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My Favourite Places #1: Portico Coffee, Waterford

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Until a few weeks ago, I didn’t know this place existed. When I came across it after a visit to the City Square Shopping Centre, I knew I had discovered a good thing.

You see, I love coffee. I LOVE IT.

I was a barista for three years while in university. The café where I worked was owned by Canada’s first fair trade coffee company. We had the best beans (roasted just kilometres from the café), the best organic baked goods and the best barista training. The café itself was in a restored cinema which only played independent and foreign films & put on community events.

And I had so. much. fun. working there.

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I got to know lots of other students, and nearly all of my professors were regulars (score: brownie points). I was on the student council and would bring coffee to each meeting. And the regular customers who weren’t affiliated with the university became good pals. Being a barista requires some skill with an espresso machine, but even more skill in talking. If you’re a talker, it’s a great job.

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Enter Portico Coffee in downtown Waterford:

The first thing I noticed when I walked into the tiny (minuscule, even) space was that the two individuals already there were speaking with American accents. As it turns out, the café is affiliated with a church in Waterford and the entire staff work there on a voluntary basis – many coming from America.

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The proceeds go towards their ministries, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be preached to while waiting for your coffee. In fact, if I hadn’t asked I don’t think I would have known there was any religious affiliation (although I’m sure they’re very proud of their church and faith) with the café.

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And can we talk about the coffee for a minute? It’s all Badger & Dodo, a local coffee roastery in County Cork. In my opinion, Badger & Dodo make the best beans in the country. Many, I know, agree with me. But unless you have some mad barista skills, the beans you use don’t mean anything, and these guys have mad skills when it comes to pulling the perfect shot.

I am so picky when it comes to coffee. I really hate asking for a cup of coffee in a restaurant and receiving a watery americano instead. At Portico, if you want a straight up cuppa joe, they will make you an individually ground, pour-over cup with the beans of your choice. If you want an espresso they’ll hand-tamp the freshly ground espresso beans.

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For this sleep-deprived mama, Portico Coffee has been a godsend (no pun intended) which makes it the first of my new Favourite Places series (I’ll be posting a new favourite place every month).

You can like them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter – they give a small discount to anyone who gives them a shout-out using their hashtag (#porticocoffeewaterford).

* My Favourite Places are written on an entirely voluntary basis. The aim is to promote local small businesses I visit regularly and who are doing amazing work in our community. I receive no incentive to write these posts and visit each place a minimum of three times before writing.

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Tipperary Fields

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County Tipperary is good for the soul.

Each part of Ireland I’ve visited so far has some unique thing going for it. I think Tipperary’s specialty is serenity.

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I believe the fields here are greener than anywhere else in Ireland. The soil is pure black and full of nutrients. The growing season is long and the cows are happy. Coming home to Tipperary calms me, even though I couldn’t really say my life in Waterford is hectic or stressful.

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I think it just reminds me of Cape Breton. The fields with the mountains in the background – the farms and the cows – the neighbourly neighbours. Coming home to Tipp makes me feel, on some level, like I’m coming home to Cape Breton.

It helps that one of my dearest friends from home married Patrick’s brother. In that sense, I really can come home to a piece of Cape Breton in Tipp. My sister-in-law and I have a shared history and grew up in the same place. We can stroll through the fields and reminisce when we’re missing the island, or catch up on the latest gossip – making it almost as if we never left. Knowing my daughter has an auntie who will help instill her sense of place in Cape Breton also calms me.

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I love visiting the family farm. The puppies are eight weeks old and bounding around the place, trying to imitate their hard-working father. The cows are getting heavy with calves and will be giving birth over the next few months. There is an even greater sense of calm on the farm for now, before the calving begins.

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It was wonderful taking a Saturday afternoon walk through the Kennedy fields this past weekend. Even though it started to rain, and even though it was bone-chillingly cold out, the beauty and stillness of the place made it worth it.

Inside the ring fort, where the faeries supposedly hang out.

Inside the ring fort, where the faeries supposedly hang out.

Walnut Streusel Banana Bread

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So how’s that diet workin’ out for ya?

I can hear the jeers already.

I know I could be making more paleo-friendly baked goods, but frankly – I don’t want to waste my time. I have yet to taste a cake made with honey or stevia that tastes better than one made with brown sugar. I have yet to try cookies that taste better when made with chickpeas instead of flour (my mother can attest to that after a failed attempt to make such cookies). I can only go so far on the elimination-diet scale.

And anyway, I haven’t had a single bite of this delicious, moist, sweet banana bread. I have yet to bite into the crunchy walnut streusel topping (made with butter and dark brown sugar). I am being good.

…OK, I tried a little bit. But I had to make sure it tasted good before I brought it to my breastfeeding group tomorrow.

In all honesty, though, my month of paleo is working out really well, aside from a few hiccups (like the slice of banana bread I gorged down last night when it was fresh out of the oven). There hasn’t been a lot of cheating aside from our cheat day last Saturday, and actually, I always thought having a cheat day was kind of dumb, but it really does make pigging out that much more special. And I’ve never looked forward to Saturdays so much in my life!

I also feel better. I have more energy, even though Maeve’s sleeping patterns have been all over the place lately. Wide awake at 3:30 am? Waking at midnight and then again at 5 am? Going down at 7 pm and not waking til 5:30 am? I never know how much sleep I’m going to get these days. I’ll blame teething for that one.

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I don’t find myself missing bread as much as I thought I would. My sourdough starter died an awful, neglectful death when Maeve was born and I never got around to starting a new one, but last night I took a few minutes to whip one up. Hopefully my bubbly little baby will soon be ready to bake with (for future cheat days).

Yes, I’m already thinking about making this no-bread, no-pasta, no-sugar thing a regular lifestyle choice after the month is through. We’ll see how I feel on January 31st, but so far it seems to be working out. Mostly I want to be good so I can pig-the-eff-out when we go to Portugal in March. Piri-piri and custard tarts have been calling my name for months now.

Anyway, I made two large loaves of this banana bread and one small cake. Most of it will come with me to the Cuidiù Breastfeeding Support Group meeting tomorrow morning, but the rest will go into the freezer for some rainy cheat day when we feel like having a little something sweet with a cup of tea (it freezes very well since it’s mostly composed of bananas).

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Walnut Streusel Banana Bread

Ingredients:

For the bread:

1 cup golden demerara sugar

1/2 cup softened butter

4 ripe or defrosted bananas, mashed

2 tsp vanilla

2 eggs

1 1/4 cup flour (I used cream flour for this one)

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

For the streusel:

100 g chopped walnuts

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup cold butter, cubed

Directions:

  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees (180 degrees Celsius, no fan).
  • Line a loaf pan with parchment and set aside.
  • Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (I use my stand mixer with paddle attachment for this).
  • Add the mashed banana and vanilla. Mix well.
  • While mixing, add in the eggs one at a time. Mix well after each addition.
  • Sift all of your dry ingredients. Add them all at once to the batter – at this stage I usually stop using the stand mixer and fold the dry ingredients in with a spatula. Do not over-mix.
  • Pour batter into prepared loaf pan.
  • Make the streusel: in a bowl, combine all streusel ingredients. Rub the butter into the mixture with your hands until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle over the banana bread batter.
  • Bake in the preheated oven for about 40 minutes. A toothpick inserted in the centre should come out clean.
  • Eat right away or store wrapped in plastic in an airtight container for 4-6 days. Freeze indefinitely.

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An Rinn, County Waterford’s Gaeltacht Community

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I need to start this post by saying this is the best Winter I’ve ever experienced.

OK, maybe second best. The best was when Patrick and I spent three months backpacking through Southeast Asia. The worst of the Korean Winter was spent on the beach and when we got back it was June. We timed it very well.

But this Winter has been nothing short of amazing for a Canadian gal like me. Today was chilly, but not too cold and it was absolutely, stunningly gorgeous. The temperatures have been pretty mild (in my opinion) and haven’t warranted more than a light jacket. We’ve gotten some pretty terrible rain and wind storms, but I’ll take those over snowstorms any day of the week!

(To my Canadian people: I hope I don’t sound like I’m gloating. OK, I’m kind of gloating. Love you.)

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Today, as I mentioned, was gorgeously sunny. Tomorrow, we are told, will not be. So we decided to make the most of our day and drive out to County Waterford’s gaeltacht region (meaning the residents only speak Irish – no English allowed!), located just West of Dungarvan.

Our first pit stop was at the Butlerstown Farmer’s Market for a latte, some venison and a loaf of brown bread (for next week’s cheat day). If you haven’t been, this market takes place every Saturday outside the Harvey Norman in Waterford City. Fab vendors, lovely food and crafts. We got back in the car and headed to An Rinn, one of the Gealtacht communities.

True to form, everything was in Irish once we arrived. The community is beautiful – lovely, big houses overlooking the sea, a well-kept playground and the water sparkling away in the foreground. We made our way to the wharf, where some fishing boats were just coming in, and took some photos.

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A friendly dalmatian found us and followed us around for a bit. We thought there was a café at one end of the wharf, but it turned out to be a seaweed spa! I had no idea there was such a spa in Waterford. It’s called Sólás na Mara. I will definitely be back – I’m in need of a spa day and I’ve heard these seaweed baths are beyond rejuvenating.

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The guy working at the spa told us we could follow a small footpath to a nearby cove. On the way there, we passed an old man and his dog. The man had clearly been foraging for seaweed as his Tesco bag was bulging with different varieties. I was a little jealous (wishing I had brought my own Tesco bag). The cove itself was very pretty. We were glad we came.

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On the way home, since it’s our cheat day, we stopped at Merry’s Bar in Dungarvan and each had a “Fungarvan” Burger with a side of skin-on chips (extra yum). I washed mine down with a Franciscan Well Red Rebel beer from Cork. We felt right at home since there were three other babies crawling around the floor – Maeve had a great auld time.

It’s days like this that I feel grateful to be living in such a gorgeous place with such friendly people. No Winter blues here.

Resolutions & My New Favourite Salad

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The New Year has come and gone.

I’ve never been one for making resolutions. I know, deep down, I’ll give them a good shot for a few days and then slowly descend into the downward spiral of apathy. Before too long, my running shoes are gathering cobwebs and the tofu in the fridge starts growing it’s own small country (complete with citizens). I’m a realist. I know my strong points and my super-duper weak points.

But this year has been slightly different. This year, I have a baby. I still have baby fat. I don’t have any nice clothes, and don’t want to buy or even try on nice clothes because I don’t feel like myself anymore. When I moved to Ireland last Spring I was five months pregnant. All of the clothes that didn’t fit me were given to good will or to friends and what came with me filled one medium sized suitcase – a few of my favourite wardrobe pieces I couldn’t bear to part with. I foolishly thought I’d be back to my regular size a few months after the baby was born, but it’s been a long, hard road.

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I don’t want to diet. I’m breastfeeding and I’m against dieting anyway. Fad diets always end in failure.

I don’t like eating a lot of processed foods, so that hasn’t been the problem. The problem with my food intake is the fact that I use so much butter, cream, salt and sugar in my cooking. It’s what we do in the restaurant kitchens and it’s how I was taught to cook. I thought those ingredients were what made food taste good, but I was wrong.

Food makes food taste good. And salt, I still believe in that one. And lets face it, even though I know it’s bad, cream and butter do make everything taste amazing.

And we’re entering the downward spiral. But I digress.

The whole Paleo thing may be a fad right now, but after some research I think this is a fad worth checking out. Why? Because we’ve only been ingesting cultivated crops for a small portion of our existence as humans. Before that, did we die because we didn’t have any grains? No. We foraged, we ate lots of veggies and we hunted for our meat. That’s the food our bodies were designed to ingest.

I love bread. And rice. And quinoa and couscous. But lately I haven’t been feeling great and I’ve definitely not been eating well, so I’m going to give this Paleo thing a try for the month of January. After all, it’s more of a lifestyle change than a diet. And my lifestyle has already changed so much in the past year.

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So here’s my Paleo inspired month-long diet:

  • No grains or legumes. That means rice, quinoa, beans, lentils, peanuts or anything else that falls into the category (I cheat a little and still eat oatmeal for breakfast for breastfeeding purposes).
  • Less dairy. Most paleo folk have shunned dairy altogether, but I don’t want to give my dairy farmer father-in-law a heart attack. I am doing away with cheese, cream, sour cream, buttermilk – basically everything other than regular drinking milk and Greek yogurt.
  • No potatoes (I know).
  • Larger servings of vegetables and more protein. More nuts. More raw veggies. More eggs. Good quality, unprocessed meat.
  • No sugar (I know). Honey is OK.
  • No alcohol (I already cheated and had a glass of red wine last night; this part’s gonna fail).

We’re having one cheat day a week so we don’t go insane. Let’s see how this goes.

Our meals have been really good so far, though! I made Mexican-spiced beef lettuce wraps with guacamole, braised chicken legs with sweet potato and roasted peppers & tomatoes and, last night, took a recipe from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem: Braised Eggs with Lamb, Tahini & Sumac. Delicious and filling.

I had some leftover lamb mix from the braised eggs, so for lunch today I made a Middle Eastern salad with lettuce, cucumber, Happy Pear alfalfa sprouts, the lamb, two poached eggs and the tahini sauce (thinned out to make more of a salad dressing). Here’s the recipe:

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Jerusalem’s Leftovers Salad

Ingredients:

Lamb leftovers from Ottelenghi’s Braised Eggs with Lamb, Tahini and Sumac (page 205)

Tahini dressing leftovers from the same recipe

1/4 English cucumber, sliced into half moons

1/4 red onion, finely sliced

1/2 head lettuce (any kind will do), shredded

1/2 package rinsed alfalfa sprouts

4 eggs

Sumac, for garnish

Directions:

  • Gently heat the leftover lamb in a pot or in the microwave. Set aside.
  • Put a pot of water on to simmer with 1 Tbsp vinegar.
  • Slice/wash/dry veggies and mix in a bowl.
  • Thin out tahini sauce with a bit of water and adjust seasoning, if necessary.
  • Poach the eggs in the (barely) simmering water for 3 minutes.
  • Take out two plates and divide the veggies evenly between them. Spread them out around the plate.
  • Top with the warmed lamb and poached eggs.
  • Drizzle the tahini dressing over the top and sprinkle some sumac for garnish.
  • Eat while the meat and eggs are warm.
  • *I was going to add pomegranate seeds to this salad and forgot. They would have been a really good addition, I think. Baby brain.

If you’re also interested in this lifestyle change, I love reading The Domestic Man. He creates such gorgeous food and his whole family eats a paleo-inspired diet.

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Butternut Squash, Sage & Buffalo Mozzarella Lasagna

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We’re back at our house in Waterford after spending nearly two weeks at our family home in North Tipperary for the holidays (where we have no internet and fewer TV channels but do have more time for friends, family and food). I’ll miss the busy country house with the constant background chatter of my in-laws, but here in Waterford it’s quieter, which means Maeve is sleeping more soundly, and we have an excellent internet connection here, allowing me to Skype with family and friends back home in Canada.

Enjoying Canadian Winter on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa

Enjoying Canadian Winter on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa

The weather has been up and down in Ireland – though certainly not as bad as the ridiculous snow-stormy weather they’ve been having in Canada – we have had a few blustery, rainy, cold days (especially in Tipperary, where it always seems much colder than Waterford). I missed having a white Christmas just a little bit, but I’m happy to not have to shovel my way to the car every morning.

As for New Year’s, my husband and I relaxed on the couch with a bottle of Beaujolais and watched the second half of Falling for a Dancer, which is an excellent two-part film, and The Graham Norton New Year’s Eve Special, which was hilarious. Flashback a few years ago when we’d be spending New Year’s in Seoul partying in nightclubs until 7 am and you can see how different our lives have become (for the record, I think it’s nicer). We’re looking forward to 2014 – to travel, to making some healthier lifestyle changes, and taking the time to enjoy our family and our surroundings. Happy New Year to you all!

Puppies! The best picture I could get of them...

Puppies! The best picture I could get of them…

We’re also expecting another addition to our little family. No, not a new baby (before any of you get unnecessarily excited). At least, not a new human baby. On the farm, we’ve been gifted with six gorgeous collie pups, sired by our faithful farm dog, Ben. There are three girls and three boys – they all look like their dad with soft, black and white fur. Hopefully they all inherit their dad’s gentle temperament, as well. We’ll be taking one of the girls and raising her not as a farm dog, but as a pet, and we’ll call her Erin.

We introduced Erin to Maeve briefly this morning and Erin growled. But eventually they’ll like each other; I have faith.

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To ring in the new year, here’s a vegetarian lasagna recipe made with béchamel, butternut squash, sage and buffalo mozzarella. It’s not entirely diet-friendly, but we’re thinking of it as one of our final, creamy indulgences before our diet begins on Monday. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did. I made my own pasta for this recipe, but feel free to use store-bought lasagna sheets. If you do want to make your own pasta but don’t have a pasta roller, just make sure the dough is so thin you can see through it. Like, paper-thin.

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Butternut Squash, Sage & Buffalo Mozzarella Lasagna 

Ingredients:

For the pasta:

4 eggs

2 cups flour

For the béchamel:

1/2 cup butter

1/2-3/4 cup flour

1 bay leaf

1 clove garlic, lightly crushed

1/2 cup heavy cream (35%)

2 1/2 cups whole milk

pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

salt and pepper, to taste

pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

For the lasagna:

1 medium butternut squash, peeled & seeded

2 balls fresh buffalo mozzarella

1 cup caramelized onion (store bought or homemade)

1 recipe béchamel sauce

1 recipe pasta dough

Directions:

  • Make the pasta dough: pile the flour onto a clean work surface and make a well in the center. Crack the eggs into a bowl and whisk lightly. Add the eggs into the well in the flour.
  • Using your fingers, gently work the flour into the eggs until you have a sticky dough. Knead the dough for 5-10 minutes until it’s smooth, elastic and bounces back slightly when you make a dent with your finger.
  • Shape the dough into a ball. Set the dough aside and cover with a clean tea towel. Leave to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
  • Make the béchamel: in a saucepan, heat the milk and cream with the bay leaf and crushed clove of garlic until almost boiled. In another saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add enough flour to the butter to make a dry paste, similar in consistency to play doh (also called a roux). Cook the roux for one minute. Strain the hot milk/cream mixture over the roux and stir immediately. Whisk out any lumps. Continue to stir over medium heat until the sauce has thickened. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper.
  • Prepare the butternut squash: using a potato peeler, peel the entire butternut squash so you have long ribbons of squash. Set aside.
  • Slice each buffalo mozzarella in half. Finely chop the fresh sage. Set both aside.
  • Prepare the pasta: using a knife, cut the ball of dough into four equal portions. Roll the pasta out using a pasta roller or with a rolling pin on a well floured surface. Roll each portion of dough to fit your lasagna tray.
  • Assemble the lasagna: smear a ladle-full of béchamel on the bottom of the tray. Place one sheet of pasta over the top. Evenly spread 1/4 of the butternut squash ribbons over the top of the lasagna sheet, followed by 1/2 of one of the balls of mozzarella (just tear the mozzarella and spread it out over the squash). Sprinkle a bit of sage and some caramelized onion over the top, followed by a ladle of bechamel (try to spread it evenly over everything). Top this with another sheet of pasta and repeat the process. When the last sheet of lasagna is added, spread a bit of béchamel over the top and sprinkle more cheese and sage.
  • Bake in a 375 (190 degree Celsius) oven for an hour. Serve with a fresh spinach or rocket salad.

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