Avoca Handweavers is my absolute favourite shop in Ireland. Set up originally in 1723 in Co. Wicklow, as a co-operative for farmers to spin and weave their wool, the mill thrived through the early 20th century and fell into disrepair in the 1960s. It was bought by a Dublin solicitor, Donald Pratt, and his wife, Hilary, in 1974 and has grown from one to ten stores, selling fashion, food, homewares and jewelry. It is not the place you go for twee Irish caps and Aran sweaters. Not-at-all (sounds like not-tat-all) this is a modern-day Irish lifestyle store and foodhall.
Colourful, unique, fresh, delicious are words to describe today’s Avoca Handweavers. An article in the Daily Telegraph (U.K.), likened it to “a cross between Anthropologie, J. Crew and Urban Outfitters with a large dollop of homespun Irish charm”. I’ve been to all three American stores and rarely buy anything, I have to disagree. Avoca Handweavers is not like an American chain clothing store. It’s far more unique.
I’m not the only one who loves Avoca. Judging by the lunch time crowds (think locals and busloads of tourists), it’s popular with shoppers and foodies alike. I often call in after dropping the kids to school to pick up something for dinner or meet friends in the cafe to share a hot pot of tea and a delicious dessert. Baskets of homemade breads, giant Mars Bar squares, beef stew, broccoli, feta, tomato salad…mmmm, it’s all so good.
When we headed east last summer, right across the pond, I brought the Avoca Soups, Salads and Tea Time cookbooks with us. Now, when we need an Avoca fix, I’m able to whip something up in my kitchen in America in no time at all. It’s not exactly the same but on nights like last night, when I was craving Avoca’s sweet potato and lentil stew, it was great to have to hand.
Put Avoca Handweavers on your list of places to visit the next time you’re in Ireland or checkout their online store for cookbooks, clothing, throws, scarves and more. And for all my Dear Friends who live local…have a slice of mile high meringue roulade with strawberries and cream for me. Cheers!
Sweet Potato & Lentil Stew
25g/2 tablespoons butter
2 small onions, peeled and chopped
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped roughly
2 sticks of celery, trimmed and chopped roughly
150g/1 cup puy lentils
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cumin
a pinch of ground cinnamon
3 cm piece fresh ginger root, peeled and finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
400g/14.5 oz canned tomatoes
1 litre/4 cups chicken stock
juice of one lemon
1. Combine the butter and oil over a medium heat, add the onion and sauté for 10 minutes without coloring.
2. Add the sweet potato, carrot, celery and lentils and coat in the oil.
3. Add the turmeric, cumin, cinnamon, ginger and garlic, toss so they are well coated and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. Add the tomatoes and stock and season with lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.
5. Cook for 30 minutes or until the lentils are soft and the sweet potato is tender.
Optional: Puree briefly, so everything is chunky rather than smooth. Check the seasoning, reheat and serve.