Thursday, September 25, 2014

Our Incredible Adventure on the Emerald Isle

I have wanted to go to Ireland since I was a little girl. My stepdad is Irish and spent many years singing me “little ditties” and telling me fantastical stories about the Emerald Isle. So when we decided to go to Ireland on our big trip, I was very concerned that the Ireland of today would be modern and devoid of the culture, history and music I had always imagined. Thankfully, the expectation of my childhood visions was more than exceeded!
We arrived in Dublin and after dropping our bags at our hotel, we went around the corner to the pub in search of a bite. We walked in and it was like every Irish pub in the US, only REAL! We sat down with pints of Guinness, sausages and sang along joyfully with the live band.

The next morning, we got up early and made our way to the Guinness factory (our 3rd brewery tour so far!) and were quite pleased. Although the tour is pretty expensive, and more shiny museum than working brewery, the exhibits were excellent. We got to take a Guinness tasting class, a Guinness pouring class and learn about (and taste) some Guinness/food pairings. By the time we finished, after several tastings and the leftovers of the nice old ladies we met at the final bar, we were feeling quite Irish. But alas it was only noon o'clock!

That afternoon, it was time for our Big Authentic Irish Weekend. We met a lovely Irish couple, Carl and Maire, on their engagement night in Vietnam six months earlier, and they invited us to come stay should we ever come to Ireland. At that time, we had no plans to, so boy were they surprised when they got an email from us 6 months later asking if they wanted to meet for a drink. And boy were we surprised when their response came back, “yes, we'd love to have a drink. But how about with that drink, you come and spend the weekend with us out in the countryside at our family home and we'll take you on a big adventure?" It didn't take long to agree to that offer wholeheartedly!
Carl bought me a cookie. I knew I liked him!
We met up with our new favorite Irish people and headed south to his family's home in Wexford. My dear readers, here is where you may think I'm exaggerating my story, but I promise you, this is what happened next. As an aside, I should share that Cory has a dream of his own about Ireland. He dreams that it's like those movies where a small village has a problem of some kind, they come together to work it out and their town becomes better in the process (see Calendar Girls, Waking Ned Devine, The Englishman who went up a hill and came down a mountain). Now back to our story. In the car on the way, Carl had called his mom to "put the kettle on" so there was hot tea awaiting us when we arrived at their lovely home in the tiny village of Kilineran. His dad wasn't home yet because he was at the neighbor's house planning a dance in the village to raise money for the school. Yep, we were in a little village and they were coming together to solve a problem! Heaven :)
We settled in with our tea and introductions, but the fire started to get low. The solution? Throw some more peat bricks on it! Ah yes, we were in an Irish village, drinking tea, watching rugby, and warming our toes by a peat fire. After dinner, we all took a walk into the center of the village, to go to the pub. And by pub, I mean village living room slash gas station store. All in one. The only other non-houses in town were the school and the church. We had a couple of pints with the locals and headed home to rest up for another big day.
The next day, we hit up the beach (it was a little different than the beaches we're used to in San Diego. I was freezing), got lost in the countryside trying to find a beautiful waterfall (we found it) and enjoyed a gorgeous sunset walk to a lake. We made it home in time for a roast dinner courtesy of Carl's mom, and we contributed a slice of Americana...homemade chocolate chip cookies (recipe at the bottom, in case you'd like to thank your own Irish hosts!). And they were the best ones I've ever made. Probably something about the Irish Kerrygold butter, and the act of dipping them in fresh Irish milk. Another successful day!

Old Irish church and graveyard (including sheep!)
Matching cutesie mittens!

By day 3 it was Carl's weekend, so we opted to head west and see Kerry, on Maire's family farm. We drove a few hours and took a break in Galway, to enjoy a rugby game in the pub, a couple of pints and a photo shoot on the Blackrock Tower, re-enacting the ending scene from The Guard (without the guns, of course). Plus, Carl took us to bet on the dog races at the bookies. It was very Irish :)

At the Blackrock Tower, we saw the below guy going for his afternoon swim, and thought he was absolutely crazy. And then we returned to San Francisco, and Cory started swimming in the SF Bay. Without a wetsuit. In December. Cory is now this crazy old man... :)

Reinacting the Guard
 A short while later, we arrived in Kerry, in another delightfully small village, Tarbert. Maire had warned us that we might not understand her family - apparently the challenge is due to heavy Irish accent mixed with a sprinkling of Irish words. And she was right! Even speaking slowly for our benefit, the conversation was a particularly delightful challenge. 

This is what it looks like when you put your hand in a cow's mouth
Cory driving an Irish tractor
Maire's Dad, the Irish Farmer
We spent the next days on the farm with Maire's family, learning about the cows and the coursing dogs their family trains. And now when we are home and buy some Kerrygold butter, we say a little thanks to her family's cows. Sunday afternoon brought a special treat when we went to the village pub (also owned by her family), The Swanky for Sunday roast dinner. As I was parked between the fire and the local priest, munching happily on my roast lamb with mint jelly and all the accompanying sides, I looked out the window to see a whole herd of men and women on horseback, returning from the morning's hunt. Seriously. Just trotting down the street through the center of town, as though we are accustomed to seeing things like this in California!
It was hard to believe, after these wonderful days, how we would fare on our own in the Irish countryside for the next few days. I think we did a pretty good job, but that's another story...


Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
(adapted from America's Test Kitchen)

2 cups + 2 Tablespoons (10 5/8 oz) unbleached flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons salted Kerrygold Irish Butter, melted and cooled until just warm
1 cup packed (7 oz) light or dark brown sugar
1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz) granulated sugar
1 large egg, plus 1 large egg yolk
1 overflowing Tablespoons vanilla extract
1 bag semisweet chocolate chips
A couple handfuls of toasted pecans or walnuts, if desired
1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. 
2. Either by hand or with an electric mixer, mix both sugars and the butter.  Beat in the egg, yolk, and vanilla until combined.  Add the dry ingredients and beat on low until just combined.  Stir in the chips and nuts. 
3. Taste dough liberally to make sure it's not poisoned.
4. With a cookie scoop or two spoons, scoop cookies onto cookie sheets, 2-3 inches apart.
5. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until they are golden brown and the edges are dry, but not so long that the middles lose all their moisture. Cool on the baking sheets.
6. Serve in piles alonside a jug of fresh Irish milk. Yum!

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