Mon 27 Apr 2015
San Francisco, 1999.
I was in a major pickle.
I’d spent the night at a friend’s flat after too much wine. She had to go to work early, but told me I could sleep in and let myself out as the front door would lock behind me. That’s what good friends do.
I woke up a couple of hours after she’d gone, made sure I had my handbag and jacket and walked out of the flat. I heard the tell-tale “click” of the lock as I firmly pulled the door closed behind me. I walked about 10 steps and turned the handle of the front gate. It was locked, and the only way to open it was with a key – which was nowhere to be found.
Surely the key must be around here somewhere, I reasoned. I checked under the two potted plants, a discarded paper bag and some decorative rocks that lined the walkway. Nothing. I peered into the window of the neighbouring flat, but it was uninhabited; there was nothing but trash on the floor and it looked as if no one had lived there for months. To make things worse, my mobile phone battery was dead, since I hadn’t planned to spend the night and therefore didn’t have my charger with me.
I know what you’re thinking. A gate? Why not simply climb over it? Like many flats in San Francisco, this one had a gate about 15 feet high with spikes on top [similar to the one in this pic on the right]. It was made of wrought iron and had vertical bars, just like a jail cell door (cue irony). With no vertical bars to put my feet on, scaling it meant I’d have to pull my full body weight up by my arms. My upper body strength – or lack thereof – simply couldn’t cut it. The saddest (or most hilarious, depending on the POV) part was that people walking by could see me trying to wriggle my way up this thing. One guy even stopped and tried to help, but upon realising the severity of heroism required, shrugged his shoulders with a muffled “sorry” before strolling off.
Sun 1 Feb 2015
In a few short days, I’ll be meeting my best friend from back home in New York City for a long weekend. It’s been over six years since we’ve had time by ourselves face-to-face, mainly due to this hectic day-to-day thing called life and the literal ocean that sits between us.
As an expat, you learn to live without your family and friends as that’s just part of the deal. When I was preparing to move from Los Angeles to Ireland five years ago, all of my friends promised they’d visit. “Finally we have a reason to go to Ireland!” they’d say, earnestly. Five years later, only one (the aforementioned best friend) has actually followed through.
I’m not bitter about the lack of visitors. Let’s face it: it’s a huge ask, especially for my friends back home who get about 10 paid vacation days a year. Throw in kids, the expense of overseas travel and the not-so-amazing weather around here and you can’t blame them for spending their precious holidays in other locales. If the tables were turned, I’d probably do the same.
Sun 25 Jan 2015
When my sister and I were little kids, we loved to pretend like we were cooks – not always with great results.
I recall a couple of “cooking” disasters as kids that really should’ve put us off for life. In Japan, where we lived until the age of 5, we loved to rifle through the trash bins at the end of our road to see if there were any leftover ingredients we could throw together in an empty container – this, to us, was cooking! During one such occasion, my sister picked up a half-open tuna tin and ended up slicing her finger on the jagged edge of the lid.
On another, we took various half-filled bottles of soy sauce, vinegar and other condiments that’d been left in the trash and poured them into the small pond in our neighbour’s garden. I can still see the tadpoles turning on their bellies and floating up, dead, to the surface, and us thinking that we’d just made the best fish soup ever. My dad, who came out to see why we were stirring the pond with a stick, had a different take altogether.
Sat 20 Sep 2014
Unless you’ve been living in a Budweiser-induced stupor, you’ve probably heard the buzz around Irish craft beer and more recently about Sláinte, The Complete Guide to Irish Craft Beer and Cider. The book, written by Caroline Hennessy and Kristin Jensen, is being hailed by many in the food and drink industry as the source for those interested in learning about the craft beer/cider scene here in Ireland.
I couldn’t agree more; cookery books and food/drink guides are being cranked out by the truckloads these days it seems, and due to the tight deadlines and small budgets the quality of the content suffers. I’ve had a few disappointments with recipes that don’t turn out right or are missing key facts like the size of the baking tin you’re supposed to use for a cake, or where I can source an unusual ingredient a dish requires.
Sláinte is different. Everything you need to know about craft beer and cider in Ireland is in this book (well, anything that happened prior to the publishing of this book!). It has it all – the history of the drink, a glossary of the lingo, stories of the brewers, recipes and more. And as Caroline is a journalist and Kristin a book editor, the attention to detail is obvious. I get the feeling they’ve tested every recipe in a manner that would make Julia Child proud.
Mon 11 Aug 2014
Breaking bread is one of the most ancient and time-honoured ways of bringing people together. When people sit down to share in the comfort of eating a meal together, very little else matters. It’s about nourishing the body and taking pleasure in some good food with those in your community.
This is the thinking behind the cafes at Crosscare, a non-for-profit organisation that provides services to the homeless and disadvantaged. Unlike soup kitchens, the Crosscare cafes are beautifully decorated and look and feel like a lovely restaurant – complete with a blackboard of specials and wait staff. They are also open to the public, which means you may have a table of office professionals next to one with an elderly widower who comes for lunch every day. The prices are cheap and the same for everyone: €3 for a three-course hot lunch and even less for a sandwich or full breakfast.
I learned about Crosscare a few months after I started working for Kellogg’s, because we donate lots of cereal to all of their facilities through our Breakfast for Better Days program. The bulk of the food is donated and there are many people who volunteer their time to keep the place running smoothly.
Thu 3 Jul 2014
It’s hard to believe it’s been four years since I landed in Ireland. On the one hand, it seems like yesterday that I put an entire apartment worth of furniture into storage in Los Angeles and set out on what was supposed to be a one-year adventure here.
On the other hand, so much has happened since arriving – far more than the average for four years, if there was such a tracker (“How Many Major Life Moments Tracker” or something of the sort). I met and married Mountaineering Man; lived in three apartments; had two regular radio features; am currently at my second job; visited Paris, Tuscany, Amalfi Coast, Seville, Brittany, Regensburg, London, Madrid, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Japan, Belfast, Cork, Galway, Mayo and a number of other towns and villages in Ireland since settling here. I’ve been to three wakes, two funerals, two weddings and one baptism. I’ve made dozens of new friends, both Irish and expats, and have chatted with at least 100 taxi drivers.
When you live in Ireland, you gotta (or “hafta” as the Irish would say) talk to the taxi drivers – they know everything.
Wed 4 Jun 2014
(L-R: My grandfather (Ojiisan), Aunt Kyoko, Aunt Hiroko, grandmother (Obaachan), Uncle Eichi, my mother, who is the baby of the family, and Aunt Yoko)
My uncle has always been a dreamlike figure to me, someone who I know only through stories my mother told me. He was gone long before I was born, but that fact has never affected my fascination with him and his story.
He was born in the late 1920s in Osaka, Japan, an intolerant era for people born with any sort of visible disability. Because he had club hands and a limp when he walked, it begs to wonder if he ever had a chance at a normal life in a time where ignorance often led to discrimination. My mother told me about how when Eichi needed help finding something in a shop, some clerks would simply ignore him and pretend he wasn’t there.
Some would ask him directly what his mother had done to be given such an imperfect son. I always imagine those hurtful words being spoken with particular emphasis, considering he was the first and only son in the family – a position that, under normal circumstances, would have been acknowledged and even celebrated many times throughout his life.