Sunday, August 30, 2009

Real Good Pie

Dwindling August, and a perfect sunny Sunday.
They're everywhere, blackberries. I have to barely
step out my door to find as many as I can possibly want.
Some years they're small and hard: all seed. But this year
they're particularly lush, from the right combination
of intense heat and rain. Lucky, we are.

I pick handsful, drop them into the bucket.
Vines entwine me as I creep into the thicket --
the best are always just out of reach, above my head
or behind an immense spider. Some are so ripe
they disintegrate in my fingers. Some are fuzzy
with mold. Some are still red, ensuring berries
on into September.

Every year I make at least one blackberry pie, a ritual
without which I cannot proceed into autumn.
I recall an August Sunday 21 years ago, when I was
lumbering nearly two weeks past my due date with son#2
(son #1 still in diapers). I bribed some neighbor children
to pick berries for me, and rewarded them and their parents
with pie and ice cream. My mother told me that I was
crazy to do all that work on a hot day with an eight-pound
baby pressing to get out, but I just laughed. And ate pie.

What I won't forget, though, is that one of the husbands,
amid the clunking of forks on plates, sidled up to
the gravid me and whispered in my ear:
"I should've married a woman who can bake like you!"

Well. Then.
Never underestimate the Power of Pie.

Awaiting the top crust:

Ready for the oven:


Does it get any better than this?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

I've been painting all week.....

....painting on glass, at my job. This is a photo
of a piece which I've computer-enhanced.
Fun stuff.

Warning! May Contain Objectionable Meat Product!

Before reading (or looking) any further,
please click this link:

Bacon is the new black.

(Thanks to Joannie over at Poe-Query for this.)

(Not that you'll see me wearing bacon any time soon.)

Note: I originally wrote this post because of the article
for which I have posted the link above. But mere minutes
after I hit "publish", Em. over at TofuHunter sent me
this photo (which has been floating around for a while
out in the blog-o-sphere, but it couldn't be more
appropriate than it is today):

Thursday, August 27, 2009

More from Inis Mór

Craft Village at the foot of Dun Aengas, where a few
minutes after I took this shot a nanny goat with an
ominous set of horns came roaming through the crowd
with her kid trailing behind --

Cross-inscribed pillar dating back to the 12th century
in the yard behind our hotel --

Typical Aran Islands home --

I loved this horse's feedbag: an old handbag, with the
straps over the horse's ears --

These odd flora were in an indentation in some rocks
high on the hill above the shore, although they look
as if they belong in a tidepool. I have no idea what they
are, or to what family they belong:

Sunday, August 23, 2009

What's for Dinner

I am a contributor on another blog,
What's for Dinner, where members post
recipes and photos, and there are always
lots of good things to eat! It was conceived
by my friend Emily (a fantastic writer) who also
authors Tofu Hunter -- a review of vegetarian/vegan
restaurants or veg. options at restaurants in the
Seattle area. Please do stop by!

This is What Was For Dinner last night:

Pan-bagnat, a sandwich whose origins lie in Nice
(that would be Nice, France). It's basically a deli-type
sandwich, drizzled in vinaigrette, then wrapped tightly
and weighted-down for several hours so all the nice
flavors can infuse. One of the things I especially
like about this is that you use no butter or mayonnaise,
so while the cholesterol hit is reduced, there is no
loss in flavor. (And I can feel less guilty eating salame
and cheese!)

I started with a loaf of ciabatta, sliced it horizontally,
then brushed it with a homemade vinaigrette.
R. was visiting, and he's the Wizard of Sauces and
the Whisk King, so he went to work on the vinaigrette.
I honestly can't say what he does differently from me,
but his vinaigrette is To Die For. (And I don't make
a half-bad vinaigrette!)

After the drizzle, I layered-on lettuce leaves,
provolone, Calabrese salame, sliced tomatoes
and chopped green olives. I topped it with the
other half of the ciabatta, drizzled some more,
wrapped the thing in plastic, then put it in a dish
and weighted it down with four large cans of tomatoes
placed inside another dish.

One thing about weighting the Pan-bagnat down
is that it's easier to eat than your usual overstuffed
deli sandwich -- the fillings don't slip and slide
out of the bread quite so much. And the vinaigrette
gives everything a nice little kick.

I also par-boiled for five minutes some filet green
beans, blanched them in ice water to stop the cooking,
then tossed them with some diced red onion and more
of R.'s vinaigrette. They went into the refrigerator
for more chilling.

And then there was watermelon with lime slices.
If you haven't tried watermelon this way, it's time
you did.

This was a perfect late-August dinner, not too heavy.
(Although we could've eaten more Pan-bagnat than
we did. Not that we needed them, I'm just saying.)


Saturday, August 22, 2009

My cats are back, in full-yowl.
Cooking dinner for nine tomorrow.
Life is good.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Insurance Hell Update

Good news! Regence has evaluated R.'s
"special circumstances" and determined that they
were indeed special, and will pay what they are
required to pay. This is a good thing.
But I shouldn't have had to pursue this.
And why someone should be required to have
a referral for an emergency hospitalization
defies logic.

And consider the following:
The total bill (for 2 days) was $35k.
Because R. has insurance, the bill was knocked
down to $18k. Aha! A bonus from the generous
insurance industry and/or hospital!
Goodie! Woo Hoo! Feelin' lucky!

But my question is: what is the actual cost?
If R. wasn't insured, would his actual cost be $35k?
But because he is insured, it actually only cost $18k?
Huh? Is what I am buying when I buy insurance,
in effect, a discount program?

Don't get me wrong -- I don't object to paying for
insurance. I just want to get what I've paid for.
When I go into a deli and order and pay for a pound
of salami, I can reasonably expect a pound of salami
to be in my bag when I walk out of the store.
When I pay my monthly insurance premium
(waaaaaay more costly per pound than salami!),
I expect to get in return what I have purchased,
what the company very clearly presents in their
myriad graphs and charts.

I know, this is not a new argument. It's one we're all
sick to death of. I admit to having been in a bit of a
la-la state these past seven weeks, with no television
and no American news headlines glaring at me
everywhere I turn. So it's been somewhat of an adjustment
to come back home to the raging health-care debate
AND my own personal health insurance hell.
(And since R. is still recovering, and not working,
Mom is paying the bills.)

Paying for medical insurance is a little like buying
a lottery ticket -- if you're really lucky, you'll get
that million-dollar payout. If you're like the rest
of us Americans, you're going to have to make do
with that $2 return on your investment.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A movie, a poem and some soup

P. and I took a break from the ninety-degree
heat and jetlag yesterday to take in a matinee
of Julie & Julia. Delightful movie! I've been a
fan of Ms. Child since the beginning of time,
and just last spring read My Life in France.
(My copy of Julie & Julia is on the docket.)
Meryl Streep is, as ever, absolutely splendid.
She embodied Julia's joie de vivre, fearlessness
and sense of humor. Amy Adams is equally
good, but alas, she doesn't have as iconic a part
to play as Ms. Streep.

The movie got me ruminating on several
Julia-Child-themed memories. My late husband
and I were frequent poetry readers at the Castalia
Reading Series at the University of Washington in the
1970's and 80's, hosted by the late great Nelson Bentley.
An annual and much-anticipated event was "The World's
Worst Poetry Reading." Participants would spend a year
scouting bookshelves for absolutely the most abysmal
poems ever published -- and we'd gather to present them
orally at Savery Hall. M., my late husband, was a regular
at this event, and every year without fail "performed"
a poem titled "Men" (can't remember the author)
in the voice of Julia Child. Rolling-in-the-aisles hilarious!

The Sunday after his memorial service, my two teenage
sons and I decided that the only acceptable thing
to cook -- as we'd been inundated the prior week
with friends & family and a generous supply
of prepared meals -- was Julia Child's French Onion
Soup. So we ventured out to the grocery store,
clinging to each other and fragile as the skin
on the onions we carried in our basket.

Then began the ritual process of homemade chicken
stock, the celery and carrot infusion, the rendering of bones.
For two days the windows steamed up -- water slid down
the glass in rivulets, as if the house was doing its own
grieving. We finally sat down to eat, broken and exhausted.
And that soup saved us, with its undertones of white wine,
with bay leaves and the sultriness of long-stirred onions.
It was the balm that we craved, the taste that assured us
that, though damn close, all was not completely shot to hell.

Note: although a classic French Onion Soup uses beef stock,
it is equally good with chicken or turkey stock. Once I
simmered up the remains of some Cornish game hens,
which makes a very rich and flavorful stock. If you do opt
for a poultry stock, substitute white wine for the red.

Check out Julia and her chickens here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I'm in that stage of re-entry where everything feels
slightly off-center and tilting. Lots of hours
on planes and in airports, gone for seven weeks,
and everything seems unchanged here, and yet
nothing has remained the same.

First thing was the startling reality of the bill
from R.'s hospitalization. I was on the phone
early today haggling with Regence, who agreed
that there were "special circumstances" and so perhaps
the out-of-pocket limit does apply. F***ing bastards
are just trying to weasle out of paying what R. is signed
up for. I was actually asked if my son had received
a referral for the hospital prior to his heart attack.
Uh. Well. No. What healthy 23-year-old without any
heart issues anticipates a heart attack?!! I imagine
the referral conversation would go something like this:

R. to insurance company:
"Hello? Yeah, I'm planning to have a heart attack
on Wednesday, so I just wanted to make sure
I have all my paperwork in order."

Insurance company to R.:
"Wednesday sounds good. We've got you
penciled in. No problem. You're covered.
Come in any time."

So we'll see.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Traditional Irish Cooking, Darina Allen.

If you were raised like I was – by a French-descent
mother married to an Irish-descent man – this book
will dispel any lingering myths that all Irish food
is bland and boring. (As newlyweds, my parents
lived for a short time with my paternal grandparents,
from whence cometh my mother’s opinions on
Irish cooking. Apparently, my mom’s sumptuous
Gallic feasts were the envy of the entire household,
much to my grandmother’s dismay!)

Anyway, Darina Allen is the founder of the much-regaled
Ballymaloe Cookery School in County Cork. And in this
wonderful book, she chronicles centuries of Hibernian
culinary traditions with lots of appealing recipes
and stunning photography.

Not surprising, there is an entire chapter dedicated
to the subject of potatoes. This statistic stunned me:
“…in pre-Famine Ireland the average cottier, or landless
laborer, consumed anything between seven and fourteen
pounds of potatoes per day.”

During the Famine, census records show that a million
people died and two million emigrated. While those
are astonishing numbers in any scenario, consider
the fact that the square-mileage of Ireland is only slightly
greater than that of Washington state. Consider again
that this these deaths and this emigration took place
in a relatively short time period: from 1845-47.
These are sobering facts, and gives one a new respect
for the simple potato.

But back to the cooking. In addition to the potato chapter,
there is one titled “Food from the Wild” -- fraughans,
medlar, samphire, dilisk and dulse -- and one by the name
of “Offal” -- pig parts, blood, tripe and such.

As always, my favorite chapters are those for breads
and desserts. Apples figure significantly in the Irish
dessert landscape: dumpling, fritters, pies, crumbles,
as well as apple snow, soufflé and cake. There is a
recipe for Worcesterberry Tart – a worcesterberry is
an old-fashioned species of black gooseberry. There
is a Blackcurrant Fool, a Gooseberry & Elderflower
Fool, a Strawberry Fluff. There is the less poetic
Stewed Seasonal Fruit. There is Currant & Apple
Roly-Poly, and Grandmother’s Fierling. This last
recipe has such intriguing name, I thought I’d
include the recipe:

4 eggs
5 T. flour
5 T. milk
5 T. superfine sugar
4 T. butter

Separate the eggs. Put the yolks in a bowl, add the flour
and milk and mix until you have achieved the consistency
of thick cream. Whisk the eggs whites stiffly with the sugar
and fold into the mixture.

Gently heat two frying pans (nonstick is best).
Add half the butter to each. Divide the batter mixture
between the pans and cook until the bottom
is a golden brown. Slide one of the ‘fierings’ onto
a warmed serving dish, crispy side down and puffy side
up. Gently place the other fierling on top, brown
side upwards. Pour the pan juice over the top and serve
immediately, just as it is or decorated with some summer

I’ve not yet tried this – but plan to do so soon!
There is an Irish Coffee Meringue that sounds extraordinary,
as well as three recipes for mincemeat, which I shall ignore.

And then this absolutely conundric (not sure if that’s
a word but I am using my Poetic License) recipe for
Beestings Pancakes. What the -- ???? According to Darina
Allen, “Beestings is the name of the very rich milk which
the cow produces immediately after the calf is born.”
And the recipe, in case you have the good
fortune to happen upon some beestings:

6 cups flour
1 t. baking powder
pinch of salt
1 T. sugar
butter for frying

Sieve the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl.
Whisk in enough beestings to make a thin or slightly thick
batter, depending on whether you want thin or thick
pancakes. Drop tablespoonfuls onto a hot greased griddle
and cook for about 5 minutes on each side. Serve hot
with butter for tea.

I purchased Irish Traditional Cooking four years ago
in September during my first trip here with Paul.
I’ve always left it here on the shelf, but this trip
it’s getting packed in the luggage to go back to Seattle.
I intend to make good use of it. And if you’re
interested in Really Good Traditional Irish Cooking,
let me know. You just might get an invitation to partake.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

In the Arans....

I've been blogless these past few days, and would
never have believed that I'd find a wi-fi connection
here in the Aran Islands, no less from the comfort
of my bed in the Kilmurvey House! (Along with the
ruins of a 9th century church in the back "yard"
just outside my window. Notice the fence
parts leaning up against it as well as a plastic
kayak and paint cans.)


We took a passenger ferry this morning to
Inis Mór, the largest of the three Arans --
about halfway through the 45 minute voyage
a young man walked around and handed out
blue plastic barf bags, which thankfully few people
found necessary to use. And thankfully, upon arrival
we were met with no rain, in spite of the dull silvery sky.

We piled into a front seat of a van/taxi to our hotel,
joining an island tour (to our delight!) and were
entertained by a talkative driver, whose nose-tip
sprouted a coarse crop of very wiry hairs.
(I was sitting RIGHT beside him.)

There are about 900 residents on the island,
three primary schools and one secondary school.
A small building houses a summer Irish-language
program for children. There are three Catholic churches
& one priest, who also serves as the priest
for the two smaller Aran Islands.
That's a heck of a lot of confessions to listen to.)

It's a rocky, wind-blasted piece of earth, with 7,000
miles of dry-stone walls. In fact, there seems to be
more stone on the island than dirt: everywhere
you look, there's either wall, another wall, or just flat rocks.
Wildflowers wedged in between stones and at the foot
of walls add bursts of color to the scrubbed landscape.

Our hotel is situated slightly less than a mile
below Dún Aonghasa, a semi-circular stone fort
built by Celtic Tribesmen in c.2000 B.C. --

We trekked up the gravel and then-rocky trail this afternoon,
with spectacular views of the myriad stone walls
on the not-too-distant hillside. What amazed me
more than anything (well, other than the fact that
we were standing in a 4,000+ year-old-structure)
was that there were no fences or barriers of any kind
on the cliff-edges -- and in that wind, it is not inconceivable
that one could blow off the precipice to certain death
on the rocks hundreds of feet below. I admit that I did
shimmy myself up pretty damn close to the edge,
on my knees, then was afraid to stand back up, thinking
that I might lose my balance, and, well, uh, my life.
But no. I survived, and managed to snap a few shots
from the brink of near-annihilation --

Outside the walls were chevaux-de-frises, Medieval
defensive obstacles. They looked like stone graveyards --


So! We bid adieu to Carrowholly and Westport:

Goodbye foals lying in the pasture.
Goodbye mares standing over the foals.
Goodbye mown hayfields salt & peppered
with crows and gulls.
Goodbye Crovinish.
Goodbye fuschias.
Goodbye greenfinches and foxes.
Goodbye to Sage, our favorite restaurant.
Goodbye to wi-fi at Dunnings Cyber-Pub.
Goodbye Carrowholly Nettle Cheese.
Goodbye neighbors: Ian, Meena, Pat, Ann,
Declan, Mary, Peter & Co.
Goodbye Mayo News on Tuesdays.
Goodbye solitary beach walks.
Goodbye bladderwrack. (Which is not an intestinal
Goodbye gorse.
Goodbye to gales and sideways rain.
Goodbye Loose Oxe Tongue.
Next Year!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Recent reads:
The Earth Hums in B Flat, Mari Strachan.
“Mari Strachan’s debut novel has charmed readers
around the world with it sparkling portrayal
of one unusually imaginative twelve-year-old
girl whose investigation into a local crime yields
startling repercussions.” –from the bookflap
Highly recommended.

Annie Dunne, Sebastian Barry.
This lyrical novel portrays the later years of two
old-maid cousins who take on, for the duration
of a summer, the care of their young grandniece
and nephew. It’s a stunning meditation on the trials
of growing old set against the landscape of 1950’s
rural Ireland, where time-honored traditions
are rapidly disappearing.
Highly recommended.

what are you like? Anne Enright.
This story of twins separated at birth resonates
with poetic language. Every chapter stands alone
as its own universe of artistic articulation.

Best Love, Rosie, Nuala O’Faolain.
The posthumously-published novel by the author
of the much-praised My Dream of You.
Uninspired and in need of a heavy-handed editor.
Our narrator, Rosie, discovers the existence
of an abandoned cottage on the coast where her mother,
who died in childbirth, was raised. While attempting
renovations, O’Faolain also attempts a commentary
on the middle-aged woman, but ultimately the novel
misses the mark.
Not recommended.

The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga.
Winner of the 2008 Man Booker Prize.
Set in contemporary India where, in this scenario,
the caste system has disintegrated into two classes:
the upper class, who live in insulated excess,
and the lower class, who live to serve the wealthy elite.
Extremely compelling – I finished in under 24 hours.
Highly recommended.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society,
Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.
An epistolary novel set on Guernsey and London
in the aftermath of WWII, I can’t help but disagree
with the book critic from the San Francisco Chronicle:
“It’s tempting to throw around terms like “gem”
when reading a book like this. But Guernsey is not
precious….” And yet it is precious, and sweet
and completely predictable. There are a few token
concentration camp scenes, as well as the requisite
heart-tugging scenes of Brit children being evacuated
to the country. It's not poorly written, and it's not
a bad book. Perhaps it's just been hyped to death.
But it comes off as WWII-lite. If you want something
that you can get your teeth into, skip this one.
Lukewarm recommendation, and with reservations.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Low tide, and I walked out to Crovinish,
the island where my neighbor Pat grew up,
to his uninhabited childhood house attended now
only by sheep, gulls, a solitary blackbird.
Slipped over dillisk and bladderwrack
and carrageen, through squelching mud,
thirty minutes each way. Attentive to the change
in the water level, on a barely visible path.
When the tide is out is this all one big island?
I don’t know the answer.
When the tide is high, some islands disappear,
and then do they lose, temporarily, their island
status? Are there 365 islands (the official count)
at low tide and, say, 254 at high tide?
Who measures this, and how?
And more importantly (to me), who gets to decide?
These are things to learn.

I’ve looked west to this island for nearly four years,
during relentless wind and solstice sunsets.
I’ve watched Pat drive his sheep to Crovinish,
his dog Jack rounding up stragglers. I’ve attempted to
reach it many times, and always was turned away by
rising water. So I’ve kept track, this week, of the pattern
of ingress, of egress. And today, finally, I made it
all the way over hummock and stream,
over volcanic boulders and fossil-etched stones.

Bundled wire blocks the stairs
from beach to house, but I skirted it by scaling
a dry-stone wall and easing myself up and over
a wire mercifully free of barbs. Pat has replaced
all the old windows with new vinyl windows, and the roof
is sound, so the house sits snug and dry on this
lonely outcropping of rock and field. Though locked,
I could see inside to a worn-out plaid sofa, an armoire,
a table and the few odd chairs. A mirror above a fireplace.
A black kettle suspended on a hook in the fireplace.
(Several fireplaces.) Everything thick with the cobwebs
of unattended existence.

I tried to imagine what it would be like to live here
as a child, with perennial fuschias as dense as hazelnut
trees overflowing the banks, with periwinkles
for a front yard. With no neighbors.
A turf fire for heat. Dependant on a boat
and the cycles of the moon.

I could hear a dog barking on another island.
I could hear the hay balers on the hill up beyond
our house, about their mid-summer’s work.
The sheep, though surprised at a visitor,
kept silent, and soon disappeared over a small rise.
Newly shorn sheep, all angle and elbow.

There was sun for a minute, then a soft rain,
a mist on my glasses. Wind and then no wind,
and then sun again, illuminating the tidepools
and the heartbreakingly clear waters.
Croagh Patrick stayed out of sight under a ragged
grey cloak, an unhemmed cloak, a furred cloud cloak.

Achill Island to the northwest, flanked by sailboats
far out in Clew Bay. I could’ve sludged through nettles
and tidepools all afternoon, my feet damp and the lower
six inches of each leg of my jeans sopping,
and not a worry in the world. But I knew that
this water would soon turn against me, would wash
over my path, and so I made the single kilometer trek
back: a slippery slosh.

Back at the house now, with all the windows open,
I can hear Amy galloping her thoroughbred Joey
across the tideflats. Sparrows and green finches
crowd the feeder; and Belle, the half-cob
half-clydesdale behind the fence,
whinnies and whinnies.

And Crovinish will go on in its isolation,
day upon week upon month upon year,
each new moon casting down its sliver of light.

(Sorry, no pictures. The service at the cyber-pub
is excruciatingly slow.)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Paul told me that I missed some great craic
at J. Geraghty's pub last night -- a fantastic
flute and whistle player, accompanied by
guitar and, I think, fiddle. I stayed home.
I was peopled out. I laid on the bed and read
the Irish Times -- what a great newspaper --
until I fell asleep. Paul met up with some new
friends, Anka and Tuen, from Holland.
The flute player returns, at a different pub,
Thursday, and I plan to be there.

Giant balers came into the newly-mown hay fields
and gathered up all the rows of hay into neat
bundles, then wrapped them all in black plastic,
and carted them off to somewhere. Crows peppered
the fields in their wake.

I am interested in roads down which I have never
traveled, and often, when I ask Paul to drive down
this road or that, he'll say, "there's nothing down there."
This happened in Texas, when I said I wanted to see
West Texas, which apparently is mile upon mile
of blank flat landscape. He wouldn't take me there.

The same thing happened yesterday, in Carrowholly.
I realized that we'd never turned left at a crossroad,
as our house in straight ahead. (We'd turned right
once, for some reason.) So I said, "let's turn left
here next time we're on the way home."
And again: "there's nothing down there."
So I said, "I want to see the nothingness.
I want to know what the nothingness is!"

So down we went: country road, farm, fuschia,
cow, horse, inlet, meadowsweet, gull, honeysuckle,
dry-stone wall, barbed wire, hill, mountain, grass,
hay, house, driveway, cove, saltwater, waves, wind,
cloud, blackberries, barn.....

And across the bay, the Westport Quay in the distance:
a colorful row of three-story buildings side-by-side.

Not nothing: Something!

Next stop: West Texas.
To see what nothing contains.


Lunch today at Sol Rio.....


Dinner tonight: chicken breasts sauteed with
mushrooms, onions, capers and a white wine
reduction; served on fresh egg noodles
with a side of roasted carrots, zucchini and cauliflower.

(I must add that Paul is a champ when it comes
to driving down roads which we've never travelled.....)

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Blogging in a pub is a unique experience:
fans of the Mayo-Meath match of the Gaelic
Football League quarter finals are making
a LOT OF NOISE! And it's fun! A woman sitting
beside me just now was holding a white toy poodle
who was dressed in a fur-trimmed pink hoodie.
(The poodle, that is.) When this woman and her male
companion got up to leave, they outfitted themselves
head-to-toe in motorcycle gear, and the poodle
was zipped into the mesh outside pocket
of a backpack. Yikes.

I ordered a large bottle of Bulmer's pear cider,
and it is indeed large: 568mL. It's a lovely
pale gold, icy and delicious.


For some reason I keep thinking about
two of my belongings which were stolen
in the burglary last May: my father's pipe
(he passed away in 1966) and my late
husband's wallet. The pipe, even all these years
later, carried my father's scent. (I recall, as a child,
sneaking into my mom's bedroom when she wasn't
home, opening the drawer which held the pipe,
and just inhaling. ) The wallet, after nearly six years
of being stored in a drawer, contained an unnameable
essence that belonged to Mark and Mark only.
It also held his last driver's license -- I loved that photo --
as well as baby pictures of the boys, and the photo
that he liked to carry of me: from grade 5.
And then the bits and bobs of daily life
that one carries around: in this case, the final
bits and bobs. These two objects were worth more
to me than any computer, any x-box, any replaceable
camera. I question their monetary value to anyone --
a long expired driver's license, a well-used square of leather,
an old lip-worn pipe. I keep reminding myself
(as does Paul) that I have to be thankful that my
sons were not injured. I AM THANKFUL, every minute.
And I know that these things are indeed just "things."
And that I've moved on in my life.
But dammit, I feel as if my memories have been
violated, wrenched from me. And have most likely
been tossed in the garbage. My only consolation
is that they do still exist, somewhere.
I hope someone is taking good care of them.

(I can feel still the leather of that wallet
against my cheek, worn tender from years
in a back pocket.)

(I've been pondering writing this post
for weeks now, and it feels good to finally
get it down on the screen. Perhaps now
I can let go of these objets, and get on with other things.)

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Car-Park Blues

This funny thing happened yesterday:
we parked in our usual pay parking lot
and set off on our daily trip to the cyber-pub
and assorted errands in town. When we returned
to the car, a blue van with a trailer was illegally
double-parked and blocking us. Aaaccchh!
What to do? The driver of the van hadn't even
purchased a parking token. Paul decided to walk
a block over to the garda station and tell them
to come and ticket the vehicle. The garda
at the front desk said,

"He'll probably be back by the time we get there."


We we waited. There were other possibilities --
if one of two other cars left we could sidle our way
out. People came and went, but in every other car
but any of the ones which would grant us our freedom.
Paul suggested we go to a pub and have a drink,
but I just wanted to get back to the house.
We saw a man and two boys heading for one
of the cars in our way -- and then got in a car
beside them. Paul said,

"Too bad you're not driving the red car!"
"What -- are you stuck?"
"Oh, 'tis a pity."
And away he drove.

And we sat. No garda. No pub for me.
Then suddenly the man who didn't drive the red car
was there again, and he said,

"The driver of the blue van is Michael Nugent.
He mows lawns. He's in the pub just around
the corner!"

Ha! Off we went, to S. Moran's (pub).
Right inside the door -- and I mean RIGHT inside
the door, were a group of men having their Friday
afternoon pint(s). (And not a woman in the place.)
Paul called out,

"Michael Nugent?"

There was a rumbling and mumbling, a clearing
of throats, but no one said a thing.

Again, "Michael Nuget?"

"Do you owe him money?"
"He's out mowing lawns!"

I said,
"No he's not! His van is parked just in the lot
behind us, and it's blocking our car!"

Then the man just in front of us -- about six inches
from us, turned around, red-faced (and not from
embarassment, I'd wager) and grumbled,

"I'm Michael Nugent."

(If I had inhaled at that moment
I could've smelled his Guinness breath.)

So we were liberated from the car-park,
and laughed the whole way home. We could
only imagine the conversation back at the pub
when we walked out -- just how was it that
a couple of Yanks knew Michael was the owner
of the van, and that he was in that particular pub?

What began with irritation and a desire to key
a certain blue van ended in hilarity
and a blog entry to boot!

(Citizen K. is hard at work on his version
of this incident. I can' wait to read it!)

Friday, August 7, 2009

Yesterday we saw a fox, in the middle of the afternoon.
(I've only seen them at night, lurking between
hedgerows.) It looked like a bunch of cinnamon sticks
wired together and animated. Scraggled.
If Pat sees a fox he gets his rifle.

All the cats that live here in the cove
have feline leukemia. Apparently the vaccine
is not readily available. So sad.
They all look sickly, but are affectionate
and desperate for attention.

At the feeder: a blue tit, a blackbird,
a thrush, green finches.

On the mudflat: an oystercatcher.

Gulls between rows of new-mown hay.

I filled my pockets with carrots and walked
up the road to a horse pasture, and all but one
pony ignored me. The stallion, who stood about
fifteen feet away, gazed at me then went to sleep.
The one pony snatched up the carrots with his
tender lips then tried to bite me when they
were gone. I remember: ponies bite.
When I was a child a pony bit me on the bicep --
felt as if he was biting my arm off. The pain
was shocking and startling but the bruise
was amazing and beautiful and left an impression
of that pony's chompers. And my mother
was upset with me! For getting bit!
As if I had requested the bite!
(Mom didn't believe in horses.)

I shall attempt once more to walk out
to Crovinish, Pat's island, where he grew up.
He told me the best time, when the tide
is lowest. Said that if the water is an inch
or two down from the rough road that is
visible during low tide, I'll have an hour
to spend there before having to wade
my way back. His sheep will be my
sole companions.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Back to no internet at the house. Our little device
that apparently works in 85% of Ireland doesn't
work chez-nous, being situated as we are in the
that-Carrowholly. Well that's just grand.

But I can't complain about sitting outside
at Dunnings Cyber-Pub, sipping my tea
as the world goes by. (Except that I'm wearing
my parka and on the verge of shivering and black
storm clouds loom. And now sun! And now clouds!)
Welcome to Ireland.)

I had a hankering for tortilla soup last night,
and found what I thought were corn tortillas
at the store, only they turned out to be a corn/flour
blend. Interesting. Instead of frying them I rubbed
them with a little oil and baked them, and they
came out as crunchy crackers.

So the soup -- "Cracker Soup" --
Saute some onions and garlic and peppers --
I used a jalapeno and a small red pepper, I think
it was a Thai chili pepper. Add a couple of cans
of chicken stock, a can of chopped tomatoes,
some cumin, chili powder, ground black pepper,
and let simmer for about a half hour. Then throw in
some cooked shredded chicken. I also had half a jar
of salsa in the fridge, and added that. Serve in bowls
with fresh lime wedges, chopped cilantro, some
cheese (I used "Mild Irish White".) Crumble the
"crackers" into the soup. Eat. Yum.

Oh, and sliced avocado is a must. I had to go
to three stores to find a ripe one. They are relatively
inexpensive here -- two for 1.44 euro.

Citizen K. has some great shots of Downpatrick Head.

A crow just swooped down and caught up a
mustard packet in his talons from the next table!
Didn't even land. Now I wouldn't get that if I had
internet back at the house! I love this town.

Today is the first day of the Westport Music Festival
and the traffic is thick. There's a bandstand set up
by the river, with music every evening. Hope this
changeable weather changes to less of the wet
and more of the warm.

Our time here is winding down, and there are still
roads I want to explore. The Nephin Beg mountain
range north of us is one of my favorite places, and I
found some roads up-and-through on the ordnance
map. Picnic time. (And now Paul has my cold,
poor man.)

We shall rendez-vous with our friends Herb and Marie
from Seattle next week, then it's down to the Aran
Islands for a night, and lastly to Shannon for the long
journey home.

I miss my boys.
I miss my cats.
I miss my Seattle friends.
Life is good.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

We have not had any luck finding out the name
of this manor in North Mayo, but we're going
to go into town today and get an ordnance map
of the area. I love the way the landscape
is framed by the disintegrating windows --

There was a lovely bay horse here, who, when I whistled for
her, she came running/galloping/cantering to the fence
where I stood, as if I were the only other living being
she'd encountered in days. She inhaled my scent,
then pressed her warm face up against mine
and held it there for a time -- the closest thing
to a hug from a horse that I've ever had.
I was enchanted!

Again, one of the joys of exploring out here in Mayo
is that we are never overrun with crowds of any kind,
more likely we are the only people in sight.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

We drove up to North Mayo today, through
one of the biggest blanket bogs that exists,
miles and miles of open space with mountains
in the distance, sun, fierce wind. On to
Downpatrick Head, on the cliffs above the
North Atlantic, spongy moss underfoot, and
again that wind, making cliff-edges teetery.
Climbed a wall and walked the ruins of
an abandoned demesne -- into stone-walled
rooms with disintegrating stone fireplaces
inhabited by trees and ancient ivy and sheep
and horses and thistles. We were the afternoon's
entertainment for a herd of cows.

And back home again, twisty road after twisty
narrow road. I am thankful to Paul for his
driving skills!

Monday, August 3, 2009

OMG -- this is great!
Pet catches the bus for four years....

Tesco Spy Mission #3

Notice the second ingredient here:

This puts a new spin on the question
I was asked at the bakery once:
"Is there meat in these cupcakes"
I could've answered,
"No, but there's stork!"
Needless to say, I was quite confused
when I saw this ingredient on a scone
at the local farmer's market. And the
vendor was an old battle axe of a woman
who was glaring down at my camera, so I
didn't bother to ask her about the "stork."

And then I discovered this at the grocery store:

Aha! A butter-like product! Suitable for baking!
Contains no actual stork or stork by-products!

And so the cultural exploration continues.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

One of my passions is vintage cookbooks
and entertaining books. In the used bookshop
here in Westport I discovered this gem,
Sunset’s Host and Hostess Book, compiled by
Helen Kroeger Muhs, published in 1940.
The chapters include: Luncheons,
Cards and Clubs, Week-End Entertaining,
Younger Members, Meals with a Foreign Flavor

and With, For and by Men.

There is no question that the vernacular
of cooking has evolved significantly
in the past sixty-nine years.
Here are some recipe names that are
particularly amusing (parenthetical asides
by the author of this blog):

Tomatoast (for the comatose guest)
Sauerkraut Juice Cocktail
Iced Vegetable Fingers (…and other assorted appendages)
Baconized Prunes ( You gotta love the notion of bacon
as a verb: I bacon, you bacon, he/she bacons, we bacon,
you bacon, they bacon. “Yesterday we baconed”.)
Pumper Nickels
Tuna Tempters (Heaven forbid the presence
of the Tuna Temptress.)
Apple Grunt
Plum Duff
(wait – isn’t this a dance?!)
Wiener Scallop
And my favorite:

Bologna in Disguise
8 slices bologna, cut ¼ inch thick
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup salted cracker crumbs
3 T butter or other shortening
Grated American Cheese
Minced parsley

Dip the slices of bologna in beaten egg,
then in cracker crumbs, then back into the
egg and again into the crumbs. Fry to a
golden brown in the shortening, turning
carefully with a spatula. Place on a hot
platter, sprinkle the tops with grated
cheese and minced parsley, and serve at
once, accompanied by good crisp pickles.

Ah, yes, fried bologna; or, more colloquially,

Saturday, August 1, 2009

I have a friend in Seattle who I've been
trying to get together with for the past
year and a half -- without success. She
happens to hail from Achill Island, about
45 minutes from our place here in Westport.
Well...guess who I ran into on the street
here yesterday. Yep. Marie. I told her
that we should just give up trying to
rendez-vous on the west coast of America
and just assume that it'll happen
on the west coast of Ireland.

Finally getting over this nasty bug.
I am not one to let something like this
to lay me low, which is probably not the
best response to being sick. Denial.
I can do it in spite of....
Been doing this too many years to change.