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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Chapter OneClare, if you would like to talk to me about your recent visit my number is xxxxxxxxxx. Regards, Ross.

Gulp. It was a direct message to my Twitter account from Ross Lewis, exec chef and co-owner of Chapter One. I’d tweeted a few very positive messages about my recent (and first ever) dining experience at his renowned restaurant, plus one tweet expressing [slight] disappointment with my steak. Could he really be upset about an honest tweet regarding sinew?

Far from it. Ross was upset about my disappointment, not that I tweeted about it. He told me the particular cut of steak on the menu that night is a “heartbreak” for him because while it’s the most flavourful cut it has potential to have sinew hidden deep inside the meat. Upon delivery he can cut the meat to check for sinew and see nothing; but later a steak sliced from that bigger cut could have a bit of the stringy white tissue that’s not visible on the surface but reveals itself only when the diner cuts into it. So the majority of people who order it will get the most savoury, beautiful steak they’ve ever had but a few might get a bit of tough sinew in their meat.

I could hear his genuine frustration that I ended up being one of those few; for the next 20 minutes we talked candidly about food and cooking like two people who spend breakfast talking about lunch and who eat lunch whilst talking about what to cook for dinner (read: obsessed!). It was a proper chat between two food enthusiasts and for that 20 minutes I forgot I was talking to a Michelin-starred chef. He was down-to-earth and sincere, and his passion and dedication to his craft was obvious. This is one chef who doesn’t rest on his laurels.

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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.

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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.

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When I first moved to Ireland just over three years ago, I was a wide-eyed American girl with sense of adventure and an open mind…or so I thought. After the initial excitement of living in a new country wore off, I started to realise that living in Ireland meant I would be getting a lot of practice working on something I wasn’t so good at: Patience.

I recall the first time I strolled down to the post office during lunch, just to find out many post offices are closed during the 1-2 PM lunch break. Seriously? How does this make any sense? Most people use their weekday lunch time to run errands, like go to the bank, drop off the dry cleaning and GO TO THE POST OFFICE. GROAN!

Particularly when I lived in Drogheda, a trip to the grocery store could take twice as long as planned thanks to the chatterboxes that work the cash registers. Oh Mary, you’re looking well! What are ye up to? Aw that’s a lovely restaurant, we love it. Make sure to get the steak and….oh sure treat yourself, you deserve it! This could go on for minutes…tens of minutes. Never mind there’s a half-dozen of us in line behind Mary, waiting to get back to work or back to the car that’s sitting in the pay-by-the-hour car park.

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Irish Curried Potatoes

As I sit here typing this blog post, I’m looking outside at the wind and rain and bracing myself for the sleet that is forecasted for this evening. If Irish people are buying that this is Spring, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you. The only thing that’s Spring-y about this weather is, well, nothing.

Still, it could be worse. And despite Mountaineering Man’s grumblings about the cruel and unrelenting Irish weather (and financial crisis and corrupt politicians), I still love it here. It’s funny how many times a day I get the OMG WHY DID YOU MOVE HERE FROM LOS ANGELES double-take from stunned Irish people. It’s typically followed by a statement about how bad things are here and how they can’t imagine why anyone would actually want to move to Ireland.

The sentiment I get from blog readers abroad is the complete opposite. I get a dozen emails every week from people all over the world who are dying to live here. They dream of the rolling green hills, the cosy pubs and great Irish craic and they ask me a lot of questions about how they can make that dream a reality. Their love and admiration for the country is palpable; they speak of Ireland with the kind of dreamy enthusiasm that many express about places like Paris, Tuscany and Manhattan.

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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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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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