A farewell to Kilcrohane.

Nothing lasts forever. All good things come to an end. One door closes and another one opens. The glass is half full not half empty and so on.

The Summer of 2012 and the beginning of a perfect day.

The Summer of 2012 and the beginning of a perfect day in Kilcrohane.

These are the comforting words I have been telling myself over the last few weeks as we prepare to leave Kilcrohane for our new home just down the road, at the gateway to the Sheep’s Head Peninsula, in the village of Durrus.

This is Kilcrohane on a wonderful summers day. Blue sky and warm breezes

This is Kilcrohane on a wonderful summers day. Blue sky and warm breezes

Our year on the Peninsula has past so quickly that as I sit here looking out the window at Dunmanus Bay glistening in the February sunshine, it feels like we have just arrived and unpacked.

I will miss Kilcrohane. Part of me doesn’t want to leave, this is a very special place and I have been very lucky to be able to live, even if only for a short time, in such a wonderful community.

Those of you who have been reading my scribblings over the last year will know all about the beauty of this very special part of West Cork. We have enjoyed adventures both on land and at sea, we’ve met artists, musicians, chefs, farmers, fishermen, sailors and of course the locals who make this place so inviting. We’ve had friends from the city who stayed for weekends and went home jealous (though they’d never admit it) and determined to come back.

Farranamanagh Lake from the little stone jetty

Farranamanagh Lake from the little stone jetty

There were days when the rain just didn’t stop, and the south-westerly gales had us wondering if the house would still have a roof by the end of it all, but then there were the days, just a few, when we were in the right place at the right time. When the sun turned the Peninsula into a lush green finger of land jutting out into the blue and white of the Atlantic Ocean. The days when you could sit on a rock and watch the gannets diving into Dunmanus Bay, or the seals basking on the rocks, or the otters fishing for sea urchins. Those few days when all seemed right with the world, when walking along the Funeral Path or the Fisherman’s Walk you knew that it didn’t get much better than this.

Sea Urchins, spiney but delicious?

Sea urchins, spiney but delicious?

First fish of 2012 a nice pollack off the rocks in Dunmanus bay

First fish of 2012, a nice pollack off the rocks in Dunmanus Bay

I particularly loved meeting the people who arrived during the summer for their annual vacation. Standing on Kilcrohane pier watching the sun set over the Peninsula, their children tired and happy after a day spent swimming, fishing from crabs or messing about in boats, standing there we would nod a knowing hello before the usual conversation would begin.

‘Isn’t it great here,’ the tourist would say.

‘Indeed it is,’ I would answer while we both looked out over the blue water towards the Mizen Peninsula.

‘You can’t beat West Cork, it’s a long journey from Dublin but it’s worth it just for this view alone,’ the tourist would continue.

‘Yes, it is lovely,’ I’d say smiling as I prepared myself for the next inevitable question.

‘Where are you from yourself, did you have far to travel?’

‘No,’ I’d answer.

‘Just a few fields away, I live here,’ I’d say, as I picked up my fishing rod and headed back home with one or two fresh pollock for dinner.

Heading for home at the end of the summer 2012

Heading for home at the end of summer 2012

This, I suppose, was cruel but I do enjoy saying I live in such a beautiful place.

Let me give you a quick rundown of the highlights of our year living dangerously in West Cork.

I stopped wearing suits, I grew a beard, I passed out while waiting to interview the Minister for Health, I sailed a million euro yacht in Dunmanus Bay.

Life on the ocean wave. Notice the beard? Sadly no longer in place.

Life on the ocean wave. Notice the beard? Sadly no longer in place.

I plucked and ate pheasant, dined on lobster and scallop freshly caught from the same bay, visited a fish farm in Bantry Bay, reported on a pirate invasion and compered a food festival.

Far from the Caribbean these are the pirates of Bantry Bay.

Far from the Caribbean, these are the pirates of Bantry Bay.

Long John and his one massive claw finally in the pot

Long John and his one massive claw finally in the pot

Scallops fresh from the bay.

Scallops fresh from the bay.

My first brace of Pheasant

My first brace of pheasant

My wife started her own food business and we built our first home together, I put my back out and needed a pain relief injection while painting a skirting board. All in all, I think you’ll agree, it’s been a very productive year in West Cork.

Carrageen Moss pudding

Carrageen moss pudding

Now we are about to begin another chapter in our adventure, if I can be allowed to quote a certain political party’s slogan, ‘A lot done, more to do’. I will continue to eat the Sheep’s Head and all it has to offer but I am determined to cast my net out beyond the Peninsula and see what’s going on in Skibbereen, Schull, Ballydehob and Clonakilty. The Beara and the Mizen peninsulas are full of places to explore and good things to eat so I hope you will continue to follow Eating the Sheep’s Head as the next story unfolds.

As we begin to pack up and get ready for the journey to Durrus, I want to thank everybody in Kilcrohane for all their kindness and making us feel so welcome. Even though they knew that a journalist was living in their midst, they never once threatened to run me out of the village. Believe me, this was a change from my last posting.

Thanks to Eileen and Mary for keeping the drinks flowing, to Elaine and Noel for the wonderful house, to Frank and Marie for providing us with not only our daily newspaper and pint of milk but also for the wonderful food and wine at the Grainstore. Thanks to Finbarr for his superb rendition of ‘Galway Girl’ played on the spoons, and to the human jukebox Neil Lynch for a New Year’s Eve to remember. Thanks also to the ‘man with the gun’ for keeping us supplied with game and seafood and of course thanks to everybody who we met and who made us feel at home.

Enjoying the art at the Grain Store in Kilcrohane

Enjoying the art at the Grain Store in Kilcrohane

Finbarr Spillane the best spoons player in the world. (Well, Kilcrohane anyway)

Finbarr Spillane, the best spoons player in the world. (Well, Kilcrohane anyway)

The Kilcrohane Farmers' Market

The Kilcrohane Farmers’ Market

Close encounters of the woolly kindWell, that’s it, next stop Durrus.

Lobster killer, qu’est-ce que c’est?

Can you feed nine people with one lobster?

I was faced with this first-world problem recently and I don’t mind telling you that after a lot of work and a fair bit of doubt the answer is yes, yes you can.

Lobster for nine

But more about that later.

And I have a rather momentous announcement to make, but you will have to wait for that too.

As I write this latest update from the Sheep’s Head Peninsula, I am sitting here looking out on the not-so-calm waters of Dunmanus Bay, the rain is pouring down, the wind is howling and to quote one local fisherman ‘the Bay is angry today’.

I tell you this because over the last few weeks we have had very un-January-like weather with sunny days and temperatures reminiscent of springtime. In fact, we have daffodils flowering in many fields. (Kilcrohane used to be famous for its early daffodils but that’s another story).

Just before Christmas, I decided that I would love to cook lobster as a treat for the festive season and with some of the best shellfish available anywhere just a few steps from my door I ordered one medium-sized fresh Dunmanus Bay Homarus gammarus or European lobster.

I collected the crustacean along with five litres of seawater from the Bay to cook it in and returned home to a house full of visitors who had arrived to ring in the New Year. (We seem to be getting a lot of visitors and friends calling since we moved to West Cork. I didn’t know we were so popular).

Prepared with seawater from Dunmanus Bay

Before you think that I am a terrible host and should have ordered more lobsters, let me explain; I didn’t know we were going to have nine people staying when I ordered my lobster and I actually got the very last one that our ‘shellfish guy’ had. And there is something of a recession going on, you know, even in West Cork.

Help in the kitchen preparing the lobster

Following a quick scan of the cookery bookshelf, I decided on lobster salad (thank you Rick Stein) and after a quick boil (alive), I removed the meat from the body and the claws and then set it aside. Next, I mixed spring onion, avocado, red pepper, olive oil and lemon juice together in a bowl and added the lobster when it had cooled down. After serving it all up on a bed of lettuce, I found that I had fed nine people with just one lobster. Very proud of myself, I sat back and awaited the oohs and aahs of amazement from all those gathered around the table.

Wonderful lobster salad

I’m still waiting.

The reaction to the miracle of the ‘feeding of the nine’ ranged from ‘this is interesting’ to ‘I’m not quite sure about this lobster’ and ‘Yeah, it was alright’ to my favourite ‘is it supposed to be tough?’

Not put off by the lack of enthusiasm from my guests, I waited until they had left, went out for a drive and arrived back with crabs. (Not an infestation, Brown Crabs – shellfish that is) Again, these lads were straight out of the Bay and very much alive.

Now, my confidence in cooking and dealing with these live beauties has been spurred on by that wonderful lobster salad (yes, wonderful) I had prepared for the now departed guests.

The lobster, however, when it was still very much alive was, unlike the crabs, a lot more resigned to its faith and went meekly to the pot. The crabs fought every inch of the way.

One of the two mad crabs

When I arrived to collect my two crustaceans, I could see that they were ready for a fight. As I approached their holding pot, I noticed through the bars that the inmates were restless. When the pot was opened, two sets of massive claws reached skywards snapping wildly in all directions. ‘At least the lobster had its claws secured with rubber bands; these lads look like they could do some serious damage if they got a hold of you,’ I thought as the angry shellfish were expertly removed from their prison and placed into a waiting box with some seaweed.

I put the box in the trunk of the car and headed for Harro and Gisi’s house as I had decided to give one crab to them as a thank you for all their help with the pheasants.

When I arrived at the house, I opened the trunk to find one of the crabs had climbed out of the box and was waiting in ambush. After a lot of coaxing, cursing and finally covering the mad crab with my coat, I managed to get it back into the box only to find its mate about to leap from the back of the car.

When I eventually got the crabs inside the house, Gisi lifted one out of the box and put it in a bowl so expertly and without any hesitation that I decided not to tell her how I had been standing outside her home for the last ten minutes fighting with the crabs and trying to get them back in the box without losing a finger or any other appendage.

Returning to Kilcrohane and after another struggle to get it in the pot I cooked the crab, removed the meat and now I need your help. What would you do with this lovely, flaky, sweet meat? I was thinking about a crab quiche but as one of my former editors used to say: ‘real men don’t eat quiche’.

Look at all that meat

Then, just when I thought I had gotten over my shellfish moment there was a knock on the door.

I opened it to find the ‘man with the gun’ without his gun but with a big smile on his face. ‘Wait until you see what I have for you, and get your camera ready’, he said as I hoped and prayed that it wasn’t another pheasant or duck or woodcock or brace of snipe or anything covered in feathers that needed to be gutted.

While I stood there (very pale and frightened) with my camera, he produced a bucket. ‘Have a look’, he said, still smiling as a strange scraping sound emanated from inside the big black plastic pail . ‘Oh, God, it’s not enough that I will have to clean out whatever’s in the bucket, now he wants me to kill it as well’, I thought as I peered over the lip of the container.

Staring back at me, with one giant claw open and pointed directly at my nose, was the biggest lobster I have ever seen. I was relieved, amazed and immediately hungry all at the same time. Now the only question was, did I have a pot big enough to hold this monster?

The lobster and his one massive claw

I finally found a casserole pot just big enough to take ‘Long-John Lobster’ (as I had decided to call him because of his single monster claw).

Long-John lobster ready to be thermidored

As Long John boiled away on the stove top, I learned another valuable lesson. Never, and I mean never, mention a longing for a certain food on the Peninsula. Let me give you an example; as we, ‘the man with the gun’ and I, watched the lobster bubble away in the pot, I casually mentioned that I would love some scallops.

Later that day, as I prepared Long John for a lobster thermidor dinner, there was another knock on the door.

Lobster thermidor

While I have no doubt that you know what’s coming next, let me tell you that I have never seen scallops so big or so fresh. There stood ‘the man with the gun’ armed with another bucket, this time containing 12 huge scallops.

Be careful what you wish for - scallops fresh from the Bay

In our freezer, at this very moment, we have crabmeat, a pheasant and 12 scallops. Sounds like a dinner party in the making, if you ask me; all local food from the Sheep’s Head. Now all I need is some Durrus cheese and local honey and I can send out the invitations.

Oh, as for the momentous news, you will all be delighted to know that I have caught my first fish of 2012. I hope there will be many more.

First fish of 2012 - a nice pollock off the rocks in Dunmanus Bay