Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Week Six: Edible Flowers and Cheesy Scones with Father Linnane

This week, Father Linnane came to visit us in Cork, along with our Loyola program director Mrs. Harris, and Dr. Tim Snyder. We got to spend a lot of time with Father Linanne, as he said a private mass for our group and then took us out to dinner at the Hayfield Manor Hotel, which used to be the homestead of the Beamish family, who originally brewed the famous stout. The other day of Father Linnane’s visit, however, was spent at the Ballymaloe Cookery School, famous throughout Ireland as the best Cookery School in the country. We had no idea what to expect going in, but we were excited to at least get some good food out of the trip. First we took a tour of the grounds, including some beautiful gardens. As part of our garden tour, we learned about a bunch of edible flowers, and actually got to eat some. Father Linnane and I casually split a flower in the garden of a cooking school in the middle of a farm in the Irish countryside - not something that happens every day. Next we made our way inside for our demonstration slash lesson. Darina, the head chef there, was our instructor here, and I swear she moved so quickly through all of the recipes that I wasn’t even sure what we would be making. Not to mention the fact that Father Linnane had casually sat down next to me for the demonstration, which was particularly intimidating when Darina started making comments about there being nothing sexier than the scent of fresh baked bread, or someone who could make that fresh baked bread. When we moved into our individual kitchens we were told which recipes we would be preparing. Mine were the tomato fondue, the raspberry tart from scratch, and a salad. This was the moment that it actually dawned on me that we would be eating the food that we made in these kitchens. The pressure was on, but our group was up for the challenge. Molly and I were making the same dishes, so we kept checking with each other throughout the process on how to complete each step. If we were going to do something wrong, we would do it wrong together. Nothing went wrong though. In fact, everything turned out perfectly. I was especially proud of my raspberry tart. (Thanks, mom, for teaching me how to use a piping bag as soon as I was old enough to bug you about helping you bake things! Our kitchen’s instructor came over to show me how to decorate the tart, and I was already halfway done.) Everything looked great laid out on the giant tables in the dining room, and it tasted equally delicious. I’m pretty sure that we all left Ballymaloe at least ten pounds heavier than we arrived, and we may have set the world record for most cheesy scones eaten in one sitting. And the most dangerous part is that we know the recipe, and how to make them. I see many days of having cheesy scones for dinner in our future. Also, to anyone who says that there is not good food in Ireland, spend one day at Ballymaloe and not only will that belief change, but you will never look at food, or the preparation of food, the same way again. And lastly, to all of my family and friends back home, I will definitely be wanting to try out my new cooking skills when I get back to the States, so next time we get together, I’d be happy to try out my new recipes on you!

Friday, 21 September 2012

Week Five: Survived First Exam

This week, I survived my first Irish final exam! The modules (classes) here are structured so differently from home. Our Folklore Early Start had two written papers and then an in-class exam, and that is considered a lot of work for one module. As different as the school system is, I really have learned a lot in my Early Start, and it’s been great getting a jump on getting acclimated to living in the city, and meeting new friends. Plus, now I’m an expert on traditional Irish housing, Irish fairies, and wedding traditions. Not too bad for only one month into living here. 

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Week Four: County Girls Forever

Closest I'll be to
home until December!
This weekend we took a fieldtrip with our Folklore class to one of the Aran Islands, Inis Oirr (pronounced Inisheer). These are three islands off the coast of Galway that remain very sparsely populated and, in my opinion, capture Ireland’s beauty perfectly. The island that we were on is the smallest of the three: it has a population of about two hundred people. Multiple people that we met on the island told us “We have three churches, three pubs, one store, one soccer field, no police, and no hospital.” Clearly they have their priorities straight. After we took a look in the “museum,” which was actually a one room house that has been filled with objects from the island’s history, a group of us rented bikes for the day and biked around the island. We made it almost entirely around the island in only one afternoon, and the views were breathtaking. We also stood at the furthest point of the island, which is the closest we will be to America this semester! We took a ton of pictures of the landscape, the lighthouse, the ocean, the farmhouses, the cows, the castle, and everything else we could find. There was one house, though, that really stood out in my mind. It was a thatched-roof house just a minute’s walk from the ferry. The house itself was nothing too out of the ordinary for Ireland: a quaint thatched-roof house with whitewashed stone walls. But in front of this house was a yard containing a child’s sized soccer goal, with soccer balls scattered around the yard. The yard was enclosed in a stone wall, also expected in an Irish country home, but there were little flowers peeking out from the spaces in between. I’m not sure if it was the calmness of the island, the sight of a house so far away from home that had a yard resembling my own New Jersey backyard so much, or a combination of the two, but I could not stop looking at this house.  Whenever I think about Ireland, that house is what I think of: something so different from my own home, but so similar in many ways. I was also able to somehow get a hand-knit Irish sweater that originally cost €80 for €35. The man at the store, who looked old enough to be my grandpa’s grandpa, refused to take any more money from me. I thanked the man about fifty times, but I am not sure he knows how appreciative I am of his totally unnecessary kind gesture. That night Erin, Claire, and I went on a walk along the water, and had one of those conversations that only be described as an extended realization that there are people in this world who know exactly what you mean, even when you can’t find the right words to say. Everyone in our class ended up at one of the three pubs together later that night, and Claire, Erin, and I stayed late into the night, listening to the live music, and making friends with the people who inhabited this tiny island. “Hi, I’m Kerry!” I would say. “Oh, wonderful! You know  that’s a county here, right?” they would respond. Before I could say anything, Claire would jump in, “I’m Claire!” and this would really get them going – Claire is another county in Ireland. At this point, we would really throw them off, because Erin would introduce herself, and seeing as Erin is basically the Irish word for Ireland, we earned ourselves the nickname “the county girls.” One of the locals even jumped between Claire and me and said “And I’m Limerick!” If that joke is lost on you, take a look at a map of Ireland. The guys playing music dedicated their last song to “our American friends – the county girls,” and I can honestly say that my experience on the Inis Oirr is one that I will never forget. 

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Week Three: Butter and Bells

Today we adventured around Cork, exploring two sights in the city: one a must-see for any visitor, and one recommended to us by the Loyola students who studied in Cork last semester. We went to ring the Shandon Bells and to the Cork Butter Museum. Compelling as the Cork Butter Museum may seem, this is the one that was recommended to us by our friends from home as something that we couldn’t live in Cork for four months without seeing, and at the very least we would get a good laugh. With an entrance fee of €2, that was reduced to €1 when the man working at the reception desk saw that there were seven of us, and a d├ęcor dating back longer than any ever should, the Butter Museum was quite an experience. We watched a twenty minute video on the production, selling, and consumption of Kerry Gold Butter. We saw genuine bog-butter, butter that has been preserved for hundreds of years in a peat bog. All in all it took us about a half an hour to thoroughly examine every inch of the museum, but it was well worth the price of admission. To the girls who studied in Cork last semester, thank you for the recommendation. The Cork Butter Museum was a once in a lifetime experience, and we loved it, ridiculous as it was. On a serious note, the butter in Ireland is the best butter I have ever had, and I think I will be forever comparing America’s sub-par butter to the delicious Kerry Gold that we’ve experienced here in Cork. After the Butter Museum, we walked over to the Shandon Bells. These are the bells at the top of a clock-tower at the Church of St. Anne, which is just across the river and up the hill from our apartment. After getting our tickets, we were handed big earmuff-like objects to block out the noise of the bells. Because, to get to the top of the tower, you actually have to climb through the space where the bells are and if you aren’t wearing this protective gear, you could lose your hearing if the bells were rung while you were in the room with them. After this initial warning, there was no more mention of this. No signs that said to put them on at any point. No warnings about the bells. So we climb the stairs to the first level, where the bells are actually played. Next to the pulleys is a song-book with many popular tunes, including Amazing Grace and the Wedding March. We tried our hand at a few of these, and then made our way up to the top, literally climbing through the bells to get to the tower above them. At the top, however, was the most beautiful view of the city. You could see the country in the distance, and all of the city buildings closer to us. This was also my first (of many I’m sure) experience in Cork that tested my ability to handle my fear of heights (which is pretty intense) but it was well worth it and I would definitely recommend the Shandon Bells and the Cork Butter Museum to anyone visiting or living in Cork. Suffice it to say, this would never happen in America, but that’s what I love about it. This day, the trip to the Butter Museum, the climbing through a bell tower to see the most beautiful view of Cork, was a purely Irish, purely Cork experience, one that we never would have been able to have at home.