squash cakes

A while back, I wrote a blog post about What I’ve Learned since moving here to Ireland. Now, on the six-month anniversary of my move here, I’d like to present what I love about Ireland and about living here.

*High visibility jackets: I know you think I’m crazy right about now. OK, I don’t really love the high visibility jacket in and of itself, but I love what it represents. About a month into my relocation, my friend and I took a walk down a country road sometime in the early evening. It was still quite bright outside, but as we walked we were stopped by four separate people asking us why we were not wearing high visibility jackets. These people literally pulled their cars over, rolled down their windows and gave out to us (as they say here).

“You’ll get hit by a car!” said one. “The sun is going down and it’ll be dark soon, what are you thinking?” asked another. Even a week later my friend’s cousin, who was one of the people who’d stopped us, scolded me again saying, “I still can’t believe yous (<– slang for you girls, you guys, you people) were out on the road with no high vis jackets!”

high vis ernie

I found all this fretting about high visibility jackets touching, really. Out in rural Ireland it gets really dark at night and therefore everyone who lives there owns one of these jackets. It’s as essential to the country wardrobe as Wellies and rain slickers. Whether you’re walking your dog or changing a flat tire, if it’s anywhere close to dusk you’ll be sporting one. In Los Angeles, the only people wearing high visibility jackets are road crew workers and night-time cyclists. I’ve never owned one (or even uttered the words “high visibility jacket”) my entire life. I remember that was the day I understood I was in a totally different place.

Singing of the Irish national anthem at pubs: I only recently discovered that at the end of the night, the band at a lot of pubs plays the Irish national anthem. I was at Mathew’s about a month ago when, seemingly out of nowhere, everyone stood up and started singing (well, let’s be honest, most of them didn’t know all the words and were just slurring random stuff really). It turns out this is a tradition around these parts and a cool but somewhat bizarre one at that. No one seems to know why they do it; they just do it because they’ve always done it. The thought of Americans singing their national anthem at a bar makes me laugh out loud but somehow, here, it works.

mattock 13

Random Irish kids at a football match (not sure if these kids are bold but they sure are cute!)

Bold Irish kids: There’s something about little freckled-faced, toe-headed Irish kids that always makes me smile – especially the bold ones. My friend’s niece, who is only three years old, was recently put into the “naughty chair” for being bad. When her father removed her from the chair and asked her if she had something to say for herself, she replied, “Yeah, f*ck off!” I know this isn’t really anything to be proud of but for some reason I found this response to be typically Irish and therefore hilarious. Tom, the 9-year-old kid my friend watches after school, is the classic bold Irish kid. He’ll hide my friend’s handbag, set all kinds of reminders on the television (so they’ll pop up during my friend’s favorite shows, interrupting the program) and basically run amok the whole time. Once, he seized some chocolate from the kitchen that was meant for someone else, ran into one of the bedrooms, locked the door and ate all the chocolate – all while my friend was pounding on the door, demanding he come out with the candy. Afterward he opened the door, face covered in chocolate, with a huge, unapologetic grin on his gob.

cake place

Enterprising spirit: Though Ireland is experiencing one of the worst recessions in its history, people in my town aren’t afraid to plow ahead with new businesses. I recently visited Cake Couture, a cake decorating shop on West Street that sells all kinds of frosting tips, food coloring pastes and other tools for professional and home bakers. Then there’s Traders, the lovely coffee shop I’ve written about before, which serves incredible coffee drinks and handcrafted sandwiches and desserts. Opening such niche businesses during a recession may seem insane to some; you might wonder who would spend 15 euro on a cake decorating kit or 2.50 euro on a cup of coffee during these trying times. But these businesses took a chance and are doing well. Most importantly, it gives the community and the economy a much-needed boost. The Irish have gone through many hardships in the past and the result is a fearless survival instinct among its people, which I truly admire.

IrishFoodies: I’m grateful and happy to be part of the IrishFoodies, a community of food bloggers in Ireland that formed about a month after I moved here. I have made many wonderful friends through this group and once a month we have a themed cook-along, where everyone makes a dish based on the theme and shares it on Twitter and their blogs. The theme this month is vegetarian (#vegetwarian on Twitter), so I came up with these Curried Butternut Squash Patties on Rocket.

butternut squash fritters

Curried Butternut Squash Patties on Rocket
(makes about 8 medium patties)

1 medium-sized butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
3 tablespoons + ¼ cup olive oil
1 red bell pepper, minced
2 shallots, minced
½ green bell pepper, minced
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon garam masala
4 tablespoons wholemeal flour
1 egg
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 180 C degrees. On a baking tray, spread the butternut squash cubes out into one layer. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until the cubes are easily pierced with a fork. While the squash bakes, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add in the bell peppers and shallots, and cook until caramelized – about 15 minutes. Don’t stir it around too much; this will help quicken the caramelization process. Remove from heat and stir in the curry, turmeric and garam masala. Season with salt and pepper.

In a large bowl, mash the butternut squash cubes with the sautéed pepper/onion mixture. Add in the egg and mash until incorporated, then add in the wholemeal flour and mix until blended. In a shallow sauté pan, heat the remaining ¼ cup of olive oil over medium-high heat. Using a spoon, scoop out about ¼ cup of the squash mash and drop into the hot oil. Leave enough room between each patty to allow them to spread a little and do not overcrowd the pan. Cook on each side for about 2 minutes or until golden brown; careful as you flip them!

Put finished patties onto paper cloths to drain. Assemble the rocket and top with the butternut squash patties. I dressed my rocket with basic olive oil and vinegar but you can use whatever dressing you like.