In October we reached the five year mark of our time in Ireland. This is the first of a few posts on how our daily life is different in Dublin five years on.

A recent conversation at Gunternation Central:

Bill: Do you want a stout or red ale?

Sharon: I like stout better.

Bill: That’s why I married you. You like stout.

Sharon: But you didn’t know that when you married me.

Bill: Neither did you.

True, I had no idea. I didn’t consider myself a beer drinker for most of my life. I played at beer drinking (Rolling Rock, anyone?) for a while in my early 20s, but then abandoned it. Who needs beer when you can have a Gin & Tonic? Moving back to Texas, I found Shiner Bock to be pretty agreeable. I avoided yellow beers, the ones that unfortunately resemble  you-know-what*, with exceptions for Weissbier.

My first taste of Guinness was at an Irish pub at Downtown Disney circa 2005. After moving to Dublin, we agreed that the Guinness really is better here. At first I was more likely to order a Bulmers cider, but then, pint by pint, that stout starting tasting very familiar to me, smooth and creamy, barleyrific. Now I’m happy to sit in an auld man pub on a Thursday night after work, keeping company with a few pints of the black. Women are supposed to drink their Guinness by the glass (half pint), possibly spiked by some black-currant flavored Ribena, or not all all, but I like the full Imperial, unadulterated, and based on statistics and observation, paid for by my friends (yeah, I’m down a few rounds** I’m afraid).

Two of my favorite things

And while I do genuinely like Guinness, Guinness has also been a gateway beer. Once I knew I liked the black stuff, I was open to trying other stouts on offer from the Irish craft breweries that have burst onto the scene–both a product of the recession and a balm for it***. So, I tried Dungarvan Brewing Company‘s Black Rock Irish Stout and their seasonal Coffee and Oatmeal stout, which our local off license hid behind the counter for us. I’ve had Eight Degrees Brewing‘s Knockmealdown Porter (and brownies made with same) and Trouble Brewing‘s Dark Arts. O’Hara’s Leann Folláin is a revelation, a top shelf stout. Once I was exposed to these breweries, I tried their other beers, and found some faves with food: Trouble Or and Eight Degrees Howling Gale (terrific with cinnamon cake). Another favorite, and not just because of the opportunity for double entendre, is the refreshing Galway Hooker****.

Me enjoying a Trouble Or.

More and more pubs are embracing craft beer. Some like L. Mulligan Grocer have chosen not to even invite Guinness to the party, to give the newer voices more space to sing. Pubs like Against the Grain and Brew Dock have huge selections of Irish craft beer, and I’ve quaffed a craftie at traditional establishments like the Cobblestone and The Long Hall.

Me enjoying a Galway Hooker

In September we attended the Irish Craft Beerfest at the RDS. This lovely, chilled festival featured over 20 brewers and provided the opportunity to try some rare brews on cask. I was reacquainted with my love of Weissbier through some great Irish versions: Metalman Brewing‘s seasonal Alternator and Franciscan Well Brewery’s Friar Weisse. Eight degrees was serving a very tasty Ochtoberfest Marzen Style, which comes with a little extra alcohol kick. We had a few pints a few weeks later at The Bull and Castle, and then climbed the belfry at Christchurch*****.

The Craft Beer Fest had too much flavor to fit into one day. We attended Saturday and Sunday.

West Kerry Brewery, the smallest brewery in Ireland, was at the fest. We found their Carraig Dubh stout to be immensely evocative, and swear that it smells of sheep, in a good way, and begs to be consumed before a peat fire. It tastes like Ireland.

The sun split the stones for Day 1 of the Beer Fest

Would I naturally have turned into a beer drinker in my fifth decade if I hadn’t moved to Dublin? It’s impossible to separate these threads of our nature and nurture.  All I know is I am one now.

We have recently purchased a second fridge for items such as these.

* Piss

** Rounds. A huge part of Irish drinking, which is fantastically convivial and generous while at the same time being a bit mad and stressful (for blow ins), and encourages overindulgence. It’s very bad form not to stand your round, but also a bit of competition to take the round. As a result, I perpetually owe people drinks.

*** Balm. A little double meaning here. Alcohol does ease the pain, but the emergence and success of these craft breweries is a shot of enthusiasm into the Irish food and drinks economy.

**** A Galway Hooker is a boat. And a beer. And a West coast woman of the night.

***** Belfry. This was part of Dublin Culture Night. Christchurch was offering trips to the belfry to meet the bell ringers. As expected, the belfry is reached by twisty steps and progressively smaller doors and even, our guide told us, a portal through which spending hours ringing bells makes perfect sense. Turns out the style of ringing at Christchurch is more interested in the mathematical progression through the permutations of bell combinations rather than melody. Not surprising if you’ve ever heard the Christchurch bells. Really fascinating visit. Do it if you ever have the chance.

13 January 2013 Update

I recently came across this photo from our first trip to Dublin in 2006. I’m not 100% sure, but it may be the moment that everything changed.

I think I can see my pupil dilating.

I think I can see my pupil dilating.



This is a fantastic salad with many flavors and textures.  I used apple balsamic vinegar from Llewellyn’s Orchard in Lusk and Derrycamma cold-pressed rapeseed oil from Co. Louth. The apple balsamic has an wonderful sweet-tart flavor that works great with the pecans and mackerel and the rapeseed oil is light and nutty. If you don’t like mackerel any smoked fish would be great, and if you don’t like smoked fish then use crumbled blue cheese instead (plus a few strips of crisp bacon…).  Toss in some Belgian endives if you can find them; their bitter-sweet flavor and crunch add another dimension to an already intriguing and delicious salad.

Spicy Greens and Red-cabbage Salad with Smoked Mackerel and Apples

Serves 4
Prep time 20 minutes
Meal type Salad


  • 1 1/4 cup pecans
  • 4 fillets smoked mackerel
  • 400g spinach, watercress and rocket mix
  • 400 g red cabbage
  • 2 Pink Lady apples
  • 1 red onion
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon dry sherry
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup olive oil


1. Toast the pecans in a 350F/180C oven for about 8 minutes.
2. Remove the skin from each mackerel fillet and break into 2-cm chucks. Remove any bones that remain.
3. In a large bowl combine the mackerel with the pecans, greens, cabbage, apples, onion and parsley. Add the vinaigrette and toss.
4. In a small bowl whisk the vinegar, mustard, sherry, salt and pepper. Add the oil slowly, whisking.


  • Substitute blue cheese for the mackerel
  • If you can find them add three heads Belgian endive, cut crosswise into 2-cm pieces

Continuing our Quick from Scratch series I present to you my absolute favorite recipe, the page in my copy of the cookbook that’s falling out : Tofu with Spicy Pork and Snow Peas, a.k.a Fu Manchu Pork. While I don’t know if Fu Manchu partook of this particular dish I’m sure it would be enjoyed by super-villain and super-hero alike. It’s similar to mapo tofu but not nearly as spicy or complex. However, it’s very comforting and easy to put together, and takes less than 30 minutes from start of prep to serving. It’s great over rice but we typically have it by itself as a sort of stew. Just tonight we had some kimchi on the side. Be sure to add the sesame oil at the end, it adds a wonderful nutty flavor you would definitely miss (it’s Sharon’s favorite part).

Tofu with Spicy Pork and Snow Peas

Serves 4
Prep time 20 minutes
Cook time 10 minutes
Total time 30 minutes
Allergy Soy, Tree Nuts
Meal type Main Dish
Region Asian
From book Quick from Scratch: Real Food for Busy Weeknights
Large cubes of tofu are the perfect addition to this gingery pork and snow pea stiy-fry. The bland soybean curd takes on the spicy character of the dish. Serve with steamed rice.


  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch/flour
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon water
  • 3 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 5 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon grated ginger
  • 1 Small onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
  • 3/4lb pork mince
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 6oz snow peas/mangetout (cut into 1/2-in pieces)
  • 1 1/2lb firm tofu (cut into 2-in cubes)
  • 3/4 teaspoons Asian sesame oil
  • 3 spring onions (thinly sliced)


1. In a small bowl combine the stock, soy sauce and sugar. In another small bowl combine the cornstarch and water.
2. In a wok or large frying pan heat the oil over moderately high heat. Add the garlic and ginger and stir-fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds.Add the onion and red pepper flakes and sty-fry for one minute. Increase the heat to high and add the pork and salt. Stir-fry, breaking the meat into small bits with a metal spatula or spoon, until the meat is no longer pink, about 3 minutes.
3. Add the stock mixture and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to moderately high and add the snow peas and tofu. Simmer, stirring gently, until the tofu is heated through, about 3 minutes. Stir the cornstarch mixture and add it to the pan. Simmer until thickened. Stir in the sesame oil. Sprinkle on the spring onions while serving.


  • Substitute turkey mince for the pork.
  • Instead of snow peas try sugar snap peas, asparagus tips or zucchini (courgette).

Here at Gunternation we’re very excited about the work that Slow Food is doing. So excited, in fact, that we’re helping to lead the Dublin Convivium.  Learn more about Slow Food and have a bit of craic 24 July at the Sugar Club at the Slow Food Dublin Culinary Quiz 2012. There are some fantastic prizes to win, including a cookery course at Dunbrody House, dinner for two at Peploe’s, Stephen’s Green and a night away at a fabulous hotel. The grand prize will be a hamper of wine and fine foods for each member of the winning team containing products from Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, Aine Chocolates, Lakeshore Irish Virgin Rapeseed Oil, Nicholas Mosse Pottery and much, much more. A table of up to five is a mere €50 and all of the proceeds will go to the Slow Food 1000 Gardens in Africa Project. Please register at our TicketBud site.



Allow me to introduce you to my favorite cookbook. Sure, I have prettier cookbooks, cookbooks I like to read like novels, cookbooks  that look great on a shelf, but this one is falling apart, stained, riddled with notes and has pages I have to peel apart.  Quick from Scratch: Real food for busy weeknights from Food & Wine Books is the cookbook I return to time and again. It has recipes I’ve nicknamed “Baby Soup” and  “Fu Manchu Pork” (doesn’t everyone have nicknames for favorite recipes?). I’ve even given it as a gift.

Unfortunately, the book is out of print and the recipes aren’t available on the Food & Wine website. So, I will share some of our favorites with you. The first is a dead simple Mediterranean-style sandwich/pizza that’s perfect for summer. I’ve changed the recipe slightly by using lamb but use beef instead if you prefer. I love to top it with the garlicky tzatziki sauce but it’s entirely optional.

Aegean Pita Pizzas

Serves 4
Allergy Tree Nuts, Wheat
From book Quick from Scratch: Real food for busy weeknights
Classic ingredients of the eastern Mediterranean--dill, mint, cucumbers, tomatoes and feta cheese--are layered with ground lamb on a toasted pita for a quick and original dish, something between a pizza and a sandwich.


  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 6 spring onions (sliced)
  • 1 1/2lb ground lamb
  • 3/4 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper (freshly ground)
  • 4 plum tomatoes
  • 1 cucumber (peeled, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch dice)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup black olives (e.g. Niçoise or Kalamata, pitted)
  • 6 pitas
  • 5oz feta cheese (crumbled)


1. In a medium frying pan toast the pine nuts over moderately low heat, stirring frequently, until golden brown, about 4 minutes. Remove. Or toast the pine nuts in a 350F (180C) oven for 6 minutes.
2. In the frying pan heat 1 tbsp of the oil over moderate heat. Add the garlic and scallions and saute for 1 minute. Add the lamb, oregano, mint, 1 tbsp dill, the allspice and 1 1/4 tsp of the salt. Cook until the meat loses its pink color, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the pine nuts and 1/4 tsp of the pepper.
3. In a medium bowl, combine the tomatoes, cucumber, lemon juice, the remaining dill, the olives and the remaining 1 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper.
4. Heat the broiler (grill). Put the pitas on a baking sheet. Toast under the broiler until one side is lightly browned, about 1 minute. Flip the pitas. Spoon the lamb mixture onto the pitas, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Sprinkle with the feta cheese and broil until the cheese is melted and beginning to brown.
5. Cut the pitas in half. Top with the cucumber salad and a drizzle of the remaining olive oil. Serve one and a half pitas per person.


  • Substitute ground beef for the lamb if you prefer.
  • Don't use canned black olives--they're nasty.


Allergy Milk
Dietary Vegetarian
Misc Serve Cold
Region Greek
Website Gunternation


  • 500g Greek yogurt
  • 1 Medium cucumber (peeled, seeded and grated)
  • 1/4 cup minced parsley
  • 4 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper


1. Mix all ingredients in a medium bowl. Adjust seasonings to taste.


Some minced dill and/or mint is a nice addition.