Ireland, part II

So for our honeymoon back in July, Tim and I visited Paris and Ireland. You can see the recaps in these posts:

I still had yet to post about our visit to the Aran Islands, so 6+ months later in the dead of a New England winter seemed like the time to do it. 

After our trip to Galway, we boarded a ferry for Inishmore, one of the Aran Islands. We docked at a cool windy spot and were greeted by Irishmen ready to pick us up by van, bike or horse to bring us to our accommodations. We had stepped back in time. We opted for bikes, and rode the 4ish miles along the rocky coast to the Man of Aran Cottages Bed & Breakfast. It was a cozy set of cottages along the ocean maintained by an older couple who were just lovely.
As soon as we arrived, we were offered tea and sweets on the back patio overlooking the sea. It was a perfect place to read and soak in some of the sunny rays. I have to say, it was pretty cool here. Temperatures in July were probably 50s and 60s (and they said this was unusually warm).

 As I was drinking my tea, I noticed the innkeeper cutting some artichokes for dinner. Fresh artichokes!
Before going in for dinner, Tim and I took a walk up the one road that circles the island. 

We arrived back at the cottage ready for delicious meal that had been prepared. 

After dinner, we cozied up and watched the 1934 movie that made the cottage famous called Man of Aran. It was an interesting semi-silent film with stunning scenes of the tumultuous seas and played on a television that was only equipped to play that movie. The next morning we ventured out on a bike ride and hike up to a prehistoric fort dating from before 1,000 BC called Dun Aonghasa overlooking the sea by about 300 feet. 

 Can I just say (and obviously this isn't news) but people are crazy. They were laying on the edge looking over to see how far down the drop was. There was no fence and a brisk wind. Anyone could have gone right over the edge. And it was rocky! I'm shocked there haven't been more accidents. Tim and I stayed at a far distance, considering we are both not that crazy of heights.
We spent the rest of the day taking walks, napping, walking the gardens and taking our bikes back into town (and by town I mean a small country store, a sweater shop and a couple pubs.)

I bought a beautiful wool sweater, hat and socks that have served me so well during this cold New England winter!

After a couple nights on the island, we were getting antsy to get back to the mainland and the end of our trip was nearing, so we took the ferry back to Galway and then train back to Dublin. We had just one hour left before the last Guinness brewery tour, so knowing full well Tim would never forgive me if we left Ireland without having a pint here, we walked from the train station directly to the brewery, luggage and all. Tired from traveling, the pints were most welcomed. 

That evening, we spent time with our wonderful host Daragh, his partner and a friend that was visiting from Spain. We ate cheese, drank wine and laughed together. But just before that we had dinner at one of the best places we ate in Ireland and that would be at The Rustic Stone. Everything tasted fresh, seasonal and flavorful. Based on the other meals we had eaten in Ireland, this had a trendy, new flair on traditional Irish ingredients. We loved it!

The next morning with luggage in hand, we huffed it a good mile or two to the Bald Barista. How could I leave Ireland without tasting what was touted as the best coffee in Ireland? Well, let me just tell you that Ireland is not known for their coffee. Luckily, despite the caffeine-driven detour to the cafe, we still make it to the airport in time. 

And before we knew it, we were back in Boston.
All in all, a memorable trip that I'll be grateful for for years to come.


Vegetarian Hot and Sour Soup

Before I begin diving into how much I love this recipe, I feel I owe an explanation for the 2+ month bout of absence. I don't talk about my work often, but it very much intertwines with my passions and this blog. I feel so lucky to do what I love, but just like a piece of bread left in the toaster too long, I was burnt out. Don't you hate it when that happens? The bread part I mean. So frustrating. Anyway.

I spent November and December firing on all cylinders with Cooking Matters Massachusetts and finishing up my first semester teaching part-time at a local university. I even picked up a little consulting work on the weekends, which left zero time for cooking, much less for blogging. And after preparing meals in my Cooking Matters classes and being on social media for my teaching gig, I had just about had it with homemade meal preparation and the Internet. I was starting to resent being in my own kitchen and found the quickest things I could assemble with the smallest bit of preparation. If I had to wash one more dish or read one more article about how social media and culture intersect, I thought I might just cry. I could also feel myself being more and more unproductive. I was not finding joy in the pastimes I previously turned to when I was stressed or needed an outlet. I even stopped reading my favorite blogs (gasp).

I spent most of the holiday break eating leftovers that I took from family holiday parties and spent time at home playing with my new dog Honey. I had to unplug from the computer and the kitchen. I worked on some projects that had eluded me all year, including tidying up my finances, creating annual family photo albums and cleaning closets. And before I knew it, I was back into the swing of things before I could even have another moment to breathe.

And now it's nearing the end of February and all I have to show for it is one post about soup. I have an old bowl of tabbouleh and an undercooked pot of lentils in the fridge but they didn't make the blog cut for one unappealing reason or another. I should probably throw those out once I'm done here.

I have to admit, the real-time allure that blogs once monopolized has now been overshadowed with other, more instantaneous tools like Twitter and Instagram. Everyone wants to be entertained by pretty pictures. No one has time for the arduous process of sitting down and reading a 250-word blog post without the impatient manic thought of "for-goodness-sake-just-get-to-the-recipe-already."

But after my experience making this new recipe, my urge to share this with you resurged and all I could think about was blogging it. So I guess blogging is not totally dead. I had this great little comparison about how the death of this blog was about as close as that near-Earth asteroid, but I can't quite put into words its cleverness. You get the point.

I understand that this is probably a pathetic little soliloquy I'm reciting; after all, who follows a blog after two months of silence? But then again I am reminded of why I write this blog in the first place. No, not to impress others with my exquisite culinary techniques, exceptional clean eating behaviors or dazzling photography. Go ahead, tell me again how awesome you think I am.

Nope, it's for me. To practice my writing, refine my style, enjoy my food and catalog experiences. (It also wouldn't hurt to get a book deal one day that sets me up for retirement. Thought I'd throw that out there, you know, in case you know a guy.) But most of all it should be fun. Substantial monetary income would be nice too, but MOST OF ALL IT SHOULD BE FUN. So I'm going to try to figure out how I can make this fun again.

I figured the first way to do that is to step out of my comfort zone and make something totally foreign. I've never eaten hot and sour soup before. I had no idea what to expect. The only Asian soup I've eaten are miso soup and wonton soup. Bland, tasteless broths that lend no excitement to the palate. So when the first bite assaulted my taste buds with a kick of spicy and a tang of of the sour broth, it was like a veil had been lifted. Hopefully this kick-you-in-the-mouth spicy tangy soup will be just the thing I need to find my passion for blogging again.

Vegetarian Hot and Sour Soup
(makes 8 hearty servings)
Inspired by eatingwell.com's Shiitake and Noodle Hot and Sour Soup

3 oz udon noodles (I used Eden brown rice udon)
6 1/3 cups water
2 carrots, 1/4"dice
2 cups thinly sliced green cabbage
1/2 tsp pepper
4 cups vegetable broth (I used Kitchen Basics unsalted)
12 shiitake mushrooms, cleaned and no stems
1 - 14oz package of extra firm tofu, cubed
1/8 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1 Tablespoon chile-garlic sauce
1 Tablespoon minced ginger
3 Tablespoons corn starch
1 Tablespoon toasted sesame oil
chopped scallions for garnish

In 6 cups of water boil udon noodles according to the instructions (about 8 minutes). While boiling add in carrots and cabbage. Once done boiling, lower temperature to medium and add pepper, mushrooms, tofu, vegetable broth, vinegars, soy sauce, chile-garlic sauce and ginger. In a separate bowl, mix corn starch, sesame oil and remaining 1/3 cup of water. Add mixture to the soup and bring to a boil for 5-10 minutes, until you see broth thicken slightly. Garnish with scallions and extra chile-garlic sauce to taste.
And if you made it to the end of this post, well, good for you. Now you can follow my less breathy rumblings on Twitter (@EatItTweetIt) and Instagram (@JessicaCaouette). One hundred and forty characters or less and I promise pretty pictures of green smoothies and candids of my pets.

Question of the Day: Are you abandoning blogs for more instantaneous social media?


Foodie Pen Pals: December

So I recently heard about this food exchange called Foodie Pen Pals where various food bloggers all over the country (and Canada, too!) exchange a small box of goodies. I'm so in!
This being my first month, I received a package from Heather at Frugal Southern Living. It was a sweet little package of snack foods. I was especially happy to see the dried cherries, as these have been a favorite snack of mine lately. My only disappointment is that OceanSpray adds extra sugar! In addition, Heather sent a sweet note and a picture that her kids drew, wishing me a Happy Thanksgiving.

I sent my package off to Jenny at The Spicy Simmer. I hope she enjoys it!

If you are interested in participating, check out Foodie Pen Pals. You don't even need to necessarily have a blog. Next month, in lieu of sending packages, Heather will be taking donations for victims of Hurricane Sandy. Check out more details here.

Question of the Day: Did you have a pen pal growing up? Imagine how cool it would have been if our childhood pen pals sent us boxes of snacks!


Guest Post: 25 Days of Christmas

My beautiful sister Katie is guest posting today, sharing her slant on the 25 days of Christmas. Less about ABC Family's show schedule (that's the first thing that pops up if you google "25 days of Christmas") and more about the real reason for the season. Thank you Katie!


When we feel love and kindness toward others, it not only makes others feel loved and cared for, but it helps us also to develop inner happiness and peace. - The 14th Dalai Lama (1935)

It seems as though each year everyone has been getting caught up in “XMas” - Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Santa in the mall, the “stresses” of the season. What is this season really all about? Ultimately, it is a Christian holiday, based off of the birth of Jesus Christ and the celebration therein. When did we lose sight of what we should really be celebrating, Christmas - time with family, the celebration of faith, giving our gifts to others in need, and just kindness in general?

This year I wanted to feel that special holiday excitement that I used to get when my Mother would bring me to the nursing homes and shut-ins homes around this time, and how special it would feel to bring them a donated gift, and just sit and listen to their stories. I missed that.

Thanks to the many countdowns in the month of December, I thought of the 25 Days of Christmas. What 25 things could I do that would benefit someone other than myself? How could I help others who may be left out during this season? And selfishly, how can I find that special feeling again of my heart warming due to the smile on someone else’s face because they’d been remembered?

My list is as follows. There is no rhyme or reason to the list, really it’s just a collection of chairities I liked, or activities I have enjoyed contributing to in the past.

  1. Donate to FEED - provides 10 school meals to children through school feeding operations. @FEEDProjects
  2. Donate to the Pilgrim Congregational Church Hat & Mitten Tree
  3. Visit a church shut-in
  4. Write letters to deployed soldiers - A Million Thanks (@aMillionThanks), Operation Gratitude (@opgratitude), AnyMarine (@anysoldier)
  5. Become a penpal to soldiers - send to 3
  6. Adopt a Soldier (@anysoldier)
  7. Adopt a child tree
  8. Pay for someone’s coffee in line (@starbucks)
  9. Donate clothes to a shelter
  10. Donate stuffed animals/books to hospital
  11. Visit at nursing home
  12. Leave quarters at laundromat
  13. Write to someone who wouldn’t normally get letters
  14. Bake cookies for 2 people
  15. Donate food to local food bank
  16. Let 5 people pass in morning commute
  17. Bring breakfast into team for work
  18. Give Theo Chocolate - First organic & fair trade chocolate in the country (@theochocolate)
  19. Send a card to a church shut-in
  20. Give to Salvation Army Red Kettle Campaign
  21. Donate stuffed animal & book to Project Smile - (@ProjectSmileCP) - donates stuffed animals, coloring books/crayons, small toys and children's reading books to police and fire departments for police officers, fire fighters and paramedics to give to children involved in traumatic situations.
  22. Help older woman in parking lot
  23. Donate to the Greater Boston Food Bank - You can donate any amount and chose for it to go to holiday turkeys, hurricane relief, childhood hunger, senior hunger, or women fighting hunger.
  24. Donate to Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry efforts in Massachusetts
  25. Donate books to church or library

There is also a list www.randomactsofkindness.org I was recently sent, which is a great reference for small and big things you can do to affect someone anytime. Whether it be smiling at someone as they walk by, or donating mittens to someone in need, there is always an opportunity to show kindness to someone else.

Question of the Day: How will you be sharing kindness during this holiday season?


The Haunting of a Chocolate Cream Pie

For as long as I can remember, chocolate cream pie has been a staple of any Thanksgiving table hosted by a French Canadian grandmother. My own grandmother would make this pie every Thanksgiving, and even the years that I shared Thanksgiving with Tim's family, a sugar-free version eventually and inevitably made its way to the table. What is it with French Canadian grandmothers and chocolate cream pie? Since my own grandmother's passing, this pie has kind of haunted me.

This Thanksgiving I was in charge of dessert (go figure) so I've decided to try my hand at this pie. I loathed the idea of mixing up a box of jello pudding and plopping on some Cool Whip on top, so Smitten Kitchen came to the rescue with her version of chocolate pudding pie.

Thanksgiving is by far my favorite time of the year because it is rife with tradition that I really love. I enjoy my early morning run, spending the whole day eating and of course, spending time with loved ones. And now, based on its popularity, I think this pie has made it onto the list of Thanksgiving traditions.

It's funny to look back at what's been said here the last few Thanksgivings, and even how my palate has changed. The year I hosted and cooked my own turkey, I threw away the turkey neck and organs. Now I cringe, knowing full well the delicious stock and gravy I could have made. But my gratitude for the blessings in life has not changed, and I am grateful for each day I get to spend with loved ones and enjoying the small pleasures of life.

Thanksgiving 2009
Thanksgiving 2010
Post-Thanksgiving 2011

Hopefully your Thanksgiving was rich with gratitude! This week my sister had a fabulous guest post with more ways to give back during the holiday season. Stay tuned!


Ireland, Part I

After Tim and I spent a week in Paris, we hopped a plane over to Dublin, Ireland.

We arrived in Dublin, boarded a bus and headed to the apartment we rented from Airbnb, quickly realizing that being a passenger on a bus that's traveling on the left side of the narrow roads was harrowing. We arrived at our apartment and met our apartment host, Daragh. He was such a wonderful host and city guide and gave us travel guides and personal recommendations of places to walk, visit and find the best pint of Guinness.

After unpacking, we walked a couple blocks for a bite to eat and our first Irish pint. And why not drink it at the oldest pub in Ireland called the Brazenhead? We saddled up to the bar, ordered some brown bread and butter, a couple Guinness beers and chatted with the patrons. A few minutes later, the local band started up and for the rest of the evening, we enjoyed traditional Irish music and great company. They even dedicated a song to us newlyweds!
The next morning we brunched at a tiny place recommended by Daragh called Bibi's Cafe. Cozy, delicious food served in Irish earthenware.

 Homemade scones with butter.
 Feta and spinach quiche.

In the afternoon we walked through the Trinity College campus and did some shopping. The next morning, we hopped on a train to Galway. Originally we had wanted to rent a car and tool around the country, but when we couldn't even figure out which way to look when crossing the street (because they drive on the opposite side of the street that we here do) we decided a train would be best. A few hours later, we arrived in Galway City. We walked the city, visiting shops, a pottery market and a cheesemonger. 

 We had dinner at Martine's, a small bistro in the main pedestrian district. The oysters were delectable.

Ireland, Part II to come and includes a trip to the Aran Islands and restaurant recommendation for the best 'new Irish' cuisine in Ireland...


Coconut Pumpkin Pie Cafe au Lait

Hurricane Sandy is in full force here in Massachusetts, so I've hunkered down with a delicious warm drink; probably the last hot drink/meal I'll have for a few days, considering that the trees outside are going to take down those wires any minute now. 

So while the power is still on, heat up this drink and cuddle up on your couch with a cozy blanket and a good book. It is like pumpkin pie in a mug, and way better (and cheaper) than the pumpkin spice lattes peddled at your local cafe. 
Pumpkin Spice Cafe au Lait
Makes 2 16-oz mugs

4 ounces light coconut milk
4 ounces water
16 ounces non-fat milk
8 ounces freshly brewed coffee
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 cup canned pumpkin
2 Tablespoons sugar

In a medium saucepan, heat coconut milk, water, milk and coffee over medium heat. Add cinnamon stick and turn down to medium low for 10 minutes. Whisk in pumpkin and sugar until fully dissolved. Serve in two large mugs.

The key to this recipe is the cinnamon sticks. They add a depth of flavor not reached when you sprinkle ground cinnamon. I usually add ground cinnamon to my coffee, but it leaves a congealed mess at the bottom, like the soggy crumbs from a chocolate chip cookie drowned at the bottom of a glass of milk. Using the cinnamon sticks gives you the flavor without the soggy fuss.

And so you know, we've added a new member to the family! Meet Honey, a 3-year old greyhound rescue who is sweet as can be. If there's any leftover canned pumpkin from this recipe, she'll be glad to eat it.

 Question of the Day: Are you being affected by the hurricane where you are?