Thursday, November 4, 2010

Driving on the Other Side of the Road, Part IV

The Setting: Rainy day-off. Wishing it were longer.

The Soundtrack: My wedding video, which is not so much a video as it is a digital collection of randomness revolving around and quasi-capturing my wedding...but I am good with that.

On the Stove-top: The roasted bones of pork shank and beef short ribs simmering into (hopefully gelatinous!) brown stock.

The Scenario: Chronicling the final chapter of my first trip to Ireland.
When the van came to whisk us away from Fota Island, we were sad our stay had been too brief for rejuvenating stone massages or caviar facials, but we were eager, all the same, to get to our next destination.

The English Market has been a Cork institution since 1788. Butchers, farmers, fishmongers, cheese-mongers, sandwich-makers, and chocolate and pastry artisans fill the stalls with local delicacies and exotic gourmet treasures.

Every corner I rounded revealed more facets of deliciousness, from salt cod to salmon.

With the promise of lunch lingering over me, I hesitated to try the vendors' wares. But when I came to On the Pig's Back cheese shop and glimpsed the Oisin Farmhouse blue goat Gouda and the Knoclara fresh sheep's milk cheese, resisting was futile.

On the second floor of the market, the FarmGate Cafe filled us full of the bounties from below. The Ardsallagh Goat Cheese Salad--buttery lettuce, shaves of red onion and cucumber, toasted walnuts, cubed sugar beets, a crisp vinaigrette, and toasts lightly kissed with honey and butter and generously cloaked with fresh, local Ardsallagh goat cheese--was incredible, even after I filled up on brown bread and butter.

Ah, butter. Is there anything better? The people of Cork might argue not: they have an entire museum dedicated to its history and greatness.
Thus, we departed the market and set out to discover fossilized butter barrels, vintage butter tins, and the role of butter in County Cork culture. I cannot think about it without reaching for a knife and a slice of brown bread.
After touring the Cork Butter Museum, we were destined for a night of merriment and song at the Bunratty Castle.
Complete with costumes and quasi-old English, it was the Bracebridge Dinner, swept from Stars Hollow to an Irish castle, and set to music.

We drank mead (not as nasty as I had anticipated) and feasted on roasted vegetable soup, full of parsnip-y goodness. We had smoked ribs that seemed more Memphis than Irish, and table wine that was almost impossible to sip--I found the wines slightly more palatable when I combined the red and white--but all in all, it was a jolly good time.
It was late when we got back to the Radisson Blu in Limerick, our final deposit before the ride to the airport, but we had to make up for bad drinks at dinner, so we hit the bar.
A few of us would be flying as the rooster crows, and as one pint turned into many, it became evident that our best bet for survival would be staying up all night. Drinking our final Guinnesses in the lobby as layers of darkness peeled away from the sky and finally revealed the sun, we were sad to be heading home but grateful for such an amazing trip.
My fear of flying blunted considerably by the residual adrenalin of my recent adventures and the haze of substituting beer for sleep, I settled easily and peacefully onto the plane.
When Hoosband picked me up at the airport, I couldn't have been happier to see him, or sadder for my trip to be over.
"Do you feel up to dinner?" he asked.
"Perhaps that Irish pub near our place?" I smiled. The best of both worlds.