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Editor’s note: Today’s post is written by my husband Cormac, better known to you blog readers as Mountaineering Man. For my birthday a couple weeks back, he offered to cook me a homemade meal, which was a bit of a surprise; though he has become really good at making baked fish, roasted potatoes and the like he’s never made an entire meal using recipes. Here is his story.

WHAT do you cook the girl who’s eaten everything?

Well, anything.

At least that’s what Clare told me she’d happily have for her birthday meal.

It was a significant birthday so this was going to be a significant meal. So the amount of planning and prep was going to be – you guessed it – significant.

Now we live in a home filled with cook and food books. From the Larousse bible to Bourdain, from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall to Julia Child, there was no shortage of ideas on the shelves.

This is the point where I would usually admit my shortcomings, go for the simplest thing possible and pray that enough butter (the chef’s ace in the hole) would carry me through.

Not this time.

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C&C23

I’ll start with another apology for being MIA – it’s been a crazy few months and trying to get a blog post up once a week has been next to impossible! I promise after the wedding/honeymoon, I will be back to my regular posting schedule. Thanks for being so patient!

We’re nearly there, and tomorrow my parents land in Dublin from Los Angeles – the first guests to arrive. They’ll be here for a few days and then we’ll hop in the car with Mountaineering Man and drive to Wexford, where they’ll meet MM’s parents for the first time. We’ll do our courthouse marriage ceremony there, have dinner with MM’s family and then head on back to Dublin the next morning.

My parents have been to Ireland to visit me before, so they’ll leave ahead of us and fly to Italy for some R&R before the wedding in Tuscany next week. A day after they depart, my best friend Stacy and her husband Brian, along with my cousin Dana, arrive in Dublin.

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As this will be the first visit to Ireland for all three, I’ve been trying to write an email to prepare them for what they can expect while here. As I write an entire blog on the subject of Ireland and its culture and people, it’s been difficult to craft a succinct email on the subject. There’s so much I want to say but I don’t want to give everything away; I want them to experience it with fresh eyes.

What I can say is that they can expect bipolar weather conditions, as in showers one minute and sun the next with a few other bits thrown in between. They can expect friendly folks, who will happily give them directions if they get lost, and perhaps even a tall tale or two before they get back on the road. Recently a taxi driver told me about how when he was a child, he was standing on the sunny side of the street while watching it pour down rain on the other side. Ah the Irish love their stories, and true or not they’re always told with earnest.

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Taco Pizza 2

Do you ever have one of those days where you just need a few more hours to get everything done? Lately I’ve been feeling like that about entire weeks and months; it seems I always need more time to do this or that and more time to actually get some rest in between all the chores!

Though I don’t necessarily *feel* super stressed out (I am not gritting my teeth and clenching my fists…yet), I’m quite frazzled these days. Between work, wedding planning, blogging, creative projects and my everyday chores, by day’s end I feel tattered and worn. I realise this isn’t a problem specific to me, and there are plenty of people in the world with far greater issues than these. But as they say it’s all relative and lately I am feeling the strain of it all, which is typically made worse by the bi-polar Irish weather and all its resulting irritants (dampness, pollen, crazy traffic – ARGH!).

Clare Taco Hair

There are the necessary chores like grocery shopping and cooking, which I usually enjoy greatly. Last Sunday I spent hours in the kitchen making our usual baked oatmeal, baked ham (for Mountaineering Man’s sambos) and veggie curry with quinoa (for my lunches) plus a gluten-free brownie cake for my coeliac co-worker (just for fun) and a batch of vegan banana ice cream (just for fun). But on top of all the regular cooking the extras proved far too much work, and I didn’t enjoy it like I normally would. Because MM takes on most of the cleaning and laundry duties, I always assume I have enough time to do those pleasurable cooking projects – but somehow take on more than I can handle!

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Communion

Father Tom Tehan (with the beard) of Co. Meath at our First Communion; I think that’s me raising my candle and my sister in the back row (we’re identical twins and even I get confused!).

People here always ask me if I have any Irish blood coursing through my veins, and I always replied that I do not. I’m half-Japanese, part German, perhaps a bit Czech and maybe even a little Yugoslavian. But Irish, no – at least that’s what I thought.

And then several weeks ago my dad emailed to tell me that he was looking through our ancestry files and was reminded that his great grandmother (which would be my great, great grandmother) was one Hanora N. McDonough born in January 1872 in…County Mayo, Ireland!? She immigrated to the United States and married Bernard Henry Cook on the 17th of September 1890. So there you go, I’m a bit Irish after all.

Relatives aside, my family has some long-standing Irish connections that I either didn’t know about until recently or just forgot about. Growing up in Japan, we had a very close family friend in the form of an Irish priest: Father Tom Tehan, who hails from County Meath of all places. My parents met him when we lived in Japan, and he has remained close to us over the years; he even flew out to Arkansas to give my sister and me our First Communion. Shortly after I moved here to Ireland, I met with Father Tom for a cup of tea and a chat when he was here for a short visit with his siblings.

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Things have been so nuts lately I completely forgot that March 4th marked the two-year anniversary of my move to Ireland. I suppose in one sense, that’s a good thing – living here has become so normal that I don’t find myself counting days or marking time based on when I arrived – or when I’ll leave, if and when that day ever comes.

If I thought the first year of living here was a whirlwind, the second has been a down-right blizzard of activity and major life changes. In the last year, I moved from my humble little apartment in the centre of Drogheda town centre into Mountaineering Man’s bachelor apartment in Dublin 8. We then moved together to our place in Raheny a few months later.

I spent my first Christmas in Ireland with MM’s family, which was lovely (though no sign of snow this year, which to be honest was a bit sad for me!); I’m working like crazy (a good thing) and I’ve made a good number of new friends in Dublin over the last 12 months. Of course there was the engagement (!!) and now I’m in the thick of wedding planning. We’ve already got our appointment at the courthouse and in the autumn we’ll marry in Tuscany (more on that later, I promise!).

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Pho Beach

Took this during my shed time yesterday, which involved a long walk on the beach with my friend Ela.

When I first moved to Ireland, I observed a noticeable divide between men and women when it came to socalising. Every time I’d go to the pub with my friends (back when I used to live in Drogheda), the men would separate from the women seconds after walking into the bar. For the first hour or so, it was guy talk on one side of the room and girl talk on the other. Once all the catching-up was done, everyone mingled.

On the surface, I suppose this scene would seem a bit antiquated. And if I’m honest, I found it slightly jarring at first. But lately I’m beginning to appreciate this understanding that guys need their designated guy time and girls need theirs – I’m not sure why but the Irish seem to get this better than most Americans I know. There’s no offence taken or need to make excuses or apologise, which is refreshing.

easter cupcakes

Mountaineering Man’s dad meets up with a couple of his buddies at a café every weekday morning. He explains it as a time to just talk shop with the fellas. MM’s mother has a regular weekly card game with the ladies. My dad has lunch twice a week with a couple of his friends, and my mother has dinner with her Zumba class friends after a workout once or twice a week. I like that they don’t feel the need to make their plans opposite each other’s; there’s none of this “Well since you’re having a guys’ night I’ll go out with my friends” tit-for-tat style competitiveness; they understand that each person having his/her own time makes them better as a couple.

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I remember back in the early days of living in Ireland – Drogheda, Co. Louth to be specific -  I often felt helpless. There were so many unfamiliar things and places and people; from laser cards (don’t have ‘em in the U.S.) to bagging your own groceries at the shop, everything was a learning experience.

As time went on, I started to figure it out and things got easier. But much like a videogame, there are many, many levels of adjustment and understanding that don’t end after mastering the basics. Sure I figured out the rules of the road and that the post office doesn’t deliver on Saturdays and how a storage heater works. But it’s those little, only-locals-know type things like the quickest route from SuperValu to the dry cleaners or what park is good for a Sunday stroll that takes a while to learn.

Fish n Chips

Then there’s the food-related stuff: Where can I buy fresh bay leaves? Does anyone in Dublin serve authentic tacos? Is there a shop that sells that super light airy French roll for Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches? These are things that I’ve had to dig for, and only recently do I feel I’ve gotten a good understanding of where to get what I’m looking for. It’s taken a lot of research – Twitter, Facebook, Google and just plain ol’ going around Dublin personally trying bits and bobs here and there and talking to shop clerks and asking my food blogging friends for advice. But it’s all worth the effort when I find what I need.

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