Mar 24, 2010

Stall Spring!


Butlers, purveyors of happiness through chocolate, you had me at "hot."

My friend Gráinne brought me (okay, she brought them for the kids, but they'll never know!) a box of Butlers Hot Chocolate Cups when she came to visit last week. You add a chocolate "cup" to hot milk or cream, and next thing you know you're talking dirty to your mug. I can't believe I suffered a long cold winter without the comfort of these individual chocolate "cups." I can't believe I ever settled for hot water and those shite low-fat packets of powdered hot chocolate. I can't believe I want Winter back!

Looking on the bright side, I only throw up a little bit when I eat these chocolate cups as regular chocolates.

$7.95 at ButlersChocolates.com

Mar 23, 2010

Des Bishop

I was busy this morning. The last thing I had time for was a laugh, never mind a really good laugh that brought tears to my eyes and drove tea out of my nose. My friend Siobhán sent me a link to one of her cousin Des' bits and it changed my mood and morning (not to mention a tea-stained wardrobe change, too). Yes, my friend's cousin is Des Bishop, which means I'm practically related to Des, which means he'll finger me if he passes me on the road (you'll have to watch his clips if you don't get it!)
Des is funny, smart, and self-deprecating (doubly handy in a routine where you make fun of Irish people/yourself). He's famous in Ireland, infamous with Irish abroad, and kind of non-famous with non-Irish. If you haven't heard of him, you can get started with his YouTube clips. I just watched clips 1—9 of his older Teanga/Tongues series, and got a great kick out his observations on everything from the speed of Irish mass to Irish issues with Americans saying 'Have a nice day!'
I know you're busy, but you need to watch all 9 clips—just don't be drinking hot tea at the same time ...




I'm reminded I need to get my hands on his more recent Desfunctional DVD, and get my act together and check out his Irish language course on his site, too. I was at least on-the-ball enough to get my mother tickets to see him in Western Australia in May ... now I just have to swing flights so I can go, too!

DesBishop.com

Mar 21, 2010

Sunday Scones

I remember lying in the pink bedroom right off the kitchen listening to my grandmother wake the day. I could barely move under the woollen nest of mothball-scented blankets, but I'd stretch my sleepy toes to the hot-water-bottle at the end of the bed to gauge the time by the temperature of its response, and then confirm the early-morning hour by the fading glow of the neon statue of Our Lady of Lourdes. I loved listening to my grandmother set the day, and farm, in motion. She'd shovel out the ashes from yesterday's fire and start today's, roughly fist flour and sour milk together to make scones and soda bread, and wickedly whisper up to my uncle in the garret to go for the cows: "Michael are you up? Michael? Michael get up! MICHAEL, the Boss is rising!"
By the time my grandfather, a.k.a. The Boss, started to rumble in the room off the other side of the kitchen, the breaking sun, milk-dripping cows, and warm bread and scones would all be ready and waiting for him.

My grandmother produced scones then like she produced decades of the rosary and kids (twelve of them)—all without taking a breath. All these years later, her scones are still pumped out almost daily, though these days they are fussed and fought over by her kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids, and fantasized over by those of us outside the scone-zone/country.
I especially feel the scone-pull on a Sunday, when my aunts, uncles, and cousins descend upon Greygrove in constantly rotating shifts to share warm conversation and scones. I imagine myself sitting in by the fire with the dog at my feet, weaving in and out of several simultaneous conversations, and struggling with the want of one more scone and the fact that I'll lose my precious real estate if I move. If I'm lucky, Nana will spot my empty plate and dilemma over all the nodding heads, and quietly butter and slip me another scone, and then while she's standing, top up the kettle from her white bucket of well-water.

I couldn't be in Greygrove today, so I made my own scones; they lack years, news, prayers, sour milk from a bucket, and my Grandmother's touch, but they're not half-bad with raspberry jam and heavy cream ...

Buttermilk scones
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
a generous handful raisins
1 egg lightly beaten and added to buttermilk to make up 1 3/4 cup of liquid
2 tbsp sugar

semi-optional
heavy cream
nice jam


Combine dry ingredients in bowl, and then make a well in center for liquid.
Yell at someone to go get the cows.
Use your hand to stiffly pull the flour and buttermilk together into a soft-but-not-too-sticky dough; no need to knead.


Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface, and flatten to a round about an inch-and-a-half high. Cut scones in whatever shape you like and bake at 400 degrees F for 10—15 minutes (depending on their size). Remove from oven when the tops are golden (keep an eye on the bottoms so they don't get too brown) and scones are hollow when tapped.
Serve with clotted cream and jam, and a nice pot of tea.


Mar 18, 2010

Strange Things in Ireland


I just came across a spanking new Irish website dedicated to documenting the "Strange, weird and wonderful things that happen in Ireland today." I was very excited when I first read of it on a press release, and a tad disappointed when I got to the website and saw that it's text only. Now, I have no problem with the written word, but I can just see so much potential for an idea/site like this with photo upload ability. A mix of photos and text would make me visit regularly, maybe even daily.
Busybody that I am, I emailed the site administrator, and would you believe I just got a message back saying they added photo-ability! (Especially amazing, when you consider it's the morning-after Paddy's Day.)

There are not many entries yet, but I liked these ones:
"Irish Public Toilet notice:
‘25c charge. Accepts 10c 20c and 50c coins only. No change given.' "

"Randomness in Dublin was seeing a foxhound running along beside the luas on the way to work the other day and then yesterday a girl got onto the dart with a bucket made completely of wood. Odd!"

"I was in Debenhams in Limerick today. Hilarious. Every single one of the staff ended their sentences with either ‘my love’ or ‘lovey.’ It was said to me three times in the changing rooms and four times at the cash register. I couldn’t keep a straight face!! The WHOLE SHOP was at it!!"
Next time you're wondering what's strange/up/down in Ireland, be sure to check them out:
StrangeThingsHappeningInIreland.com

Bits of My St. Patrick's Day

I had originally planned to go to the Irish Famine Memorial and then to take in a bit of the parade, but the arse fell out of my plans, and instead, I found myself celebrating St. Patrick's Day the way most of my friends and family at home did—as a day off!


I went for a long walk and then did a little knitting and practiced tin whistle ...


I sat outside in the Spring sunshine with my cat and inhaled the salt-and-vinegar Taytos and Irish magazines my friend brought from home the other night.

I spotted some buds stretching out from under the blanket of leaves (that not so long ago were buried under a blanket of snow) and stretched my stubby toes to the sun with them.

I had hoped my last picture of the day would involve a pint of Guinness and maybe bangers and mash with a drop of gravy but [so much for the "luck of the Irish"] I couldn't get into any of the Irish bars in my neighborhood. Forgot to dye my hair green. I'll spare you the photo of me eating gnocchi in my flannels.

Mar 16, 2010

Fish Pie

My friend Gráinne was in New York for a few days and last night she came over for a feed of mash potatoes and fish. It was a bit of a busy day (picture me screeching at kids to stall Gráinne at the front door while I frantically raced around upstairs tidying hair, mess, and beds!) so I was glad I had settled on fish pie for dinner; it's one of those little-bit-of-prep-then-throw-everything-in-one-dish-and-go-clean-the-bathroom meals, perfect for entertaining on a weeknight. Perfect antidote to a shite-weather day.

6 potatoes, boiled and mashed
1lb salmon
1lb cod
1 large onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1/2 pint heavy cream
2 handfuls of grated cheese
2 handfuls of spinach, steamed
2 eggs, boiled, peeled, and quartered
1 tablespoon mustard

Generously season your mashed potatoes with salt and pepper and set them aside.
Fry onion and carrot for five minutes, add cream to pan, and bring to a boil. Stir in your grated cheese and mustard.
I really do love that you can prepare the spuds, eggs, and spinach in advance, and then toss everything together when you're ready to eat with a "Here's something I prepared earlier" flair.

Slice cod and salmon into strips and arrange it in a casserole dish with steamed spinach and quartered boiled eggs. You can use whatever mix of fish you like—salmon and cod are not very fishy and therefore perfect for kids and friends who say they like fish "once it's not very fishy."

Add the creamy onion-and-carrot mix to the casserole.

Pile on the spuds. I like to sprinkle a little parmesan on top, too (because there isn't already enough fat in this!)

I was so busy reminding Gráinne that we first made this dinner together in Mrs. Guerin's Home Economics class many (ahem, many) moons ago, that I neglected to take a good picture of my dinner. I took this snap when we had already polished off half of it; trust me, it tastes better than it looks.

Heads Up: Perrier's Bounty

Dying to see this Irish gangster drama directed by Irish filmmaker Ian Fitzgibbon and with a cast that includes Cillian Murphy, Jim Broadbent, Brendan Gleeson, and Jodie Whittaker:
"On the run with his eccentric father, who’s convinced he’ll die the next time he sleeps, and an increasingly morose Brenda, Michael is about to lose his mind. But as the net tightens and the helter skelter chase reaches its climax he is forced to forgive his father and confront his true feelings for Brenda. With every hard man in Dublin on their trail it looks like Michael won’t make it through the next 24 hours; however, the Grim Reaper and a gang of savage dogs have a funny way of intervening."

Slated to hit limited U.S. theaters in May 2010.

Mar 15, 2010

Kate Rusby


I almost didn't share folk singer Kate Rusby because, well ... she's not Irish, but her melodies, lyrics, and voice so recall traditional Irish balladry and folk music that I just had to share.
(Sidenote: I didn't just think she was Irish, I was convinced she grew up on a farm in Co. Mayo, that I had seen a picture of her in mucky yellow wellies, and that her brother has a mad-red bushy beard. I have a habit of being convinced of things I know absolutely nothing about. Truth is Kate grew up in South Yorkshire and I have yet to find a picture of her in mucky yellow wellies or with a bushy-bearded brother. Maybe there's a twin in Mayo ...)

She's been singing in my ear every day since I discovered her a few weeks ago (a little behind-the-ball seems as she's been around for fifteen years); her sweet, clear voice was the perfect accompaniment to those few walks I managed when Spring visited briefly last week, and a soothing backdrop to to wild wind and rains of this past weekend.

I'm shuffling her Awkward Annie and Little Lights albums, and favorite songs include Farewell, Bitter Boy, My Young Man, William and Davy, and Who Will Sing Me Lullabies.

Check her out:
Kate Rusby at Amazon
KateRusby.com

Mar 12, 2010

Irish Gift Suggestions


If you like to celebrate every Holiday like it's Christmas, i.e., by shopping, then you might be interested in the five Irish gifts I suggested over on FoundItLovedIt today.
You can check it out here.

Dingle Pies


When it comes to planning my evening meal, I usually think dessert first, dinner second. My kids sometimes (okay, at least once a week) drag their hungry selves into my flour-and-sugar-coated kitchen, rubbing their growling bellies, and asking, "Is dinner ready yet?" I stare blankly, curse ("Shite, I forgot about dinner!"), and then scramble for the freezer.
Yes, I forget dinner.

Last night, I almost had another ass-before-the-cart/dessert-before-dinner moment, but I stopped myself. Instead of struggling to make dinner happen around my pastry, I decided to put dinner in my pastry, and made Dingle Pies. Dingle Pies are traditional in Kerry around Harvest time, but perversely, I like the idea of eating lamb in Spring! Moving swiftly on ...

Shortcrust Pastry:
5 cups of flour
3/4 cup chilled water
1 cup butter

Filling (makes 6 small pies):
1 lb boneless lamb, chopped up small
1 large onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 potato, diced
2 sticks of celery, diced
salt and pepper (and any other spices you like on your lamb)
1 egg, beaten

I made my pastry first, of course. Cut the butter into the flour, add the chilled water, and pat it together on a floured surface, and knead lightly. Tada. Then, wrap it in parchment paper and toss it in the fridge to relax. (I love saying "toss" because it makes me feel like Gordon Ramsay. Meanwhile, the only real similarity is that I am as explosive with flour as he is with language.)


Trim the fat and gristle from your lamb and cut it up into small pieces; add to your bowl of diced veggies. Mix well and season. Confession: I forgot to season so my pies were a bit less than flavorful.

Roll out your pastry on a lightly floured surface, and set aside about a third of the dough for the pie tops. Then, using a small plate, cut six circles of dough to use as pie bases. (Put any leftover pastry back into the fridge or freezer to use for dessert later. Do not get sidetracked into peeling apples, now!)


Preheat oven to 355 degrees F. Pile meat-and-veg mix into the center of each pie base.


Cut six smaller circles from the pastry you set aside, and lay them over the meat mix. Dampen the edges of the pastry bases and bring them up around the meat, pleating together with pastry lids. Take more time than I did to make your pies look pretty. Make a small hole in top of each pie to vent, and finally, brush your pies with beaten egg. Note: the pastry now looks like my legs the first three weeks of summer. Transfer to a baking tray, and cook for one hour.


Serve with a nice salad.


Go back for seconds.
Now you can think about dessert!

Mar 11, 2010

Six Dollar St. Patrick's Day Shirts

I'm a bit of a purist—some might say a snob, or even a bore—when it comes to St. Patrick's Day style. You won't catch me in a green shirt that says anything about being drunk and Irish (though I am often both). But that's me, and someday—when I have a cup of tea and a chat with Dr. Phil (okay, we might have to live together for six months)—I'll figure out why green beer and cliché Irish shirts rise me so. Until then, I'm pro-style-choice. If you get your kicks from cheesy green drunken-Irish shirts, then, at least let me help you get cheap kicks!

"I want the gold" and "Kiss Me I'm Irish" tux-tee

"Part Irish All Drunk" and "Buy Me A Car Bomb"

My picks: "Paddy's Pub South Philly" and "Don't Get My Irish Up"

Six Dollar Shirts sells affordable "high-quality silk screened t-shirts" as their "gift to you, oh beautiful world!" Yes, their shirts really are $6 each (unless you have boobs, in which case shirts are $6.50 each). They also have a 10-for-$50 offer, so be sure to check out their non-St. Paddy's offerings to really get your money's worth.

SixDollarShirts.com

Mar 9, 2010

A Danny Boy Playlist

I went to a St. Patrick's Day Party at a friend's house last year and was subjected to 76 different versions of Danny Boy. There were versions that took me to the edge (of tears), and versions that took me to the ledge, moments the song took me to Galway Bay, and others that felt more Guantanamo Bay. Overall, it was an interesting experiment and an excellent party gimmick.

If you'd like to create a comprehensive Danny Boy playlist, you can find a decent list of recordings of Danny Boy by notable artists on Wikipedia. My two favorite versions are by Sinéad O'Connor and Johnny Cash—both a little raw, world-weary, and sad. Other notable versions are by Christy Moore, Shane MacGowan, Judy Garland, and of course, Elvis, and I love a good instrumental version. Also, I can't believe I'm saying this, but I quite liked Michael McDonald's version on Natalie MacMaster's album.

I pulled together a playlist of thirty versions of Danny Boy (just the tip of the iceberg) on Amazon, if you'd like to be a one-trick-DJ at your St. Patrick's Day Party. Trust me, your friends will be talking about it for days, and singing about it for weeks!



And here's Sinéad O'Connor singing along to Davy Spillane's Uileann pipes (close your eyes to cheesy slideshow and just listen):

Mar 8, 2010

The Secret of Kells


I've got spasms in my fingers, toes, knees, and eyes after crossing them all weekend in the hopes that a little-known Irish animated feature would win a big award last night. Nominated for Best Animated Feature Film, The Secret of Kells—directed by Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey—is a gorgeously animated tale of a medieval boy monk, Brendan, who must fight vikings and a serpent god to find a crystal and complete the legendary Book of Kells.
The brave little Brendan took on dangerous mythical creatures and hordes of vicious vikings, but when it came to securing an Oscar, he was umbrella-smacked by an old square man who went Up.

Still, it was great to see a bright Hollywood spotlight on an enchanting Irish tale. Of course, I didn't get to see it before the Oscars, because I'm never quite that on-the-ball, but I'm off to see it today. I'm loving the fact that the animation is primarily hand drawn (with computer-generated elements), and it's only 75 minutes—which feels like a short these days. Mostly, I'm swooning at the intoxicating colors, shapes, and patterns of the movie, heavily influenced by medieval art and The Book of Kells.

Here are a few film stills courtesy of TheSecretofKells.com


Hey, if you're looking for an authentic outing for St. Patrick's Day, why not seek out this film, support some Irish animators, and get a lesson in ancient history while you're at it!