Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Employed person, with pepper

Yes, I got a job offer today! And that is a nice looking pepper (at the food market in Howth on Sunday).

Garlic is not Gaelic

Friday night Bill and I popped in for a quick dinner at a downtown bistro. We both had Italian-themed meals; they were tasty and hit the spot. A near-by table did not fare as well. Noting some distress, I used my keen eavesdropping skills to discover the problem was the mushy peas. The mushiness of the peas was not the issue; mushy peas demand a level of mush. But these mushy peas contained a disturbing ingredient--garlic.

The spokeswomen of the duo was not satisfied with holding high the offending ramekin while interrogating the waitress about the unusual presence of flavor. She had to ask for the manager, who explained that yes, their mushy pea preparation did include some garlic butter. "Oh! But that's just not done!" the diner exclaimed. The manager apologized obligatorily, and asked if they had enjoyed the rest of their food. "All I could taste was garlic," the second women said, "I got something familiar so I could trust it." She had been betrayed. "We don't like garlic," the first woman said gravely. Thankfully her spirits weren't completely broken by the aromatic bulb, as she was able to laugh after the manager left, exclaiming gleefully, "It's like putting it in dessert!" I was tempted to tell her about garlic ice cream, but really, that would have been cruel.

Now, we all know garlic can be used to excess, but I doubt a pat of garlic butter would ruin some peas. Classic food items can be a minefield, but you can't blame a restaurateur for wanting to subtly update a food favorite. Also, it's hard for our Emerilized taste buds to imagine being shocked by a little garlic butter. But this is Ireland, and some things are just not done.

After dinner we attended a concert of Szymanowski, Dvorak and Bartok at the National Concert Hall. Szymanowski was a contemporary of Bartok. Dvorak and Bartok are some of Bill's favorites. The RTE orchestra is excellent. We hope to take advantage of their rich performance schedule.

Tex Miss

Tex Mex was a common after-church lunch in Austin for us. Whether at Chuy's or Mesa Rosa or La Margarita or any number of other at least decent places, we knew we could find enchiladas and tacos to assuage our cravings. Not so here. The Epicurean Food Hall near the corner of Middle Abbey and Lower Liffey has a pretty authentic Tex Mex place, but that is the only place we've dared to try. And unlike Austin, every corner here does not have a Tex Mex restaurant. Howth boasts of a Tex Mex joint called El Paso, though, and we've even seen a show on a public access channel about it where they talked of importing chiles and using authentic recipes. So, our Tex Mex cravings in full force, we set out on Sunday after church for Howth.

Our cravings weren't assuaged, and my wallet was much lighter than it would've normally been after lunch in Austin. Chips and dips, which included a basket of warm chips and four pots with sour cream, queso, salsa and ranchero sauce, was €13. $20 for chips and salsa, something we're used to being free, and the salsa and queso weren't that good. For mains Sharon had a chimichanga and I a beef taco. Each was around €19 ($27!). Sharon pronounced the chimichanga "mild, vaguely familiar, but not outright offensive." My taco was at best weird: a soft flour tortilla smeared with refried beans, topped with a crunchy flour tortilla filled with stewed beef and cheese. It was like a haute cuisine version of that double-decker taco from Taco Bell. Again, not offensive, but neither was it Tex Mex. All in all it seemed to me that this was Tex Mex from someone who has only read about Tex Mex and not actually tasted it. I left with a new dream to open an authentic Tex Mex restaurant in Dublin.

Sharon's friend Helen, who is in Austin on a business trip, is bringing back to us dried chiles procured by our friend Lisa. Soon I will be making pork and potato tacos (tacos de puerco y papas al guajillo) and corn tortillas, and the cravings will be silenced for a time. Until they cry out for tamales.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Grande Place

Driving into Brussels on the airport bus, we felt like we could be approaching any American city. We were in a left-drive vehicle on the right side of the road, rolling past sprawling office complexes, shopping centers, car dealerships, and a nuclear power plant. The city itself is an interesting integration of history and modernity. Skyscrapers loom on the horizon when viewing the back garden of our B&B, but out the front door is a narrow street of homes built in the late 1800s. The massive front door is unlocked by a thumb print reader. Efficient, orange trains whisked us below cobblestone streets.

Once in the city, however, we felt that we had arrived someplace different from whence we came. Someplace old. Everybody talks about the Grande Place in Brussels, and it is indeed spectacular. It is the very definition of super-crazy-ornate. Complex carvings and statues cover the stone buildings, their fantasy-castle spires puncturing the sky. These buildings date from the 15 to 18th C. In addition to the town hall, the square is bordered by imposing guild houses. These houses were built during times of great prosperity when various trade guilds wanted to be present in Brussels to influence trade and city administration; these huge structures were built to show their wealth and influence. Oh, to be a baker in 17th century Brussels! (Seriously, this is what the WGA should be striking for. Internet residuals and a gothic club house.) Some additional buildings housed royal administration, while some were private residences. Although many buildings were updated or restored over the centuries, the overall architectural style has been maintained, leading UNESCO to praise the square's "remarkably homogeneous body of public and private buildings, dating mainly from the late 17th century. The architecture provides a vivid illustration of the level of social and cultural life of the period in this important political and commercial centre."

Sunday, January 20, 2008


The street is actually named rue des Bouchers (Butcher Street) and Beenhouwersstraat. Every street in Brussels has both a French and Flemish name (and the signs are pretty good from our experience). We were headed toward a restaurant we'd read about called Aux Armes de Bruxelles. We found the restaurant on a street mobbed by competing restaurants, all with almost identical menus on placards out front, and very friendly maître d's who were ready to describe their paella, show you an English menu, and promise your first drink free. There must have been 20 restaurants in a row, all eerily empty inside with fires blazing sadly. The Armes was the only restaurant that did not have a caller, and the only one with a cheerful buzz of customers.

We chose the Armes and the food was quite good. After dinner, as we walked back through the gauntlet, one maître d' called out to us, and then said, "Oh, I remember you." I could tell he was thinking, "Yes, I remember. Tonight I will see your face as my children cry with hunger in their beds!"

Our host said she does not recommend these secondary restaurants because she fears the seafood is not fresh. She also said these front men have become less aggressive; they used to grab people! I don't understand how so many seemingly identical restaurants can thrive on a single block. I would open a restaurant and tell everyone, "Mussels, who wants mussels? Have an enchilada!" Because a Tex-Mex restaurant in Brussels would be awesome. Although I admit, the mussels I had were gorgeous.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Leonardo de Brussels

Bill and I flew to Brussels Thursday night. Actually, we flew to an airport outside of Brussels, as we were flying Ryanair (they've chosen to identify themselves as "the low fare airline"), and then rode a bus to a metro stop in Brussels city. We bought a ticket at the counter in the airport and were directed to go out and to the left. There was an unlabeled bus standing in relative proximity to a sign saying "Buses to Brussels City." We boarded and in few minutes a driver got on, said nothing, checked no tickets, and started the bus. We wound up in Brussels City, so that was good.

Friday dawned rainy with a cold wind. At least, that was the weather around noon when we headed out to the Leonardo da Vinci exposition at the Basilique Nationale de Koekelberg. The exhibit contained many of da Vinci's works along with those of his contemporaries and students. We really enjoying seeing several of his codexes with notes and drawings. Models of many of his machine and weapon designs were also on display. All the descriptions were in French and Flemish. Luckily an English audio tour was available.

After the exhibit we stopped by a restaurant for a light lunch. We accidentally ordered ice cream. Tasty, but not the best on a blustery, cold day. I really should have reviewed my limited French. Mmm, Dame Blanche.

A short time later we found a middle eastern restaurant and successfully ordered falafel and kofta. Friday evening we went to the Grand Place. More on that and the Rue de Restaurants later.

Monday, January 14, 2008

A Brief History of Swans

Last Tuesday I went to lunch in Bray with a friend. She brought bread so we could feed the swans. The swans were hungry, or at least, are suckers for carbs. Swans are bigger in person, and also very awkward on land. These regal birds are common in Ireland, and are connected to its story in several ways.

Irish Mythology tells of the children of Lir, the Lord of the Sea, who are turned into swans by their stepmother, out of jealousy and typical stepmother evil. Lir banishes the stepmother, but cannot reverse her curse that sentences them to 900 years as swans, to be returned to human form only when the bell tolls to signal a new god has come to Ireland. The swans survive their swan centuries, spending the last few years with a man named Mochua who is making a bell to signal to arrival of the new god brought by St. Patrick. The swans are almost abducted by a Warrior King whose wife desires to hear the swans' beautiful singing, but Mochua is able to ring the bell, and the swans return to human form. The children begin to age rapidly, however, and die shortly thereafter.

There is a statue of the Children of Lir turning into swans in Dublin's Garden of Remembrance. I find the statue to be a little freaky.

Another swan tale involves Oliver St John Gogarty, a writer and doctor and friend of James Joyce who found himself in Joyce's Ulysses as the character Buck Mulligan. Politically active, Gogarty also found himself taken captive by the IRA during the civil war in 1922. He escaped by diving into the Liffey. As he swam away in a rain of bullets, he promised the Liffey that he would give her two swans if she carried him to safety. He survived, made good on his promise, and even published a poem entitled An Offering of Swans.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Food Market

Yesterday Bill and I visited the food market downtown in Temple Bar. As expected, we found tasty goodness. We had a progressive lunch of a veggie empanada followed by miso soup for me and a sausage with onions in a bun for Bill. Bill ate some raw oysters. I ate one--if "to eat" is the proper verb for something that slides down your throat on its own volition. I would have preferred them after a few minutes under the broiler.

We brought home some lemon poppyseed bread, Italian sausage, olives, kale, endive, oyster mushrooms, spring onions and and finger-shaped avocados called cocktail avocados. These seedless avocados occur when an avocado flower is not pollinated normally. I bought some apples grown in an orchard in North County Dublin, our neck of the woods. I told the apple vendor that I like to eat apples with peanut butter. "How do you do that?" he asked. "Just slice an apple and smear on peanut butter," I explained. He was incredulous. "I just don't see how that would work out!" he said. After the outdoor market, we bought spelt pasta and cannellini beans at an Italian market.

We also picked up noodles , veggie and seafood stir fry, and pork/cabbage buns at the take away counter in a Chinese market. Along with some chips from Leo Burdock's, the Chinese food completed our culinary tour.

Mmm, chips and Chinese food.

Bill made oyster mushroom omlettes for lunch today, served with cocktail avocados and brown bread. He is currently creating a delicious dinner using the pasta, sausage, kale and cannellini beans.

In other food news, Bill recently attempted his first Irish roasted potatoes. These crispy outside/fluffy inside potatoes are ubiquitous on proper dinner plates across the country. This preparation represents Ireland's commitment to the perfect potato. The potatoes are first par boiled, then shaken inside the pot, removing the outer layer until they look fluffy. The potatoes are then placed into a heated pan of oil (or goose fat, which is readily available at the grocery). Forty minutes of baking, and you've got tasty potatoes. Of course, to be authentic, you better have mashed some potatoes as well. Bill's potatoes turned out great. We ate them with pork chops in a mustard thyme sauce.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Tob - Blog 2

Hello All,
It is that time again, time for your favorite beagle to let you know how things are going here in Indiana. I remember Mom and Dad telling me that I should expect a change in the weather, but I never dreamed I would see so much snow or that it would be sooo cold. I will get to that in a minute.
First, I thought I would show a couple pictures of where I lounge here at the house. I have my fleece where I spend most of the day. I also spend time on the love seat, with my face hanging off of the seat. I get visits from Buzz (Buttercup) and Trevor. I enjoy it.
Trevor likes to take the remotes and move them all around the room. When I am not asleep, I watch him for fun.
Well, back to the weather. It didn't snow on Christmas, but we got about 6 inches a little after that. We also had an ice storm in early Dec, the next week we had 11 inches of snow. I have gotten tougher and can handle being out in the cold for a longer walk, but sometimes I just go outside, get my business done, and come back into the warmth. Here I am on one of my walks in the 6 inch snow. :)
And last but not least, we had a good Christmas. I watched as everyone opened presents and laughed and had fun, and then I got a couple presents. My first present was a large bone. It was softer with some yummy stuff in the middle. I devoured it. I think someone else was interested in what I got. :)

But my favorite present of all was an outfit. An outfit of my new FAVORITE college!!! Purdue University. I got a football jersey, number 00 that fit me to a T. I wore it all around the house and even posed for a few pictures with it on. I know that some out there are going to be a little surprised, maybe even upset to see that I have picked Purdue, but I live in Big 10 country and I now bleed black and gold! Go Boilers! Don't I look good in black? :)

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Still a Slow News Day

It's starting to cloud up, but the skies were blue this morning. Temps were in the upper 30s with a very chilly wind as I walked to village centre around 11:30. After a visit to the post office, I ate a bowl of chicken and sweet corn soup at the River Cafe. I read The New Yorker as I ate, but also eavesdropped as best I could as a guy at the next table described how he can identify a good spiritual medium. After lunch I stopped by a clothes shop and returned some DVDs to the library. Have you seen The Ipcress File, Michael Caine's first leading movie role from 1965? Bill and I quite enjoyed its earnest 60s cool. I checked out a book of Jonathan Franzen essays and dropped in at the pub for a cappuccino.

Here I am outside the Raheny library. This is the same branch Jimmy Rabbitte, Sr. visits in Roddy Doyle's novel The Van. It's the most frequently used branch in the Dublin Library system.

Smart Dog

Everyone knows this basic media principle: On a slow news day, show doggy pics! So, today we feature Gus, my brother's dog. Named after Augustus McCrae from Lonesome Dove, Gus is a 10-year-old shepherd mix who is incredibly sweet. And smart! Look, he found my dad's name on the graduates' walk at U of Ark.

Monday, January 7, 2008


Time for our first quarter Ireland report:

We have an apartment, mobiles, a VW Polo (with a working stereo--that's new), a guest room tested by actual guests, radiators, biscuits, tea, muesli and yogurt, washing-up liquid, two torches, crisps, and Dubliner cheese. We're sorted, I guess you could say.

I haven't been behind the wheel of a car in three months. Although I frequently, as recently as yesterday, walk to the driver's side. Bill has brought home the rashers and fried them up in a pan. He's navigated our Irish life paperwork, with varying degrees of success. I've talked to scores of recruiters and interviewed enough times to be sick of it. We've visited Cork, Galway, Kilkenny and Drogheda. We've navigated the DART and the LUAS. Experienced the Christmas throng in City Centre. Took a new year's day walk on Dollymount strand. Quaffed pints of Guinness and Bulmers and Smithwick's and soothed sore throats with hot whiskey. Watched the sky turn from blue to grey to blue.

We welcomed the new year with the flu. Bought a selection of chesty cough and even (accidentally) ibuprofen with codeine. Being sick brings a certain kind of homesickness. You want all things familiar and easy. But then you start to feel better, are grateful to be upright, and that carvery lunch with three servings of potatoes tastes as good as anything is the world.