A great meal awaited us as my boys played at fishing with sticks in the canal that ran through the small Irish village.
As the boys pretended to fish, a scruffy-faced Irishman who lived on a houseboat on the canal came by carrying a real fishing pole. His cheerful mutt Juke panted beside him, and as the boys petted the dog, the man foisted the pole on them.
“Take it. It’s yours. Go fishing. I love Americans!” he told them. He was exuberant, feeling no pain.
“No thank you,” they politely refused.
“It’s yours,” he gushed, pushing it into their hands. “I love Americans!”
They were proud and excited about the gift, but a little frightened too, unsure of whether they should have accepted it.
The pole pointed the way to a chance for us to relax after a busy two weeks traveling the country. We checked our guidebook and found a stocked fishpond a few villages away.
Each of my sons watched the road with impatience, excited to get a chance to catch a fish. They were ages 9 and 8, the magic ages when catching a trout in a small, stocked pond was as grand as landing a marlin on the open sea.
At the pond, a boy only a few years older than my two gave us bait in dirt-filled, beat up cans. He carried a little club with him to knock the caught fish on the head, a job he managed with shy compassion.
Since we weren’t going back to our cottage until the night, we needed to keep the fish cold. We asked for help in several small shops with no success. The young woman on our third attempt radiated sweetness, but was utterly baffled by my request for a bag of ice, available on every other street corner in America but apparently non-existent in the country of Ireland.
I found a lonely box of peas in the bottom of a freezer. I was luckier with the ingredients for preparing the fish, finding an onion, lemon, and, best of all, a mixture of garlic butter.
We spent the rest of the afternoon touring a nearby estate and gardens, our well-caught trout staying cool on the thawing peas.
In our little cottage’s kitchen, I found a frying pan and had everything I needed. I dressed the fish with the garlic butter and lemon, and stuffed them with slices of onion. Even my picky eater dug in with enthusiasm.
A great travel meal connects the people and the land. The unexpected gift, the Irish countryside, the quest for ice, and the thrill of catching our own all made for a thoroughly enjoyable meal, peas on the side.