The Kitchen Bitch Goes to California November 10, 2011
I am soo lucky.
I have a wonderful mother and two beautiful sisters, and I just got to spend a week with them all city hopping in California. (Never mind that what I really should have been doing was honeymooning. Doug and I will get to it—eventually. I cannot WAIT for that trip. We’re thinking Barbados.)
The reason for this trip was twofold: My sister Annie, an event planner, was organizing a conference in Laguna Beach earlier in the week, and I won a trip to the 3rd Annual Foodbuzz Food Blogger Festival in San Francisco courtesy of Australian Lamb the following weekend. When we realized that the events were only days apart, we knew we had to make a girls’ week out of it.
Moroccan Dreams, Chicken Tagine May 18, 2011
I’ve been dreaming about going to Morocco for a few years now, but then again, I dream about traveling everywhere. But there’s something about the North African nation of Morocco that keeps it coming back to my daydreams.
Maybe it’s my undying love for Humphrey Bogart and Casablanca.
Or the ancient, glorious maze of streets that comprise Marrakesh and the vast desert beyond it that beckons visitors to hop on a camel and explore.
Or maybe it’s the exotic cuisine that really gets me.
Moroccan food has Arab, Mediterranean, Moorish and Berber influences, but it’s taken on a mind of its own. Spices are used extensively, especially saffron, cumin, cinnamon, turmeric and coriander, and olives, lemons, oranges, mint and couscous are all commonplace. I’ve seen images of its markets, littered with giant conical piles of fragrant herbs and spices, nuts and dried fruits. The images alone make my heart (and stomach) yearn for a faraway place I’ve never seen before.
The Blizzard Outside My Front Door February 2, 2011
As most of you know, Chicago was hit by a blizzard yesterday, and it’s still going strong today. We had crazy winds, thunder and lighting last night. And while all that noise has dissipated, the snow is still coming down in whirlwinds. I believe we’re getting another foot tonight.
Emerald Isle: Guinness Gives You Strength For Race Around Dublin October 15, 2010
We were sad to leave Bansha Castle on Sunday morning, but we loaded the cars and paused outside the castle to take pictures of everyone together. It’d been a great week at the castle, and we’d created some fond memories of the place and its people. There never seems to be enough time when you’re traveling, does there?
Emerald Isle: Breathtaking Beauty and Mingling with the Locals October 13, 2010
Day 7: The Dingle Peninsula
My mother, our tour director, arranged for a coach bus and driver to take us to the Dingle Peninsula, the western most point in Ireland. It’s surrounded by water on three sides, and there are breathtaking views from every angle. Many Irish families have summerhouses in the town of Dingle, so it’s great jumping off point for exploring the rest of the peninsula. We piled into the tour bus at 8:30 a.m. when the coach arrived so we could begin our three-hour drive at an early hour.
We stopped in the towns of Adare and Tralee on our way to Dingle. Adare had several buildings with rustic thatched roofs.
We also stopped at one particularly lovely overlook for a group picture.
We decided to divide and conquer the town of Dingle upon our arrival. All of the younger folks (me, my triplet siblings, their significant others, and my cousin Meredith) shopped for a short while before stopping for lunch at a local pizza place called The Diner. We ordered far too much pizza and got free milkshakes to go with it.
To walk off our lunch we trekked down to the Dingle Bay, which offered gorgeous views of the water, the mountains and the marina. Like in Kinsale, there were boaters waiting for the tides to come up so they could take their boats out on the water.
We met back at the bus at 3 p.m. to make the scenic drive around the actual peninsula. Thank god we had a bus driver, because the roads in the Kerry region were the worst we’d seen and the land dropped sharply off into the water just next to the road. The roads are so tight that visitors are encouraged to only drive clockwise around the peninsula because it’s almost impossible to pass.
There are, however, strategically placed scenic overlooks along the way. On one overlook, the wind was blowing so hard my mom thought we were going to all be knocked over the cliff.
The next overlook was one of the most gorgeous scenes I’ve ever seen in my entire life—and believe me I’ve traveled all over the place.
Our next stop was equally as beautiful, and we got to climb around on the hill. The local sheep had the same idea.
On our way back from Dingle, we picked up some beer and Jameson at a gas station and decided to play a drinking game. Everyone had to drink whenever a cow (or trampoline) was sighted, which is pretty much every minute. If someone shouted “Cow!” and it was really a horse or a sheep, the rest of the car shouted, “False cow identification!” and that person had to drink. “Yonder cows” or cows in the distance, didn’t count. Only cows by the roadside counted for a drink. We enjoyed goading my Aunt Margie—who’s wound tighter than a wristwatch—to drink the giant Jameson and coke we made her just a little bit faster, because she kept spilling it all over Bart whenever we went over a bump.
Four hours and a bottle of Jameson later (with only two beers left in the cooler), we finally made it back to the castle—the bus driver was never happier to be rid of 13 Americans.
What do you do after 10 hours in a bus? Go on a pub crawl, of course. The village of Bansha is just steps away from the castle, and with only 200 residents, it’s a miracle there is more than one bar in the quarter-mile-long village. We started at Nellie’s, which was deader than a doornail on Friday night, so we stumbled over to O’Henney’s.
Ten or so locals littered the bar, and when Louis and Brian left the bar to watch the Reds game, any male within 15 years of our age range raced to take over their empty seats. They were twenty-somethings with a variety of backgrounds: a jockey who’d traveled to our home state of Kentucky to race and train against the world’s best and a soot-covered metal welder who had played as a full forward on the Tipperary county hurling team, which had recently won the national championship.
The win was huge for Tipperary because they had defeated four-time winner Kilkenny and stopped their winning streak. The Tipperary flags strewn about the countryside are testament to the pride the county has in its sports teams.
Meredith, Annie and I chatted with the boys for awhile before returning home to get some shut eye.
Day 8: Mingling with the Locals
My sister Annie’s old roommate Maeve O’Neill was born in Ireland in a small village called Kilcash, so on Saturday morning my mom, sisters Annie and Paige and I all decided to try and find the house Maeve grew up in. We traveled the one-lane roads to Kilcash and tried to guess which house was theirs. When we couldn’t find it, we pulled into a dairy farm and saw a woman coming back from a run. Annie hopped out of the car to ask her where the O’Neills lived. It turned out that the woman, Martha, was an O’Neill by marriage. She immediately invited us in for tea and biscuits.
We sat around her wooden table while she poured fresh milk from a bucket into a small pitcher and fixed us a cup of “proper tea,” as she kept calling it. It was warm, creamy and delicious. We told her stories of our travels across Ireland and Martha and her daughter Avery, who had just gotten back from an early morning pony ride, suggested places to stop on our way back to Dublin.
Afterwards, Avery took us to see the dairy farm, Maeve’s house and their 90 dairy cows. Mom, Annie and Paige jigged in front of Maeve’s house, and we met another one of Maeve’s aunts and a cousin who came over and introduced themselves. (Unfortunately, someone had unplugged my camera battery the night before while it was charging, and it died right before I could snap a photo of everyone.)
We headed into Maeve’s mom’s hometown, Clonmel. We walked around the M&S, the first department store we’d seen, rode the travelator (a combo escalator/elevator) and then had lunch at Eddie Rocket’s, a Johnny Rocket’s knockoff. One thing we’ve noticed is that the Irish REALLY like salad dressing. I had a blue cheese, apple and walnut salad, Annie had a delicious footlong hotdog and Paige and mom both got giant burgers. It was a tasty American-style meal.
On our way home we stopped at the local butcher to get steaks for dinner, and then Paige, Bart, Louis and I went to visit Ying-Yang , the horse Paige and Bart had befriended. He trotted right over to eat some of our carrots.
We returned home to get some R&R before attending the 7 p.m. Catholic mass. Most of my family is Lutheran, but my dad and sister Paige are devout Catholics so we usually follow their lead when it comes to services. We were all pleasantly surprised when the entire mass lasted approximately 30 minutes. As soon as it was over my mom announced that she’d be like to be an Irish Catholic, and that everyone must just be in a hurry to get to the pub.
My mom and aunt took over my kitchen duties for the night and prepared dinner for us all, although I did help Brian grill all our steaks. Everyone had been bitching about how long it took me to make dinner, but after my ma had spent some time in the kitchen she remarked to me: “I don’t know how you’ve been cooking in this kitchen!” “Amen!” I thought. Cooking for 13 is not an easy task, especially when you’re in an unfamiliar kitchen with strange appliances and dull knives.
It being our last night at the castle, we knew we had to polish off the half dozen or so bottles of wine we had left. The last drop was gone before we had finished dinner, so Meredith, Dad and I all headed to O’Henney’s for a pint as soon as we finished our meals.
When we arrived at O’Henney’s the crowd was celebrating nothing less than Mr. O’Henney’s 50th birthday and the pub was the most packed we had seen it. It turns out that the local undertaker is also the owner of the local pub. My parents are both funeral directors (and my brother is in line to take over the business), so we thought opening a pub next to one of their funeral homes in Kentucky sounded like a great idea!
We struck up a conversation with some of the birthday party attendees—a woman named Marie, her friend Maria, and Marie’s daughter, Niemh (pronounced Neve), who was acting as DD for her mama. Niemh was a student at Tipperary College and Meredith and I loved chatting with a girl close to our own age.
My dad, ready for a good night’s rest, was afraid for us to walk home by ourselves. To help us defend ourselves against what my dad called “the Bansha rapist” (a fictionary character, indeed), my dad offered up his flashlight. We could beat just about anyone down with that 10 lb. Maglite. Luckily when we walked home a few hours later, we didn’t need to use our weapon. Instead, we said a little prayer to Mary in the grotto right next to Bansha Castle, crawled into bed, and slept the Yankees to playoff victory for my boyfriend, Doug, who couldn’t make it on our trip.
Emerald Isle: One of the Seven New Natural Wonders of the World October 9, 2010
Day 6: The Cliffs of Mohr and The Burren Region
We woke up extra early to make the two-hour trek to the Cliffs of Mohr, one of the most breathtaking and dramatic stretches of Ireland’s west coast. We changed up cars yet again, and I got to ride with my dad and my two sisters, Annie and Paige.
The scenery on the way to the cliffs was almost as beautiful as the cliffs themselves.
Emerald Isle: From Medieval to Modern October 7, 2010
Day 4: Touring the Tipperary Region
Mom and dad herded us all out of bed and into the car to do some sightseeing. We first made our way to the Rock of Cashel, a royal stronghold for the Kings of Muenster in southern Ireland from the 4th and 5th century. In 1101 it was turned over to the church and made into a cathedral. A redheaded tour guide showed us around the ruins.
According to one Irish legend, if you jump around the site’s statue of St. Patrick’s Cross on one foot counterclockwise nine times you’ll be married within the year. My sister’s boyfriend Bart and I tried to do it, but it turns out it’s pretty hard to jump around on one foot on uneven ground.
From the Rock of Cashel we could see the ruins of the Hore Abbey, and we knew we had to go check it out.
Since there weren’t any tour guides, we tromped through the tall grass to see Hore Abbey from all sides and gave ourselves a tour of the place.
The restaurant we were supposed to eat at was right next to the Rock of Cashel, but Ma lost her notes, so we were already headed to the small town of Cahir (pronounced CARE) before we realized what we’d done. For some strange reason, one of the townspeople recommended a local cafeteria to us. We’d already stormed the place before we realized what it really was.
Let’s just say that Ireland is not a foodie’s paradise. After lunch at said cafeteria, I began calling Ireland “The Land of 10,000 Bad Tastes.” Almost everything is under-seasoned, and I don’t believe the Irish take advantage of the wonderful world of herbs and spices. You’re practically guaranteed to get either French fries or mashed potatoes no matter what kind of dish you order, and all the pubs we’ve visited offer similar dishes—fried fish and chips, seafood chowder, hamburgers, bacon and cabbage, and bangers and mash.
I’m trying to give Irish food a shadow of a doubt though, and I’m hoping the food will get better along the way. One thing the Irish do amazingly well is butter, which is probably because there are cows everywhere you look. It’s rich and creamy and almost always local.
We pondered visiting Cahir Castle after lunch, but the docent didn’t do a very good job on selling us on taking a tour. Instead, my mom was eager to check out the Swiss Cottage, an extraordinary example of a cottage orne, or rustic ornamental cottage used by the wealthy as a backwoods playground. Think of Snow White’s house but with servants instead of dwarfs.
John Nash designed the cottage for the Butlers in 1810. The couple wanted to escape the pressures and frivolities of wealthy life by hiding out in the countryside and dressing like peasants. Stylistically, an ornamental cottage should blend in with its natural surroundings and all of its designs should ceom from nature—no two things should be alike—so the windows and sloping eaves are all different. It even has a thatched roof. The cottage really was just gorgeous.
Afterwards, we headed back to the castle for a homemade feast. The sweet smell of rosemary-lemon chicken wafted through the air as I whipped up mashed potatoes and fried up bacon and Brussels sprouts.
The family was hankering to hear some traditional Irish music, so we headed to Tipperary town to a pub called the Kickham. There, a group of middle-aged and elderly Irish men and women gathered together to play traditional Irish folk songs. Let’s just say that the simple beauty of it blew us all away. I took a few videos, but I’m working on getting them on the blog. Here are some pics to satiate your curiosity in the mean time.
Day 5: Kinsale: Gourmet Capital of Ireland
After eating so much bar food, I was excited to visit Kinsale, the alleged Gourmet Capital of Ireland. A port town, Kinsale is situated in the Cork region on the estuary of the Bandon River, one of the most scenic harbors in Ireland. When we arrived in the Kinsale at 11 a.m., the tide had yet to come up, so many of the boats were actually sitting in mud—a very strange sight to see, indeed. By the time we left at 4 p.m., the tide had risen up about 20 feet by the time we left, and large fish dotted the waters.
We split up to explore Kinsale. Most of us went shopping, while others went hiking, fishing or to visit the local monastery and church. It really was a picturesque little town, and we found some of the best shopping we’d seen since we started our trip.
My sister Annie and I happened upon one Irish artist’s main art gallery. Eion O’Connor does bright colorful painting of the the Irish countryside and farm animals. I really wanted to purchase this cow painting, but I opted for a bright print of the countryside instead.
According to my guidebook, the town’s annual Festival of Fine Food draws food lovers from all over Ireland. The variety of restaurants in Kinsale spoke volumes for the town’s culinary heritage. There were tapas bars, Indian and Basmati restaurants, seafood spots, wine bars and what looked to be verifiable Italian restaurants—this was a far cry from the pubs and Chinese restaurants we’ve seen in almost every town across the south of Ireland. We made reservations at Fishy Fishy, a lovely spot not far from the marina that our host, Teresa, suggested.
We started with oyster shooters, steamed mussels and Irish brown bread. I ordered the pan-fried cod with creamed cabbage, crispy potatoes and whole-grain mustard cream sauce. It was by far the most gourmet dish I’ve eaten in Ireland.
My brother ordered a light and yummy rendition of fish and chips made with haddock.
We shopped around for another hour before beginning the two-hour drive back to the castle. I rode with my Aunt Margie, who’s a little nervous and jumpy about driving on the left side of the road, so I tried to nap as we weaved our way around the myriad roundabouts the Irish use to control traffic instead of traffic signals. My aunt hates them, but I think it’s a great system because then the state has almost no need for traffic lights or stop signs. Just yield and go.
Exhausted from our travels and knowing that we’d be waking up early to visit the Cliffs of Mohr on Thursday, we stayed in and hung out around the castle instead of going out. We knew we’d be able to visit Nellie’s pub down the street another night.
Emerald Isle: I’ve Got the Keys to the Castle! October 6, 2010
Ireland Day 2: On the Road to Bansha Castle
We attempted to start our second day in Ireland bright and early, but rental car mishaps and directions from a confused local pushed our start time to noon. We piled into the three cars we rented and followed a kindly taxi driver to the highway. (Let’s just say we learned a lesson early on about getting around Dublin on our own.)
On our drive to Bansha Castle in Tipperary County, we stopped at Kilkenny to see the local castle and have lunch. We ate a local pub and then some of us went through the castle, while the rest of us just explored the beautiful grounds.