New York City - Imagine that

 

As Samuel Johnson famously said “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life”……  I always wondered if Mr. Johnson had ever been to New York City?

The island of Manhattan is only 13.4 miles long (21.6 km) and 2.3 miles wide (3.7 km).  At 12 noon, every week day, 13 million people are going about their day on that island, whilst 9 Million live there permanently.   24,000 eating establishments and 100 museums.  Isn’t that just mind blowing?

It’s the only city in the world where energy and exhaustion hit me at the same time.   The streets of NYC were good to me and I love going back to visit.  However, always with a food agenda.  It’s constantly changing, the old die hards remain, but it’s the change I get excited about.  The city is teeming with bright young chefs from all over the world, bringing new ideas, fusing east with west, south with north and it is truly remarkable. It’s their time.  Some will last, most will not, but they come with incredible confidence to challenge the status quo boldly, that in my mind is a good thing.

When I entered the much acclaimed Buvette, the first thing that hits you is the beautiful back bar, early morning patrons sitting, sipping their café and eating delicious pastries.  I would like to add they were reading their newspapers, but they weren’t, not in hard copy anyway…. isn’t that a shame.  The overall impression, well it is stunning, and that yes, it is a slice of Paris in NYC.   Food is simple and excellent, waiters a tad surly, (channeling their inner Parisian perhaps) that’s ok.

As the waitress directed me to my table, I raised my large bag above my head, took a deep breath and with as much grace as I could muster for my 5ft 9in voluptuous frame “slithered” into my seat. Whilst all the time uttering apologies to the couple on my right.  It is times like this I wish I hadn’t run away from ballet class. 

I sat on my tiny chair with my tiny menu, received my tiny delicious breakfast and ate it with my tiny cutlery.  I felt like I was on the set of Lilliput.  I get it…space is tight in NYC, I don’t have a problem with that as long as I am not having a serious conversation. 

Let’s put it this way, tables are so close together, that I would not have had a problem buttering my neighbors toast if they asked.  I would have made that joke with them only that they were breaking up.   Cheating…. allegedly.   They had come to the end of the road, and yes, we were all having their last meal together.

BUT it went on and on and on……. It was the longest break up ever…or felt like it… you said, I said, she said……nauseating, I was dying to say something, but not my circus, not my monkeys.  You know what they say, you can’t put an old head on young shoulders.  However, and more to the point, I am in no position to be handing out relationship advice to anyone, as I am still riding the short bus on that area of my life.  I needed to leave, I couldn’t in all consciousness interrupt.  I kept ordering Americanos and was praying that Dr Phil would show up to intervene.  He didn’t and I bounced out of there caffeined up to the hilt, as if my personality really needs that...

Every day is an adventure in NYC, it’s all around you – As you explore the city and what it has to offer, embrace it, it’s infectious, but the most incredible thing about NYC for me is its people.  They are direct, they don’t suffer fools, but are the most resilient, kindest people I have ever met.  It doesn’t matter what is going on in the world, NYC keeps moving forward.  That train leaves the station every morning and it is your choice to get on it or not. 

As John Steinbeck said, “Once you have lived in New York and it has become your home, no place else is good enough.”     I wonder is it time to get back on….

Heather's Table went to Clare Island...

Heather’s Table went to Clare Island…

You went where?  Is pretty much the reaction I get when I tell people I just spent the last few months in a renovated Lighthouse, on Clare Island, cooking for their guests.  It sounds idyllic, an island, a renovated lighthouse in the mouth of Clew Bay, Co Mayo where the next village over is Boston. "Take the ferry out from Roonagh," they told me, how fantastic.   It is all that and then some. 

You have no choice but to fall in love with the island, every morning she reveals her spectacular views, ever changing unique light, hundreds of sheep and frankly, it just takes your breath away.  The view from the kitchen window looks over Achill Island in all its glory.  Beauty just becomes the norm.  You are transported back in time whether you want to be or not.  Naive to think you can bring your ways to the island, comical really.  The island will show you her ways and what you do with them, is entirely up to you.  The characters I have met, the stories I have heard, the sheep I have travelled with, and I imagine it is the closest I will ever come to being on an episode of Father Ted.

As beautiful as the island is, reality sets in as you soon realize you are there to feed people wholesome food. The views are for the guests. Lugging groceries back and forth from the mainland on a weekly basis on the ferry is the ritual.  You bring what you need for the week and god forbid if you forgot something. Incidents like a fellow passenger (a sheep) standing on a birthday cake can happen and if there was a rough crossing say goodbye to the eggs! …. I will never take supermarket parking for granted again.  There is one shop on the “de island” with the necessities that you may need on a weekly basis, cat food, milk, fuses and a few spanners.   The crucial things a household needs. 

You will find your day-to-day chit chat changes on De Island . You find yourself obsessed with the weather, the swells, the winds and of course constantly worrying if the ferry runs or not.  It is amazing how creative one can become getting guests on and off the island not to mention yourself.

Actually, you don’t go “on” or “off “ the island. Islanders are either “in” or “out” Believe me, with a population of 140, everyone knows if you are in or out.   So when I vocalized I needed to call Brendan, the builder, I am told he is "out."  "Oh how do you know are you pals with him?"  Look of despair appears on their faces and eyes roll....ok so. Lines like “Aren’t there desperate swells” and “was there many on the boat” become the usual banter.  The story goes that a son returns home from America after 10 years to visit his father on De Island.  He takes aerlingus from New York, Bus from Shannon and the ferry from Roonagh.  He arrives into the kitchen and the first words out of the father’s mouth “were there many on the boat!” 

The Doctor comes “in” every Wednesday, no Dentist, a national school with 22 kids.  The secondary school kids go “out” on a Monday and stay with families in Louisburgh to attend school and “in” Friday evening.

The newsletter is KING.  It’s generated every week to the whole island.  Funerals, weddings, ferry times, Ram fairs, etc. You better read it,  as if you ask a question when the answer was on the newsletter well…., “Heather wasn’t that on the weekly newsletter.”  Oh the Shame of it....

So when Avocados arrived in the shop, well that made the newsletter, yup you get the drift. 

There are no guards/police on the island, no need, the pub opens in May and closes at the end of September.   No need to tax or insure the car and if you go “out” you leave the keys in the ignition in case someone needs to move it.  “Will it not be stolen?” I ask innocently one day, “Stolen? Well, where would it go?  Okie dokie so.

To get a tradesman on the island to service a cooker, or water filter, well, you are looking at anywhere between about 3 weeks and 3 months, if the ferry is running.  How do you know if the ferry is running in bad weather?  “Heather you look at “The Facebook” 

It is a simple life, but there is a lot to be said for it. Age doesn’t seem to hold any barriers; kids are incredibly respectful of their elders.  They are a tight knit group and they work extremely hard. They have overcome major obstacles in areas we mainlanders take for granted.  They live on a little piece of heaven, but even heaven gets challenged from time to time.

It was challenging, there were moments when I laughed till I ached, cried till I laughed, made new friends and became thankful for the smaller things in life, for now anyway.  I am sure it won’t be long before I am back cruising through the designer shoe aisle convincing myself I have to have them……an investment you understand.  I guess you can take the girl out of Saks but never take Saks out of the girl.

Clare Island, thanks for the laughs & the memories…so now, what in the world will Heather's Table do next....hx

 

 

 

"Tis" all in the experience

“I might dabble in some food writing,” I announced one night to a couple of buddies over dinner and wine.  “Food writing” “shur” what do you know about that?” says my very good unsupportive pal. Now, in her defense, there has been a fair few lemons thrown at her in life and she is not yet at the stage of making lemonade.  What do I know about food? Well let me see, haven’t I been eating the bloody stuff all my life. 

No news here that I love good fresh food. I don’t necessarily need the theatrics in the form of gases coming from my plate; I need the theatrics to come from real people, the waiters, the hostess, the bar man, the chef, the overall experience.

Fine dining is my least favorite way to dine.  I don’t like the pompous experience to it.  I like to rock up to a food establishment, a restaurant, a bar, a food truck and all I ask, that it is fresh and made as if you actually care. 

It doesn’t matter to me if I have eaten the best food in Dublin if the waiter/waitress is surly.  I can’t understand if I ask a waiter about where the fish is from, or how is something cooked and they haven’t the faintness idea and really couldn’t care less. The food maybe great, the décor extraordinary, probably a brilliant chef in the kitchen pouring his/her love into the food and it shows, but guess what you lost me at your waiter.   Your brand is not just your food people, it is absolutely every single thing and person in your establishment, and all associated with it.

If you asked me if I could recall my favorite meal of all time, my answer would be a resounding YES despite the fact it was 24 years ago…I kid you not.  It was on Cape Cod, a food truck selling lobsters rolls and a beer for 6 dollars.  Price point was crucial at that time, so ticked that box, two very good looking boys selling them, ticked that box, a group of people gathered to the left of the truck to savor every bite,  to moan and groan with all who were gathered there to share and marvel at the offering, ah connection, ticked that box.  Sons of fishermen making a few bucks for college, they told a great story, ticked that box; it’s all about the story. Years later, I detoured from Boston one weekend determined to find that lobster truck.   It was there! I nearly crashed the car.  The lobster roll was as delicious as I remember it. The boys were nowhere to be seen; maybe they were struggling with the exams.  Some hip cool kids with earphones replaced them, No connection, and no people to the left giggling with delight wondering if they would have another.  There was no story, no making summer memories; it had become, albeit very good, just another lobster roll.

Manic Monday...

The week didn't start out the Mae West....Some guy decided to try out his rally driving skills early Monday morning and swipped the side of my car.  He was all apologetic, as his ciggerate hung from his lip, his phone in hand, big grin.  He didn't look old enough to be driving, but that thought crosses my mind a lot these days.  "so sorry, so sorry, my fault, I will get my details"  "Do" says I, not knowing whether I wanted to slap him for driving into the side of me or should I just call his mother.

As we exchange details, he launches into a conversation about the weather.....yes the weather.  That is what we Irish do when we need to connect with others or just fill in the awkward gaps in conversation, we talk about the weather.  I didn't think it was the time so I smiled and continued to write my details quickly so I could relieve the traffic that was building up behind me .  A guy in the car behind me decides to get out and come over to see what was going on.  I assured him all was well and I will move car in about 2 mintues, just need to finsh writing the details.  "ah ok as long as you are alright so"  "I am" says I.  He then proceeds to discuss the weather with my new pal "rally driver" while offering us some tic tacs.  He starts asking me what I did for a living, as he glanced at the 5 kg of squash in the back of the car.  Once told the "short version" of Heather's Table, responded with "isn't that great, aren't you great" "where are you from yourself" he asks..."Originally Limerick" "ah Limerick, do you know..." ah jayas....and it continues......I swear to god we could have easily have been at a bar having a drink, albeit less Monday morning traffic piling up.   Who needs a dating app...

"Lads" I say firmly,  "we should go, I don't want to keep people, we need to unblock the road"  "oh right right, they say...and we all scamper off with my rally driver pal calling back "lovely to meet you and again so sorry."  I started to giggle as I drove off, despite the streaks of white paint of his van that now appeared on my car.  It dawned on me, Irish people just want to connect, we can't help ourselves, any excuse for a bit of a conversation, we get out of the car in the middle of a crash just to see if everyone is alright and if we can make a connection.  

I had supplied the lads with a story for the Monday morning coffee break, we all had a bit of a giggle, and my day continued.....It's all about the connection, all the time.....In my mind, that is a good thing.

 

 

Heather's Table 4 months done and still kicking!

When I started Heather’s Table in September, I was going to upload to instagram at least three times a week, with incredible photos, fab ideas and of course witty comments to win over all my followers and gain many more.    I would be known far and wide…ah…not quite.

Reality set in.  I started my business creating healthy food for clients who want to eat healthier or get rid of some of those pesky unwanted kilos.  Then POW, “Instagram, oh sweet god who the hell has time for Instagram.”  Is there an Insta-sleep? An Insta-clean up the mess in my house? An Insta –get staff for nothing app?  Alas no….Time to get real and let me share what happened the first 4 months of business:

•    Your friends keep checking the obituary columns for your name as  it has been so long since they have heard from you.
•    You realize the only things you talk about, read about, watch or dream about are; cookery books, cooking shows, your imaginary cookbook deal.
•    To maximize time you plan the weekly meal plans in your dreams and when you wake up write them all down
•    Asking me to meet you after 8PM at night is the equivalent to asking a normal person to meet a 3AM for a quick coffee and a catch up
•    At a restaurant, early bird of course, you delay everyone ordering food as you are totally securitizing the menu.  When it arrives and you continue to stare at everyone’s plate, well, frankly, they just think you are weird.
•    You finally make it to the Dentist for a check up and so delighted with yourself for accomplishing such a task that you kind of think he should be paying you. 
•    You check in with your accountant, you can feel the pity in his voice as he explains more money needs to come in than out. "ok so, I grew up with Seasme Street maths too, I mutter to myself" He then asks  “this business is a life choice isn’t it?” Ah no Mr. Accountant, it’s not, Paying myself would be a life choice, sleeping would be a life choice…..working every hour god has sent me is me trying to build a business. 
•    Realizing you will never look like the 25 year old “Instagram celebs” when they finish their 3 hour work out with "still" perfect hair and only designer beads of sweat running down their cheeks.
•    Deciding to also study Nutrition while launching business seems to be an incredible sound decision

I have been asked is it worth it, well when clients call to tell me they have lost 2 kilos or 5 kilos or any type of a kilo, they are so happy.They are sleeping better, skin is glowing, they just feel better. Then I am delerious with happiness.  I am feeding people real food, to help their health; I am feeding myself my own real food to help my health and am down 12KG (26.4 lbs.) since September when I started.  Although me thinks I might have added a couple over the holidays!!!! 

So there you have it, it has been nuts, no other way to describe it.  I have learnt so much, I have made so many mistakes, pushed myself further than I thought I could.  There are days I am not sure I can keep going, but I do.  I have a little giggle or a little cry and I am ready in a few minutes to go again.   

They say when you do what you love, everything falls into place….well, that is exactly what I am going to tell my car insurance broker when he is looking for his renewal check.  I am doing what I love so no doubt your check will be there as soon as everything falls into place!! 

The Next chapter – or not - or maybe -help

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Hi Wall, that is how I feel sometimes writing this blog, a full blow conversation with myself with absolutely nobody to argue with.  It’s a perfect relationship really, and you know what they say, when you are looking for expert advice, there is nobody more qualified to help you than yourself!  Good one wall! Wow what a couple..

I have been on such a journey these last couple of years, filled with incredible highs and incredible lows.  I have been inspired more than I have not.   I have grown, although “Wall” I don’t see  why people insist on saying that to me “you will grow from this”  Why does one have to feel that much pain to grow? I am already 5ft 9,(175cm) really I am tall enough.  Might be a catholic thing.

My passion for food continues to new heights, so completely obsessed with good food, good ingredients and how it looks.  I am so impressed with the Irish food industry and what they are capable of.  I have high standards in what I want to produce and I won’t back down.  My old career was media and I feel comfortable in that space digital or not.  However, my cookery books, need to be hard copy.

I will launch my new company in a couple of months.  Ah stop, let me not get ahead of myself. I know, I know, all your questions “Wall” will just have to wait until I am ready to announce.

Today I start my “eat clean increase fitness” program.  Day 1.  I have always been reasonably fit, exercise has always been a very big part of my life, however, so have cakes, tarts, scones, gummy bears, cola bottles, the list is endless, all that yum out there, I know you so well.  I don’t have a sweet tooth, I have sweet teeth! Time to get a grip.  I am my Dentist’s best customer, he is costing me a small fortune.

So Wall, I will leave you for now, I hope you have a good week, its been great catching up and will write soon, love Hx

Follow me on my Journey on Instagram @heatherstable_

Surviving Ballymaloe..and beyond..

It is hard to believe the 12 weeks at Ballymaloe are over.  I am an emotional and physical wreck.  The exams were just brutal.   At one point in the exam hall, I was just staring at the page and wondering to myself “my god was this all a dream? Did I actually go to this school?”

The last week was rough, everyone was exhausted and emotional. Ok ok so it was me who was emotional, but again I would cry at a swinging gate.  There was so much to cover and then the practical exam.  I refuse to dwell on that for now, it is what it is.

Now I can’t sleep, folders, bags, laundry all in the middle of the floor.  My bulging suitcase is still at the front door, full of cookery books.  Yup, because that is just what I need, more cookery books. Rory O Connell signed his for me, that will definitely be my “show and tell” party piece. The man is a genius. The weighing scales in my bathroom seems much larger than I remember, and I am sure it spoke to me earlier, “STEP ON ME, go on I dare you” …so rude, I never liked it anyway.

The last couple of weeks,  I was thinking I might try and give up desserts or at least cut down to one a day. That didn’t work out so well.   Anyway, I heard of one student who gave up desserts for two whole days and she felt dreadful, terrible headaches.  What’s the point in that? It is just a tad worrying that the elastic in my socks are leaving a dent on my shin.

It was an adventure of a lifetime filled with highs and some lows, new friendships, new beginnings and an incredible respect for everyone who was instrumental in giving that to me.   It is an institution, they deliver what they say on the tin and then some.  Not for the fainthearted and not for people who want to fafe about in the kitchen talking about nail polish and curtains.

I can’t but think of the next load of students that are presently preparing for their adventure.  You have absolutely no idea what is in store for you….but I am having a little giggle on the side at the thought of you all.

Below are some tips on surviving Ballymaloe:

  1. Get your chef trousers a bigger size.  No, not for comfort now, so you can grow into them with ease
  2. Put your name on your hat, I have bought 5.
  3. Yes, your steel toe shoes are hideous, ugly even, BUT they will allow you to keep your toes when a Kenwood falls on them…
  4. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you will not eat the desserts every day. You will, and probably have two. Enjoy it.
  5. You will be permanently exhausted
  6. Don’t get friendly with the hens, they are tomorrow’s lunch
  7. On the pearl of your life do not talk to the tutor who is on demo prep in the morning…it won’t end well
  8. Don’t mention the word “low fat” in Darina’s presence…trust me on this one
  9. If you are changing temperature on your oven, make sure it is yours….it can get ugly
  10. File and index your recipes from day one or you will drown
  11. Remove the tissues from your aprons before you put them in the washing machine..
  12. Close the lids on the flour bins after use..my pet peeve
  13. Don’t leave your knife in the sink.
  14. The pot holes…..#effin potholes….you will understand when you get there
  15. You will constantly be in a fog of information overload
  16. Sit on the black chairs in demo, the blue ones will kill you
  17. You will be living in a little bubble, the outside world won’t really exist.
  18. Darina has eyes in the back of her head and possibly the sides. They also work within a radius of about 100 miles.
  19. Throwing out food is about as serious an offense as 1st degree murder
  20. Enjoy it all, it goes by in a nano second
  21. Oh and wash your hands!

Thank you to all the tutors, all the staff, your endless patience and humor got us all through.  Thanks for the marvelous memories.  Onto my next adventure….Hx

Ballymaloe…6 weeks in and no counting

Heather'sTableBallymaloe

Arriving into Ballymaloe on a cold wet winter January evening my tummy was filled with butterflies.  Then my brain kicked in and confirmed, clearly,  this was indeed a mid life crises.   Then my heart over took my brain, as it always does, the very same heart who made me deposit a large bank draft to Ballymaloe months earlier.  Your heart is your heart, and you can never go wrong listening to it.  Let the journey begin.

Half way through now and my heart didn’t lie.  This course is not for the faint hearted, it is challenging, exhausting, exhilarating and frustrating. There are days I am so mad at myself for making really dumb mistakes.  There are days I want to push the tutors head into the oven on a high heat for making me redo things.  There are days when I don’t want to get up at 7 to pick the salad leaves, but then you eat said leaves at lunch time and realize quality needs you to get up and do your bit.

The ethos is infectious, it runs through the kitchens of the school and the veins of the people that work in it.  Quality, simplicity, a really good attitude, is what makes it tick. A sense of humor is a definite requirement.  In a world where people lose their sense of quality in so many aspects of their lives, this is refreshing.  Every person I have come across who works in this school eats, breaths and lives the ethos.  As the old saying goes, It takes a village to raise a child, or was it “the village called to say they lost their idiot!” Well, It all depends on the day with me on what part of the village I am in!

So the week begins, so why am I not in the kitchen at the moment?  Because my car fell into one of the potholes in Shanagarry last night and I got an f*****  puncture. Pot holes my foot….you could fall into one of them and never be seen again….I am of the belief that is what happens to the people who buy processed food, just a theory…

The dots keep connecting…

Mid life crises or seen the light!?

       

 

 

 

Food is not only a necessity, it’s an amazing luxury. For me, food is love – feeding your family, hosting friends. Food makes people happy – it makes me happy. It doesn’t have to be posh; it just has to be fresh.

I used to look in awe at women who didn’t like food. While ordering their food they seemed to possess the will power of a she devil.  A lettuce leaf was just “loads” for their dinner, really they were stuffed, they couldn’t fit in another bite. Really?

Many  women speak in phrases of guilt when they do actually put a canapé into their mouth. “Oh no, straight to the hips,” “I shouldn’t but I will,” “diet tomorrow”.  Most women at the table seem to nod in agreement, honestly, its as if they were all involved in some type of starvation cult, that clearly, I was not a member.  I find it all so completely nauseating. I could probably eat the whole thing again, and then some, what was wrong with me? I seriously worried if my stomach was built in the same way a cow’s was, one stomach but four different compartments?

Why deprive yourself of that? I don’t think any of us should become obese, I think you should enjoy the simple pleasures of life

My father loved food and showed his love for us through food. Making sure the scrambled eggs were perfect, giving us time checks in the form of ROARS up the stairs with the same urgency as troops invading enemy lines “get down now or the eggs will be ruined.” He was a farm to table kind of guy, mainly because he lived on a farm and didn’t know anything else! I tried to give him pasta once, he thought I was trying to poison him.

I am a woman in my 40’s on a journey  of changing my career from the media world (advertising/sales & marketing) USA based to food and wine in some form of other, Irish based. I have dabbled in the kitchen and have become obsessed with the Irish food industry and food producers. My first leg of this journey is over, I recently qualified as a sommelier in California, now, onto the second leg. In January I heading to the most renowned cookery school in Ireland Ballymaloe, oh the excitement I might combust!

A friend recently asked me did I have a plan? I do, I have about 30 of them… and a lot of dots. I keep connecting the dot’s but have yet to make a box. It will happen, that I have a 100% faith in, and I think Ballymaloe is just the place to help me achieve that.

I am loving being home in Ireland and I am so looking forward to my next adventure.    However, I must be upfront, occasionally,  I wake up in the middle of the night with the fear of god in me and pearls of sweat running down my face.  I go to bed with so many ideas and I wake up worried  sick about global distribution for my business, which is at this point, is still a scribble on a pad.

Where will the road lead me, what job, and in what capacity?  I haven’t a clue, but I do know it will be filled with the best Irish ingredients, surrounded by people who are all about quality & service.  Isn’t it all about selling the experience?