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Nuts for health

19 Apr

I happened to look at Grace making her own lunch the other day, mainly candy corn mixed with a little chocolate.  Before I intervened I had to take a photo.

is candy corn a food group?

is candy corn a food group?

“Why are you taking a picture, Dad?” “Because I can’t believe you thought this would be an acceptable lunch.” “But I’m adding nuts to make it healthy.”

Fresh meat

14 Apr

I knew spring had sprung when I looked out the bathroom window the other morning and saw the cattle.  Mary calls fromthe bedroom “what are you doing in there?”  “Taking a picture out the window” says I.

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Young, freshly gelded bullocks romping in the field marks the beginning of this year’s meat production cycle.  With it comes Grace’s annual declaration that she is a vegetarian.  That lasted almost a whole day.

Shriving

12 Feb

Is “shrove” the past tense for “shrive”? Does making pancakes count as Shriving? Who knows?

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Happy “pancake Tuesday” and Laissez les Bon Temps Roulez!

Christmas recap

13 Jan

Just a quick recap of Christmas to start off 2013. (I downloaded the WordPress blogging app for my phone so maybe I will get back to posting more frequently)

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A quiet Christmas Eve at home by the fire watching “The Sound of Music” culminated in setting up treats for Santa. Grace wrote her letter to Santa this year in “Viking” – runes she and her cousin had learned from a book he has about Vikings. She said “if Santa is real, he’ll be able to read Viking”
Well apparently he is, because Christmas morning there was a letter written back to Grace in the same strange script.

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Christmas morning was a treat for all: Santa brought Grace new skates and a book about wizards, he brought Tara a digital camera. Mary and I got a beautiful morning in a beautiful house and many fine gifts from family and friends.

After a nice morning at Sonas, we headed in for mass at the Cathedral. Town was sunny and quiet. Unlike the U.S. where there are a significant number of non-Christians, in Ireland the entire country closes for business on Christmas Day…all except the Churches.

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After mass, it was out to Quin Road and a phenomenal feast with all the Lyons clan and requisite cousins. 15 of us in all – for a very merry Christmas indeed.

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Repatriation

3 Nov

A lot of powerful feelings flooded over me as I cleared U.S. immigration two Fridays ago.  I had been out of the country for over a year so I took advantage of my business trip to Mexico to spend the weekend with Mary in New York.

good times, but not very square…

We were both relieved that there wasn’t any trouble with Mary’s green card, but I was feeling very homesick to be in the U.S. without a plan to get home to S.F.   Nonetheless, New York was just as I remembered it.

You just can’t compare the vibrant buzz of the people and the traffic and the spectacular urban vistas in New York with anywhere else in the world.

it’s all about the buildings..

But the last time we were in the city, there were two more buildings on the skyline, and their absence was a tangible weight on top of all the other emotions that our brief stop in the states was stirring.

So the first thing we did on Saturday morning was to head downtown to pay our respects at the World Trade Center Memorial.

As large as the hole in the ground is here, there is no way to measure the holes in all the lives touched by this tragedy

Any words I can put to the experience would be inadequate, but it was cold out, and emotional, and right next to the site was an Irish bar called O’Hara’s from which we could hear a hot beverage crying out our names.  So we stopped in to warm up and chill out.

Every inch of the back-bar at O’Hara’s is covered with the badges of Police and Firefighters from all over the U.S.  As a central hub of the World Trade center rescue, recovery and cleanup, O’Hara’s has served the servers, and these are the tributes to all the men and women who put their lives on the line in service to others.

badges of honor

There is a bar in Kinvara, County Galway that has similarly covered it’s back-bar with the badges of Police and Firefighters from all over the U.S.   In Ireland, these badges honor the contribution the Irish people have made to U.S. emergency services and at O’Hara’s it is the Irish people who honor the emergency workers right back.

Then an elderly man and his wife sat down next to us and ordered with Irish accents.  So we began talking, and it turned out that this couple immigrated to New York in the 50’s during one of the many hard times in Ireland that sent the Irish across the world willing to work.  This fellow came from rural Longford to this enormous city to work as a welder on the tallest buildings in the world – what a mindblowing shock that must have been.

Today was the first time this weary man had come down to the site since his handiwork had been so senselessly wiped out.  Talk about mindblowing.

It occurred to me that the Irish were a big part of both the beginning and the end of the World Trade Center story.

But even without the Twin Towers, New York is still very much alive, and after honoring the dead, we headed to Greenwich Village to celebrate the living.

the “North Beach” of New York

Our friend Mike had told us they were having a block party.  They had blocked off the street, fired up a barbeque grilling burgers and hotdogs, tapped a couple kegs of local microbrews, and were rocking out to a band of enthusiastic local musicians in front of the Tavern on Jane.  Being there at that moment made me even more homesick because the vibe was so similar to the comfortable community coolness of our old North Beach neighborhood in San Francisco.

And just like North Beach, Greenwich Village is full of surprising little nooks and cranny’s that lie just out of sight of the casual passer-by.  In this case, the highlight was a small private garden shared by a bunch of the nieghbors that we could duck into for a quiet break from the crowding mayhem of a New York street party.

garden party in the village

It was a whirlwind one-day visit to the big Apple, but we managed to experience so many different sides of the city that it felt like a whole week.  On Sunday morning, before I headed off to Mexico and Mary headed back to Ireland, we got to experience one last thing that we couldn’t get on the Emerald Isle: a proper brunch at a sidewalk cafe.

homefries in the homeland

The Americans Visit

19 Aug

It was a strangely disconcerting emotional experience having Mary’s brother and his family come to visit Ireland this summer.

For the first 12 years of our marriage, we lived in S.F.  along with Mary’s other expat siblings and they would all trade news of the family back home, get excited about upcoming return trips or melancholy when the time between those trips grew too long.

This summer, though, we were on the other side.  We were “home” this time to witness the excited anticipation that precedes the prodigal return of an expat child.  There were dinners planned, schedules made, houses cleaned and all sorts of gyrations, but ultimately it was really about the kids.

The most cousins I got in the frame was 7

This was the first time we had 9 out of the 10 cousins together, and it was worth all the effort that the Americans made to get here and all the preparations that those here made to host them.  That didn’t mean there wasn’t complete chaos trying to out-do every preceding dinner.

We spent the week in the Burren house – 13 of us – and we got some fantastic warm sunny days, created a whole host of memories for everyone and at least one epic sunset that I managed to get a picture of.

The cousins instantly fell right in and re-connected, and it was heartbreaking to see them go back to San Francisco this morning.

Their visit was a wonderful chance for us to share and show off all the fantastic wonderful things we have discovered about Ireland,  but it also made us feel all the things we missed about SF – mostly all those family and friends who we haven’t seen for so long.

X-treme Reader Love

28 Jul

Can I just take a quick moment to say how proud I am that the time and energy I put into this blog has actually come back to reward me…in the form of hot sauce.

Yes, I know that may seem strange to many, but to my friends and family who listened to my cries for spicy food here in Ireland, I have been given what I deem is possibly the hottest hot-sauce I have ever tasted. My mother sent me some very hot hot-sauce recently, but this recent sauce is so hot, in fact, that it is more than worth promoting it here:

understated label

I have taken lately to putting it on my toast in the morning before laying on the rashers and black and white pudding for a sort of spicy irish breakfast sandwich. It is so good that it brings tears…literally…to my eyes…tears of spicy joy (and a little pain).

Thanks a million guys!

A Double Scoop of Martello

22 Jul

It is only fair that I point out that the view I landed into last week was not our regular view from the house in Ennis.  No, last week we spent in New Quay – in the rugged, wild Burren area of County Clare.  It is set in rough and rocky terrain that holds a unique beauty known to inspire poets and artists – and lately the inspiration seems to be in culinary form.

We are three houses down from some of the freshest and best seafood at the (locally) famous Linane’s Lobster Bar.  It is a destination that draws boats in from Galway and Lahinch to pull up at the pier next to the boats that come in with the catch.  Our girls go down to look at the rare blue Lobster kept down there amongst the ones that will end up on the table later.

The weather all week was warm and dry but mostly gray until Friday afternoon when the sun burst out and Linane’s was jumping.

Earlier the weather was still nice enough for a stroll down to the end of the point where there stands a round tower built in the early 1800s to defend the coast against Napoleon.  The tower is one of many across Europe called Martello towers after the Italian Mortello towers, and were not typically built on the west coast of Ireland, but I guess they were worried enough about him coming to Galway that they built a couple over here.

There is a rope in one of the window openings and some chips of wood stuck in the cracks between the stones so if you are industrious and brave, you can climb up the side and get into the tower – apparently the cannon is still on top.  We didn’t find out because our girls were a little nervous when they got about half way up, and their dad is old enough to know better than to try.  Nonetheless, it was a good adventure.

Even better is the fact that the only other property out on the point near the tower happens to be an Ice Cream Factory!  There used to be a dairy farm here, and the owners started making ice-cream on the side, but the ice cream was so good and the demand for it so high that they stopped the dairy business and put all the cows working for the ice cream.

My girls claim it is the best ice cream they’ve ever had….and they are certainly experts!

To be able to work out of the Burren this week and spend the extra time with the family in one of the most amazing locations in the world was a real treat.  The ice cream was just one of the many memorable moments….too many to count.

Summer in Town

16 Jul

Summer means festivals and fairs in every Irish town and Ennis is right in there having hosted our own street festival the other weekend.  It was a soft day, gray and overcast, but dry and mild and not particularly cold.

The parking lot behind the shops was made into a pedestrian mall with tents set up hawking local products, drummers drumming, and street musicians busking, stilt-walkers lurching around and…….a duck race!

No not real ducks, plastic ducks…..apparently from Canada:

The duck race was a way for the local businesses to sponsor the festival and have a bit of fun….and I’d say every local business had a duck in the race.  We were supporting the duck racing for the Queens Hotel.  In fact, we helped show the duck around town.

visualizing race day

After we scoped out the course we headed back to the Hotel.

training is thirsty work

But in preparation for the race, we had to go for a pint in Cruises, the cozy traditional pub adjacent to the hotel where Teresa our favorite bartender gave the duck the proper race preparation of a duck-sized pint of Guiness.

Guiness is good for you

The race itself was exciting, but we were not victorious.  Nonetheless, the town is so scenic I had to put in a shot of the guys in kayaks catching all the losing contestant ducks as they floated past the finish.

The real winners for the day were our kids who felt so free and comfortable in town that they ran off into the crowds and said they would come back later.  Our “lost” plan was simply to meet back at the Queens Hotel if we couldn’t find each other, and the amazing thing about a small town street fair is that we never needed that plan. 

You eventually bump into everyone when you walk around a town like Ennis.  Like the race ducks themselves, we couldn’t have picked a nicer spot to land.

African Heat in Ireland

12 May

Having grown up in California, I’m used to the hot spicy food that is characteristic of its proximity to Mexico. Oh how I miss the mouth-searing salsas and chile infused asadas.

But more than just the Mexican spices, within the cosmopolitan cuisinery of California I learned to appreciate the curious qualities of burn-inducing spices from other food cultures such as China and India and I am finding it hard to adjust to the lack of hot spices here in Ireland.

Oh yes, there are plenty of Chinese restaurants, and lots of Indian places and the grocery stores stock plenty of ethnic foods and ingredients. BUT THEY JUST DON”T DO HOT SPICES HERE!!! Even the “hot” Indian food here isn’t really “Berkeley Indian” hot. (In my opinion Patak’s is the only store brand here I’ve found that has a “hot” even close to being hot)

Through much seeking however , I have discovered something I never really came across in California: African hot peppers. As different as the peppers are from Mexico to China, and China to India, they are just as different – and just as hot – when you head to Africa.

The other day at the grocery store Lidl, I found a small container with a variety of hot peppers in it and I eagerly brought them home to make my own spicy sauce. I diced one up and began to sautee it in a pan. As the fumes hit my eyes, the tears came forth and I thought to myself “This is good, finally a nice, hot, chile pepper”.

Then I started coughing, and my airways actually started to burn. I was like “maybe I’m getting soft from all the non-spicy food here”. But as I continued to cook the pepper, the air became more and more difficult to tolerate and I was coughing/sputtering/crying so badly I actually had to leave the kitchen.

The powerful hot pepper heat had beaten me and I couldn’t actually go back in the kitchen for about a half hour without serious discomfort. The sauce turned out awesome (and suitably hot) and the pepper turned out to be African.

Fatalii peppers are appropriately named….

Thanks to the proximity Ireland has to Africa and the recent immigration of numerous Nigerians and other African people here, Ireland has finally gotten a little African heat in its spices. I am now a complete addict to Nando’s Extra Hot Peri-peri sauce which is apparently made from an African pepper called…you guessed it…Peri-peri. I put it on nearly everything I can, but I’m staying away from the Lidl peppers these days.

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