Expats in Dublin


It seems that in every second blog post of late, I promise to blog more often. These days I just can’t seem get a handle on my writing schedule so I’ll omit the usual promise and simply do the best I can to post more frequently.

The last few months have been tough for Mountaineering Man and me; his mother is ill and we’re spending every weekend at his parents’ home, which is about two hours away from Dublin. In order to protect the family’s privacy I won’t go into too much detail here, but suffice to say the illness came rather suddenly. It has been an incredibly difficult time for the whole family.

But even during this dark time, there are a few glimmers of light. It’s nice to spend some quality time with the family, who before this we’d see every third or fourth week. It’s  been a real treat to see my little one-and-a-half-year-old niece, who – totally unbeknownst to her – has been our comic relief and welcome distraction with her funny antics and ever-developing personality.

IMG_0284[1]I feel lucky to be able to see her every weekend, and am grateful that she is getting to know me too. She is a smart little girl, always up for a dance (last weekend her daddy put on some serious  ‘70s disco music and away she went!) and loves for us to read to her from her many books. Mind you, we don’t always agree; she loves her mom’s old Judy doll, which regularly scares the crap out of me with her blank-yet-piercing stare -  she reminds me too much of the Talking Tina doll from the Twilight Zone. And since my niece leaves her all around the house, Judy seems to pop up at every turn (particularly in my nightmares).

We also have at least one dinner with MM’s dad, sister and her family every weekend, sometimes two if we don’t have to rush back to Dublin for work. I’ve become the cook along with my brother-in-law; he’s the fry-up expert and will make the mid-day eggs, sausages, rashers, potato waffle, beans and tomato plate for anyone who is hungry. It looks so tempting I think I’m going to have to ask him to do one up for me next weekend. I usually cook the Saturday dinners and Sunday lunches, and despite my father-in-law’s protests that it’s too much work,  I genuinely enjoy it.


a papa

My father, for all intents and purposes, is a Renaissance man. He can build almost anything;  he handcrafted the wooden and rice paper shoji screen doors in their house, built my mother a pair of wooden lamps identical to ones she saw at a shop and has designed and put together a few bookshelves over the years. He writes occasionally as a hobby, has taken classes in pottery and stained-glass making and is currently doing a Spanish language course with my mom.

And on top of all that, he can cook – like a pro.

We were lucky to be raised in a household where both parents cooked. When we were kids, my father managed most weekday meals as my mother worked later than he did. He made some really wonderful meals – some simple and some more elaborate – and in the process showed my sister and I how to do things like slice a tomato without cutting off a finger (carefully make slits at the slice points with the tip of your knife, and then slice into those slits). It never occurred to me back then that it was unusual to have a father who could cook as well my mother.

IMG_3371[2]In Ireland, it still seems to be an unusual thing that a man can cook something beyond a steak on the grill or a fry-up. I say this because of the reactions I’ve received when talking about Mountaineering Man’s recent interest and progress in cooking. It’s not necessarily a negative reaction, more surprise, confusion and disbelief all rolled into one. A handful of more conservative-leaning folk have expressed something more along the lines of disdain – which is odd. It’s sad to say but there’s still a percentage of people in this country who’d argue that a real man shouldn’t be interested in anything beyond sport and drink, which is an absolute fallacy. It’s also a stereotype that puts unnecessary pressure on Irish men to fit into an old idea which, to me, has no place in modern society.

Frankly, I’m thrilled that MM has taken a liking to the kitchen – a place he rarely ventured into before we met. I think his typical meal when we first started dating consisted of an overcooked chicken breast mixed with some variety of Uncle Ben’s sauce poured over boil-in-a-bag rice. Not bad, but not the most inspiring of meals (to cook OR eat!).


Thanks to my obsession interest in cooking and to a few outside influences, MM is starting to craft some pretty serious meals. His most recent quest of making hand-made pasta has developed into a weekend hobby for us both, and a couple of weeks ago he surprised me by purchasing an Imperia pasta roller so we can hone our new-found skills together. I should note that the outside influences in this case come in the form of Two Greedy ItaliansAntonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo – who, through their highly engaging and beautifully-produced BBC series have schooled MM in the delights of fresh, simple, Italian food.



We recently put the new Imperia to the test and made a so-so batch of tagliatelle; it was good but in our haste we forgot a couple of important steps and the result was a very soft pasta. We took what we learned and applied it to our next pasta project: homemade ravioli. I made the filling using a few leftovers we had around and MM made the dough. We both worked together (rolling pasta really is a two person job!) and the result was a beautifully delicious ravioli dish that would’ve been suitable for guests (not that we wanted to share – it was that good!).

The naysayers can keep their outdated, stereotypical Irish men. I prefer my [Irish] Renaissance Man.


Beetroot Greens & Sweet Potato Ravioli

Ravioli dough – we used the Pasta Fresca recipe from the Two Greedy Italians cookbook; here is another fresh pasta recipe from them that’s available online that may work as well.

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, chopped finely

1 medium onion, chopped finely

1 small red chilli, de-seeded and chopped finely

1 bunch of beetroot tops (greens) – about 10 large leaves – chopped roughly

1 medium sweet potato, baked, cooled and with skin removed

100 grams fresh goat’s cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

Basic tomato pasta sauce (make yourself or use a jar of your favourite)

In a large sauté pan, heat up the olive oil over medium heat. Add in the garlic and onion and chilli and cook until softened – about 5 minutes. Add in the beetroot tops and cook for another 3-4 minutes, or until the greens are wilted down. Set aside to cool for a few minutes.

In a large bowl, mash the sweet potato. Add in the beetroot greens mixture and combine. Then crumble in the goat’s cheese and mix well. The mixture should bind naturally with the goat’s cheese and sweet potato so there’s no need for an egg. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Roll the pasta dough into sheets – we used our Imperia pasta roller and this made a total of 4 very long sheets, which we then cut into two to equal 8 total sheets. The way we made the ravioli was to lay down one sheet on a well-floured surface, and then using a tiny ice cream scoop we scooped the filling and placed it into two rows on the one sheet of pasta. We then brushed the crease points on that first pasta sheet with water, and then placed the second sheet over the first and pressed down around the fillings. We cut the squares using a pizza cutter and then with a fork made the indentations to seal the pasta.

Drop into boiling salted water and let cook for 3 minutes. The raviloi should float to the top when ready.

Serve with a simple tomato sauce or just a drizzle of browned butter and some fresh sage leaves – it’s really up to you!


A day without sunshine is like, you know, night.Steve Martin

For the better part of the three-and-a-half years I’ve been here in Ireland, it’s been night. The previous two summers have been, at best, a mix of muggy mist, fluorescent-white clouds and a few fleeting rays of sunshine. During that first year in Drogheda I had a total of one al fresco meal, which was cut short by a sudden downpour. When I went home last year and visited my hairdresser, his first reaction was, “Your hair is SO dark!” I hadn’t coloured it, it was darker simply from a lack of sunshine…a bit like my soul!


This summer has been a completely different experience all together. We’ve had long stretches of sunny days and – quell surprise – warm nights. I can’t remember ever being able to step outside after 8 PM in just a t-shirt here, but in the last several weeks I’ve donned short sleeves outdoors in the evening more than a few times. Mountaineering Man and I have been sleeping on top of the duvet for the last month or so, and we’re both sporting tans – REAL tans (not that either of us would ever get fake tan, sorry but I haven’t bought into that Irish obsession nor will I ever!).

We’ve even gotten out for a couple of picnics and barefoot walks on the beach, which I realise for my friends in LA is typical summer behaviour but for us is a real treat. That said we’re also experiencing the downside of having warm weather in a country that is not at all prepared for it; neither of our cars has air conditioning (it’s not a standard feature here). The other day I experienced that brain-melting, so-hot-you-can-almost-see-the-heatwaves moment after getting into my car, which had been parked out in the sun all day. I couldn’t open my windows fast enough.



For the first year I lived in Ireland, I mainly worked from home. While I loved the freedom (making my own schedule, staying in my PJs, etc.) it wasn’t the best way to socialise myself in a new country.

Though I had a small group of friends in Drogheda (where I lived back when I first came here), I was starting to feel pretty lonely working at my dining room table most days with little to no interaction with other human beings. It was so depressing that at one point, I was putting on makeup and getting excited about a trip to Tesco for milk and eggs. At least I could talk to someone, even if the interaction was limited to a 3-minute chat with the check-out lady.

After relocating to Dublin and moving in with Mountaineering Man, I took a job at a digital creative agency in town. As with most agencies, the hours were long which meant that I spent more time with my 50-odd colleagues than I did with MM or anyone else in my personal life.


The people who really became my family there was my workgroup – the Social Media team. There were four of us for most of my time there and I was the only female in the bunch. We were a scrappy lot, and I mean that in the best way. Philip – a long-haired thrash metal rocker with a sharp wit and a thick Northern accent – welcomed me into the fold with a typed-up list of recommendations and advice. “Don’t ever, EVER eat at the Bridge Café,” he wrote, referring to the greasy spoon deli and one of the only choices for food near the office.

To this day, I’ve never eaten there – despite the fact that Philip has gone against his own advice and eats there almost DAILY now (“I was wrong about it!” he claims, though I attribute his change of heart to sheer desperation thanks to a lack of decent eateries in the Ringsend area). Philip is the master of the hilarious yet thought-provoking quip (“Some day soon, somebody is going to print a 3D printer on a 3D printer and the universe is going to implode”) – and so-bad-they’re-good jokes.


Honeymoon 20

Even on the sunniest of days, when the sky and the ocean simultaneously reflect the most radiant shades of blue and the birds chirp away in the full, lush trees and everyone’s showing off their stems in rarely-worn shorts and exposing their bashful big toes in sandals; even on those rare, beautiful Spring days in Dublin, there’s something missing.

It was one of those days yesterday, and while Mountaineering Man toiled away at the office I decided to head out into town and get some much-needed Vitamin D, plus a few other things I’ve been meaning to purchase. My first stop was Fallon & Byrne, a place that has become almost a sacred place for me. Some people have churches; I have gourmet food shops and farmers’ markets. Even if I only need one item, I amble down every aisle and rest my eyes for at least a few seconds on every single item on every single shelf. From smoked salted almonds and squid ink lasagna sheets to sweet-smelling star fruit and whole wild rabbits, the selection is comprised of the most wonderful, mysterious things that never fail to inspire.



For the first year after I moved to Ireland, I lived alone in a lovely upper-floor apartment in Drogheda. And for several years prior to my move to Ireland, I lived alone without any live-in beaus or roommates to speak of.

I don’t look back on this with any sadness or regret; in fact, when I finally decided to ditch the roommate situation and branch out on my own, I was beyond ready to go solo. My last roommate (in Los Angeles, where I lived at the time) was an actress who didn’t have a day-job, which meant she was in our apartment all the time. It got to the point where I’d pull into our driveway after a long day at work and groan when I saw her car there – just once I wanted it and her NOT to be there, laying about on the couch and nagging me about everything from whether I’d read her magazines without asking to when I’d planned to move the unwashed fork from the sink into the dishwasher.

Though for the first few weeks I was a bit chicken (one unfamiliar noise in the dark would almost make pine for the company of that lay-about actress) I settled into bachelorette living and embraced having my own space. It was nice to come home from work, fix myself dinner and not have to worry about whether someone else had already tuned the television to some stupid show I had no desire to watch. I could literally kick off my shoes, flip on the telly and eat cereal out of the box if I so pleased.



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.



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


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.


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.



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.


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.



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.


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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