Expats in Dublin


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Yep, you read that right – today, I’m officially 40 years old. (Took the pic this morning, the first of my 40s!).

Gulp.

In all honesty, I’m not embarrassed to admit it. In fact, I’m embracing it. While it would be great to shave a few years off that number for the sake of grey hairs and a few laugh lines, I like myself better now than I did in my 20s.

I feel better about the choices I make – there’s a certain confidence that comes with age and experience. The things I used to obsess over when I was younger don’t even occur to me anymore, maybe because there are a whole slew of NEW things to obsess over now (like grey hairs and laugh lines!).

I remember in my 20s and even into my 30s I spent a lot of energy worried I’d miss something. It was hard to say no to invitations – what if something amazing happened and I wasn’t there? It was very important to feel included, whether it be in a club or in the telling of a joke. I hated missing out. You know the saying, “She goes to the opening of an envelope…?” Well, that was me. These days, I miss a lot of things…on purpose. I leave the bar after a couple of drinks. I politely decline invitations on a regular basis; my favourite Friday nights are the ones I stay in with Mountaineering Man with a bottle of wine and some home-cooked food.  If I walk into a room and have no idea what the conversation is about, I’ll leave it.

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I’m much kinder to myself today than I was when I was younger; the constant self-loathing and beating myself up…what was that about? I was my own worst critic, even if I didn’t show it to the outside world. Too chubby, fat arms, not smart enough, not interested in the right things, not interesting to the right people, too mainstream…these phrases were a regular part of my internal monologue for many years. It was exhausting.

I was painfully insecure, though I often acted the opposite. When I think about how that lack of confidence manifested itself back then, I cringe. I used to manage a group of designers at a job I had in my late 20s and during my most insecure moments I pulled rank with them. I tried to prove my authority and demand respect rather than earn it, and needless to say it didn’t work. Now I see the people I manage as equals and we work together and help each other out. It’s more productive and frankly, a hell of a lot more fun.

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It was a complete and pleasant surprise when I received an invitation to Parlour Games, a new pop-up restaurant in the Portobello area of town. The sender of the email invite was Ian Marconi, chef and founder of the Paella Guys, the mobile food truck serving up heaps of the beloved Spanish rice dish at various outdoor markets around Dublin.

Funnily enough I’d only tried the Paella Guys a week prior to receiving the invitation. It was a typically cold autumn day here and some co-workers and I trekked up to the Grand Canal Village Market for a lunch of comfort food. The steaming, hot plate of spicy rice mixed with chorizo, onions and peppers really hit the spot; after one bite, I understood why the line at this truck is always far longer than the others.

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Ian’s new pop-up shows what this talented chef can do outside of paella. Shortly after arriving at the location, which we quickly learned was his own house, his lovely wife Lisa served us two kinds of crostini: one with slices of spiced, medium-rare lamb, the other with slices of tender pork. Both were exactly what you want in a canapé: the perfect bite, full of flavour with the right combination of textures. If these were an indication of what was to come, we were in for a treat.

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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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Gunters

If you’re lucky, you have a few people in your life that are just plain good. They’re unselfish, ethical and generally quite happy and their goodness inspires you to be better. If anyone were to say a bad word about them, you’d be ready to fight tooth and nail to defend their honour.

Bill and Sharon Gunter – known in foodie circles by their blog, Gunternation – are two such people. I first met them on an Irish Foodies outing I organised to the Brown Hound Bakery and Eastern Seaboard, and we immediately hit it off. They’re expats too, and we bonded on everything from adjusting to a new culture (they’ve been here a few years longer than me, so they were full of great advice) to our favourite foods from back home.

Veggie Pie

Though we’re all Americans, we hail from different regions; the Gunters are from the South and mid-west and I’m from Southern California. So when we talk about the American foods we grew up with, we talk about very different dishes. Sharon loves her Frito Pie and Bill, who went to college in New Orleans, is nuts about po’ boys and gumbo. Me, I’m all about the sushi and Cali burritos. I love hearing them talk about the foods they grew up with, because it’s so different from what I ate as a kid. From pimento cheese to chicken spaghetti, I now have a whole new list of down-home American dishes I want to try.

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Smoked Mackerel Fishcakes 2

The other day as I was chatting away with a fewvendors at the Honest 2 Goodness farmers market, I realised that somewhere between arriving in Ireland on March 4th, 2010 and last Saturday, I’d managed to create a life here.

When I first landed, I had a few friends I knew from years ago but as they all lived in a different area it was common for me to walk around town (Drogheda, which was my first home here) and not know a single face. I’d go grocery shopping, sit and read at a café for hours, stroll around the streets without seeing a single person I knew. I stumbled my way through getting to know the one-way streets and the opening hours of the post office and Tesco and which roads allowed free parking and which ones didn’t.

Ocean Water

People say you either sink or swim, but for the first several months I was doggy paddling rather soppily – and doing a pretty good job at staying afloat. I couldn’t quite open my eyes underwater and sometimes I’d bump my head into a wall, but I kept kicking. After meeting Mountaineering Man and dating for several months, I made the move to Dublin and started that process again – the getting-to-know-you part – finding my way around the city, making new friends and creating a home. And I kept on paddling.

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Happy

“Did you put a clean tea towel in the kitchen?”

It’s a Saturday afternoon, and Mountaineering Man and I are doing a full house cleaning in preparation for his parents’ visit. While I’m in the bedroom primping the bedcovers, he’s finishing up the kitchen.

“Yep, all done!” he says.

“Is it the dark blue one with the stripes?” I ask.

“Yep!” says he.

“Noooo – not that one,” I said, before grabbing another tea towel from the hot press and running off to the kitchen.

MM looked confused, and understandably so. The blue striped tea towel was clean, and fresh from the press. But what he doesn’t know is that this particular tea towel is a mockery of a tea towel, or any towel for that matter. It has a large weave and a very rough surface and is cheaply made. When you wipe it across a wet surface, it doesn’t soak up any moisture; it merely spreads the water around, creating big streaks of wetness across the counter – the kind that dries into a pattern of unattractive water spots, ones you have to then wipe over again. To add insult to injury it lost its rectangular form after the first wash; it’s now just a sad, shapeless version of what it once was, when I first spied it in the kitchen aisle at TK Maxx and thought it would go nicely with some navy oven mitts I already had.

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When I was 15 years old, I worked after school and weekends at a girls’ clothing shop called Wet Seal. It was the perfect job for me at that age; as a Southern California teenager, I spent most of my free time at the mall anyway, so getting paid and receiving big discounts on Wet Seal purchases made working there a no-brainer!

I enjoyed the customer service work; I didn’t even mind cleaning out the dressing rooms and organising the hundreds of items of clothing in the shop. And I did really well. I always hit my target numbers and frequently made the top sales slot for the days I worked.

However, my manager never seem to notice or acknowledge my contributions and this was a great source of stress and irritation for me. Her name was Heather, and she was a typical LA blonde; your basic, obnoxious Valley Girl nightmare. Whether it was jealousy or flat-out stupidity (or both), she never complimented my work and often gave me a hard time about the smallest missteps.

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po boy

Even though a sandwich seems simple enough, it’s really hard to find a great, well-constructed sambos these days. The ratio of filling to bread, the texture of the bread (overly toasted means it tears up the roof of your mouth; too soft means not enough support for innards), the right size and balance of filling…it ain’t rocket science but there is definitely an art to making the perfect sandwich.

It was this idea – one of the perfect sandwich, which in this case was the classic po’ boy – that brought us together one breezy Saturday afternoon. For several weeks now, some of us Irish Foodies including Bill & Sharon Gunter, Aoife, Kristin and a few others filled the Twitterverse with chatter about having a po’ boy party; after a few email exchanges it was decided we’d meet at the Gunters’ for an afternoon of sandwich-making.

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The po’ boy is a New Orleans invention and usually consists of a baguette filled with fried oysters, shredded lettuce and slices of tomato. There are also beef, chicken, veggie, catfish and other varieties of po’ boy, but as New Orleans is famous for its oysters, that is the one I’d consider the pure po’ boy. There’s a story behind the name (as with many great dishes do): Back in 1929, during the streetcar employee strike, restaurant owners Benny and Clovis Martin served the striking workers free sandwiches. Because the all-male strikers were referred to as “poor boys,” the sandwiches took on the name; with the Louisiana accent, it sounded more like “po’ boy,” and it stuck.

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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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Moving to Ireland Raheny 7

It’s not exaggeration to say that for the last week or so, Ireland has been a different place all together. For seven days running, we’ve been enjoying cloudless, sunny skies and temperatures in the low-to-mid 20s (that would be 69 – 74 F).

The joy at such weather is downright palpable. People are running around in flip-flops and shorts taking full advantage by eating lunch outdoors and soaking in all the Vitamin D goodness. Needless to say, I’ve seen a lot of red skin around town in the last couple of days! Personally the heat and resulting dry air have been downright healing for me as I’m usually plagued with sinus issues and all kinds of upper respiratory problems due to the damp, cold Irish weather.

Most days, my eyes are bloodshot and cheeks blotchy and red from the incessant sneezing, coughing (I’ve had at least 3 chest infections in the last 2 years) and sniffling that afflict me for hours on end. Although I’ve fallen in love with Ireland, my body continues to reject the cold, pollen, viruses, bacteria – everything! My doctor actually said that she’s never heard me NOT sound stuffed-up, and sadly it’s true. But for these last few glorious days, my nose has been clear and my eyes don’t look like those of a heroin addict. I feel like my old self again and it’s been wonderful.

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