Christmas Recipes from Abroad

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The mincemeat pie I baked for Jim Adan. I used my favorite pie crust recipe that uses Crisco.

Christmas is an inspiring time for baking. I usually focus on pie but I never liked mincemeat pie. Until I spent a Christmas season in New Zealand and fell in love with mince pies (a tart size version). Kiwis sell them in coffee shops, in the grocery store in 6 and 12 packs, and at church bake sales. When I was in Ireland I fell back in love with mince pies at Starbucks of all places. Their shortbread crust and mince is the perfect combination.

Plus my art dad Jim said all he wanted for Christmas was a mincemeat pie. In the past I’ve tried mincemeat from a jar. Even the fancy stuff leaves me “meh”. I looked at the prepared mincemeat sold in the Powerscourt shop and also knew I didn’t have room in my suitcase. So I asked my friend UK Sarah if she had a recipe. She took a photo of it and sent it to me right away.

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Delia Smith’s recipe. Makes enough for two big pies or lots and lots of tarts.

I looked through the ingredients and read the instructions. I can do this! Oh, except what is suet. UK Sarah said to look in the shops before I leave Ireland. So on my way back to the airport I stopped at the grocery in Bray and found suet. I slipped it into my suitcase in case TSA might confiscate. (At the time I wasn’t really sure what suet is; I learned that it is beef fat, which sounds much grosser than it tastes.)

Once I was home I bought the rest of the ingredients and proceeded to make the mincemeat. It is not difficult. It does take time with the resting 12 hours and baking 3 hours on low heat. I made the pie for Jim and it was a big hit.

IMG_6452 (1)For the tarts I used Nigella Lawson’s crust recipe. I don’t have a photo of the mince tarts but so far everyone has been enthusiastic (and they disappeared quickly). Several people commented that the tarts are just the right balance between the mince and crust.

My friend Carole gave me Christina Tosi’s new cake cookbook. And my neighbor friend Tiffanie presented me with gorgeous persimmons. I do believe I will be baking a lot this season.

Must See Guinness Storehouse

The Guinness Storehouse is only 8 minutes by car from City Centre. Tevis and I both looked forward to visiting St James Gate Brewery. It opened at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday.

A pint of dark stout with a creamy head of foam is part of the Irish experience and when you are in Dublin, it is fun to learn more about what makes a Guinness great. I visited the Guinness Storehouse previously but it has been more than 10 years and the entire experience has been redesigned. They have state of the art exhibits that both entertain and educate. Plus there is tasting. You don’t have to be 21 (or 18–Ireland’s drinking age) to visit as they pour soft drinks as well as Guinness products.

When you first enter the Storehouse, after buying your ticket, people gather around a copy of the 9000 year lease for the property at St James Gate visible in the floor. As you look up you can see the glass and structure of the 7 story building that houses the exhibits and tasting rooms. It echoes the shape of a pint glass.

You can save money by buying in advance and there are discounts with some of the “Hop On” bus tours. The Storehouse is open 7 days a week from 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. except major holidays. Going early in the day is a great way to avoid the tour buses and crowds. There are restaurants and coffee shops if you want to incorporate this in your plans. Leave time to browse in the gift shop.

My favorite section has always been their advertising, which has been top drawer for over a hundred years. I found myself crying over the Irish rugby ad.

We decided to imbibe at the Gravity Lounge on the top floor. The view of Dublin is incredible. I decided to try a half pint of the new to me Hop House 13. This lager is only available in Ireland, UK and Canada. I really like it–it’s crisp and clean tasting. When you order a half pint they tear your ticket in half and you can try something else with another half pint. It was 11:00 a.m. on a Sunday so I stuck to my half pint.

I really enjoyed the silly sculpture of the fish riding the bicycle. A few people will be getting this image in their stocking this Christmas.



National Trust Membership Mystery

My son and I visited the National Trust property Castle Ward in Northern Ireland. It is the property used to film Game of Thrones “Winterfell.”  When we entered the property the person in the guard house asked if we are members of the National Trust. We are not because we live in the USA and do not come to the United Kingdom (includes NI) very often. She gave us a brochure for the Royal Oak Foundation, urging us to consider membership and implying that there are places we could use it in the USA, yet neither of us had ever heard of it. “Royal” in the title is suspicious too!


Essentially, it is a National Trust membership for Americans. It gives the same membership privileges when you are in the UK, but there are no properties in the USA that the membership will gain entrance or that has reciprocal privileges.  It still might be a good action to take if you are going to visit a lot of National Trust sites. In Northern Ireland we came across two: Giants Causeway and Castle Ward, so it only makes sense if you are a historical preservation enthusiast.

Post script: We stopped at the Tea Room at Castle Ward and shared a turkey sandwich with stuffing and cranberry. It was Friday, the day after Thanksgiving so it was lovely to partake in “leftovers.”

Mooching Round South End Boston

IMG_6002My son has an apartment with a beautiful view from the 15th floor in a building that is in the neighborhood called “Ink Blot” that is part of the South End of Boston. It is a great place to stay because it is easy to catch the T and visit other parts of Boston and it a great neighborhood to mooch around.

This morning I took my time getting up and then I walked through the rain to Blackbird donut shop. These donuts are delicious. The chocolate cake donut was like a super good slice of chocolate cake. Alas, like many places in Boston, there is no where to sit. This is a city with sucky weather–rain, snow, cold wind, muggy hot–and yet many restaurants serve you food and offer no real space to consume it.

I needed to find a post office, so I set off toward the closest one and stopped at a Cafe Nero on my way and ate my donut with a cup of good, hot coffee. (They have decaf coffee on tap! Bonus points.) Then I began walking back toward SoWa art studios. My path took me past some public housing projects and the Holy Family Cathedral undergoing restoration. This is appears to be paid by the City of Boston!? Interesting. My church St. John’s Lutheran is having to pay more than $600,000 for a historically accurate roof and the City of Sacramento is giving us the opportunity to apply for a grant up to $25,000. Not saying one is right or wrong, just different.

I was ready for something hot to drink and a walking break from the cold rain. I remembered that the nonprofit More Than Words should have completed their remodel and reopened. Voila! The gorgeous retail space is open. It feels good to shop when you know that young people are also given the opportunity to learn life/work skills. Alas there is a reading room but no coffee. I made a contribution (haha) and then pressed on to Cuppa Coffee on Traveler Street. I was just about back to my son’s apartment building.

What a lovely morning, in spite of the wet cold weather.

Irish Lit

“The hardest part of finding the perfect gift for a friend is parting with it.” JA Pieper

We love the Irish because they don’t take themselves too seriously. Even their genius writers got pissed on a regular basis at pubs round Dublin (according to the Literary Publ Crawl guides). Yet their small island can boast 4 Nobel prizes for literature: WB Yeats in 1911, George Bernard Shaw in 1936, Samuel Beckett in 1977, and Seamus Heaney in 1995. Seems they are due for one.

Alas the Nobel committee didn’t have the opportunity to debate whether to honor the by-then disgraced Oscar Wilde. The prize started in 1901 and he died in 1900. Oscar Wilde towers off to the side where he can critique and sometimes ridicule the pompous and the fool.

I found this gem of book of Oscar Wilde quotes at the Dublin Writers Museum bookshop. (I admit I only went there for the bookstore because they haven’t changed up the exhibits since the 90s, and they still don’t have a website!)

James Joyce is celebrated by some as the greatest Irish writer but I’ve never been able to finish anything of his. I discovered An Evil Cradling by Brian Keenan on the literary pub crawl back in the 90s and it is still one of my all time favorite books.

This morning I am reading it before I mail it to a friend and I am inspired, amused, and left with quite a bit to think over. Here are a few of the highlights:

Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live. -O.W.

Bad art is a good deal worse than no art at all. -O.W.

Prayer must never be answered: if it is, it ceases to be prayer and becomes correspondence. -O.W.

Society sooner or later must return to its lost leader, the cultured and fascinating liar. -O.W.

Anyone can make history. Ony a great man can write it. -O.W.

Anybody can sympathize with the sufferings of a friend, but it requires a very fine nature–it requires, in fact, that nature of a true Individualist–to sympathize with a friend’s success. -O.W.





Fall Into Harvard Square

Oh how lovely to be out of the smoke choking the Sacramento Valley. Oh to be enjoying some rain.

I am visiting my son in Boston and it has been over 15 years since I’ve visited Cambridge, so while he worked at his office, Mid morning I rode the Red Line to Harvard Square. It was such a pleasure to walk 5 minutes from his South Boston apartment to the T-station. Then it was a 7 stops and about 30 minutes and a fraction of the cost of a Lyft ride.

I did a quick walk to stretch my legs to the old cemetery and Cambridge Commons. The brisk autumn air and orange and red leaves clinging to the tree branches were enjoyable in the light rain. As I walked back towards the Harvard yard a family of 5 asked where they might find something to eat. From the Commons they couldn’t see all of the restaurants or the Square a short walk away. I pointed them in the right direction and then we laughed when we realized we are all visiting from California.

I walked through the Harvard Yard and looked at the heart of the campus. It was chock full of tour groups. I was busy remembering my visit with my daughter Sarah when she was in middle school, and then the Gilmore Girls episode where they are visiting Harvard University (although I’m pretty sure it was filmed at Pomona College). I didn’t have much information so I mostly just gawked. I would have benefited from a more organized tour. I don’t want to take the spot of a potential student with one of the free campus tours offered by the University; however, there is also a self-guided tour you can utilize to learn more about the campus.

I made a beeline to Harvard Book Store, a robust independent bookstore. I also checked out the student center on Harvard Square while looking for a fountain soda. Students at Harvard only have healthy options. I ended up getting a slice of pizza at OTTO and then finding a fountain soda and a place to sit and rest for a minute.

One of my highlights, as a devoted gramma, was the Curious George children’s toy store. Upstairs they still have the sign for “Dewey, Cheatem and Howe” law firm made famous by NPR’s Car Talk guys.

It is only a few days before Thanksgiving so I wasn’t sure how many students to expect. Cambridge was buzzing with all sorts of people–groups of tourists, prospective students, grad students, groups of academics, and more. I weaved my way back across the yard to get a closer look at the Memorial Hall. The lobby was open but the theater and the freshman dining hall were closed. This is an awe-inspiring cathedral to higher learning with high timber ceilings and stained glass windows. The dining hall looked like the Hogwarts dining hall and I later learned that the filmmakers did use it as a model.

I started to make my way back to the train station. The train was much more crowded on the way to the Back Bay. I had to switch to the Green Line and was confused as to what stop I needed. When you are underground and there are no bars, you cannot ask Google. So I did it the old fashioned way: I asked for help from a kind young woman. She showed me how I could choose any of three lines to get to Hynes Center stop. I followed her ACROSS THE TRACKS. It felt so awkward but it was safe.

Boston is a charming city and a manageable size. I look forward to more adventures tomorrow.


Retracing the March in Selma

Selma is essential for any civil rights crawl.

Everything in Alabama is close-by. This is the beauty of planning a civil rights crawl. You can cram your day chock full of learning and eating with barely any time wasted in the car. It also means that you may try to do too much in one day. We found ourselves in this predicament as we drove from Montgomery to Tuskegee then back towards Selma then on to Marion with stops along the way. We did not have time to carefully follow the Selma-to-Montgomery National Historical Trail. We also arrived in Selma after the National Voting Rights Museum closed.

IMG_5505We were able to walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge and imagine what it must have been like to reach the peak of the bridge, high above the Alabama River, and face a sea of mounted police and police cars with blue lights flashing. I was energized by a group of high school students who started their walk with us but quickly outstripped us. We’d see them again at Brown Chapel. We also spoke with some fellow travelers—a group of friends from Texas and New York–who met up in Alabama. They recommended we also see the Old Live Oak Cemetery.

We took their advice and drove to the cemetery. It is spooky with ancient Live Oak trees dripping with Spanish moss. We all thought of Savannah, Georgia and the cemetery in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil movie. The Selma cemetery is well cared for and interesting. Thanks to our friends we knew to walk deeper through the plots to an area dedicated to the remembering the Confederacy. There were confederate flags on many of the graves, memorials to Jefferson Davis and General Nathan Bedford Forrest. The area is maintained by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Selma Chapter 53. It is also unsettling and helped us understand why Selma as a city has not been able to move on since the 1960s. It looks like it has been in a long state of decay since the Selma-to-Montgomery March. This is a community that has not made peace with its past.

IMG_5518The contrast of the large lawns and stately homes near the cemetery with the George Washington Carver apartment complex across the Brown Chapel AME Church is stark. We pulled up to the church as the high school students were leaving and Chantay spotted the church pastor. She spoke to him and enjoyed a tour of the sanctuary while Phyllis and I admired the Martin Luther King, Jr. monument. The pastor was very generous with his time and gave Chantay commemorative key chains to share with us.

We drove about 40 minutes through beautiful countryside to Marion, Alabama. The March really starts here. Jimmie Lee Jackson was shot by a state trooper during a peaceful protest for voter rights on February 18, 1965. This prompted a peaceful march from Selma to Montgomery on March 7, 1965. Reverend Hosea Williams and John Lewis stepped from the pulpit of Brown Chapel Church and led 600 marchers six blocks to the Edmund Pettus Bridge where the Sheriff and mounted deputies met them with nightsticks and tear gas. Known as “Bloody Sunday” it sparked the expanded civil rights movement in Alabama. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. came from Atlanta and helped to plan the Minister’s March and then the Selma-to-Montgomery March.