If there are any frazzled new parents out there, desperately struggling to come to terms with the arrival of a firstborn child and its mighty impact on a previously well-ordered life, well, here’s the perfect prescription — an inspirational dose of cookbook author Sheila Kiely’s own personal history.
You may well believe you have said sayonara to sleep and sanity upon the arrival of a singular bundle of joy but Sheila Kiely once had six children all under the age of five, including two sets of twins and has survived to tell the tale. Not only that but six kids and Sheila still finds time to write a cookbook, ‘Gimme the Recipe’, on the back of her very successful food blog.
But even high-achieving go-getters will blanch on hearing she not only roadtested each recipe but did all the food styling and photography as well, despite having taken up photography just two years previous. Oh yeah, and she is also a working mum, holding down a job. Excuse me, while I lie down for 10 minutes.
It’s 5.15pm on a Friday evening and I’d swear we’re in Grand Central Station but it’s a domestic kitchen in the western suburbs of Cork city where Sheila lives with husband Denis and her six children — Johnnie 15, Ellie 14, Daire and Eimear 12, Niall and Denny 10.
Sheila is briskly rubbing flour and butter between her fingers for the base of her quickfire pizzas. Every now and then she glances up, issuing instructions to her brood, tightly gathered around the worktop, a jumble of limbs and bodies, making salads, dressings, rolling pastry, applying tomato sauce and toppings, firing dishes in and out of the oven. With a sangfroid that would put many a pro chef to shame, Sheila directs operations without ever raising her voice and I soon find myself mashing avacadoes for guacamole. What, at first glance appears as chaos, is an efficient multi-limbed cooking machine and 20 minutes after my arrival we are all seated at a beautifully laid table tucking into a lovely, relaxed dinner, the recent ‘rush-hour’ already a distant memory.
Sheila grew up in Mallow, the second eldest of seven in a rather typical Irish family when it came to food: “Dad was well able to produce a roast, a good gravy, but it was more my mum who cooked and always did a little bit of gardening and growing, potatoes, onions. I can still picture myself, midgies in my hair, tying up onions.”
There were also regular visits up North to her maternal grandmother’s farm where Sheila learned to make things like soda bread and potato farls. “When we’d be going home, she’d kill a chicken for us. We’d be fascinated watching her wring the neck, gut the chicken. I was never squeamish, I would have been around calves being born, tying the cords.”
Mind you, there wasn’t much room for experimentation.
“Ingredients weren’t around then, we didn’t have much choice, no peppers, no garlic. I can remember my first taste of pasta, aged 12, mum made macaroni cheese, I thought it was disgusting,” she laughs. “I remember an aunt coming to stay when I was 15 who’d been living in Amsterdam and there was this godawful smell, it gave me a headache. She was making garlic bread! When I was a student in UCC, cooking for ourselves, it was never rice or pasta, it was always potatoes. My dish was a bolognese with potatoes instead of spaghetti and a sauce made from a packet of soup — and it was very nice!” she protests with a laugh.
Though Sheila confesses the two sets of twins were a complete surprise, she wouldn’t swap her life. It’s obvious some sort of system is essential but it wasn’t always like that: “I was going into the supermarket sometimes and being so frazzled, I didn’t know what I was going to buy, or what I could do with it.”
Sheila runs with a friend several times a week and, invariably, conversation turns to food.
“Deirdre would always be asking for recipes, it was the lightbulb moment — we need a book, a collection of everyday recipes for people like us, busy people who cook but whose lives don’t revolve around food.
“I feel now with the book that it’s more in control, I’m going to the shop and I know what I’m going to cook today. By creating the book, I’ve created a system.”
* Gimme The Recipe by Sheila Kiely (Mercier Press) €19.99
Pork Chops in Creamy Honey and Mustard Sauce
Serves 4This is a lick-the-plate-clean comfort food dish. Pork can be a dry meat, particularly in the form of chops if they are just fried and allowed to shrink and toughen up.
4 pork chops
1 medium onion
1 tbsp flour
250ml chicken stock
250ml apple juice
1 tbsp creamed honey
2 tbsp wholegrain mustard
150ml carton of double creamPreheat the oven to 190C/Gas Mark 6. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over a medium to high heat and fry the chops on each side for a couple of minutes, until beginning to brown. Meanwhile, peel and finely chop the onion. Remove the chops from the pan and place on a baking tray in the oven to continue cooking while you make the sauce. Lower the heat in the frying pan and cook the onion for five minutes until they begin to soften. Add the flour and mix well to scrape up any meat residue from the bottom of the pan.