Autumn Mushroom Soup with Thyme and Brandy

Autumn Mushroom Soup (c)2013 La Domestique

Autumn is my favorite time of year. This is my first Irish autumn, and the change in country makes the season even more interesting. It’s not the fall that I grew up with in Arkansas, which was marked by warm golden-hued days with dramatic red, orange and yellow changes in foliage. Nor is it the Colorado harvest season with fields full of pumpkins, bugling elk and blazing yellow aspen trees. Each day I discover something new about an Irish autumn: it is moody and mysterious, soft and subtle, a slowing of pace that sends us back into our nests. A week of cool, dark, misty days is interrupted by a couple of breezy, sunny afternoons– perfect for opening all the windows to let in the cherished light and fresh air. The blackberry bushes have withered, but windfalls of apples arrive just in time. It’s not too difficult to find a friend with an apple tree who needs to offload a bumper harvest of the quickly deteriorating fruits. I’m eager to taste my first quince, slurp down briny oysters and (hopefully) forage for mushrooms.

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How -To Prepare Whole Squid

Moorish Roast Squid with Smoky Tomatoes and Saffron Couscous (c)2013 La Domestique

 

It was a cold and drizzly Irish morning at the Cavan Farmers Market. Making my usual rounds I took a mental note of everything on offer– must get a couple of éclairs from The Mason’s Apron to bring home for breakfast, don’t forget to grab some eggs, the kale is looking good today—I saw the fishmonger was showing the fresh catch to another customer and something unusual caught my eye. I had never seen a whole squid, but there they were, a pile of ink-stained bodies and tangled tentacles. I had bought squid many times in the American grocery store, Whole Foods, but they were already cleaned and portioned. I was used to seeing neat rows of wingless calamari bodies, all exactly the same size, displayed over a mountain of pristine crushed ice. It was all so sterile, those neatly organized remnants of such weird and wonderful creatures.

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The Last of the Summer Wine

View Out My Irish Window (c)2013 La Domestique

The weather has turned cooler and a bit blustery here in Cavan. We’re coming up on my favorite time of year: autumn. I can feel a change in the quality of the light, more golden and soft. My focus has shifted inward, away from long summer drives and tending to my little herb garden. Instead I’m examining my nest, stocking up on home decor magazines and tidying up around the house. The nesting urge is stronger this year than it has been in a long time. Not knowing what to expect from an Irish fall and winter, I prepare myself for the darkness that will come and the damp chill I’ve been told will settle in. It all sounds so dismal, but I love bad weather — taking shelter in my warm, cozy home with a cuppa tea and a good book.

For now I’m enjoying the last of the summer wine. I’ve been greedily grabbing as many tomatoes as I can from the vegetable lady at my local farmers market in Cavan. It’s important to be first in line at the market, because the tomatoes go fast. I try to leave a few tomatoes for the other customers, but it’s hard to resist the lumpy heirlooms and rich plum tomatoes. I carefully carry several pounds home and my kitchen is filled with the musky aroma only a sun-ripened, garden-fresh tomato gives off.

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The Taste of Cavan, Ireland

I’m feeling very lucky at the moment. When we moved to Cavan Town (population 5,600) I expected lots of rolling hills and sheep. I didn’t expect to find a passionate community of artisanal food producers and chefs in the greater County Cavan (population 52,900). Recently the people of County Cavan came together for the second annual Taste of Cavan event to showcase artisanal foods and talented chefs. Over two full days butchers sold sausages, bakers touted pies and Irish soda bread, cheesemakers brought their wheels, ice creameries scooped cones, jam makers sold preserves and a chocolatier traded her confections. Local chefs and celebrity chefs gave cooking demos. The Irish Countrywomen’s Association held a summer berry pie competition, Corleggy Cheese featured their Caven-bert, and the iconic 99 made it’s debut in adorable cupcake form. For me, the highlight of the weekend was meeting Clodagh McKenna, someone I’ve admired since I first saw her show, Clodagh’s Trails, on public television in America. Clodagh is an entrepreneur, a cookbook author, restauranteur, and Irish foods advocate. Her enthusiasm is contagious, and I love that Darina Allen dubbed her, “The woman who makes things happen.” I heartily suggest all my American friends check out her cookbooks, Clodagh’s Kitchen Diaries and Homemade: Irresistible Homemade Recipes for Every Occasion.

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Poached Fish with Tomato-Saffron Broth and Garden Vegetables

Poached Fish with Tomato Saffron Broth (c) 2013 La Domestique

Back in April I arrived in Ireland with all my worldly possessions packed into two suitcases, including my cherished copper fish poacher. Snatched up at a second-hand shop, it’s one of my favorite finds. I especially love the detail in the handles shaped like fins and the tiny metal fish perched atop the lid. The hours leading up to our flight were fairly traumatic as I tried to stuff the few belongings I hadn’t sold into our unforgiving luggage. At the last minute clothes were thrown out and tough decisions were made as I lingered over what I couldn’t bear to leave behind. It’s a strange thing, parting with all the stuff you’ve accumulated over the years. I dove into the process head first, fully committed to the idea of starting over. In the end, it is “just stuff,” but to this day I do grieve letting certain things go. A friend advised us not to put our home in a storage unit because that makes it harder. She said keeping memories stored in the States is like keeping part of your heart there and you’ve got to make the leap into a new life without reservation or you’ll never have a fighting chance. Our possessions mean home, and home is where the heart is.

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