Saturday, 20 September 2014

The Story of the Golden Raffle Ticket



A few weeks ago someone asked me what my five year plan for the blog was, it got me thinking. I'm the kind of person who doesn't plan things too much and live day by day. I've never really thought about where I'd like FFID to be in a few years time.

So I sat down with Mr. FFID in a pub (I like using the pub as an office) and we decided to think about my five year plan. We managed to write down my goals, both goals for the blog and my professional goals, which of course were interlinked. It was difficult to come up with them, there are things I want to do but think I can't, or can't see how I could achieve them. On the other side, Mr. FFID  believes I can achieve anything. So together we wrote down the ways to reach my long term goals and to be honest it scared me a lot, although it motivated me at the same time.

The week after we talked about my five year plan, I saw that GIY International were having a raffle with the most amazing prize: a place on the 12-week certificate course at Ballymaloe Cookery School including accommodation. I bought my ticket and Mr. FFID also got me one as a gift. The money raised by the raffle was going to a good cause as it was a fundraising campaing for GROW HQ, GIY’s national food education centre, which will open in Waterford in 2015.

I started dreaming and thinking of what it would mean to win this prize. All the things I wrote in my five year plan were scary as I thought I lacked the necessary knowledge and experience in the Irish food industry to achieve them. The Ballymaloe 12-week certificate was something that I've been thinking about for a while but could never afford, it was just a little dream I wasn't allowing myself to have. 

The day of the raffle draw arrived and it was a sunny Sunday. Unlike usual Sundays Mr. FFID and I didn't do much. I was in a weird mood, a bit grumpy or tired maybe, I'm not too sure. A few things didn't go the way I wanted and I remember saying to Mr. FFID "The day can only get better". 

At around five o'clock we went home and I was packing my bag as we were flying to Paris the next day. I was checking Twitter to see if the raffle ticket was drawn. Mr. FFID was on the sofa playing games on his iPad and I sat next to him. His phone rang. It wasn't a number saved on his phone and I said "Answer, that might me about the raffle". He answered and I couldn't hear what the other person was saying but I saw Mr. FFID's facial expression change. He became completely monosyllabic and looked like he was in shock. I started shaking my head and saying "No, no, no it's not true!".

He said the words "Ballymaloe Cookery School" and tears started to flow. I was shaking like a leaf and he gave me the phone. I spoke to Eileen from GIY International and she told me that Mr. FFID won the amazing prize. Eileen probably didn't get a word of what I was saying as I was crying as well as speaking with my French accent. I didn't sleep that night, I was going to Paris in the early morning but all I could think of was that fantastic phone call and what it meant.

That phone call changed my perspective on life in more ways than you can ever imagine. All my scary goals that Mr. FFID and I wrote down made even more sense and suddenly became all the more achievable. I'm in shock and I still wonder if that phone call really happened.

I'm over the moon and still pinching myself. I'm so grateful to Mr. FFID who already changed my life  almost 10 years ago when I met him four weeks after I landed here. He is still changing it every day by encouraging me to live my dreams and do what I want in life. There are no words strong enough to express my happiness and excitement at the moment. I've received so many lovely comments and words when I announced the news on my Facebook page but one stuck in my mind 'That's fab. This is destiny'. I like to believe it was meant to be and that I'm going in the right direction since I started this blog.

Ballymaloe is going to be an exciting, intense and life-changing journey away from Dublin. I'm so looking forward to it and the challenges it will bring, at all levels. I can never thank GIY International and Ballymaloe Cookery School enough for this prize. A special thanks also to Lilly Higgins who randomly drew Mr. FFID's ticket.

This blog will take a little detour for the first three months of next year and I hope you will stick with me as I share my Ballymaloe adventures. I can't wait.


Thursday, 11 September 2014

Electric Picnic 2014: What a weekend!



It took us 3 hours to drive from Dublin to Stradbally due to the traffic and our German friend who is usually very quiet expressed quite a bit of road rage at several stages, funny to witness from the back seat. I was tempted to drink my Côtes du Rhone wine, decanted in a plastic bottle for the occasion (classy, I know) on the way there but I resisted. We arrived to a muddy Stradbally on Friday evening but the sun was starting to shine and my wellies were already on my feet: it was the start of an exciting weekend.



It's impossible to describe all the things you can see, witness, enjoy, listen to and eat at Electric Picnic. It's definitely much more than a music festival, it's like a giant theme park for adults.



There are many campsites, lots of different stages everywhere, plenty of food vendors, workshops, comedy gigs and so many other things going on, almost too many to chose from. 


The different areas all have their own atmosphere, the main stage, casa Bacardi, Trailer Park, Body and Soul, Mindfield, the Salty Dog.... It is such an overwhelming experience for all your senses not to mention a bit of a walk.


I took about 450 pictures and could probably blog about the festival for the next week but I chose to sum it up a little bit just to give you an idea. 

Theatre of Food



This is where I spent most of my time as you can guess. The Theatre of Food tent is located in the Mindfield arena, not too far from the main stage.  John and Sally Mc Kenna are the founder of TOF and Caroline Byrne (aka The Dublin Foodie) has been co-organizing it since it started four years ago. The three of them did such an amazing job of arranging a line up of chefs, artisan producers, food writers, bloggers, mixologists, baristas…  From talks about Irish artisan food to a Modern Irish Cooking demo by Neven Maguire, cocktail tips to African tagine tasting, the programme was so diverse and interesting that it was difficult for me to leave the tent to attend other gigs.


I was absolutely honoured to be invited to do a cooking demo at Theatre of Food this year, where I made bouchons (pork dumplings) from Reunion Island (where my dad is from) and talked about Reunion food. As  was a little nervous I forgot to put the kaffir lime in my dumplings (please don’t tell my dad) but that’s OK, it’s an optional ingredient and some people don’t use it in their recipe (phew...). Food writer Leslie William was the best MC I could have hoped for, with his great sense of humour and wittiness he really put me at ease. It went well and I’m so glad I did it, merci Mr. FFID (we can see the top of his head on the pic) for being my beautiful assistant, my friends L. and D. for taking pictures, Leslie for his help on stage and of course I can't thank enough John, Sally and Caroline for allowing me to be part of this unforgettable weekend at Theatre of Food!

Find my Reunion Island recipes here

Food Highlights at the festival

Mr. FFID and I some brought Irish farmhouse cheeses and terrines with us and had a few picnics at the campsite but we also tried a few food options from the many great food vendors over the weekend.



Kinara Kitchen were super organised in their queuing/payment system, you could see they were very experienced. The food was fresh, flavoursome and deliciously spicy. They won 'Best Festival Food' by public vote at this year's Mc Kennas' Guide Electric Picnic Food Awards. 



The Global Green Food Project won the Mc Kennas' Guides Electric Picnic Judges Award. Their area was amazing and the food made by Country Choice on Tour was top quality.


Their breakfast blaa made a tasty hangover cure while their courgette and ginger jam on a sourdough toast provided a healthier option (so I ordered both!).


We also found the corn dogs to be the ultimate soakage food and tried them on the trusted recommendation of food writer Leslie Williams.



Music Highlights

I became quite emotional listening to Portishead and cried pretty much throughout the entire gig, I enjoyed the Pet Shop Boys and loved Beck. I also liked the Body and Soul area with its bohemian atmosphere and found the Salty Dog stage very cool. The highlight for me was the Other Voices stage in the middle of the woods, I fell in love with Mick Flannery's voice and couldn't believe how talented the young lads from the Strypes were.

I will never forget happening across a random stranger playing the soundtrack of my favourite French movie 'Amélie' on a piano which was left in a small hut in the middle of the woods. Magical.



The Boutique Camping

I love camping but I don't think the 31 year old me would have survived the regular campsites which were cramped and noisy. We had our own tent in the boutique camping and the queues for the showers and bathrooms weren't too bad for early birds like myself. I wasn't jealous at all of the people staying in the tipis, yurts or cute looking huts, not one bit jealous...


The atmosphere

There were people with babies, bearded hipsters, groups of young girls, 30 somethings, older people... 41,000 people gathered in a field in Laois for 3 days of fun, it was good craic and from what I saw, filled with friendly people.


The attention to detail

Every area and every single decoration, no matter how small had been thought about and planned, this is what made the site so special. The stages, the seating areas, the sculptures, the vendor trucks and everything about the site was just stylish and arty. I have to say it was the most Instagramable festival ever, a pity my phone battery was dead most of the time.


The verdict?

I came back with a sore back, an ever-lasting hangover and little bags under my eyes but I was so happy that I wasn't an Electric Picnic virgin anymore. I didn't think it would happen but I even had the post-Electric Picnic Blues upon my return, that should tell you how good the weekend was. Simply epic.




Disclaimer: I was a guest at Electric Picnic as I was giving a cooking demo at the Theatre of Food. I gave no undertaking to write a review and the words above are, as always, my absolute honest opinion. 

Reunion Island Recipes: Bouchons (Pork Dumplings) and Bonbons Piments (Chili Bites)



My dad is from Reunion Island, a French overseas department between Madagascar and Mauritius Island. The food there has been influenced by the influx of immigrants from all over the world between the 17th and 19th centuries. The local cuisines include Indian, Chinese, Malagasy and French influences, which results in an amazing variety of dishes, mostly spicy ones. I was brought up eating a mix of different cuisines from Reunion Island, France and Portugal (where my mum is from). You know me as French foodie because I'm from France but my palate is truly international and I’m so happy that my upbringing made me curious and adventurous about food in general.



A few months ago I was invited to Electric Picnic to give a demo about Reunion Island cooking and so I chose to demonstrate how to make bouchons, traditional pork dumplings loved by the people of Reunion Island. The ‘bouchons’ were introduced to Reunion by Chinese immigrants, they’re great appetisers and are also sold in food trucks all around Reunion Island. Everyone in my family is mad about them, they're truly delicious and easy to make. Bouchons have a signature flavour which comes from the zest of kaffir lime but as I was a little nervous I forgot to add it to my mix during my cooking demo... Oops, anyway, it's not a big deal (funny though) as some people prefer not to use it. By the way the only place in Dublin where I've seen kaffir limes (wrinkly looking limes) is the Asia Market on Drury Street. 

Another popular appetiser in Reunion Island which my dad used to make when I was a child was ‘bonbons piments’ (chili bites), they’re quite similar to falafels but a lot spicier. The ‘bonbons piments’ (chili bites) were introduced by those arriving from India to Reunion Island and are great snacks to enjoy with a cold beer.

Here are both recipes if you’d like give them a shot!

Bouchons (Traditional Reunion pork dumplings)

Ingredients

Wonton pastry (available in Asian supermarkets, defrost before use)
500g pork mince
Bunch of spring onions (chopped)
Zest of a kaffir lime (grated) 
1 tbs tapioca starch
5 small chillies (optional)
Salt
Pepper
Soy sauce for dipping 

Method

In a big bowl mix together the pork mince, spring onions, tapioca starch, kaffir lime zest, chilies, salt and pepper.
Make a little ball of the pork mix (about 1tsp) and place it on one sheet of wonton pastry and bring the 4 corners of the pastry together to close it in on itself. Hold lightly and press everything together to form a little ball.
Repeat until you have used up all the mix and sheets of pastry.
Cook the dumplings in a steamer for about 15 minutes.
Serve warm with soy sauce for dipping.

Bonbons piments (Chili bites)

Ingredients

500g dried butter beans
A few leaves of fresh coriander (chopped)
5 small green chillies (chopped)
Bunch of spring onions (chopped)
1 tsp of curcuma (turmeric powder)
1/2 tsp cumin 
fresh ginger
1 tsp salt
Pepper
Vegetable oil

Method

Soak the beans in water overnight (about 12 hours).
Drain the beans and peel off their skin.
Blend the beans until smooth.
Add the herbs, spices, salt and pepper to the beans and mix everything well.
Make little balls with the mix (slightly smaller than a golf ball) and flatten them to look like mini patties.
Heat vegetable oil in a deep pan (or deep fat fryer) and cook the chill bites for a few minutes (until golden brown) in the hot oil.
Drain and dry on kitchen paper before serving.