Sunday, June 28, 2009

Glin to Dingle and Some Grilled Garden Goodies

If more of my Ireland journey journal has you yawning, just scroll down the post almost to the end for Sweetie's take on grilled zucchini.

A few days earlier when we exited the Tarbert ferry, everyone seemed to be following the sign toward the west, toward Dingle. Now it was our turn. We were sad to leave our new found relatives, but also excited about seeing some actual ancient (Stone Age) stone ruins.

On a slightly overcast day we drove back to Tarbert and took the N69 southwest, past Listowel, past Tralee, past Derrymore to Camp. Once we passed Tralee we were on the Dingle peninsula.
Dingle peninsula is a lovely but rocky piece of land and is the westernmost tip of Ireland, which is itself the far western part of Europe.

Dingle is part of the Gaeltacht, a part of Ireland where Gaelic is spoken, traditions of music and poetry and the arts are cherished, and sometimes the signs are only in Gaelic. Coming through pass between Camp and Anascaul we read a sign painted on the road that ended in Mall. We were pretty sure that it wasn’t directing us to a shopping mall. As it turned out the phrase was ‘Taisteal go Mall ‘ which is Gaelic for ‘go slowly’. Fortunately we were going fairly slowly so that we could enjoy the lovely green valley below with fields crisscrossed by hedges and stone walls

and flocks of puffy white sheep here and there.

There even seemed to be a section at the lowest part of the valley for peat farming.
One of the pleasures of Ireland is how clean everything is, both with the lack of trash at the road side and in the towns, but also with the lack of billboards and other visual distractions. We did see some signs that explained how clean and fresh many places looked. There is a national competition for the Tidy Town award.

People keep their personal space in good order, towns plant flowers and paint buildings bright colors.

Getting the award seems to be very important. I wish we had something like that here.
There were plenty of signs for those running for office, but even those seemed to be regulated so that none were terribly large. Multiples of the same sign posted side by side on highway overcrossings was as close as they came to big campaign signage. There are often appropriately sized signs at ruins telling a little bit about the history, but even those are discrete. Road signs are very large when needed and usually well placed and helpful. It seems to me that Ireland has the right idea.

Driving home from the Oakland Airport after our trip the most noticeable signs were the commercial ones; neon signs, lighted signs, and billboards were more numerous and shouted for attention much more than the occasional road sign. They seemed to be a blight on the senses after the serene lack of them in Ireland. Think of a busy American large tourist town and all the bright, overpowering signs and then notice these which were on one of the main streets in Dingle which is a major tourist destination.

After coming through the pass we were able to see Dingle Bay on our left as we continued on to Dingle town and our next B & B, Harbor Nights, which sits right on the water of Dingle harbor. Housed in narrow, traditional row houses,

the rooms were similar to a good motel’s, but the beds were top notch and there was a tea set up in the armoire and a good shower and nice sliding door to the balcony. The breakfast room is bright and well appointed and the common room upstairs has really comfy chairs and good, free Internet connections. The innkeeper, Kathleen, was welcoming and efficient and her helpers charming.
One of the advantages of staying here, besides all rooms being en suite and there being parking behind the B&B is that you are within easy walking distance of Dingle town. Should you wish to stay there, they have a web site:
While Sweetie caught up with his e-mail upstairs, I headed off to town and had a look around and mailed some post cards. I was charmed by some old fellas chatting by the harbor

and by some schoolgirls at lunchtime gathered by a grocery store.

Store fronts might have dolphins ‘swimming’ on the front

or they might be adorned with a beautiful carved face with knotwork hair.

There was a lot of traffic and plenty of shops.

I went into a pottery shop

and fell in love with a beautiful and unusual teapot which is the work of the owner’s daughter. I had it shipped home and have already enjoyed the wonderful balance it has…so important in a teapot that is for use, not just looking pretty. Isn’t it beautiful?

That evening we celebrated our anniversary (a little late) and enjoyed a fine dinner at Fenton’s with two kinds of fresh fish. Mine, a flat fish similar to a flounder, was poached and finished with a light butter, lemon and chive sauce. Sweetie’s was a steak, similar to halibut, grilled and it came with a mushroom sauce. Both were excellent and you could tell that it was very fresh fish. Fresh veggies were lightly sautéed. The light as air potato soufflé was a perfect way to enjoy the extra sauces. We shared a strawberry rhubarb crumble for dessert. It came with a dollop of whipped cream, but also with a pitcher of barely warm, pourable crème anglaise . Heavenly! Too bad I had left the camera at home. In fact, most of the time I was in Ireland I forgot to take food photos. What kind of a food blogger am I?

As we walked home from dinner it began to get dark. There were dramatic clouds on the horizon. We hoped for good weather the next day because we were going to explore ancient Iron Age forts, beehive huts used by monks, and hoped to have a picnic, too.

The next morning I headed for town to get supplies for the picnic. I spotted a bakery with industrial sized beaters hung in front of a window. I missed cooking and baking!

Inside I bought some goodies for a picnic I had planned. One slice was a Victoria Sponge enrobed in chocolate. The other was puff pastry with pastry cream and powdered sugar. (The last made a mess in the rental car, but was really good.)
At another grocery store by the post office I found local cheese, a wonderful seeded baguette, some sliced sausage, fruit and juice. At the fish market across from the B&B I bought some salmon pate’ which finished off the picnic provisions.

Starting a little later this way was a good thing. The road along the edge of the peninsula as you go in a clockwise direction is very narrow and the tour buses you are sharing the road with are very wide. Since most of the buses leave much earlier, we had little traffic and could enjoy the wonderful sea views and felt blessed with the slightly overcast but good (but windy) weather.

At Ventry Harbor there was a nice sandy four mile long curved beach. We pulled in and had our picnic, but the wind made it nicer to eat in the car.
Fortified, we headed off to Dun Beg Fort, an Iron Age (500 BC) ring fort on a rocky promontory. This is looking straight down to the sea.
Comparing this actual historic ring fort to the one we had seen at Craggaunowne, it seemed like the real one was larger and that there were multiple rings. Amazing how these unmortared walls

are still standing so many hundreds of years later. The doorways were very low,
but lined up with the breaks in the ring walls.

You can see that the underlying land is very rocky. Imagine having to clear all that rock!

They have estimated that there are something like 40,000 ring forts remains all over Ireland. We had parked across the street at a stone house where a traditional boat called a currach is permanently dry docked. It looked a bit like the Brendan.
Our next stop was at a group of beehive huts or clochans.

They were likely the living quarters for monks. They are enclosed by a circular wall, like the ring forts,

but the rock on the huts continues on up to make a roof, with spaces to let smoke out. Although the entry ways are low,

inside you can see that the roof is a fair distance over your head. Some like these above have lost their roof section. Imagine living in rock buildings like these so close to the water! Some of them were connected with a sort of corridor. You can see Sweetie on one side of two that are connected.

One of the interesting thing about the western part of the Dingle peninsula and, indeed, the area around the Cliffs of Mohr in County Clare, is that there is so little topsoil before you reach underlying rock. Getting to the sand and seaweed to build up the soil can be a challenge when this is the coastline.

It turns out that the inhabitants started out with mostly rock and hard clay and slowly built up the soil by first clearing rocks and piling them into walls, then sand and seaweed were laid on the clay and in time it was good for grass for grazing. A hard way to create soil that wasn’t even deep enough in most places to plant anything. Sheep and cows were grazing near the beehive huts, carrying on centuries old traditions.

Having had enough of stone and wind and narrow roads for the day, we turned around and headed back to Dingle Town. Here is where we were from Glin (day 4 & 5) to Tarbert, Listowel, Tralee and on to Dingle and then the stone fort and beehives (day 6 & 7) and left Dingle on day 8. On day 8 we headed toward Killarney and it’s beautiful lakes and gardens.

Speaking of gardens, thanks to drip irrigation installed before we left, mine is doing really well!

For the food portion of this post, we turn to a summer staple, fresh from the garden zucchini. There has been a fair number of lovely yellow, light green and dark green zucchini squash (also known as corregettes) being harvested so far, with some being given away to friends and neighbors, too.
In case you were wondering, I rarely give more than three medium sized at a time and never any of those baseball bat sized ones that managed to hide under the broad leaves. I like folks to be happy when I turn up with squash, not running the other way in dismay.

This "recipe" works for all types of summer squash; just be sure the pieces are large enough or they might fall through the grillwork and onto the fire or coals. For small pieces, use a piece of heavy duty aluminum foil on top of the grill to hold them.

"RECIPE": Sweetie is a genius with the grill, so we cut the squash lengthwise in thick slices, slather on some olive oil, sprinkle on a little garlic salt or herbs and a good grinding of fresh black pepper and they are ready to grill. I like them slightly charred but not so cooked that they are mushy. A few in the photo were a little too charred for my taste, but Sweetie likes them that way. A nicely cooked zucchini which retains is firmness and has a little sweetness from being so fresh is a true summer treat. Add in some golden bell peppers, also grilled, and you have a plate of goodness.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Daring Bakers June Tarts

Imagine having a strong memory of a treat that you had once, many, many years ago, but not having any idea what it was called or how to make it. That's why this challenge is a personal remembered treat turns out to be a Bakewell pudding...although it was called something Italian when I first had it.

The June Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart... er... pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800's in England.
Bakewell tarts…er…puddings combine a number of dessert elements but still let you show off your area’s seasonal fruits.

Like many regional dishes there’s no “one way” to make a Bakewell Tart…er…Pudding, but most of today’s versions fall within one of two types. The first is the “pudding” where a layer of jam is covered by an almondy pastry cream and baked in puff pastry. The second is the “tart” where a rich shortcrust pastry holds jam and an almondy sponge cake-like filling.

The version we’re daring you to make is a combination of the two: a sweet almond-flavoured shortcrust pastry, frangipane and jam.

The combination of textures is awesome! Crisp but tender buttery shortbread on the bottom, sweet tart strawberry-raspberry jam (in my version) giving just a bit of oozyness, and a light baked topping which is enriched with the finely ground almonds so it has a delightful almond flavor in a moist dense cake. All in all a delightful summer treat.

I followed the recipe given HERE, using a purchased jam. It is called A Red Duet and made by Mountain Fruit Company in Chico, CA. It is like the essence of summer with tangy strawberry and bright raspberry flavors in 'a natural fruit spread'. It went so well with the almond flavors.

Of all the Daring Bakers challenges, this one seemed to be one of the easier...the pastry was easy to make and held its shape well and baked up crisp but tender and the frangipane was simple to mix together and easy to spread over the jam, plus there was no trouble with the baking or removing it from the tart pan. It is perhaps my favorite because I have longed for this tart for such a long time...never suspecting that it was a Bakewell pudding. Thank you Jasmine and Annemarie for choosing this memorable tart.

For those few of you who enjoy the tales from the Land of St. Honore', return there with me now...
Sitting in a cafe on a little side street, she sipped her tea and used her fork to pick up the last crumbs of the dessert. There was something special about the combination of a red, fruity jam and an almondy topping all inside a short, sweet crust. She was just about to ask the server what it was called when she realized that she was late for her bus, so she quickly gathered her things and sprinted down the block to the bus stop.

Many years passed and her life did, too. She became a busy professional and had no time to sit in cafes drinking tea.

Eventually she decided that she needed a creative outlet...pushing papers all day is a very low form of she started painting still life compositions. Her favorites included some food in the arrangements. Seasonal fruits in a painting seemed to bring an extra depth to the works.

One day she was passing a bakery and she saw a golden brown tart scattered on top with sliced almonds. It was so beautiful that she decided to paint it. She bought a small one and a larger seven inch one. She tried an arrangement with just the small tart, one with a few berries added, and one with some ice cream.too. Eventually she finished her painting and sat down to eat a piece of the tart. Imagine her astonishment to find that it was the same dessert she had enjoyed all those years ago!

The next day she left on a business trip and when she returned, the bakery selling the tart had gone out of business, another victim of the recession. It may be a while before she has another tart like that one, but the sweet memory will carry her far.

As is often the case, there are many, many talented and gutsy Daring Bakers who have baked dozens and dozens and dozens of creative and beautiful Bakewell puddings. You can find them using the Blogroll.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Monday, Monday

Start your mixers! Pull out your pans! Even rev up the Ice Cream maker! It's time to PARTY!
Send the URL of your post to help celebrate Peabody's 37th birthday by the coming Monday, June
I'll do a round up on her birthday, July 2nd. If you can't stand the heat, ice cream or sorbet are great desserts for the party...or even home made lemonade as long as it is sweet.
A photo to go with your entry would be appreciated, too.
Looking forward to hearing from you soon.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Foynes Flying Boats, the Palatine and a Quiche

Although my grandfather's family in Ireland, living by the river as they did, earned their living messing around in boats, not too far away to the southeast, away from the river, there is an area with a rich agricultural heritage called the Palatine.
Before we visited the Palatine area, we headed due east along the Shannon in a light rain to see the Flying Boat Museum at Foynes, Limerick's port on the Shannon.

Between 1939 and 1945 this was the location of a terminus for flying boats crossing the Atlantic. Because the period of time between when flying boats were finally technologically able to make the Atlantic crossing and when regular airplanes began to be the regular cross Atlantic carriers was so short, most people don't rally know much about their place in air travel history.

Turns out that Charles Lindberg was hired to scout out the best place in Europe to be the terminal for trans-Atlantic flights. The small town of Foynes on the Shannon river was chosen after an extensive survey of all possible locations. My Cousin Mary was a girl when the first boats landed and she and a friend went to see them land on the river. It was pretty exciting!

The Museum is fairly new and exists due to the determination of locals to remember this part of the history of air travel as well as the part that this base played during the Second World War.

There are no available flying boats for the museum, so they got plans from Boeing and had a reconstruction built to size for the museum. Here is what the outside of the hull looks like:

When I mentioned the war to my Cousin, she was amused. Cousin S said that in Ireland it wasn't a war (because Ireland was officially neutral) but was called The Emergency. Sweetie had fun sitting in the captains seat in the full size model of a Clipper ship

as well as trying out the simulator for landing one. They had the radio and weather room with original transmitters, receivers and Morse code transmitter.

Another thing we learned was that Irish Coffee was invented here. The same chef who invented it later went on to the Buena Vista in San Francisco and found Irish Coffee well received there, too. We shared an Irish Coffee even though it was still morning...and it was great!

There is another California connection of a sort. Maureen O'Hara of Hollywood, CA fame was married to Captain Blair who piloted flying boats. She helped with this museum, including donating some of his memorabilia from those years. We both enjoyed this museum a lot.

After an illicit drive around the port, we headed off to Adare, Rathkeale, Ardagh and Athea in the Palatine, then home to Glin.

This area is in the Maigue Valley and is know as the Palatine because of the number of Lutheran refugees from southern Germany who settled there in the 18th century. The British sponsored them and even paid their rent at first.They are credited with introducing crop rotation. Their descendants still farm in the area.
The area around Rathkeale,

where we tried to visit the Irish Palatine Heritage Center, but found that it was closed only on Saturday and it was Saturday, is a great area for dairy-farming.

This old building was being restored. It's interesting to see how the different levels and roof lines a building cut open.

It was a beautiful ride on narrow country roads, up and down hillsides. Our favorite church of the trip is here and the first 'President' of the Irish Republic, Eamon de Valera, know as 'Dev is from this area, too. He and my grandfather were both Limerick County men, which might explain the fact they they corresponded long after Ireland became a Republic. When I visited my grandfather in 1970 he had a Christmas card from 'Dev' on the mantle and made sure that I heard about it.

Except for the preponderance of stone walls as field dividers, you could often be in Northern California. Perhaps a bit of homesickness inspired by those views explains why we had a yen for pizza that night?

Next time it's on to Dingle, beehives and rings.

And now to food!

Shortly after returning home I needed to bring something to a pot luck luncheon. One of my favorite things to make to take somewhere for lunch is a quiche. This one benefited from all that lovely Swiss chard that grew while we were gone, plus some bacon for flavor and Swiss cheese to keep the Swiss thing going.
You can make your own pie crust if you prefer, but since I was baking the pie shell the night before, still jet lagged and having worked all day, the Pillsbury ReadyCrust seemed like the way to go. Using pre-made pie dough makes this go together very quickly and this kind of quiche is always a hit.

Tip: If you use a pound of dried beans as pie weights as I do, save them once they have cooled off and you can use them again and again as pie weights...just don't plan on cooking them to eat. At about a dollar and a half for a bag of dried beans, it sure beats the almost $9 you would pay for Pie Weights from King Arthur or a similar amount at Sur la Table.

Quiche with Swiss Chard and Swiss Cheese and Bacon

1 9inch pie shell, blind baked at 425 degrees F for 10-12 minutes (recipe follows)
3 slices bacon, cut into small pieces and cooked until crisp, then drained
½ cup cooked, chopped and drained Swiss Chard (or substitute spinach), leaves only
1 cup Swiss cheese, cut into ¼ inch dice
3 eggs (or equivalent egg substitute)
1 ½ cups evaporated milk (I used non-fat) or light cream
¼ teaspoon salt
dash pepper
Dash nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Sprinkle the bottom of the pie shell with the bacon, Swiss chard, and Swiss cheese, distributing evenly. Set aside

In a bowl, beat the eggs lightly, then add the milk and beat with a fork to combine, add the salt, pepper and nutmeg and beat with a fork to combine.

Pour the egg/milk mixture over the ingredients in the pie shell. Place in the preheated oven and bake 30-45 minutes, or until set and lightly browned. Cool for 10 minutes before cutting to serve.
Serves 6-8

Pastry Pie Shell

1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup chilled butter
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons ice water
1 teaspoon lemon juice (optional)

Mix the flour and salt in a bowl. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender, or two knives, until particles the size of dried peas are formed.

In a small bowl mix together the egg, ice water and lemon juice (if using). Sprinkle over the flour mixture and toss with a fork lightly. Do not over mix. Gather the particles together in a ball. Wrap airtight and chill in the freezer for 10 minutes. Roll out with a rolling pin on a floured surface until large enough to fill a 9 inch pie pan with some overlap.

Fit into a 9 inch pie pan, smooth to fit, trip excess , tuck edges under and crimp as for any pie crust. Prick lightly all over the surface with a fork. Freeze 10 minutes. Remove from freezer and cover with a circle of parchment paper. Fill the paper with beans or pie weights (blind baking the crust).
Bake at 425 degrees F for 10 – 12 minutes. Cool slightly. Remove and save the beans or pie weights. Fill with filling as called for in recipes needing a pie shell.