Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Celtic Cuisine and French Fare

View of Sugar Loaf Mountain at the wedding reception.

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”

- J.R.R. Tolkien

Monday evening, even though I still suffered from jet lag, despite bumbling through a horror sub job, I cooked. After halving a pint of cherry tomatoes, I brushed them in olive oil, salt, pepper, and a pinch of sugar. I tossed cauliflower florets with salt, pepper, and olive oil in a pan. Both dishes roasted in the oven. Next, I sautéed mushroom halves in salt, pepper, bacon fat, and butter. Lastly, I assembled a ground beef, potato, prosciutto, and mushroom gratin.

Eating new foods inspires me to cook. AND to EAT.

First… Ireland:

I started the trip with a traditional Irish breakfast at Bewley’s Café, complete with eggs, black and white "puddings", sausages, toast, sautéed mushrooms, and roasted tomatoes. Later, the rehearsal dinner at The Cellar at the Merrion Hotel was a wedding in itself. The meal was fabulous. Salmon tartar, potato soup, fish, and asparagus. And plenty of wine.

Afterwards at the bar, my daughter step danced to traditional Irish music. (How she figured it out, I have no idea. Genetics?)

My son sat amazed at the dexterity and speed of the bartenders. He had two Shirley Temples. Now I’m worried he’ll switch from wanting to be a chef to a bartender.

The Conrad Dublin has a wonderful breakfast buffet that was included in the cost of our hotel room. (And they have the best pillows and comforters. Really.) Each morning I ate fresh fruit, smoked salmon, cheeses, excellent breads (including one sprinkled with sunflower seeds), and those wonderful sautéed mushrooms. And lots of coffee.

The wedding took place at Powerscourt Estate House. They served pea soup with clotted cream, asparagus soup with truffle shavings, and an array of wonderful appetizers. Dinner was delicious. I had well-cooked salmon, my son raved about the tender lamb. Then came a cheese plate with an array of lovely breads, and cute butter florets:

The cake was too rich to eat after all that cheese. And the wine kept flowing. Good thing I danced a lot. Look how beautifully they lit the dance room:

The next day we attended a brunch. The bride’s aunt set up a fabulous spread of smoked salmon, Irish soda bread, two kinds of tarts, and a Cleopatra Salad (apparently the Irish are still hold a grudge against Caesar). She also made an orange dessert that was similar to key lime pie.

Monday night we ate at an Irish pub called Porterhouse. I ate fish and chips and drank a beer. But I cheated because it was a Lambic. I have to admit, I hate beer. Hate it. I guess that part of me isn’t Irish.

My husband and I wanted to eat at Mao’s (Vietnamese) like we did eleven-years-ago, but we ran out of time before we had to head to the airport. So we got gyros instead. (Ireland: so international.)

Now… Paris:

Every morning, we started with breads, cheeses, and pastries. Once we got food on the Rue de Rivoli to take to the Palais Royale. Two times we bought breakfast at The Louvre gardens. It was lovely until my daughter put her hand in a big wad of pigeon poop. A couple of times, we sat at a café with coffee or wine and people-watched. Ah, to be a Parisian who could afford to do this everyday…

Our first night, we walked around the Les Halles area, unsure of where to eat. We didn’t want to eat at a tourist trap, but how would we know which place was a tourist trap? My daughter started to cry over our inability to make a decision (and hunger). It was the Paradox of Choice*.

Finally, we settled on a place that wound up being very good. I got another plate of cheeses and bread. My husband ordered a chopped duck liver plate, which was the best chopped liver I’d ever had. I much preferred it to a slab of fois gras. We had a lot of problems ordering here because the waitress didn’t speak any English and the waiter only spoke son, but he was awfully nice. We fumbled through it together.

My daughter ordered steak, which came with a side of one of the most flavorful gravies I’d ever tasted. My son had veal with a mushroom au jus. My husband and I were pretty full, so we ordered a fancy salad that we saw at another table. Turns out it was “off menu” and it took us a long time to explain we wanted, “the salad that woman was eating earlier.” My daughter ordered tarte tatin, which she didn’t like, so she got my son to fork over half his crème brulee.

While they ate dessert, the waiter came out with a GIANT pot of goo. Each plate had a sausage. He went to the pot and sort of scooped and rolled the doughy substance around the spoon and onto the plate. What is that? Why didn’t we order that? Turns out that the white stuff was a mixture of cream, potatoes, and cheese. I tried to get my husband to agree to eat there another day, but he refused.

The next night, we met a friend’s girlfriend and her son at their place for dinner at the La Defense stop. The friend was on a business trip, which was a shame. They had been our hosts for our last trip to Paris. Still, my kids got a kick out of the twenty-month-old and taught him how to high five. We had Chinese food for dinner, which was less fast food takeout than in most of the places in America. And for our part, we brought Bordeaux and a box of the best macaroons on the planet from Laduree on Champs Elysées:

At the end of the meal, the girlfriend said she and her boyfriend are getting married in the South of France at the end of June next year. Would we like to come? !!!!!

Later, I told my husband if he’s remotely thinking about it we’ll have to go on austerity for the next year. We may even need to sell a child. Or two.

Our last night in Paris. Mon Dieu! I’d forgotten to look up how to say “bone marrow” in French, but the girlfriend told us. This was good because I couldn’t order it on my own. Waiters had no idea what I was talking about. Desperate, I asked a woman on the street, who, when I said, “beef” in French and pointed to my leg, tried to send me to a pharmacy. Luckily, my husband looked it up on the Internet and found a place a few blocks from our hotel, which was supposed to have the best bone marrow in Paris at Aux Bons Crux:

We sat right next to the chalkboard.

The last meal exceeded expectations. It began with bone marrow on toast. Shockingly, nobody in my family seemed as wowed about marrow as me. (And at only 6,50 euro.) My daughter ordered salmon tartar, my son had veal, my husband ate duck, and I devoured beef carpaccio. Each dish came with delicious roasted potatoes. More wine.

It’s a good thing we walked virtually every waking hour because I didn’t gain any weight. And now we need to lay off the butter, meat, and cheese for a little bit. Our arteries are still sluggish. At least in both places, all meals were served with seasonal fruits and vegetables, so we had plenty of asparagus and strawberries.

That night, we waited until 11 pm when the first flashing lights on the hour at the Eiffel Tower began:

Turn up the volume if you want to hear how "romantic" the viewing was with our children.

Sitting, still full from dinner, surrounded by my family, with people lined all along the bridge was a bittersweet moment. The trip neared its end.

I may not have had time to see everything I wanted in Dublin or Paris, but I ate and drank to my heart’s content, and had a wonderful time.

Au Revoir!

More on the paradox of choice:


  1. Wow, reading this put a big old goofy grin on my face. It's neat to see Paris through your eyes. It sounds like a different place full of familiar names.
    Your cooking sounds delicious...
    I'd be tempted to say that it isn't surprising considering the fact that you like to eat, but then those two things don't always go together.
    To summarize: yum. : j

  2. Wow, what a gorgeous place to get married! I can't believe those little yellow flower things are cheese. Yummy.

  3. @Aubrie: That might be because those are the "cute butter florets". ; j

  4. You brought Paris & Dublin to life! I want to eat every delicious meal that you described! It sounds like you all had a fantastic trip:)

  5. Wow what an amazing place to get married!!! I'm seriously smiling while reading this! You shared so much I feel like I'm living through you right now, enjoying Paris (even the awesome and fantastic light show I've heard about!!!)

    Wow can they eat... I guess Americans really are missing out on the home cooked down to earth meals that are as delicious as they are in these wonderful places!

  6. Theresa, I am so glad I was eating my lunch while reading your post, sounds like you had a great time.

    The beer drinking doesnt do anything for me either, much more of a wine person.

    You have to go to the south of France for the next wedding, great post.

  7. This post made me SO hungry! My hubby works on the Rue de Rivoli for the Hotel Lotti! i wonder if you passed him by...:)

  8. Now I want to go back to Paris, Dublin & your house for dinner!

  9. Wow, what amazing foods you enjoyed! That seems like the benefit of enjoying such rich foods abroad, you get to walk off the calories :) Sounds like a beautiful journey.

  10. Wow! What a wonderful time you had. All the food you ate sounds so delicious. I must say, you were quite daring in trying some of those foods. I don't know if I could.
    I loved seeing the Eiffel Tower at night. Wow!
    Thanks for sharing your trip.
    Have a great day.

  11. @Alesa, I'd love to know what Paris is like from your perspective.

    I was very happy with my meal. Tonight I'm making a quiche.

    @Aubrie, I like the photo too. Perhaps I should have photographed more food.

    @Kathleen, I definitely ate well.

  12. omg so cooooool!!!

    you make me want to hop on a plane right now :D :D

    sounds like you had an amazing time!
    a well-deserved vacation, in my opinion :D

  13. @Jen, these two countries definitely enjoy their food! I'm glad you enjoyed the post. American should take some lessons from Europeans and cook home more often.

    @Brigid, I would love to go to the South of France. And Paris is so big, 3 days doesn't do it justice, especially since we'd only done 2 1/2 days this time with a lot of repeated places for the children.

    @Creepy Query Girl, I wonder if I passed by your husband too. That area is the best.

  14. @Red-Handed, I feel very lucky. If people didn't have weddings, my husband and I would never travel. I regret the wedding we had to miss in Greece because it was too expensive for us a the time.

    @Jeanne, I hope you get to back to Dublin and Paris. Come over for dinner anytime!

    @Joanne, not only did I have rich foods, but rich coffees as well. I found out Parisians don't do skim/nonfat milk. It's whole or nothing!

  15. @Choices, thanks for calling me daring. I didn't even have frog legs or snails. I've had both of them before, but don't love 'em.

    @Tahereh, everyone should get to visit Paris for at least two weeks. Now it's my fantasy for my husband to somehow get a one-year Science appointment and I'll write for a year. In cafes. And gardens.

  16. WoW! Loved this tour and (most of) the food along the way! How fun. Thanks for taking us along.

  17. Wow!!! Ireland: What a lovely wedding!! I love the Cleopatra Salad!:-) And the breakfasts there - well - how could you resist those pretty butter florets!

    Awww could you not like beer? :-)

    France: Mon Dieu and ooh la la! What a culinary feast and well done you all for ordering fab food even with the lingo barriers! LOL!! I always have my one and only french sentence down to pat "un botteille de vin rouge s'il vouz plais" excuse my spelling! LOL!

    I'm at work so cannot hear the clip but the bit when the tower lights up - wow!!!!

    It's brilliant to know that the whole family enjoyed the hols. I do hope you get to the wedding in June. Maybe just pawn a child or two! LOL!

    take care

  18. Ireland and England get such a bad rap for cuisine, but I have always found excellent meals there. The best lamb I've ever had was in the Lake District. Same with beef. Don't get me started on the cheese. And the breakfasts are just beyond. ;)

  19. Robert always says it's better to leave a place knowing that you didn't get to do everything, than to be someplace where there is nothing left to do.

  20. @Bossy Betty, thanks for reading about my culinary fun.

    @Old Kitty, I can say the same line in French even if I can't spell it. From reading the Julie Powell and Julia Child books, I felt like I knew some basic words. I should've studied more words.

    Thinking about the South of France will keep me from buying pretty shoes for a good, long time!

    @Rebecca, I didn't have as many good meals last time, but it's probably because I didn't stay at this hotel and have so many wedding festivities! Also, this time I'm more savvy when it comes to food.

    @Sheila, I like Robert's philosophy. I'll keep it in mind.

  21. I am SO jealous of all your eating. Oh, how I love eating in Paris. Actually, I love eating anywhere, but the PASTRIES!

    Glad you got to have a macaron or two at Ladurée. They are legendary!

  22. I want to go on an exciting trip like that!! Sounds wonderful. And MOST of the food sounds good. Bone Marrow and liver???? I don't know about that. The wedding looks beautiful.

    I'll have to watch the vid at home later.

  23. @Talli Roland, your alter-ego's book was very helpful. I'm more of a savory eater, but I enjoyed both savory and sweet.

    @MBW aka Olleymae, bone marrow on toast with some salt is great. And I don't like whole duck liver, but chopped with spices ain't bad!

  24. The food sounds wonderful! Sauteed mushrooms are one of my favorite things. So jealous... :)

  25. I's so jealous. I haven't been into Paris since I was 16, but I went to Brittany two years ago and love it more each time I go. :)

  26. I love Europe!

    Reading your dinner menu just underline how boring I am! Sounds delicious.

  27. Wow! I'm hungry now for some odd reason ... :)

    I've never been to France or Ireland. I loved Scotland when I visited family when I was younger. One of these days I'll get there!

  28. @Susan, I recreated them pretty well and it was easy. 1 TBSP each of butter and bacon fat + s&p with a lb of halved mushrooms sauteed in a cast iron pot tasted similar to the ones in Ireland.

    @Lindsay aka Isabella, I've heard Brittany is beautiful.

    @Elle, I don't cook like that everyday. But if I didn't work, I'd cook like that more often.

    @Jemi, my sister raved about Scotland. I'd like to go there someday too.

  29. This post made me really, really hungry.
    And also really, really wishing I could travel right now!

  30. Lydia, I hope you get to travel soon and get to have a good meal even sooner!

  31. When I first heard that in French restaurants you can actually get a plate of just cheese, I couldn't believe it. Too good to be true, I thought!

    Sounds like you had a hard time trying to decipher French menus. :)
    I took French for two years and I barely remember anything. You really have to study every single day to get it!

  32. Ooh, thanks for this post -- I've just finished dinner, and I'm hungry from reading this. :)

  33. Sounds like a culinary delight all around.

    You will have to start saving those pennies for next years wedding. I mean, you can't pass up the South of France!

  34. What a pleasure to read this was. I adore both Ireland and Paris. And that Parisian restaurant looks really familiar to me, the tables and the menu board. I swear I've been there.
    Magnifique. :)

  35. @Amanda, I took Italian, but French is too different to easily pick it up.

    Cheese in restaurants is nice.

    @Sandy Shin, I miss the food from writing this post.

    @Ann, I don't want to miss the South of France.

    @LR, I wonder if you have been to that restaurant. Did the waiter keep forgetting to refill your water glasses too?

  36. This is a delightful post so full of tantalyzing detail of your experiences. The view of that mountain and countryside at the wedding is breathtaking.

  37. Sounds like a culinary delight! I know I'm Irish and a bit biased, but you can't beat a bit of brown soda, smoked salmon and Clonakilty black pudding, delicious! (not all at once though:)

  38. @Paul C, the gardens and other statues are beautiful too. Maybe I'll write another post that will let me utilize more pictures.

    @Olive, I'm with you except for the black pudding. It's okay, but I'd switch it for the sauteed mushrooms!

  39. Man, I'm HUNGRY! Can't imagine why...

    Thanks for sharing--so very lovely. I love good food and beautiful places too. Someday I'll make it to Dublin and Paris. But until then, thanks for sharing your experiences! :o)

  40. @Jackee, I hope you have a wonderful time when you make it to Dublin and Paris.

  41. Stupid, stupid volcano. If it weren't for that volcano, I too could have been dining in Paris! You certainly know how to make a girl mourn her lost opportunity.

  42. @ Judy, I am soooooo sorry your trip got cancelled because of the volcano. In the weeks leading up to the trip, I'd worried it would screw things up again. Did you get a refund? Are you rescheduling?