Monthly Archives: September 2012

Run Like An Animal! Run like An Animal! Run Like An Animal!

It has been over a week since I announced (read previous post) I would be travelling to Colorado to support my brother while he took part in a 100 mile race (a footrace that is). And, what a week it was, a week so packed with activity, both mental and physical, it is hard to know where to begin?

Welcome to Colorado

The first thing I want to clarify is that this blog is about food, and as anyone who has been reading my blog will know, I believe that food is linked to virtually every part of my life. There is no getting away from the fact that we must eat everyday, and we have a say in whether it is going to be either a good or a mediocre experience. It can make or break a mood, bring people closer, drive them apart, or in my bother’s case this past weekend, simply act as “fuel”

HB’s map of the 100 mile Run Rabbit Run Race

I like to think that food is something that is enjoyed more than something that the body needs to survive, but my reason for taking a plane all the way to Steamboat Springs, Colorado, was to cook something for my brother that would literally keep him alive during his ambitious attempt to run an Ultra endurance race in the Rocky mountains for 100 miles.

Part of the Trail (an easy bit)

I had made a promise to him months earlier that I would be on the sidelines cheering him on, but at the time had absolutely no notion of what that might entail. As the months grew to weeks, I began to realize what an undertaking his task was, and moreover what was expected of me; much more than I bargained for!

What’s inside a Drop Bag?

Sean has been involved in sports all of his life but only a serious runner in the past 4 years. I on the other hand, have always loved running and try to throw on my running shoes 5 days a week if I can. It is something I need to do on a regular basis, to keep sane, to be alone, and to stay healthy. It is not for everyone and so the extremity to which he took the activity was even something I found incomprehensible until last Friday and Saturday (the length of time it took to complete the race).

“Bye HB, see you soon!”

Over time, I had grown used to his talking about running in races of up to 35 miles until it didn’t seem strange anymore. Then, last year he ran in his first 50 mile race (Run Rabbit Run 50 mile Race), and I thought he might be taking this running thing to an unhealthy extreme. As I talked to him more about his training and the reasoning behind this push to excel at longer distances, I sort of got it, but only sort of. Who had the time for all of these long runs for one thing, and I wondered what his girlfriend did virtually every weekend when he ran out the door saying “see you in 7 or 8 hours honey!” I had never met her, but she was fast becoming a saint in my book.

Sean on the trail

No matter what kind of logic one uses, there is no way the majority of people in this world understand, let alone know anyone who has run 100 miles. Who do you know who has done this? I never met a single soul until last weekend, so no one can be blamed for thinking the mere thought of doing such a thing is ludicrous. I watched 101 competitors start this race and I still cannot get my head around the objective: running continually for 100 miles straight!

Sean Ran up this (and down)!

I had a phone conversation with my brother a few days before I left. I was getting excited about a lot of things to do with my trip; I was going to see Sean for the first time in 5 years, I was going to meet his infamous girlfriend HB (short for Hunny Bunny!), I was going to be part of the “crew” which would help him at the official Aid Stations, I was going to pace him for an as yet, undermined amount of miles (a pacer is there to support the runner by running with them during designated parts of the race or course), I was going to help with the preparation of certain foods he would like to eat during the race, and last but not least, I was going to be present when my sister June arrived from Ireland to surprise him to cheer him on, (something myself and HB sneakily organised ahead of time)!

The first hill (can you see Sean)

Back to the point I was trying to make about food; I asked Sean what I should have available at the Aid stations for him to eat, and I found out that this was the one aspect of the race he was very worried about. I was under the impression that as he ran he would stop like all of those marathon runners I see on television and grab 2 cups of water, one to drink and one to pour over his head to cool down, and that was it. I couldn’t have been more misguided. To run 100 miles, which would involve a total elevation gain of over 20,000 feet, he would need to consume about 50,000 calories along the way. The food which I thought would be a snap to prepare, was going to be a critical part of his race strategy. At that point I knew he was depending on me to keep him strong, or dropping out from lack of nutrition, was a distinct possibility – gulp!

A little last-minute advice from friend Matt. The problem with where Sean lives is that everyone is extreme. Introduction to Matt (and this happened a LOT) : “This is Matt, he runs 50’s (miles that is) and will be trying to run it in around 9 hrs this year” Jeez!

I had no idea what a runner needed to run for miles upon miles. I had gotten used to his “Ultra-runner Speak” of S Caps (salt tablets), and E-Caps (electrolyte tablets dissolved in his water bottle),  but now he was telling me that man does not survive on GU alone (don’t ask)! He wanted me to come up with some sort of balanced drinkable meal, one that contained carbohydrates, protein, sufficient salt, and, it had to go down quickly, and more importantly, he had to like how it tasted,  hmmm….?

“And this is my sister, she makes a mean soup!”

All I could think of was the most comforting and fortifying thing I give my kids when they are sick and lack energy: Chicken Noodle Soup. Read on to find out if it did the job for Sean too!

It’s Time

It is all very well to say you are going to do something, and another to come through. I also said I would run with him for part of the race. I said this having no previous trail-running experience, never been a pacer or actually knew what that job required, and had never run more than 10 miles at one time. Sean wasn’t in the least bit worried. He said I could pace him because I knew him so well, and would naturally know what he needed, that trail-running would be something I would get the hang of with him by my side, and that distance wouldn’t be a problem because his mile pace would be calculatedly slower than normal.

Ready to run (or so I thought)

The more he encouraged me, the more confident in my sheer lack of experience I became. It was only when I received an email from HB 2 days before I left did I understand where Sean was coming from. HB was giving me last-minute details, like when my sister would arrive in Denver (coinciding perfectly a short time after she had met me off my flight), and about the clothing I should bring for my pacing runs. It was only then I found out that Sean had planned for me to run with him, not only for the pleasant bit during the day where I would run with him to and from town via the main street, but I was also penciled in at mile 62.5 for an 11 or so mile trail run in the middle of the night!

Night Light

Excuse me,but  how was I going to do that? HB told me I would be wearing a headlight, oh yeah, and that was supposed to make it alright?  I called June and told her that I was scared out of my mind. I am the woman who wears the highest stability running shoe on roads in broad daylight, and now my brother had causally slotted me in for a night-time run, up and down a mountain in the rocky trail dirt! It was then I knew he had forgotten what it was to think like an ordinary runner. He was thinking in Ultra terms, and had lost all sense of what normal people like me are capable of. How could I argue with a man who thought nothing of doing a handy 25 miles before breakfast, or indeed tell him he was nuts to even consider me for the job. I decided to keep quiet and crossed my fingers.

HB – Crew Chief

On the plane I sat beside a lovely woman named Robin and during our conversation told her why I was going to Colorado. She was all smiles and encouragement, and, when the flight attendant came by with the drinks trolley, she waved 2 drink tickets in the air to celebrate. I told her I was not planning on drinking until after the race. I was going from sea level (or thereabouts) to run at 8,000 feet in the next 48 hours and needed to give my body every chance it could to keep hydrated. No wine for me, but she gave me the drinks voucher (which she had in abundance) to use to celebrate on the plane ride home. At that moment that plane ride home seemed so far away, and I wondered with a mixture of excitement and definite fear what lay in store.

Painstakingly snipping chicken (now this is real love)

So, after 6 and a half years I finally meet HB! We recognised each other immediately thanks to photographs and Skype, and the feeling of  warmth and familiarity was mutual. I liked her instantly. When June arrived, we piled into the car too excited and happy to complain about being exhausted. June even managed to get in a spot of shopping on the way back to Sean’s!

More Real Love (HB & Sean going to race)

Sean was completely stunned when I arrived to his house, not only escorted by his girlfriend, but a day earlier than expected. However, when June arrived behind me, he was near tears. I felt right at that moment he shed any doubts he had of not finishing the race. He was 30 lbs lighter (13.60 kilos) and raring to go. HB, June and I had spent the car ride discussing how crazy this whole undertaking was, and looking at Sean right at that moment, as fit as he was, did nothing to stop me from thinking that this whole thing could be a disaster.

“Run like an Animal” (thanks for the pic Jay)

What unfolded from the starting bell at 8am at the base of the ski mountain in Steamboat Springs to the next day around 4pm is something I will treasure for the rest of my life.

Sean’s steadfast friend (his backpack of water, and other essentials

We were ready. I had learned what a runner needs at an Aid Station. We had helped pack Drop Bags to be left at Aid Stations not accessible to us, his crew, and carried the remaining drop bags in our car, to be driven to the ones where we could meet him. What’s in a Drop Bag? Each bag was fully stocked with 2 or 3 pairs of socks, change of clothes, gloves, hat, first aid kit with all sorts of band aids for blisters and cuts, salt tablets, electrolyte pills, energy gels, and soup!

Important people

Sean would run the course and we would keep tabs on him every time he checked in and out of an Aid Station. In doing that, we could predict when he would show up in certain spots (always erring on the side of caution, which meant long waits at times) and “crew” for him when allowed, which involved feeding him, filling up his water etc. Myself and June had no clue what HB and Sean were talking about in the 36 hours leading up to the race, but knew if we were going to be of use, not to bother them with questions like “what’s a salt tablet?” Best to pretend to know what was going on and then scramble to find out on our own.

Drop Bags

A funny moment for June and I was when we were sent of to the store to buy some of the supplies. We were told to buy, among other things, various kinds of bandages for all manner of foot problems and injuries. We stood in front of the enormous shelf with so many choices, it made our heads spin in confusion. It was then we knew we hadn’t a clue about trail running, let alone the possible  problems encountered by Ultra-Ruunners? We couldn’t decide on which bandage for each ailment so ended up with  practically one of everything. It is safe to say that Sean is now the owner of a lifetime supply of band aids!

Sean & Timothy

The first time we got to see Sean was around mile 20. While he was running that first leg HB gathered part of her crew (which included his good friends Jay & Martin, as well as June & I) at a coffee shop to go over the course. She had a map which she meticulously made herself with the complete course mapped out, mileage in-between Aid Stations, each aid station icon-ed, and any other point where we could stand to see Sean, (eat your hearts out all you Cartographers!). She had worked weeks on the map and it was beautiful (even I could follow it!). It was so great in fact that Sean couldn’t help showing it off to a new acquaintance of his, only the Western States Champion who ran 100 miles in a mere 14 hours, 46 minutes and 44 seconds, Timothy Olson (click his name to read his account of the race – it is an amazing story). He even went so far as to give him the original map and then got Timothy to autograph his map for posterity. Sean was completely in awe of this elite runner, and encountering him on the trail later that night where they exchanged words of encouragement, which was sure to have gone a long way in helping my brother complete the remainder of this gruelling race.

Aid Station

As we watched Sean running into view he looked strong and all smiles. The way he chatted as he got down to the business of changing his water bag (which he carried on his back) and scanned the aid station table for food, I had to remind myself that he had just run 20 miles on trails! OK – time to offer him soup. HB had said maybe we shouldn’t bring it as it was a hot day and maybe he would only need it when the sun went down, but I brought it along just in case.

Sean Ran (we took the gondola)

He said “yes” and when he tasted it I was so nervous; would it taste good to him, was the chicken small enough to swallow without much chewing, was it salty enough? After his first taste he looked at me and said, “this is going to save my life today” Phew, all I felt was I had done what I had travelled 1,600 miles to do…….Now all I had to do was run in the middle of the night; easy.

Sean getting a hug from Matt after about 40 miles (Howelsen hill)

I ran with him the next 1.2 miles to the next Aid Station, which was the last one before a crazy vertical climb and 8 more miles before the next respite. All he could talk about was the soup and would he be able to have some? Oh my god, I was thinking to myself, HB, and June don’t know he wants soup and they may not get there before us? As we approached the aid station and the looming hill, Sean saw June and HB walking up the hill so as to cheer him on. All he could say was, “no soup” I felt bad as off he went up the hill, holding onto long grass as he went feeling disappointed and a little frustrated.

Support from friends at every turn

And this is when I learned that running for this long makes you weak not only in body, but in your mind. He was delicate, and a kind word could make him and the opposite could be his undoing. This is also the point I found out what your “crew” can do to keep their runner going, and I discovered Sean had the best friends in the world. Jay and Martin high-tailed it to the next aid station, armed with a chair and a truck load of my magical elixir. After a friendly pep talk Sean perked up and was ready to roar on.

What we did while Sean was running (June)

It kept going like this for the rest of the day with more and more of his friends surprising him at aid stations to cheer him on. At one point I almost felt bad for any other runners in the vicinity who had to witness our celebrity-like cheering.

only 60 miles to go

In between HB, June and I would zip home, restock supplies and head off to the next meeting point. The last time we would meet was in the dark, after which he would have 22 miles or more of running to complete before I would meet him again in my running gear, ready to join the race. More friends had joined our crew (Jerry & Bill) and there was a lot of joking and laughing. Sean told us afterwards that the first climb (about 8 miles) was amazing and he felt happy to be looking up at the stars and feeling the soft night breeze. That was the last time I saw him truly comfortable.

Sean Feeling the miles, but eating soup for the next determined leg

We got back to the house and made our plan. Time for us to sleep for a couple of hours before getting to the next Aid Station at about 1.30am. I slept as best I could and when I got up I took a shower and made coffee like it was morning and I was off to work. The three of us then headed out into the night to meet Sean on the mountain. The place was mobbed with other “crews” and as heads with flashlights bobbed into view, we kept a sharp lookout for our runner. After an hour, in he came, looking tired  for the first time. He wanted to kneel down and lean against the back of the car. I couldn’t even look at my sister’s face as it would have been the end of my brave one.

Night

After about 8 minutes, Sean and I headed the 5.5 miles down the trail to the next Aid Station. Sean told me to look forward and to never look up, or look at him. This I found out was very useful advice seeing the trail was uneven, rocky and continually winding up and down in a series of loops and bends. All I remember from that run is total concentration and the image of Sean running ahead of me. I sometimes wondered what the trail might look like in the daylight, and hoped I would get a chance to walk part of it after the race (and after some sleep)

Widowmaker Hill (try doing this at night)

Running back up that hill with Sean was no picnic either. There was a part of the trail called The Widow Maker (which scared the life out of me when Sean mentioned it casually the day before) and it was on a bend, steep, with giant rocks jutting out. At one point Sean put his two hands on a rock and bowed his head. It was so hard to know what to say. I couldn’t shout “stop. let’s go home” or “this is crazy” so I just told him to plant his feet so as not to slide down. He did this, and then headed on. I could see that he was ready to do anything in his power not to give up, and to recognize the difference between giving up or physically not being able to go on.

What Sean is only beginning to understand is how much his friends care about him (Jay waiting for him at about 4am)

The sky was a pot-full of stars and we talked about the Plough (Big Dipper) and how the image of it kept Sean moving forward. He knew that is what he needed to do and said that no one finished a 100 by “standing still”

support of friends

Go on he did, to the next Aid Station where us girls handed him over to his last pacer, his friend Dave. Dawn was just breaking and we were all glad of the light. We would not see him again until the last 4 miles where I would run with him again, along with Dave and Jay. Dave told me the story of the last 30 miles and of how he though it was over a couple of time, and then how Sean used every morsel of encouragement from Dave and from friends he met along the trail to will him to put one foot in front of the other.

2 hours sleep and out on the trail to wait for Sean’s final descent (HB & June)

Back to sleep for another hour, then ride up the gondola with HB, June and Jay where we would wait 3 and a half hours to see Sean round the bend with Dave, After running into dawn, through noon and now the late afternoon, he could see the end. We were on the bend (where we had spent the time speculating, worrying, chatting, and June filing her nails while seated on a convenient rock!) waving and cheering him. I have to say that he was faking a nice stride and a wide smile.

Finally arrives with Dave (good afternoon Sean)

I ran with him, knowing he was on the edge of something I will never quite understand, and, as I branched off a mile from the finish and watched him run to the end I knew for sure that he understood it all perfectly.

You made it Sean – Congratulations!

“I’m the designated hugger!”   Thanks HB

Thanks Dave

Thanks Matt

Thanks Crew

Thanks Martin Thanks Jerry Thanks Bill

Thanks June

Thanks Jay

Thanks Sean

When Sean went to bed (after 2 days) the crew went out for cocktails!

One last thing or two that needs to be said; first, Sean crossed the line in 32 hours, 17 minutes and 32 seconds. The other reality is that this course  (which was marked for the first time) was between 111 to 113 miles, and not 100. This means, when the runners who made it this far had run 100 miles, they had a mini marathon to run as a bonus, another 2 hours and change! That, I cannot fathom. Also, of 101 starters, my brother placed 30th, (yes, I’m gloating)

One more tidbit…..remember Robin and her kind generosity of a drink voucher on my airplane ride? Well, on the way home I pulled out the book I was reading on my flight to steamboat (Native Realm by Czeslaw Milosz for those who are interested), and low and behold, out popped that drink voucher on my lap. I picked it up, ordered a glass or red wine, and what do you think I toasted to  – Hey Sean, well done!

 

100 Mile Race & What This Means To ME. Also Salmon Dinner for Runners & Non-runners Alike!

I will begin with a very pertinent quote from a wise man named Harvey:

“We will stop taking entries on Saturday, September 7, 2012. Our 50-miler has filled.  So if you know anyone with a couple of screws loose that thinks they want to run a 100 miles, now is the time for them to enter, before common sense and reason take hold”

I could stop right there and forget trying to figure out why my brother Sean wants to run in a race 100 miles long, because even the race organiser concurs with my thinking: he is mad, insane, delusional, crazy, yes, all of the above. I just have to accept this fact and move on.

I am talking about the Run Rabbit Run 100-mile race in Steamboat Springs Colorado this Friday, the 14th of September 2012! I am however going to do more than just talk about it, I am going to be right in the thick of it, running with my lunatic brother as one of his pacers for a small part of the race! 

50 mile mud

This is a race for Ultra-Runners: isn’t that a great name for individuals who think nothing of going out for a 30-mile jog? Ultra Running is a relatively new term. I think technically it is anyone who trains and runs more than a marathon distance, which is 26.2 miles, and they do this on a regular basis. Even if one were to argue over what distance makes the run an ultra-distance, I think it is more than safe for me to say that 100 miles goes above and beyond the definition.

A little background on my bother goes like this: has been an athlete all of his life, mainly in the form of Gaelic Football, moved to Steamboat Spring in 1995, took up running in April 2009, began to take it seriously almost immediately, has run in 21 mountain endurance races, 6 which qualify as an Ultra trail marathons, of which 3 were 50 kilometres and 3 were 50 mile races.

Why, when my brother asked me to fly to Colorado to be part of his support crew did I agree to do it? There are a few reasons, and even one of them would have been enough to give him a resounding “yes” through the radio waves!

The first reason is pretty obvious; my brother Sean. Besides the obvious fact that he is my sibling and I love him, from a running stand point, I have been totally impressed with what he has done in the past 4 years. He has taken the sport to a level I thought unimaginable for him, (for anyone) and I didn’t want to miss out on what I know is going to be a most meaningful day in his life. Sharing this with him will be unforgettable.

Run Rabbit Run! (Sean taking part in the 50 mile race last September – click on link to read my race report!)

The second reason is food!

 Crappykitchen is all about food one way or another, and yet the next several posts will be all about running; How does food come into it? Well, half of the conversations I have had with my brother have been about nutrition, and coming up to the race his big question to me was “what can you make me that I will find good to eat and will give me plenty of energy during the race?” (and that means not nauseating at about mile 60!).

The other “foodie” bit for me is making great dinners for everyone who happens to drop in for a visit in the evening. I also suspect there will be a feast to end all feasts after the race!

The dinner I will cook for Sean the night before the race (recipe to be posted)

The other reason is Jenna, a friend of Sean’s who was also an Ultra-Runner but is sadly no longer with us. I never met this person but Sean talked about her a lot when he first started to become serious about his madness (you know, ultra-running), and of how she encouraged and inspired him.

So many of our conversations after that tragic day were about Jenna and I felt like I got to know her through him. Every time I have run since and the going gets tough, I always think of her, and it spurs me on. I decided that while what Sean was asking me to do would be difficult (for me) I could do it knowing that there were, and are, people like Sean and Jenna out there proving that we have so much more potential than we think.

Photo detail

Go Jenna

Stay tuned for my next post which I will write after I get to Steamboat Springs and I have a chance to see where I will be running and the real panic sets in!

The Ireland Chronicles: Entry 6 – A Visit to County Cork To Eat At The English Market and Visit The Giant Gothic-Style Cathedral In Cobh

“Learn of me, because I am”

So, we planned another day trip, to pack it all in as it were, while home in Ireland for the summer. One of my sisters was available this particular weekend, and I asked her if going to Cork city for the day would be too much of a rush? She said if I planned to visit just a couple of places we could do it in a day no problem. Now, what did I want to see?

St Coleman’s Cathedral, Cobh

June knew it was a must for me to see a couple of fabulous churches, or at least significant ones, and she thought the famous Shandon Bells of St. Anne’s would be of interest, as well as a Pugin Church in Cobh, a quaint harbor town just outside of the city.

With that part of the plan taken care of I was at a loss as to what else we might do? Cork City is a place I had never actually explored, favoring the coastal spots of the county such as Kinsale, Mizen Head and Ballycotton.

Entrance to The English Market

“I know” said June, “how about we eat lunch at The English Market!” I had never heard of it. Embarrassing I know, I love food, love to write about it, and this particular market is the oldest food market of its kind in the country, and I had no notion of its existence. It was pretty clear that I couldn’t leave the country without visiting this food mecca.

I can see our car from here!

In about 2 hours and 20 minutes we were parking the car on a narrow side-street at the entrance to St. Anne’s Church. As we got out of the car, the bells were ringing loudly in the tower, which was our destination.

St Anne’s Church, Cork

The church itself was nothing spectacular, but the bell tower was worth the trip. This church sits in one of the oldest districts in Cork known as Shandon and the church was built in 1722 replacing St Mary’s Church built in 1199 but destroyed during one of Ireland’s many plunderings (this time during king William’s reign)

The climb in the clock tower

On entering the church we were given ear protection to stop us from going deaf  as we climbed the 120 feet to the top (an element of danger always adds to the experience!

Calder and June helping Ide ring the Bells of Shandon

The best part was that we had the added treat of being able to ring the bells, and my daughter begged for the job. She decided to ring out the famous song The Bells of Shandon, a tune written by Francis Sylvester Mahony. June called out the numbers from an accommodating instruction book, and Ide pulled the rope of the bell with the corresponding number. She was so happy, it was all she talked about for the rest of the day!

A view from the clock tower

What with our long drive and all of that bell-ringing, we had worked up quite the appetite and so piled into the car bound for The English Market. The English Market got its name merely to distinguish it from an Irish market that opened 52 years after the establishment of the now English Market.

The English Market

The English Market set up by the then ruling “english” in 1766, but by 1840 when the government was reformed, an Irish market was also created. The older of the two was known as The English Market from then on.

The biggest tuna fish I have ever seen (The English Market, Cork)

The moment I walked through the arched entryway I was reminded of an equivalent covered food market I had the opportunity to explore earlier this year; the Piazza del Mercato Centrale in Florence Italy. Needless to say, I was transported to food heaven.

Olives at The English Market, Cork

The pleasure I get from walking through a market with this much food assembled under one roof is inexplicable. The initial walk-through is usually a blur as sensory overload takes over.

This was a first for me; Pig tails! Anyone know of a good recipe?

In no particular order we wandered in a daze past stalls of fruits, vegetables, herbs, exotic spices, oils, olives, fresh fish siting on mountains of ice, all kinds of meat (including pigtails!), cheeses, pastas, not to mention chocolates, pastries and other sweet confections too numerous to take it all in!

Fresh fish

There was a vendor busily cooking herb infused-sausages with mounds of frying onions, and the smell of freshly baked bread in the air. This was the place to be when your stomach is screaming to be fed, and all four of us could not wait to eat.

cheeses

The problem that comes with being overly hungry is that it is hard to make a decision on what to eat when standing in a food menagerie, as this market most definitely was.

Since we all wanted to try something different, and we were tired, we decided to try out the Farmgate Cafe on the upper balcony. This was actually a recommendation from a lovely woman I met in a restaurant in Kilkenny City who was sitting at the next table. She was originally from Cork and told me that dining in the cafe, which served terrific food, was a great way to experience the “buzz” in the market.

Farmgate Cafe at The English Market

We followed the droves of people heading for the cafe and waiting in line to see what was on the blackboard menu. The Farmgate cafe’s menu changed daily, being dictated by the market below which they literally used as their pantry; an ideal relationship.

Desserts at the Farmgate Cafe

The line was long and I thought nerves would fray by the time we got to the big counter where all of the food was displayed, but that was luckily not the case. A friendly and highly efficient gentleman went through the line asking how many in each group and then got tables lined-up for each party as they rolled off the veritable food assembly line.

simple lunch with ingredients from the market floor (chicken, cheese, greens, herbs, fresh bread, relish)

We got a great table right by the food counter, and as we ate we were able to enjoy not only the clatter on the market floor, but the Farmgate staff slicing Quiche to go with salads, ladling lamb stew into bowls, and dolloping fresh cream on desserts that were irresistible to absolutely every diner that passed the register.

something sweet for after (lemon cheesecake, cream & coffee)

After our lovely lunch we walked the market once more, this time taking it all in without the added stress of hunger. We could not resist a selection of bakewell-style tarts from a lovely place called Heaven’s Cakes, which was the perfect descriptor for these little gems; they tasted so heavenly with my cup of coffee the following morning.

from Heaven’s Cakes at The English Market

The day was not over yet, we still needed to get to Cobh to visit St. Coleman’s Church. The town of Cobh sits on a very steep hill, so steep in fact that I was reminded of the tireless upward slanting streets of Cortona, Italy, a town I lived in for 3 months this year (yes, what a life!).

Hilly streets of Cobh

Here is what I love about catholic churches; the surprise shock and awe factor. What I mean is that these dramatic buildings which tower to the heavens, are located in a place where they literally spring out at unsuspecting mortals, making them cower in respect.

more climbing

You may, (as we were), deliberately be walking to a church, know it is just around the next corner, but when you turn that corner your breath is taken away by the indomitable size of the building. If you had any notion of superiority it is wiped away in that instant.

St Coleman’s church, Cobh

And so it was when we climbed the steep street in Cobh leading to the Gothic-Style 19th century Cathedral of St. Coleman’s. It was very misty that afternoon and the black stone of the church disappeared into the tips of the clouds, making it appear never-ending.

Imposing St Coleman’s church

 The church facing me in the hilly town of Cobh was a prime example of the work of the famously talented and controversial English architect E. W. Pugin who spear-headed the huge revival of the gothic style. It is a masterpiece which boasts a carillon of 47 bells, the most in Ireland (and Britain) which ring out over this colorfully clad harbor town with regularity.

Back and side view of st Coleman’s church

Inside the vastly spacious interior we lit candles for both the living and the dead.

Leaving colorful Cobh

We left Cobh as the signs of evening became to loom and made our way back home. I was more than satisfied with my day in Cork and will recall the food at the English Market and hear the ringing of The Shandon Bells whenever I feel homesick (right about now).

“Meek and humble of Heart”

Ireland Chronicles: Entry 5 – Trip To Dingle. Part 3: A Breathtaking Graveyard, Fun, Food & Flying Ants!

When I stood in the graveyard on the Dingle Peninsula looking out onto the wild Atlantic Ocean with the equally wild Blasket Islands jutting out of it, I was reminded of a place which is so different but gave me the same feeling of awe. Both are commonplace things in our world, which is why, when they are spectacular, they are (pardon the adjective), completely awesome: A graveyard on the Dingle Peninsula, Ireland, and the Bus Stop in Cortona, Italy.

See for yourself.

Dún Chaoin Graveyard

The view ahead

My Bus Stop for 3 months this year, Cortona, Italy

One can never discount the beauty of ordinary things, and I say ordinary because for the people who live here, this graveyard and bus stop are truly ordinary and merely a part of their everyday lives. Makes me wonder what I have not been seeing?

Looking onto the Atlantic

The last day of our trip in Dingle was going to be a busy one: stop by the O’ Curnain Bakery for a last taste of their pastries, buy some fresh fish down by the harbor, find Peig Sayer’s grave, and choose a fabulous beach to lounge and cook upon, before finally making our way back home. I loved having our plan in order, but was also happy not to know how things would play out.

We took the Slea Head Drive road from Dingle to begin our trip homeward. This road would hopefully lead to the townland of Dun Chaoin where one of the most famous Irish storytellers, Peig Sayers, was buried. She was born in the latter part of the 19th century and miraculously lived to the ripe old age of 80. This is noteworthy because she left the Dingle Peninsula as a young bride to live most of her life on an 1100 acre island just forty minutes from the mainland, known as The Great Blasket Island.

Peig Sayers’ grave

Her most famous book is titled Peig and is an account of her life living in that beautiful but lonely place. The life she described couldn’t have been harder, where the simplest task was a torment, and where not keeping a good eye on your children could result in a fatal accident by the cliffs. She spoke in Irish and actually her book was written down orally with the help of a writer.
Peig: The Autobiography of Peig Sayers of the Great Blasket Island (Irish Studies)

I am writing about her with reverence, but there was a time I was not so respectful. I had to study her book in school, laboriously reading her story in irish for my final exam before leaving school, and I’ll admit to using a black ink pen in a very unflattering way on her face. I experienced Ireland before it’s economy took off in the 1990’s so was accustomed to not having much, but Peig Sayers was a different brand of irish. Her life seemed unreal to me in some ways, almost exaggerated in the amount of suffering she put up with.

graveyard wall

I grew up so familiar with the mentality of “making do” It was so much part of my makeup to feel thankful for every blessed thing, as if indeed it was in some way undeserving. Yes, irish people have a good sense of humour, but I’m pretty sure it came from hardship. What I mean is, if you are continually being “put upon’ by one thing or anther (you know…invaded, stripped of your language, starved) and something good comes along, however small that something might be, you tend to be grateful beyond imagining.

dingle Peninsula

I have found that people who grow up with little are content with less of everything in general. Now when Ireland experienced “the celtic tiger” as it’s economic boom has been dubbed, things changed. I couldn’t relate to Peig Sayer even though I came from a family of six who lived from week to week dependent on that Friday pay check. How could Peig Sayers’ story have a chance of finding anything in common with kids who grew up with what they deemed to be their absolute right to have: cell phones and Facebook, (and everything that goes along with that).

Dingle Peninsula

I am actually not old-fashioned, just showing how Ms. Sayers became obsolete fast when Ireland got rich, and was promptly taken off the required reading syllabus in 1999 after 56 years, replaced by a more contemporary Irish story shall we say. I don’t know, even though I resented reading her book at the time, I am, as I am about a whole mountain of things I used to complain about learning in school, still glad I had to read it. Why?

Blasket Islands

For one, here I was standing in a graveyard, (which my sister and I eventually found after several long looping wrong turns!) with panoramic views at every aspect, in a part of the country which experienced so much hardship and suffering which I wouldn’t know about but for my studying it’s history, and part of that understanding was shaped by the book Peig. She may have just been a little part of the jigsaw in my head, indeed I hadn’t though about Peig Sayers since leaving school until I was standing at the graveyard wall and wondering how on earth anyone could have lived on the mainland in the 1900’s, let alone on Great Blasket Island directly in front of me.

The Famine Houses on Slea Head Drive

For me, my trip to the Dingle Peninsula was more than just finding the best beach and stopping the car to exclaim “wow, what a fabulous view children, let’s take a picture” Dingle can certainly be that,  but I think it is so much more than just geographically spectacular. Knowing even a little of the past of a place can bring it to life, give it character. I think knowing that people like Peig Sayers lived on the Blasket Islands makes it more than just a photo opportunity.

One of the Young Sheehy men choosing my plaice for lunch

OK I’m done, and moving on to our next stop, yep: the beach we would cook and lounge on for the rest of the late afternoon. We had some plaice fish sitting in a big bag of ice in the boot of the car and it was time to cook it. I got the fish from  Sheehy’s Fish, located right on the harbor. There was a great selection, of which I choose plaice because it would cook quickly, and was mild enough to please any palate.

The catch of the day

This was our third day in Kerry and we hadn’t eaten in one restaurant. I suppose after my rant about poverty and torment, it is a small thing to be proud of, seeing that the back of the car was our pantry, but proud we were none the less, the new brand of  pioneer women. At least that’s what my kids were thinking as they too have grown up in the world where you don’t whip out a flask of tea and a ham sandwich when you are on the road; that’s what restaurants are for.

The beach we chose

Not this weekend however. We were showing them how great it felt to be independent and eat like we were siting at home (always the best food don’t you think?). I can say that after three days of cooking and eating outside, they had the most fun, and we were already planning our next trip (read about our trip to County Antrim with my other sister Mimi soon!).

Ide

The problem with finding that perfect spot is we had become very picky after our fantastic picnic on Slea Head Beach (read previous post for more info by clicking HERE) the day before. I got out of the car at a dead-end road to check out a beach when a couple appeared over the grassy bank. They greeting me in irish and then a quick translation into english, telling me it was a lovely beach and not well-known. I answered in my rusty irish which prompted them to continue our conversation in irish. I was delighted to talk to them and was happy I didn’t make too much of a show of myself, seeing as I never get the opportunity to speak that lovely lilt-y language, albeit in my more anglicised accent.

Ready to cook our fish dinner

We took their recommendation and unloaded the grocery bags for the last time. It was getting close to 4 pm and what was supposed to be lunch would have to satisfy as dinner also! The pan was hot and mushrooms were sautéing in olive oil, white wine and rosemary (my last sprig from the garden) within five minutes. The beach was long and the tide was out so the expanse of sand was enormous. Within moments the kids were making their way down to the water, net and bucket in hand.

when I looked up from my frying pan I saw the perfect photo-op (I did apologize and thank them when caught)

As I sat with June sipping wine we had to laugh again at our little set-up. We were still a little surprised at ourselves for not succumbing to the comfort of a restaurant, and we made up all sorts of scenarios where we could imagine ourselves pulling out our frying pan and cooking on the spot. Like whipping it out right in front of our hotel, or Stephen’s Green in Dublin, why not? The more socially unacceptable the place we thought of, the more we laughed. Like taking it someone’s house when invited to dinner, and setting it up in their yard.

Plaice with mushrooms, rosemary and lemon

I cooked the fish on top of the mushrooms and then served it all with fresh bread rolls and big wedges of lemon. Do I need to explain how good this all tasted!

Ide (possibly running from flying ants!) & June

The only problem was the flying ants. By the time we discovered how pesky they would be, we were too entrenched to leave. My daughter was completely tormented, and she had several outbursts of contempt for the entire insect kingdom. She made her usual speech about how she was aware that insects play a very useful part in the world, but, why flying ants, what purpose did they serve here on this beach? She was convinced that they were out to get her, and her alone.  Her reasoning is always lengthy and eloquent and, if it doesn’t make the mother in me fret for her, I usually find it quite entertaining.

fun with a yellow hula hoop

To distract from the ants, June decided to round everyone up for a game of tag in a giant circle that she made in the sand. As they began to play (I was content to clean up and observe), it attracted some other kids on the beach. There was a sister and brother from France who apparently came here every year, along with a friend of theirs’ who was Irish, and presumably someone they met years ago on this beach and had been meeting up with ever since (that’s my romantic take on the friendship anyway).

Ball Tag

They had a ball and 2 teams, and it was amazing to see how an organised game, with rules, can break down any notions of shyness between a bunch of complete strangers. They laughed, they teased, and fought over rules like they had known each other for years.

This is another of the many reasons why children are great to be around. You do things for them that you wouldn’t normally do, like kneel over a stove in spitting rain and ask strangers to play ball-tag with you. Kids make everything more fun, and my kids make me brave in a way I would never be on my own. It also allowed me to see my sister June running around like a maniac after a small bright red plastic ball.

and away we go

After that, it was time to drive home. To cheer us up, we stopped in Dingle one last time for ice cream and cafe macchiato.

Ireland Chronicles: Entry 4 – Trip to Dingle Part 2: Fungi The Dingle Dolphin And Dinner On A Breathtaking Beach

Our second day on the Dingle Peninsula was as outstanding and memorable as the first (click here to read), if that could be possible!

Dramatic West Kerry coastline

We had a plan which we were hoping the weather would not interfere with, so when I opened the hotel curtains in the morning, and the sky looked promising I was delighted. The first thing I wanted to do however was run. I had been dreaming about the miles of hedgerows emblazoned with blood-red fuchsia flowers, which we drove through the day before, and I imagined myself running between the rows as if in a giant winding maze.

Dingle bay

It was so peaceful, just me and the ditch and the smell of the heavy morning air as I breathed in. The only cars on the road were laden with kayaks or bikes heading for the ocean or some mountain-y path. I felt like giving every one of them a big wave saying, “enjoy the day as much as I plan to!” I really felt like the luckiest girl in the world. The only thing on my agenda was fun for the next 48 hours!

Fungie, the Dingle Dolphin  (sculpture by James Bottoms and Decker Studios Foundry, California)

After we all ate a monster of a breakfast at the hotel, the foremost thought on everyone’s mind was, a dolphin. Yes, we were sitting in the place National Geographic voted one of the most beautiful places on earth and the plan was to go out on a hired fishing boat with lots of other tourists to see a dolphin, namely Fungie, the Dingle Dolphin.

Watching for Fungie

A quick history of Fungie goes something like this: in 1983 he was spotted in the mouth of the harbor by the lighthouse keeper, and he has been there ever since, interacting with whatever comes along, fishing boats, canoeists, divers and swimmers alike. Basically, this 500lb dolphin is the town’s pet who likes to accompany the local fishing boats in and out of the harbor, while also boosting the economy by way of tourists flocking to see this friendly mammal. We were on our way to the harbor to do just that, and I will admit to being excited about the excursion.

View of the Blasket islands off the west coast of Kerry

I had the pleasure of seeing Fungie once before in 1996 when a friend of my father’s took Dave and I out for our own private little meeting. He was a local fisher man, but had turned his boat over to the more profitable job of giving tours out in the bay. We sailed out to the mouth of the harbor and there he was, swimming around the boat and breaking the water to say hello. I remember fishing off the side of the boat for mackerel before going back in. It was something I always remembered, and now, here I was again about to see the same dolphin with my almost grown up children!

Fungie

My daughter was beside herself with anticipation, while my son was almost complacent. I think he figured by his being “cool” it might do something to create a balance, seeing he was stuck with three boisterous women. The boat was comfortably full (about 20 people) and as we sailed out towards the mouth of Dingle Bay  I detected French, German, Polish, and Italian chatter.

Watching Fungie race alongside our boat

Then it happened. There was a boat across from us, and swimming alongside it was Fungie, leaping into the air before resuming to race the boat back towards the harbor. Everything changed from low conversations and politeness to squeals of delight. After a lot of cajoling by our determined boat captain, Fungie was finally coaxed over to our boat. With the help of a firm grip from June, my daughter leaned out into the spray, and Fungie appeared right in front of her eyes. I had never seen her face so contorted with sheer joy. My son looked at me with disbelief and laughed out loud. It was impossible not to fall instantly in love with this beautiful fish. I tried my best to get a picture of him in the air but the dolphin caught me off guard each time.

View sailing back into Dingle Harbor

Incidentally, it turned out that the man at the helm of the boat was the son of the man who had taken me out over 15 years earlier. What a great start to our morning.

pastries from O Curnain Bakery (custard slices, carmel squares & toffee cake)

After a quick stop at a fantastic bakery (O Curnain Bakery: you have to stop there if you ever find yourself in Dingle),  for pastries, and another stop for local Annascaul Sausages I had overheard someone rave about, it was off to Slea Head Beach via one of the most beautiful roads imaginable. The sun began to beat down as we drove which made the tenuous plan of cooking on the beach a definite possibility.

Part of the road to Slea Head Beach is an actual waterway for a river running down the mountain

As we motored along we took all the time in the world to stop whenever we wanted to soak in a view, or if there was something of historical interest that peaked our curiosity. We did not have to worry about trying to find a place to eat, or stop for a cup of coffee and cake: it was all in the back of the car, ready to be whipped out at a moments notice.

road down to the beach

Winding down the twisty road to Slea Head beach (the road ends literally on the beach!) was a bit of a nail-biter as the road was narrow with not much room to pull over to allow cars to pass. June being the fabulous driver that she is managed it expertly and parked a short walk down to the strand.

View from road to Slea Head Beach

We did look a bit odd carrying a big grocery bag, a backpack with a frying pan sticking out the top, as well as a couple of beach chairs, shovels, a net, plastic buckets and towels across a large expanse of the beach, but I knew that the moment the scent of frying onions hit the air we would look like geniuses, not crazy fools.

fun with a hula hoop

We found a place against a giant rock with a great view of the ocean where I could keep an eye on the kids when they went for some fun in the waves. At this point June and I felt like experts. Within 5 minutes we had the picnic blanket spread, chairs in place, stove out and lit, chopping board and food prepped, and a glass of lovely red wine in our hands: Salute!

The essentials for any beach trip!

We took a moment to take it all in and take stock of the fact that we were the luckiest people in the world right at that moment. I am serious. I really needed to acknowledge that I was in a most spectacular place, with the Atlantic ocean right in front of me and  massive sandstone rocks formed over 400 million years ago all around and high above me. These rocks gave the beach such a dramatic feel, the whole place seemed eerily primitive and almost unreal.

a little white wine

As I got down to the business of slicing mushrooms and cooking pasta, the kids explored the endless giant rocks, played in the freezing cold water and sailed their bright yellow hula hoop back and forth to each other. The sun began to beat down even stronger and there my sister and I were in jeans and long-sleeved tops.  June was so hot she asked if perhaps stripping down to her underwear might be OK. I told her fine, but that she shouldn’t expect dinner or any more wine for that matter!

Our beach dinner

Dinner was amazing, but dessert was even better. We had custard creams (like a Napoleon), carmel squares and toffee cake with icing. The sea air left us all ravenous and there wasn’t a scrap of food left uneaten when we were done.

Lovely Slea Head Beach

There was a great atmosphere running through the entire place, and there was no shortage of families enjoying the lovely day, doing everything from boogie-boarding, to sitting around with backs against warm rocks and enjoying company and chatter. I did notice several looks of longing cast towards my aromatic frying pan, and I was sorry I couldn’t invite everyone over for taste. Hopefully I spurred a few of them to come armed with food and a frying pan for their next beach outing.

Calder & Ide

On our way back to the hotel we tried to find the grave of a writer from the rugged Blasket Islands but were out of luck.

Ide & June heading back to the car after a very satisfying day

We did manage to find it the next day, but more about that when I conclude my blog on our trip to Dingle!

Ireland Chronicles: Entry 3 – Weekend in Dingle: Day 1 – The Conor Pass And Dinner in A Field

The one bit of advice I would give anyone who wanted to take off for a few days is to plan everything you might want to do as much as possible before you set out. I know, being organized can take time , but, after finding myself on so many occasions in a beautiful city, town or countryside, and am asked the question, “well, what’s the plan?” and I don’t have a notion of what the place has to offer, where to eat, or what’s open, I can proudly say that planning one’s trip is the most effective way to pack it all in without stressing out.

View of corrie lakes from Conor Pass, County Kerry

Spending the summer in Ireland (my home) was the perfect time to plan trips to places I hadn’t visited in a long time. Wanting to take full advantage of every precious moment, I made sure to carefully plot my trip, finding out what we wanted to see, what times museums and historical sites were open, where the best places to eat were, etc. Yes, I’m sounding like an overly fastidious and annoying  “square” but, I am here to tell you that my trip to County Kerry in the South West of Ireland will convince you to follow suit.

looking out over Conor Pass

This trip was planned with my sister June, and of course my 2 children. June booked a hotel room for two nights about 5 miles outside the beautiful little harbor town of Dingle. What turned out to be her most ingenious contribution to our Trip Tik was a small back pack that contained a single-burner gas stove, plates, cups, along with a spatula and big serving spoon.

along the road at Conor Pass

When she arrived home with this “gadget” I thought it was another of those things you buy when all excited about the idea of doing something different (like cooking outside in June’s case), but I played along as she enthusiastically pulled it out of the canvas bag and proceeded to show me all of the cool features while going on about how fun it would be to cook on the beach or mountain top!

A snapshot of the Dingle Peninsula

This was all very well, but the reason she was showing ME this wilderness stove was because it was presumed that I would be the one in the apron and holding the spatula!

Fishing boat in Dingle Harbor

I think the only time I am a really good planner is when it comes to food, so with that in mind, I decided  to get into the spirit of the idea of my kneeling over a stove on a possibly brisk irish beach. I visualized what would ultimately be a series of one-pot meals and packed accordingly. I decided that for the first day I could prep the vegetables I was going to use for the base of the dish and pack it in a plastic container. Other veggies would be packed for the following outdoor dinners or lunches, along with a slim chopping board and sharp knife.

Dingle Bay

Then there was no stopping me: I went on to pack lovely Maldon salt, pepper, chili flakes, curry powder, and fresh sprigs of rosemary from the garden. I washed little wine bottles and filled them with olive oil and white wine which I stored in one of the outside pockets of the bag, along with a big spoon, a spatula and tea cloths. I also packed enough meat, olives, mustard, grapes and wine for the next three days in a cooler. I knew one thing for sure: we wouldn’t starve!

Suki making a final plea to come along (if only we had a bigger car!)

We left for County Kerry in the afternoon (after a little delay trying to get June’s dog Suki our of the car!), with our sights on Conor Pass, the highest mountain pass in the country. Our final stop would be the little harbor town of Dingle which juts into the Atlantic ocean making it the westernmost point in Ireland.  This narrow and winding road  precariously hugs the edge of the mountain as it makes it’s way to Dingle. It is by far the most spectacular way to enter the town, albeit a little scary for an Acrophobian such as myself (Ok, maybe a little dramatic, but definitely scary).

The hike route to Peddlers Lake (an ancient Glacier paradise)

As we twisted our way through the pass we stopped several times to take in the magnificent views of the ancient corrie lakes dotted among the ultra green and plunging glacier mountains. If we were true adventurers we could have parked our car and hiked up the  mountain to Peddlers lake to marvel at its glass like surface, surrounding by corrie walls and ancient vegetation. Wearing flip-flops and dresses quelled that notion, but next time I will make sure to have my hiking boots and rain coat in the boot of the car.

The view from the road to the Dingle Peninsula

We also stopped to let cars pass on this “one way” road. I am trying to depict how absolutely breathtaking this place is through my words and pictures, but am failing miserably. The only way to know is to experience it for yourself, and I hope you get the chance to do so someday.

The coastline of Kerry

On past Dingle we eventually found our hotel, which was located on a lovely country road flanked by more green and rocky mountains. The roads were lined with hedgerows awash in drooping red fuchsia flowers. At the bottoms of the hedges was sand, evidence of the ocean close by.

typical travel conditions!

After we checked into our very modest hotel, it was time to find our picnic spot. It was getting a little late and shouts of hunger were going up. As we drove down the road heading for a beach June and I looked at each other and I know were thinking the same thing; “are we really going out into the countryside in the looming dusk with two cranky kids, and the now visible signs of misty rain?”

view from our field

Since we didn’t have a clue about this particular area, funding that perfect spot was harder than we though. The beaches we found were either too rocky or had no shelter whatsoever. As we turned the car around from one little beach we noticed a field just above the strand. It looked like there was a path made by tractor wheels so we followed them and decided it was here or a restaurant!

frying sausages and fresh salmon with a hub cap back-splash!

We parked by a bank that sheltered us from the wind coming up from the sea and set the little stove in front of the car, which we parked on the bank as a second buffer. My son was mortified thinking we were trespassing, which we probably were! I told him to go explore on the beach and not to worry, which worked well enough. June pulled out the shopping bag and picnic blanket, and plunked herself down with the a bottle and wine opener. 

settling in

We laughed so much at the whole scene. This was a first for us (besides actually camping). There we were in the darkening evening wearing coats and hats, and trying to figure out how to light our little stove, and all the while thinking we would pack the up whole lot up and dash off to a cozy warm restaurant. Then, magic happened.

The best seat in the house

When the stove began to glow and I poured olive oil in the pan adding my prepped onions, garlic, rosemary and thinly sliced fennel, the mood changed completely. The air filled with the sweet scent of cooking food and within minutes all of us were kneeling around the burner excited about dinner, and being out in the middle of nowhere with the sea on one side of us and the green and red of the countryside on the other.

add some white wine

We ate a lovely brothy pasta dish with fried salmon and artisanal sausages which we got fresh from Dingle on our way out of town a couple of hours earlier. It was washed down with an equally lovely Pinot Noir, while the talk was all about the miracles that could be worked with a cheap gas burner and a couple of sprigs of rosemary. We enjoyed a meal that we would have been hard-pressed to find in a good restaurant, and we did it for pennies.

crispy salmon (which we ate from the pan!)

The other thing that we couldn’t help noticing was how good everything tasted in the outdoors. Every mouthful felt like a gift of comfort and deliciousness. As we lounged against the car doors after dinner the kids pulled out a hula hoop and began winging it through the field like a giant frisbee. Food made them happy, and I knew this because June and I were happy for the same reason. We starting thinking about where we would end up this time tomorrow, what we would be eating, and if it could possibly turn out to be as much fun as we were having at this exact moment.

Leaving our field

We packed up as the sky darkened and light rain began to fall; perfect timing.