BRAD     |     EMILLIE

Monday, August 30, 2010

Digs is Done

We now officially have a digs student, and I think the situation will suit us all. He's a third year student, who has references from his last digs home (he moved to be closer to Main Street Maynooth). But what is most exciting is that he'll only be staying from Sunday to Thursday as he likes to go home for the weekend. Thus giving us a bit of a break to do our own thing on the weekend. Hurrah!

And to continue with my GAA stories, Nikolai's friend Keeva (who came over to play today) has a full Kilkenny uniform, socks and all, which is signed by 3 of the Kilkenny Hurling team players. This weekend is another game and they're hoping to have 5 wins in a row. Here's my second Hurrah! of the day, now I'll root for Kilkenny's Hurling team too! (Since I don't have a "home" county yet... I've only lived in Kildare for 8 months now... I figure I can spread my fan-dom around. Besides I have ever so much trouble getting whites to come out clean, I can hardly invest in white Kildare colours. Perhaps Dublin's blues or Kilkenny's black and yellow would suit my washing machine more!)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Galic Athletics Association

There are three things that, by my estimation, create the culture of modern day Ireland. And despite what you may think, pubs do not an Irishman make.

1) The church (fairly self explanatory... but the catholic church certainly provides much of the local community services, schooling, etc... a topic for another day perhaps.)
2) The weather (the lack of variability in the weather surely plays a factor in the Irish temperament. I find myself becoming more moderate and relaxed in the face of very little extreme weather.)
3) The GAA (and my topic du jour.)

The GAA is an athletics group that is unlike anything I can compare it to in Canada. For starters they only do Irish sports; specifically: Irish Football, Hurling (warning this is a video), Camogie, Handball, and Rounders. They also provide both the local level sporting and the competitive level sporting. First I will discuss the local level of sporting. This is your typical community level sports facilities for children, youth and beer leagues. Every town in Ireland has one (no matter the size, nor how close to another town it is... eg, Maynooth and Kilcock both have GAA clubs, located only a 15 minute bike ride apart), most GAA facilities have a club house, with some amenities. The Maynooth club house has a pub in it where the local toddler playgroup meets. (In other news, I'm now one of the organizers as I'm one of the only parents with a toddler who is neither pregnant nor hauling a baby around). This feels familiar as it is similar to the community centres in Canada... though most community centres have craft rooms and play rooms rather than a pub.

Now the professional level of the GAA pits counties against each other. For example, County Cork beat County Dublin in Football last weekend, and tomorrow County Kildare (our County) will play County Down, with the winner going into the final game against Cork. All of this seems fairly straight forward, sporting-like and all that. What's special is that Ireland is a country of just 4 million people... think about that... BC alone has 4.5 million people. And while Canadians do get out to support their hockey team with verve and vigor, the Irish get out to support their County team with all that vigor and more.

Take 4 million people with 32 counties and still they manage to have enough supporters to have all the swag (flags, banners, jerseys, air fresheners, etc... does anyone want a county Kildare flag or wind sock to hang out their car window? We bought one for the bike trailer). The Croke Park stadium holds over 80,000 fans and they still manage to sell out. Examples of team support are boundless, for example, a friend of ours supports his home county of Meath and he and his father don't miss a single game (regardless of the sport). And last week one of the Kilkenny hurling players came back for his first practice session post-injury to the support of 8,000 fans. Kilkenny only has a population of 87,558! I'm certain that all the pubs will be full when we go out to watch the Kildare game tomorrow (I really hope we win!!)

What makes it so special is that it is also so local in nature. The physio in Kilcock that both Elaine and Ashling have been seeing also does the Kilcock team!

This support, of what is essentially amateur sport, is something that we have sadly lost in North America. Although we may go out to a few Canadians games every season, and the Castlegar Rebels get some support, it hardly matches the fervor of the GAA. I think the death of this sporting tradition came at the hand of Major League sports. Now, rather than supporting their local teams, everyone stays at home and watches the Canucks, and something is lost in the individual support of a meaningful LOCAL team. It provides local pride, interest and shared experience, in a place where everyone can show up to watch a team practice. Instead, we support our major league teams, even in a city that is a plane ride away, with tickets that cost far too much for you and your kid to attend every game.

**We lost today, but it was a very close game. Here's hoping for Bronze, as we play Dublin next.**

Monday, August 23, 2010

Students university acceptance

Irish first year students are only just finding out today if they are accepted to University for the first round of acceptance. (Note, it's already August 23... so no wonder we haven't heard from any students for our DIGS ad yet!) The number of points (grades) required to get into a particular program were announced by the media today, and apparently the high unemployment levels for that age group have increased the number of applications, and thus the competitiveness for program places. Here's more information about the points system.

I'm blogging this rather out-of-place blog, simply because when I first heard about it on the radio this morning I was so surprised!!! Round two acceptance goes out on September 2nd, and school starts on September 13th, which doesn't give the poor first year students much time to figure their lives out.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The taste of Kildare

Today we went to the Taste of Kildare... and if you were on the fence about when to come and visit us (!) you should definitely book in for this weekend next year. It is held at the K-club (another posh golf resort just a short jaunt from our house) and is free. Basically it's a giant tasting festival for all of the poshest restaurants in county Kildare. Every restaurant had about three little tapas items, showing off their fabulous skills. I have never had so much rich food before in my life. Unlike the Taste of Dublin, every bite is free. That would include the samples of wine, champagne, Pimm's and elderflower cordial. (Don't worry we waited a few hours before cycling back home).

Highlights in my bites would have to be:
- All of the chocolate (some of you may be receiving gifts from ChocOneill since it truly was the best chocolate I've ever tasted. Their chocolate mint is made with 3 different varieties of mint that they grow on their farm.)
- The Morrell Restaurant had a fab raspberry pavlova dessert which is being consumed by the toddlers photographed above
- The K-club featured a vegetarian caviar made from agar agar and apple juice that was served with a goat cheese flavoured whip cream; they also served "orange scented air" (basically a heavily whipped juice foam). I'd have to say that they were both a bit like the 30 Rock where Liz was served flavored "oxygen" at a posh party... fancy food, but not much for taste.
- A goat cheese pesto tart was served by Lyons. (We'll probably go there for our next cycle. But I definitely recommend a look at their website. Specifically, under "The village", scroll down to "Design by Renaissance", and read the fourth paragraph, which starts: "At Design by Renaissance we specialise in turn key projects. What we do best is create atmosphere, settings without having to call on bombastic theories or heavy-handed statements." We nearly died laughing... and don't forget: "Nobody really cares if you happen to spill a few drops of very superior old pale cognac in one of Paschal’s rooms.")
- For Claire's visit we may call on Gleann Gabhra for some goat's milk ice cream
- Lastly, we bought some lovely cheese from Castlefarm, and truly wish they were located a bit closer to us.

As for Nikolai (and his friend Layla), they had fun eating WAY too much free desserts, running around the playground and bouncing on the two bouncy castle. We then finished the trip off with a walk around the very ostentatious and beautiful K-club. To ensure that no one was fooled by our fancy dress, we took turns rolling down the grass lawn in front of the hotel (no wine involved, just a lot of sunshine and joie de vivre).

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

This is the sound of settling

After the very unsettled nature of my last post, I have decided to reassure everyone (the tension doesn't last long around here folks!) in a post all about how we have settled into Ireland. This realization came about while chatting with Claire (my sparkly sister on her way to visit in less than a month). What I realized was that when my parents were here we were definitely more Canadian than Irish in our habits. We shared with them an outsiders interest in the various peculiarities of the Irish culture. However, with Claire's visit, I now feel the need to explain myself for the Irish-isms that we have picked up.

I am providing a short list below as a sample illustration:
-hang drying all my laundry... and I mean everything
-hanging laundry on the line, even when it's raining outside
-considering slightly damp clothes, to be dry enough

I could go on, but this was hardly the point of the post. The point is, we have settled in, and this week I have undertaken two projects to this effect.

The first was to convert an old tv stand into a toy for Nikolai. You know, for those big tv's we all had, say 5 years ago... this is a great recycling project because old tv stands are very much unemployed of late, but could easily be retrained into a much more cheery role as a toddler's toy kitchen!

1. Get an old tv stand. This should be easy to do as they are nearly everywhere, and I guarentee you, someone you know is chucking one out right now.
2. Convert the top into a stove top and sink (if you're unskilled with tools, the sink can be of modern design, and simply sit a wash basin on top of the tv stand; or if you have the tools, cut out a hole and insert the wash basin into it).
3. Depending on the design, you may be able to rig an oven door. This will be too much work for us, Nikolai will just have to use his imagination.
4. If you're handy, and you have a drill, add knobs of various types (toddlers all love knobs).

We'll post pics when we're finished ours. We have a very full weekend ahead of us, so it could be a while until we truly tackle this task, but Nikolai was recently given a big bin of play food, so he should be entertained without any conversions.

My other big project was to tackle some canning. I just finished making courgette (zucchini) relish out of a giant courgette. And I intend on making some sort of jam over the next few weeks. All I need is a few good days to go blackberry picking and I'm all set (the whole length of Carton Ave is lined with blackberry bushes down both sides, so I don't expect I'll have a problem, as long as the weather co-operates).

Here is a brief history of what I have learned about canning. In the olden days I learned that everything needs to be properly canned in bernardin canning jars, using a new jar lid every time. Once the item has been placed in the clean, hot jar, and a lid applied; it then needs to boil in a canner for anywhere from 10 minutes to 1.5 hours depending on what is being canned (I have Betty's old pressure canner --in storage-- so my tomatoes wouldn't take that long).

Then I moved to Ireland and have since learned that you don't need to boil jam at all. All you need to do is put boiling jam in a hot jar (any leftover jar kicking around will do), put a little wax paper circle on top (to seal it). It is up for debate as to the best way to sterilize the jars (heat in the oven, boil in water, run in the dishwasher or microwave). Then, once cool, apply a cellophane wrapper with a rubber band. I have purchase a Tala set from Dunnes for this purpose. According to Bernardin... we will probably all die of horrible bacterial diseases.

The other way to can is to take old jars, fill, reuse lid (be careful to avoid the jars from certain flavorful and acidic foods) boil in a pot of water until sterilized. According to Bernardin, glass jars from consumer products are not made for reuse and wont be able to stand up to the heat. Well Bernardin (or any other jar supplier) isn't in Ireland, so I don't have to listen to them!

Well, I can say this about resuing commercial jars:
1. They didn't break (and I just boiled them in my stock pot, with nothing between them and the bottom of the pot, so I was very much worried about explosions. My recent reuse of Ball, Kerr and Bernardin jars has resulted in at least 1 breakage per batch, so I'm not sure about the quality of glass argument).
2. Four of them sealed, and 2 of them didn't.
3. It's a lot cheaper than buying canning jars, even though canning jars are cheap.
4. I still covet Weck jars, but I guess I'll have to go to Germany to get them since they certainly aren't available here... however, they are much, much more pricey than free mayonnaise jars.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The art of preserving

Before moving to Ireland, I was chatting with my friend James. He, and his wife had spent 6 months in London, with full work visas, the ability to apply for citizenship, and plan to stay a lot longer than 6 months. (Don't get excited Mom, we're not moving back yet!) I wondered why they decided to cut their stay short, as they had already finished all the work of setting themselves up to stay; they both had jobs, bank accounts, and an apartment; all of which are difficult to acquire. James replied, that they felt like they needed to come back to Canada to get their lives started.

And now I understand him completely. I feel like half an adult. I have a kid and a partner, both real adult things. But living in Ireland feels like a vacation from my real life. Arguably this could be because most of my worldly possessions are in a 7' by 9' storage box in Surrey. Perhaps it's because we don't know what's going to come next (the grim economy is not a friendly place for someone looking for a job).

I think that this feeling mainly stems from the fact that I am not doing any of the normal everyday routines; while I still shower, eat breakfast and brush my teeth, I don't head off to work. I also seldom listen to the news (RTE is rather "lite" on news) and I was a full-on, hard-core CBC addict. Our garden is ridiculously small compared to what we've been used to, and I so miss eating peas fresh off the vine. At the moment my feeling of vacation has resulted in the fact that I have not done anything in regards to "Putting Food By" (also in the storage locker).

My lack of preserving may be because, we've been living in an endless state of springtime, and summer has yet to emerge. And, unfortunately, any complaints I have in this regard are turned on deaf ears, as this is 100% "the best summer we've had in years." Apparently last summer it rained 40 days in a row... so it doesn't take much to be the best summer ever.

The lack of summer does lead to generalized season-less-ness, for example, when my parents were here in April, they thought it was funny that the Irish would be out in sundresses and sandals whenever the weather creeped up to 20 deg (Celsius, for those wondering about the below freezing temperatures in April). This is another thing that I now understand, as at just the slightest hint of sunshine I'm whipping out the summer clothes, if only because I'm sooo excited to finally have a chance to wear them!

However, the missing summer is not sufficient reason for my lack of hibernation instinct. Two summers ago when Nikolai was born, I also lost a summer. Rather than frolicking in the sunshine, paddling along a lake and sleeping under the stars, I spent my whole time nursing, sleeping and eating (with the occasional shower squeezed in here and there). Even in that summer-less summer, I still managed to get my canning done. As I recall, with the help of friends, I canned apricots, peaches, salsa and pickles. We froze beans, peas and tons of berries.

I think my lack of preserving is for the lack of things to preserve. Local food is, as ever, from the brassica family, or potatoes (and I'm not exaggerating when I say that easily a quarter of any fruit and veg isle will comprise potatoes). Fruit comes from Spain, no matter the season. Canning supplies are not anywhere to be found (and none of my friends have ever done any canning, so they can't even tell me where to find the necessary jars). And, most surprisingly, even though the parks, playgrounds, and all of the side roads are lined with berry bushes, no one goes picking as it's most certainly a cultural taboo to do so (another throw back from earlier hard times?). It's always a shock to find the blackberry bushes beside the Maynooth playground covered in unpicked berries... and everyone wonders why there's so many wasps around!

Here's my salsa recipe, it's based on one that I got from Brad's mother, but spiced up to my own taste:

7 cups chopped tomatoes (~ 6lb)
2 cups coarsely chopped onions
1 cups coarsely chopped green bell pepper
2 cayenne peppers w/ seeds (I've also used dried chipolte peppers)
3 cloves minced garlic
156 ml tomato paste (1 can)
3/4 cup white vinegar/apple cider vinegar (5% acidity)
1/2 tsp ground cumin
3 1/2 tsp salt

If using Roma tomatoes, you can simply just chop, otherwise, blanch, peel and de-seed first. Wearing rubber gloves, peel and finely chop cayenne peppers. Combine tomatoes, onions, green pepper, cayenne, garlic, tomato paste, vinegar, cumin and salt in a large saucepan.

Bring to a boil; boil gently, stirring occasionally, until salsa reaches desired consistency, ~ 30 min.

YIELD: 5 x 500 ml jars

Yum, now I'm definitely going to make salsa... even if the tomatoes do come from Holland. The pic is of us making pancakes and dried apricot sauce (my lazy jam substitute).

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Vegetarian student DIGS in Maynooth (NUIM)

So this is my first attempt at self-promotion on our blog. And my first attempt to harness the power of google for my own purposes. So please forgive me, regular blog readers, if this is not to your taste.

Anyways, we have decided to let out our spare room for student digs. Basically our visitors were not that frequent (so far only my parents have used the room, although Claire is coming in the fall, but we still have 2 other double beds rooms) and the spare room is too nice to be used for bike storage. The room has a double bed, desk and wardrobe. There is an ensuite bathroom with shower, and it has it's own courtyard. It is very private as it's by the front door, whereas the other bedrooms are at the back of the house.

Student digs (for those of you not in Ireland) means that the renter is provided: breakfast, dinner and a snack. In our case we are vegetarian, and although we advertised on campus, apparently they don't include our vegetarian status in their ad, so we hoped to attract a vegetarian student who might google for digs. We are also fairly gluten free, and could go completely coeliac friendly. (News for those in Canada, but Brad's eczema seems to be responding to a wheat free diet... as is Nikolai's rosy cheeks. Apparently the red, rosy cheeks, that I always thought was because Nikolai was teething, wasn't teething at all --he now has all his teeth, but red cheeks persisted.)

Back to our rental ad, we do have a 2-year old... but the room is private, and Nikolai is on the more well behaved spectrum of children so you should have no problem keeping him out of your space. No smokers. And we'd ask that you get your laundry done on at the laundrette on Main street as our washer is less than prime. Please contact NUIM residence for our phone number, or leave a comment below.

I am somewhat confident that this ad will get searched... provided there are any vegetarians in Ireland (we've yet to meet any in Maynooth, but the co-op is completely vegetarian). Having looked through our recent hits, and found that someone apparently clicked on our website by googling Smithwicks!? I figure we should definitely come up in a search of vegetarian digs.

Today we've decided to have a Nikolai adventure... as he's been so patient while being dragged through museums. We gave him the choice of the Dublin Zoo or a Petting Farm. He chose a Petting Zoo. Even after we explained that he could have either the Zoo or the Petting farm, he is still insisting on going to the Petting Zoo. We'll probably wear our "sand castle shoes", and Nikolai will probably declare the zoo to be "pretty good" even if he doesn't get to pet an elephant.

We bought a new camera... in shocking hot pink (I think I dislike the pink 100% more than Brad does, but it was on a really good sale) so we should have a picture posted tonight! P.S. The picture is of the savanah. The zoo was fab; I don't think Nikolai actually believed that any of these animals really existed outside of stories before going to the zoo. He was absolutely stunned when he saw the first animals (elephants).

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Kilkenny by bike!

So my usual weekend post has been delayed by a few days, as we took a bank holiday long weekend cycle trip to Kilkenny.

It all started out bright (well at least it wasn't raining per say, though it certainly was misting) and early on Saturday morning as we cycled to Newbridge to catch the train. The Maynooth train-line runs from Dublin to Sligo, and would not be one of the more touristic lines in Ireland. From Newbridge (a short 31.2km away) you can basically get everywhere else in Eire (you'd still have to go into Dublin to get to Northern Ireland though). The other train news that's exciting is that if you book on-line ahead of time, trips to anywhere in the country will only cost you €10 each way!

The cycle to Newbridge was so flat that I actually felt like we were riding downhill in both directions. The pace of our ride was that quick! Coming from Vancouver where even "flat" routes are in fact hills, cycling towards the very flat Curragh was a treat. The train to Kilkenny (pronounced Kill Canny, and if you were to use your natural American-style pronunciation for this town, all you would get would be blank stares. Frankly I'm not that there is a great difference between Kilkenny and Kill Canny, but my pronunciation was universally not accepted by my friends who are all definitely use to my accent.) was packed (bet you forgot where that sentence started, eh?).

We were a tad worried about having our bikes accepted on the train, mid-route, as Iaronrod Eireann only promises to take 3 bikes on a train. But being Irish, no one seemed too worried about the rules. Even the women sitting on the floor between the rail cars, beside where Brad casually leaned our bikes seemed unfazed. For their safety Brad did manage to eventually eke out a better travel options for the bikes.

Kilkenny is a lovely town, that has a few good sights, lots of high end shopping, and many, many pubs. Of note the local brewery is Smithwicks. A beer that is almost as universal in Ireland as Guinness, but it's a much lighter beer. Kilkenny Irish Cream (the beer) is not brewed in Kilkenny (the location). In fact it's not even brewed in Ireland. Furthermore, it's not ever served in an Irish pub (a tourist pub might serve it??? not sure though never having done the tourist pub thing meself). In fact the Irish don't really drink Kilkenny at all, and you'd even be hard pressed to find it sold in a shop. However, ciders are frequently drunk by locals. In Canada most young men would not be seen drinking a cider, such as the Irish Bulmers. Brad counted that at least 50% of the young men in one of the pubs where we ate dinner were drinking a cider. Perhaps it's related to the really high incidence of Coeliac's disease in Ireland.

Kilkenny Castle gets two thumbs up, and not just for the cafe serving ice cream and the fantastic playground. Rothe house also gets two thumbs up (they let us eat from the garden historically accurate heritage garden!) The National Craft Gallery (I can't get their website to work... but it somehow seems fitting to have a link that doesn't work) gets two thumbs down. I think it's basically a token effort that's actually used to draw tourists into the Design Centre to shop. The museum is a simple 2 room affair with a single exhibit.... which I would have liked to have seen; but surprisingly they were closed at 2pm on Saturday afternoon... on the long weekend... with out any explanation on the door. The arts and craft shops were lovely, and I think that tourists probably would have migrated that way without the "faux" museum front.

On Sunday we cycled to Inistioge (Inn Ish tige), which is a very picturesque town, and frequent winner of the Tidy Towns awards. To be fair, it's probably easier to have a perfect looking town when you're really tiny, and have the ruins of an Priory as your town centre. Maynooth Tidy Towns has to work twice as hard to overcome the student-drinking effects on the appearance of litter.

We then stopped for lunch in Thomastown before cycling over to the very venerable Jerpoint Abbey. In general the traffic was polite, the hills were rolling, the cows and sheep were grazing and we were very, very glad that the classic car show was going in the opposite direction from us! Nikolai much appreciated the classic tractors that comprised a significant portion of the classic car show.

Thanks to Elaine and Ashling who both were willing to lend us a camera for the weekend (ours has decided not to return from the repair shop alive). I could have posted a pic of Kilkenny, or Jerpoint Abbey, but you can find some taken by better photographers than us in the links. Here's a picture of Elvis driving his classic tractor.