dating in Ireland


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When I lived in Los Angeles and worked as a freelance writer, one of my favourite afternoon breaks involved going to the local art house movie theatre for an escape. The Laemmle Theatre in Pasadena always featured a good mix of indie and foreign films, plus they’d turn a blind eye when I’d sneak in a cup of good coffee from the cafe at  Vroman’s Bookstore next door.

I typically chose European films for the ambiance. What is it about skirts fluttering against the tailwind of a Vespa that sparks a desire in every woman to live out her own Fellini-esque fantasy? For two hours I’d sit alone in the dark, quietly sipping coffee whilst absorbed in these fanciful flights of imagination.

I’d dream of one day visiting the seedy piano bar in The Beat That My Heart Skipped or the muted rouge-hued cafes in Amelie – with a dashing European suitor, of course. Like the young schoolgirl who spent her evenings envisaging a new life abroad whilst singing along to Sur les quais du vieux Paris in An Education, I too would aspire to one day turn my Francophile fantasies into reality.

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So far all the things a would-be bride would do with her girlfriends, I’ve pretty much done by myself. Though my good friend Sinead accompanied me to buy my wedding dress (which, incidentally, has turned into a complete disaster – more on this in my next blog post), everything else bridal-related has been a solo expedition.

The thing is my sister and maid of honour Anne lives in Los Angeles, along with most of my girlfriends, and my best friend and bridesmaid Stacy lives in San Francisco. So the shopping trips for shoes, earrings, wedding underwear (I swear then 4here is such a thing!), courthouse wedding dress and honeymoon attire – just moi.

To be honest, I’m quite an impatient shopper and I typically prefer to shop alone. Everyone has a different shopping style, and mine involves walking into a store, giving everything a quick scan and then zeroing in on the things I like. Other people may spend an hour tugging through one ill-hung sale item after another, treating it as a treasure hunt of sorts, and when they do find that Marc Jacobs mini in their size at 75% – well, it was all worth it. Me, not so much. I find the hunt  extremely tedious and I just want to find what I want quickly and get out of there.

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Friends Old and New

Though I’ve never had an enormous group of friends, I’m lucky to count a good dozen who I can describe as my closest. There are a few of us who’ve known each other since childhood, a few more who met in high school and a handful with whom I connected in college and during my early working career.

Sadly, they’re all back in the U.S. and lately I’ve been missing them something fierce, as an American might say. I miss our spontaneous happy hour meet-ups after work and our weekend trips away and our long, slow dinners washed down with far too many bottles of wine. Skype is a great tool but with the time difference and our hectic lives requires some scheduling, and it pales in comparison to an actual meeting or a night out.

I do take heart knowing that some of my best friends will be here in less than six months for our wedding; it will be so, so good to see them again and to celebrate with those closest to me. The thought of being together again gets me through the more difficult days. But I’m also bolstered by the fact that I’m forming friendships with Mountaineering Man’s circle of tight-knit mates, who over the last year-and-a-half I’ve gotten to know quite well.

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Lately life seems to be moving along at a rapid pace, but then again that’s what happens when one is planning a wedding. Considering we got engaged in February and are set to be married autumn of this year, we didn’t really give ourselves a whole lot of time!

But that’s okay. We’re not having a big wedding; in fact, we’re having 32 guests total – about half from my side, half from Mountaineering Man’s side. It’ll be our immediate family members, and a few close friends. Despite the small size it will be a real wedding, not a courthouse affair but rather a late afternoon ceremony and evening reception at a private Villa in the Chianti region of Tuscany.

I was never one of those girls who dreamt of her wedding day from a young age; as a kid I put a pillowcase on my head so I could pretend to be a nun, not a bride [and no, I had no designs to be a woman of the cloth – I was merely impersonating my teachers at school!]. But I would be lying if I didn’t admit that this wedding is a dream, albeit one that was never fully formed before I met MM. To be married to this man amidst the rolling hills of Italy, celebrating with close family and friends while feasting on traditional Tuscan fare and drinking wine from the Villa’s own vineyard…I’m pinching myself just thinking about it!

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Engagement Cormac M

“Lady, where ya from?”

His voice was raspy. And from the redness of his watery eyes and deep lines across his leathery skin, it was obvious he was from around these parts – these parts being the remote and blustery reaches of Leenane, a tiny village surrounded by mountains somewhere on the long inland road between Galway and Westport. He caught a trace of my accent as I ordered at the bar and he wanted to know from where it originated.

A few minutes after I’d satisfied his curiosity and returned to our table by the fireplace, the old man came over and pulled up a chair. It was about two in the afternoon, and Tom (he formally introduced himself shortly before hunkering down next to Mountaineering Man) had probably been at Gaynors pub most of the morning along with the half-dozen other men who lined the bar drinking and chatting up the middle-aged woman who pulled the pints there. We assumed he and the gang warmed the barstools at Gaynors most days, and any new folk was a welcome distraction to the same ol’ same old.

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Me at Gaynors Pub. You can see Tom sitting behind me on the barstool to the left; moments later he came and sat with us.

“Lady, are you married?” Tom asked. When I told him no, he turned to Mountaineering Man  and asked, “Are you gonna marry her?”

“Please God, one of these days!” MM replied, laughing out loud at the bravado of this complete stranger. With that, MM finished his Guinness and we bid farewell to Tom before heading on our way. In the car we chuckled about the inquisitive, funny man and chatted about the odd bunch of regulars at the bar. We’d stopped at Gaynors last year on our way to Westport and enjoyed a quiet pint, fantastic toasted cheese sandwiches and bowls of homemade vegetable soup. The bar is actually well-known in the area; scenes from the 1990 film The Field were shot here. But more than anything we fell in love with the warmth of the rustic pub and the authentic locals who frequent the place.

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The village of Leenane; The Gaynors’ incredible toasties!

About 20 minutes later we parked on a shoulder along the windy road back to Westport and strapped on our hiking boots for a ramble. MM wanted me to see a hidden beach at the base of the Mweelrea mountains, one of his favourite areas to climb. He promised it would be lovely, despite the muddy bog we had to trudge through to reach it. With a pole to keep me steady I dutifully slogged through the flooded grass and followed MM, who occasionally turned around to see if I was still upright.

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Skipping stones; the only witness was a lone sheep in the distance.

About 15 minutes later we reached the tiny shore, which was as breathtaking as he’d described. I immediately started looking for flat stones to skip across the glassy water, something I loved doing as a child. In fact I was so distracted with my search for the perfect skipping stone I didn’t pay much attention to what MM was doing; he had his back to me and seemed to be fiddling with something. Next thing I knew he appeared in front of me, with a blue satin box in one hand and said, “I need to ask you a question.”

And then, after getting down on one knee, “Will you marry me?”

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The small beach area where MM proposed – what a view!

Though I’d imagined this moment in various incarnations over the last few months, I never thought I’d burst into a ball of tears – but that’s exactly what I did. After a few more sobs I managed a quiet but firm “Yes.”

Maybe auld Tom is psychic, it’s hard to say. I certainly could not have predicted that a mere 23 months after I moved from Los Angeles to Ireland – a single girl taking a leap of faith – I would be engaged to Cormac, the love of my life.

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Considering that we’ve been together for over a year and are living together, I suppose it’s odd that my family hadn’t met Mountaineering Man before a few weeks ago.

But that’s one of the downsides of living abroad, thousands of miles away from my parents, sister Anne, brother-in-law Juan and best friends. Though I’d kept everyone informed via emails and phone conversations, it’s always only half the story because despite Facebook photo albums and blog posts there’s no way to convey the whole truth about someone or something – especially one that is particularly significant. And because I’m immersed in my life here, I often forget that no matter how much I’ve shared with everyone back in LA they’re still not getting the full picture of MM.

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Before we left on the big trip, MM took a fair bit of ribbing from his mates. As my father is a Vietnam veteran, his buddy Joe kept making “Meet the Parents” references and joking that my father was going to be keeping an eye on MM’s every move. Despite all the teasing, he was eager to meet my family and as we pulled up to my parents’ house he seemed relaxed and ready to Meet the Kleinedlers!

For the first half of the LA trip, we stayed at my folks’ house and within 10 minutes of walking in the door my mom had the photo albums out and was showing MM my baby pictures and telling childhood stories. Later that night we gathered at Z’s sushi, the place where my family goes nearly every other week for dinner. When I lived in LA, I knew if I went to Z’s on a Friday night, there’d be a good chance my sister and her husband or my parents or all four would be there, sitting at the corner of the sushi bar and bantering with Toshi the sushi chef. It’s just our place and has been for years.

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When I lived in San Francisco I used to go camping in Big Sur every summer with a group of girlfriends. With its rugged coastline, signature pine trees and aqua blue ocean, it’s one of my all-time top places to unwind.

As Mountaineering Man is a huge fan of the outdoors, I knew he’d love Big Sur as much as I do. And since he was about to meet my parents, sister, brother-in-law and a half-dozen of my friends for the first time, I thought one more stop before the big LA debut couldn’t hurt. We rented a car in San Francisco and drove along Highway 1, the beautiful but notoriously dangerous windy road that goes along the coast of California.

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I did the driving because it’s a lot cheaper for me to be the only driver of a rental car (they charge more for foreign drivers!), a decision I regretted as soon as we passed Monterey and started down the main highway. It was a four-hour, white-knuckled drive, but we finally made it to Treebones, an eco resort where guests stay in yurts instead of a standard hotel room. The yurts are fully furnished with a bed, couch, table and chairs, gas fireplace and sink with running water and feature the most breathtaking ocean view you’ve ever seen. The resort is completely off the grid, meaning they produce their own energy and waste nothing. The main lodge has 24-hour showers, a sushi bar and a restaurant that cooks up organic produce grown in the resort’s own garden. There’s also a heated pool and hot tub and a little gift shop that sells some of the California coast’s best wines.

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I apologize for being away so long, but we were on holiday and I decided from the onset that I would not bring my laptop along for the journey. But we’re back from our whirlwind tour of California after nearly two-and-a-half weeks away so here you go!

The main point of the trip was to introduce Mountaineering Man to my family in Los Angeles (the “Meet the Kleinedlers” post is coming up soon!). But before we journeyed to LA we first flew into San Francisco, a city where both MM and I lived at one point in our lives – though we never crossed paths.

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I went to college in San Francisco and spent another few years there after  graduation and MM spent several weeks there one summer visiting his Irish college friends who were there on a J1 visa. So it was only appropriate for us to first land in the City by the Bay. Instead of staying at a hotel, we opted to rent an apartment via Airbnb, and the decision is one of the best we’ve ever made. Instead of spending $300 or more per night on a hotel room (gotta love those hidden fees/taxes!) we had a 14th floor penthouse apartment, complete with a private rooftop deck and hot tub, all to ourselves for nearly half that price.

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Today’s post is by the one and only Mountaineering Man, who has recently found himself in charge of the cooking at Casa la MM and An American in Ireland.

MM Cooking Between the living room and the hallway, in our apartment, there is a small, clean but intimidating room. Intimidating in parts, mind you. Not the bins or the dishwasher. Or the fridge.

But our kitchen is full of cupboards, cubby holes crammed with pots, strainer things, many, many bowls (large and small, and in between). Sharp knives abound.

And that’s before I get to the entire drawer full of exotic mashers and dicers, prong-type things and ladles. Way, way too much stuff for me to ever use, even in a lifetime of cooking. That’s about as much as I knew about our kitchen.

Until this week.

Clare is working a new contract at present, so our previous dinner arrangement has been turned on its head. Instead of dutifully turning up each evening to some seriously good  dishes – listed here in other posts – circumstances have now pushed me in front of the cooker.

A declaration – I used to cook before.

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Clare and Cormac To say a lot has happened over the last 12 months is an understatement, because one year ago today I had my first date with Mountaineering Man and life has been a wonderful whirlwind ever since. There have been many firsts since meeting him, from climbing a mountain (remember the snowy trek up Croagh Patrick?) to cohabitation. It’s been one great adventure after another.

Strangely enough it’s the small stuff, like perusing books together at Chapters or watching a movie at home, that hold the most significance for me. I think the Knight in Shining Armor is the easy bit; any guy can buy roses and do the whole candlelit dinner scenario (and to be fair any woman can do the I-wake-up-looking-this-perfect act, at least in the beginning!). It’s harder to find someone who, despite seeing all your imperfections, still thinks you’re pretty damn perfect – and vice versa.

Before meeting MM it was difficult for me to imagine meeting an extraordinary guy to do ordinary things with, if that makes any sense. It wasn’t a decision I’d made consciously or even something I’d acknowledged to myself, but looking back I was definitely at a place where it just didn’t matter anymore. I was relatively happy but exhausted with dating; perhaps I was simply resigned to living on my own and didn’t have the energy to really try and change what I thought was my inevitable future. In retrospect it makes me sad that I didn’t care, though at the time I felt fine with it. Despite knowing a good number of couples, at times it was hard to fathom how two people ever got together – with so many variables in the equation, it felt impossible. I used to joke to friends that I’d better start collecting cats so that I could live out that age-old cliché of the Crazy Cat Lady later in my life.

Turns out I was wrong, which in this case I’m more than happy to admit. In MM I’ve found a partner and best friend, someone I can be myself with and who gives me a sense of peace. He puts up with my love of Food Network (though he’s recently admitted to becoming a fan of Barefoot Contessa) and I tolerate his croaky Tom Waits impersonations (it’s enough to make dogs howl with pain!); I pretend not to notice that he always puts the cutlery back in the wrong drawer and he accepts that I cannot follow a map no matter how many times he reviews it with me. It’s a happy yin and yang, the two of us.

In a few weeks I’ll be taking MM home to meet my family and friends in Los Angeles, yet another big step in our story. Honestly, I can’t wait.

Happy Anniversary, Mountaineering Man. :) xo

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Fabulous Pain Perdu

When I mentioned earlier that MM has become a Barefoot Contessa fan, I wasn’t joking. Though he makes fun of Ina Garten’s at-times comical television life – the fabulous gay friends like model T.R., florist Michael and decorator/photographer Miguel; her husband Jeffrey’s obsession with chicken; everyone’s overuse of the word “fabulous!” – he’s always asking me to make dishes he sees on the show. [Editor’s note: Personally I’d give anything to lunch with Ina and her gay posse. Ina, if you’re reading this CALL ME!] He recently became obsessed with Ina’s pain perdu, which she made for her fabulous friends in one episode. I made an adapted version of it a couple of weeks ago and ended up making it for FOUR days in a row as MM just couldn’t get enough of the stuff. (I should note that we had an entire loaf of brioche bread to use up so it was no bother). It’s the perfect sweet-treat brunch dish!

(Serves 2)

1 egg

2 tablespoons heavy cream

5 tablespoons milk

Juice from half an orange

Zest from half an orange

1 teaspoon honey

1 teaspoon caster sugar

4 slices of brioche bread

Couple of handfuls of slivered almonds

Butter

Strawberries or whatever fruit you like for topping

Icing sugar

In large shallow dish, whisk together the egg, heavy cream, milk, orange juice, zest, honey and sugar until thoroughly mixed together. In another shallow dish, add the silvered almonds and set aside.

Now you’re ready to make the pain perdu. Melt a couple of teaspoons of butter into a large sauté pan over medium heat. Take a slice of brioche, dip both sides into the liquid mixture and then dip one side into the silvered almonds. Place the bread almond side down in the hot pan and cook for a few minutes or until the almonds start to turn golden. Flip and cook for another few minutes on the other side. Depending on the size of your pan, you can do 2-3 or even four slices at once. If you’re doing them one by one, simply place in a warm oven (100 C) while you’re finishing the rest.

To plate: Put two slices on plate, top with strawberries (I macerated mine in some orange juice and a bit of sugar) or whatever fruit you like, then sprinkle with icing sugar. Serve immediately.

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