Diary of the Plague Year: Day 42 26 April 2020: Ratatouille

Another grey and cool day.

Yesterday, I made Ratatouille, at least my version of it.

I realise I have been very cavalier with Ratatouille.  It’s not enough just to sling the ingredients into a pan, fry and stew.

For some reason I decided to change the habit of a lifetime and cook the onions slowly first. I then added a sliced red pepper, then two courgettes and then the aubergine. I added more olive oil and five crushed cloves of garlic.

I cooked all this very slowly on a low heat for about an hour then added a single tin of tomatoes. I also added a bayleaf and a bunch of thyme. I took out the bayleaf after about half an hour as I thought the flavour might take over.

This is only slightly different to how I had been doing it for years but it made a huge difference to the final result. I think the slow cooking, extra olive oil and fewer tomatoes made all the difference.

NB: This is not a classic Ratatouille recipe.


2 onions
1 red pepper
2 courgettes
1 aubergine
5 cloves of garlic
Salt and pepper



Diary of the Plague Year: Day 41 25 April 2020: Cole slaw

I had some leftover veg in the fridge so decided to make cole slaw:

A quarter of a head of red cabbage
A head of fennel
Two carrots
One small onion
Dried dill
Greek yoghourt
Salt and pepper

Chop all the veg into small pieces, add the mayonnaise, greek yoghourt, salt, pepper and dill and hey presto a really delicious cole slaw.

Fresh dill would be better but in these straightened times ….

Apart from cooking and cleaning – I cleaned behind my fridge today and surprised a large spider who looked very at home and most put out at being disturbed – I have also started a writing course. The course has been organised by Cork County Council Arts Office and is free. Novelist Denyse Woods is running it and we have been set our first assignment. We could choose to write 200 words on either of the following:

1.  The J-cloth had seen better days …

2.  Apart from the staff, there were three other people in the library….

I chose the J-cloth naturally.

I would be interested to know if choosing an inanimate object to write about as opposed to the human is psychologically revealing in any way.  It probably means I am a psychopath, this seems to be the latest buzzword and all roads seem to lead to psychopathy these days.

Anyway, I got thoroughly carried away and ended up writing a short story in the end. Based on the J-cloth.

In other news, my lovely little Bosch strimmer died on me last autumn so in a moment of madness I ordered a new one. It is a Worx cordless strimmer and so far so good. It did a great job in the orchard and now I just need to tidy up a few overgrown corners. The only drawback is that the battery takes aeons to re-charge but on the upside you can use the same battery for all other Worx tools – very tempted to get a hedge trimmer now.  The instructions were in the usual hieroglyphics. It was like deciphering the Rosetta stone trying to work out how to put it together.

Some outstanding garden jobs:

1.  Make inventory of all plants – I have a chronic memory for plant names and so before it’s too late …

2.  Trim hedges.

3.  Cut dead brambles from back wall.

4.  Weed flower garden and plant out all pots with cuttings.

5.  Re-seed lawn and path through back meadow.

6.  Put out bird bath.

7.  Create insect log hotel.

8.  Clear outside perimeter wall.

The meadow was the main task and now that is out of the way …



Diary of the Plague Year: Day 27 11 April 2020: Red Cabbage

Meet Dutch – I drive into Clon every Friday to pick up my veg box. The fruit and veg is all organic and delicious.

Today I am cooking red cabbage to go with the last of my lamb stew.

  1.  Chop I red onion.
  2.  Fry in butter and olive oil until caramelized.
  3.  Chop about a third of a red cabbage.
  4.  Add to onion.
  5.  Splosh in some cider vinger.
  6.  Add a teaspoon of honey, two crushed garlic cloves, a bayleaf and some thyme.
  7.  If necessary splosh in some water.
  8.  Bring to the boil and simmer for 40 minutes.

I will be interested to see what this is like – adapted from an online recipe.

Clon was like a ghost-town on Friday. I took some pics of some of the shops and Emmet Square where there is usually a busy market.


Diary of the Plague Year: Day 21 5 April 2020: Spring lamb stew


3/4 pound spring lamb for stewing
3 small onions
2 medium carrots
4 stalks of celery
5 large cloves of garlic
2 teaspoons of ground cumin
2 teaspoons of dried coriander
1 teacup of dried haricot beans
1 bayleaf
2 sprigs of fresh thyme


1.  Brown the lamb in olive oil – in two batches in a frying pan.

2.  Deglaze:

This means splashing a bit of wine in the frying pan and scraping the bits. I used a splash of apple cider vinegar instead – you don’t need much.

3.  Chop and fry the onions in a saucepan:

Always fry the onions for slightly longer than you think feasible. This will improve the taste.

4.  Chop the carrots  and celery and fry (see above).

5.  Peel 5 large cloves of garlic and crush.

6.  Add the lamb and garlic to the mix.

7.  Add 2 teaspoons each of cumin seeds and ground coriander. Fry.

8.  Add two mugfuls of water and bring to the boil.

9.  Add the bayleaf and sprigs of thyme.

10. Turn down the heat to simmer for two hours.

11. Leave overnight for flavours to deepen.

11.  Soak the haricot beans overnight to add to the stew next day.

This is basically it. You could eat it after cooking for two hours but I feel it always tastes better the next day. To be continued …..

I also found lurking in the fridge about a tablespoon of leftover duck fat let down with some red wine which I also put in.


12. Next day drain the beans and boil for about an hour. When they are cooked, drain,       leaving some of the cooking water.

13.  Add the beans and the water to your stew.

14. Bring to the boil and simmer for a further half-hour on a low heat.

I served it with bulghur wheat and chopped parsley on top.






Diary of the Plague Year: Day 19 3 April 2020: Green tomato chutney

Lunch today is goat’s brie with home-made green tomato chutney.

The great thing about writing a blog is that you don’t have to be falsely modest and when I say this is the best chutney I have ever had I really mean it.

The annoying thing about not really following recipes and belonging to the flying-by-the-seat-of-your pants cookery school is that sometimes you really wish you had made a note of how you actually did it.

I am convinced cooking is actually a form of alchemy and all sorts of unlikely influences enter the equation, your emotional state at the time, a misaligned planet, the weather. It is not just a matter of slavishly following recipes.  I made this chutney on the eve of returning to Folkestone to see my mother who was not expected to make it when I last spoke to the family.

I was given a boxful of green tomatoes from J and so I decided to make some bottled tomato sauce and the chutney the evening before my journey on the overnight bus.  I had never made chutney before and looked up the easiest recipe on the internet. I decided to halve the amount of vinegar and quadruple the amount of garlic and to add ginger. Sultanas were added for good measure and various spices.  The whole lot bottled went into the chest-of-drawers in my spare room to seethe for the two months I was away.

Well, the results are spectacular. It is really, really good. I think the added ooopmh may be due to the Chinese Five Spice Powder. I wonder if I could ever replicate it?

My mother made a full recovery by the way and is living happily in Folkestone.

Lunch April 3 2020 Chutney

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 18 2 April 2020: Apple Crumble for Christian

Dear Christian

So glad you enjoyed the crumble when you came to visit.  My cooking is strictly improvisational so the crumble we had was made with whatever was to hand – pears, apples, blackberries. However, I thought it would be a good idea to give you a standard no-nonsense recipe for your first go so that you have something to go by (see below for a classic crumble recipe).

If you are using really good apples that is all you need. I bought some beautiful organic apples from the market the other day just to stew. I usually add spices such as cloves, ginger, five-spice, cinnnamon (NOT all at once!). But these apples were so beautiful I just stewed them with a knob of butter (large) and not much water and they were wonderful. So use your intuition.

Afterwards you can ring the changes – I add ground almonds to the crumble sometimes, maybe oats or crushed walnuts and you can use all manner of fruit. I once had a delicious strawberry and banana crumble – it sounded very unlikely but it was delicious. I made a peach crumble last summer – absolutely divine.

I tend to make it up as I go along and never bother to weigh anything, though when making a crumble I always feel that the more butter the better! So when it says “the consistency of breadcrumbs” make sure they are buttery breadcrumbs.

Serve with PLENTY of cream or custard.

Have fun!


For the filling:

600g apples – peeled, cored and sliced to 1 cm thick
2 tablespoons golden caster sugar

For the crumble:

175 g plain flour
110 g golden caster sugar
110 g cold butter

For the topping:

1 tablespoon rolled oats
1 tablespoon demerara sugar

  1. Heat the oven to 190C/170 fan/gas 5.
  2. Toss 575g peeled, cored and sliced Bramley apples with 2 tbsp golden caster sugar and put in a 23cm round baking dish at least 5cm deep, or a 20cm square dish. Flatten down with your hand to prevent too much crumble falling through.
  3. Put 175g plain flour and 110g golden caster sugar in a bowl with a good pinch of salt.
  4. Slice in 110g cold butter and rub it in with your fingertips until the mixture looks like moist breadcrumbs. Shake the bowl and any big bits will come to the surface – rub them in. Alternatively, pulse in a processor until sandy (don’t over-process).
  5. Pour the crumb mix over the apples to form a pile in the centre, then use a fork to even out.
  6. Gently press the surface with the back of the fork so the crumble holds together and goes crisp, then lightly drag the fork over the top for a decorative finish.
  7. Sprinkle 1 tbsp rolled oats and 1 tbsp demerara sugar over evenly, if you wish.
  8. Set on a baking tray and put in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes, until the top is golden and the apples feel very soft when you insert a small, sharp knife. Leave to cool for 10 minutes before serving.