A Fall Farmer’s Market in France

A Fall Farmer’s Market in France

There are few things I love in France more than the open-air markets. There’s just something about the beautiful produce, friendly vendors and shameless people-watching that I adore.

I have been to the markets many times but never with a camera in tow. To my surprise and delight the vendors were more than happy to be photographed, and even made jokes like, “What, am I not pretty enough for your pictures?”

In the photos below you will see lots of my all-time favorite food items: blocks of salted butter, buckets of crème fraîche, large pots of rilletes and pâté and sausages like boudin noir and andouillette coiled up like garden hoses.

The produce at markets in France is different from markets in the U.S. : Vegetables come in covered in dirt, the cheeses are often made with raw milk and the wild game birds are displayed with their heads on, which I found out is so that you “know which animal you are buying.” There is also lots of offal, some of which is great, like the tripe-based andouillete sausage, and some of which is truly awful, like kidneys.

I hope you enjoy the photos, and Bon appétit!

French Market

French Market

French Market

French Market

French Market

French Market

French Market

French Market

French Market

French Market

French Market

French Market

French Market

French Market

Have you ever visited a fall farmers market in France?

My First Day in France – A Warmest of Welcomes

My First Day in France – A Warmest of Welcomes

It seems that every time I land in France, I arrive in a state of utter shambles. Last summer I flew in from Dublin after a blurry night of Havana Club mojitos. This year I didn’t sleep a wink on the plane, and have never happier to find a bed.

And each year it’s as if France wants to remind me of why I come, and why I put up with such miseries and strife to get here. (Hint – it’s always food-related.

This time, this lovely dish greeted me post-flight…

Apple Tart

It was a perfectly constructed apple tart, or tarte aux pommes; exactly the homey, apple-y kind of dish you crave in fall. My Delta-dampened spirits were  suddenly in much better shape.

Let me quickly tell you about the family I’m staying with; there are the parents and the three girls, aged 12, 16 and 18. They’re all so sweet and welcoming, and we have a lot of the same hobbies like tennis, skiing and horse-back riding in common. (Preppy, much?)

Also the parents are very into both food and wine, so needless to say I think I will fit in well.

When I finally pulled myself away from the pie, I walked with the family to my new town, Saint-Germain-en-Laye. While Saint-Germain-en-Laye is technically a suburb of Paris, it’s only about a half hour away on the commuter train.

St. Germain

Upon exploring the town, I couldn’t help but fall in love with its French village appeal. The town was founded in 1020, and has lots of historical buildings to prove it; there’s even a massive chateau right next to the subway.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye

Macaron

St. Germain is also known for its very good food. Who couldn’t like a town with grade-a salted butter caramel macarons and rotisserie chickens around every corner?

Rotisserie Chicken

I finished off my first day in France by baking a cheese souffle with the girls for dinner. Making souffle had always intimidate me – what if, god forbid, it were to deflate, like in all the movies?

Luckily it was delicious – I love eating a dish that warms your soul and makes everyone ask for seconds.

Cheese Souffle

And while I realize that not every day in France will be all  700-year old castles and salted butter caramel macarons, I kind of hope it’s not true.

Trying (and Failing) at Michigan Duck Hunting

Trying (and Failing) at Michigan Duck Hunting

Last weekend, as we Michiganians say, my family and I went “up north.” Meaning we went to our cottage on Lake Huron to go duck hunting.

And as a person who has spent a lot of time in France, I jumped at the opportunity to shoot and hopefully eat some duckies.

Along for the ride was my good friend, Elliot, who has hunted with my dad in the past. Unfortunately they didn’t trust me with a gun, but I did get to try out these bad boys…

Duck Hunting

Have I ever looked better? I think these waders were outfitted for Andre the Giant.

All morning my sister and I took turns playing with the duck whistle, which when you blow into it sounds exactly like a duck. After repeatedly blowing it, and remarking, “Wow, this duck whistle sounds just like a dying duck,” Elliot quietly remarked, “Ash, it’s called a duck call.”

Michigan Duck Hunting

Whoa. Duck call. Sorry.

The hardest part of the journey was detaching the duck boat from the minivan. (Did I really just write that?) While my offers to help were swiftly rejected (ASHLEY! JUST STAY ON THE DOCK!) Elliot finally freed boat and we were reading to get hunting.

Michigan Duck Hunting

Michigan Duck Hunting

My dad was the capitan of this voyage. My dad is a big duck-hunter, and during my childhood he would bring me trinkets like wooden jaguar heads and pretty silver necklaces back from his hunting trips down to South America.

His hunting partners have always regaled me with stories of his Annie Oakley-esque shot which I was excited to see in action. I kind of like to think of him as a suburban Indiana Jones.

Michigan Duck Hunting

This is my little sister, Bee. She truly looks cute in anything.

Michigan Duck Hunting

Michigan Duck Hunting

I loved being surrounded by Lake Huron water, which is always so clear and cold and lovely – well, lovely until you repeatedly fall into it. And for the clumsiest person in the world, walking in the Andre the Giant boots was extra challenging. I literally completely fell forward in the water four times. Poor Elliot had to walk me like a granny back to the boat. Which I also fell into, naturally.

Michigan Duck Hunting

But alas, the water was too shallow and we turned around soon after setting up the blind. These were the only ducks we got.

Michigan Duck Hunting

Which was really okay, considering the blood and gore and neck-twisting of innocent ducks may have been a little too much for me anyway. I just enjoyed being outside during such a sunny fall day, with the flaming Michigan foliage all around.

This part of Michigan is very close to my heart, and I’ll be up north again soon.

Have you ever gone duck hunting in Michigan?

A Mini Roadtrip in Ireland

A Mini Roadtrip in Ireland

So after two happy and windblown days in Dingle, (which you can read about here and here), it was finally time to leave the peninsula to fly back home. The only problem was I wasn’t sure how to get off of the peninsula, considering most options were fairly pricey.

Luckily, the night before I left, I met a local Irish guy named Ross and his group of friends at the pub. Meeting them was as they say, good craic, and after a boozy night out Ross offered to give me a ride across the peninsula. And who am I to turn down a free road trip with an Irish stranger?

Our mini road trip in Ireland involved driving across Conor Pass, the highest mountain pass in Ireland and the most scenic road of the peninsula.

Dingle, Ireland

Dingle, Ireland

As usual in Ireland, the weather was misty, rainy and cloudy. (When family and friends back home ask what it’s like in Ireland I tell them it’s basically like sitting on the side of a boat; there’s always drizzle flying in your face.)

Dingle, Ireland

We then pulled over to hike up to some pools at the top of the mountain. This waterfall was right next to the parking area – seriously, Ireland? How picturesque can you be?

Dingle, Ireland

You know how some people look effortlessly awesome no matter what they wear? I’m not one of those people. Even my little brother pointed out how homeless I look in the picture below. (In all fairness, I am technically homeless.) I literally had no clothes for cold weather so I just threw on everything I had. Please don’t judge me.

Dingle, Ireland

Dingle, Ireland

Dingle, Ireland

The climb up was slippery, rocky and absolutely beautiful.

Dingle, Ireland

Dingle, Ireland

Conor Pass

When we got to the top, Ross pointed out some peat to me (or “turf” as they say in Ireland), which I had assumed was just mud. “They use it a lot as fuel in the old houses, and the smell is lovely,” he said.

I think “smelling the scent of burning peat” is now on my bucket list, and yet another reason why I’ll have to return to Ireland.

Dingle, Ireland

Dingle, Ireland

Dingle, Ireland

Conor Pass

The descent was decidedly more difficult than the way up; I slipped so many times in my flat, useless shoes (and yes, I’m blaming my clumsiness on my footwear!) that Ross practically had to carry me down the hill. Poor guy.

Dingle, Ireland

Our final stop on the road trip was the harbor in Tralee, Ross’ hometown. This is where the famine ships left for the U.S. It seems sad, doesn’t it?

Dingle, Ireland

So while it was probably the shortest road trip I’ve ever taken, it was also one of the most beautiful. And craic-filled.

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Dingle II: Irish Heritage and Craggy Cliffs

Dingle II: Irish Heritage and Craggy Cliffs

Please allow time for this post to load as it is very photo-heavy!

So on my second day in Dingle the weather was too rough to do anything at sea which is where most of the attractions take place (including seeing Fungie the dolphin, sadly).

So what was left to do? The Dingle archaeological tour.

The white tour van picked me up outside of my B&B, and I climbed in with about eight other American tourists. The tour guide was a wizened, news-cap wearing Irishman with a delightful Kerry accent. He had a wry sense of humor, and an incredible knowledge of the peninsula.

First he taught us all about the ogham stones. The notches on the edges of the stones are writing, and not random scratches like my silly self had assumed.

Dingle, Ireland

Next we drove up the narrow Slea Head drive, a scenic road that loops around the peninsula. Our guide pointed out the “Famine Fields” that haven’t been farmed since the potato famine of the 1840s.

I had read before about the horrors of the famine; things like children who begging from house to house with green stains on their mouth from eating grass and families surviving off of nothing but nettle soup for days. But I didn’t know that around 75% of Dingle inhabitants either perished or left. That’s truly an unimaginable percentage.

Then our guide pointed out a famine cottage which dated back to the 1840s. Another fun fact – did you know there are 4 million Irish people and 50 million people of Irish descent?

Dingle, Ireland

Dingle, Ireland

Our guide pointed to various hills and towns as we drove around the peninsula and said, “This hillside went to Smithfield, Massachussetts.” “This village went to the South side of Chicago.” It made me envious that I know so little about my Irish heritage – maybe my ancestors were Dingle residents as well!

Dingle, Ireland

On a lighter note, I took a few shots of some of the Dingle wildlife I saw…

Dingle, Ireland

Dingle, Ireland

Dingle is certainly as beautiful as they say; I loved watching the powerful surf break against the shore. The only way to see quintessentially Irish views like this is by booking a cheap ticket to Ireland!

Dingle, Ireland

Dingle, Ireland

We also learned that the Spanish armada crashed here in 1588. One girl I met from Dingle claimed to be of “black Irish” descent, meaning her partial Spanish heritage accounts for her dark features. (She actually had blond hair and pale, freckled skin so I don’t know how much water the “black Irish” myth holds.) It’s an interesting theory nonetheless.

Dingle, Ireland

Dingle, Ireland

Dingle, Ireland

Our last stop was the Gallarus Oratory, a dry-stone church dating from around the year 800. It was built without mortar, and incredibly enough it’s still dry inside after more than 1200 years. As well as very dark.

Dingle, Ireland

Dingle, Ireland

Though I was unsure if I would like the tour, it turned out to be fantastic! I enjoyed seeing the famine cottage and learning about the history of the peninsula from a local’s perspective. And standing over the heather-covered cliffs was a travel moment I won’t forget.

Are you interested in Irish Heritage? Have you ever visited Dingle?

A Journey to the West – Dingle, Ireland

A Journey to the West – Dingle, Ireland

Ah, Dingle. The gorgeous, oft-visited peninsula that so easily found its way into my heart. Dingle was so much more than the tourist-haven I expected, and with its beautiful music, people and nature, I’m dying to go back.

Dingle is located on the far west stretches on Ireland, about as far as you can go before hitting America.

I came to a Dingle in a rough state: I had just spent a wild birthday night in Cork, and was still recovering from a 103-degree fever in Corfu and four nights of debauchery at the Pink Palace. But Dingle made me feel better from the first moment I saw a glimpse of it on the bus:

Dingle, Ireland

I know Lonely Planet would scold me, but Dingle Town was utterly charming. Who couldn’t love a town with a pet dolphin named Fungie that lives in the harbor?

Dingle, Ireland

Hungover, bedraggled and sick with a cold so bad I lost my voice, I wandered into a pub/B&B and asked for a room. It was there I scored one of the best deals of my travels; for 35 euros a night I had my own fluffy, queen-size bed and private bathroom, as well as a delicious, home-cooked breakfast. That’s barely more than I pay for a lice-ridden hostel bunk! (Kidding! Well, sort of.)

I had been planning on spending my three days on the west coast visiting a few different places, but upon arriving to this cozy B&B I just knew I had to stay put.

Dingle, Ireland

After napping away my first few hours in Dingle, I finally dragged myself out of  bed to do some exploring. I’m not in a place with a name as great as Dingle everyday, you know.

Wandering around I snapped away at the vistas that always charm me in Ireland: the wildflowers growing out of hedges, the greener than green grass, the cobblestone sidewalks. But there were some sites that were new to me like the harbor full of colorful boats. It turns out that long before Dingle was a tourist magnet it was a fishing town, which explains the fish chowder advertised on every menu in town.

Dingle, Ireland Dingle, Ireland

And then the magic stopped for a moment when I spotted the construction of a cinder block wall on the side of the road. All these years I totally thought the quaint, stone-hewn walls were real. But cinder blocks! You really pulled one over on me, Ireland.

Dingle, Ireland

The magic was restored when I saw this promising sign.

Guinness

Around dinner time, I started chatting with a super friendly American family while standing outside of a pub. They invited me in and bought me a half-pint of Guinness, and then invited me to come along to dinner with them. As someone who not only frequently dines alone but dines on train-station sandwiches, I couldn’t believe my luck.

We headed to Out of the Blue, a restaurant which 1,000 Places to See Before You Die rates as the best in town. To my delight, it was seafood-only. I dug into smoked Irish salmon and creamy fish chowder while gabbing away with my fellow Americans. Good wine, brown bread and golden Irish butter accompanied the conversation, naturally. Out of the Blue Restaurant. Dingle, Ireland Dingle, Ireland Dingle, Ireland

After dinner we headed over to the town’s liveliest pub, The Courthouse. There was a girl singing in Irish whose voice made my eyes well up with tears. In fact she was so good that I even bought her CD, which means a lot considering how cheap of a traveler I am.

O'Sullivans Court House Pub

At the Courthouse I met lots of somewhat wasted but friendly Irish people with beautiful Irish names like Aisling (pronounced like “Ash-ling”), Caera, Murtagh, Dervela and Dáire. (Which I will now add to my collection of people I’ve met with Irish names like Lorcan, Róisín and Crona.)

Dingle is located in the Gaeltacht region, where Irish is still spoken, so that accounts for all of the cool Gaelic names.

Irish Breakfast

This was my post-pub breakfast the next morning. And I must ask you; is there anything better than an Irish breakfast when you’re a tad hungover?

Have you ever visited Dingle, Ireland? Did you like its pubs as much as I did?

Saturday Snapshot 5

Saturday Snapshot 5

In case you haven’t noticed my obnoxious excitement all over Facebook, Twitter and beyond, I’m officially working as a nanny in France. Thanks for reading and I’m glad to have you along for the journey!

This week took me to Nord-Pas-de-Calais, a rain and apple-filled region on the French-Belgian border.

Speaking of apples, the family I work for owns an apple farm there, which is where we stayed for two nights. When I asked the grandfather how long the farm had been in the family, he said, “Well, we have a map from 1820 that has our name on the property, so at least that long.” (more…)