How much a week can change the world. When I cooked up this tasty kimchi-laden pan potato cake last Saturday, the angle for it felt like an irreverent take on bacon and cabbage for Paddy’s Day. Now the schools are closed, the rugby is off and the parade is cancelled, this dish is feeling more like a store cupboard saviour; a comfort food salvo for strange times.
With Ireland (and the world) suddenly facing into a totally different tempo, with no sports or birthday parties or gala dinners to break up the week, it feels somehow like we have all been plunged back to a long time ago, to the somnolent Sunday afternoons of our childhoods, when the day had an endless quality, neither pleasant nor unpleasant, just bigger than us and inarguable somehow, like the weather or church bells.
Of time not completely owned, the parameters set by others. The slight curl of boredom of shops not open; of being in a warm living room with cousins while the adults talked in the kitchen; long incomprehensible films already midway through on every TV channel; the texture of a rough hearth rug under your hands; a nonsense conversation with your siblings that almost turns into a fight before a dozing uncle’s eye flickers open and everyone backs down and it’s time for tea and sponge cake anyway; the remnants of a lunchtime roast still sitting out.
Peaceful stasis everywhere you knew of. A time when we had very minimal impact on our surroundings and the people you interacted with on Sundays were only your most direct circle.
A day of rest, a day of boredom, a day to bicker and make up, a day to go to ground and reset. That is what we are being tasked with now, and it feels that if we can do that, this strange phase of changed routine can largely keep that timbre for many of us; that it becomes just a strange anomaly like a week of heavy snow in March; always remembered, and commented upon for many years after, but not a source of sadness, not an end to what we knew.
Ellie Balfe had an interesting take on the current situation on her Instagram: “We thought it would be the planet that would ultimately kill us – because WE were killing it. We’ve had wind and fires like never before. Countries have voted in crazy ways forcing a mood of division. As a global population we’ve pushed and pulled at every boundary… But we didn’t massively change. We didn’t change enough on a global level. We didn’t stop industry and travel at the level it needed to stop in order to preserve the Earth. We refused, on a planet-wide scale, to slow down. Until now. Now, it’s been taken out of our hands. We’ve had to be scared into slowing down, into returning home, into looking so seriously at our personal behaviours and their impact on the earth… We are now, at long last, being communal, being mindful, thinking beyond ourselves, and thus ultimately empowering the planet to heal. The small acts of personal hygiene show respect to ourselves and others. Cancelling everything and staying home is an act of compassion.”
So for a month of Sundays (or more), it’s about having as small a footprint as we can. Board games. Books. Coffee and chats in your house. Simple, comforting meals made with what’s there. Using up the remainder of the roast, using up leftover cooked potatoes, jazzing them up a bit for round two but no need to go out to the shops, we have plenty here. Just like we did every Sunday.
PAN POTATO CAKE WITH KIMCHI & LEEKS
Serves 4, enjoy with fried eggs and lots of spicy sauce for brunch, lunch or a Sunday evening meal
400g cooked floury potatoes, skins off
100g leftover cooked ham, torn into strips (optional)
2 heaped tablespoons kimchi (don’t have it on hand? You can use drained sauerkraut with a big pinch of chilli flakes or just some more sliced garlic and a dollop of spicy sauce or even some leftover braised red cabbage – anything that will add a big whack of flavour to the spuds)
2 cloves of garlic, diced
1-inch knob of ginger, peeled & diced
5tbsp grated Parmesan or mature cheddar
Diced parsley or coriander or spring onion
Spicy sauce (any is fine, although Sriracha works well)
Clean and slice the leek into coins. Melt 3/4 of the butter in a wide based frying pan and add the leeks to the pan along with the kimchi, the diced garlic and the ginger. Sauté over a low heat, seasoning with salt and pepper. Once the leek is soft, add most of the shredded ham if you’re using it. Mash the potatoes. Heat the milk gently with the remaining butter and some salt and pepper and half the parmesan. Stir through the potato then tip the whole lot into the frying pan and stir through to combine. Pat down the mix to make a tight potato cake, cover with the remaining cheese then place the pan under a hot grill for 5-10 minutes or until the top is golden. Finish with the remaining ham and whatever garnishes you fancy and lots of spicy sauce. Serve with fried eggs.