From California Sunshine to Irish Autumn

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C and I just spent a really wonderful two weeks in Southern California. I grew up in Los Angeles, so landing at LAX always feels like “home!”, even though I haven’t lived there for longer than I have lived there.

The day after we arrived we drove up the coast to Santa Barbara. The Pacific Coast Highway is a great drive. The big, dry mountains down to the pacific waves couldn’t look more different to Ireland. This stretch of road It is mostly populated and there are houses hanging over the sea and built into mountain sides. You’re never far from humanity in California.

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We also spent time out in the desert, staying in Palm Springs for three nights and Joshua Tree for one. The desert landscape feels completely foreign to me. The lack of green, the dryness, the browns and beige and soft colours are the opposite to the lush jewel tones of autumn in Ireland. The harsh sunlight is also a clear difference as well.

There is something quite wonderful about waking up and knowing the sun will shine. Seeing a perfectly blue sky, palm trees, and the sun every day really does make it feel like a holiday. It was a treat to spend time in pools, lounging in the warm shade, and getting to leave all “outerwear” safely packed away.

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I think it is good for the soul to get a chance to be in landscapes so completely opposite to those you live with every day. Parts of Joshua tree were almost like a joke: piles of rocks and sand and cacti. It was like being on the set of The Flinstones movie.

It was a relief to come back to turning leaves and cool autumn air. Driving on the motorway yesterday was like being inside a pumpkin; the orange and yellow glowing along the road against a dark sky.

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I am certainly more suited to this Irish climate, but it is lucky to be able to get out and remember to appreciate it. That blast of heat and sun and sand and memories of all those palm trees will carry me through the dark winter that is descending.

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From California Sunshine to Irish Autumn

Foodie Paradise

Cheese Table at Schull's Farmer's Market
Cheese Table at Schull’s Farmer’s Market

I feel sorry for all the foodie tourists of the world who think that France or Italy or Spain is the ultimate food-lovers destination. As far as I’m concerned, Ireland, but specifically for this post, West Cork, is hard to beat.

C and I spent the weekend in Schull, West Cork. West Cork is one of my favorite places even minus the good food, but the food certainly keeps a foodie like me counting the moments until I can go back.

When we spent my mother’s birthday in Durrus three years ago, the weather was awful. One of the worst summers on record. We got through the days finding wonderful food to eat. We watched Durrus Cheese be made as we stood in torrential rain, we ate fish and chips washed down by a Sancerre in Schull harbour, and on our last night in Durrus, we went to Good Things Café.

Fish Stew
Fish Stew

Good Things was definitely a highlight of a good food week. I went back two years ago in October, on the last night they were open for the season. C and I managed to sneak in at the last minute this weekend; the first weekend they were open for the season. Boy oh boy are we glad we did.

Fresh Summer Greens
Fresh Summer Greens

Good Things does exactly what it says on the tin. Carmel Somers, the owner and chef, is dedicated to serving the best of West Cork’s ample cornucopia of goodness and to teaching people how to cook it well themselves. The restaurant is tiny (by city standards) and cozy. It is surrounded by lawn and herb gardens. As we got out of the car we were greeted by three sweet Donkey’s.

His Main
His Main

As it was the first weekend of the season, there was a set menu. C and I tried one of everything on offer, because, well, obviously. I don’t actually have enough adjectives to do the meal justice. The food is homemade, hearty, fresh and simply, wonderful. There wasn’t a bad item in any of the dishes. It was all early summer loveliness. A perfect way to kick off our West Cork weekend. (I didn’t get a photo of the rhubarb pie dessert because it somehow disappeared before it could be photographed.)

Her Main
Her Main

The wonderful thing about West Cork is that you can find incredible food in pretty much every town along the peninsulas. Pubs serve food that would put many city restaurants to shame. It is all simple, local and delicious. No one is trying to re-invent the wheel, but with cheese and salmon and fresh fish this good? Why would you want to? And chips. Pub’s in West Cork never go easy on the chips.

One of my favorite examples of this is O’Sullivan’s pub in Crook Haven. Go on a grey or rainy day when it’s not too crowded (it’s vicinity to the gorgeous Barley Cove beach means it does get crowded). Cuddle into a window seat and order the smoked salmon. Or the chowder. Or the fish n chips. Good luck finding something that doesn’t scream “Ireland!” “Fresh Food!” “Heaven!”

A Typical O'Sullivan's Lunch
A Typical O’Sullivan’s Lunch

We drove over to Union Hall for dinner one evening. We’d had a tip-off that Dinty’s was the place to go for a good steak. Our tip off was correct. C went for the mixed seafood plate. You can never go wrong with seafood in West Cork. Obviously.  But when someone tells me a steak is good, I don’t read the rest of the menu.

Dinty's Finest. And a Murphy's to Wash it Down.
Dinty’s Finest. And a Murphy’s to Wash it Down.
His Seafood Special
His Seafood Special

We ventured to the farmer’s market in Schull on Sunday morning. It is exactly what every good farmer’s market is. The only difference is that West Cork makes some of the best cheeses and sausages in all of Ireland, which means in all of the world. Buying the goods right there mean prices are half what they would be in fancy whole foods markets up here in Dublin. We stocked up.

West Cork honey has the reputation of being some of the finest honey in Europe. The European Restaurant’s Society voted it one of the key ingredients in any fine European pantry. Butter was the other Irish winner. As we walked along the roads over the weekend, the fields were alive with the humming and buzzing of thousands of happy, very busy, bees. I am lucky enough to have married a man whose uncle harvests prize winning West Cork honey. Yes, I am smiling smugly.

So to all you foodie tourists out there: go sweat in Italy or battle the chic set along the Mediterranean or the Riviera if you fancy it. Sure, Ireland cannot promise you sunshine, but I guarantee you will eat some of the finest food you have ever tasted.

Foodie Paradise