It's nearing my father's anniversary, and in the next few days, just as in the days preceding my mother's, I retrace my steps of how I spent the last few days with him on this earth. What we did together, what I said, and most importantly what he said to me. Recently, I wrote about my experience of grief for one of my Home Nurse columns, in Irish Country Living, so I'd like to share that with you today.
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My mother passed away in 2007, and a few years later I lost my father. Both times, my upset was inconsolable. In my experience, grief emulates a terrible illness. Even though I had my abilities; I wasn’t bed-bound due to any physical condition, yet in those early weeks of grieving I was incapable of much more than washing and dressing myself. I was feeling physically sick, physically weak, and the intensity of the pain in the pit of my stomach was very real. In the weeks after losing a loved one grief is all-consuming, but months or even years after it can raise its head and hit like a bolt into the stomach.

We often grieve as a community, especially if the death is unexpected. When words fail to comfort our support is often shown through actions. Since the beginning of time, there has always been a place for the community to nurture and feed the bereaved. It seems to be a practice that is standard in most communities and religions worldwide. In the early days of grieving this generosity and kindness can somewhat sustain us and fuel us to be physically able to face the day. After my mother passed away, I was so nauseated with sadness even nibbles of toast and bites of sandwiches were a struggle to consume. However, a kind neighbour arrived at my mother's wake with a large tray filled with a creamy chicken bake. As much as I fought the urge to fulfill the basic human need of eating, I accepted a plateful of this chicken dish and I remember vividly how it warmed my empty stomach and quenched the hunger pains I hadn't even acknowledged were there. At times of sadness, most of us have little or no interest in food, yet it is never more important that we eat well, as a means to keep up our physical strength. A nourishing bowl of food won’t ease the heartache of grief, but it will give a much-needed energy boost to the body. Warm and comforting stews, soups and puddings have that ability.

As the weeks and months pass after losing a loved one, we need to listen to our bodies, which are trying hard to get us to slow down. I remember being overcome with severe tiredness in the month's proceeding both of my parent's deaths. This was hugely influenced by the broken sleep and the sheer anxiety of losing someone I loved so dear. On reflection, I feel in many ways, that over-whelming tiredness was my body urging me to stop, to allow the pressures of day-to-day life to be brushed to one side and simply to be still. Rest and sleep are vital while we grieve. Fuelling our body with nourishing, comforting foods can help. Keeping well hydrated is always vital. While talking and reminiscing about our loved one is ever so important. Writing down memories, which may be a painful exercise, can turn into a rewarding process, and most of all accepting the support of loved ones around us helps to provide a little bit of light and love into the darkness of our grief.


Comforting Chicken Stew with Herbed Dumplings

I have fond memories of devouring big bowlfuls of stew as a young girl. My mother would always have the addition of mini dumplings, and I loved diving in with my spoon to see how many I could retrieve. The dumplings in this dish are more substantial, allowing for two or three per serving. Their soft and fluffy texture merge wonderfully with the flavoursome, rich sauce. This stew is both comforting and nourishing.



Ingredients
1tbsp olive oil
180g streaky bacon, roughly chopped
3 carrots, finely diced
2 onions, finely diced
2 celery sticks, finely diced
200g mushrooms, cut into quarters
Freshly ground pepper
2 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
1.2 ltr hot chicken stock
2tbsp tomato purée
4-5 chicken fillets, cut in half

Dumplings
250g self-raising flour
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
1 tbsp chives, finely chopped
125g butter, cold-straight from the fridge
1 tbsp cold water

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C /Gas mark 6.
2. Add the oil to a large, oven-proof saucepan or casserole dish. Place over a high heat. Add the streaky bacon and cook for 5 minutes, stirring regularly.
3. Turn down the heat and add the carrot, celery, onion, and mushroom. Season with a little black pepper. Cook for five mins until slightly golden then add the herbs, chicken stock, and tomato purée.
4. Bring to a simmer and add the chicken. Cover with a lid and place in the oven for 45 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, make the dumplings by placing the flour in a mixing bowl. Season with a little salt and pepper, and add the herbs. Finely chop or grate in the cold butter. Gently rub in the butter until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add a tbsp of cold water and bring the dough together to form a ball. If it's not sticking together, add a little more cold water. Divide the dough into 12-15 pieces and roll each one into a ball. 
6. Take the stew from the oven and nestle the dumplings on top of the cooked stew, pushing each one down into the stew so that it is halfway submerged. Place the lid back on the dish/saucepan and return to the oven for an additional 30 mins. At this time, take off the lid and return to the oven for an additional 10 minutes.
7. When ready to serve, lift the dumplings out and place in serving bowls. Stir the stew and then ladle it over the dumplings. Serve with mashed potatoes and peas.


This is an extract from my Irish Country Living Column, August 2019.

Like most parents who work from home the hours between the school drop-offs and pickups are ever so precious. A mountain of work can be tackled in a quiet house, so I generally try to use that time wisely. On days when I'm busy writing, it's always lovely to have something nutritious to refuel with when I'm grabbing a quick break. My go-to is often wholegrain toast, smothered in a good quality nut butter and topped with sliced banana. It ticks all the boxes - quick, tasty, nutritious and filling. Another snack I adore is banana bread, and this recipe is one of my favourites. It's effortless to make, so much so I'll be passing the job of making one weekly over to one of my secondary school boys, once the holidays are upon us. In this recipe, I've used a mixture of pecans and walnuts, but any unsalted nuts would work in their place. 



Banana Nut Bread

This loaf is refined sugar-free and gains its delicious sweetness from the ripe bananas and the addition of some maple syrup. Chia seeds, pecans, and walnuts are a great addition to this loaf as they're packed with heart-healthy vitamins, minerals, and omega-3s.

Ingredients

250g wholemeal flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
50g chia seeds
50g pecans, roughly chopped
50g walnuts, roughly chopped
100ml coconut oil
100ml maple syrup
100g Greek yogurt
2-3 (200g) bananas, mashed
2 eggs, lightly whisked
1tbsp oats

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 190°C / fan 170°C / gas mark 5. Using a little sunflower oil, lightly grease a 2lb loaf tin.
  2. Place the flour into a large bowl. Sieve in the baking powder. Add the cinnamon, chia seeds, pecans, and walnuts. Stir to combine.
  3. Add the coconut oil to a large bowl with the maple syrup, Greek yogurt, and mashed bananas. Using a wooden spoon, beat together to combine, while gently breaking down the coconut oil with the back of the spoon. Add the lightly whisked egg and stir well to combine.
  4. Add the flour and nut mixture, and bring the mixture together with a wooden spoon.
  5. Pour into the prepared tin. Sprinkle over the oats and press into place to ensure they stick.
  6. Bake in the preheated oven, for 55-60 minutes, until well risen and golden.
  7. Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire tray to cool. Store in a sealed container for up to 3 days.
Chickpea flour, which is also known as gram flour, is a versatile gluten-free flour. It’s widely used in Indian cuisine within a variety of dishes. In recent years it has become much easier to source chickpea flour. It’s available to buy in specialist Asian food shops and health shops, as well as many of the larger supermarkets. Its consistency works wonderfully in batters, so it’s a great choice for savoury pancake. As this flour is made from ground chickpeas it is also high in protein, making it rather nutritious. I’ve paired these flavoursome pancakes with a simple mushroom and chive filling. These delicious pancakes would serve well for breakfast, lunch or tea.



Mushroom & Chive Stuffed Chickpea Pancakes

Ingredients
Serves 4
For the filling:
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
25g butter
250g mushrooms, thinly sliced
A pinch of sea salt & freshly ground pepper
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh chives
1 tbsp cream
For the pancakes:
150g Chickpea flour {gram flour}
¼ tsp salt
1 egg
250ml buttermilk
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh chives
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh oregano
2 tbsp olive oil

Method
1. To make the filling, heat the olive oil in a medium sized frying pan. When hot, turn down the heat, add the onion and sauté for 3 minutes, stirring regularly. Add the butter. Once frothing, add in the mushrooms. Season with a little sea salt and some freshly ground pepper. Increase the heat and sauté for 5 minutes, until the mushrooms are cooked. Add the fresh chives and cream. Combine well, and then keep the pan over a very low heat, to keep the mixture warm until the crepes are ready to be served.
2. In a large bowl combine the chickpea flour with the salt. Crack the egg into a jug, whisk lightly with a fork and add the buttermilk. Pour the wet mixture into the dry ingredients and using a wooden spoon combine until the batter is smooth. Stir through the freshly chopped chives and oregano.
3. Heat a large frying pan. Add a little olive oil. Once hot add a ladleful of batter to the centre of the pan. Tilting the pan, swish the batter around quickly to form a circle. Cook the crepe for approximately 2- 3 minutes and then flip it over and continue to cook on the other side for another 2 minutes. Transfer to a serving plate, and continue to cook the remaining crepes.

4. To serve; spoon some of the mushroom and chive filling into each crepe, and sprinkle over a little freshly chopped chive to garnish.  
If you're looking for something easy to bake with the children over the Easter holidays, these muffins are a great option. The method is so simple as it merely involves adding the dry ingredients to the wet ones, and if your little ones are banana fans they'll love the results. These muffins make for a somewhat less-guilty treat to enjoy with a glass of milk or a cuppa.



Ingredients

3 ripe bananas, mashed
3 eggs, lightly whisked
100g greek yogurt
100ml sunflower or rapeseed oil
1tsp vanilla extract
150g wholemeal flour
100g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
75g light muscovado sugar
2 tbsp raw cacao powder

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 190°C/fan 170°C/Gas 5. Line the muffin tins with 15 large muffin cases.
2. Place the bananas, eggs, yogurt, sunflower oil and vanilla extract into a large bowl. Stir well to combine.
3. Add the wholemeal flour to the bowl and sieve in the plain flour, baking powder, sugar, and cacao powder into the bowl. Stir well until everything is combined well together.
4. Divide the mixture between the 15 muffin cases.
5. Bake in the preheated oven, for 25-30 minutes, until well risen and golden.
6. Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire tray to cool. Store in a sealed container for up to 3 days.
This hearty, filling and flavorsome soup makes a wonderful lunch, any day of the week. If you've got a busy day in store, this soup can be easily be prepared the day before and then simply reheated just before serving. My children love the addition of cheesy soldiers, for dunking into the thick soup, but croutons or even crusty bread would also make a perfect accompaniment.


Ingredients

75g butter
250g potatoes, peeled and diced
225g carrots, sliced
150g parsnip, roughly diced
1 white onion, roughly chopped
1 stick of celery, roughly chopped
2 leeks, white part only and sliced
4 sprigs of thyme, leaves only
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1.2 lt chicken stock
100ml cream

Cheesy Soldiers:
4 thick slices of bread, such as sourdough, cut into large fingers
50ml olive oil
75g cheddar cheese, grated

To serve:
A few fresh chives, finely chopped

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C/gas mark 6.
2. Melt the butter in a large saucepan. When it begins to foam add all the vegetables, stir to combine well with the butter.
3. Sprinkle with a little salt, a few grinds of pepper and the thyme leaves. Place a butter wrapper, or a piece of greaseproof paper, over the vegetables to help them sweat. Cover with the lid of the saucepan. Sweat over a low heat for about 10 minutes, making sure that the vegetables don’t stick to the bottom of the saucepan.
4. When the vegetables are soft but not coloured, and the stock, and continue to cook for another 15 mins until the vegetables are cooked through.
5. Meanwhile, make the cheesy soldiers. Brush the chunky fingers of bread with a little olive oil. Place on a baking tray and sprinkle the grated cheese over each finger. Place in the preheated oven for 7-10 minutes.
6. Using a hand blender or a food processor purée the soup until it is smooth. Taste and season, if necessary.
7. Add half of the cream and stir well. Pour the soup into serving bowls and garnish each one with a sprinkling of chives and a spoonful of cream swirled on top. Serve with the cheesy soldiers or crusty bread.

Every year I consider cooking something a little different for the main feast on Christmas Day, but year after year I return to the tradition that is turkey and ham. A number of years back I steered a little away from tradition and in place of roasting a whole turkey, I opted for a turkey breast and simply poached it and then butter-basted it in a pan before serving. I had seen Richard Corrigan demonstrating the same on a Christmas special and decided it was worth a try. The results were incredible. The meat was deliciously succulent and moist, and I found we were left without a scrap of waste. Poaching the turkey is also a wonderful way to keep the oven free for the many turkey accompaniments.
Happy Christmas!



Poached & Butter Basted Turkey Breast

To Poach:
1 large turkey breast, weighing about 3kg
1.5 lt chicken stock
200ml white wine
3 sprigs of thyme
2 bay leaves
10 peppercorns
1 onion, cut into chunks
2 carrots, roughly chopped
1 stick celery, roughly chopped

To Baste:
100g butter

Method

1. Weigh the turkey breast.
2. Place the stock, white wine, thyme, bay leaves, peppercorns, onion, carrots, and celery into a large saucepan and then add the turkey breast. Top up with enough water to cover the breast.
3. Bring to the boil and then turn down the heat. Allow to simmer for 20 mins per 450g of meat. A 3 kg breast would take just over 2 hours to poach.  Adding more hot water to the saucepan as necessary
4. Remove the breast from the saucepan and allow to rest, covered with tinfoil, for 10 minutes. Reserve the stock to use in another dish or soup.
5. Heat a large frying pan or a roasting tin that is suitable for use on a hob. Add the butter and once it begins to froth place the breast into the frying pan skin side down. Keep turning the breast until all sides are nicely browned, which will take about 15 minutes.
6. Allow to rest on a plate covered with tinfoil, for about 20 mins, before carving.

Every Christmas my mother would make a trifle to offer as an alternative to plum pudding on Christmas day. This trifle recipe may not be traditional but has become a real favourite in our house. Welcoming winter scents fill the kitchen, as the berries are being mulled, ones so pungent that I’m often tempted to bypass the trifle idea and pour it straight into a tumbler as a rather fruity hot toddy. The alcohol will naturally be burnt off in the simmering of the wine but for a more child-friendly version, apple juice would substitute the wine nicely. To keep some kind of tradition a little madeira cake is a must for my trifles. As much as I love cream, and generously add significant amounts of it to dishes, here I am choosing a healthier alternative. No need for apologies as this creamy yogurt topping of thick Greek yogurt, icing sugar and vanilla, makes a viable substitute. Finally, a generous sprinkling of grated white chocolate completes the layering process for a decedent and irresistibly delicious trifle.



Mulled Berry Trifle

Ingredients
Mulled Berries:
150g (6oz) caster sugar
300ml (11fl oz) red wine
1 tsp vanilla extract or reserved pod from creamy topping
½ tsp mixed spice
½ stick of cinnamon
600g berries of choice, fresh or frozen

Creamy Topping:
750g Greek yogurt
½ vanilla pod, seeds only
1 tsp vanilla extract
100g icing sugar, sieved

200g Madeira cake, homemade or shop-bought, sliced

To Serve:
50g white chocolate, grated
Fresh raspberries

Method

  1. To prepare the fruit, place the sugar in a heavy-based pan with the red wine, vanilla extract, cinnamon stick and pinch/grate of nutmeg.
  2. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes, until slightly thickened and syrup-like.
  3. Stir in the fruit and then remove from the heat and leave to cool.
  4. To make the creamy topping, in a bowl combine the Greek yogurt, vanilla seeds & extract and icing sugar. Taste and add more icing sugar if necessary.
  5. To assemble the trifle, place the slices of Madeira cake at the bottom of four individual glasses or one large bowl pour in the mulled berry mixture. Add the creamy topping and if not serving immediately the trifles can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours.
  6. Before serving sprinkle generously with the grated white chocolate and scatter over a few fresh raspberries.