a closer look.  Noak was enchanted.  
I was a momentary hero... life is good.

Thursday, May 16, 2013


Blarney Castle Promotional Poster

 In the late 1500's Queen Elizabeth I,  had a problem.  How to quell the perennially rebellious Irish.  She tried displacing them with loyal English families but the Irish would simply not die off or go away.  Next the queen tried to bully the local chiefs into agreeing the land belonged to her, not them.

Cormac MacCarthy, Lord of Blarney Castle, greeted the Queens emissaries with warmth and hospitality, good food and many, many, many words of admiration for the queen.  He sent long letters to her passionately extolling her virtues and her greatness.

But he never got around to agreeing the land belonged to Her Majesty.  After numerous attempts by many royal representatives, the queen was heard to respond to the latest flowery missive with "that's just a lot of Blarney."  The legend, among many, many others was born.

The Blarney stone is rumored to have come from the mystical middle east.  It also was thought to be part of Scotland's royal 'Stone of Scone'.  The story (just one of many) goes that one of Cormac's ancestors sent troops to aid Robert the Bruce defeat the British in the battle of Bannockburn in 1314.  In return for that service the Scots split the 'Stone of Scone' in two giving half of it to the Irish.  The Irish half became the Blarney Stone.

Don't like that story... there are innumerable others.

Like the 22 year old young woman from Oregon who wanted to celebrate her birthday by kissing the Blarney Stone.  Our youngest, Britta, dreamed of this for years.  Wouldn't you know, Blarney Castle with its infamous stone is only half an hour from where we're living.  I was doubtful.  Rick Steeves all but dismisses it as not worth your time.  But daughters are insistent.

I've seen pictures of people kissing the Blarney Stone.  It always looked to me that the stone was part of the foundation of the castle.  Whoaaaa... was I in for a surprise.  If you notice the castle in the following picture.  Notice especially, after climbing a hill, and a good number of steps to get to the castle base, the Blarney Stone is at the top of four stories of slippery narrow winding steps with only a two inch rope hanging down the center of the stairs for support.
The Blarney Stone is through that little bit of light above the three sets of perpendicular windows.  To kiss it, you lean over backwards and lean out into space upside down....Absolutely insane!!!

OMOTIC was not impressed.  Neither were his half numbed diabetic legs.  But with two lovely daughters behind me, ostensibly to catch me if I fell... in reality ready to catch my demise with iphone cameras... I began climbing up wedge shaped, did I say slippery, rounded stairs, some between 10 and 12 inches high per step.

Couldn't let the girls down.  Made to the top in time to record the blessed event.
...there is nothing but space below her head for four stories...

Obviously one happy kid... and one very relieved OMOTIC...
As to practical implications, she can already out talk me, so who needs an extra gift of Blarney?  Let's just add it to the ever expanding repertoire of Blarney stories.  Britta is now safely home in Oakland, trying mightily to catch up on homework postponed for what I hope was the trip worth the time.  Come to think of it, she made need that extra blarney to get a good grade.

What I need is time in a hot tub, some really good Jameson's Irish Whiskey and a wife to say 'poor baby'.  Hey one out of three isn't bad.  I can't count on extra blarney because NO... I did not kiss that stone!!!!!  My miracle was making it back down those XX##@$$%$$ stairs.  I remain, OMOTIC.

The stairs going down were much more civilized... even had
a metal hand rail....

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Spasmodic OMOTIC

Yes dear friends, we are still alive.  A whirlwind three weeks find your not so intrepid travelers on their first major trip outside of our home area of East Cork.

The kids, all of them, have come and gone.  wish we had more time to prepare for their visit, but alas, calendars prevail.

Two of my beautiful daughters, Emma and Britta

Driving on the left had side of the road, which is often narrower for two lanes than Americans have for one, is now less "death sport" than just plain "scary as hell."  

Cramming three daughters, a grandson in a car seat and a son-in-law into a oversized 'bicycle built for two' and then careening down the road festooned with potholes the size of major moon craters, is not my idea of a 'carefree' family outing.  Add in five strongly held opinions as to where we should go and what we should do... Oh... it's family mayhem at its best.

OH BOY, do I like Irish Catsup!!!!

We finally divided forces.  Some took the train, others of us drove.  In our version of 'The Fox, The Goose, and the Grain' We dropped Pamela off at school, came back and picked up one group to drop off at the train, came back for the rest and drove into Cork, (30-45 minutes, depending on traffic).  Then we drove back from Cork in time to pick up Pamela from school, took her and the car group home because we could not all fit in the car at the same time, and drove half way back to Cork to pick up the train people and bring them home.  Dinner was late.

We bought air beds and duvees for everyone to sleep on.  Half of us snore, Crawling over sleeping bodies to get Pamela to school by 8 a.m. was pure joy!!!!

All in all, a carefree week in the land of Blarney.  More about the 'Blarney' experience next time.

Will leave you with pics of grandson at the FOTA wildlife park.  It's sort of an Irish wildlife safari except the people walk around the park gawking at the lightly fenced in animals.  Grandson's biggest thrill did not roar, squeak, quack or slither.  He loved the little train that circled the wildlife park.  "Bye Bye train"  "Bye Bye Train"!!!  "Hey kid look at the giraffes, they have two foot long tongues."  "Bye Bye Train... Bye Bye train."

Bye Bye train....

Bye Bye Train....

Oh well - so he's going to be an engineer, not a biologist.  I, however, remain your faithful OMOTIC.