In our first feature from the wonderfully talented people who were involved in last year’s festival and upcoming festival 2016 we present JoAnne Neary’s micro memoir. Pure Magic!
My name is JoAnne Neary, I have lived in North Leitrim for the past decade. I am a creative soul who can’t imagine life without music, and am mother of three and a wife to one. I like to see the positive.
All sorts of things fire my imagination, everyday things, but you see I am extremely lucky. I live high up in the forestry in Glenboy, and when it snows I feel like I live in a snow globe. We are in such a remote spot that we have our very own ecosystem. We are only a very recent addition to Google maps. It is a real hideaway. On a frosty night when the sky is clear and the sky is full of stars you could wander about and feel like you are on the edge of the earth. The Horse Chestnut at the front of our house is something else. It changes every day, and in autumn it really is so awesome it would take your breath away. The bottom of it is covered in a beautiful thick green moss that you are tempted to pull off because it feels good to but then you would miss it so you don’t. Instead I pull moss off some rocks and enjoy the sensation of it and the noise it makes. The green mossy hills of the West of Ireland fire my imagination; I would so love a green velvet house coat like them. In the right light I can imagine these hills are a giant Celtic glamourpuss lying back in her green velvet house coat. The meadow at the front of my house in Spring and Summer, watching it come alive with flowers and frogs, listening to the stream rush past and the birds sing in the trees…..all these things fire my imagination. But having said that I love to get away from it too, and go someplace where I have anonymity. I love people watching. I can invent all sorts of scenarios about what people could be up to or where they are going, what their lives may be like, and ooooh her shoes are lovely. Seeing an elderly man on an 80 SO nifty fifty with a shopping bag on his lap and one slung over his shoulder can fire one’s imagination. Has he always owned this bike? It drives pretty slowly. Is that his big weekly shop? Could he not choose an easier way of transporting it all, sure maybe he likes it the way it is, Jezis that’s some balancing act. He had a mint green shell tracksuit top on, now how could a vision like that not fire your imagination?
The first thing I baked was queen cakes with my Nana Ryan, I must have been about five or six at the most. She baked bread and all sorts of fabulous things daily so the house always smelt divine. The most torturous time was when the buns would sit wafting that “eat me aroma” on a wire rack to cool. She would always say you couldn’t eat them when they were hot because you would get a pain in your stomach that is a total myth!!! To this day queen cakes bring me back to my childhood and they were the first things I baked with my daughter. I don’t ever remember seeing anyone use a cookbook when I was younger, unlike myself who is quite dependent on google for inspiring dinner ideas to save me popping to the shop…..again.
Another dish that brings me back to my childhood is shepherd’s pie. I used to hate it, it was vile as far as I was concerned, and how could they expect me to eat this? Now it is one of my family’s most enjoyed winter meals. It is definitely my rainy day comfort food. The recipe is not for those concerned with their cholesterol as the creamed potato has lashings of milk, egg yolk and butter. We have amended the recipe a little; we have “Upside down shepherd’s pie”. Basically you just don’t wait for it to go into the oven and just pour the meat all over your creamy mash.
I think the only thing I would never ever try is rat, even in the creamiest yummiest most decadent of sauces. Even if I were in a Cormac Mc Carthy The Road scenario I just couldn’t bring myself to doing it. The oddest combination of food I have tried is the Central American combination of fried egg, refried beans and fried banana (plantain) for breakfast. Initially I thought the combination just seemed odd but it really was delicious.
My five essential larder items are, these really aren’t exciting and I am not counting tea bags. The tea is a given. I could not function without a cuppa in the morning.
1.Eggs, these come from the chickens in the back garden. The yolks are so yellow and tasty.
- My herbs and spices, curry being one of my favourite.
3.Meat . We all love our meat and I always buy it from the local butcher John Gilligan. All of his produce is locally sourced. Our Christmas turkey was reared about two fields away in Glenboy. It is great to support our local farmers. John is great, I would nearly just pop into the shop for the craic.
- Tomatoes, a base for all the yummy curries and vegetable Bolognese sauces. I have discovered that you can sneak sorts of veggies into these sauces and even the fussiest eaters devour them. I’m always tempted to say “do you know what I put into that?” but hold back just in case the fussy wee noses turn up the next time it is served.
- Flour, for making a roux for your sauces, pancakes, buns, scones, buns, muffins. We have even used it to make out own play dough, great fun.
My favourite restaurant is Montmartre in Sligo; classic French cuisine is my favourite. What I love about this place is that, well for one the food is absolutely divine, so delicious. But I feel just as comfortable here tarted up to the nines as I would if I were wearing the clothes that have baby puke scraped off them, (thankfully these days are behind me). Also the choosy little ones are always welcome guests at any time.
I can’t not mention a little “coffee shop” that I will never forget. It was down an arch somewhere is Brussels. It was an extremely cold Sunday in February and we had been checking out some vintage flea markets. We had popped down this arch to where there were a number of vintage clothes stalls and just off this was a little place where we could maybe get some lunch. Now I use the term coffee shop loosely. It was a room with high ceilings and concrete floors and it was sparsely furnished. We sat on an old red leather bus seat and the place was empty but it smelt like there was something good cooking. A tall lady wearing a mid-length pencil skirt, big furry coat, fingerless gloves and the highest of high heels came to serve us. She also had a sharp bob hairstyle, think Louise Brooks! Well I was having major style envy. She informed us that they served only one thing, chicken broth and yes they did have tea. We ordered one of each. She tottered over and placed our order on the table which was a wooden electric cable spool. My tea came in a pot and with a beautiful china cup and saucer. I wasn’t particularly warm in here but could have happily taken up residence. I was in heaven.
You see for me it is about more than just the tea or the food. Yes of course the food has to be good but it is also about how it is presented, what surrounds you as you enjoy it. It is about the pretty plates. It is about the ambience, and the whole experience. I had an experience in that place that I would like others to experience. I got a bit lost and it was lovely.
That place in Brussels had a profound effect on me and on leaving it I thought that I would really like to have a place like that one day. That was six years ago now. I would have tea parties for myself and my friends at home, weather permitting in the garden. If I had a couple of friends and a few squawking toddlers or a whole load of people over I would invest the same amount of effort. It is nice to make the effort for my friends and those close to me, because they have always been so encouraging and helpful. One dear friend who is always there for me and who is always stealing the thunder with her scrumptious mini lemon cheesecakes is Olivia Mitchell. She is so creative and is always thinking of ways of giving the sweet treats a more vintage feel. I’d be lost without her. I also have a friend Michelle and we always get giddy about the creative bits. We have a lot of similar ideas and it’s always great fun brain storming with her. She lives thousands of miles away now but thanks to technology we can still exchange ideas .Another lady I’d be lost without is my aunt Therese, she goes above and beyond to help me all the time. She keeps her eyes peeled for nice china, shares nice recipes with me, lifts and drops my daughter for me, listens to me moan, we share laughs and buns and she always says “go for it”. To be honest I am really very lucky because I am surrounded by many wonderful and positive people. You need that I think.
Last year’s Five Glens Arts Festival was the first big Vintage Tea Party I did. I really hadn’t expected such an amazing response. The stars really were aligned in all the right ways that day. Maura and Tony Daly, owners of Manorhamilton Castle opened their doors to us with open arms, even lending us some of their most beautiful china for the day. They couldn’t have been more warm and welcoming which instantly made us feel at ease and confident. When I say we that is I and my pals Aisling and Tanya who had come to visit and support the event. Little did they know they be up to their elbows in meringues and washing up. If it weren’t for them I don’t think this maiden voyage would have been possible. Since then I have done a number of events and in the coming months have many different types of events coming up. You’d be amazed by the number of people who get excited at the thought of a vintage tea party.
So what has made me decide to set up Bloomin Fabulous Vintage Tea Parties? Apart from the fact that people really seem to like them I am a woman who wants it all (my husband would agree!) My husband, like many other husbands and fathers, works away which means I don’t have as much flexibility as I would like. I want to be here for my children when they need me but I also want to have a venture that is just for me. I’m enjoying the process of trying to start a small business, and as it is on a shoestring budget I have to be very creative and I am really enjoying that challenge. For years I wished I had an entrepreneurial spirit but maybe the time just wasn’t right then. The time is right now, and I really feel that I can do this well and it is doing something that I really love. I like everything about it. Compiling the playlist, thinking about the space and how I am going to fill it and bring a vintage vibe in. I like arranging the dainty sandwiches so the fillings are alternated and look pretty on the plate. I want it to be nice and I really like it when it turns out well. It is all very early days yet and sometimes after I commit to a job which I know will take a lot of effort I have to kick start the mantra in my head “you can do it, you can do it”, and I really think I can and I think it will be bloomin fabulous.