Tue 31 Jan 2012
The lobby of my old LA apartment building
I was at a shopping centre the other day when I witnessed a little girl – probably about 10 years old – throw herself at a pile of fuzzy, stuffed animals for sale while simultaneously begging her mother to buy one. “Pleeeeeease, I need one!” she squealed, clinging for dear life to one particularly pink panda.
Unconvinced, the mother firmly tugged her daughter away from the cuddly temptation and I could hear the whine slowly fade in the distance as the pair disappeared in a sea of shoppers. Though I can’t say for certain, I’m guessing that the little panda was likely forgotten by the end of that day. Out of sight, out of mind.
When I lived in Los Angeles, I was surrounded by shiny toys. Of course they were of the adult variety: high-end cars, expensive footwear, designer clothes and opulent restaurants with over-the-top menu offerings (and prices to match!). The more I was exposed to these things, the more I felt I needed them.
Every time I’d get a lift in a friend’s wood grain interior-ed Mercedes Benz, my Honda Accord started to feel like a hunk of junk. Whenever I’d dine among the privileged elite at a Hollywood hot spot, I’d long for the freedom that an inflated salary afforded them; instead of dining there once every blue moon, I could go as often as I’d want. Even the gym wasn’t safe; working out next to the ladies-who-gym in all their designer workout gear would make my ratty t-shirt/tracksuit bottoms combo look like something from a charity shop reject pile.
I was raised by relatively frugal and financially-responsible parents of modest incomes; they never owned new cars (waste of money) or taken extravagant holidays. Even their worst enemy (not that they have any) would never call them “materialistic.” Yet all that sense failed to convince me that I didn’t need a better car or bigger apartment or a more impressive shoe collection when I was immersed in a culture that put such emphasis on these things. Luckily for my credit rating, I rarely caved to temptation but that didn’t mean I didn’t dream of having the money for better, bigger, more. It didn’t manifest itself as an outward tantrum but rather a quiet, albeit sulky, internal monologue. Keeping up with the Jonses in Los Angeles means steadily acquiring more and better things – it’s only human to get caught up in the frenzy.
Since moving to Ireland almost two years ago, I never feel such yearnings. Perhaps it’s because the country is in a major recession and everyone I know has cut back; I don’t know a single person with a luxury car or an over-the-top house. My friends enjoy shopping but they’re not designer divas, and Mountaineering Man is incredibly sensible and would be as happy with a used book from Chapters than with a swank designer watch.
Don’t get me wrong; my friends in LA are not jet-setters. But the city is home to thousands of wealthy and pretend-to-be-wealthy types and they’re everywhere, showing off their bling and leading people to believe that they’re happier because they have more. I’m sure those people exist in Ireland but they’re less obvious these days, what with all the lessons of the Celtic Tiger. People here look down on those who flaunt excess – it’s just plain gauche considering the current economic climate.
These days, I’m content and happy with what I’ve got. Some would even say happy-go-lucky.
Caramelized Onion Tart with Spelt Herb Crust
This is the cheapest but most impressive main course you’ll ever make – the main ingredient is the humble, oh-so-versatile onion which are, as they say here in Ireland, as cheap as chips (cheaper, even)! I’ve featured a variation on this recipe here before but this is version features a spelt crust.
250 grams of spelt flour
Pinch of sea salt
1 tablespoon dried basil or whatever herb you like
4 tablespoons olive oil
A few tablespoons or more of very cold water
In a large mixing bowl, mix together the flour, salt and basil until combined. Now add the olive oil, and using a fork work into the dry mix. Eventually the mixture will start to form into little pebble-like balls – this is basically similar to working cold butter into dough except this will be a bit more crumbly, almost like sand. Slowly drizzle the cold water into the mixture and stir with a spatula until the mixture starts to form a dough. Once it pulls away from the edges of the bowl, it’s ready to roll. Literally!
Roll the crust out on a spelt-floured surface to about 1/8 inch thickness, then lay carefully over a 9 or 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Prick all over with a fork and put into the refrigerator for 30 minutes or more, while you prepare the filling.
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 medium white onions, peeled and sliced thin
Sea salt for seasoning
250 ml heavy cream, or light cooking cream
1 egg, beaten
Pinch of nutmeg
Preheat the oven to 170C. In a large saute pan, heat up the olive oil over medium heat. Put the sliced onions in the pan and cook, stirring occasionally and seasoning with a pinch of salt, for about 20 minutes or until they are caramelized and golden brown. Set aside and let cook for 5 minutes.
Put the onions in a large mixing bowl. Add in the cream, beaten egg and pinch of nutmeg and stir until incorporated. Remove the crust from the refrigerator and pour the filling into the pan. Place on a baking sheet and put in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until the center is firm. Cool for about 5 minutes and then serve.