Jul 21, 2009

Irish Apple Cake

If there was a Dessert for Dummies book (maybe there is?) this Apple Cake would be in it. It's fast, easy, satisfying, doesn't use too many dishes, and looks/tastes impressive. Given that I don't have much to offer by way of intelligent conversation at dinner parties, I figure I can at least arrive with a good dessert. But don't feel you have to save it for dinner parties, or indeed even share it. Apple Cake is best straight from the oven, christened in fresh cream (what isn't?), served with fingers not forks. It's also yummy the next day at breakfast with a little butter and jam (and fried banana if you're Elvis). If you do share and you want to impress your hosts, you can refer to this cake by it's other name, Kerry Apple Cake, and get misty-eyed when you hand it over because it reminds you of your granny. Be warned that other Irish people will poke fun at your Kerry Cake, not because they know something you don't about your granny, but because Kerrymen are always the butt of Irish jokes.

5 apples
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup butter at room temperature
Pinch of salt
2 eggs, beaten
Splash of milk
1/2 cup of superfine sugar
Handful of granulated sugar

1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.
2. Throw flour, baking powder, and salt all together in a large bowl. Go for a bowl bigger than the one you usually use as you'll need a little elbow room to mix in the apples.
3. Cut in your butter until the mixture resembles lumpy breadcrumbs.

4. Peel and core your apples.
Note: Irish apple recipes always call for "cooking apples," a wonderful oversized apple perfectly designed for apple tarts and cakes. Of course, there is no such thing as a cooking apple in the States, I suppose because there are so many apples this side of the Atlantic fighting for the title. I use Granny Smiths, because I favor the tart taste, but you can use the apple of your eye, whatever variety it may be.
Slice your apples thinly and them fling them in to the flour mixture, along with the half cup of superfine sugar.
6. Now, dig in there with your paws and mix it up. This is a hearty--not pretty--cake, so don't be shy.

7. Add the eggs and the splash of milk to make a messy doughy mix, and slap it all into your baking pan. I use a silicone cake pan, so I don't have to grease a pan or struggle to release the finished cake.

8. Sprinkle generously with your handful of granulated sugar and then pop it in the oven for 40--45 minutes, until it is golden brown and you can no longer control yourself with the smell of hot apples. Tip: stick a toothpick in the middle of the cake and if it comes out gooey, give it another five minutes in the oven.

9. Remember: an apple[cake] a day keeps the doctor away. Dig in!

Jul 20, 2009

Mysterious Letters Cause A Stir In Antrim

In April 2009, artists Lenka Clayton and Michael Crowe sent a personal, handwritten letter to each of the 467 households in the small Irish village of Cushendall, Co. Antrim. The goal of their art project? Simply, that these unsolicited letters would prompt neighborly discussion and promote community curiosity.

I love the idea of this project––mostly because the handwritten letter is such a rarity these days––and can imagine the kicks Lenka and Michael got coming up with chit-chatter for each letter and anticipating the buzz generated by their receipt. I would have thought I was being Punk'd! Sadly, as a sign of the times, locals were scared by the light-hearted letters, though they did succeed in promoting community curiosity.

Love this one:
"Dear No. 6 Hello! Sorry to refer to you as a number. I know you're a real life person, not the world-famous, (infamous) number "6," which, in terms of numbers (infinite) is something of a celebrity: well-known, often photographed (mistakenly perhaps), spoken about by billions daily... But no, I'm writing to you despite the fact that we've never met, I just felt the urge to mail you something, however silly and little this is, I felt the urge to at least say "hello," and to let you know that, as vitally important as the number 6 is, I'd far rather know what your name is."

And this one (click on it to enlarge):

You can read more of their letters and see the BBC report at Mysterious Letters.
Ps. The artists plan to write a personal to note to everyone in the world in the future, so keep an eye out for the mailman!

Jul 12, 2009

What to pack for a trip to Ireland

Most Irish people joke that “you don’t come to to Ireland for the weather,” or “if you could only put a roof on the country, it’d be perfect.” Thing is, the weather is exactly what makes Ireland worth visiting, and dare I say, perfect. The people have been rained upon on a daily basis for their entire lives, and this has generated an easy water-off-a-duck’s-arse attitude to everything (imagine how hard it is to be hot and bothered when you’re cold and soggy?) The rain is also responsible for the lush green grass, the moody grey skies, and the fact that there is never a want for conversation.
I was just home in May, and while my heart and soul was packed for a trip to Ireland, my suitcase was packed for Miami. If I was to stop and analyze myself, I'd see that with every trip home the past few years, I’ve grown increasingly optimistic/delusional; I pack for the weather I want, not for the weather I’ll get.
The weather I’ll get is rain––light rain, torrential rain, scattered showers, soft rain, drizzles, or threatened rain. I can’t afford therapy anymore than I can afford to piss away euros on woolly socks and knickers when I get off the plane in Shannon; maybe I can retrain my brain by virtually packing Ireland-appropriate clothing and gear here from time to time (so I can save my pennies for less-practical shopping when I land!)

For now, here's my no-frills basic packing list:

(1.) a hat (2.) pair of practical walking shoes (3.) pair of less-practical dancing shoes (4.) socks (this may be a no-brainer for most people, but I always neglect to pack socks and then have to listen to my mother tell me I'll get a "cold in my kidneys" for the whole trip!) (5.) light jacket (6.) hooded sweatshirt (7.) jeans––good for day and night (8.) layering tees/tops (9.) long/short jersey dress––this can be dressed up or down with accessories (10.) warm pjs (11.) waterproof bag (12.) frills! yes, please do pack statement accessories like scarves and jewelry to style your basics (Irish people are very stylish so make an effort!)