Friday, 8 February 2013

A Little Slice of Ireland. (And Portugal.)

You wouldn’t expect the Irish Passport Office in London to be quite a fun place to hang out, but you’d be wrong.  To begin with, you’re guaranteed at least an hour of enforced solitude and relative calm – reason enough to wander in there.  You can browse some magazines, listen in astonishment at just how much Irish people love to talk (we really do)  - and if you’re really really lucky you might stumble upon Paddy Scandahooligan.

Way way way before children I went on a drinking hiking holiday with three girlfriends to Crete.  When we weren’t drinking hiking we were laughing – mainly at all the nudies on the beach (so mature) – and into all of this strode a tall, very blonde, very red-faced Scandinavian man.  At least until he opened his mouth, and out fell pure West Cork.  For some reason we christened him Paddy Scandihooligan and, as these things go, he became our great friend for the two weeks we were there, and was never thought about again.

Until Monday morning – for there he was!*  In the flesh!  Still blonde, still red-faced, still booming incomprehensively in a raw Skib accent.  I texted the girls, who all shrieked with glee, and demanded I go and say hello. I was tempted, but shyness (whooda thought?) got the better of me.  On the (very remote) off chance that he remembered me at all, I thought he might rather remember the blonde care- (and fringe-) free creature I once was. (Also – and more pertinently – once you get past the “Hello!” and “What have you been up to?”  you then have to sit there in awkward silence for the rest of the morning, willing the solitary counter-worker to just getamoveon.) 

So instead I amused myself with the conversation going on behind me between a jolly-faced American man, and his jolly-faced American wife.

“So when you get up there, you’ve gotta say “Slan””


“No.  Sla-an. It means hello.”


“That’s right.  Slan.  It’s Gaelic for hello.  Just say it!  They’ll be so impressed.”

Now I KNOW I should have corrected them – Slán (pronounced, as she had so rightly guessed,  “slawn”) is, in fact, Irish for Goodbye.  But they looked so pleased with themselves that I didn’t want to burst their bubble.  And also – obviously ­-  I wanted to see what would happen. 

Up she skipped.  “Sla-an!” she declared.  No response.   “SLA-AN!” The woman behind the counter grinned painfully, and turned her attention to the paperwork.  Jolly-faced Amercian woman looked deflated and her husband was no doubt thinking – perhaps rightly - Bloody Unfriendly Micks.

Now somewhat bored – an unfamiliar sensation I enjoyed thoroughly - I turned my attention to a discarded supermarket magazine;  the usual advertising tripe, but a recipe tucked amongst it, declared to be “far better than the sum of its parts”. So I bought the un-summed parts and cooked it up for friends on Saturday night, adding olives to give it some extra oomph. We declared it a triumph.  It was jolly, and shiney and - not unlike the Irish Passport office itself – definitely more than the sum of its parts.

(Looking at this in the cold light of blogging day, it looks a bit... regurgitated... IT WASN'T.  Although I did take the pic when I was a bit pissed, so... No, I'm pretty sure it went straight from the pan to the plate.)

Portuguese Cod
For 4 (with leftovers) you need:
  • Two large onions, chopped
  • Olive Oil
  • 2 bay leaves (dried, or pinched from your neighbour’s front garden)
  • 4 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • Couple of handfuls of black olives, de-stoned (I recommend buying the stoned ones and cutting the flesh off the stone;  a bit of a pain, but they taste much better)
  • 300ml white wine
  • 2 tins chopped / plum tomatoes
  • 500g Cod Fillets (or other firm white fish.  In which case change the name of the dish)
  • Couple of handfuls of parlsey, chopped

In a deep pan, fry the chopped onions over a medium heat for about 10 mins.  Stir from time to time, then add the garlic, bay leaf and olives.  Leave (leaf!!) for a couple of minutes then turn up the heat and add the wine.  Leave to bubble for a few minutes until it has reduced by about half.

Add the tinned tomatoes and 200ml water, bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 mins, uncovered.

[At this point you can leave the sauce and take up the recipe later – either put it in the fridge overnight, or freeze it.]

Season with salt and pepper.

Cut the cod into large chunks, about 2 inches long.  Add to the sauce, then cover and simmer for about 5 minutes (depending on thickness of fish), until it’s opaque. Mix through the parsley then serve.

Eat with green salad, fancy bread, or – to bring a touch of Paddy to your plate -  a big bowl of spuds.   

*(Rather freaky update: While standing shivering in the park yesterday, who should jog past me – twice - but... Paddy S! Suspect am now going to see him several times a week for the rest of my life.)


  1. Jess: I really enjoy yor blog -- lived the life with 3 under 4 and have remained demented ever since. Alas, they do grow up to amuse you and take good care of you in their own special way.

    Say hi to Edward this evenin I'm sure you can trick some ancient stories out of him. Gus played a big role in the circus as well.

    Keep writing and don't forget to have fun!

    Regards, Carol McDonnell

    1. Thanks Carol. It was fab seeing Ed (and Ashley) on Sat night. (Mind you, yday wasn't quite so fab. "Why are you shouting?" the girl asked me; "Why are you holding your head?", the Boy asked; "Why did we stay out so late, and will I ever learn?" I asked myself...)
      Hope to see you in Sept! Jx

  2. I love this story, you so should have said hello to him!!!!

    1. I know, I sort of wish I had. I think I just didn't want to have to share my one free hour in the week with anyone. Because knowing my luck he would have demanded I help blow his nose, or bring him to the toilet or I AM THIRSTY GET ME A DRINK, or any one of the other 5,000 things a day I am ordered to do by other (usually - but not always - smaller) people.

    2. I know exactly what you mean, I'm very protective of my time sometimes and avoid face to face conversations so that I can salvage that little bit of peace!!

  3. Pretty new here, but a fan already. I laughed so hard at the last post I went looking for people to share the story with. This post's story of the Americans reminds me of one of David Sedaris's about a conversation he overhears on the Metro in Paris. If you haven't already heard/read it, you can find it in his book, Me Talk Pretty One Day, or you can listen to him perform it (even funnier)here on This American Life. Not sure if I did the code right, so here it is for copy-and-pasting:

    1. Thank you Jessica (and may I commend your parents on their excellent choice of name for you...) I ADORE David S, Me Talk Pretty One Day was the book I brought to hosp when baby was born (also known as "the last holiday I am ever likely to have"). Just before baby was born they ran a series of his readings on the radio; I would snuggle down in the kitchen on a Sunday night with my one-large-glass-of-wine-a-week balanced on my enormous belly and honk with laughter for an hour. Not a pretty sight. Anyway - welcome, and delighted to have you as a reader!

    2. Ah thanks! And of COURSE you already know and love David S. I used to read (occasionally, when already ahead, or at least not woefully behind, on lesson plans) Me Talk Pretty aloud to my students. They were studying Spanish, not French, but they sympathised with his language humiliations nonetheless. My absolute favourite to read them was Jesus Shaves. I don't teach anymore, which is probably for the best. I just wish I could find someone who'd pay me to read aloud.

  4. Dear Relentless,

    I'm a fairly new reader, and this is my first comment. I love your writing. Having had 4 children in 5 years I can totally empathize, even though they are all grown up and have fled the nest.

    I also love your recipes! We had the salmon en croute today. Unfortunatly one can't get puff pastry made with butter, instead of margerine, but I found a recipe for quick puff pastry, and will try it next time. If it works out, I'll let you know.

    The sweet potato curry is already a favorite, and gives me something to cook when my oldest daughter, who is vegan, comes to visit.

    1. Thank you Ms Dancer. The most recent pictures on your blog made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up - with envy. Absolutely beautiful. As soon as I've ploughed through my work project (and locked the kids in the cellar) I'm going to make self a large vat of tea and settle down to your blog properly. Def let me know about the puff pastry. I'll see if I can come up with more vegan recipes for you (for which I highly recommend Hugh Fearnley W's book "veg") xx

  5. Great story. Ooh, you Irish tell a good story. And the cod looked good too. I like your pissed photo taking.