Archive for April, 2010

Stop yer messin!

While it isn’t exactly the Irish nature to be mean-spirited, they are known to carry on a joke a bit too far. This is why I live in fear. Now before you judge me as paranoid, allow me to share a few gags – all carried out by people I know personally – and then you can tell me if you’d feel safe in this group of jokers. Me? I prefer to sleep with one eye open.

Sometimes, one can just be at the wrong place at the wrong time. As my friend sat in her car, stuck in traffic on West Street (the main thoroughfare in Drogheda), she saw another friend walking on the sidewalk. Foolishly, she called out to him to say hello. He walked over, said hello, reached into her car and promptly removed the keys from her ignition before walking away – with keys in hand. Now most people would get a good laugh, turn around and hand the keys back. Not this fella! He kept walking and my friend had to leave her car parked there, amidst the blaring horns and vocal abuse from annoyed fellow drivers, and run after him to get her keys back.

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Yolks were used to make this

As I’ve mentioned before, there are few nationalities in the world more creative in the verbal insults department than the Irish. This knack for clever verbiage also applies to slang words and phrases, so I wanted to share a few of my favorites along with my misunderstandings of them.

Phrase: Cop on
What I Thought It Meant: Something to do with the police or “garda” as they say here, as “cop” is what we call the police in America.
Meaning: Kind of the same as “get with it.” If someone is telling you to “cop on,” they want you to realize something already. Typically used as a verb (“Cop on, you stupid cow!”) it can also be used as a noun, which I find hilarious.
Best Use I’ve Heard so Far: “Daddy can’t buy you cop on!”

Word: Jeggings
What I Thought It Meant: When I first saw a sign that said “Jeggings” in a storefront, I hadn’t the slightest clue as to what this meant.
Meaning: These are a cross between jeans and leggings, known back in the states as “jean leggings.” In typical Irish tradition where everything is shortened into a nickname or catchphrase, they are jeggings. Imagine if J-Lo was instead Jopez or instead of “chillax” (a  way of combining ”chill” and “relax”) we said “relachill.” It just doesn’t sound right nor does it glide off the tongue the way good nicknames should. Jeggings? Can you think of a word that sounds more jarring (besides the word jarring, that is)?
Verdict: Though the name leaves much to be desired, I love jeggings. Finally I can tuck my jeans into my boots without them bunching up around the knees. So for this reason, and this reason only, I will forgive the God-awful name.

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I’ve never really had a sweet tooth. Much like my mother, I always preferred salty foods like crackers, nuts and cheese. But as if overtaken by some strange force of Irish nature, I’ve practically become a chocoholic since moving here, which would disappoint my dentist back home.

 Everyone here eats chocolate, all… the… time. Whether it’s in the form of a Flake bar sticking out of a soft-serve ice cream cone or covering a digestive biscuit, chocolate is everywhere. And it’s all good chocolate, not like the grainy, oddly-flavored Hershey’s bars back home. Even the cheap stuff at discount shops is rich, creamy and outrageously good. 

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Mark of shame on my beloved blue car…

Just when you think things are going well, Life has a way of giving you a paper cut topped with a handful of salt and vinegar crisps. And if Life is feeling especially frisky, it will also toss your toast on the floor, jam-side down, before dropping a gigantic piano on your head.

Yesterday was one of those days. It started off well enough: it was only partly cloudy and relatively temperate, and I had a productive morning sending pitches out to a few magazines. I did the dishes, straightened up the apartment and readied myself for a workout. That’s when things took an ominous turn. As I pulled out of the parking garage to go to the gym, a man pulled his car nose-to-nose with mine, trying to get into the parking garage. Since I was already 90% out of the one-lane driveway, I stood my ground as it was HIS responsibility to back up and let me out. He stayed put, and started honking obnoxiously and waving at me to move back into the garage. Flustered, I threw the car into reverse and heard the most God-awful sound as my car scraped the concrete wall of my parking space.  Feck!

Nothing like a hot meal after a bad day

The guy, in all his douchebaggery, failed to notice and just drove into his space with nary a comment or care in the world. I was too angry to get out of the car; though he pressured me and was all-around f*ckchop, technically it was my fault. I drove to the gym, got out of the car and inspected the damage. Two panels, scraped to sh*t and a nice, big dent near the tire. GREAT.

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I was recently chatting with a girl who works at a Chinese takeaway near my house, and she told me that most Irish who order from her restaurant request “no veg.” For example, they’d order a Kung Po Chicken, “no veg,” which means all they want is chicken, peanuts and sauce. Another interesting observation is that many prefer to get it with chips (French fries) – a common side dish offered by nearly all the Chinese restaurants around here – rather than with white rice. It should also be noted that one can also get onion rings, sausages or chicken nuggets on the side. These are all items you’d find on the menu of a Chinese restaurant in Drogheda and all are wildly popular.

Some Irish cite the over boiled turnips, waterlogged carrots and mushy peas cooked by their mums for their dislike of veg. The memories of such unappetizing dishes as Sopping Broccoli Surprise has been to painful to overcome, but the real victims here are the vegetables. Flagrantly tossed aside in favor of deep-fried starches and processed carbohydrates, the gorgeous mushrooms, onions and bell peppers of Ireland face slow deteoriation and even death on supermarket shelves. So in the interest of vegetables, I’d like to share my recipe for Vegetarian Stuffed Mushrooms, which are savory and delicious and gives vegetables the recognition they deserve. Go on, give vegetables a chance!

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When Mark Twain said, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco,” he’d obviously never been to Ireland. From what my friends tell me, the last three summers here have been unbearably wet and cold, with weeks of downpours and cloudy skies keeping any semblance of sun from making an appearance.

That is the reason why they all predict we will have a fabulous summer this year (“Ah sure after dem last few summers, we’ll have a great one – we deserve it!”). Of course this makes no logical sense at all; good weather isn’t earned. This type of wishful thinking is just a way to cope with the weather in Ireland, which can be flat-out schizophrenic at times. In a 24-hour period, you can experience lashing rain, sun, gusting winds, hail and cloudless skies. The sheer volatility of the climate here makes it impossible to plan anything outdoors in advance, and often wrecks havoc on such important events as weddings and funerals.

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My friend Sinead is a new mother and working hard to get her “5 a day” of fruit and veg. My friend Aoife is always trying to eat healthy. I’m making an effort to stay away from the tempting variety of cakes and sweets that seem to be everywhere here in Ireland.

These Wholemeal Blueberry & Lemon Muffins fit the bill for all of us. Made with wholemeal flour (different from whole wheat flour), yogurt and lots of blueberries (known as one of the foremost “superfoods”), these are delicious and relatively healthy. Calorie-wise these clock in at around 230 calories a piece with a good amount of fiber and loads of antioxidants. Enjoy for breakfast or as a satisfying mid-afternoon snack!

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Mr. Lepruchaun says: “Open yer ears!” 

I’m finding that it’s not always good practice to pretend I understand what someone is saying even when I do not. It’s just that I feel like an idiot when I have to ask someone to repeat themselves again and again because I can’t make sense of their Irish accent. Sometimes it’s just easier to nod my head and act like I know what the person is talking about.

Case in point: Recently I was at the pub with a group of friends. One guy at the table told a sexual joke (half of which I couldn’t even hear). A few minutes later, my friend turned to me and asked me a question. To me, it sounded like this:

 “[blah blah blah blah blah blah] hung?”

The only word I understood from his whole sentence was “hung,” which was clearly a reference to the other guy’s tasteless joke, so I just made a face at him and ignored his question. He pressed on.

“[blah blah blah blah blah blah] hung?”

Now he was just being cheeky, I thought. “F*ck off!” I said, laughing. He looked at me, confused. This time he leaned over and spoke louder.

“DID YOU GET YOUR TOWEL RACKS HUNG?”

I realized then he was referring to some bathroom towel racks I had purchased the previous week. He’d driven me to the hardware store in search of them, hence his interest.

“Oh, uh…no,” I responded, red-faced.

Lesson learned: It’s better to ask than to assume, and it’s not always easy being an American in Ireland!

Dislike: Lack of variety on television…

It’s been a little over one month since my arrival to Drogheda and I’m starting to settle and adjust to my new environment. Things that I thought I’d never get used to, like driving on the left side of the road from the right side of the car, is now second nature. I use my laser card for nearly all my purchases, drink tea about 3-5 times a day and have become quite adept at hanging an entire load of laundry on one clothes horse.

…sigh.

There are some things, however, that I still have a hard time with. And while I realize the following may make me sound a bit like an entitled, spoiled American, I’m just being honest. So, without any further ado, here are some things that drive me pretty nuts:

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Patrick and me surrounded by bread; scenes from McCloskey’s main bakery

One of the benefits about living in a small town is that it doesn’t take long to find out where or who has the best of the best. For fish, I’ve heard it’s Kirwan’s Fish Cart; for meat, rumor is that Eamonn James Sampson on Peter Street has the best cuts. And for baked goods, most specifically Irish brown bread, I can personally say that it’s McCloskey’s Bakery.

Good brown bread, according to my Irish friends, should be substantial in texture, moist and a bit crumbly on the inside. Though it’s made with whole wheat flour, it’s nothing like the regular wheat sandwich/toast bread I was used to back in the U.S. This is a yeast-free bread that’s dense and nutty, made in a process similar to Irish soda bread. McCloskey’s signature “Cottage Brown” bread, with its perfect crumb and hearty wheat flavor, is truly the perfect brown bread and has become a staple in my pantry.

So I was thrilled when Patrick McCloskey, Master Baker and Managing Director of the company, invited me for a tour of his main bakery in Drogheda. Patrick and his immediate family are third generation in the bakery, which has become a local institution over the years. The family runs a bakery plant in Drogheda, a McCloskey’s Bakery shop in town plus the Moorland Café, which sells a range of fresh-baked pastries and breads along with a variety of sandwiches, salads and other savory dishes. The name has become synonymous with fantastic baked goods here. Just one taste of any of their products and it’s easy to understand how this family has gained such a positive reputation.

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