Stories of Friendship, Family, Fun and Food.
All the way from the Emerald Isle!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Blogging be-damned!

I think I have writers block. The reason that I say 'think' is because I am not sure if I have ever had writers block, so am not sure what the symptoms are. I went to the first Irish Food Bloggers meeting last week in Dublin. Hosted by Bord Bia and organised by the adorable Donal Skehan (The Good Mood Food Blog).

I spent the day hanging with some cool foodies and got to learn a lot about:

1.     Irish Pork
2.     How to take better photos for all the blogging I do (food styling etc.), 
3.     When to blog (daily, weekly etc.FYI - it is best to post once a week on Tuesdays!) 
4.     How to go from ' Blog to Book ' . This was probably the most interesting segment of the day for me. 

There are a few things I learned that will help me 'tailor' my blog in case I ever want to attempt that unimaginable task! 

So to start with Bord Bia (aka Irish Food Board) spent a lot of time ' pushing pork ' on all us bloggers. Why you say? Well, back in 2008 the Irish Department of Agriculture issued a press statement saying restrictions have been placed on a number of pig farms following the discovery of contaminated animal feed. It says it discovered polychlorinated biphenyls (PCPs). These are organic pollutants normally occurring as a result of industrial processes, in pork fat during routine monitoring.

Since then the Pork industry has struggled to stay afloat and now the folks at Bord Bia are trying to spread the word that the ' Pig is back in town'  and safe to eat. They wanted us bloggers to eat a lot of Pork then go back home and encourage all our readers to ' eat more Irish Pork'.  

I was kind of bored for the first half of the day truth be told. I know all the important cuts of meat on a pig (I learned that at The Preble County Pork Festival years ago. I also learned how to scald and skin a pig too should the need ever arise). A lot of very cool people showed up teaching us how to utilise Irish Pork in several different styles. We covered fajhitas, a stirfry and a curry. I was a little sad that no one shared any Irish recipes and even though Bord Bia put on a really delicious lunch spread for all the hungry bloggers, we did not get to taste anything the demonstrators had just cooked?

Just as we were tucking into our desserts and getting ready to move back into the boardroom, a really cool guy named Eoin Purcell stepped up to the plate to talk to us about our big fat ego's.......... huh?

Apparently we would not be throwing ourselves out there into the internet abyss if we did not have a huge ego that needed stroking from all our peeps. I always thought I married the one with the huge ego. Actually,  I am certain that I did marry the one with the huge ego. Does this now mean that I have to face 'facts' and admit I write because my ego needs it? 

Hence the arrival of writers block this week. Not even as much as a ' Mary had a little lamb'  quote on Facebook out of me. Here I sit wondering if anything I have to say is actually relevant at all and even if I think it is relevant why do I have the insane urge to share it with everyone?

Seeing as I have bored you all this far I might as well carry on with a little bit more blogging and blathering. You see I am just settling in nicely to my four month hiatus from University life. We have a couple of extra (foster) kids hanging around the house which makes life a little more hectic than normal, so maybe my writers block does not necessarily stem from all that above ego/reality check stats. Maybe I am just busy?

Maybe I am distracted by the fact that I have to create a different kind of home environment to heavily nurture the new kids making sure they feel like they have a safe place to lay their heads, a hearty meal to nourish their bodies and ample (if not extra) access to hugs when needed. 

With Rory's seventh birthday looming, a lot of time has been spent looking back over the hectic life we have been leading. I am constantly in awe of who she is becoming. She is a take charge kind of girl, and amazingly  is the epitome of what WiseHospitality is all about here in Ireland.

So, with all that said and having unloaded all my insecurities of my chest for this fine summers evening, I have come to one conclusion: 

I write because I have to. 

It is in me, and it has to come out. 

For the most part, my words get whirled around the internet 300 + times a week. Hats off to my loyal blog followers, all my Facebook friends and my family. For you (all) I am eternally thankful. 

Those are all the (very long winded) WiseWords I have for tonight,


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Loving Lamb

It is nearing summer here in Galway and you know what that means - Rainy Season! We are expecting some serious warm temperatures to come hurtling at us this weekend but in the meantime we are stuck with some cooler temperatures and a hankering for some comfort food.

You cannot swing a cat around here without hitting a leg or shoulder of lamb at most of the local butcher shops, but it is always the tried and tested old favourite 'Lamb Shank' that we return to. Time, after time.

For the most part, this is a very affordable dinner (even if you are on a student budget). Most of the local shops around here charge  €2.00 per shank. The secret (however) is not to race home excited about having a lovely dinner on the same day, but to be patient and know that 'good things comes to those who wait'. 

So, start with a little seasoning - black pepper, salt and a little garlic powder. Fire up the skillet on the stove top and pour in a little olive oil. Using a food tongs sear the shanks all around until the outside is carmelising and getting a little crispy. Splash in a little red wine if it is hanging around. Remember, do not use that dodgy bottle that has been holed up in the cupboard for the last few months. If it is not good enough to drink, then for goodness sake do not ruin your food with it!

Next up, find a nice deep casserole dish for the lamb. Add a little liquid (more wine is fine), cover and let simmer slowly for 3 - 4 hours on a very low heat in the oven. You could start this early in the morning and hope to have it ready for the evening, but trust me when I tell you it always tastes better the next day.

Refrigerate the Lamb overnight and it will just take a few minutes to warm it the next day when getting ready for dinner. We have an abundance of garden greens growing right now, so we had some sautéed spinach, pak choy and mustard greens with garlic and the chef's tasty buttermilk mashed potatoes.

The meat is so tender and falls of the bone as soon as you try to remove it from the casserole. The flavour of the meat is intensified because it has had time to rest, and it has retained all its juices. Although I am yearning for summer to come blasting thorough the doors like a bat out of hell, I never complain when this supper is presented at the Wise household.


Those are all the WiseWords I have for today,


Saturday, May 15, 2010

Fostering: give care or accommodation to

I was raised by wolves foster parents. In saying that, and many of you already know this, they were my biological parents but foster parents to a gazillion other babies/children. I cannot remember how old I was when they started fostering, but as I trawl through the memory banks of my childhood, it seems like there was always someone else's baby in the bassinet. For that matter, fostering was 'normal'.

Moving ahead at warp speed to present day, as I sit hear mothering my two non-biological-adopted children, I have my Mum to thank for giving me that experience as a child. She has always (always) said that 'the best present you can give a child, is another child'...

Although it is not something I will be blogging about (mostly due to child privacy/protection laws), the Chef and I have recently become foster parents. I think in my mind I was always in that frame of mind. Having a lengthy history in the service industry 'giving care' is probably what I do best. Well, year-end exam results posted last night reveal I am pretty darn good at the academic stuff too, but you catch my drift.

Very similar to the experience with local adoption in the US, we wrapped up our fostering training classes in December and by the third week in January we had been introduced to our first little taste of what was to come. We now 'give care' to three little girls and their baby brother (all of eastern European descent).

Before you fall off your chair or choke on your coffee, it is not a full-time permanent thing. The children are (like most in the system) in long-term foster care with a wonderful family that live very near us. We simply offer a break to this family every couple of weeks and take the girls (and sometime the baby boy) for a weekend. During the summer we will see lots of them (like the whole month of June!) and then once we all go back to school in September we will resume periodic weekend respite as needed.

The three girls and my two crumb catchers are thick as thieves already. The Chef and I were a little worried about what kind of an impact this would all have on our WiseFoursome but of course all our two 'want' is to have more kids around! There is a lot of extra snuggle time at bed time and I pay closer attention to what I 'overhear' in the hallway, but for the most part they will end up having an understanding of what 'fostering' is all about. 

Just like I did.

I know there are lots of my friends (both here in Ireland and across the pond in America) that have thought about (or are thinking about) adoption and fostering. It is not something you can get into lightly. There is a lot of paperwork, psychological evaluations, home inspections, medicals, financial stability, driving history ...... and lots more that the state will want to nose their way in on. Several months of class/training has to be undertaken to become certified to prepare you for the normal/worst case scenarios of the children that 'might' be placed with you.

Just 'Do It'...

Armed and ready to embrace all that is hurtling towards us at break neck speed, we are still unprepared for the question that a lonely little child asks at bedtime:

'Can I call you Mommy?'

Those are all the WiseWords I have for today as I load the 'MomMobile' and take ALL the kids to the beach for breakfast! 


Thursday, May 13, 2010

You call it Eggplant and we call it Aubergine. Either way, it is delicious!

One of our favourite dishes, tried and true, is 'Eggplant Lasagna'. I suppose now that we are on the other side of the pond we should be renaming this dish and referring to it as 'Aubergine Lasagna' but it does not have the same ring to it. My Chef, being a lifelong gardener, has grown these lovelies with ease for years now.

Going back as far as he can remember he has been serving up this dish to please the masses and they just keep coming back for more. 

A few WiseTips to keep in mind before you get started:
Use the good stuff! Remember the golden rule: 'Garbage in, Garbage out!' 

Extra Virgin Olive Oil,
Parmigiano Reggiano, 
and a nice blob of soft goats cheese. (not out of a tub!)

First, make a little infused olive oil. Pour 2 cups of olive oil into a pot on the stove and add two whole bulbs of garlic (no need to peel) and 2 handfuls of basil. Let it come to a boil then reduce the heat and let slowly simmer for 20 minutes. Strain, and set oil aside to use when making the tomato sauce later.

Slice the Eggplant/Aubergine into large circles (see photo below). Lay them out on a baking rack and sprinkle salt on the slices. After a few minutes you will see droplets of water forming on the surface. Leave for a half hour. This takes a lot of the moisture out of the vegetable. After the time has elapsed, dip in an egg wash and flour and leave to dry a few minutes before you deep fry these slices. Once fried, leave on a draining rack it will be hard to leave them alone at this point, because this is when they taste fab! Just out of the oil, you can sprinkle a little salt/pepper and throw them ontop of a nice salad for a quick lunch!

Ok - back to the sauce. Using a little of the olive oil you prepared earlier, sauté 6 cloves of garlic (ok, use the whole bulb) and two onions.  Get 3 or 4 cans of tomatoes and add to the garlic/onions. Add the rest of the olive oil (or as much as you want). You can add a little tomato paste too if you like a thicker sauce.

As the sauce is now ready and the eggplant/aubergine is fried/ready, all you have to do is assemble. If you are just cooking for two, then I suggest layering the eggplant/aubergine with the sauce, goats cheese and olives and finish off with the sauce, goats cheese and a small sprig of basil leaves for garnish and flavour!

When buying the olives, do not buy the pitted ones. They are flavourless. Buy the ones with the pits in and just  deal with it. Spit 'em out, pit them.....they taste better. 

Also, on the cheese. The goats cheese needs to be soft and creamy. Trust me, when this melts together with that tomato sauce (that you have made) and the acidity of the olives all mangles in your will think you have died and gone to heaven (or where ever your happy place is these days).

A little bit of Parmesan is advised just to dust lightly over the top of it all. This is after all a sudo American/Italian dish.

If you are serving the masses (as we so frequently do at this house) then find your best casserole dish and layer as follows: Sauce, Eggplant/Aubergine, Olives, Cheese (ok, pit the olives first), and repeat for three layers.

As I mentioned before, this is hands down one of our all-time favourite dishes. AND it is (shockingly) vegetarian. Best served with a nice bottle of red wine and a large loaf of crusty fresh bread!

The neighbours will be beating the door down looking for the recipe and leftovers!

Those are all the WiseWords I have for today.

Let me know if you try it!


Sunday, May 09, 2010

The value of true friendship

You cannot put a price on the value of true friendship. Over the course of one's life, friends come and friends go. For the most part, a few hang in there like a rusty nail. I have always had this strange relationship with my friends. It starts off hard, fast and intense and that is enough to cement the foundation for a long lifetime of laughs.

Although the Atlantic divide poses a few (minor) problems when trying to stay connected, Facebook has really helped rejuvenate day-to-day contact with many of our friends. Since returning home to lovely Ireland we have had no shortage of pond-hoppers. The hardest part of having guests in our home, is when it comes time to say goodbye. That harsh reminder that no matter how many times we sync electronically, there is no substitution for the face-to-face connections and the warmth of a real hug with those that we love. 

Living in my home town, I am beyond blessed to have rekindled relationships with the girls I went to school with. Truth be told (girls - don't you dare) there was no rekindling needed. These girls are the kind that walk in your back door unannounced, and take your children without hesitation or permission and no one (not even the children!) question it. 

They are the kind of girls that will pose with you for one more picture even though the laptop has 4,000 of the exact same photo. The kind of girls that when you need them most, there is no need to call for them because they are already there.

Of course the door is always open to making new friends. Attending University is a great way to meet people and make new friends. Over the last few months I have met some very unique and amazing people. Some of them bake the most wonderful cakes and drive them (carefully) to my house for parties! 

Pizzapahluzza at our house last night ended up being 'friendapahluzza'. And what a lovely blend of friends it was!

Although I get sad when a friend leaves us after having a fun-filled week of love and laughter, in a way, it is just another reminder of how lucky I am. Lucky to have wonderful, talented, smart, funny friends that surround us (and our children) to share food and stories and songs.

The children are of the age now that they get rather attached to the friends that we have, so the tearful goodbyes are a little more intense. Explaining the distance across the pond is still a challenge and the lack of understanding as to 'why Tommy can't come back next weekend' is something we are working on.

Everyone needs someone. Relationships are hard work. I am a firm believer in making an investment in all the relationships I am involved in. If you make no effort to dig your heels in for the long haul, then the relationship will fizzle and the friendship might fade. However, those that have been cemented in a firm foundation prove to have lifelong stamina.

So here's to you, to all my friends
May life's loving laughter never come to an end.

Pains of life will ebb and flow,
Friendships' bond may heave and grow.

My friends, so close or miles so vast, 
these bonds are firm and made to last!

Those are all the WiseWords I have on this gorgeous sunny Sunday morning.


Saturday, May 01, 2010

Yummy yummy yummy I've got Eggs in my tummy!

Honeymooning in Napa, we had the pleasure of staying at Chappellet Winery for a week. One particular breakfast still stands out in my mind. We were served coddled eggs with crispy smoked ham strips, chives and good old fashioned sonoma butter. Surprisingly Ron had never had a coddled egg before, as this is a breakfast delight found more commonly in the British Isles. 

A life long pack rat, my husband used to frequent on a weekly basis a place called Maggie's Auction House. They always had something interesting there, and for the most part he would end up coming home with a little piece of crap found treasure that he could stash away, being the pack rat that he was. Note I say 'was' because after we returned home to Galway he let go of that nasty habit, and has decided to indulge my 'less clutter' way of life ;o)

Imagine my surprise when I got home from work one day, and listening to the answering machine I hear the following message: 'Mr. Wise, this is Maggie's Auction house calling. You left the highest bid on an item last night, so you can come and pick up your toddlers'. I had to re-listen to it a few times, and waited patiently for him to come home. 'Lucy, you got some esplainin to doo!' 

Arrive home he did with my lovely toddlers Egg Coddler's explaining that the staff at Maggie's had no idea what the hell these lidded-porcelain cups were used for. 

If looking for them in the US these days I am pretty sure La Belle Cuisine carries them and in my humble opinion, every home should have them! 

If looking for them in Ireland/Europe rumour has it Harrods of London has the fancy ones, but I reckon they are available in most homes stores in the larger cities.

So pick your favourite colour egg, butter the inside of the coddler and crack the raw egg into it. Sprinkle a little cracked black pepper and some salt in to it and close the lid. Plop into a pot of boiling water for 5-6 mins. Remove the lid, add a little butter, some pre-cooked bacon crumbles and a few chives. 

Unless of course you are the chef and want something with a little more pizazz. (Make yer own damn breakfast!) No, seriously, he made breakfast and had grilled asparagus with his soft boiled egg - because that is how he likes it.

The kids had no requests either way with the exception of (Jack) 'keep 'em coming'. 

Growing up, we always had hens and ducks. Now that we have a nice (and very productive) flock, I cannot imagine living without them, ever again. There is minimal work involved in taking care of them and no matter what you might think, NOTHING compares in taste to your own fresh(ly-laid free-range-organic-from-happy-hens/ducks) EGG! If you are interested in getting a hen or two have a look at this great website Claremorris Poultry to study the breeds and get an idea of what you like. If interested in ducks, then send me an email and I can give you the phone number of a local (Galway) breeder. 

Those are all the WiseWords I have this morning!


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