Style Stories: Cliodhna Prendergast
Food writer, photographer and chef Cliodhna Prendergast is a triple threat who is behind the lens of many a honeyed photo of the Connemara landscape, a place she has called home for most of her life. When she’s not dreaming up delicious photoshoots, she’s bringing the outdoors in at her considered home, cooking up casual chic dinner parties and making sublime comfort food. Cliodhna certainly knows how to winter: here’s some advice we gleaned.
First things first: embrace cosiness. In January, when it gets dark at 4pm, you tend to power down. I’m not sure if we have more time, or if we just have a desire to nestle in and cook something nice and warming. It’s like lighting the fire; it’s what makes wintertime cosy.
On the joy of comfort food in dark days: I love making broth at this time of year, it’s so nourishing. There are lots of variations; make it with beef, bone marrow, dumplings, noodle soup. I make mine with seaweed harvested from Easter time or mushrooms foraged from the woods (the combination is excellent for you). It's such a balm for the kids, especially if anyone has a cold. Serve it on a winter's day with bread: it’s heartwarming.
Cook this when there’s nothing in the cupboard: Risotto is great for a mid-week night when you haven’t done the shopping. The next day, we make risotto cakes for the kids as an after school treat (you fry them on the pan like potato cakes, the rice goes crispy). My favourite way to make a risotto, though, is with bacon, served with a fried egg on top. Pure comfort food: it’s wholesome and warming and lovely.
My guilty pleasure: is my collection of cookbooks. I love flicking through to get an idea and then sometimes I do my own version of a recipe. My favourites are Nigel Slater and Rory O’Connell, he has this beautiful and simple way to how he cooks. I photographed the new Ballymaloe Deserts by JR Ryall, the pastry chef at Ballymaloe (the man behind the house’s famous dessert trolley), and would highly recommend it.
Beat the January blues with chocolate: Make a chocolate fudge pudding and serve it with caramelised blood oranges and crème fraîche. The pudding is a Ballymaloe recipe and it’s the easiest thing on earth: you could do it after dinner, it only takes 20 minutes in the oven.
Let there be light: I light candles every night. I buy beeswax candles by Brookfield Farm, and I tend to mix them with multi-coloured ones from Tiger and Provenance, a local shop in Clifden. The more you have, the less you’re afraid to burn them! I’m also hooked on incense sticks from Dublin brand Fenix, they have these really deep sensual smells, like myrrh and frankincense, that are wintery without being overtly Christmassy.
Precious moments make for excellent jewellery: Jewellery isn’t so much about embellishment rather, a piece that means something to me. It’s something simple that’s not a showy statement. My favourite piece is a ring I got in Sicily a few years ago, made by a friend of a friend who is a jeweller. It’s a beautiful little ring with three flowers that’s speckled with brown diamonds. I also wear a bracelet belonging to my daughter, gifted to her by an eccentric aunt of mine. It’s a clasped gold bracelet that she allows me to wear ‘on loan’ from time to time. Although, she likes to remind me that “It’s mine!”.
Fancy a dip? Sea swimming feels a bit cliched but it’s a lovely thing to do. My daily swim is a real indulgence in wintertime. It’s social as I meet people there, and it’s about taking time for myself, even when the day is busy. I’ve just bought a pair of neoprene swimming togs; fingers crossed they will help combat the January temperatures!