It was damn cold in southwestern China on April 20th, 2010

Barley Bread and Yak Butter Tea

I could go for some yack butter tea and barley bread right now. Really. We were served the version with honey and not salt, although the yak butter was quite salty, which made a nice balance. The tea, made from smoked leaves of a Tibetan bush, is rumored to give the body strength and energy and warm the soul during cold days and nights. 

It’s a little crazy that at this time last year we were there in a hauntingly beautiful valley in southwestern China.  And it was damn cold. I remember looking for some warm clothes in Chengdu the day before we set out for Jiuzhaigou . We bought a bunch of warm socks (I still have them) and a few fleece jackets. We thought that would be enough. We had no idea how much colder Jiuzhaigou , China is at this time of year. Let’s see, while I’m typing this it’s 11:36 pm there. The sun will be up in 6 hours there. It is 58F today there with thunderstorms. We woke up the second day we were there to snow covered mountains.

Looking outside, it’s hard to believe the winter is over here, but it is. I’ve been running by blooming trees and flowers for over two weeks. Supposedly it’ll get to the low 70’s here today and sunny, while it’s expected to hit 97F in my hometown of San Antonio, TX. Weather is crazy. If we think too hard, we may get overwhelmed with all the crazy variations of weather around the globe right at this moment. Traveling makes you think about these things more often. I’m often wondering what it’s like in some tiny little place we were at a year ago. And with the proliferation of data and the power of the internet, it’s fairly easy to check and be aware at any time of day what is is, wherever. 

I remember the 12 hour bus ride up, which followed the river valleys for almost the entire way to the Tibetan valley of Jiuzhaigou, that is now and increasingly overrun by Han Chinese. If you are middle-class or upper-middle class, heading to Jiuzhaigou sometime in your life has become the thing to do. Our bus trip following the gorges and rivers, passed over the damns and rock quarry’s that supply a lot of the raw material for the vast Sichuan province. Here and there signs of the 2008 Earthquake that rent homes and lives lay amidst new towns and buildings. 

Jiuzhaigou has become a modern day wild west tourist destination and we hopped from the bus to taxi and were hustled down the main road, whistling past new restaurants and hotels that have sprung up over the last 15 years ending at a small village just outside the town.

It was in the hands and open arms of a Tibetan family that we had some of our most remarkable moments in China. The villagers there live with a mix of very old and traditional houses with a few modern amenities. Stark is an understatement. One of the houses we slept in had an outdoor toilet, a hole between old wooden boards, off the edge of the house, a 20 foot drop to the pile below. Wind whistles through the slats. The man that lives there was in his late 70’s, at least. 

But the love and embrace of life there is something I’ll never forget. And thinking back to that time, I get a little warmer thinking of the time we spent with that wonderful family and village. When Lo San the young cousin of our host was gently coaxed by his grandmother inside. 

So, today I took a walk through our not so distant past. Here Lo San, being a terrible two monster of a child looks up into my lens. 

His dad watches proudly while Lo San gets up to something else.

Then we huddle inside, warmed by the fire and the yak butter tea, some relishing it while others look upon with disdain and anxiety. 

Over that 24 hours that was this day one year ago, when looking back over the imagery, it looks as if we floated through the minutes. The day passed here while we went to bed and then rose early to walk the valley and national park in Jiuzhaigou. Here Tracie ponders the stunning quiet found in the noise of a bank of low waterfalls.

We walked a good amount of the length of the park, hopping on the constant hum of trams full of chinese tourists, here and there. We wanted to get our money worth at $50 US each for one day in the park. We strolled for about six hours. 


Birds gorged themselves by the dribbling streams


Phantoms arose from the mineral lakes


And slight changes in perspective, would change everything you saw



We were welcomed back to the Tibetan village by the prayers on the wind


With thoughts of that day we plunge into today.


Overlooking a volcano

Meet Yoshi. One of the unfortunate things about visiting a place far away is that there are always things you regret not doing. Below is the best photo of Yoshi I have. Like so many other wonderful people we’ve met in our travels, we didn’t take enough pictures of or with him. Viewed in a positive light, it’s one of the millions of reasons to see these people again.  Notwithstanding there are qualities within this photo I’d never have captured had I known I would forget to take a few more. 

I like the following photo of Yoshi. But before you look at it I want to try and describe the man himself. I understand you never fully know a person, however a some you can learn a lot from someone that is willing to open their doors and let it all hang out so to speak. Sure, in Japan it’s a culturally significant act. If you’re going to be a host, you’re going to be the best damn host there is and that means opening up your life just a little bit.

But people will surprise you when you least expect it. In Japan, the level of hospitality that we experienced, its something that will make you feel like you’ve never felt before. Here in the states we’re all so afraid of letting people in, letting people get close. And the Japanese, in our films and books and history, have this reputation of being stand-offish. There oceans of books about the closed society that is Japan. Some would say the glimmer that Yoshi shared with us was more to show that the Japanese are extraordinary and unique, but I would argue he did it to show us how similar we are and how culturally unique we all are.

There is much to be gained in letting your guard down and opening up your trust. I’m still learning. Hopefully by the time I lay to rest for good, I’ll understand how all this works mostly. Yoshi brought me and I think us both closer towards opening our hearts fully. We spent a little over four days with Yoshi and I grew to respect and love him as a friend and wise soul. It’s not just that he took in complete strangers and hosted them in such a welcoming and open manner, it’s that he did it with pride and caring. Hospitality with no-expectation of anything in return.

It wouldn’t be such a big deal and I don’t think I’d go on about it so much if I felt I could encounter it a little more here in the states. But I remain a skeptic, an un-trusting, fearful, questioning American at heart. But this man let us into his life, his home and showed us the beauty, joy and delight that can be lived in a very unique culture that began hundreds of generations before ours. In turn, he shared with us his respect and value of some of our very own cultural values that are questioned and frowned upon by people within our very own borders and shared with us his delight for the exceptional nature of our own country and that its position in the history of the world isn’t something to be taken lightly or belittled as much as we do.He taught us respect. Respect is not something that is permanent. It’s hard gained and a long and winding road. The potholes are huge sometimes and it could use a good paving. He showed us we could be the pavers or the ones driving over without slowing down. That was in our hands.

Yoshi is man that stands tall at around 5 foot 7. Every move seems deliberate, unsentimental and unwavering. Here he stands in front of a roadside egg vending machine. They aren’t the eggs he usually buys, but something of a novelty that he wanted to share with us. Us being interested in food. The sun in Kyushu is unrelenting at times and Yoshi is always prepared. Khaki safari shorts, cut just above the knee hung loosely over his energetic, seeming, thirty’ish frame. His golf shirt, collars thankfully cuffed where they belong, curled and resting on his tense shoulders, his sunglasses firmly concealing his glimmering eyes. His corporate hat pulled just over his brow, brim slightly curled from moderate wear. Gold bespectacled sunglasses flash the likeliness that the Kyushu day will blast us with its direct sun and dehydrate us with its steamy sea breeze. Skin a tanned hide of restful exertion in the South Japanese sun. Kagoshima like the Florida of his dreams. Snow falls infrequent and for brief moments at best.

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Landed in the land of Yoshi-San

We haven’t spoken much about our time in Japan. By all means this is not because we had nothing to say, nothing to reflect on instead it’s quite the opposite. Japan is as it ever will be an intriguing and mysterious island for travelers arriving from a western perspective. A few hundred years ago I imagine it was even more shocking, for we have a world of bindingly interconnectedness.  After we left Japan, the only country that came close to the particularly alone feeling that is Japan was Ireland. Japan stands out, culturally, geographically and as a place to move through. 

I’ve lived to see the innovation and capitalistic strength that has set Japan onto the world stage. The war was long over by the time I squirmed out from the womb but Japan has infiltrated our landscape in a way that few back in the forties would dare to believe. Yet, being surrounded by the products of Japan’s efficiency and export economy has not had the effect of bringing any sort of intellectual, historical or cultural understanding of what is Japanese. When we began in February to talk about the places in the world we’d like to try to visit on this journey, Japan landed at the top of the list. So, we dug through our minds and eeked out a few loose connections that we had to the far flung island.

I’d been working in fine dining as a Chef in NY for a few years, short by any stretch of the imagination for old-school Chefs, but I had managed to make a great many friends and connections in that short period. After I’d let my restaurant know I was leaving I pulled Nafumi, our Wagyu beef supplier, aside and told her about our plans. We’d been ordering from Nafumi for over 3 years so it just seemed natural to ask her. I spoke with her on the phone more than much of my family. As soon as she learned of our interest in Japan and our supposed itinerary she insisted that we come over for dinner and discuss how she could help us in exploring Japan. Nafumi had always been a hard lady to bargain down prices, so I chose not to argue and welcomed the opportunity for a new friend.

We spent a lovely evening at her house and enjoyed a nice braise over terrific wine. She made a commitment that she would ask all her friends and see if she could find us a place to stay or two while we were there. We were shocked and thankful and left her home glad to have such a wonderful new friend and advocate for our adventures. 

Time compressed and shoved us all the way to Seoul before we realized that we hadn’t done a good job at finalizing our plans in Japan. We had found a intriguing farm to stay at but that was about a week and a half away and we were leaving Seoul in a few days. Time was getting short. We began barraging Nafumi with follow up emails within a few days of realizing we were getting too close and needing to purchase tickets. The prices were creeping and for any of you that have ever traveled to Japan, you know how it is; for those who’ve yet to go, save all you can.  We didn’t hear from Nafumi for a few days and started to panic. We quickly booked a flight to Tokyo as we needed to leave Seoul and be in Japan with plenty of time to find the farm we wanted to visit. 

The next day, I get an email from Nafumi. “Ok, Wayne. You are good in Kagoshima.” She goes on to explain that her friend Yoshi is available and willing to ‘host’ us. We quickly called the airlines and changed our flight from Tokyo to Kagoshima. We were on our way to Japan. Into the arms of a total stranger. We only knew he was nice and would pick us up from the airport. 

For the last few days in Seoul I put all that out of my mind and didn’t really think about it until we were on the plane to Japan. Who is this guy? What will he be like? Are we intruding? What are we getting into here? 


Share Your Greens: Feast and Celebrate to Support Conuco Farm and Evolutionary Organics

Tracie and I have been members of the Bed-Stuy CSA for a number of years. This is one of the few sources of high-quality, low-cost, local fresh produce for our neighborhood. Please join us in growing the farm and helping them recover their losses.

This October, Conuco Farm and Evolutionary Organics were struck by a devastating fire, losing a season’s worth of storage crops, farm equipment, and personal belongings.  Join us for three upcoming fundraisers to help rebuild what was lost so these farms can grow for many seasons to come.


Friday, December 10, 2010, 8pm

Auction at “A Year at Rooftop Farm” Exhibition

6pm-11pm (auction begins at 8pm)

The Commons: 388 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, NY

Check out a season of photographs of Eagle Street Rooftop Farm and do your holiday shopping at our auction! Live music, food & drinks.

Want to donate something to the auction? Contact us at


Sunday, December 12, 2010, 7pm

Benefit Dinner at Palo Santo Restaurant

652 Union Street, Brooklyn, NY

$75 per person

Latin cuisine with wine pairings

Tuesday, December 14, 2010, 7pm

Benefit Dinner at iCi Restaurant

246 Dekalb Avenue, Brooklyn, NY

$75 per person

Seasonal cuisine with beer & wine

Conuco Farm is the Community Supported Agriculture farmer for Bed-Stuy Farm Share.  They have driven fresh produce to Bed-Stuy each week for 5 years.  We’ve been able to depend on them all this time, we ask you to help Conuco Farm today so that our neighborhood can continue to rely on them. Make a donation to the farm directly here.

More information?
Contact or 718.783.8443

Print this flyer and take it to your Holiday Parties and spread the word!

Yours in Service,



A visual waltz through our trip

Organizing photos is more labor intensive and time consuming than I’d ever imagined. Despite the technological advances of digital media over good ol’ strip film (anyone remember that?) sorting through over 10,000 photos is still an onerous task.

But, que the drum roll please. Let us present the most important and we think best photos from our trip (at least of the ones we took on our digital SLR). We’ve organized them by the timeline of our trip.

The locations are as follows: Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, Southern China, South Korea (Seoul), Japan, Beijing, China, Italy, Turkey, Germany, Ireland, Germany. Whew. That’s a mouth full. So, from 10,000+ I present you 469 of the most interesting. Each photo generally has a caption or tag explaining what and where it is. Enjoy. More reflections to come putting it all in context. Still so much to write.


Yea, the weather was a bit unusual…

We may have mentioned it in passing to some of you or maybe even somewhere in the depths of our musing here, but as near as I can figure we can’t say it enough. Signs of human impact on the world’s weather systems seem clear to us from our travels. While our evidence and stories remain anecdotal at best, I think they still need to be shared. Every voice on this issue should be heard. 

Two days ago in the NY Times, an Op-Ed piece by a farmer, Jack Hedin, out of Rushford, MN, shared his observations on weather patterns and their detrimental effect of an extreme nature over the past 3 years in a piece entitled ‘An Almanac of Extreme Weather’. This piece hits home here as we work towards opening a store and later small farm ourselves in the coming months to years. I highly recommend his piece if only to provoke some discussion on more thoughts on shaping our food systems here in United States. As conversations in and around the politics of food and sustainability in smaller farms gets more and more divisive with some posing it as a selectively ‘elite problem’ I want to suggest that soon, we may all be at the mercy of far greater issues beyond food price heading right down to food scarcity brought on by increasing extreme weather conditions around the world. Smaller farms that work towards sustainable practices, I’d argue are very much our hope for changing the weather systems to something more positive, if we can grow the base and add farmers that are interested in this. 

An unseasonably cool early summer in Northern Thailand

One of our first stops of our travels, landed us in a little known province of Northern Thailand called Isaan. There we were lead by Jo Jandai and Peggy Reents of Pun Pun Center for Self-Reliance on a tour a famers that were working their land by paying attention and working to sustain their local ecological systems and have limited negative impact to these ecological systems they’re a part of and in turn were making positive impacts on their community. In our brief ‘Sustainability Study’ saw evidence of micro-climates that were preserving indigenous plants and animal life on farms such as Paw Jo’s, whose farm stood out in the sun drenched drought stricken fields of the Thai summer like an Oasis in the desert. And it literally was. Paw Jo had noticed that on his land he had a pond, a forest and the cultivated areas of land that he’d been using for a number of years and rather than clearing the land where the pond or forest sit he’d decided to let them stay and instead plant near and amongst these indigenous features. The pond and forest, being on his land, adjacent to his cleared and cultivated area acted as a barrier to pest and disease. At every turn of conversation he would chime in something about his garden and land as his medicine. And his strong hands, healthy body and clear eyes and sense of humor all spoke loudly in support of these claims. Take a look at the man Paw Jo and a few glances at his farmland and gardens.

Paw Jo, watching a few birds fly in over his test ‘dry-season’ red rice crop.

Paw Jo

Looking out from the entrance over his pond and into part of his forest.


The Pond and Forest Protect and Provide

A look across a neighbor’s farm over to Paw Jo’s in the background.


It Sticks Out

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Crashing through Fall

Number one thing that has been most challenging in returning from a long trip abroad and then diving right back in to New York City has been a latent resistance to the return of the pace of the city life. And I remember swearing to each other that we didn’t want to return to that pace when we came back, but here we are and I think we are moving even faster and busier than before. How does this always happen and why does it feel right and ok this time?

Off and on I’ve been trying to answer these questions and finally it’s hit me right in the face. As I sit here reflecting on yesterday’s connections made and connections missed. When we stepped out of our routine of daily life we were able to give ourselves an opportunity to really look at how fortunate our lifestyle is and how much more we can do in this world if we take it as an opportunity rather than a right. We have re-discovered the greatness of the ideals and underlying belief system that swells from the shores of this country. Every individual impacts the world, but we have built a unique civilization whose very existence and progress has shaken the foundation of belief systems around the world. And we can choose to move through life and fail to pay attention, fail to think about and react to our interactions and fail to impact the world in a positive way or we can step up and do something with that opportunity to shape our influences in powerful and positive ways because we are these fortunate individuals that have transformed a few powerful ideas into a way of life.

Throughout our trip, everyday balanced on our connection to others and their individual actions. We were dependent on strangers and they carried us through. Strangers became life-long friends, friends and family grew closer than ever before by following our story on the internet from abroad as we hurtled further and further physically away. This would not have been possible if we were from another time or another place. So, in our return to the busy-ness or business of this American life we return with a renewed sense of purpose and this propels us faster and faster every day. No longer are we fearful of the busy-ness of the city or the world, rather we are driven to make more and more connections which pushes us that much closer to our eventual undoing where it all will just seem like a flash in the pan.

But will we be just a flash in the pan? I hope not. And as we lay back in our warm and cozy bed this morning we talked about our dreams of the night and of the future as the changes in light pushed me out of bed and into the kitchen where a cup of hot coffee was minute a away. Fresh water flowed into the electric kettle, energy thrust it up to a temperature that would give water the unique properties that forced open my eyes and excited my body and mind such that I had to sit down and share a few reflections from the road less traveled by us and more considered.

And so we let go a bit of the resistance to life threatening and unyielding pace and leap forward to new ideas and connections and are thankful for the ones that brought us to places we’d never imagined and then carried us home. We take another look at fall light and leaves as they both drift and blend into winter and recognize that we will take what we can get and make the most of it.


The Bagel Lady of Beijing: Part One

Since we’ve returned from our travels abroad, it’s been a whirlwind month of reflection, visiting friends and planning our future. One of the main reasons we set out into the great blue yonder was to gather inspiration for a few ideas that have been rumbling around in our heads. We wanted to visit people on the other side of the world who had similar values or intentions. While we were on our way, Tracie’s sister Sannie emailed us and reminded us that since we were headed to Hong Kong we should really try and meet up with King and Margaret, Tracie’s aunt and uncle’s close friends. Sannie gave us the number and while we were there we called them and asked if they wanted to meet up.

As you know , one thing led to another and King and Margaret pointed us in the right direction for several people to talk to and visit with during our trip. They understood our intentions for the future and got our vision. Like that they put us in contact with Lejen Chen, the Bagel Lady, in Beijing, China. They told us we should look her up when we got there and Margaret even sent off a polite introduction via email. But Beijing was a long way off from Hong Kong. So, we didn’t move too much towards setting up our meeting. We kind of put it off. And that’s too bad, because we only had one lovely day with her. One day was enough, however, to give us a new perspective of what Beijing could be.

We’d been down and out on Beijing. Hating it, in fact. It’s huge. Everything is built to intimidate and control. It all started with the Forbidden city some 600 years ago. To give you an idea of how huge it is, we spent a whole morning there and we only got to the interior wall of the palace – we didn’t even make it to the living quarters. And there are wide expanses of granite or slate pavement that batters your knees and sears your brow. I can imagine a little bit how it must have felt to foreign dignitaries that arrived at the gates. Awestruck is an understatement.

But there is this emptiness to Beijing’s scale and growth. While the history is there in the Forbidden city and other sites around the city, it’s also crumbling as you head to the metro. Vast blocks of centuries-old neighborhoods are leveled while you sleep off your dumplings from the evening before. We wondered if there was any kind of cultural preservation. It seems that everyone and everything is all about making the fastest buck. Nothing slows down. Its all crushing, bearing down on you, hard to breathe.

Then we received a phone call from Lejen, that she was back in town and was going to be available one of the days we had left before we headed out of China. So Tracie put her head down and mapped out a course of action for navigating the Beijing bus system to make our way out past the 3rd ring road where Lejen’s restaurant, Mrs. Shanen’s, sits.

Interior Dining Room at Mrs. Shanen’s

It’s in a mostly expatriate area. I mean, who else would be looking for a bagel? Not the Chinese you’d expect, but she has built a local clientele base, some of whom have “pioneered different preparation techniques” from frying to dredging in sesame paste and butter1. The restaurant is a roadside cafe sitting out in desolate surroundings amidst new outcroppings of expat gated communities and industrial parks. Never judge a book by its cover or its location.

The dining room was one of the most relaxing we set foot into in China. She’s definitely created an oasis in the middle of a desert. It has the vibe of quiet and ancient meditation while still maintaining a upbeat contemporary European look. Step in from the road to fresh lemonade, Arnold Palmers, grass fed burgers, chocolate cake, bagels, Fair Trade coffee and delectable Chinese teas.

Lovely tea sets rest during a lull on the service station shelves


Tracie’s Lemonade

My Arnold Palmer

There is nothing like stepping out of the Beijing heat into a quiet American style cafe. Forget the culture shock of China, welcome to the culture shock of little America in China. But Mrs. Shanen’s and Lejen Chen are beyond satisfying an expatriate community in China. They are also enriching a culture that seems lost and a partial reflection of what it could be. Lejen has found a way to fill a need and spread little flowers while she does it, figuratively and literally.

Mrs. Shanen’s is one part of Lejen Chen and her husband Shan En ventures into bringing wholesome good food to Beijingers, expats and locals alike. She launched the bagel factory back in 1996 and has grown the cafe and now is successfully running an organic farm and CSA to boot. As we left the cafe to go visit the farm I remarked on a room off to the side that seemed setup just for kids and she said “Yea, we’re thinking of turning that into a pizza joint…maybe.”

the Industrial Back Alleys of Beijing, a Little Bit of Gotham, Any
Wu, April 19, 1999 Nytimes.



We’re back. Now what?

It’s been a little over two weeks since we returned from our trip. The first few days were a bit cloudy in our heads. Despite transitioning to the west by way of Ireland and Germany coming home was not an easy thing to do.

For weeks now this question had been running through our minds: “Now what?” But the thing is, coming back to one of the busiest cities in the world is an adventure unto itself.

Sure we have big plans and we’ll continue to write and hint at what we’re working on in the “real world” pipeline but our immediate thoughts when we landed were: What will we need to do when we get home to get it ready to live in? When can we get the cat from Tracie’s Mom? What is there to eat? And who’s around in the dog days of summer to say hello?

Once we made the epic trip from JFK, via the Airtrain and then the A train, we were spit out onto the boiling hot pavement of Fulton Park. When we’d left over five months ago the trees were barren of leaves and the ground was slick with slush and black ice. The green enveloped us and welcomed us home.

It was Thursday and the neighborhood was fairly quiet. I mean why the hell would anyone in their right minds be out in this weather? It was a sit under the shade and sip an ice cold lemonade kind of day.

We lurched down our fair streets and found our landlord and upstairs neighbor Tim and our neighbor from across the street Ray hanging out on the stoop.

We were home. Despite the adventures it was a good feeling seeing friendly familiar faces. Ray and Tim were almost as excited as us to have us back. We spent a little time catching up and headed inside to assess the afternoon’s work ahead.

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Shades of Green

We’ve spoken with loads of people about Ireland and they all say “It’s really green!” Having come off a week of traveling there and visiting with friends we can confirm the rumors are true, it is really green! Of course there is more to Ireland than shades of green, but one of the things that really drew me into the place while we were there was being surrounded by it all the time.

As you may have noticed a running theme in our travels, we really have utilized our friend and family network on this trip. Down to the wire it has been the case. We’ve moved legs of the trip around, changed direction, got new ideas about things to do, and really remained flexible. Well, we made friends with a lovely woman from Northern Italy named Alice on the Sustainability Study Trip in Thailand. Alice having read our post about us visiting Francesco in Italy dropped us an email saying how nice it sounded to visit with him again and it was a shame we weren’t heading to Ireland on this trip as she had space and time at the moment to show us around a bit. Well, we emailed her right back and told her we probably could make it happen since we had recently finished our time on the farm in Turkey and were looking forward to a bit of a cooler climate.

Besides not putting Ireland on our original agenda, since it was geared towards mostly Asia based traveling, Ireland had never really crossed our minds as a place to visit. Way back I have Scottish roots, but as far as I can recollect, NO Irish. Tracie even remarked on our way back to Germany, that it had never really even crossed her mind as a place to travel. The thing we both knew was whenever Ireland has come up the recollection that it is a really green place always sends visions of rolling hills, spring rivers and frolicking sheep through the head. One month after scorching hot temperatures in Turkey and a “yes, please” wasn’t so hard to come up with to Alice’s invitation to come visit.

It turns out, Alice’s boyfriend, Paul hails from a small West Cork Village and knows a crap load of fun and interesting facts about Ireland and Cork County, where they live and we spent the bulk of our time traveling around with them. You could spend weeks just in Cork County and not see or do everything that sounds even a hint interesting.

Alice and Paul know the skinny on all things about food in the area and in just a few days time, in between seeing the countryside and stuffing our faces we were starting to feel that the country was so rich it deserves another three or four visits. “Mom would love Ireland.” became the mantra. So, Mom we have to come back with you and show you around.

Early on in our travels Tracie’s sister Lannie had sent us a link from The New York Times’ website about an interesting sounding farm and restaurant called Ballymaloe, “Reclaiming Ireland’s Culinary Heritage, One Roast Lamb or Sponge Cake at a Time”

Ballymaloe and Darina Allen are to Ireland what Alice Waters is to the United States both have all but single handedly lead the movements in their respective country to save the food cultures of their countries. Alice lead the flag and brought Carlo Petrini’s Slow Food movement to the U.S. And Darina heads it up in Ireland.

We skimed over the article and said amongst ourselves, “wow, cool…too bad we don’t know anyone in Ireland…” and headed into Singapore and then Thailand. Eventually, over conversation at lunch or dinner one day, Ballymaloe came up and we asked her if she knew where it was. She said it was near her home in Ireland. We put that in the back of our mind and somehow, when Alice suggested we come visit, it came rushing back. Ballymaloe was one of the last places we visited with Alice, but one of our favorites.

It’s not the easiest place to find. Signs appear and dissapear and the Irish roads are meant to be navigated only by locals like Paul. But Paul was bringing home the bacon and Alice an Italian ex-pat and two Americans were left to find our way. When we were nearly there we took an accidental detour to explore the glimpse of what appeared to be a lighthouse and seashore rising up out of the barley fields. We head down the road to investigate.

The Beach of Ballycotton

After being mesmerized by the lovely view of the shore and lighthouse, we felt a bit lost so we pulled over and asked a young man working in a lawn near the road. He sent us in the right direction and after another stop and request for directions we were on our way.

The road down to the Ballymaloe House, restaurant and cafe took us through a long green abutted driveway, over a small cattle guard into view of the Ballymaloe House a Norman Castle from around 1450. A Castle as a restaurant and hotel overlooking a stunning view of Ireland’s rolling hills and dales. Not a bad place to spend a few days or share a nice lunch and with grumbling bellies we set off for their cafe, tucked behind a general store loaded with Irish goods and a cook’s dream of culinary tools and resources.

The menu, a chalkboard of the days specials hadn’t even been posted and we sat patiently, placing our drink order, to see what delights awaited. Just behind our table the counter struggled with a load of homemade goodies. Alice settled for a sampling of those while Tracie and I opted for more savory options. Hers was a salad of Smoked Mackerel over a bed of freshly picked field greens and mine was the most elegant rendition of a quiche, a Leek and Cheddar tart, I’ve ever had. That’s right Thomas, Ireland has kicked your ass.

My tart quivered with Irish cream, milk and the finest farmhouse cheddar with rustic perfectly braised stalks of leeks careening into every fork full. At Ballymaloe, I could tell, it’s all about the ingredients. I was delighted to see Chef Keller’s Bouchon cookbook resting in their bookstore and chuckled to myself seeing how the finest and freshest ingredients could trump even the most revered chef’s attempt at the best quiche in the world.

Tracie’s salad held forth more subtle surprises as the flakes of locally caught and smoked mackerel crumpled into the greens which were delightfully evenly dressed and seasoned simply with oil and lemon. Alice’s sampling of desserts disappeared before I had a chance to nibble so we settled for a few for ourselves.

As usual my first pick was ordered by my lovely wife so I settled for simplicity in a cake, a cupcake topped with a fresh field strawberry. Coming from the home of the cupcake battlefields brought a little bit of New York back as I sunk my teeth into a slightly drier than I’d have preferred attempt of a vanilla cupcake. Perfection in one thing a day is good enough for me and the best cupcakes back home would be there waiting to fill the void left that day. Tracie’s apricot vanilla custard was as much a quivering success at a pie as my own tart and we all left with full bellies and warm hearts as we headed down the road to check out the Ballymaloe Cookery School, Garden and Farm.

In Ireland, signs lie. Ours said that the farm and cookery school were only a two miles down the road. The road was a narrow meandering jaunt that was peppered with cars swerving to avoid us as we tried our best to stay out of there way. Tracie and Alice plodded ahead as I lingered behind snapping off a few nice looks at the farms and fields that smashed us up against the road.

By the time we reached our destination, we had taken on the dull headed worn fatigue of those that have bitten off more than they can chew and grabbed a bit to drink before we paid the small fare and headed to explore the lovely English styled gardens and impressive organic greenhouse.

Legs tired from the “two mile walk” we managed a ride from a lovely couple visiting from Los Angeles, U.S.A. And winced and held our breath as the gentleman meandered from left to right forgetting from time to time that the Irish drive on the left. As oft repeated, we said to ourselves as we drove away “My mom would really love Ireland.”

Ballymaloe House, Farm and Cookery School