Sunday, November 30, 2014

Dublin Christmas Markets 2014

Last year, we had a great day out visiting the Christmas Markets around town. We found all kinds of great local food and drinks in relaxed markets. Sadly, the city has pushed this year to condense the various scattered markets into City Centre, particularly the new St. Stephen's Green market. This weekend, we went out to explore some of the new-look markets.

The weather was great, and our first stop was an impulse visit to Donnybrook Fair, our local fancy food market. They were having a Christmas festival with samples of mulled wine, meats, cheeses, cakes, mince pies, and whiskey. We made a note to stop by on our way home in case we didn't find amazing snackies at the markets in City Centre.

We did find some Pabst Blue Ribbon, a classic American cheap lager. Here, of course, it's a fancy import. Nice.

Cory Found some PBR
Cory Found some PBR

The low, late-November sun was shining on the Grand Canal as we neared City Centre. We stopped on near some weeping willow trees to enjoy cupcakes from The Natural Bakery, our favorite sweet shop in Donnybrook.

Rare Sara-Looking-at-the-Water Shot
Rare Sara-Looking-at-the-Water Shot

Cupcakes on the Canal
Cupcakes on the Canal

The first market was the Lidl market on Custom House Quay. This multipurpose space is used for a number of festivals and events, including Dublin's Oktoberfest celebration. This weekend, supermarket chain Lidl was hosting a market to sell their holiday treats. We sampled some (more) mulled wine and picked up some spiced windmill cookies. This was a one-weekend-only show, so if you missed it, you missed it.

Lidl Christmas Market 2014
Lidl Christmas Market 2014

After Lidl's market, we went to check out the new, official market in Dublin at St. Stephen's Green. A row of stalls was set up along the entire length of St. Stephen's Green North - and it was packed. We entered the throng from the south end - away from Grafton Street. The narrow sidewalk was jammed with shoppers, and the ever-ongoing construction on the road created bottlenecks at different points throughout. Barriers kept people from spreading into the street, but also cut off room to escape and breathe!

As for the shopping, many of our favorite vendors from last year weren't at the market. Keogh's craft potato crisps, artisan cheesemakers, and cured meats by the slice were nowhere to be found. We picked up some roasted nuts and gummi candy, but most of the stalls were selling crafts and non-food gifts at who-knows-what prices. Bit of a bummer.

At the top end of the market, we saw a huge, gated line (queue) of people waiting just to enter the market. We had popped in on the wrong end without knowing it, skipping this half-hour line in the process. We felt bad for skipping the line, but glad we didn't have to wait for the chance to shuffle through the disappointing selection of stalls.

Good as our word, we stopped in Donnybrook Fair on the way home to get everything that we couldn't get at the markets. Keogh's crisps, parmesan-covered salami, chorizo links, nice cheeses, and mulled wine supplies were all procured. We enjoyed this fat-and-salt-and-alcohol fest while watching some Christmas movies on the couch.

...So it wasn't a total bust.

Meats and Cheeses
Meats and Cheeses

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014 Live Twitter Bash

It's that time of year again, turkey and football fans! Thanksgiving is upon us again here in Dublin. While the rest of the country goes about their regular pre-Christmas routine, we'll be cooking up a traditional (ish) Thanksgiving feast for two in our tiny Dublin kitchen. Follow the action all day on Twitter ( and or right here on this blog post. All new tweets will be embedded (with pictures) on this page as the day goes on.

Happy Turkey Day!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


It's Thanksgiving week, and I've been blogless for more and a full week. Putting together a book is a lot of work in the final stages.

Right now, the text of the book is very close to being ready to ship. Thanks to the hard work and contributions of my volunteer editors, it's looking great!

Most of my effort this week has been focused on building a website to support the book beyond what I have here. My vision is to one day have a website devoted to my travel writing specifically, including my Dublin book and any future travel-specific writing projects.

Hopefully, the website will be home for additional book content like audio, video, and fully-illustrated walking tours (like my old versions of the Urban Park Scramble). It will be a little bit more... commercial than the site here, with a focus on specific travel tips and articles for serious travel planners.

The lighthearted personal blog material will still be available and coming in one form or another, just not sure where. Rest assured, I'll keep the iowa2ireland URL pointed to wherever my personal blog content ends up, but it may have a different home and different look soon.

We'll be back here on Thanksgiving with another special live Twitter event!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Finishing the eBook, Not Too Late to Jump in!

The blog will be dark this week while I finish up my eBook. It's so close yet so far away from final publication, and I haven't been able to really focus on anything else. Blog posts written now would be hurried and forced. Heck, I haven't even picked up a video game controller in more than a week!

For the last 2 weeks, I've been pouring 10+ hours/day into the book, and I still have some labor-intensive finalizing work to do. Making images and maps work on the variety of e-reader screens will be a big challenge, and I have never designed anything like a book cover before, so I have lots of work to do.

I am also making decisions about publishing platforms and styles, all while making final tweaks to the text, thanks to my volunteer editors.

You can still be a part of those text tweaks! I've had 20+ volunteers jump in to read a portion of the book draft, and the feedback has been great so far. People are finding undefined local words (like publican and An Post) and sneaky typos that my eyes would miss. With this extra bit of polish, the book can really shine.

If you haven't volunteered and would like to take a look at a piece of the book, let me know with a comment or Contact form submission. All editors who submit feedback will be credited in the acknowledgements of this and all future editions of the book! More information about the volunteer editing process in the previous post.

Thanks for all the support and encouragement! When the book is finally published and available, look for announcements here.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

See Your Name in (e)Print!

Well, my free Dublin eBook is just about finished. The body text is complete, and I've done one round of labor-intensive copy editing for typos, misspellings, and style inconsistencies. The first comb through was an unpleasant five-hour experience that I'd rather not repeat so...

I'm looking for volunteer crowd editors to take one more look through the text of my book before it goes to final formatting and e-publishing. I'm calling it crowd editing because I don't want to throw the whole book at a few people and ask them each to read the whole thing. I'm hoping to get a few dozen (fingers crossed!) volunteers, each to take a look at a manageable little chunk of the text. If all goes according to plan, each editor will have a couple of pages of text to read, and we may be able to have more than one editor look through each section, which would really be great!

Editing or writing experience is NOT required. Heck, I have neither. Anyone who can point out obvous typos, glaring factual hairrors, sentences unclear, (inconsistencies], and bad jokes can help. If you can read this page, you can help me get my work available at the highest-possible quality.

What do volunteer editors receive in return? Besides the warm fuzzies and good Karma of helping someone to help others, each editor will get credit in the acknowledgements of the book. No matter what kind of feedback you provide, you can get your name in this and every future edition of this book- forever!

Interested? Here's how it will work. Contact me (through the Contact page of the blog, email, Facebook, Twitter, a loud yell, any way you know how) as soon as possible and let me know you'd like to help. I'll reply with four things:
  1. An editing request asking you to take a look at a certain chapter or range of paragraphs in the text of the book.
  2. A link to a Pastebin page containing the ENTIRE text of the book. That's right, every editor will have access to the entire text of the book, stripped of all formatting and images WITH EACH PARAGRAPH NUMBERED. It'll make sense when you see it.
  3. The second link will be to a Google Form survey. This is to record your comments and corrections.
  4. A big, grateful digital hug.
When you get your request, open the Pastebin page, find the paragraph lines, and read away! If you have suggestions or corrections, try to make a note of the paragraph number for easy fixing later. Do not try to make corrections or notes on the Pastebin page. If you want to copy and paste it into another kind of document for easier reading, go ahead. Be aware that it will still have no formatting or images.

When you have comments or suggestions (even if it's just, "Looks great!") open the Google Form link and plug in the name under which you'd like to be credited (even if it's a pseudonym or anonymous), the range of the book you read, and your comments. Try to include paragraph numbers in your comments if you have specific suggestions. 

If you want to read and comment on more of the book, then bless you! Please feel free to read as much of the book as you'd like and give me as much feedback as you can. Your comments can only make this book better. If you decide not to edit the book after taking a look, no problem! You're volunteers!

If you know anyone you think might be interested or might be able to help, please let them know! Have them contact me through any of the above channels so we can have as many eyes on this thing as we can.

Let me know through the above channels if you have questions, comments, or want to help get this book out there!

If you're interested, here's a cover shot teaser!

eBook Epilogue

Two eBook posts in one week, I know. I'm very close to finishing the book, and I've been laser-focused on it for the last full week. It's become difficult to pull myself away to put together blog posts. Not that I haven't been writing! I've been piling on 1000-2000 words a day to the book to get it finished, so I thought I would put up some of the last pieces of the book as a teaser.

This epilogue is not only a foreigner's guide to a Dublin pub, but I also feel it sums up the focus of the book with an emphasis on socializing, exploring, relaxing, and sitting back with a drink.

Meanwhile, I'm reworking all the previous content published earlier into full-book format. Upon re-reading, there are a lot of style and tone inconsistencies that need to be fixed and unified to make this feel like a single work.

After cleaning up the text, I then have to learn from scratch how to insert and format images and maps for e-readers. Shuffling images around on documents and PDFs is one thing, eBook formatting quite another.

When it's ready, I'll be putting out open calls for volunteer crowd editors, or book beta testers, if you will. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, read or download the Epilogue from the Free Dublin eBook page of the blog.

As always, any and all feedback is welcome in the comment section or through the Contact page of this blog. Thanks for your support!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Guide to the Irish Supermarket

Now that we've been through an American supermarket, let's take a walk down the aisles of a popular Irish market and see what we can find.

On the surface, most things will look just the same. Produce on the ends, packaged foods in the middle, meats on the back end, and a large selection of frozen treats.

...But look a little deeper, and the differences will pop up almost immediately.

Want a cart? Better pony up a deposit. Got that 1-Euro coin at the ready? No? Hike on over to customer service and break that 2-Euro coin! Most American supermarkets don't require a cart deposit, but for the notable exception of Aldi. Yes, we have Aldi in America, too! Even with the cart deposit, I still see a lot of shopping carts in the Grand Canal...

To be fair, not all Irish markets require a coin deposit.

Cart Deposit
Cart Deposit

...I thought the English hated the French, but it didn't stop them from adopting French words for certain vegetables. Green summer squash are known by the French courgette instead of the Italian zucchini. Eggplant goes by aubergine.


Aha, we've reached the breakfast meat cooler. A comparison of breakfast meats might be one of the most interesting Irish/American studies. Americans like smoked bacon and sausages loaded with herbs and spices. What Americans call breakfast sausage is either links or discs of fennel-and-pepper-loaded pork and... nitrate coloring. The Irish sausage seems to be made of pork and salt and... pink nitrate coloring? And don't you DARE insult the Irish sausage by comparing it to the British sausage which is made of... pork and salt and... pink nitrate coloring. British sausages are also not made by Clonakilty, the most popular brand of Irish sausage and pudding.

Yes, pudding. The closest American dish to meat pudding might be traditional turkey stuffing made from giblets and bread. White pudding is made from pork offal (organs) mixed with bread, spices, and lots of salt. Black pudding (eaten more in Ireland than in Britain) is colored dark brown with blood.

Meat puddings are of course not to be confused with bread or fruit puddings, sweet baked desserts. In America, the only thing we call pudding is a thick, creamy sweet custard usually mixed from a box of chocolate- or vanilla-flavored powder.

Black and White Pudding and Sausage from Clonakilty
Black and White Pudding and Sausage from Clonakilty

Around the corner in the fresh meats, we find much more lamb options in Ireland than we'd ever see in a Midwestern megamart. People often ask if the lamb and beef for which Ireland is so famous is cheap. Sadly, they are not as cheap as would be expected. Island economy, you know. For us, Irish stew is an extravagance, which is a shame considering its peasant food roots.

Large Lamb Selection
Large Lamb Selection

In the ethnic food section, we find canned hot dogs and Pot Noodles (not Cup Noodles, Americans!) Canned and jarred hot dogs are rare in American supermarkets, but our selection of refrigerated hot dog (and bologna) meats is certainly not lacking.

Canned Hot Dogs and Pot Noodles
Canned Hot Dogs and Pot Noodles

Baked beans. Americans think we have the market cornered on them. Boston baked beans! Beantown itself! Bush's secret bean recipe! Visions of the Old West!

None of that matters here, where beans-on-toast is accepted for every meal, and canned beans will be on the plate with any breakfast fry-up. Beans are indeed a great source of inexpensive protein, and they are available in all flavors, shapes, and sizes here. The individual serving packs for lunches seem to be particularly popular.

Canned Bean Selection
Canned Bean Selection

Making that classic English Irish fish and chips? Better serve it with mushy peas! When I first had fish and chips in London back in 2012, I asked the server what they called the mashed peas served with every plate of chips. She looked at me strangely and replied flatly, "mashed peas."

It should be noted that canned peas are also available in non-mushy form.

Mushy Peas
Mushy Peas

More pudding? 'Fraid so. In the home baking aisle, we can choose from all manner of instant rice pudding options. The closest American food to rice pudding might be tapioca. I say "might" because not many Americans eat tapioca, made from a starchy root rather than rice.

Rice Pudding
Rice Pudding

"You gotta eat your Wheaties!" Said the great Michael Jordan. Maybe he never tried Weetabix, a popular cold breakfast cereal more akin to what Americans would call shredded wheat. These rectangular blocks of whole grain wheat are usually served with milk.


But Americans recognize some breakfast cereal brands! ...Or do we? Kellogg's Corn Flakes have the same name and mascot, but just what is Tony the Tiger doing on a box of something called... Frosties? Strangely, the same cereal called Frosted Flakes in the States has been shortened for the folks over here.

...Are Frosties still Grrrrrrrrrreat?

Frosties and Corn Flakes
Frosties and Corn Flakes

Condiments in Ireland aren't as scarce as they are in Continental European countries, so we can still find ketchup, yellow mustard, peanut butter, mayo, and most other bottled sugar and salt here. One popular condiment here is brown sauce, of which the most popular brand is HP. It seems a bit intimidating on its face... brown sauce

Never fear, Americans! The popular A-1 steak sauce is almost a carbon copy of this popular condiment. Here, it's not just served with steak, but on a number of meat dishes. Try that A-1 on a burger or with chicken fingers (goujons here, the French again!) and report back to me.

HP Brown Sauce
HP Brown Sauce

The great Irish tea battle has been raging for decades. Family allegiances run deep, and people from one side or the other scoff at the mere idea of serving or drinking an adulterated cuppa from the other (inferior) side. Barry's and Lyon's both make a regular blend (green box) and a gold blend (red box) and sell for about the same price. To me, novice tea drinker that I am, the blends taste the same from both brands, so I just buy whichever brand is on sale when I need tea.

...Not so with most of the families we know. You are either a Barry's family or a Lyon's family. You'd sooner marry your cousin than buy a box of competing tea!

In the photo below, it is clear that this market is pushing Lyon's with this extending display.

Lyon's and Barry's Tea
Lyon's and Barry's Tea

Of candy, we can say that most of the treats are similar, but with different emphasis and different packaging. In America, we have soft gummi candy, even a limited selection of the international brand Haribo, but Europe has been for me the champion of the gummi. At this supermarket, the best value can be found in the store brand wine gums- fruity gummi candy shapes with wine names like PORT on each soft chew.

Chocolate malt candy is much more prominent here. In America, we have Whoppers malted milk balls, but the popular Maltesers and its knock-off products provide a much wider selection of malty milk chocolate bars and balls.

The Pennsylvanian Hershey milk chocolate bar is revered with almost religious fervor in the States, but the slightly-sweeter Cadbury's Dairy Milk bars are the norm here. According to some Irish folks who've tried Hershey's on American holidays, it's too bitter.

Cadbury's is of course only known in America for its filled creme eggs usually eaten on Easter.


Of all the popular American food brands to gain Irish popularity, Old El Paso might be the most unexpected. Many an Irish and American cook can now reach for a taco, burrito, or enchilada kit from our Tex-Mex friends. Here in Ireland, there is always a great selection of Old El Paso taco supplies- but few or no competitors. They've got the market cornered.

El Paso is in Co. Mayo, Right?
El Paso is in Co. Mayo, Right?

Nearing the end of the store, we've reached the bakery, and two things are surprising. First, we learn that Irish soda bread is actually eaten here! Most American "Irish soda bread" is stiff, dry, and crumbly. Here, many families make (or buy) fresh brown soda bread to serve with traditional dishes like coddle, a sausage, cabbage, and potato stew.

Also, pre-cooked "American style" pancakes are sold cold in packages, presumably for reheating. Pancakes are of course very popular in America, but they are one of the few popular foods that haven't yet been turned into a frozen or pre packaged form. Interesting that flapjacks are one of the few American foods still solely whipped up on a hot griddle at home.

Soda Bread and Pancakes
Soda Bread and Pancakes

Beyond the bakery, we are well into the junk food aisles. When it comes to potato crisps (which of course are called chips in America) in Ireland, Tayto is the head spud. This local brand uses Irish potatoes for their original, salt and vinegar, BBQ, and the clear Irish favorite cheese and onion crisps. King crisps might be a runner-up, but it seems to us that Tayto is top tater.

American favorite Lay's are sold under the Walker's name here, but the logo looks the same. Walker's are more popular in England it seems.

Tayto Crisps
Tayto Crisps

Crisps here are usually sold in packs of individual bags. The large bags you see here are really bags of bags. Bags of bags and bags- six or twelve in each. It creates a lot of trash, and it really makes you feel guilty to sit down and eat a whole family-size bag when you have to open twelve "single serving" bags to do so.

One popular American brand does have a presence here, but note (as we've seen before) the slight difference in naming conventions. Presumably, Doritos Cool Original and Chilli Heatwave taste like the Cooler Ranch and Nacho Cheesier flavors we know and love in Iowa. I wouldn't know, Doritos are much too expensive here in Ireland.

Irish Doritos Flavors
Irish Doritos Flavors

But sometimes, changing the marketing and packaging for different countries makes perfect sense. Case in point Coke and Coke Zero and their new "Enjoy it with..." campaign. Here, the marketing folks use the local terms Mum and Mate and Irish names like Grainne and Darragh.

...By the way, when posing for a photo like this, make sure to put Mum BEFORE Mate Trust me.

Enjoy them with your Mum and your Mate
Enjoy them with your Mum and your Mate

Not much is different in the freezers. The usual collection of microwave dinners, ice cream, frozen pizzas, and vegetables look out from their frosty tombs. One significant difference can be found in the selection of frozen fried potato products. We do have frozen French fries in the States, Ore-Ida crinkle cut being a personal favorite.


Chips as Far as the Eye can See!
Chips as Far as the Eye can See!

This freezer, above and below, is packed with chips of all shapes, sizes, and colors from the foreground all the way to Cory there. Like the large selection of baked beans earlier, this shows just how important these are in menu selections here. We've yet to barge in on Irish families cooking and eating at home, but judging from restaurant and carvery selections, chips seem to go with just about everything.

Curry? Forget the rice, pour it on chips! Lasagna? Sure! Gimme some chips! Other fried food? Gotta have it with chips! Mussels? Well ok, the Belgians have that covered.

That's it! Groceries in hand, make your way to the checkout. Just like at your local American supermarket, use your membership card for reward points and pass your coupons to the cashier. And don't forget to collect your Euro deposit for that cart on your way out!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

New eBook Chapter: Beyond City Centre

This is (hopefully!) the last chapter of regular content of this book! I'm approaching my target word count for the main book content, and now I just have the easy task of assembling the introductory material and appendices before the even easier task of final editing, proofing, and publishing.

...So I've a ways to go, but we're getting close! This long chapter covers are few of my favorite spots away from the River Liffey, but not as far out as Dun Laoghaire or Howth. We take a walk along the Royal Canal in the north and the Grand Canal in the south while visiting a few of the best free spots in the extended city- in my humble opinion, of course.

As per usual, check out the chapter (Beyond City Centre) over at the Free Dublin eBook page of the blog, and send your feedback to me through the Contact page above.

Thanks for your support as we reach the home stretch!

Monday, November 10, 2014

A Walk on the Mighty Mississippi

Earlier this year, after doing some American supermarket research, we spent some time visiting family in Cory's hometown of Dubuque. People always ask us where we come from in the States. For the curious...

We always say, "Iowa- right in the middle." Interestingly, we've found that "near Chicago" isn't as useful as we'd thought. Irish people tend to be very well-traveled and many have been to the States, but most have been to Boston, New York, and a few of the western states- Chicago seems to be much less popular.

Iowa is bordered by two of North America's biggest rivers: the Missouri to the west and the Mississippi to the east. Cory's hometown is on the Mighty Miss- right on the borders of Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin, so his love of water should come as no surprise. 

Obligatory Cory-Looking-at-the-Water Shot

Our visit was in mid-July, on the very tail end of Dubuque's annual mayfly (called fishflies locally) invasion. These insects spend a year as aquatic larvae before hatching en masse to breed and lay eggs for next year's hatch. Mayflies aren't unique to Dubuque, the Mississippi, or even North America, but when conditions are right, Dubuque has hatches of staggering size. Thick tree boughs bend and break from the sheer weight of these small insects landing on the tree and on each other, forming a thick black blanket. The city occasionally has to bring the snowplows out of storage to push inches of slick dead insect bodies off of the streets and bridges.

Only a few stragglers remained for our visit, so I got the benefit of a nostalgia blast without the actual problems caused by billions of bugs.

Dubuque Mayfly
Dubuque Mayfly

From the riverside in Dubuque, sovereign land of three states is visible, Iowa at your feet, Wisconsin to the left (north) and Illinois to the right. All this across the river that spawned so many stories and legends. Mark Twain would have just been a man named Sam without the inspiration of this blue-brown beauty.

Across the Mississippi
Across the Mississippi

Since I've left Dubuque, they have developed and restored much of the riverfront. The old Dubuque Star Brewery is sadly no longer producing its famous classic beer, but it is now home to the tasting room of a local winery.

Star Brewery and Shot Tower

Behind the brewery is the old Civil War shot tower, used to make round lead ball bullets for military issue. The tower in Dubuque is one of very few still-standing gravity-powered shot towers. Lead was melted and dropped from the top floor of the tower through a series of mesh filters. As the liquid lead fell, friction from the air and the decreasing-diameter mesh shaped it into perfectly round spheres.

Dubuque was the perfect choice for a lead bullet plant, as the bluffs around the city are jam-packed with rich lead deposits. It was for these lead mines that the city was first established- by a Frenchman, before the Germans and Irish took over.

Shot Tower
Shot Tower

After such a nice walk in the sunshine on my favorite river, we were all ready for some classic American (and Dubuque-specific) food and drink...

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Blue Marlin Sub-Hour Speedrun!

It happened, it's real. The White Whale of Blue Marlin speedrunnning has been found and captured. I finally pulled out a time well under an hour with this 55 minute, 36 second beauty.

Even so, this run wasn't perfect. I accidentally threw back a day winner on Day 1 and had a few bad breaks and mishaps throughout the game. There is certainly room for improvement here.

...But for now, let's celebrate this new Personal Best, and the first time under an hour!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Sandycove Point

Down the coast from Dun Laoghaire is a small point well known for its swimming, family-friendly sand beach, and literary history.

A very pleasant walking trail follows the coast for a half-mile from Dun Laoghaire's East Pier all the way out to the tip of Sandycove. There are two paths, the older trail runs closer to the water and is a bit perilous. The paving stones are uneven and covered with a slick layer of sea slime at low tide- and is probably underwater at high tide. Climate change, eh? The safer and more comfortable trail is a wide, flat sidewalk following the coast road. 

The first part of Sandycove we pass is the small sandy beach. It's only a small patch, nothing like Sandymount Strand, but it looks like the tidal range isn't quite so severe down here, so presumably there is still some water at the beach when the tide goes out, unlike Sandymount. 

Sandycove Beach

The legendary local favorite here is called The Forty Foot- presumably because of a steep depth drop-off just off the rocks. Years ago, this secluded swimming hole was reserved specifically for nude men. Today, it is open to men, women, and children- all of whom were clothed when I visited. Apparently, the nude tradition continues, but only very early in the morning...

Forty Foot Sign
Forty Foot Sign

Gentlemen's Bathing Place
Gentlemen's Bathing Place

Forty Foot Swimming Steps
Forty Foot Swimming Steps

The point is also home to another of Dublin's Martello towers. These squat, round towers were built as a defensive bulwark against Napoleon, and since, most of them have fallen into private hands or disrepair. The one here on Sandycove is happily open as a museum dedicated to Dublin-born author James Joyce.

Joyce apparently spent a week living in the small upstairs apartment in the tower with his writing rival (literary frenemy) Oliver St. John Gogarty. Years later, he set the opening scene in his famous novel Ulysses in this very tower.

Today, access to the tower and museum is open and free. Nice!

James Joyce Tower Museum

Small Ground Floor Display
Small Ground Floor Display

Narrow Tower Steps
Narrow Tower Steps

Upstairs Apartment

The tower would have originally housed a garrison of soldiers with their munitions and supplies. I suppose it was only natural to turn the upper room into an apartment after the tower was no longer needed for Dublin's defense. It seemed a bit cramped, but I've never lived in a Dublin studio apartment, so maybe this is spacious by comparison?

Above the upstairs apartment, the roof is open for a high view of Dun Laoghaire, Forty Foot, and swankey Dalkey farther south. It was overcast and windy the day I went down, so everything looks dark and gray- even though it was midday when these photos were taken. Guess the winter is officially upon us here in Ireland.

Dun Laoghaire from Sandycove Tower
Dun Laoghaire from Sandycove Tower

Forty Foot from Sandycove Tower
Forty Foot from Sandycove Tower

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Call of the Kraut

I've recently been inspired to take another stab at homemade sauerkraut. I tried it earlier this year with no-so-great results, but I thought a change in ingredients and technique could turn my kraut fortunes.

I grabbed a head of large-leaf cabbage (on sale) and some Atlantic sea salt. My previous attempt was with regular iodized table salt, that I later learned was a big no-no. The sea salt should technically have been finely-ground, but I thought I could make do with the coarse stuff.

I shredded the cabbage laboriously with our less-than-sharp kitchen knife.

Shredding Cabbage for sauerkraut
Shredding Cabbage

To flesh out the bulk (and vary the color and flavor) I shredded a carrot with a peeler. The slices came out very thin, just the way I wanted them.

Shredding Carrot
Shredding Carrot

After shredding, I mixed in the salt and started the mechanical part of the process. First with my hands, then with the potato masher, I mushed and squeezed the cabbage/carrot mix. After a few cycles of mix/squeeze/rest, the mix started to give up its liquid thanks to the salt. A few more cycles and we would have enough to cover in the jar.

Mixing Cabbage for Kraut
Mixing Cabbage for Kraut

When enough liquid had seeped from the greens, I packed the solids tightly into an empty pickle jar and poured in the salty liquid. To keep everything submerged, I used a large piece of uncut cabbage leaf and two clean rocks from the seashore.

Pre-fermented Kraut
Pre-fermented Kraut

Weighing Down with Stones
Weighing Down with Stones

I put the lid of the jar loosely over everything and set it in my fermentation chamber (under the kitchen sink) to ferment. After just one day, it was bubbling nicely as the salt-tolerant bacteria did their thing- chewing on the cabbage fibers and emitting (among other things) lactic acid. This acid and microbial activity effectively "pickles" the cabbage without adding vinegar- which is acetic acid made by a different bacteria, from alcohol of all things. 

About a week later, I did the taste test- and survived. The cabbage was well on its way to kraut status, and maybe just a bit too salty. Looking back, I may have added a bit too much salt. No problem, though. I'll let it continue to ferment until it has a bit more kick and use it in dishes that need something salty. I may also experiment with draining, rinsing, and freezing a portion of the jar- just to see what happens.

One-week Kraut Tasting

After this batch is finished, I'll be keeping a sharp eye on the vegetable clearance bins at the supermarket for more greens to throw into a brine like this. It's great to add another country to my fermentation empire.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

New eBook Chapter: Outer Coastal Villages

I've been working on the plan for the last few chapters of this short book quite a bit in these last few weeks. I'm almost finished with two more in addition to the one published this week. These chapters usually require some on-the-ground research, and sometimes I have to visit an area more than once to get everything exactly accurate. When giving turn-by-turn directions, I want to make sure I don't make any errors- even in a book that will be given away for free.

That said, this new chapter explores the villages of Dun Laoghaire, Howth, Bray, and Greystones on the coast north and south of Dublin city. These are all an easy (and cheap) DART ride from City Centre and their walking opportunities are great. I recommend visiting one, but not necessarily all, of these villages. The choice will depend on the taste of the traveler in question. Howth has more rugged hiking trails and great fish markets, Dun Laoghaire has a few more village shopping and pleasure boating opportunities, and Bray and Greystones have the fantastic- but less difficult- Cliff Walk and Bray Head hiking trails.

Check out this (and all the other) chapters on the Free Dublin eBook page of the blog.

Feedback is always welcome and appreciated through the Contact page or in the comments section below.

Howth Lighthouse
Howth Lighthouse

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Muhammad Ali in Croke Park,1972

Boxing is a popular sport in Ireland. It should be no surprise, as they do love to put a little money down on their sports, and there is almost no sport better for the bettor than boxing. Ireland even won a boxing gold medal in the 2012 London Olympics (Katie Taylor).

...But way back in boxing history, another legendary boxer came to Ireland for a bout. The one, the only, the greatest of all times, Muhammad Ali.

In 1972, promoters scheduled a fight between Ali and Alvin "Blue" Lewis (not another boxing Lewis) at historic Croke Park in Dublin. We all know Croker is home to Ireland's national sports and select international events (or not), so what better venue for a huge event like this?

Before the fight, Ali shot some promotional material, resulting in this little gem of a TV spot:

He seems to have some trouble with pronunciations like shillelagh, but he gets off some other nice bits like, "[Whiskey is] the water of life. That's just crazy!" He even calls Ireland greener than Kentucky- and we all know that's saying something!

Now let's get to the fight itself. It's not a classic to the tune of the Rumble in the Jungle, but interesting nonetheless. Momentum shifts back and forth a few times, but Ali seems to be in control throughout the fight. He appears to get stronger as the bout wears on, as Al Lewis fades.

I've included time spots with highlights below the video. Each round is marked along with a few other interesting bits, like the cringingly-sexist remarks about the ring girls.

  • 2:33- The Dubliners perform the National Anthem of Ireland. Luke Kelly is the one on the right with the huge red hair and beard.
  • 4:09- The (clearly English) announcer calls The Dubliners court jesters as they are ushered from the ring. Wonder what the Irish thought of that?
  • 8:51- Round 1 begins
  • 11:55- Quite insensitive description of the woman with the "Round 2" sign. Very 1970s.
  • 12:50- Round 2
  • 16:52- Round 3
  • 21:00- Round 4- Ali has a very strong round.
  • 24:53- Round 5
  • 27:46- Ali knocks down Lewis to a 9-count at the end of the 5th.
  • 29:00- Round 6- Lewis makes a bit of a comeback, landing some solid blows.
  • 32:59- Round 7
  • 36:55- Round 8
  • 40:25- Another sexist joke about the rounds girls, calling them a "change of scenery." 
  • 50:55- Round 9
  • 44:55- Round 10- Ali comes out big at the first bell
  • 48:55- Round 11- Ali looks fresh, dancing around Lewis, who is clearly exhausted.
  • 50:11- The Ref calls the fight before Ali can devastate the dazed and stumbling Lewis.
The fighters end with an embrace, and Lewis even lifts Ali on his shoulders to the excited crowd.

I wonder if Ali ever beat "Ugly Joe Frasier" and came back to Ireland for a real holiday as he predicted in his promo spot.

Monday, November 3, 2014

The American Supermarket: A European's Primer

I have always been interested in regional food preferences. Since moving to Ireland, I've learned that Midwest American and Irish food preferences are largely the same, but some important differences do exist. An Irish or European person visiting the States may find American supermarkets packed with strange and unfamiliar foods and suspiciously helpful and courteous employees. With this guide, you can confidently navigate any American supermarket without fear.

First, you'll have to park in the gigantic parking lot, full of SUV-sized parking spots. You'll luxuriously pull your vehicle at any angle into your spot. Heck, take up two spots! There's room for all here.

After parking, you may have a long walk to reach the market itself. Better get back in the car and drive a few laps around the parking lot until a car leaves one of the closer spots... at least one that's in view of the front door of the air-conditioned superstore.

Finding the Front Door of Hy-Vee
Finding the Front Door

Once inside, you'll be blasted with the cool air and smells of food. Look around for the food, you'll find it eventually. It's probably past the deli, cafe, bank branch, florist, craft beer bar, reception hall, and import wine shop. More and more Midwestern market chains (like Hy-Vee pictured here) are offering a more full-service experience for the consumer. You drove all that way to the store and walked across that huge parking lot, so why not maximize the experience?

Once in the aisles, you'll find some strange foods- depending on your American region. In the meat-loving Midwest, note the wide selection of potted meats. Minnesota-based Hormel makes some classics like the WWII superfood SPAM, a ground, smoked, salted pork patty preserved in brine and steel.

Pickled Pigs Feet and SPAM

If you are English or Irish, you might be surprised at the limited selection of canned bean choices. We do like our pork 'n beans (canned beans mixed with bits of bacon, pork, or even hot dog chunks) and our classic western baked beans- but we don't include beans as an accompaniment to... well... everything, so you'll have a limited selection here.

...But you will be able to choose from a variety of shiny, brightly-colored jelly choices, particularly the American favorite grape. Remember, what we call jelly is like seedless, gummy jam- not the sweet gelatin dessert. We call that Jell-O, after the popular Bill-Cosby-endorsed brand name.

We love our jelly with nothing more than we love it with peanut butter. Yes, that other American favorite is a crucial ingredient in the classic sandwich, peanut butter and jelly (PB&J). Some enterprising companies have ingeniously developed jelly-and-peanut-butter mixes in one jar. No more inconvenient spreading of goo from two separate jars!

Peanut Butter and Grape Jelly
Peanut Butter and Grape Jelly

Now, let's head over to the refrigerated area to find the... eggs? Yes, we Americans like our eggs cold. Keeping eggs cold does help them maintain their firm whites and strong yolks, especially when buying cheap ones. Believe me, I've noticed. Keeping eggs at room temperature really only seems to work with real farm-fresh eggs.

In Ireland, we dutifully buy warm, room-temp eggs from the supermarket, take them home, and put them in the fridge.

Refrigerated Eggs
Refrigerated Eggs

The eggs are kept near the bacon- smoked bacon. The rashers so popular in the UK and Ireland are not to be found in the American market. Scratch that, they are available, but they are called ham slices. Looking for rashers? Grab some Canadian bacon, the pink, flavorless, unsmoked meat that we've assigned to our northerly neighbors to tease them about their British Commonwealth roots.

...Staying on meat, let's talk sausage. UK and Ireland, it's time we had a talk about sausage. Are you aware that there is so much more in the fresh sausage world than pink salty things? The Germans and Czechs (and French, and Italians, and...) figured out long ago that sausages could be augmented with spices and herbs to make a dizzying array of flavor choices.

Thankfully, when America was settled by all these Europeans, they brought their sausage traditions with them and mixed them all together with a bit of the American spirit to give us the choices we have today. 

Jalapeno cheddar bratwurst? Got 'em. Garlic mustard beer kielbasa? Check. Low-fat vegan turkey onion kale coffeebean? Maybe! Did you check in California?

Sausage Selection
Sausage Selection

 In addition to the fresh sausage (that's sausage requiring cooking), we have the hot dog/bologna (baloney) family. These fully-cooked mystery meats define America to much of the world, and with good reason. I know they are available here in Ireland, but usually in a jar or can (see SPAM above). At the American market, you can select from any number of variations available in refrigerated and only moderately-slimy packages.

Oscar Meyer Wieners
Oscar Meyer Wieners

Before we leave hot dogs, ever heard of a corn dog? This might be more Midwestern-specific than other foods, as it combines two rural staples in one glorious package. Cold hot dogs are skewered on a wooden stick, dipped in a cornmeal batter, and deep fried to perfection. These were originally developed to be outdoor fair food, eaten with dirty fingers while walking down the midway, but they have since made it to the frozen food aisle.

Corn Dogs
Corn Dogs

Before we leave the freezer, let's take a look at ice cream. We've seen some imitators in Irish market freezers. It looks like a valiant attempt, but I don't believe Tesco will ever really come close to anything like Iowa-classic Blue Bunny Birthday Party ice cream- full-fat vanilla ice cream with cake frosting stripes and crunchy sugar sprinkles. mmm....

Other favorites include cookie dough and various candy bar chunk flavors.

Blue Bunny Birthday Party
Blue Bunny Birthday Party

How 'bout the liquor store (off-license)? Well, let's walk in and see!

Walking in to a Walk-in Beer Cooler
Walking in to a Walk-in Beer Cooler

Many supermarkets (and convenience stores, and liquor stores) are installing walk-in beer coolers. Just as the name implies, these room-sized refrigerators are stacked to the ceiling with beer. Cheap American lagers like the Busch, Miller, and Budweiser families make up most of the bulk, but craft and imported beers are gaining traction even in the Midwest. Whatever your fancy, find it before you get too cold.

Before we leave, let's find the sugary breakfast cereal that boils centuries of proud Irish culture down into one delicious character. Lucky Charms, that's how Irish people look, speak, and eat, right? No? Huh...

"That's me Lucky Charms! They're Magically Delicious!"
"That's me Lucky Charms! They're Magically Delicious!"
-Actual Lucky Charms Slogan

With your no-fee plastic grocery bags sagging with all the sugary American goodness, head back across the burning desert of a parking lot to your SUV... if you can pick it out from the others. Better hit that panic button on your keys and head to the one that honks. The others may contain vicious dogs and forgotten infants in carseats.

Just in case you've forgotten where you are, look to the far end of the parking lot for a swimming-pool-sized reminder. No mistaking it, you're home in the good ol' U.S. of A. 

Old Glory
Old Grocery Glory

That's it, my Euro friends! The American supermarket shouldn't be scary or imposing, but welcoming and smiling! If you ask someone for help, they will gladly drop everything to help you- and probably ask about that cute accent to boot.

Now get out there and make me proud, future consumer!