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

Ascending to Parnassus Books, the Literary Heart of Nashville

APRIL 2020 UPDATE: In the times of COVID-19, we are  unable to travel to places of literary note, but we can support independent bookstores. Instead of ordering from Amazon, call your local bookstore and buy it from them! This can even work for self-published books! I recently asked the Boulder Bookstore to order a copy of my friend Amy Drayer’s exciting mystery novel, Revelation, the first in the Makah Island Mystery series. They did, and five days later delivered it to my porch step. I’m supporting authors and locally owned, independent bookstores.

(Originally published in November 2013)

Making a literary pilgrimage while traveling is always a grand thing. If you love to read, I highly recommend touring an author’s house—like I did at Voltaire’s manor house in Ferney-Voltaire, France.

Parnassus Books in Nashville is a must-visit for anyone who loves to read. Author Ann Patchett highlights her favorite titles on this shelf. ©Laurel Kallenbach

It’s also fun and meaningful to take a trip to a place you read about in a book. For instance, Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun inspired me to visit Tuscany and to spend four days in her village of Cortona.

While I was in Nashville, I had to make a literary pilgrimage … to a very special independent bookstore. Parnassus Books is named for a mountain in central Greece where the Muses lived—and it’s known as the mythological home of music and poetry, so you know it’s got to be good.

Parnassus isn’t just any bookstore, it’s one that’s owned by one of my favorite authors, Ann Patchett, who opened it in 2011 right when independent bookstores—and even bookstore chains—were dropping like flies.

Ann Patchett’s books at Parnassus. I wanted to buy one of her titles, but I own them all. In retrospect, I should have bought an autographed copy of “Bel Canto” and given away my old copy, but I was overcome by the riches in the store and couldn’t think straight. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Ann is probably best known for her incredibly gripping Bel Canto and her most recent bestseller, The Dutch House. (Yes, I think of her as “Ann,” a friend and kindred, bookloving spirit—even though I’ve never met her).

By becoming a bookseller, Ann wanted to prove that people still love to read—and love to buy books in a place where they can interact with other book lovers and authors. She was concerned by how many good books were going out of print and wanted to start a store featuring the books she cherishes. It didn’t hurt that she’s incredibly well-connected with boatloads of fantastic authors.

Between the Covers

Located in one of Nashville’s more classy strip malls along Hillsboro Pike, Parnassus isn’t large, but it’s thrilling! I was so excited walking up to its display windows filled with new titles that I could barely contain myself. (I suspect more than a few visitors display this giddiness as they walk through the door. Are you one of them?)

The Greek temple is a fun entry into the whimsical children’s section at Parnassus. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Inside, the walls are lined almost to the high ceiling with wooden bookshelves. I felt wonderment, felt like a kid in a candy shop. I felt at home.

I browsed for a while, drawn especially to titles that Ann recommends on her blog. There’s also a special “Ann Recommends” shelf that displays her current favorites.

A cheerful bookseller asked me if I had questions, and before I could say “Kurt Vonnegut,” she was bubbling over about the books she loves most, and offered a few of her own suggestions and other titles popular with Parnassus regulars.

How would I describe Parnassus Books? A clean, well-lighted place (to coin a phrase from a Hemingway book). ©Laurel Kallenbach

With five books in my arms, I sat down in a leather chair and read a few pages of each, just to get a sense of them.

I wanted to buy them all—but alas, I would have exceeded the 50-pound checked-suitcase weight limit had I done so. So I pledged to go home to the Boulder Bookstore (another fabulous independent shop) and buy them there instead.

I did purchase one light volume: the hilarious Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple. I definitely wanted to do my bit to support Parnassus—and to take home a piece of its literary magic. Long live Parnassus Books!

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

P.S. If you’re visiting Nashville, you should know that Parnassus Books is just up the street from Bluebird Café, another not-to-be-missed site for music lovers and songwriters. Read about my unique experience at the Bluebird: “Guitars in the Parking Lot.” 

Read an inspiring piece about coronavirus and Parnassus Books, written by Ann Patchett for The Guardian newspaper.

 

Meditate with Monterey Bay Aquarium

It’s no secret that meditating reduces anxiety and depression and improves immunity—and during the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to bolster our physical and emotional health. Research has also shown a strong connection between time spent in nature and reduced stress, anxiety, and depression, according to Harvard Health.

A southern sea otter named Abby in the Sea Otter Exhibit. ©Monterey Bay Aquarium

So I was thrilled when I opened an e-newsletter from the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California informing me that during the time that the aquarium is closed to the public for the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re hosting video meditations (they call them “medit-oceans”) featuring a soothing, 10-minute guided meditation you can do while gazing at some relaxing ocean imagery. (You can join the medit-ocean live at 9:00 a.m. Pacific Time, Monday–Friday. You can also find the meditations on YouTube or the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Facebook page at any time that you need some nature-based relaxation.)

“This is a stressful time, but connecting with one another digitally and sharing our love of the ocean centers us when so much feels uncertain. We hope you, too, will find some relief and community online with us.”  

                                               —Monterey Bay Aquarium

Glorious “Relax-ocean”

Two young visitors admire the aquarium’s Kelp Forest exhibit. ©Monterey Bay Aquarium

This morning, my husband and I participated in the first of a series of live, online “medit-ocean”: a 10-minute video treat gazing at Pacific sea nettles, a type of jellyfish that stings. (You can see a photo of the Pacific sea nettles at the bottom of this post.)

A very calm woman’s voice instructed us in deep breathing, muscle relaxation, and visualizations. I especially liked the part where she instructed us that every time a thought—or a worry or a fear—pops up, just to visualize attaching that thought to one of the undulating sea nettles and then watch it float away.

After 10 minutes I felt refreshed—plus I had an appreciation for and fascination with the Pacific sea nettles after having watched the animals’ graceful tentacles—some long and thin, others flutey and lacy. There will be different animals featured for different meditations, so I’m eager to get to get better acquainted with the sea life!

Be There Now with Live Webcams

If medit-ocean isn’t your thing, there are other great online ways to explore the Monterey Bay Aquarium, whether you’re in a Manhattan skyscraper, on the Arizona desert, or in the snowy Rocky Mountains. Via webcams and videos found on the Aquarium website  and their Facebook page, you can literally experience the wonders of the ocean no matter where you are.

Monterey Bay Aquarium has ten live web cameras to choose from, including:

Penguin Cam: Resting, preening, or swimming, these inquisitive African penguins are hoot! They’re fed to make sure they get their daily vitamin, and sometimes by tossing food into the water to stimulate foraging behavior. Watch for underwater acrobatics as the penguins dart and dive to catch their fish.

African penguins on exhibit in the Splash Zone. ©Monterey Bay Aquarium

Sea Otter Cam: Be delighted by the antics of our sea otters or mellow out to the hypnotic drifting of our jellies. including playful sea otters (humor is good for your health)

Kelp Forest Cam: Watch fish and small sharks glide through the swaying kelp forest

Sea Jelly Cams: There’s one live camera for the underwater dances of the reddish sea nettles and another for the hypnotic moon jellies that drift like slow-motion dancers.

A flamboyant cuttlefish in the Tentacles exhibit. ©Monterey Bay Aquarium

Shark Cam: You’ll spot sharks, rays, and other fishes as they cruise through the rocky reef. Among the types you’ll see are Sevengill sharks, leopard sharks, spiny dogfish and the elusive Pacific angel shark. The Aquarium’s 90-foot-long hourglass shape gives big sharks plenty of room to glide and turn. Watch carefully and you might see big skates and bat rays pass by the window!

Coral Reef Cam: This Baja coral-reef community teems with colorful tropical fish, including the Cortez wrasse, scrawled filefish, and Cortez angelfish. In the wild, coral reefs are among the most diverse and valuable ecosystems on Earth.

A cluster of strawberry anemones. ©Monterey Bay Aquarium

This is how I’m getting my infusion of the miraculous animals and sea plants in the oceanic ecosystems until I can travel again. When it’s safe after the pandemic, Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the first places I hope to head.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Read more about my travels to California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium: Monterey Bay Aquarium: Saving Oceans One Fish at a Time 

Though sea nettles are jellyfish with a sting, their flowy motions are perfect for a tranquil meditation. ©Monterey Bay Aquarium

The Vibrant Women of Guatemala

I visited Guatemala in 2008 for a writing and yoga retreat, held at a yoga center on stunningly gorgeous Lake Atitlán, which is surrounded by volcanoes. A Nahuatl word, Atitlán means “the place where the rainbow gets its colors,” and the Maya believe Lago de Atitlán is the umbilicus of the Universe—the birthplace of the soul.

I soon discovered that the soul of Guatemala lies in the strength and creativity of the women whom I met and photographed.

This woman, wearing a traditional Mayan hat, met our water taxi at the dock of the town of Santiago Atitlán. Widowed during the Guatemalan Civil War, she supports herself by selling her beadwork to tourists. © Laurel Kallenbach

This woman, wearing a traditional Mayan hat, met our water taxi at the dock of the town of Santiago Atitlán. Widowed during the Guatemalan Civil War, she supports herself by selling her beadwork to tourists. © Laurel Kallenbach

Years after taking these photos, I’m still awestruck by the colorful clothing and warm, wise faces of these women, many of whom speak the traditional Tz’utujil language.

Many of the women I met live in Santiago Atitlán, a thriving town that’s accessible by water taxi from other parts of the lake. The majority of the residents are indigenous Mayans. In pre-Columbian times, this was the capital of the Tz’utujil people, a Mayan sub-culture.

Our group visited the parish church in Santiago ©Laurel Kallenbach.JPG

Our group visited the Church of Santiago Apostol, a Catholic church in Santiago Atitlán, where these three girls giggled at meeting us American women. ©Laurel Kallenbach

While visiting, I got a chance to meet and photograph a few of Guatemala’s indigenous women artists who make the most amazing textiles on the planet. Most of them support their families by creating beautiful weavings in the ancient Maya tradition.

It’s courteous to pay a small amount of money to photograph a women wearing an ornately embroidered huipil blouse. And I loved taking a picture of women whose handiwork I bought. Doing so helps me remember each individual face that goes along with the scarves, tablecloths, and purses I purchased. That year for Christmas, many friends and family members got a beautiful, handmade souvenir from my trip to Guatemala—along with the accompanying snapshot of its respective creator.

Tour guide Dolores Ratzan Pablo wears a "huipil" embroidered with Guatemalan birds. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Tour guide Dolores Ratzan Pablo wears a traditional head-covering and “huipil” embroidered by her mother with Guatemalan birds. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Handcrafting textiles isn’t the only way indigenous Guatemalan women support themselves and their families. On our trip to visit Santiago Atitlán, our group hired tour guide Dolores Ratzan Pablo, who speaks Spanish, Tz’utujil, and English.

Dolores lived for several years in America after she and her then-husband, shaman Martín Prechtel, fled the pueblo during the violent Guatemalan civil war to live in the United States. Dolores shared her insights into the culture of Santiago Atitlán, including the unique fusion of Catholicism and ancient Maya religion. She took us to the Church of Santiago Apostol, the shrine of the Mayan “trickster” deity, Maximón (who drinks liquor and smokes cigars), and to the  workshop of her mother (pictured below), who creates fantastic works of textile art.

The mother of Dolores Ratzan Pablo wove this red table runner that I bought. © Laurel Kallenbach

The mother of Dolores Ratzan Pablo wove this red table runner that I bought. She had her own humble shop in Santiago Atitlán where she displayed all her textile art and demonstrated the backstrap loom. © Laurel Kallenbach

Many of the women in Santiago Atitlán were affected by brutal, government-backed violence during Guatemala’s civil war, which lasted from 1960–1996. Indigenous people in the highlands of Guatemala were especially at risk. In 1981, Roman Catholic priest Stanley Rother (from the United States), was assassinated by right-wing death squads. In 1990, the Guatemalan Army opened fire on a crowd of unarmed civilians.

These Mayan women came to Villa Sumaya, the yoga retreat center on Lake Atitlán to sell their artwork. © Laurel Kallenbach

These Mayan women came to Villa Sumaya, the yoga retreat center on Lake Atitlán to sell their artwork. © Laurel Kallenbach

Though many women sell their textiles at the town mercado (market), some take their work to places where tourists come. The women above got permission to bring some of their best work to Villa Sumaya, a retreat and wellness center located in Santa Cruz la Laguna on the shores of Lake Atitlán. I have one of their brilliant-blue woven cloths on my dining-room table.

Women carrying their wares on the streets of Antigua ©Laurel Kallenbach

Women carrying their wares on the streets of Antigua ©Laurel Kallenbach

After leaving Lake Atitlán, I spent a couple of days in the colonial town of Antigua, where visitors can find bright, indigenous clothing, popular over centuries, alongside fancy modern hotels. As you can see from the picture above, some spots in the old Spanish part of town still have cobblestone roads. Boutiques often sell traditional Maya handicrafts, but there are also textile cooperatives where women can display their art in a large space.

Weaver woman in Antigua ©Laurel Kallenbach

Woman weaving on a traditional Guatemalan backstop loom in Antigua ©Laurel Kallenbach

At Trama Textiles Cooperative in Antigua, I watched this woman weaving on a traditional  backstrap loom (see above). The loom is light and portable so that she can work in a tiny, single-room house. The loom, often made with sticks and rope, is easy rolled up when not in use.

Trama Textiles Co-op consists of about 400 women, forming 17 groups of weavers from five different regions in the western part of the Guatemalan highlands. It’s an association of women that promotes artisan development in backstrap loom weaving as a way of providing women with a livelihood in a country with a high rate of crime and violence against women and children.

These women are carrying a float during a Holy Week procession in Antigua, Guatemala. ©Laurel Kallenbach

These women are bearing a religious float of Mary, Queen of Heaven, during a Holy Week procession in Antigua, Guatemala. ©Laurel Kallenbach

I happened to be in Antigua for Semana Santa (Holy Week) in 2008, so I got to see the grand procession in the streets of this Spanish-colonial town (founded in 1542), which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Though men are typically float-bearers, the floats of female saints and the Virgin Mary are the domain of the women. What strength and faith!

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Read more about my journeys in Guatemala:

Market beneath the ruins of El Carmen Church in Antigua ©Laurel Kallenbach

This open-air market in Antigua is at the feet of the ruins of El Carmen Church, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The church was built and destroyed by earthquakes several times over the centuries. ©Laurel Kallenbach