Posts Tagged ‘Ireland’

Chocolate Caramel Shortbread Irish

March 14, 2011

I figure if I got four those words in the title, I’d get loads of hits. Chocolate, caramel and shortbread make up the three layers in Magills, a recipe I acquired while living in Ireland. They go by many names – last year, we saw them called Wellingtons in one place, millionaire bars in another and in one prosaic coffee bar they were plain old caramel squares. I call them Magills, because I got the recipe from Susan Stokes who got the recipe from a fellow named Magill. I believe I have the best story, with apologies to Lord Wellington.

(I have translated the measurements from weights to volume. You can’t find Kerry Cream here, but it’s really just sweetened condensed milk. Look for Lyle’s Golden Syrup in the international or baking aisle of your grocery store.)




1 stick butter, softened

1 cup flour

¼ cup powdered sugar



4 Tbl. butter

¼ cup sugar

¼ cup Lyle’s Golden Syrup

¾ tin of Kerry Cream


about ½ cup chocolate chips, melted


Crumble shortbread ingredients together; press into 8-inch-square pan and bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes, until the edges are just barely turning brown. Place pan on rack to cool.

Bring caramel ingredients to a boil and stir constantly until the mixture reaches the soft-ball stage. While caramel mixture is still hot, pour over the shortbread. Let cool.

Using an offset spatula, spread the chocolate in a thin layer over caramel. When set, slice into bars or squares with a hot knife.



My Irish brown bread

March 6, 2011

I was once asked – by an American, of course – why there was no soda in Irish soda bread. What? That’s like asking why there are no chocolate chips in chocolate chip cookies. She apparently had a “traditional” soda-bread recipe from her family that contained no soda. I’d say that’s not soda bread.

In Ireland, brown soda bread is called brown bread, no need to specify. I’ve made it for years from a recipe I found in an Irish magazine when I lived in Dublin. When we are in Ireland, we eat as much as possible – you’ll know why once you try it. Brown bread is on the breakfast table at hotels and B&Bs and it’s offered with soup at lunch; at dinner time, you have to ask if they have any left. Brown bread is fast, healthy and extremely tasty. It’s March – make some today.

Marty’s Irish Brown Bread

(This recipe uses weight measurements; it’s the only way I’ve ever made it.)

8 ounces whole wheat flour

8 ounces white flour

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. sugar

1 tsp. soda (yes, soda!)

1 Tbl. butter

11 ounces buttermilk (this is a half-pint of buttermilk, but it’s half of an Imperial pint)

1 egg, slightly beaten

Mix dry ingredients, then rub in the butter. Mix in buttermilk and egg. This can all be done by hand or with a mixer (don’t over mix). Press into a greased loaf pan or round casserole dish. Bake at 425 degrees F for about 30 minutes. You can turn out the loaf and tap on the bottom to check for doneness; if it sounds hollow, it’s done. Turn out, and wrap the bread in a damp tea towel and  place on a rack until the bread is completely cool. Cooling it in a damp tea towel will keep the crust from getting too hard. Enjoy!

Gardening with a sense of place

September 21, 2010

Do you feel that a garden should reflect its surroundings? Apart from the house around which it is situated, should a garden be a part of the greater natural landscape?


Some garden design ties itself closely with place – Japanese gardens reflect, on a small scale, the mountains, valleys and lakes around them. Regional native plant gardens in incorporate trees, shrubs, perennials and bulbs exclusive to the surrounding environment.

And yet there are Japanese gardens around the world, and a native plant garden in a city is decidedly unattached to its surroundings. Ilnacullin, on Garinish Island in Bantry Bay, Ireland, carries Harold Peto’s signature Italianate look.

We borrow whole designs, elements of design, and small design devices to make gardens that we love, so I thought it entirely appropriate to find a house in the Preston Hollow area of Dallas, Texas that you looked like it was lifted out of Hobbiton. The effect of stone (these are the hobbits that took to building houses not burrowed into the hills, but still reflecting a hobbit-hole sort of design) and round windows and a round door suited the woodsy surroundings.

Although some gardens I can’t imagine elsewhere – Lawrence Johnston’s Arts and Crafts style at Hidcote is perfect – I’m all for using elements of those gardens elsewhere. If only someone would build me a double gazebo.

Hidcote Manor, of course

Native plants far from home

August 31, 2010

It never fails that when we go on tour to England, Scotland, and Ireland we see lots of North American native plants in gardens – Oregon grape, red-flowering currant, salal are all ubiquitous in the Pacific Northwest, but cherished ornamentals when they travel across the ocean.

Sometimes the North American natives don’t even cross state lines very often. I have yet to see Veronicastrum (culver’s root) in a Seattle garden – not even my own – and yet it’s glorious in the gardens abroad. In early July we caught this sight at June Blake’s garden, which we visited before we headed to her brother Jimi’s garden Hunting Brook.

The Veronicastrum stands up to 6 feet high with whorled sets of leaves up the stems; its inflorescences form slender lavender (or white) flames snaking toward the sky. What’s not to love?

Oh wait, this just in – “How to grow” advice from the Missouri Botanic Garden says: “Soil should not be allowed to dry out.” No wonder it looked so good in June’s garden. With my cavalier attitude toward watering, I’d better take a pass.

The baggallini brigade

February 16, 2010

I didn’t know that baggallini bags were such a cult item. While signing books at the University Bookstore author’s table at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show, someone noticed my baggallini Around Town Bagg (color: espresso/tomato) and pointed to her own baggallini. We’re our own underground group.

I promised that this bag would be for travel, but I can’t stop using it for everyday, because it’s so darn handy. The pockets! One for business cards, one for sunglasses (safely stowed through most of the Seattle winter), one for thin stuff, one for big stuff, another one for big stuff, a little one inside that one. Whew. And a wide strap that doesn’t kill my shoulders. Coming up, the travel test as I head to Philadelphia to speak at the flower show, Chicago to check out their show, then later in March to Texas to check out the bluebonnets. This summer, Ireland, England. Fall, Italy. This is what comes of not going anywhere in the awful year 2009, I’m ready to burst at the seams. But my baggallini will be intact.

Gardeners Commiserate

January 27, 2010

There’s nothing like disaster in the garden to bring gardeners together, and this summer on our Ireland garden tour, we’ll find out just how much we have in

Crinodendron hookerianum (Chinese lantern tree)

common. Here in the maritime Pacific Northwest, we’ve had only one bout of freezing cold this season – a week in December that turned the ground crusty and made the leaves on all the rhododendrons droop. But it was enough to make us think of last year, when the cold, ice and snow lasted far too long.

Last year, gardeners reported loads of damage: Phormium looked wretched and many gardeners swore they would never plant another hebe. This year, the damage was minimal, mostly taking out plants such as Pelargonium, which usually die as annuals anyway, unless you take extra precautions.

In Ireland and England this winter, they’ve had what we had last year. Will the Chinese lantern be in bloom when we’re there? Jane Powers reports on the damage in her garden in the Irish Times.

Gifts for the Garden Traveler

December 14, 2009

Gardeners’ stockings are soon to be filled with Atlas gloves, trowels, sisal twine and bird netting, but those of us who also enjoy traveling to garden may have a few other items on our minds.

The garden traveler’s holiday wish list is a hybrid of sorts – somewhere between a normal tourist and a gardener.

A tour – Cough up the bucks and send your garden traveler (or yourself) on a specialty tour with like-minded people, who want to discuss the merits ofCrinodendron hookerianum and where it will grow. Our Ireland tour for 2010 may be just the ticket.

A digital camera – And not just any cheap or any expensive model. We take pictures outside and so we need more than a 2.5- or 3-inch LCD screen on the back of the camera: We need a viewfinder. Call it old-fashioned, but in bright daylight those screens are useless. Canon has some reasonably priced models that all include viewfinders; check out the SD780IS. Yes, we do need that image stabilizer – this isn’t a professional photographers tour, and we won’t wait around while you set up your fancy equipment. Anyway, many gardens have a “no tripod” rule, and so we must be our own tripods.

Something to write on – Garden travelers take notes. We may need to jot down the name of a plant or something funny that our local guide says (“The crowd will be heaving.”) And occasionally, we may need to write that down in middle of a light mist. So, a Rite-in-the-Rain notebook comes in handy. They come in all

Leighton's beer notebook

sizes and have yellow covers. Leighton has a small one that he uses as his beer notebook; you never know when a splash of a best bitter might land on an important comment. Rite-in-the-Rain also carries pencils for wet-weather use.

A raincoat, not an umbrella – See previous entry on my biases.

A travel purse – I’ve found mine, it’s a Baggalini. Wide strap to go over my shoulder, enough but not too many zipper pockets and loads of room even though it looks small. Waterproof for those less-than-perfect weather days.

Really good walking shoes – We are not hikers; or at least, this is not a hiking trip. Shoes are too personal to recommend, but I’ll tell you I love my new Clarks Unstructured. Take two pairs so that they can get a rest every other day.

Books about the gardens you want to see – Patrick Taylor’s book The Gardens of Britain and Ireland will give you a good overview. The Good Gardens Guide by Peter King usually comes out every year. Is there a particular place you want to read about? Ask me for a recommendation.

And, for those lovers of English ale, Leighton recommends The Good Beer Guide – which brews are the best and where to find them. To get the 2010 edition, you must go to the amazon UK site.

See you in the garden. Or the pub.

February 17, 2009

Jay Rayner wrote a piece for The Guardian on the new meal rations for the British military forces. I found the article after hearing him interviewed on PRI’s The World, where he said the food wasn’t bad at all.  It reminded me of what food we encounter when we’re traveling — even if that traveling is to not-so-foreign countries.

Food is memorable because it’s good or bad, or because of the environment in which you ate it.  My dear friend Kathy and I had a lovely picnic lunch on a walk out of Sligo one time.  This was a million years ago, and I’m not sure today if any hotel or guest house would put together such a simple meal:  a flask of tea, cheese sandwiches, some fruit (I think) and a few biscuits.  It was perfect for a walk.

            There was a memorable London meal of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding at a restaurant with a group of college friends when we were on a theatre visit from New Mexico State University (again, ages ago).  It was memorable, because charming John Zwernemann was able to get us extra portions of custard on our trifle.

In Ireland, food taught me how to properly pronounce “Donegal.”  I was staying in a B&B in Galway, I think, and there were a few Brothers staying there, too.  They taught me this fine rhyme:

Where do you come from?

How are your spuds?

            Big and small

How do you eat them?

            Jacket and all

And do they bother you?

            Not at all

What IS that plant?

October 18, 2008

I was just out dismantling an elderberry – it’s Sambucus nigra ‘Guincho Purple’, now starting to get that apricot look to the foliage before it drops.  It’s not that I don’t like the plant, I love elderberries, but I have a fabulous buckthorn to put there: Rhamnus alaternus ‘Argenteovariegata’.  It’ll be a brighter look to the corner, and it’s not like I’ll be without the European elderberry.  I have f. lacinata in back, and its marketed purple-leaf selection ‘Black Lace’ in a pot; I also have a weak-growing variegated selection whose name escapes me at the moment.

Elderberries are wonderful shrubs and so forgiving of being whacked back (I expect ‘Guincho Purple’ to come back, and I’ll probably keep it a 3-foot shrub size instead of the 15 feet it has reached).  Working on the elderberry at this time of year inevitably made me think of when we usually see it in its native habitat:  May in England.  The hedgerows are full of white blooms, from the plate-shaped elderberry to bunches of hawthorn to the lacecap look of Viburnum opulus.  It’s a beautiful site, even alongside A roads, which can be quite freewaylike, although not as much as M roads.

I’d be able to pick out an elderberry at almost any time of year, but some plants can get me stumped if I’ve only seen them, for example, on late-spring tours of England or Ireland.  The first time I saw Luma apiculata, I was amazed.  We were in a private garden in County Wexford that is no longer open.  It was June.  A small tree with multiple trunks (such an elegant look) caught our eye; the bark was patchy and fuzzy – like a staghorn sumac.  It was gorgeous.

Fast-forward to a visit to Dan Hinkley’s garden Windcliff last July.  I was taking the Ladew folks around, and as we walked down the drive, there was a lovely shrub that had small sparkly white flowers.  Of course people wanted to know what it was; I stared at it and thought “I know what you are…what are you?”

Fast-forward again to about a month ago, when suddenly, unbidden, it came to me:  I had seen a small Luma apiculata without its fuzzy bark (it actually goes through a period where it sheds its bark) and in bloom.  I’m so proud of myself.  If I had a Luma apiculata, I could see each and every one of its seasons.  I wonder where I’d plant it.

Gardens and travel – a perfect pairing

May 23, 2008

Coming into Heathrow from our change-of-planes in Copenhagen, we look down to see Windsor Castle.  We’re here!  I love landing — looking at the doll’s landscape below, and imagining sitting in a garden and having tea while discussing the wisteria.  Welcome to Passports and Seed Packets, my new blog on garden travel.  This is where I can share with you the stories we hear and the gardens we visit from Seattle to Scotland to South Carolina.  I’m no expert, so I won’t lecture you on the brand of suitcase you carry, using a backpack or how to fold your one nice skirt so that it doesn’t look like it’s come through a mailing tube.  Although I’m not above discussing the details of travel, instead, here you’ll find loads of ideas for trips and tales of the road (and sky), all tied into gardens, plants and gardeners.  Garden travel has got to be the best, because gardeners are inquisitive; that’s how we’ve learned stories about a Messerschmitt buried in a garden to the meaning of the word “corn” in England.  And here, I’ll get to tell all the stories.