Tue 30 Jul 2013
A day without sunshine is like, you know, night. – Steve Martin
For the better part of the three-and-a-half years I’ve been here in Ireland, it’s been night. The previous two summers have been, at best, a mix of muggy mist, fluorescent-white clouds and a few fleeting rays of sunshine. During that first year in Drogheda I had a total of one al fresco meal, which was cut short by a sudden downpour. When I went home last year and visited my hairdresser, his first reaction was, “Your hair is SO dark!” I hadn’t coloured it, it was darker simply from a lack of sunshine…a bit like my soul!
This summer has been a completely different experience all together. We’ve had long stretches of sunny days and – quell surprise – warm nights. I can’t remember ever being able to step outside after 8 PM in just a t-shirt here, but in the last several weeks I’ve donned short sleeves outdoors in the evening more than a few times. Mountaineering Man and I have been sleeping on top of the duvet for the last month or so, and we’re both sporting tans – REAL tans (not that either of us would ever get fake tan, sorry but I haven’t bought into that Irish obsession nor will I ever!).
We’ve even gotten out for a couple of picnics and barefoot walks on the beach, which I realise for my friends in LA is typical summer behaviour but for us is a real treat. That said we’re also experiencing the downside of having warm weather in a country that is not at all prepared for it; neither of our cars has air conditioning (it’s not a standard feature here). The other day I experienced that brain-melting, so-hot-you-can-almost-see-the-heatwaves moment after getting into my car, which had been parked out in the sun all day. I couldn’t open my windows fast enough.
Likewise, our apartment doesn’t have AC. I have tried in vain to buy a fan for our bedroom, but every hardware and housewares shop in the whole of Ireland is sold out of them. Last week I went to 12 stores in Dublin and got the same response at every one: No fans, and even the suppliers have run out.
Still, I’ll take it – happily. Ireland is a different country in the sun; the rooftops glisten, the sky opens up and reflects the most crystal blue hues ever seen and the outdoor cafes burst at the seams with revelers. Never mind the rampant display of inflamed, sunburnt skin (ouch!); Irish people in the sun are shiny, happy people. The giddiness is palpable. Talk of the recession and banking crisis has been silenced by chirpy chatter about swimming in the ocean and barbeques and camping staycations. Even the taxi drivers are in a better mood.
Splashing around the ocean, the icy gin & tonics on the patio, the warm, beautiful sun – this is our Irish summer, 2013. Long may it last!
Some Proper Summer Recipes for a Proper Irish Summer
I’ve been cooking for the weather, which for once means no-fuss dishes and cooling treats instead of warming stews! Here are a few recipes for dishes we’ve enjoyed over the last few weeks – enjoy!
Smoked Mackerel & Sweet Potato Cakes
These are great served hot with a side of baked chips/wedges or room temperature over a nice, cold salad. Either way, they make for a light and healthy summer supper.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium-sized onion, chopped into small pieces
1 red pepper, chopped into small pieces
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium sized sweet potatoes, baked, cooled and peeled
2 whole smoked mackerel or other smoked fish
Handful of fresh basil
Salt & Pepper to taste
Heat up the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Put in the onion and pepper and cook until onion starts to become translucent, about 3 minutes. Add in the garlic and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
In a large bowl, mash the two sweet potatoes. Gently pick the meat off the whole smoked mackerel and put it into the bowl with the mashed sweet potatoes, being careful not to include any bones. You’ll want to shred/flake the meat with your fingers so that it isn’t mushy but is in small pieces. Now add in the cooked vegetables and basil, tearing the basil up with your hands before putting in with the mixture. Crack the egg into the mix and using your hands, mix it all together until everything is combined.
Prepare a plate or baking tray by lining it with parchment paper. Now using a large spoon, 1/4 cup measure or an ice-cream scoop, scoop the mixture into your hands and form into a patty. Do this with the remaining mixture – I used a 1/4 cup measure and had 12 small-ish fish cakes.
Place the fish cakes into the refrigerator for 30 minutes so they can firm up. At this stage you can a) bake them on an oiled baking tray in a pre-heated 200 C oven for 25 minutes or b) heat up about a tablespoon of olive oil in a large sauté pan (medium heat) and cook the patties for 2-3 minutes per side. I baked these due to sheer laziness on my part, and they were delicious!
Blueberry Soya Ice Pops
I recently spent the day with my friend and fellow blogger LikeMamUsedToBake and she served me ginger ale ice lollies she’d made using inexpensive ice pop molds she bought. I immediately went out and got some at the Euro shop, and have been making a variety of ice pops since. This recipe makes four ice pops (see size in the pic!).
200 grams of fresh blueberries
200 mls of sweetened soya milk
1 tablespoon honey
Put all the ingredients into a blender and mix until smooth. Pour into molds and let freeze for at least four hours.
Citrus Granita (adapted from Two Greedy Italians)
My mother makes granita from the blood oranges that grow in my parents’ front garden and I absolutely love it. It’s a great, low-calorie dessert that doesn’t require an ice cream maker (though it does call for some elbow grease!). I made mine with a mix of citrus fruits.
1/2 liter of water
250 grams of sugar
1/2 liter of fresh squeezed citrus juice (I used 4 pink grapefruits, 2 lemons, 1 lime and 1 orange)
Grated zest of 1/2 of pink grapefruit
In a pot, bring the water and sugar to a boil and then turn it down and let it simmer for 12-15 minutes, or until the liquid has a slightly syrupy consistency. Set aside to cool while you juice your fruit.
Once you have your citrus juice, pour it through a strainer or sieve into the sugar/water mixture and stir until combined. Add in the zest and stir and then let it sit for about 20 minutes.
Pour the cooled mixture into a shallow plastic container (I used a rectangular Tupperware). Place it into the freezer carefully. You can put the lid on if you want but I chose not to; removing the lid can create a mess. After 30 minutes take a fork and stir the mixture and then put it back into the freezer. You’ll do this again every 30 minutes over the next four hours.
The finished consistency will be like ice flakes but with a bit of softness. Serve in bowls or short glasses and eat with a spoon. If you leave it overnight, you will need to break up the ice again with a fork – it will be chunkier but still lovely and delicious!