Sunday, January 25, 2009

Happy New Year

Our last week of December was pretty quiet. Bill was laid low by the flu and was just starting to feel human again on Jan 1. Needless to say 2008 went out with a whimper. Bill took a nap and woke up at 11:30 to ring in the New Year with a cup of tea. We watched a countdown of favorite comedians as voted by UK viewers. Number one favorite: Billy Connolly.

Thankfully Bill was back to cooking strength on New Year's Day to make us a tasty, traditional meal of Bacon and Cabbage. The bacon in this meal is a cured, un-smoked pork. More like what my people call ham. He also mashed potatoes with scallions, aka champ. All this was topped with an Irish classic--parsley sauce.

We hibernated for the first couple weekends of the new year. Last weekend we started venturing out again, attending a fun, 60th birthday party on Friday night, dinner in Malahide and a movie (Slumdog Millionaire) with friends on Saturday, and meeting another friend on Grafton Street for lunch on Sunday. We were back on the social scene!

We also realized we felt a little lost with no travel plans on the calendar, so we booked a long weekend in Paris for Februrary. Ahhh, that's better.

Last week we saw a play on Monday evening--Playboy of the Western World. This 1907 play by J.M. Synge has been updated by Bisi Adigun and the bard of Dublin, Roddy Doyle. This tale of the allure of a mysterious stranger is sad, but hilarious. Friday night we attended an RTE Orchestra concert of Haydn, Rachmaninov, and Mussorgsky. We used part of the Mussorgsky for my bridal processional. Pictures at an Exhibition is an exciting piece and hearing it live better reveals all the instruments and melodies working together. The guest conductor was extremely, um, lively. At one point I thought he was going to crowd surf into the orchestra.

Last night we hung out in the wine cellar at Fallon and Byrne with a couple who is planning an Italian honeymoon. The bride is from Georgia, and is learning that while much of Irish culture is familiar to Americans, wedding traditions can be quite different. We ganged up on the groom-to-be a bit, trying to convince him that a rehearsal dinner is not really that bizarre.

Today after church we tried the new breakfast menu at our local pub. Fried egg sandwiches and chips hit the spot. And for dinner Bill made a spicy and bright pasta puttanesca with some surprising fruity salted capers.

And now, ladies and gentleman, this blog is now current with real time! Enjoy it while it lasts.

Also, at present, the Gunter B&B is completly open for 2009, so dig out your passport and call the airlines. We'd love to see you.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Today at Work

Me: I'm going to go run an errand.
Coworker: Oh, you're going to get the messages.*
Me: Yeah.
Coworker: You have funny little words for things.
Me: Errand?
Coworker: Yes.
Me: You think errand is funnier than messages.
Coworker: Yeah.
We both laugh.
Me: Well, we'll leave it at that then.

*According to Wikipedia: Messages means groceries or errands. She's gone to the shop to get the messages. I had a few messages to do in town.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Christmas in Dublin

On Saturday, December 20, we did nothing.

December 20th was the first weekend day that we were in Dublin with no house guests since October 18th. Not that our travels and visitors weren't fabulous, but it was nice to have a day of nothing.

On December 21, we went to a Christmas Market at the Docklands in Dublin. We attended this market last year on a gorgeous, sunny day. This year was soggier, but still a nice time with lots of crafts and a brass band playing carols. We ate bratwurst and drank Erdinger Weissbier.

On Christmas we attended a service in the 19th Century building our church is renovating in downtown Dublin. That afternoon we opened presents and I took a Christmas nap. We had a delicious Christmas dinner with some friends, Graham and Margaret and their family. Bill provided the starter--tamales! Not traditional for Irish Christmas, but they were well received (for the most part). For dinner we had ham, turkey and goose! Veggie accompaniment included Brussels sprouts with rashers and cranberries, roasted root veg, and stuffing. Our friends were house sitting and Margaret was a bit stressed over cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen, but she created a wonderful meal. Her daughter made our dessert, mince pies and gingerbread sandwich cookies with lemon cream. After dinner and Christmas crackers we watched the Dr. Who Christmas special and the new Wallace and Grommet.

On St. Stephen's day we ate tamales and huevos rancheros for breakfast. For dinner we had Cork Beef and Stout stew, made with mushrooms and Beamish stout. A tasty day.

Monday, January 12, 2009

One of These Things is Not Like the Others

I've been fascinated by this map all day.

It was the accompanying image for a short news article about new travel regulations for Irish passport holders traveling to the US. I immediately notice the Alabama label. Alabama is not frequently one of the top five state labels, unless the map labels all start with A. Is Alabama a primary location for Irish travelers? Great, I say. I love Alabama, and the Irish would love pork BBQ.

But then I notice that the other labels are in fact, not states, but cities. Although you could argue the New York label represents the state, and no way I'm wandering into that District of Columbia morass. For this discussion: 4 cities, one state. What gives?

I decide RTE must have grabbed this graphic from a previous story. But what story? What news item linked DC, LA, NYC, Berkeley and the State of Alabama? Then I notice the icons. Clearly New York and Los Angeles belong to the same solid-centered circle category, and DC is as always isolated by its square dot taxonomy. But Berkeley and Alabama? How do each of these geographic areas rate a concentric circle icon?

Berkeley and Alabama. Politics? No. Climate? No. Number of letters? No. Proximity to the Mississippi? No.

My analysis breaks down because I don't know much about Berkeley. I wiki it. Maybe Berkeley has a statue of Vulcan? No. The stadium at UC Berkeley is for soccer. The city has public transportation. I don't get it!

I can only imagine a news feature for the 3% of Ireland's inhabitants who have never visited the United States that explains that in addition to the political center of Washington, DC, the entertainment mecca of LA and the locus of everything else, NYC, the United States has many more places that you will likely never go--cities like Berkeley, California, that is loved for its own merits, and other larger areas, called states, that have been part of the US since 1819. Alabama, for example.

My neural network continues to sizzle, and the map remains a mystery. Maybe I've been in Ireland long enough to be disoriented (but not disorientated) by a map of the US that does not contain Boston.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Weekend in London

A few months ago we were offered use of a flat that our friend's mom keeps in London, as you do. She only visits the city during the week, and our friend stays there some when traveling for business, but it is rarely occupied on the weekend, and is most likely, lonely. So, we leaped at this generous offer and booked flights to London for the weekend of December 12. When the US trip materialized, we decided to keep the London trip on the books. We can do it! We are jet setters!

After our first visit to London, we decided to set a theme for future trips to help narrow the multitude of choices. The organizing principle this time was easy: Christmas. We wanted to walk through the mirthful throng, gaze at dazzling Christmas lights, sing carols and sip mulled wine. Perhaps a recently unembittered old man would toss a few coins out a window and direct us to purchase a large, Christmas goose.

We arrived at the flat around midnight after a delayed flight into Heathrow. Around noon on Saturday, we walked a few blocks to the Coopers Arms Pub for lunch--I had a tasty steak sandwich and Bill noshed on wild boar sausages and mash. After laying in some breakfast supplies for Sunday, we headed to the Geffrye Museum for an exhibit on the History of Christmas in the English Home and a talk on the history of the Christmas card. The Christmas card is one of the few uniquely English contributions to current Christmas traditions, started by an English businessman who printed cards in the early 1840s to send to family and business contacts. The first card contained scenes of family celebrations and tending to the poor, but it took awhile for the classic scenes to be established. Some of the early cards look pretty wacky--red imps pulling a sled and a goose wearing a dress and bonnet. Speaking of wacky, I bought some garland with a cat carrying a Christmas pudding.

After the Geffrye, we set out in search of Christmas lights. This portion of the evening can be imagined as a Monkeesesque montage of us riding the underground, walking a few blocks, looking at some non-impressive lights (Trafalgar Square--one dimly lit tree, Covent Garden--space ship lights?), jumping back on the subway, walking about a mile to switch trains, emerging again to stare blankly at disappointing lights, until we reached Bond Street, which was a bit incongruently, but at least festively lit. All of this in the rain of course. We did linger in Trafalgar Square with carolers who were raising money for Epilepsy, but were unfortunately not particularly great singers. We joined in for a while, but turns out we don't know a lot of English carols. We decided to move on. Once we had strolled along Bond for a while, we stopped in a fast food noodle sushi shop for dinner. Not bad.

Turns out my favorite lights were in Sloane Square (pictured), right at our subway stop. We stopped back by the Coopers for a little libation before calling it a night.

Sunday we visited retail mecca at Harrod's. Harrod's is a spectacular store and we just wandered around for awhile, trying not to choke on perfume or get trampled by other gawkers. We wanted to see Santa's grotto, but discovered that you can't get in without a ticket and a toddler, so we visited the toy floor and Christmas decor department. Christmas crackers were 50% off, and were were tempted to pick up a set originally marked at £500. The prizes included an MP3 player! The food hall in Harrod's is full of tantalizing cuisine. Next time we'll stop by Harrod's and have an amazing picnic.

For lunch we visited a Harrod's annex across the street which was nice and quiet and featured a fun Lebanese tapas counter.

After Harrod's we went back underground to the Thames to a Christmas Market where we found another piece of the Christmas puzzle--mulled wine. Bill enjoyed a pork sandwich while we browsed the crafts. Then we walked across the bridge to St. Paul's, which featured a pretty tree. And then it was time to gather our bags at the flat and hop the subway back to Heathrow.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Friendly State

Sunny skies, an American Flag, a row of pickups, and a Whataburger sign--yeah, we definitely were not in Ireland!

Since the car rental desk was closed when we arrived (at 3:30AM), we had to do something we've never done before--take a taxi to Walmart (to visit the car rental office inside).

We had gorgeous weather for our visit to Austin. We saw 80°F for the first time in 2008. By the end of the week it was sleeting, but that's just Texas. I was so happy to be back in an automobile, automobiling myself through the wide streets to wonderful restaurants and all my favorite shops. I ♥ Target and ♥♥♥ Central Market. And it was great to see so many friends--very refreshing to our souls! You were all so kind to accompany us to so many fine eating establishments, and to hang out at the Hannum's and the coffee shop.

We left with our suitcases crammed full of many goods, including ranch dressing, canned pumpkin, canned chiles and jalapenos, salsa, grits, masa, chocolate chips, unsweetened chocolate, cajeta, corn husks, english muffins, Hot Apple Pie Jam, pecans, Better than Bouillon, and Press'n Seal. We also significantly revamped our wardrobes from the shoes and socks on up.

It was a treat to have this trip to to visit Indiana and Austin. It felt great to be home, but we're looking forward to the next year in Dublin as well. But we do miss home, especially Central Market.

Some things on the list for next time:
  • BBQ in the Hill Country
  • a burger at Dan's
  • gelato at Teo
  • Kim Phung
  • a movie at the Alamo Drafthouse
Til then! Good-bye, friendly State.

What the Expats Ate

We were going to be in Austin for 9.5 days, which sounds like plenty of time to eat, but the list of Austin deliciousness is long, and we knew we'd have to make some tough culinary choices. What follows doesn't necessarily represent the finest dining options in Austin, but it's a good prescription for a serious tex-mex/BBQ jones. Listed in order of consumption:
  1. Whataburger: Burgers with large, icy Diet Dr. Peppers. Bill kept saying, "This is a proper burger."
  2. Chuy's: Texas Martinis, jalapeno ranch, steak burrito and chicka chicka boom boom enchiladas. Not only as good as we remembered, it was way better.
  3. Sonic: Morning snack of cheese tots and a Route 44 vanilla Diet Coke
  4. Texadelphia: Chicken Texican and Steak Texican, icy tea and Diet Coke
  5. Korea House: Spicy Tuna and Alaska roll, bi bim bap and pork bulgogi
  6. Jim's: huevos rancheros with refried beans, potatoes and tortillas
  7. Schlotzsky's: roast beef on jalapeno cheese bread, icy diet coke with lemon
  8. Culver's: afternoon chocolate malt
  9. Rudy's: extra moist brisket, a whole hottie (jalepeno sausage), beans, and, oh yes! the creamed corn, icy Diet Coke
  10. Jardin Carona: breakfast tacos--bacon, egg, potato and cheese & bean and cheese. We really need to import these things to Ireland.
  11. Hyde Park Grill: Chicken Bacon and Guacamole with famous fries, and hibiscus tea. Real bacon!
  12. Manuel's: Queso, chicken mole enchiladas and tangy frozen margaritas
  13. Galaxy Cafe: sweet potato fries, caesar salad, and fried fish wrap
  14. Pok-E-Jo's: turkey, chicken, and sausage, with potato casserole and pintos, icy Diet Coke with lemon
  15. Kerbey Lane (original location): Eggs Francisco with a short stack of one pumpkin and one gingerbread pancake--a perfect combination
  16. Einstein's: pumpkin and power bagels
  17. Jardin Carona: beef fajita nortena and jardin platter (taco, tostada & enchilada), icy Diet Coke
  18. Kerbey Lane (new location): Kerbey Queso, lamb stew and a trio of mini-burgers: lamb, elk, and buffalo with hibiscus tea
  19. Reale's: a roasted pie, ala Reale's with house salads--again, better than we could even remember!
  20. Arby's: roast beef sandwich with plenty of horsey sauce and a jamocha shake
  21. Chipotle: steak burrito and carnitas & barbacoa tacos, icy tea and Diet Coke. Chipotle is opening a location in London, so there is hope for Dublin.
  22. Austin Airport: breakfast tacos from Maudie's and an Amy's mexican vanilla shake. Our last tastes of Texas for a while.

Good eating: (top row, l-r) a plentiful serving of Diet Dr. Pepper, Chuy's steak burrito, detail of Bi Bim Bap, (row 2) a man and his malt, Korea House sushi rolls, breakfast tacos, (row 3) Rudy's fest, half chicken/half steak Texadelphia, sublime Kerbey Queso, eating a southwest tortilla in the Central Market parking lot, (row 3) Chicken Guac with Bacon and Hyde Park fries, two meat plate at Pok-E-Jo's, short stack with Eggs Francisco, banchan at Korea House, sweet potato fries at Galaxy Cafe

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Belated Thanksgiving

As Bill and I researched the process to renew our work permits, we learned we needed to return to our home country to submit applications for new permits. Or Bill did at least. Anyway, it's more complicated than I care to get into. The important part is we were headed for the US. We wanted to start the application process as soon as possible, so we planned the trip for the earliest gap in our travel and B&B guest schedule, November 29.

Bill needed to work while in the US, so we would be spending our time in Austin, but we decided to make one stop on the way to visit friends and a beagle in Indiana. Since we were so close to Thanksgiving, the Bockelmans graciously offered to hold Thanksgiving dinner until we arrived on Saturday. We were thrilled at the opportunity for a proper Thanksgiving dinner, even if it would be around midnight body clock time. I do miss Thanksgiving. I miss having a holiday day oriented around a special meal, a meal made special by the preparation and participation of friends and family. I like that Thanksgiving has a built-in recovery day, and that Thanksgiving starts the month countdown to Christmas. Many Irish folks have asked us if Thanksgiving is bigger than Christmas. Ever heard of Thanksgiving presents, Thanksgiving cards, Thanksgiving parties, Thanksgiving tree? That's right. Christmas is way bigger, but Thanksgiving is pretty great.

We arrived in Ft. Wayne around 5:30 on Saturday and were met by the Bocks and both sets of their parents. Tob seemed a little overwhelmed by it all, but she was pretty much like our old girl. She seems integrated into life with the Bockelmans, and that was really good for me to see. Trevor is a great buddy. Hopefully Tob will get along with the baby!

Our meal was wonderful with two kinds of sweet potatoes, can-shaped cranberry sauce and everything delicious. I think Bill and I stayed up til around 10 (4AM body clock). It was great hanging with the Bocks and seeing their new home. Sunday morning we awoke to snowy skies. By the time we set out for church we were in a winter wonderland. A treat for these Southerners. Also, nice because the streets stayed fairly clear and we didn't have any trouble with the drive back to Chicago that afternoon. The weather deteriorated that evening, and our flight was delayed for five hours out of O'Hare. I hadn't put together that we were flying on a busy holiday travel day. After 2.5 hours sitting on the tarmac, we left Chicago at 1:00AM and arrived in Austin at 3:30. It was totally worth it.

The Cold and Muddy Places

We gave Lisa and Kurt a special tour of all the cold and muddy places in Ireland. When Lisa queried me on appropriate attire to bring, I gave her my stock answer--Bring layers. You never know when a warmish sun will succumb to melted iceberg. Luckily they took my suggestion extremely seriously and brought long johns and ear muffs, because our scenic trip through the Wicklow Mountains exposed us to some bitterly cold winds, and the coastal town of Carlingford was windswept as well. In addition to being cold, the Wicklow Mountains were muddy, as was the beach at Clogherhead.

The tide was out farther than we visited Clogherhead last Spring, so we could explore more of the rock formations.

Luckily we did get out of the wind from time to time to seek refreshment. And Bill did feed us a bit. You can read an account of our breakfast at Lisa is Cooking.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

A Story of Ireland, by Lisa

November 21, 2008 was the day of Lisa's first breath ever of Irish air, although Kurt had visited the Emerald Isle once as a boy. Now, we hail from the great state of Texas, mind you, so we were taken aback by the smallness of everything we saw. The cars were all tiny, little things. We didn't spy a single pick-up our entire time there. How can that be? And, the streets were so skinny. Those narrow lanes would spell trouble for a couple F-350's facing off and driving the wrong way to boot. That backwards, left lane driving was as foreign as can be. We just had to shut our eyes.

It wasn't just the cars and roads that are smaller either. Those elfin kitchens they have over there might be fine for a rumpus room, but you sure can't put your Costco haul away in those. The elevators were awfully snug too. And, how about those drink sizes? Do they know how large a drink we usually get at restaurants back home?

Well, we realized that us Texans are just used to things being bigger, and then it dawned on us--all this small stuff had to be because of the leprechauns. Of course! We didn't spot a single one of them while we were there, but their influence sure was felt everywhere we went.

Blip bleep blick beerp woooop Wait, we're not quite that Texan. Here's what really happened:

We had a fantastic time in Dublin and surrounding areas. Many thanks to Bill and Sharon for such generous hospitality and great site seeing tours. Our day at Glendalough, starting with a delicious picnic, was filled with amazing views and a nice walk around the lakes. Our next day included a very nice drive north along the coast road to Carlingford with a stop in scenic Clogherhead. Delicious meals were devoured each day including fish and chips, the picnic mentioned above, a lovely dinner in Howth, an amazing Irish breakfast by Bill, and a pub meal in Carlingford. We had a really great time, and we can highly recommend Chez Gunter for any Ireland-bound, future travelers.

Bye Mom and Dad

Mom and Dad had a few days to recuperate before heading back home. On Monday, November 17, we dined on tagliatelle al tartufo followed by cantuccini and Vin Santo we brought back from Tuscany.

On Tuesday, they headed in to town for a last bit of shopping, and then on Wednesday boarded a plane back to Arkansas.

We had a great time and Mom and Dad packed quite a bit into their month abroad. We were sad to see them go, but didn't have much time to be lonely as more exciting visitors from the US were to arrive on Friday.