Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Saved by the Sausage

We've all heard that some of our strongest links in sensory memory are made with taste and smell. I come in contact with smells almost daily that remind me of very, very specific times and places. That vaguely sweet smell wafting the storefront? Definitely chewy banana Runts candy. The scent of a room or a house visited for the first time? Easy, chicken loaf day in the school cafeteria.

For expats, the smells and tastes of home bring back a pleasing rush of nostalgia that is difficult to describe. The extended absence of these very specific foods makes the experience of eating them just that, an experience. Simple foods that were regular staples in Iowa are now rare treats for us, and we like it that way.

In the American Midwest, we grew up with the traditional foods of mixed Northern European–Americans. Not real Northern Europeans, mind you, whose foods would have been foreign and scary to a young me, but the children's children's children of Northern Europeans, whose food traditions mixed with those of other countries and the spirit of American industrialism to make the beautiful mishmash of Midwest American food.

Enter the sausage. I've written before about the American take on the European sausage. By boldly adding exotic spices, alternative meats and fillers, and appropriating completely different foods, we end up with such gems as pizza dogs, queso-and-jalapeno bratwurst, and turkey jerky.

Savor the 15 flavors of American sausage
The Iowa Gourmet

One of my childhood favorites was kielbasa – the traditional Polish favorite brought to Midwest cities like Chicago by Central and Eastern European immigrants. Love of the stuff spread, and American supermarket shelves now offer a wide selection of traditional (and not so traditional) takes on this flavorful classic. I used to enjoy it grilled, fried, or cold from the fridge at midnight with potatoes, cabbage, mustard, or sauerkraut.

In Ireland, the sausage tradition is much more monotone. For most of its history, Ireland has been a nation of emigration rather than immigration; no one ever brought new food cultures to the country. Recently, when the Celtic Tiger was roaring, the nation finally began to welcome newcomers – including a massive Polish population – to its shores. The resulting mix of cultures (and outbreeding genes) was only a good thing for mostly-homogenous Ireland, as the Polish brought with them their sausage.

Craving a taste of my childhood recently, I paid a visit to on of Dublin's Polish import supermarkets serving the Eastern European population, who miss their homeland favorites just like I do. Like an excited child, I skipped through the aisles, looking at Midwest American foods in their purest form, and in great supply and variety. Dill pickles! Sauerkraut! Sausage! To be fair, I should say that many Irish supermarkets do stock Polish foods for their customers, but the price and variety doesn't compete with the Polish importers. Also, I find it strange and funny seeing American staple foods stuck in the ethnic food aisle next to the ramen noodles and Thai fish sauce.

The jar of dill pickles barely made it into the kitchen before I had my fingers in the brine. Washed with the salty, garlicky taste, I gave up any resistance and ate the whole jar, calling it lunch for the day. I had the courtesy to save the kielbasa and jar of kraut to share with Sara.

Kielbasa and Sauerkraut
All of this Translates to "Delicious"

The kraut? Cooked with potatoes and carrots to make a mushy stew rich with the flavors of fermentation. The 'basa? Simple and no-nonsense: cut into coins and deeply browned in a skillet. The meal? Eaten before a picture could be taken.

Food memories are important, and nothing makes food taste better than a year without it. Now that I've found a reliable supplier of delicious nostalgic foods, I'm afraid I won't have the willpower to stay away for another year. Oh well, I'll always have boxed macaroni and cheese waiting for me back home.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Dodder Day 2015

It's difficult to believe that a full year has gone by since my first River Dodder cleanup last spring. I wrote my first published Irish newspaper article covering the cleanup and, of course, blogged (and bragged) about it here.

Since then, I've become more active in the planning of the various Dodder events with the volunteer community organization Dodder Action. To promote last week's cleanup and show the impact only a few volunteers can have in a short time, I got together with a few other Dodder Action members under the main bridge in nearby Donnybrook to gather up what we could on only a short stretch of the river. We collected quite a mound.

Donnybrook River Dodder Rubbish 2015
Donnybrook River Dodder Rubbish

A photographer from Irish newspaper the Herald stopped by to grab a story and a few photos. After the quick-clean for the photo shoot, I did some fishing and caught some great images of a heron catching and eating a large eel near a trashed motorcycle dumped over the river wall.

The event was a rousing success, as always. Hundreds of volunteers hauled out tons (and tonnes!) of litter, landfill spillover, dumped household appliances, and metal from the river. The stretches that I worked at Orwell, Donnybrook, and Herbert Park looked great after just a few hours' work from a small-but-dedicated group of local volunteers.

I got to know many of the neighborhood people, and they got to know each other, as we worked side by side caring for our shared resource. Everyone shared their stories about the river and how they use it, and I was playfully asked more than once, "I'll bet you didn't grow up on the Dodder, did you?" To which I could answer, "Nope, I grew up on a slightly larger river in North America – the Mississippi."

I found a nice letter to the editor in the Irish Times from a representative of the Dodder Anglers – another river-loving local club – praising not only the efforts of Dodder community residents, but local cleanings led by concerned volunteers around the country.

It is inspiring to see so many people in local neighborhoods gather to care for their local resources, be they rivers, trails, lakes, or parks. With so much isolationism and "It's not my responsibility!" sentiment around today, it's refreshing to hear a resounding, "It's not mine or yours, but our responsibility to keep our local treasures just that – treasures to be passed on."

If you are local in Dublin and would like to get involved in Dodder-specific activities, see Dodder Action's website for more information. If not, take this opportunity to find local community action groups in your own neighborhood and get involved. If you can't find one, start one! Government authorities are great for building community resources, but no one knows better how to care for their own neighborhood like good neighbors.

River Dodder Heron
River Dodder Heron

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

In the News: The Marriage Referendum


It's hard not to take to the Internet-waves about the hottest issue facing Ireland in years. In the wake (heh heh, wake) of the water charges battle (which is still raging in some places), this officially Catholic nation is faced with a choice. On May 22, voters will take to the polls to circle YES or NO to the following statement:
Féadfaidh beirt, cibé acu is fir nó mná iad, conradh a dhéanamh i leith pósadh de réir dlí.
Thankfully, for the overwhelming majority of Irish citizens who can't read the previous statement, voting cards will also feature an English translation:
Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.*
*As is the case with all Irish laws, in the event of a contradiction between the Irish version and the English translation, the Irish takes precedent and is upheld. That most Irish citizens (and many Irish lawmakers) can't fluently speak or read Irish is irrelevant...and hilarious.

Yes, this Catholic theocracy – which only legalized divorce, birth control, and other "immoral vices" in the 1990s – now has the opportunity to be on the progressive side of history. Not surprisingly, after dealing with decades of church-controlled governments and schools, a very vocal population has come out in support of marriage equality. Also not surprisingly, a small but loud minority is pushing for a NO vote on referendum day. 

As an American, I of course have no knowledge of small but vocal minorities spinning misinformation, clouding the debate with phony phacts™ and swelling themselves to appear much larger than they are, like a bird scaring off a predator. Irish equal time media laws – well-intentioned regulations like those in the US demanding that representation from opposing sides is heard whenever a political issue is discussed on the air –  helps this small group look like a large, organized movement.

One of the biggest areas of debate (and confusion) is the issue of child adoption. Inconveniently, the government is also working on a separate bill dealing with surrogacy, adoption, and other child-rearing issues. This is completely separate from the marriage equality referendum, but the NO campaigners are trying to convince the public that they are one and the same, or at least related, citing old-timey statements like, "Children deserve a biological mother and a father...except the children of divorce, or parent death, or single parents, or...well, we certainly don't want the gays to raise them!"

In the lead-up to the referendum, public figures are choosing sides. Former President of Ireland Mary McAleese said in an interview that marriage equality was a human rights issue; that future gay Irish citizens deserve to have the same opportunities as their fellow citizens. The following morning, a representative of a hardline conservative action group (chillingly like the ones gaining renown in the US) took to the airwaves in a rebuttal/debate with a morning show host on NewsTalk FM. I believe it neatly sums up the position of both sides: "Equal rights to all citizens" versus "AHHHH! GAYS!" 

Read and/or listen to the interview here.

What the NO side supporter here cites is the issue of child-rearing and the rights of children to be raised by both of their biological parents – which is not part of the upcoming referendum – and the status quo of other countries and the European Court of Human Rights. Heaven forbid Ireland make a more progressive choice than the lowest-possible agreed-upon level of human rights by a continent-spanning court!

After all this discussion of civil partnerships, the right to a Mary and a Martin for parents (like Mary Lou McDonald and Martin McGuinness, hardcore IRA defenders?), misquotes, misrepresentations, and misunderstandings, one line sticks with me: "Equality by any other name is not equal." Pretty simple.

It will be very interesting to watch the upcoming social issues battles as the referendum approaches – especially if Ireland approves same-sex marriage and shows just how far they've distanced themselves from church control and influence in just a few short years.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Dalkey and Killiney

Between Dublin City and the rural playground that is all of County Wicklow, where a small peninsula and accompanying island stick out into the Irish Sea, Ireland's rich and famous make their homes.

And for good reason.

Down there in the beautiful seaside villages of Dalkey and Killiney, some of the most expensive real estate in Europe overlooks the beautiful sea and the coastal mountains—all within a quick train (or stretch limousine) ride away from the hustle and bustle of Dublin. 

We'd also heard that Dalkey and Killiney have a great hilltop park between them with great trails and great views. Excited, we took the DART down the coast on Easter Monday to find...fog.

Fog on Dalkey Hill Dublin, Ireland
Fog on Dalkey Hill

The air was clear at our place when we left; the air was clear on the train going south; the air was clear getting off the train. As we approached the seaside cliffs walk, we watched the thick fog roll in from the Irish sea, pushing up the hill from sea level. From where we were on the seaside, we could see nothing but a midday gray-out. We walked down to one of many swimming beaches on Dublin's coast before heading uphill into the hilltop park. Thankfully...

Looking Down at a Cloud Dalkey, Dublin, Ireland
Looking Down at a Cloud

Sugarloaf in the Fog
Sugarloaf in the Fog

We climbed above the fog line into clear blue sky. In the distance to the south, we could see the top of the Great Sugarloaf in the Wicklows peeking up out of its own fog bank.

Even more strangely, when we got to the north edge of the park and looked toward the city, the weird sea fog could only be seen around Howth. Dublin seemed to be protected by the Dalkey/Bray peninsulas to the south and Howth to the north. It was strange stuff looking from right to left; a thick fog obscuring everything here, a cityscape stretching for miles there.

Dun Laoghaire and Dublin from Dalkey Hill
Dun Laoghaire and Dublin from Dalkey Hill

After admiring Dublin to the north, we headed south to the other rise of this double-humped hill. The other side of the park faced Killiney, where the real money is. But first we had to get there, climbing up the attractive trail.

Steps up Killiney Hill
Steps up Killiney Hill

On the Killiney peak, we looked at the obelisk...because there isn't anything else to do with an obelisk, I guess. This obelisk and a nearby step pyramid were built as pleasant hilltop monuments in the eighteenth century. Today, they are just nice landmarks serving as a backdrop for the panoramic view of the sea and South County Dublin.

Killiney Obelisk
Killiney Obelisk

From the top, we could really see the effect of the sea fog. It must have been the warm air hitting the cold water of the sea, because the fog had very little staying power over the land below.

Fog Dying over Land Killiney, Dublin, Ireland
Sea Fog Dying over Land

I was hoping to take notes on the correct way to get from the south side of Killiney Hill back to the DART station so I could include this walk in an upcoming "Easy Hikes on the DART Line" section for The Frugal Guide, but we took a wrong turn coming into the village and ended up walking way too far inland, ending up closer to Dun Laoghaire, four DART stops from where we planned to finish our day. Oh well, it was a nice day, and we saved four stops' fare for our homeward journey!

I still plan to include this scenic walk in the book in some way, but I'll have to find a Cory-proof route to describe and map first!