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Marrying an Irishman


RUNNING 2

Mountaineering Man is a bona fide runner. He started about 5 years ago and, countless 10 k’s later, has never looked back. Rain, sleet, snow or shine he’s out there, pounding the pavement 4-5 days a week.

Me? I’ve always been one of these sporadic worker-outers. I’ll  join a gym, religiously hit the cross trainer for several weeks before burning out and quitting. I’ll take a few months to decide what to do next, and then do that for a few weeks before taking another extended break.

It was during the last one of these hiatuses that I decided something had to change. I was tired of gyms, particularly as they are SO overpriced here in Ireland (I used to go to one of LA’s best gyms for 75% of the price of what I was paying at the mediocre gym in Clontarf I just left). And as I prefer morning workouts, I was also getting tired of the whole gym rigmarole – you know the one that involves packing all your work clothes, makeup, hairbrushes and other girly bits just to realise once you’re at the gym that you’ve forgotten something essential, like your underwear.

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Someone recently asked me how I have found the first year of marriage. When this question is posed to newlyweds, I think the answer varies wildly depending on who you ask; some will speak of an extended honeymoon that just seems to keep on going while others will express surprise at how it wasn’t what he/she expected it to be (this could be good or bad, depending on the cause(s) of the surprise. Of course there are a million other answers in between.

For me, the first year of marriage to Mountaineering Man has continued to solidify the bond that was initiated on our first date just over three years ago. I’ve always wanted a partner in life, someone who truly accepts me – wobbly bits and all – and who shares similar values but also inspires new perspective and change. Someone I feel secure with; a person who can stand his ground but also considers there’s a different way to look at something.

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Our first year hasn’t been easy; as you read in my previous post, his mother is unwell and we’ve spent a number of weekends staying with his family who live two hours away. We’re always rushing to get basic chores done like cleaning the house (which we get to every few weeks these days!) and the worry of the situation has led to many sleepless nights – insomnia is rampant in our house lately! Some days we’re like two grumpy toddlers who desperately need a nap, but instead of throwing ourselves on the ground in a heap of tears we’ll snap at each other and slam a few doors to make a point (ahem, that would be more me than MM, I must admit).

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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!).

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Exactly three years ago today, I landed in Ireland as a wide-eyed and optimistic American in search of a new adventure. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I’ve found far more than adventure; in Ireland, I’ve found a new life.

It’s fun to look back on old blog posts to see what I went through in the early days. I can recall my surprise when I saw how dressy girls would get for a night out. I was from Los Angeles, where a typical Saturday night out meant a nice pair of jeans and a dressy top, and here girls were putting in hair extensions, spraying on the fake tan and slipping into their best dress for a night out. There were many lessons to be learned in those days…remember how I struggled with understanding the accent (in my case, the not-so-listener-friendly dialect of Drogheda, where I first settled) and how much fun I had upon discovering the charm of the good, old-fashioned country pub?

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Like anyone adjusting to living in a new country, I had major moments of frustration; what with the weather, the summer greenfly infestations and major lack of good customer service some days were trying to say the least. And I had some really low points too. I missed my family and friends, felt hopeless about dating here and at times wondered if moving to Ireland was the right decision.

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But the good outweighed the bad by overwhelming numbers and that’s what kept me going. Ireland, with all of its quirks and oddities, is an enAnne 2dless source of inspiration and I am always discovering something new and unique. I even learned to cope with the weather, though I will admit I still struggle with it at times. And while many Irish questioned why on earth anyone would want to move to their crippled country, I found many reasons why I wanted to stay and met many locals who felt the same.

In the last 36 months I’ve met so many incredible people, developed some amazing friendships and met & married the love of my life, Mountaineering Man. It’s wild to think that so much can happen in such a short time, but I suppose that’s the magic of Ireland.

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Smoked Mackerel Pizza

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This dish is a little Los Angeles and a little Ireland all in one. I discovered it when my sister made it for me on our recent trip to LA, but found it works great with the local smoked mackerel (she used trout in hers). It’s super easy and quick to throw together for a dinner party appetizer and you can find all the ingredients at your local market.

1 large pizza crust, baked & cooled. I found mine at Fresh market in the deli section; there is two per pack and bakes up in about 8 minutes.

5 tablespoons crème fraiche or plain yogurt

3 tablespoons horseradish cream

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Pinch of salt

1 fillet smoked mackerel

3 tablespoons chopped chives

In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the crème fraiche (or yogurt), horseradish cream, lemon juice and salt. Using a spoon or spatula, spread evenly over the baked and cooled pizza crust. Using your fingers, take small pieces of mackerel fillet and place the pieces evenly over the crème fraiche on the pizza. Sprinkle on the chives, slice and serve. Goes great with champagne!

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It’s been just over 7 weeks since my wedding day, and I’m finally ready to talk about it.

By it, I mean the dress.

Though everything worked out in the end – thanks to an insanely talented, Dublin-based dress designer named Sarah Foy – it almost didn’t. In fact, the story of the dress is one that almost ended very badly, with me frantically searching the wedding sales racks at Monsoon (which I did) and had my best friend from America sending me her own dress (which she did) in a last-ditch effort to find me something to wear on the big day.

It started out innocently enough. Back in late March, I started the search for my wedding dress and found what I thought was the perfect dress within 40 minutes of walking into the first shop – Berketex Bride in the Jervis Centre. I went with my friend Sinead, and a very helpful saleswoman named Claire chose a few dresses based on what I said I wanted and my body shape. I fell in love with the third one I tried on and decided to buy it straight away. I paid for it in full (big mistake), and Claire advised that I write down my wedding date as August 3rd, well over a month before my actual wedding date, just so I could be sure to have plenty of time to get alterations if I needed it. “It’ll be our little secret,” she said.

She also stated that the dress would be ready “around July 20th” and that someone from the shop would ring when it was in the shop. Done and dusted!

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Someone asked me the other day if I’m settling back into reality after the wedding and honeymoon. Though we’ve only been back to work for about a month, things have been so mad busy it feels like we’ve been back forever. The events of last month almost seem like a faint memory, like they happened a long, long time ago.

As we married in Tuscany, we decided to stay in Italy for our honeymoon. My sister and her husband joined us for the first part of it, and the four of us rented a house in Praiano, a small town which sits on the famed Amalfi Coast. And for the second half Mountaineering Man and I stayed at a hotel in Positano.

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Besides the incredible ocean views from our cliff side residences, the most memorable part of our honeymoon was the food. Italians have such a gift for creating the most flavourful, beautiful dishes out of very simple ingredients. One of our favourite meals was at a small family-run restaurant right by the sea in Praiano called Trattoria da Armandino; we loved it so much we ate there three times. I had a lovely handmade pasta dish made with beautiful, fresh-caught clams and it was one of the best meals I’ve ever had. Though there’s no visible sauce, the pasta tasted of the sea – salty, briny and savoury. Everything was cooked perfectly; the pasta al dente, the clams juicy and bursting with flavour. MM devoured his simple fresh anchovies, which he deemed the best meal of the honeymoon.

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Despite a forecast of thundershowers and a few looming clouds the night before, we awoke to blue skies and sunshine on our wedding day. I walked up (and up and up – it was long hike!) the grassy aisle with my father and married Mountaineering Man in front of a small group of family and friends in Tuscany.

The predicted rain and the long walk are good metaphors for my journey here; when I moved to Ireland two-and-a-half years ago, I did so out of a desperate need for change. Though on the surface my life in Los Angeles seemed great, inside I was unhappy and my future seemed clouded and uncertain; I felt if I didn’t make a big change, there’d be little hope for sunny skies in my future. It wasn’t just about meeting someone, it was about feeling fulfilled and challenging myself to try something new, something different.

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It wasn’t easy, but I took a leap of faith arrived in Drogheda in March 2010. In September of the same year, I met MM. After a few dates, I think we both knew this was something significant, and a few months later we realised that this was it – for both of us. We got engaged in February of this year and we started planning almost immediately.

We knew we wanted something small and in Italy; I’ve always loved the country and MM has always wanted to visit, plus it was close enough for our Irish guests and appealing to our American guests, all of whom decided to make a proper holiday out of the trip. What better place to holiday than Tuscany, the region of wine and food and beautiful, rolling green hills?

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Night 1

It’s been a little over a week-and-a-half since our wedding, but the planning for the big day and surrounding events have been in the works since our engagement in February. Looking back, 7 months isn’t really that long to plan a wedding in Italy. But when it comes to organising, Mountaineering Man and I are both total planning nerds!

We also chose to have a much smaller wedding than the norm, with only 28 guests, which helped. And on Thursday, the 27th of September, we all arrived to the Villa Vistarenni in Tuscany (via a private coach from Bologna airport; we didn’t realise under after booking our venue that there are no direct flights from Dublin to Florence, the closest airport to Tuscany!). The villa has enough rooms to accommodate all our guests, and so we booked it for four days for a nice, long weekend. Considering some were travelling from the United States, we wanted to give people a real holiday – not just a wedding vacation!

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Villa Vistarenni is a truly magical place with a rich history and beautifully preserved features. Built in the 17th century, it was owned by the family of Prince Feridnando Strozzi originally, and then by the family of Baron Giorgio Sonnino. It is now owned by a woman named Elisabetta, who rents it out for weddings and other events, and runs it as a B&B when the Villa is not being rented out by one party. The Villa sits atop a hill, from which you can see the tiny village of Radda. Villa Vistarenni produces its own wine, a beautiful and very drinkable Chianti – appropriate, considering it sits in the middle of the Chianti region.

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Clare and Cormac Wedding

It’s hard to believe, but just two-and-a-half years after moving to Ireland as a single girl, I got married in a dream wedding in Tuscany to my Mountaineering Man. For those of you who started reading this blog from the early days, you’ve shared the journey with me and for that I am very grateful. It’s been such a fun, crazy, sometimes scary trip and having you along for the ride has been a wonderful source of support.

And because this is a blog about my transition to life in Ireland, I promise to post more details and photos on all our wedding festivities, which started with a welcome dinner at our rented Tuscan villa and finished with a fantastic honeymoon on the Amalfi coast.

But for now I will leave you with a photo from our special day and a reading that was chosen by MM himself and read at our ceremony by one of his best mates, Kieran. It is part of a longer reading written by the late great David Foster Wallace, and for us sums up the true meaning of marriage and partnership.

This is Water

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, "Morning, boys, how’s the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, "What the hell is water?"

If you’re worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise old fish explaining what water is, please don’t be. I am not the wise old fish. The immediate point of the fish story is that the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about [...]

Our own present culture has [...] yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom to be lords of our own tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying.

The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom.

The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the "rat race" – the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.

None of this is about morality, or religion, or dogma, or big fancy questions of life after death. The capital-T Truth is about life before death [...] It is about simple awareness – awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, that we have to keep reminding ourselves, over and over: "This is water, this is water."

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In a few hours, we’ll head off to Italy. And tomorrow afternoon, under the Tuscan sun, Mountaineering Man and I will be married.

Thanks for all the kind messages you’ve left here and emailed and Tweeted and Facebooked to us over the last few weeks, they’ve really added to our excitement over the big day. Cheers for the bottles of champagne and wine, the beautiful cards and the hugs.

I promise to post a few pics as soon as we return from our honeymoon. Until then!

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