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Galway City & Dog’s Bay

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This past weekend Patrick and I were treated to a child-free weekend away in County Galway. I say we were “treated” not because this trip was planned or paid for by anyone else, but because my amazing sister-in-law offered to take on our kids for the weekend. With baby #3 mere weeks away, how could we refuse?

We booked into the Westwood Hotel, which isn’t very central but the rooms are comfortable, clean and affordable and the hotel is conveniently located off Galway’s main ring road. I love Galway, but I admit – I don’t like driving in Galway.

The downtown is a tangle of pedestrian-only quays and alleyways. Many of the roads you can drive on are so small and congested I get panic attacks just thinking about them. It’s nice to drive to the hotel, park the car and just take a taxi into the downtown (no designated driver needed, either – not that I’m indulging these days).

We arrived on Friday evening. We needed a babysitter for the kids, of course, but we also needed someone to milk the cows for the weekend (farmers don’t really get days off!) so we were lucky to have people to cover both areas. Patrick helped with the evening milking before we set off – not a big deal, since Galway is just a little over two hour’s drive from the farm.

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Homemade Miso!

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When we arrived, we checked into the hotel and then took a taxi downtown. We had one thing on our minds: sushi. There are a few options for Japanese food in Galway, but I had been following Wa Café on Instagram for some time and wanted to give their fare a try. They recently made the Irish Times’ 100 Best Places to Eat so we knew we were in for something good.

We ordered nearly the whole menu (I’ve said before; we’re Japanese-food deprived here in Tipperary!), consuming several types of maki roll, a big bowl of Toyota-style ramen and a bento box featuring the most addictive, flavourful Karaage chicken and crisp vegetable tempura.

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The next day we were up early, so we did some shopping downtown before brunch at Dela. This cozy restaurant was buzzing with activity. I hate queues, but our meal was so worth the 20-minute wait. I ordered bacon + crab potato cake with poached eggs, hollandaise, toasted brown bread and salad. It hit every mark for me – flavourful, properly seasoned, well-priced and the portion size was perfect.

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After brunch we took a drive out to Connemara. Honestly, the day was so beautiful – sunny and warm – it would have been a crime to not find a beach. I had read about Dog’s Bay in the Irish Independent as it topped Ireland’s 30 Best Beaches, so we thought we’d check it out – even though it’s a full hour and a half from Galway city.

After driving through gorgeous, boggy, barren, mountainous, sheepey Connemara, we turned off the road about 20 km from Clifden. A winding road took us past Ballynahinch Castle and the cutesy village of Roundstone before we reached Dog’s Bay.

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To say this beach is beautiful is an understatement. The coral sand is pure white. The water is so turquoise it looks about 20 degrees warmer than it actually is. This beach could be in the Bahamas or Maldives – you would not expect to see it in the middle of County Galway’s rocky landscape. We’ll be returning here again and again – next time with the kids.

That evening, we indulged in a seven-course tasting menu at Loam. True to it’s moniker, Michelin-starred Loam specializes in the tastes and terroir of the Wild Atlantic Way. They use produce and meat from local farmers, make their own charcuterie and surprise/delight diners like me with interesting and beautifully balanced plates of food.

We loved the “pasta” made from very-delicately-sliced squid, served with a soft egg yolk and a deep roasted onion broth. The local sirloin was served tartare-style, but it wasn’t like any other tartare I’ve had. The earthy beef was paired with anchovy, crispy onion and fresh ramson & sorrel – it was actually refreshing. For one of our two dessert plates, we loved the Chanterelle mushroom ice cream with parsley sponge and chocolate-hazelnut crumb.

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Parting gift: a copy of the evening’s menu (comes in handy when you’re trying to remember each course!)

Those were our stand-outs from that night’s menu, but honestly – I loved the whole experience. We very rarely opt for tasting menus in restaurants because, more often than not, you leave feeling bloated and over-full. If you opt for wine pairings, you often end up with four unfinished glasses of wine you have to chug before dessert. Also? Sometimes. It. Just. Takes. Too. Long. I don’t want to be waiting 30 minutes between courses. We’re parents of young children and we WILL fall asleep at the table.

Loam has its guest experience down to a science. We were finished in roughly two hours, enjoyed the engaging, smart (but understated) service, LOVED the food and didn’t feel overstuffed (but also didn’t need to indulge in any late-night snacks). The one star from Michelin seems a bit stingy, actually.

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We went straight to bed after dinner and left early the next morning. I actually missed my kids; can you believe it? It was another beautiful day at the farm and I couldn’t wait to spend it with them.

Have you been to Galway recently? What were some of your favourite spots?

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Bacon & Cabbage with Parsley Cream Sauce

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Ah, Paddy’s Day.

Those Facebook memories that keep popping up remind me that St. Patrick’s Day isn’t just a fun family holiday. Things just seem to happen for me around this time of year – good things.

Luck of the Irish? Perhaps. Or maybe we’re all just in better moods because the sun tends to come out in March. The trees start to bud, my garden starts to grow, the end of calving season (and; therefore, around-the-clock cow monitoring) is in sight and the air feels significantly warmer.

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Patrick with some Irish fans in Yogyakarta – our most booze-free Paddy’s Day

This time eight years ago, Patrick and I were embarking on a three-month-long backpacking trip around Southeast Asia. Facebook tells me we were in Java, Indonesia. We just climbed Gunung Bromo, a small active volcano, and were en route to Yogyakarta – a city we absolutely loved.

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Paddy’s Day Parade in Seoul, South Korea, 2008 (strange, no?)

This time four years ago, we were getting ready to leave Toronto for good. I was very excited and a little bit worried. After all, I was nearly six months pregnant and we were both leaving good jobs behind, with no work prospects in Ireland. I loved my work in Toronto but didn’t love living in the city. I couldn’t deal with the prospect of raising my kids so far away from family. Moving to Ireland, as you may have guessed, has worked out brilliantly. We are happy and thriving (and working!).

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Beautiful Porto. Take me back!

This time three years ago we were in Portugal on our first-ever family holiday with Maeve. She was seven months old and we had a wonderful time in Lisbon, Porto and Aveiro. The weather was warm and sunny (but not too hot) and we visited with friends I hadn’t seen in years.

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Maeve and her cousins, eating green pancakes.

And this year? One of my best friends is coming to stay with her 10-month-old baby boy. When they go home, Patrick and I are going to Galway for a few nights to eat, drink and relax sans children. So yeah, March brings good things, and St. Patrick’s Day is just one of them.

I remember Paddy’s Days of the past. In university, in Korea, in (yes!) Yogyakarta and, of course, here in Ireland, I’ve had some crazy times. These days our Paddy’s Day tends to be quieter and more kid-focused. Coffee at a friend’s house, taking the kids to the parade, making green pancakes for breakfast – all of these things are quickly replacing the pub breakfasts and day-long drinking sessions of the past.

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Bacon and cabbage is becoming tradition, too. While North Americans gorge themselves on corned beef, the Irish will generally sit down to a family meal of just about anything (Chinese takeaway? I wouldn’t say no). At our house, I usually make a big feed of bacon and cabbage for us and any other family members milling around the farm.

The parsley sauce is entirely optional, but I like it. A lot of people eat their bacon and cabbage with a schmear of English mustard or the ubiquitous brown sauce, but I think it’s more of a complete meal with the parsley sauce (also, it will impress your friends if you want to make this for a Paddy’s Day dinner party). It tastes fancy but is so easy to make.

The dish is called Bacon & Cabbage, but it wouldn’t be the same kind of bacon you have with your scrambled eggs. Here, a loin of ham is called a joint of bacon. You can get them smoked or unsmoked. Just ask your butcher, or, when in doubt, get some uncooked ham. It’s basically the same thing. Bacon and cabbage is usually served with mashed potatoes, but I love boiling new potatoes with the skin-on this time of year.

Whatever you end up doing for Paddy’s Day, I hope it’s great and full of delicious food, drink and loved ones. Sláinte mhath!

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Bacon & Cabbage with Parsley Cream Sauce

Ingredients:

Bacon & Cabbage:

1-2 kg ham/bacon joint (cured and uncooked, ask your local butcher!)

1-2 large head savoy or green cabbage

4L chicken stock

1-2 bay leaves

2-3 sprigs fresh thyme

Parsley Sauce:

½ cup butter

1 clove garlic, minced

¾ glass dry white wine

1 cup heavy cream

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1 bunch fresh parsley, finely chopped

Salt and Pepper, to taste

Directions:

  • In a large pot, bring the ham, stock, bay leaves and thyme to a simmer. Simmer the ham/bacon for about 1 hour – or until the ham is cooked through.
  • While the ham is cooking, prep your cabbage: using a large knife, cut out the core and slice the head of cabbage into large wedges. Leave the wedges whole and set aside while the ham cooks.
  • When the ham is cooked, remove the ham, bay leaves and thyme from the pot. Add the cabbage to the remaining broth and cook until tender, about 10 minutes.
  • Make the parsley sauce: in a hot saucepan, add the butter and garlic. Cook for 30 seconds – don’t let the garlic brown. Add the wine and reduce by half, then add the cream. Let the cream boil and thicken for a few minutes – you want the sauce to coat the back of a spoon.
  • When the cream is thickened, add the chopped parsley and season with Dijon, salt and pepper.
  • Slice the ham and add it back into the broth with the cabbage wedges, just to heat through.
  • Depending on the size of your bacon (I usually buy a 1kg joint), this will feed 4-6 people. Serve hot with boiled or mashed potatoes.

#IrelandCooksforSyria: Spiced Chicken Shawarma with Creamy Garlic Sauce; Cream & Rosewater Baklava

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Over the past few years, Ireland has been welcoming Syrian refugees to its towns and villages. As a result, there is a good-sized Syrian community now living in Thurles, the nearest town to our farm.

I’m part of a group of Irish Food Bloggers that are posting Syrian recipes today in an effort to introduce you to typical (read: addictively delicious) Syrian cuisine and start a conversation about how we can help welcome refugees into our communities. It doesn’t have to be about fundraising or even necessarily being politically active (though both of those things are great). In my case, I’ve really enjoyed getting to know some Syrian women in Thurles on a more informal level.

Although I was relatively ignorant about Syrian food and culture before writing this post, I did know that most Syrians are practising Sunni Muslims. This means the women wear Hajib when they’re out in public, socialization is largely segregated by sex, and alcohol/pork/non-Halal foods are not consumed – ever. In a small town like Thurles, that can lead to problems when it comes to the weekly shop.

As a result, most Thurles-based Syrian food shopping is done at the Halal shop in Port Laoise or the shops in Tallaght (Dublin) with the last few bits being done in Thurles itself. I was so impressed, when my friend Reham recently had me over to her house, with the size of her refrigerator – it’s a huge, North American-style, stainless steel beauty. I was green with envy.

“We need lots of room because we don’t get to Dublin very often,” she explained. “When we do go, we buy a lot of Halal ingredients and use the fridge/freezer for storage.”

Reham came to Thurles with her husband, son and daughter about two years ago (and she has since welcomed an adorable baby girl!). Her sister came as well, with her own family, but as many Syrian families are quite large the sisters still have siblings, in-laws and parents living in other parts of the world.

Reham and I originally met at a Thurles Women’s Group gathering. I was invited to attend by the local coordinator and didn’t really know what to expect. I ended up staying for hours, having great chats with nearly every woman – Syrian and Irish alike – in the room.

Kids, husbands, the little quirks that come along with moving to Ireland – by the end of the night the ladies and I were laughing like old friends, and Reham promised to make me shawarma – something I used to eat every night in Toronto after cleaning down the restaurant kitchen (the shawarma shop on the way to my apartment was the only restaurant still open at 2am!).

“There is one Halal restaurant (Kebabish) in Thurles,” she said later at her house, in between bites of shawarma and fresh lemon, “but we usually prefer to eat at home.”

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I don’t blame her. Reham could make millions selling her homemade pickles and I would be a daily patron if her family ever decided to open a shawarma shop in Thurles.

… Have I mentioned I LOVE SHAWARMA?

In Toronto you can’t walk 500 metres without seeing a shawarma shop. Not all shawarma are created equal, though – the best ones are filled with juicy, spit-roasted slices of chicken or lamb, a generous smear of garlic cream sauce, fresh tomato and pickles and maybe a dollop of hummus for good measure. You can get them in a pita wrap, or with all the ingredients piled on a plate with fries.

Reham doesn’t have a spit (at least, I didn’t see one in the kitchen), but the chicken was moist and deliciously spiced. She wrapped the chicken and sauce in pita and toasted the whole thing on a grill – burrito-style! We then dipped our shawarma in extra garlic sauce and piled them with fried potatoes and bright red pickled turnip.

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I was so full after the shawarma, but there was a delicious looking baklava for dessert filled with thickened cream and flavoured with rose water – how could I pass that up? I downed two pieces along with my cardamom-infused Arabic coffee.

I’m so glad to have met my Syrian neighbours in Thurles. They are as mad about food as I am, they’re fun to be around and they teach me new things all the time. As a newcomer myself it’s great to spend some time with other non-Irish people every now and then!

I’d encourage anyone interested in getting to know their local Syrian community to research any local men’s/women’s groups that might be involved. You can also contact your local representatives to ask how you can get stuck in.

The Irish Food Bloggers involved in this linky are supporting Amnesty International’s “I Welcome Refugees” campaign. Click on the link to learn more about this great initiative.

In the meantime, you can make this shawarma and baklava. You won’t regret it.

*Thanks to Billy at Rookie Cook for organizing this! Here are links to other #IrelandCooksforSyria blog posts (will add to this as they come):

The Honest Project

Rookie Cook

Colm O’Gorman & here’s Colm’s piece in the Irish Times

Tasty Mediterraneo

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Spiced Chicken Shawarma with Creamy Garlic Sauce 

Ingredients:

For the Chicken:

500g chicken breasts or boneless thighs, sliced into large pieces

2-3 pita wraps

juice of 1/2 lemon

1 tsp each:

ground coriander

ground cumin

all-purpose Syrian spice mix (you can find it in Halal shops)

pinch of cinnamon

1-2 cloves garlic, minced

100g plain Greek yogurt

2 tsp salt

For the Garlic Sauce:

5 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

juice of one lemon

1 egg white

2 Tbsp ice water

1 cup rapeseed oil (or canola; sunflower – any mild oil)

good pinch of sea salt

Directions:

  • Marinate your chicken in the spices, garlic, lemon juice and yogurt for at least an hour.
  • Saute or grill your chicken pieces until fully cooked. Open up the pita and spread 1 Tbsp garlic sauce in each. Layer the chicken into the pita and roll up tightly like a burrito.
  • Grill the shawarma wraps until hot all the way through and the outside is slightly toasty. Slice into 2-3 pieces per pita.
  • Serve with French fries, extra garlic sauce, dill pickles, pickled turnip and beetroot, fresh cucumber, fresh carrot, and slices of fresh lemon (you eat the lemon, it’s not for juice!).

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Cream, Rosewater and Pistachio Baklava

Ingredients:

at least 16 sheets phyllo pastry (8 for the bottom and 8 for the top)

melted butter (about 60g/1/4 cup)

250g/1 cup crushed or blitzed pistachios

Rose Water Syrup:

2 tsp rose water

juice of 1/2 lemon

1/4 cup water

1/2 cup honey

Cream Filling:

250ml/1 cup heavy cream

250ml/1 cup whole milk

60g/1/4 cup sugar

3 Tbsp cornstarch

2 tsp vanilla

Directions: .

  • Make the rose water syrup: in a small saucepan, combine the lemon juice, water, rose water and honey. Bring to a boil and boil for 2 minutes (until slightly thickened). Set aside to cool.
  • Make the cream filling: in a saucepan, combine all of the ingredients, stirring until smooth. Slowly bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly, and boil for 2 minutes to fully thicken. Remove from heat, allow to cool slightly, then wrap clingfilm directly onto the surface of the filling (to avoid a skin forming) and chill for 1 hour.
  • Preheat your oven to 180∘C (350∘F)
  • Line the bottom of a small, lightly buttered casserole dish with half the phyllo pastry, brushing each sheet with melted butter before adding the next. On top of this, add the cream filling and spread evenly.
  • Add the remaining phyllo sheets on top of the cream filling, again brushing each sheet with melted butter (including the top sheet). Using a sharp knife, lightly score the top of the baklava with a diamond or square design.
  • Bake the baklava for about 40 minutes (check after 30). The pastry should be golden brown and puffed-up and the diamond or square design on top should be prominent.
  • Sprinkle the top of the hot baklava with the crushed pistachios and then douse the whole thing in syrup (this must be done as soon as it comes out of the oven). Allow to cool before cutting and serving.
  • You will want to eat this within 2 days (the fresher it is, the better it tastes).
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