Saturday, April 28, 2012

Ireland

A week in rural, western Ireland? Don't mind if I do!

Several years ago, Keith was interviewed by BBC science reporter Tracey Logan. On subsequent of his trips to London, he became friends with her and also her husband, Richard. Now the whole family is in London and we managed to wrangle an invite to their vacation home in Rosmindle, Ireland.

I first met Tracey and Richard about a week and a half after we'd arrived when they had us to their house in Chiswick for lunch on St. Patrick's Day. Tracey and I got along splendidly and after another lunch (just the two of us) it was easy to see that we could enjoy a week together. When it had first been proposed to me, months ago in California, I had been a bit skeptical. A week in a small house in the middle of nowhere with people I've never met? Hmmmm.... It worked out brilliantly.

Tracey turns out to be the sort of person who says things like: "I dismiss decaf and all it's empty promises." Or: "Ever since I got that pep message from my Weight Watcher's leader I've been wanting crisps."

We flew from Gatwick airport to Knock, Ireland, a pretty small place which has an airport only because a priest decided to make it a pilgrim destination after someone saw the Virgin Mary in something. Tracey and Richard picked us up. We drove from Knock (very small city) through rural areas to Westport (very very small city) and finally to Rosmindle (hamlet) and then to their house outside that on the end of a spit of land facing Clew Bay which feeds into the Atlantic. I erroneously reported that their house was named Rosmindle but that's not the case. However, their house has no number and their 'street' has no name. I asked how they got mail delivered. They said they went to the post office and introduced themselves and told them where they lived.

What a lovely stone house! Most of the windows look out on Clew Bay or the finger of land across where sheep and cows graze and make their farm noises. We were there not long after many of the new kids were born---super cute little bits of fluff tottering after their mums. As often happens to me when I go to places that are supposed to be overcast (my favorite type of weather) we had unseasonably sunny days. Everywhere people were commenting about it and all I could say is: "You're welcome."

Because of the great weather we had fantastic views. An old schoolhouse on the island across the bay was perfectly reflected in the water, shimmering white. Even with a lot of sun, there were still clouds moving across the sky all day. Ireland is very moody. What I loved about being so far out is that the landscape was hugely uncluttered. I could look out and see nothing but natural features. When we were driving around we did see some areas of mc-mansions but for the most part it was just engulfing beauty.

The small town of Westport has a square of streets with shops and pubs and farther out some terrace houses and cottages. On a couple mornings when Tracey had business in town, I went in with her and just wandered around for an hour. What happiness! My favorite thing! Tracey and I took turns cooking dinner so I also ducked into the grocery store and the produce shop for fresh ingredients. For Keith's birthday I made sea bass with an olive tapenade sort of topping, rice pilaf, asparagus with Parmesan and a green salad. On one night Tracey made a traditional Irish stew with mutton and she routinely made Irish soda bread, scones, and tea bread. A yummy time was had by all. Or, as they say here, "Scrummy!" In addition, Tracey had stocked up on local homemade goodies, including fresh butter, cheeses, and an amazing rhubarb and ginger jam.

 On one day I went with Tracey and Richard to County Galway to a research institute on the coast so Tracey could interview a scientist about using seaweed in food. For tagging along, I also got to taste some. Dillisk (or Dulce) sort of tasted like lettuce. The one called lettuce seaweed tasted like cucumber. There was one called chili seaweed that did indeed leave a slow warmth in your mouth. Another looked like fat wholewheat spaghetti and tasted like udon noodles. I could absolutely imagine cooking with this stuff. What we tasted was literally straight out of the ocean and probably doesn't resemble the stuff found in markets. The scientist had also made varieties of a traditional Irish pudding (can't remember the name!) which tasted a lot like Spanish flan. There are a lot of health benefits from eating seaweed so it's great to find ways of including it in staple foods like bread. There will be a half hour radio show about this and I'll try to link to it when it's out.

On the way to the seaweed experience, Richard and Tracey and I stopped for a lovely crab salad lunch in Clifden, a picturesque small town with residents huddled under awnings drinking coffee or beer and enjoying the fresh air. We drove by a huge fjord and through mountains and valleys, passing people cutting turf for fuel out of the vast boglands. There were lots of sheep--some of them meandering on the road--and cows and horses in pastures.

 The boys loved the two beaches we visited with tide pools to explore, rocks to climb, and sand to build with. And they also had fun on the afternoon we went to visit Tracey's cousin, his wife, and their 3 kids. Their backyard was practically its own playground with a trampoline, swing set, teeter-totter, small wooden house, and soccer goal nets. We sat in their beautiful, large kitchen and had tea with sandwiches and pastries. I can definitely get into the ritual of afternoon tea--but oi! the pounds!

On the day we flew out of Knock, there had been an emergency landing at Gatwick which meant all the flights were delayed. We had to sit in the tiny departure lounge with all the other stranded travelers which is when, I'm pretty sure, we all contracted a cold.

There were a pair of 3 year old twins near us and I was struck with how much easier life has become with the boys. They were a little younger than those 2 boys when we moved to Virginia. What a huge amount of work that was, I thought. At that point our guys were doing great....however, by the time we were in the taxi and it was almost 10 pm, full meltdown had begun. At three they probably would have fallen asleep on our laps. At five they were yelling and demanding. When we had all just been sitting still trying not to breathe, Owen came out with: 'Don't touch me!' and Lionel, no where near him started crying and screaming "I didn't!' Keith and I just murmured and whispered and gently directed them into their beds. Within 5 minutes they were asleep. Whew. Still, no question. A week in rural Ireland? Yes thank you! Loved it!

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