Browsing: Food & Travel

Bunratty Castle

April13

I distinctly remember two things, from the time when I was little.  I would wear a full length slip on my head so that I could imagine what it felt like to have a full, thick head of long, luxurious hair falling down upon my shoulders and my back.  We lived in a bungalow, but I dreamed about moving to a home with a staircase, preferably a winding one, so that my imagined long skirt would spill down the stairs behind me as I descended.  I never wanted to be a princess but I did imagine myself living in a castle as the respected female head of the household, who waited patiently for their menfolk to return from battle, so that she could provide hospitality to every brave warrior and plan enormous feats to celebrate the victories.

Therefore finding myself, after much time has past, in the ancient Bunratty Castle was literally a dream come true.  The present castle is the last of a series on the same site built around 1425.  It is said to be the most “complete” castle in all of Ireland.  During the 16th and 17th century it was the important stronghold of the O’Briens-kings and later earls of Thomond or North Munster.  It is furnished in the style of the great Earl who was renowned for his hospitality.  The castle is entered by a drawbridge to the Main Guard.

Upon arrival, there is an upwards climb to The Great Hall.  This was the original banquet hall and audience chamber of the Earls where they gave their judgments while sitting on their Chair of the Estate.  The walls are hung with French, Belgian and Flemish tapestries.

I was enthralled by the wooden ceiling and the angels that adorned the walls.

I had a peak into the Chapel which boasts a finely decorated 16th century stucco ceiling and precious artifacts including a 15th century Swabian altar piece.

The chaplain’s bedchamber is immediately overhead and his robing room directly across the hall.

In this room we were served goblets of honey mead to begin the evening of merriment, music and song.  The ensemble of singers and musicians, who later also turned out to be our serving butlers and wenches, were obviously passionate about their history as they played the parts in perfect character.  Their talents were so excellent and their sincerity so true, that this was a rich sharing of a beautiful culture.

OMGoodness, my time and space is up and we haven’t even moved downstairs to the Minstrels’ Gallery which was set for our Medieval banquet!

Kath’s quote: “It is to a dinner what a portico or a peristyle is to a building; that is to say, it is not only the first part of it, but it must be devised in such a manner as to set the tone of the whole banquet, in the same way as the overture of an opera announces the subject of the work.”-Grimod de la Reynière

Adare Manor Villas -Part 2

April12

Even though we put 1200 kms on our comfortable Renault while in Ireland and hit almost every pub in Adare, we actually spent some wonderful time in the villa as well.  We were all committed to rising early to get a good start on the day.  D would put the coffee on (in truth it was the slowest and nosiest coffee maker I have ever encountered) but this would give us lots of time to sit in the “extra” room and talk about our day.

This room had one of the two ethernet connections and a sleeper couch.  The main floor bath was adjoining and so we planned that when D and I return with our family one day, this could be a fourth bedroom.  In the mean time, I dubbed it “the morning room”, influenced by the fact that we were staying on a Manor estate.  The sun shone for half of our trip and when we did have it in the morning, it was more than welcome.  The sunshine absolutely flooded into this cozy space.

The master bedroom, even though it faced west, was a beautiful buttery yellow and felt like sunshine even in the gloom.  It is especially large with an extra reading chair and has the only bathtub of the four bathrooms.

The sun-room on the west of the house, became our gathering place when we got home from our day’s adventure and enjoyed our official “happy hour”.  I say “official”, because pints were often enjoyed at a far earlier time-we were in Guinness country after all.  I could only imagine what this room would be like in balmier weather with an evening breeze coming in through the two walls of windows.

The day that D and I spent on our own, we also were able to enjoy the back patio.  This was on one of our sunny days and even though it was only 12 Celsius, the patio is sheltered and we swung our seats around to lift our faces to the sun.

Snatches of time in the sun must be precious to Irelanders too because when we were in Galway, a helpful lady instructed us to her favourite pub because it had the best sun exposure with its patio seats on two sides, not mentioning a thing about the ale selection or food quality.  We took her up on her suggestion, but that is another story.

The kitchen as fully equipped and with the provisions that were conveniently available in the village, we had some lovely tastes around our dining room table.

I loved the red cheddar on toasted raisin scones.  We also found homemade strawberry jam to sweeten up breakfasts.

On Good Friday, we stayed very close to the village and tucked into a homemade breakfast of bangers (sausages) and the most amazing smoky bacon from Adare’s local butcher shop.  This was accompanied by black and white pudding, when we all declared that we liked the taste of the white pudding best.

Later that evening, D made a stuffed pork tenderloin with roasted potatoes, carrots, asparagus and an pistachio and almond trout for PK which she was over the moon for.

She shared tastes with us and we laughingly said “Fish so good, it would almost make you wanna be Catholic!”  Dessert that evening was apple pie topped with custard; a concoction we had not tried before but will likely become part of our repertoire.

But enough of home base, there is so much to see in the Irish countryside.

Kath’s quotes: “From Black pudding to pickled jellyfish, beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. What we see and taste as beautiful depends largely on what our family and friends approve of — with just a little room for personal preference.”-Laurence Mound

Adare Manor Villas-Part 1

April11

The start of this adventure, was an adventure indeed.  The itinerary that we checked constantly over the months leading up to our departure, indicated that our plane departed for Chicago at 9:45 am but just for good measure, D checked another sheet at 7:00 am (just before we were to depart for the airport).  We were living everyone’s worst nightmare-this schedule indicated that that flight was leaving at 7:45!  As a result, we missed that flight and subsequently our connections in America’s busy airports of Chicago and New York were less than 1 hour each.  To make a long story short, with determination and travelling mercies, we made every connection and arrived at Shannon, Ireland airport ahead of schedule. 

We were taking this journey with my beloved eldest brother and his wife- DK and PK.  PK and I had spent considerable time of the Villas’ website and pretty much knew what to expect.  Our husbands on the other hand, went from room to room upon our arrival, blown away by our home for our Irish adventure, exclaiming:  “We each have our own bathroom! There’s a fully lit bar AND a fireplace”!  We must have looked like the Beverly Hillbillies.  Our excitement was not so much the space and luxuries of the villas but of knowing how little we had paid for the accommodation! They were still finding features as we unpacked and settled in.

We were a little bit disappointed to find that we could not check in immediately upon our arrival at the Adare Manor that morning.  But no matter, this gave us an opportunity to snoop in the library and some of the other main floor public rooms before venturing into the village.  

We bought some provisions (read: cheese, scones and liquor) and saw the famed thatched roof cottages of the pretty main street.  We picked out which pubs we imagined spending future time at.

Upon settling in, the guys had their first pints of Guinness and I had my first taste of the Druid Celtic Cider that became my villa “unwind” drink.  Afternoon naps were in order and then we headed out for our first Irish dinner at Bunratty Castle- a perfect start to a wonderful week.

 Kath’s quote: “Cider was, next to water, the most abundant and the cheapest fluid to be had in New Hampshire, while i lived there, — often selling for a dollar per barrel. In many a family of six or eight persons, a barrel tapped on Saturday barely lasted a full week…..The transition from cider to warmer and more potent stimulants was easy and natural; so that whole families died drunkards and vagabond paupers from the impetus first given by cider-swilling in their rural homes…..”-Horace Greeley

Dani’s Dinner

April9

I was recently going through my blog drafts and realized that I had never posted this one about the farewell dinner that D and I prepared when one of our nieces left to spend an extended time in Australia.

I asked her in advance what she would like us to make for her and she replied with “Auntie, I love everything that you cook!”  So I gave her a shorter list of options and she selected Mexican as she is an Islaholic like the rest of us.

D marinated both chicken and beef marinated in Goya brand Mojo Criollo that we had purchased at the El Izcalo on Sargent Ave. here in Winnipeg.  The sauce is a tangy blend of bitter orange and lemon juices, accented with garlic and spices.  He also rubbed Achiote Contimentado paste on the pork before he wrapped both in banana leaves as he is doing in the photo above.

I also made Chopped Zucchini with Corn that was topped with Queso Fresco: Fresh Farmers Style Cheese.

I prepared this dish of condiments to be inserted into the corn or flour tortilla shells with the meat.  Sister #3 brought along her glorious homemade guacamole.

 

In preparation for the evening, I had to set up two dinner tables: our usual one in the dining room with the two extra leaves and a temporary one in the living room to accommodate the “Adults”.  This is written with tongue and cheek because all 14 of us are adults.  Imagine having so many people who you love that you can’t fit them all at one dining table?  This is my life.

Sister #2 contributed the chocolate fondue for dessert.

Dani is due to come home in June, if everything goes as planned.  Some things have changed in our family since Dani left in January. But one thing will never, never change. We are a family who demonstrate our deep love for each other with the sharing of food.  Miss you Dani. Muah!

  

Kath’s quote:

“Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That’s all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
 I look at, and I sigh.”

William Butler Yeats

(Just got back from Ireland and kind of fixated on Irish prose)….

A Trip to the Beach-Melinda & Robert Blanchard Part 2

April5

Continuing in the Island adventures of living the dream and opening their own restaurant on their beloved Island:

Chapter 6: “Six o’clock on opening night.  Our staff was in high gear.  A bond had developed among everyone; in just a short time, the common goal of creating and building this restaurant had brought us all together.  The first day of unloading containers with the Davis brothers was history now, as were the long, hot days of construction, the endless testing of recipes, and the unnerving search for ingredients.  Opening night was the culmination of what had become a collective dream, and each member of our staff had played their part.  Blanchard’s was their restaurant now as much as ours.

In the kitchen everyone was in clean, starched chefs jackets and ready to cook.  Garrilin washed the bush, as she called it, for salads.  Shabby had the grill hot and ready to go , and the rest of us nervously waited for our first order.

The wait staff bustled about, looking strikingly handsome with their crisp white dress shirts contrasting their smooth black skin.  They were proud of their Blanchard’s logo embroidered over the pocket.  With meticulous care the stemware had been polished until it sparkled, and each glass was held up to the light, ensuring that no smudges or spots remained.  the mahogany bar top was burnished to a glowing sheen, and bottles were straightened repeatedly on the back bar until each was where it belonged.  The bar refrigerator was stocked with freshly squeezed orange juice for rum punch, ice cold Heinekens, Caribs, sodas, and Perrier.  The ice bin was full, and in it, bottles of sauvignon blanc from the Loire Valley chilled next to Chardonnay from Sonoma, ready to be poured by the glass.

Lowell, Miquel, and Alwyn checked the dining room with Bob again and again, straightening place settings, moving glasses an inch to the left, then to the right, then back to the left.  They recited the table numbers and reviewed the menu and the wine list for the umpteenth time.

We had arranged flowers in bud vases for the tables, picking blossoms from the garden.  Some had green furls made from a leaf, a brilliant yellow allamanda tucked in the middle, and a tiny dot of red in the center from a firecracker plant.  Others had log, leggy green shoots-almost Japanese in nature-and pink hibiscus floating in the center.

Bob and I stood in the middle of the dining room and looked around in awe.  Floor to ceiling teal shutters were flung open, and beyond them the garden s twinkled as a gentle breeze shifted the plants and flowers that were illuminated from below.  The fountains shimmered as the underwater lights bounced off the water columns dancing in the air.  Beyond the gardens the sea crashed against Mead’s Bay; our stone path, lit softl;y on each side, meandered towards the waves.  In the dining room, potted palms rustled under lazily spinning ceiling fans.  The white rattan chairs sat ready to be broken in and our dishes,silver and hand-blown crystal flickered in the candlelight,  The sound of Vivaldi filled the room.  I felt a rush of excitement ripple through my body, and I squeezed Bob’s hand.  It was like waiting for the curtain to go up on Broadway.”

They served these on opening night:

“Banana Cabanas (makes two):

Put 1/2 c Coco Lopez into a blender.  Add 1/2 c Bailey’s Irish Cream, 2 ripe bananas, 2 c ice cubes, and, if you like, 2 oz white rum. It’s great with or without the rum.  Blend on high speed until smooth and creamy.”

Kath’s quote: “To be always intending to live a new life, but never find time to set about it — this is as if a man should put off eating and drinking from one day to another till he be starved and destroyed.”-Sir Walter Scott

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