Early Saturday morning, we departed Galway with full bellies and warm cups of tea and coffee to fortify us for the drive down to the Southwestern coast. The drive took longer than imaginable because of twisty, turny Irish roads but oh, how beautiful this countryside is! There must be 28 shades of green!
We arrived onto the grounds of Ballymaloe around noon and the weather was gray and cold. We learned we are in the Coach House, one of the five “self-catering cottages” and seemed to be the first to arrive. If a picture paints a thousand words, there aren’t enough pictures in the world to describe the beauty of this farm and its buildings. It oozes with Irish country charm and grace. We were given a brief tour of the kitchens, oh, the kitchens, while we waited to be told which cottage we were in.
We quickly offloaded all of our heavy gear and made small bags to take to Ballycotton for the night, where Allen wanted to spend his birthday. It’s a coastal town very nearby and was just what my salt water-loving husband wanted.
We had a fabulous lunch, nap, drinks and then dinner at the Bayview Hotel. Every room in the place looks out at the view in the photo above, toward the lighthouse. At dinnertime, we toasted Allen with the Champagne Cat had arranged to be delivered to our room and had a happy last night together. Allen and Kincaid had to get up earrrrrly to get to Dublin in time to make their flight home.
We awoke to brilliant sunshine on Sunday, thank God and arrived back at Ballymaloe around 11:00 to sort out our room and put our things away. Among those things were a professional set of knives, our chef whites and checked trousers. I held my pants up to me and could see they are a mile too long. This is not unusual for me to have to hem pants but, my God! I look like a child wearing grownup clothes. Even my chef top’s sleeves had to be rolled up two times. We laughed ourselves silly over my being a "shreeeeeemp," as Arden calls me and decided to venture out and to the main building to meet some of our classmates.
Right away, we met Naane, (“Nuh-Nuh” phonetically) from Belgium, Anna from England and Lulu from Australia. Upon meeting Lulu, Arden and I chanced a glance of “what’s happening?” at the coincidence of three people's names in a row having repetitive syllables.
At 2:00, we were shown a film about Myrtle Allen, the founder of Ballymaloe House as it’s known today, to launch our knowledge of how all of this began. She was an enormous influence on the revolution and world of cooking in Ireland and has been called the “renowned matriarch of modern Irish cuisine,” and “as important to her country’s cuisine as Alice Waters was to America’s.” "Whatever is right and best for our bodies is what she stuck with," a food writer said. She believed in beautiful food, fresh and local saying, “It’s an enormous satisfaction to give people the food I think we ought to be eating.” Truly, this should be a goal for us all, to live and eat this way.
During the afternoon, I roamed like an excited child around the grounds and visited all the gardens alone. It was like being in a real version of Disney’s Adventure Land. There was an extensive maze made out of hedges! I got about five lanes into it and, as I had no idea how vast it actually was, thought it better that I turn back. There was an informal floral allée, much like Claude Monet's Giverny, on the way to The Shell House, a wee building whose entire interior is a mosaic of shells. There was a multi-variety pumpkin patch, the elaborate herb garden, surrounded by a Celtic knot-work of boxwood hedges, a tree house, a life-sized chessboard, and, the pièce de resistance, a pond with a folly at the far end. If you’ve never heard of a garden folly, in architectural terms, a folly is a decorative structure that serves no real purpose other than to be eye-catching, whimsical and fun. This one looks Roman and so stately and serene, backing up the pond.
The Secret Garden awaits!
Last evening, we, 64 of us in all, 15 different nationalities, assembled and met our housemates and headed in for the pizza and salad dinner they were treating us to. I have to say, it was some of the best pizza I've ever eaten. Each table had little bowls of cherry tomatoes and cucumber slices. I've never tasted tomatoes like these. The flavor! My goodness. As Arden said, "I'll never eat another Subway tomato ever again!" If tomatoes had tasted like that when I was growing up, I'd have been a much earlier devotee. Every bit of what we had was grown here on this farm. Ballymaloe is the epitome of farm to fork.
Tomorrow is our first big day of class. You should see the binders and boxes of page protectors, paper, markers, etc, that we have all been supplied with. It's just a tad bit intimidating and overwhelming, but, I'm ready.