castle lake

Yesterday as Mountaineering Man and I watched a food and travel program that profiled outdoor dining, he turned to me and said, “We’ve never dined al fresco, have we?” I replied no, we had not, and that the only time I’d ever eaten outdoors in Ireland was on the two gloriously sunny and warm days back in May of last year – before we’d met.

I still remember those two days as if they were last week. I woke up to a ray of light filtering through my curtains and into my bedroom, and I knew that day was different than any other I’d experienced in Ireland. Instead of tiptoeing on my freezing floor toward the well-used heater (a routine most days), I threw the covers off and felt natural warmth…from the sun! Immediately I rang my friends. They, too, were already awake with excitement over this freakishly warm weather. We made plans to meet in town and quickly got ready; we understood that any doddling could result in missing this fleeting phenomenon.

castle clare

Oh how we basked in the splendor of the sun those two days! We ate salads outside the Highlanes Gallery in Drogheda, sipping Pinot Grigio and donning sleeveless blouses. We walked across the footbridge at Scotch Hall, stopping to feel the warm sea breeze kicked up by jet skiers buzzing up and down the River Boyne. We struggled to find parking at Clogherhead beach but we didn’t mind; there were literally hundreds of people sunbathing on the sand and the sight of all those stark-white Irish bodies getting a few bits of Vitamin D was magnificent! There was plenty for everyone! People were smiling, birds chirping and even babies quieted at this momentous occasion. The sun was out and it was warm…dare I say it was HOT, even!


Though we had a relatively dry summer last year, we’ve yet to see (or feel) the kind of sun we had those two days in May, and even though it’s taken me nearly a year I’ve accepted the fact that I live in a country where frostbite is more common than a [natural] tan. The weather report is nearly the same every day: “Cold, with some dry spells and a chance of rain.” I don’t even know why they bother with a weather report at all, really. But occasionally we do get some sun around here, and though it rarely gives off any heat it’s nice to take advantage of the rays when we can. Last weekend we had one of those sunny days so we put on our down jackets and spent some time walking around Johnstown Castle in Wexford. And it was lovely.

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Mexican Vegetarian “Lasagna”

One of the ways I cope with the cold weather is by eating a good deal of comfort food. As long as it’s warm, filling and tasty, it qualifies. The only issue with this type of food is it can often be unhealthy, so I try to create dishes that are both comforting and healthy. This Mexican Vegetarian “Lasagna” has full-fat cheese, but it’s balanced with whole wheat tortillas and tons of veggies. I think it’s safe to say it’s one of MM’s new favorites. Enjoy!

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1 tablespoon olive oil, plus a bit more to coat the baking dish

1 large white onion, diced

1 red bell pepper, diced

½ green bell pepper, diced

Corn cut from two corn cobs

1 red chili, seeded and diced

1 packet of Taco seasoning (a bit of a Jamie Oliver trick here to save time!)

1 can of kidney beans, drained and rinsed

5 ounces of grated cheddar cheese

4 whole wheat tortillas (you can also use corn or regular flour tortillas if you prefer)

3 spring onions, minced

1/2 bunch coriander (cilantro), minced

Preheat the oven to 170 C degrees. In a large sauté pan, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and throw in the onion, bell peppers, corn and chili. Cook until tender, about 7 minutes. Add in the packet of Taco seasoning and mix, making sure the vegetables get coated with the spices. Add in the kidney beans and mix. Remove from heat.

Using a kitchen roll (paper towel) and a bit of olive oil, grease a large casserole dish. Now it’s time to layer the casserole. The bottom layer will be the tortillas; feel free to cut them to fit the dish. Then scoop on 1/3 of the vet/bean mixture and top with 1/3 of the grated cheese. Repeat this two more times so that the top is a cheese layer. Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes or until the cheese is bubbling. Sprinkle spring onion and coriander on top. Let cool for 5 minutes and then serve with guacamole (my preference!) and a salad.