Entries tagged with “expats in Ireland”.


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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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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.

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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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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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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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So far all the things a would-be bride would do with her girlfriends, I’ve pretty much done by myself. Though my good friend Sinead accompanied me to buy my wedding dress (which, incidentally, has turned into a complete disaster – more on this in my next blog post), everything else bridal-related has been a solo expedition.

The thing is my sister and maid of honour Anne lives in Los Angeles, along with most of my girlfriends, and my best friend and bridesmaid Stacy lives in San Francisco. So the shopping trips for shoes, earrings, wedding underwear (I swear then 4here is such a thing!), courthouse wedding dress and honeymoon attire – just moi.

To be honest, I’m quite an impatient shopper and I typically prefer to shop alone. Everyone has a different shopping style, and mine involves walking into a store, giving everything a quick scan and then zeroing in on the things I like. Other people may spend an hour tugging through one ill-hung sale item after another, treating it as a treasure hunt of sorts, and when they do find that Marc Jacobs mini in their size at 75% – well, it was all worth it. Me, not so much. I find the hunt  extremely tedious and I just want to find what I want quickly and get out of there.

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Cake wrapped

The other day I overheard someone say, “Ugh, Grafton Street is so full of chuggers!”

Chuggers?

For a few minutes I pondered what a chugger could be. Someone who drinks liquids very quickly? A clever word for a chubby bugger? Wrong on both counts. A chugger is a “charity mugger,” said my Irish friend. Of course that explanation opened up a whole new world of questions. A charity mugger? Is this someone who robs people and then gives the stolen goods to the poor?

Wrong again. A charity mugger is a student or adult volunteer who aggressively asks you to sign their petition for the whales/orphans/PETA/Greenpeace/etc. You know, the seemingly well-meaning volunteer who, when you politely decline his invitation to sign whatever’s on his clipboard continues to chase you down the street, loudly spouting off all the reasons why you just NEED TO SIGN THE PETITION!

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newspaper boy

I got my first job when I was 12 years old as a paper girl for the local newspaper, the [now defunct] Temple City Times. Every week the company would drop off 75 newspapers and I’d have to roll each one, secure it with a rubber band and if it was raining, put it into a plastic sleeve. Once they were ready to go I’d put them neatly into my canvas bag and hop on my bicycle to make the deliveries.

The rest of the delivery crew was all boys and they’d sling their big canvas bags casually over the handlebars of their bikes. But I found this too awkward; the weight of 75 papers was just too much for me to be able to balance it on my handlebars. So I had to wear the bag – which was essentially a big parka with a large pouch on each side to hold the papers. Even though the bag was designed to be worn exactly this way, it wasn’t the most stylish accessory and I looked like a complete spaz wearing this potato-sack parka/ bag thing.

One day when I was at the Temple City Times office to pick up my [paltry] paycheck, one the paperboys asked me why I always delivered all my papers. “You know that out of those 75 papers, only 15 are subscribers. The rest are just free papers you have to give out so people will sign up for a subscription.” He then went on to tell me that he only delivered the subscription papers and threw the rest away, because “no one would know.”

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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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