Once again I’m back in Ireland, this time for a family wedding. Meanwhile, I make due with a kitchen that doesn’t at all resemble my kitchen in California. Ireland is my husband’s home for four months of the year, music season in the west. When he is alone, he either microwaves or eats out. When I’m with him, we rarely eat dinner in a restaurant.
While I enjoy cooking with unusual ingredients and local foods, I typically rely on modern conveniences, a food processor, electric mixer, garbage disposal, a variety of cooking knives, pots and pans, graters, whisks, a colander, pastry brush and certain staples such as toasted bread crumbs, a wide range of spices, maple syrup, almond butter, canned tomato sauce and, of course, chocolate chips. Temperature control with dials marked in Farenheit is something I take for granted.
When meal-planning in Ireland, I don’t have the comforts of home. While the natives have well-stocked kitchens, (with the exception of garbage disposals,) it seems extravagant for such a small part of the year to purchase everything I would like to have in a kitchen where I spend so little time. Therefore I usually plan simple meals, chicken, salmon, pork loin with vegetables or salad and, Ireland’s staple, the ubiquitous potato.
Yesterday, however, rain and wind lashed at the windows, a fire burned cozily in the hearth, I’d finished another of Marcia Willett’s wonderful novels and I craved comfort food, healthy comfort food. Cooking Light Magazine has a quick, delicious meatloaf I’d served a few times at home, made with a pound of mushrooms, 8 oz. of minced beef, (hamburger), onion, garlic, thyme, sherry, breadcrumbs, an egg, salt and pepper. I’d slept in, eaten a late breakfast and skipped lunch so I planned an early dinner for around 5:30.
My first mistaken assumption was that Crimini mushrooms grace the shelves of Ireland’s markets. Not so. Crossing my fingers, I picked out some healthy-looking brown ones. I couldn’t find tomato paste either. The closest to it was tomato puree which sounded too watery for my recipe. When I asked a store employee for toasted bread crumbs she stared blankly. I scratched bread crumbs from my list. How hard could it be to roll slices of bread into crumbs with a rolling pin and toast them, a tradition that brings back Thanksgiving memories from when I was a little girl? Mincing a pound of mushrooms and eight cloves of garlic would be no problem. Neither would pureeing tomatoes and guessing at the spices that would create the tomato paste I relied on at home. I could do this. I was up to the challenge. Women cooked from scratch everywhere in the world, even in the United States of America.
Halfway through the mushroom mincing, which took me well past my 5:30 goal, I decided to try the blender. Do not attempt to mince mushrooms in a blender unless it has blades staggered at varying intervals inside the container, nor should you use brown mushrooms (which release enough moisture during cooking to require draining) when the recipe calls for Crimini. I won’t go into detail about the production of toasted bread crumbs and tomato paste. I will be packing the American version in my checked bag the next time I come.
The meal, served at 8:45 not 5:30, was delicious, made even more so because we were famished, but certainly not worth the 4 hours of creativity I spent in the kitchen or the stack of accouterments, pots, pans, utensils, colander and blender I left in the sink for the cleanup crew, ie: the man who microwaves. While in a country famous for its spring lamb, delicate salmon and roast pork, I will no longer bother with anything so exotic as meatloaf.