It is drizzling when P. and I arrive in Ireland on Friday after Christmas. Oddly enough, we do not seem to mind because we have come prepared for this. H., P.’s cousin’s husband, is greeting us at the airport, and when we walk downstairs to get our bags, we bump into more of the family’s cousins who are just returning from a short trip to Paris. Odile, one of them, is French too.
“Is Ireland just like a big village, or what?” I jokingly ask P. “It surely feels this way today!”
We have little time to rest at the house, and despite the late hour in the day, we even manage to avoid the mad-growing traffic that Dublin city suffers from when we drive to Shankill to meet more relatives, including P.’s parents and sister who have traveled from Chicago. That evening, we are twelve gathered at the dinner table, happily enjoying sautéed scallops, shrimp cocktails and the typical Irish lamb that uncle N. serves with different steamed vegetables and mint sauce. And roasted potatoes, of course. In his household, he is the one who cooks and claims that he makes the best jam. The conversation is loud and animated, and my head feels dizzy from seeing everyone move around all the time. But this makes us welcome. Since this is the first family dinner of a series of many crazy ones that will happen over the days to follow, I know that I have no choice: I’d better get used to it quickly.
I am a big fan of Ireland — and not only because of P.’s family and background. I love the friendly faces of the Irish and the gorgeous countryside. I like to see the dark sky filled with ephemeral rainbows against the bright sun; the color contrasts of house doors and buildings; the whimsical weather that keeps changing every half hour — where else, beside Scotland, would you find rain and sunshine alternate so frequently? — the surprisingly Mediterranean vegetation that somewhat reminds me of places seen in New Zealand (have you seen Monkey Puzzle trees before?); the architecture of its houses; people’s accent (really, try to say “thirty three and a third” with an Irish accent from Cork); and the sheep grazing on green grasses, the real sign of the country’s mild moist climate. Without the rain, the beautiful, varied shades of green found in the Irish landscape would not exist.
And I also love the Irish for their crumble.
In Dublin, we spend five days of fun, and utter craziness. I have nicknamed P.’s Irish family the Irish clan. They are the ones who crack jokes when you expect them the least, and have noisy family reunions during which everyone speaks over everyone else (they are even worse than the French). When I first meet them many years before, I also learn that they are a family who likes to play games, like charades, for hours.
We stay with P.’s cousins in Monkstown, a suburb of Dublin located by the coast. We enjoy spending time there. The narrow street where K. and H. live is a stretch of attractive tall Victorian houses with vibrant colored doors, matching perfectly the ones next to the others, and pretty holly wreaths hung on them. At this time of year, each large bay window is lit up with a tall Christmas tree decorated sparsely, making me imagine that the whole street dresses up every night for a special occasion. Since the windows have no curtains either, I am even able to play one of my favorite games.
“I love to take a peek into people’s homes,” I tell K. who is walking with her daughter E. by my side, when we return home from the pub.
“Me too!” she answers, laughing.
I ask K. if we can go for a hike close to Dublin.
“Oh, H.’s parents will love to take you walking,” she emails me before we arrive. “They are avid walkers.”
To be honest, I am glad to follow and see what happens for a change. So on New Year’s Eve, we get up early and prepare for our walk in the Wicklow Mountains, only one hour south of Dublin.
“I hope that you have waxed your shoes,” K. tells me when she sees me put my hiking shoes on. I look at her and pause for a second. “What for?” I ask surprised.
“This is Ireland,” she replies, bursting into a loud laughter. “The rain, mon amie!”
The path is wet and muddy, and our shoes make a squelching noise when they sink into the water-filled soil of the bog we cross. After an hour or so, I exclaim: “I declare that my feet are wet!” Everyone laughs, as it seems that I am the only one.
In one day, we see fog, wind, rain and sunshine, but no matter what, we are glad to be there. How couldn’t we? With stunning landscapes all the way, our lunch made of smoked salmon sandwiches, hard-boiled eggs, chocolate, and cake tastes heavenly taken at the top of the mountain. Even if we are beaten by the weather and have sore legs.
“What about a walk in the Mount Usher gardens?” K. proposes on another day.
The air is crisp and the dampness outside makes me feel cold to the bones when we get there. “I wish I had a pair of Wellington boots,” I think quietly. They are also extremely cute, coming in many patterns and colors. But I forget the cold quickly when I discover the amazing selection of exotic trees in the gardens. At this time of year, there are only locals and a few tourists in the café on the premises, so we have most of the gardens to ourselves to enjoy a pleasantly peaceful walk.
K. also suggests having lunch at one of the few Avoca cafés in town. Knowing well my strong love affair with colors, cups and plates of all sorts, she decides that we drive to Avoca Handweavers in Kilmacanogue, Co. Wicklow. Like every Avoca store that I have seen before, there is so much to see and buy that I feel overwhelmed. I have yet found another dream place for a food stylist and object collector. Moi ! I think about my suitcase, and how inconvenient it will be to load up with cups, plates and bowls if I decide to buy anything, but I do not resist the temptation for too long. When we leave, I have in my bag two new green glasses and a light blue patterned milk jug well wrapped for travel.
We make good food choices too. Whereas H. is content with a hamburger served with roughly cut French fries, and K. with a liver pâté, bread and pickles, P. and I choose a mushroom risotto and an arugula salad topped with freshly shaved parmesan. The dish is tasty, and the rice perfectly cooked, al dente. We have little room for dessert, but when the waitress brings the menu, I cannot contain my excitement.
“Crumble!” I almost shout out loud. “Read! They have a duo of stewed fruit and custard crumble!”
“I am really intrigued by the custard inside,” I go on.
There is hardly any surprise: after only one spoonful, I fall in love with the taste. The duo of crumbles is served at the perfect temperature, in cute colorful bowls arranged on a long plate, with a dollop of cream in the middle. I cannot tell which one I like best, the rhubarb and berries crumble or the apple, since both are deliciously creamy, with a subtle balance of the vanilla-flavored custard against the acid flavor of the fruit.
“I love the tiny bowls,” I tell K. “I am going to ask the waiter where they bought them.”
He tells me that they are sold in the shop, but after I frantically search every single shelf to find nothing, I feel bummed. But not ready to give up that quickly. With the help of K., we manage to find the name of the retailer, and K. promises me to continue the search after we leave.
“Don’t worry, I will find them!”
In fact, I like the crumbles so much that I become obsessed with making the dish again at home. I am already making notes in my head for a recipe when we drive back to K. and H.’s house. Avoca café has a few cookbooks but I am not able to find the recipe in any. But it isn’t rocket science, is it? I need basic compoments: custard — which I love to prepare anyway — stewed fruit, a few spices and crumble. Then, it will be a matter of taste, and experimentation.
I am only back in Boston for a few days, but decide to take my notes out to set myself to work. I am craving to try my crumble recipe that much. I do not have rhubarb — unfortunately — but I am able to find scrumptious-looking red currants and tasty apples. The strawberries do not look bad either. Even if they are not seasonal here at the moment, the temptation for a berry crumble is stronger than reason.
And no regret there, really! The crumble tastes just as nice as the one remembered from Avoca café.
Except maybe for the cups missing.
Perhaps only giving me a good excuse for another trip to Ireland in the future, that is, if K. does not manage to find them for me before then.
Either way, I keep my fingers crossed.
Note: we have just finished watching the movie Once last night, written by John Carney. We really enjoyed the feel found in it — it is set in Dublin. Delightful music and genuine acting. We also really liked the simplicity by which the movie was shot, so I highly recommend it.
Co. Wicklow, Ireland.
Tel: +353 1 2867466
Fern House Cafe
Reservations: +353 1 274 6990
Mount Usher Gardens
Traveling by road, Mount Usher is located in Ashford Co. Wicklow, off the main Dublin to Rosslare road (N11).
For the vanilla custard (you will have leftovers, so you might decide to divide the recipe by two to have less; I personally never tire of custard and enjoy it eaten by the spoonful, with fresh strawberries):
- 2 cups + 2 Tbsp whole milk
- 1 vanilla bean, cut open lengthwise and seeds removed
- 1/2 cup + 1 Tbsp blond cane sugar
- 5 egg yolks
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
For the crumble:
- 1/4 cup quinoa flour*
- 1/4 cup brown rice flour*
- 1/4 cup packed muscovado sugar
- 2.5 Tbsp butter, cold and diced
*Or use all-purpose flour
For the stewed fruit, apples, strawberries and red currants:
- 4 Macoun apple, or a variety good for stewing
- 1 cup red currants
- 1 large handful of strawberries, cut in 4
- 1/2 vanilla bean, cut open lengthwise and seeds removed
- 2 Tbsp water
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1/3 cup blond cane sugar
- To make the vanilla-flavored custard, pour the milk in a pot and add the vanilla bean and seeds. Bring to a boil and stop. Cover and let infuse for about 30 min. Discard the vanilla bean and reheat the milk. Keep.
- With an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks and sugar until light and foamy. Then add the cornstarch and mix well.
- Pour the hot milk slowly while stirring. Pour the cream in the pot again and bring to a boil to have the cream thicken. Stir constantly and cook for 1 or 2 min. Remove then from the heat.
- Pour the thick cream in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap to prevent a crust to form. Let cool.
Pour la crème pâtissière vanillée (vous aurez des restes, divisez par deux si vous en souhaitez moins. Personnellement, je ne me lasse pas d’une bonne crème pâtissière, à manger sans modération, à la petite cuiller avec des fraises):
- 500 ml de lait entier
- 1 gousse de vanille, fendue et grattée
- 110 g de sucre de canne blond
- 5 jaunes d’oeuf
- 40 g de maïzena
Pour le crumble :
- 30 g de farine de quinoa*
- 30 g de farine de riz complet*
- 30 g de sucre muscovado (ou cassonade)
- 30 g de beurre froid, coupé en dés
*Ou utilisez de la farine T45
Pour la compote de fruits, pommes, fraises et groseilles rouges :
- 4 pommes Macoun, ou toute variété de pommes à compote
- 125 g de groseilles rouges
- 1 poignée de belles fraises, coupées en 4 (environ 150 g)
- 1/2 gousse de vanille, fendue et grattée
- 2 càs d’eau
- 1 bâton de cannelle
- 80 g de sucre de canne blond
- Pour réaliser la crème pâtissière vanillée, versez le lait dans une casserole et ajoutez la vanille fendue et grattée. Amenez à ébullition, puis couvrez pour laisser infuser (environ 30 min). Retirez la gousse de vanille et chauffez le lait à nouveau.
- Faites blanchir les jaunes d’oeuf avec le sucre, puis ajoutez la maïzena. Mélangez.
- Versez le lait en filet tout en mélangeant. Reversez la crème dans la casserole et amenez à ébullition pour l’épaissir. Cuisez pendant 1 à 2 min, puis retirez du feu.
- Versez la crème dans une jatte, couvrez de papier film pour éviter la formation d’une croûte, et laissez refroidir.
Gorgeous shots, as always….totally loving your photographic travel and food musings….
Bea, what a lovely memory of a lovely holiday with you two, am still hunting the hills and dales for the crumble cups, and I WILL find them, never fear! Or maybe I’ll pretend I don’t so that you both come back soon….. We look forward to your crumbles when we get to Boston. Bises, K XXX
Your descriptions brought back memories of the driving trip Sweet Husband and I took through Ireland a few years ago. For months afterwards we each could make the other laugh by remembering “tirty-tree and a turd”. You have lovely pictures…and very tasty looking crumble!
No mention of the tasty Guinness?
Once again, many thanks for the photos, travel tales and the recipe!
ach ces Irlandais ! Ils sont exceptionnels ! Ma belle-soeur est irlandaise et vit ds le Connemara; tjrs un grd plaisir d’y aller !
J’aime surtout beaucoup toute cette vie que l’Irlande, par l’intermédiaire de tes photos, nous offre!
j’ai adoré lire ton billet! ma grand-mère était d’origine irlandaise, mais je n’y suis encore jamais allée ;-(
et le crumble à la fin! divin!!
If you’re really desperate for rhubarb, they sell it frozen in some Market Baskets around Boston.
Thank you for sharing your trip with us. And a BIG thanks for the crumble recipe!
I didn’t know it until I read this…but apparently I, too, now love them for their crumble!! Yum!
Un vrai plaisir pour les yeux et les papilles, merci!
My god! What gorgeous doors… I love the purple one especially. I’m excited to try the crumble recipe!
Good grief Bea I love these photos! Love the doors and the crumble. I’m blown away by the Irish country! Ireland and Scotland are two places I am longing to visit.
Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. As always. And me, jealous, jealous. 🙂
I love the Dear Fluffy headstone…that is a classic. Beautiful photos.
How funny: we watched “Once” a couple of weeks ago and really loved it, especially the genuine acting and music. The crumble recipe is mouth watering, thank you! The pictures of Ireland are gorgeous and I think you finally convinced my husband to go meet some of his cousins sooner than later. Happy you had such a wonderful trip!
loved your photos! always so beautiful!
Toujours la magie des photos..c’est comme dans un livre..de bonheur..Bonne journée
l’irlande est un pays génial. Je vois qu’il y a déjà des jonquilles en Irlande. Belles ballades dans la lande, belles maisons. Je vois que tu as passé du bon temps là bas
Dear Bea, many thanks for your beautiful fotos every day!
Makes me wanna go to Dublin! I’ve never been 🙁
Makes me wanna see ONCE. I missed it 🙁
Makes me wanna eat more CRUMBLE! YES 🙂
i realised how long i have not commented on your blog and i know i must this time!
i love crumble! it’s so easy to make and so satisfying. and with custard! mmm~ it must be really good. thank you so much for the recipe bea~! i have some cranberries that i can see ending up in my crumble =)
beautiful photographs as usual! i especially like those of the doors and wreaths!
You’re an artist. I love your photos and stories. Congratulations on the award.
We lived in Monkstown, County Cork for 1 year. I know how to say ‘thirty-three and a third’. Do you know how to say Thailand? (sounds like thigh-land – no clue why)
What a beautiful entry Bea, we too had a great time. I must correct you one one thing though. “Tirty Tree & a Turd” would be more likely to come out of a Dubliner’s mouth, most people “Beyond the Pale” (look it up) would pronounce their th’s. Looking forward to tasting the crumble again. No mention of the delicious Guiness?
A lovely story, beautiful photos, and a recipe I will be making very soon.
Oh bea, quel beau billet. Enfin, je te dis toujours la meme chose, mais l’Irlande me fait tellement envie.
As always, your photos are beautiful and your writing excellent! As a man descended from the Emerald Isle, I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve never visited. But after this post, I’m inspired to plan a trip for Autumn.
And as a novice food blogger and photographer, I’m curious whether you use a tripod in restaurants. Your photos certainly appear as though they’re taken from a tripod . . . the lighting is excellent, so I presume you’re using rather slow shutter speeds. I’m a little shy about bringing my tripod into restaurants . . . but wow! . . . I’ll get over it if I need to in order to get pics like yours. Thank you for the inspiration and Happy New Year!
Absolutely beautiful photos. I have a large stash of local, tart cranberries which may need to be thrown into a crumble later today. Thank you, I am visiting Ireland later this year and you’ve built up the excitement with your keen photography.
Such beautiful photos, Bea! They make me nostalgic for Dublin – it’s been so long since I lived there. And custard in a crumble – what a brilliant idea!
I love the pictures of the doors! So lovely and colorful!
Those door shots are unreal . . . I love the purple one!
So lovely pictures Bea, really nice, as ever xx Gloria
simply astounding Bea – you should be fantastically proud of this series of images, what vibrance, dynamics, beauty, character. I can not say which I like the most but the photo with the sheep and the huge brooding trees, that just took my breath away.
Which sort of lens are you using in the main during these trips?
Ireland really does have that star quality.
It’s got a very natural beauty, which unlike most other places, is only enhanced by the charming little bits and pieces people add; The buildings, the streets and the colours they use.
You did a great job capturing it.
Superbes photos, j’ai envie d’y aller tout de suite!
The photos are great, I’ve never been to Ireland but the photos make me want to go all that much more! I make a cobbler with a tapioca filling in it that’s really good, I’ll have to try a crisp with the pastry cream. Thanks for the idea. Your photos are goregous!
i just love love your pictures. when i travel, i also snap all kinds of doors. i love doors.
they have huge significance. thanks for sharing a snippet of Ireland. simply beautiful.
and thanks for the crumble recipe. uhm uhm good.
Je veux y aller! Magnifique, magnifique, magnifique.
I made your gluten-free dark chocolate cake and Spanish potato tortillas and blogged about them (and you!). I used spelt flour instead of the quinoa/amaranth because Bob’s Red Mill stopped making amaranth flour and I couldn’t get any. I know it’s not gluten-free, but it’s wheat free, which is what I require.
Hope you like my amateur attempts at your lovely recipes. My friends and family have been visiting your site to get the recipes!
Well now I’m truly inspired to paint my doors purple and yellow for winter.. and custard inside the crumble – pure genius! Super as always Béatrice!!
Loads of love the “green eyed monster!” 😉
many many thanks to everyone, and to your generous words. If I succeeded in tempting you to travel to Ireland, then I am happy.
To the cousins, ahah, yes indeed, I had a whole paragraph ready, when I was referring to the Guiness experience, then I removed it. So to clarify, and make you happy, NO NO NO, I do NOT like Guiness. Beurk! You tried hard to have me drink, sip, but that did not work, did it?
And like all of you, I am also seduced by the natural beauty, and colors, found in Ireland. Happy like its lively people
Nika, when I travel, I typically use a multi-usage lens, 2.8 17-55 mm.
Je reviens que pour le plaisir des couleurs…..bon week-end.
it’s always a pleasure to browse your blog!
About two weeks ago I found your blog and I must say: I’m so excited about it! The pictures, the recipes and I like your way of writing. Your web page is already at my “favourite list” 😉
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This post has made me quite homesick! Everything you’ve said about crazy irish families is true & I love it and miss it now that I am in London.
Avoca is wonderful, especially the Kilmacanogue one, and I know exactly what you mean about needing to buy everything there! I have all of their cookbooks, they’re really good, must dig them out, I haven’t cooked from them in a while.
Wonderful photos, thanks for posting this!
Stunning.. absolutely stunning.. your pictures, the description of Ireland… makes me want to pack up and go avisiting rt away..
Dear Béa, lovely post!! you are not only good at baking and photoes..you are a fabulous writer.
Superbe photographie ! Merci pour le partage.
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