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Posts from the ‘Cheese’ Category

Una O’Dwyer’s Black Pudding & Thyme Sausage Strata

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Before we found out I was pregnant with our third child, I was in the best shape of my life.

When we got back to the farm after our 2016 Pan-Atlantic/Cross-Canada Adventure, I took up running. Actually, I took up running while I was home in Nova Scotia. The longer evenings and milder temperatures in June gave me a bit of energy. I started tracking my progress (and my caloric intake) on my smartphone. I started the Couch to 5k app and slowly, ever slowly, went from barely being able to run for a minute at a time to running for 25 minutes straight, without stopping.

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I was eating stuff like this pre-pregnancy/pre-strata.

Some runners may scoff at a mere 25 minute run (a jog, really) but for me – as someone who absolutely hated running; who swore she would never, ever be a runner – it was the biggest deal. I never thought I’d be able to do it, but I did.

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Then I got pregnant again. And the extreme exhaustion started creeping in, usually around mid-afternoon. And I started letting my three year old watch endless episodes of Paw Patrol so I could nap on the couch while Ciara napped in her room. And I started craving Big Macs every day at 2pm.

Yes, the calorie-counting went out the window, as did my tri-weekly run – even though my doctor told me I’d be fine to continue. It was just a bit too much.

But I miss it. 25 weeks into this pregnancy, I’m excited to meet our new baby and get back into some kind of exercise regime.

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But the calorie-counting? I don’t miss that. Especially when I can eat things like this decadent black pudding sausage-laden strata, made with Irish cheese (I used Derg Cheddar – they make their cheese using only raw, summer milk here in Tipperary), without feeling guilty.

Una O’Dwyer (aka The Butcher’s Daughter) makes really great sausages. She has a shop in Cashel, Tipperary – about a 40 minute drive from the farm – and sells a wide range of her sausages nationwide. I made this strata with her black pudding & thyme sausages. The earthy flavour of the black pudding went really well with the creamy farmhouse cheddar.

Oh, and thanks to all that pre-pregnancy running, my BMI went down an entire 3 points and I lost more than 15 pounds. We’ll see what the scales say post-pregnancy, but in the meantime I’m going to have a second helping of strata – with a generous dollop of herby sour cream.

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Una O’Dwyer’s Black Pudding & Thyme Sausage Strata

Ingredients:

1 loaf crusty bread, cut into thin slices

1 package Cashel Fine Foods Black Pudding & Thyme Sausages, casings removed

500g button or chestnut mushrooms, sliced

1 large onion, diced

500g cherry tomatoes, cut in half

250g/1 cup aged cheddar cheese (I used raw Derg Cheddar), grated

1 Tbsp rapeseed/olive oil

1 Tbsp butter (for greasing)

10 large eggs

200ml/3/4 cup cream

2 tsp Dijon mustard

2 tsp salt

1 tsp black pepper

To Serve:

Chopped, fresh herbs (parsley, thyme or chives)

250g/1 cup sour cream

Directions:

  • Preheat your oven to 400∘F (200°C, no fan). Grease a large casserole dish with 1 Tbsp of butter.
  • Heat a large skillet to medium-high on the stovetop. Add the olive oil, then add the diced onion.
  • Cook the onion for five minutes, or until translucent. Add the mushrooms and sausages and continue to fry until tender and caramelized (about 8-10 minutes). You’ve removed the casings from the sausages, so at this stage you can break up the sausages with a wooden spoon.
  • Take half the sliced bread and layer it evenly on the bottom of the buttered casserole dish. Add the sausage/mushroom/onion mixture over the top, then sprinkle that with half the cheddar cheese.
  • Sprinkle the halved cherry tomatoes over the cheese, then layer the other half of the bread over top.
  • In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, Dijon, salt and pepper. Carefully pour the egg mixture over the casserole, ensuring each area is well-coated. Sprinkle the remaining cheddar over the top.
  • Allow to sit for at least 30 minutes, or up to 24 hours, before baking for 45-55 minutes. If you stick a sharp knife in the strata and some egg oozes out, you’ll know it’s not ready. Cook for another 10-15 minutes.
  • Serve hot with a dollop of sour cream and fresh herbs. This casserole serves 8-12 regular people, or 3-4 pregnant ladies.

Visiting Thurles: The Green Sheep Cafe

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*Disclaimer: This is the first part of a series I will be writing about different places I love in North Tipperary. I was not asked to write any of these articles and have not received any incentives to do so. This particular post, however, concerns a business I am actively involved in.

First let’s get some serious business out of the way:

Cooking With Craic has been shortlisted for a Littlewoods Ireland Blog Award under the Best Food Experience (Food Review) category! To become a finalist, I need to get as many public votes as possible aside from being judged by my blogging peers. If you enjoy reading this blog I would so appreciate you clicking on the button below and giving me an ol’ vote (you may be required to sign in with your Facebook account to prove you’re not a robot!).

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There. I dislike asking for votes, but I love all the wonderful support from the readers of this blog. Thanks for that!

So back to The Green Sheep. Where do I even begin?

If you’ve ever lived in a foreign country you might have had a brilliant or not-so-brilliant experience. In my opinion, whether or not you have a brilliant experience is dependent on a few things:

  1. Making friends. Real ones. You know, the kind you can complain to and laugh hysterically with.
  2. Having purpose. A job you love, a serious hobby, a volunteer gig – any of these things make you feel like you belong to the community.
  3. Having a place to hang out. The times when you have nothing to do and don’t feel like being alone in your house, you need a place to go. A place where you feel comfortable.
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Mrs C. and me, Christmas 2007, Now Bar

I had these three things when I lived in Korea – a great job, a group of amazing friends (not to mention the Irishman I would someday marry) and Now Bar – the foreigner bar where we’d all congregate in the evenings and on weekends. The bar’s owner – a fun-loving woman we called Mrs. C – was like our Korean mom.

I have these three things in Ireland, too, which is great since I don’t plan on living anywhere else for the rest of my life. Funnily enough, all three of things things include The Green Sheep.

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I initially met The Green Sheep’s owner, Lucy Lambe, via Twitter. She kept telling me to visit her in her new cafe, so, eventually, I did. I loved the vibe and the coffee (she uses single origin Baobab coffee – these guys know how to roast beans). I loved Lucy, too. She is absolutely stark raving mad (in the best way). I quickly came to realize how passionate she and her husband, Patrick, are about supporting our local food producers and how much they enjoy showcasing all the great food products made in our area.

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So the cafe quickly became my hang-out. I would buy a coffee and watch the people walking down Friar Street. I soon came to know the other regulars and became good friends with Lucy and her family. Lucy would help me find local products to feature in my weekly Tipperary Star food column and I would bake and bring things in for her and her customers to sample. Her kids became my go-to babysitters.

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The food served here is whimsical, fresh and as a la minute as you can get (sometimes you don’t even know what you’re going to get – but it’s always good). In the winter you can get warming soups and stews; during the summer the salads are full of edible flowers and herbs from Comfrey Cottage.

They sell cakes, donuts (more on that later!), specialty meats and cheeses (think Toonsbridge, raw Derg Cheddar, Gubbeen and Cooleeney), local Thurles Tarts and jams, chutneys, juices and sauces – all made locally.

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They make fresh sandwiches and salads. Lucy’s Wild Irish Shrub Vinaigrette is becoming famous. But most of all, they serve up a vibrant atmosphere, full of good conversation and fun. Customers here quickly become friends. Its proximity to the Thurles train station has brought many a stranded visitor en route to elsewhere. They come in to wait for the next train and leave laughing and waving – instant friends. I’ve witnessed this on more than one occasion.

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The Green Sheep is open Monday-Saturday from 8-6. They sometimes open on Sundays if there’s a match at Semple Stadium. The next time you’re in Thurles, stop in for a coffee and lunch – you will leave happy!

Vanilla Mascarpone Cheesecake with Blood Orange Gelée

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So, a little over a month ago I had my second baby. We called her Ciara (pronounced Kee-ra, for all you North Americans – not See-ara!). She is a cute little bundle of snuggly goodness. I like her a lot; even at 4 am.

Maeve likes her too, thankfully. Every now and then she looks up at me and says, “Mommy, I really like Ciara.”

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It’s almost like she needs to convince herself sometimes, but I’ll take it.

Now that we’re in a sorta-rhythm with nap times, play groups and toddler music classes (in conjunction with mommy’s frequent, lingering coffee breaks at The Green Sheep in Thurles), I was recently able to do some baking. I had a pile of mascarpone cheese in my fridge, but I didn’t want to make the same ol’ tiramisu. I thought I might try a cheesecake.

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Can you believe I’ve never made a cheesecake? Me neither. I don’t think I even made one in culinary school. This is mostly because I’m not a huge lover of cheesecake – I find the traditional New York-style baked cheesecake really rich and far too heavy. The no-bake versions are a bit lighter but still too much for me.

Mascarpone cheesecake, though. Oh man. I had no idea what I was missing.

Mascarpone, as a cheese, is lighter, naturally a bit on the sweet side and endlessly creamy when compared to your basic cream cheese. It makes the cake sweet and light. You don’t have to add a pile to sugar to the mix. Topped with a citrus-ey gelée you get the perfect amount of acid to cut through the sweet.

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What’s a gelée? A fancy French word for jelly, though traditionally a gelée isn’t as stiff. You can slice through it easily. It bursts into juice on your tongue. It’s the essence of whichever flavour you’re gelling, in a more manageable form. And it looks very pretty over the top of a baked cheesecake.

I made a vanilla bean & blood orange gelée this time since blood orange is in season and so good right now, but you can make a gelée from almost any kind of fruit. Use the same recipe and simply substitute different fruit juices.

This recipe has been tried and approved by numerous people: Maeve, who ate the gelée and pretended to like the cheesecake bit; my husband, who called it the “best cake ever” and requested another for his birthday later this month; my father-in-law, who didn’t say anything about the cake but also didn’t bother to slice off a piece, instead attacking the entire thing with a fork; and my friend Lucy, who owns the café I like to frequent.

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Vanilla Mascarpone Cheesecake with Blood Orange Gelée

Ingredients:

400g/1.5 cups amaretti biscuits, crushed

60g/1/4 cup butter, melted

500g/2 cups cream cheese, softened

500g/2 cups mascarpone cheese

250g/1 cup granulated sugar

2 tsp good quality vanilla

4 large eggs

For the gelée:

250ml/1 cup/about four large oranges blood orange juice

60g/1/4 cup granulated sugar

Seeds/pod of one vanilla bean

1/2 package of powdered gelatin

Directions:

  • Preheat your oven to 180°C/350°F.
  • In a small bowl, combine the crushed amaretti biscuits and melted butter. Press this mixture into the bottom of a 9″ springform pan and bake in the preheated oven for about 10 minutes, until slightly browned.
  • Remove the pan from the oven and set aside to cool. Reduce the oven heat to 160 °C/325°F.
  • Mix the softened cheeses, sugar and 2 tsp of vanilla until well combined and creamy. Continue mixing and add the eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each.
  • Tightly wrap the outside of the springform pan with 2-3 layers of tin foil, making sure the foil is 2-3 inches higher than the rim of the pan. Pour the cheese mixture over the top of the amaretti biscuit base and place the springform pan in a larger roasting tray.
  • Place the tray in the preheated oven and fill halfway with boiling water. Bake the cheesecake for about an hour. It will be slightly brown on top and the middle of the cake with be slightly jiggly.
  • When the cake is finished, cool it on a wire rack for 1-2 hours. Do not remove it from the pan.
  • Place the cooled cake in the fridge for at least eight hours.
  • Make the gelée: place the vanilla, blood orange juice and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook until the sugar is completely dissolved. Sprinkle the powdered gelatin over the top of the hot mixture and whisk until completely dissolved.
  • Allow the juice mixture to cool slightly before gently pouring over the top of the cheesecake. Wrap the cake in plastic wrap and return it to the fridge for the gelée to set.
  • When the gelée has set, use a paring knife dipped in hot water to loosen the sides of the cake from the pan. Gently remove the outer part of the springform pan.
  • This cake will NOT last long, but just in case: it’ll keep in the fridge for up to a week. Enjoy!

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Derg Cheddar Stove-top Mac & Cheese

17815155688_ba31eb834d_z I hear tales of 30 degree weather in Canada right now, but here in Ireland it still feels like winter. Yes, we have some lovely weather for the month of April, but as my father-in-law says, “That was our summer, right there.” I’m currently bundled on the couch in my housecoat; a cat curled so far into my hip he’s almost invisible. There’s a fire in the fireplace and outside it’s absolutely dismal – wind, rain and very low temperatures. So much for our Irish summer! We’re busy on the farm, as always. We’re beginning to plan for cutting silage, but the growth is not as good as it should be due to the colder weather. We’ll have to wait for nicer weather to do that, anyway. Between our jobs, home life, farm work and Maeve being with her child minder during the week I barely have time to even think about blogging. But I need to keep this website going. It’s my portal to the rest of the world. And I love sharing our lives with you all (and thanks for deeming it interesting enough to follow!).

Diva Bakes stall at Ballymaloe Litfest

Diva Bakes stall at Ballymaloe Litfest

A few weeks ago I went to Ballymaloe Litfest. I’ve been going since the festival began – for about three years – and I have to say, it just gets better and better. The guest speakers, amazing chefs, food writers and food producers who come to the festival make it even more special. This year I ACTUALLY MET ALICE WATERS. For real. She is just as lovely in person as she seems, which is refreshing. She signed a book for Maeve, who will receive said book when she is off to university (yup, I’m going to keep it that long). I’ve looked up to Alice Waters for years and was thrilled to hear her speak and meet her.

The gorgeous falafel from Rocket Man

The gorgeous falafel from Rocket Man

My delicious masala dosa from Ayer's Cafe

My delicious masala dosa from Ayer’s Cafe

The food at Litfest was better than ever this year. The Rocket Man from Cork always impresses with their fresh salads and pickles, but this year they were doing falafel flatbreads which went down an absolute treat. I had an AMAZING dosa from Iyer’s Cafe in Cork – the best I’ve had outside of Asia, in fact – and we got Maeve a little wood-fired pie from Volcano Pizza. So, so good.

The love folk from Ayer's Cafe - such amazing Indian food!

The lovely folk from Iyer’s Cafe – such amazing Indian food!

Miss M was a bit out of sorts, so we couldn’t stay as long as we wanted to, but before we left I loaded up on Arbutus Bread (some of the best loaves in Ireland) and Cloud Confectionery marshmallows (they come in so many awesome flavours!).

Loved all the pickled/fermented product on display from My Goodness

Loved all the pickled/fermented product on display from My Goodness

When we got home we were a) committed to never travelling with a toddler ever again and b) exhausted. We needed some comfort food. I had a block of delicious Derg Cheddar, made just down the road in Nenagh (this cheese is amazing – made only from raw, summer milk when the cows are at pasture; it’s aged but manages to taste creamy and sharp all at once). I decided to make stovetop mac and cheese with crispy garlic breadcrumbs and it saved our lives.

18002974775_4dab097404_z Derg Cheddar Stovetop Mac and Cheese Ingredients:

½ lb pasta

60g plain flour

60g butter

1 bay leaf

½ L full fat milk

½ Tbsp Dijon mustard

Pinch of nutmeg

500g Derg Farmhouse Cheddar, grated

Salt & Pepper

For the breadcrumb topping:

500g fresh breadcrumbs

60g butter

1 clove garlic

Salt & Pepper

Chopped fresh parsley, thyme, chives and/or basil

Directions:

  • Heat a large pot of salted water to boil for the pasta. While the pasta is cooking, start the sauce:
  • In a medium-sized, heavy bottomed saucepan, melt the butter. When it starts to bubbles, add the flour and mix well. The mixture should look a bit doughy – this is called a roux. Let the roux cook for one minute, then add the bay leaf and half the milk.
  • Using a metal whisk, stir the mixture until it thickens completely. Make sure you’ve beaten out any lumps, then add the rest of the milk.
  • Allow the mixture to slowly come to a boil, gently whisking the entire time (the bottom will stick and burn if not!). When it comes to a boil and thickens, remove it from the heat.
  • Stir in the Dijon, salt and pepper, and finally, the cheese. When all is melted and combined, give it a taste and adjust the seasoning as desired.
  • When cooked, strain the pasta and toss with the cheese sauce. Make the breadcrumbs:
  • In a large pan, melt the butter and add the finely chopped garlic. Let it cook for 30 seconds, then add the breadcrumbs. Cook the breadcrumbs until the butter has been absorbed and they become golden brown and crunchy, stirring often. When finished, toss with the fresh herbs.
  • Serve the mac & cheese is bowls with the breadcrumbs sprinkled over-top. This makes four large servings.
We love Ballymaloe!

We love Ballymaloe!

The Best Places I’ve Ever Been

Gili Trawangan, Indonesia

Gili Trawangan, Indonesia

I’ve been off work sick for about a week. It’s torture. I love being busy – I’m usually overflowing with tasks, whether its mothering my daughter, cooking, keeping the fires going (we usually have two: one in the wood stove in the kitchen and one in the sitting room fireplace), or, of course, working my actual day job at Holycross Stores and The Tipperary Kitchen. I’ve also taken up writing a weekly food column for The Tipperary Star, where I focus on a different local producer each week and create a recipe from their product. I love my life here in Ireland. I loooove being busy.

Badaling, Great Wall of China

Badaling, Great Wall of China

This past week has been a shock to my system. Relying on my husband to keep the house clean and our daughter cared for and my father-in-law to keep the fire going was, at first, torturous. But the last few days have finally seen me getting used to it. I’ve been able to take the time to reconnect with friends in Canada and in other parts of the world. I’m reading more. I’m listening to the radio and my favourite albums. It’s been a nice trip down memory lane. That leads me here, to this post. I’ve been looking back on old photos and reliving some amazing past adventures. I thought I’d share some of the best places I’ve ever been with you and tell you why they were so life-changing. Aren’t we lucky to live in an age where we were easily able to record our younger lives and experiences? OK, here are my Top 5! I would love to hear/see about yours, too.

Patrick & I at Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon, South Korea

Patrick & I at Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon, South Korea

1. South Korea  I spent 2007-10 living and working in South Korea. It was the biggest, craziest thing I’ve ever done. I was fresh out of university, mad to travel, had absolutely no money and no cares. I found a job, they paid for my flight, found me an apartment, paid the rent and then proceeded to pay me about $2000.00 CAN a month. I almost missed my first flight and Air Canada let me on the plane, but refused to check my luggage, so I literally MOVED TO ASIA with only my carry-on and my handbag. And a camera.

Halloween 2008 - Trick or Drink! Visiting convenience stores around our neighbourhood

Halloween 2008 – Trick or Drink! Visiting convenience stores around our neighbourhood. I’m the panda.

I played with five year olds during the day and partied with the other expats at night. The expats came from all over the English-speaking world. We all hung out at the same bar and there were other Canadian teachers at my school, so even though I went to Korea knowing no one, I came out of it with lifelong friends and a life partner (that’s right, I met Patrick at the foreigner bar in 2008).

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Lifelong friends.

I learned enough Korean to get by and made wonderful Korean friends, too. I miss them all the time. I need to get back there, to someday show my kids where their parents met. To a young, travel-crazy individual, I can’t recommend teaching abroad enough. I have friends teaching in Turkey right now and it looks like they’re having a great time, too, so there are plenty of options out there.

Kimchi Pots

Kimchi Pots

Things I love about Korea: THE FOOD, the lifestyle of a carefree foreigner, the amazing group of international friends (will we all ever be in the same place again? Probably not.), the low cost of living, the Korean people (including their priceless reactions to my curly hair and how protective my Korean friends were of me).

Songsan Ilchulbong in Jeju, South Korea

Songsan Ilchulbong in Jeju, South Korea

If you go you must experience: Mudfest, Jeju-do (a semi-tropical island off the South coast), jjimjilbang (Korean saunas), kimchi-making, island-hopping off Incheon, travelling along the beautiful East Coast, hiking Suraksan, eating strange, raw sea creatures (when you’re by the sea).

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Gunung Bromo after a pre-dawn hike (and slight meltdown)

2. Indonesia Patrick and I spent a month backpacking around the Western part of Indonesia in 2009. We started in The Gili Islands, then worked our way across Bali, Java and Sumatra. It was one of the best, worst and all-around craziest experiences of my life.

Borobrodur, Java

Borobrodur, Java

Patrick got a cheap (but safe) scuba diving PADI cert in The Gilis and, as a result, saw some amazing undersea creatures. I lounged on the beach and chatted with the local ladies. We ate barracuda, satay, curries, nasi goreng and copious amounts of sambal. We drank litres of Bintang beer. We lived very well for about 20 bucks a day.

Browsing the market in Ubud, Bali

Browsing the market in Ubud, Bali

In Bali we shopped for (and shipped) art. We saw dance performances and ate the ubiquitous babi gulung (roast pig stuffed with spices). We took the bus to Java and were dropped off in a random place in the middle of the night. We got a drunk taxi driver who drove five metres and then got out of the car and left us. We got another taxi and, at dawn, climbed an active volcano. We spent several blissfull days in Yogyakarta and saw ancient temples. A guy asked me to name his newborn baby.

Hanging out with the locals in Yogyakarta, Java.

Hanging out with the locals in Yogyakarta, Java.

We got spooked in Jakarta, boarded a massive ship and sailed for three days to Sumatra. We were segregated by sex (a Muslim country) and the women in my cabin thought I might be related to Britney Spears. They fed me fruit and looked inside my makeup bag.

My roomies on the ship to Sumatra.

My roomies on the ship to Sumatra.

We drove to the jungle and hung out with orangutans. One of the best experiences of my life. I popped xanax on a daily basis because I have an unhealthy obsession with natural disasters and tropical diseases. Indonesia in a nutshell.

This experience is up there with getting married and having a baby!

This experience is up there with getting married and having a baby!

If you go you must experience: Bukit Lawang (home of the orangutans), Yogyakarta, Borodrodur, Gunung Bromo (the volcano), travelling on an “ekonomi” train, eating Padang, swimming with sea turtles and giant clams, riding on the back of a motorbike “taksi”.

Pastel de nata in Belem, Lisbon

Pastel de nata in Belem, Lisbon

3. Portugal We’re coming up on a whole year since our first-ever family trip. Last year, Maeve was seven months old and couldn’t yet crawl or walk. It was the perfect time to take her on vacation as she was perfectly content to be strolled around – she would NOT be OK with that now!

Costa Nova, Aviero, Portugal

Costa Nova, Aviero, Portugal

I had been wanting to visit Portugal my whole life. Growing up in Cape Breton, I wasn’t exactly surrounded by multiculturalism. That said, my best childhood friend (and still a wonderful friend) is half Portuguese. I spent so much time in her home, with her Portuguese Dad and all of the photos, stories and culture she was exposed to. When she travelled to Portugal for visits, I always wanted to go, too.

Costa Nova

Costa Nova

So when I finally got to go last year I felt like a kid again. I got to spend time with my friend’s dad and he opened up his Lisbon home to us. We took the train to Porto and fell in love with everything about that city – the medieval, winding alleyways, the River Douro and the most delicious cheeses, wines and cured meats. Maeve was a prime attraction for locals, with her blond hair and bright blue eyes. We were cooed at and smiled to wherever we went.

Porto

Porto

We went to the coastal university town of Aviero. We spent time in Costa Nova at the beach, eating fresh seafood and enjoying the gorgeous scenery. For a first family vacation, it was perfect in every way.

Piri Piri at Bonjardim

Piri Piri at Bonjardim

Theive's Market, Lisbon

Thieve’s Market, Lisbon

If you go you must experience: Piri Piri Chicken with Creamed Spinach at Bonjardim (Lisbon), Fiera de Ladra (the “Thieves” Market) in Lisbon, Taste Porto Food Tours, Costa Nova in Aviero, pastel de nata and espresso EVERY MORNING, drinking Sagres in the main square in Porto.

No pollution control at the Tsingtao brewery

No pollution control at the Tsingtao brewery

4. China When I told my Korean friends I was going to China for my Christmas break they begged me not to go alone. “Someone will take you! They will sell you as a bride!”

Wangfujing Night Market, Beijing

Wangfujing Night Market, Beijing

Sometimes Koreans can be a little anti-China. That said, there were times, travelling alone, that I got into certain situations and remembered their words. I played on the safe side. Just so you know, though, sometimes proper taxis in China are just unmarked vans. This was my first solo-vacation (and my last, incidentally) since meeting Patrick. He went home to Ireland for Christmas and so I wanted to go somewhere, too.

Noodles in Tsingtao

Noodles in Tsingtao

Here’s the thing, though: I hate airplanes. So. Much. I will go really, really far out of my way to avoid flying. So that’s why I took a ferry to China. It took 18 hours. I was in a cabin with three women who were studying in Korea. The ferry docked in the city of Tsingtao (yup, where they make the beer). I spent a day or two there. The Germans occupied Tsingtao during the World War, which is why the beer is so lovely. I think Tsingtao would be much nicer in the summer, but I still had fun drinking beer and slurping noodles.

Temple of Heaven, Beijing

Temple of Heaven, Beijing

I took an overnight train to Beijing. The crowd at the train station was scary and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to find my car. Just as the train was announced a young woman appeared out of nowhere. She grabbed my elbows, stuck them out, and helped me push my way through the crowd. She found my car, showed me where to go and was gone before I could practice my Mandarin and say thank you.

Wangfujing, Beijing

Wangfujing, Beijing

I had no seat. A woman was sitting with her three children in four seats. She took her youngest on her lap and gave me one of their seats. The children shared their snack with me (chicken feet from a convenience store), then we all fell asleep. Every time I woke up, a different child was sprawled across my lap. Beijing is one massive contrast. Communist and strict; mystical and spiritual. Amazing sights, smells and markets. Elderly folk having dance parties in sub-zero temperatures. The Great Wall is way more impressive than Karl Pilkington said. It (and the wind) took my breath away. The Ming Tombs were cool, too.

If you go you must experience: Travel by train, Beer Street in Tsingtao, The Temple of Heaven, The Silk Market, The Summer Palace, Peking Duck on Ghost Street, Wangfujing Night Market (where you’ll find all those lovely scorpion kebabs), The Great Wall, Hot Pot, Hutongs, Beijing Park Life.

Lakes of Killarney

Lakes of Killarney

5. Ireland Can you blame me for including my adopted home in this post? Ireland has changed me. I wasn’t a mom before I moved to Ireland. I was living in Canada’s biggest city prior to moving here – concrete on concrete, business attire every day, brunching on weekends and trying to stay on top of trends. All of that changed when I moved to Ireland.

Carvery Lunch in Dublin

Carvery Lunch in Dublin

I’m happy here. I’m settled. I love the fresh, local ingredients I have available to me. I love that Dublin, Waterford and Cork are less than two hours away. Limerick is less than an hour. I love being back on a farm. I love being surrounded by a large, extended family. Ireland is home.

The Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland

The Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland

If you go you must experience: The Antrim Coast, The Copper Coast, nights out in Galway, the Lakes of Killarney, wandering around Cork, Ballymaloe Litfest, quiet pubs in Tipperary, visit a farm, eat lots of butter and cheese, drink tea, hike around Glendalough, go to the Avoca in Wicklow for tea and shopping.

Cherry Tomato & Daru Galette

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Spring is here. It’s official.

As I type this, I assure you I’m aware that back home in Eastern Canada people are still buried under ten feet of snow. I know you’re having a rough winter. I’m really sorry.

But spring is here in Tipperary!

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There are puddles to jump into, new calves every day and my garden is once again starting to grow. I feel like it wasn’t that long ago that everything died. The winters here are very short compared to the ones I’m used to – yet another reason I’m glad I moved to Ireland.

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The farm is busy at this time of year; mostly due to calving. Slurry needs to be spread over the fields, the cows still need to be fed silage until the grass starts growing, the calves need to be marked and separated (and fed) and the cows who have given birth once again need to be milked twice a day.

It’s not easy. Just today we lost a mother and one of her twins, and Maeve shared an apt new word: “sad”. We’re not 100% sure what happened, but we do know that it was sudden and there was nothing we could do. We take a little bit of solace in that knowledge, but it’s been a sad day anyway.

But even with those two losses, we’re surrounded by brand-spanking-new life every day, and that’s a wonderful thing. Maeve loves visiting the “baby moos” and watches them in earnest on our calf-cam (we’ve got a 24 hour feed in the birthing shed). She’s a little farmer already.

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It’s still cold most days, but when the sun is shining it feels warm. It makes me want to eat fresh veggies, leafy greens and tangy cheeses.

Like this galette!

Sweet cherry tomatoes, fresh thyme from the garden and local Cooleeney Daru cheese. Daru is semi-hard, buttery and perfect for tarts. It’s made from their own cows’ milk. It’s distinctly Tipperary in flavour. And it’s made just down the road from me! I had a whole slew of Cooleeney cheese to work my way through recently and thought the Daru would be perfect with tomatoes.

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Some other favourite Cooleeney cheeses? Their Gleann Oir (goat’s milk, semi-hard), Cooleeney Farmhouse (creamy, edible rind) and Gortnamona (goat’s milk, soft & creamy). It’s hard to pick just one.

This galette is so easy to throw together at the last minute (particularly if you have some pie dough in the fridge or freezer). Make sure you season the tomatoes as the salt content in the cheese will not be enough.

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Cherry Tomato & Daru Galette

Ingredients:

One recipe pie dough, chilled

1 pint cherry or vine tomatoes, sliced in half

1 small wheel Cooleeney Daru cheese (if you can’t get Cooleeney cheese I think taleggio would also work well here)

A handful of fresh thyme, picked & roughly chopped

Flaky sea salt and freshly ground pepper

A drizzle of olive oil

One egg, beaten

Directions:

  • Preheat your oven to 400 degrees (200 degrees Celsius, no fan). Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside.
  • In a bowl, add the halved cherry tomatoes, chopped thyme, sea salt and pepper. Toss to coat the tomatoes and set aside.
  • Remove the rind from the Daru and crumble the cheese. Set aside.
  • Roll out your pie dough to about 1/4 inch thickness. If you want a clean looking galette you can trim the edges with a pizza cutter to make a neat circle; for a more rustic look don’t bother.
  • Place the rolled dough onto the baking sheet and arrange the seasoned tomatoes in the center. Top with the crumbled Daru cheese.
  • Fold the sides over the filling, leaving the center part exposed.
  • Brush the exposed dough with the beaten egg.
  • Bake at 400 degrees for about 35-40 minutes (check at 30 minutes to be safe). The crust should be flaky and golden brown; the cheese should be bubbly and the tomatoes cooked through. Sprinkle more flaky sea salt and fresh thyme over top; drizzle a bit more olive oil.
  • Serve hot or warm with a simple salad.

Moyne, Co. Tipperary

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Moyne is a small village (and larger outlying community) in North Tipperary. I was there this past weekend to check out Cooleeney Farm and try some of the amazing artisanal soft-rind cheeses they make.

Cheese, glorious cheese.

Cheese, glorious cheese.

Most locals might think Moyne isn’t anything special, but I love the village – the centuries-old graveyard, the cozy pubs, the massive stone church. I like how everything in the community runs on its own time and how, in this tiny village, there is a thriving arts scene with a fabulous theatre troupe.

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Cooleeney makes it a great place, too. The folk there have been making cheese since the late ’80’s and use milk from their own cows to make it (they also get goat’s milk from down the way and make some really spectacular goat cheeses). While I was there I got to peek at some of the cheeses they’re currently working on and – wow. There’s going to be some great stuff released in the next few months.

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At Cooleeney Farm

At Cooleeney Farm

I don’t know if you know this about me (ha), but I love Tipperary. I love being close to our family and living on our farm, and I love that our grass is so green and our cheese, butter, cream and meat taste so damn good as a result. I love that you can get cheese and craft beer just down the road and that those who make these things are so friendly. Great neighbours to have.

Just so you know, you probably shouldn't go 80 km/h on this road. The sign is more like a dare.

Just so you know, you probably shouldn’t go 80 km/h on this road. The sign is more like a dare.

I also love that places like Moyne exist. If you’re travelling through Ireland you will find a lot of areas catered to tourists, but Moyne is the real deal – the real Ireland.

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