I have a memory of eating a cheese sandwich on the patio at Ballymaloe, the famed Irish country house and restaurant, on an August day many years ago. William and I were staying at Ballymaloe over the bank holiday weekend while working in Ireland that summer and it was a trip we saved up the bulk of our travel budget to experience. We took the bus to get there and without a car and miles from any town, lunch was kind of an interesting affair. The day I ate my cheese sandwich, lunch was not being served. But they knew we were young and hungry twenty-somethings and the place is known for service beyond this world, so we were offered a choice of a couple sandwiches. Even then I wasn’t overly fond of meaty meals and though none of the options sounded particularly like what I was craving, I opted for cheese. I expected something of the sort of cheese sandwich we might be served in America, either with processed cheese or a sandwich of the grilled affair.
What came from the kitchen was neither. It was homemade brown bread covered in big, thick slices of Irish farmhouse cheddar, the kind that’s been aged for quite some time. I stared at the sandwich, at first thinking to myself, there is no way I need to or am going to eat that much cheese. Hah. Once I began I realized how good it was and before I knew it I was polishing off the plate, satisfied and completely guilt free. I’ve thought about that cheese sandwich often over the years, not particularly desiring to reinvent it again but thinking instead how it encapsulated that perfect weekend in which we had no plans beyond how to get there and no cares other than exploring the farm, the cookery school gardens, and the surrounding countryside with the wheat and oats ready to harvest and a few combines out doing so. We don’t have a single picture of that weekend because we deliberately opted to truly live in the experience instead. It was my first time in the countryside of County Cork and even though I have a deep fondness for Ireland, I really felt at home, truly like there must be history here in the far southwest countryside and rolling hills. Either that, or my foodie nose sniffed out the real farm to fork food-centric part of the country and just wanted to stay in it forever.
Since then, too, cheddar hasn’t been in my diet and neither has that sort of brown bread. Truly, travel in general has changed a lot for me since those days when I didn’t worry about food allergies and could eat exactly what I was craving without making someone else sacrifice their own food desires. I didn’t have any tomato chutney during that Ballymaloe weekend but their tomato chutney business began before the restaurant and guest house did and I came home with a jar of their famous recipe. I hadn’t given tomato chutney a thought since until a quick weekend in Seattle this past June. I always travel with at least my breakfast these days but William woke up a little later than I and wanted to go out for a quick brunch. We somehow got in to Morsel, a popular Ballard breakfast spot, before the line got too long. While I sat at a little table in front of their biscuit case, I noticed their tomato jam was a staple and seemed to be quite popular. Even though I only had a pot of tea at Morsel, I was reminded again of a time when traveling and eating nice bread and cheese and tomato jam because it sounded good was second nature.
I was also reminded that travel memories are what we make of them and though food is an intricate part of those memories and I love getting inspired to make new things because of travel, the memories really aren’t about the food. They are about the experience, the atmosphere, the kind way a stranger becomes a connection, the quiet and deep catch-up chat in a packed coffee house on a Saturday morning, the way we’re put at ease by a conversation in the library after dinner, the thrill of riding rickety bikes up quiet country lanes with no one else around save a few cows, and the deep satisfaction of sitting in the sun on the patio of a house that has more years of history than any building in this country, thinking of absolutely nothing other than how perfect the moment at hand actually is.
Aged Cheddar, Brown Bread + Spiced Tomato Chutney
The Recipe Redux theme this month is meals inspired by our travels. This one has been a long time coming but is inspired by that weekend at Ballymaloe, by a lunch platter/plowman’s lunch recipe in one of my favorite cookbooks, and by that little tea and brunch at Morsel in Seattle. I’ve been scheming up ways to make really nice bread and vegan cheese into a meal for a while now. When I initially began eating gluten and dairy-free, I avoided all processed foods–like cheese and gluten-free bread–as much as possible. Since then, the offerings have much improved and there are reasonable substitutes without questionable ingredients–especially when it comes to cheese. I used Vtopian Aged Cheddar and much to my surprise, the flavor was very much in line with a nice farmhouse cheddar. As you can see from the pictures, it has a cashew base and so becomes quite spreadable when warm. If you’re not adverse to cow’s milk cheddar, William’s current favorite is Kerrygold Reserve.
For the meal to serve 2:
nice aged cheddar of choice, thickly sliced
2-4 thick slices bread
a little side salad for balance, optional
Tomato Chutney, makes 4 cups, adapted from Ard Bia Cookbook
1/2 a cinnamon stick
1 star anise
1 bay leaf
a good pinch of ground cardamom
1 tsp. canola oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 Tbs. fresh ginger, grated
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbs. brown mustard seeds
1 quart canned tomatoes (or 2 14-oz. cans)
1/4 cup currants
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar
salt and pepper to taste
- In a hot pan, toast the cloves, cinnamon, bay leaf, and star anise until they start to release their aromas. Then remove and wrap them in either cheesecloth or put in a tea ball.
- In a large pot, heat the oil and saute the onion and ginger until the onion is soft. Add the garlic and mustard seeds and cook for another minute or so.
- Add the tomatoes, the spice parcel, the cardamom, and cook uncovered over a gentle simmer for about 45 minutes. Then add the currants, raisins, vinegar, and sugar.
- Cook for an additional 45 minutes until it has thickened up and and most of the liquid has cooked off.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper, remove the whole spices, and then cool before transferring to a jar.
Gluten-Free Struan Bread, (here’s a quick history of struan bread)
2 Tbs. chia seeds
1/2 cup water
1 cup teff or millet flour
1 cup tapioca flour
1/2 cup leftover cooked grain such as brown rice, oats, or millet
1/4 cup amaranth or quinoa flour
1/4 cup almond meal
1/4 cup ground flax seed
1 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. xanthan gum
1 1/2 tsp. yeast
3/4-1 cup water
2 Tbs. canola oil
2 Tbs. maple syrup
- Soak the chia seeds in 1/2 cup water for about 15 minutes. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Prepare an 8 1/2 x 4-inch loaf pan by either lining parchment or rubbing the bottom and sides with oil and then flour.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the flours, almond meal, flax, salt, and xanthan gum. Set aside.
- In a liquid measuring cup, dissolve the yeast in 3/4 cup of warm water. Allow the yeast to begin to foam and then add the oil and syrup. Mix the yeast mixture into the chia mixture and make sure the chia seeds have no lumps in them, and then add the liquids to the dry mixture. With a wooden spoon, mix well, just until the dough is soft and holding together. It will be fairly wet. If it seems more like a drier dough that can be picked up in the hands, add additional water so it is looser.
- Pour the mixture into the loaf pan, and smooth the top. Take a serrated knife and score a line running the length of the loaf, just off the center. Then place it in the oven and turn down the temperature to 350 degrees F.
- Bake for one hour at that temperature and then turn down the oven to 300 degrees F. Bake for an additional 40 to 60 minutes.