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I imagine like many people in this world, I have always dreamed of going to Paris. The outdoor cafes, the croissants, the well-dressed Parisians – as an American who grew up Los Angeles, my notions of Paris were firmly rooted in Hollywood storylines and picture postcards of the French capital.

Last weekend I finally made it there, and it was everything I dreamt of and more. It was also the first visit for Mountaineering Man so rather than try to cover the list of popular attractions we opted for a real local’s experience by renting an apartment in Montmartre (via Airbnb) and keeping the tourist traps to a minimum. The apartment was perfect: on the 6th floor with a huge deck and the most inspiring view of the Sacre Coeur, a large sitting room, well-appointed kitchen and comfortable bedroom. The place was decorated with a variety of eclectic artworks and Jean, the guy who owns the apartment, left us with a list of restaurant recommendations and local hot spots.

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For four days we lived like Parisians. In the mornings we’d walk up the stairs of Montmartre and get a café crème, orange juice and croissant or perhaps some yogurt and granola for breakfast – always al fresco so we could watch all the people go by. We’d then explore on foot and Metro trains, choosing one or two spots we wanted to visit. For me it was E Dehillerin, the now-famous shop were Julia Child frequented for her kitchen supplies. The place was buzzing with locals and tourists in search of the perfect cast iron skillet, boning knife or copper soufflé tin. The store has everything a cook could ask for but due to limited suitcase space I opted for one item: a non-stick Madeleine pan for making the popular French mini-cakes.

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Sky cinnamon rolls

It’s been a while since I’ve done a round-up of things I find funny and/or odd in Ireland, and believe me the list expands on an almost-daily basis. Just because I’ve been here for a while now doesn’t mean I understand the bizarrities (<– my own creation) of the Emerald Isle any better than I did when I was fresh off the plane back in March 2010. Here are a few recent discoveries:

Confusing names: I remember the first time someone offered me a flapjack here in Ireland; what I got was not what I would call a flapjack. What we Americans call a flapjack is basically a pancake – an American pancake, mind you, not the thin, crepe-like “pancakes” of Ireland. What people here call a flapjack is basically a soft granola bar to me – a bar made up of oats, with maybe some nuts and/or dried fruit. On a similar note, I recently made some cinnamon rolls for a bake-off, and no one seemed to know what they were. People were calling them everything from morning buns to cakey thing, which is no surprise considering I’ve never seen a cinnamon roll at a bakery in Ireland.

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Speaking of pancakes: I think I’ve written here before about how most of my friends – church-going or not – give up something for Lent. Whether it’s chocolate (a hugely popular sacrifice), bread or alcohol, it seems like everyone is giving up something for these 40 days. So the day before everyone gives up their [fill in the blank], they have what people here call “Pancake Tuesday.” On the evening before Lent begins, people whip up pancakes loaded with all kinds of toppings: chocolate drops, whipped cream, Golden Syrup, marshmallows – you name it, it’s on there. The tradition stems from Shrove Tuesday, which dates back to the early Middle Ages. Back then the church forbade its members from eating meat, eggs and dairy products during Lent, so mammies used up whatever eggs, milk and butter they had left to make pancakes. I doubt they were topped with M&Ms, but as they say you can’t stop progress!

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Sometimes I feel like I just can’t get a handle on my professional stuff – for lack of a better word. As a freelance writer working from home, there seems to be two kinds of weeks: One where I’m super motivated and I’m pitching numerous publications while working on big copywriting projects for US-based clients and others when I feel absolutely wracked with failure from not having enough or worse, any work. 

Keeping myself motivated, especially during those weeks when I don’t get a single response from the half-dozen pitches I’ve sent, can be entirely overwhelming some days. It’s a real rollercoaster ride, the freelance lifestyle. When you sell a story and get a few bits of copywriting work, you feel productive and successful. The rest of the time you feel like you’re not doing enough and wonder if you’ll ever get consistent work. On those real dark days you think of things like retirement funds, health insurance and financial security – or the lack thereof!

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There’s been a lot of Los Angeles talk lately, mainly between myself and Mountaineering Man. We’re planning a trip for the autumn to visit my family and friends (for him it’ll be the big introduction!) and though it’s only mid-summer I’m guessing October will be here before we know it. Needless to say, the excitement is building.

Last week we had a little taste of LA here in Ireland, thanks to one of Southern California’s most revered bands: Weezer. Back in the ‘90s when I was a music journalist, I was lucky enough to interview the band a few times for various publications. And by sheer coincidence, my brother-in-law (a musician himself) is good friends with Weezer’s bassist, Scott Shriner and I know his wife (writer/author Jillian Lauren). Between all the connections, I’ve gotten to know the guys a little bit over the years.

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The band arrived in town the night before their Friday Oxegen set, and Scott had one request: really good fish ‘n chips. He mentioned that on a prior trip to Dublin he’d had a big, greasy version at a takeaway, but that it left him with lasting stomach pains (oh the day-after regret – we’ve all been there!). So we took Scott and guitarist Brian Bell to our favorite place for great, locally-sourced gastro pub eats – L Mulligan Grocer. The guys all ordered the same thing: a starter of L Mulligan’s famous Scotch egg, plus the fish ‘n chips (which is MM’s standard order every time we go there!). I went with their vegetarian Scotch egg and the moules frites, both excellent. They absolutely loved it, declaring it the best meal they’d had in the UK/Ireland in years. It really warmed my heart that they loved L Mulligans – one of our frequent haunts – as much as we do. Scott even Tweeted a picture of his meal, perhaps he’s a food blogger in the making?? :)

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Med street

When I first moved into Mountaineering Man’s apartment, he was very forthcoming about the unfortunate realities of his neighborhood. He insisted I never go out on my own after dark – even to the corner shop – and be very aware of my surroundings when walking around during the day.

The area, known as The Coombe, does have its dodgy aspects. But lately I’ve really warmed to the neighborhood and its surrounding districts and have even discovered a few gems. About a month ago I started walking to my gym, which exposed me to a little nook in the area full of bustling shops and street vendors I’d never seen up close before. Now, instead of noticing the abandoned buildings and strung-out junkies I see the beautiful cakes in bakery windows and the sweet old Polish ladies who warm the shop stoops sharing gossip over tea.

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Walking down Meath Street is always a sensory delight; there are aproned butchers hauling whole carcasses on their shoulders, smells of fresh-baked bread wafting down the street and the sing-song sales calls of the ladies hawking a variety of cheap accessories at tables along the footpaths. Get your Flossies here, now half-price! they call out, referencing the colorful cotton shoes that are a hot item among the local street vendors right now. On the same table there is an odd variety of items including chocolates, candles, toothpaste and greeting cards – all at bargain prices.

The businesses here are all small mom-and-pop type places. There’s the Chinese hair salon, which is always packed with petite, lavender-haired grannies. There’s a Polish food shop that has a million types of pickled cucumbers and dry-cured sausages, and there are a few quirky clothing stores that specialise in cheap, frilly frocks – especially over-the-top sequined numbers. It’s fun to window shop and there’s always lots to see.

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My friends Janet, Veronica and Giselle at Bottega Louie – one of our favorite restaurants in LA – sharing a pizza and some starters for dinner.

I’ll always remember the first time I went to a tapas restaurant in Ireland with my new-found Irish friends. It was a little place in Drogheda (which is sadly now out of business) and as soon as I opened the menu and saw favorites like garlic mushrooms, chili prawns and spicy potatoes I knew I was in for a treat.

Or so I thought.

“I’m getting the prawns and the salad,” said one friend. “What are you going to get?”

What do you mean what am I going to get? Tapas is all about sharing, I told her. It’s the Spanish culinary tradition of snacks or little bites served on small plates, and the idea is to get a bunch of dishes to share with friends.

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“OK, well you can have a bite of my prawns. So what are you going to order?” she deadpanned.

Through further explanation of the beauty of tapas (That way we can all try a lot of dishes on the menu, I reasoned), my friends seemed to grasp the concept and we each chose two dishes on the menu to order. But when the plates were set on the table, each friend quickly grabbed her two orders and tucked right in and offered me a bite of her food before promptly finishing off the rest.

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clare birthday I recently celebrated my [age not important] birthday here. I spent the first five years of life in Japan, a few in Arkansas and several birthdays in both Los Angeles and San Francisco. This was the first in Ireland, a landmark occasion of sorts. There are days when I still pinch myself…and a few days where I want to punch myself.

I kid, I kid! Even with all the political turmoil and recession depression, I love it here. But I still find myself mired in figuring out the little things. While in some ways I’m quite settled, there are new discoveries almost every day. I’m still trying to distinguish between regional accents that everyone else seems to recognize and I’m struggling to wrap my brain around the culture of Irish Travellers. Whether it’s a type of bread I’ve never heard of (Mountaineering Man recently introduced me to barmbrack – yum!) or political parties (it’s Gaelic but I find it amusing that the main party has the word fail (Fáil) in its name, so appropriate!) it’s trying to understand all the details of daily Irish life that consumes my time.

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Though the Irish tend to wax ad nauseum about the weather, they don’t let it get them down. They don’t avoid going outside when it’s freezing cold or when it’s raining because if they did, they’d never leave the house. Irish people just put on a bigger coat, whip out the umbrella and get on with their lives.

Strangely enough, I’ve noticed as the temperature goes down people seem to get more chipper around here. In Dublin last weekend it was probably about 4 degrees Celsius (that’s 39 degrees Fahrenheit for all my American friends) and I witnessed the most cheerful exchange between a visibly shivering elderly man and a store clerk. The clerk asked, “How’s it going?” and while the old man could’ve gotten away with a smarmy remark he answered, “Ah, not a bother at all! Not a bother!” complete with a huge grin and a boisterous cackle. I think I was in the middle of whining about how cold I was when I caught that little burst of positivity. Then I passed the guy whose sole job is to stand in the driveway of the car park and wave cars in and out. For hours, he stands out there in the freezing cold, sporting his high-vis jacket and a genuine smile.

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Anne Clare Child

Me (left) and my sister in Kamakura, Japan

Walking along the beach here a few months back, I spied hundreds of washed-up jellyfish on the shore and was immediately reminded of my childhood home of Japan. My sister and I spent the first five years of our lives in a beach town called Kamakura, and we used to spend hours scooping up jellyfish with our little plastic buckets. God knows why but we would cut them up with scissors (I know, horrible!) because we were fascinated by their soft texture. I think we just saw them as jelly, not live creatures of the sea. It was innocent, really, just like our life there.

Much like small-town Ireland, Kamakura was a place where you knew your neighbors and where it was perfectly safe to let your kids run around outside without having to check on them every two seconds. So safe was it that my sister and I used to take the train to preschool every day. Though we were all of four years old, we along with a couple of neighborhood school mates would walk down a little stone pathway to the train station. We wore school uniforms, including a hat that bore a colored button indicating which train we were to take. I remember our button was yellow. The station agent would look at the top of our hats, see the button color and put us on the corresponding train. Our teachers awaited us at the other end, and then walked us to our school. If we got lost on the way, various neighbors would put us back on the right path. They all knew our school, they all knew us and we could count on them to help us find our way.

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gyoza kid The other day while out to eat with my friends we got into a discussion about colcannon, the much-beloved traditional Irish dish of mashed potatoes and cabbage, spring onions or kale, depending on how your mam prefers to make it. Sinead and Earnan recalled how as kids, they always had a very specific way of eating their colcannon. They and their siblings would create a little volcano with the potato mixture and then put a lump of butter in the middle, resulting in a butterlicious lava flow that churned out from the center of the mash mountain. No one remembers who started the trend but they both recalled with great affection this small but crucial colcannon custom.

I am always impressed at how close my Irish friends keep their childhood memories; whether we’re drinking at the pub or taking a spin around town, the entertainment is often tales from their childhood, always told with smiling eyes and a kind of pure giddiness that’s usually limited to children themselves.

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