Crreeeeeeaaaaakkk!!!

Hear that? That’s the sound of me prying open the blog to tell y’all something cool. And mildly shocking.

I cooked.

Weellll, technically I chopped and stirred. And crunched. The crunching was the best bit.

This chopping and crunching happened on a day organized by Clare of An American in Ireland to volunteer in a CrossCare Community Cafe. In addition to being a blogstress, Clare works for Kellogg’s. As part of Kellogg’s support for CrossCare, Clare invited folks with amazing kitchen skillz to prepare the noon meal for CrossCare customers, using donated ingredients. This list of dignitaries included Clare herself, Lily from A Mexican Cook in Ireland, Rosanne from Like Mam Used to Bake, Caryna from Caryna’s Cakes, and our very own Gunternation Bill. And me.

Yeah, this is one of those times, kids, when you have to blend. And I mean blend as in, look like you belong without calling any particular attention to yourself, not blend as in blend ingredients, as that might be too MasterChef!

Caryna, Bill and I were assigned to the Portland Row Cafe while the other crew worked at Crosscare’s Holles Row location. The day was sunny and bright and I was immediately impressed with the open, colorful cafe. While the Portland Row location has functioned as a soup kitchen for many years, the facility was remodeled in recent years, with original roof beams now being lit by sun streaming in through skylights. A few people were having breakfast in the inviting dining room, and the kitchen with busy finishing off preparation for that day’s Meals on Wheels.

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The lovely CrossCare dining room

We were given a tour of the kitchen, larder and store rooms, and immediately noticed a supply of beautiful courgettes with blossoms still on. “It has to be vegetable lasagna,” we agreed, and Caryna went to work on the sauce. She is Italian after all!

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Beautiful veg straight from the farm.

Bill and I started chopping the veg for roasting: courgettes, onions, some peppers and a bit of sweet potato. Bill put two pans of  veg in for roasting while the sauce was simmering. On our tour of the storeroom we had spotted the array of cereals that Kellogg’s supplies through their Breakfast for Better Days program. We discussed using some Crunchy Nut flakes in a dessert, but weren’t sure we’d have time to make two dishes.

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See. I’m stirring! photo credit: Caryna

But just as the roasted veg was ready, we saw tweets and instagram boasts coming from the Holles Row team. They were making lasagna and rhubarb crumble! “We can’t let them beat us!” Caryna cried and we both ran to the larder. We had a few canned fruits to choose from. (CrossCare had just lost most of their refrigerated and frozen goods in a recent power outage.) I had a childhood flashback to a quick and easy cobbler made with fruit cocktail. So that’s what we did. And of course we topped it with Crunchy Nut flakes.

Bill constructed the lasagna while Caryna and I put together the cobbler/cake/bake. Using cereal flakes to top a sweet or savory dish is quite common in my culinary heritage, so I knew just what to do!

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That’s me applying the Crunchy Nut layer of goodness. photo credit: Caryna

Both of our dishes went into the oven and both came out golden brown and delicious.

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Our roasted veg lasagna, ready for service.

The cafe was full for lunch service. CrossCare Cafes are open to the public, with the goal to provide nutritious meal to everyone in the community, even those with reduced means. There were folks of all ages dining together the day we were there. The kitchen manager shared many stories of connections being formed in the community, of former Meals on Wheels recipients who now come into the cafe at lunch, and of people who venture into the cafe when they might not otherwise know where to go for help. For those of us who love food, it’s extremely gratifying to see the community life that comes from giving people a place at the table.

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The cafe has lovely flowers out front. They even provide food for the bees!

The kitchen staff were great as well. Most of them are volunteers, and they kept the kitchen humming. We didn’t scrub a single pot. Everyone did their job with a smile, and occasionally a song.

And although I joke about not being able to cook (it’s just that Bill cooks so much better), I had a great time in the kitchen working alongside Bill and Caryna. Anyone can cook. Just get in there and start chopping!

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There were hairnets involved.

 

There are many reasons to eat hummus. At least ten, in fact. Natalie Portman eats her own weight in hummus every day. But the most important reason to eat hummus is that it’s just damn delicious. Scoop it up with pita, spread it on a baguette, dip your carrot sticks in it, eat it with a spoon–it’s all good. And once you’ve made it at home you’ll never buy it from a shop again.

This recipe has exactly two steps:

  1. Whiz the ingredients in a food processor.
  2. Eat the resulting deliciousness.

The amounts here are very malleable. Love your sesame paste? Add more tahini1. Prefer it thinner? Add more liquid. Feeding more than two people? Double or treble everything. It’s completely customizable. And if you want to take it to the next level, use leftover chickpeas you’ve cooked yourself2 (about 250g of cooked chickpeas for this recipe).

If you’ve never made hummus at home or even tasted it, please give this recipe a shot. A word of warning, though–you may find you’ve something in common with Ms. Portman.

1Don’t let anyone tell you the tahini is optional–it’s not.  If you don’t like tahini or are allergic, leave it out but don’t call it hummus. Throw in some chopped fresh rosemary and call it an Italian chickpea spread.

2Honestly, if you’ve never cooked chickpeas from dried  you’re in for a real treat. They’re a revelation.

Hummus

Serves 2
Prep time 10 minutes
Meal type Appetizer, Lunch, Side Dish, Snack, Starter
Misc Pre-preparable, Serve Cold
Region Lebanese

Ingredients

  • 1 can chickpeas (400g can, drained, liquid reserved)
  • 1 clove garlic (large, peeled and chopped)
  • 1 lemon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon tahini

Directions

1. Hummus ingredients
Put chickpeas, garlic, juice of half a lemon, cumin, tahini and 1/4 cup reserved chickpea liquid in a food processor. Process until smooth, about 30 seconds. Season with salt.

Note

If you like a thinner hummus add a bit more cooking liquid. You can adjust the lemon and tahini as well.

Serve drizzled with olive oil and topped with an olive, if desired.

Flyer2It’s time again for the Slow Food Dublin annual table quiz. This year they’re supporting the Dublin Urban Farm, a fantastic project exploring new techniques for growing food in an urban setting. Do check out the website as they have a lot of pans in the fire: aquaponics, mushrooming, 160 different varieties of potatoes, the UFO Micro:Farm. Fascinating stuff.

They have loads of prizes to give away plus the Gruel Guerilla is providing some great food: slow roast Ed Hick pork shoulder on Arun Bakery vlaas and roast shiitake mushrooms with Corleggy Camembert. A table of up to five is only €50 and you can book at their Ticketbud site.

 

This post is part of a sporadic series about how our life is Dublin is different five years on.

Before we expatriated, I tried to avoid having too many expectations about living in Ireland. I’m sure I thought I’d go to the pub now and again, would eat a lot of cabbage and potatoes, and see sheep from time to time. We wanted to get comfortable but also pay attention. Like how driving a car becomes second nature, but you sometimes feel the thrill of motion and can be amazed at where the car can take you. We do have a dually quotidian and spectacular life.

One thing I did not expect about living in Ireland is that we would know so many Americans.

I remember many times in our first few months, someone would say to me, Oh, you should meet this American person or that American person. This annoyed me. I was particularly uninterested in meeting Americans. I knew lots of Americans. I wanted to meet Irish people. Those quirky, witty, inscrutable Irish people. And I have. We know loads of wonderful Irish people, but when I look around our social circle I find a large percentage of Americans.

My surprise testifies to how little I understood the expat experience and the powerful connection of being “other.”  I remember a year or so in when I began to appreciate my fellow Americans. America is such a huge country, and yet there is something familiar in another American, even if she grew up 2000 miles from me. Of course expats are a self-selecting group and Bill and I have some element of common experience with any other American expat. But we do wonder what exactly makes an American recognizably American. Several times an Irish person has said to me, Oh you know how it is in America, how you have that can-do attitude and feel like anything is possible? Um, not really, I say. One of my friends told me he thinks all Americans are united by the Constitution. I cracked up laughing when he told me this. People barely even know what it says, I told him. I don’t think we see a constitutional glint in each other’s eyes. It may be shared culture–TV, movies, music–more than anything.

Now I understand our American friends don’t take away from our Irish experience, but rather are a key part of it. If we weren’t in Dublin, we likely wouldn’t have found these kindred spirits from as far away as California and Maine. By moving to Ireland, Bill and I changed our orbit. We circle our new emerald world, enthralled, tied to its gravity. But still separate from it. We’re learning that expat truth–as long as we’re here, we’ll always be a bit apart.  Our fellow expats are celestial companions in orbit, as sparkly and beautiful as Saturn’s rings. I’m so thankful for them.

This post is part of a sporadic series on how our daily life is different in Dublin five years on.

Sometimes during church on Sunday I’ll look out the window–they are beautiful Georgian windows just asking to be looked out of–and I’ll see a train go by. Many times it’s the DART commuter train, and that makes me happy. Sometimes it’s a steam train, and that makes me very happy. When it’s the steam train I try to get Bill’s attention, but usually he doesn’t recognize that I’m using a special tap on his leg that means, “Look quickly out the window,” rather than my normal tap when means, “Hey, I need to tell you something,” so frequently he looks at me instead of the window and misses the steam train. There’s not much I can do about it. We’re in church so I have to be subtle.

Seeing trains from the window in church reminds me that we live somewhere different from where we did before. It’s a Dublin Moment. Many urban areas in the United States have commuter trains that run by churches, but I’ve never lived in one of those places. I’m from the land of cars. None of the places I’ve lived have a very advanced public transportation system. Many folks will argue that Dublin doesn’t have an advanced public transportation system, and compared with pretty much any other city in Europe this is true, but compared to say, Birmingham, Alabama and Austin, Texas, Dublin is easily navigable via bus, train and tram.

When we lived in Raheny I took the DART into town for work. Bill would drop me off at the DART station, and I would disembark at Pearse Station. It took me about twenty minutes to walk to my office on Adelaide Road. An Irish person would get there in twelve. Irish people walk very fast. We commuters would exit Pearse station en mass. When we reached Merrion Square I’d be lagging behind a bit, with the old ladies. By Baggot Street the old ladies would have passed me by. Five years later I’m still lagging behind Irish people.

About six months after I started my job I noticed a fella from my office boarding a bus right outside the station. I hopped on. “Does this bus go to our office?” I asked hopefully. “Indeed it does,” he said, and he was right. The bus stopped directly in front of the office. And there ended my routine of walking from the station. Eventually I started taking the bus home too. I had to take two buses, but I always seemed to hit a 20 minute gap in DARTs, so my commuting algebra determined x = y not take the bus?

Now I catch a bus at a stop about five minutes from our house, and it drops me at that same stop outside of my office. During the school year the buses get full during prime going-to-work time. Seeing that bus pass you by is very demoralizing. But the squashed passengers on the bus don’t look too happy either. I have good luck getting a bus around 20 or 15 to 9:00. I’m 30 minutes on the bus, so I get in relatively close to my official start time of 9:00.

Morning commuters are typically quiet, but school girls typically aren’t. I do tend to wind up on the same bus as a man who is frequently on the phone, and who has repeats himself. Repeatedly. “Yeah, that’s against policy. Against policy. That would be against the policy. The policy. The policy. Yeah, That’s against policy. Policy. Policy.” Yesterday morning I sat in front of a young couple planning their weekend. They were thinking about going to the National Gallery. They were very cute and they made me happy. Sometimes there are small children on the bus who are so excited just about being on the bus. We should try to hold on to that child-like enthusiasm.

Toddler waving bus ticket in the air, joyfully exclaiming, my bird is flying! Let's all follow his lead and find birds and let em fly.
@slgunter
Sharon Gunter

If possible I sit upstairs. Many mornings the windows fog up. I’m attuned enough now that I don’t have to wipe a viewing spot to assess the location of the bus. I just wait until the windows on the right side of the bus turn green, and I know I’m at Stephen’s Green, and I’ll need to make my way downstairs in two minutes.

While I do prefer the upper decker, the stairs on the bus are a menace and it is very likely my epitaph will read, “She met her death on the stairs of a Dublin bus.”* You have my permission to write an elegiac song with that title as well.

Public transportation has its share of frustrations–disappearing buses; the elements; drunk people with bloody, bandaged hands–but I genuinely enjoy not driving to work.

And it’s not just that I don’t drive to work. It’s that I don’t drive at all. I should drive. Probably. Bill thinks from time to time that I should. In five years I have driven the car twice for a total of seven minutes.

I do miss driving. And singing while driving.  Driving alone in the car is the one time you can just belt it out and know that no one can hear you.

Driving on wide, open roads is one of the things I love about being back in the U.S.

Watch this video to see what I mean:

Apologies for the lens schmutz and thanks to KGSR for the soundtrack.

 

*We recently agreed that Bill’s epitaph will say, “He loved him some funky, funky fish sauce. “