Sun 7 Aug 2016
I spent this afternoon at my friend Sinead Roche’s house out in Broomfield, Collon with the people who are my first Irish family.
You see, Sinead is the reason why I’m here. Way back when I was a university student in San Francisco, I rented a room in a big kip of a house, and Sinead and her then-boyfriend Keith rented the room down the hall. We became fast friends. Sinead and I spent many Saturday nights drinking white zinfandel from a box and chain-smoking Marlborough Lights, watching cheesy TV shows and being carefree early 20-somethings.
She taught me about good tea, Guinness and the beauty of the humble potato; I still laugh when I think about Sinead, sitting with her head over a plate of steaming spuds covered in butter and Bisto and eating them so fast she’d huff and puff just so she could avoid burning her mouth. “Nothing better than a good plate of spuds!” she’d say, with utter satisfaction, after eating the equivalent of probably 4-5 boiled potatoes.
I showed her the ropes on things like Mexican food, which wasn’t easy. “But it has too much flavour!” she’d say. “I like PLAIN food.” Eventually she got hooked on quesadillas, the plainest Mexican offering at the local El Gordo around the corner from our house. Occasionally we’d get up at the crack of dawn to go watch an Irish football match at the local pub, not because we were really that interested but more for the craic. We’d drink a few pints and eat a proper Irish fry-up and then put those pint glasses in our handbags and add them to our ever-growing collection at home.
Even after Sinead moved back home to Collon, we stayed in touch. She came to visit me in LA, and I met her in Chicago for Paddy’s Day. And in 2009, while visiting as part of a work trip, I stayed with Sinead for two weeks. It was during that trip I decided I’d come back, but this time to live for at least a year (which, as you know, turned into six-and-a-half years!). With Sinead and her family and the wider circle of friends in the area that I grew to know over the years, I knew I could do it as I wouldn’t be alone.
When I think back on that first year in Drogheda, I can’t imagine how I would have survived without Sinead and the Collon gang. Every Sunday I would drive from my apartment in town to Collon, where Sinead’s mum Nancy cooked a fry-up and Sinead, her sister Aoife and I would sit on the couch all day and drink a million cups of tea while watching bad television. And through them and their brother Earnan, I met many people who became friends, acquaintances and drinking buddies. Coming from LA, where you could spend your entire life next door to someone and not even know their name, I was amazed at how warm and open everyone here was to a relative stranger.
It was something else to stand in Sinead’s kitchen today, as she threw Mountaineering Man and me a farewell party, and see many of those faces again. So much has happened since I first got here; there were probably a half-dozen children there today who were merely a twinkle in their parents’ eyes back then (including Sinead’s 6-year-old son!), and a good few married couples who were just dating when I landed.
But one thing remains the same, and that is the friendship that started it all. I don’t think we could have predicted any of this back in those San Francisco days, when we hardly knew what we’d be doing the following weekend much less 20+ years later. I’m very sad to be leaving Sinead and this amazing group of people, but I know that our ties will endure, as it has, for many more years to come.
Sinead’s Famous Apple Tart
For years, Sinead has been making this simple but absolutely mind-blowing apple tart. My father fell in love with it when she made it the first time he and my mom visited Ireland; he has been making it regularly ever since. Sinead made it for us today, and gave me the recipe so that I can make it after we move. By the way, Sinead uses a regular dinner plate for her tart – not a tart pan. Maybe that’s her secret?
16 oz of self-raising flour
8 oz margarine
Pinch of salt and sugar
1 egg, beaten
4 cooking apples (like Bramley), cored, peeled and thinly sliced
A few spoons of sugar
Another egg, beaten.
Sieve flour into a bowl with salt and sugar and cut the margarine into cubes and drop into the mix. Using your fingers, mix together until crumbs form – should look like breadcrumbs. Add in the beaten egg and then add as much cold water as needed to bind everything together and roll it into a ball.
Cut the dough ball in half, dust the counter with flour and roll it out one of the balls. Grease your plate or tart pan with margarine, then lay down bottom layer of pastry. Fill with the sliced apples and sprinkle some sugar – about a few tablespoons or until there’s a good layer of sugar on top of the apples. Roll out the remaining pastry and top, pinching the edges to bring the bottom and top pastry together. Brush with the second beaten egg and bake in a 175C fan oven for an hour. Serve with lashings of cream.