Salted Cod.

 

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Salt cod is an under appreciated gem in some parts of the Mediterranean. All that is needed are the two primary ingredients. They are decent sea salt and fresh cod. I will celebrate my heritage by using sea salt from my paternal ancestral area, west Cork, to fashion my own home crafted salted codfish.

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It’s no matter whether you pronounce it bacala as in italian, or bacalhau in Portuguese, or bacalhao in Spanish or even morue in French, it is still salted cod. I like to include thyme, lemon zest and flaked Portuguese piri piri to accent the salt. I let the salted fish cure for three days in my refridgerator. Then I wrap it well with parchment paper and plastic wrap and freeze it until I want it.

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Spring garden asparagus soup is a perfect accompaniment to salt cod in some parts of the planet. I garnished mine with new olive oil and just snipped garden chives.

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When I want to use my salt cod, I fish it out of the freezer and allow it to defrost. Usually, I soak it in water for two days or longer. I change the water three times a day.

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The artichoke, vegetable or hand grenade?

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I love fish and potatoes combined and these little salt cod potato cakes satisfy. Just add lemon.

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I like to add the salt after they have roasted.

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Any left overs are great the next day. I bake the salted fish-potato mixture with a generously seasoned composition of scallion, parsley, dried oregano, lemon zest, piri piri pepper, garlic, salt and olive oil. Thanks for reading. Eat like a peasant.

 

From my Secret Laboratory.

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At this early stage of spring, my Headiterranean Mediterranean garden is already gearing up. This is Radicchio di Treviso in all it’s splendour.

 

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Little French Breakfast radishes all lined up for spring duties.

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The garlic was well mulched and covered in snow all winter long.

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No spring garden is complete without chives.

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Alpine Strawberries sunning themselves in the afternoon sunshine.

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My backyard Asparagus is making an early run.

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Wild arugula and wild fennel at play together.

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The raw materials for tonight’s supper includes radicchio, arugula and chives.

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I wonder…….

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First of the season Asparagus Frittata.

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The days are bright and its good to be outside but the nights are chilly once the sun sets. That’s my excuse for turning on the oven. I roasted the codfish with my garden thyme and rested it upon the salad leaves. I’m hungry so I made potato-fennel gratin and roasted rutabagas to accompany. More than enough to satisfy my soul.

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Loaves and fishes or fish with potatoes. Eat like a peasant. Thanks for reading.

Marinada e Grilhada Piri-Piri

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Though piri-piri comes in many shapes and forms, from bottled pastes to flavored oils, essentially it is a thumbnail sized, spicy dried chili pepper. It is of African origin and was transported to Portugal during the Age of Exploration. Portugal held outposts in today’s Angola and Mozambique as it sought to seize control of the valuable spice trade. Today the pepper is part of the Portuguese culinary repertoire and is an essential ingredient of the marinade for a simple grilled chicken. My marinade included piri-piri peppers, garlic and home made preserved lemon as its base.

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I crushed the peppers with my blade or otherwise split them and chopped them up. I used a microplane to process the garlic to a pulp. As for the preserved lemons, I removed everything but the rind and rinsed it off before mincing it with my knife. I used what herbs that I had on hand, parsley and rosemary. Some cooks might include ginger, coriander or thyme. Just be generous with the amount of piri-piri that you use. And they do generate some heat.

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Take two items, and make garlic bread. I have olive bread to play with.

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Grill the bread, dry and on both sides.

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Afterwards, when the bread is off the grill, rub it with the garlic clove, sprinkle on some good sea salt. Pour on good quality extra virgin olive oil all over. You’re done.

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Grilled spring onions.

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I pounded and flattened out the chicken breasts. Why? because I want them to cook quickly over a hot fire. This way they are less inclined to dry out. Pounding out the chicken also helps to tenderise the meat. They sat in the marinade for almost four hours.

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Plain and simple. I dressed the plate with olive oil and lemon.

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Thumbnail sized piri piri peppers. Thanks for reading. Eat like a peasant.

 

Another Thyme, Another Place.

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I was happy to see that my little thyme plant was one of the survivors in my garden. It’s resilience to crusty New England winters reminded me of another one or two of its virtues. It grows great in certain parts of the southern Mediterranean and is especially tasty with fish. My garden thyme is a magic carpet.

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Tavira is a fishing town located in the eastern Algarve region of southern Portugal. And when you absolutely have to have the freshest fish……Well, this is how we do it.

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Find the freshest fish that you can. Leave it whole. Small fish works better. Light a fire.

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Any fish with a gammy eye, you don’t touch.

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Cooking utensils are simple. All you need is a decent pair of tongs to fit your grip and a fish spatula. In fact, a fish spatula is just about the last word for outdoor grilling. Get a decent one. One that won’t melt. Use sea salt that you enjoy.

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This is my first attempt at grilling in 2014.

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What I like about outdoor grilling is the unpredictability. But, altogether, I’m pleased with my blistered fish.

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Different sized fish will have  different cooking times. And the grill cook is always responsible for his fire.

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This fish is called scup, or porgie.

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Grilled fish, off the fire, Tavira style.

 

 

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And then, back to reality. Eat like a peasant. Thanks for reading.

The Shake Shake Sheikh of Araby.

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The bright melange of spices in a good Hawaj blend is reminiscant of busy fishing ports up and down the Red Sea. This is a different Cooking of the Sun.

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There are probably a million and one ways to cook this dish.
I diced onion, garlic, ginger, carrot, parsnip and celery as a vegetable base and sweated them all together in grape seed oil with sea salt until they began to loose their moisture content and concentrate their flavors. I added my “I Kill You” blend of Hawaj spices and deglazed with lemon juice and honey. My Hawaj was tomato based and I am fortunate to still have a few jars of last summer’s preserved tomatoes remaining in the pantry. Basically, the pristine fresh fish was steamed over the spices in the stew. Notice that my stew is not awash. The flavors are very concentrated. The mussels can be interpreted as “sea dates” and lent their flavor.

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Yes, mon or yeah man but it’s all about the craft of coffee roasting which has a long tradition in this part of the planet. These beans or seeds are from Yemen.

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All Coffee from Yemen may be regarded as heirloom with hundreds of years of tradition behind it. Yemeni coffee is commonly grown at over 5,000 ft. and agricultural practices may be regarded as organic. Yemeni coffee is a small bean and is dry processed. All of its production is done by hand.

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I roasted my Yemeni coffee beans on top of the stove in a heavy skillet without bells or whistles. These beans are a hard bean so can be exposed to a longer duration of heat. These beans are just freshly roasted. Over the course of the next day or so they will settle themselves after having being roasted. Each day, the attentive cook will notice changes to the roast. The roasted beans need to de-gas and the aroma will change. Some oils may emerge, suggesting the degree of roasting. I like it rich and chocolatey.

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Though I am not a believer in flavored coffees, there are always an exception or two. One is the addition of cardamom. Coffee and cardamom pair very nicely with each other. Eat like a peasant.

Flower of the Sea or Sea Dust.

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Sea salt is a necessary ingredient for any cook worth their salt. The coastal town of Tavira, located in the eastern Agarve of Portugal, has a tradition of salting dating back over two thousand years. It is so good that it has been awarded with DOP status.

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This bread dough that is proofing is for Papo Secos. They are a traditional Portuguese dinner roll. They are usually made with white flour only but I like my breads revved up with a decent measure of whole wheat flour for taste. I like them for their crispy crunchy crust, otherwise they are soft in the middle. Its best to eat these still hot from the oven, with butter dripping off them or use them to clean up your plate, peasant style. I admit to have used cornmeal to rest the bread on. Cue Portuguese cornbread soon!

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Throughout the Mediterranean, there are many styles of fishermans stew. In the Algarve region of Portugal, the traditional fishermans stew is called Caldeirada. Though there are no strict recipes to follow and each fishing port has its own variation, there are endless varieties and permutations of ingredients. I like to add saffron, a nod to its Moorish influence as well as piri piri peppers. These are an African pepper and an acknowledgement of Portugals colonial history. I like to use lots of thyme.

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My simple tomato sauce for Caldeirada consists of onion, garlic, celery and bay.

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I am going to use haddock, mussels and shrimp for this seafood stew.

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Little bread rolls.

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Al-garve style Caleirada. Just add 2013 season extra virgin olive oil. Some of the best comes from a little town outside Tavira called Moncarapacho.

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The next time I need to use saffron, I hope to be able to pick it from my garden. Hopefully, the tough New England winter will not have killed it off. Thanks for reading. Eat like a peasant.

Feast of the Seven Fishes.

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The origins of the Feast of the Seven Fishes (or Festa dei Sette Pesci, in Italian)can be traced back to early Roman times in Sicily. It was celebrated on Christmas Eve as an act of purification or cleansing to prepare for the birth. The feast can also be can also be called “La Vigilia di Natale” or the vigil. The Feast required people to abstain from meat and dairy.

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This is smoked mackerel, parsnip and leek soup in a porcini mushroom base, accented with thyme and bay leave. This was a great way to use up the end of the leeks from my garden.

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The notion of abstinance and anchovy’s together can seem like punishment to some people.

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But there is a school of thought which contends that the feast has its origins in ancient Egypt and the Nile. In which case, the feast is regarded as a festival of abundance. I think I prefer that particular aspect.

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This flatbread or focaccia is based on a traditional Apulian recipe using onion, anchovy, olives and rosemary. I used scallions instead  to brighten up the flatbread. The absence of dairy or cheese reminds me of the original Neapolitan pizzas. Though I try to use only New England fish species, these anchovies from Italy are the exception this year. The baby Jesus wept!

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Venice is well known for its seafood risotti. On this occasion, I traded in the butter that I would normally use to make a risotto and used grapeseed oil in its place. This crabmeat risotto includes carrot and both red and green chiles. The chiles are mild so as not to dominate and the carrot adds a sweet element. Because there is no egg employed to bind the rice cakes, they are very light and need an even lighter touch when it comes down to their handling.

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I like to carmelize a slice of lemon. I like the stronger, more robust lemony flavor added by keeping the lemon rind attached. Preserved lemon would also make an an attractive, simple garnish to accompany.

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Salting cod to preserve is a seasonal activity at this time of year. I like to make my own salted cod . I prefer it over what it available commercially. In fact, there is no comparison with the flavor. I like to use thyme from my garden, lemon zest and thinly sliced, whole dried cayenne pepper in the cure. I cure or dry the codfish for  up to four days.

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Polenta is another mainstay from the Veneto region in Italy. This is peasant food at it’s most simplest. Essentially, it is coarse cornmeal and water stirred together. I like to fry the polenta in grape seed oil. In my opinion, fried food never really tastes oily or greasy when using grape seed oil.

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Combining polenta and salt cod in tomato sauce is a classic pairing. It is even better when the tomatoes are ones that have been preserved from the summer. It is fair to say that I use a lot of extra virgin olive oil. All of the plates will be enhanced by drizzling, nay, pouring generously ……..lots of good quality oil over each plate  one to finish.

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One of the things I like to try to do for this menu is to try to include as much vegetables from my garden as possible. I saved the peas in the freezer and that’s why they get to be used. Berbere is a spice mix from Ethiopia.  It gets its color from ground up hot dried peppers and paprika.

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Seared sea scallops with pea puree, Ethiopian spices, lemon zest and extra virgin olive oil.

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The nice thing about this menu is that you get to eat your favourite items. I love to combine fish and potatoes in any permutation. Add fennel and that leaves room for garlic and rosemary. The fish is scup, or porgie. It is a member of the sea bream family and  is fast becoming one of my favorite fishes to eat. For me, the advantages are that it is small/large enough to be cooked whole and it is relatively inexpensive. The fish can also yield two nice sized filets plus the bones to make fish stock. With this fish, you have options. Best of all, there are still lots of this fish left in the ocean and it is what we should be eating. It’s not farmed either.

 

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Pan fried potato crusted scup with fennel “confit”. If the number seven is regarded as the most perfect number, then at least I’m consistent in my imperfections. I cooked six courses. There is always next year again and plenty of fish to be cooked in the meantime. Thanks for reading and eat like a peasant.

Aport in Portugal

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By default, a good Portuguese fish monger will have a decent extra virgin olive oil from that land. Indeed, extra virgin olive oil is fundamental to southern Portuguese fish cooking. But first, you have to find a decent Portuguese fish monger.
In East Cambridge, Massachussets, there is Courthouse Seafood. If you love fish, go there.

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Here are my raw materials for making my own home made “bacalao”, or salt cod. I should really try to source Portuguese sea salt. But I am more than happy to use Irish sea salt. Both countries have the Atlantic ocean as their neighbour. And share the same time zone.

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There are as many different recipes for salt cod as there are families making it at home. I used thyme picked from my garden, as well as a hot chile pepper I had saved and dried from the summer. I used a micro-plane to grate the lemon zest, which shows it’s hue nicely. I like to make my own salt cod over buying the commercial/industrial varieties on sale. It’s a seasonal thing. I’m ready for a New England winter .

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The cod sits in the salt cure for up to 4 days, depending on how thick the cut of fish is. Afterwards which, whatever I am not using immediately, gets frozen right there and then. To be revived and rehydrated another day.

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The fundamentals for a peasant soup……………leeks and carrots from my garden, rosmary and garlic too. Dried chile pepper, smoked paprika, sweet bell pepper and bay leaf with smoked chorizo sausage. Hello, Portugal.

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Celtic Fire Festival.

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Of the four major Celtic fire festivals in Ireland, Samhain or ,more contemporary, Hallow’een, is the largest and most widely known. In other cultures, this is the Feast of the Dead. Or All Souls.

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Characteristic to Irish country cooking is the use of a three-legged cauldron sitting over a fire which was kept going all day. Coastal cooking traditions varied from inland towns and districts. The idea was the same, however, and that was to feed hungry peasants. I am using a three -legged grill with fire.

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In the old Celtic calendar, Samhain marked the end of harvest and summer as well as the beginning of Winter or the “dark time” of the year. It was also a time of transition marked by the changing of the seasons and weather.

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On land, these seasonal changes forced herdsmen to bring their cattle back down from summer mountain pastures. A procedure known as transhumance. Cheeses would have already been made, perhaps to age in a blanket of sea-weed. Pigs or wild boar from the woods would have been killed and cured at this time. The process of preserving meat by curing with sea-salt was introduced by the Celts into Europe. It was also the time of year to “pit” potatoes for winter storage. Guinness goes great with sea salt. Wash your next oyster down with it.

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In coastal areas, seafood would have been preserved also. There would not have been many opportunities for off shore fishing during winter. So the techniques of smoking, brining and salting fish would have been common. I wonder if it was the Basque fishermen  who introduced salting to Ireland. Nowadays, there is a small cottage industry of sea-salt harvesting in west Cork on the Beara Peninsula, the most south westerly point on the island. The most famous mussels in the known universe come from Bantry in that same neck of the woods.

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Indeed, any opportunities for fishing would have been limited at this time of the year to sheltered coastal inlets and river estuaries. The changing of the season also influenced what species of fish were available to coastal peasants. Seasonal fish like John Dory or Saint Pierre migrated to warmer water. Other ocean swimming fish like some species of shark moved into shallower water. The rocky coastline provided shelter for rock fish like bass and codling and other flat fish like turbot and flounder. There was also plenty of oysters and rock lobster, cockles and mussels too.

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Another source of protein for coastal people was the availability of sea-gulls eggs on sheer cliff faces.. This was a risky business. You did’nt want the Feast of the Dead to be all about you and the crabs.

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Written records begin in Ireland in the 5th century of the Common Era with the arrival of Christianity. Samhain predates Christianity with its roots going back to the arrival of the Celts in Ireland around the 5th century BCE. Fire was an important part of Samhain used in rituals for protection and cleansing. But bonfires can be traced back even further in Irish mythology. Nowadays, the tradition of lighting bonfires at Hallow’een is not so prevalent as it once was.

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Thanks for reading. Eat like a peasant.

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Just about says it all.

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The Haunted Pumpkin ………….out soon in hard-cover.

Cooking For Kelpies, Syrens and Samhain.

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As above, so below……..and on my Halloween or Samhain kitchen altar, it is mostly root vegetables, leaves and herbs picked from my little kitchen garden. Halloween is the Celtic New Year. And when you live by the hook, you have to reel or creel some kind of fresh fish in for the table. This is the time of year to celebrate. And be mindful of the thin line between the living and the dead. On the wild Atlantic coast of Ireland, each fishing village will have its tradition and history. Though the weather is not as guaranteed as other parts of the planet, I still like to call the west coast of Ireland the Riviera of the North Atlantic.

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Seaweed has been a traditional fixture in the Irish coastal peasant kitchen for centuries. It has also been used as fertilizing material for kitchen gardens. Kelp grows extensively in Irish waters and it is literally there for the picking. Another reason to fight for cleaner oceans. Apart from being a seal, a kelpy was a maritime mirage of a beautiful woman luring fisher people onto hard rocks. But I want to make a sea weed stock with the kelp to fortify my fish cooking efforts. This is good because it is also vegetarian. And seaweed is an excellent source of micronutrients.

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In my seaweed stock, I braised my kitchen garden garlic, onion, leek, carrot and turnip with some thyme. They were immersed in the hot stock. They will be needed for more cooking later. Sirens and syrens.

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My traditional Irish brown soda bread will be on the Samhain table, best served warm with real butter.

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There was a time when we did not eat potatoes. They came much later. But here they are. My twist on the old favorite was to simply smash the potatoes lightly with a little bit of milk and butter. This way the potatoes retain some texture and character. i folded in garlicky, sauteed swiss chard, parsley and raw scallion. I used what I had from my garden to celebrate this Samhain. But, as far as I am concerned, you have to have potatoes with fish, somehow. My tradition. My potato dish is a version of the classic Colcannon.

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Dillisk, or dulse, is another seaweed found in Irish waters. And also found just north of Boston in Maine. Shop local when you can.

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I just broke up the dulse as chunks and threw it in. It has to be my favourite seaweed. Now we are ready to cook our seafood surprise for the Samhain syrens who live under the sea. Halloween with a mermaid.

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Goddess of the sea, keep us safe while taking your fishes. Eat like a peasant. Oiche Shamhna shona dhaoibh.