So a big thanks to Mum for providing inspiration for this post! During our nightly phone chat, she mentioned she was enjoying a dessert of bread pudding – which happened to send my thoughts off on a grand journey across the seas to Ireland!
Funny how our senses can tie us so strongly to a particular memory. Like I don’t know why this is, but the smell of freshly mowed grass makes me think of Australia where we lived when I was four. And the aroma of nutmeg makes me think of the holidays of my childhood – because no family Christmas Eve was complete without an eggnog toast to the season, and no eggnog was complete without a dusting of nutmeg on top!
One of the joys of traveling is having the senses awakened by the new! And while a good meal abroad can give us a literal taste of local culture, I’m afraid I tend to prioritize “taste” last among the senses when I’m on the road (to the annoyance of many a travel companion…). But in spite of myself, I’ve still wound up with foods that call to mind delicious past experiences when I eat or even think about them – like bread pudding! Just imagining this raisiny, cinnamony, fluffy bowl of happiness takes me back to the inn on Ireland’s Dingle Peninsula where I had my first helping (and, like, my fifth)! Honestly, if I could hear bread pudding, it would make every one of my senses rejoice!
We were introduced when I was visiting my friend Judy who lived outside of Dublin. Judy and I went on a scenic road trip west to County Kerry and stayed the night at Greenmount House, a lovely inn overlooking Dingle Bay. We planned to get an early start sightseeing in the morning – but the breakfast spread made that plan hard to stick to. Bread pudding, coffee, a charming view and a great chance to catch up with a dear friend made a truly special combination!
Still, I did manage to tear myself away (after some fierce carbo loading) for a day of touring that turned out to be equally as rich and sweet!
We braved some blustery winds to explore Dunbeg Iron Age Fort that (mostly) clings to cliffs at the edge of the sea. Some of this ancient site has fallen off the eroding coastline, and I was nearly blown off myself – but it doesn’t seem to be bothering me.
And I was awed by dramatic views of the Blasket Islands – every few feet, I’d holler at Judy to pull off for a photo!
Much as I love any opportunity to see something new, I sometimes can’t help hitting a place again when it’s been especially amazing – the travel equivalent of comfort food, I guess. And if anyplace is a sure bet for finding beauty and hospitality, it’s in and around Dingle!
When Judy and I made the very same trip a few years later, I did wonder if everything would be the same – most importantly, bread pudding-wise because that had been such a part of the magic! We booked ourselves into Greenmount House again, and in the morning got to confirm the charming view from the breakfast room window was still there! As our kind proprietor brought out all sorts of delicious-looking items for the table, I couldn’t help timidly asking about bread pudding. She told me she didn’t always make it anymore – but she’d happened to that day!
I mean of course the trip and the views and the history would still have been spectacular if served up with scrambled eggs and toast. But starting out with a helping of bread pudding? For me, that made it perfect!
It’s been my good luck to visit Ireland a number of times! And another item that takes me back to those delightful visits is a proper glass of whiskey – especially a Hot Whiskey on a cold night! It doesn’t often get that cold here in Burbank, but I keep the recipe Judy sent me on the board in my kitchen because, seriously, you just can’t be too careful:
I was introduced to Hot Whiskeys when at Judy’s invitation, a big group of us celebrated her 40th birthday in (still can’t believe I get to say this) a castle in County Limerick! (Check out more about my visit in “Ireland: The Unexpected Touchstone Bit” .)
Yes, for a couple glorious days, we were the Ladies of Castle Oliver – our very own 19th Century estate which even came complete with a butler! (In my worst posh voice): “Of course in relative terms, ‘19th Century’ is not venerably old for a domicile. However, in the interest of maintaining the general state of felicity which the occasion unequivocally demanded, one deigned to overlook this admittedly small shortcoming.”
Once we’d explored every inch of “our” castle, a few us took off for the nearby village of Ardpatrick and from there, headed out in search of older dwellings. We hiked up a nearby hill to inspect the windswept ruins of an early Christian monastic settlement – founded, it’s said, by none other than St. Patrick!
The ruins and adjacent graveyard were fantastically atmospheric – but the trip left us pretty thoroughly chilled. So back in town, we ducked into the Greenwood Inn for some fortification against the cold.
I asked the bartender if he might recommend a drink to help me get the feeling back in my fingers and toes. He quickly produced a Hot Whiskey which, along with the chatting and laughter of my fellow Ladies of the Castle, warmed me in no time!
Whiskey also reminds me of the Irish travels I got to enjoy with my folks!
After driving the scenic countryside, ever mindful to stay on the left and ever overshooting our turn-offs, we did find our way to sites like picturesque Glendalough and the imposing Rock of Cashel, and then we’d settle in at night for a glass of whiskey, a little snack and lots of pleasant conversation! It was a great way to wind down and let every detail of the day’s events sink in, distilling the fits and starts of our adventures into smooth and sweet reminiscences.
I guess like any other kind of relationship, mine with food is complicated (hence, the variety of dress sizes in the closet…). In my travels, I’ve had the amazing good fortune to get to nibble on an insanely rich slice of Sacher Torte in a Viennese café! And it was my pleasure and honor to dive into a dish of Hungarian Goulash prepared for me by a generous and intensely patriotic host in Budapest!
But I also fondly recall a lunch of gas station pretzels and soda eaten while driving around Maryland and West Virginia! Because the makeshift meal left us time enough that day both to stand at Burnside Bridge on the Antietam National Battlefield, imagining the fearsome clashes that raged back and forth across it, and to gaze out over the confluence of the mighty Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers at Harpers Ferry.
Meals to remember are a very fine thing! But meals to remember places and people by? Those – whatever they may sometimes be – are for me the most delectable of all!