When driving through Europe, I am always amused by the very descriptive directions that are provided, generally involving landmarks and not road names.
We are caravaning in two cars: Lance, Margie and I follow behind Hubby, Jared and Katie. Hubby is co-piloting for Jared, and the two of them are attacking the course with military precision. Disconcerted by the directions provided, they elect instead to map their way to Kilconnell, where the house is in situ; and from there, they call George, the owner of the house, to guide them in. When we turn onto Ballinderry Road, we are confronted with a modern two story structure and I am repulsed because this is not the house I imagine; and I know we are not at the right place. Margie echoes my sentiment when she says, "This doesn't look like the house on the website!"
I shake my head vigorously when Hubby gets out of his parked car. "This is not the house!"
Our car takes the lead position and we trek further down Ballinderry Road. We pass a man leading his sons and his horse along the road and ask: "Where is Ballinderry Park?"
"The house at the end of the road," he says.
We keep on the little dirt path, and soon trees spring up around us, covering the road which is overgrown with bushes and fauna, and in the distance, we see glimpses of a white structure until, rounding a corner, the limestone building rises several stories high in the afternoon mist. It is a perfect jewel box of symmetry, its center column flanked by two bays of windows, one atop the other. A peaked roof gives the structure the look of a Norman chateau.
Ballinderry Park, is an exquisite Palladian house in a countryside dotted with Georgian homes. The house dates from the early eighteenth century and its owners, George and Susie, have lovingly and passionately restored the home after it fell into a 48-year state of neglect and vandalism. They believe the house dates to 1750, and possibly even earlier, given some its fine architectural features, including a dramatic staircase the rises three stories high.
Knowing we would be coming straight from the airport, disoriented after a too short sleep on the flight, and by body clocks not yet adjusted, George kindly prepares a light repast for us: a plate of venison sausage made by a friend of his, prosciutto, and smoked ham; lush red little tomatoes paired with fresh mozzarella drenched in olive oil; smoked salmon with capers; a bowl of fresh greens that he has picked up at the vegetable market in Galway that morning; and fresh stone fruit in a bowl of ice. A loaf of freshly baked bread is sliced and warm on the table.
I wonder what it is about bread and meat that makes the soul go "ahh," as if in recognition?
George asks us about our dinner plans, and as he is well known for his cooking, we are in accord with the suggestion of eating dinner at the house. With lunch finished, we are too tired to contemplate much action, so we retire for naps.
For dinner George has made a stew.
"I made a venison stew," he says. "Or perhaps that's not smart enough?"
On an overcast day where temperatures are dipping towards cool, not only is it smart enough, it is perfect for what we want: comfort food. So our first night in Ireland finds us in the quiet, candle lit dining room where dinner begins with fresh sardines that George has pan fried. It's been so long since I've had fresh sardines and the taste memory that quickly fills my mind is of my grandmother, my Ba Ngoai, who last year passed away, braising sardines in nuoc mam. The filet is tender and briny, and the skin perfectly crisp.
A rustic stew follows, so supple, with meat so tender, we pause momentarily in conversation to let the warmth seep in. When a bowl of whipped and browned potatoes makes it way around, I don't pretend to be polite, filling plate with an appallingly large portion. Potatoes are my favorite carb and starch, and Ireland and I are well suited. Tender braised carrots dipped in butter finish our plates and we have the house red wine. For pudding, George has made a coconut tart topped with a vanilla yogurt.
If this is how our trip is to start, I think, we are going to have a remarkable time.