Thursday, May 29, 2008

Tea vs. brown water

I don't understand the seemingly common practice of pouring hot water over a tea bag, waiting until the water turns brown, then dumping the tea bag. The water turns brown in about five seconds. The end result is a cup of brown water, not a proper cuppa. Similar to my use of chili powder, my brewing time is 36 times that of the typical brewing time in my office.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Saturday in the park

We've been looking forward to this all week: a day rambling in and around St. Stephen's Green. After a lazy rashers-and-eggs morning we set out around one. We decided to be fully European and not drive to our usual parking lot by the DART station but walk instead. We walked the path from Pearse station that Sharon normally takes to work and stopped at her regular Spar for Cornettos. We'd never had one before and they are very moreish. We decided, sadly, that they are even better than a Drumstick. Really, you have to try one.

We walked through the Green on our way to the next destination, Camden Street. Sharon wanted to explore this street and its shops and restaurants more closely (it's near her office). We shopped in a cool international market and stopped for bread and hummus in a Persian restaurant. We then wandered down to a couple Indian markets Sharon frequents and also explored a neat paper shop.

In need of a rest and pastoral environs we walked back to the Green, found a sunny spot and lay in the grass. This is what every good Dubliner does on sunny days. We also munched on some cheese, crackers and strawberries we had picked up on Camden St. We spent about an hour there and left only because we wanted to get to Avoca before the closed to buy some scones. Honestly, we didn't want to leave it was so relaxing. We were glad we did, though, because the scones from Avoca are our favorite and the ones we bought are particularly good. We split one on the way to a bookstore on Dawson St. Sharon wanted to introduce me to. Unfortunately it closes earlier on Saturdays and we didn't make it in time. We did explore another bookstore a bit and looked at the tequila selection in the Celtic Whiskey Shop.

For dinner we went to Wagamama for very tasty gyoza, edamame and noodles. On our way back to Pearse station we stopped again at the Cornetto shop (Spar). Yes, it was a two Cornetto day, and a two Cornetto day is a really, really good day.

London Town

As we were flying to London last weekend I said we should consider our trip a scouting mission for the additional trips to London we will take in the future. We had made no specific plans, just figured we'd figure out what to do once we got there, which in a city like London turned out to be a bit daunting. And although London is full of famous locations, there was no one place that quintessentially represented the city for me. I was interested in it all, and had only 36 hours in which to see it.

We arrived at our hotel around 2:30, after an hour flight to Stansted, a 45-minute train ride into Liverpool Street station, and a hop in the Circle Line to Victoria station. Our hotel was near Buckingham Palace. After our third sandwich of the day--we split one for elevensies, split another at Liverpool station, and thrice so dined when the place where we stopped for waffles was out of omelettes--we decided to stroll through Henry VIII's hunting ground, Hyde Park. For those keeping records, a stroll through Hyde Park, with time allowed for lake gazing and squirrel whispering, takes three hours. We exited the park at the corner in Kensington. While exploring the area, we were gleefully surprised to stumble across a Whole Foods! While I may prefer Central Market a teeny bit to Whole Foods when given a choice, Whole Foods is a terrific store. The London store opened last summer, and I think Whole Foods successfully maintained its personality while taking on some European ways. The bread was stacked in uncomfortably exposed piles, as we see in Dublin, and the unrefrigerated egg section offered a mix-and-match option (quail and duck eggs available). We noticed some Whole Foods brands of euro-snacks, such as flapjacks. We were hoping the store might have a Texas section to celebrate its roots, but alas, no. It may have had more tortilla chips than average. I did buy some FAGE yogurt with honey and some oatmeal cookies from the bakery. We ate the yogurt on the sidewalk as soon as we stepped outside. It was dinnertime, so we looked for a place to eat. We were in a predominately retail area, but I spied an awning down a side street. We had a lovely, leisurely dinner at Med Kitchen (a local chain actually) of calamari/chicken with couscous and harissa/pear and goat cheese salad/lamb burger with apricot tabbouleh and cumin yogurt. A short underground trip back to our hotel, and thus ended day one.

On Saturday we headed out around 11:00 and bought tickets for the bus tour. It was almost time for the Changing of the Guard, so we moseyed to the Palace to meet up with several thousand people who had also heard about this royal ritual. After bumping around in the crowd for a while, we spotted a fuzzy hat or two, and a horse. We felt that was enough. The guards were changed in our hearts, and we proceeded to the first stop on the bus tour. Saturday was a rather drizzly day, so our inaugural parade through these famous streets was spent ignobly enrobed in plastic ponchos. Oh my, we saw many famous buildings! After about 90 minutes we hopped off at the Tower Bridge and walked back toward London Bridge along the Thames. (Yes, a previous London Bridge really is in Arizona.) We were looking for the one place we definitely wanted to visit in London--a food market where we hoped to find some Mexican chilies and masa. The Borough Market was bustling and indeed we did find our ingredients. We also ate lunch. I had very nice fish and chips while Bill had a lamb burger, followed after a respectable time period with a chorizo and piquillo pepper sandwich. Around 4:30 we got back on the bus and came around to the last stop on Buckingham Palace Road.

Friday night we had noticed our hotel was close to the theatre for Wicked, so we decided to book tickets online for Saturday night. We loved it. It's funny and clever and the two leads were great. I have to confess that I had actual goosebumps during the mid-point climax, and fought back tears at the finale. We ate ice cream during intermission. And the Apollo Victoria is a beautiful theatre. So, a great night.

Sunday we again set out around 11:00, checking out and storing our bags at the hotel, and took off toward the Imperial War Museum. By 3:00 we had seen only a portion of the museum, including a special exhibit about Ian Fleming and James Bond. The sections on life during the Blitz were particularly interesting. We wanted to go back to Whole Foods, but on our way there we realized we were out of time, so we picked up our bags at the hotel and started our journey back home.

We've decided to plan some return trips to London that are unified with a theme, say, Shakespeare, Sherlock Homes, Royal History, or Rock-n-Roll. We'll definitely be back.

The squirrels in Hyde Park are ridiculously tame. We called several and they would come jump on the fence. We felt like Lords of the Squirrels.

Is that a cozy reading alcove in our hotel room? Oh, no. It's just the disabled-access shower.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Ireland in The New York Times

NYT article about looking for the real Ireland.

Saturday, May 17, 2008


We made it to London yesterday, and here's the proof.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Surprised by Mush

Unlike my normally fair-minded self, I made a snap judgment about mushy peas. The words "mush" and "peas" and "don't use garlic" created in my mind's palate a bland green paste with a metallic canned-peas aftertaste. At best, lumpy babyfood. Even after I read that mushy peas somewhat resemble pea soup (which I quite enjoy), I was still, in my heart, anti mushy pea. Learning that they were made from marrowfat peas did not help. Mmm, marrow and fat! But, since I consider life a culinary adventure, I knew I would at least have to try the slimy boogers.

I took the plunge recently, and I have to tell you: I like mushy peas. They do have that earthy split pea flavor, and they are green green green! Pictured right is a fish and chips plate I had in Carlingford, and my first dish of mushy peas. What a beautiful moment.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

There and Back

Last Tuesday, Bill, Peggy and I survived this ambitious agenda:

6:15 Taxi to Heuston Station
7:00 Train to Limerick
9:15 Bus to Bunratty Castle
9:45-11:15 Tour Bunratty Castle and grounds
11:20 Bus to Doolin
12:30-1:30 Pub Lunch
1:45 Bus to cliffs
2:00-2:50 View Cliffs of Moher
3:00 Bus through the Burren and around Galway Bay
5:00 Dinner in Galway
6:00 Train to Dublin
9:15 Arrive at Heuston Station
9:20 Taxi back home!

I suppose it's obvious we were with a tour. Bill and I would never come up with so precise an itinerary. Such tours are great for cramming tons of sights and scenery into one day, with no stress of navigation or parking and an avuncular OAP named Edmound sharing interesting facts peppered with corny jokes. (Did you know the EU has outlawed round bales of hay in favor of box-shaped ones? They were afraid cows were not getting a square meal.) We would have enjoyed about 25% more time at each stop, but that would have pushed the tour out to 17.5 hours rather than the manageable 14. Thanks to our lengthening days, we had daylight for the duration of our trip.

Our first stop, Bunratty Castle, a fortress built in 1425 was restored in 1954 and contains the furnishings and household items representative of life in the 15th and 16th centuries. The site was originally a Viking camp, and then a Norman stronghold. Irish Chieftains took possession of the land in the mid 14th Century and the castle was built by the MacNamaras, and then inhabited by the O'Briens, the ruling clan of North Munster. Under Henry VIII's rule, the O'Briens professed loyalty to the King of England and were granted the title Earls of Thomond, but eventually surrendered the land to Cromwellian troops. The castle grounds were portioned to various plantation families, one of whom lived in the castle until 1804. The castle fell into ruin until restoration began in the 1940s. While I did enjoy some of the decorative elements at Bunratty, it was one of my least favorite castle experiences (acknowledging that lessor castle experiences still make for a fun day). The tour was a bit skimpy, and the castle interior is hard to navigate and view. Castle designers should consider future tour access! The view from the top was not too shabby, however.

The castle grounds contain a 19th century replica folk village, and we all three determined we'd rather live in the farmhouse than the dank castle. The folk village contains a street of shops, streams with mills, a church (moved stone by stone from
Ardcroney, Co. Tipperary) and the house the plantation family built in the 19th C.

We were very hungry when we reached Doolin for our pub lunch. Peggy really enjoyed her salmon. I had a burger and Bill had Irish bacon and cabbage. At lunch we added a fourth to our group, a North Dakotan on the tour who was visiting Dublin with some friends who sadly had to work that day. We much enjoyed her company, especially on our train ride back to Dublin.

We had spotted the cliffs on our way into Doolin, and I was looking forward to seeing these famous jewels in Ireland's crown of stunning coastline. I should mention here that the entire week of Peggy's visit the weather was tremendous, amazing and dazzlingly perfect. The sun was so bright at the cliffs that my little camera could barely take in the beautiful sight. The West Coast of Ireland stands boldly against the vast Atlantic, making the sparkling loveliness of the ocean defer to the cliff's rugged beauty. I loved watching the white spray of water against the rocky base.

The cliffs are on the edge of a rocky stretch of coastline called the Burren. This barren limestone landscape did not deter the Irish from scratching out an existence, sometimes at the command of landowners. Almost two thousand miles of stone fences cross the area. These walls of rock have no binding or mortar, and have survived decades against the fierce coastal winds. Farmers carted seaweed from the beaches to create soil on their lands, and the resulting grasses support herds of livestock to this day. The Burren area also supports an amazing array of wildflowers, but we did not see too many blooming on our visit. We stopped for a photo op and Bill and I ventured to peer over the rocky edge into the turquoise swirl.

At one point the bus of tourists was thrilled to be caught behind cattle on the road!

After rounding the bay to Galway, we had just enough time for dinner. Bill and I handily remembered a bakery we had visited on our last trip to Galway last year with my parents. We boarded the train at 6:00 for another three hours of rumbling past piles of golden whin bushes and spring greens even greener that you remember, that touch blue skies which fade into gray and charcoal mountains.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Guinness moving!

Diageo, the multinational who owns Guinness, is moving brewing operations from St. James Gate to Clondalkin, laying-off several hundred workers and selling off a large portion of the property at St. James Gate. This is only the second time in the history of Guinness that the brewery has moved. The first move was from Leixlip to St. James Gate in Dublin in 1795 when Arthur Guinness bought a 9000-year lease on the property. The Guinness "flavor essence" will still be brewed at St. James Gate and the Guinness Storehouse will remain as well.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Happy Birthday, Bill!

*Cake courtesy of Colin and Marks and Spencer.
**Candles not representative of actual age.
***Bulmers not pictured.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Road Trip

We set out this morning in the mighty Polo, headed for Monasterboice and then destination unknown. This is the third time Bill and I have been to see the Celtic High Crosses and the High tower in County Louth, and I continue to be impressed that we can touch this longlasting evidence of faith history.

After Monasterboice we decided to head to Carlingford. Sound familiar? Yeah, we were there last weekend. We knew it was a good spot to grab some lunch and would not disappoint for lovely surroundings. We landed in a pub called O'Hare's for some welcome tipples and grub. After an ice cream cone and a walk along the water, we drove around the lough and into Northern Ireland. We were in another country! It's an open border, so open we weren't even sure we'd crossed until we were in Newry. According to the Irish name of the city, we were at The Yew Tree at the Head of the Strand. We were in NI for 15 minutes, long enough for our phones to text us that we were roaming in the EU.

Tomorrow we're headed to the West Coast!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Sunny Sunday

After our church service this morning (where Peggy met a bunch of Irish folks and a Brit or two), we hopped once again on the DART and along with many sun-dazed Dubliners, headed to Howth. At the farmers' market, Bill and I dined on brats with kraut and Peggy continued her soup trend and ate seafood chowder.

After we bought some asparagus, pasta, strawberries and scones, we walked along the seawall. We found a bench with an agreeable view and there spent a pleasant hour or so. Bill and Peggy became so relaxed as to lie upon the ground.

For dinner, Bill cooked the pasta with some asparagus and egg. We ate the strawberries on cinnamon scones with double cream.

A Day in Dalkey

For Peggy's first day of sightseeing in Ireland, we ventured about 35 minutes away on the DART to Dalkey. All we knew about Dalkey was that it met the basic requirements for a fun day: a castle, coastal views, and places to eat lunch. We started with lunch at a great cafe called Nosh. I had a salad with poppyseed chicken and mango and avocado salsa. It was a tasty departure from the grub I've been eating recently. Bill's tart and Peggy's tomato cumin soup were nice as well. We went all in and had dessert, or I did at least--a plum crumble with some surprisingly hard core spices like cloves, but the plums stood up to the spice and were delish.

Dalkey's castle is conveniently located right in the middle of town. Actually a fortified town house, Goat Castle was built in the 1400s to store goods received into Dalkey Sound. Constantly under threat from the dispossessed Irish, the castle boasted all the defensive features we're starting to recognize as standard for the most discriminating Medieval landowner--a murder hole by the kitchen hearth for pouring boiling oil, and a machicolation over the front entrance for dropping stones on the rude and unwelcome visitor. The staircases twist clockwise to give advantage to the right handed swordsmen descending the stairs. The steps themselves are unevenly spaced to trip any invaders who survived the murder hole. The castle grounds also contain the ruins of a 10th century church with a twin belfry.

We were fortunate to meet some folks quite familiar with Goat Castle. None of the Cheevers family themselves (Cheevers sounds like chevre which is goat in French, get it?), but an archer and a cooking maid were on hand to describe and illustrate castle life. We also met the barber surgeon, but he was a bit creepy, and we were glad to leave with all our teeth, and limbs. And blood.

After our castle tour we headed toward the coast. Our climb up the slow hill completely paid off.

Perhaps Bray another day.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Guest Blogger - My Mom!

I'm here!! I'm here!!!!!!! Yeah! I made it!!!!!!! Bill and I had a DELICIOUS lunch and went for a long walk! Ireland is BEAUTIFUL!!!!Stay tuned for Bill and Sharon's adventures plus Peggy!!!!! Sharon will be home from work soon and Bill has made a big pot of Irish Stew with brown soda bread! YUM!!!!!

Update: The Irish stew was a culinary delight!!!!! Chef Bill did good!!!

Thursday, May 1, 2008


Everyone was talking about today being the first day of summer. Summer? Even in Austin, where temps are already in the 80s, no one would call it summer. In Dublin, we're barely out of long coats and have certainly not put away the scarves. Apparently it dates back to pre-Christian times, where the summer solstice is considered Midsummer.

Carlingford Closure

A few comments before we close out our thoughts of Carlingford and move on to more exciting adventures, like Peggy's visit!

We were so lucky to have an absolutely fabulous day on Sunday. Carlingford is a small town, very easily traversable. Our hotel was centrally located, with a lovely view (pictured left) out the front door.

Carlingford was neglected during the industrial years, and therefore contains some of the best medieval ruins in Ireland. Its location is splendid as well, nestled between the Carlingford Lough (water) and Slieve Foy (mountain). Slieve Foy is a mountain in the mode of Oak Mountain in Birmingham, but hey, people love their elevations. At any rate, anywhere you turn in Carlingford is lovely.

My favorite ruin is the nave and chancel of a Dominican friary founded in the 14th century. Other ruins in Carlingford include a gate tower, or Tholsel (the remaining part of a city wall and customs barrier), several public buildings from the 14th and 15th centuries, and an early 13th century Norman fortress. The fortress castle possesses a prime point in Carlingford, strategically guarding the lough, when the sentries weren't distracted by this stunning panorama.