Saturday, November 30, 2013

I'll Play Mega Man 2: Bubble Man and Heat Man

Many Some A few Maybe one or two caught my Mega Man 2 video posted on Thanksgiving this week.  No bother, here it is again in its usual Saturday post.

We had a great Thanksgiving, and I was able to take a few minutes to sit down and record and post this video just before the turkey went into the oven.  This time, we take on the last two robot masters before heading to Dr. Wily's fortress.  Marvel as the frustration level rises in Heat Man's stage!  Watch the first glimpse of Dr. Wily in his little spaceship-thingy!  See it all here!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving Bonanza!

Thanksgiving Day 2013 Live Tweet Event!  I will be posting updates to Twitter all day today and posting each tweet in this post as they go live on Twitter.  Check back to this post periodically if you aren't using Twitter.  Tomorrow, this post will be updated one more time with photos from today as our official Friday post.

Gobble Gobble!

Friday November 29, 2013-  Had a great first Thanksgiving out here.  Follow the jump for the all-day tweets followed by photos to answer this statement:

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy American Thanksgiving, everyone!  We will be attempting to recreate the Thanksgiving meal this evening.  It isn't a holiday in Ireland, so it will be a normal work day.  We got our hands on some Thanksgiving foods, which we will try to make in two-person sizes to enjoy tonight.

Too bad about the time difference.  The NFL games that we used to enjoy all day won't start until the late afternoon and evening for us, so we'll have to do the food preparation while watching Big Ten college football replays... I guess it won't be that bad.

Today, that means we will be LIVE TWEETING Thanksgiving from my Twitter account (@Hansoncory1) and posting the tweets in the next blog post.  By the time most of our American loved ones are awake, we will be just about ready to eat, but we will be tweeting throughout the day.  To check our progress, follow me on Twitter OR periodically check the next post.

Make this one a great one, USA!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Bike Fenders

It rains in Dublin.  No surprises there.  Ireland, of course, is internationally known for its mild temperatures and its number of rainy days per year.  This Summer and Fall here have been the driest in years, we're told, but the driest Fall in years is still pretty wet for us.

When bicycles are the primary form of transportation in a wet climate, fenders to protect from backsplash are essential.  I learned this the very hard way one fine afternoon just after a rain.  The sun was out and the rain was gone, but the puddles all remained.  I felt a constant stream of cold, dirty, street water splashing up on my back through the ride.  Yuck.  What was one to do?

We all know the personal motto of Ron Swanson and myself- Buying things is for suckers.  Why buy a worthless piece of plastic when there are hundreds of worthless pieces of plastic in every garbage dumpster to be collected for free?  I decided to see what I could find in the bins of our apartment complex.

A milk jug and a laundry soap jug ready to be cut into bicycle fenders
Ready for the operation
I found two perfect candidates within easy reach of the top of the dumpster- luckily it was almost collection day so the dumpsters were full enough to easily reach the top few layers.  We had a 1L milk jug for a small front fender and a 1L laundry soap jug to be stretched out into a nice long rear fender.

A milk jug is cut into pieces for a bike fender
Milk Jug
The milk jug was the easiest piece to cut.  The plastic was thin and shaped perfectly for these small segments.  As a bonus, the inside of the jug wasn't too moldy or curdled, so a quick rinse with laundry soap (from the other container!) was all it needed to be bike fresh and road ready.

A laundry soap jug is cut for a bike fender
Laundry Soap Jug
The laundry soap jug turned out to be a bit trickier.  The plastic was much more durable and difficult to cut with our cheap-as-free-scissors.  The soap inside was also much thicker, so rinsing was more of a chore.  I had to be careful not to let the blunt scissors slip on the soap-suds-water mix inside the jug while cutting.  After zero injuries to myself, the jug was cut to the shape above.

A soap jug rear fender attached to the bike
Rear Fender Attached
After shaping, the next step was to get these things attached to the frame of the bike in the correct places.  The attachment also had to be durable and stay in place during the turns and bumps of cycling in the big city.

I poked a series of holes in the fender, and was able to run several layers of cordage to fasten it to the rear rack.  I used bread bag twist-ties, plastic zip ties, and my favorite- maroon wire from a set of smashed earphones I found on the street.

A milk jug is used as a front fender on the bike
Front Fender
The front fender ended up being much easier to attach- despite the problem of steering.  I was able to attach the fender to the handlebars just above the "shocks."  I used a plastic-coated wire saved from some packaging to hold it tightly in place over the tire.

Since I have attached these, they have saved my back from dirty street water countless times.  They have held up for a couple of months already, with no signs of slowing down.  I sometimes make minor adjustments to keep everything lined up correctly, but I would expect to do this with any store-bought fender.  Some of these adjustments can be made without even stopping.

I don't know how much money I have actually saved with this, but once I get an idea to do something like this in my head, I just have to follow through.  These projects usually work out well, and the ones that don't always make a good story.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Kilmainham Gaol

One of the most poignant and important to modern Irish history sights we have seen so far has been Kilmainham Gaol (Kill-MAIN-um Jail).  We visited the Gaol before leaving for our Northern Ireland trip, and it helped give us more context and simply...more about the struggles of Ireland in the 20th century.

A stone sign reads:  Kilmainham Gaol 1787
Welcome Sign
I won't can't give the whole history of this historic site, as I couldn't really do it respectful justice.  The Gaol is incredibly significant because it has seen Ireland through good times and bad, and has served different functions throughout its own long history.

A cell door at Kilmainham Gaol Dublin, Ireland
Cell Door
 The Gaol held thieves during the Great Potato Famine in Ireland.  Starving citizens turned to crime to get food for their families- or to intentionally land themselves in prison, where they would be guaranteed at least enough food to stay alive.

We noticed right away, and our tour guide (no free wandering in this dangerous old hulk) pointed out, the general exposure in the building.  Windows were barred, but had no glasswork.  Cells and cell blocks were open to the cold, wind, and rain of Ireland.  This kept the air fresh with all the humanity crammed inside, but was neither comfortable nor healthy for those living and working here.

The grand cell block at Kilmainham Gaol
The Grand Cell Block, East Wing
During times of war and struggle, the Gaol was used as a holding place for political prisoners and prisoners of war.  A number of important men and women in Ireland's war of independence and civil war were held here.  Think of a prison in America that would have held Washington, Jefferson, and Adams during the American Revolution and Lincoln, Grant, and Lee during the American Civil War.  Would that place not be hallowed and revered indeed?

The prison yard at Kilmainham Gaol Dublin, Ireland
Prison yard
Being a place to hold traitors in wartime, it was also a place of executions.  Many political prisoners were executed here, mostly by firing squad in the prison yard.  One particular mass-execution helped turn the attitude of the people against The Crown in a time when public sentiment for independence was waning after years of war.

The illuminated tour and the museum exhibits helped answer some of our many questions about the recent history in Ireland- but were afraid to ask.  It is still a bit daunting to keep it all straight, but we are trying.  Again, I'll choose not to simplify the history of the people here in my own clumsy way. Look it up sometime, it's interesting.

As a place to visit, Kilmainham Gaol is highly recommended.  The tour is informative and moving, although much of the building speaks for itself.  Admission is low and value is high- see it while you are here.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge

En-route to Portrush, while driving the Antrim Coast, we stopped to see the Eastern-most tourist landmark on our list, the famed Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge (I better copy that so I don't have to type it very many more times).  The bridge was built by Scots-Irish Salmon fishers as a shortcut to get from the craggy rocks of the mainland out to the craggy rocks of the small islands jutting out into the sea.  These fishers used to run salmon nets in the sea inlets between these small islands, and the rope bridge gave them easy access.

A look at the small islands from a distance at the Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge, Northern Ireland
View of the islands from a distance
It was a modest but beautiful walk from the car park to the bridge, over high cliffs in a light mist.  When we hit the perfect angle, we caught sight of a rainbow in the gloom reaching to the sea.  The photos make the weather look much more cold and miserable than it was.  The weather was rather warm and the winds only moderate, so don't be fooled by the darkness and rain in the photos.

A tourist sign at Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge Northern Ireland
Check my spelling with this photo

A rainbow stretches to the sea at Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge Northern Ireland
A Rainbow

Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge Northern Ireland
First look at the bridge

The bridge is modern and maintained regularly, so there aren't any real safety concerns.  That is difficult to remember when looking at the bridge, especially if one looks down in the middle!  We crossed the bridge without taking any photos during the cross- we were focused on getting to terra firma on the other side.  We played around on the sea islands, enjoying the salty breeze and a look back at the rocky shoreline.

Cory looks at the sea on the islands at Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge
Obligatory Cory-Looking-at-the-Water Photo
After bounding along on the islands, we crossed the bridge back to the mainland.  This time, we got photos looking down the rocky death below and proof of us on the bridge.

Looking down from the Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge Northern Ireland
Don't look...d'oh!

Sara crosses the Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge Northern Ireland
Sara crosses in the wind

A look at others crossing the Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge from a distance Northern Ireland
Others on the bridge for perspective
When back on solid ground, we hiked up to the highest point on the trail for a look at what we had just done.  When we saw some other travelers on the bridge to give it height perspective, we were extra proud of ourselves for braving the cross and toughing it out on a magical day in Northern Ireland.

...Onward to Portrush!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

I'll Play Mega Man 2: Flash Man and Quick Man

Wish I could would have practiced Flash Man's level before recording my final video.  Watch Me Mega Man trip and stumble through Flash Man and his ice stage before a smoother level chasing Quick Man.  Getting close to the end of the eight robot masters part of the game, but don't despair, much more MM2 action awaits beyond!

Friday, November 22, 2013

UCD Symphony Orchestra Presents Peter and the Wolf

Ready for some culture?  We were.  The UCD Symphony Orchestra was offering a unique experience right in our neighborhood, so we picked up tickets and headed for the auditorium.

The show of the night was a special children's program featuring classical music (by real classical composers) written for the entertainment of children and families (well... mostly.)  The show was made even more approachable for children with the use of special shadow puppetry to narrate the story of each piece.

The kicker to the story?  All of the concert narration was in Irish- not English.  The only English we heard was the very first "Please turn off your cell phones."  Everything else from then on was narrated in Irish by a live reader.  Luckily, we (and the rest of the Irish audience who didn't speak Irish) had the shadow puppets to narrate the story visually.

Peter and the Wolf Program by UCD Symphony Orchestra
The Program (English side)
First on the program was the Overture from William Tell.  The one we all think of is the opening theme of the old Lone Ranger shorts.  What we hear in Lone Ranger is only the last 'movement' of the overture, and we were presented with the longer version, in four parts.  Each distinct 'movement' had a different shadow puppet storyline.  All of them depicted scenes of country life in the high mountains- presumably the Alps.

The shadow puppets were displayed by a white screen hung vertically and lit from behind.  The puppeteer worked between the light and the screen with a variety of paperboard puppets on sticks and strings with different background scenery.

After William Tell, the orchestra played selections from Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saens (Cameeya Sawn Sawn- except, don't really finish the "n" sound in each "sawn."  Let the "n" sound get swallowed up by your nose.  French.)  Each movement musically depicts a different animal, with instruments of the orchestra mimicking the sound of each.  The Elephant is a long tuba solo, the birds are a clarinet repeatedly playing two notes to sound as "cukoo!", the swans are slow and graceful strings, and the dinosaur bones are a raucous xylophone solo- sounding very much like tinkling brittle bones.  Shadow puppets of each of these movements delighted the kids and families of the audience.

The feature presentation was the famous Peter and the Wolf by Prokofiev.  This piece was written as an educational piece for children to hear and learn the individual instruments of the orchestra in a time when it was important for a young person to be able to identify and listen to orchestra music.  In the piece, a story is told with individual instruments representing characters in the story.  Peter is the string section, the bird is a flute, the duck is an oboe, the cat is a clarinet, the Grandfather is a bassoon, the wolf is a french horn trio, the hunters are trumpets, and the gunshots of the hunters are the timpani bass drum.  The story also includes a narration to be told verbally during the performance of the music.  For this special performance, that narration was all told in Irish- not a word of English.  The shadow puppets of each scene followed the action so all could follow.  The narrator was a talented performer herself, lending proper emotional impact to each scene so the audience could sense the tone of the action if not the language.

After the concert, we went out for a Guinness at a new pub near campus and made it an early night.  Concerts made for kids on a school night can't go very late, after all.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Christmas Time is Here

Christmas fever is hitting earlier and earlier each year throughout the Western world.  We wondered when the shopping ads and holiday decorations would go up here- especially given the lack of Thanksgiving as a buffer holiday.

Seems like the presence or absence of the buffer November celebration doesn't sway the holiday timeline either way.  The city has already held celebrations for the lighting of their Christmas lights, costumed characters traded their human statue digs for Santa outfits, and the shopping centers have assembled Christmas villages with their own "Department Store Santa."  Our own reports from America, sent via bottle airmail Skype chat, indicate Christmas season has gripped the States by now, as well.

Christmas Village at the Shopping Centre on Henry Street, Dublin
Christmas Village at the Shopping Centre
"For Shame!"  Cry citizens of both sides of the Atlantic.  Americans (including us, in this case) are doing their best to put off the Christmas frenzy until after Thanksgiving to give proper honor (?) to the holiday where we eat the most second most a lot of food.  Christmastime in America should start on Black Friday, the day of rabid, violent, Lord of the Flies-level shopping and commercialism.  Yessir, that's the day we should break out the lights and the tree, that's the day for radio stations (and homes) to start Christmas music on an 24-hour loop.  Starting Christmastime in November will just make us sick of Christmas by the time it arrives!

Aha!  There's the reason we hear (from our small sample size) from our local friends and neighbors.  There isn't a big November holiday to celebrate here in Ireland, so after Halloween (and October Bank Holiday,) Christmas is next on the calendar.  We have heard from our local friends that the holiday festivities have been creeping up the calendar in the last few years.  Soon, it is speculated, everyone will be hanging lights, wrapping gifts, eating mince pies, and sitting on Santa's lap on November 1st- just like home in Iowa!

Happy Holidays, everyone, no matter when you start the celebrations!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Hiking the Dublin Mountain Way

We saw in the Dublin Event Guide weekly free events post a guided day hike along part of a newly-built trail in the Dublin Mountains.  Both of us (separately) saw that and knew we had to participate.  We signed up with the terrific volunteers running the hike, put on our walking shoes, and got ready for a beautiful Autumn walk.

A trail leads into the Dublin Mountains
Trail leading into the mountains

The trails and these walks are maintained and promoted by an all-volunteer organization, the Dublin Mountains Partnership.  This dedicated group is committed to providing the people of the city a way to visit some of Ireland's natural beauty without traveling great distances.  This hike was designed to introduce city slickers like us to the trails, and what a great job they did.

One side of the view from the peak of Carrickgolligan Co. Dublin
View from Carrickgolligan
The entire length of the hike was 16km (about 10 miles) with a few short peaks to cross.  We entered the woods at Rathmichael, near the ruins of an old church dating to the ninth century.  We skipped seeing the old church site and continued to Carrickgolligan, the highest point of the hike at 278 meters (912 feet.)  This peak affords the viewer a 360 degree view of Dublin City, South County Dublin, and the sea.  We got one of our first real senses of the smaller scale of the island of Ireland and the British Isles in general here.  From this peak, the viewer can see three (!) different countries.  Looking North beyond Dublin, the Mourne Mountain range rises in the near distance.  These mountains are in County Down, Northern Ireland, across an international border from where we stood.  Looking East across the Irish Sea, the peak of Snowdon Mountain is clearly visible on the horizon.  Snowdon is located in Wales in Great Britain.  So, three countries- Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Wales (even though two of those are part of the U.K., which isn't a country, but is kinda a country, but all of the countries within that 'country' are also countries...? Oh dear I've gone cross-eyed!)

A green thicket off the trail for lunch
Lunch in the trees

After the climb and descent of Carrickgolligan, we were guided off the path by the ranger leaders to an evergreen thicket for lunch.  We were all ready to sit down and stretch out after the climb, so our timing was perfect.  We sat down on the blanket of needles and enjoyed our packed lunch while admiring the changing leaves on the hardwoods across the valley.

Cory on the ledge of The Scalp Co. Dublin
Cory on The Scalp
After lunch, the next (and farthest) stop was The Scalp.  The trail leads up to another, smaller, peak overlooking the valley below.  We ignored the R117 road in the valley floor and focused instead on the far views of the Fall Foliage on the near and distant hillsides.

Lead mine smelting chimney Co. Dublin
Lead Mine Chimney
On the way back, we took a detour to see the most interesting cultural site on the hike.  On a high hilltop, a stone chimney can be clearly seen from all around.  This chimney is a long-abandoned relic of a once booming lead mining and smelting operation in this hill.  In the nineteenth century, lead was discovered deep in these hills, and a big mining operation was soon opened.  To process the lead mined from the mountains, a series of lead smelters were built into all around the hillside.  These furnaces were all connected by a sealed stone tunnel that wound around the hill and connected to this hilltop chimney.  This allowed a series of smelters to burn the raw ore with all of the smoke going 'safely' out one chimney.  The ore was burned and the lead was scraped off the tunnel walls by hand, effectively negating the safety of redirecting the smelting smoke.  The unending string sickness and death by lead poisoning gave this area the nickname, "Death Valley."  The ground on the hillside has been poisoned and contaminated so badly from the century of lead mining and smelting that no vegetation grows on the hill to this day.

We walked up the hillside to the chimney tower.  We were able to climb into the tunnel at one of the smelting sites further down the hill and see the inside of the smoke collection system.  At the top of the hill, we were able to walk into the center of the chimney itself and take a photo looking up to the opening.  Hooray for playing around in abandoned mines!

A photo looking up through the lead mine chimney Co. Dublin
Looking up through the chimney
After the lead mine, we made our way back to our starting point at Shankill to catch our bus home.  As a memento and a token for completing a sponsored hike, the Dublin Mountains Partnership guides issued us official merit badges to sew on the hiking shirt of our choice.  We felt like real scouts.

Dublin Mountains Way Official Badges on display after a hike in Co. Dublin
Dublin Mountains Way Official Badges
This experience was amazing.  There was so much more we saw and learned that just couldn't be included in this post.  We would highly recommend participating in this great program or simply getting out into the woods.  Now that we have seen what is available, we certainly will.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Bottling Big Batch of Cider

Remember the big batch of cider I made?  Well, the yeast gods have spoken and that batch of cider is in bottles and getting ready to drink.  It was so great having the large fermenter from Lord Stilton to get the big batch down and fermenting.  I have made several small batches, 5 litres and less, since we've been here, but those just don't last long enough to get a good supply going.  It is easy to go through 5 litres in a couple of weekends with two people, even though that sounds like a lot.  Think about a few bottles of wine with two wine-lovers in four weeks.  Would that be enough for them?  Difficult.

Anyway, the big batch of cider has finished fermenting and is in bottles.  I got a great yield from the batch, and I am still collecting clean plastic soda bottles to help expand my bottling capacity.  I had to bottle the last 4.5ish litres in my water jug (formerly fermenter) just to get everything out of the bucket.  This isn't a bad problem to have, of course.

In another week or so, the bottles will be carbonated and ready to enjoy like delicious apple champange (shut up, Foodies!  I know I can't call it Champagne, that's why I didn't capitalize it!)

Here was my yield from 20ish litres.

Homemade hard apple cider is bottled under the sink in 500 mL, 1L, and 2L bottles with the rest in a 5L water jug in Dublin, Ireland
Bottled Cider

15 500mL bottles, 1 750ml bottle, 1 1000 mL (1L) bottle, 3 2L bottles, 4.5(ish) L in the water jug.

Nice haul for about 14 Euros, that will make about 40 pints of cider to enjoy before the next batch is ready.  I hope we can make it until the next batch is ready...

[Edit] 17 December, 2013- About halfway through this batch.  The flavor and carbonation are great for what we used.  I am looking forward to using some real cider yeast (which is already in) for the next batch.  Turbo yeast makes a pretty dry cider without the nice apple tartness I used to get with the champagne yeast back in Iowa.  Still, no complaints here!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Driving the Antrim Coast

After our night in Belfast, we continued our Northern Ireland trip in a rental car.  Sara was our designated driver while in the North, being the most experienced left-side-of-the-road driver.  We took an airport shuttle bus to the Belfast City Airport and the rental car station.

We got the rental car and the SatNav (GPS) device fired up and went North from Belfast along the Antrim Coast.

The coastal route wasn't the most direct route to Portrush, but we wanted to see the collection of coastal sights and villages along the way.  We ran into some problems with the SatNav because we were looking for towns and sights that were less popular and weren't always in the database of the SatNav unit.  With some improvising and reading our paper map with the SatNav, we were able to make it work, and boy are we glad we did.  

The Antrim Coast has an organized coastal route that is rather well-marked and dotted with a roadside park system at each town along the way.  We took time to stop at several (but not all!) of the parks on the system.  Each was unique with its own access to the sea, oceanside walks, rocky beaches, and spectacular views.  

The weather cooperated with us beautifully, so we took our time with the drive, spending about two and a half hours looking at this wonderful piece of landscape.  A small photo gallery of our Antrim Drive follows.  Next week- Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge.

Cory picks up junk on the beach in Northern Ireland
Cory picking up junk on the beach

Villages dot the Antrim Coast in Northern Ireland
Seaside Village

A Glenarm park sign in Northern Ireland
Part of the Antrim Coast park system

Our rental car for the Antrim Coast drive
Our rental car

Cory climbs the rocks and looks at the sea
Cory looks at the sea

A small rowboat is on display on the Antrim Coast
A boat, yup, a boat

Saturday, November 16, 2013

I'll Play Mega Man 2: Air Man

Fighting our way to the Robot Master Air Man and his NES-era obligatory cloud level.  We get a brief mention of one of our first bits of "high culture" in children's symphony concert.

Friday, November 15, 2013

All-Ireland Hurling Final Replay: Clare Wins!

Remember the first match of the All-Ireland Hurling Final?  It ended in a draw, and the GAA rules state that the match must be replayed in this case.  Sweet deal for them, getting to sell out 80,000 plus seats at historic Croke Park for another match?  Sign me up for that!

We didn't get tickets for the match, but we made plans to watch the match (I keep wanting so write 'game,' but I feel that would be inappropriate for this sport) at a pub on the North side of Dublin near Croke Park stadium where the game match was played.

We left home mid-morning and walked the whole way to City Centre and on to the neighborhood of Croke Park.  Almost every pub we passed was flying the county colors of Cork and Clare, and cars passing by displayed flags and other tailgate-esque materials on the way to the stadium.  As we got closer to the stadium, we fought through crowds of spectators cheering, singing, and drinking their way to the match.  It was very reminiscent of a game day morning at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, with a Northern European flair.  

The crowd was in good spirits, and the drink was certainly flowing, but the amount of sick-drunk-surliness was certainly lower than a college football game, especially given the later time of day at the hurling match.  Late kickoffs at Iowa could have some pretty epic tailgate shenanigans, but not so here.  Also noticeably different was the lack of actual "tailgating."  For those unfamiliar (all non-Americans) tailgating gets its name from parking a pickup truck outside or near a game stadium and having a pre-game party with barbeque, ball throwing, and usually drinking.  The lack of parking places and public drinking laws move all of the pre-match reveling to homes and pubs.

We got to Hogan's pub just past the stadium and found seats in sight of the television.  The match was an exciting one, with Clare taking the cup with a score of 5-16 to 3-16 (that computes to an overall score of 31-25.)  For the best recap of the match, read the RTE writeup, complete with photos.  

We walked home after the match, no short trip indeed.  Luckily, I was able to find an incredible haul of abandoned glasses as match-goers walked out of pubs to get to the match on time with their drink glasses.  I won't need to collect many more glasses after this day's haul!  Can't wait for hurling season to start next Spring.

A variety of beer glasses found near Croke Park on the day of the All-Ireland Hurling Final Replay 2013
Glasses found around the hurling final

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Variety of Breads

When the weather starts to get cool, nothing is more appealing than home made soup and fresh home made bread.  When we combine cooler weather with lots of time, the quality and creativity of soup and bread can grow considerably.

With a big batch of bread dough, I had my choice of shapes.  I made long dough sticks for braiding into a couronne shape loaf.  The word comes from the same root as "crown" and the round shape resembles the shape of a royal headpiece.  Two small baguettes were simple to shape, and the last little bit went into small balls for the clover leaf rolls.  The rolls are baked in our silicone muffin cups for easy shaping and cleanup.

A variety of breads
Clover rolls, baguettes, and couronne
Did someone say carbs?  How about home made egg noodles?  Yes, please!  In Iowa, we had a hand-crank pasta roller that made dough shaping quick and easy for nearly any size batch.  Here, we rely on a wine bottle roller for all of our dough-flattening needs.  Small batches and a drop in uniformity of thickness are simple necessary evils with this.

The dough is made with flour, water, salt, and eggs.  After kneading until smooth and stretchy, the dough needs to rest before rolling.  It was rolled into sheets and roughly cut with a kitchen knife into fettucini-like strands.  After cutting, the noodles are hung over a bowl to dry until needed.

Egg noodles dry over a bowl for soup
Noodles Drying

Where can we use these noodles and fresh bread?  How about soup?  Chicken noodle soup?  With home made chicken stock?  Yes, please again!

We made the stock, boned the chicken, threw in some fresh vegetables, and chucked in the noodles to cook for a few minutes before serving.

Chicken stock cooks on the stovetop in a saucepan
Stock cooking
We made the stock out of (cleaned) carrot peels and tips, onion skins, and leek tops.  I know we might not get top quality stock from these parts of the vegetables, but I simply can't stand the idea of using full vegetables for stock that will have to be discarded.  I am a reuser to the end.

The soup and home made bread combo was the perfect end-of-day meal on a cool day.  This might be a regular recipe as the days get shorter and the nights get colder.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Plastic Bag Tax

Litter is bad.  Period.  We all know it, it isn't new, it isn't novel.  Why does it still happen so much?  How do we fight it?  Local governments around the world are trying one idea to make a difference- a tax on plastic shopping bags.

In many urban areas, shopping bags blow through the street like tumbleweeds.  Attempts to make the city more appealing with sidewalk trees are made ugly with little plastic bag wind socks stuck in branches at every level.  Such is not the case here in Dublin, and hasn't been since the introduction of this tax.

A plastic Tesco shopping bag
A bag like this'll cost ya
Today, a plastic shopping bag will cost the shopper 22 cents.  This isn't a charge by the stores, but a mandated government tax to discourage their use.  Stores now offer a wide variety of reusable bags right at checkout for those who forget to bring them along for their trip.  This is very handy, and if one does forget one's bags, it is a preferable choice to buy a new reusable bag because they are the same price as three or four plastic bags.

This has decreased plastic bag use (and plastic bag litter) drastically.  Based on observations we've collected from our local friends, Dublin used to be a plastic-bag nightmare-scape.  Today, one can enjoy the beautiful parks and streets free of plastic bag trash.  If only we could find a way to reduce the litter of bottles, cans, candy wrappers, cigarette butts, gum, newspaper, spent lighters...

We have had to get bags only twice since we have been here, and we have made a point to reuse them ourselves, simply because we had to pay so much for them!  What an idea.  I hope more and more places put laws like this on the books.  Plastic bags will still be used, and still be thrown away, but we will save a huge volume of plastic litter and trash in the landfills of the world, and that can never be a bad thing.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Overnight in Belfast

Our first trip out of the city of Dublin actually took us out of the country of Ireland.  We wanted to explore some of the more famous outdoor sights of this island with our first trip out of town, and the Antrim Coast offers no shortage of natural Autumn beauty.

Without political commentary, the facts are these:  The island of Ireland is divided into two separate countries.  The Republic of Ireland occupies all but the Northeast corner of the island, and is what most people imagine when they think the words "Ireland" and "Irish."  The Northeast corner of the island is the country of Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom.  The two countries are currently at peace, but there is an international border between the two, and they do not share government or currency.

The easiest way to explore the Antrim Coast of Northern Ireland is to rent a car in Belfast and drive, because the area is rural and a bit remote.  Public transport can be tricky.  We planned our trip to leave Dublin in the afternoon on a Bus Eireann bus to Belfast, spend a night, and take a car out of Belfast in the morning.

Vagabonds Hostel in Belfast, Northern Ireland
Vagabonds Hostel Belfast
 We arrived in Belfast as planned in the afternoon.  The weather was dark, gray, and rainy, but we were ready for it.  One of the first things to notice when traveling to Northern Ireland is the presence of everything...British.  United Kingdom Union Jack flags (many of them old, faded, and tattered, c'mon N.I.!  Have some respect or don't do it at all!) fly from nearly every light post and building.  Red mailboxes with the symbol of the queen sit at every corner, just like in London.  Black taxis prowled the streets looking for fares at rush hour.  We had to get cash from an ATM to pay for our hostel, because Northern Ireland does not use the Euro, but the British Pound Sterling.

After getting some "Queeny Money," we got to the hostel and checked in.  We were staying in the group room, so we dropped off our bags, looked around, and took to the streets.  The sights of Belfast are much more spread out than those of Dublin, so even though we were near the City Centre, it wouldn't have been easy or cheap for us to see everything.  We decided the easiest sight to see given our timeframe, budget, and weather would be the famous Belfast City Hall.

Belfast City Hall in Belfast, Northern Ireland
Belfast City Hall
The City Hall is quite large and quite old.  So there's that.  The gardens around the building are nicely trimmed and maintained, and it is circled with monuments of Belfast's proudest moments and achievements.

Queen Victoria scowls down the street of Belfast, Northern Ireland
Queen Victoria
Did I mention that they love them some Queen Victoria up there?  They love them some Q.V., just love her.  Can't get enough of her.  With a face like the one above, how could you not love her?  Check out the rest of the statue in the photo below:

Queen Victoria stands above the people in Belfast, Northern Ireland
Starving Peasants
 We didn't quite capture the detail, but those dirty black figures below the Queen are starving working class peasants.  So, let me sum up the whole work of art that is so revered:  The Queen, white and pure, scowls and stands on a pillar, wearing a crown and holding her orb of power (like something from science fiction?) above the dirty, poor, starving people over whom she rules under threat of mutilation and decapitation.  Nice.  Hard to believe a surprising amount of Planet Earth is named for her.  Oh well.  Did I mention there would be no political commentary in this post?  Anyway...

Belfast is also famous for its ship-building.  Large portions of Titanic were designed and built in the shipyards in Belfast (even though the ship said Liverpool on the rear, another chance for the English to snub the Irish?!) and the city takes pride in that history.  A recent monument was built to honor the builders, passengers, and stories of Titanic in the City Hall garden.

Titanic Memorial Statue

Names of the deceased

Closeup of the names of the deceased
 After a long afternoon of walking and exploring, we were cold, hungry, and ready for a nice hot meal.  With our budget, we decided a homemade cheap-o meal of spaghetti and cheap wine.  We got our supplies and walked back to the hostel with a surprisingly well-equipped kitchen for guest use.  For extra class, we enjoyed our wine from beer glasses likely stolen from nearby pubs.

Spaghetti, cheese, crackers, and wine at Vagabonds Hostel Belfast
Spaghetti, cheese, crackers, and wine
We relaxed and rested for the big days ahead after our satisfying meal.  Some of the other hostel residents put in the movie Kingpin for our viewing pleasure, and boy did we I enjoy it.  Plan in hand, we went to bed ready to take on the rest of our Northern Irish adventure.

Monday, November 11, 2013


So we all know about the road layout and the road sign markings in the city of Dublin.  After living here several months, we have been able to get a good feel for the street layout in our own neighborhood, but are still hopelessly lost when going to unfamiliar places or taking unfamiliar routes.

On a recent evening, I left for work on my bike, and was ready to take the one and only route I knew to get to my destination.  As I got to one of the busy intersections of my route, I saw a mass of people being directed by Garda (police) officers.  Unbeknownst to me, there was a big rugby match on that night at another stadium that happens to be on my route.  All roads to that stadium except the main entrance were blocked and closed to foot or vehicle traffic.  This presented me with a huge problem, because I really didn't know any other way to get to that part of town except a ridiculously long loop that would have taken me almost an hour to complete.  On a grid-patterned street plan, I could have simply gone down two blocks until I passed the closed streets before turning back to my destination.  In Dublin, going down two streets and turning could lead to catastrophe, especially at night.

I explained my situation to the Garda officer.  He couldn't let me take the Dodder River trail to work, and the only directions he could offer me were, "Go down here a ways, turn left, go a ways, and turn right and you'll see it." Before he had to deal with another mass of people.  Please understand that I don't blame the officer, he couldn't take time at that moment to give me a detailed, turn-by-turn plan, but I was stumped and in trouble.  Luckily, the Dublin Direction Gods were smiling down upon me that night.

Another gentleman was nearby to ask the officer the same question, he was walking home and lived in the neighborhood of my destination.  As a resident, detours weren't a problem for him, but he understood my pickle immediately.  He offered to walk me down to the correct road and get me going the right way to my destination.  We chatted about the charmingly frustrating layout of the city until we got to the correct road.  He showed me the rest of my route on his phone and sent me on my way.

Needless to say, my confidence was not very high while taking the unfamiliar road at night.  I am always nervous that I have missed critical turns or have forgotten directions.  After riding maybe a half-mile, I stopped and asked a walking couple the name of a street.  They told me all of the streets around were blocked (because of that rugby match) but asked me about my destination.  When I told them, they lit up at the chance to help me.  "Just continue down this street and you'll see it right there!"

Sure enough, after turning one more corner, I saw a familiar sight and was back on track.  I even made it to work on time after all those delays.  Luckily, I always give myself a good window when cycling just in case I run into situations like this one.  I have to offer my thanks for the Dublin Direction Gods and the people who embodied them that night.  Without the help of the first resident putting me on the right street and the second couple who bolstered my confidence in the road, I would have been hopelessly lost and certainly late that night.  I hope someday to pay that favor back and give some poor lost soul directions when they need them as much as I did.

Funnily enough, the Garda officer was technically correct when he told me, "Go down here a ways, turn left, go a ways, and turn right and you'll see it."  I guess I can't begrudge him too much...

Saturday, November 9, 2013

I'll Play Mega Man 2: Crash Man

After some failed attempts at different kinds of video game movie production, we go back to the old tried-and-true.  Crash Man's stage is longer and more difficult than the Man himself.  Computer woes aside, real life is fine.  I have a large batch of cider fermenting, we figured out how to burn peat briquettes, and we even found a place to buy cheap fruit on the street!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Free Magic: The Gathering Tourney

One of my favorite middle school pastimes was playing the collectible card game Magic: The Gathering.  It was first developed in 1993 as a card game that could be played with player-built, customizable decks.  It was a great business idea, as the best cards are the rarest, forcing players to invest lots of money to obtain all the best cards.  As an even better business plan, they keep releasing new sets of cards, so players have to keep investing in new sets and series of cards as they are released.  One final slap in the frugal gamer's face is the common tournament rule disallowing older cards in standard tournament play.  This makes cards older than a year obsolete in current tournaments.

It is still a fun game to play, even with my nearly 20 year old (!) cards.  Too bad I couldn't bring them out here with me as they are bulky, fragile, and require other classic card players with whom to play.  It was to my great delight that I saw an ad for an international anniversary celebration of the game.  At participating tournament sites throughout the world, players could report and receive a free deck of cards with two smaller (booster) packs of cards with which to build a deck for a mini-tournament.  "Free" was the only word I needed to see for this event, so I got directions to the game store in Dublin, and we set off for City Centre.

At the game store, a long line had formed for this event with its free card giveaway.  I got to the counter and asked for my free deck and booster pack.  I chose a deck of red colored magic (don't worry about the term if you don't know the game... or you could look into it yourself!) and got the booster pack with which to augment the deck.  

One starter deck and two booster packs of Magic: The Gathering cards
Free Magic Cards

It turned out that I needed to be a registered Magic tournament player to sign up for this tournament.  I was able to sign up for a player number for free and got my cards!  To get the bonus booster pack, I had to play three games of Magic with three other players and record the scores on a scorecard.  I played the three games and went 1 win, 2 (very ugly) losses.  It was great to meet some new people interested in games, especially talking with them about gaming within their own countries and cultures.  Nerd-speak is also hilarious to hear in foreign Irish, English, and other European accents.

A set of blue gem dice from the game store in Dublin, Ireland
Dice I bought just to support the game shop
With my record of 1-2 firmly in hand, I turned in my scorecard and got my hands on the other booster pack.  That was a total of 70 cards all just for the "effort" of hanging out at a game store, meeting some great new people, and playing one of my favorite games.  What a deal!  On my way out of the store, I decided to buy something to support them and thank them for hosting what turned out to be a huge event.  I love my dice collection, and wasn't able to bring the whole thing out with me, so I purchased a small set of blue gem dice for use in the Dungeons and Dragons/Pathfinder game I am playing.  One can never have too many dice!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Crazy Awesome Take-Away

With the globalization of American fast-food chains like McDonald's, Burger King, and KFC, it must be more difficult than ever to operate a small take-away restaurant in UK and Ireland.  Fish and chips are still popular here for traditional fast food, and we have certainly enjoyed chipper meals since we've been here.  Luckily, there aren't any American chains near our home, but there is a nice little take-away shop just down the street.  The other night, we had visited a pub and were in the mood for greasy, salty goodness, so it was time to pay a visit.

The menu had what one would expect from a UK/Ireland take-away joint- fish and chips, burgers, pizza, curry, kebabs (yes, the Middle-East and Indian influence is strong in fast food here), and what I saw as a fascinating piece of foodery: the batter burger.

I had to ask the staff about the batter burger.  It was on the value menu for a price lower than a regular burger, so I wondered, could it be just fry batter shaped into a patty and placed on a bun?  What was it? 

"It's a regular beef burger patty breaded and fried instead of grilled, it's quite good!"

Nice, a breaded and fried burger.  Only in America Ireland.  It brought a bit of a tear to my eye thinking about such inspired innovation.  I simply had to try it.  Sara ordered the veggie falafel (fried and slathered in a mayo-based sauce, so don't let the 'veggie' part fool you!) and we were on our way.

We got home with our greasy brown bag of fried food and dumped it all out on our plates.  The batter burger was exactly what I had dreamed it would be.  It was served without a bun or any other encumberances, so I was able to hold it in my hand for dipping in our salty, sweet, neon-bright ketchup.  I guess the falafel was good, too...

A battered, fried hamburger and a veggie falafel with chips
Batter burger and veggie falafel

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Burnin' Dirt!?

Peat-cutting has been a tradition in Ireland since ancient times.  Historically, the island doesn't have vast stretches of forest and woodland, so wood was difficult to find as a fuel source.  Luckily, much of Ireland's low-lying area is covered with vast stretches of bog lands.  Bogs are a special kind of temperate wetland in which large amounts of plant matter grow quickly, die off, and decay in stagnant, brown water.  These conditions slow the decomposition process, allowing the formation of peat.  

Peat is the partially decomposed and naturally compacted plant material from old bogs.  The peat is cut, literally from the surface of the ground, by hand or machine, dried, and packed for sale.  Where we purchased it, the peat was available in briquettes, highly packed and shaped into uniform pieces.  There are peat sellers who specialize in hand-cut rough shapes, but our most convenient source was the briquettes.

A pack of peat briquettes ready to burn
Peat briquettes
Peat is also sometimes called "turf" by the people who live here, but I have most often just heard, "briquettes."

Peat briquettes are incorrectly stacked
Looks great, right?
Any experienced peat burner will see the above photo and laugh.  When we got home with our peat, I built it up just as if I was burning a wood fire or lighting barbeque charcoal.  I simply, and incorrectly, assumed peat burned and lit just like wood logs.  I made my triangular stack with paper tinder and thought I was ready to go.

We didn't take any more photos of what happened next, but let's all safely assume we learned a lot about the behavior of peat.  The blocks are extremely dense, feeling much heavier than they look.  When I tried to light the above pile, the paper was burned out and the peat pieces were merely beginning to char.  After more and more (and more) paper, I finally got the pieces burning, but slowly.  I again made a rookie peat burning mistake by poking the pile to open up more airflow.  Sadly, this extinguished the flames and brought the briquettes to a very smoky smolder.

I finally gave up on getting it burning with what we had on hand, so I did what I should have done an hour earlier- left it alone.  I thought it would just smolder out, but when sitting still, the flames were able to build some momentum and actually burned pretty well.  Sadly, we had to open a window to let smoke out and cold air in, so we didn't get much heat from our fire.

Doing some research, it appears peat is most easily lit with fire-starter blocks because it is so dense and needs long contact from flame to get burning.  Lesson learned.  I do like the low cost and slow burn of peat as a way to save fuel.  Hopefully I'll get better at the skill involved so we can experience the full benefit of an Irish turf fire on a cold night.

[Update:  I have since learned the proper stacking technique to get a turf fire going without using store-bought firestarters, thank you very much!]