End of an Adventure + New Beginnings

End of an Adventure + New Beginnings

These two photos of Karen and myself capture the very beginning and end of our Ballymaloe experience.  The photo on the left was taken in a pub in Cashel, Co Tipperary that we stopped in for lunch on the drive down to Cork on Sunday September 14th.  The photo on the right was taken on Thursday December 18th,  Karen's last night in Europe and a week after we finished the course.  We met online a few months before it began, and were in a similar situation in that we were both travelling from California to Ireland to do the course.  I was obviously coming home permanently, while Karen was taking a sabbatical from work to learn how to cook in Ireland.  

It's now a year since I first started to explore the idea of leaving my job and life in San Francisco to come home and fulfill a dream of spending 12 weeks at Ballymaloe.  Most of this year was spent preparing to finish up at work, make the most of my last months in San Francisco, pack up my apartment and move home.   During that time I was excited and focused on starting this course in September, so it's hard to realize that it's actually over.  

“New Beginnings are often disguised as painful endings.” 


Lao Tzu

Now, on to what's next,

It's been a while since I posted here so I've shared some photos and memories from the last three weeks at Ballymaloe below.

Our team's (Emily, Erin, Karen and I) entry in the home brewing competition..BallymaBrew!  Unbelievably we won at the tasting competition which was held on Week 11.   After spending the previous night at Mrs Walsh's celebrating our wine exam by drinking an unmentionable amount of wine, we were in no shape to present our beer but Karen and I managed to pull it out of the bag and win the overall contest! 

Post wine exam shenanigans in Mrs Walshs

Sunday night cooking/Downton Abbey/X Factor Results night in the Pink Cottage with Alastair, Meg and Kate

Lexi, Meg, Alastair, Libby and Kate practicing our dishes

Having the craic with David, Olive and Emily in Kitchen 2, our last day of cooking

What I produced on my last day of cooking - caramel ice-cream with chocolate sauce, peanuts and caramel popcorn, and lamb tagine with medjool dates

Think this is the prettiest thing I made, Ottolenghi's rosewater and pistachio meringues

Vietnamese Spring Rolls, taste good but awkward to assemble, forgot to put the noodles in


Devilled Eggs, one of the dishes served at the Ballymaloe House buffet on Sundays

Moules Meuniere

Smile with your Foccacia!  Many of us went into bread-making overdrive in the last two weeks to ensure we'd covered most of the bread recipes that could come up on the practical exam.  The Pink Cottage was overflowing with various loaves

On early morning duty

Pam, Pat and Tracy at the Christmas Demo

Guest Chef John Desmond from

Island Cottage

, Heir Island

Guest Chef Trina Hahnemann, author of "The Nordic Diet.'" giving a demo.  "You can't cook without love" she said, as she shared the story of the Nordic food movement.  It has a lot in common with Ballymaloe's philosophy of using ingredients sourced locally, and relying on what is in season.    In the 70's, Nordic people looked down on their own food and looked to France and Italian cuisine for inspiration.  There was no restaurant culture, many people hired help to cook in their homes.  In 2004 Claus Meyer and Rene Redzepi of Noma restaurant shared a manifesto which began the new Nordic food movement.  These 10 bullet points emphasized the importance of reflecting the changing seasons in our meals, combining good taste with health and wellbeing and promoting animal welfare through a sound production process on the seas, farms and in the wild.  

Today the Nordic diet is rich in protein, omega-3s and antioxidants, with high intakes of cheap fish such as herring, mackerel, salmon and trout.  These are served with potatoes and root vegetables with dark brown bread full of grains and oats.  Trina asked "why would we want to buy strawberries from Latin America?  There needs to be collaboration between chefs and local food producers.  The secret is loving what is unique in your part of the world".

After Trina's demo, Toby Allen presented the award for 'Outstanding Achievement in Business' to Darina, awarded by the Cork Chamber of Commerce

Getting together for a roast dinner on our last Sunday

Week 12 - Last Demos, Cliff Walks, Exams and Home

In Rory's last demo on week 12.  He's holding up a net of fat for the purpose of larding meat, "there's enough here to enrobe the entire class"  Rory's demos were a highlight of the course.

Beautiful blue December sky at the Ballycotton Cliffs

With Cristina, escaping from our notes

The weather on our last week was stunning, showing Ballymaloe off at its finest

Pink cottage, on the right

Floor of filing

Trying to get my menu (and head) together before the practical exam

With Rachel and Darina just before the practical

My starter, french onion soup with gruyere cheese

Main course served at my practical exam, sirloin steak, bearnaise sauce, matchstick fries with a winter green salad

Dessert of lemon posset with lemon fork biscuits

The practical exam took place on Thursday of the last week.  It was definitely a highlight of the course, but was also nervewracking and exhausting!  We had to submit our three course menu two weeks before, with wine pairings.  I opted for a French bistro theme.  I was one of the last students to go in at 12pm, which was delayed until 1pm so I spent that morning reading over my order of work and hoping it would go according to plan.  Everything went exactly to plan, apart from the fact that I was almost 2 hours over the allotted 3 hour timeframe! I honestly don't know where that time went! 

The first 3 hours sailed by and I was enjoying it, no hiccups.  However the last 90 minutes were frantic as I worked on the fries, steak and bearnaise sauce.  French onion soup? What was I thinking? I had to slice about 15 onions, even using a mandolin it was very time consuming.  Bearnaise sauce is also extremely high-maintenance and will split the minute you look away from it.  Managing all of these elements and keeping the food hot for presentation was tough but I managed to hold it together and presented up a three course meal that I was really happy with.  Time management (which had been a challenge for me through the course) notwithstanding, the food was delicious and I was proud of what I'd produced.

As Darina said herself - after the practical exam, all anyone is fit for is some deep breaths and a stiff brandy.  I got back to the Pink Cottage totally wiped out, had a whiskey to relax, and read over some last minute notes before heading into the written exams at 8am the next morning.

All of our last day was taken up by written exams.  3 exams over 6 hours, they were detailed and demanding, fingers crossed I did enough to get by.  By 4pm we were done.  Back to the cottage to finish packing and get ready for the farewell dinner in the school that night.

Farewell Dinner on our Last Night

Entrance to the school

Sorcha and I

With my Pink Cottage roomie, Chloe

The Master at work, Rory with our teacher Annette preparing the salads

Honorary Pink Cottage Resident, Alastair, in the Blackbird

The amazing Sarah, at the Champagne reception

Libby, Meg, Lexi and Julianne

Patricia and Alastair in the Blackbird

With Meg in our cottage just before leaving for dinner

What Rory cooked for our last meal...slow roast shoulder of lamb with aoili and salsa verde

Rory and the teachers during the last speeches

Darina, Rory and the team

At the farewell coffee the following morning.  I'll miss you too.

So that's that.  When I got home I hit the wall and slept lots in the following week.  I was totally wiped out.  Since then I've been catching up with friends and family in between absorbing as many Christmas cookery programmes as I can.  Darina's re-released Simply Delicious Christmas book has been my bible in the past week, and I've also been enjoying Gubbeen - The Story of a Working Farm and It's Foods,  by Giana Ferguson.  I'm hooked!

For now, I'm taking some time off.  My next trip will be to Spain later in January with a friend from the course.  I'm going to help out at the Matenza at Finca Buenvino for a few days.  This is the annual pig slaughter when the pigs are killed to make salchichon, chorizo, jamon and cana de lomo for the coming year.   Something I wouldn't have imagined doing in a million years before Ballymaloe, but I'm excited to get back on the farm and help out where I can!

I'll round up with a quote from another inspiration, Martha Beck whom I completed life coach training with in 2013, and which led me on this path:

"List five things you'd like to know how to do and do one a year for five years.  In the meantime, stay open to things that pop up on your radar screen before you've even considered trying them.  Flow into every nook and cranny, every possibility that opens in your life.  You'll be young for a hundred years".

This blog is now eight months old!   If you're enjoying it please let me know what you would like to see more of in 2015 - step-by-step recipes, photos, interviews?  Thanks for reading this year, and for your comments.  

Happy New Year for 2015, Joanna xx.

La Matanza ~ Weekend at Finca Buenvino

La Matanza ~ Weekend at Finca Buenvino

A Night at Ballymaloe House

A Night at Ballymaloe House