Ellen Lunney is one of our favourite Irish food bloggers. In a far too busy landscape of clean eating and chronic juicing, her writing and encouragement to forage and embrace proper cooking over at ellenlunney.com is a relief. Roast chicken isn’t evil. There is no shame in a touch of dressing. The accompanying images are a treat to scroll through too. Ellen’s Instagram will smoke your occasional glimpses of generally overpriced french toast. She uses her account to inspire her followers “who are standing in their kitchens wondering what to make for dinner. The recipes – if they could be called that – don’t take more than half an hour to make, and the photos are usually taken with someone over my shoulder asking ‘Can we eat it now?’” Ellen styles the shots around the “bric-à-brac Donal Skehan dubs ‘kitchenalia'” and uses a Nikon, just in case you were shopping for a camera.
Ellen’s blog, which she founded in July 2012, is about ‘weekend food’. A nexus of “food to cook for others, to go out and buy carefully; to think about; to read about; to write about.” When approaching her blog she gives herself the week to think over ideas “about what I’m going to make or eat at the weekend, or where I’m going to go.” New posts go live Saturday or Sunday morning, “recipes to make when you have a bit more time, or want to create something a bit special – homemade ricotta, for example, or your own sourdough, or lemon & Greek yoghurt ice cream.” She gravitates towards “comforting and quick”, recipes which fit with the 9-5, “or more accurately, 8-5 and home at 7.”
When she’s not working on her blog, Ellen works in advertising in the grocery industry after a couple of years working in magazines and has completed an MSc in Business & Management at Trinity College, where she did her dissertation on the Fumbally “after hearing co-founder Aisling Rogerson give a talk about the café at the Science Gallery.”
Day 1: Saturday
Breakfast: Coffee & Pastries
“I eat quite lightly in the morning but coffee is non-negotiable – I have ordinary black or an extra-hot cappuccino to get me going. If it’s the weekend, I’ll either have a sweet pastry with the papers or go out for brunch to Bibi’s, Slice in Stoneybatter or the Fumbally.”
Lunch: Antipasti salad plate with garden peas, herbs and fresh burrata
“Most of my blog posts start after a walk around the garden. I usually intend to do something more elaborate, but then I see the peas, or the courgettes, or the blackcurrants and I can’t get past them and I have to do something with them that instant, like this garden pea, herb and burrata antipasti salad plate.
While I believe very much in trying to be healthy, I don’t think you have to veer away too much from eating ordinary, Irish, market garden foods to do so.
It’s funny, because while I believe very much in trying to be healthy, I don’t think you have to veer away too much from eating ordinary, Irish, market garden foods to do so, once the food you’re having is eaten fresh and served relatively simple. After all, what could be healthier than a fresh pea, springing with life and vibrantly green?”
Food foray/Afternoon walk: Cherries from an overhanging branch
“When I go out for a walk, I usually spend most of the time looking in the hedgerows, or above eye level, up in the trees, searching for berries, or stone fruit or wild herbs, and I think of it as treasure-hunting rather than foraging. I was at a talk earlier this year that explored the idea of city-grown foods as being ‘sub-natural’ to commercial produce; that is dirty, inferior, to be avoided, and I think Dubliners in the main do tend to hold this view, even out in the spacious airy suburbs. For me, the rogue sweet cherries; the unexpected fully-formed walnuts or the Marlay Park hot-wall apricots are the greatest treat, and it makes me so happy to find them around Ireland.”
Pre-dinner Snack: ‘Skordalia’ dip with breadsticks
“My favourite thing to make (for the blog or otherwise) would definitely have to be dips. They’re quick, easy and involve such minimal outlay that you can get really creative with them. Over the last little while, I’ve made a Greek garlic, walnut and potato dip called Skordalia, strained yoghurt labneh, white bean hummus, whipped feta, romesco, homemade ricotta and a favourite green olive and artichoke tapenade”.
Saturday Dinner: Pork schnitzel with mashed potato, mustard and lemon wedges
“For me, Saturday dinner should be fun, sociable and relaxed. So I like having warm salads or old family favourites like a schnitzel dinner, which reminds me of being on holidays in Austria and Switzerland when I was younger. It’d be fair to say that this sort of food isn’t exactly healthy in the conventional sense, but I think it’s important to make a distinction between what constitutes ‘healthy’ during the working week, (eating light, vegetable-heavy meals; getting out and about as much as you can), and what it means at the weekend (spending time with friends and family; being outdoors; being present in the moment), and food is a good way of marking that bifurcation. Weekend food should be fun to eat and share, and it should be food that you spend time thinking about, buying, making and eating. It should be food that creates and revives memories.”
What’s the most exciting thing about Irish food at the moment?
“What I find exciting about Irish food is how many different, good things are going on, and how these are not just confined to one area or theme. I may be a little biased, as I’ve just spent the last six months analyzing it, but I think the Fumbally is doing a lot of interesting things at the moment, and is driving change around Dublin and Ireland in these regards. Other places that give me this same feeling (albeit for very different reasons) are Bibi’s in Portobello, Luna on Drury Street and Harry’s Shack in Portstewart.”
Best meal of your life?
“I wouldn’t say it was my best food of all time, but one of my most memorable dining experiences was in Austria, eating small dishes on a terrace in a heuriger inn, high above the Danube, trying the proprietors’ new season Grüner Veltliner wine and watching a wild thunderstorm inch its way across the valley towards us.
Another memorable experience was in Vernazza in the Cinque Terre earlier this year. We didn’t feel like sitting down for a full meal with the primi, secondi etc, so instead we had our aperitivo aperol spritzes from one place in the sunny square; a cono misto of fried anchovies from a small place up a back alley, a pizza and beers in a dive restaurant near the rocks (that both sold surprisingly good pizza and got the last of the evening sun), finishing with pistachio ice cream and coffees from the gelateria on the beach. That was a lot of fun.”
Day 2 – Sunday
Breakfast: Nectarine & Buffalo Mozzarella Toast
“I like having something light and sweet-savoury for breakfast, like these sourdough toasts with buffalo mozzarella, sliced nectarines, chili flakes and honey.”
Lunch: Mushroom & Thyme Soup with Pickled Cauliflower and Sour cream
“I eat lightly at lunchtime too, and as autumn approaches I really believe that there’s nothing more nutritious and warming than soup. If you make it with homemade stock it has the whole “bone broth” thing going on too, but of course we all knew that anyway. Use the whole vegetable and cook the broth lightly to keep the nutrients in.”
Pre-Dinner Snack: Globe Artichoke Petals
“For the interminable ‘half an hour’ before dinner, I love the ritual of having a steamed globe artichoke; which has to be one of the most elegant and eccentric vegetables there is. I dip the petals into warm lemony melted butter, pull out the hairy choke with a spoon, and then section up its heart into tiny, delicious pieces.”
Sunday Dinner: Always Roast Chicken
“I don’t think that there’s any more perfect Sunday dinner than a roast chicken. It’s celebratory in a restrained way; everyone has their favourite bits (brown or white); and the leftovers are even better than the main event.
“I’ve just bought A Bird In The Hand by Diana Henry, my favourite food writer, which offers chicken recipes ‘for every mood and occasion’; but of course, like all her books, it also offers so much more than that too – there’s a multitude of cuisines, techniques, and tips, all grounded by her fantastic, sensible writing. Like my mum, she’s from Northern Ireland, so a lot of her phrasing and the way she frames her food feels familiar. What I find most appealing about Diana Henry’s books though is the way that they present fresh ingredients, and her work shows that a duality between healthiness and great, engaging, emotive food writing can exist. For Diana, (as for me), all food should be healthy and fresh and vibrant, but it also should be so much more than that too: it should have a context, and a story and a narrative that goes beyond being merely healthy.”
Dessert: Brown Butter Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches with Coffee
“I like to have something small and sweet on Sunday evening with a cup of coffee – maybe some pumpkin seed brittle; a little bowl of Greek yoghurt with vanilla & thyme poached apricots; a scoop of homemade ice cream (I got an ice cream maker for my birthday a year or two ago, and I’m still constantly thinking up new flavour combinations to try making with it), or an ice cream cookie sandwich, for a very special treat. Then it’s time to start making the packed lunch for Monday, and the week begins again!”
Ultimate guilty food pleasure?
“Fish finger sandwiches. But made posh with buttery toast, a dab of mayo, preserved lemon and sliced white onion and gherkin. Exquisite. Comfort food par excellence.”