The 11th of November was a significant day for both my paternal and maternal grandparents. On that day both my grandparents were freed from the conflict of the first world war. In the UK it’s called remembrance day and it is celebrated by the wearing of a red poppy.
Red poppies feature on the cover of my last book.
This novel is an act of remembrance for me and hopefully for anyone else whose grandparents or parents lived through the world wars. Or indeed for any reader who enjoys an historic story of conflict and survival.
This is my latest, a short novel set during WW1 and related to my best selling historical saga: The Prairie Companions. The characters are fictionalised versions of my own grandparents.
The title is based on a curious set of facts about my real name. (David Rory O’Neill is a required pen name. My actual name ‘David Moody’ happens to be already used by a popular horror writer.)
David is Hebrew and can mean: Beloved. Moody is an old Anglo-Saxon name derived from Muddyman. That means a professional warrior. My father and grandfather were both David and both served in world wars.
There is a man’s life story told in this one picture.
It was taken in an abandoned cottage less than 2k from where I live in county Clare, Ireland. Brigitte and I went for a walk locally, all that is permitted right now. We followed a very rough old lane. Called a boreen (bóithrín) in these parts. It brought us past a semi-derelict cottage, windows gone, roof beginning to fail, surrounding barns, ruined, and overgrown. We can never resist sticking our noses carefully and respectfully into such places.
I love to play detective and sift through what remains. In this case, the lower floors revealed a man alone, no sign of a woman’s touch. An old pipe, a cupboard piled high with Powers Whisky bottles, but all small hip flask 1/4 sized, all the better to slip in the pocket on the journey home by horse and cart from the local bar/shop. In later years, the horse might have become a tractor, but the lane would not have admitted a car and this small farmstead, would not have supported such luxury.
This old fellow lived just above the poverty line and his daily or perhaps weekly bottle of whisky was his big expense. I would think it was in all senses; needed.
There was the remains of a single bed, a rosary, a few trinkets and buttons. A few picture frames that may have had holy pictures. The walls had paper peeling and that had been often daubed with home-made whitewash paint, coloured badly with something, maybe tea.
There was a rusty old shoe repair last. When I carefully went up the creaky narrow stairs, I was greeted by the shoes and boots that the ‘last’ had been used to repair – a long row of boots and shoes, all the same size, and all many times re-heeled and thickly re-soled. None had laces. Those had moved to each new pair, and most likely are in the boots he was buried in. There were mouldering rubber boots crumbling to dust and a few Sunday-best shoes. This man was a hoarder. No shoes or boots he ever owned were discarded. No whisky bottle emptied was ever cast in a midden. The occasional Guinness bottle suggested an exceptional expenditure. A treat after a beast was sold at the Mart perhaps?
I found an old aluminium water flask. On the lid it said: Made in Nenagh. The Irish Free State. (Nenagh is a nearby market town). That dates it to between 1922 and 1930 roughly. We brought the flask home and will clean it and keep it.
That row of old shoes and boots extended all around the walls upstairs. Beyond the picture here. A life of toil, thrift and simplicity laid out. One man alone and perhaps lonely, propped up by a controlled consumption of whisky. The little hip flask size does not suggest drunken excess. There were none of the full size bottles of an oblivion seeker. Only small regular aids to living an isolated hard working and simple life.
‘Soulmates’ is a much used and abused term, but here it is: ‘Soulmates’ is what you see in this image. Every one of this past nineteen years Brigitte and I celebrate our wedding anniversary with special meal and a bottle of Rosé champagne. This year it happened to be a good Bollinger we have had stashed nine months waiting for this day. I made prawn moose for a starter, we followed it with a slow roasted duckling with orange sauce and B made an old French classic: floating islands for desert.
As we sat sipping the last of the Bollie I reflected on the connection between my writing, this anniversary, and the now nineteen bottles of Rosé champers lined up atop our dresser.
My soulmate and I appear in most, if not all of the twenty three books I’ve written. Rosé champagne appears routinely, and as do many of the dishes I’ve cooked to go with it. The places we have visited are used as locations. The places we have lived, feature. But mostly, and most importantly, our relationship, our love affair, our partnership, and our marriage, is at the core of all those novels.
As we live in each other’s laps during this lockdown I appreciate now, more than ever, what ‘Soulmates’ truly are and I give thanks I found mine.
I am old enough to remember the agonies of teen years before the internet age. Bullying, pressure to conform, and peer pressure existed then, but at least it was face to face, and one could make a bully pay if one was up to it. Which I was. However things have changed and young people now must face the horror of cyber bullying. Shaming, revenge porn, impossible ideas of beauty, and trolls all add up to a real struggle for anyone who is remotely different or who does not conform.
This story is inspired by the idea that being different need not end in defeat. Victory over the pressures to conform is possible – so this story is dedicated to all who dare to be different.
I wrote a series of novellas for a specialist readership who admired female body builders. The trilogy was very well appreciated and had a loyal fan base. In the last of the trilogy I was tempted to kill off my heroine Rachel. The last lines of ‘Rachel’s Might, are thoughts that might be her last.
I had enough howls of protest to reconsider her end and so resurrected Rachel. The result is full size novel published as a paperback for the first time. (eBooks will follow later.)
Rachel’s Resurrection is a little less focused on those special interests and is a much more rounded novel that anyone can enjoy. (It stands alone and a reader need not have read any of the trilogy.)
This romantic/political/thriller should please a wider readership. It is very much centred on ideas of female empowerment and recovery from trauma.
This festive holiday we decided to go with a sea food feast and sourced shell fish for a plate-de-mare French style.
We had Atlantic red prawns. (We do get confused by the US desire to call these shrimp. To us shrimp are tiny brown things served with spiced butter and called potted shrimp.) There were local Dublin Bay Prawns –Langoustine, a small Canadian lobster with a thermador type sauce, 6 oysters, crab claws, cockles and clams, rosé prawns and salmon caviar.
We had a modest bottle of French Champagne. Bread rolls I made with sun-dried tomato and another batch with black olive and rosemary. Not shown here since we were waiting for them to finish in the oven. Dips of shallots in vinegar and a creamy thermador style sauce were served.
We followed with a sherry trifle made with frozen red berries and tinned cherry. Real home made custard, whipped cream and topped with glacé cherries. The feast was a very successful change from the usual turkey dinner. The trifle will be attacked again today, Boxing day. Or Saint Stephan’s Day here in Ireland.
Food always takes center stage at Christmas in this and many other households. This year we departed from tradition by having the Turkey dinner today, Sunday the 22nd. I also took a different path when it came to preparation.
I started with a free-range turkey breast joint. This was marinated in buttermilk with thyme, garlic, star-anise and sage. It soaked in the fridge for 48 hours.
I also marinated in honey, a small cured pork belly. Stuffing was: breadcrumbs, sausage meat, apricots, apple, onion, sage whizzed mixed and put in muffin tins with a drop of maple syrup on top and a base of pancetta.
Some sausage meat was wrapped in the same pancetta to make little pigs-in-blankets also baked in the muffin tins.
Veg was: brussel sprout tops and the tiny sprouts from the top of the stalk, stir fired with ginger. Baby carrots baked with the pork belly in honey and parsnips roasted with the bird.
The turkey joint was slathered with butter whizzed with dried cranberry and chorizo and topped with bacon. The joint was wrapped in foil and refrigerated a few hours before spending and hour and half in a 180 oven. Then finished unwrapped for thirty minutes to crisp the bacon. The pork belly was cooked for an hour in the same oven and basted with honey regularly.
The roast spuds were par boiled and then crisped in the deep fryer rather than roasting. The gravy was made with chicken stock, Marsala wine and a dash of cream.
It felt odd eating the turkey dinner well before the festive day, but it was much enjoyed.
On the day we are going to the sea with a plate-de-mare. Oysters, prawns (or shrimp) of several kinds. Langoustine, lobster, crab and clams and whatever else looks good at the market in Cork city tomorrow.
Or in normal speak: Duck à l’orange. An absolute classic given a little twist.
I steamed 2 sweet potato, 2 red skinned potato called a ‘rooster’ here. I part cooked the duck with a whole orange inside.
Squeeze the juice and pulp. Chop a bit of peel from the cooked orange. Add: some fresh dill, a tablespoon of honey, an egg yolk, a teaspoon of cornflour (cornstarch). Mash with the potatoes and stuff in the duck cavity.
Another sprinkle of Chinese five spice over the skin and a few slices of orange on top.
Then back in a hot oven for another hour. Total cooking time two hours.
The orange sauce was a cup of good smooth fresh orange juice with a big dash of sherry and half a chicken stock cube (or equivalent.) Heat until thickened, taste and add sugar or salt as needed.
Scoop out the mash and serve with steamed buttered Kale.
Tear off the legs and carve the breast from the bone. Serve a few slices of fresh orange on top.
There is a reason this is a classic – it’s supremely satisfying.
This time, two dishes with a Farmed Rabbit. Starting with ‘Brilliant Blattered Bunny Burger’.
I should perhaps explain the Bunny thing. In one of my novels in the Daniel Series, the three main characters Daniel, Lauren and Bonny go to a restaurant called Le Turbe near Menton on the Cote de Azure. Daniel orders his favorite dish, Lapin aux Truffeles.
The text: Lapin aux truffles. Rabbit with truffles seems simple enough but there were depths to this dish that delighted him more than any other he had experienced in a restaurant. As he was about to read the menu, Bonny rather unkindly teased him by saying, “Why waste your time with that when you know you are having dead fluffy bunny with expensive fungus as usual? Listen DD, why not let me loose on garçon. and I will see if I can sweet talk them into letting you go into the kitchen to see their mystery. Put yourself out of your own misery. I’m getting sad listening to you cussing over the pots as you try to reproduce this brilliant buggered-bunny banquet.”
When he had finished laughing, Daniel agreed and Bonny wafted over to the chief-waiter with her charm motor in overdrive. She came back five minutes later looking very serious. After keeping them waiting while she finished her aperitif she said, “OK, that was like pulling teeth, but you are on. I have to come with you to translate and let the chefs ogle my glories and I had to swear ten oaths to the great Gallic God Larouse that you are not in the business and bent on robbing their famed specialty.”
“Praise be to the sainted Larouse, your French and the glories that are your titties, Bonny-Ann. I shall give praise and anoint the glories in humble and craven thanks later at a sanctified place of worship.”
Lauren nearly choked on her
amuse-buche laughing at this exchange. Soon they were all having trouble
keeping their laughter to socially tolerable levels as the giggle infection
As they drove down to Menton after,
Bonny played back the Dictaphone Lauren had given her to record recipe notes
and Daniel sighed and hummed his satisfaction, but typically thorough in his
concern for gastronomic perfection said, “Where the hell am I going to get my
hands on carefully farmed rabbit back home? Maybe I’ll get a few and a hutch.”
“Like hell you will. The children
would adopt them and never speak to you again when you blatter their bunnies to
death and they’d turn veggie on the spot.”
My daughter is
vegan and would be appalled at this recipe, but I am an unreconstructed carnivore
and love rabbit. This uses French farmed bunny, just like in the novel. I made
two dishes with it so extracted maximum value from its sacrifice.
The meat from legs and belly was minced with two pork sausage, a handful of dried apricots, fresh papaya, some fresh breadcrumbs, shallots, a few mushrooms, garlic and fresh sage. This mixture made the patties. I sealed them in pan first, then wrapped them in American style maple bacon and finished in the oven. Served with kale, piped mashed potato and topped with a sauce made with papaya and orange juice.
It was delicious,
even if had no truffles!
Next day the
bones and bits went into a stockpot to make the essential thing for a Spanish mountain
paella – good stock.
This paella uses the saddle of the rabbit, and frozen escargot in parsley and garlic butter. In the Serria Nevada mountain region of Catalan Spain, they use these rather than the usual chicken and seafood. I’ve had it there, but think my version is better.
I cooked it on the little stove and added some scallops and shrimps to the fried rabbit and picked snails. A good splash of sherry was added to the stock. Veg was mushrooms, carrots, peas, broad beans. The pan was left on the heat until the paella rice had formed a good crust on the bottom. It was served with a few glasses of sherry.