Shandon Sweets

Shandon Sweets

In the previous two times that I’d visited Cork Ireland, I had never properly meandered around Shandon, a historic hilltop neighborhood of Cork City. This breezy, chilly September day I had been determined to climb the magnificent alleyway staircase and have a proper poke around.

My friend Evin tipped me off to Shandon Sweets, owned and operated by the Linehan family since 1928, where old fashioned boiled candy is made. Those silver circles framing the door aren’t there purely for decoration; they’re awards acknowledging the continued excellence of these simple and popular sweets.

I arrived at Shandon Sweets a bit early; it was still lunch time and the shop was closed. Ireland, like most of Europe, takes lunch time very seriously. I bummed around the neighborhood, snapping a few photos here and there, trying not to look suspicious to the theater company next door as people gathered for what I can only assume was a rehearsal or class. Finally, a vehicle pulled alongside the shop front and a man in his sixties came out and opened the sweet shop.

The man in question was Danny Linehan, whose father established the confectionery shop. He chatted pleasantly with me as he told me all about the business and how the candy is made, even confessing his favorite is honeycomb rather than the boiled candy “drops” he produces. As we chatted, Danny began to set up for another boiled candy batch. You can check out the step by step process at Roger’s blog, Cork Foodie.

Typical of many fathers, Danny began to turn the tables and ask me about myself and my trip, curious as to why and how a rainbow-haired American woman found his shop. He was impressed with my journeys and the amount of time I’d been away from home, and still had yet to go.

Taking comfort in his instinctive paternal concern, I admitted that I was beginning to miss my mother, to which he remarked that my mother must miss me terribly. I said no, she doesn’t miss me in the least. He was quick to correct me, insisting she definitely missed me and doesn’t say so because she wants me to focus on having a good time.

Normally, I’d be irked that someone was correcting me on my life, but there was something about Danny and talking to him about my insecurities that made me feel at ease. So I bought four bags of candy. The strawberry drops are my favorite.

Shandon Sweets

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Welcome. Mind the step.

I’ve been so far removed from blogging and writing in general lately that I have been struggling to get back to it. Shreve from Honey Rock Dawn has been feeling this way as well and decided to post every day for the next month. Writing for the sake of writing. Or blogging. Whatever. Anyway, I am going to do the same. No finesse. No carefully crafted wordsmithery. Just simple, straight-forward whatever.

I am also over on instagram doing the #fmphotoaday – so I may align both posts to talk about the same topic, especially if I have more than the appropriately sized Instagram description to say on any given topic. Such as today, where the prompt is “A Door.” I know I am pushing it posting this just after 10:30pm but fuck it, I had to see Deadpool and then I had to come home and cook dinner. Then I sat down to watch an episode of Downton Abbey even though i have seen said episode four times. FIGHT ME.

Bridge House - Skibbreen, Cork

For whatever reason, I got it in my head that I wanted to snap a series of photographs depicting interesting doors of Europe. I really didn’t get on it until I was in Ireland, more than half way through my trip. I need to go back to Brugge in particular because I am having MASSIVE regrets not taking a photo of this gorgeous purple door I kept walking by. I will talk about the weirdness that was Brugge another day, though, and stay on task for now.

All through the near three weeks I spent in Ireland, I took photo after photo of doors. As I explained more eloquently on instagram: I am fascinated by residential architecture and how color plays an important part, especially on doors. The entryway to the home is particularly integral to how we, outside strangers, perceive the dwellers within. I don’t know. It read more profoundly on instagram.

It isn’t difficult to figure out why this door stood out to me, with it’s fire engine red door, dainty floral flourish – which almost looks Art Nouveau, with those curves – and all of that greenery going on around it. The green-teal of the building itself, while lovely, does pose such a juxtapose to the violence of the red that I cannot love it completely, but I do appreciate the commitment to polarization.

This door is located picturesque harbor town of Skibbreen, a town in west Cork. It is the front door of Bridge House, a guest lodgings that I am sure sees booming business during the summer and late spring. My friend Fiona, saint that she is, took me all over the central-west Cork area and put up with my bizarre door obsession with grace and patience. Thanks, Fiona. I imagine one day I will have prints made and I will send a print of a door we visited together and she will mutter in a bemused tone, “God love her, she’s crackers.”

A Day In Cork, Ireland

The view from Electric, Cork
Cork, Ireland


I’m still under the weather and preparing for my busiest four-day food excursion of the year, but in the meantime, please hop over to my friend Evin’s website, 40 Shades of Life, for my guest post: A Day in Cork (Ireland). From 09:30am until 11:00pm, I have a full day in Ireland’s culinary capital all mapped out. Of course, I recommend several weeks there, but I realize this is not realistic for many tourists. From the best places to eat, to leisure activities, to shopping, to history and evening activities (for either those seeking culture or a couple of pints), these recommendations are all taken from my personal experiences, so don’t miss out!

The Failte Hotel Bar (Killarney)

The Failte Hotel


Steffie and I were all set to go on a Ring of Kerry tour, which we booked through Bus Éireann at Parnell Station. However, on the Sunday we were to go – two days before our departure from Ireland – we learned that our tour had been cancelled due to not meeting the minimum requirement of attendees. Faced with the prospect of wasting one of our precious few last days, we decided to be adventurous and do as the clerk suggested: transfer the fare we paid to a new ticket and go explore downtown Killarney on our own. The Killarney National Park was not but one kilometer from the drop-off area, so we had the entire day to explore its expansive grounds. As I’ve learned now, this stop is often skipped or grossly squished into an official Ring of Kerry Tour, so in hindsight, I am extraordinarily pleased it turned out this way.

One day (when I’ve returned to Killarney National Park to take proper pictures) I’ll post about the Park itself, but here are some highlights in the meantime:

Tangles

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Clouds over Killarney

Uprooted

Ross Tower Castle
Ross Tower Castle

Ah, yes. Ross Castle. It was exceedingly windy when Steffie and I walked through the Park and made it to this late 15th century landmark. We didn’t take an official tour, but we enjoyed playing around outside and seeing the historical documents and models of what Ross Tower was like back in its heyday. We were in mutual agreement over our love for the ever so fashionable murdering hole.


After our day at the Park, Steffie and I walked back through town, where time straddled that awkward limbo between lunch and dinner. Our last bus did not depart until around 7’clock, so after killing some time in gift shops and browsing the menus posted outside the hotels, pubs, bars and restaurants that weren’t closed due to it being a Sunday, we finally settled on The Failte Hotel Bar.

Owned and operated by the O’Callaghan family, The Fáilte Hotel is a bar, restaurant and hotel all in one. Their popularity was evident as soon as Steffie and I stepped inside; boisterous cheering and jeering from regulars and tourists alike filled the bar as The World Cup played on a couple of television screens.

Interior: Failte Hotel

After a long day of walking and nature, Steffie and I indulged in some libation – Bulmers for her, Jameson & Ginger for myself.

Finches Dry Ginger Ale
Finches Dry Ginger Ale

Finches ain’t playing around; when they say dry, they mean it. This isn’t your sugary Canada Dry stuff. Impeccibly crisp, this mixer makes for

Heaven on the half shell
Oysters on the Half Shell

Oyster obsessed that I am, I could not resist another chance at devouring Irish oysters. As you can see, though, these poor little mollusks were horribly butchered and mangled by someone at Failte Hotel Bar who does not know how to properly shuck an oyster. Mercifully, I put them out of their humiliation and devoured them quickly.

Fish 'n' Chips
Fish and Chips
mushy peas

Steffie’s last fish and chip meal of our visit. Just look at that behemoth of golden crispy deliciousness. Really gorgeous piece of fish; flakey, moist and flavorful with only a squeeze of lemon needed for that extra boost of flavor. The chips (not pictures) were equally praiseworthy, and Steffie preferred these simplified peas to the minted peas she came across at other eateries.


Guinness Casserole
Guinness Casserole
beef, onions, carrots & side of potatoes

I don’t know about you, but that does not look the least bit like a casserole to me. Fáilte, I do not think that word means what you think it means. I was imagining, well, something not quite so reminiscent of stew. Oh, well. I played along and ate it up anyway, seeing as it was a blustery, manic weather sort of day, the likes of which I’ve only ever experienced in Ireland. The beef was tender, not dry or chewy in the least. I thought some fresh mushrooms would have been a nice addition, but again, still good. I’m unsure if this was the same portion they gave to everyone, or if by virtue of hearing my American voice, they assumed I would expect a comically large portion. Either way, despite my enjoyment of this dish, I was definitely unable to finish.


Sticky Toffee Pudding
Sticky Toffee Pudding
sherry treacle

Our first encounter with Sticky Toffee Pudding brought our meal to a richly decadent and thoroughly satisfied finish. Neither of us cared for the sauce on the side, going for the sherry treacle, which added an appreciative zing to the otherwise dense but oh so delicious pudding.

As this meal was three years ago, I am sure many menu changes have happened at Failte Hotel Bar. Neither the pudding nor the casserole appear on the online restaurant or bar menus. Still, it was a hearty end to another jammed-packed day in Ireland, fill us up with good eats and good memories.

The Fáilte Hotel Bar & Restaurant
College Street, Killarney
Co. Kerry, Ireland
Telephone: 064 6633404
www.failtekillarney.com


Glimmering Waters
On the road back from Killarney

A Taste Of: Blarney Castle and Gardens, Ireland

We’re going to pretend that I posted this, oh, about two and half years ago. I know over the years I’ve posted pictures of Blarney, but apparently I never write a comprehensive post on the afternoon Steffie and I spent there. Let’s just pretend I’m a better blogger than I really am, okay?

It was a gorgeous June day when Steffie and I visited Blarney, and although everyone else made a bee-line straight for the Blarney Castle, Stef and I decided to explore the extensive grounds instead. Following a flyer that detailed the grounds with certain highlights, Stef and I took our time exploring winding paths, groves, sparkling ponds, and other greenery goodness.


Stem of Bells



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Steffie Conquers the Blarney Stump!



Moss Tree



Homage
Paying Homage at Rock Close

Though it isn’t technically required to pay homage to Rock Close, Stef and I weren’t about to anger ancient Celtic spirits of Druids, so we dug though our pockets to scrounge up a worthy enough homage. As every Euro counted, we didn’t want to have to use our change, as you can see many others before us had done. Luckily, I found a 2 for 1 coupon at the ioWest in Hollywood (blue paper above). So it covered both Steffie and I. Score.


Waterfall
Waterfall



The Wishing Steps
The Wishing Steps

I wished for world peace and for global warming to magically recede in a sparkly cloud of pink cotton candy. OK, I wished for more food and shoes.
FOOD AND SHOES > World Peace.


Stay on the path



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Wheeeeeeee!

I love tire swings. Love them. Love them like warm summer days at my best friend’s childhood home, drinking out of the hose, eating barbecue, and catching fireflies at twilight. There were children gathering. I didn’t care. Stefanie had to nearly drag me away from the tire swing. I almost changed my address to “Rachael – The Tire Swing – Blarney – Co. Cork, Ireland”.


Hide and go seek?
We played a rousing game of hide and go seek here


Another door opens
Tower with a View

We were far more interested in this derelict tower than the castle itself, to be honest. I think it would make a great club house for kids. With a curved slide and a ball pit. Bazinga.


Blarney Castle



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Steffie rollin’ in the fields

We may or may not have rolled around in a patch of wildflowers for an inordinate amount of time.


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Blarney Castle and Gardens

Hours:
Monday-Saturday:
May: 9.00am to 6.30pm
Jun-Jul-Aug: 9.00am to 7.00pm
Sept: 9.00am to 6.30pm
Oct-Apr: 9.00am to sundown

Sundays:
Summer: 9.00am to 5.30pm
Winter: 9.00am to sundown

Rates:
Adult Admission: €12
Student / Seniors: €10
Children (8-14 years): €5
Family (2 Adults, 2 Children): €30.00

No credit cards are accepted at our main turnstile except for large groups.

www.blarneycastle.ie


Brunch at Electric (Cork)

Farewell Brunch at Electric - Cork, Ireland


My last day in Cork was bittersweet; I didn’t want to go home, but I was grateful for all of the new friendships and opportunities this last-minute solo trip garnered. From my gracious hosts Naomi, Csaba and Seb, to new friends Evin, Fiona, Kate & Stephan, to new sights in the form of West Cork and The Ring of Kerry, to new sounds via Funeral Suits and John Spillane, and of course, new eats like Fenns Quay, The Fish Hatch, Hassett’s, Nash 19, Market Lane, Fresco Bistro and Electric, this holiday was my favorite time of 2012. It was a welcome change of scenery after being so very ill for five months.

Overall, my holiday reenforced the reasons why I love Cork, igniting the fire to return as soon as fiscally possible.

I held out on brunch at Electric, reserving it for my last Sunday before I left, and sent an open invitation across the Twitter waves for anyone who would like to join me. I wound up dining with my dear host brother Csabi, his friend S-, and Fiona. We started off with some beverages.

Farewell Brunch at Electric - Cork, Ireland
Macchiato

Look at that fancy-pants coffee beverage! I don’t know the first thing about coffee, but Csaba seemed to enjoy this.


Farewell Brunch at Electric - Cork, Ireland
Kir Royale (€6.9)

I actually ordered a bellini, but was given this instead. I just thought it was a funny looking bellimi, so I drank it. Sure didn’t taste like a bellini, but it was boozy and bubbly, so of course I continued to drink it. The server eventually realized his mistake and redacted this drink from our bill.

Ha ha – okay, enough drinking, time for some food.

Farewell Brunch at Electric - Cork, Ireland
Free Range Omelette (€9)
Filling: bacon, mushroom, spinach or cheese served with dressed leaves & brioche

Both Csaba and his pal S- ordered an omelette, which they customized according to their personal tastes. They were both pretty impressed by the quality and freshness.


Farewell Brunch at Electric - Cork, Ireland
Eggs Benedict (€9)
free range poached eggs and bacon on brioche with hollandaise

I can’t recall if I’ve ever eaten Eggs Benny with a thick piece of toast (brioche or otherwise), but it worked. The Hollandaise was light and perfectly executed; adding just the right balance to cut the salty savoriness of the bacon. Keep in mind, Americans, this bacon is not our thin “streaky” bacon, but hearty Irish bacon, which is thicker and an ideal candidate for Eggs Benny. It can be a pleasant change up. Though I wouldn’t ever say no to crab cakes Eggs Benny. Denis.


Farewell Brunch at Electric - Cork, Ireland
Warm Chicken Salad
with toasted almond, pomegranate & a pear & ginger salsa

I though this was a Thai chicken salad…but this is the only chicken salad I found on the online menu. Either way, Fiona was especially pleased with this dish. Great choice for health-conscious or gluten-free folks.

But we can’t have none of that healthy green stuff mocking our table for long, could we? Oh, no. We were soon joined by Laura, a vivacious Sardinian woman I met through Csaba. That’s when things got crazy as we attacked the dessert menu.


Farewell Brunch at Electric - Cork, Ireland
Pear & Almond Tart (€6.5)
Custard & vanilla ice cream

Blood orange cheesecake & crackling praline at Electric - Cork, Ireland
Blood orange cheesecake (€6.5)
Crackling praline

Strawberry & lemon meringue roulade at Electric - Cork, Ireland
Strawberry & Lemon Meringue Roulade (€6.5)

Holy diabetic coma, Batman, that was a lot of sugar! I bet you know which one was mine (that I ordered with S- ) I don’t recall even bothering to try the first two; just this fluffy cloud of heaven. The meringue top was equally hard and soft, giving just the appropriate amount of texture to contrast the silky smooth center. Nmpf, it was glorious.

Oh, hey, and what do you know, my bellini showed up! Awesome.


Farewell Brunch at Electric - Cork, Ireland
Bellini (€6.9)


Besides being the home to #TweetMeetTuesday, Electric offers superb tea and scones, lunch, dinner and a eclectic atmosphere with friendly smiles. Where else can you enjoy outdoor brunch alongside the River Lee?



The view from Electric, Cork

ELECTRIC
41 SOUTH MALL
CORK, IRELAND
[T] +353 21 4222 990

http://www.electriccork.com

Market Lane (Cork, Ireland)

I wasn’t prepared to go to Market Lane, however I was also not prepared for the complete insanity of the Bank Holiday Monday, either. As I’d spent my last Bank Holiday Monday hitchhiking from a literary arts & music festival in Clones, I didn’t realize the rest of civilization in Ireland kind of goes bonkers with this extra day to play. In other words, none of the restaurants I had scheduled in for my Monday meals were open.

Even maneuvering around the city center was a chore because the Cork Marathon and some religious observation ceremony were simultaneously scheduled a stone’s throw away from one another. Sticking to the Oliver Plunkett side of St. Patrick’s Street, I meandered around until I found a restaurant that looked good to eat lunch at. Having spied Market Lane a couple of times before, I eventually caved in to curiosity and went in.

Whether it was due to the lack of restaurants open for business on a national day off, or it is genuinely that popular, Market Lane was jammed packed. The host was pleased I was flying solo as he only had one lonely little corner to stick me in. That’s okay; my camera is less conspicuous in lonely little corners!

My waitress was a stern Polish woman (a reoccurring motif in my dining out experiences, I’m looking at you, Nash 19) who knew what I wanted to eat well before I did. Though I was debating ordering the chicken liver pate with plum chutney and handmade linseed crackers, my eyes spied “French Onion Soup” which is my Kryptonite. Despite my brain warning me that it wasn’t worth the risk, I went for it.

Onion Soup - Market Place - Cork, Ireland
French Onion Soup (€4.80)

While this might work for some, I’m of the opinion that croutons need to be toasted before they are dunked into a bowl of piping hot liquid and sunk down with a sprinkling of cheese, making it soggy in texture and unpalatable. The cheese is also traditionally a bit crusty – either with the use of a quick broil or a kitchen torch. These crucial elements being ignored made this soup an unfortunate miss for me. I am also a little more than curious why the soup is marked with a “V” for vegetarian if, as tradition dictates, it is made with animal stock? If it was not made with animal stock, I definitely would have not ordered it. If it is, however, most vegetarians would argue that it is indeed not a vegetarian option.
Yes, I should have asked but some clarification on the menu might be helpful for actual vegetarians.


Oxtail Pie - Market Place - Cork, Ireland
Oxtail Pie (€13.50/95 at dinner)

Oxtail Pie, innards - Market Place - Cork, Ireland
Oxtail Pie – Innards

Technically, this item is not on the menu until dinner time, but its lunch time counterpart, the oxtail cheek stew, was unavailable and my waitress talked this alternative up, saying it’s the same thing, just in pie format. As oxtail is one of my favorite hunks of meat, I don’t think I would have ordered anything else; oxtail is not unheard of here in the States, but it is usually a specialty seasonal item, or found in more Latino/Hispanic restaurants.
Gigantic, this oxtail pie was extraordinarily hearty, with tender pieces of slow cooked oxtail in every juicy bite. I could take or leave the pie shell; this dish was definitely all about the filling.
As I could only eat so much, I ended up taking half of this home, along with the Colcannon (which I had two bites of just to taste) and gave them to my host brother for his work day lunch. I was only a little sorry that I had shared!


Colcannon - Market Place - Cork, Ireland
Colcannon at Market Lane

Would I return to Market Lane? Yes; their menu intrigues me as it is varied and appealing. I wanted to go back but was never able to fit it into my schedule. Luckily, as it seems I have a rather soft spot for Cork, there will definitely be a next time.

Market Lane
5 Oliver Plunkett Street
Cork, Co. Cork
Ireland
021 427 4710

http://www.marketlane.ie