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Posts from the ‘Food Porn’ Category

What We’ve been Cooking at the School of Food

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Teaching how to make Citrus Curd

I started teaching an 11-Week Commis Chef Training course at Thomastown’s School of Food almost nine weeks ago and, I keep saying this, but I feel like the weeks have been flying! We got so lucky with an amazing group of diverse, very cool students from all walks of Irish life. They are really passionate about food and have made teaching an actual pleasure.

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Dermot giving a steak demo at our BBQ in Inistioge

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Most of the class (plus Dermot) in Inistioge

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Sylvia and her gorgeous citrus meringue pie, Inistioge

Dermot Gannon, my co-tutor, and myself have been teaching the group everything from how to use a knife to how to ferment. We’ve spent days helping the school’s garden caretaker, we’ve gone outside to make wood-fired pizzas, we’ve packed up the school’s massive BBQ and cooked lunch for visitors, locals and even some Failte Ireland reps at the park in Inistioge and we’ve visited some really inspirational food producers.

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Janine Vine-Chatterton taught the class about Kombucha and Kefir

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Mags Morrissey (Hedgehog Bakery) taught the class about sourdough and fresh yeast breads

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Ballinwillin Wild Boar Farm, Mitchelstown, Co. Cork

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Pat at Ballinwillin

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Wild Boar and Venison products at Ballinwillin

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Caroline Hennessey giving a tour at Eight Degrees Brewing, Mitchelstown, Co. Cork

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Beer and Cheese Pairings at Eight Degrees Brewing

At the end of our course, the students will put on a food fair at the school. Over the past few weeks they have excitedly been developing, pricing and marketing a food product to sell. I am really looking forward to the market, but I’m also NOT looking forward to it – it will mean the end of the course, and saying goodbye (for now, at least) to these wonderful human beings who haven’t just been great students – they’ve become our buddies.

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Mozzarella-stuffed meatballs

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Winner for best wood-fired pizza!

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Marian and her prize pizza

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Fresh-made Brioche

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Gateaux Basque

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Kimchi-Brisket Sloppy Joes

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Carrot Sesame Salad

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Fresh Hake Goujons

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Oatmeal Spice Whoopie Pies

Is it weird to love your job this much?

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Planting pea shoots

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Doing something really important

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Taking pride in their work.

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Great, local Camphill produce

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Getting their hands dirty

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Making life-long friends

 

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48 Hours in Brussels

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Ah, Bruxelles. I fell in love with that charming city over a dreary, cold weekend in November and I’m only now able to tell you about it! Happy new year, dear readers. 2016 was really great for me in lots of ways (like that time my second daughter was born) and really bad in other ways (like that time Donald Trump…).

I think 2017 is going to be really great. Especially for my family, because we’re expanding yet again! Ciara will be 18 months when our third child is born this coming Spring so our two latest babies will be just shy of official “Irish Twin” status, but that won’t make our lives any less hectic. I’m just gonna embrace the craziness and be as kind to myself as possible.

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With that said, why wouldn’t I jump at the chance of a weekend away in one of Europe’s coolest cities? A few girlfriends and I bought cheap Ryanair tickets (€40 return) and rented an apartment for the weekend (which also worked out to about €40 per person). We were as close to the downtown core as you can possibly get, so our accommodation was a steal (and very clean, and very charming – here’s the link to the Airbnb).

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Our group was split between girls who wanted to party and girls who wanted to sleep (aka the pregnant ladies with kids at home). We all wanted to shop and eat. The location suited everyone’s tastes – just steps away from the Grand Place, the pedestrian shopping streets and the bar district. Artisan chocolate shops, French patisseries, waffle kiosks and proper Belgian friteries were absolutely everywhere. A real food heaven.

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On Saturday morning we gathered with other poor backpackers for a free walking tour of the city. Our guide (Oriane from Viva Brussels Walking Tours) was absolutely brilliant. I don’t normally like guided tours – it’s difficult to escape if the tour is really boring – but Oriane was funny, knew her history and gave good tips on where and what to eat/drink in the city. It was a cold, clear day but we were dressed warmly and enjoyed the exercise.

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I spent a lot of time buying chocolate and eating waffles. I must have averaged three waffles per day. The best thing about a true Liège waffle (the term “Belgian” waffle is incorrect since there are two types of waffle in Belgium – the Brussels waffle and the Liège, which is the one we tend to associate with Belgium) is that you can eat it on the go. Most shops will offer all kinds of sweet toppings, but DON’T – it’s just overkill. A proper Liège waffle is already sweet. Wrap it in a napkin and eat while you take in the sights.

As mentioned, there is no shortage of great quality Belgian chocolate on offer in the pedestrian areas off Grand Place. Your biggest problem will be deciding what to buy and from which shop. I bought several types of chocolate from different places and even bought some generic Belgian chocolate at the supermarket – all delicious.

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Other food and drink options worth exploring in Brussels include the famed Speculoos biscuits (my faves came from Maison Dandoy), traditional double-fried frites and, of course, Belgian beer. I know I’m pregnant, but I still bought a small bottle of Gueuze – an old-style Lambic beer which is fermented by particles in the air found only around Brussels. It had a sour, cidery taste. Really nice.

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And the frites? Oh my GAWD the frites. Our apartment was just around the corner from one of Brussels’ best friteries – Friterie du Café Georgette. The frites are triple-fried in beef fat, giving them an addictive flavour and perfect texture. They put Irish chips to shame. With a bit of mayo on the side, these frites made a good, cheap meal for us on more than one occasion.

I wasn’t so crazy about our final meal. Our tour guide had mentioned that Chez Lèon – an old-school Belgian restaurant – served great moules frites. Since the restaurant wasn’t far from our apartment we thought it would be a good place to go for dinner. The ambiance was wonderful. We had an older waitor with flawless tableside service. He was also a shameless flirt and a born entertainer. Unfortunately, my mussels weren’t nearly as vibrant; both moules and frites were disappointingly bland.

Dessert was a different affair (probably since most of the cooking was done tableside). I had a Normandy-style pancake. It might be the best dessert I’ve ever had (a hefty claim, but it was just that good – done simply, served hot – delicious).

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I’d love to go back to Brussels, or explore some of Belguim’s other cities, with my husband someday – preferably when I can drink beer again. The flight is an easy 1.5 hours from Dublin and the city is breathtaking. Don’t get hung up on terrorist threats; just don’t. Life is too short, and Brussels is too beautiful and fun to miss.

And those frites…

*This is not a sponsored post; no freebies were had. Just good times with friends.

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A Gastro-Weekend in Cork

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I can’t believe it, but I’m officially on maternity leave. This pregnancy has completely flown by, and I’m feeling a bit unprepared, so it’s a good thing that I have a few weeks off work before Christmas to try and get my life – not to mention, this blog! – organized.

I spent a weekend in October in Toronto. It was my first time back since Patrick and I moved in 2013. I was so excited to see my friends, my brother, my sweet baby nephew. One of my dearest friends got married in a beautiful ceremony and I’m so glad I could be there.

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Hong Kong-style Fried Chicken & Waffles – Patois, Toronto

Another chef-friend had opened a gorgeous little restaurant specializing in Caribbean-Asian cuisine, so of course I ventured over for brunch and ate everything on the menu (I’M PREGNANT, OK?). Patois is a great spot – I still dream about the fried chicken and Hong Kong-style waffles and Kimchi “pieriogi-style” potstickers.

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Pieriogi-Style Kimchi Potstickers – Patois, Toronto

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Cookie Butter-Stuffed French Toast – Patois, Toronto

Despite getting to see everyone and eating delicious food, I was really happy to get home to Tipperary. Who knew how impatient I’d gotten with traffic? And cities in general!

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Wandering Kilkenny Castle’s grounds

We also went, once again, to the Savour Kilkenny Festival of Food over the October long weekend. It was great, as always. Maeve had a great time, Patrick & I went out to Zuni for a delicious dinner and we all enjoyed the sights and sounds.

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Enjoying the food at Savour Kilkenny!

More recently, Patrick and I took a weekend away to get some Christmas shopping done and some kid-free time to ourselves before #2 arrives in early Janurary. We spent the night in Cork and enjoyed some amazing food.

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My delicious masala dosa from Ayer’s Cafe – picture taken at Ballymaloe Litfest, May 2015

While we’re spoiled for fresh ingredients here in Tipperary, we are definitely Asian-food-deprived (unless you count the local Chinese & Indian takeaways… which we don’t).

For lunch, despite Storm Desmond wreaking havoc all over the country, we trudged through the wind and rain to get to Iyer’s Cafe on Pope’s Quay. I love Iyer’s! I first tried their dosas and samosas at Ballymaloe Litfest 2015 – they tasted so amazingly authentic; I couldn’t get them out of my mind. As soon as we had Cork booked, I knew I’d be taking Patrick there for lunch.

We had a samosa chaat bowl (samosas with fresh chickpea, veggie and popped rice salad in a big bowl), masala dosa (a type of Indian crepe made from a batter of soaked lentils, served filled with spiced potato, chutneys on the side and a bowl of soupy masala sauce to pour over) and fried chili gobi (spiced cauliflower fritters) to share and were not disappointed. Iyer’s specializes in Southern Indian cuisine, all vegetarian or vegan, all authentic.

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Chicken Gyoza – Miyazaki, Cork

And speaking of authentic… later that evening, on the tip of fellow food blogger and my buddy Cork Billy, we went to Miyazaki Takeaway on Evergreen St. for some Japanese food. This was one of the best meals I’ve had in Ireland, and some of the best Japanese food I’ve had… well… ever! That’s including what I’ve eaten in Japan (is that blasphemous?).

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My Tempura Prawn Roll – Miyazaki, Cork

This place is tiny with minimal seating (there’s a counter with a few stools if you want to eat in). BUT the kitchen is open-concept and you can watch the very-talented chef at work while you wait for your yaki-udon and katsu-don.

I need to make this clear: Miyazaki’s food is Michelin star quality. My tempura-prawn roll was filled with fresh veggies and microgreens (not just for garnish; where they can be annoyingly superfluous – they added SERIOUS FLAVOUR to the roll).

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Japanese-style Fried Chicken don buri (front), pork yaki-udon (back) – Miyazaki, Cork

We had one of the evening’s specials – Japanese style fried chicken don buri (in a rice bowl with fresh veggies, egg, broth), pork yaki-udon (stir-fried noodles), chicken gyoza (dumplings) and a hand-roll each. It was the best date we’ve had in years – sitting on a few stools at the counter. The only thing missing? Some ice cold Sapporo.

Our Cork weekend, despite the terrible weather, was a total success: we relaxed, ate amazing food and got a huge chunk of our Christmas shopping completed (with minimal arguing!). It’s a very easy 1.5 hour trip from the farm, so we’ll be back for more food really soon.

*Look, I don’t normally do gushing reviews like this as an entire blog post, but the places mentioned above do wonderful work. I will say that I wasn’t asked to write any of these reviews; I was just really impressed and wanted to share my opinion. I hope you get to check them out, too, and let me know what you think!

 

 

 

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.

Where to Eat for Winterval

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You may or may not know this, but when I first moved to Ireland I lived in Waterford. Actually, up until last June I lived in Waterford. It’s Ireland’s oldest city and has a crazy, awesome history that includes (but is not limited to) vikings, war, disease, the British, boats and, of course, blaa.

When most non-Irish think of Waterford (if they’ve heard of it at all), Waterford Crystal generally comes to mind. If you’re Irish and don’t live in Waterford, you might remember the TV3 series The Estate (which only really represented a small portion of Waterford’s population).

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Having lived there, given birth there, made friends there and attended events there, my opinion of Waterford as a city is that it’s… awesome. Coming back for a visit actually makes me emotional. For someone moving to Ireland from abroad, Waterford offers so much – as a city and a county. There’s a thriving arts scene, amazing food and scenery and the people are nothing short of wonderful.

Waterford also hosts Ireland’s largest annual Christmas festival, aptly named Winterval. This year, the festival started on the 21st of November and will continue on until December 23rd (read my post on last year’s event here). It brings thousands of visitors to the city each year to indulge in some Santa-visiting, ice-skating and hot-chocolate-drinking.

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The chef’s homemade creme de cassis at La Boheme

I don’t know about you, visitors, but when I first moved to Waterford I had absolutely no idea where (or what) to eat. There is very little online information about Waterford’s wonderful food destinations, so here is a list of my favourite haunts. During Winterval there are plenty of kiosks selling all kinds of festive foods, but if you’re looking for something specific this list might help. Happy Winterval-ing (and eating!).

Coffee & Snacks

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Portico Coffee: These guys can really sling espresso and I was so happy when they opened their little café opposite the City Square Shopping Centre.

Location: 1 Peter Street, Waterford City

Arch Coffee: Having just opened, Arch Coffee is giving Portico a run for their money – they know their stuff and make a mean flat white.

Location: George’s Street, Waterford City (opposite Guiney’s)

Arch Cafe

Arch Cafe

Aoife’s Café: Gorgeous little spot located in the historic 33 The Mall building.

Location: 33 The Mall, Waterford City (close to Waterford Crystal)

The Park Lodge Café: The only café located within The People’s Park – a haven for mothers of young children or those with an affinity for cake.

Location: Newtown Road, The People’s Park, Waterford City 

Read more

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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My Favourite Places #5: Charlene’s Bayside, Whycocomagh, NS

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Now that I’m home in Cape Breton it’s great to be able to share a few of my favourite local places with you!

If you’re from the East Coast of Canada, chances are you enjoy eating seafood by the bucket-load (not exaggerating; we literally eat buckets of seafood here). Scallops, mussels, haddock, crab, salmon and, perhaps the most sacred crustacean of all, the Atlantic lobster are found in abundance in Cape Breton and, while the weather is at it’s finest in the summer, so is the seafood.

Lobster season in Cape Breton runs from May til about mid-July. That’s not very long in lobster-eating time. We like to get a lot of it while we can, especially because it’s more expensive and not as good for the rest of the year.

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I go to Charlene’s a lot. I was just there yesterday for lunch. If you’re looking for a truly phenomenal seafood chowder, Charlene’s wins out every time. It is hands-down the best chowder in Cape Breton. That is not an easy statement to make, but it is true. There’s a lot of good chowder on this island, but they all play second fiddle to Charlene’s.

So what makes Charlene’s chowder so freaking amazing? Well. Aside from being perfectly seasoned and a true Cape Breton chowder-consistency (that is, more soupy than thick), Charlene does. not. add. any. potato. to. her. chowder. None.

Some may enjoy the odd potato in their chowder, but if you really love seafood you’ll be delighted by the omission.

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Instead of potato, Charlene just adds a lot more seafood. I’m talkin’ massive chunks of lobster (never chewy, always tender), whole scallops, shelled mussels and big pieces of fish. Paired with one of her homemade rolls or biscuits, this chowder skyrockets you into Cape Breton seafood heaven.

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I’m going on and on about the chowder, but the other reason I like to go to Charlene’s Bayside is for the FISHCAKES. Best fishcakes, not just in Cape Breton, but ever. Just ever.

Potato, cod and seasonings combine to create a homey, comforting meal. Charlene serves two big fishcakes with homemade baked beans, green tomato chow (a type of relish), cottage cheese and a roll or biscuit. It’s a massive plate, and I have been known to devour one in less than ten minutes. I just love those fishcakes.

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*If you’re cheeky like me, you can ask for a cup of chowder instead of the baked beans. That way I get all of my favourite things on one plate! The beans are really good, though, and pair well with the fishcakes. It’s always a tough call.

If you’re planning a visit to Cape Breton and want to eat here, you’ll find Charlene’s Bayside in the village of Whycocomagh, about 30 minutes before you reach Baddeck on the Trans-Canada highway. Order the fishcakes, some chowder, a homemade dessert and tell Charlene I say hey.

You can like Charlene’s Bayside on Facebook.

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