Friday, 7 October 2011

The search continues

The task of the day for yesterday was to go and pick up some vegetables and general supplies for my supper club tonight. In my never ending quest for a reliable and affordable produce market in Dublin, I decided to try the Dublin Food Co-op on Newmarket. I've been meaning to try this one for a while, but never got around to it. It's regular day is on a Saturday but it also opens in a somewhat diminished capacity on Thursday afternoon/evenings. Tucked away in a warren of streets I never knew existed I finally found it and alas, I was really disappointed when I did. It had been kind of a frustrating day anyway and I wasn't in the best of form so perhaps this won't be the fairest review, but never the less, I'll continue. There wasn't much there at all. I wasn't expecting many stalls and I was only really there for the veg, which was lucky, because that was really the only thing there, apart from the very nice wholefoods shop which was great and the cafe selling a limited supply of what looked like nice food. But it's such a big space and the whole thing just had a bit of a sad feel a about. It's like having a cake stand and only having two cakes on there. It's all a bit pathetic and doesn't really encourage you to buy anything. The shop felt great because it was stuffed to the gills with produce and the staff were very friendly. However being predominantly organic I couldn't afford anything in it. But the rest of it just felt like a bit of an after thought. I'm sure the Saturday experience is altogether different and much busier and maybe I just caught the Thursday event on a bad day, but it seems to me that it would be better not to have any stalls than one rather badly stocked one. Which brings me back to the vegetables....

First off, there wasn't really much to offer. They had plenty of baskets but not much in them. Secondly, it was an organic stall. Which is fine. I would dearly love to be able to embrace organic produce with all the fervour that the producers do but I JUST CAN'T AFFORD IT!!!! And it's so depressing to go to these lovely markets (it's usually lovely, I know it is) and be faced with this produce that isn't about the produce, it's about a lifestyle. I don't want to buy a lifestyle, if I did I'd buy a BMW. I want to buy vegetables, that taste good and that don't cost the earth. Maybe I'm naive. Clearly I'm missing something about what this stuff costs to produce. If organic really is that expensive to grow, maybe we shouldn't be so focused on it. Producers must have to spend a fortune jumping through all the hoops to make their farm certified organic. I'd happily settle for Irish grown small scale produce. That's what really matters. Well to me anyway. 

Take Mammy E for example (for those of you who don't know Mammy E, her beetroot is renowned and I've gone on about it at length so I'll save you that rant just now. Here's another instead). Now if you asked Mammy E if her produce was organic she'd probably look at you like you've just spoken to her in Cantonese. This thought has never even crossed her mind. She has a garden. It's big. She has the time and desire to grow food in it. The food that comes out of it is both delicious and CHEAP! And it's no small scale operation. She grows enough potatoes, beets, strawberries, apples, herbs and onions and more to keep her and her extended family in a happy supply throughout the year, whether it be in fresh produce or with the jams and preserves she makes from it. Now, she would not claim to be organic and I'm sure she wouldn't get a certification if she cared to try but I've never seen a single spray or pesticide in her garden. She uses complimentary planting, clever mesh structures and good fencing to keep her crop safe. And she seems to have a serious gift. She puts stuff in the ground and it grows. It's remarkable and I want her to teach me everything she knows.

Anyway rant aside. I've come to the conclusion that maybe markets aren't the answer. And personally, organic is definitely not the answer (I could get kicked out of the foodie club for a statement like that). I'm lucky to have a very good greengrocer down the road. Unfortunately they stock quite a lot of foreign produce. For example their celeriac comes from France. Surely we can grow celeriac here? But if I buy in season and start shopping more based on what's available than what I want to eat, maybe I can stick to Irish grown traceable vegetables from there. It's not cheap either but more manageable that the market.

So the market was a major let down yesterday. Next, I was off to buy fish and you guessed it,  the fishmonger was a disaster too. It really wasn't my day. I was hoping to get two large fish, which would feed four people each, either bass or bream. I was going to bake  them with fennel and lemon and herbs and all sorts, and it was going to be delicious. Well, apparently Irish people don't like to share and the only fish I could get were in individual sized portions. I tried three fishmongers and was told that it would be unheard of to get a fish large enough to feed four people. Short of going out to the boats myself and talking to the fishermen, which I'm just not brave enough to do yet, I was stuck. I wasn't going to try and bake 8 whole fish so I had to change my recipe. Now, I know big fish exist, because I've seen them, and cooked them and eaten them. The market in Spain was filled with family size fish. Is it just that we don't have the culture of a large number of people sitting around a table to eat? But wait, we roast massive joints of meat all the time. What have we got against fish? I will get to the bottom of this, even if it means going and talking to a fisherman!

So tonight's menu is somewhat altered. Instead of baking my fish I will be poaching the filleted fish I got from the fishmonger and serving that instead. It's not going to be half as impressive and It will be hard for me to enjoy when I know what could have been but you've got to go with what you've got so, there it is. 

Disasters aside, I'm all set. Starter's looking good. Desert seems to have worked out ok, but you never can tell until you cut into it can you? And the few flowers and candles are working their majic on the atmosphere. Now all I need is some guests.

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