Friday, February 28, 2014

Bean and Kale Soup

The Irish winter, as much as our Irish friends complain, isn't all that severe.  I hear over and over from most of the friendly people I meet here, "I'll bet the weather is nicer where you come from!"

I usually smile and point out the historically horrible winter that slaughtered Iowa this year.  Heavy snows, high winds, blizzard conditions, and arctic cold was the norm in Iowa this winter.  I feel bad checking the Iowa forecast from Dublin, especially considering the previous winter (2012-2013) and my last winter in Iowa for awhile was balmy by comparison.

Winter in Dublin hasn't been bad according to my Iowa experience.  I say Dublin and not Ireland because I know the winter has been severe and dangerous for those on the west coast of Ireland, with hurricane-force winds and rain flooding cities and knocking out power for days at a time.  Dublin has been relatively lucky by comparison.  The air temperatures don't drop below freezing very often, and we only received one humorous splash of fat-flake snow.

Nevertheless, winter cooking means it's soup time.  In our current less-meat-because-it's-expensive lifestyle, our protein comes more and more from beans.  In this soup, we combine a popular Irish green kale with a popular American legume, black eyed peas.

Black Eyed Peas (Beans) for soup
Black Eyed Peas (Beans)

Black eyed peas go by black eyed beans here, but I'll be sticking with the American peas just for my own comfort.  The dried black eyed peas are among the cheapest dried beans at the store, making them one of our standard go-to white beans.

Carrots and Potatoes for soup
Carrots and Potatoes

If I had celery, I would have used it.  This week, no celery.  Carrots and potatoes would provide our aromatics and our starch.

Greens for soup

How 'bout that greenage?  We had a big bag of kale on sale and half a bag of spinach on its last days of freshness.

Cut Kale for soup
Cut Kale

After removing the tough stems from the kale leaves and roughly ripping each leaf, I rinsed all the greens and set them aside.

Soaked and Rinsed Black Eyed Peas for soup
Soaked and Rinsed Black Eyed Peas

I soaked the dried beans in the refrigerator for a few hours while I prepared the rest of the ingredients and the bread.  Normally we would prefer an overnight soak, but we seldom have the presence of mind to plan meals even a scant 24 hours in advance.  A few hours would have to do, especially with what was coming...

Cooking down everything in the soup
Cooking Down Everything

We added the carrots, potatoes, and beans to a saucepan of chicken stock.  An extended hot boil softens those crunchy carrots and half-soaked beans.  After the hard veggies were cooked, in went the greens for the last few minutes, just until they were bright and soft.

Soup is blended with a stick blender

In classic split-pea soup tradition, we partially blended the soup, thickening the broth but leaving some chunks of veg.  Some soups work well when blended completely smooth, but I wanted this one just a bit chunky.  I'm impulsive and adventurous like that.

Soup is served with a slice of homemade bread
Did I Mention the Bread?

Oh yeah, I was making bread at the same time, but I didn't snap any photos.  Here's my standard easy-to-follow foolproof white bread recipe:

Dump some flour in a bowl
Pour in some salt
Sprinkle on some yeast
Squirt in a little oil (or don't)
Pour in some warm water
Knead until stretchy
Rise until big
Bake until done

Enjoy the last little bit of winter, everyone.  You know when the hot summer arrives you will be wishing for the bone-numbing cold (Iowa) and the refreshing late-winter winds (Dublin).

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Farther Up The Dodder

On a recent Sunday, we were feeling restless after a week of bad weather in Dublin.  Both of us had been cooped up the whole week, and needed to stretch our legs.  We decided to pack up a picnic lunch and go for a little ramble... or amble... or mosey... ok, a walk.

We decided to hit the trail along the River Dodder heading west.  I have been miles up this trail on my bike, but we had never walked it very far.  Armed with sandwiches, water, and money for a hot beverage somewhere on the trail, we set off.

River Dodder is a Little High in Dublin
River Dodder is a Little High

The River Dodder was a little higher than it had been in high summer when we first arrived.  The spillway upon which I usually fish was overflowing, and water was (beautifully) pouring over the top, giving us a nice photo opp of this cascading torrent.

Just a bit farther down the trail, we found a little old bridge... to nowhere.  Clearly this little stone bridge was built over the ditch or culvert some years ago.  Then... a big stone wall was built right in its face.  Poor little bridge.  I had ridden my bike past this bridge a number of times, but had never noticed it at bike speed.  It really does pay to slow down sometimes.

Bridge to Nowhere in Dublin
Bridge to Nowhere

I had seen this particular sight from my bike, but Sara hadn't been this far.  Near The Dropping Well pub in Milltown, a statue of a rhino sits in the middle of the river, looking upstream.  The statue apparently mysteriously appeared in the river late one night in 2002.  The staff of the pub swear ignorance, but it has become something of a cult Dublin sight since its mysterious arrival.

Dodder Rhino in Dublin
Dodder Rhino

The River Dodder in Dublin is defined and controlled by a series of weirs.  These man-made spillways act as fish-friendly dams, slowing down the water flow, creating pools, and controlling flood issues without hindering migrating sea trout and salmon.

One of many Dodder weirs in Dublin
One of many Dodder weirs 

Another of many Dodder weirs in Dublin
Another of many Dodder weirs 

We couldn't resist taking a photo of some food-begging swans.  Many of these birds (and their waterfowl friends) have become almost completely dependant on human feedings.  It's sad and not good for the birds.  These wild animals should have a healthy fear of humans, and when they don't, we get things like swan-on-human violence.

Swans in the Dodder in Dublin
Swans in the Dodder

A swan prepares to attack Cory in France
A French swan preparing to attack Cory in 2012

After narrowly avoiding a swan attack, we made it to Rathfarnham, a quiet southwest Dublin suburb.  We had walked about three miles on a chilly day, so we were ready to sit down and enjoy something warm.  Just off the trail was Rathfarnham's cute Main Street, with shops, cafes, and, most importantly, pubs.  We chose The Revels for our reverie.  (Eh?  See what I did there?)

The Revels in Rathfarnham southwest Dublin
The Revels in Rathfarnham

Afternoon Cuppa Tea at The Revels in Rathfarnham southwest Dublin
Afternoon Cuppa Tea

After our break in the warm and welcoming pub, it was time to start the long trek home.  We walked back along the river, by the begging swans, the riverside parks, the weirs, and the rhino.  Just before we reached Clonskeagh, we got a good look at a hopeful heron hunting on the riverbank.  Sara snuck around the bird, snapping photos from every angle she could reach.  Eventually, we saw the bird make a snap into the water and pull out a small fish.  It quickly went on its way, leaving us without a photo of its trophy.  

Heron on the Dodder in Dublin
Heron on the Dodder

On the way home...

Ashton's Pub and Restaurant in Dublin
Ashton's Pub and Restaurant

O'Hara's Red and a Guinness at Ashton's in Dublin
O'Hara's Red and a Guinness at Ashton's

Well?  We had some extra money, as the tea in Rathfarnham was pretty cheap.  We had some extra time with the sun staying up later and later with each day.  What would you have done?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

English Rugby Fans: "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot"

They Sing What!?

No, you didn't read that incorrectly.  Fans of English Rugby, calling on the rich musical tradition of the great nation of England, sing the classic English sports fight song, Swing Low, Sweet Chariot to spur on their beloved boys in Red.

Or did you mean...

Like... Swing Low, Sweet Chariot?  Like, that one?  Who sings it?  The English?  What!?

Let's Back Up...

As reported earlier, Ireland is in the middle of its 2014 Six Nations Rugby campaign.  Their first two matches were resounding wins, as they took out Scotland and Wales in successive weeks.  After a week off, Ireland was to face down the side (team) from England on Saturday, February 22nd.  Not being born or raised in Ireland, I can't really feel or describe the symbolic meaning of beating in sports the nation who colonized, harassed, and oppressed  you for 700+ years.  I can say it's big.

We didn't want to miss any of the action or the atmosphere of the local fans for this game, so we headed down to our closest pub, Kiely's- which also happens to be a big rugby pub.  We arrived almost two hours before the Ireland/England matchup was to kick off.  Scotland and Italy played a close and hard-fought match in Rome to kick off the Six Nations day of action.  Even then, with so much down time before the game, the pub was busy and filling up quickly.  We were lucky smart enough to arrive just in time to get some stools on a little bar island facing the extra projection screens the well-prepared staff of Kiely's had set up.  

As kickoff time arrived, the pub was absolutely packed with fans, mostly green-clad Ireland fans.  A few red and white jerseys mixed in with the crowd, giving a little more color and a little more... color to the excitement of the afternoon.

The Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) is the national team of Ireland and Northern Ireland.  Good on the Republic and the North to have this union and agreement to pool their skills in international rugby competitions.  The rest of the UK play under their own names, Scotland, Wales, and England.  No word from Anguilla, Bermuda, The Falkland Islands, or the rest of the British Empire United Kingdom Overseas Territories.

Because IRFU technically represents two different countries, they have their own neutral anthem that is played and sung at international competitions.  Ireland's Call represents the ideals of the people of all four historic provinces of Ireland, including Ulster, now Northern Ireland.  

The English, of course, sing their own anthem, Our Country, 'tis of Thee God Save the Queen.  No reason for me to gripe about politics here anymore, the countries are at peace... and there's a violent and exciting game on!

How 'Bout That Rugby?

After the anthems, all thoughts of politics were put aside as the ball was kicked off.  I had a rudimentary understanding of rugby before going to watch this game, but have never actually watched a match, beginning to end, with the sound of the announcers on.  There were a few points of the game I didn't know going in, and a few that I (intentionally) haven't looked up yet.

I won't bore (or infuriate) anyone with my own clumsy description of the rules of the game.  Suffice it to say it's physical, tense, and exciting.  The action is a bit like American Football with no forward passing and no downs.  When a player with the ball is brought down, the action continues.  The ball is handed to another player to dive into the pile of helmetless attackers.

This particular game was a real bruiser.  Both defenses were buckling down on their own goal lines, preventing any tries (like touchdowns) from being scored in the first half.

Let's glance at that, shall we.  A try in rugby is scored when a player crosses the goal line with the ball, but the player must touch down the ball on the ground to complete the score!  So in American Football, we have a touchdown scored when the ball crosses the imaginary two-dimensional plane of the goal line.  In rugby, the ball must be touched down on the ground to score a try.  Hmmmm...  Connection?  I think so.

In the second half, Ireland and England both scored a try, but every inch was hard-fought, and points did not come easily.  In the end, England edged out Ireland 13-10.  Ireland was denied a chance at the Triple Crown trophy awarded if any of Ireland, England, Scotland, and Wales can beat the other three.  Better luck in the rest of the tournament, Ireland!

What About Swing Low?

Oh yeah, that.  Let's talk about that before we finish up.  In many world sports, fans sing.  They just do.  Stadiums break out into song all the time. We have gotten used to it.  Usually, to our ears, the songs are just mumbled gibberish from tens of thousands of screaming fans.  On this particular day, Sara the astute observer noticed the English fans singing this very beautiful and very out of place song.  She heard the melody, and confirmed it when a closeup of fans gave her a chance to read some lips.  

"They are singing Swing Low, Sweet Chariot!"  


"They are!  Listen!"

And by golly I eventually heard it.  They sang it over and over!  We were stunned and baffled by this extremely odd choice of athletic fight songs.

The song has a long tradition in America as a Negro Spiritual, and its lyrics are suspected to be a secret code relating to the Underground Railroad- a network of people who helped escaped slaves flee to the north.  The lyrics on the surface are about death, and being carried away from this terrible and tragic world by a glorious chariot of angels to a better place beyond this Earth.  What do the English want with it?

[Warning- as I was thinking and writing about this, I was hit with some very strong feelings, and I decided to express them here.  The following contains my own personal thoughts and opinions on this (more and more sensitive) subject.]

It turns out the tradition of the English singing the song dates back several decades, to a group of boys from a boarding school attending an England rugby match.  Swing Low was apparently a school song of their small private school.  According to legend Wikipedia, the boys began to sing the song... and I'm not making this up... when a Nigerian-English player, Chris Oti, scored several tries in succession to give England the lead.  In 1988!

Wait, so they sang the song at an African player in the game?  Americans, think to yourselves, what would happen at a ball game if a group of white fans sang that song at a black player in a sporting event- in 1988!  1988!  The layers of ignorance and racism in that are staggering.  Shall we break them down?

People of African descent are not interchangeable.  Many people with African ancestry identify with their African roots, just like so many white people identify themselves as "German," or "Irish."  To assume that anyone of African ancestry is descended from, and therefore should identify with the songs of, African-American slaves is incredibly ignorant.  To me, it's an insult to descendants of slaves and people of African ancestry who are not descended from slaves.  And that isn't just White American Guilt talking.

I guess it's too late now, traditions are traditions, after all.  It's quite interesting, putting aside my angry previous paragraph, to think about how this song could spread in popularity on this side of the Atlantic in the late 20th century.  People in America are much more aware of and sensitive to racial remarks and racist materials- even if so many Americans are still very racist.  Thinking of this song spreading after a group of white fans singing it at a black player is mind-spinningly crazy to me.

...I guess I have a lot more to learn about some of the hard to spot (and harder to describe) differences between Americans and Europeans.

Wow, That Got Dark Fast

Sorry about that if I upset any readers.  I didn't think I would ever write about race or racism on this normally so positive blog.  I saw this and felt in my gut that I had to write about it, if for nothing else, just to process and organize my own feelings about it.  I could have given it the usual joking treatment, and I even thought of some good ones (What'll they sing next, Ol' Man River Thames?), but this seemed deserving of a little more thought and respect- from me.  I do overanalyze and over-think a lot of the little differences I see here, but this one really caught me.  If that is acceptable here, then that is what is acceptable here, and I have to accept that.  I would seriously like to hear what an African-English person has to say about this.  Would she think it appropriate?  Would she think I am being too sensitive?  Or would she not be comfortable with it, but not have enough political or social clout to make a change?

I don't know.  Maybe I'm the ignorant one.  I'm open to learn, and I hope to someday.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Visit to Five Lamps Dublin Brewery

Heading to The Liberties

When we were tasting the beers and meeting the team of The Five Lamps Dublin Brewery, I was invited to pay a visit to their brewing and bottling facility in The Liberties, an industrial neighborhood of Dublin that used to be home to dozens of breweries.  A chance to see a microbrewery in operation?  Yes, please!

I mentioned before the informal mission statement of The 5 Lamps team, making accessible and affordable beer to be enjoyed locally- and how much I like it.  The lineup of The 5 Lamps doesn't push for more more more like so many other specialty microbrews, with ultra-hopped IPAs and triple-chocolate-coffee-with-cream-and-Splenda stouts (mmm... that sounds good, though.)  The brewers here use a short list of high-quality ingredients to make their fantastic beers, and I got to see the whole facility.

We so often hear the word "microbrewery" thrown around.  Just how "micro" is one of these brewhouses?  I was surprised when I visited the brewing floor with just how small the work room was.  This team makes a big volume of great beer in a small space, it was very efficient- but not cluttered or cramped.  

The main central hub of the operation was the row of gleaming stainless steel vessels, serving as grain mash tun, boiling kettles, fermenters, and the bottling machine.  The day I visited was a brew day, so I got to see some of the process in action.  We started with the mash tun, which was freshly cleaned from a mash conducted that morning.

The Brewing Process (Simply)

The term "mash" in brewing (and in grain alcohol distilling) describes the process of extracting fermentable sugars from malted grain.  Wait, malted?  What's that?  Malting is the process of allowing whole grains (like barley or wheat) to partially sprout before killing the process with heat.  When the grains sprout, they release enzymes that begin the process of converting starches in the seeds to sweet (and fermentable) sugars.  Killing the process with heat prevents the seeds from actually using all that sugar and energy- saving it for the yeast later in brewing.

Mashing is the process of steeping the malted and dried grains in warm water.  The temperature of the water activates the starch-to-sugar enzymes and the solvent properties of the water pull all the beautiful fermentable sugars out of the grains and into the water, which is now called wort (pronounced "wert" or "vert," if you vant to be all German about it...)

Mash Tun at 5 Lamps Dublin Brewery
Mash Tun
After mashing, the wort is boiled with hops, a relative of cannabis that produces little green pinecone-like flowers.  The extended boiling releases bitter flavor and acid compounds from the hops, balancing the sweet taste of beer with some bitterness.  Without hops, beer (even commercial  mass-produced lagers) would have a very sweet taste, and not pleasant to modern palates.  For fresh hop flavor and aroma, additional hops are added later in the boil and are thus are boiled for less time.  After boiling, the wort is filtered and cooled on its way to a fermenter.

In the photo below, the boiling kettle is on the right, with the steel steam pipe.  A batch of beer was being boiled at the time, but it wasn't a big steamy and boiling-over mess (like it always is when I boil on the stove.)

Boiling kettle (right) and fermenters at The 5 Lamps Dublin Brewery
Boiling kettle (right) and fermenters
After boiling (and cooling) the beer is fermented in one of several tall fermentation containers.  The brewer adds a specific variety of yeast depending on the style of beer being brewed.  Throughout fermentation and conditioning, the brewer pays close attention to the temperature and chemical makeup of the brew.  When the beer meets the standards of the brewer, it is ready to be kegged or bottled.

The team was botting a batch of beer from the fermenters, so I was able to watch the process from a non-disruptive distance.  The beer is force carbonated with a special machine as it is pumped into kegs for pubs and bottles for pubs and off licenses (liquor stores.)  I watched as each bottle was filled with freshly-carbonated beer, inspected, and capped by the brewing team.  After capping, the bottles are cleaned, dried, and labeled with a manual label machine.

Kegs Ready for Delivery at The 5 Lamps Dublin Brewery
Kegs Ready for Delivery

Starting and Growing a Microbrewery

After kegging and bottling, the beer is ready for the cool room and then for delivery.  Most of the beer brewed here is sold and enjoyed in or near Dublin's City Centre, making this a truly local brew.  The team has a commitment to selling and serving fresh beer, so the inventory is brewed and moved quickly- never sitting too long in the cold room waiting for an order. Right now, if you see 5 Lamps beer, you know it was carefully and freshly brewed within a few miles of your seat at the bar.  That's a good feeling.

I talked to the head of sales, public relations, and delivery about growing the brand of a new local microbrew.  He said it was a lot of hard work for a small team in a small, non-automated facility.  They rely on a high-quality product and an ever-expanding, loyal customer base.  He pounds the pavement, introducing the product to publicans and off licenses- slowly expanding the distribution and the exposure of the new brand.

As a great cap to my visit, I was shown the tasting room of the brewery.  Much of the furniture was recycled from a local pub that updated its own furniture.  The setup is comfortable and classic.  Reminds me of another classic man-cave of my own past... *sniff*

Tasting Room Bar at 5 Lamps Dublin Brewery
Tasting Room Bar

Tasting Room Table at The 5 Lamps Dublin Brewery
Tasting Room Table
If in Dublin, ask to try the Blackpitts Porter, Honor Bright Red Ale, Liberties Ale, and The 5 Lamps Dublin Lager.  Visit their website for more information about the beer, the team, and, most importantly, where to buy these fine local beers.

Keep up the good work, 5 Lamps.  I hope to enjoy your beers and see you again soon!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Taking the DART

When we need to go North or South along the coast (like Howth, for instance), we take Dublin's commuter rail system, DART.

Dublin Area Rapid Transit connects Malahide and Howth in the north of Dublin to Bray and Greystones in the south.  Running along the eastern coast of the city, it offers a quick, comfortable, and scenic ride.  The DART line is part of the LEAP system, an electronic card system of easily paying fares on DART, Dublin Bus, and LUAS (streetcar system) transport lines.

The DART's route going along the coast, dipping into the city, and returning to the coast offers some rather nice sightseeing.  Many Dublin visiting guides recommend a ride on the train just to get a good look at the "gritty" (read: dodgy) side of the city and the coastal beauty north and south of town.  I would also recommend this cheap sightseeing ride, especially if planning a day in Dun Laoghaire or the aforementioned Howth.

The DART train cars are clean and comfortable, and each upcoming stop is announced in English and Irish- unlike most Dublin Bus vehicles.  Announcing stops is a critical feature for visitors and tourists, and the reason I recommend visitors to use the DART and not Dublin Bus to get around.  Visitors don't know what Baggot Street looks like from a bus window, but they can certainly listen to and read the clearly stated, "Next station, Blackrock, Stáisiún Aghaidh na Carraige Duibhe" as they make the final approach.

...Now let's talk about getting around.  Check the map above.  Look at all those convenient stops!  All the way up the coast from the farthest south suburbs to the very northern edge of Dublin's urban sprawl.  What's that?  You don't live (or your hotel isn't) close one of these stops?  Well... tough toenails, I guess.

That's a big limit to this great system.  If your departure or destination isn't on the eastern edge of Dublin, be prepared to walk or switch transport lines.  See the airport symbol on the north edge of the map?  Wouldn't it be nice if such an inexpensive and convenient line had a stop at the airport?  Guess it wasn't to be with this line.  Maybe next time they build a commuter train line...

What about City Centre?  The DART does have stops at Pearse (south of the river) and Connolly (north) stations near the central hub of the city.  It's handy to get to- but not around in- City Centre.  Better catch a bus or wear your walking shoes.  Keep your heels and dress shoes in your briefcase.

Stop Whining!

I can't imagine the challenges involved in planning and building an above-ground rail system in an already established thousand-year-old city.  Obtaining the land, leveling the (probably historic) buildings and roads for construction, and building the stations, switchyards, and other infrastructure must be incredibly difficult.  It's probably a wonder this was built in the first place.

In general, the public transport system here does have a very pieced together feel to it.  Much as I love Dublin and Ireland, I feel I must be honest for any potential visitors reading this post.  Having one north-south train line (DART), an east-west(ish) streetcar system (LUAS), and an intimidating and expensive bus system serving the city can really scare any potential travelers, especially visitors.  Some trips from corner to corner of Dublin might require a ride on DART followed by one (or two!) buses each way.

The three systems are tied together with the LEAP card, but that has some head scratching limits.  Paying with the card does save on cash fares, but bus or train transfers are not included.  Have to switch buses to get to your location?  Be ready to pay for two full fares.  Got a bus ride to the LUAS station?  Get that e-wallet out for two tickets.

Like anything, the system takes some acclimation and careful planning to use and navigate successfully.  Like many systems that feel pieced together to Americans, it perform its function just fine.  People here still find ways to get to and from work.  I guess Dublin has some growing to do before it would be feasible to build something like London's famous Underground system.

...And it will always be better than the no ticket checking, no stop announcing, no idea where I am, few stations near important sights, hold on to your possessions systems we used in Rome and Naples...

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Retro Saturday: Adventure Island 3 World 6

Well, we've made it to a video game classic, the Ice World.  This island (is Adventure Island a chain of islands?  It certainly seems so...) is covered with snow and full of icy danger.  Ice caves and snowy mountain levels dot this island.  Get ready for some massive ice physics.  At the end, we take on the toughest boss yet... the giant... crab... thing.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Skinflint Pizza and Queen of Tarts

Goin' Out?

When we were making our Valentine's Day plans, we considered our food options.  One option is, of course, the old Valentine's Day standby, "Jean-Michel's Fanciest Restaurant Within Your Price Range, You Cheapskate!"

Well, unfortunately for us Jean-Michel's was booked we don't usually go for that kind of date.  What's next?  How about a unique and inexpensive pizza restaurant recommended to us on a recent walk around town?


We got there at Iowa dinnertime, not big city dinnertime.  It's rather nice to make a habit of eating early, we could get our pick of restaurants every night if we were so inclined.  Except for Jean-Michel's, seems like they are alway booked.  Shucks.

Skinflint has a very hip vibe.  The lights are low, the decorations are rustic, and the tables are all made from repurposed doors.  A kosher salt cellar, black pepper pot, and a jar of honey round out the condiments at each table.  Guess we won't get those classic fat shakers of crumbly Parmesan and pepper flakes like we did at old Happy Joe's...

Water, Menu, and Condiments at SkinFlint Dublin, Ireland
Water, Menu, and Condiments

Our Table was a Door Labeled DENTAL DEPT at Skinflint Dublin, Ireland
Our Table was a Door Labeled DENTAL DEPT

...And the Pizza?

Oh, the pizzas.  Hot from the kitchen came these two beauties.  One with cooked onions, smoked cheese, and sausage, the other with chorizo as the star player.  With a carafe of house red wine, we had ourselves a great little Valentine's Day dinner.

The Pizzas at Skinflint Dublin, Ireland
The Pizzas

Skinflint also sported a #Team Panti decal in the window.  For non-Irish readers, a local drag queen Miss Panti Bliss recently spoke out on RTE (the government-run television station here) about ingrained homophobia among certain members of the Irish press.  RTE later paid a huge and controversial monetary settlement to the people named, sparking a nationwide rhetorical firestorm.  

The shadow of the decal was humorously cast on our table, giving us the rare opportunity to enjoy our pizza with an all-caps PANTI splashed on it.

Panti on the Table at Skinflint Dublin
Panti on the Table

Some Dessert?

After the great pizza, we had time for a quick dessert before we had to move on.  Another Temple Bar gem we hadn't visited was Queen of Tarts, a well-known bakery and cafe in the artsy block of Temple Bar.  We didn't have time (or budget) for anything big, so we just enjoyed a Chocolate-Pecan-Brownie-Tart-Thing.  There is probably a better word for it, but after looking upon (and eating) it, I decided the C-P-B-T-T was the true and proper name for such a snack.

They even put lemon and mint in the water!  Nice!

Water with lemon and a mint sprig at Queen of Tarts Dublin, Ireland
Whoa!  Fancy!

Chocolate-Pecan-Brownie-Tart-Thing at Queen of Tarts Dublin, Ireland

An empty plate at Queen of Tarts Dublin, Ireland
Gone Baby Gone
Having our full rations of salt and sugar, it was on to the rest of the evening on a rainy Valentine's Day in Dublin.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Lidl Grape Wine

Grape Wine in a Mason Jar

Deciding to maximize my kitchen mess on my big bottling day, I purchased one liter of 100% grape juice from a rare trip to Lidl, the hard-to-pronounce discount supermarket chain.

I brought out my old, trusty vodka bottle fermenter and cleaned it while I had the sanitizer mixed up for my beer and cider bottles.  We purchased some cheap sultanas (like golden raisins) on our last grocery run, but were horrified to discover they had seeds in them!  We gamely tried using them in our morning oatmeal, but we were just too spoiled to work around big chunks of seeds.  Luckily, they make a great addition to wines and ciders for flavor and yeast-action enhancement.  

I mixed up the sultanas and sugar with some boiling water to dissolve, mixed in the grape juice, and topped it off with cold water to bring it to desired volume and temperature.

Grape Juice Wine Ingredients
Grape Juice Wine Ingredients

Once the juices and fruit were mixed in the bottle, I poured in the yeast bed leftover from the Ciderlab Cyser- saving me a half packet of yeast.  Bonus!

Mixed-and-Yeasted Juice for Wine
Mixed-and-Yeasted Juice
For those experienced brewers who just said out loud, "NO!  Don't put the fruit in the fermenter!" thank you for your concern.  I couldn't believe I forgot about that possible disaster when I mixed this batch in the narrow-necked bottle.  I have read and heard of all manner of disasters happening with fruit in carboys and other narrow-necked fermenters, but I just plain forgot about them.

Let's explain that for the non-experienced brewers so they don't repeat my mistake.  Fruit (like sultanas or raisins) sinks when submerged in a dense liquid like pre-fermented wine or cider.  With the fruit settled firmly on the bottom of the bottle, the brewer feels confident in walking away.  What the brewer (like me) doesn't know or forgets is the process of fermentation- and its consequences.

The yeast go to work on that fruit (and the dissolved juice sugar) right away, fermenting the precious sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide gas.  Most of this gas escapes harmlessly to the top of the bottle and out of the "airlock."  Some of this gas, when using whole fruits, stays inside the fruit skin, inflating it like a balloon.  Suddenly, the now-gassy fruits do not sink in the dense liquid.  They float.

This massive fruit-float event is aided by the now vigorous fermentation of the liquid.  The juice is now full of bubbles and floating fruit, all pushing up to the narrow neck.  In some unfortunate circumstances, the fruit can create a solid, airtight plug in the bottleneck, trapping all the fermentation gas below and putting the juice under tremendous pressure.  Fermenters like this have been known to explode with thunderous force and with spectacular jets of sugary, sticky, staining liquid.

Luckily, I realized my folly before the fruit was able to create this airtight plug.  I was close, as the neck was filling up with sultanas and the gas was struggling to get through and escape.  My next half hour was spent fishing out floating raisins with a sanitized fork, cursing myself for making this critical error, wondering how what seemed like a small handful of sultanas could have reproduced into the approximately 700 pieces it seemed I was pulling out, and thanking my lucky stars I had found it in time.  There would be no explosions rocking our kitchen this night!

Stay tuned for the thrilling taste test of this fine wine.

In Cyser News

The Ciderlab Cyser turned out rather well.  I had mixed in some old honey, and was pleased that a little bit of that honey taste lingered in the finished product.  It also finished on the sweet side, and I attribute some of this to the not-quite-fully-fermentable honey sugars and the cider yeast I was using, formulated for sweeter ciders.  We usually have our ciders on the dry side, so when I've finished this round of cider yeast, I'll try to find some champagne yeast for the next few batches.  Champagne yeast was my old cider standby in Iowa, and it never steered me wrong when I wanted a dry sparkling cider.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Beer Tasting at Beerhouse Dublin

Later on that first rugby Saturday, we had a "date" with an Irish craft beer tasting at Beerhouse on Dublin's north side.

Can't Beat Free

Beerhouse was celebrating a craft brew long weekend, with tastings and visits from Irish microbreweries and free (yes, free!) hot dogs each evening.  We were bound and determined to get there as soon as the tastings started that Saturday, and we were not disappointed.

The first brewery offering a taste was The 5 Lamps brewery, based in Dublin.  How lucky we were to meet the great staff and taste the great beers of this, Dublin's only microbrewery.  They take their name from a Dublin landmark, the five lamps, a famous lamppost in The Liberties, an area of Dublin that used to be home to dozens of breweries- all of which are closed except The 5 Lamps and another you many know... Guinness.

Their brew lineup is a lager, a pale ale, a red ale, and a porter.  We, of course, had to taste them all- and loved them all.  One of the goals of the 5 Lamps team was to create beers that are accessible to the mainstream beer drinker.  As such, their pale ale was hoppy without the mouth-puckering bitter green punch and sneakily high alcohol level of many other micro pales.  Similar story with the rest of the line, no-nonsense, balanced, reasonable, accessible.  The crew was enthusiastic and knowledgeable about their product, and when I expressed interest in their process, they invited me to stop by the brewery to see their operation!  Stay tuned to this space for that post soon.

Five Lamps, Hot Dogs, and a Roaring Fire at Beerhouse in Dublin, Ireland
Five Lamps, Hot Dogs, and a Roaring Fire

After the tasting and chat with the brew team, we ordered a pint of porter and pint of the red ale to enjoy with our *free* hot dogs.  Ever go seven or eight months without eating a real hot dog?  Try it sometime, hot dog loving Americans.  Those hot dogs will be elevated beyond a cheap and easy weeknight snack or ballpark munchie to pure culinary nirvana.

Or you'll just really like it.  Frank, ketchup, yellow mustard, and onions.  Nothing fancy, but just enough to bring a satisfied smile and wordless moan of satisfaction- especially with a great beer.

Beerhouse Background

Beerhouse has a great pub atmosphere.  We hadn't been there before, but we will certainly be back whenever we're in the neighborhood.  Besides the great selection of beers from around Ireland, the pub has a great space and character.  We sat in the back, among the retro-style furniture, large wall murals, and the roaring fire warming the whole back nook.  We hope to return soon and see The 5 Lamps and the rest of the good beers of Ireland on draught in this classic pub.

Beerhouse Menu in Dublin, Ireland
Beerhouse Menu

The Long Trip Home

It had been a long day of exploring, and we had been on our feet for many hours and many miles- leaving out the long(er than we planned) stop at Beerhouse, of course.  We had about four miles to walk home after having walked four (plus) miles getting up and around town earlier.  We began the trip south from Beerhouse with full bellies and mostly clear heads.

Near Trinity College and Grafton Street on the south side of the river, we noticed some white fluffy mounds on the road in front of us.  It looked like they were falling off of passing cars.  Following the line of mounds, we arrived at a popular fountain in this neighborhood- full to overflowing with soap suds.

Fountain Overflowing with Soap Suds
Clearly some prank- someone had dumped a bottle or two of dish soap into the fountain.  The churning pumps would whip that soap into these wonderful fluffy piles within a minute, giving the prankster plenty of time to get away, maybe to return later and witness the chaos.

Oh, college kids and their petty vandalism.  Stay classy.

After a huge day out, we made it home, actually on the early side.  Walking all those miles will really take it out of a person.  To think, when we had a car, we would almost never think of walking downtown and back to something like a beer tasting- even with one person having to be designated driver.

Strange how perspectives and priorities change.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Diaspora: Ireland at the Winter Olympics

Cue up John Williams... Hold On...

We are well into the 2014 Winter Olympic Games now, and I am in the American Olympic spirit.  Sochi, Russia is only four hours ahead of GMT, so I can watch some early events when I first wake up and follow the big medal evening events while I'm making dinner.  It's great.

I'm sad not to have the classic American NBC coverage out here.  I see photos of my favorites like classy Bob Costas in the studio and Mary Carillo sent out on wacky and uncomfortable assignments, but I can't watch them live.  Also, the BBC olympic coverage doesn't use the famous NBC olympic bumper music.  Roll it!

Speaking of great Olympic themes, roll this John Williams classic while reading the rest of this post.  You won't regret it.

Go Team Ireland(?)

Naturally, I was curious to check out and follow the Irish delegation to these winter games.  Ireland isn't a nation known for its Winter Olympic domination like Norway, Russia, and, (ahem) The USA- but I thought it would be appropriate for me to support the home team while I'm here.

I found a news article published by RTE highlighting each of the five (!) athletes representing Ireland in this year's Games.  As I read through the article, I noticed that none of the athletes live in Ireland, and only one was born here.  Of course, it makes sense that winter olympians would need to live in a place with... well... winter sports.  This island isn't exactly packed with high peaks, ski slopes, waist-deep snow, and ice skating rinks.  But to see all the Irish representatives born and raised in America, Canada, and the UK was very surprising.

As I often do, I took to the comments section for a (very unscientific) glimpse at the feelings of the people here, and there I noticed a word pop up over and over.

Diaspora?  Some Kind of Deadly Fungus?

Diaspora was the term in so many comments, and it seemed to be a word understood by all the Irish users.  I could only guess from the context that it meant international people of Irish heritage or ancestry.  When I did some digging, I found out it has a lot more cultural meaning than that.

The word is used to describe the descendants of any population that left or was forced from their homeland in times past.  Interestingly, it is most often used for descendants of Jews displaced from Israel, African people descended from slaves, and modern-day people of Irish descent living all over the (mostly Western) world.

Ireland is known as a nation of emigrates.  We all know (even from American history classes) about the Great Potato Famine and the resulting mass emigration- but I did not know until recently that people have been leaving Ireland (and prospering outside of Ireland) long before and ever since the famine.  

With all these people leaving, we would expect a large number of people with Irish heritage in the world, and indeed we do.  More than 100 million people when interpreted broadly, it seems.  The Irish government even has special recognitions and provisions defining different levels of "Irishness" among The Diaspora- from people with full citizenship rights to acknowledging "...people with Irish ancestry living abroad and sharing its cultural identity and heritage."  No rights or privileges, but a nice nod, to be sure.

Plastic Paddies or Hometown Heroes?

Another term used in the comments section of the RTE article and in the Irish Diaspora Wikipedia page is, "Plastic Paddy."  It appears the Irish population doesn't always appreciate foreigners claiming to be good old Irish boys and girls.  It seems to be particularly often used in sporting events to describe non-Irish players representing Ireland in soccer and rugby.  From personal experience on the ground, I have met Irish people of many differing opinions of all these international "Irish" people celebrating their idea of what "Irish" is.  So many American cities have St. Patrick's Day parades and celebrations of wild drunkenness, green beer, and green-dyed rivers.  I have yet to see the River Liffey dyed green in Dublin, and I suspect that St. Patrick's Day will be fun here, but most of the party crowd will be tourists.

What about people who have Irish heritage and make it big in the world outside of Ireland?  Well, of course those folks aren't Plastic Paddies!  Why would they be?  The only Plastic Paddies are the ones who aren't world leaders or celebrities.  Muhammad Ali?  "The Greatest of All Time!?" Proud Irish lad, through and through.  Don't you know he was from Louisville, Kentucky Ennis, County Clare?  

You Mentioned the Olympics?

Right, Olympics.  We haven't noticed a lot of enthusiasm for the Games here.  Maybe it's part of a classic vicious cycle...

Little Enthusiasm > Little Funding > Little Athlete Development > No Local Television Coverage > Little Enthusiasm.

The one exception I noticed happened during the Men's Skeleton event airing on BBC.  Sean Greenwood was proudly representing Ireland, and I was happy to see the Irish tri-color flag draped over the railing next to the flags of so many other nations.  A message was written in Irish on the flag, I can only assume they were words of encouragement, ending with the name Sean.  After his first Friday slide, the camera (and the BBC announcers) directed their attention to the two green and orange clad fans jumping and cheering.  It was nice to see that enthusiasm and the exposure on BBC's powerful multinational coverage.

Sadly, Greenwood suffered a crash in his second run, finishing safely but losing a great deal of time.  His third run was clean, but wasn't enough to get him into the top twenty and the final run.

We were at a sports bar last weekend in the prime time of the Games.  All televisions were tuned to various sports, and not one was showing Olympic coverage.  Most of the sets were tuned to various continental soccer matches until the main event of the day, and Ireland's real winter sporting interest, Six Nations Rugby.

There it is.  Ireland does love her sports, just not those involving skiing and skating.  The rugby fans are as rabid as they come, and the city (and I imagine the country) virtually shuts down when Ireland takes the rugby pitch.  

Check the comments on that RTE article, they are very interesting, and much more intelligent than the comments section of most American news articles.  Some rail against the use of these Plastic Paddies when there are perfectly capable athletes living in Ireland.  Some believe any representation of Ireland in the Winter Games is better than no representation given the unfriendly winter climate here.  Some, of course, are just cheeky.  Here are some of my favorite from all camps.

If you consider the amount of money Ireland would have to spend to produce winter Olympians what with sending them overseas to train and go to school, I think we are getting a very good deal out of this. All their early training has been provided by overseas funding. Good job Olympic council doing it on the cheap! 
Wish them all the best ...are they choosing Ireland as they couldn't get a place with GB , Canada , US ?
 If we could get the Kilkenny hurling team use to the ice skates I reckon we would do quite well in the Ice hockey
Shouldn't be going for Ireland. Conor Lyne's accent was clearly faked and an insult
Jeysus the country can't even produce summer olympic athletes these days .
Its all downhill after this! 

Let us close with the highest rated and maybe best-put comment on the board.

I congratulate them on representing Ireland. I've heard some of them being interviewed and they are very proud of their Irish heritage. It is a big part of their lives. There are about 50 million people around the world with Irish genes and many of them have a huge sense of Irishness. Best of luck to these five Irish Olympians. We should be proud of them. 

I agree.  Go team Ireland in the 2014 Winter Games.  Now if only they could get Rugby, Hurling, and Gaelic Football in The Olympics, Ireland could be bringing home some major Olympic hardware.  

Monday, February 17, 2014

Howth Village

Back to Howth

Howth, the peninsula north of Dublin, is famous for its breathtaking (in more ways than one!) hiking trails, but a beautiful and bustling village welcomes visitors as they get off the handy DART coach.

The first noticeable sight on the Howth skyline (after the mountain, of course) is the ruined abbey on the hill above the harbor.  The ruins are of St. Mary's Abbey, and date to the early 1400s.  Before that, Viking King Sitric had built a church on this same hill.  We were on a bit of a time and energy crunch on this visit, so photos from inside the ruin will have to come from another Howth visit...  Darn.

St. Mary's Abbey From the Harbor in Howth, Co. Dublin
St. Mary's Abbey From the Harbor

Sailboats in Howth Harbor Co. Dublin
Sailboats in Howth Harbor
The harbor itself looks much like the two-pronged structure in Dun Laoghaire.   The West Pier is home to Howth's lively fishing industry, with a small fleet of boats returning with their catch each day to be sold in some of the famous small fishmongers and large commercial seafood suppliers.

The East Pier is a bit longer and less bustling than West Pier.  It has a wide walking path and gives the visitor the closest view of the famous island Ireland's Eye.  At the very end of the East Pier sits a short and functional lighthouse.

East Pier and Lighthouse in Howth, Co. Dublin, Ireland
East Pier and Lighthouse
East Pier from the Trail in Howth, Co. Dublin, Ireland
East Pier from the Trail
Of course, the most noticeable feature of Howth Head is the small mountain rising south of the village.  The mountain shields the view of Dublin and its characteristic smokestacks, giving the visitor a real feeling of rural isolation just outside the city.  From the harbor level, the lower rise of the mountain shields the true top of the hill, giving the adventurous hiker a false sense of security.

Part of the Mountain from the Pier

Post-Hike Refueling

After our big day of hiking, we were hungry and ready for something greasy and delicious.  The main street on harbor level has no shortage of pubs and restaurants, most of them seafood-themed and serving fresh seafood from the large fish markets just across the street.  Not having the time or money to drop in at a nice restaurant, we thought something take away would fit.  We noticed one place in particular had a long line out the door of people speaking with Irish accents.

"A chipper (fish and chips shop) busy with locals? Jackpot!"

Beshoff Bros. claims Howth as its original home, but they have locations elsewhere in the Dublin area.  The Howth shop is a characteristic classic chipper, meaning no inside seating.  Just a storefront, a counter, and a small menu of different cuts of fish, different sauces for the chips (curry sauce is a popular favorite here) and a kids menu of chicken goujons (strips) and burgers.  

Box of Beshoff Bros Fish and Chips in Howth, Co. Dublin, Ireland
Beshoff Box

Cod Goujons and Chips from Beshoff Bros in Howth, Co. Dublin, Ireland
Cod Goujons and Chips
 We stood in line, ordered our cod goujons, stood in the pickup line, and grabbed our warm fried finger friendly meal.  Howth has no shortage of outdoor seating, with a pleasant harborside park full of benches right across the main street.  Unfortunately, it was late December- and cold.  The sun had been shining brightly (and directly into our eyes) on our hike, but when we came down from the hills, the clouds and wind rolled in in force, amplifying the chill in the air. We had to eat our fish and chips quickly sitting in the cold, and they were delicious.  Looking to our left and right, we saw other couples and families doing likewise, huddling together over the warmth of fresh-fried goodness.

After our chips, we took another quick stroll to the end of East Pier for a better photo of the lighthouse and a look out into the sea.  Not pictured here is a seal I saw in water entering the harbor.  I don't think I will ever bore of seeing seals while I live here- although I know they are common and are probably a pest for the fishers bringing in their catch every day.

With the day (and our stamina) waning, we headed back to the DART station and back to our part of Dublin.  There is still more for us to see in Howth. In this trip we skipped the interior of St. Mary's Abbey, Howth Castle and Gardens (now a private residence), some of the longer hiking trails, more famous bars and restaurants, and the extensive fish market.  Guess we'll have to come back again.

...Maybe in the summertime.

East Pier Lighthouse in Howth, Co. Dublin, Ireland
East Pier Lighthouse

Totally Unsolicited Travel Tips

  1. When enjoying Beshoff's (and you should), prepare to wait.  It's a busy place, even in the midafternoon in December.  I can't imagine what it must look like in high summer.  Keep in mind you'll be eating outside and plan according to the weather.
  2. This bears repeating from the last Howth post-  Take the DART train northbound from anywhere in Dublin.  Take the train terminating in HOWTH (not MALAHIDE) and get off at the end of the line.  There is only one line returning from Howth to Dublin, and its termination point will be either BRAY or GREYSTONES- and both of these trains will go through Connolly and the other major Dublin stations.  Unless you are heading farther south, any train will get you back to Dublin proper.
  3. Beyond the chipper, check out that seafood.  Howth is well known in Ireland as the east coast center for fresh seafood.  Even though we didn't have time or funds to check out the restaurants, try to sneak in for a sniff.  At least have a drink before visiting the fish markets and getting yourself a nice fresh haddock, ray, or mackerel.