Notes from the Kitchen… Songs of Innocence & Experience

Delicious animal face parts. . . Many people would argue that these words should never be spoken together. But have you ever tried a braised Irish lamb cheek? Or beef sweetbreads covered in a Cashel Blue Cheese sauce? Many people haven’t. And even for those who have, they may not be at the top of the list when ordering off a menu. . . so it’s a good thing we don’t have a menu!

This wasn’t always the case. When we started the process of taking over the kitchen at Roundwood from Hannah’s mother, the meals she prepared seemed like they would be impossible for me to reproduce on my own. Rosemarie had spent years in that kitchen honing her craft, perfecting recipes, and learning both the subtleties and the broad strokes required to deliver a crowd pleasing set menu.

She was a great teacher, but when she finally took off the apron, the combination of my limited experience and a fear of deviating from her winning formula, meant I that cooked somebody else’s food for a lot of years.

I don’t say that as a bad thing. It was absolutely necessary. I was not Rosemarie. I had never had a job in my life that didn’t involve a guitar. I needed to practice. And to do that, I needed Rosemarie’s play book.

Fast forward to today. Rosemarie’s Parsnip and Cashew Nut Terrine is still a front runner. But things are changing in Ireland. Attitudes towards food aren’t what they were twenty years ago, or even ten years ago. Palates have evolved, and very conveniently evolved at the same pace that I’ve learned how to cook.

And with time grows confidence, and almost a decade at Roundwood has really taught me what this county has to offer. When I replaced the beef in Rosemarie’s bourguignon with Mick Keegan’s Laois-raised lamb cheeks, I finally started to feel free to improvise. Started to feel like it was becoming my kitchen. It’s now one of our most popular dishes. Check out the recipe below:

Lamb Bourguignon

lamb cheeks (or substitute beef cheeks)  600 g (about 20 cheeks)
bacon: coarsely chopped 100 g
button mushrooms: quartered 100 g
shallots: quartered 100 g
red wine 0.5 litre
beef stock 1 litre
garlic: minced to taste
rosemary & thyme: finely chopped to taste
salt & pepper to taste

Clean the fat and sinew from the cheeks. Season and sear in a very hot pan. Deglaze the pan with some of the wine and transfer cheeks into roasting pan. Add garlic, herbs, seasoning, and the rest of the wine. Cover with beef stock. Cover the pan with tinfoil, and braise at 350° for 1½ hours or until meat is tender.

In a separate pan, cook bacon until crispy. Add to cheeks. Cook the mushrooms and onions in the bacon fat. Again add to cheeks.

You may need to reduce the sauce some more once all ingredients are added. Just place the roasting pan on the stove, and reduce until you get the desired consistency. It should be dark, rich and gooey.

It’s also important to note that the beef stock, made here at Roundwood, takes about 48 hours to prepare. When using shop bought stock for this recipe, be sure to look for an unsalted product.

Chetwode, John & Enid with Ponies

Walk-On Part

We all play the lead role in our own life story.  That is until we get married and have kids.  After that, the best one can hope for is the odd, sympathetic nomination for best supporting role, celebrated by a hastily constructed card on fathers’ day promising a lie-in.   But I’ve become used to residing outside of the limelight.  Every now and again, however, my role around here is reduced even further to a walk-on part in someone else’s story.

Periodically, a character shows up from Roundwood’s past and with their arrival, my story briefly intersects with another in which my house has played a part.  They are sometimes heartwarming, sometimes heartbreaking, but always tales which make my efforts to keep this old girl standing all the more rewarding.  In a way, I feel like a memory conservationist.

One sunny afternoon a few years ago, I saw through our kitchen window  a very old woman dressed entirely in black, slowly making her way across the cobbled yard.  Her style of dress was from another era, and were it not for the gentleman accompanying her,  I could have been forgiven for thinking that I had seen a ghost.  As we weren’t expecting any ghosts, I bravely asked Hannah to investigate, and naturally she invited her in for tea.

The spectral woman was Enid Cosby, 96 years old and returning to show her son the house that she grew up in.  Time may have stooped her body, but her memories of almost a century before remained as intact as if they were yesterday.  The stories of her adventures around the grounds,  running through the woods with her playmates, could have been told by my girls, if they weren’t so busy running through the woods on their own adventures.  Time stands still here.

Enid was delightful and re-wound Roundwood back to another time for us.  She recalled being forced into afternoon naps in the drawing room, and stuffing ducklings through a drainage pipe, to the delight of her companions who watched them shoot out  the other end, dazed but unharmed.   She came here to savour her idyllic childhood one last time.

She also reached back in her memory and pulled out her wedding day for us, which she reconstructed in vivid detail.  On a bright summer’s day,  the guests gathered on the lawn at the side of the house, laughing, sipping champagne and awaiting the arrival of the new bride.  She appeared through a purpose built doorway, that until a few days previously had been the central bay window of the drawing room. And yes, it had its intended effect. The gathering erupted in rapturous applause as she made her dramatic entrance through the doorway-for-a-day.  It seems that going over-board for weddings isn’t a modern phenomenon.

But the stories can break your heart as fast as they warm it.  Not long after Enid, a man arrived with his five year old daughter, got out of his car and stared up at the house.  I watched him for awhile, and seeing that he had no intention of venturing inside, I came out to say hello.  He told me that he had been married at Roundwood and as he was telling me this, my mother-in-law Rosemarie arrived, recognized him and asked him how his wife was.   His eyes welled up with tears and before he could get the words out,  his daughter ran over to him, hopped up into his arms, put her hands over his mouth and said, “No daddy, please don’t cry anymore.”

Hannah brought the little girl inside to play with our girls, so her father’s mouth was free to tell of his wife’s recent passing, and one of his happiest memories of their time together: their wedding day at Roundwood.

The sight of her two little hands holding back the flood of her father’s grief would make a statue cry.  But watching him breathe in the memories of their day here and smiling at small forgotten moments recalled between himself and Rosemarie, had a calming, soothing effect on him, and when he was saying good-bye he said it with a smile.

These brief encounters give me a glimpse into the life that came before me in this fabulous house; of the loving memories that fill every corner of my stomping ground.  I store them all away for the more tedious, mundane moments around here; and when I’m dragging the bins up our long driveway, in the rain at midnight, I try to do it lightly, because I’m dragging them through someone else’s memory.