Saturday, January 30, 2010

Snapshots of December

Well, I'll start with a wee bit of November. This year we enjoyed our first Thanksgiving meal in Ireland hosted by fellow American Amanda and her Dub husband Hagi. Amanda did most of work, preparing all the classic dishes and her first Turkey! We brought a pan of cornbread dressing. Amanda is from Georgia, so the dressing was much appreciated. We also watched Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. Hadn't seen it in ages, so awesome! I should keep a copy of the show handy for all the people who ask me what Thanksgiving is all about.

Below, our friend Graham demonstrates the proper way to eat a mince pie, following a night of caroling with our church. I think my personal mince pie tally for the holiday season is around three dozen.

And a few scenes of Dublin in its Christmas finery.

We were let out of work a bit early on Christmas Eve, so I was able to catch the sunset over St. Anne's.  We spend the evening with the Barnes Family. Caragh prepared a lovely ham, and the kids had helped make homemade mince pies. We also sampled Yarg, a regional specialty cheese from Caragh's homeplace, Cornwall. Yarg is a cow milk cheese based on a 13th-century recipe. It's typically wrapped in nettle leaves, but this wheel was covered with wild garlic leaves, which infused the semi-hard cheese with lovely garlic aroma. We also enjoyed some 2-year aged Gouda (which people in the know pronounce how-da). Cheese, Grommit!

On Christmas morning, we had a bit of a lie in, followed by the Opening of Presents. Bill then set to work preparing his dishes for the Christmas feast to come.

On Christmas we loved being Kingstons for a day. Hilary, Anna and Bill put together an amazing Christmas dinner of cranberry-stuffed pork, roast potatoes, Brussels sprouts with pancetta, savory bread pudding with leeks and gruyere, and ginger-glazed sweet potatoes, followed by a dizzying collection of desserts. Those cranberry cocktails were pretty nice too!

On Stephen's Day we visited Colin (and his dogs!) in Laytown for dinner. Bill and I worked the three days between Christmas and New Year's Eve. Snow started falling on New Year's Eve. It was the beginning of The Big Freeze.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Mom and Dad's Last Bit of Ireland

After we returned from Germany on November 15, Mom and Dad spent one more week in Ireland before heading back to the US. They made several trips into City Centre to shop and soak up that last bit of Irish culture. One evening we had a small get together at our apartment with a few tasty snacks. [Our friend Colin came up with a new name for sausage balls--meat scones.] I am pictured below in extreme hostess mode.

I took the Friday of that week off work (Nov 20) and was thrilled when the day dawned (and continued) sunny and clear. I really wanted to take Mom and Dad to one of my favorite spots--the beautiful views in Dalkey, and we had the perfect day. After lunch at Nosh we walked to the coast and then climbed the hill in Sorrento Park park (guided by a cute cat). After a stop by a pub to warm up and refresh, we met Bill in town for a trip to Leo Burdock's for some tasty fish and chips.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Füssen and Environs

Can I crystalize our last few days in Germany into, say, seventeen syllables?
Lovely Alps in view
Mad king's castle fantasy
Beer, pork, beer, pork, pork
 Also, some pictures:

Monday, January 11, 2010

Beer and Brats

Yes friends, we drank plenty of beer as we meandered down the Romantic Road towards Füssen. Not when meandering via das auto, of course, but meandering from meal to meal. Being more of a wine person, it's interesting how quickly I embrace beer when in brew region, like Spain or Germany (and from time to time, Dublin City Centre).

Bill and I were already fans of Hefeweizen, a wheat beer (especially Live Oak HefeWeizen brewed in Austin!), so we were naturally inclined toward Bavaria's Weissbier. As we also prefer darker beers, we were extremely happy to find a Weissbier Dunkel in every establishment. Of course Franconia in Bavaria is a wine region, so we were not completely beer-centric.

Before heading on our trip, a co-worker warned me that Germany was beautiful but the food was awful. "All that pork," she said. I just nodded and thought two thoughts: 1) An Irish person complaining about the preponderance of pork. Ha! and 2) Mmm....Pork.  And we did eat pork. Pork roast and sausages and schnitzels and bacon. A common meal is Nürnberger bratwursts, small sausages--typically six or so served with sauerkraut, mustard and brown bread. What more could you possibly want on a plate?

I also tried currywurst, a national favorite. I'm afraid I was not taste tingled by this sausage covered in ketchup and curry powder. Perhaps I did not sample the finest currywurst available, so I'll keep an open mind, but really, even speaking as an American, ketchup needs a lot of doctoring to truly become food.

Wandering in Dinkelsbühl

The historical center within Dinkelsbühl's fully intact medieval wall is as charming as you can imagine. The streets are cobbled, each building painted a different muted hue. The roofs are steep. It is the distillation of quaint. A triple shot quaint-spresso. So, I did wonder if business owners chafe at using the same old-fashioned  script for every shop sign and if homeowners grow weary of maintaining shutters and window boxes. But when we wandered into the Appelberg's shop we heard glowing reports of life in Dinkelsbühl. "We are not a museum town. This is a real community," Arthur told us. He is a former engineer who moved with his wife to Dinkelsbühl sixteen years ago. He is a painter and print maker;  she is a potter and together they run a small inn. I loved Arthur's work and we bought several prints. His paintings beautifully capture the iconic towers of the town wall, but are etched with small details of faces and smaller scenes--illustrating the stories that are still being lived out in this storybook town. 

Dinkelsbühl's towers are lovely. We loved wandering through the streets along the inner perimeter, and outside the wall along paths lined with yellow-leafed trees.

Wednesday morning a market sprung up in front of St. George's church. It was gone by noon. We were most impressed that panels in the stone sidewalk open up to reveal electrical outlets for the various stands. Old meets new! Yes!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Deutsches Haus and St. George's Church

We arrived in Dinkelsbühl right after dark (November 9) and ate dinner at our hotel. The Deutsches Haus is a family-owned hotel built as a residence in the 15th century. The hotel's richly decorated half-timbered facade exemplifies late Renaissance architecture in Southern Germany. 

The interior is full of dark wood and richly painted murals of crests and ribbons and woodland creatures. The restaurant has wooden chandeliers carved with jolly figures gathered around a table, hoisting a pint.

At breakfast, we had cute napkins.

Across the cobbled street from the hotel is St. George's Church. St. George and his skewered dragon are frequently spotted around Europe as he was widely celebrated as a Christian Martyr and is the patron saint of many countries including England, Greece, Ethiopia and Palestine. Dinkelsbühl's church represents construction spanning the 12th-16th centuries. Decoration in the church, including the flower arrangements, incorporates stalks of wheat, as Dinkelsbühl means "wheat hill."

The church was dim and cold when we visited, making the soaring baroque ceiling, imposing pipe organ, intricate tabernacle and carved wooden pews a bit dulled and wintry.

We found an inscription on the exterior of the church dated 1492, reminding us of how many structures were already in place when Columbus sailed the ocean blue. The US is such a young country. [Similar to a conversation I had recently with a young woman about The New Yorker, and I realized I've had a subscription to that magazine longer than she's been alive.]

I don't know what these carvings represent, but I like them.

Winter Wonderland

I went for a walk yesterday on the coast road and in St. Anne's to take some pictures. It was a lovely day and loads of people were taking advantage of the break in the weather.

Even the inlet behind Bull Island was partially frozen over.

Ducks standing on the frozen duck pond in St. Anne's Park.

A footbridge over the Naniken River in St. Anne's.

This hill is perfect for sledding. I heard the screams and laughter from the river and had to check it out. The kids were having a ball.

The only snowmen I saw in the park. The carrot nose and bough toupee are great.

Schloss Weikersheim

Leaving Würzburg on Monday, November 9, we headed south on the Romantische Straße, the Romantic Road, a swath through historical towns and villages that typify Bavaria. We stopped to visit Schloss Weikersheim, the princely residence of the Hohenlohe family.

November is not peak tourism season in Germany. We saw relatively few tourists, and very few English-speaking ones, until the end of our trip at the Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau Castles. And on occasion, we had palaces all to ourselves, like in Weikersheim. We had to ring a bell to be admitted to the castle, and were the only participants on the guided tour. Built in the 12th Century, much of the castle was renovated in the 18th C to reflect the French decor and architecture, which was much in fashion. The Baroque influence is very apparent in the gardens which reminded us of châteaux in the Loire Valley.

We left the castle ready for a late lunch around 3:00, only to find all cafes closed down. We stopped hopefully at a hotel and asked if their restaurant was open. "For you, it is," they said and graciously set a table for us in the deserted dining room. All they could offer was soup, which we gladly accepted. They were lovely soups. Thank you Laurentius Cafe and Restaurant for keeping us warm and well fed.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Finish your pink slime, Bobby--it's fortified with NH3

Just read this article at the NYT about Beef Products, Inc. and their "processed beef." Is this what we've come to? Let's take the leftover muck that we would feed only to animals (and beef processing plants aren't exactly inefficient to begin with, so this really is muck), liquefy it, mix it with ammonia and feed it to kids (in school and out at McDonald's)--all to save three cents per pound of ground beef? And after all that it's still contaminated with E. coli and salmonella?

I propose some NY resolutions:
  1. Avoid McD, BK--heck, all fast food burgers. Not hard for me, I rarely go anyway and always regret it, plus there's not much choice here anyway.
  2. Never buy pre-ground beef. Also not hard, the ground beef here is too lean for burgers and freshly-ground beef is soooo much better.
  3. Source the majority of my meat from reputable farms, e.g. via Simply Sourced, Carlow Foods, Coolanowle.
We can afford to support artisan producers such as these, but we're in the minority.

Update: BK and McD defend their use of the ammoniated beef.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Beans on Toast

Bill and I have happily embraced Ireland's (and UK) favorite pantry staple--beans on toast. It's the handy answer for that quick dinner, midnight snack, or warm lunch when your flight is canceled due to wintry conditions. And if this one happens to have a bit of red onion, leftover Christmas ham and is served on spelt bread, so be it! Thank you Heinz.