burger 2

Recently I was asked to give a talk about my experience of adjusting to life as an American in Ireland for “Enlightenment Night” at the Workman’s Club in Dublin. The monthly event features a half-dozen speakers/performers who each share something that may educate, or at the very least entertain, the attendees. Organised and hosted by the incredibly talented and charming Maeve Higgins, the evening offers a bit of enlightenment on a wide range of topics.

I chose to speak about how – despite all the bad news and negativity in the press about Ireland and its economy – this country has in many ways been my salvation. Don’t get me wrong; my life in Los Angeles was fine, but I felt personally unfulfilled. And I knew the only way to get out of that rut was to change my perspective, which I found impossible to do without throwing myself into a completely different environment.

Clare 2

My talk revolved around the idea of perspective, because Irish people’s reaction to my story of moving from LA to Drogheda (I now live in Dublin, but lived in Co Louth for the first year) is always that of shock and horror. From what I can tell, when Irish people think of Drogheda, they get visions of broken bottles in the street, antisocial toothless teens running amuck and dog poop on every footpath (someone once referred to it as “the armpit of the North East”). But when I first arrived, I didn’t see that stuff; I saw the rolling green hills, the cute cobblestone streets and the friendly people. Yes, the dog poop was there but there were so many other, positive aspects that I didn’t focus on the poop!

Breakfast Sambo

I also spoke about my [on-going] education on all things Irish, like the first time I went to the grocery store and realised that I had to buy bags and bag my own groceries. And I found out the hard way that you are not allowed to turn on a red light – EVER – not because I was pulled over by a cop but because my friend practically screamed bloody murder the first (and only) time I ever did that. In the U.S., you can turn right on a red light, as long as you stop and look first. Guessing by the frantic head shaking and high-pitched squeals of my friend, this is not the case here in Ireland. I’m still trying to recover full hearing in my ears after that particular event.

After two years of living here, I still forget to flip the main cooker (stove) switch on the wall before turning on a burner; I can’t tell you how many times I’ve put a pot on to boil and come back 15 minutes later to see that it was still cold. I still curse the freezer and its little drawers, an explicably bad design as it limits storage space by about 1/3. And I will never, ever fully understand the whole immersion heater business. But it’s all these little things that make life interesting and humbling.

blueberry pancakes

Buttermilk Cornmeal Pancakes with Blueberry Sauce

While I’ve embraced many things in Ireland, I’ve yet to truly fall in love with traditional Irish food. Yet I love fresh Irish produce and will often make my favourite American comfort foods using the best Irish ingredients. Some recent meals at our house include the Perfect Burger (<—in my opinion!) and Clare’s Egg Sandwich – both served with baked “chips,” or fries as us Yanks call them. Neither of those really require a recipe, and I make it differently each time. I just get some great Irish beef and juicy Irish tomatoes for the burger, and farm fresh Irish organic eggs for my sambos. And nothing beats a plate of Buttermilk Cornmeal Pancakes with a side of Blueberry Sauce – one of me and Mountaineering Man’s favourite breakfasts. Here’s the recipe:

Makes about 7 small pancakes

1 cup ground cornmeal (I buy maize, which is the same thing, at Nolan’s in Clontarf)

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 cup spelt flour

Pinch of salt

1 cup buttermilk

1 egg, beaten

2 cups fresh blueberries

1/2 cup maple syrup

Butter for the pan

In a medium bowl, combine the cornmeal, baking powder, spelt flour and salt and whisk together until combined.Create a little well in the flour  mixture, then pour in the buttermilk and beaten egg and mix until just combined. At this stage you may want to add more cornmeal or more buttermilk to get the right pancake batter consistency; these will be American-style pancakes, so the batter cannot be too runny/thin.

Now carefully fold in 1 cup of the blueberries into the batter. In a large saute pan, heat up a pat or two of butter over medium heat. Using a 1/4 cup measure, pour the batter into the pan – you’ll probably get 3-4 pancakes into one pan if you have a good-sized one. Cook for 3-4 minutes, or until bubbles start to form on the top. Flip and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Place in a warm oven while you make the others.

To make the syrup: Simply combine the additional 1 cup of berries with the maple syrup, and heat in a small saute pan over low heat for about 10 minutes. Pour over pancakes.