Valentine’s Day in Ireland

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This weekend was our second Valentine’s Day in Ireland. Last year we were here over Valentine’s Day while Jon attended a local conference and we did some brief house-hunting for our then-upcoming move. Although last year’s Valentine’s Day with all of Jon’s co-workers at a company dinner was a unique experience, this year’s V-day was much more up my alley–the former-Kindergarten teacher in me came out in full force and we had a full day of crafts, scavenger hunts and baking. And I got a special date alone with my valentine, no third-wheel co-workers there to share the evening. But before I get into the details of our festivities, I have to share a bit about the weather this week.

You see, this week has been the most manic week of weather I’ve ever experienced. Ever. And, since the favorite topic of conversation among Irish people is the weather, I thought it would be appropriate to diverge for a moment here. We’ve had a bit of everything this week. One day, it snowed. Big, huge, beautiful flakes blowing in from every direction all at once. It was magical. Then, two minutes later (literally, two minutes) the snow was gone, the sun burst out and the sky turned blue:
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Another day this week brought ridiculous flooding to the Cork city center. Storm surges converged with high tide and the River Lee overflowed its banks right into the middle of the city. The flooding was so bad that people were kayaking down the main street. And inside the shops. It was madness, really.

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And, yet another day, the wind was so strong that trees were being uprooted and trucks were being blown over on the highway:

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We were at an indoor play area on Wind Day and the front door to the building actually blew right off. It was like a scene out of The Wizard of Oz.

Alrighty, then. Enough of the weather, and on to Valentine’s Day!

Valentine’s Day is not nearly the holiday here that it is in America. There are no conversation hearts and no Valentine exchanges at school (in fact, they don’t even sell boxed sets of Valentines at the stores here. Or heart-shaped candies. Really, the only thing Valenine-y I could find was red roses and fur-rimmed handcuffs….hmmm…). The holiday is reserved for lovebirds, but I really prefer the American all-inclusive nature of the holiday. I love celebrating Valentine’s Day with friends and, especially, with my kids.

I decided that I was going to just go ahead and do Valentine’s Day my way, even if I was the only one in the whole country making heart-shaped pancakes for breakfast:

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And, by the way, the heart-shaped pancakes were a roaring success! Perhaps the fact that I smothered the ‘cakes with berries and whipped cream had something to do with the rate at which they were ravenously consumed. But, hey, it’s a holiday, gotta go all-out.

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After breakfast it was on to the scavenger hunt. Before the boys woke up I hid clues all around the house so they would have to find their Valentine treats. David thought this was a brilliant game, and he loved “reading” the clues to his attentive little brother:

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At the end of the scavenger hunt each boy found a little treat bag. And, since I couldn’t find conversation hearts or cupid-shaped chocolates, they got plastic army men and soccer ball lollipops.

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We also opened our Valentines that arrived from overseas. Thanks for all of the cute cards, grandparents and cousins!

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Our next activity on the agenda was a bake-a-thon. I didn’t really mean for it to be a bake-a-thon, it just turns out that having a 3 year old “helping” you in the kitchen turns into an all day affair. No bother, though, we didn’t have anywhere else to be (as evidenced by my son still wearing his pajamas in these photos…at 1 in the afternoon.).

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We made a big batch of chocolate-dipped shortbread cookies–heart-shaped, of course! David was my sous chef extraordinaire and, I have to say, the cookies turned out quite delectable.

While the cookies were baking in the oven I made lunch: soup and heart-shaped grilled cheese sandwiches (are we starting to see a theme yet?).

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By the time lunch and our bake-a-thon were over I was ready to get OUT of the kitchen. We decided to take a little walk to deliver Valentines to our neighbors and get some wiggles out. These are the Valentines we made for David’s friends in the neighborhood–I think they turned out pretty cute:

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David loved playing post man and putting the cards inside his friends’ mail slots.

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After we delivered our Valentines it was time to go back home and make dinner (back to the kitchen again…). We had a nice steak dinner–the boys, however, decided to go vegan and just eat their broccoli. Oh well, more steak for ME!

And, speaking of dinner, we had one more special treat planned for our Valentine’s weekend. For Christmas Jon and I received a gift certificate to a restaurant in a castle near our house. Valentine’s Day seemed as good an excuse as any to dress up and go out on a special date–in a castle. Oh, how I love the castles…

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So, the day after Valentine’s Day we got a babysitter and went out, just me and my valentine.

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We had a romantic dinner at Blackrock Castle–there was candlelight, red wine, and not a single screaming child. It was sublime.

After dinner we headed over to Carroll’s Bar, a pub that is owned by our friend Olivia and her family. Every weekend they have trad  (traditional Irish music) at the pub and I’ve been wanting to check it out for months now. We were not disappointed. The music was lively and they even had a nice, cold IPA for Jon to try (he’s been missing all non-stout beer since we’ve moved here). It was the perfect ending to a magical (Irish) Valentine’s Day.

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To all of our friends and family, near and far: Happy Valentine’s Day! XxX

Wedding Shortbread Cookie Recipe

This is a big week for me: Monday was my 30th birthday and today is my wedding anniversary! I am so very blessed to have spent the last 8 years married to this handsome man:

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Our wedding was a simple affair–it kind of had to be since we were broke and young and Pinterest hadn’t been invented yet. We held the ceremony and reception in a waterfront park in our college town (again, we kind of had to–we graduated 2 days before our wedding and didn’t have time to get out of town). Our family and friends did all of the grunt work and hard labor when it came time for us to walk down the aisle–and that, of course, meant that they handled the food. If you know me at all, you know that food is, shall we say, a dominant force in my life. So the food had to be good. REALLY good.

Now, good doesn’t have to mean elaborate or fussy or over the top (because our wedding was none of those things). It really just has to taste amazing. One of my favorite treats that we had at our wedding was an arrangement of shortbread cookies made by my dear friend Vickie. They are similar to sugar cookies, but a bit smoother and flakier than your traditional Christmas sugar cookie. These cookies only have 5 ingredients, and they come together in minutes–super simple. What could be better than a simple, delicious, elegant cookie? Not much, really. So, in honor of our anniversary today, I hope you enjoy this little treat from our wedding. Cheers!

Wedding Shortbread Cookies

1 pound butter
1 Cup powdered sugar
3 Cups flour
3/4 Cups corn starch
sugar for topping (plain or colored decorating sugar work equally well)

1. Stir powdered sugar, flour and corn starch together in a large bowl.
2. In a separate mixing bowl, cream the butter. Slowly add the flour mixture to the creamed butter. Keep mixing until a soft dough forms.
3. Divide the dough into 4 parts and roll each part into a ball. Wrap each ball in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
4. Take out one ball dough at a time. Flatten the dough on a lightly floured surface and use cookie cutters or an upside down cup to cut out shapes (our cookies were heart-shaped).
5. Bake cookies at 300 degrees for about 20 minutes, until the edges of cookies turn golden.

Rhubarb Custard “Dream Bars” Recipe

We went to my parents’ house last weekend, and the first thing David wanted to do was go to Nana’s garden. My mom always has some amazing new thing growing in her garden and David loves seeing what he can find. Plus, there’s something amazing about picking veggies straight out of the ground and then eating them right there on the spot.

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This week we found rhubarb. Lots and lots of rhubarb–a rhubarb forest, if you will. We picked a whole bag-full of the ruby red stalks…which I promptly forgot to bring home with us. All week I’ve been dreaming about the rhubarb I forgot, mostly because of this recipe. This is one of my favorite desserts of all time. If I were a rhubarb, I would be honored to find my end in such a sweet place. I now give you…

Rhubarb Custard Dream Bars

Crust Ingredients:
1 1/2 Cups flour
1/2 Cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
9 Tablespoons butter

Custard Filling Ingredients:
1/3 Cup flour
1 1/2 Cups sugar
1 1/2 Cups milk
3 eggs
5 Cups rhubarb, diced

Topping Ingredients:
1/2 Cup sugar
1/2 Cup fat-free cream cheese (4 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 Cup thawed frozen fat-free whipped topping

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. For crust: cut flour, sugar, butter and salt into a coarse meal. Pat the crust mixture into the bottom of a lightly greased 9×13 inch baking pan. Bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees.

3. For the filling: whisk together the flour, sugar, milk and eggs. Add rhubarb and stir. Pour over the baked crust, and bake another 40 minutes at 350 degrees, or until the custard is set. Cool to room temperature.

4. For the topping: mix together the sugar, cream cheese and vanilla until smooth (I use an electric mixer for this). Fold in the whipped topping. Spread over the cooled custard and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

5. To serve: slice into bars of your desired size. Try to stop yourself from consuming the entire pan of rhubarb bars so you will have some to share with your friends. Keep leftover bars covered tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerated.