Saturday, July 17, 2010

Thursday at 3:30 in the Green

I took a half day off work Thursday. This is what happened.

It's 3:30 and I'm sitting in Stephen's Green. I left work at 12:30 and had a long lunch with friends. A two-hour lunch to celebrate a birthday. A lunch that included wine and dessert. Afterwards my friends returned to work and I walked down some leafy streets I had never walked down, near my office. I took pictures of churches and bought a Diet Coke at a narrow SPAR. I got a cold one from the back of the case.

I walked up Camden Street and checked in Listons for some smoked duck Bill had told me about. They didn't have the duck, so I didn't buy anything even though Listons is full of lovely food. I like to buy lunch there. They frequently play music I would consider "Austiny." (Austiny=Lucinda Williams.) At the Fresh market I cut across to Harcourt Street on my way to the green. I noticed a beleaguered woman in a sundress and impractical sandals pulling a suitcase. She noticed me and asked if she were going the right direction for the Harcourt Hotel. "Someone told me it was this way," she said in her English accent. I didn't know the Harcourt Hotel, "but you are on Harcourt Street," I said. "That's a good sign." I made sure to say Harcourt Street because residents of the UK and Ireland get annoyed when Americans leave off Street and Road and Lane. I've walked along Harcourt several times and don't remember the Harcourt Hotel, but there are plenty of buildings, at least 65% of which could conceivably house hotel lodgings.

The green is full of people walking and sitting and lounging upon the grass. I find a bench looking out on the central section with fountains and formal flower beds and pull out a Paris Review I had bought in Texas but have yet to read. This issue has a section of photographs of beaches. Beaches in Italy and Croatia and the U.S. I think of the beach Bill and I visited last month in Spain. We had been driving North from Portedeume to Cedeira. As we passed through Valdoviño, Bill said, "Quick, check the book, there's something here." I flipped through the Lonely Planet and exclaimed "Praia Da Frouxeira! A beach!" We whipped our heads to the left and spied a patch of brilliant blue rimmed with white foam and sand. "Holy Crap!" we cried and Bill turned the car around.

The sand was soft and not hot like the Gulf white sand. Gulf white sand is almost molten. We walked along the edge of the water which was yelping cold. A few people were in the water, mostly children. Water temperature is of little concern to a frolicking child. There were also a couple guys para-surfing--they were wearing wet suits. We walked toward the rocky part of the beach and climbed up on a dune. We plopped down and sat for a while, looking at the auqamarine water and listening to the waves.

I love the sound of the waves and looking out at the expanse of water. One photo in the Paris Review is a centerfold panorama of Coney Island. The beach and water are packed with people and beach umbrellas. It looks like candy sprinkles on a giant cupcake. I don't like busy beaches. I like quiet ones where you can hear the waves. Like in Valdoviño and Anna Maria Island, Florida.

I like sitting in the green as well. This afternoon is full of sunny spells. I'm wearing a celery-colored cardigan with three-quarter length sleeve, trimmed with a small ruffle. I'm also wearing a light scarf. I chuckle to myself about wearing a scarf on July 15--the height of summer. Between the sunny spells a chilly wind blows at my back and brings a few drops of rain. Sometimes the rain doesn't wait for the sun to quit shining. The wind blows cold against my lower back because I'm wearing the ass crack jeans I accidentally bought in Texas. Well, I was intentional at the point of purchase, but I didn't realize they would stretch easily and fall below my hips. Sometimes you can be in full possession of your faculties at the time of the transaction, but not be truly aware of what you are transacting.

I consider staying in the green all afternoon reading the Paris Review, but I had intended to do a bit of shopping, so after a while I'll walk through the green toward the shops. Later Bill will meet me for dinner and as I'm telling him about my day he'll look up the Harcourt Hotel on his phone. It is just a little ways up Harcourt Street, and I'll be confident the woman in the sundress had found her accommodation.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

In the Summertime

I recently heard the seasons in the South described like this: Almost Summer, Summer, Still Summer, and Christmas. Ain't it the truth! That's close to what Bill I always say: Texas has Summer and Cool Summer. In Ireland we have Winter and Warm Winter.

Most Irish consider May 1 to be the start of summer. While May may feel like summer in Austin, it most certainly does not in Dublin. It's straining to even be Spring. It does explain, however, why the summer solstice is known as Mid-Summer. I'm finding I define my seasons existentially, so if it feels like Spring to me--temps in the 70s, warm sun and cool air--then it's Spring.

So it's been quite a while since I've experienced true summer, and to be honest, I don't miss the searing heat. I do miss summer squash and sweet, yellow corn. I miss the cool touch of conditioned air on my skin when I step out of the shower. I miss the cool down during a thunderstorm. I miss fireflies and tree frogs.

The two previous nominal-summer-seasons in Ireland have been some of the most dismal ever, according to everyone we know. We would see a bright, tantalizing week in May or June, but as the days grew longer they failed to bring sunny warmth. We did our best with the occasional "sunny spells." We had many days of coldish rain.

This summer, however, the sun has been benevolent with its light and warmth. We have shorts in semi-regular clothes rotation. I have actual tan lines on my feet from wearing sandals (and had them before our recent trip to Spain). This June was the warmest in 40 years. I've ventured out to work several times without a jacket.

With a lovely month of springtime across Texas, Arkansas and Alabama, the great dose of fabulous weather in Ireland and our sunny trip to Spain, we've had a cracking good Spring!

I'm not sure you can beat Ireland when it's at its sunny best. With light skies until after 11:00 PM, a sunny day has a bit of forever about it. The lucky weather has made several recent outings particularly fun: an incredible sunny weekend in County Clare in mid-May, visiting the Sheridans Food fest, and spending June 20th in Trim at the Haymaking Festival. Check out the slide show below for some photos.

It's rainy today as I write this, but I can only hope this is only a refreshing drink before the warm, sunny days return. They're coming back, right? I can't lose my toe tan!

Photos in this post are from our trip to County Clare.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Tastes of Home

A few weeks ago (May 30), Bill and I drove up to County Meath to the headquarters of Sheridans Cheesemongers for their first Irish Food festival. It was one of the sunny days we're getting used to around here, and the drive to Carnaross was lovely.

Sheridans is a vendor at the Saturday market in St. Anne's. We are fans. Lots of their suppliers were at the festival and we chatted with several friendly cheese makers.

I also sought out the Gubbeen Smokehouse stall. Our US trip featured as much smoked meat as possible, and at each meal Bill and I dreamed dreams of the aroma of long-smoked brisket and pork shoulder wafting over the green hills of Eire. Smoked meats exist in Ireland, but occupy slightly different territory. Ham and bacon rashers are typically not smoked, but we'd found some smoked streaky bacon from Gubbeen, which is a close match to US bacon. Gubbeen also produces a variety of cured meats. So I knew the Gubbeen folks understood this equation: smoke + meat = bliss.

I asked the blond lad behind the counter if he had ever thrown a brisket on the smoker. Happily he knew what a brisket is. He also told me that he had actually built a pit smoker--had to weld it together as no such thing can be purchased in Ireland--and had experimented with some brisket and pork shoulder. The primary smokehouse at Gubbeen is a wood lined room where the meats can be smoked for up to several days, using hard-wood charcoal (from wind-felled trees) created in a kiln. I enthusiastically encouraged their pit-smoker experiments, saying a knew at least a small market that would be willing to pay top dollar (I think I offered a million) for gen-yoo-ine bar-be-cue. If I had any experience with my own pit BBQ, I'd be down at Gubbeen on the weekends, teaching them the way.

The Gubbeen guy told me a place in Dublin has a pit BBQ imported from the US and hosts a large street BBQ every year. This restaurant is supposedly called Junior's--a fine name for a BBQ establishment. If anyone hears anything about this, please do let me know!

I've long been a stickler that the term bar-be-cue refers to smoked meats, and not grilled food served at a cookout. I don't know why grill so commonly has the adjective BBQ attached, but really that is no excuse to be imprecise with our meat cooking terminology. I'm but birdsong in a hurricane here in Ireland, where the back yard cookout (oops, I mean back garden) is invariably called a BBQ. Moreso, my grounds for protesting are weakened, even devastated, by the fact that no one even knows what bar-be-que is.

Here lies the expat dilemma.

An expat must be curious and entranced by the tastes, sights and sounds of her resident country. Otherwise the not-unpleasant hum of homesickness will increase and overwhelm with bitterness and dissatisfaction. But at the same time, I think the expat has wonders to share--the best joy is in the exchange.

So, I talk about meat. I talk about smoking meat for 18 hours. The tender texture. The intense flavor. The brutal understanding of why we kill cows. The thrill of happening across a BBQ cook off with smokers as big as locomotive engines. I try to wax as eloquently as this guy:
The brisket was a revelation. When I bit into the glistening meat, I literally staggered a step. Could brisket really taste this good? Succulent, firm, robustly flavored, the thick slices of beef were as tender as a ballad and as powerful as an R&B belter.
I show people pictures like this:

[The pit at the Salt Lick; photo thanks to the NYT.]

I post pictures of BBQ to Facebook while on holiday in the US. But, do the people of Ireland really care. Should they? During our US trip, I repeatedly had the experience of your man quoted above: Can this brisket really be this good? Or this rib? Or this pork sandwich? It's these moments that make me dream of driving a BBQ wagon through emerald towns and cities and fields dotted white with sheep.

Face it. When you love something you want everyone else to love it too. This is a great part of what makes community, and also requires that we are patient with the evangelist in all of us. So, I'll keep talking about smoked meat, and posting slide shows of BBQ to my blog, and hope I can find Junior's pit BBQ and take every single person I know with me.

In the meantime I'll enjoy Ireland's amazing offerings, like cheese. We came home from the Sheridans fair with a crozier blue, some goat-milk cheese that resembles Monterey Jack, and a very funky cousin of Camembert--along with hot and cold smoked salmon from the Burren Smokehouse, pork terrine, duck confit, and bread & butter pickles. Nope, we aren't going hungry here.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

POTD: Shelling Broad Beans

Bill shelling broad beans on the balcony.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

POTD: Triptych

I recently noticed this set of posters during my bus ride home.

Jesus' statement that he is the way, the truth and the life; Macbeth's blood-covered hands; and an admonition that Smoke Kills--lots of life and death going on at this street corner.

Monday, May 10, 2010

What's for dinner: Tacos al carbon y sopa de tortilla

Cinco de Mayo (Spanish for "fifth of May") is a holiday held on May 5 that commemorates the Mexican army's unlikely victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín.  In Mexico it is a minor holiday at best, but in the US and elsewhere it's a celebration of Mexican heritage and food. Since we have no Mexican heritage, it's all about the food.

On the menu this year were tacos al carbon with refried black beans. Tacos al carbon are strips of grilled beef (I lack a grill, so these were pan-seared) on corn tortillas with one or more salsas. We had ours with a bit of cheese and sour cream. The steak came from Simply Sourced and was seasoned with smoked serrano salt I brought back from the US. The salsa is a pico de gallo I made with cherry tomatoes, red onion, cilantro and chiles (jalapeño, I think, as the package didn't say) and a bit of lime juice and salt. The corn tortillas I also made myself. The refried beans were canned black beans cooked down with some onion, cumin and oregano--quick and dirty, but tasty. Topping everything is a light feta cheese that approximates queso fresco.

On seis de Mayo (the next day) I made a tortilla soup. I'm recalling what I did for this recipe, so your mileage may vary.
  • 1 medium green bell pepper (or, even better, poblano pepper)
  • vegetable oil
  • 3 chicken leg quarters
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 red jalapeño chile, seeds and ribs removed, minced (leave the seeds and ribs if you like it spicier)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 qt chicken stock
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 lb new potatoes, quartered
  • 1 can Mexican Fiesta Rotel tomatoes with green chiles
  • 1 lime
  • 1 bunch cilantro, chopped
  • Garnishes: diced avocado, shredded cheese, corn tortilla chips
  • Flour tortillas
Broil the green pepper in the oven until blackened on all sides. Remove to a bowl and cover. When cooled (about ten minutes) remove the blackened skin and dice. Heat 1 T of oil in a dutch oven over medium high heat. Add the chicken and cook until well-browned on both sides, about five minutes per side. Remove to a bowl. Drain all but 1 T of oil from the pan. To the pan add the onion, carrot and chile, cover and sweat for five minutes. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant. Add the stock, chicken and oregano. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the chicken is done, about fifteen minutes. Remove chicken to a bowl and let cool.  Add the potatoes, Rotel, roasted green pepper, juice of half a lime and half the cilantro. Simmer until the potatoes are done, about fifteen minutes.  Meanwhile, remove the meat from the chicken. When the potatoes are done add the chicken and remaining cilantro to the pan and heat through. Serve in bowls topped with the avocado, cheese and crushed corn chips accompanied by the flour tortillas. Squeeze on more lime juice if desired.

We enjoyed both of these dinners immensely. The tortilla soup was really good: spicy, tart, chicken-y and corny. Simmering the chicken legs in the broth gave even store-bought broth great body. I'll definitely be experimenting more with this one.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Fiesta Mart

We were glad the cottage we rented while in Austin was near Fiesta Mart. We always liked shopping at this great Mexican grocery store, but our visits were infrequent as it was out of our typical Austin orbit.

Join us for a short visit, brought to you by the magic of extremely amateur video and editing skills.