It’s been kind of a slow couple of weeks, what with everything closed for the holidays, but I have truly enjoyed having my darling hubby underfoot and all to myself. In the States people mostly only get Christmas Day (plus the nearest weekday to it) and New Year’s Day (plus the nearest weekday) off work. And then, even on the holidays themselves, you can find something open, whether it’s just the local 7-11 or Wal-Mart. In Ireland pretty much everyone gets the last two weeks of the year off. It’s very civilized but also terribly inconvenient. However, we have survived.
We attended a nice little Christmas gathering of Claude’s co-workers on Christmas Day, sharing food and laughter and music. There was a guitar there and Claude even played for everyone! It did my heart good to hear him play for others again as it has been so long since he has played in public, and our hostess was delighted to hear him play one of her favorite songs. I met some really nice, interesting people, in particular one couple from San Francisco with whom I share a lot in common. Oh, it was so good to cook for a crowd again. Found an absolutely lovely simple chocolate cookie recipe that went over like gangbusters! (It’s true, people can tell when you cook with love.)
I wanted to prepare a delicious penne & cauliflower casserole dish by “Molto Mario” Batali that I found, believe it or not, in a Reader’s Digest magazine once-upon-a-time; I love this dish, it’s very hearty, vegetarian and makes a ton of food. The farmer’s market in St. Nicholas Street is open on Saturdays, so that being the day before Christmas I decided that we would go there and I would pick up a nice head of fresh cauliflower. We didn’t manage to get down there until about 12 noon – only to discover that apparently cauliflower is quite popular among the Irish as a stuffing ingredient and they were all gone! Not one head to be found in the entire market! I kind of panicked a little, trying desperately to determine the best veggie to substitute for cauliflower. It’s a fairly unique veg in that it holds up perfectly in the cooking process of this particular dish. After freaking out for a few minutes I calmed down and decided that it would have to be broccoli and carrots instead. Not the best solution in my mind – but still made for a tasty dish.
One side effect of the holiday closings is that the public and university libraries are closed, leaving us high and dry for evening reading. We disposed of a good number of our books before moving, therefore we only kept the most cherished ones, which of course tend to be the ones one has read innumerable times. I complained of this to the couple I met at the party and she kindly offered to share a few of her books with me while waiting for the holidays to pass. So we exchanged numbers, and I went down to the city center yesterday to her home to take her up on her generous offer. She and her husband live in a cute little apartment complex – you know, I’m not entirely sure what the Irish call a dwelling like that; it’s a small gathering of attached flats – in a three-story walk-up with a lot of old building charm. One of the things we determined we had in common was our homesickness for American foods. You can’t really get a decent Mexican meal in Galway, which was something I considered before we moved here but never really appreciated fully until I came to the stark realization that I am not going to get one or even be able to prepare one until I return home. (I mean, really, in Denver & Greeley you can’t spit without hitting a Mexican restaurant! I’m going to have to stock up on ingredients when I am home next.) I had also complained that I couldn’t find Crisco, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, but she informed me that she had seen it at a place called Candyland. I knew of the place, had passed it on several occasions, and decided to visit it to see what other American food items they carried. Anyway, we had a nice chat and she lent me some books and then I was on my way, back out into the rain.
I wanted to have some lunch but couldn’t decide where. I’d rather not eat at the same place twice when in the city center because there are so many different places to choose from. There was an interesting looking French bistro right there but I determined that I wanted to eat there with Claude instead of alone, so I set out back across the canal over to the Spanish Arch. Here I had an encounter that sort of helped crystallize for me why people of other nations are prejudiced against Americans: There were 4 people (Americans) standing at an intersection of four different streets trying to get their bearings. They asked me which street was Lower Dominick Street as they were looking for a specific restaurant. I pointed them to the street I had just come from with the caveat that I did not know the exact restaurant they were looking for. They thanked me – and then headed in precisely the opposite direction! What the eff, people?!
The wind was whipping up and I wasn’t sure where to go, so I decided on a whim to check out the city museum cafe. The museum itself was closed, naturally, but the cafe was open for business, and warm and quiet to boot. I had a delicious lunch with a nice pot of hot tea for under €10. And since I needed a few other things and what with already being right there in the city center where every shop you need is readily available within steps, I figured I would brave the weather and get my errands run. With Claude’s guidance via phone, I found that Candyland store.
After spending some time looking over the candy selections in Irish stores, I have figured out that I have no clue whatsoever what candies contain what without purchasing them first and sampling them. Frankly, I have found very few that I particularly like. So walking into this place was like a small trip back home. I actually knew what the candies were! They mostly have old-timey candies that are currently on the rise in popularity in the States, but also standard favorites like gummy bears and Reese’s PB Cups and Jelly Bellies. I browsed at the back of the store where they have typically American items like Jif peanut butter and Marshmallow Fluff and American cereals (but only the really really sweet ones). I found my Crisco and was well satisfied. Took some Reese’s and gummies home for good measure.
Then I wandered over and bought my bus pass for the month of January. The bus system in Galway does not inspire confidence in many of the people I speak to, both natives and immigrants, and for good reason. It is notoriously unreliable and only covers a portion of the city itself. In Denver you can get from the farthest end of the city to the other on public transportation – it may take you several hours & buses & trains, but it can be done, and you can get back home that way too. I have participated in the Galway Transport Forum by offering my answers to their survey and my observations to their opinion polls. The buses are clean, the drivers are for the most part friendly. I can get where I need to go most of the time. I’ve learned that, much like my ‘car book’, I need to carry a ‘waiting at the bus stop’ book, which serves the added purpose of being my ‘something to do when eating lunch alone’ book as well. I am hoping that by expressing interest in improving public transportation and garnering the opinion of the public, the city of Galway will actually implement changes and make those improvements; I believe my use of the system will help facilitate that. Now if only they would incorporate the two separate bus systems (City Direct & Bus Eirann) into one…
At some point soon we have to replenish our supply of chutneys; I am finding that my lunch sandwiches just aren’t the same without them! Claude wants me to get on my bike and ride with him but I’m just so inexplicably frightened of riding in the bad weather. Maybe in a month or so when it stops being quite so windy & rainy… Perhaps that should be my New Year’s resolution along with getting a volunteer job and figuring out the health care system. I still have so much to learn… so, if you don’t mind, I’ll just keep on sharing my Galway ramblings.