Monday, January 28, 2013

Off to a good start

January is almost over! That was fast, wasn't it?

We have had a quiet month of being homebodies. It's been kind of nice actually. We've made some new friends and have been spending time with them (separately and as couples) and that has been really fun. It has been so incredibly cold in our neck of the woods, it just 18 F just yesterday! There's lots of snow and it's not going anywhere anytime soon.

We've been going on walks around our village on weekends. It's so secluded you can walk for ages and never meet another person in your own winter wonderland. It's pretty cool, though it's always great to come home to a hot cup of tea and a warm heater :)

Of course snowball fights and sledding attempts are part of the fun too!

I'm sad because I can't beat Fionn in a snow ball fight. I'm a sore loser!

Fionn has been working a lot but I think he likes it. We're currently on a mission to eat healthier and lose some Christmas vacation pounds. I'll keep you updated with tales from the trenches kitchen.

I have some good news though! I have finally found an outlet for my music. I offered to help out with the church music program and they pretty much signed me on board that afternoon. I'm singing, playing, and arranging for 2 services each week! It has been so great to make music again, and to go to practices and get to play for people. It's also really encouraged me to practice more as well as to step outside my genre and tackle some new kinds of music I haven't worked with before. i am loving it and it's great that I can offer something to the community.

In the face of all the job search fruitlessness I really wanted to just be USEFUL, even if that meant I wasn't getting paid. I feel like this is an answered prayer in a lot of ways. They needed help and I needed an outlet. Win win :)

Speaking of music, there's a ceili and session coming up in a few weeks and I've been invited to that by one of my friends in the German Irish Music Community. I'm so excited about that and can't wait to meet some of the other Irish Music people around here!

Things are going really well right now. It's hard to believe I've been here a year already. How time flies! I'm excited to see what's coming up next.

I don't have any concrete plans yet, but I'm pretty sure a trip to America is coming up very soon, hopefully in time for St Patrick's Day. So maybe I'll be seeing you all back home sooner rather than later?? :) :)

Breakfast on the Go

With a new year comes the desire to make resolutions. One of my resolutions was to plan our meals better. It keeps me from wasting time, money, and food and helps us to eat healthy.

One of the places I feel like I'm lacking was making easy breakfasts. For me, I have time to whip up something most mornings, but when Fionn's up early and rushing out the door he ends up eating junk on the way or nothing at all. So I thought, I can make to go breakfasts! So here we are :)

Fruit and Yogurt Parfaits with Granola

These have been so easy! I put them in tupperware so they'd be easily portable (and unbreakable!) and I put a piece of plastic wrap over the yogurt before I add the granola so it doesn't get soggy.

I like to mix honey and plain yogurt instead of using flavored yogurt and add whatever berries or fruit I feel like. If you're using frozen berries, put them in the middle before topping with extra yogurt, and let them thaw out overnight in the fridge.

Mini Frittatas

You can get creative here, but I usually make Mexican, Italian, and Ham and Cheese versions

makes 15

6 eggs
1 cup milk, divided between 3 bowls
3 Tbsp yogurt, divided between 3 bowls
assorted shredded cheeses (mozzarella, cheddar, pepper jack, etc.)
diced green bell pepper
cooked bacon/lardons/ham (whatever you have on hand!)
cooked spinach
chopped Roasted Red Peppers
Italian Seasoning
Salt and Pepper

Preheat oven to 350 F/180 C

Crack 2 eggs in 3 separate bowls. Divide milk between the 3 bowls and add 1 Tbsp yogurt into each bowl. Divide cooked bacon/ham between each bowl and add salt and pepper.

In the first bowl, add Mexican cheese blend, green bell pepper, salsa, and cumin. Stir and carefully pour into greased muffin tins (should fill 5 muffin cups).

In the second bowl, add Mozzarella, spinach, roasted red pepper and italian seasoning. Stir and pour into muffin tins.

In the third bowl, add cheese and whatever you find in your pantry or spice cabinet :) Pour into tins.

Bake for 25 minutes or until set.

Keep refrigerated for up to 3 days. Eat cold or microwave for 30 seconds.

Pumpkin Silver Dollar Pancakes

I used this recipe after I had some leftover pumpkin puree from pumpkin bread. These were so good and even better reheated a few days later. Yum!

Pumpkin Pancakes Recipe

Love that orange color!

Next I'm going to try make ahead breakfast burritos and breakfast sandwiches and maybe some muffins. I'll keep you posted :)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Ireland Part 5: Castle Leslie and Hill of Tara

From Galway we headed to County Monaghan to stay at Castle Leslie. And yes, it's a real castle :) They have beautiful sprawling grounds with horses, walking trails, and lots of cozy places to sit and have a cup of tea and read a book.

We had an amazing New Year's dinner there. Every course was better than the last. Seriously, the food on this trip was top notch. Yum!

Our last day Castle Leslie we got to explore the actual castle itself, which was beautiful and still had its pretty Christmas decorations up (I lost count of the number of Christmas trees).

Then we had to start making our way to Dublin to catch flights home the next day :( :(

En route to Dublin we came across the studio of weaver Liz Christy in Castleblaney. We got a little tour of their studio, got to see how a loom works, and left with armloads of beautiful handwoven scarves. She had the most beautiful colors and textures and uses Monet paintings for a lot of her designs. Check her out if you're around! I love my scarf and Fionn said his is almost "too warm" for our below freezing German temps. If you ask me, a scarf being "too warm" in sub zero is a good thing! ;)

Luckily we still had time to squeeze in the Hill of Tara before the day was done! The Hill of Tara is an ancient monument that has traditionally been known as the seat of the High King of Ireland. It's been a gathering place throughout Irish history, even up to the present day. Here's an aerial shot.

Photo Credit

There are a series of earth mounds and a tall stone called the Lia Fáil (Stone of Destiny) which was the coronation stone of the kings of Ireland. It was said that when the rightful king touched it, it would roar with joy. It's said that it hasn't roared since the Irish warrior Cuchulainn split it with his sword after it refused to roar for his protege.

When we arrived to see the Hill of Tara, it had been raining all day. As we walked, a man stopped us to warn, "It's like the Somme up there!"

It was a slippery, muddy mess, but we still had fun looking around. It was really cool to be there, knowing what history and significance that place has.

Sadly, the Stone of Destiny did not choose Karen as the next King of Ireland

Once we'd had enough of history and squelchy mud, we stopped in Maguire's Cafe right next to the Hill of Tara for tea and scones. Oh, were they good. I'm drooling just thinking of those awesome scones and a big pot of Barry's tea. The best part? Even though they are literally RIGHT OUTSIDE the Hill of Tara, the prices were normal. No rip off here. Hats off to them!

Frolicking through Ireland

With that we returned to Dublin, packed our bags, and said goodbye as we headed to our respective homes. It was such an awesome vacation and just too short! It was great seeing Fionn's parents and spending our Christmas vacation with them. Couldn't ask for anything better :)

So now the question is...when do we get to go back to Ireland??

Ireland Part 4: From Derry to Donegal to Galway

Our next stop was Derry/Londonderry. It's one of Europe's oldest walled cities (and the wall is pretty much intact, amazingly) and has been the site of a lot of violence and unrest during "The Troubles" in Ireland. It definitely felt a little tense there. We didn't get to spend very long there, but we managed to walk along the city walls and take some pictures before the rain drove us back to the car.

Like I said, Derry has been the site of some major clashes, as evidenced by the murals painted on many of the buildings in "Free Derry" a predominately Catholic neighborhood. We just drove through, so I didn't get any pictures, so here are a few from other websites.

Photo Credit

Photo Credit

From Derry we drove through Donegal County to Ardara, which is well known for shipwrecked Spanish sailors and woolen mills! We stayed a cute little B&B, where we had a delicious fancy dinner to celebrate me and Fionn's first anniversary! It's already been one whole year??

Dinner with the family :)

Our first anniversary!

An Irish friend of mine had raved about how beautiful Donegal is, and he wasn't exaggerating. It's rugged and beautiful and wild looking. I loved it. We stopped to take a million pictures despite the winding backroads and gale force winds (not joking, we were actually under a wind advisory).

Sorry ladies, he's taken

From Donegal we made the long, winding trek to Galway. We had planned to stop along the way but it was raining cats and dogs the whole trip, and after a waterlogged attempt in Donegal City, we opted to stay in the car and just push on to Galway.

I was really excited for Galway. When my mom and brother were in Ireland they couldn't say enough good things about it. Plus, since Irish music is near and dear to my heart as a musician, I was psyched to hear some good music in the Mecca of Irish music.

Since we spent the bulk of our time in Galway on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, we didn't get to see "normal" Galway. That was ok. I still managed to pop into some music shops (new music books for the harp!! and new song books!!)and heard some great buskers as we shopped around. Fionn got himself a hand knit Aran sweater and I picked up some scarves and woolen goods. We figured they'd come in handy for the German winters we still have to face! The craftsmanship that goes into those things, especially the sweaters, is so amazing. It really is such an art form and I'm glad there are still grandmas out in Clare keeping the tradition alive. :)

We stopped in a little fish and chips place for lunch before wrapping up our shopping/sightseeing and taking a drive along the coast toward Connemara. Such a pretty place! I think that area is in a Gaeltacht (where they speak Irish Gaelic) which was pretty neat to see. We also saw a rainbow. Sooooooo typical ;)

Thought you'd laugh at that one, Mom!

We took a detour to see a castle (forgot its name!) but it was closed for New Years. While we were walking we met the cutest kitten! We fed him some leftover sandwich (he was very appreciative) and he stole our hearts. What a snuggly cutie!!

The castle was closed, but we still managed to get some pictures. Then it was back to Galway where we had dinner and went to the pub for a drink. It was crowded for New Year's Eve and promised live music, but the live band ended up being this weird doo wop, Elvis wannabe I don't even know what, so we finished our drinks, left early, and rang in the New Year in our hotel room. Not too bad, and no hollerin' drunk girls to spill their drinks on you ;)

The next day we said goodbye to Galway and headed east for the last leg of our trip :(

Ireland Part 3: Belfast, the Antrim Coast, and the Giant's Causeway

We made it into the North Country! First stop was Belfast. A friend of mine warned me there was some unrest in the city due to some recent legislation that allows the Union Jack to be flown only on certain days, rather than every day (as it was previously). We didn't encounter anything unusual, but a few days later we heard there was an attempted attack on a police station and a failed car bombing. Scary and sad that unrest still continues today.

Belfast was nice but expensive since they use the British pound (sucks when you've got dollars to exchange!). We didn't spend very long there since we had to get to our hotel in Bushmills, but it was a very pretty city.

We decided to take the scenic coastal highway to Bushmills and the Giant's Causeway. I feel like "scenic" is an understatement. The road hugs the coast as you make your way, taking you through picturesque towns and villages and giving you a great view of the ocean on one side and high, craggy hillsides on the other. We stopped quite a few times for photo ops!

First stop was Carrickfergus (where I felt compelled to sing the song by the same name haha) for a quick castle walk around, and then up through the country. A storm was coming, but it made for some very dramatic views and weather!

We spent the night in Bushmills (of Bushmills Whiskey fame) at an amazing hotel (the Bushmills Inn, if you're interested!). WOW, what an amazing place. The building looks like it's been around for a century or two but has been redone without losing any of its charming, cosy touches. Fionn and I loved staying here.

The best part? It's minutes away from the Giant's Causeway!!!

I have ALWAYS wanted to see the Giant's Causeway since my mom and brother went a few years ago.

Basically, it's this rock formation of 40,000 interlocking basalt columns caused by an ancient volcanic eruption that jutts into the ocean. The legend surrounding it is that the Irish warrior Fionn MacCool (arguably the most BA name ever, which is why I call my husband that!) built a causeway to Scotland to challenge a Scottish giant. The giant ended up being bigger than he expected, so he ran home to his wife. She dressed him up as a baby, and when the Scottish giant came a-knocking, she told him her husband would be back shortly but in the meantime, don't wake the baby. The giant was so surprised by the size of the "baby" that he ran all the way back to Scotland, destroying the Causeway behind him so Fionn couldn't follow.

With a story like that, how can you pass up a visit??

Fionn and his dad braving the slippery rocks-this was right before Fionn got hit by a wave!

The rain stopped just as we started walking, so even though it was a little slippery, we had fun climbing all over everything. Fionn was more daring than me and climbed onto the highest parts, but luckily I had the camera to capture his adventures. The rain seemed to drive away most of the tourists, so apart from a few stragglers, we had the place all to ourselves-what an awesome treat!

We headed back to the Visitor's Center for a cup of tea (tea at all times and potatoes at every meal?? this IS my homeland!) and headed for Dunluce Castle. It was once the center of a bustling town, but now part of the castle has partially fallen into the ocean. It's a really cool sight to see. We didn't pay to go inside but instead took the trail down to a cave that opens into the sea.

Continuing with our meandering pace, we drove over to Portrush to see some more ocean views and have lunch (and an amazing GIANT dessert). I decided to be adventurous and ordered something new (salmon and haddock pie, anyone?)

It was HUGE.

I think I made it about half way through before giving up.

Next stop, Derry! Or is it Londonderry?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Ireland Part 2: Kells and County Meath

Kells is a nice town. It was small and quiet but the people were amazingly friendly and there is a lot to see in the area if you're into ruins. It's best known for its connection to the Book of Kells (one of the best examples of illuminated manuscripts from the Dark Ages, go and google it!) and you'll see that reference everywhere. There was even a replica Book of Kells in out hotel lobby!

We had dinner in the hotel restaurant and were told that there would be live music later that night. We got some drinks and stayed for the show, which was...interesting? The guy wasn't a bad singer but his song choices were soooo cheesy, I think we were more laughing than listening. The drinks kept flowing and then he sang some ABBA, and since the Irish are apparently not immune to the European obsession with everyone's favorite overrated Swedish pop band (yes, I said it!!) they stampeded the dance floor to dance.

Mashed potatoes AND roasted potatoes all on one plate? Is this heaven??

Now that everyone was dancing Karen (Fionn's mom) and I decided to go dance too. We ended up dancing to "Come On Eileen" with a group of older ladies who then pulled us into all the rest of their group dances. It was pretty fun :)

The boys watched from a safe distance!

The next day the very helpful lady at the front desk of our hotel gave us a list of places to see in the area, including Loughcrew, a megalithic burial site. The coolest part is that you can go by the visitor's office and pick up a key which allows you to go into one of the largest mounds to see the ancient stone carvings.

As a historical preservation minded person, that makes me squeal with delight and also gawk in amazement that such a historical treasure is just THERE for you to climb on and touch and get up close and personal with. So cool.

En route to Loughcrew we stopped to see a High Cross and Norman era tower in Kells...

After getting the key we made the muddy walk up to Loughcrew. The view was amazing, and when we reached the top we were the only ones around as we explored the mounds and the carvings in the stones set into the ground.

Finally we unlocked the gate and went into the largest mound. It was a tight squeeze, so we really had to hunch down and squeeze your way in. It was dark except for a small space cut into the stone overhead, so we used a flashlight to illuminate the carvings. It was really amazing to see them so close, it made you feel like you'd discovered something amazing.

using the flashlight to peer into the chambers

We spent a little longer there before heading back to the car. I wish I could share all the pictures of that beautiful place!

Next stop was Fore Priory, an old monastery. It was really cool, and again, amazing that you could just run and climb all over it and explore all of it. I'm such a nerd :)

By the time we got back to the car we were losing daylight, so we decided to get on the road for our next stop-Belfast!