Day Twenty (or, savouring sweet parting)

Days can have different qualities. Some are amplified with giddy anticipation of a projected pleasure: rooting under a shedding tree for crinkly presents, unpacking flimsy holiday clothes in a temporary home – or serving up a seven-course feast of a tasting menu.

Then there are those days filled with extraordinary moments to be treasured: the view at the ridge of a clamboured mountain, the slip of a ring on a finger perhaps, or the warmth and weight of a child when first held in your arms. January 2011 was a month of such moments, when you tap yourself on the shoulder to say, sorry to interrupt the fun but don’t forget to remember all this, cos this is some good shit happening here right now. And who knows when life will get this good again.

Others days are pregnant with an accumulation of all of the above: the thrill of that build-up and the high-definition perception of those willfully remembered moments, shot through with nostalgia for what is quickly becoming what was. You know the feeling: it’s the last day of a holiday, the day after the wedding, the last day of school or of college – or of a one-month cookery course which you wish could have been a two or a three or a four month cookery course.

Although in truth, a month has a perfect arc to it. You know in a month that every day is precious. It’s enough time to get to know each of the very motley crew of students, but not enough time for cliques to form. We had come a long way from the first morning when we sat silently reading our first day’s recipes – but familiarity had not been around long enough to be tinged with contempt or any of its insidious ilk. Our stamina had been tested but our energy levels had not yet been spent. Our expectations had been met, our skills honed, our enthusiasm captured and exploited and transformed into a lifelong passion.

All of this was in the air as we sat down to our last meal together as the class of Dublin Cookery School’s Cooking for Life course January 2011.

And what better to eat on the day after the night before than that most casually indulgent meal of them all – brunch – cooked together as one last communal activity.

We grated potatoes and fried them off in little rosti pans, regulating the heat to get the perfect colour, as had now become second nature. We whisked yolks with water over a bain marie, drizzled in melted butter and seasoned our now-Hollandaise sauce with lemon and cayenne pepper. We rinsed spinach and tossed the leaves into hot pans, covered to wilt and buttered to season. We discussed the various egg-poaching techniques presented to us over the course, brought our acidulated water to a gentle rolling simmer, whipped up a whirlpool into which the eggs were broken one by one and cooked till the white set before being plunged into cold water to stop the yolk following suit. We juiced oranges, percolated coffee, baked scones and opened jars of our favourite jam. We made our choices between smoked salmon and cured ham – a tough call – and then when ready to eat, we plunged our perfectly poached eggs back into the now boiling water just to heat them through. And then we took ourselves and our Hollandaise-crowned towers of glory into the adjoining dining room to savour our final feast.

There was more to the day: certificates handed out, and some fun prizes too (bottles of aged sherry vinegar for winning teams of our final surprise ‘it’s-not-a-competition’ challenge – upon which details I am sworn to secrecy) and exchanges of contact details by all. There was more food cooked, and eaten, and then it was time to say the first of our goodbyes as the group whittled down to those who were taking the long farewell to the local pub. Or pubs, as it transpired.

We must have looked like an unlikely bunch on our Blackrock pub crawl. A crane driver with a dream of volunteering to cook in a SVP kitchen. A gap year student with a penchant for sharpening knives and eating jellyfish and foraging for wild mushrooms. A health and safety graduate looking to shake up her second-generation family restaurant. A restaurant critic and food writer, an Australian ex-pat interior designer mother of two, and a B&B owner from one of Ireland’s most beautiful and remote peninsulas. All coming from very different places, all leaving Blackrock at the end of one unforgettable month sharing the same treasured memories.

Who knows when life will get this good again. And what a privilege to have experienced it ever getting that good. January will never be the same.

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