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A Love Letter to Kilkenny

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Hey, Kilkenny. I thought I had you all figured out.

I’ve been visiting your namesake city for years. Two of my sisters-in-law live there. I’ve spent New Year’s Eve at Langtons and had a birthday lunch, once, at Campagne.

When my family visited last year, you were a highlight of their trip. They loved the cobbled streets and old world charm in the city. They found unique gifts to bring home to friends and loved ones. We had a nice lunch at Kyteler’s Inn.

While Patrick and I lived in Wateford, you bridged the gap between there and home, here in Tipperary. When we reached the city we knew we were at the halfway mark. We knew we could pick up a few things if we had to, or stop to nurse our fussy baby (so… thanks for being there for us).

The Bula Bus, in the back of Billy Byrnes pub

The Bula Bus, in the back of Billy Byrnes pub

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Kilkenny Street Food at The Bula Bus, in the back of Billy Byrnes pub

Kilkenny Street Food at The Bula Bus, in the back of Billy Byrnes pub

But it turns out I didn’t know you at all. Not until this past weekend and the Savour Kilkenny Festival of Food. Not until the Night of 1000 Feasts, an event that brought together the entire county in an effort to raise funds for the Town of Food project in Thomastown. You did good, there, Kilkenny. Over 2000 feasts were registered that night, showing the rest of us how you take care of your own. I am so excited to see how the Town of Food Centre progresses and how much was raised over the course of the weekend. I feel like I’m a part of it now. I’ve met you all and experienced your amazing hospitality, so I really want this goal to be achieved.

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I ate a delectable three-course meal at Zuni last Sunday night for my part of the feast. It was sublime, Kilkenny. I hadn’t eaten there before and was so impressed by the stellar service and confident food, expertly crafted by Chef Maria Raftery. My main was a fillet of local short-horn beef. Kilkenny, every bite melted in my mouth. The accompanying béarnaise was subtle and didn’t overpower the meat. I don’t order beef very often, but this dish had me wowed.

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I partied til the wee hours of the morning. Dearest Kilkenny, you should know that I have a one-year-old and don’t really party anymore. I mostly just want a glass of wine and my bed. You drew me out, though, with a slew of my in-laws and pints of deliciously smooth O’Hara Stout (not a Kilkenny beer but close enough, coming from Carlow). I visited Brewery Corner and had loud, slightly inebriated chats with the patrons.

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I didn’t have a hangover the next day. Kilkenny, you have a plethora of fabulous bed and breakfasts in your county and I stayed in a good one that night. Fanad House B&B has very clean rooms, comfortable beds, and this may sound strange, but I’ve never stayed in a place with such excellent air temperature control. I slept like a rock and woke up refreshed; ready for my full Irish, skillfully prepared by the owner.

The next day we ventured out of the city.

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Coffee and chats at Goatsbridge Trout Farm with the magnificent Mag & Ger Kirwan. How they’ve turned the family trout-raising business into something ecologically and financially viable is an inspiration to any aspiring entrepreneur. What’s more, their openness, inherent kindness and boundless energy is just so encouraging in an industry that is often less-than-kind. I’ll be back with my family to buy some of their smoked trout and show Maeve the fishies.

Kilkenny, you have so many talented artists and artisans in your midst.

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We drove to visit the studios of Karen Morgan and Jerpoint Glass. I spent too much money. Such unique porcelain pieces are handcrafted by Karen. The lines are irregular and the colours are clean and natural – a food stylist’s dream. Aside from their beautiful glass creations, Jerpoint Studios have a gallery devoted to Kilkenny arts + crafts. Two must-visit locations if you, like me, are in love with dishes and linens and have a few gifts to buy for Christmas.

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We stopped by Knockdrinna Cheese to visit with the lovely Helen and hear her story. Kilkenny, you have a pretty stellar terroir. All that lush, green grass eventually turns into fantastic meats and cheeses. Helen’s Knockdrinna Meadow sheepsmilk cheese is addictively mellow. Perfect at room temperature with a slice of apple and a bit of chutney.

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Kilkenny, I didn’t realize Thomastown is so beautiful. I didn’t know it had so many fabulous food destinations. We had lunch at Sol Bistro and it didn’t disappoint. My Lavistown sausages were the perfect lunch for someone who was still consuming stout mere hours beforehand. My husband’s sizzling prawn salad was bursting with bright flavour, yet was stodgy enough to satisfy a 6’2 Irishman (how did they manage that?).

Your Thomastown residents are really inspiring, Kilkenny. They’re proud of their well-earned accolade “Town of Food”. The Town of Food Centre is going to be a hotbed of community involvement including school gardening sessions, a chef training program and a free-for-all prep kitchen for new food business owners to prepare their farmer’s market goods in a licensed environment. It’s going to enrich the lives of each member of the community.

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And speaking of enriching lives, Kilkenny, I had no idea how beautiful and friendly Zwartbles sheep are until I visited Suzanna’s farm outside Thomastown. Most sheep shy away the minute they see you coming – Suzanna’s sheep bounded gleefully toward us. They were more like puppies. It was wonderful, and if you were a fly on the wall at that moment you would have seen half a dozen (adult) Irish bloggers acting like a bunch of giggling schoolkids. Lives enriched.

I need to thank Dee Sewell, Mag Kirwan and all of the folk we came to visit for organizing and executing such an amazing blog trip. Honestly, Kilkenny, I’ll never underestimate you again, but only because these guys worked so hard to get me and the other bloggers down for a visit.

Who were the other bloggers? They were a diverse crowd and all wonderful in their own way: Where Wishes Come From, The Art of Exploring, Foodborn and Bred, Cork Billy, Greenside Up, My Busy Farm Life. It was great meeting and getting into mischief with them.

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Apple, Toffee & Flor de Sal Hand Pies

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This recipe comes from two different places.

While backpacking through the Northern half of Portugal last March we had to make a decision between visiting Coimbra and Aveiro. Both are in the same general area (about 20 minutes apart), both are small & culturally rich university towns and both have their own unique appeal.

One of the many colourful canal boats in Aveiro

One of the many colourful canal boats in Aveiro

What made us decide on Aveiro (besides its proximity to several gorgeous beaches and a Venetian-like canal system snaking its way through the town) was its interesting culinary traditions. There have been salt flats there for hundreds of years and the salt is some of the finest I’ve tasted (especially sprinkled over blistered padron peppers – I’m salivating just thinking about it).

The egg yolk filling from ovos moles is used in other pastries, too - like this little gem

The egg yolk filling from ovos moles is used in other pastries, too – like this little gem

They also specialize in a weird little pastry known as ovos moles. Made into the shape of seashells, the outer shell of the pastry is made from a manna-like wafer, similar to what you’d receive at mass for communion. Not much taste to it, and depending on where you buy, it can be a bit stale and chewy.

I’m not making it sound very nice, am I?! Maybe I’ll do better with the filling.

The filling is made from egg yolk, but not in the way you might expect. It’s not a custard. You make a simple syrup and mix it with rice flour before beating in the egg yolks. The end result is kind of like a sweet deviled egg. Strangely delicious.

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Before we left Aveiro I stocked up on flor de sal. Months later, I still have a cupboard-full (go me!). I save it for special occasions. It’s better as a garnish than a seasoning (though you can get big bags of rock salt, as well, to use in your grinder for every-day seasoning).

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We’re well into October now and the gorgeous weather we were enjoying here in Ireland has left. Now we’re having day after day of rain and high winds. Aside from reminiscing about our lovely, sunshiney holiday in Portugal, it’s definitely a time for hearty desserts and, as we have such beautiful apples here in Ireland and so many right now, why not combine a sweet apple pastry with a luxuriant sprinkling of flor de sal? The combination is good for the soul.

Besides turning (ahem)… 30… this week, I will also be attending The Night of 1000 Feasts (hashtag #1000Feasts) at the Savour Kilkenny Food Festival, taking place Sunday the 26th. It’s a fantastic event for a great cause – to raise funds for the Town of Food project in Thomastown to build a new food training and enterprise centre. There will be plenty more happening over the weekend so keep in touch with me via Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. If you want to host a feast of your own on the night, the info you need should be on this photo:

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I’ll be in excellent company with some other fabulous Irish bloggers – Foodborn and Bred, Cork Billy, My Busy Farm Life, Greenside Up, The Art of Exploring and Where Wishes Come From, among others, so give them a follow as well to see what we’re up to.

In the meantime, enjoy these sweet, salty and tart apple hand pies. They’ll make the bad weather seem not-so-bad.

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Apple, Toffee & Flor de Sal Hand Pies

Ingredients:

For the pastry:

2 cups AP (Cream) Flour

1 cup cold, cubed butter

scant 1/2 cup ice water

pinch of sea salt

For the toffee sauce/apple filling:

1 cup white sugar

scant 1/2 cup water

1/2 cup cream

1/4 cup cold, cubed butter

2 large bramley apples, peeled and sliced

1 Tbsp AP flour

1 egg

Flor de Sal/Fleur de Sel/Irish Atlantic Sea Salt/Maldon Salt, for garnish

Directions:

  • Make the pastry: cut or rub the cold, cubed butter into the flour & salt until the mixture is well-incorporated and looking crumbly. Gradually add the ice water and mix with your hand until a ball forms (you might not need the entire 1/2 cup of water).
  • On a floured surface, knead the dough a few times just until everything comes together. Divide the dough into 8 equal portions and chill for 30 minutes.
  • Make the toffee sauce: in a medium saucepan, add the sugar and water. Place over med-high heat and leave it. Don’t you dare stir it! When it starts to bubble, wait until the colour begins to change, then every now and then you can swirl the contents of the saucepan, but still, don’t stir. Seriously.
  • When the caramel turns a deep copper colour (and starts to smell like a caramel), take it off the heat. Add the cream and immediately put it back on the heat. It will bubble up for a few seconds. Don’t be scared. Now you can stir. Stir until the caramel & cream are incorporated. Then beat in the cold butter piece by piece.
  • Set the toffee sauce aside to cool.
  • I should mention that you can actually just buy some toffee sauce and skip that last step. It’s easier, but cheating.
  • Peel and slice your apples.
  • When the dough is chilled and the toffee sauce has cooled, preheat your oven to 425 degrees (210 degrees Celsius). Mix the apples, toffee sauce, and Tbsp of flour together in a bowl. Beat the egg slightly in another bowl (for brushing).
  • Roll out two portions of pastry at a time. Scoop two heaping Tbsp of apple filling onto one rolled out pastry. Brush the edges with egg and top with the other round. Crimp the edges, poke a few breather holes on top, egg wash the top and sprinkle on some sea salt.
  • Continue until all the pastry has been used (this should make four hand pies).
  • Bake the hand pies for around 30 minutes, or until the filling is bubbly and the tops are golden brown.

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The Vee, Cahir Castle & The Swiss Cottage

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We’ve been making the most of the good weather over the past few weeks and have taken Maeve on a few Sunday drives around Tipperary. You don’t see many international visitors coming to Tipp – even my friends who plan trips to Ireland are often unaware of where I live. Since we’re not on a heavily travelled tourist trail its sometimes awkward to try and arrange meet-ups. I think this needs to change because Tipperary is awesome.

So many people come to Ireland for a “true Irish experience” but they never make it to Tipp or the Midlands – however, this is probably where they’re going to find what they’re looking for. A small pub with a fireplace and weekend trad sessions? We have ’em. Rolling green pastures and quaint villages? There are plenty. Fairy ring forts and castles? There’s one of each in my backyard (ok, ok, backyard, back field, down the road; same diff).

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The more well-travelled parts of Ireland are well-travelled for a reason. They’re beautiful parts of the country and have the attractions you don’t want to miss out on. That said, if you’re looking to take the road less travelled then Tipperary should be your destination of choice. You definitely won’t meet many other foreigners if my experience is anything to go by!

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Two weeks ago, we took a drive to the south of the county to explore The Vee. I’m still kind of unsure as to what The Vee is, but it was an absolutely beautiful drive up a mountain with a lake at the top and the road up was lined with rhododendron bushes that apparently are gorgeous in the spring. The Vee must be the mountain, right? Or is it the name of the scenic drive? Enlighten me, people!

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At the top of the mountain there’s a spot to park your car and then you can walk along a well-trodden path to the dark, spooky lake. I loved the lake; it just pops up out of nowhere. Very cool.

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The drive will eventually take you to Lismore in County Waterford, but we didn’t go all the way as we had a toddler with a short attention span in the backseat. And we were hungry.

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We decided to drive back to the town of Cahir (pronounced “Care”) for some lunch. The weather was absolutely gorgeous when we arrived, so after a carvery lunch at The River House Restaurant, we took the trail from Cahir Castle down to the Swiss Cottage. It’s a gorgeous walk along the River Suir that takes about a half hour.

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The Swiss Cottage was constructed in the 19th century for the Butlers, an aristocratic family who lived in the castle. It was supposed to be a whimsical country escape, so while the style is Swiss (with lots of curved lines and floral accessories) there were never any Swiss people (that I know of) actually living there.

I took a walk around the grounds (there are guided tours of the house itself, but I wasn’t there for one) and snapped a few photos. It looked like (nosy me) a couple was planning their wedding ceremony there. What a fab idea, if that was the case!

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There were so many other families out for the day, taking advantage of the great weather. Then on the walk back to the car, it started pouring rain. A true Irish experience.

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I would definitely visit Cahir again; what a gorgeous town. A great spot to take your kids and have a nice lunch. We’ll be making a return trip to The Vee as well – I would love to see those rhododendrons in bloom!

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