A Baker's Wife's Pastry Shop

I'm grateful for the baker and his wife.  They don't know me, but I visit their shop every time I'm in Minneapolis.  This bakery has been a Twin Cities fixture since 1987 and it has special time warp powers.  It's not fancy inside, there are no pastel walls serving as a backdrop to white porcelain cake stands topped with trendy cupcakes or any kind of minimalist, hipster aesthetics.  It's like going to visit a favorite relative's home filled with familiar smells, endearing knick knacks, hand made signs, and all the chaos of a family working feverishly to give you the best pastries you've ever tasted.  The pastries are displayed on plastic trays in a glass case like they were in the days when we were all riding banana bikes and wearing knee socks.  It's a little slice of heaven if you suffer from chronic nostalgia and prefer something authentic and unpretentious. 

It's really about the pastries though.  People keep coming no matter what they think of the unfussy interior.  The baker is Gary Tolle and the baker's wife is Margaret Mossberg Tolle. Gary is a former pastry chef of Manhattan's Plaza Hotel and together he and his wife have created a Midwest legacy bakery.  The pastries are gigantic, buttery and represent the best of American baking, from high brow to low.  A Baker's Wife's shop is especially known for great doughnuts and lemon bars.  I was there in November with my sister.  She ordered a Caramel Cake and I ordered a Mankato Butter Cake with a chocolate glazed cake donut on the side.  We did a little taste test and the Mankato Butter Cake came out the clear winner for both of us.  It was so buttery and sweet that it melted into your mouth as you took a bite.  I wish everyone could have a baker and his wife in their neighborhood.  Lines here are often long and it's important to note that they only accept cash & checks.  No cards!  More than once I've found myself digging in my coat pockets for quarters because I forgot that little aspect of the lovable time warp.  Go there.  A Baker's Wife's Pastry Shop can be found at 4200 28th Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55406.  They don't have a website, but they do have a Facebook page.


Whisky Buttermilk Pie with Mapled Bacon & Pecans

One of my earliest attempts at making pie happened when I was in my early twenties.  I was living in Seattle, apart from my family.  It was Thanksgiving and I was homesick for mom's pumpkin pie so I decided to try and make it the way she did.  My mom always makes her pie crusts from scratch using her mother's and grandmother's recipes.  I didn't think it would be that hard, and as usual, I was wrong about not needing to practice.  The crust fell apart before I could get it into the pie plate and then after getting some of it in the pie plate and adding the filling, I over-baked the pie.  What came out of the oven was a plate of darkened pumpkin with a pool of oil on top and a dark brown crust sticking out on one side, but not the other.  I proudly wrapped it up and took it to a friend's family gathering where I saw someone in the dessert line point to it and say "what the 'expletive' is that?"  

I didn't try making pie again until I moved back to Iowa.  Again I tried making my pie crust using our family recipe, and again it fell apart on me.  I ended up throwing the whole thing out because I was so frustrated and mad.  Still,  I wasn't giving up and decided I would try learning with a different crust recipe.  I went to the library and checked out The Joy of Cooking's All About Pies and Tarts.  I attempted making their Deluxe Butter Flaky Pastry Dough also known as Pâte Brisée and was able to produce my first successful crust.  From then on, I read as much as I could about pie making until I developed an understanding for technique and method.  The crust recipe I most often use these days is one I read about in Cooks Illustrated called Foolproof Pie Dough which uses vodka as way to add more moisture to the crust without the risk of toughening the dough.  So much of the failure that occurs when making and rolling out a pie dough is that it's very dry and temperamental.  If you handle it too much, if you add too much water, if you do anything too much then it gets angry and cracks, sticks, and tears.  So, if you give it a little vodka, then the dough starts to relax and go with the flow.  I'm not kidding about this.  This is one of the best recipes for pie dough I've ever used because of how the vodka interacts with the other ingredients.  Click here to view the recipe for Foolproof Pie Dough which is available on Serious Eats.

In time I became known for my pies and instead of expletives of dismay, my pies began calling forth expletives of gratification  Throughout the years, I've practiced making all kinds of pie following recipes with exact precision.  Now I'm to a point where I feel bold enough to go out on my own in playing with ingredients and coming up with ideas.  This Thanksgiving I wanted to make a buttermilk pie with the flavor of maple and bacon and as I was making it, I decided to add some whisky to the mix.  I made it the day after Thanksgiving and decided it was almost a holiday hangover pie of sorts since it infuses a little hair of the dog with the buttermilk, bacon, and maple for a morning pie that will make friends and family swear in a good way.  I haven't revisited my great grandmother's pie crust recipe since my failed attempts, but someday I'm going to to confront the past.  

Whisky Buttermilk Pie with Mapled Bacon & Pecans

(The beaten egg whites give this pie it's light, airy consistency which pairs nicely with the richer sweetness of the topping.  My inspiration for the buttermilk filling came from a 1958 copy of Good Housekeeping's Party Pie Book.  The whisky simply adds a subtle nuance to the tanginess of the buttermilk filling.)

Make or buy a pie dough of your choice for a single crust 9" pie.  For Cooks Illustrated's Foolproof Pie Dough, click here.  Roll out and fit into a 9-inch pie plate.

2/3 cup granulated sugar

3 Tbsp flour

1/4 tsp salt

3 egg yolks (beaten slightly)

2 tsp vanilla extract

2 cups buttermilk

1/4 cup whisky

1/4 cup melted butter

3 egg whites at room temperature

1 cup chopped toasted pecans

2 Tbsp butter for toasting pecans

1/2 cup crumbled cooked bacon

1 Tbsp maple syrup

Preheat oven to 400℉.  I like to bake the crust a little bit before I add the filling so the crust doesn't get soggy.  This process is called blind baking.  By now you should have already rolled out your pie crust and fit it into the pie plate.  Press a sheet of aluminum foil onto the crust,  draping over rim of pie plate.  To blind-bake, fill with dried beans or pie weights.  Bake it until the edge of the crust is firm, about 20 minutes.  Remove weights and foil; let crust cool completely and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk the sugar, flour, and salt.  In a small bowl, beat the egg yolks slightly and then add to dry ingredients.  Also add the vanilla, buttermilk, whisky, and butter and whisky.

In a large bowl, beat the egg whites until they're stiff and peaks start to form, but don't beat them until they become dry.  The whites should look shiny and form peaks that stand up on their own.  If you see the whites starting to form granules along the side of the bowl, then you'll know you've gone too far.  I use the lowest setting on my electric hand mixer.

Slowly add the yolk mixture to the egg whites and beat just until combined.  Pour into the cooled pie shell and return to the oven to bake at 400℉ for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325℉ and bake for another 30 to 40 minutes or until a knife or toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  You'll need to watch and make sure the edges of your crust don't get too brown and if they are, just throw a pie ring over the edges or loosely place a piece of foil over the pie.  When it appears to be done, take it out and place it on a rack to cool.   Note that the buttermilk/egg filling is going to rise up quite a bit because of the air in the egg whites, but as it cools, the filling will go back down.  

As the pie is cooling, you can work on the topping.  Fry the bacon until it's good and crispy, then set it aside to drain and cool on paper towels.

Either on a rimmed sheet in the oven or in a pan on the stove, toss the pecans with the butter and cook at medium heat until you draw out the smell and they start to brown and then promptly take them away from the heat.  I did mine in a skillet on the stove, melting the butter first and then adding the pecans.  It only takes about 5 to 7 minutes to get them toasted.

Crumble the bacon into small pieces and mix with the toasted pecans in a bowl.  Add the maple syrup and toss with your fingers to coat.  Using your fingers, sprinkle the topping over the buttermilk pie.  Don't worry if the pie is still warm, adding the topping won't hurt the structure of the pie.  Then press the topping down a little bit with the back of a spatula.  

It's now ready to be enjoyed for a little day-after-the-feast feasting.


Helen Brown's White Wine Potato Salad

For years I've been attending a fall barn party in which everyone brings a dish to share with the wine, beer, and live music provided by the hosts.  This year I decided to find a simple dish that would be cheap to make, feed many, and wouldn't be a high risk perishable.  My inspiration came from a cookbook I'd recently purchased, Helen Brown's West Coast Cook Book, published in 1952.  The recipe I liked was the California Potato Salad with White Wine.  It seemed simple, but the addition of white wine was a charm, and the short list of ingredients was accessible.  I found that white wine is in fact a great pairing for potatoes and building this salad was easy. It's one of those dishes you can make ahead of time for any event, but especially useful if you don't want to worry about keeping something hot or cold.  It was a taste explosion of the best kind.  Helen Brown's West Coast Cook Book was a four dollar investment which I consider to be a boon.

Helen Evans Brown and I could've been great friends in a different lifetime.  She was a food writer and chef from Pasadena, California that also collected cookbooks.  By the time of her death in 1964, Helen's collection included 5,000 titles on food history and cooking.  The titles that withstood the test of time are now being sold off by Janet Jarvits of Cook Books.  Ironically, not much is written about Helen Brown herself.  James Beard was a close friend and together they wrote The Complete Book of Outdoor Cookery.  It's unfortunate that Helen isn't well known since her West Coast Cook Book was actually a seminal work on Western American food culture, drawing from the food traditions of both immigrant and native populations.  In 1952, the West Coast was still cultivating its culinary identity in the spirit of gaining acceptance and recognition from the East Coast establishment.  That's why Helen Brown's West Coast Cook Book was so important, because it gathered without prejudice, the foodways of the entire western coast, from California to Washington state (the exception being Alaska, which hadn't yet become a state).  In her introduction, Helen explains the sources for all the recipes, which resonates with me and my own attempts at collecting oral and written food histories.  
"The recipes have come from many sources.  Some were evolved from tantalizing and usually vague descriptions by early historians.  Many came from early cook books - books which bear considerable resemblance to one another, as the good ladies of that day stole quite shamelessly from one another.  As these books were invariably compiled to raise funds for some worthy cause, this larceny probably had a heavenly blessing.  These recipes have been adapted for modern use.  Some are recipes from old families, which I have been fortunate in obtaining, and some are for dishes now so well known that, out here, we cook them without benefit of rules, and invariably have our own versions.  Then there are some fine recipes from famous eating places on the West Coast."
I'm ecstatic to have discovered Helen Brown, my soul sister from the great beyond. Helen having fronted for the West Coast, me fronting for the Middle West, both obsessive cookbook collectors who troll for recipes from anywhere and anyone.  This will not be my last word on Helen because I'd also like to delve into some of her other recipes, like Chinese Almond Cakes, Hangtown Fry, and Bodega Dill Beans.

As for the white wine potato salad, it keeps nicely for up to two days, and should actually be made several hours ahead of time. I found this out since in my typical scattered approach to life, I showed up to the barn party at the right time, but on the wrong day.  I was a day early and knew something was up when I pulled into the grassy field to park and heard Pour Some Sugar on Me blasting from the open barn doors.  I spotted a large guy wearing a tux and a purple vest and realized I was about to crash an Iowa wedding reception with my West Coast Potato Salad.  Oops.  Back home I went and popped the salad back in the fridge. 

Helen Brown's White Wine Potato Salad

(I've renamed this recipe to pay homage to its curator.  Because I made this for a larger gathering, I doubled the recipe, but the recipe as written here, should serve 8 to 10.  If you decide to make this salad, set aside a glass of the white wine to toast Helen Evans Brown.)

Boil 5 large potatoes (I used regular old Russets) until just tender.  Just tender is key, because you don't want the potatoes to get too soft or they'll fall apart when you start mixing in the other ingredients, and all the marinating is going to soften them even more.  After boiling, slice or dice the potatoes, and dress while warm, with 2/3 of a cup of white table wine mixed with 1/3 cup of olive oil, a tablespoon of white wine vinegar, 1/4 cup of minced green onions, 2 tablespoons of minced parsley, salt and pepper to taste, and 1/4 cup of melted butter.  Let marinate for several hours before serving.  Don't worry if the mixture appears soupy at first, because as it marinates, the potatoes are going to absorb the liquid.  By the time you take it out to serve, the flavors will have married and heightened into something amazing.  Helen also suggests that boiled, halved chestnuts mixed in make it even more interesting.

5 large potatoes
2/3 cup white wine
1/3 cup olive oil
1 Tablespoon white wine vinegar 
1/4 cup minced green onions
2 Tablespoons minced parsley
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup melted butter


October Cake

It's been too long since I've written a post.  I've been fiddling with the blog design, which is an ever evolving process of tweaking something, making a big mistake, trying to fix it, and starting all over again.  This was the explanation I gave to my high school guidance counselor when we met to discuss why I was failing sewing class my freshman year.  Basically, it was nearing the end of the semester and I had turned in nothing.  I couldn't get past our first project, making a stuffed rabbit.  It was to be made from a fabric of my choosing.  I chose florals and lace with the idea of creating a Victorian masterpiece, a design the Laura Ashley company would want to add to their home collection.  No one told me that sewing required patience and practice before I could turn out perfection.  After a semester of seam ripping, multiple restarts, cursing under my breath, and parent-teacher meetings, I finally finished a rabbit worthy of county fair entry rather than the Laura Ashley Home Collection.  At that point, nobody cared what it looked like, they just wanted me to finish and end our collective misery.  In the end, my home-ec teacher took pity on my obsessive compulsive  proclivities and graded me on quality rather than quantity.  It still follows that when I get an idea for how I want something to look, I can't move on until it's exactly the way I had envisioned.  As illustrated, this obsession with perfection can sometimes be a curse.

Sewing and I never reconnected after that and later in life baking became my thing.  As of lately, cakes have been my focus and October Cake is one I've been thinking on for the past year.  The important ingredient in the cake is apple cider.  Using a locally made cider is worth your while for the quality of the taste and we are now in the height of apple season, so why not enjoy the fruits of the harvest?  I picked up a half gallon produced by our local apple orchard.  The idea for this cake was adapted from a 1959 copy of Farm Journal's Country Cookbook.  In this book, the recipe is titled Cider and Spice Cake, but an accompanying note said it was referred to by someone's grandmother as October Cake and that's the name I liked best because it speaks to its seasonal appeal.  The filling has a wonderful tart flavor set against the backdrop of apple and spice.  

October Cake

3 cups sifted cake flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
3/4 cup butter
1 1/2 cups brown sugar, firmly packed
3 eggs, beaten
1 Tbsp. lemon juice (freshly squeezed is preferable)
1 cup apple cider

Cider Filling
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
3 Tbsp. constarch
1 cup apple cider
2 Tbsp. lemon juice (freshly squeezed is preferable)
2 Tbsp. butter

Creamy Cider Icing
1/2 cup butter
3 1/2 Tbsp. flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup apple cider
3 cups sifted confectioners sugar

For the cake: Preheat oven to 350 ℉.  Butter and flour 3 round 8" cake pans.  Sift together flour, baking powder, salt and spices.  Cream butter and sugar, add eggs, and beat until thoroughly blended.

Add lemon juice to cider.  Add alternately with dry ingredients to creamed mixture, beating after each addition.

Pour batter into the 3 prepared pans.  Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean and the cakes are golden and spring-back when touched.  

Set the pans on a cooling rack for 10 minutes before you flip them over and turn the cakes out to further cool on the racks.

For the cider filling:  Combine sugar, salt, and cornstarch in saucepan.  Add cider and combine.  Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until the mixture becomes thick and somewhat clear.  Remove from heat and add lemon juice and butter.  Set aside to cool.

For the creamy cider icing:  Melt the butter in a saucepan, then blend in the the flour and salt.  Add the cider and stir well.  Bring to a boil and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat.  Add the confectioners sugar and beat well.

Assemble the cake by spreading half the cider filling on one cake round. Set another round on top and spread the rest of the cider filling on top of that layer. Top it with the third round and then frost the top and sides with the creamy cider icing.  Top with something like walnuts or pecans or maybe even a sprinkling of cinnamon-sugar and you'll have a beautiful fall cake that wears the flavor of the season.


Word Up: the week's reads

I'm pretty excited about this rainbow stack of books.  They're little cookbooks by the French Chef, Keda Black.  I was in one of my favorite thrift stores this week and discovered them on a bottom shelf.  Each book has an ingredient theme and the recipes are simple.  It's the little things in life sometimes.

Some other reads I've been spooning this week: 
{The Mother Jones article, Why Your Supermarket Only Sells 5 Kinds of Apples, is a fascinating history of apple growing and explains how many unique varieties have been lost in America.  John Bunk is determined to find and save them.}
{Marcella Hazan, 1924-2012, Changed the Way Americans Cook Italian Food is the New York Times tribute to the great chef who passed away last week-end.  Oddly enough, both Marcella and Lidia Bastianich showed up in my dream last night.}
{The Guardian article, Rise and Shine: the daily routines of history's most creative minds, is great. Did you know Benjamin Franklin was a nudist throughout the morning?  Anyways, I've been inspired to look at my own routines and see how I can make them more bizarre in order to fan the creative flames.} 
{One of my all-time favorite authors, Wendell Berry, was a guest on Bill Moyers this week.  If you have the time, check out the interview.  Wendell writes fiction, nonfiction, poetry, philosophy.  He does it all, but his nonfiction, specifically his Agrarian essays have had a major impact on me. It should be noted that Mr. Berry rarely gives interviews.}
{If you like beer then you have to look at this beer chart. It's like a beer family tree that connects brands and types.  Impressive design work.}
{I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of The New Midwestern Table by Amy Thielen.  Read a little interview with her here.}

Have great week!


Poetry and Porridge: the teachings of Ireland

The best thing about traveling is it removes me from my  comfort zone of daily routine and vicarious living by way of TV dramas and social media updates.  I also find that when I take leave of my collective belongings and reduce my necessary material items to whatever fits in a suitcase, that a burden has been lifted from me.  All I have to worry about is a bag, and when that's gone, as I experienced in Ireland, then I'm confronted with the mere fact that life goes on with or without belongings.  In Ireland, I found myself being internally realigned to value real life moments more than things. You see, the Garda in Drogheda did recover my bag, which I'm guessing turned up on the side of the road.  They called us at Ballynahinch castle on our second to last day in Ireland and said we could come get it if we wanted.  However, that meant a five hour drive back to the east side of Ireland on our last day of visiting Connemara and the castle.  I thought about it for a few minutes, but it was a no-brainer.  There was nothing in my bag worth the sacrifice of mine or my aunt's joyful time at Ballynahinch.  The Garda offered to donate my things to a local shelter and I felt nothing could be more perfect or right with the world than that.  

I think traveling also challenges your assumptions about people, places, and things. There's no good way of really knowing the truths of the world without seeing and experiencing first hand.  My assumption, however minor, that was challenged in Ireland was my belief that anything called porridge was a horrid gruel served by cruel adults to children living in an orphanage.  Imagine my surprise when at breakfast on my first day in Dublin and at every subsequent breakfast to follow in Ireland,  there was always a big pot of porridge.  Yet, we were not bunking at any kind of institutional care facility.  I avoided it on my first day, but on the second I had to cross the gauntlet. I stood back and watched a well dressed woman who was dipping the ladle into the pot o'paste.  After she dumped a ladle full into a bowl, I watched as she dressed her porridge with cream, dried fruit, brown sugar, maple syrup, and muesli.   Wowee!!! I hadn't noticed the accoutrements before!  I suddenly had a feeling about porridge. I scooped my own ladle full, dressed it up with all the fixings, and raced back to the table. First bite in and yes, oh yes, it was amazing.  Figuring out how to make it was the first order of business upon returning to the states.  Basically, Irish porridge is oatmeal made from steel cut oats, which you can find in most grocery stores. Steel cut oats are not flattened and rolled like the quick cooking oatmeal we're used to in the states.  If you really want to do it right, get a can of McCann's imported Irish oats.  Just follow the cooking instructions on the package and then dress up your porridge with whatever you want or have at home.  It's thick, but not pasty, and it becomes a wonderful canvas for whatever flavors and textures you add.  

This trip to Ireland also rekindled my love of poetry.  Maybe it's because the beauty of Ireland has been the inspiration for so many poets and because I was traveling with my aunt, who is a huge lover of poetry herself.  On my second night at Ballynahinch Castle, I stayed up talking to John, the night porter, and we were having a discussion about William Butler Yeats.  John shared his favorite Yeats poem with me titled He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven.  In this poem, Yeats is expressing how if he had the means, he would bestow wonderful riches upon the one he loves, but because he is poor, all he can offer are his dreams.  He asks his loved one to take that into consideration in the handling of his heart since his dreams are all he has.  This trip for me, was like being offered the Cloths of Heaven.  It is the most beautiful place I have ever been to for so many different reasons.  I did find adventure and the love I found was that of the country itself.  I am forever grateful to Lucy and my parents for making this adventure possible.  I hope I can go back someday, but until then I have to experience it through literature and film.  If you're interested in the Irish culture I've been partaking of, you may want to browse my online bookshelf.  Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you William Butler Yeats:
He Wishes for the Clothes of Heaven
Had I the heaven's embroidered clothes,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,

I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

-William Butler Yeats 


Ireland Part Four: handmaidens, unicorns, and pirate queens

Once upon a time there were two peasant women, an aunt accompanied by her niece, and they were in search of a castle.  They were traveling in an economy Ford Fiesta and were hoping to reach the castle before the drawbridge was raised for the night.  Both were hopeful they would be welcomed and not forced to work as handmaides. 

We had no idea what to expect from Ballynahinch Castle.  Most of my ideas about castles are based on fairytales and BBC dramas.  I'd never actually been to a castle before, but in my imagining there was usually a moat, a drawbridge, a tower, and a Mr. Darcy.  This castle, Ballynahinch, is located in the region of Connemara, a peninsula northwest of Galway.  It's a more remote area, slightly off the beaten path, as we discovered in our search to find it.  Ballynahinch had not actually been in our plans.  Galway was the destination of desire, but there were no rooms available.  There were horse races going on and the city was packed.  The nearest accommodation was at this castle and my aunt was slightly dismayed at how far it seemed to be from Galway.  As we drove farther out, the landscape started to change.  There were fewer houses until there were almost no houses, the landscape became rocky and there were small mountains and hills popping up, usually flanked by a lake or a waterway.  There was none of the busyness of Kerry, no tour buses, and few other cars.

We were unsure of where the castle was located exactly.  I had a couple of towns marked on the map where we thought it might be, but we were counting on signs.  The driving hadn't been that difficult this day, but as the area became more remote and the sun began to set, our need to find this castle felt urgent.  I had visions of the Fiesta breaking down leaving Lucy and I to stumble across the moors with the "hounds of hell" on our heels (have you read The Hound of the Baskervilles?).  I think I may have been expecting lots of signage advertising the castle because I'm an American and I've been to Wall Drug.  The idea that this castle might be a gimicky King Arthur playland, complete with reenactments, was dissipating.  We weren't seeing any signs and soon we would be nearing a turn-off that we should maybe take, but neither one of us knew for sure.  Fortunately, out-of-nowhere came a discreet sign on the corner of a country road that said Ballynahinch Castle with an arrow pointing down the road and the number of Kilometers to get there.  So, off we went down the little road and we drove and we drove and it seemed like we had gone much farther than what the sign said.  We were about to give up and drive back to reread the sign, when all of a sudden there was another little sign that said Ballynahinch, 40 meters (or something like that) and it wasn't long before we saw the sign that pointed to the entrance.  

As we made our way up the drive, we ceased talking.  The suspense over Ballynahinch Castle hung in the air.  We were at the base of a mountain following a lane that curved back and forth with trees and flowers on both sides and a shimmering river off to the left.  The castle stayed out of view until we reached the top of the lane and then there it was.  

The magnificence of the building and the setting is beyond words or pictures.  We pulled up and parked the Ford Fiesta in amongst the Bentleys and the Mercedes.  We still hadn't spoken and we dared not even look at one another because it all seemed too good to be true.  How had we ended up here? This couldn't possibly be our castle.  Unless, maybe they had some musty cabins down by the river.  We left the car and walked up to the castle door.  It opened as we approached and there stood a man in a white shirt, tie, and vest.  He ushered us inside, where we were greeted at an elegantly carved desk by a woman named Jane.  

There was no mistake, we were officially registered as guests at Ballynahinch.  It was about 9 p.m. and as Jane checked us in, she said "Oh ladies, it looks like you've had a hard journey, are you hungry?"  How did she know?  We were starving for everything this castle had to offer: the food, the ambience, the luxury, and the castleness of it all.  Jane called upon the pub manager to see what he could do for us since the restaurant was closed and the pub had just stopped serving food.  When he arrived, he greeted us and also said, "Oh ladies, it looks like you've had a hard journey, are you hungry?"  I'm not sure what we looked like, but Ireland is hands down one of the most hospitable places on Earth.  The pub manager offered to put together a cold platter of smoked salmon, prosciutto, cheese, and bread along with a tomato bisque soup.  We were then shown to our room, which was not a musty cabin.  It was a suite on the top floor of the castle, complete with canopied bed, walk-in shower, jacuzzi tub, walk-in closet, views of the castle grounds, and a sitting area. After the porter left us, Lucy and I did our jumping up and down, squealing, hugging etc.  Then we collected ourselves, put on our cool faces and went down to enjoy our salmon and wine in the quiet castle pub.  We spent the next two days soaking it all in: the grounds with their walking trails, the food, the company, and the beauty of Connemara and its seaside towns.  We never made it to Galway and we didn't care.  

It's no wonder Colman Andrews devotes an entire chapter to salmon in The Country Cooking of Ireland.  Salmon in Ireland is plentiful and delicious. The restautant at Ballynahinch can serve salmon caught fresh from the estate's fisheries.    

Some things you should know about Ballynahinch:
  • The history of this castle goes back to 1384.
  • Writers love Ballynahinch and it has a distinct connection to the literary arts.
  • It's nestled on a 450 acre estate of woodlands, gardens, lakes, and rivers.
  • You may see unicorns grazing on the estate grounds, but only if you have "the gift" of sensing their presence as I do.
  • The castle restaurant is amazing and has been recognized by Food & Wine magazine time and again.
  • Crackling logs burn away in the reception area fireplace nearly all the time.
  • There is a library with leather wing chairs and its own fireplace.
  • When you look out at the castle grounds from the gabled windows of your room, you believe your name is Princess So-and-So.  
  • One of the most famous residents was the pirate queen of Connaugh, Grace O'Malley.  She moved in around the year 1546.
  • Live music in the pub on Saturdays.  
  • Fly fishing is the main reason many guests come to Ballynahinch.  There's even a fisherman on staff.
  • The crowd is high society at its casual best.
  • The night porter, John, knows far more about Irish writers and Irish history than any college professor.
  • Unfortunately, there are no ghosts at Ballynahinch.
  • The castle staff are splendid.
  • Ballynahinch is a castle of the people and for the people.

Secret passageways at Ballynahinch.
The town of Roundstone, Connemara.