Harvest Roasted Potatoes

I’m so excited it is finally fall! This is my favorite season, it has the best sports (football and basketball), the best weather (pull out the sweaters!), the best holidays (Halloween and Christmas, hello?) and the best food (candy corn pumpkins, apple cider donuts, stuffing, sweet potatoes, acorn squash and anything pumpkin ).

Fall also employs some excellent cooking techniques. Cranking up the oven and roasting is ok now that the temperature hovers in the 50’s and 60’s. Or simmering a pot of soup on the stove all afternoon while you watch some Michigan State football :-). These are the things I look forward too.

This recipe officially kicks-off fall cooking for me!

These potatoes are warm, toasty and crispy with flavors of rosemary and sweet apple. My husband and I ate them up for dinner as a side dish to pork. Next time, I want to try tossing them with some roast chicken and greens for a comforting warm salad. Yum!

Harvest Roasted Potatoes

  • 1/2 lb golden fingerling potatoes (about 12-15 small)
  • 2 small apples, roughly quartered
  • 2 thick slices of shallot
  • 1 tsp dried rosemary
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Pre-heat oven to 400°. Wash and dry the potatoes and apples. Don’t peel them; roasting brings out a deliciously unique flavor from them, I guarantee you’ll like it! Roughly quarter the apples, the pieces shouldn’t be too small or else they will get mushy while roasting. Break any really large potatoes in two.

On a foil lined baking sheet, spread out the apples, potatoes and the rings of shallot, then drizzle generously with olive oil. Shake the pan back and forth to evenly coat. Sprinkle the rosemary, salt and fresh cracked pepper over the potatoes. Shake the pan again to coat.

Roast at 400° for about 40 minutes. Halfway through cooking, turn the potatoes over with a spatula. This helps then brown evenly all over.

Enjoy!

– Erin

Question of the Day: What is your favorite fall flavor?

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About Ireland, Part 3 (or, the hostile hostel)

Next stop, Galway and Connemara.

We spent two nights in Galway at the Barnacles Hostel.  I don’t relish staying in hostels, but when left with no other choice, this one was perfectly adequate. It was clean, the sheets were clean and in good condition, and the room overall was well maintained. The husband and I booked a private room, but none were available so they gave us a room with two bunk beds and blocked off the other beds.

Well, so they said.  The second night, we stumbled in at a fairly late hour after enjoying a traditional (trad) music session at a local pub and sampling several a few Irish beers only to notice all our stuff had been moved around and there were two massive backpacks on the top bunks of each bed.

We momentarily freaked at the thought of sharing a room with teenage European backpackers and then ran down to the front desk to rectify the situation.

Trad Music Session, any musician that could keep up could join in

To their credit, the desk clerk seemed embarrassed about the issue and immediately went upstairs to remove the offending items. We were given new keys, an apology and sent to bed. Ok, fine.

After falling asleep, which is no small feat in a bedroom located directly above a crowded pub, I was shocked awake when our door opened at 2:00 am and a strange man walked in. I immediately shot up and told him about the snafu while silently praying he spoke English and wasn’t an angry youth wondering what I did with his backpack.

He understood and then left. Apparently the ‘new keys’ were not a protective measure after all. I’m pretty scared at this point knowing there is a second backpacker who has yet to come in… Well, another made an appearance about an hour later and as I hadn’t slept a wink I was ready with an explanation. Meanwhile the husband is blissfully sleeping away courtesy of earplugs and the deadening effects of alcohol.

Needless to say I was really cranky the next morning. But that day was saved by a wonderful drive through Connemara to Kylemore Abbey.

Scenes from Connemara

Kylemore Abbey

Kylemore was originally built in the 1800’s by a husband as a gift to his beloved wife, however she died early due to dysentery. It was taken over by nuns of the Benedictine Order in the 1920’s and is still used as their abbey today. They live there full time but keep the grounds, church and walled Victorian gardens of the estate open to visitors. The nuns make soaps, chocolates, pottery and jams which are sold in the gift shop- I bought blackcurrant jam, yum!

Scenes from the grounds

Neo-gothic church at Kylemore

My favorite thing at Kylemore was the Victorian walled garden. It was complete with ornamental sections, a kitchen garden, exotic plant section, and some greenhouses. There were several greenhouses that collapsed due to lack of care so the estate is working on rebuilding them now.

Head Gardener’s Cottage

Old timey gardening tools

The kitchen garden section

More kitchen garden

I was especially enchanted with the walled garden because I had just finished reading The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh which is the story a young woman trying to find a life for herself after foster care. She has a unique gift for understanding the power of flowers, which stems from her extensive knowledge of the Victorian use of flowers to convey messages. Sunflowers mean false riches; yellow roses, infidelity; basil means hate; baby’s breath, everlasting love.

If you are a fan of flowers or just really good fiction that you can learn a thing or two from, I cannot recommend this book enough! At the end, the author compiles an entire dictionary of the Victorian language of flowers based off her own extensive research. It is so interesting to flip through it and imagine what it must have been like for ladies to receive bouquets from potential suitors and then spend hours decoding the meaning of every stem. 🙂

I loved Kylemore Abbey, the grounds and the garden. You can easily spend half a day here, don’t skip it if you plan on being in Galway, make it a day trip!

Thanks for reading, tomorrow will be the last post about my trip. I need to get back in the kitchen!

– Erin

About Ireland, Part 2

After leaving the Antrim coast, we headed to County Donegal. We drove in at night and heavy mists were rolling in, obscuring the tops of the cliffs and surrounding hills. It looked like something out of a movie, I half expected to stumble onto an old-timey druid gathering!

We didn’t stay in Donegal city, we stayed in a bed and breakfast on Muckross Head- a rocky peninsula jutting out into the churning Atlantic.  The B&B was called Ocean Spray, which was more than appropriate considering the pounding waves sent plenty of salt into the air and shot fluffy balls of white sea-foam onto the road.

County Donegal

The next day we went into Donegal city to visit Castle Donegal. It was well maintained- I could see myself living there ;-).

Fireplace in the Great Hall

A note for future travelers, I’m glad we didn’t stay in Donegal city because I felt like it was touristy and crowded. It is much better to stay in the countryside and then go into the city for your shopping and site seeing.  If you are a bibliophile, I recommend visiting the Four Masters Bookshop. I always buy cookbooks as souvenirs when I travel, and I found two good ones at the bookshop: Our Grannies Recipes by Eoin Purcell and The Irish Cookbook by Carla Blake.

The other site we visited in County Donegal was Slieve League, the highest cliffs in Europe. This was one of my favorite stops on the whole trip. The cliffs are very impressive to look at, but what I enjoyed the most was that you could climb up quite high on part of the cliffs themselves. There is a fenced viewing platform, but you can keep walking past it and start going vertical. Be careful because the fence ends and you can walk right up to the edge! Scary but thrilling 🙂  It is really windy too, so a gust can easily knock you off balance.

I would be remiss not to point out the plethoraof sheep at Slieve League (well, really everywhere in Ireland).

These sheep are fearless, they will walk right up to the edge of the cliff and, um, do their business, if you know what I mean.

There were piles of evidence left behind.  Couldn’t they find a safer place for the morning constitutional?!

With a good half a day of sightseeing in, we headed south to Galway and an absolutely beautiful Abby in Connemara. More to come 🙂

Cheers!

– Erin

About Ireland, Part 1

We flew into Dublin and spent three days in the city. The highlight of Dublin was not Temple Bar. Yes, it would be awesome if you are 19 and want to drink your face off all day, but I’m old and feeble and cannot keep up with that crew.  Nonetheless, if you are in the city, you would be remiss not to at least stop by that area of the city and have a pint of Guinness.

By far, the highlight of Dublin was the Notre Dame v. Navy football game at Aviva Stadium. Aviva was an awesome stadium, very comfortable and we had amazing seats.

See how close we are to the field?

2000 Midshipmen flew in for the game

I was doubly impressed with the fact that each concession stand in Aviva was staffed with about 7 people whose sole job was to pour pints of Guinness and have them ready for customers. High marks for the Irish in this area.

Even though I am a diehard Michigan State fan and relish every time Notre Dame loses at anything, I still had fun at the game. It was a beautiful day, Navy played the Top Gun theme song while walking into the stadium, and it was the officially the start of college football season- what’s not to like?!

Totally awesome stadium

After Dublin, we drove north to the Glens of Antrim and stayed at a cute bed and breakfast in Cushendall. This was by far the most beautiful area in all of Ireland. We walked to the beach and the water was bright blue and crystal clear, almost like the Caribbean. I had not expected that so far north.

The Riverside Bed and Breakfast

Nighttime at the beach

A note for future travelers, the Glens of Antrim is in Northern Ireland, which is part of Britain. If you are self driving, there is no sign that notes you have crossed into new territory! Embarrassingly, we found this out when trying to pay for snacks at a fuel station with Euro- the clerk (clearly annoyed) informed us we needed Pounds for that. Oops…

After leaving Cushendall, we took a scenic route along Torr Head drive. This follows the coast and it is just breathtaking. The cliffs, the greenery, the sheer narrowness of the road- all breathtaking.

Yes, this is a two-way ‘road’, hugging the Antrim coast

Following this scenic route will lead you to Giants Causeway, Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge and the Bushmills Distillery- all of which we visited.

The Causeway is a natural rock formation that looks like cobblestones were perfectly laid down to form of bridge leading into the ocean. There is a matching set of stones across the water coming up in Scotland.

Basalt rock columns, formed by volcanic activity

Windy, but on top of the world!

Carrick-a-Rede was a lot of fun, it is a swinging rope bridge connecting the mainland to some little islands. Fisherman used to use it for catching salmon. Don’t let this picture fool you, it is very high up!

Keep your eyes on the final destination

Made it across and enjoying the view!

Last stop of the day was the Bushmills whiskey distillery. We had a guided tour of the factory and got a free glass of the reserve of our choice at the end. I had the 10 year reserve, I’m not a whiskey fan so really, I have nothing intelligent to say about the taste! My husband is a total whiskey snob and was starry-eyed the whole time we were having the tour. He bought a personalized bottle of the 12 year distillery reserve, which is only available at the factory. Bliss!

Drinks with friends 🙂

Overall, Northern Ireland was absolutely lovely and there was a lot to do in the great outdoors. We headed out from here to north west Ireland, our eyes set on Donegal.  Stay tuned for part 2.

Cheers!

– Erin

A 23 Hour Homecoming, or Why I Almost Hate (Air) Canada

Hi readers, I’m back from my Ireland vacation and I have so much to share.

I don’t want to seem like that annoying person on Facebook always bragging about doing X, Y and Z super awesome trip of a lifetime blah blah blah. I realize blogging about it is walking a fine line, so in case anyone out there wants to not-so-secretly punch me in the face for this, I apologize.

You don’t have to continue reading. But you may want to.

I’ll start at the end, the journey back home, a nightmarish airline travel scenario with Canada Air that has almost made me hate the entire country as a whole. That is too harsh; the people of Canada don’t deserve my wrath. The airline people do. DOOM on you Air Canada.

Ever heard of Goose Bay? I’ve been there.  Want to know what Halifax airport looks like? I’ll tell you, lots of prop planes and pure wilderness. Oh and Toronto? I’ve been there too! All three in one day…

The first five hours: We left Tullamore to drive to Dublin Airport at 6:45 am.  We dropped off our car, our bags and made it to the gate with plenty of time to peruse the gift shops before our 10:45 departure.  Using a giant handful of leftover 50 and 20 cent Euro coins I bought a hunk of brown soda bread and a giant Toblerone bar.  Nom nom nom. I was feeling pretty happy and didn’t even react when the flight was delayed until 12:00 noon.

Eventually we board the plane and settle into our seats for a nice 1 hour wait on the tarmac. Right before takeoff, the pilot comes on to inform us that our plane  doesn’t have enough fuel to cross the Atlantic and make it to our final destination of Toronto. This will require is stopping in Goose Bay to refuel.

Okay, not the most comforting thing to hear right before rocketing into the sky. While I appreciate the airline considering our safety and diverting us to Goose Bay, I couldn’t help but wonder why we were using a plane that couldn’t hold enough fuel in the first place? Awesome.

The next 5 hours:  We’ve made it to Goose Bay and have been assured this will be a ‘quick turnaround’ procedure. The airline refueling folks did a bang-up job and got us outta there in a blazing 1 hour 15 minutes.  Shortly after reaching a comfortable cruising altitude and generously turning off the fasten seat-belt sign the captain comes on to inform us that we will be flying to Halifax to change flight crews, as this one needed to be off-duty. What the F@CK?  Was Air Canada unable to grasp the fact that we had just landed and could possibly have gotten new crew there? Killing two birds with one stone people!

The next 8 hours: There is a palpable sense of mutiny amongst the passengers. The flight attendants are hiding in the galley. I overheard one whispering with genuine concern “we are out of ice and don’t have enough snacks…” She was afraid- of us.  Upon landing in Halifax we were assured crew would be waiting to board the plane right away. Apparently Air Canada thinks 2 hours is an appropriate amount of time to change crews and get “new load figures” -whatever the f@ck those are- and still qualify as being ‘right away’. Oh and sorry, you have to stay on the airplane but feel free to get up and stretch.  Gee, thanks, I was planning on sitting quietly stewing in my rage with my hands folded in my lap, but not now!

Now we are back en route to Toronto, having wasted four hours flying to Nova Scotia and getting new crew. The crew put the movie reel back in, at the beginning, meaning I now had the opportunity to watch Brave, Happy Feet 2 and the first 5 minutes of The Big Year for the third time today.  I’m still not that mad.

We have been on this God forsaken aircraft for 13 hours by the time we land in Toronto at 12:30 pm Irish time, 7:30 EST. The captain thanks us for flying Air Canada and for being patient (did I have another f@cking option?).  I have accepted the fact that I will miss my connection to DC. I never thought it was possible to miss it, as I had a whopping 7 hour layover, but Air Canada showed me that it is possible!

3/4ths of the plane’s passengers were trying to make connections and each one of them was 100% pissed off.  I strapped on my backpack and started running in the hopes my DC flight might have been delayed- it was, but I stilled missed it. My flight to DC left at 7:22.

Don’t get between a man and his connecting flight

The last 5 hours: Air Canada knows they are in deep shit. They’ve stuck the interns with handing out vouchers for discounted airfare to all the irate passengers.  They have booked hotel rooms and awarded generous $15 certificates for dinner and breakfast. For me? You shouldn’t have!

Now, I’m actually mad, a silent sort of anger. I refuse to spend the night. I read the departure board and  tell the ticketing agent that I want to go onto the 8:50 flight to Baltimore, which is one hour away from DC. At this point I have 30 minutes to make it through customs, recheck my bag and get to the gate. I run run run and make it just as the last passenger is walking down the jetway. Relax. Sigh. I’m in. We land in Baltimore at 3:30 am Irish time, 10:30 pm EST.

My luggage is nowhere to be found. The Air Canada service desk is empty. I have to spend $125 dollars to get to DC in a cab manned by a friendly Ethiopian who wanted to talk to me the whole time.

I get to my apartment, it’s  midnight. My husband is sleeping soundly and I want nothing more than to punch him in the face for that offense. If I’m unhappy, he should be unhappy!!!!

My 23 hour voyage is over and my own bed has never felt so good.

My bag arrived in DC the next day. We were happily reunited.

The End

– Erin

Note: I plan on doing some feature posts over the coming week to share with you what we saw and did in Ireland, complete with some real Irish recipes! So check back soon 🙂

Cha-cha Changes

So, my solo time this summer is rapidly coming to an end.  Can you believe it has almost been three months since my husband left for his assignment abroad?!  It started out slow, but after a couple weeks I had totally adapted and dare I say… even started having fun.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t miss him. I did. I just had a lot more time to do whatever.I.wanted.  That is a powerful thing.

No more sharing of the tv; if I wanted to have a three hour marathon of watching the Food Network or Cooking Channel there was no one to stop me.  No more making dinners when I didn’t feel like it; oatmeal for me, yay! I could bake all day on Saturdays.

Mostly, the time alone forced me to entertain myself and get back in touch with an element of independence I had lost. I think you can lose some of that when you’ve been in a committed relationship for several years- it becomes to easy to just do everything with your partner.  It is comfortable. You stop taking risks, or doing things outside your comfort zone. Heck, why bother when you’ve got a best friend around, right?  But you miss out on some personal growth when you stop pushing yourself. I know I did, and I didn’t notice how stale I had become until he was gone.

One of the ways I pushed myself this summer was by doing things alone. Here are a couple highlights.

First, I went to a Vietnamese cooking class. I was sooo nervous about this. I wondered what people would think of me. I wondered if I could even enjoy the class without someone to share it with.  But I totally enjoyed it and was reminded that strangers can be nice, caring people. I met a lovely mother/daughter and sister/sister duo in the class. We chatted and laughed and learned together.  We spent an hour after the class was over just talking and sharing stories while we ate the food we had cooked. It was different, but it was refreshing.

Fresh Spring Rolls

Bahn Mi with marinated chicken and a bowl of Pho

The second solo adventure I did was go see a movie alone.

Maybe some of you are laughing at me right now and thinking about how lame and shallow I sound, but that’s ok. I admit I was scared to do it. I felt like a total creeper. I even asked a couple people at work if they thought it was creepy to go see a movie alone, especially a kids movie ’cause I wanted to see Madagascar 3. They agreed it was not creepy for me to do that, albeit it would be creepy for a middle aged man to go. To much of a Pee-Wee Herman vibe there.  I digress.

I ended up making myself a snack and heading out to the theater solo on a Friday night. I decided it was more fitting for me to see Brave, so I did. I was nervous and sweaty and thought for sure everyone in the theater KNEW. I don’t think a single person noticed I was alone. I loved it!  It was chill. I wore sweatpants. I’m going to do it again in the future.

My snack

Chocolate-Toffee Oatmeal Cookie Bites

It is amazing how once you do something that seems scary and you conquer it, you feel empowered to do more. It’s awesome!

But now, he’s coming back.  He has his own reintegration to go through. We will need to ‘get used to’ each other again. He needs to get used to being in American society again. We’ve talked about how this process will go and we both agree that within a couple days we will pick up right where we left off. No worries there.

But what will happen to me and my new-found independent spirit? How will it affect  the proverbial “us”? I’m not sure. I know I don’t want to lose it, but I also know I cannot act selfishly. Compromise will probably be the key here.

I was viewing this whole separation as a self-contained incident in time. Now I’m beginning to think that the time he was away was only Part 1.  Part 2 will be in the months to come, where I strive to keep challenging myself, to continue being independent and not fall back into comfortable, but lazy, relationship habits.

We’ll see what happens. I’m going to keep blogging about food and family and gardening in the meantime. I’ll keep you posted ;-).

– Erin