BRAD     |     EMILLIE

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Free Dublin Tour

For her latest trip, Claire brought a friend along with her... and left for Galway almost immediately upon her arrival. (She and her friend were volunteering as support workers with the Galway Cycle, as they are both friends with this year's organizing team. Brad was interested in cycling... but he was taking a weekend course at the Ryan Academy.)

Never fear, she was back in time for her birthday! But that left her friend only one day with which to see Dublin... what to do? what... to... do...? (Enter stage left... the Free Dublin Tour!) And it comes highly recommended. It's a three hour tour... for which the tour guide is only paid in tips. And our tour guide (aside: apparently an NUIM alumni) worked hard to earn his tips. I think the mother company makes their money by subtly recommending hostels, pubs and eating establishments. It's not a thick sell in the least, but you do take a coffee break at a pub (thousands of coffee shops in Dublin... so I imagine the pub pays for the privilege), then finish at a different pub (with a 10% off discount for those on the tour!)

I learned... so much and everything was covered... from the pop-y (Courtney Love attend Trinity!) to the historical (the statue of Justice at Dublin castle was a statement from the British... Justice is not blind, she has her back to the people, and is holding up a sword. Naturally the British wouldn't have wanted the Irish to think that Justice was defending them!). I could go on... regardless it is now on my HIGHLY RECOMMENDED list for anyone traveling to any major European city.

Now to deal with some other pertinent items:

1. The results of the Irish banking stress tests are to be revealed tomorrow. They have the potential to change everything around here. Unfortunately the news today is predicting poor results. So the questions is... how many billions of euros are Irish going to give up to the banks and investors before they start to balk. Hopefully Enda Kenny knows the answer to THAT question... regardless tomorrow will be an interesting and potentially bleak day.

2. I had quite a bit of advice around Claire's cheesecake, and ended up using this recipe; which basically involved making a sweet souffle where cheese was the main component. It was really, really tasty. But it wasn't cheesecake. I guess I'll have to give it another shot next year!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Irish Census

This week we're in for a boring post... but I assure you, very few boring posts will follow in the next few months. We are neigh on fully booked till mid-June now, so I will certainly have lots to say (the hard part will be finding the time to say it)! It all starts this weekend with the return of Claire and my attempt at making a goat cheesecake, as her birthday request.

Anyways, the Irish census is: statistic-y, comprehensive, historical in scope... and actually rather interesting if you have a brain that operates anything like mine. What's more... we'll be having one on April 10th (that's right, Mom & Dad you will be noted forever in Irish history as having been a tourist on that date). I've decided that the best way to approach a topic that is so statistical in scope is to provide straight forward FACTS:

1. This will be the 24th census, since 1841 (trust the Brits to start something so organized... but I guess you need some way to keep tabs on potentially rogue populations).

2. EVERYONE must participate... or "be subject to a fine of up to €25,000). -Not sure if that includes tourists... but our enumerator let us know that our parents would be counted... and because we'll be spending that night in a hotel in Sligo, we will fill out the census in Sligo.

3. It is literally a snapshot of where everyone in the country is on that date. So you only exist in one location on that night (we'll be in Sligo, so we fill out a form in Sligo, not in Maynooth). However, if we were out of the country we would have to fill out a different form... so we would still be counted... just not in Ireland at that time.

4. It is a VERY long form census. Now there's been a bit of news in Canada lately about the long-form census, but I can't imagine it was this long. There are three pages of questions about our HOUSE (from the year built... to type of heating... to the cost... to Internet access). Then there are three pages of information for EACH PERSON in the house (including Nikolai). Questions range from the usual: income, occupation, religion; to a bit more personal: health, commuting (to work), residences (we've lived in Canada). I'm interested to see how we're counted in Sligo... but I guess it's one way of making sure everyone is counted!

5. If you like to play around in historical stats, or if you want to look up your Irish heritage, you can find the 1901 and 1911 census's here.

6. If you work for the government of Canada and are interested in seeing what the Irish census form looks like (though I'm not advocating plagiarism) you can find it here.

7. Lastly, if you want to get lost in the nitty-gritty boring numbers... or want to look at pretty charts (in the pdf reports)... then you can look at the more recent results here. I had a bit of fun poking around myself. I found out that the number of people biking to work has decreased steadily since 1986, with a small increase in 2006; in 2006, there were between 1000 and 10000 Canadians in Ireland. And I am very keen to see the results of this year's census (I wonder if their hiring data analysts?).

The picture is of the Sinn Fein Party offices... already gearing up for the first royal visit since 1911. And we'll be getting Obama too... May certainly will be busy!

Friday, March 18, 2011

St. Patrick's Day Parade

Here's a photo blog of the first hour of the parade. We arrived an hour early, and befriended someone else there with a two-year-old... thus we wound up with front row seats! A big advantage for viewing, but Nikolai couldn't handle the noise of the bands and float speakers.

The theme of the parade was a short story commissioned by Roddy Doyle. You can download it here: Brilliant. So each "float" depicted a chapter of the story. In summary: "a black dog of doom and gloom is chased away by some children." Clearly a hopeful message for Ireland! But the Gothic and graphic nature of the floats proved to be a bit much for Nikolai who spent most of the parade hiding... thus we left early (but that was our plan anyways, as we wanted to beat the crowds to lunch!)

A view of the crowds looking down O'Connell (at the Spire).

Nikolai and I awaiting the parade (I think the last 15 minutes were the longest of his life).

Saint Patrick in green shades.

Chapter 1 (not so frightening)

Much to Brad's delight, chopper bicycles were used to pull nearly all the floats (except the talking Napoleon boot was pulled by a tractor... not sure of the significance... must read the story meself).

Chapter 2 was all in neon.

The black dog of doom and gloom was being whipped by some very grotesque burlesque dancers.

Not so good for Nikolai's fear of trophy heads.

This would have been fine, if it weren't for the wolves frightening all the pj clad folk, who were screaming and running away.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Beauty and The Beast

As our weather dawns bright and warm; spring flowers are blooming, rows of radishes are sprouting in the allotment (this year we're sharing a garden plot with four others gardeners -the plots are pretty big), and farmer Roger's lambs are out in the field with the ewes. And since it is the Eve of St. Patrick's Day, the town is preparing for tomorrow with full regalia. Nikolai's watched St. Mary's Band practice for the parade by marching up Main Street, the Presentation Girls school students dancing to traditional music on the lawn in front of the school, and even the NUIM creche (daycare) was out marching around banging on drums. Tomorrow we will be heading to the parade in Dublin, so I hope that a photo blog will follow shortly.

All this springtime joy and Irish Pride (much more pronounced then last year... likely due to the new beginnings with a new government, which, as a pleasant surprise, has already proved its mettle in talks with the EU) has led me in a quest to finally test the culinary uses of Stinging Nettle. (It didn't hurt that Rosie at the farmers' market had sold out of spinach by the time I got there on Saturday.) Regardless, it took me 3 attempts to make something edible out of the nettle, and so I provide you with the following advice...

How to prepare Stinging Nettle for consumption:

1. Only pick young nettle. (I tried a meal in August and we were all basically "stung" while eating). If you continuously pick from the same patch you will probably be able to extend the life of the young nettle well into the summer.

2. Wear rubber gloves, boots and long sleeves for harvesting (no sense being stung while harvesting!)

3. Avoid picking from roadsides, as dirt and exhaust will make the nettle less than appetizing. We picked our nettle from Carton Ave and around the Maynooth Allotments.

4. Wash and pick the leaves off the stems... while still wearing those rubber gloves (the stems are too fibrous to be fun to eat, even pureed).

5. Prepare in any way that you would use spinach... as long as it's cooked you wont be stung.

And while stinging nettle soup is the most popular dish, I also can recommend putting leaves on pizza, using them in an omelet or souffle, or creating a nettle and cheese dip!

Here's a recipe that's a variation on the basic nettle soup (potatoes, stock and cream)... which is more of an Indian subj.

In 1 tbsp of oil, fry a chopped brown onion until lightly browned. Add 2 cloves of garlic, 1 tsp of cumin, 1 tsp garam masala, 1 1/2 tsp mustard seed and 1/2 tsp turmeric and fry until fragrant. Add 1/2 cup of red lentils, 2 cups of stock and 3 cups of prepared nettle leaves. Simmer until the lentils are cooked, then salt to taste (I used 1/2 tsp of salt).

So why bother going through all the trouble of using stinging nettle when spinach is sooo much easier?

-it's free.
-it's healthier than spinach.
-it has that cache of "je ne sais quoi" when being served to guests.

The scales featured in the photo are a wedding gift from Brad's sister in Australia (THANKS SO MUCH DINA!!).

Now, for something a bit more somber... every morning I wake up to find out what has happened in Japan . The scope of devastation is unreal. The result is such that even the news broadcasters are unable to convey the nature of fear, loss and destruction with anything beyond simple statistics. I wish to send out my love and sympathy to all my friends and family in Japan.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

A heathen on Ash Wednesday

Yes, I'm a heathen, and a fairly ignorant one at that (thanks Mom and Dad). And while Brad is a well-educated Doukhobor, we are both fairly clueless when it comes to Catholic traditions.

Yesterday was Pancake Day. And I duly served a meal of buckwheat crepes with spinach and cheese sauce. Our student ate store bought pancakes with sugar and lemon (having seen the huge displays of lemon, sugar and pancakes in all our local grocery stores I was pretty certain that he'd prefer the more traditional approach to Pancake Day.) Tried some out myself and the lemon juice addition wasn't half bad!

Today is Ash Wednesday. I don't know what planet I was living on last year... but it took until this year for me to figure out what the "ash" part of Wednesday meant. I first noticed the black smudge on one of Nikolai's friends and assumed it was a typical patch of toddler dirt. Then I noticed her mom and her baby sister had the same smudges. It was like a light bulb lit up in my brain and all of a sudden I was seeing black smudges on everyone! At the moment I'm feeling very medieval and plague-ish about the whole thing. Perhaps everyone will figure out my ignorance..? ...and I don't know where to look.... It's impossible to avoid the smudges now that I've seen them... but is it rude to look? Needless to say there have been a few awkward moments of trying not to stare...

So I've decided to stay inside and use the Internet to figure out the meaning of this very public display of Catholicism.

And I've decided to start sharing some Irish recipes in this run up to St. Patrick's Day. Unfortunately, our local weather forecaster, The Donegal Postman (so infamous that I hear about him from absolutely everyone, including the weatherman on my morning radio), is predicting snow for St. Patrick's Day... and given his Infamy, I guess it must me true.

Anyways, this past weekend I finally braved my better judgement and broached the subject of my Carrageenan (Irish) Moss. I first purchased this last year in the excitement for something new. However, the seaweedness of the moss caused me to loose my resolve, and I remained pretty uncertain about the whole thing... (all my tastings during the cooking process were pretty fishy-tasting) until Nikolai tasted the pudding. Seconds were provided, and with no thirds left to dishout, I realized that I may expand my repertoire beyond the very typical milk-based puddings made of the Irish Moss.

Using Irish Moss:

1. Make sure the seaweed is well washed of sand, dirt, etc. Then allow it to dry naturally in a paper bag.

2. Before use soak for ten minutes in tepid water to get rid of any remaining salt, grime etc.

3. Simmer in liquid of your choice.

4. Strain and chill. (My pudding solidified without even being put in the fridge).

NOTE: one ounce of dried Irish moss will gel one cup of liquid.

(and this recipe is completely my own... I couldn't really find any pudding recipes that sounded promising. Irish moss was discovered as a food source during the famine, and thus puddings were traditionally made with very little sugar. And all the recipes I found only used fruit to sweeten, though a few recipes used Irish moss to set a "cheese" flavored with herbs. Anyways, the only stories of Irish moss pudding I've heard generally included the words "disgusting" and "inedible" in the descriptions. But I assure you that this recipe is fully vetted by my 2 year old.)

1. Soak a handful of dried Irish moss for 10 minutes in tepid water.

2. Drain and add to 2 cups of milk. Bring to a boil then simmer for 20 minutes (careful not to scald the milk).

3. Strain through a fine sieve, careful to squeeze out all the Irish Moss "jelly" into the pudding.

4. Add 2-3 tbsp of granulated sweetener and stir to ensure the sugar dissolves into the milk.

5. Flavor with 1 tsp of vanilla. This pudding tastes like a simple vanilla custard. I would recommend serving it with fruit or a cake.

Lastly, I'd like to finish with a few reasons to consider using Irish Moss.

-a vegetarian/vegan alternative to gelatin, which is cheaper than Agar, and sets without sugar (unlike many pectins).
-Can be used to replace egg whites in vegan foods (soak for 36 hours in the fridge, until it's clear and puffy, then blend into a paste)
-Pretty nutritious (like all sea vegetables)
-and it's part of your Irish heritage! (Aren't we all a wee bit Irish sometimes?)

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The revenge of the fairy folk

This past weekend we went to the National Leprechaun Museum! Which was definitely more enjoyable for us than for Nikolai. I would describe it as more of an art exhibit that focuses on relaying Irish folkloric history. Nikolai found much of it to be frightening. He did really like the stories of folklore... it was just kid's exhibit of exploring the giant's home that he found way too frightening. It also didn't help that moving from room to room required walking through long dark corridors with echoing "leprechaun" music playing throughout.

Again, we got our tickets through a group-on, and I would say the price is only right; if you really like the folklore. And I did really like the folklore. Apparently Walt Disney created all the imagery that you know about leprechauns and faeries; and he got a lot of it wrong. The tales abound, and you can find a few of them by exploring the museum's website.

However, today I am going to applied what I learned at the Leprechaun Museum to explain Ireland's current financial crisis... Let's start with a few interesting fairy facts:

1. It's a misnomer to imagine that fairies are small pink creatures with wings... in fact Irish fairies look just like us, are the same size as us, and basically do human things... the only difference is that they are magical.

2. Fairies are bitter towards humans because when they landed in Ireland (along with all the other magical creatures -Tuatha Dé Danann-) the Gaelic people defeated them in war... and all the magical creatures were sent live underground. Their only access to the human realm is at night, in the hills, in the fairy forests, and in the wells (hence wishing wells).

3. Fairies are known for stealing all the brightest and best away and replacing them with changelings (perhaps this happened to most everyone in the Department of Finance?).

4. Fairies are also known to pay for things with fairy money which would basically turn into something useless, like dead leaves, once the transaction was complete... and perhaps you are starting to see my point?

Fairies are: identical to humans, bitter at being forced to live underground, and good at making money disappear. Sounds fairly similar to some of the heads of AIB, Anglo and Irish nationwide... I suspect that the Tuatha Dé Danann are taking their own out on the Irish population. There's only one way to prove this... fairies HATE anything dirty... so we need to reenact the tradition of spitting in our hands before shaking on deal. It's unfortunate that the 20th century fascination with cleanliness has resulted in such an economic disaster. I'd be willing to bet that David Drumm would balk at being asked to shake a dirty hand... yup... 100% fairy.