29 October, 2007

lazy Castle days

Isn't it wonderful to sit around? You can repair to a chintz-covered sofa before a roaring fire, or stretch out on your medieval-canopied bed (Avery tried really hard all week not to think about the Laura Ashley tag on the bedspread), or go out to the front lawn and sit on a deck chair till it gets too chilly, or lie in the window seat. And you can have a fashion shoot with your child who's wearing her favorite outfit from Zara, and fantasise about her being the company-wide model. And you can pick apples in the abandoned orchard in back of the Castle and then make a nice crumble (they were ugly, pockmarked apples but under the skin, the MOST delicious and crispy perfection).

We all read like crazy. Want some suggestions for cosy Irish books? How about a good old-fashioned romantic suspense story set in modern-day restored abbey, with mysterious nightly goings-on, an American governess and Irish film star father? Abbeygate, by Cecily Crowe, is just the ticket. Or how about a brother who claims to be his own cousin and steals his identity to get an inheritance in Dublin? Then you want Murder Machree by Eleanor Boylan. Fancy a rest from Irish, but want English? John found the perfect book for me in the castle's well-stocked musty bookshelves, and I've ordered my own copy. Down the Kitchen Sink is a memoir by Beverley Nichols (a man! I felt so ignorant when I found out), an English novelist beginning as a Bright Young Thing journalist in 1920s London, and this is his account of his 40-year relationship with his devoted gentleman's gentleman, Gaskin. Think Jeeves without the silliness, and Lord Peter Wimsey's Bunter without the corpse in the buttery. It's just a wonderful story of bygone days and people who really knew what was what in the social arena. And some excellent name-dropping.

Well, let's see, I was inspired by my Irish cookbook and a trip to the distressingly modern and urban (but useful) supermarket in Kilkenny to produce a lovely salmon dish (although I was desperate for garlic and celery, so I added them). You should try it too. And it's a real testament to the versatility of the various areas of the Stanley stove! But you could cook it just as easily on your own stove at home, or even bake it. The important thing is to gently sweat and even crispy a little bit the celery before you cook the fish itself.

Salmon with Celery and White Wine
(serves four)

1 salmon fillet per person, skinless and boneless
2 tbsps butter
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 stalks celery, cut in half and then finely shredded lengthwise
1 cup white wine
1/2 cup cream
1/2 tsp dried thyme leaves
salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a heavy skillet (the Castle came with four cast-iron beauties in graduated sizes! I was sorely tempted to nick them) and add the garlic and celery. Now, I put the skillet on the least-hot bit of the top of the stove and covered it with an upside-down dinner plate. Then I left it there for perhaps 20 minutes and it gently, gently cooked the celery through and got it slightly crispy.

Place the salmon on top of the celery and garlic and pour over the white wine and cream, then sprinkle with the seasonings. Cook covered VERY low until the salmon is just not bright pink in the middle, but lightly pink. Baste now and then with the wine and cream. It should take no more than 15 minutes to cook. Do NOT overcook! It should be meltingly tender and creamy, and a bite of salmon with a bit of celery is divine.

Serve with mashed potatoes and red pepper strips that have been sizzling low in butter (sorry, yes, more butter! Irish recipes do not include olive oil).


Avery and I are off to John Lewis to find black material for a Hogwarts robe for Wednesday's muted extravaganza. The English (save the children) are not keen on Halloween, feeling it a typically American import: greedy, intrusive and full of sugar. But needs must.

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