Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Eight Courses in Carlingford

Our eight-course dinner at the Ghan House was pretty extravagant. I made the reservation that week and I think we were the final one as the dining room was full. The Ghan House hosts these dinners eight times a year.

We started with canapes: smoked eel, cannellini bean puree on crostini and Clonakilty black pudding "bon-bons." My favorite was the black pudding. The remaining courses came with a choice from vegetarian and omnivorous options and we differed on only one course.

Second course: Cured Irish salmon with creme fraiche and new spring caviar. Nothing spectacular, but nice.

Third: Carpaccio of Barbary duck with lardons, sherry-soaked raisins and watercress salad. Perhaps our favorite course. The sweetness of the raisins and the smokiness of the lardons complemented the duck perfectly.

Fourth: The course on which we differed. I had the baked turbot with leeks in a shellfish bisque. Here we have a peeve of mine. A bisque is a very rich and creamy soup made from pureed crustaceans. The primary ingredient is not tomato, or corn, or any other vegetation, and neither is it clear. My turbot was not served with a bisque, as you can see, but a broth. A delicious broth that I took a spoon to, but a broth nonetheless. The turbot was nice, too.

Sharon had the homemade gnocchi with wild mushrooms, white wine and basil, and toasted pine nuts. The gnocchi were pretty heavy, but had to be I suppose in order to brown them. It was an interesting variation on gnocchi in brown butter that Sharon liked.

Fifth: Champagne sorbet. Sorry, no picture, but it was very refreshing and tasty.

Sixth: Truffled boudin of black-legged free-range chicken with fondant potato, spinach and chicken jus. This was a strange choice for a main entree. Normally a meal like this will build up to a tremendously rich red meat course like braised short ribs or a steak. Instead we have... chicken. It was good, and props to the chef for serving 40 people all at the same time a piping hot dish. I wouldn't call this a main entree, though.

Seventh: By this time we were exhausted. Our dinner started an hour late because the chef wanted to wait until everyone had arrived. Understandable, but I wanted to pop everyone at the table that held us all up. Here we have ballybrie mousse with apricot puree, crostini and salad garnish. We almost missed this one and I had to flag down our waiter to tell him we had ben forgotten. Ostensibly a cheese course, the mousse was overpowered by chives. I'd have rather had a normal cheese course. Or a nap.

Eighth: Poached apple with apple puree and fried pastry cream, and thankfully a very light and soothing dessert. How the heck do you fry pastry cream, though?

After tea and what the menu called homemade petit fours but were actually chocolate truffles we crawled back to our room and collapsed. The dinner lasted four hours, but an hour of that was due to the tardiness of the Larry McLateington party.

Everything was tasty (excepting the ill-conceived cheese course) and we enjoyed our dinner a great deal. I was expecting something more spring-like, though. This was a very autumnal menu with truffles, apples, duck, and even a pumpkin risotto which was the vegetarian option for the sixth course. Where was the asparagus, baby artichokes and spring lamb (for which the Cooley peninsula is famous)? I didn't speak with the chef, so I guess we'll never know.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Rock on, rock pools!

Yesterday on our scenic drive to Carlingford (we were actually following the signs that said "scenic route"), we stopped at a beach in Clogherhead. The dark brown sand was smooth, except for little noodle-looking piles, extruded from some sea creature we assume. A few folks let their dogs frolic in the surf, and a group of youths were participating in calisthenics, possibly training with the nearby life preserving centre.

The edge of the beach was rocky, creating a rugged landscape of barnacles and clear pools, a haven for snails. The air was sweet and salty, the scent of flowers caught up in the sea breeze. We loved exploring these rock pools.

Who made these?

Update: The "sand strings" are made by lugworms. -bg

Wish You Were Here

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Busy, Busy Week

A busy week here in Dublin. Monday and Tuesday night we had church stuff that kept us out until at least 11:00. Wednesday we went out to celebrate the nuptials of a work mate of Bill's. Thursday we saw the man with the golden flute. Last night we had a nice evening in the apartment; Bill made dinner and blogged about it. Today we are chillaxin, as the kids say. (Bill says it sounds like a drug, fast actin' chillaxin.)

Here are some highlights from our recent flurry of activity:
  • Bill and I have been meeting at the pub for dinner on Tuesdays before small group. This week as I came in, the barkeep brought me two menus and said, "Bring you your Bulmers?" She knows my drink! "Yes," I said. "And what about him? Bring his now or is he on his way?" Awesome. We have a local.
  • The wedding get-together was at a restaurant & bar called Market Bar. The wedding party was to arrive at 8:00 so Bill and I met early to have dinner. We ordered a bread basket, meat, olive and cheese plate, salmon with lime creme fraiche and pickled cucumber, chorizo and chicken skewers, and patatas bravas. Delicious! We love having loads of bits and bobs to choose from. It was one of our favorite meals in Dublin, and the place had a kind of Austin vibe. The newlyweds showed up about 9. We had a pint and met some of their friends. One guy was ready with a question, "Can you cross the United States driving only through states that start with a vowel?"
  • Thursday night Bill and I saw James Galway in concert with his wife, Lady Jeanne, and the Ulster orchestra. That guy can toot! The program included classical pieces (Mozart's Flute Concerto in D and Bizet's L’arlesienne: Suite No.2), some classical/trad fusion pieces (Badinereelerie and Loch Mozart, with some tin whistle thrown in) and a Mancini set with the Pink Panther and Baby Elephant Walk. Galway is quite cute and funny and truly seems to be having a great time. We had a great time too.
  • Before the concert we had dinner at Wagamama, a quick-paced Asian eatery. We both had tasty noodle dishes with edamame, and got to eat with chopsticks! We'll be back.
  • Heard this snippet of conversation while walking through the park to meet Bill on Thursday: "What were those birds in Waco?" "Grackles." Yes, evil, evil grackles.
Meat and cheese plate at Market Bar

Miso ramen and edamame at Wagamama

Ready for Tiptoes

The tulips are blooming. Although we had highs in the 40s this week, Spring is laying claim to St.Stephen's Green. Here are some photos from Wednesday evening.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Yummy Panthay noodles

I made these noodles tonight for dinner and they were gorgeous. The Tesco didn't have bok choy so I used sweetheart cabbage instead. I also added bean sprouts because Sharon has been craving them. The flavors were just great, nicely spicy from a hot Madras curry powder and hot paprika, and despite the curry it didn't really taste Indian. It reminded me more of Vietnamese. Highly recommended.


Last Saturday Bill and I hosted our first party at The Watermill. We had long been collecting ingredients to support our plot to turn the wonderful people of Ireland into Tex-Mex maniacs! Our plan involved operatives in Dublin and Austin, and a Mexican food supply company in London. Our weapons: Pork Tamales and homemade corn tortillas with three taco fillings-- Pork and Potato, cold chicken salad with chipotle vinaigrette, and shrimp in garlic lime butter. We also offered the classic chips and dips: guacamole, Rotel(R) dip, and salsa. Alas, no jalapeño ranch. While Bill's dishes leaned more toward authentic Mexican than true Tex-Mex, I made a quintessentially American vision of mexican flavors: the 7-layer dip.

Bill did an amazing job planning and executing his menu. He started Wednesday by constructing the tamales and freezing them. Thursday night he made the pork taco filling, and Friday he baked brownies with cinnamon and ancho chili powder. He also roasted the veggies for the salsa and put together the base of jalapeño, tomatoes, and garlic. He even made the garlic lime sauce for the shrimp. Saturday he spent an hour making 35 corn tortillas in addition to steaming the tamales, cooking the shrimp, and making the chicken salad. I experimented with an on-the-rocks margarita recipe.

So, what did people think? Watch the clip to find out. Also, I think you'll find I'm one step away from hosting and/or editing a show on the Food Network.

Needless to say, we were ecstatically happy to be dining on Mexican food. This picture is of our leftovers on Sunday. Bill did dial down the spice levels a bit. He used half the chiles called for in the salsa and chicken salad. He was free with the cilantro however, or coriander as it is known here. Still wonderfully flavorful, and the tamales and tortillas both delicately embodied the yummy essence of corn.

Special thanks to Helen, Lisa, and Bill's muse, Rick Bayless.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Rainbow of the Day

Bill and I both got shots of this rainbow that appeared as I was walking home tonight.

I walked to the coast road where I could see the other end of rainbow.

From his perch on the balcony, Bill captured a double rainbow.

The entire bow was visible.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Bursting with Fountains

Saturday Bill and I visited Powerscourt in Enniskerry, at the Southernmost reaches of Dublin. Powerscourt is an 18th century Palladian mansion with terraced grounds that include Italian and Japanese gardens, plus lots of lakes, streams, and fountains. Indeed, we overheard one lad piqued by the abundance of water works (and perhaps the lack of a football pitch) to exclaim, "Why is this place bursting with fountains!?" Powerscourt even has its own waterfall, but we didn't trek far enough to see it.

My favorite feature of Powerscourt is its Avoca cafe. (Avoca is perhaps my favorite purveyor of flavors in Dublin.) After an hour on the DART, a 20-minute bus ride, and a 20-minute walk up the drive, we had a scrumptious mini-feast. The dining area was pretty full, but as I stood table-less with my tray, a bus-girl with an east-european accent told me, "If you have food, you can sit down." So, emboldened, I asked two women if we could share their table. It was a yummy lunch, and Bill's lemon cake was one of the two best lemon items we've had on the Isle. (The other being a caramelized lemon tart at Eden.)

On the Dart.

Two winged horses of zinc (1869) stand at the base of the stairs that lead to Triton lake.

The grotto in the Japanese gardens was built in the 18th century using petrified sphagnum (peat moss) from the banks of the River Dargle.

The gardens were just putting on their springtime blooms. This tree is a cousin to the magnolia with the same luxurious petals and spiraling rows of stamens. (Did you know that the magnolia comes from an ancient family of flowering plants which evolved before bees appeared; the flowers developed to encourage pollination by beetles.)

Once we'd arrived at the Powerscourt, we found out there was limited bus service back to Enniskerry, so our trip home included a walk down the steep hill to the town centre. During our 45 minute wait for the bus to the Bray DART station, we watched at least 30 people stop at the Spar for a soft-serve cone with a jaunty Cadbury Flake accessory. And it sleeted for four minutes.

Our life in a box

Bob & Debbie, our most excellent friends and caretakers of all our worldly goods, checked on our stuff the other day. Look, it's our stuff!

There's our recliner that doesn't look like a recliner, and my markers, and some packing cling wrap. Our cling wrap! And the chair in which I was rocked as an infant. And a ladder. And the stool that held Tob's dog food container in the garage. And boxes. Ah, such good stuff.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Bye Bye Bertie

On April 2, 2008, Bertie Ahern, the esteemed and/or maligned Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of Ireland, announced his resignation effective May 6. Mr. Ahern assumed office in June 1997 and is the tenth Taoiseach. He is currently embroiled in a financial scandal concerning payments made to him in the mid-1990s. Brian Cowen, the Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) and Minister for Finance, will replace him as Taoiseach.

It's taken me awhile to get used to the strange spelling of Irish words. Tay-oh-i-seech? Tan-ay-stee? Actually, they're tee-shock and tan-a-shta. In Irish an "s" is always pronounced "sh."

Some Lunches

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Catalonian Independentism

Some Catalanist authors argue that first precedents of Catalan independentism may date back as far as 1640, with the unsuccessful first Catalan Republic after Reaper's War. An increase in taxes by then King Philip IV to support an ambitious foreign policy was strongly resisted in Catalonia. The peasants were required to lodge and provision Spanish troops fighting in the Thirty Years' War, which led to an uprising in 1640 called the Corpus de Sang. The revolt was channeled by the Catalonian Generalitat into a political war against Castilian domination, a war for Catalan independence known as the Reapers' War. The president of the Generalitat, Pau Claris, declared a Catalan Republic under the protection of Louis XIII of France. This allowed French troops to draw that much closer to the heartland of Spain. By 1652, Catalonia was again occupied by Spanish troops; war with France lasted until 1659, when the Peace of the Pyrenees ceded Roussillon, Conflent, Vallespir, Capcir, and the northern half of Cerdanya to France. These remain French territory to this day, and every year on November 7, Catalanists remember this event and demonstrate in Perpignan. The treaty included several points about conserving Catalan institutions, which Louis XIV did not respect. Catalan institutions were abolished one year after the treaty was signed, and a royal decree on April 2, 1700 forbade the use of the Catalan language in any official capacity. French continues to be the only official language in the region.

The War of the Spanish Succession (1705–1714) resulted in the revocation of Catalonia's traditional autonomy and privileges due to their support of the losing claimant to the throne, Archduke Charles. Afterwards, Spain attempted to crush the Catalans' sense of identity as a nation in a process that culminated in the Nueva Planta decree (1716), which abolished the Catalan constitutions, established a new territorial and administrative structure, suppressed the Catalan universities and abolished the administrative use of the Catalan language; half a century later, the Catalan language would also be banned from primary and secondary schools.

In the modern sense, the first political parties which started defining themselves as separatists were created between the 1920s and the 1930s in Spanish Catalonia. The main separatist party created at this time was Estat Català and its branch called Bandera Negra, others independentist parties born from Estat Català were: Nosaltres Sols, the Partit Nacionalista Català and the Partit Català Proletari. After the Spanish Civil War, members of Estat Català and Nosaltres Sols founded the Front Nacional de Catalunya which became the main pro-independence party. However, one might argue that modern Catalan independentism was actually born in the 1960s with the Partit Socialista d'Alliberament Nacional (PSAN). Since then, the pro-independence movement has assumed a mostly left-wing political trend and has often shifted its focus from "independence for Catalonia" to "independence for the 'Catalan Countries'". By the 1970s, the PSAN split into several factions, and many other groups appeared, including the armed organization Terra Lliure. In the 1980s, the Moviment de Defensa de la Terra (MDT) became the major pro-independence political group but this too became divided by the end of the decade. During the 1990s, existing political parties such as Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya and the linguistic-national initiative Crida a la Solidaritat progressively evolved towards a more pro-independence stance.

Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya is currently the only organization campaigning explicitly for independence represented in the Catalan Parliament. They won 14.06% of the total votes in the last 2006 regional elections. Polls regularly indicate an ambivalent and far from univocal feeling. For example, in 2007 a poll indicated that, when asked about the independence of Catalonia, 51% of the population would be against it, 32% would favour it, while 17% do not have an opinion. In turn, this same poll indicated that, when asked about the meaning of Spain, only 5% identified with the independentist option ("Spain is an alien State of which my country is not a part").

All information in this post has been taken from the Wikipedia articles Catalan Independentism and History of Catalonia.