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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.
Aer Lingus is a no-frills airline and my ticket to London was cheaper if I stopped in Dublin. I had enough time between flights to buy a pair of Guinness socks and eat the best yogurt parfait I’ve ever had and drink a decent flat white from the Chocolate Lounge.
No more time to browse and time to get to my gate. As I passed out of the main terminal I saw a brilliant small kiosk asking for customer feedback with just 4 quick options. I pressed full smiley face because the customs process and overall airport experience was terrific. The airport is compact and clean with great signage.
I am standing in line for boarding and see another feedback kiosk expressly for the restrooms. I decided to use the facilities. Imagine the worst scenario: trash on the dirty floor, messy sinks, toilet paper stuck on seat. Okay, that was LAX Terminal 2. The Dublin Terminal 2 women’s restroom was beautiful, very clean and fully functional. On the way out there was a further kiosk to allow customers to alert them to any problems. Clearly they will receive prompt attention. Simply brilliant.