It has never been more apt for me to say this, but it’s all about being in the right place at the right time. I had been wanting to participate in a food styling/photography workshop for the last couple of years but I was waiting for the right one to come along.
My patience was rewarded and the stars had aligned in my favour. It just so happened that my friend alerted me to a post on Instagram about an upcoming retreat called Lens & Larder to be held in Connemara, Ireland. The location was enticing and something about it felt right. I ummed and ahhed for days about the cost. Should I, shouldn’t I? In the end, I went with my gut instinct and just went for it. I nabbed myself a spot on the retreat, paid the deposit and was locked in.
The day I had been anticipating for months had finally arrived. I flew into Knock Airport for the retreat on the day Ireland was hit by the tail end of hurricane Gonzalo. The landing was surprisingly smooth, but any feelings of sleepiness I felt during my flight was abruptly knocked out of me by the lashing wind once I disembarked the plane onto the tarmac. It was a sign of what was to come with the weather during the next week in Connemara. My destination was Ballynahinch Castle where the retreat would take place over 3 days. The event was hosted by Imen of Farmette and taught by Susan Spungen and Beth Kirby of Local Milk.
I knew from my research that I was going to a very special place. Ballynahinch Castle is revered by many as the best hotel in Ireland.
I also knew I was about to meet a bunch of very special and creative individuals. I felt privileged, genuinely anxious and very excited.
On our first night, after the initial introductions were made, we were treated to freshly shucked oysters and a glass of Guinness. We had crab claws cooked in garlic butter for the starter. They were so tasty that we didn’t mind getting our hands dirty. After a few drinks, everyone seemed to relax and any nervous jitters were soon forgotten. For dinner, we ate pigeon and bean stew accompanied with roasted potatoes. We took our time eating and chatted with each other. We had a relatively early night, as we knew we had a full day ahead of us.
The view of the river from the breakfast dining room in Ballynahinch Castle is a sight to behold. I could have sat there all day but there was a mushroom foraging expedition awaiting.
With our wellies on, we trudged through the woods learning about different mushroom species, how to cut mushrooms (with a proper mushroom cutting knife kindly donated by Hen & Hammock) and where to look for them. Thankfully, we had our expert Cliodhna of Breaking Eggs to guide us. The ground was thick and dense with moss and wet autumn leaves. We walked through the forest taking care not to step on the camouflaged mushrooms. It was like being in a fairy tale. After a styling and photography session in the forest, it was time to head back indoors for lunch.
Cliodhna and Patrick (amazing wife and husband team) from Ballynahinch Castle kindly opened their beautiful home to us for the afternoon.
Claire of America Village Apothecary whipped up cocktails for us all using syrups she made from foraged wild herbs and botanicals (such lush cocktails too!).
It was here that I made and tasted my first galette (foraged mushroom & ricotta) and not the last (hopefully).
Beth and Susan shared their knowledge on food styling/photography with us, as we devoured our way through the spread of food before us. It was intense at times and there was a lot to take in. But that’s what we were there for and I felt inspired, ready for the next adventure that awaited us the next day.
Stay tuned for the upcoming part 2 of this trip.