Friday, August 20, 2010

Farm to Fork


I'll just let you savor this photo for a minute. Go on, have a look. Don't you wish you could smell it? All the herbs, fresh veg, spuds two ways... It's okay to drool. Have a good look. Yummy!

In Ireland, Farm to Fork is an initiative of traceability of food, literally from sourcing at the farm and tracing each step until it reaches your plate. Since the initiative was introduced, the quality of home grown foods has improved significantly. When I say 'home grown' I mean food grown in Ireland for consumption in Ireland. These foods have a modern history of only being available at farmer's markets, and while supermarkets are keen to sell Irish grown produce, farmer's markets are still THE place to go for the best of the best. Unless you grow it yourself. In this case, I'm talking tomatoes. Or in Irish, trátaí...pronounced traw-tee.

In my last post, I shared a photo of our tomato plant, which we're growing in our office window because it's so bright and warm there. Also on that post is a photo of the first of the tomatoes to fruit on the vine. Well, here are those same tomatoes, ripened and ready for eating.

Aren't they pretty little things? They weren't very big. Perhaps the size of a small lemon. But they were firm and smelled lovely. So I gave them a rinse and prepared them for the meal. A vegetable fritatta with tomato salsa.

I have to stop here and say I've never grown tomatoes before, so this has been a great learning experience for me. I tried growing one vine years ago in my kitchen window when we lived in Macroom, but the window just didn't get a lot of light or heat. The vine grew a little, then died. With our new office window and so much warmth and light, it was the perfect place to grow tomatoes. And the vine has gone insane. It's currently up to the ceiling, curling around the ceiling and will probably need another support so the flowers will develop into tomatoes and have support so they don't break the vine. After this first batch, I'm determined to grow as many tomatoes as possible while I can. And look how gorgeous they are sliced in half. To be honest, there weren't a lot of seeds. and they were so ripe, the skins peeled off in a snap.

So, onto the fritatta. We had leftover new season spuds from the night before and some off cuts of various veg in the fridge that needed to be eaten. I'm tired of stir fry so what a better way to use them up than in a fritatta. Here's the recipe I used, but keep in mind that any veg you have going spare in the fridge, or even some peas or corn from the freezer, works great. I also added in a couple slices of thick cut BBQ deli ham...since we had it. Us whatever your favorite combination of veg is. Just make it colorful. Like, don't just use all green or it will just be boring looking, even if it tastes good. Part of eating enjoyment is the visual. You'll see what I mean in a minute.

Here's the recipe...

4 new season spuds, precooked and cooled, skinned, slice two thinly, dice the other two, keep separate
1 medium yellow or white onion, diced (can use scallions if you prefer, or more onion if you really like onion)
1 medium bell pepper, diced (red, yellow or orange, or a combination of colors)
1 handful of broccoli, sliced thin
1 handful of asparagus, diced
1 medium ripe tomato, deseeded, skinned and rough chopped
2 large cloves of garlic, rough chopped
2-3 teaspoons dried mixed herbs (or if you have fresh, go for it!)
8 large eggs, scrambled well
1 large dollup sour cream
salt and pepper to taste
Good olive oil for cooking

Method

Turn on the broiler or grill first so it can heat up while you're sauteing your veg.

Put a medium sized heavy non-stick skillet on medium to high heat, add a generous amount of olive oil. When hot, gently toss in your sliced spuds. You want to lightly brown them on both sides. While these are cooking, you can prepare your other veg, unless you're efficient and have them already done. Brown the spuds in batches so you don't break up the slices. As they cook, remove onto kitchen paper to drain.

When you're done browning the sliced spuds (remember they're already cooked, you're just reheating and browning), cook up your diced spuds. Cook them like country fries. You want to be sure there's a generous amount of oil in the skillet for this because you want these crispy when they're done. Cook in batches so they don't just steam. Remove to kitchen paper to drain and get ready to saute your veg.

Your veg should be diced. Not too finely, but not too chunky. You want them to saute quickly. You probably won't need more oil after the country fries, but if you do, use it. I never said this was a non-fat meal! When the oil hot, toss in the onions and peppers first. Mix well and saute for a minute or two before adding in the broccoli and asparagus. Continue stirring occasionally so nothing sticks or burns.

While this is cooking, mix all 8 eggs in a large container and scramble well with the sour cream. Add a little salt and pepper if desired.

Just before the veg is completely cooked, add in the garlic and mixed herbs and stir well. Be sure the veg is evenly coated with the herbs.

When this task is completed, remove the veg from the skillet into a bowl and wipe down the skillet to remove any residual cooked-on bits. Return to the heat, add enough olive oil to thinly coat the bottom of the skillet. Turn down the heat to medium and return the sliced spuds to the skillet. Arrange evenly at first. Any leftovers can be doubled up to cover any big gaps in the first layer. Then spoon your cooked veg onto the spuds and layer evenly.

At this point, if you want to add in some sliced precooked meat, such as the thick sliced BBQ deli ham I used, or even some precooked chorizo, which would be nice, add it now on it's own layer. The result should look something like the picture below on the left.

Once your layers are completed, pour your scrambled egg mixture over the lot. Gently giggle the skillet to jostle the veg and allow the eggs to get into all the gaps. Use the back of a silicone spatula to press the veg down and to rearrange the veg so all the colored veg is spread evenly around the skillet. When you're satisfied, add your chopped tomato to the top. Now your skillet should look like the above photo on the right. Yum!

Allow the mixture to cook on the stove for a few minutes. Use the silicone spatula around the edge of the egg to loosen it from the skillet, pulling the veg mix from the edge too so it doesn't stick. If you're brave, you can use your silicone spatula to gently lift the edge of the fritatta, tilt the skillet so any excess egg runs to the bottom of the fritatta. This will do two things -- 1) help to keep the bottom from burning, and 2) shorten the cooking time under the broiler/grill.

As the fritatta is cooking, add your country fries to the top. When you're satisfied the lower half of the fritatta is cooking, slide the skillet under your preheated broiler/grill. Not too close, perhaps the second rungs down. You don't want to burn the eggs. Just brown them nicely and cook them all the way to the middle. The bottom will have already cooked on the stove. You're just finishing off the top. Don't be afraid to pull out the skillet a few times and use your spatula around the edge. During this part of cooking, the eggs will puff up and should pull away from the edge naturally. Test the middle to be sure the eggs are cooking.

While the fritatta is cooking under the broiler/grill, make your salsa.
Here's the recipe...

2 medium ripe tomatoes, deseeded, skinned and rough chopped
1 small red onion, finely diced
1 medium garlic clove, finely diced
1/2 small jalapeno pepper, deseeded and finely diced (can use Ortega roasted chilies, about 1 tbsp or to taste)
cilantro, a small bunch, finely chop the leafy parts, discard the stems
splash lime juice
salt and pepper to taste

Method

Add all of your ingredients to a bowl as you cut them. Blend well, adding a small splash of lime juice. Use a small spoon to taste for flavor, adding salt and pepper to taste, or more lime, cilantro or chilies. Salsa is subjective, so just add whatever extra flavors you want until it's perfect for you.
When you're done, the salsa should look something like the picture below on the left.
Note: If you double the salsa recipe, reserve half and peel some avocados for guacamole! Unfortunately, I didn't have any ripe avocados or you would have also got that recipe.

When your fritatta is done, remove from the oven and let it sit for a couple minutes to firm up. Then gently remove it from the skillet onto a large serving dish. It should look something like the picture below on the left.

Slice as you would a quiche. Admire your layered veg on the inside! This is what I meant above. If you just use one color veg, you won't have all the lovely colors mingling through the eggs.

Serve warm with your homemade salsa on the side, along side some guacamole if you made it.

This is a great all-in-one meal. Serves 4 generous portions. In each serving you have most of your daily veg, just two eggs, and all the goodness that comes from wholesome ingredients. It also makes a wonderful breakfast. No better way to start the day!

So this is my Farm to Fork. I grew the tomatoes in my office window...my farm...and they went straight onto my fork two ways...added to the top of the fritatta and in my salsa.

Reader challenge -- Make your own fritatta and salsa, then send me the pictures. I'll post them on a future blog. Go on. Start now. I'll wait!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Money Makers, Bougs and Testicle Fruit

Never mind me. I'm just going to blather on about my plants again. Seems I do this every summer. Usually because I have something growing somewhere. This year it's Money Maker Tomatoes.

There are actually two tomato plants growing in the one pot. Having never grown tomatoes before I had no idea they'd take over the place. It's barely noticeable, but there is a central stake with two rings attached to hold the plant upright. But the pot is very shallow so we had to anchor that with a few bamboo stakes to keep the thing from falling over.

Currently, this pair are sucking down about a liter of water a day. Saturday I poured in two liters because we were away over the weekend. But sure enough, this morning I had to soak them again because the dirt was looking dry and cracked. I can tell when I've over-watered when excess water drains into the catch tray. I've never once seen water in the catch tray of these greedy water mongers!

At least they're healthy. I've been feeding them about every other watering, mostly because I forget every time, but there are loads of yellow flowers coming out, and as you can see, the first batch of tomatoes has started. They're about golf ball size at the moment, but I'm hoping if I can remember to feed every watering that they'll grow big and plump.

Anyone who knows me knows I can't stand raw tomatoes, so it's funny that I'm growing them. But that doesn't mean I have to leave them raw. Ratatouille here I come!

It seems our office just loves the light. The living room and office both are in the front of the house, but it's funny how just a few feet make all the difference. The living room gets sun, but not like the office. The office is usually a couple degrees warmer than the living room, and miles warmer than the back of the house. In here I'm growing not just my tomatoes, but also my avocado tree, which I thought I'd killed last October when we moved. The first weekend we were here we had a nasty frost and the tree dropped all it's leaves and the trunk died half way down. But I brought it in, watered it well and put it in front of the window, which is also where the radiator is. It's also a water monger, but at least I didn't kill it. That would be a shame after growing it from a pit from the fruit about 13 years ago! At one time it was up to the ceiling, but it's a tidy little bonsai wannabe now.

I don't know why I've done it, but I've started a couple more avocado trees on my kitchen window sill. Well, I might know why. Peter got a bonsai tree for Xmas and I thought it might be fun to see what a bonsai avocado would look like. I'll need to get new pots though because the one we had when Peter repotted his tree is now growing a bonsai sycamore...as pulled out of the gravel from our driveway!

I know I'll never get avocado trees from the pits. It's just not hot enough in Ireland. They also require a second plant to cross pollinate. Maybe the new pair will give us some results!

Did you know that the word avocado comes from the Nahuatl Aztec word ahuacatl which means testicle, a reference to the shape of the fruit, and because they grow in pairs. The word can be compounded with other words, as in ahuacamolli, meaning 'avocado soup or sauce', from which the Mexican Spanish word guacamole derives. Did you also know that the English language includes many Nahuatl words? I bet you didn't know the words chili, chocolate, coyote and tomato are also originally Nahuatl words. Cool or what?!

My real pride and joy at the moment is my bougainvillea. Bougs are sun worshipers, and well, Ireland doesn't really get much sun. This summer though has turned out really bright and warm and my boug is loving it.

When I bought my boug it was literally the pot and a flowered head at the top of a bare stalk. The first week I had it, it dropped all the flowers and I almost thought I'd killed it because I know how fussy they can be. But the leaves were still green and healthy and once it saw the sun it exploded with hundreds of flowers and just keeps blooming and growing.

There's a great garden center we love to go to on the weekends called Johnstown Garden Centre. It's a huge place that includes a big wing full of house and hot house plants. In it they have a few bougs that have been bonsaied. They're in big shallow pots, but the trunks on them are huge and the overall plant isn't more than four feet high.

If I stretch out my arms to either side of me, these bougs are easily that wide, and them some. Not ideal for just any home, and especially not at the price they're asking. But I pretend they're mine, but that they live in the shop! Every now and again, the staff move them and they drop their flowers, but the next week we go back and their flourishing again.

Meanwhile, I just keep watering mine and feeding it occasionally. I know they really like to be left alone and watered occasionally.

I remember the bougs growing up the side of our garage when I was younger. They'd only get watered when it rained (not often on the Central Coast though they also seemed to like the early morning and late evening fog) or when I washed my car. They grew up the south facing wall so they were in sunlight all day, and the white stucco house reflected back the heat onto them. The plants must have loved it because they were huge. If they hadn't been so thorny, I could have thrown myself into them. I don't actually like the color pink, but I make an exception for bougs! They're not really pink at all but a wilder version of purple!

And did I mention my watering can is purple? Yeah, baby!!

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Independence Daisie

Independence Day, 4 July, means more to us than just an American holiday, fireworks and barbecued food. Today, eight years ago, our dog Daisie was born.

Well, we assume she was born eight years ago today, as that's when a farmer found her and her sisters. Four newborn pups had been put into a plastic fertilizer bag that was tied with bailing wire and thrown into a bramble covered ditch up a quiet country road! It was a miracle that the man was walking in his field that day and heard the crying. He immediately took the puppies to a local woman who worked with the local no-kill shelter. Based on the looks of the pups and the day that was in it, they had to have been born and disposed of that day.

The pups were raised by this woman in her home for eight weeks, then put them up for adoption. She advertised them on the shelter's website, which is where I first saw them. Daisie's the one in back with the big, white blaze. When we went to the rescuers home to look at the puppies, they were scrambling around like crazy furballs.

When we heard the story of their discovery and how they came to be in this place we were heartbroken and overjoyed at the same time. How could anyone throw away such adorable fluff muffins?? But how fortunate that one of them chose US to go home with? We would have taken them all if we could.

As we chatted, one puppy came over to us and laid down at our feet. And went to sleep. While the others gamboled around like tops, this pup felt safe enough with us to take a little nap at our feet.

As I was going through the pictures we've taken of her through the years I found it difficult to pick which ones I wanted to share. I first thought one from each year would be fun, but as I started collecting them, two things came to mind:

1) There were too many to choose from. Not everyone loves Daisie like we do so they probably wouldn't want to look through our 'baby pictures.'

2) I started getting sad. Daisie has always been a very healthy dog, but she's getting older and she has early onset canine dysplasia which has gotten much worse in the last year. While she's on medication, we're aware that she won't have as long with us as a dog without dysplasia. Going through all of her pictures made me melancholy. It was like I was putting together a memorial.

So I scrapped the picture for every year idea and decided on these few. Even while I'm still melancholy, I can't help but realize just what a happy dog Daisie is. I couldn't find a single picture in the hundreds we have where she looks anything but happy. And that makes me feel really good that we made the right decision to take home the little pup who fell asleep at our feet.

So here's Daisie over the years doing some of the things that make her the happiest.

This picture was when we took Daisie to a hill farmer friend in West Cork. Border Collies are said to be the smartest dogs on the planet. I can attest to that. But the first day we took Daisie to his farm, he let her loose in one of his fields and we both watch in stunned amazement how she ran up the field, circled the sheep and brought them down to us. No commands. And she'd never been let out with sheep before that day. She'd seen them from the car as we drove, or walking along our road at home, but never like this. Our friend was so impressed with her he offered to buy her! That was never going to happen, but we did let him keep her for a month to train. And so impressed was he that he talked to his chums about her. When we brought her home again we had arranged to take her back three days a week so WE could learn the work. We also attended a regional herding trial held on our friend's farm, where several of the competitors said that Daisie was the talk of the group. Our friend was also so impressed, he suggested we train her for trials. They would help us find a way to get her in even though we couldn't prove her lineage, and that she was fixed. Let me tell you, many of the farmers that day asked if their best dogs could mate with Daisie.

Unfortunately, it was a few months after this time when we had to take Daisie off sheep because we realized her hip wasn't strong enough for the job. She was about two at that time, if I remember correctly. But that's OK. Fun is fun, sheep or toys, it's all the same to Daisie.

This picture up is, obviously, Daisie in the water. I swear, she must have been a tuna in a former life, but cause she LOVES the water. In the summer months when we still lived in West Cork, she could often be found snorkeling in one of the deep areas of the stream along our property. Doesn't matter where she is, if there's water, she's in it. Head under and looking for rocks. She brings them up to us, then races back into the water and waits for us to throw it back in. Then she goes snorkeling again. Rarely does she bring back the same rocks. Doesn't matter. She loves the game.

And it doesn't matter if it's liquid water or the frozen stuff. The next picture is her in the snow. She loves snow about as much as she loves the water. The first time we took her to the snow she loved it so much she refused to get back in the car to go home. It was like herding sheep ourselves as we both surrounded her and guided her to an area where she coundn't escape. We hated having to get her back in the car, but it was getting dark and neither of us fancied staying in the woods all night. And certainly not in the snow. But every chance we've had over the years, we've taken her to the snow.

This last winter was harsh in Ireland and the new place we're living in Kildare was blanketed in snow for a few weeks. The longest snow we've had in 50 years I'm told. Daisie loved it! We took her out often under the guise of going potty, but she'd have none of that. She wanted to play. The above was her sometime this January. I had tossed her a snowball. She caught it in her mouth and it immediately disintegrated. The look here was 'What happened? I had it a second ago!' She's looking at a spot in the snow where she thought it went and was gazing intently, waiting for it to reappear like one of those 'pop goes the weasel' games.

Now that the weather has improved, and we're getting some very long and very warm days, Daisie gets to go out for more play times than in the winter. But some days she prefers to just lay in the sun in my office. As the sun moves across the floor, so does Daisie.

Finally, the last picture is Daisie doing what she loves the most. Waiting for me to throw the ball. This is Daisie's adapted version of a collie crouch. She goes down on her elbows and waits. Her paws crossed. That's supposed to be a sign of intelligence. I don't know if that's true or not, but I do know that she knows the name of more than 200 toys (including ones she no longer has). She remembers people she's met through her life, even if she doesn't see them very often. And even though she hasn't worked sheep since she was two, her instincts are clear. A few incidents have reminded both myself and my husband how ingrained her instincts are.

Once when another friend was winter his horses on our back property in West Cork, one of them got loose and found its way to our house over the hill. Daisie saw the horse on the rise and ran right out to it. And drove the horse to where I was standing. Incredible.

And recently when we'd taken the dogs to the Curragh in Kildare, where sheep graze in the thousands over several thousand open acres, Daisie spotted some sheep coming over the rise. The Curragh is a great place to take a tennis racket and ball and let the dogs run after it. But when Daisie spotted sheep trotting past the car she abandoned the ball and ran for the sheep. Instincts kicked in and away she went. It was incredible to see her work. This last picture was taken on that day. No sooner had we called her back, she ran up the grass once more and right into her waiting position. And this is the position that greets us every time we take her out for potties. No matter how badly she has to 'go', she always wants to chase the ball first. We can all take a lesson from Daisie, no matter how bad you think you have it. Run around with your friends, play as often as you can, take time to enjoy the sun, and always remember, no matter what, your family loves you.

Happy Birthday, Daisie!!!

I don't usually make such a public announcement of our dogs' birthdays (Poppy was born on Christmas Day!), but with the recent release of my book, A Piece of My Heart, some have asked what inspired me to write the story. Plain and simple. Daisie had a story to tell. Since she can't type, I wrote it for her. Daisie's original name when we got her, rather when she got us, was Molly. (sisters Millie, Minnie and Missie...real original!) Long story short, Daisie is the Molly in my story. And the incident on the farm in the story came from Daisie. So A Piece of My Heart is as much Daisie's story as it is mine. And let's face. She certainly has a piece of MY heart!!



Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Heart Shaped Scones

I keep saying I'm going to post a photo of my heart shaped scones and get sidetracked with other things. But I made scones last night and thought I better do it now or live forever with the nickname The Procrastinator! (said with a really bad Arnold accent)

These scones seem appropriate to me in so many ways. Firstly, every time I make them I'm reminded of my recently released book, A Piece of My Heart, and I have to wonder if Kate ever made these for Mick. I'm sure she has!

Also, and it can't be missed...heart shaped stones...scones. Get it? OK, that was lame, but it's cute. Admit it!!

But really, most of all, when I'm making scones I'm usually doing it for company or my dear husband. I'm rarely known for being overly traditional, so cutting the scone dough with a round cutter is just borrrring! And what better way to say 'I love you' to someone than with fresh, home baked scones shaped like hearts? They're something to share...take a big heart shaped scone and break it in two, sharing one side with your lover. And yes, having more than one between you is totally allowed! ;-)

Recently, some of my family came to Ireland for a visit. They arrived on American Mother's Day (Irish Mothering Day is exactly three Sundays before Easter Sunday). Because my cousin's mother-in-law was in the group and they arrived early in the morning, I decided to make a batch of heart shaped scones for their arrival to say, 'Welcome to Ireland, and happy Mother's Day!' Let me tell you. They went over so well I was making scones for breakfast every morning. But it was worth it to see the joy on everyone's faces.

OK, so you're asking for a recipe. I have to admit, I'm a lazy baker, and the Odlums company has made it SO easy for me to bake. They have a wonderful Quick line for making various breads, including scones. Simply dump the contents of the package into a bowl, add 250ml (1 cup) of milk, and mix. Don't over mix. I prefer plain scones, but dried fruit can be added into these very easily, and/or nuts. Whatever you like. This is a great basic scone and very adaptable.

When I do make home made scones, the Joy of Cooking website has a great recipe for Basic Scones.

One tip I must share about baking scones. If you're never sure if they're done, even if they've browned on top, is to use that little bit of dough left over after cutting them out as a timer. Roughly shape it into a slightly flattened round, something about the same height as the cut scones and place in the center of the cookie sheet. When your timer goes off, break open that leftover bit. If it's done inside, the scones are done. If it still feels tacky or looks undone, leave the scones in another couple of minutes. That's the best timer you'll ever need!

However you make your scones, be sure to serve them warm with clotted cream or real butter and homemade jam. Shown here is Ireland's own brand by Folláin's Blackberry Jam. Yum!!

Must mention Folláin jams. They're located in the country village of Ballvourney in West Cork, the village behind our property in the townland of Macroom. Folláin makes their james with 100% fruit, no preservatives, no added colorings, nothing artificial. It's pure fruit, some sugar and a lot of TLC. Folláin is actually the word for wholesome so they have a lot to live up to.

If you'll excuse me now, I'm going to pour myself a glass of milk and have one of these little lovelies!

Goile maith agat! (Irish for bon appétit...and you know what that means!)

Friday, April 23, 2010

A Different Kettle of Fish Altogether

It wasn't too bad. Actually, it was pretty OK.

My birthday was Saturday the 10th. And for a couple weeks before, my DH (dear husband) Peter kept asking me what I wanted. I kept saying, "A cake and Taco Taco." You'll understand the latter in a minute. To be honest, I didn't expect a cake. I just like winding him up! But he rose to the challenge and brought home a cake Friday evening. Not only did he get a cake, he got a chocolate one! Well, of course we couldn't let it sit until the next day, so on went the candles, out came the extinguisher, and soon there were slices on the plate. And to be fair, that cake was full of cocoa goodness all the way through.

The next day we got up relatively early and took the LUAS light rail into Dublin City for a few hours. The journey is about half an hour, part of which is spent along a section of the Grand Canal, which is really lovely. The Grand Canal and the Royal Canal were built in the mid 18th century as a way to connect Dublin to the west and transport goods.

We disembarked the train on the Jervis Street stop and spent the day between O'Connell Street and Smithfield, which is an area just north of the River Liffey, most of which is locals territory, ie: very few tourists. Our first port of call, Taco Taco!

In all the years I've lived in Ireland and the time I've lived around Dublin, I'd never heard of the Epicurean Food Hall. It was mentioned in discussion on Ravelry when some American expats living here groused about things we missed from America. The main thing was masa harina--lime treated corn meal, effectively, which is used to make corn tortillas, chili rellenos, and other delicious Mexican dishes. One gal said, "Oh, you can get masa in Taco Taco in the food hall." My eyes snapped open. "Say what?" I got the low down on the food hall and put that on my list of first places to visit when we were in the city next. And my birthday was the day!

The food hall appears to be a covered courtyard of sorts, the roof of which is glass. Around the perimeter are ethnic food counters...Greek, Italian (pizza and pasta, and one for coffee and desserts), Pan Asian, German, Turkish (kababs), Irish (Burdock's Fish and Chips), as well as a NY bagel bar, a sandwhich counter, cupcake counter and Mexican. The center of the hall is all seating under the glass roof. As I understand it, Tuesday and Thursday evenings, there's live Irish music and dancing.

So, we come to Taco Taco. This food counter sells all kinds of traditional Mexican yummies...borritos, enchiladas, quesadillas, nachos, and yes, tacos. And the prices are really affordable, especially compared to a sit down restaurant. My order of beef tacos was just €4.25. The guacamole was something like 50 cent extra, but well worth the cost. The avocado was fresh, as were the tomatoes, onions and spices in it. The salsa was just as fresh. Peter got a burrito the size of a rocket ship! It was full of beans, rice and roasted chicken. We washed our lunches down with Dr Pepper and contemplated our next plan of action.


Taco Taco also sells a few items for customers to take home, including salsa, mole sauce, tins of tomatillos, frejoles (refried beans...negro and traditional), green sauce, etc. and sacks of Maseca masa harina. They also sell premade corn tortillas in two styles. Didn't know there were two styles! One is a traditional thin yellow tortilla I'm familiar with from home. They're usually fried for tacos and tostadas, or rolled for flautas, or cut for chips. The others were smaller, thicker, and creamy colored. The woman at Taco Taco told me the bigger ones are used for tacos dorados, basically, traditional tacos. The others are for steaming. I made notes of what I wanted so I could return on the way home and buy a few things. Didn't need to carry around a 5 pound sack of corn flour!

Edited to add that the Epicurean Food Hall closed March 2016 :-(

From the food hall, we ventured a block down to the River Liffey. Typical of Ireland, the street name changes at just about every junction. When we reached the river, the road to the left (east) is Bachelor's Walk, and to the right (west) is Lower Ormond Street, named for the Earls of Ormond from the 13th century...incidentally, the title passed to Thomas Boleyn, father of Anne Boleyn, and who was given land in the lower midlands. Part of Anne's dowery was a tower near Holycross, Co Tipperary which is now part of the larger Farney Castle. But I digress.

Over the river is the famous Ha'penny Bridge, so named because it used to cost a half penny, or ha'penny, to cross it. It's free today, and just as lovely as it was on opening day. The big archway in the building across the river leads into Temple Bar, famous for traditional Irish food and music. The ugly building in the background is the Central Bank, controversial when it was constructed because it's just so damn ugly.

Directly to the east of the bridge, parallel to Bachelor's Walk, the city built an great boardwalk suspended over part of the river. It's a popular spot for city workers to sit and take their lunches on a fine day, or just stroll without being hampered by street traffic.

On the corner of Lower Ormond and overlooking the bridge is the Dublin Woollen Mills. Don't let the name fool you. It's basically a fabric store with a very small yarn/wool department, but it's been around for years. With so few yarn shops around Ireland, even in Dublin, every little bit helps those with a knitty addiction.

Here's one of Dublin's monuments, a pair of old dears enjoying a good auld chinwag in the sun! Sponsored by Arnott's Dept Store, as you can see by yer wan's bag.

Speaking of Arnott's Dept Store, it's seen here to the extreme right with the red brick architecture. I've said to Peter for years that someone should open and Artoo's beside Arnott's! ;-) It should be noted that Arnott's is Ireland's oldest and largest department store, having been opened in 1843 by Sir John Arnott. The store has three floors and takes up most of the 'block' behind the GPO, which is the General Post Office, on O'Connell Street. Bloody big!


In the distance is the Monument of Light, aka the Millennium Spire, the Spire of Dublin, the Dublin Spire, the Spike, the Spike in the Dyke, the Stiletto in the Ghetto, and the Erection at the Intersection. I kind of like the last one! The spire is 398 feet tall and capped with a light that's supposed to be seen from space. Along with the light at the Luxor in Las Vegas, maybe a few other countries should adopt this and spell out HELP across the planet. Hmm...

Anyway, this road is Henry Street and is just a couple streets up from the river going toward O'Connell Street, which is the main street of the city. Just before O'Connell Street is the famous Moore Street. What makes this side street famous? There's a daily street market here. Mainly produce sellers, but also florists. Market stalls line both sides of the street the full length of the street. And when it's busy, sellers move onto Henry Street. Both streets are mainly pedestrianized during the day.

Where do they get their produce, I hear you ask? There's a place a few blocks away called the Dublin Produce and Flower Market. It's a huge enclosed area where wholesalers sell their produce and flowers. They open at 6am and are usually done selling before 8am. This is where most of the restaurants, cafes, and pubs that serve meals get their produce. And the street vendors. Anyone can buy from the market, as long as you buy in bulk. Such as a 50 pound sack of onions, 50 and hundreds of peppers, cauliflower, carrots, younameit. Flowers are the same. You can't just buy one bunch. You buy a bucket of bunches. I didn't get a picture, but late in the morning elderly women go into the market with old prams...you know the ones from the movies with the huge wheels...and buy bananas and grapes. They load up the prams and set up on street corners selling them. They're everywhere in this part of the city, but mainly down around Capel Street.

Prices per item are very reasonable, as produce and flowers are sold wholesale, but since you have to buy so much, you'd almost want to take an order from the neighborhood and rent a van before shopping there. But it's fun to see. Unfortunately, we were way too late on Saturday so we returned on the 19th...when we returned to the city for Peter's birthday. We got there before 9am and the place was ghost town. Still too late. Must try the 6am thing some time!!

OK while I'm in that general direction, across from Smithfield Market is the Market Hacienda Bar. When I first saw it I was half expecting to see senorinas and muchachos wandering around. Reminded me a bit of an old bar from San Juan Bautista back home. Haven't seen it open yet, but I fear it's one of those places you go to at night. Might have to give it a miss, as the market area of the city is a ghost town after hours, and at night would be kinda scary if you're not a local! Still...would be interesting to see the inside of the place.

OK, where was I? Oh yeah, Moore Street Market. We walked up and back on Moore Street to see what was for sale. Loads of fruit and veg, but nothing remarkable. I always have my eyes open for artichokes whenever I see a farmer's market or produce market. Sadly, none of those there. Just lots of carrots, onions, potatoes, leeks, beets, etc.

From there, we went into Ilac Shopping Centre. This is a typical indoor shopping center with clothes shops everywhere. Down the center of the mall was a little kiddy go karts and a place for kids to do a sort of bungie swinging. For €4 you can put your under ten on the cables and watch them bounce up and down. One boy who got on thought he was starring in the Olympics, as he was doing backflip after backflip after backflip. He tried to do front flips but couldn't quite get it. He persevered though and eventually figured out that if he put his arms on the front of the cables his center of balance shifted and he'd be able to make it over frontways. He was very proud of himself with the accomplishment.

We sat at a little kiosk selling cupcakes and coffee while we watched the kids. Johnnie Cupcakes is a funny name, but the cupcakes were really good. They have all kinds of flavors and colors, and they specialize in making birthday cakes in the shape of giant cupcakes.

From there we wandered down Mary Street, going toward Smithfield Market...though we didn't realize the market was so close at the time. Mary Street is going into the locals area of the city. Shops cater to local needs. Just as we crossed into locals territory, we spotted the Church Restaurant. Mary's Church was converted not too long ago into a restaurant, and the area surrounding the church is alfresco dining. Behind the church the old gravestones were pulled off the ground and stacked at the back of what they eventually turned into a plaza. Benches surround the center plaza and on one side are all rental bicycles, courtesy of the bike sharing scheme through Dublin Bikes. It's a really cool idea and a great way to get around the city quickly while not having to use a car, bus or train.


There's some great Georgian and Victorian architecture spread around the city, including this part of the city. Such as this Georgian building which now houses AXA Insurance. It's amazing that the decor on these buildings have remained intact for so long, especially in an inner city location. The plaster and stone work on this building in particular is impressive. And during restoration, the building was painted in one of the traditional Georgian colors. Really pretty. But, what do I see? Are those cannabis stems near the window arches? Hmm...

From this point on, the area became a very 'locals only' place. Hubba hubba!! OK, I'll try to keep this clean. At the corner of Mary Street and Upper Jervis Lane(?) was Erotic Glam World, which doubled as a head shop. EGW's store front showed off erotic glamor wear...teddies, bra and panty sets, that sort of thing. But there was a 'rear entrance' down the alley. The walk of shame includes this interesting mural. The front door was half open through which was very dark standing outside in the bright light. But there was something golden glowing which caught my attention. I tried not to be obvious, but I tried to focus on the guy standing in the doorway. He wore a black leather get-up...mask over his head, silver studded straps crisscrossing his chest, chaps on his legs, and a thong looking thing. Poking out of his thong was a rampant...for the lack of a cleaner word...fake ding dong! This was a mannequin stood near the door to grab attention. Well, the leather get-up at the door was an attention-getter alright, but the shocker was how the golden ding dong shone in the sunlight. I don't shock easily, but this was shocking. "Peter, Peter, look at this. Look. Look, damn it!!" He'd already seen it and was hightailing it down Mary Street away from the shop. Smart man. I was going to take out my camera for a picture. "Peter, come back and stand by the door!! Where you going??" ;-)

Needless to say, no pictures of Ding Dong Man, but I did get this picture. The Sinn Fein office on Parnell Street. The banner has been up a while, as it's celebrating 100 years of unbroken continuity, 1905-2005. I guess that makes 105 years, lads! Time to change the banner. Ironically, next door is their local, affectionately called Mischief! Another pub that would be interesting to see the insides of, but it looks like another night time pub.

We walked up and down Capel Street, which is known for shops full of furniture and antique stores. I only saw one antique store though, but it was big. I had to go in just to look. They had some incredible Tiffany style lamps, loads of antique mirrors, fireplace surrounds, hundreds of lead crystal chandeliers, some furniture, and other household items. I wanted to buy one of the old well buckets for my yarn, but was pulled away. Probably a good thing.

From here we walked the rest of the length of Mary Street and found Smithfield Market, as above. Once the market is closed, there's nothing, nada, zilch, zero to do in the area, so we walked back up Mary Street to the Church, cut across the plaza and went into Jervis Street Shopping Centre for wee. When we lived in Shankill and Bray, we often took the DART train into the city on the weekend and headed to Jervis. Being back after about ten years was kind of startling. Nothing changed. It was like we were there yesterday. It was so much "the same old thing" that we just used the toilet and left. The main entrance into Jervis is on the corner of Jervis Street and Middle Abbey Street, and across the road from the Jervis Street stop for the LUAS light rail.

We still had one more stop to make before getting back on the train. You got it, Taco Taco! I couldn't leave the city without a sack of Maseca and a pack of both types of corn tortillas. Of course, while there, we rehydrated. Me with water and Peter with a cup of mud from the Italian coffee counter. Really, I think it was a short Americano with a double shot, but what do I know about coffee?? And we shared a portion of chips from Leo Burdock's Fish and Chips, est 1913. Burdock's has a reputation for being the best fish and chips in Dublin. I can't speak for the fish, other than it looks really good, but the chips were just kind of same-old same-old to me. I'm just not a fan of greasy chips. But, they were pretty OK as far as greasy chips go.

While we relaxed before getting back on the train, we people-watched. As a writer, I refer to it as researching ;-) There are some interesting characters in Dublin, but by far the best was a man sitting near us. He was a very unassuming kind of guy dressed for the cool outdoors, ready for anything with a novel in his pocket and his satchel full of who knows what. It wasn't long before a little face appeared in his arms. A little dog! He sat there for the longest time just stroking the dog's head while it slept. Both seemed very content.

Overall, both Peter and I had a nice time in the city, which is saying a lot for me, as I normally hate cities. They're too crowded, too dirty, too noise, too many rude people. But we had a great time and the weather was really good. We just wandered, looked at architecture, watched the people, ate some good food, and did a little window shopping.

Other than Mexican corn products, I did come away with one other purchase. I live in Crocs when I'm home. They're better than slippers and I can be seen in public with them if I wear them shopping! Would you believe our local supermarket has a sign at the door telling people they'll be ushered out of the store if they come in wearing their PJs? Cool! Someone has to set some standards!! Anyway, Crocs has a new line out on the style of Vans called Crocbands. Already having a pare of orange and purple Crocs in the old style, I was drawn to the new style. In red no less! Cool or what? OK, yes, I also bought the little catapiller on the toe. Hey, I'm a big kid at heart! If the shop had better Jibbitz, I'da probably bought more of them. **I'm looking for the monarch butterfly, so if anyone sees one...

As I mentioned, we returned to Dublin on the 19th, as it was Peter's birthday. We stuck to the same area for the most part. Our main purpose of the trip was to get into Smithfield Market to see the early morning trading, but as I also mentioned, by 9am it was well-over! We wandered inside the market building though, which still had a few traders in it.

The name Smithfield comes from the Irish Margadh na Feirme, meaning Farm Market. The area was originally laid out in the mid 17th century as am open area surrounded by innercity farm yards for livestock. Under the HARP program (Historic Area Rejuvenation Plan), the area was remodeled, using plans won in an architectural competition in 1997! Part of the restoration included lifting over 400,000 cobblestones, most of then 100-120 years old, hand cleaning them, then relaying them to form a modern square, or plaza, which is now surrounded by buildings housing apartments and offices. The square was meant to host concerts and other outdoor entertainment, but locals complained so nix to that plan! However, the traditional Smithfield Horse Market is still ongoing. The horse market takes place every first Sunday of the month. This isn't a high quality horse market by any stretch of the imagination. More often than not, horse traders are of questionable repute and horses aren't always in the best condition. There are a lot of nags. It's not uncommon for young boys to be seen dressed as adults and haggling with the best of the grownups.

It's the Dublin City Fruit, Vegetable and Flower Market which is in the old Victorian warehouse that I referred to above, and is more commonly called Smithfield Market.

The area is coming to be known as the Museum District, as the National Museum of Ireland at Collins Barracks is also in line with Jervis, Smithfield and the Four Courts. We'll eventually wander this area too, so watch this space!

However, the one museum we did happen upon was on the corner of Jervis Street and Mary Street. I kid you not, there is a Leprechaun Museum in Ireland! An American woman and her young daughter were in the food hall when we were there the 19th (waiting for lunch time to come around so we could have tacos before getting back on the train for home). She'd asked a woman beside us where the Leprechaun Museum was. The woman told her she thought someone was playing a joke on her. She'd lived in Dublin her whole life and never heard of such a place. I remembered hearing something about the museum opening, but didn't know where it was. I kind of thought it was an April Fools prank so I didn't think anything of it. Before I could ask the woman if she knew which street it was on, she was gone. Well, walking back to the train I spotted it a block away. So YES, the Leprechaun Museum DOES exist. And I'm SO taking my family there when they're here in two weeks!

Observations...once you get out of the tourist areas...Temple Bar, O'Connell Street, St Stephen's Green, etc...and go into a locals community, it's a whole other world. Sure, there are tourists around, but not many. But the characters on the street are very memorable in their own way: from the produce and flower stall vendors to the banana ladies with their prams, from those with no fashion sense to those with their own style. They're all there. The area around The Church seemed to be like a joining of the waters where the posh and not-so-posh rubbed elbows.

And the areas where we walked, there seemed to be a huge number of eateries. A few take-away kind of places, but a startlingly large number of nice sit-down places open for lunch and dinner. No wonder, I discovered on Monday that the Four Courts (court house) is at the edge of where we wandered, therefore a lot of solicitors and other officials, as well as friends and family of those on trial, would be looking for meals and snacks.

There are three LUAS stops in this general area...at the Four Courts, Smithfield, and Jervis...and we wandered around just about all of it. There's a lot of dereliction, but there's a lot of urban renewal, too. I believe now that the LUAS is bringing more people into those parts of the city that people can't help but fix the place up. And with the more upscale areas around Jervis and the Four Courts, and with the Smithfield reconstruction not too long ago, any derelict buildings will soon be given new lives.

However one sees Dublin City, or just parts of it, there will always be something interesting to see and do. And failing that, just sit and watch, because it'll be an entirely different kettle of fish altogether from what you're used to, as we see here on a building along Ormond Quay.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Leighlinbridge Castle, aka Black Castle


It's been a long time since I posted anything, but there really hasn't been much to talk about. Not unless you want to read about snow and ice, and the fact that Spring is really late in coming to Ireland. Over the last week or so though, it seems to have exploded. Or at least, the daffodils are out finally.
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With the better weather--notice I didn't say brilliant weather--we're able to get out at least one day on the weekend and take a spin around to see the area around where we moved October last year. Sunday, that journey took us south of Monasterevin for a change to a place called Leighlinbridge, pronounced as lough-linbridge, not lee. Very strange, but what do I know?!
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Our main reason for the journey, which is about an hour drive, was for the Arboretum Lifestyle & Garden Centre, which is an interesting place. They're on about twenty-two acres of ground overlooking the River Barrow, which flows out of County Kildare and eventually out to sea near Waterford. The center is a mix of homewares, garden and pets. They have a restaurant on site, an aquatic shop, manicured gardens with interesting sculpture overlooking the river, a chocolate shop, woollen mills, and the plants, of course. The place immediately reminded us of a similar place in Welshpool, Wales called Coed-y-Dinas, though on a much smaller scale.
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The food in the center was actually very good. It's obviously a popular place for the traditional Sunday lunch! For those not there to eat, there was plenty to do. I was particularly taken with the dog toys, rabbits (they sell angora's!), and kitchenware. Overall, it was an interesting couple of hours.
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Afterwards, we took a spin around the locale. Leighlinbridge is a small village on the river. It was founded in Normal times, but was inhabited long before that, as Kings of Leinster had their seat nearby. The town gets its name from the Irish Leithghlinn an Droichid, which means Bridge of the Half-Glen. The bridge in the village spans the Barrow with five large arches and it said to be one of the oldest continual functioning stone arch bridges in not just Ireland, but Europe. It was built in stone in the 14th century.
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The castle beside the bridge is known as Black Castle and dates back to about 1180 when the original timber keep was most probably built by Hugh de Lacy, though it's also been credited to John de Clahull in 1181. de Lacy has the stronger history though. The current stone keep was built by Sir Edward Bellingham in 1547 who named the keep Black Castle. Bellingham was Lord Deputy of Ireland, as he was a reputed man of war, and kept his finest horses here. His career was short-lived though, as he passed away in 1549 just as the castle was completed.
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The castle was sacked in 1650 and eventually fell in the Cromwellian war, 1649-1653, and today the keep looks much as it did after it's destruction, which includes the 50 foot tower and partial bawn walls. I'd love to return the next time we're in the area and take a stroll through it, if it's open to the public. Nothing like castle trolling!