Wed 10 Nov 2010
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Though the Irish tend to wax ad nauseum about the weather, they don’t let it get them down. They don’t avoid going outside when it’s freezing cold or when it’s raining because if they did, they’d never leave the house. Irish people just put on a bigger coat, whip out the umbrella and get on with their lives.
Strangely enough, I’ve noticed as the temperature goes down people seem to get more chipper around here. In Dublin last weekend it was probably about 4 degrees Celsius (that’s 39 degrees Fahrenheit for all my American friends) and I witnessed the most cheerful exchange between a visibly shivering elderly man and a store clerk. The clerk asked, “How’s it going?” and while the old man could’ve gotten away with a smarmy remark he answered, “Ah, not a bother at all! Not a bother!” complete with a huge grin and a boisterous cackle. I think I was in the middle of whining about how cold I was when I caught that little burst of positivity. Then I passed the guy whose sole job is to stand in the driveway of the car park and wave cars in and out. For hours, he stands out there in the freezing cold, sporting his high-vis jacket and a genuine smile.
Admittedly, adjusting to my first autumn and pending winter in Ireland hasn’t been easy. In balmy Los Angeles, November still sees temperatures in the 90s (that’s the 30s for my European friends). Christmas is typically anywhere between 60-65 degrees Fahrenheit (16 C) and no matter how many films portray the “surprise” LA holiday snowfall it’s never happened in my lifetime. In fact, the last recorded snowfall in LA was on January 22, 1962 and it was so light it evaporated before touching the ground. Last year it rained a little, which we thought was nice as it made Christmas feel more “festive.” Here, I feel cold to the bone and all I want to do is curl up in a Snuggie (despite its universally-dorky rep), read Robert Frost poems, drink hot tea, and feel sorry for myself.
But as I witness more random displays of positivity in Ireland, my attitude is shifting. Today as I schlepped down the main street in town, I let out a big, depressing yawn. “Get home and take yourself a nice nap, pet!” called out a male passerby, all smiles. “You deserve it!” It actually made me laugh out loud and immediately jolted me out of my gloomy mood. While a comment like this would be highly unusual coming from an Angelino (with the exception of drunk vagrants and liquored-up douchebag hipster types, of course), it’s really not that uncommon around here. Strangers often say “hello” to me as I walk down the street, and it’s perfectly normal for someone behind me in the grocery line to strike up a friendly conversation. Even when there’s plenty to complain about, like the feckin’ cold weather!
Winter Warmer Spaghetti Bolognese Sauce
Nothing comforts me in cold weather more than a huge bowl of pasta, especially when it’s spaghetti Bolognese. My mother used to make hers with the tiniest, most perfectly-cubed vegetables like carrots and onions – I remember they looked like little jewels in the pot as she sautéed them. Though most “spag bol” includes beef, I made mine with minced dark-meat chicken. It’s my submission for the Irish Foodies monthly cook-along, as this month’s theme is Winter Warmers!
3 tablespoons plus 2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 large carrot, peeled
1 medium white onion
½ red bell pepper
½ green bell pepper
2 cloves of garlic
1 lb. dark-meat chicken (legs/thighs) mince – ask your butcher!
2 cans (142 grams each) tomato paste (called “puree” in Ireland)
1 ¼ cup of dry red wine
4 twigs of fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon red chili flakes
1 beef bouillon cube
½ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
5 fresh basil leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
In a food processor, chop the carrot, onion, bell peppers and garlic together until they are a very fine dice (you can also do this by hand). In a large pot, heat up 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat and then add the vegetables. Cook until almost “melted” or very translucent and soft, about 15-20 minutes. Spoon the cooked vegetables onto a plate and then add the other 2 tablespoons into the same pot and add the chicken mince. Brown the chicken, stirring regularly, for about 15 minutes. Add the vegetables back into the pot with the chicken and stir together, seasoning generously with salt and pepper. Cook for an additional 15 minutes – it’s all about building flavor here!
Add in the two cans of tomato paste and mix together with the veg/chicken and cook for 4-5 minutes. Add in the red wine and stir until well incorporated. Bring to a simmer then lower the heat to medium-low and let the wine reduce by ½ (10 minutes or so). Now add in about 2 cups of water, or until the water goes to about 1 inch above the meat/veg, and add in the leaves from the thyme stems and the bay leaves, chili flakes and beef bouillon cube. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to low and let simmer for about 1.5 hours or until the sauce becomes thick. Remove from heat and stir in the grated Parmesan cheese and tear the basil leaves and throw them in as well. Serve with your favorite type of pasta and enjoy!