It’s that time of year when everyone’s writing lists and checking them twice. My hairdresser has all her presents bought (well, 42 of them) and wrapped. I know: it’s not even December yet, for jeebus-jumpers sake! So, I’ve made a list too. My very own wishlist of what I would love to receive from family, friends or enemies looking to lure me into a false sense of security. I’ll admit that some of them are more realistic than others, but a girl can but dream.
So, in no particular order, here follows my Fantasy Festive Food & Wine Wishlist..
1. A very generous Voucher for Ireland’s Blue Book, which just celebrated its 40th anniversary with the addition of Thornton’s Restaurant (where the canapé bar is one of Dublin’s most underrated food-fun nights out); the remote Clare Island Lighthouse (a magical guesthouse overlooking Clew Bay); and Liss Ard Estate in Skibbereen (which has the coolest magical-mystery gardens, complete with an otherworldly Irish Sky Garden where humdrum clouds are elevated to works of art). Now when I say ‘a very generous Blue Book voucher’ I would of course graciously accept any kind of a Blue Book voucher. Especially if it came with the latest glovebox-friendly copy of Georgina Campbell’s Ireland Guide or the McKenna’s Irish Food Guide, so I could be sure to eat well en route too.
2. A full set of Riedel’s ‘varietal specific’ wine glasses so that I could have the perfect glass for every wine I drink, whatever the grapes or style. (I attended a Riedel tasting recently and their glasses really do make an incredible difference to different wines.) The only problem is that, with separate glasses for Cabernet or Pinot Noir, Riesling or Chardonnay, and so on, I’d really need a bigger kitchen to keep them all in. And logistically, that would involve moving out of my tiny apartment, which I’m really rather fond of. So to avoid all that hoo-ha, I’d settle for the Syrah set, the most versatile of the lot.
3. A year’s supply of one of the following:
a) Pata Negra Iberico ham, to be delivered to my door by a swarthy Spaniard. (Failing that, a voucher for Black Pig in Donnybrook might do it, and I could go collect my own whenever supplies run low, and pick up a bottle of something delicious while I’m at it.)
b) M&L Szechuan’s chilli-fried green beans. (Or failing that, a new stainless-steel wok from the Asian market, a supply of dried bird’s eye chillies and the recipe for said green beans.)
c) Green papaya salad, like what used to be on the menu at Diep Le Shaker restaurant and what I could have lived on in northern Thailand. (Or failing that, a mandolin slicer and a voucher for the Asian Market so I could get a fresh supply of unripe papaya, chillies, nam plaa fish sauce and limes to make my own.)
4. Speaking of mandolins, I’d also love a new Microplane grater, which happens to be the best grater in the world. I left mine at a party (don’t ask) and I really miss it for everything from grating Parmesan to finely grating garlic (beats crushing it by a mile). Okay, if you have to know, it was my own party but in a rented house and I knew we’d be cooking and I thought I couldn’t cook without my Microplane. That’s how much I love it.
5. A case of Highbank Medieval Cider, because it’ll probably be sold out by Christmas if it isn’t already. If you haven’t tried it, look out for it next year: it’s an amazing new honeyed cider that is sweet at first and then dry thanks to the tannic apples. Or failing that a mixed case of Irish craft beers and ciders. (A year’s supply is hard to define, right?)
6. A wine course. If I hadn’t already done the WSET course run by Cooks Academy of Food & Wine and tutored by the brilliant Liam Campbell, I’d do that all over again. It was such a treat to go in every week, taste different wines and learn about different styles from all over the world. (WSET stands for Wine & Spirits Education Trust, a global professional wine educator, but they offer courses at all levels from introductory to Masters of Wine.) But seeing as how I’ve done the WSET thing, I’d go for a voucher for Ely Wine Bar’s weekly Thursday night wine tastings, which are only €15 a pop and give you a chance to taste some gorgeous wines you mightn’t otherwise try.
7. A pair of stockings from Avoca (have you seen them? Cute or what!) stuffed full of hot and salted Pulparindo candy bars and fizzy cola bottles and Wham bars. (There’s a reason that tangy green papaya salad is my favourite dish ever.) What are Pulparindo bars? They are the penny sweets of the gods, courtesy of some Mexican genius who thought to turn tangy tamarind into a sweet candy, and to flavour it with salt and chilli. Bam!
8. A stainless steel stove-top moka pot for home-brewed coffee, possibly from Coffee Angel on South Anne Street, who seem to sell every kind of coffee accessory you could possibly want, not to mention every kind of coffee. (My current favourite is their Kebel Demersa from Ethiopia which tastes like Turkish Delight, in a good way.)
9. A voucher for Inis Meain Restaurant & Suites so I could go back and recreate one of the best short breaks I’ve ever had. And maybe I could go towards the end of their season and they’d let me stay on and write that novel I always thought I’d get around to. It’d be the perfect spot for it, what with all that windswept wilderness on your doorstep, and the food is pretty darn spot on too. (I could do island lobster and fresh spuds on a daily basis, no problem!)
10. An essential cookbook. Maybe Darina Allen’s 30 Years of Ballymaloe, which just won Best Irish Cookbook at the Bord Gais Energy Book of the Year awards. Or From Lynda’s Table by Lynda Booth of Dublin Cookery School, where I did the life-affirming one-month cookery course a few years back. Or Ross Lewis’s beautiful Chapter One: An Irish Food Story. Or whatever cookbook looked fun and interesting and solidly written. Whichever. I wouldn’t mind which one. I’m really very easy to please. Honest.
Aoife Carrigy is a food, wine and travel writer and editor, and food blogger at HolyMackerel.ie. Aoife recently edited The ICA Book of Home & Family which follows last year’s Irish Countrywomen’s Association Cookbook. She previously co-authored The Ard Bia Cookbook with Aoibheann MacNamara, and was co-founder of the For Food’s Sake collective, who have been known to organise food-related talks, movies and events around the country. Aoife also writes a weekly wine column for the Irish Mail on Sunday and a weekly restaurant column for The Irish Independent’s Day & Night Magazine.