Killing time in Killarney

Last night was a rare “date night” for hubby and I. Mother-in-law watched the baby so we could escape for a few hours to enjoy dinner and drinks in nearby Killarney.

Killarney is about a 15- or 20-minute drive from hubby’s hometown in Millstreet, and we get over there at least once when we’re visiting to do some shopping or grab a quick meal. It is a tourist mecca with walkable streets full of tea shops, pubs, bed-and-breakfasts and souvenir stores selling all manner of things Irish. On the lookout for an Aran fisherman sweater, a bottle of Jameson whiskey, some Waterford crystal or a lucky shamrock? Killarney’s got you covered. There are also plenty of recreational and sightseeing opportunities nearby, including the Ring of Kerry and Ross Castle. If you’ve never been to Ireland and you’re at all nervous about being in a foreign country, Killarney is a comfortable place to get your feet wet.

Our dining options in Millstreet were few, consisting mainly of (fill-in-the-blank) and chips, an Indian place no one seems to ever have eaten at or know anything about, or run-of-the-mill pub grub. We thought we’d fare better for choices in Killarney. This being a freezing Sunday during low season and the dead of winter, it was not exactly hopping. We thought we’d take a nice romantic stroll through the quiet town, but it was cold as balls and we could only stand a quick jaunt before ducking into a pub for a warm-up.

A friend back home in Indy has always urged us to visit a Killarney pub owned by her cousin’s friend, but she couldn’t remember the name. The only hint we’d gotten from her was that the name was a number. The only place we could find fitting said description was “98,” a small establishment with (gasp) an Indianapolis Motor Speedway banner hanging from the ceiling. (We’d guessed correctly; this was the right spot.) The owner had been to Indy for the Formula 1 race several years ago, and brought back some memorabilia. Needless to say, it made me feel quite at home to see something from Indianapolis in a little pub in the middle of Ireland. It really is a small world. 

We stayed at 98 for a quick half-pint, but food was not in the cards there so we hit the streets again in search of dinner. After checking out the menus posted on several windows, we decided to go for another pub meal at a place called the Laurels. The atmosphere was warm and friendly, and we eavesdropped on the French couples occupying the next table over as we waited for our meal. This is the kind of place hubby says he could happily while away a rainy afternoon with a newspaper and slow pint after pint of Guinness.

Again, I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of modern Irish pub cuisine. I considered ordering Irish lamb stew or fish and chips, but the server recommended a potato cake dish that sounded intriguing. Hubby ordered some kind of chicken breast stuffed with Parma ham, goat cheese and pesto atop a pile of potatoes gratin and pronounced it tasty.

My potato cakes, on the other hand, were AWESOME. Two huge cakes of savory mashed potatoes generously flecked with bits of chicken, ham and green onion, lightly fried and topped with a creamy mushroom sauce. They were so rich and filling, I could only eat one, but it was delicious. I also got a nice little salad of mixed greens with diced peppers, more green onion and a zingy vinaigrette. (The decor was really too dark to get a decent photo, but I did the best I could.)

I would have loved to try a slice of the sinful-looking banana cream thingy the French girls were sharing next to us, but I just didn’t have the room. We rolled out of there full and happy, hightailed it through the cold  to the car and back home to our little man. All in all, a very enjoyable (if short!) date.

The Laurels –

The Laurels pub, Killarney

The Laurels pub, Killarney


Divine potato cakes and salad from The Laurels, Killarney

Divine potato cakes and salad from The Laurels, Killarney

Pop goes the Cork. County Cork, that is.

Here we are, safely ensconced at my mother-in-law’s house in Ballydaly, Millstreet, County Cork. We finally arrived yesterday after a hella long ride. Left Sligo around 11:30 a.m. and rolled into the homestead at 7:30 p.m., with several brief stops along the way including a tasty lunch at Moran’s the Weir on the river just outside Kilcolgan (famous for oysters and seafood, but we ordered toasted sandwiches), my husband’s aunt’s house in Charleville, and a quick stop so hubby could power-nap for 10 minutes before continuing the journey.

Mother-in-law had prepared her wonderful beef stew last night just waiting to be served when we arrived, bless her. The woman raised 7 children and professes to hate cooking, but let me tell ya, this lady knows her way around a roast. Her style of cooking is very old-fashioned, traditional Irish – roast meat, roast potatoes (and often boiled potatoes as well), and two veg. Nothing fancy, but all of it delicious. This is comfort food at its finest. With any number of inlaws and outlaws rolling in all the time, I have no idea how mother-in-law knows to judge how much food to make, but she always comes out right on the money.

When we can manage to resist the classic Irish “fry,” breakfast at the mother-in-law’s consists of tea, juice, cereal and brown bread. Mother-in-law is a whiz at making traditional Irish brown soda bread – a chewy flat disk of wheat and bran. She says she rarely makes it anymore, but always has a loaf cooling when we come to town, (my husband being her “golden boy,” after all, entitles him to special treatment). Like tea, brown bread is found everywhere you go in Ireland, from the neighbor’s house to the finest restaurant, and every family has its own variation. You’ll often find it served for breakfast, alongside a dish of stew, or with cheese. My mother-in-law knows her recipe by heart, of course, and demonstrated it to me once after I begged and pled pitifully. Imagine me trying to take copious notes as my mother-in-law casually pitches in a handful of flour or a palmful of baking soda, saying things like, “now, just add enough of this until it looks right.” Needless to say, the brown bread I’ve tried to recreate at home is nothing like hers.

traditional Irish brown bread

traditional Irish brown bread

Neither are my roasted potatoes. Since I got married, my husband’s been after to me to learn how to make roast potatoes just like mom’s. After three plus years, I seriously doubt it’s ever going to happen, although I think I am getting closer. The secret lies in parboiling them first until just tender, sprinkling them lightly with oil, then roasting gently until they are ever-so-browned on top, tender and fluffy inside. I can never get them exactly right. Hubby’s actually better at making them than I am, but I pledge to persevere until I succeed. Where there’s a will, there’s a spud. 

The Irish eat potatoes every day, no exaggeration. Whether it’s the aforementioned roasted version or the ubiquitous chips, nary a meal goes without some sort of potato accompaniment. Rice, pasta and other starches are few and far between, and even they are served with, yep, you guessed it. Potatoes. It’s a little strange to go into a restaurant or pub and see items like chicken curry or lasagna offered up with a side of chips, but that’s how it’s done here. 

Hubby and I stopped into the pub this afternoon for a quick pint while we were running errands in town, then headed back to the homestead for a delicious dinner of tender roast lamb with gravy, potatoes and a mashed carrot-turnip combo. Yummy, yummy stuff. Another pint of Bulmer’s, and I’ll be off to dreamland…