Ballymaloe – Weekend Five

After a week of wallowing in general malaise, I was ready for a more uplifting and relaxing weekend. Fortunately, I was granted both…with a little fun mixed in of course. I was glad that Friday evening in the Coach House ended up being a chilled-out night of wine drinking with my fellow housemates and neighbors. I had to be up pretty early on Saturday morning, as housemate Matthew and I had signed up to do pizzas in the Ballymaloe Cookery School. Every Saturday, the school runs a small café serving up a variety of pizzas from their wood-burning ovens to locals and students alike, and this is just one of many extra-curricular activities you can sign up for as a student here. When we arrived at the school, we were met by Clancy who runs the café and her assistant Orla. Clancy is an American girl who did the Ballymaloe course four years ago, fell in love with an Irish guy while here, got married to him, moved back to Ballycotton, and now works at Ballymaloe (what a story, right?). Anyway, she hails from Chicago, and I could have sworn that she looked really familiar to me…as if I had seen her or met her before in Chicago during my nine years of living there. It seems pretty far-fetched, but then again, our paths could have crossed at some stage. Regardless, she is a pretty fantastic girl all the same, and Matthew and I were soon helping her prep ingredients for all the pizzas we would be selling. On the menu were the standard marinara, margherita, and classic pepperoni pizzas, but the café also rotates two additional pizzas every week, and for this week, they were a pizza with caramelized onions, black olives, and Crozier blue cheese and one with roast chicken, aioli, and thyme. We also had to roll and stretch the pizza dough bases. At first, we both had a little trouble with the technique, and my pizzas specifically kept losing their crust edges. However, as practice eventually makes perfect (or near-perfect), by the end of the day, both of us were like old pros – spinning the dough around on one hand like some old Italian chef in a kitchen in Naples (okay, not quite, but it’s fun to imagine). The day started off pretty busy with lots of customers coming in for pizza, but then it soon got really quiet in the afternoon, and Matthew and I were able to take a break by about three in the afternoon. We walked off into the foyer of the café where there is a piano. Matthew sat down, and to my surprise, starting playing a part from one of Rachmaninoff’s piano concertos. Talk about talented…I was so impressed, and Matthew, in his typical modest fashion, was more impressed that I actually knew the composer of the piece! It’s really funny what you end up learning about people in the most random of places. In any event, Matthew and I had an absolute blast with the pizza-making (anyone who is on Facebook can check out the photo montage/narrative of the day that I have posted on my page). We also ate a ridiculous amount of pizza, since our compensation for the day of helping out was more pizza, but hey, I’ll take it.

After a quick nap and shower, we headed over to the White Cottage. Jenn, Kait, and Cat had cooked up another wonderful dinner, which included a sea bass starter with an apple and lime purée and lemongrass reduction, a sage chicken with glazed carrots, and a Medjool date tart. Fantastic! Afterwards, we headed down to the Blackbird Pub where bar manager Mossie took to the decks and was spinning dance tunes all night. The whole pub was basically up on the dance floor for most of the night. It was such a great time, and having danced myself silly, I fell right asleep as soon as I got home.

Because our midterm technique and herb/salad leaf identification exams start at the end of this week, my subconscious is already starting to panic. I had a dream last night where I entered the kitchen for my technique exam, and one of my techniques was to sweat some chopped onions. Of course, in my dream, I ended up burning some of my onions, and my favorite instructor Florrie looked at me, shook her head solemnly, and à la Top Chef said, “I’m sorry, Lisa. You’ll have to pack your knives and go.” I was devastated and pleaded with her to keep me on the course, but she refused, and I woke up thinking that I was leaving Ballymaloe. Of course, I immediately realized that it was a dream, but it never fails to amaze me how I program myself to worry constantly about something…anything. Another exam should not faze me in the slightest –  I am a pro at exam-taking, having done so many of them in college and law school. Yet, I suppose my worry stems from the fact that this is an entirely different kind of exam. The technique part of the exam is a scary prospect to me. I can memorize facts and regurgitate them, write papers on any given topic, or read and analyze a problem set with the best of them, but can I perform a number of cooking techniques in front of my instructors? Hmmm…I guess we shall see…but I certainly hope it won’t be so bad that I’ll have to pack my knives and walk shamefully out the gates of Ballymaloe.

Sunday ended up being a lazy day for me, which I was pretty happy about, since lazy days here seem to be few and far between. I did not roll out of bed until midday, and it felt great to be able to do that. I had a long chat with my parents while I stood in the middle of the school’s parking lot (the only place where I seem to be able to get any kind of cell phone reception here). Afterwards, I got a text from Jamie inviting me for some tea and spotted dog (an Irish bread made with sugar and dried fruit) that he had made in his cottage. I happily accepted his invitation, and we had a relaxing afternoon alternating between watching the Wales/Scotland rugby match and going through our salad leaves and herbs for the exam. What a great way to study if you ask me! By the time I got home, I was really motivated, so I filed all of my week’s recipes and cleaned our entire kitchen, which was in dire need of a scrubbing. Later on in the evening, I bought a whole chicken over to the White Cottage, as I previously had asked Kait if she would help me joint it. Unfortunately, for some reason, the chicken had not kept in our fridge very well over the last two days and had gone off. It was pretty gross, but dammit, I had paid 11 euro for that damn organic, free-range bird, and I wanted to practice my jointing technique, so we went ahead with it anyway. I immediately threw the chicken out afterwards, and I really hope that I did not transfer salmonella to myself or to Kait who had graciously obliged my request to joint the damn thing in her kitchen. Don’t worry – I washed everything (including my hands) multiple times this evening, so here’s to a good (and salmonella-free) start to the week tomorrow.

Pics, pics, pics

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