When I visited friends in this area October of last year, the idea of actually living here was barely a twinkle in my eye. I’d wanted for some time to move abroad, and as a travel journalist doing a fair amount of globetrotting I was always considering the various places I visited as a potential place to land.

About half-way through my 10-day visit, it dawned on me that maybe Ireland could be the place. After all I have a good number of friends here (when I was in college in San Francisco I lived with a gang of Irish and we kept in touch all these years), it is an English-speaking country and it’s in Europe. It was a beautiful, sunny autumn day and I was sitting with my friend Sinead on the lovely patio of her cosy Irish country house when the idea first sprang to life. Maybe I could move here, continue my freelance writing, and get a little apartment in town…my brain buzzed with the excitement of possibilities.

walk 3

The very next night, it started to rain. I remember being in the back of my friend Trevor’s Land Rover as he sped through the dark, country road in the lashing rain and feeling physically scared. It wasn’t his driving; it was the eerie darkness that enveloped us as we drove. There were scraggly tree branches hitting the windshield and nothing but pitch blackness all around. The wind howled and there was no trace of life or light anywhere on that road. It was as if God himself had snatched the stars out from over us and the whole vibe reminded me of the scene in An American Werewolf in London right before the two hikers get savagely attacked by the beast in the countryside. I remember thinking there was no way I could ever drive these roads. Too dark, too narrow, too isolated and driver side too right and driving side of road too left!

Later that night as I tried to get to sleep in Sinead’s guest room, I felt doubt and anxiety set in. I peered out from under the covers and tried in vain to get my eyes to adjust to the darkness but I could see nothing – it was that dark. It was jarringly quiet…the only thing I could hear was the pounding of my heart and the ringing in my ears, which was starting to sound a bit like a shrill, menacing soundtrack to a slasher film. Being from Los Angeles I was used to the sound of helicopters swirling overhead, traffic noises and the muffled sound of neighbors’ talking and walking around their apartments. I always found these noises to be of great comfort to me as it made me feel I wasn’t totally alone. Here, I felt I was the last person alive after a world-obliterating natural disaster. Well, the last person along with the ax-wielding psycho who was going to burst through the door at any moment and turn me into mincemeat.

country leaves

Of course nine months into living here, I effortlessly navigate the shadowy country roads that I now know like the back of my hand. And while I ended up in an apartment right in the middle of town, I thoroughly enjoy the undisturbed quiet and inky darkness of a country night and have experienced some of the most peaceful sleeps of my life when I stay at Sinead’s or at my friend Imen’s, who also lives out in the countryside. It’s hard now to imagine the fear I felt then. What seemed so unfathomable only one year ago is now my life, and as the American Thanksgiving holiday approaches I just want to say how grateful I am for that.

sweet potato pie

Two Thanksgiving Recipes: Uncle Richard’s Sweet Potato Pie & Amy Vanderbilt’s Oyster Stuffing

This is the first Thanksgiving that I’ll be away from home in many, many years, so I was thrilled to get an invitation from my friend (and fellow expat) Imen to celebrate an early Thanksgiving feast at her house in Limerick. My contributions were this sweet potato pie, which is adapted from a recipe by one of my favorite bloggers, Homesick Texan. It’s incredibly easy to make and is made with very available ingredients. I think the Irish would love it too – after all, it’s made with potatoes! The other dish was a favorite at my family’s Thanksgiving, which is Oyster Stuffing (my dad makes it every year!). It’s also quite simple but absolutely delicious – IF you like oysters!

Uncle Richard’s Sweet Potato Pie

15 ounces of mashed cooked sweet potatoes (without the skin)
3 beaten eggs
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp nutmeg
3/4 tsp salt
12 ounces of evaporated milk

Preheat oven to 190 C degrees. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and whisk until smooth (it’s OK to have a few bits of sweet potato, this actually makes it better!). Pour mixture into one, ten-inch pie shell (I use a basic shortcrust recipe, feel free to use whatever you’d like).Bake 55 minutes. Remove from oven and cool before serving. Garnish with whipped cream as desired.

country stuffing

Amy Vanderbilt’s Oyster Stuffing

15 fresh, shucked oysters or frozen and thawed oysters plus at least 1 cup of oyster “liquor” (the liquid that the oysters come in)
8 large slices of crusty white bread, pulsed in a food processor until chunky (you may need more so have some handy)
1 ½ tbsp melted butter or margarine per cup of oysters
2 tablespoons milk
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 165 C. Combine the bread chunks with a sprinkling of salt and pepper in a large casserole dish (15 inches or so). Add melted butter, oysters, oyster liquor and milk and toss with your hands until the bread is nice and wet but not overly soggy. Add more milk/liquor if too dry and more bread cubes if too wet. Bake for 45 minutes and serve immediately.