Feb 27, 2010

Garlic Chip and Cheese

I need onion rings and a grilled cheese (with onion) when I'm hungover. I need cornflakes with hot milk when I'm tired. I need garlic chip and cheese when my father dies.

I can't say I needed it because it was something we usually ate together, or because it was his favorite thing to eat. Truth is, I don't even know if my father liked garlic chip and cheese. But three days after burying my father, and the night before I left my home in Ireland to come back to my home in New York, all I could feel was the absence of garlic chip and cheese. I always eat garlic chip and cheese when I go home, and this time I hadn't.
It was nothing and everything.

My brother's house is a twenty-minute drive from the nearest chipper, and no-one else wanted chips. We were all tired from a long week of shaking hands and shaking heads. I was too tired to force the issue. I wish I'd insisted, because maybe then I wouldn't have spent the night in my room crying (that I might never have garlic chip and cheese again). If I'd had forty-minutes alone with my older brother and that hot steamy mass of chips and mayo with melted cheese, I would have slept better. I wouldn't have argued with my mother the next morning. I would have been less angry at everyone around me. I would have shopped in Duty-Free. I wouldn't have cried like a lonely immigrant as the plane pulled away from Ireland.

It's my father's month's mind mass today. I can't go, so I made myself garlic chip and cheese (even though I have a feeling he probably hated garlic). For something consumed so widely in Ireland, it's impossible to find a recipe for it; I'm wondering now if it's an Irish culinary secret (like the fact that no-one eats corned beef and cabbage).

I decided to wing it.

I sliced up some russet potatoes. Tossed them with a little oil and salt. Baked them in the oven for ages and ages (1 hour) ...

... until they were crispy.

In the meantime, I kept adding minced garlic to a bowl of mayonnaise until the garlic was borderline overpowering the mayo (4 tbsp to 1 cup). I added a little warm water to thin the dip/sauce a little. I might have added a little lemon juice, but I didn't have any.

I put some of the garlic mayo in a bowl to dip the fries in, and sprinkled a little parsley on top.

I love how rugged homemade chips look when wrapped in brown paper.

In fact, I think these are downright sexy salty chips.

I put some fries back in the oven with a little garlic mayo on top and a handful of shredded cheese. I'm not actually sure you're supposed to cook mayo. If I had a cooking sense, it might have been waving a red flag right about there, but I don't, so it didn't, and I shoveled it all into me before I could tell if it was going to make me sick, or not.

Actually, it was half-decent.

It didn't make me feel sick at all.
Though, it didn't make me feel better either ...

Feb 26, 2010

The Irish T-Shirt Shop

How I wish Stacy and Clinton would devote an episode of What Not To Wear to What Not to Wear on St. Patrick's Day. I guess I can see why they don't; it's pretty easy to point out what not to wear on Paddy's Day, but who the hell knows what you should wear?

The best and easiest choice is probably a t-shirt. I've had t-shirts made in the past, and if I can get my act together in time this year I'll do the same. Still, I always like to see if there are any new alternatives to the Kiss-Me-I'm Irish standby—they make good gifts.

I found The Irish T-shirt Shop this morning and I'm liking their shirts featuring popular Irish phrases and slang. Here are a few of my favorites (all about $18.50 and available in green or white):
Love this Eejit shirt—"Eejit" means idiot (you can also buy a "Feckin Eejit" shirt). An Irishman walks into the bar" references the first line of every Irish joke. Besides, where else would he be going?

"Suckin' Diesel" is a common slang for "doing well," i.e., "How'r'ye now?" "Ah sure I'm suckin' diesel." "Póg mo thóin" is Irish for "kiss my arse!"
"How's she cuttin?" means "how's it going?" "Nuns! Nuns! Reverse! Reverse!" is a classic line, taken from hugely popular and hilarious Irish TV show, Father Ted. You don't have to be a Father-Ted fan to find it funny, though!


Feb 25, 2010

Calling All Paddys, Patricks, Pats, and Patricias!

They say everyone's a Paddy on St. Patrick's Day, but this year everyone will be wishing they really were a Paddy (or a Patrick, Pat, Patricia, or Patrice). To celebrate the tenth anniversary of opening their doors to the public, the Guinness Storehouse will present anyone named Patrick (or any variant of the name) with a special complimentary "VIP Pass" (Very Important Patrick Pass) into their St. Patrick’s Day Festival. Non-Paddys are welcome, too, but you'll have to pay €15.
Festivities include fire-jugglers, street performers, Irish groups Rattle and Hum, Sliotar, and The Gravel Walk, musician Jimmy Smyth, Irish celeb DJs, a Céilí Mór, and a personal welcome from Arthur and Olivia Guinness characters. Visiting Paddies will be invited to taste Guinness variants—Foreign Extra Stout and Extra Stout, to sample Guinness brown bread with smoked salmon, along with other Guinness-inspired recipes (wonder if they'll have my cupcakes), they'll learn how to pour the perfect pint of Guinness, and they get to take home a hand drawn caricature of themselves enjoying same perfect pint.

Wonder if it's too late to consider a name change now ... I want that Very Important Paddy pass!

More info at Guinness-Storehouse.com

Feb 23, 2010

Mapping Your Heritage the Modern Way

If I didn't have such a bad sense of direction, I'd be a cartographer. Yes, I might not be able to follow a map very well, but oh how I love to look at them. I've been thinking about maps a lot lately as a way to represent where you come from. Sure, you can go the Erin-go-Bragh tattoo, t-shirt, and tea-towel route, throw in a few flags, a bumper sticker on your arse, and a shamrock sticker on your forehead and no one can question your roots (though they might question your taste). Or, you can take a less skididdlyeeidledoodle approach and incorporate some maps into your decor for a subtle—and yes, stylish—nod to your heritage.
Vintage maps of Ireland are fairly easy to come by (maybe I'll feature a few options soon) and they're fine, but if you're a modern Irish man or woman, you might appreciate some less-cliché wall-candy!

Studio KMO
Karen O'Leary of Studio KMO decided that if she cut away all the unnecessary clutter on a city map, it would reveal so much more about a city. It does; it reveals that you can take something common and make it beautiful. By painstakingly eliminating the blocks, parks, and bodies of water on a map, she reveals the main arteries—and bones—of a city, contrasting positive and negative space, and at the same time creating intricate works of art. I'm really loving her 26" x 19 ½" papercut map of Dublin (shown above against a black background)—it would look amazing framed and set against an interesting background. Handcut map $340.

O'Leary's Pen and Paper series deconstructs the city map even further, simplifying the map to a series of thin vertical lines. Her handdrawn San Francisco, Paris, and London maps are especially interesting in this form, as is the Dublin map (shown above). Think this series would make a fabulous postcard set. Original handdrawn (and signed) pen and paper maps are available for $140; prints for $35.

Ork Posters

I'm already a proud owner of Ork's Brooklyn typographic poster, and seriously, I love it and actually use it to get my neighb-bearings on occasion. Ork posters are well designed, original, and modern maps depicting a city's neighborhoods typographically. They're a great option for representing your American side of the family/roots. I've emailed Ork to see if they might consider creating an Ireland map in the near future—I want/need/have to have one, and I think lots of other people might want one, too.
Ork responded: "We'd like to add some more cities before we moved on to something like countries, but yes Ireland would be a good one to outline all the counties."
That's a maybe. (Ahem, maybe you should let them know you're interested, too!)

Haptic Lab

Brooklyn-based architect and designer, Emily Fischer, creates beautiful soft maps you can use, touch, and cuddle. When you consider that so many of the maps we look at and use these days are digitized, these Soft Maps—quilted queen, twin, and mini-maps of cities and neighborhoods—are an expressive and tactile reminder of place. They're beautiful and are meant to be used. (Fischer was inspired to create these maps as her mother lost her eye sight.) Haptic Lab's current locations include Brooklyn, Manhattan, Washington DC, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles, but they welcome custom orders. Love the idea of wrapping myself in a map of west-Clare! Great gift. ($150—$800)

Native Vermont Originals
Okay, so technically this is not a map; it's a typography collage. BUT when you customize it with the names of the places that are important to you, it becomes a map of you. I really love the idea of a typography map that is not a physical drawing of a place but almost a trail of placenames. There are so many different ways you could go with this—you could customize to include the names of the thirty-two counties of Ireland and hello!—it's a map of Ireland, or you could make it even more unique and add the names of all the places you've ever lived, all the teams you have ever followed (for me it'd read, The Magpies, The Banner, The NY Yankees, The Brooklyn Shamrocks), or just important places to you. Love it.

Feb 17, 2010

Irish Toast to Your Coffin

LOVING this "Irish Toast to Your Coffin" poster by Ashleigh Talbot (aka Madame Talbot) of Victorian Lowbrow. It says "A toast to your coffin: May it be built from the wood of a hundred year old oak tree ... that which shall be planted tomorrow."
It's a 17 x 22 inch poster, originally drawn by hand with pen and ink and then offset printed on parchment stock. Love the Celtic border, oak tree (symbol of death), and acorn on the coffin (as a symbol of life). Very cool and very affordable at $13.95.

Etsy store

Feb 15, 2010

Chocolate Guinness Cupcakes

I used to be a one-trick pony. If you came to my house, I made Apple Cake. If I went to your house, I brought Apple Cake. Nothing for dinner? I'll throw together an Apple Cake! It's as appealing as Apple Pie (and appealing to a lazy cook because you don't have to pray to pastry Gods). I made it so many times last year that I developed welts on my fingers from peeling apples. I decided I needed a new easy-but-different dessert; I found it in Nigella Lawson's Chocolate Guinness Cake (from her 2004 cookbook, Feast: Food to Celebrate Life).

Chocolate. Guinness. Cake.

I've made it twice already this year, and today, I decided to make Chocolate Guinness cupcakes to deliver to friends. I'm officially a two-trick pony.

For the cake/cupcakes
1 cup of Guinness
10 tablespoons of unsalted butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 cups of superfine sugar (regular sugar's fine, too)
3/4 cup of sour cream
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar
8 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
1/2 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Drink 4oz of Guinness and then combine the remaining 8oz with butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat until butter melts.
Remove from heat, add cocoa and sugar, and whisk to blend. In a separate bowl, combine sour cream, eggs, and vanilla; add to Guinness cocoa mix. Toss in your flour and baking soda and whisk together.
Pour into cupcake tin.
Lick pan.
Bake for 50 mins. Remove from oven and leave to cool for a bit while you combine topping ingredients in a blender until smooth.
When you add the topping, your cupcakes look like mini pints of chocolatey-Guinness goodness.

Feb 12, 2010

J.G. Farrell

In early December, I came across a review by The Sunday Times columnist, Robert Harris, on Lavinia Greacen's J.G. Farrell In His Own Words, a compilation of author, J.G. Farrell's letters and diaries. This pulled me in:
On August 11, 1979 the Booker prize-winning novelist JG Farrell was fishing from a rock close to his home in Kilcrohane, in southwest Ireland, when a wave knocked him into the sea. A woman who was nearby with her two children ran over to help. Farrell’s arms and lungs had been weakened by polio as a teenager. According to a laconic note made by a friend of his, a solicitor: “She said ‘Lie on back and I will get help.’ Did not respond. Did not appear to attempt to swim. No visible efforts. Screams. She tried to reach down. 4-5 yards. Suddenly he was swept under and disappeared.”
This sealed the deal:
"In his seaside house, without a tele­phone (the waiting list was two years) and with no distractions (his builder was “the closest thing I have to a friend round here”), Farrell grew his own vegetables, caught his own fish supper in the sea each day, and worked on his new book. His last letter was written on August 10, 1979 to his publisher: “I’m running a bit behind schedule — but I’m still confident that barring some unforeseen disaster I’ll provide you with a novel of 80,000 to 100,000 words before the end of the year.” The following afternoon, with a storm rising in the Irish Sea, he went down to his favorite rock to fish. "
A great Irish writer swallowed up by the wild Irish Sea ... An incomplete manuscript at home ... The "barring some unforeseen disaster" letter the day before his death. I needed to read this haunting collection of previously unpublished letters ranging from childhood to the day before his death. But first, I had to read his three greatest novels— The Empire Trilogy.

J.G.Farrell's Empire Trilogy at NYRB

I can't believe I wasted valuable tea/Guinness/shopping time when I was home, traipsing around my hometown looking for this collection of books, when with one click I found the them online at New York Review of Books. For thirty percent off.

I was surprised, relieved, and saddened in my search for J.G. (a.k.a. Jim) Farrell at home. Surprised that I couldn't find any of the three books in the trilogy—Troubles, The Siege of Krishnapur, or The Singapore Grip, and worse, that I couldn't find anyone who had even heard of J.G. Farrell. Relieved that I wasn't the only eejit with a gaping big hole in her Irish bookshelf/head. Saddened that a great Irish author is apparently greatly underappreciated in his own country, or at least in my county. (Wait, I tried Limerick too, so maybe he's greatly unknown in Munster.)

I wondered why his books are not front and center on that shelf of "Irish Interest" you see at the airport, when The Siege of Krishnapur (the second book in The Empire Trilogy) won a Booker Prize in 1973, and was selected as one of only six previous winners to compete in the 2008 international “Best of Booker” competition. Also, a few weeks ago, Troubles (the first book in the trilogy) was longlisted for "The Lost Man Booker Prize 2010," with the shortlist announcement expected in March.

I also wondered—after reading quotes from John Banville and Salman Rushdie testifying to Farrell's literary greatness—why Farrell never showed up in my Yeats-and-Peig-Sayers-heavy education or in Colm Toibin's compilation of Ireland's Greatest Fiction ... until, I did some (ahem) research and realized (ahem) that Farrell was actually born in Liverpool.

It didn't sit right. I couldn't imagine why the great Irish Sea would pull an Englishman away to Tír na nÓg (the land of eternal youth), so I dug a little deeper. Turns out, Farrell was born in Liverpool into an Irish family. His parents moved to Ireland when he was 12, and so Farrell spent much of his life in Ireland, and hello—he had bought a house and moved there before he died! Mostly, according to Cork University Press—publishers of Lavinia Greacen's compilation—Farrell's letters show that he considered himself Irish. That's Irish enough for my shelf.

A picture of a plaque close to where Jim lost his life, from Cork University Press

So, instead of questioning just how green Farrell was, I'm going to be glad I've found a new great Irish writer to add to my bookshelf and life. Then, I'm going to cry for him when I read that last letter...

Stock your shelf:
J.G.Farrell's Empire Trilogy
JG Farrell in His Own Words: Selected Letters and Diaries

Feb 6, 2010

Killing Bono: I Was Bono's Doppelganger

While I was at home last week, I heard that filming is currently under way in Northern Ireland on Killing Bono—a story about two Irish brothers chasing their dream of rockstardom. It's based on Neil McCormick's autobiography Killing Bono: I Was Bono's Doppelganger, and tells the story of McCormick and his hapless brother Ivan who start a band together in the late 1970s. Unfortunately for them, however, so did their classmates—a few lads who went on to become U2.

"Some are born great.
Some achieve greatness.
Some have greatness thrust upon them.
And some have the misfortune
to go to school with Bono."

The film (starring Ben Barnes of The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian and Robert Sheehan of Cherrybomb) is set for a Summer 2010 release, so you have plenty of time to read the book first, and I thoroughly recommend you do. I started my copy the other day and it's a great read.
McCormick went to Dublin's Mount Temple Comprehensive, a secondary school that the boys who grew up to form the rock band U2 also attended. As Paul Hewson (Bono), Dave Evans (The Edge), Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen formed the band that would later take the world by storm, McCormick and his brother Ivan were also forming bands, optimistic that they would find success. For McCormick, it was never a question of if he would become a rock star, but when. In chapter one, he writes,
"And if they had informed me that among this generation of students were four individuals who would become the most famous Irish exports since Guinness, why, I would have shrugged bashfully before looking around at my schoolmates to try to work out who were the other three."
McCormick's voice is honest and funny, and while it's a book about McCormick and not U2, I have to say that as a U2/music fan, I'm loving his insights into early U2 and the late 70s/early 80s Irish music scene. Also love feeling like a fly on the wall in conversations with his still-friend, Bono.
If you've ever had a dream, you'll root for McCormick as you follow his feverish quest for fame, wanting him to make it—to realize his rock'n'roll destiny ... even though you know he won't. If you've ever had an unfulfilled dream, you'll take comfort in the fact that sometimes it is life's losers who have the most interesting tale to tell ...

Get your copy here

Feb 3, 2010

Pulling the Wool Over St. Brigid

I missed the first of February. It came and went while I was still in January. I used to love the first of February—St. Brigid's Day—when I was a kid, because we got to make St. Brigid's crosses at school. Mr. Hanley used to let us off up the back of the school to pick wild rushes which we then wove into crosses, as St. Brigid once did to explain the cross to a dying man (and score another soul for the Catholic team).

I used to be a dinger at weaving crosses. I haven't felt like I'm a dinger at anything in ages so I decided this morning to ignore the forty-seven other things I was supposed to be doing, and make a two-day-late tribute to St. Brigid. Small problem: No rushes in Brooklyn. If there are, they're under snow right now, and I can't be seen with a shovel or my neighbors will heckle me for not clearing my patch of sidewalk (not understanding that it's forty-eighth on my to-do list today).

No rushes and in-no-rush-to-shovel, I made a cross out of wool.

Your average cross and your average knitwit's attempt

I thought I'd experience a self-satisfied "I never lost it" moment upon completion, but as I cursed St. Jude (the patron saint of lost causes) for not helping my limp/lame St. Brigid's Cross stand up over my door to protect my house from fire and evil (as is the tradition), I realized I have in fact truly lost it.

As the blue-fairy might say "A little cross who won't be good, might just as well be made of wool"

Best go get that shovel ...

Note: I attempted to photograph each step of the process, but as I was using teeth, toes, and thighs to hold strings in place, my photos are a bit wobbly. If you'd like to make a cross of your own or you need an excuse to not shovel, check out these easy instructions on fisheeaters.com.