This memory dates before the chocolate advent calendars and gingerbread thins and its nested safely in the early childhood flavours and cravings. It is one of those festive baking that gently signals that Christmas is near and yet there is plenty of time for more preparations. Zosia, my beloved grandmother, would usually start with a generous batch of those little crunchy biscuits and then day by day would add more, making sure there is enough to keep us going up until Christmas and beyond. Walnuts give the biscuits the texture, the flavour and the twist and because there were always walnuts galore at my grandparents house using them for baking seemed natural and practical.
Surely, it involved many trips to the attic where walnuts were stored and spread on meters of old newspapers to dry. Clearly, it required hours of cracking and grinding. Yet, definitely, it was worth time and effort.
Most of Zosia’s recipes could be found in The Book. It is a thick, manila covered, tattered notebook with grease-stained yellowish pages that years ago must have been crisp and stiff. Zosia, being obviously a talented baker and knowing her way around the kitchen and the oven – would only scribble the gist of the recipe, i.e. the ingredients and the proportions. For a less experienced mind it could be baffling and challenging, which is why, my grandfather, Bronek, would rewrite some of the recipes for those well organized minds that need more instructions. I am so glad he did as many a time I would be struggling recreating Zosia’s famous and excellent creations. Luckily, the recipe for the walnut crescent biscuits appears in The Book in both versions, side by side. Once scribbled in a hasty manner and then neatly noted down in a beautiful handwriting. Still, the proof of the recipe is in the baking so without further ado …
Walnut Crescent Biscuits
100 g walnuts – ground (ideally in a walnut grinder)
200 g butter – soft and at room temperature
100 icing sugar, plus some more to sprinkle
250-300 g flour
1 tsp vanilla essence
egg white for brushing
Preheat the oven to 180ºC and line a baking tray with baking paper.
Whisk together butter and icing sugar until light and pale.
Gradually add walnuts, vanilla essence and finally the flour. Mix until combined and smooth.
Take small ball of dough and roll to form little crescent slightly bigger than your index finger. Place on the baking tray and delicately pat it down.
Spread the crescents on the baking tray, brush with some egg white and put in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes until golden – but not brown. Take out of the oven and leave to cool. Sprinkle generously with icing sugar and crunch on.
When the evenings are dark and I do not get back home before dusk I try to tame the gloom with lights, tealights and candles, and crave for something sweet. By sweet I do not necessary mean a bar of chocolate (though not saying it never happens) but a meal that has it all – including the rich dark and sweet flavours.
This is the dish that everyone enjoys and everyone asks for a recipe. It comes from one of my favourite and most used cook book – Home Cooked by Donal Skehan. It is a great combination of juicy pork and apples, sweet maple syrup and onions, tangy soy sauce and cider vinegar. It is quick to prepare and makes a perfect workday meal, yet it is very refined and can be proudly served for Saturday dinner.
If you do not keep these staples at home anyway – this dish is definitely a reason to stock up with maple syrup, soy sauce and cider vinegar. I even persuaded my mum, who is not a big fan of maple syrup, into buying one and this dish is now one of my father-in-law’s favourites.
And since it is dark and gloomy outside, why not give it a go.
Glazed Pork Chops
from Donal Skehan Home Cooked
4 pork chops (with a good layer of rind on them)
1 red onion
4 tbs maple syrup
4 tbs apple juice
1 tbs apple cider vinegar
1 tbs soy sauce
1 tbs of butter
1 tbs of rapeseed oil
salt and pepper to taste
4 gem lettuce
Preheat the oven to a 190°C.
Pat dry the pork chops with kitchen paper and season with salt and pepper. In a frying pan (ideally a cast iron one that you can transfer into the oven) melt the butter with the oil. Gather the pork chops together and place on the pan with the rind side down so that it gets golden brown and crispy. You might need to hold the meat upwards with tongs while doing that.
Once the rind turns into crackling place each pork chop flat on the pan and fry until it gets golden brown on each side.
Finely slice the red onion and add to the meat. Keep frying for a minute or two so that the onion gets golden and sweet. Then add the apple juice, apple cider vinegar, soy sauce and maple syrup and give it a nice stir so that everything is combined and the chops are covered in the dark sweet sauce. Transfer to the oven and cook for 10 minutes.
In the meantime – prepare the gem lettuces. Cut each in half lengthwise, brush with a bit of the rapeseed oil and place on a preheated griddle. Grill on a high heat for about 2 minutes on each side until golden brown but still crispy and holding the shape.
Take the meat out of the oven and set aside to rest while you reduce the sauce so that it gets even darker, sweeter and stickier. Place each of the pork chops on the plate with the charred greens and add some generous spoon of the sauce. Sprinkle a dash of chopped spring onions and bring to the table to the absolute delight of everyone.
Depending on the season I like to pair it with roasted chestnuts – just like this time – roasted sweet potatoes or plain cooked baby potatoes.
This is one of those stories that have no definite beginning nor ending. This is a story of a cinema that was built in the 70s, flourished in the 80s and 90s and vanished into oblivion in the noughties.
The cinema – Kino Złote Łany – was a part of a grand design that included adopting the former hilly golden crop fields into a huge modern estate that would be able to house and cater for thousands of people. Everything was supposed to be prodigious and profuse. Among the high buildings, schools, creches and other facilities – the cinema was the cherry on the top and was meant to bring quality leisure for all the hard working people living in the neighbourhood.
It was designed on a large scale with ample space and extensive features. A set of steps was leading to the vast partly sheltered entrance. When you entered the hall on your left and on your right you could see huge film posters behind the glass displays and once you were making your way to the ticket office along the glossy tiled floor it felt like the walk of fame.
Once you got your ticket and had it inspected and quite frequently asked for the ID, you climbed up the staircase onto the first floor. Behind the set of glass door was a spacious foyer with a cloakroom and a café – most of the times closed and unused but still waiting for the occasion to reveal its full potential.
The screening room was one of the kind – or so I thought – with walls furnished with dark wooden boards and long rows of seats with red geometrical pattern upholstery and wooden armrests. It was supposed to be fitted with a – back-then, of course – state of art sound system that apparently could and did blow the audience away.
Surely while there was a lot going on inside the cinema even the outside part of the wide-spread building was the place to be. The well-spaced steps, super smooth landing and little bordering walls made one of the greatest spaces for skateboarding tricks. My teenage friends would spent hours here riding, popping ollies and being chased by the cinema ticket office ladies.
Unfortunately, there are very few pictures that could show how the cinema was. After scavenging my personal family archives and asking many friends for help as well as searching herehere and here I was only able to find these few pictures to illustrate the story.
Possibly one of the greatest moments for Kino Złote Łany was the national premiere screening of the Polish TV production Panna z mokrą głową.The venue was chosen to honour a young actress – Paulina – who played the leading role in the film and in real life, lived just a few minutes away. A cast of famous Polish actors, film executives and media all arrived to the little town in the south of Poland to celebrate the release. To me that was the high life as I knew it. The local school representation was invited and I was lucky enough to be there and even got onto the stage as a flower girl. All this splendour clearly required special measures and extra efforts so for the first time my 13-year-old self was wearing high heels. I borrowed them from my mum and practised walking up and down the hall the day before so that everything could go smoothly. And it did. The cinema was made for such events. The foyer filled with mingling people, the stage was perfect to host the celebrities, the steps looked great in camera flashes. The cinema grew bigger in our eyes.
I started going to the cinema at the age of seven when my parents brought me here to watch a family adventure fantasy called Podróże Pana Kleksa. Going to the cinema was the adventure itself, not to mention watching in the dark and looking at the huge screen. I was so impressed and intrigued I demanded more. As the cinema was just a few minutes away any time I passed it by I would check the posters and if any was colorourful and possibly involved fantastic creatures I would nag for the tickets.
I was dazzled with the animations I got to see at Gremlinsand Howard the Duck and held my breath and bite my nails watching their adventures. I even secretly dreamed that my godfather might bring me a Gizmo-type creature from his trips to China.
A few years later – and this time as a part of cinema school trips – I was keen to follow the never ending battle of good and evil in the comic strip adaptations of Batman and Dick Tracy.
I cried there watching The Lion King. I remember it so well as it was the first movie I ever cried at and one of the very few in the years to come. I guess, I was this sort of pretend toughed-up person who would hardly ever cry at the cinema and was consciously looking around to see others sobbing. At least – up until I met my husband who was able to change that little hitch of mine.
As a teenager I would spend many many evenings, and lots of my pocket money too – in front of the big screen watching new releases, old good classics and independent productions. Every Monday me and my friends would rush for the cinema club – DKF – not really knowing what would be on and whether we would like what we’re watching, yet very happy to be taken on the journey. Two of those films I remember particularly well – The Big Blue and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
There was some unspoken magic of watching the big blue ocean on the big screen and I felt utterly submerged and deeply moved. I also remember how we felt discovering the vibrant and colourful world on the other side in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. It definitely opened our eyes and started a discussion that in turn opened our minds.
It was also on that big screen that I watched the original trilogy of the Star Wars as the episodes IV, V and VI were re-released in the anticipation of the prequel series. We made it slightly more American by bringing in (or actually smuggling in) freshly home made popcorn and cold canned coke.
I never went to the cinema alone. It always seemed more of a social event – a group outing, a friends get together, a date, a girls night out … It was sharing the experience and sharing the opinions afterwards that made it real quality time.
My boyfriend and I would have endless discussion of “What would you do” after watching Before Sunrise – one of my favourite romantic movies.
For my 19th birthday myself and my friend dressed up and put full make up on. I even got myself my first red lipstick for the occasion. All that to go to the cinema, sit in the red chairs and watch Lolita together.
Funny enough, Shrek was the last film I saw there. A bit of a weird choice of a movie for a twenty year old, I realize. Yet, to think of it, what a great sum-up of all my adventures at Kino Złote Łany it was. A mixture of great animations, cute talking creatures, engaging plot and every day, every man and every princess problems.
Myself and my husband-yet-to be were home from the universities for the summer holidays and got us free tickets from the local magazine – Kronika Beskidzka. You did not have to do much to get those. Just be there first before the ticket office opening. We arrived way too early leaving no chance, claimed the tickets, watched the film and … lived happily ever after.
Sadly enough, there was no happy ending for the cinema and the next time we came home it was just not there anymore. It was one of those changes that strikes you and makes you realize some things will never be the same and a certain chapter closed. It feels sad that there was no room for the cinema with a difference in my hometown. There is an undeniable charm in those old cinemas that do not have a cup holder in their seats and do not urge you with meal deals at the ticket office. Fortunately, there are a good few survivors that managed to prosper against all odds and you can find more stories of old cinemas in the new multiplex world here. Apparently, there is a twin cinema – with same architecture and interior design in Głogów and I now added it to my bucket list of things to go.
For Kino Złote Łany, however, the story finished when it was put up on sale and converted into a convenience store. It is a sore sight now and I shiver any time I happen to pass by as I still keep comparing the before and after images. Just see for yourself – the first picture that I found here shows the cinema right before closing, while the other two I recently took for the purpose of this post.
I want to send special thanks to all who were so kind to help on this post, searched for photos and shared the stories.
And if you have your cinema story, please share it with me.
I simply love how September blends summer into autumn and slowly brings the inevitable change of seasons. It lets the summer linger while mornings bring first frost and evenings cover with mist. Until one day you can actually feel the crispy air in your lungs and you know that the autumn has fully arrived.
There is nothing more luring than the early autumn garden. The warm palette of colours. The sun-kissed grass. The trees laden with plums, pears and apples. It is one of those childhood memories that I cherish for life. I would be five or six and I would be playing in the garden and any time I felt peckish I could just pick a fruit or two right from the tree.
The picture below shows little Ela picking plums. Or maybe some other fruit. It is really hard to tell as Ela would, and apparently still does, call any fruit plum.
Later on, I might not be playing in the garden anymore but I would still pick random fruit right from the tree. And plum tree in particular. I developed a distinctive taste for late September plums. Those small, dark and slightly frost bitten plums that might be even wrinkled on the outside but are nothing but rich and sweet inside. While I would have them freshly picked with Earl Grey Tea, my granny, Zosia, would make them into a decadent slow cooked jam that I could shamelessly eat all. Kind of like in This Is Just to Say poem by William Carlos Williams.
For many years it has been my guilty pleasure to eat the whole jar of plum jam. Spoon after spoon. I was solely responsibly for making sure that those dozens of jars filled with plum jam would not go to waste and that there is none left before the winter is gone. Not that my granny minded. She would gladly spend early mornings in the kitchen to stock up the pantry. Somehow I always thought it was a very complicated recipe and after Zosia died I never imagined making it myself. It was only recently when I came across the recipe in the old family cookbook and found out that it isn’t complicated at all. I also learnt that it is actually so much less guilty pleasure than I ever thought as there’s very little sugar and the so called “frying” is in fact slow cooking. All you need for this Pantry Perfect recipe is plums, sugar and lots and lots of time.
Slow Cooked Plum Jam
3-4 kg of plums
a few tbs of sugar
The following recipe comes from our old family cookbook Kuchnia Śląska (Cieszyńskiego) by Emilia Kołder.
The best time to make the plum jam is at the end of September or the start of October when the plums are the sweetest. Make sure to use the small oval blueish plums ( I got my węgierki from the local Polish store). It is fine if they’re wrinkled as the flavour and sweetness are even better.
Wash, dry and pit the plums.
Place the plums is a big and rather wide heavy bottom pot. You might grease the pot with butter to avoid the plums sticking. A wide pot will help to reduce the liquid and the mixture will get thicker more quickly.
Very gently bring to boil stirring the plums with a wooden spoon. You will not need any water or sugar as the plums are juicy enough. Just keep stirring to make sure the plums won’t stick to the bottom of the pot.
Simmer and stir for 2 – 3 hours. As you stir you will break the plums and will see the mixture steam. The plums will start to reduce and get darker thicker.
Leave to cool till the next day and then repeat the process of simmering and stirring for another 2 – 3 hours. The plums will reduce and thicken again.
On the third day repeat the process again. Keep an eye on the pot and keep stirring as the mixture is now very thick and sticky. At the end of the slow cooking taste and add as much sugar as you think is needed. The sweeter the plums the less sugar you will need. You might not even add the sugar at all. Simmer and stir for another 10 minutes then turn off the heat and leave to cool a bit.
Fill the sterilized jars with the jam and place in a warm oven – 100°C / gas mark ¼ – for about 1 hour. That will preserve the jam.
The plum spread is great with rolls, brioches or challahand will bring some summer sweetness to your breakfast table.
There are some things about the summer holidays that never change.
Eating ice-cream each day, picking flavours and toppings and rushing up before they melt … Wiggling and wincing while mum applies the sun cream on your face … Playing cards to simply pass the time … Buying bits and bobs in the kitschy souvenir shop … Trying out the peculiar beach snacks of unfamiliar names from the beach sellers …
Boat trip, sun sets and milk soup
Holidays would not be proper holidays without a boat day trip. Nothing beats the excitement of arriving at the port and looking for your boat. Rushing on board and reserving best seats. By the way, I quickly learnt never to pick the upper deck seats for the whole trip as you never know what the sea holds in for you. One day you cruise over flat blue waters, roast in the sun and enjoy the salty breeze on your face and another day you struggle to hold on as the ship sways and surges on choppy waves.
The evening seaside walk was, is and always will be one of my all-time favourites and a highlight of the day. Many a times we were sitting at the beach on the sand that was still warm and watched the sun go down and gently sink into the sea. To me, looking at those last rays of sunshine was the perfect way to finish off the day and say a proper goodbye.
It still puzzles me how we managed to have so many meals each and every day. The day would start with a two course breakfast, followed by a hearty snack at the beach, two course dinner, a dessert, afternoon tea and very often finished with fish from one of the many local chippers.
Of course summer holidays menu in the 80’s was somewhat different to the nowadays all-inclusive. The menu was set and so were the meal times. There was no such thing as a’la carte. You simply had two choices. You could choose an early group and have your breakfast at 8 am, dinner at 1 pm and super at 6 pm or a late group and have all the meals an hour after. Well, also, you could choose to eat a meal or leave it. One of the most controversial dish on the menu must have been the milk soup for breakfast. You either loved it or hated it, and I was definitely the first kind, though, I cannot imagine starting my day with a milk soup day after day now. Still, the combination of warm milk and cooked pasta brings back lots of childhood memories, offers comfort and is definitely the alternative to the omnipresent breakfast cereals.
This is a variation of the milk soup that is called nic (nothing) in Polish. It must have been the egg whites that are shaped into tiny balls as light as a feather and as fluffy as a cloud that gave it the name.
1 l milk
4-5 tbs sugar
In a medium pan gently warm the milk and then add the vanilla stick. Keep it at simmering point but be careful not to boil. Beat the egg whites with 3 tablespoons of sugar until peaks form. Make tiny balls – or fluffy little clouds – and fold them one by one into the simmering milk to set. Remove to the serving bowls. Whisk together the egg yolks and 2 tablespoons of sugar until smooth and pale. Stir into the simmering milk. Pour a generous ladle or two into each bowl and serve immediately with some summer berries on the side.
Each of us knows this scenario very well. You in the middle of baking, in the middle of a messy kitchen, dough on your fingernails and egg white in your hair and then suddenly you realize you’ve run out of sugar. Oh sugar! But then comes the thought of just getting some from the next doors as the chances of two households running out of the same staple ingredient are pretty low.
Neighbour in need
The list of the things that we “borrow” – now that’s a bit of a commonly agreed understatement – is actually pretty impressive. Starting from the kitchen staples such as: sugar, salt, flour, milk, coffee and -eh- parsley, through a selection of practical equipment such as: car seats, mops, mixers, brushes, ladders, hammers, drills and not to forget the extra chairs.
Then of course come all the favours you ask or get asked. Will you mind the dog? Will you mind the cat? Will you mind the kids? Will you water the flowers? We would also check on the alarm, take the deliveries, take the bins out, bring the bins in – to think of it. On a more random note we did the washing when the washing machine was broken, used extra space in the fridge and freezer before the party, fought flooding, chased a cat, rushed the dog to the vet and in general dealt with any other emergencies as they happened.
The important thing is that once you have neighbours that are there for you you do not only feel at home within your own four walls and behind your fence but the entire neighbourhood becomes your safe and happy zone.
I never truly realized the importance of having good neighbours until I happened to have a really terrible ones. They were the typical nightmare neighbours. Always at home. Full of ailments and health conditions yet with an extraordinarily developed and never failing sense of hearing. Always complaining. Always condescending. Always watching your steps. They would moan at any occasion and for any reason. Even for – and this is a real deal – Flashing. The. Toilet. At. Night. The other of my black list neighbours (which in fairness is surprisingly short as mostly people just live and let live) was trying to teach the dog some manners and persuade him not to bark by banging their floor and our ceiling with a brush. Well, they managed to break in – the ceiling not the dog, in the end and we came back to a pile of rubble and to the neighbours who, for once, had to take our complaints onboard. Ever since we always try to meet the neighbours before we move in.
The amazing thing about living close is the chance to share food and in particular be shared the food with. It starts with the usual “I made far more than we can eat” or “I tried this new recipe” or “Just tell me what you think” and what follows is the plate loaded with goodness. Marzipan mini balls baked by Jadzia. Lamb, spinach and blue cheese lasagne invented by Kasia. Asian Christmas glazed ham cooked by Lindsey. All great food with great taste and made with love.
I will always remember the scrambled eggs with wild mushrooms that we were served by Wiesia. We had just moved in together and were both excited and apprehensive about living in a small town when everybody knew everybody and where we didn’t know anybody. Yet we hit a jackpot in our flat on the third floor as we happened to have the greatest neighbour you could possibly dream of – Wiesia. She made us feel so welcome in such a natural and unpretentious way. She popped in one evening to say”hello” and have a cigarette. We had one. After the second one we became friends and after the third one we were sharing stories and chatting our lives away. I loved when she dropped by and I could take a little break from whatever I was doing. So one Sunday afternoon she knocked on the door to invite us for some amazing scramble eggs that she made with the freshly picked wild mushrooms. Simple and delicious. We shared and we laughed and we had some best neighbour time in our life.
One of my favourite cake recipe comes from my grandma’s neighbour – Czesia and reminds me of all my early childhood summers that I spent at my neighbours – running around their orchard, playing hide and seek in the basement, dressing up and playing monopoly aka Eurobusiness. I would go in the morning, often stayed for lunch and many a time for tea. Especially, when this beautiful cake was served.
For some reason my grandma never baked that one but years later my mum found the scribbled recipe in granny’s old cookbook and the perfect summer cake was revived.
My favourite summer fruit meringue cake
300 g flour
200 g unsalted butter
100 g caster sugar
3 egg yolks
5 egg whites
10 tbs caster sugar
300 g red currents, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries or a mix of those
Preheat the oven to 180°C.
In a big bowl mix together the flour with the butter. Once combined add the sugar and then the egg yolks. Work with your hands into a smooth dough and spread on the greased spring form making sure to leave the edges slightly higher. Pierce with a fork here and there and put into the preheated oven for 30 minutes.
Once the cake is ready and nicely golden take out of the oven and sprinkle with a sugar. That will make the crust on the top and the cake will not get soggy after you add the fruit.
Leave the cake to cool and then arrange the summer fruit on the top. My absolute favourite are the red currents as I love their slightly sour flavour but raspberries and blueberries work fabulously well too. In the autumn I use apples that I chop into fine chunks and heat with a few spoons of sugar until softened.
To finish the cake with the meringue top whisk the egg whites gradually adding the sugar spoon by spoon until fluffy and the firm peaks appear. If you dare – you can test your beating by turning the bowl upside down. Arrange the meringue on the top of the fruit and put into the oven for 10 – 15 minutes or until it’s lovely golden. Take out of the oven and leave to cool a bit. Then cut generous slices.
Some of the best meal ideas happen to me, and I bet to a lot of you as well, when I try to make use of the leftovers tucked away in the fridge. Somehow facing a culinary challenge is a great test for your brain and for your taste buds. A true food for thought. Or actually a thought that turns into food. It was a whim of a moment to combine a few boiled potatoes, some slices of ham and leftover cheese with leeks and pineapple. But it worked. And in fairness still works outstandingly well. Obviously, it gets its name from the pineapple, or ananas as the majority of European countries call it and because of that makes it a rather summery dish. After all, isn’t a pineapple just a sunny circle that brings sunshine and reminds of palm beach holidays.
I spent my early childhood completely unaware of a pineapple and I could not pinpoint when exactly it made its appearance on our tables. But once it did – everyone started to include it in their meals for the exotic touch and sophisticated vibe. Suddenly all menus were full of pineapple – kind of like the omnipresent chia seeds nowadays. My mum would make amazing pork chops with a slice of pineapple and melted cheese on the top. An absolute crowd-pleaser and jaw-dropper in the 80s. That is, if you only like pineapple. I know a few who don’t. And they were unfortunate enough and brave enough to share the Hawaiian Bake with us. My brilliant neighbour managed to have a hearty portion and never said a word yet strangely avoided any other dinners at our place. It took me a good few meals to convince him that I am actually not such a bad cook and even longer for him to confess he simply doesn’t like the pineapple. Anyway, but for this one case everyone seems to love the dish and usually asks for a recipe afterwards. So there it is. The Hawaiian Bake.
800 g potatoes (washed, unpeeled and boiled)
50 g butter
250 g ham (or more)
1 pineapple (or a can of pineapple)
250 g cheese
2 cobs of ready-to-eat corn cobs or 1 tin of corn (optional)
salt and pepper
a 20 cm x 30 cm (or similar) ovenproof baking dish
Preheat the oven to 160°C.
Slice the boiled potatoes and layer them on the bottom of the ovenproof baking dish.
Cut each leek in quarters along their length starting 1 cm below the white tip as that will hold the leek together for washing. See full instructions here. Thoroughly rinse the leeks and pat them dry. Add leeks and butter to a medium pot and saute on a very low heat for about 10 minutes. Leeks love butter and will soak up any amount so you might want to add a knob more once they’re cooking. Once soft and shiny spread the leek on the potato layer.
Cut the ham into about 5 mm x 20 mm slices. Add another layer to your dish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Prepare the pineapple. Cut off the top and bottom of the pineapple then cut the skin off with a knife just like in this video here. Cut the pineapple into chunks and layer it onto the ham.
If adding the corn layer – hold the corn cob upright and run a sharp knife down along the kernels base to cut them off the cores. Spread the corn kernels on the pineapple layer.
Grate your cheese and generously sprinkle over the dish adding the final layer.
Place in the oven for 25 – 30 minutes.
Once the cheese is bubbly and golden and all the flavours blended in the heat remove from the oven and leave to rest for 5 – 10 minutes.
This post is inspired and dedicated to Edyta and Dwayne, a pair of globetrotters who are planning to visit Ireland next year. They asked me for a few suggestions and somehow the whole post came about. I put together a collection of my favourite places in Ireland, the experiences that I thoroughly enjoyed and the pictures that I took on the way. Sure, it is subjective and selective. Sure, I am aware that there are many more places worth visiting and I solemnly intend to explore them in the next few years. But for sure it shows you Ireland that I love.
What’s below is an around-the-clock, twenty-one day tour of Ireland starting in Dublin and assuming you will be driving and staying in B&Bs of your own choice. All opinions, insights and pictures are mine own. While all featured attractions are well tried and tested, they are loose suggestions and by all means feel free to add, skip, take detours and take your time. Use the printable Things to do in Ireland bucket list . Try it and tweak it. Enjoy and have craic. Welcome to Ireland my way.
Start in the heart of Dublin and go to see a deer or two or fifty in the Phoenix Park. It is the biggest park in Europe and the home to hundreds of deer as well as the residency of the Irish President and the US Ambassador. The best idea is to cycle around the park on a bike that you can hire here. You might bring your own picnic – there’s space galore – or you can get a quick lunch or tea at Phoenix Cafe. (If you have an extra day make sure to go to the ZOO as their animals are always happy to see some foreign human beings.)
In the afternoon see the home of the black stuff at the Guinness Storehouse. Get a photo in front of the famous black gate. Enjoy the journey through the complicated and fascinating process and history of stout making and make your way to the very top for the most rewarding pint of Guinness and the most spectacular views of Dublin.
Spend a day in Dublin fair city. Walk along the Grafton Street. Make sure to have a close look at the buskers – this is where The Script or Ed Sheeran performed back in the days and they still mention the street in their songs. You might as well see the next big things. Have a coffee at Bewleys Cafe – my favourite Irish coffee brand.
Walk around St Stephens Green. Go shopping or window shopping to St Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre and enjoy the impressive architecture of the place. Afterwards, relax in the park. Feed the ducks or seagulls or any birds at the park. If you have a little time pop into Little Museum of Dublin for the modern history of Dublin and a great collection of artifacts and memorabilia.
Walk through the usually crowded Temple Bar just to get the vibrant international feeling until you reach the River Liffey. Cross the Ha’penny Bridge – the most romantic of the Dublin bridges. Did you know that 100 years ago you would still have to pay half-a-penny to the toll man to cross the cast-iron bridge joining Dublin South and Dublin North?
Keep to the quays and head east. Pass the O’Connell Bridge – the only bridge that is wider than longer. See the Spire – one of Dublin landmarks. Keep walking along the docklands. This is where the state-of-art and high tech European HQ are located. You might notice Googlers and Facebookers passing by. See the Samuel Becket Bridge just off the DCC – Dublin Conference Centre – this is the modern uber and agile Dublin.
Have a coffee or a pint on the way – depending on the time of day. If you’re not in a rush and have 2 or 3 hours to spare visit interactive and innovative EPIC Museum which tells an intriguing story of the Irish emigration and heritage and is located in beautiful historical dungeons where Michel Collins was filmed.
Go to Howth. Walk around the harbour on a busy day (and every day seems to be busy there) .Visit the fish shops. See the resident seal. Have an Irish coffee at the pub. Definitely go on a cliff walk. You can see the map here. There are shorter and longer loops to please everyone. Enjoy the astonishing views and keep looking for the seals. Make sure to see the lighthouse (and tick that off your bucket list).
After the walk drive to Clontarf for the best fish and chips take-away from Beshof Bros (and cross off another item on your bucket list). Then, trying not to have to many sneaky chips on the way, drive through the old wooden bridge to the Dollymount Strand Beach, park in the sand in front of the sea and have one of the best meals ever. And. I. Mean. It.
Start your day in Dun Laoghaire. But actually first you might want to learn how it’s pronounced here in my favourite scene of PS I love you. I tell you I can totally relate as it took me three months to figure out how it is pronounced, but then again, I did not have a handsome Gerard Butler to fill me in on that.
Now back to Dun Laoghaire, shall we? Have a brunch at Harry’s Cafe Bar. I will never forget the amazing eggs Benedict I had there. Check one of many charity shops – you never know what books, bric-a-brac or accessories you might find. You can end up with a copy of a cookbook signed by Jamie Oliver or a pair of designer high heels or a vintage jewelry box. Just keep looking. Also, if you like good design – visit Meadows and Byrne for quality and inspiration. Then get to the see front and walk along the pier. Watch the ferries sailing in and out. Head south, pass the People’s Park and have the famous Teddy’s Ice Cream while looking at this James Joyce’s quote.
Take the dart to Killiney Beach. See the secret gate to Bono’s seaside mansion. Have a stroll. Have a picnic. Have a dip in the sea. And if you have some time to spare climb the Killiney Hill.
At the end of the day drive up to the Dublin mountains to the Johnny Fox’s Pub. You will find it sign posted on the way. It is said to be the highest pub in Dublin. It is famous and packed with tourists but cosy pleasant and heart warming. If only you’re not allergic to seafood, definitely try mussels – amazing and well priced. Make sure to see the weather stone in front of the pub. To me this is the essence of weather forecasting in Ireland. Never fails.
Go on a walk from Bray to Greystones. It is a winding route along the cliffs with the sea just a twenty meters down away. See the old and existing dart line. See where the smugglers used to store their contraband. Breathe the sea breeze.
When arriving in Greystones you might be peckish so head for a bite to eat to Happy Pear – a little cafe run by two brothers famous for their vegetarian dishes. Don’t be discouraged by the queue, those people know what they are doing and it is worth it.
Take the dart back from Greystones to Bray. The views are thrilling and you will get one of your bucket list items ticked too.
I strongly recommend a dinner at Platform Pizza Bar. It is an amazing place with amazing food – you might want to book that in advance.
Drive through the Sally Gap – the most famous crossing in the middle of nowhere. Feel the wilderness and the majesty of the Wicklow Mountains. My favourite route is from Dublin through Minor Kilbride. Take time to take breaks and stop for a picture and a short walk. The scenery is stunning and one of a kind.
Wicklow is the county where a lot of famous films and series have been shot. The whole Vikings Village was built here at Lough Tay on the way to Glendalough. In fairness if you see the scenery you will understand why so many film makers pick it.
Visit the Monastic City with the cemetery and the Round Tower. If you enjoy hiking go for the walk along the white route. Climb over 600 wooden steps to experience some of the most breathtaking views of the Wicklow Mountains. If you are in luck you might even see a herd of deer on the way.
Climb the hill that looks like a huge pile of sugar and hence it’s called Sugarloaf. It only takes 45 minutes to get to the top and yet the view at its peak is most impressive and most rewarding. Have a little picnic at the top while enjoying the views and breathing in the breeze.
Have a lunch or afternoon tea at Avoca – the home for great Irish design and dining.
Go to one of the most beautiful, and popular, beaches in the South – Brittas Bay. You could easily spend a relaxing day there or just go for a walk or have a BBQ. Soft sand and stretched dunes make it the seaside destination for many Dubliners especially on one of those summery sunny days. The beach is so big that even on a bright hot day you can easily find a spot for yourself.
See how Jameson whiskey is made at the Midleton Whiskey Museum. Walk around the grounds, follow the journey of crafting the perfect blend and find for yourself the difference between the double and triple distillation.
Afterwards dine at Bramley Lodge – a great place with a great balance between homely and sophisticated food.
Be amused, amazed and astonished and finally understand why the Irish are so good at making conversations. Visit the beautiful and intriguing Blarney Castle, kiss the stone and get the gift of ‘blarney’.
If you do not know what blarney is just see this simple example:
The difference between
‘blarney’ and ‘baloney’ is this:
Baloney is when you
tell a 50-year old woman
that she looks 18.
Blarney is when you
ask a woman how old she is
because you want to know
at what age women are
the most beautiful.
Make sure to walk around the impressive estate and definitely see the poison garden where plants are grown behind the bars and labelled toxic.
Take the coastal way south. Enjoy the sheer beauty of the landscape. Stop at one of the little beaches and feel as if you owned the place. See how many lighthouses you can spot on the way.
Drive around the Ring of Kerry. Enjoy the views and take as many stops as you need to capture the natural beauty.
While in Dingle – visit the local shops, including their local Garvey’s Super Value – an award winning shop that takes the shopping experience to the next level. While there, make sure to grab the one and only Superquinn sausages. They are perfect for the full Irish breakfast, sausage pasta or BBQ. When you walk around the town of Dingle, treat yourself and have handmade ice-cream at Murphy’s – their sea salt or caramel honeycomb goes extremely well with a pint of Guinness afterwords. At the end of the day watch the sunset at the Inch Beach.
The next morning drive through the breathtaking Conor’s Pass. On the way up to Galway dine in one of the thatched cottages in the old and lovely town of Adare.
Visit the Cliffs of Moher – one of the most famous Irish landmarks and apparently also the location for a scene of the Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince movie.
Spend the evening in Galway and figure out what is the story with the Galway Girl. Let the city guide you. Be spontanous. Be brave. Explore and follow your whims.
If feeling adventurous check the tides schedule and drive through a beach to Omey Island. Make sure to be in time to come back before the tide is in or you will get stuck there for the night.
While in the Western part of Ireland be prepared to see and hear more Irish. This is just the perfect chance to pick up some Irish, starting with the basic ones on your way to the bathroom (the bare necessities, that is). What would you do if you, under a considerable pressure, faced two doors – FIR and MNA? Which door would you choose? Which is the right one? Will you dare to enter? I learnt it the hard way that fir is gents and mná is ladies. So just remember those now and save yourself the awkwardness and gender confusion.
Spend a day in Connemara National Park. See all the nature trails that you can take on the website. Make your pick, pack your backpack, pop in the camera and the rain gear and go exploring.
Feel like one of the pilgrims and climb Croagh Patrick – you will not be disappointed with the views.
Stop at Westport. Romantic, picturesque and yet buzzing little town. Walk around the town and you will find plenty of cosy and casual places to eat with a delicious menu and vibrant atmosphere.
Visit the Dunluce Castle learn about the Spanish Armada and find out how the part of the castle suddenly collapsed into the sea one day.
Visit Bushmills – the home of another great Irish whiskey. If you have already been on a whiskey distillery tour you might skip this one but only on the condition that you will try the Bushmills blend itself. My husband swears by it and it is the one not to miss or underestimate.
From Bushmills you can take a vintage steam train right up to the Giant Causeway. Enjoy the back-in-the-days experience and meet the jolly coal-smeared train driver. Once you arrive at Giant Causeway indulge yourself with the spectacular views and make sure you hear the stories behind it as well. Which one will convince you the most? Try the loop walk and see if you are fit enough to climb 162 steps of the Shepard’s Path to the top of the cliff.
Stop at the White Park Bay that we always call ‘Cow Beach’ as when we arrived here for the first time we saw cows wandering peacefully on the beach on a bright mild morning. A view that you will never forget.
Cross the rope bridge 30 metres above the sea level at Carrick-a-Rede if you are hungry for more adventure and more breathtaking views.
Drive to Belfast through the mystic and might Dark Hedges that was one of the location for Game of Thrones.
You might not be as big fan of the movie as I am (I watch it each year on the 14 of April), or a tech buff or a history expert but you still need to get on board the Titanic Museum as there’s something for everyone. Book in advance to secure the suitable spot. Allow at least 2.5 hour for the tour, yet, if you ask me I could easily spend 4 hours in there as well. It is one of my favourite museums – interactive, involving and integrated – planned with every single detail as Titanic itself, it gives you a very tangible impression what a vast enterprise it was from the design and construction stage through the unfortunate voyage to the aftermath follow-up stories.
Go back in times to the stone age at Newgrange – a passing tomb in Boyne Valley built with the precision that will leave you speechless. Experience the magic of the winter solstice sunrise and see how religion pays tribute to nature.
Enjoying travelling back in time? Then definitely visit the Trim Castle – a Norman castle where Braveheart was shot. Imagine the life back in the Middle Ages, see the tricks of architecture and learn how the toilets worked these days. Being the princess will never seem the same again.
Finish your trip with a proper pint of Guinness at a local pub.
Last but not list
Finally to make your exploring easier – here’s the bucket list of things to do while in Ireland. Print it. Bring it along. Tick the things off. Have a great time.
I have never considered myself a cat person. Possibly because for the first thirty years of my life, cats did not happen to me. Was it because I lived in the apartments that were in their nature unclimbable and unattainable? Or was it this bit of mistrust and misapprehension on my side that kept them away? Anyway, it took a stray to tame me into a cat person. And since then cats just happen in my life. In cat-onogical order:
It all started with the grey tabby cat that chose to sit on our kitchen window sill or dare I say that chose us. He was a stray one and only graced us with a kind consent to feed him. He would let you watch but would not let you touch. Aloof and withdrawn, he kept his distance for a long time, yet at the same time stayed close enough. He taught me the most fundamental cat facts. That the relationship needs to be earned. That you need to respect the boundaries. That cats come back. In the end he would even let me stroke his back but would never come into the house. He was a proud stray through and through.
Ginger was the biggest cat that ever happened to us. He was also the laziest or should I say the most comfortable. He loved his naps and appreciated indoor amenities. He curled up and rolled over and stretched on the stairs and landing carpet until he got his own cat bed and would snuggle there as happy as cat can be.
Clever She Cat
She was merely a few months old when she sprang into our garden and our lives. Curious, smart and graceful. She was the queen of garden fences. She was a very skillful climber. She surprised us one night meowing gently outside our bedroom window after she climbed from the fence onto the roof and onto the window sill. She loved her midnight walks but usually came back before dawn with a meow and sometimes a scratch at the window and somehow I did not mind getting up to let her in. Even pregnant with her kittens she still jumped with poise, moved with elegance and squeezed in between the windows and fences.
We were there when the kittens were born (which is a whole separate story with plenty of drama and suspension that I promise to tell you another time) and she raised them well, though, they grew feral and were afraid of any human. They looked like a mixture of all the local cats. One kitten was fluffy tortoiseshell. One kitten was black with white collar. One kitten was white with black spots and a black tail. And the last kitten was white with black chin and black ears. They were only few months old when they went their own ways and found their places. One lingered with his mum for a while, slowly got tamed and even played with us but then at the end of the summer he was gone too.
She Cat was happy to get back in shape and strode on the fences and walls as gracefully as ever. When we got our Christmas tree she climbed up the branches but never dropped a single decoration. How would she, she was a little Ms Grace, after all. She disappeared one winter day and never came back. Mr Grey, that I am convinced was secretly in love with her, went to look for her. He searched and searched. He came back after a few days to hang around. Then, he went searching again. And we saw Mr Grey less and less. Until he was gone too.
It wasn’t long until we noticed a new cat around. First sitting on the fence and casually probing the neighbourhood. Then on the bin soaking up the sunshine with eyes closed but still vigilant and ready to jump at the slightest noise. Then on the window sill curiously peeking inside. Tabby Two was a warrior. He fought. He yowled. He chased. He came back with scratched ears and nose. He had a nap to get back on his paws and was out onto the street again.
She seems to be around for ages. A chubby lady always looking for a snack and sometimes for cuddles. Usually sitting on the fence. Literally. Fearful to commit, yet familiar and friendly. A survivor and an observer.
Mimi arrived from Belfast on Maciek’s left shoulder. The kitten was only a few weeks old and so tiny that it fit there perfectly. The little one found his sweet spot. It was not a plan. More like a rescue mission. You just simply do not say ‘no’ to a kitten. But first things first, we needed a proper name and after a brainstorm we all agreed on Mimi that my mother-in-law suggested. We all loved the name and felt it was right for her. Or him – as we found out a few months later.
Mimi was tiny but curious. He hid under the bed and slept there for a while. Then he started exploring. Room by room. Nooks and corners. Garden. Outside the house. Neighbourhood. I was anxious to see if he can climb the trees, jump the fences, cross the streets. He could and he did. But for one unfortunate time when he got stuck on the tree and we had to help him out. Ouch! He can also catch mice. And he does. Nonchalantly leaving it outside the house right next to the door mat. For us to behold.
He is still an explorer. He can be gone for a few days. Then he comes back home to recover and catch up on sleep and food. As after all his wanderings he is hungry as nine cats. To tell you the truth Mimi is always hungry. He can have a pre-breakfast snack, breakfast, eleven-o’clock snack, lunch, teatime snack, dinner and after-eight snack. And he is anything but fat. I wish I had this type of metabolism.
Mimi is the first cat that is ours. We named him as we knew he would live with us. We committed. He got attached and we got attached. When he jumps on my lap, kneads with his paws and purrs happily, I feel happy too.
All the cats that appear in the story are real. Their names are real too. Grey,Ginger, She Cat or Tabby are neither creative nor catchy as the cats just happened to us. They appeared one day and slowly made their ways into our house. In the end the simple nicknames became their names and they all earned a spot in my heart and in this story.
I know cats happen to a lot of us. In real life and in stories such as A Street Cat Named Bob or this brilliant Polish 80s TV series that brings me back to my childhood realities. I might even dare to say that cats happen for a reason. To me a life with a cat gives a cat perspective and opens the eyes to the new ways.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that food can win a way to someone’s heart. I fell in love with my mother-in-law for many reasons, but her herring salad completely stole my heart and made my taste buds hungry for more.
The herring salad was the queen of all celebrations. Be it Christmas or Easter, birthday or nameday – I would be happy to invent more occasions only to see Wiesia proudly putting the big bowl of her signature salad on the table. And in fact, because my mother-in-law was a woman of extraordinary kindness and warmth, she started to make the salad just because she knew I was coming over. She would spoil me rotten. I remember Wiesia and Bogdan coming to visit us and always bringing a hefty jar of salad – big enough to share so that myself and Maciek do not have to fight over it.
I only started to try to recreate the herring salad when she passed away two years ago. Somehow, when I chop the crunchy apples and slice the mini gherkins I see her smiling face and hear her gentle laugh. And then I proudly take the bowl full of herring goodness to the table wondering if she would like it and imagining she was sitting around with us. I give her all the credits for the recipe and take all the blame for any imperfections, hoping to improve time after time.
Herring Salad – by my mother-in-law Wiesia
8 – 10 fillets of soused herring
2 hard boiled eggs
6 – 8 cornichons (mini-gherkins)
a can of haricot beans
200 g creme fraiche or sour cream
salt and pepper to season
1 tsp of lemon juice (optional)
1 tsp of cider vinegar (optional)
Soak the herring in cold water for at least 2 hours or overnight – depending how long it takes to get rid of the saltiness. When you ready to make the salad, remove from the water and dry on a paper towel. Chop into 2 cm x 2 cm chunks and place in the salad bowl.
Put the kettle on and boil a cup of water. In the meantime finely slice the onions. Steep the onions for 3-5 minutes. Then remove from the water, dry on a paper towel and place in the bowl.
Peel the apples and chop into matchsticks.
Slice the cornichons into matchsticks.
Slice the eggs vertically.
Dry the haricot beans and add to all other ingredients.
Add the cream and season to taste with salt, pepper and lemon juice and / or cider vinegar if using.
Leave in the fridge for a few hours as it only gains flavour.
When in a hurry or simply to greedy to wait, I sometimes get a good quality ready-made herrings in cream sauce and make the salad right away.
The salad will last in the fridge for two days. Possibly more, but in fairness I would not have a clue as no matter what quantities I make it is always gone in a day.
This week I will serve it with some homemade bread.