Archive | November, 2011

Birds, Burgers and Banter – My Day As A Butcher Part 3

29 Nov

Banter and micro-blogging: Owner Michael McCormick gives me a twitter demo, with a few jokes thrown in for good measure.

In my first post in this thread, I said that Murphy’s Butchers is one of the last bastions of a Belfast of a bygone era. Seeing as I only published that statement earlier today, I obviously still stand by it. However, what Murphy’s has managed to do, where many others have failed, is to make their business relevant to a modern clientele.

For those of you that follow me on twitter (I’m @SineadDoyle if you don’t), you may already know that this challenge was negotiated on twitter. At a sprightly 60, Murphy’s owner, Michael McCormick  has thrown himself full-force into the world of micro-blogging and when I put out a call for a butcher, baker and  candlestick maker, he replied almost instantly. A quick follow-up phone call later, I was all set with the second of my 29 Lives.

I was impressed, even at that stage, with his aptitude for twitter and knew, from the tone of the tweets in his timeline, that I was in for a fun day.

Enter Murphy’s and find yourself behind the counter and you may be forgiven for feeling like you’re living in a real-life @MurphysButchers twitter timeline. Gentle joshing with the boys  is mixed with lively chat with regular customers; Ulster Rugby players pop in for fillet steak; recipes and cooking advice is offered as standard and there are jokes and banter aplenty.

The Murphy’s team work hard, but they know how to have fun too. Three hours into my shift, Robert, the  youngest of the Murphy’s team, asked me what time I thought it was. I thought I had been there an hour. His reply: “The day goes in quick, doesn’t it?”  It does, when you’re having fun.

Me and the Murphy’s Butchers Boys – a Great Bunch of Lads!

As I outlined in my first post, the purpose of this 29 Lives challenge is to step out of my comfort zone and try new things. Whilst I had never made burgers, or manhandled turkeys before, my experience of life as a butcher at Murphy’s wasn’t out of my comfort zone – it was highly enjoyable and that’s down to the people who make Murphy’s special – Michael and his team. I’ll most certainly be back but maybe as a customer next time- to buy me some of those legendary steak burgers, perhaps.  Thank you boys.

Thanks also to my fantastic friend, Alice Woods who was snap happy all afternoon documenting my day at Murphy’s. You can find Alice on twitter at @Oohlalalice (she’s very funny and worth a follow). Ever creative, Alice has also recently launched a new blog, where she’s embarking on her own personal challenge – to write and illustrate a children’s book for her niece and nephew – check it out, here:

I’ll be back with news on the next of my 29 Lives soon – watch this space!

Birds, Burgers and Banter – My Day As A Butcher Part 2

29 Nov

It’s official, Christmas is coming. Almost every shopping centre in Northern Ireland is twinkling under thousands of lights; Fairytale of New York is on the radio at least twice a day; and filler conversation has morphed from “It’s getting dark very early, isn’t it?‘ to ‘Have you finished your Christmas Shopping yet?’

When I think of Christmas, I think of a few things; family, friends, presents, hot port and turkey. I’ve cooked many a Christmas dinner over the years but if I’m honest, I’ve never given much thought to how the bird makes its way from the butchers into my oven tray (plus mum usually buys it, so I couldn’t even tell you where she gets ours from).

When, during my day as a butcher at Murphy’s Butchers on Belfast’s Lisburn, owner Michael McCormick asked me if I would like to learn how to ‘dress a turkey,’ I was slightly bafffled. Thankfully, I resisted the urge to start talking about potential poultry fashion trends and bit my tongue, waiting for the explanation, which was quickly forthcoming.

‘To Dress a turkey,’ Michael explained, is essentially to gut it. Lovely.

Now for my pictorial account of my experience of ‘dressing a turkey’ at Murphy’s, under the ever-watchful and expert eyes of legendary Belfast butcher, Michael McCormick. Again, many thanks to the wonderful Alice Woods, who, much to her credit, was by my side capturing all of this, as it unfolded. (I’m going to try a picture gallery for this post – still getting to grips with WordPress but would welcome feedback on which style you think works best).

A further post on the banter-fuelled day of being a butcher will follow shortly. But for now, here are the money shots.

*Disclaimer: As before, if you’re of a sensitive disposition when it comes to blood and gore, navigate away from this page now…*

I may never look at my Christmas dinner in quite the same way again. You may expect me to say that I’ve sworn off a festive feast of turkey and all the trimmings after this experience but, in fact, quite the opposite is true.

Whilst it wasn’t actually MY Christmas turkey I was preparing, it was satisfying to see the bird as something other than a cellophane wrapped plucked carcass; to make the connection that it was once a living creature. This might sound strange, cruel or even morbid to some people, particularly vegetarians but (aside from the smell, which I’m not sure I’ll ever forget), I found the experience of taking that bird – with its head, feet and feathers still in tact – and preparing it with my own hands into a ready-to-roast Christmas turkey quite an experience.

Now, where’s the cranberry sauce?

Birds, Burgers and Banter – My Day As A Butcher Part 1

29 Nov

My day in the life of a butcher at Murphy's Butchers, Lisburn Road, Belfast

In 1982 – the year I was born – Murphy’s Butchers set up shop on the Lisburn Road in Belfast. Almost 30 years on, owner Michael McCormick and Murphy’s are one of the last remaining bastions of a Belfast of a bygone era.

Times have changed. In our increasingly time-strapped lives, convenience is king. For most, myself included, the weekly supermarket shop fills our fridges and our bellies. But convenience comes at a cost – not least to businesses like Murphy’s.

Since launching this blog I’ve spent countless evenings brainstorming ideas for my 29 Lives challenge. Over a few glasses of wine in Dublin recently, a friend suggested I try my hand at some age-old professions; get my hands dirty and see first hand what it’s like to live in someone else’s shoes. From this came the inspiration to attempt to be ‘the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker.’

So, here I am, with my account of my life as a butcher for one day. It was a fairly busy day, so I’m going to ease your eyes and break this down into a couple of posts.

There’s a somewhat hackneyed saying that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ – in this particular case, I think that’s a fairly apt observation. So, I’ll let the lovely Alice Wood’s pictures tell the tale of my day at Murphy’s Butchers (with a little commentary thrown in for good measure).

*Disclaimer: If you’re as sensitive as my vegetarian housemate who chanted ‘Meat is Murder’ at me prior to embarking on this challenge, you should look away now…*

Stuff The Turkey – I’ll Have a Burger, Cheers.

Upon entering Murphy’s, the charismatic Mr McCormick introduced me to his team and paired me up with Robert, A.K.A. Gooser – I’m still not sure where this moniker came from, but I’d hazard a guess it’s something to do with his skills with the birds (of the winged variety). We’ll come back to the birds later, but first up, I was put on burger-making duty.

The youngest member of the team, Robert has worked at Murphy’s for three years. In spite of the 7am starts and cold temperatures (the shop hit a low of -12 oC last winter), he’s passionate about his work, and like all of the employees here, is part of the Murphy’s family, into which I was quickly inducted.

Whilst we’re experiencing an uncharacteristically mild winter this year, it seems odd to think that a butcher’s would get through thousands of burgers a week at the end of November. But that’s the case at Murphy’s who supply the Rocket and Relish burger stall at the Christmas Continental Markets at Belfast City Hall.

Displaying the patience of a saint, Robert walked me through the step-by-step technique of making Murphy’s 100% steak burgers, and before long, I was busy making hundreds, which, by now, have likely been gobbled down by punters at the market.

The Starting Point – Fresh Raw Steak – Slaughtered on Thursday and made into burgers on Saturday – you can’t get much fresher than that.

Next the steak is pushed through an impressive mincing machine twice to create a fine steak mince that forms the basis of the burgers.

It was all going great guns until precisely this point.

Robert: ‘So, next, you mix a small amount of meal and seasoning into the mince.

Me: “With your hands?”

Robert: “Yes.” *laughs. “Machines never give the same result; when you get in with your hands, you can make sure all of the mince is coated with the seasoning, which means all of the burgers will taste the same.”

Me: “Ok…” *winces.

Getting My Hands Dirty: A small amount of meal and high quality seasoning are added to the minced steak - and that's it, not a single other ingredient is needed to make the burgers.

Robert lifts the seasoned mince and puts it into another impressive gizmo that, with careful control of a foot pedal, and concurrent pulling of a leaver, magically turns the mince into burgers - hey presto!

With mince now inside the magic burger-making machine, it's time for the magic to begin.

The finished result!

So, that concludes the first part of my account of my day in the life of a butcher. I hope you will share my newfound respect for the work that goes into getting food from the farm onto your plate. I know one thing for sure – I’m safe in the knowledge that a burger bought from Murphy’s Butchers contains 100% steak mince and little else. As for the frozen supermarket variety, well, that’s another story…

New Kid on The [Butcher’s] Block

21 Nov

Once upon a time, I wanted to be a chef. It was a short-lived career. When I was in school, I worked part-time on a Southern Fried Chicken counter in a busy petrol station and to this day, when I think about it, all I can smell is the lingering scent of raw chicken flesh mixed with that unforgettable pungent peppery powdered batter mix.

Even though I’m a fairly hardened carnivore (bar one week, when aged about twelve, I decided I was going to be a vegetarian), I’m still a tad squeamish when it comes to handling raw meat.

So, it’s with some trepidation that I am getting set to embark on the second of my 29 Lives – as a butcher.

The fine folk over at Murphy’s Butchers on Belfast’s Lisburn Road have kindly offered to take me under their wings and, this Saturday, will attempt to share with me some of their expertise in the art of butchery.

Quite frankly, I couldn’t be in better hands. During his 30 year tenure on the Lisburn Road, legendary Belfast butcher Michael McCormick has established a loyal clientele, with Eamonn Holmes and several members of the Ulster Rugby team amongst Murphy’s Butcher’s devotees.

This week they’re flat out making stacks of homemade burgers, which will be devoured by punters at the Rocket and Relish stand at the Christmas Continental Markets at Belfast City Hall. So, hopefully I’ll be a help rather than a hindrance when I switch my dress and heels for a white coat and flats and try my hand at being a butcher.

I’m already impressed by Mr McCormick’s aptitude for twitter; in his sixties, he’s mastered more technology than many half his age. He also seems to be popular local blogging fodder having featured on Eamonn Mallie’s The Mallie Files and Food Belfast. So now it’s my turn.

You can follow Murphy’s Butchers on twitter – @Murphybutchers. Let’s hope their feed isn’t full of tweets about how useless I am come Saturday…

The Countdown to 30 is ON!

17 Nov

So, the day has  come. Today I turned 29. I have one year left of my twenties and I’ve decided I’m going to make it count.

Life is good. Very good in fact. If this last year is anything to go by, making big changes to your life (whilst admittedly scary), can make a big difference.  In April, after 1o months counting points, I successfully shed five stone and dropped four dress sizes. In July, after five and a half years working as a magazine editor in Belfast, I took the plunge and changed careers, moving into Public Relations. Whilst I don’t want to sound like a drama queen, both of these events have been life-changing.

It’s not that I was unhappy before – I loved my job, my family and friends but I had gotten stuck in a rut. I know I’m not alone.

A few weeks ago, Belfast became a hiving hotbed of activity with Belfast Music Week and the MTV EMAs propelling a positive image of Northern Ireland onto the world stage. That week I essentially took up residence in the Ulster Hall, and witnessed some of the best live music amongst some of the best company you could wish for. At the last minute on Sunday 6th November, I received an invitation to attend the MTV EMAs as a guest. I got the call about 40 minutes before the doors were closing. For a split second, I thought to myself  ‘there’s no way I can get ready and get there that quickly.’ But it was just a split second and after a mad dash,  much clothes-flinging about the house and slapping on make-up on the move, I made it. Needless to say it was a world-class event and a night I’ll never forget as long as I live. The events of that week got me thinking how easy it can be, after a long day in the office, to go home, sit in front of the TV and vegetate. It also made me think that there’s an alternative – to get out more, do more and live life to the full.

So, I’m setting myself a challenge. In the next 12 months, in the run-up to my 30th birthday, I am pledging that I will step outside of my comfort zone; try new things; adopt a can-do attitude, and, here’s the punchline – I will attempt to try 29 different lives.  I’m not talking trying new foods or bars here – I mean 29 significant things, activities, challenges that will require that I live life in someone else’s shoes; putting my fears, reservations and/or embarrassment to one side. On average, that’s around 2.4 sizeable challenges a month.

Number one is setting up this blog (something I’ve never done before) and committing to this very public challenge to have ‘29 Lives‘ in the next 12 months.

I’ve spoken to some friends and colleagues in advance of launching this blog and there have been a number of suggestions as to things I should do as part of my ‘Leap Year‘ challenge. I have a few in the pipeline already, which I will share with you in due course. But for now, I welcome you to give me your suggestions.

This is not a Danny Wallace-esque Yes Man challenge. I’m not saying I will do everything that’s thrown at me, but I’m most certainly up for a challenge.

We’re here for a good time, not a long time folks.

%d bloggers like this: