Blogs > News-Herald Food and Travel

Food and travel captivate Janet Podolak, who chronicles both for The News-Herald. Get the back story of her three decades of stories here. Guest bloggers and fellow News-Herald staffers also periodically share details of their trips.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

dublin snow,seaside drive

I would never have believed that my first snow of Winter 2008 would be experienced in Dublin. The locals don't believe it either. "It never snows here in October," was the refrain heard again and again. "We don't usually get any snow until January."

Palms trees the Irish call cordelines are a part of many landscapes, so I do believe that. But ice and snow snarled traffic and caused accidents early today.

A yummy carrot and coriander soup warmed us up at Malehide Castle, the ancestral home of the Talbot family since 1167. Rose Talbot lived there and joined tours until the mid70s, when she could no longer afford the upkeep.She's now in her 90s and living in Tasmania. The basement lunchroom where we ate had antlers and a turtle's head mounted on the wall. I can't imagine making a trophy of a sea turtle but it probably was used for another soup.

For dessert petite chef Mary Byrne brought us an apple tart still warm from the oven along with a raspberry roulade, that to me appeared related to the meringue pavlova I'd enjoyed in Australia. I'd always thought it was an Aussie original, not even thinking that prisoners brought from Ireland comprised much of Australia's early population - so OF COURSE there's a food connection.

Seaside villages en route to tonight's hotel in Drogheda are idyllic off the beaten track destinations for visitors. They're perhaps a half hour by train from Dublin with all the delights and lower prices on village life but still an easy daytrip to the considerable attractions of Dublin.

I'm showing you a seaside photo of the village of Skerries today, where a thatched roof bed and breakfast called O'Leary's caught my eye. Click on the photo to enlarge it and perhaps you can even see the seals that frolic on the rocks off the coast.

Many rock groups are native to these seaside towns and stars such as Bob Geldorf, Bono and U2 still keep homes here. Although today's weather is dreadful , the Irish Sea is beautiful and I can just imagine how nice it would be along here in summer. I'm told that at low tide one can walk out a mile and the water's only knee deep.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

shopping with euros

Since Ireland is on the euro, highly favored in recent years by the exchange rate with the dollar, the Irish come to New York City in droves to do their shopping. Today's Irish Independent claimed 290,000 of them came to NYC for their Christmas shopping last year. The newspaper story said customs officials were accused of turning a blind eye to assessing taxes on purchases that amounted to 1,900 euros each but that was about to change. "Christmas shopping is costing our jobs," said one official.

The economy 's scenario is the same here as it is at home and the housing bubble has also burst.

But, despite the high cost of things, when Americans come to Ireland, we want something besides souvenirs. And the family run chain of Avoca Handweavers shops is a good bet for quality merchandise. Family members have forged relationships with crafters and producers throughout Ireland and offer their wares, along with clothing, foodstuffs, and gardening plants and supplies. They've also become known for their food quality and offer a cafeteria style eatery and a sitdown restaurant.

Our group of writers had about a half hour to shop before our lunch there and just about all of us made purchases. I found a pair of pale green woolen gloves for 10 euros. That's about $15 and more than I'd pay for the same thing at home but temperatures today are in the low 40s, so I had a good rationale, even if I did pack my two-year old $3 gloves from home.

Ireland enjoys a generally mild maritime climate that belies its latitude that's the same as Labrador. The only giveaway here is that darkness falls about 5:30 p.m

Others in our group bought wool scarves, both as gifts and to take the chill off, and cookbooks. Judging by the size of bags brought back on the motorcoach that is taking us around Ireland some of them made a dent in their own Christmas shopping.

Lunch was also a treat at Avoca, with dozens of selections. I had a brie and spinach quiche and a "brace" of salads - which turned out to be a choice among 15 different salad types of of three generous servings of salad. The cost was 9 euros, or about $13. That's a guessestimate, since I have no idea what the exchange rate is today.

We haven't seen many Americans here - probably because the tourist season ends in mid-October and also because our economy is making people more cautious. The Irish are hoping we'll return in our usual numbers by spring. This country has always been a popular destination for Americans and tourism helps shape the Irish economy.

Monday, October 27, 2008

ireland where halloween began

Here in Ireland — where Halloween began — carved pumpkins are everywhere. Arriving at Druid's Glen Resort, an elegant Marriott an hour from Dublin, I found jack-o-lanterns at every turn. Check out the photo here in which the stem has been used as the nose.

As we travel to Northern Ireland later this week for Halloween itself, I'm told we'll see the original jack o lanterns — those carved from turnips. It will be my first ever visit to Northern Ireland and I understand that Belfast, especially, is a happening town since the Troubles, as they call them, are over.

We arrived in Dublin this morning after a 7.5 hour flight on American Airlines from Chicago only to find that Ireland had fallen back an hour to winter time last night. We'll do that at home a week from now, so perhaps I'll get to keep that extra hour I've earned. I do hope that Teddy remembers to set the clock at home back or I'll be waiting at the airport an extra hour — something especially unpleasant after a long plane ride home

It's brisk here — probably in the 40s and breezy — so I'm glad brought hat and gloves. Carryon gets more difficult when I travel with camera and computer but those two things are pretty minimal and well worthwhile.

All of Dublin seemed out and about at today at Glendelough, the ruins of the 6th century monastery founded by the monk St. Kevin, which is Caomhin in Irish, and means "gentle offspring." (It's pronounced KEEvin)

The ancient Irish language is the first language in this country and all signs have the Irish words first, followed by the English words.

Glendelough's 900 year old round tower, one of about 100 found around Ireland, is typical of the bell towers built by monks to warn of an invasion by Vikings. It's the centerpiece of the one time settlement, which today includes the ruins of a cathedral, a chapel and the outlines of a fortified village.

While locals flew kites where monks once had their gardens, and other trekked up the nearby mountain to the cave where St. Kevin did his devotions, our group of writers toured the former village and the surrounding graveyard. "It still is an active graveyard," said our guide Joan Power . "And until 1850 the cathedral here was a place of worship."

Her name, Power , reveals she is descended from the French Normans who were invited here in 1169 by an Irish king seeking them as allies in his quest to conquer the land.

"Over the years the name has been Anglicized from the French dePaor," she told me.

To this day, those living in Ireland's 32 counties can still tell by people's surnames where they are from.

Murphys, for instance are most likely to hail from County Cork.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

food lives in Houston

Chef Monica Pope has begun a revolution here in Houston. After living abroad and experiencing a culture where food is prepared only from ingredients harvested and purchased that same day, she returned to her hometown determined to do the same thing.

"It's a year-round growing climate," she said. "The only difficulty we have is in the heat of July and August." In the past decade she's struck up relationships with local farmers and producers and not only purchases their foods for her restaurants, but has established a twice weekly farmer's market in the parking lot of her T'afia (

"Eat where your food lives" is her mantra.

She believes that diabetics, celiacs, those with lactose intolerance an other health issues should be able to eat delicious food and has developed some wonderful alternatives for them. In her Plum Easy Kitchens,she makes and freezes rolls of dough that can be sliced into crackers and scones along with dozens of other things for people who want to take her food home. She uses ingredients purchased from the farmers in the market. (

People who come taste their way around the market, with growers stationed outdoors and cheesemakers, bakers and even an artisanal gelato maker set up indoors. One of them is Jackie Burdisso, who was raised in France to a long line of pastry chefs, and makes the jewel-like macarons that looked and tasted just like those I last tasted in Paris.

Friday, October 17, 2008

houston & Ike

I knew not to expect devastation but here in downtown Houston it's hard to find any real evidence of Hurricane Ike, which swept through this part of Texas just a month ago. Leaves on the trees on Discovery Green look a little raggedy, and the O is out on top the Hilton logo on my hotel, but otherwise you have to really look to find any signs of the epic storm that came to town. I'm here for a meeting of the Society of American Travel Writers which offers workshops with some of the top folks in the business so I can get up to speed on video, podcasts and other skills I need to stay current in this industry. On Monday I'll spend the day at Space Center Houston and NASA/Johnson Space Center to gather information for stories I expect to write about the space program's 50th (can it be?) anniversary this year.

"You'll see signs of the hurricane when you visit the Space Center," said Cinda Ward, who was offering tacos from a flashy red truck opposite the hotel. It's Armando's gourmet taco truck with a fully equipped kitchen inside. She and her husband Armando have er, HAD, two area restaurants besides the truck, but one of them got wiped out in the hurricane, she said. "Our Houston place had its generators switch on right after the storm came through so we were the first restaurant up and running." They served everyone their signature queso falmeado tortillas while people were dealing with the hurricane's aftermath. Those homemade flour tortilla with mozzarella cheese looked great.

But I'd already eaten, having stopped at Orchard during a lunchtime stroll through Discovery Green. Surrounded by floor to ceiling windows on three sides, it affords wonderful views of the park. I was intrigued by a menu which seemed to offer a twist on comfort food...It's been years since I've had deviled eggs and my cholesterol is OK so I ordered that appetizer. Six hardcooked egg halves cames lined up on the plate with mashed and mayonnaised yolks artfully piped in the hollow whites. A tiny slice of chorizo sausage and a dab of sun dried tomato and olive tapenade topped each yolk. Yum!. And just about perfect to hold me over to dinner.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

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