Tue 10 Aug 2010
Our menu for the evening, a la chef Imen!
It was bound to happen: Normalcy has set into my life here in Ireland. I know my way around town, I have favorite restaurants and pubs and I rarely go to the gym I joined a few months ago (if that’s not a sign of being settled I don’t know what is). Gone are the days of getting hopelessly lost on the way to the gas station and having to ask grocery store clerks to educate me on the difference between rashers and streaky bacon. I know that Come Dine with Me, my favorite show on television, reruns all five episodes on Sunday afternoons, and that if I don’t have a 1 Euro coin for the shopping cart I can use a 20-cent coin as it’s exactly the same size. In a nutshell, I’ve assimilated and life has become somewhat routine.
Richard, the Irish farmer himself, and Imen; Corey and Liam of Irish Fireside.
A few months ago, I would have given anything to feel this settled but now that it’s happened I’m feeling the itch to get out of town and see more of the country. So when my friend and fellow American Imen McDonnell invited me to stay at her family’s farm in Limerick, I booked my train ticket and kissed my routine life goodbye – at least for a couple of days. I met Imen, who writes the wonderful blog I Married an Irish Farmer, at a blogger gathering at Bord Bia in Dublin last May. We clicked immediately. Whether it’s gabbing for hours about the funny frustrations of adjusting to life in Ireland or trading tidbits on our favorite destinations (we’re both travel nuts), I always have a blast with her and see her as a kindred spirit, a soul sister.
Clockwise from the top: Beautiful McDonnell Farm steaks on the grill; a fresh and vibrant summer salad; Richard whips up his famous Irish coffee; gorgeous champagne with stinging nettle cordial.
Imen had also invited two other guests as well, the fabulous Liam and Corey of the highly-regarded travel website Irish Fireside. Shortly after our arrival Imen’s husband Richard (THE Irish farmer!) gave us a guided tour of the farm. It was fascinating to see all the innovative techniques utilized in running the place; we visited the site of the future wind farm and reviewed the robotic milking machines for the cows. Afterward we gathered for dinner at the house, and what a feast it was. Imen presented us with a beautiful roasted tomato salad to start, then grilled steaks from the farm (topped with Irish whiskey butter!) and served them with the best roasted potatoes I’ve ever eaten. We finished with a boozy berry trifle, which was soaked with limoncello and then Richard made his famous Irish coffees. The five of us sat around the big dining room table with full bellies, drinking and playing games until late into the night. It was cozy and warm and full of laughter.
While Corey and Liam had to leave the next day, I geared up for an adventurous outing with Imen and her adorable son, Geoffrey. We drove to the breathtaking beach at Ballybunion and I had my first-ever seaweed bath. Basically it’s a bathtub filled with hot water and lots of seaweed, which makes the water viscous and slimy. The collagen from the seaweed works wonders and after a 30-minute soak my skin was noticeably softer. Afterward we walked along the beach, gawked at dozens of washed-up jellyfish and Geoffrey dug a hole in the sand so deep I think China was on the other end. We ate lasagna and sandwiches at a beachside café and played a few arcade games at the local fun zone before heading back to the farm. In the evening, I cooked a simple pasta amatriciana and we drank loads of wine and watched a chick flick (Geoffrey and Richard understandably excused themselves for the film).
The cliffsides at Ballybunion; the train ride back home.
A couple of days of farm fresh country air, home cooking, nature walks and good friends was exactly what I needed to put everything into perspective. While my day-to-day life may seem a bit humdrum at times, I was reminded on this trip just how lucky I am to be living here. Visiting Imen and Richard and their farm, meeting Corey and Liam, experiencing the natural beauty of the cliffs at Ballybunion…these, and nearly every single encounter here is something new, something unique. On the train ride home, I caught a glimpse of two white horses galloping in a green field with their manes billowing like ribbons of silk against the wind. I actually gasped out loud; if this was Los Angeles, I’d be looking for the cameras and lighting because a scene like this could only be created by a Hollywood studio. But in Ireland, it’s extraordinary and utterly real…just like my new life here.