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Chilled to the Blain

January 31, 2010 in Ex-Patriate Games, Ireland, Looking

While I was growing up, I liked nothing more than curling up with a good book.  Any book; mythological tales, teen horror, childhood classics. Every so often, within the first few sentences, I became aware that something was amiss. “U”s where they didn’t belong. Transposed “r”s and “e”s in words like “theater.” Children who drank tea, called their moms “mum” and stored their boots in the family car. They lived in wet places, saw fairies, and said things like: “Wot have you got there, then – wot did he give you, eh?” That wasn’t the way people lived. That wasn’t the way they talked. Something was seriously wrong. 

Years later, I still maintain that something was seriously wrong, but I did eventually come to understand that those tales were written by people who came from Ireland and the UK. I also came to prefer them to stories written by people from my side of the Pond. Colours somehow seemed lovelier than colors and afternoon tea seemed the height of sophistication. How nice to fall into a chocolate river. How jolly it must be to have a cruel governess to outwit! 

Those plucky English and Irish kids – they seemed to have such fun lives. I did, however, notice that it wasn’t all fun and games for them. In between the giant peaches and the wolves and the magic cupboards there were often painful cases of chilblains, which sounded very unpleasant indeed. They seemed to be connected to the cold, damp moors. They seemed to happen only to the hands and feet of British and Irish children. I was sure I wouldn’t like to have them myself – whatever they were. 

I grew up on the Gulf Coast of Florida, where a sprinkling of frost on the truck dashboard inspires citizens to yell, “Maw! Git the camera – we got ourselves some snow!” Certainly, we never suffered from chilblains; sunstroke was more like it. And then I lived in New York City, where winters were chilly and damp and the thermometer often flirted with the 0 degree mark. I wore boots and slogged through icy puddles. Still, we never talked about chilblains – frostbite, the huge puddle between Broadway and the Astor Place 6 train stop, or our giant Con Edison bills, maybe. But never chilblains. 

So now I live in Ireland. I drink several cups of tea per day. I wear thick knit jumpers. I wave at sheep as I ride the train between Dublin and Cork. I eat biscuits and cottage pie. I walk on the left side of the road. I’ve grown so used to reading about the James Joyce Centre at school that I’ve begun to spell it “centre,” too. I trudge through hailstones and gray skies. Last month, I noticed that the second toe of my right foot was looking strangely puffy around the joint. It was as though a callus had formed, except the callus was red and shiny. Fantastic, I thought. A 6-inch scar on my shin and now this. So much for taking part in sandal season ever again! 

Then, something queer – the red, shiny bulge went down. Queerer still – it came back, except smaller. And then it went away again. Then came two of them. And then I saw Sean’s fingers – covered in shiny red blisters that looked just like mine. 

“These?” he said. “I’ve got chilblains. I always got them when I was little but haven’t had them since I moved back home. No need to point them out.”

Wikipedia’s definition of a chilblain: 

A medical condition that is often confused with frostbite and trench foot. Chilblains are acral ulcers (that is, ulcers affecting the extremities) that occur when a predisposed individual is exposed to cold and humidity.

All right. I get it. I live in a cold, damp climate and I’ve perhaps have not bundled up my feet properly. But I was just as lazy in New York and Osaka, which were also cold and damp places, so what I don’t get is why do I have chilblains now and not then?

And where is my cruel governess?

Manipulated To Perfection

January 27, 2010 in Ex-Patriate Games, Looking

I wake up. I write. I go to class. I write. I watch the swans. I salute the magpies. I write. I eat. I write.

Sometimes I watch TV. X Factor. QI with Stephen Fry. Only Fools and Horses. Endless Scrubs reruns. The commercials come on and I’m pointing at the screen.

“That. I want that.”

“What? Butter?”

“Kerrygold butter! Look. It’s made of Ireland.”

You’d think four years of working at an advertising analysis agency would have rendered me immune to commercials. But no – I run out to Dunnes and buy the Kerrygold butter, just as if they don’t sell it back home.I also buy a bottle of L’Oreal Elvive Conditioner, because right before I left the apartment pretty Cheryl Cole came on the TV to tell me the secret of defeating weak, limp, and lifeless hair (hint: it’s L’Oreal Elvive). 

I’d blame the bewitching Irish and English accents if it weren’t for the fact that when it comes to food, my greed and impressionability know no bounds. 

I come home. I put on the TV again. This time it’s celebrity chef Marco Pierre White. 

Just how on Ireland’s green Earth am I supposed to resist this? Darn the Knorr people, they know I’m powerless in this contest of wills. Jellified soup stock that tastes just like real stock made from scratch? I’ve never seen such a thing in my life; we don’t have this back home. I have to have it – Marco Pierre White is paid to say so, and I’m dazzled enough by the idea of Stock Pots to believe him. I want. I want, I want, I want. After one viewing of this commercial, my curiosity simmers. After multiple viewings, my curiosity boils over to obsession. Jellified stock! Melts into the soup! Can even please children! I need. I need, I need, I need. 

I buy a package and squirrel it home. The instructions say I may drop it into 500 ml of boiling water or simply plop it into a sauce. Sure beats crumbling bone-and-sodium bouillon bricks. Just as Marco promises, it does melt into the soup. It fills the kitchen with a beguiling aroma. It is indeed tasty. Since purchasing it last week, I’ve used it in Cioppino, dairy-free mashed potatoes, and as an oil-free sautee base. Next week, it’s going into the tortilla soup. Simmered to perfection, just like my greed. 

 
This post has been brought to you by WanderFood Wednesday. 

Winter Sleep

January 22, 2010 in dublin, Ex-Patriate Games, Ireland, Looking

The cold competes with the rain. The Christmas lights in City Centre are still up, but aren’t lit at night anymore so they loom above the streets like sad skeletons. Mince pies are no longer advertised in the markets. Snow no longer blankets the sidewalks, ice no longer covers the Canal or the pond at St. Stephen’s Green. The swans are back, swimming peacefully, and the buses run. It’s post-Holiday Winter in Dublin; gray, chilly, damp and restless. 

Waiting.  

This post has been brought to you by DeliciousBaby Photo Friday. 

Eat Irish

January 20, 2010 in Ex-Patriate Games, Looking, Oishii

My friends and family all want to know how the food is here in Ireland.

“How is it?” they ask. “How is it really?”

They want to know if I’m suffering, if I’m hiding in bed each morning, frozen by the thought of enduring yet another day of gray meat boiled without salt. Straight away, I tell them that Dublin is a cosmopolitan city. Just like New York, I can get any kind of food I want. Well, almost like New York … well, almost any kind of food … but I’m definitely not hurting for choice and flavor. There’s Jo Burger in Rathmines – a gourmet burger restaurant that serves monstrous organic lamb, beef, or vegan chickpea patties on potato buns. There’s Fafie’s crepe cafe. There’s Carluccio’s, where every single salad, foccaccia, and sandwich on the menu is ecstasy-inducing. 

“Yes, yes,” say my friends. “But how’s the Irish food?”

This is what I tell them:


Full Irish Breakfast: beans, eggs, tomatoes, rashers, tasty black and white pudding. 

Mussels alive alive-o; stewed in cream, topped with lemon, and served with Irish Soda Bread

Dublin’s own.

Crispy battered fish and chips, flavored with malt vinegar and served with savory mushy peas

Fragrant mulled wine from Bewley’s Cafe on Grafton Street

“The Irish food is awesome,” I say. “Why do you ask?” 

This post has been brought to you by WanderFood Wednesday. 

The Swans Are Back in Town

January 17, 2010 in dublin, Ex-Patriate Games, Ireland

The Big Chill of 2010 appears to be over, and I am very pleased to announce that the swans are back in the Canal. 

Not quite ready for their close up. 

Ah, Jaysus, I hate the human-razzi. 

I never really bird-watched before I moved to Ireland. I suppose I took the thick bird life for granted while I was growing up on Florida’s Gulf Coast, where egrets stalk across the high way. Then, in New York and Osaka … well, if you’ve eaten one pigeon, you’ve eaten ‘em all. Birds seem different here in Dublin. Maybe I’m older now and finally enjoy the smell of roses but something about these Irish birds … especially the magpies. Especially the swans. Boy, I could just watch the swans all day

The embodiment of beauty, power, and grace. Welcome back, fellas.

The Butcher, the Baker, the Neighborhood Maker

January 13, 2010 in dublin, Ex-Patriate Games, Ireland, Looking, Oishii, spazarific

Last April, while Sean and I were touring South East Asia, he asked if I had any book recommendations. We were in Times Square Berjaya in Kuala Lumpur, wandering around the giant Border’s bookstore, and my eyes lit upon a copy of Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I hadn’t read it myself, but every one I knew who had described it as “life changing.” 

“I hear this one’s good,” I said.

Recommending that book to him was one of the worst mistakes I’ve ever made. 

I kid, I kid. I’ve gained much from Sean’s now-constant diatribes against corn, processed food, and chain supermarkets. I’ve become much more careful about what I buy and where I buy it from. I use TESCO less and less, mostly for dry goods. We take day trips to farmer’s markets for our produce and our meat and fish now come from the butcher shop and the fish market. What has two thumbs and never knew that meat from shops was cheaper and more delicious than packaged slabs from the supermarket? This gal. 

The fruits of a farmer’s market haul: quinoa, zucchini, pepper, lentil, and basil stew. 

I can’t tell you how much fun I’ve been having. And to think that for my parents’ generation, nutrient-poor processed food was synonymous with technology and progress. I’m tooling around town like my Italian grandmothers, taking whole afternoons to do the shopping. I’ve become fond of The Feed Bag, an organic shop specializing in grains, as well as the farmer’s market near the Harcourt Luas Station. I like that there are less people in those places and that the people who run them have begun to recognize me.

It sure helps a new girl feel like part of things in a new city. 

Perhaps my favorite stop on the Grocery Tour is Whelan’s Butcher. It’s a small shop, selling fish as well as fowl, beast, pig knuckles, and tripe. The shop’s storefront is wooden, painted red, with the name of the establishment printed in uncial script. It’s run by one Mr. Paddy Whelan.

I’m becoming very fond of Mr. Whelan. He’s kind, chatty, and helpful to the point that when he doesn’t have what I’m after, he improvises. Case in point: last week’s chicken roast called for a 12-piece frying chicken. He’d never heard of such a thing – perhaps “frying chicken” is an American term – but asked if a whole chicken cut up would do. It would. Out came a fresh free range chicken and out came his giant knife. Thwack. Thwack. Thwack. Served. And, later, delicious. 

I popped in today for some fish – it was my evil plan to create a dinner so unbelievably healthy that it would erase my past 30 years of gluttony. Mwa-ha-ha. The shopping list: 1 lb. of kale, 1 lemon, 3 yams, 3 Rooster potatoes, strawberries, and two fat salmon steaks. 

It was only myself and Mr. Whelan in the shop today, his last customer leaving as I entered. Outside, the weather was disgusting – all of the weekend’s fluffy snow washed away by sheets of freezing rain. 

“Hello, Mr. Whelan,” I said. “How are you?”

“I’m well, thank you. And how’s about yourself?”

“I’m good! Thank you. How is your salmon today?”

“It’s fresh, a-right,” 

“I’d like two pieces, please.” 

“Will I give you the pieces from the top or from the tail?”

“From the top, please.”

“Grand. This thickness?”

“That’s great. By the way, Mr. Whelan, the chicken you cut up for me last time was just perfect.”

“Ah, is that so? I’m glad to hear it.” 

Back at home, I prepped my ingredients. The two slabs of salmon were each rubbed with olive oil, salt, and pepper and topped with thin slices of lemon before being wrapped in packets of foil and popped into the oven. The yams and rooster potatoes were peeled and boiled, then mashed with a cup of the reserved starchy water, a dainty pat of Kerrygold butter, a lash of low-fat milk, a couple pinches of salt and several hearty dashes of black pepper. The kale was deveined and tossed into the steamer. But the plot really thickened when I rummaged through my cupboard and produced bottles of turmeric, cumin, and the remains of a bag of quinoa ….

Dinner is served. 

Strawberries and rooiboos tea for dessert. 

Delicious, but perhaps I overdid it when I took a Cod Liver Oil capsule with my meal … too much healthiness makes me hallucinate … am now harboring feelings of guilt and loss. Who am I and what have I done with me? Someone get me a box of Stove Top Stuffing and a Hostess cupcake, quick.

This post has been brought to you by WanderFood Wednesday. 

Fun (ふん)in the Snow

January 13, 2010 in dublin, Ex-Patriate Games, I'm Learning Japanese ... I Really Think So, Japanese Mix, Looking, spazarific

Last weekend, there was snow, snow, everywhere. Snowmen dotted the streets and we became jealous, desperate to feed the kid within us. So we stomped into a park and started making a snowman of our own. Then we realized it was hard work making a snowman, and changed the design to a wedding cake. We sculpted and patted, scooped and molded …

Looks like our years in Japan affected us more than we thought. 

Snowed Out

January 10, 2010 in dublin, Ireland

So, apparently, it never snows in Ireland. 

Winter Break Snapshot

January 7, 2010 in dublin, Holidays, Ireland, Looking, spazarific

So much for the holidays. Back from Cork, back to Dublin, which has somehow been transformed into a Winter Blunderland. The rain turns to stinging hail turns to rain turns to hail again. And now we have snow, too – covering the rooftops and the sidewalks. It falls gently in the mornings and afterwards, the sky seems to glitter. 

Outside my living room window:

 

After the snow falls, it hardens and turns to ice. The sidewalks become hockey rinks and Dubliners skate along. Sometimes they fall. 

“Ah, be careful now!” says a man outside my building this morning as I head to the butcher shop. The man is wearing a reflective yellow safety vest and is standing next to a moving van. “It’s slippery out here, a-right. Mind yourself, mind you don’t fall now.”

“Take care yourself!” I say. 

“Ah, not me,” he says. “I don’t be walking around in this snow. I just be telling my employees which flat to move the furniture into.”

One step. Two steps. So far, no broken neck. It’s miserably cold and the sheets of snow sparkle. So much for seeing my one-eyed friend, Patch, on a day like today. 

 

But wait! Could it be …?

 

It is! It’s Patch! Purr, purr, purr. Meow, meow, meow. I’m happy to see you, too, little buddy, but who let you out in the cold, cold snow? There, there, handsome – I wish you could come home with me, too. 

Walking into City Centre, I notice that the Grand Canal – usually teeming with regal swans – is empty and frozen over. Of course; birds can’t swim in ice. But where did they go? Oops. Easy there. Almost fell that time. 

I buy a frying chicken from the butcher and slide home. Once in the kitchen, I marinate the chicken in vinegar, preparing it to enter a roasting pan with rooster potatoes, red and yellow peppers, and chunks of Irish sausage. While the bird bathes, I get a jump on school work for next term. And by “get a jump on” I mean “cocoon myself in my bedroom and gaze out the window at the falling snow.”

Barry’s tea straight up, Lotus-Olbas Vapour Release tissues, and the rough draft of a new short story. Heading outdoors might be a suicide mission, but inside, things could be worse. 

The Blacker the Tea

January 4, 2010 in Ex-Patriate Games, I'm Learning Japanese ... I Really Think So, Ireland, Japanese Mix, Oishii, spazarific, Things I Will Miss About Japan

I never drank tea before I moved to Japan. There, it came in shades of green and black and barley; iced in the summer, steaming in the winter. Tea straight up, sometimes with bitter leaves or bright green powder swimming about in the smooth ceramic cup. Dozens of varieties in the store – loose, bagged, and bottled. Tea in the morning, tea in the afternoon, tea before bed.  お茶を飲んだら、元気に成ります! Tea, tea, tea. Gorgeous middle-aged Japanese women and their lifelong buckets of tea. 

Ireland is also a tea nation. It’s black tea here – poured an inch or so away from the top of the cup to allow for a few cooling splashes of milk. Tea, tea, tea. Morning, noon, and night. You’ll have a cup, won’t you? Ah, go on. Have a cup, so. Help yourself to a biccie and a cuppa. Ah, go on. Go on, go on, go on. 

I don’t like drinking my tea with milk – it’s delicious, but I can’t help but feel that all the health benefits are squelched by the cholesterol and fat. I drink the black tea straight up, as I did in Japan. 

The looks I get. 

“Ah, I don’t know, like,” tut the Irish. “Drinking it without milk. I don’t know how you do it.” 

“It’s fine, really.”

“Not even a splash!”

“Nope.”

They eat their biscuits. They watch me drink. They shake their heads.