Tuesday, February 26, 2008

St. Stephen's Green Park

My new job will be downtown, near St. Stephen's Green Park.

The green was established as a park in 1664, with renovations in the 1800s creating the current layout. I'll enjoy grabbing a sandwich and walking in the park on sunny days. I may even run into Bono tending sheep. As recipients of Dublin's Freedom of the City award, the members of U2 have the right to graze their sheep on several public greens in the city.

Even in the rain the park is lovely. These pictures are from our first visit to Dublin in October 2006. The daffodils are currently blooming in the park. I'm sure it will be beautiful throughout the spring.

I'll be about two blocks South of the park, near the National Concert Hall. My office is about a 20-25 minute walk from the DART, so I'll be participating in the train crush and speed walk with hundreds of other urban workers. Better than sitting on Mopac? I hope so!

We set March 18 as my start date, allowing six weeks for my work permit to be processed. Looks like it may take the full six weeks. I have to wait until Tuesday the 18th because March 17 is a national holiday, of course!

Neolithic and Norman

During the Spauldings' visit of last weekend we accomplished something denied to us the last time we attempted it: we visited the neolithic monument at Newgrange.

This is what I looked like the first time we attempted this in 2006. We drove around for hours trying to find the place, and when we finally found it we were too late for the tour. We actually cried, we were so tired and disappointed.

This is what I looked like last weekend. Not only am I smiling, but that is indeed the monument behind me. Newgrange is a passage tomb built over 5000 years ago and predates the Great Pyramid of Giza by 500 years and Stonehenge by 1000 years. It was built in such a way that on the shortest day of the year, the winter's solstice (and two days before and after), the rising sun would shine through an opening above the entrance and illuminate the inner chamber for only a few moments. The other 360 days of the year the chamber is pitch dark. A lottery is held every year to pick the lucky few who will be allowed into the chamber on the solstice to observe the amazing event. The wall behind me in the picture was painstakingly reconstructed over many years from the stones that had fallen from the sides of the monument. The wall was built up and knocked over repeatedly to determine how the stones would've fallen so their original placement could be determined. In other words, this is very nearly how it actually looked 5000 years ago. More information on Newgrange can be found in the Wikipedia.

Also last weekend we visited Trim Castle, in Trim, County Meath. Built by Hugh de Lacy and his son Walter and finished in 1206, it is the largest castle in Ireland and the largest Norman castle in Europe.

We toured the interior and climbed to the top of the walls of the keep, which afforded a spectacular view of Trim and the countryside.

This gatehouse and other parts of the castle were featured in the Mel Gibson epic Braveheart. The river Boyne can be seen in the background. It was a very successful day of touring a very historic part of Ireland.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Frosted Mini-Posts

  • When Scotland is playing Ireland in Dublin, you will see scores upon scores of kilts in City Centre--on men of all sizes, shapes and ages. Should have taken pictures, but that would have seemed touristy. Instead I just gawked.
  • Even though television and the cinema seem to be dominated by American fare, the bookstores maintain a strong presence of Irish writers.
  • We met a group from church for lunch yesterday at a food court in a nearby shopping center (anchored by one of the few 24-hour supermarkets). As we were walking in I said to Bill, "Couldn't we go somewhere more Irish, like a carvery?" I was kinda kidding. "This is Irish now," he replied.
  • The instructions on Bill's Nivea for Men tells shavers to "take a hazelnut-sized blob of gel on your palm." Hazelnut-sized! This unit of measurement would leave most US men blobless, I'm afraid. Although I understand folks in the Northwest are very hazelnut aware.
  • We really enjoyed having guests with some shared past and context. They were a welcome refreshment in the midst of all things new.
  • Now, the frosting: Brandy butter, a common Christmas-time shmear, is like butter cream frosting with brandy. Amazing! I would eat it on toenails.

Friday, February 22, 2008

My Fair City

When in City Centre of late, Bill and I have taken to standing proud and proclaiming, "This is our city!" After four months the city does feel familiar, at least our stomping grounds of O'Connell, Stephen's Green and Temple Bar. Monday, the Spauldings and I rode the tour bus around Dublin. Ireland gave them gorgeous weather for their visit, and it was mostly warm enough to ride in the few covered rows of the bus' top deck. We stopped off at the Guinness Storehouse, which artfully illustrates the brewing process, as well as the history of Guinness and Arthur Guinness himself. The building's shape evokes a pint glass, and when you reach the foam level, you have a 340° view of Dublin. I had another "my city" moment up there drinking my dark ruby brew, which you'll believe really does give you strength, looking out over the city as the sound of U2's chiming guitar filled the room, apropos of everything.

Tuesday we visited the Dublin Zoo. You have to appreciate a zoo with a vocabulary in addition to zebras. February must be baby primate season; we saw several adorable babies. A baby elephant had also been born days before, but was not yet on public view. After the zoo I successfully maneuvered our troop back to Temple Bar where we stopped by a pub for some snacks and then wandered some shops including a bookstore. The Norwegian residents were hungry for books in English! And of course I bought two books as well. Bill came down and met us for dinner, the mandatory trip to the chipper.

I must not be a true Dub, as I am still charmed by a shamrock in the head on a pint.

Kayleigh ponders euro-sized marshmallows (they are not small nor large) in her hot chocolate at the zoo tea room.

Oslovian Portlanders in Dublin, in the park at St. Patrick's Cathedral.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Howth Cuisine

Our guests from Oslo arrived Friday evening intact and in good spirits. Another successful Ryanair adventure. Saturday morning Bill fed us eggs, rashers, mushrooms, white pudding, sausage, toast and broiled tomatoes, i.e., an Irish breakfast. Thusly fueled, we spent the sunny afternoon wandering St. Anne's park.

Saturday night we went to dinner at Aqua in Howth. We arrived in time to enjoy the sunset over Dublin Bay and also to order from the Early Bird menu. Early Bird options occur frequently on Dublin menus, typically a three-course Prix Fixe, and are attractive to diners far from retirement. Aqua's Early Bird offered three courses and a bottle of wine for €65 per couple. The four adults took advantage of this option, while the resident 8-year old chose buttered pasta with parmesan, and an improvised Shirley Temple.

Kent had the best appetizer, a salad with chicken and a quail egg. Tracy and I had fried calamari, mostly tender, but could have been crispier fried, in my opinion. Bill's seafood chowder was tasty. Bill and Tracy had salmon with Savoy cabbage for entrée. Kent had a steak on bean cassoulet and salsa verde and I had haute fish and chips.

Desserts were beautiful and tasted good too. Bill's orange mousse roulade was probably the best, Kent's cheesecake the weirdest, and Tracy and my lemon tarts the tartiest. Kayleigh's trio of homemade ice cream was delightful, but chocolate sauce accents can be tricky when they look like part of the plate design!

After dinner we looked at some charcoal drawing in the lounge. The artist was one of our fellow guests last weekend in Wexford. The lounge was lovely and we considered lingering in front of the fire, but we decided instead to head out into the cold night to catch the DART.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Malahide, Migas and Milk (hot, with chocolate)

1) Today I met a friend for lunch in Malahide, a town about 15 minutes up the coast via DART. Malahide has a nice town centre with many restaurants and shops. I had a tasty shepherd's pie at Cafe Provence. French shepherd's pie? Le pâté en croûte du berger! Perhaps the French influence was using wine in the mince, which provided a nice flavor dimension. It was cold today, cloudy in the low 40s. Perfect for piping hot pie. My friend's pasta carbonara was scrumptious, based on my one bite.

2) One year Bill made oxtail soup for Valentine's Day. This year, MIGAS! This tex-mex concoction of scrambled eggs, onion, tortilla chips, and garlic tasted great with some salsa from our Austin pack. (Again, thank you Helen and Lisa!)

3) To close out this chilly day, we used the hot chocolate stirrers we bought in Brussels. A chunk of Belgian chocolate melted in milk. Good stuff!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Scenes from the Park

I walked in St. Anne's Park today. Always a new path to explore.

Monday, February 11, 2008

More on Our Weekend

Saturday we took off around 11:00 for our drive to County Wexford. We avoided the M50, driving past the Dublin docks and down through the towns known to me as DART stations: Dun Laoghaire (pronounced Leary in case you're ever quizzed), Booterstown, Dalkey and Bray.

We drove past the campus in Greystones where Bill attended the men's retreat. We kept on the coast road, though Arklow, stopping for lunch in Wicklow.

Outside Wexford we stopped at the Wexford Wildfowl Reserve. The Reserve, a key winter home for many fowl including up to 10,000 Greenland White-Fronted Geese, is located on a mud flat known as the North Slob, from the Irish word slab, meaning mud (or a soft-fleshed person, the origin of our current use of the word).

We arrived at our destination right before dusk. It's staying light until 5:30 or so now. Ballinkeele was built in 1840 by the Maher family, farmers and horse breeders. The home is still owned by Mahers and exhibits an amaranthine grandeur. John and Margaret Maher live at Ballinkeele with their three dogs and from February until November host guests in the bedrooms in the main part of the house. The name of the house means "off the narrow;" the property boundary on one side is a small river, or narrow.

After Margaret gave us a tour, we had tea in the main drawing room. As the day faded, John came in and closed the internal shutters on the 12-foot tall windows. We had scheduled dinner at Ballinkeele; Margaret is a Euro-Toque chef. At 7:15 or so we met the other guests in the drawing room for drinks. We were sharing the home with four other guests: Mary and Pauline from Dublin, and Mary's brother Des and wife Aisling (pronounced Ashling) from Enniscorthy, a town about 20 km up the road.

Any food would have tasted delicious under the gleaming crystal chandelier in the beautiful dining room. Even better, our meal was truly marvelous. A starter of eggplant with feta followed by passion fruit sorbet. The seemingly simple entrée of impeccably fresh salmon on a bed of spinach with cream sauce, potatoes, leeks and cauliflower worked together perfectly. Dessert was a gorgeous panna cotta with berries. After a cheese plate, we retired to the drawing room for Irish coffee (me) and tea (Bill). We chatted with our companions until midnight, the end of a lovely day.

On Sunday we stopped at the Irish National Heritage Park. The Park provides a trail through Irish history with recreations of dwellings and burial and ceremonial sites from 5,000 years ago until the Viking times. We saw an example of a Rath, or ring fort, that would contain dwellings for an extended family; the livestock would be brought within the fort walls at night. Villages often sprung up around the rath locations because cow paths and other "infrastructure" would be in place. Raheny, the part of Dublin where we live, is derived from Rath Éanna.

We ate lunch in Enniscorthy, and tried to visit a number of sites that are closed for the winter. We took the N11 which is more direct but has plenty of lovely green hills to admire. We missed a turn in Dublin, and so wandered through City Centre, but we are such pros now that it was no big thing. We arrived back at our Rath around 6:00.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Jambalayski and Pancakes

Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez! Or as we say in Ireland, "Have a pancake." Seems Mardi Gras is celebrated in Ireland as Pancake Day. The day preceding Ash Wednesday is also known as Shrove Tuesday. Shrove is the past tense of "to shrive" which means "to hear confession." (Shrive is also the basis of the term "short shrift"--to disregard another person's problems.)

Pancakes are a delicious and easy way to consume the dairy products the family will deny themselves during Lent. They also help the cook use any stores of cooking fat, hence Fat Tuesday. Also, did you know that carnivale means "Goodbye Meat!" derived from carne=meat and vale=fare you well (as in valediction).

Last night I learned from a Finnish gentleman that tradition in Finland includes pea soup as preparation for fasting. Most Finnish households eat pea soup every Thursday before the Friday fast, and the soup is also part of their Shrove Tuesday meal. They also eat pancakes, typically as dessert. Bill and I were happy to hear this, as we've got pea soup in our dinner plans for this week. We might be a little out of order on everything--pancakes last Saturday, soup during Lent, but we'll try to fit it all in.

We definitely couldn't let the season pass without jambalaya. Bill made a terrific batch of chicken and sausage jambalaya on Saturday. The basic ingredients were easy to find; he used polish sausage instead of andouille. It was really great, as good as the batch that made me fall in love with him back in '94.

Bill prepares jamabalaya in our kitchen (note: the pita bread in his hand is not an ingredient)

Good ol' Cajun goodness

I'm sure there is a sadness (and hunger) in Austin today as the townspeople mourn the absence the Annual Gunter Mardi Gras Food Fest. There's a little sadness in Raheny, Dublin too. I'm hoping Bill will still make a King Cake.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Behold the Groundhog

Bill and I were at a gathering yesterday comprised of several hardy Irish individuals (North and Republic varietals), a few US blow ins, and one Canadian. As is perhaps unavoidable in such company, the conversation turned many times to the wacky idioms and customs of the other culture. "The whole world doesn't know when Labor Day is, you know." "How do they know when to stop wearing white?"

When the topic of Groundhog Day came up, someone asked, "Isn't Groundhog Day a day when everything happens over and over again?" This person had never seen the movie, but knew the basic premise, so had only the reference of a day being lived over repeatedly. Our explanations of the true meaning of Groundhog Day made as little sense. We outlined the details: Shadow=More Winter; No Shadow=Spring Awakens. "Is there one groundhog?" "Yes. Punxsutawney Phil."

"But what does it mean?" Once again we were being asked to speak for all America: What does it mean? Why does every person reared in the US know that Feb 2 is dedicated to an indigenous rodent who any other day is more likely to meet with a shotgun than a top hat? Maybe it comes from a farmer's wisdom, based on the counterintuitive idea that sunny skies will actually delay spring? A young man from the heartland (i.e, Nebraska) enlightened us that it stems from a German festival. Eventually I waved my hand and said, "it is independent of all meaning." Which to one person at least, spoke significantly of the philosophical notion of nothingness. And perhaps he has a point, I tend to look for reasons to celebrate, and to me the charm of Groundhog day is we observe GHD for no better reason than "Why not?"

We did explain that for Murray's journalist character in GHD: The Movie, covering GHD is a ludicrous assignment, one of many non-news events that have to occur to maintain the fabric of society. The fact that this movie is potentially creating an idiom unmoored from its cultural reference is fascinating. Perhaps in the next decade persons in Ireland experiencing déjà vu will say, "Ah, I'm having a bit of the groundhog's day." Or for a particularly disturbing sense of the already seen, "Feck all, it's the bleedin' goundhog's day!"

By the way, sorry about the six more weeks of winter!