As an Irishwoman married to a Spaniard and living in Spain, I, on behalf of all my compatriots, have undergone on too many occasions denigration for the uninspirational and bland Irish cuisine. The usual culpable dishes to warrant this affectionate slagging are fish and chips served up in a paper bag, an Irish breakfast roll and tea and toast (the deep-fried Mars Bar has been relegated by my insistence to Scottish and English tastes mainly).
I usually retort to my adopted second nation, that they might have the upper hand with variety (octopus, pigs’ snout and trotters and lambs’ intestines, to name but a few of the many Spanish delicacies that would not show up on most Irish tables from one end of the year to the next), but if it weren’t for the oil (excellent in quality as it may be) and liters of it that all Spaniards insist on pouring into every dish and the kilos of salt used to heighten the flavor of all savory recipes, Spanish cooking would be as bland as anywhere else.
And what’s wrong with tea and toast anyway?
Bread propped up on a long fork and toasted by the hot coals of a dying fire in the sitting room. The butter melted on that charred piece of toast and washed down with a sweet milky cup of tea is hard to rival. That’s the way my mother and father used to drink and eat their tea and toast and it was also the beginnings of my interest in social history and development…”What! No such thing as toasters?”
Late nights or very early mornings, me walking home, usually alone, ahead of my younger brother David and older sister Catherine, waiting in the kitchen for them to arrive. David would shortly follow and Catherine, always the last, would stumble in the front door, kick off the heels or high boots, slouch back in the carver chair and mumble,
“Put on the kettle and a slice of toast.”
The best cure for any hangover!
The gossip about who danced with whom, who got off with whom, who was sick in the bathrooms and any other relevant business of teenage years would see us eat and drink our way through rounds of toast and a big pot of tea. (I dread my children’s adolescence).
Of course we all liked our tea and toast done in a different way. David and Michael preferred their bread more toasted, verging on the burnt (suspiciously carcinogenic). But the subtleties arose with the spreading of the Flora, mind, not butter, Michael preferring his toast to cool and to extend the spread to within a micrometer of the edges and David going for the melted in version of the same.
Catherine and I were more similar, liking our butter melted and the wars began when your slice of toast popped up too well done because one of your brothers forgot to lower the setting. And God forbid that the bread would run out before you’d had your fill.
The love of tea and toast and peculiarities of preparation have continued on into the next generation. On our annual summer holidays back home in Dungarvan with my three children, my mother and father have a path worn up to Mulcahy’s (Eurospar), and what seems like shares taken out with Baron’s bread, the round white and Baron’s brown sliced, if you please.
Ellen was the only one of my three children to be born in an Irish maternity hospital. She was due on my mother’s birthday at the end of April, but she decided to keep us all waiting until the 7th of May (a Taurus baby, just to keep her Taurus mother on her toes – the feisty interactions have already begun). But once she decided to come, she came at an almighty force and speed. Having labored for a short few hours and when my begging for an epidural were met with, “But darling you haven’t even begun dilating”, I succumbed on my bed to the pain and an hour later I screamed out (to the horror I’m sure of all the young labouring mothers cooped up in the same room as me),
“I HAVE TO PUSH!”
Rush, nurses, poking.
“Oh Jesus she’s crowning! Don’t push. Can you hang on till the delivery room?”
More rushing, wheelchair, running, Carlos, bright lights, cold delivery table, one little push and there she appeared. Mary and Noel’s first grand-daughter, the little beauty, who stole my heart away right at that very moment. It was the most painful and quickest of my three deliveries and the easiest one to recover from. And the best of all, at midnight, all showered down and resting on my bed, my little baby girl sleeping by my side, the night nurse comes in and asks,
“Would you like your tea and toast now, love?”
You don’t get that in Spanish hospitals and it was the most satisfying tea and toast I’ve ever had in my entire life.
So, I decided on a whim, with all this BC mullarkey and a fortifying diet, that I might meddle with the old remedy of tea and toast and try a substitute.
Well the tea was easy, green tea of course with thyme and artichoke leaves. It cleans the liver supposedly but it tastes very bitter so lots of honey is needed to make it any way palatable. But since it’s the good unrefined mountain brand of honey which has lots of natural anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties, it can be justified when weighing up its high glycemic index.
The toast was going to be a little more difficult, or so I thought, until just the other day when my faithful friend Facebook, fed me a suggested recipe for bread. I’ll only mention a few of the important ingredients to give an idea of the degree of meddling I had to undertake: toasted sunflower seed meal (I won’t even go into the details but suffice it to say that between the sourcing of them, and organic at that, the roasting and crushing of them, on the hassle scale, it falls right off at the upper end), soaked chia seeds which looked gooey but not too bad, and arrowroot powder, which nobody has ever heard of here in Alcobendas, so I, in full experimental mode, decided to replace with organic cornflour, looking very yellow and very healthy.
Maybe two hours of preparation time later and a quick 40 minute bake in the oven, out came a delicious smelling bread, which I fully intended eating with my honey-sweetened cup of green tea.
Until I cut it.
The inside of the loaf was as green as grass. I spread it with my home-made tahini and a scrape of honey. I braved a nibble from the corner and quickly reached for the honey jar. More honey please, less green bread.
It’s been sitting in the bread bin ever since, I can’t bear to put in the rubbish bin where it really belongs because of all the energy I put into it.
Now with acute nausea, after my second session of chemotherapy, one look at the green bread and I can feel its colour reflected in my face and my stomach turns even more. I turn to Carlos, serving me hand and foot these days, and my request is simple,
“Tea and toast, please…Irish style!”
Mc Cambridge’s might be interested in the recipe for St. Patrick’s Day. Serving suggestion: lashings of anything that tastes good on bread!