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Irish food


Like Mam Used To Bake - Google Chrome_2013-09-25_20-04-54

When I first moved to Ireland in March 2010, I only knew a handful of people. Because I was working from home and living in the (new-to-me) town of Drogheda, I turned to food blogging as a way to pass my free time and to make new friends.

Roseanne was one of my very first food blogging friends, and since she lived not too far from me I invited her to my house for dinner one night along with a few other bloggers I’d met online. Since then we’ve become good friends, going on double dates with our respective hubbies (usually at L Mulligans or Eastern Seaboard – two of our faves), meeting up at blog events or just chilling out and having a good gossip session over tea and cakes.

The last time I was at Roseanne’s place, she showed me the print-outs of her book pages and we reviewed them together whilst stuffing our gobs with her famous pavlova. If you read her blog, you know Roseanne’s obsession with pavlova; she makes one nearly every week for her [very lucky or long-suffering, depending on which one of them you ask!] husband, J.

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You can find the recipe for this incredible dessert – the perfect combination of crunchy/chewy meringue topped with beautiful heavy cream and a truckload of fresh fruit – in her newly released book Like Mam Used to Bake. The book is full of mouthwatering treats like Caramel Macaroons, Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie, Coconut Cake and so much more (there are even some bread recipes in there like Farmhouse Rolls and Wholemeal Soda Bread).

To celebrate the launch of the book, I have one signed copy to give away. Just name your favourite dessert and why you love it so much in the comments section below, and on Friday morning I’ll do a random draw for the winner. Best of luck to everyone – and congratulations to Roseanne on this incredibly impressive accomplishment!

Competition open to anyone in the island of Ireland!

*Photo of pavlova from LikeMamUsedToBake.com

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Every once in a while I like to write a short post on what we’ve been eating lately. We’re always keen to cook our own food versus buying ready-made lunches and we reserve restaurant outings for the weekends, so our kitchen is always bustling with activity.

Though it’s not always easy, it’s worth the effort. We buy 90% of our weekly groceries at the farmers’ market and get staples like ketchup, mayo, etc. at Lidl or SuperValu. This means there’s a whole routine of packaging up our vegetables and bread and fish/chicken/meat when we get home from the farmers’ market, as most of it isn’t in any kind of container or wrapping.

Still, we wouldn’t have it any other way. We eat incredibly well and Sunday through Friday we eat three meals a day that we’ve made ourselves. Our average cost? About €3.80 per person, per meal. Of course we’re not factoring in the effort it takes, but as I love to cook (and as Mountaineering Man is starting to get into cooking himself), we don’t mind it at all.

So here’s a look into an average week for us, many of these dishes don’t have recipes as we kind of throw them together. We focus on using everything we have for the week (I even write a list of what we have in the fridge every Sunday so I can better plan our meals and curb any waste) and with the exception of the weekends cook relatively simple food.

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Brown Bag Lunches

MM takes a couple of sandwiches, plus oatmeal with fruit plus an apple every day for his breakfasts and lunches at work. I try to make his sambos interesting, and always use meat from the butcher and fresh bread from either il Valentino or Arun Bakery plus a variety of condiments. Last week he took corned beef with pickles, Edam cheese and a homemade Thousand Island sauce. My breakfast usually consist of a huge Glowing Green Smoothie, which I make at home and bring to work, and lunches are usually vegan or vegetarian. Yesterday I brought some roasted cauliflower and sweet potato topped with baked beans. A bit odd, I know, but filling, easy and tasty.

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Resolutions – everyone has an opinion about them. Some friends of mine refuse to partake in this annual New Year tradition while others write entire lists of what they’d like to accomplish over the next year.

Me? Well I personally like to take advantage of that bright-eyed, optimistic feeling that comes with every new year. And I like to go big – I mean, why not? I think the last few years have taught me more than anything that aiming high and dreaming big can only lead to great things; less than three years ago I was a single gal living in LA, frustrated with dating and wondering where my life was going. Today I live in Dublin, an married to an amazing man and work in the digital creative agency business. I find myself smiling sometimes when I’m walking down the coast road, looking out at Howth from Bull Island and buttoning up my coat thinking, “Wow…this is my life.”

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I guess my point is that if you aim for the stars, you might just reach them – and even if you don’t, you may reach the treetops, a mountaintop and maybe some low-level clouds, and that’s higher than you were before.

With that in mind, I’m starting the new year off by aiming to shed the extra weight I’ve been carrying for a number of years. I’m not seriously overweight or have any weight-related health issues, but if I’m being honest I’d say I could stand to lose 20 lbs. (about 9 kilograms) and moreover could do with some toning and strength training. I have some back issues and tennis elbow problems (not from playing tennis but from repetitive typing) and getting into better shape will help alleviate those issues. I also desperately need to finish a book proposal I’ve been working on for far too long and get back to blogging on a regular basis.

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I’m guessing there’s quite a few of you who haven’t yet finished your Christmas shopping, so I’m offering the gift of recommendations – none of which requires you to go to a busy shopping centre (that’s a gift in and of itself, no?). It’s also a round-up of some of my favourite places and things of 2012, so here’s hoping this will inspire some of you and also help out with your last-minute gift search!

The Gift of Eating Out: Asador Restaurant Voucher

This new Southside restaurant has everything: A beautiful, elegant but not-too-formal atmosphere, a stunning bar with fantastic cocktails and a great wine & beer selection, incredible food and hard-to-beat service. I recently had the opportunity do have a nice, long dinner there with a friend and I have to say it was one of the most enjoyable meals I’ve had in Dublin all year.

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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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When I was a kid, I loved to fish. For a short time we lived in rural Arkansas and like most kids in the area we’d go fishing in the lake or in the creek (or “crick” if you’re saying it like a true Arkansan). At first my dad got my sister and me plain bamboo poles with a string and a hook tied to the end, but eventually we graduated onto real fishing poles complete with a reel (for real!).

He taught us how to scale and even gut the fish we caught, and sometimes we’d wrap them in foil with some lemon slices and a squeeze of mayonnaise (weird I know, but so good) and throw them over a campfire to cook. Other times we’d cook them up at home on the stovetop – but either way, the fact that we’d caught it ourselves made the fish that much more delicious.

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It seems appropriate on this St. Patrick’s Day weekend to pay homage to Ireland, my current home and land of rolling green hills, shepherd’s pie and Guinness. Aren’t these the things that come to mind when most foreigners think of the Emerald Isle?

Thing is, Ireland is so much more. And the longer I live here, the more I realize just how much this country has to offer – especially when it comes to breathtaking views and FOOD. I’ll admit that when I first moved here I thought Irish food was terrible: overcooked meat, over-boiled veg and breaded & fried everything. I was wrong.

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Last weekend, I sampled the best of Irish food in a place that is quite possibly one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. Along with a few other food bloggers, I was invited to spend a weekend at Inchydoney Island Lodge & Spa in West Cork. Though I’d been to Cork, I’d never visited this picturesque coastal area before. With its pristine beaches and lush green pastures, West Cork is an absolute stunner of a place.

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Panetoni French Toast Irish Food

There is a certain quiet that blankets Dublin in the wintertime. People seem friendlier and less argumentative. Maybe everyone is too busy rubbing their cold hands together for warmth or walking a bit faster to get out of the chill as quickly as possible – no time for quarrelling, just a swift “hiya” and a gracious wave.

The streets are hushed as well. Icy roads warrant a slower, perhaps more gentler slog to school and work. Drivers wave two, maybe even three cars to go ahead in the queue down the one-lane streets and appreciation is shown with a little flash of emergency lights – a sort of lit-up wink for their kindness.

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It could be that people want to slow down so they can take a look at the Christmas decorations in the villages around Dublin. Each seems to have its own big pine tree, decorated with long strands of golden lights and a few rustic ornaments. Some have a nativity set or a Santa Claus while others roll out the enormous candy canes and sleighs packed with gift boxes. The morning frost makes everything glisten as if it had been designed that way. And in the evenings the twinkling lights emit a soft glow, giving the impression of warmth on a cold, dark night.

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Moving to Ireland Raheny 3 Moving to Ireland Raheny 4

Back in May I left my humble little apartment in Drogheda and moved into Mountaineering Man’s humble little apartment in The Coombe. And then a couple of months ago we moved into a bigger apartment, a place that we can truly call our own.

We spent several weeks looking around at various Dublin neighborhoods, which I will admit was quite frustrating for me as I was still unfamiliar with many areas of the city. MM patiently drove me around Blackrock, Sandymount, Ballsbridge – all desirable areas on the south side – and then to a few of his favourite north side areas including Clontarf, where he once lived while still in college.

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And then one day MM slipped in another neighborhood on our Daft.ie search list: Raheny. “Where is that??” I inquired, admittedly a bit annoyed. He explained that it was just north of Clontarf, on the DART line and close to the sea. Sounded nice enough, but I was exhausted from trying to educate myself on the 6-8 areas we’d already chosen and wasn’t keen to add another to my to-do list.

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What does Irish food look like?

That was the question on everyone’s mind at the 2nd annual (hopefully!) foodie photo workshop hosted by Bord Bia last week in Dublin. After viewing the Google images results from an “Irish food” search, we were appalled at what the rest of the world is seeing of our beloved fare.

Unfortunately the websites coming up tops on the image searches are old and therefore enjoy a high ranking; photos of gray, unappetizing Irish stews and painfully plain-looking roasts take up the first page. But the food bloggers in Ireland know better: Irish food is now about artisan producers and organic meats and beautiful fruit and vegetables. It’s about handcrafted cheeses and luscious cakes and biscuits. This is what the world needs exposure to when it comes to Irish food.

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We gathered to get some pointers on how we can make our food photos look even better so that we – as the food bloggers of Ireland – can pull together and get the word out. The always enthusiastic and tireless Donal Skehan went over how to use props, interesting backgrounds and perfect lighting to make our food look as appealing as possible; the wonderfully talented food stylist Sharon Hearne Smith (who worked on one of my favourite cookery shows, Barefoot Contessa) showed us how to position and work with our dishes to bring out the best colours and angles. Food photographer extraordinaire Jocosta Clarke reviewed camera settings and photo setups that will guarantee a professional-looking result.

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