Wednesday 27 April 2016


A few weeks ago while in Carlow, I went to the fabulous restaurant "Mimosa Tapas & Wine Bar". Gnocchi was on the tapas menu, and we ordered some. My daughter absolutely loved them and was amazed to learn that I had made them before (though bizarrely not in her lifetime). I promised that the next time we had leftover mashed potatoes I would make gnocchi. Gnocchi are essentially a potato pasta. The ingredients are simple: mashed potato, egg, flour, pepper and nutmeg.

Mix the ingredients together. I have not measured anything. Spices are to taste, and the flour amount really is just according to how much mashed potato you have. I have only ever used one egg; I have only ever used leftover mash. Basically add flour so that it's a dough.

Roll dough into snakes on a floured surface.

Cut into shapes -- again I don't measure -- but these are about 1-1.5 cm. Dimple the shape with your finger and put on a floured plate.

Gnocchi are a dumpling pasta. Put in boiling water; they sink immediately but then rise to the surface when they are ready (a few seconds later).

Have a collander ready over a bowl and remove gnocchi with a slotted spoon.

Prepare an oven dish with some olive oil, and transfer gnocchi to it, shaking around a bit so that they get some olive oil on them. I always add a bit more olive oil over the top of the gnocchi and then some grated parmesan and ground pepper.

Bake for about 15 minutes.

Serve with whatever you normally eat with any pasta. Last time I made gnocchi I served with melanzane alla parmesana, but bacon & broccoli & chilli peppers with pesto (in this case, wild garlic pesto) is one of my favourite pasta accompaniments. Delicious!

Wednesday 20 April 2016

Wild Garlic Pesto

We thought it is normally not out till May, but my husband thought he saw some wild garlic by a roadside a few weeks ago, so this afternoon he and our daughter went for some shinrinyoku in Knocksink Woods in Enniskerry (unfortunately I am having foot problems so had to skip going for a walk). Sure enough, the forest floor has started greening with it. Lots of buds, so their season is at the beginnings.

Regardless, there were plenty of flowers, and all parts of this wild garlic plant are edible. The flowers are a sweet and subtle garlic, the stems and leaves are like a garlicky chive. The leaves would be a bit fibrous to eat on their own I think, but processed in a pesto they are absolutely fine.

I grated the parmesan and set aside, then looked in my cupboard for the nuts. I used brazil nuts and some pre-shelled unsalted pistacchios that I had. Normally I use unsalted cashews, but have also used walnuts in a pinch (a bit of a stronger, woodier flavour) and of course, the classic pine nuts. Whatever nuts are used should be unsalted so that the final flavour is not falsified.

After a quick rinse of the wild garlic, bend the leaves and stems to fit in the processor.

Add some grated parmesan and olive oil.

Whizz of course, adding more ingredients (depending on the size of your processsor).

Consistency of the finished pesto is entirely by preference. Amount of ingredients is entirely to one's own taste (i.e. -- if you love cheese, add more! if you want it to be really green, add more leaves, etc).

Wednesday 13 April 2016

Mellifont Abbey & Monasterboice

During the Easter holidays, we took a family mini-road trip to the Boyne Valley area, and stayed in Drogheda for two nights. On our last day we headed slightly north of the city to see the beautiful Mellifont Abbey and Monasterboice. I had seen these sites before, in 1978, when visiting Ireland on holiday but have not had the chance to see them again since, so I was happy.

This would have been the gateway to the Abbey.

 I didn't remember Mellifont Abbey being such a large site.

The "lavabo" is the building where the monks would have washed up before meals.

Monasterboice, the cemetery and church dedicated to the obscure saint -- St. Buit -- contains two of the best examples of Irish high crosses. This is the larger of the two, and I am wondering if there has been some reconstruction as the base seems more eroded than the rest of it.

As you can see, it was also a gorgeous day - and a round tower to boot! (to Buit?)

There is also a very old sundial in the cemetery. Gorgeous!

Wednesday 6 April 2016

Brú na Boinne

My 92 year old mother had never been to Newgrange, so another visit there was a necessity!

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Brú na Boinne is a collection of ancient passage graves north of the Boyne River, i.e., an ancient cemetery. The largest of the passage graves are found at Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth. Newgrange and Knowth are accessible only via an impressive visitor centre, and the visitor must take the buses provided to the site in order to see them. It is a visit totally worth taking, but arrive early as tickets are limited and sold on a first-come first-serve basis. (The only way tickets can be reserved in advance are if you go on an officially organised tour.)

The entrance to Newgrange (above) is fronted by the most amazing megalith. 

The chief archaeologist at Knowth did not subscribe to Professor MJ O'Kelly's take on the quartz and river-rolled rocks found in front of the largest mound there. As can be seen below, the rocks were left as they were found at Knowth (below) in comparison to O'Kelly's speculative reconstruction design of Newgrange's facade.

The entrance megalith to Knowth isn't as impressive as that at Newgrange (though impressive nonetheless!) and unfortunately due to building in another historical era, the passage is not accessible as it is at Newgrange. 

Knowth is an amazing site, and I highly recommend that a visitor see both it and Newgrange, as there are different things about each that are unique. Knowth's mound is larger and has many satellite grave mounds beside it. Knowth alone holds 30% of all megalithic art found in Europe.

The large mound at Knowth has an impressive amount of visible decorated stones. Here are three!

Before heading back to our base in Drogheda, we stopped by Dowth, where we had never been. My Mum stayed napping in the car, which was just as well as the mound is surrounded by a flock of sheep and the resulting mine field of their droppings! But without other tourists this place is extra special -- this burial site pre-dates the pyramids and Stonehenge. The mound is quite large, with some evidence that there has been an internal collapse of some sort. Only a few of the megalithic kerbstones are visible but following their trajectory one can imagine the location of the others below ground level (raised by time's sediment).

Post passage grave builders at Knowth and on this site, built souterrains for food storage and for protection.

A souterrain at Knowth precludes development of the passage grave for visitors, but the souterrain at Dowth is in a different spot from its entrance. It is barred however (presumably for public safety as Dowth is an open site) but one can peek through the bars at the structure of the passage grave. Having been inside Newgrange, it is easy enough to imagine the end chambers to which this would lead.