Ballymaloe House and the Ballycotton Cliff Walk

“To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with.”
-Mark Twain

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I have an amazing husband. He is kind and dedicated and handsome and talented. He makes me laugh (a lot). He pushes me to stretch my limits and try new things. He is the source of much of my joy, and he is who I choose to divide my joy with. In a couple of weeks we will be celebrating our ninth (what?!) wedding anniversary. I love him. And, even after all this time, I like him (a lot). It was our joy, then, to sneak away for a special date this weekend to remember just how much we really do like each other. After we dropped the boys off at our favorite babysitter’s house for a day of jumping on trampolines and splashing in the kiddie pool (THANK YOU, KELSEY!!!) we drove 30 minutes out to the Irish countryside in East Cork. Our destination: Ballymaloe House. IMG_5291 Ballymaloe House (pronounced Bally-ma-loo) is the site of  a world-famous cooking school, a boutique hotel, a crafts and cooking shop, a cafe, an award-winning fine dining restaurant, farms and gardens. The property stretches over 400 acres so, as you can imagine, there is plenty to see and do there. Parts of the estate have been around since the original Norman castle rested on this site in 1450, although the “modern” house was completed in 1820. The grounds are gorgeous. As you come up the drive toward the house you pass a self-maintained golf course, towering rhododendrons and arching trees forming arboreal tunnels. You know when the driveway is that good that you’re in for a real treat.

We were at Ballymaloe to take advantage of their posh lunch in the restaurant. And when I say posh, I mean uber-fancy. Fancy enough that the restaurant’s website provides geo-coordinates for you to use if you want to, you know, land your private helicopter on the property. Even though we arrived in our humble car instead of a helicopter, we were still treated royally.

When we arrived we were first led to a large sitting room where our drink order was taken. While we awaited libation we could recline on plush sofas or sun-bathed window-seats to contemplate our idyllic surroundings:

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With wine in hand we were then led to the formal dining room. There were more pieces of cutlery at each place setting than I had fingers to count them. It was at this point that I sighed a heavy sigh of relief that we had *correctly* chosen to leave our rambunctious boys at home. Although I know they would have had fun playing swords with the pickle forks and picking their noses with the mustard spoons, I’m not so sure the other patrons at the restaurant would have enjoyed the entertainment.

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The food was absolutely heavenly. Ballymaloe revolutionized the farm-to-table movement in the 1960’s, and they are known the world over for their fresh take on modern Irish cuisine. To this day all of the ingredients on their menu are sourced right here on their own property. In fact, the day’s menu is not finalized until after the garden has been cultivated and the fishermen dock with the day’s catch. This means that the menu is unique from day to day and meal to meal, and every morsel you eat is the definition of “fresh”. The meat, eggs, vegetables, milk, and herbs come from the farms on Ballymaloe’s 400-acre property. The fish are reeled in from the Atlantic Ocean–the same Atlantic that provides the gentle sea breeze you feel as you wander the gardens of Ballymaloe. The baker starts her ovens at 6:30 each morning to bake the day’s bread. All of the foodie-things that I wish I could do at home but know that I would never in a million years actually do.

For lunch I had “Roast free range chicken with fresh herb stuffing, roast butternut squash, summer cabbage & redcurrant sauce” and Jon had the “Glazed loin of bacon (what we Americans would call ham) with crushed swede turnip, summer cabbage & Irish whiskey sauce” (see, even the names of the food are beautiful!). The food was gorgeous and we unabashedly took photo after photo of our dishes. Perhaps the best part of the meal was that after we finished eating, we were offered more meat and veg. Now, I’ve been to places where they refill the bread basket, but never anywhere that will give you more of whatever you like.  We also split a serving of “Goujons of plaice” which were basically posh fish fingers that I actually enjoyed. And if you know me, then you know what an achievement that is. I usually hide in another room if there is seafood being served, but I happily ate not just one, not two, but three fish goujons. I was quite proud of myself.

Then, the crowning glory: dessert. They rolled out a dessert trolly laden with cakes and pies and berries and a giant ice bowl full of freshly-churned ice cream for me to oggle. When it came time to make a selection I could hardly bear it. What to choose? I wanted it ALL. We finally settled on two plates of desserts to share: rhubarb tartlets with caramel ice cream and French chocolate cake with Irish strawberries. We ate ourselves silly, but wouldn’t you, too?

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When we got the bill at the end of our meal we both vowed to not eat for the next month so our stomachs and our bank account could recover. Perhaps we’ll return some day in our private helicopter but, until then, we will fondly remember this once in a lifetime meal.

After Jon rolled me out of the dining room we browsed the Ballymaloe shop, a cross between country store and gourmet cooking shop. We bought the Ballymaloe bread-baking cookbook (which, by the way, has a whole chapter on scones!!!) and a small measuring cup (because this week Jacob wanted to see what would happen if he threw my glass measuring cup onto our tiled kitchen floor. Spoiler alert: the glass shattered). IMG_5299
Then we wandered around the Ballymaloe House gardens where we found a plant with the world’s largest leaves:

IMG_5302 …and picturesque ponds: IMG_5304
We could have spent all day at Ballymaloe (or, more likely, several days), but we had one more destination on our whirlwind date. We got back in our car and drove 10 minutes down the road to Ballycotton, a historic seaside fishing village. We parked our car at the far end of town at the entrance to the Ballycotton Cliff Walk, perhaps the most beautiful seaside walk in Ireland (at least, according to us): IMG_5341
The trail winds along the edge of the cliffs that drop off straight into the Atlantic. It was a well-maintained trail that, had we chosen, we could have followed all the way to Roches Point (about a 5-hour walk in one direction). The views were stunning (made all the more sensational with the addition of the bright summer sun) and we felt peace wash over us with each step we took. At one point, the walk actually caused Jon to remark, “I think this is the most fun we’ve had in Ireland.” IMG_5316
After walking about 3 miles down the trail we decided to end our walk at a rocky beach before doubling back to our car. We stayed at the beach for a few minutes watching the waves crash over the rocks jutting out into the ocean and collecting smooth skipping stones to bring home to the boys as souvenirs. IMG_5338
Our day in Ballymaloe was more than just a date, it was magical. It was a day full of joy, divided between me and my love. Well, and  maybe I had a little joy left over to divide with the French chocolate cake. I’m all for equality here.

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