Cook Up a Vacation: Recipes from Ireland

Sheltering in place during the global COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t mean your senses are confined to your home kitchen. Send your taste buds on a holiday with flavors from far-flung destinations.

The roof terrace at downtown Dublin’s The Woolen Mills Eating House. Photo courtesy The Woolen Mills

Ireland is one of my favorite destinations. The people are friendly, there’s always a bit of magic in the air, and I love rambling in its green pastures hunting for Neolithic stone circles and dolmens and medieval carvings called sheela-na-gigs.

Since I can’t go to Ireland in the foreseeable future, I’m going to try my hand at cooking these two delicious recipes: a salmon and colcannon dish from the five-star Lough Erne Resort in Northern Ireland, and a sweet dessert from The Woolen Mills Eating House,  which overlooks Dublin’s Liffey River.

Fresh Local Salmon from a Lake in Northern Ireland

This dish takes center stage for a spring/early summer supper. Noel McMeel, executive head chef at the Lough Erne Resort in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, combines fresh Atlantic salmon with a traditional Irish potato-and-kale dish called colcannon.

The Lough Erne Resort, in Northern Ireland’s County Fermanagh. Photo courtesy Lough Erne Resort

Located on the outskirts of Ireland’s only island town of Enniskillen, Lough Erne is a peaceful rural resort that features a spa, golf course, fine dining, and plenty of nature. Nearby are castles, ancient ruins, historic estates, and miles of scenery to explore.

Fresh Salmon with Traditional Colcannon and Basil Cream Sauce

Makes 4 portions

Colcannon ingredients:

1 lb. potatoes (washed)

5 tablespoons butter

5¼ ounces curly kale (finely chopped)

1 egg (beaten)

3 tablespoons plain flour

1 pinch salt and fresh ground black pepper

Tea time at the Lough Erne Resort

3 tablespoons water

Salmon ingredients:

9½ cups water

1 slice lemon

1 tablespoon salt

2 lbs. salmon fillet (skin on)

Basil Cream Sauce ingredients:

5 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons flour

2½ cups milk

¾ cup fresh basil leaves

To make the Colcannon:

  1. Cook the potatoes until soft (about 25 minutes) in boiling, salted water. Peel them while they’re still warm. Mash the potatoes and add 1½ tablespoons butter.
  2. Measure 3 tablespoons of water in a saucepan and warm on medium heat. Add the chopped kale and 3½ tablespoons of butter; cook until tender. (We use very little water to retain the kale’s vitamins
  3. Fold the cabbage into the potatoes. Bind the mixture together with a beaten egg and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

To prepare the Salmon:

  1. Put the water, lemon, and salt in a large pan. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 5 minutes.
  2. Add the salmon and simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and leave the fish to finish cooking gently in the cooking liquid.

To make the Basil Cream Sauce:

  1. Melt 1¾ tablespoons butter in a heavy pan and sprinkle with flour. Stir continuously with a wooden spoon to mix. Cook for 5 minutes.
  2. Gradually pour in the milk, stirring all the time, to make a smooth sauce.
  3. Add 1¼ cups of the fish-cooking liquid, and simmer for 12 minutes.
  4. Drain the salmon and cut into four portions. Place on four warmed plates.
  5. Stir the basil leaves and the rest of the butter into the sauce.

To serve:

  1. Place colcannon in the center of the plate with the salmon on top.
  2. Pour the sauce over half the fish. (Chef’s tip: The dishes will look more attractive if the fish is only partly covered.)

    Noel McMeel, executive head chef at the Lough Erne Resort, in Ireland’s County Fermanagh, is an ambassador for seasonal, local produce. Photo courtesy Lough Erne Resort

 

Dessert from Dublin’s Fair City

Whip up this dessert from The Woolen Mills Eating House, located on the 1816 elliptical-arch Ha’penny Bridge over the River Liffey in the heart of Dublin. With Georgian windows overlooking the river and an incredible roof terrace, the venue offers food with a view onto the ultimate Dublin cityscape. Chef Ian Connolly has created a sweet treat—or “pudding” as dessert is called in Britain and Ireland.

The Woolen Mills Eating House is located on Dublin with views of Ha’pnenny Bridge. Photo courtesy The Woolen Mills

Bread-and-Butter Pudding with Irish Whiskey Sauce

Makes 6 generous portions

Pudding ingredients:

1 cup cream

1¾ cup whole milk

2/3 cup caster sugar (or powdered sugar)

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 medium eggs, whisked

9 tablespoons butter, melted

3½ oz. sultanas, raisins, or other dried fruit

One loaf of white bread (sliced, with crusts removed)

Irish whiskey sauce ingredients:

½ cup golden syrup (or corn syrup)

¼ cup caster sugar (or powdered sugar)

1/3 cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons butter

½ cup cream

2 shots of Irish whiskey

To make the pudding:

  1. Preheat the oven to 320°F.
  2. Line a deep, medium-size baking tray with parchment paper.
  3. Slice the bread into square shapes.
  4. Heat the cream and milk in a heavy-based pan over low heat, then add the sugar, vanilla, eggs, and melted butter to the pan. Using a wooden spoon, mix well together and simmer until the sauce thickens.
  5. Dip each piece of bread into the cream mix until soaked through.
  6. Layer the bread onto the baking tray, with a sprinkle of sultanas, raisins, or dried fruit between each layer.
  7. When the bread is all used, pour the remaining cream mixture over the tray. Cover the baking tray with parchment paper and place in the oven. Bake for 1 hour, then remove the paper, and cook for another 15 minutes until the top is golden.

Pouring the Irish Whiskey Sauce over the Bread-and Butter Pudding. Photo courtesy The Woolen Mills

To make whiskey sauce:

  1. In a small pan, heat the syrup, sugars, and butter until melted. When the sauce starts to bubble, turn down the heat to low and whisk the cream into the hot mixture.
  2. Raise the heat again until the mixture begins to bubble, then remove the saucepan from heat.
  3. Add whiskey and stir.

To serve: Cut the bread pudding into squares, place each in a shallow bowl, and pour whiskey sauce over the top. Enjoy!

As they say in Ireland, “Ithe go maith” (“Eat well” in Gaelic)

Want to discover more of Ireland’s flavors? Visit Ireland.com

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance editor and writer

Jedi Knights Arrive in Ireland

Little Skellig island viewed from Skellig Michael, an island off County Kerry. Photo courtesy Tourism Ireland

Little Skellig island viewed from Skellig Michael, an island off County Kerry. Photo courtesy Tourism Ireland

Do you watch the end titles of a movie just to see the locations where it was filmed? If so, there’s a news flash: the final three Star Wars films (The Force Awakens, Return of the Jedi, and The Rise of Skywalker) treat movie-goers to eye-popping views of a remote, uninhabited island off the coast of southwest Ireland.

Luke Skywalker’s refuge and Rey’s training location in all three movies was filmed on Skellig Michael Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Director JJ Abrams—along with cast and crew—jetted into a little village called Portmagee, County Kerry, on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. From there, they traveled eight miles by sea to the starkly beautiful Skellig Michael.

To keep the location a secret when The Force Awakens was first shooting in 2014, locals were told a documentary was being filmed in the area, so they were amazed when it was quietly revealed that it was really Star Wars being filmed in their community.

A press release from Tourism Ireland quoted Gerard Kennedy of The Bridge Bar and Moorings Guesthouse in Portmagee, as saying: “It was such a weird and wonderful experience for our small village to be part of the Star Wars story. We enjoyed evenings of music and dance in our bar with the cast and crew. Mark Hamill even learned how to pull a pint with our barman, Ciaran Kelly!”

The monastic Island, Skellig Michael founded in the 7th century, for 600 years the island was a centre of monastic life for Irish Christian monks. The Celtic monastery, which is situated almost at the summit of the 230-metre-high rock became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. It is one of Europe's better known but least accessible monasteries.Photo:Valerie O'Sullivan

Starting in the 7th century, Skellig Michael was a center of monastic life for Irish Christian monks for 600 years. The Celtic monastery, which is situated almost at the summit of the 230-meter-high rock, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. It is one of Europe’s better known, but least accessible, monasteries.    Photo by Valerie O’Sullivan

 

In the Footsteps of the Jedi Knights

Ireland’s County Kerry is one of the island nation’s best-loved destinations—and the first place I ever visited in Ireland. Thirty years ago I was wowed while driving around the Ring of Kerry, a road along the cliff-lined coast with dramatic views over the Atlantic.

If you’re a fan of Star Wars—or of stargazing—this might be just the destination for you. Kerry is one of only three Gold Tier International Dark Sky reserves in the world. The beautiful band of the Milky Way, the Andromeda Galaxy, star clusters and nebulas are just some of the wonders you can see with the naked eye in the region.

Who knows? Maybe you’ll even spot Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon as it drops out of hyperspace!

The island of Skellig Michael is accessible only by boat. Today it’s inhabited solely by birds, but monks settled there more than a millennium ago. The stacked-stone beehive huts that the monks lived in are restored and can be visited from May to September each year. (Advance booking required.)

Skellig boats arriving safely after the eight-mile journey to Skellig Michael. Photo: Valerie O'Sullivan

Skellig boats arriving safely after the eight-mile journey to Skellig Michael. Photo by  Valerie O’Sullivan

Traveling with Star Wars

A growing number of travelers choose to visit TV and shooting locations. (See my post about visiting Highclere Castle, where Downton Abbey was filmed. ),

Locations for The Force Awakens include Scotland, Iceland’s volcanoes, the Abu Dhabi desert, England, and New Mexico. Past Star Wars movies have featured Tunisia, Spain, Lake Como (Italy), Guatemala, Norway, and Switzerland.

Watch a video of scenery on Skellig Michael are available at Tourism Ireland.

May the traveling force be with you!

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Read about my travels in Ireland:

 

Have Book, Will Travel

While cruising Maine’s Penobscot Bay on a schooner, this girl was immersed in a Harry Potter book. She could have been me at age eight.   ©Laurel Kallenbach

You can tell a lot about a person by their books: at home and on the road.

I have shelves of uncategorized fiction, including books I’ve read and those I haven’t. There’s a small, poetry-sized shelf for volumes of poems. There’s a delicious space for cookbooks in the kitchen. The sustainable living books are on my loftiest shelf.

And—of course!—I have devoted several rambling shelves to travel guides and travel memoirs and travel histories. All the destinations are mixed up: Egypt beside Ireland beside Singapore beside Belize. I’ve remapped the world.

Going Places

Whether or not a book is specifically about travel, it takes me on a journey—figuratively and literally. Many times, when I look at photos from past vacations, I’ve noticed that the book I’m reading made it into a picture or two.

Antigua’s Carlisle Bay beach was lovely, but my mind was in 17th-century Holland: I was reading Tracy Chevalier’s “The Girl with the Pearl Earring.” ©Laurel Kallenbach

In fact, I often remember the books I read during specific trips, either because they helped pass long hours on the airplane or because I was so mesmerized by the book that it distracted me from the actual destination.

For instance, I read The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan in Fiji. I had plenty of time toward the end of the trip for reading because a hurricane was moving through that part of the Pacific. Although the hurricane remained 500 miles from the Fijian islands, the water got so murky that snorkeling was bad. By afternoon on the remote island of Kadavu, it started to rain buckets. We were staying in a solar-lit, thatched bure; when ours got damp and dark, we huddled in the dining building, which had a metal roof and hurricane lamps. I was happy to disappear into Tan’s magical mother-daughter saga. The next day, we flew back to the main island and stayed at a hotel near the airport. There, Ken and I sat on the bed and gazed out at horizontal rain and wind as they denuded the palm trees. Escaping again into the book, I could almost forget the howling outside.

“The Traveller’s Guide to Sacred Ireland” by Cary Meehan took me to amazing standing stones, like Kilclooney Dolmen in County Donegal. ©Laurel Kallenbach

I read Jurassic Park during my honeymoon on the Caribbean island of Antigua. Ken read it on the flight east—and during our unexpected sleepover in Atlanta due to cancelled flights. Then I read it on the beach and during the flight home. (To help us travel light, we pack books that both of us are interested in. That way we swap books halfway through the trip.)

In Scotland, I read a second-hand Amelia Peabody mystery—one of a series of charming archaeological whodunits set in Egypt during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. When I was finished, I donated this one to a retreat-center library on the island of Cumbrae. (That’s another secret to traveling light: leave it behind for someone else to read.)

In England, I read Pride and Prejudice for two reasons: a) because I never had, and b) because it felt right to be reading Jane Austen while visiting the very manor houses, villages and gardens where the P&P movies were filmed.

Dove è la Toilette? (Where’s the bathroom?)

Where would we be without guidebooks and phrasebooks? Lost, I imagine. In the days before e-readers, I photocopied the pertinent pages before I traveled and then discarded the pages as I moved from place to place.

True confession: I still do this because a) I prefer not to lug expensive electronics around the globe, and b) batteries choose to die and wireless tends to disappear the instant I arrive in way-off-the-beaten-path places.

The Temple of Apollo at Stourhead estate in England, was the setting of a love scene in the 2005 movie “Pride and Prejudice.” I read the book while I was in the region. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Rick Steves’ Italy was my lifeline 15 years ago when I traveled alone for a month in the Lake District and Tuscany. I carried photocopied pages (a Rick Steves–sanctioned method), and everywhere I went—restaurants, cafés, museums, hill towns, lakes—Americans pored over the same book. The Rick Steves guide was an excellent ice-breaker: after all, you know the reader speaks (or at least can read) English. Many times I’d lean over to the adjacent table at a trattoria and start a Rick-related conversation:

“I see you’re traveling with the Rick Steves guide. Are you staying in Varenna or Menaggio here on Lake Como?”

“We got into that cute little mom-and-pop hotel in Varenna. You?”

“Varenna. That hotel was booked, so I’m staying at a nice place on the outskirts. A little pricier, but there’s a lovely garden and a fresco in the breakfast room! How are Rick’s suggestions for restaurants here in town?”

“Outstanding! We’ve been to all of them. ‘Stick with Rick’ is our motto.”

Stick with Rick became my mantra for that trip—half of it anyway. I mostly agreed with his recommendations for pretty medieval villages to visit, and I appreciated his historical background. In May, when tourism was light, seeing others with Rick Steves’ Italy was a novelty. By June, as crowds increased, the thrill had worn off and I had to get off the Rick grid for a little solitude.

For better or worse, at home or abroad, books unite us.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Originally posted July 2013

What books have transported you most? Does a certain type of book work for you when you travel? And how do you read: eBook or paper? Leave a reply below, if you like…

I used the titles of books to create a little “book haiku” about traveling. ©Laurel Kallenbach

 

Ireland’s Púca Festival: Where the Halloween Story Begins

It might surprise you to learn that Halloween originated as a Celtic celebration for the new year, which in the Celtic calendar began on November 1st. (The Celts lived about 2,000 years ago in the area that’s now Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France.)

The Púca Festival is named for a shape-shifting spirit from Celtic folklore. Photo courtesy Tourism Ireland

This tradition of “Hallowe’en” (short for “hallowed evening”) originated as the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced “Sow-win”)—which means “summer’s end” in Gaelic (Old Irish). It was celebrated with bonfires and costumes to ward off bad spirits. Samhain was a festival marking the end of the Celtic year and the start of a new one. It was believed to be a time of transition, when the spirits of all those who had passed away since the previous Oíche Shamhna (Night of Samhain) moved onto the next life.

Samhain was the last great gathering before winter, a time of feasting and remembering what had passed and preparing for what was to come in the future.

Over time, Halloween became Christianized and was known as All Hallows Eve—the night before All Saints Day. Some of the original pagan Samhain traditions were incorporated into the day we now call Halloween.

Modern Ireland’s First Púca Festival

This year, an inaugural Púca Festival celebrates Ireland as Halloween’s place of origin. The festivities are vibrant and contemporary, even though they are strongly rooted in the traditions of the country where Halloween’s traditions all began.

Púca takes place from October 31 through November 2, 2019, in three historic towns located within two Irish counties, and the festivities promise to be an unforgettable celebration of all things unearthly.

Photo courtesy Tourism Ireland

Named after Púca (pronounced “pooka”), a shape-shifting spirit or goblin from Celtic folklore, the Púca Festival will capture the spirit of Samhain with three nights of authentic Halloween music, food, light, and spectacle. According to folklore, Púca is oftenseen in the form of a dog, rabbit, goat, goblin, or old man. Traditionally, a Púca appears as a dark horse with a wild, flowing mane.

The Púca Festival will salute the Halloween spirit with processions, light installations, Irish music, and harvest-inspired food. The festival kicks off in the town of Athboy, in County Meath, with The Coming of Samhain (October 31), a re-creation of the symbolic lighting of the Samhain fires in the shadow of The Hill of Ward, one of the earliest places where Samhain was celebrated.

Elsewhere in County Meath, the spectacular Trim Castle becomes the stage for three supernatural nights of music, light, and Halloween fun. The castle grounds come to life each night with aerialists, Púca performers, castle projections, and laser shows—along with the Púca Food & Craft Market.

The Celtic Halloween spirit is alive at Ireland’s inaugural Púca Festival. Photo courtesy Tourism Ireland

The castle will also play host to a world-class selection of musicians, including Jerry Fish’s Púca Sideshow, Just Mustard, Pillow Queens, AE MAK, and Kormac and the Irish Chamber Orchestra.

Bringing the town of Drogheda (County Louth) to life, the third festival hub will be a haunting, three-day program of music, film, and light installations. The town will play host to projection artists de:LUX, whose artworks over the three festival nights will draw inspiration from tales of Irish folklore and the spirits of Halloween.

Púca Festival will be the ultimate celebration of this time when light turns to dark, the veil between realities draws thin, rules can be broken, and the spirits move between worlds.

For more info, visit Tourism Ireland and Púca Festival.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer, editor, and writing coach

Photo courtesy Tourism Ireland