Monday, September 30, 2013

Things I've Liked on the Internet Lately

Wired did a food issue, packed with geeky sciencey foodie articles you should totally check out.
For more (but very different) food reading, see this exhaustive assessment of fast food burgers (part 2, part 3, part 4)
Inside the Punderdome 3000, a competition for people who are way wittier than me.
For my fellow itinerant bookworms, two new ways to keep your reading habit portable: Kindle MatchBook, which helps you recreate your physical library in the cloud, and Oyster, the Netflix of books.
Or maybe just try smaller books?
Microsoft Word Problems
The best of @unitedairlanes, a fake customer service twitter feed that expresses how we all feel about flying.

I know you've all probably seen this already, but if you somehow missed it that sad situation ends now:

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Bombing Bonding

Back when all signs pointed to imminent U.S. airstrikes in Syria (which was not even two weeks ago but feels like forever), it seemed like a good idea for my sister Laura to get out of Beirut for a little while. So she hopped on a plane and came to stay with Big Sis in Dublin. She was the very first visitor to the Inn at Cherrycourt (aka my house), and I expect to see rave reviews on TripAdvisor. I mean, what other B&B comes complete with Rock Band, jellybeans, and a ridiculously affectionate cat?

I took advantage of having a guest in town to not cook and to go try out a bunch of restaurants I had been meaning to visit. When I first found out I was coming here multiple people told me Ireland was a good place for stew and fry-ups but not much else. I am pleased to report that this advice could not be more wrong. Dublin has plenty of great food. From the cassoulet at The French Paradox (where Laura somehow charmed the owners into offering us not one but two free rounds of champagne) to the upscale pork belly at The Pig's Ear, to the Victorian sponge cake at Queen of Tarts, we ate very well indeed.

We also did a lot of walking, which was probably for the best given all the delicious calories we were eating. The highlight of her visit was probably our trip to Howth last Saturday. Howth itself is a charming little fishing village with a long seawall that's good for a stroll (bring a scarf, it's windy!) but the main draw is the walking trails over and around the Hill of Howth, along the top of cliffs overlooking the Irish Sea. The weather was perfect, the views are tremendous, and it doesn't take long to feel like you're miles from anywhere when you're actually still in Dublin. Make sure to bring enough water though - we were unprepared and learned the hard way that 14oz of water between two people is nowhere near enough for a 3-hour hike. Oops.

By the end of the weekend it was pretty apparent that any airstrikes that may or may not happen were not going to happen in the immediate future, so we both went back to real life on Monday. Too soon. But just a few days was enough to move Ireland from "meh" to "must" on Laura's travel to-do list, and she's planning to come back in the spring. Or the next time we almost bomb Syria, whichever comes first.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Bacon: A Lament

I am a big fan of breakfast food. However, I am not a big fan of waking up any earlier than the last possible minute that will allow me to roll out of bed, bathe, dress, primp, and still make it to work on time, so I only get my eggs and pancakes on the weekends. I love a nice oozy Eggs Benedict or a pile of French toast, but the crowning glory of any breakfast plate is, of course, bacon.

As a mostly Muslim country Guinea was not big on bacon, so when I lived in Conakry I paid $10 a pound for premium applewood-smoked bacon smuggled in frozen from Wisconsin, and it was worth every penny. In Ireland availability is not a problem. But as nice as it is to now live in a place that loves and cherishes bacon as it deserves, something is lost in translation. Even though I should know better by now, when I see "bacon" on a menu I can't help but think of crispy strips of succulence, only to be disappointed when the inevitable floppy rasher appears on the plate.

Irish bacon and American bacon are not the same. I almost wrote that they are completely different animals, but they are both pig of course. They are both salt-cured, frequently smoked, and usually fried. But American bacon is sliced from pork belly, while Irish bacon comes off the pig's back. It's leaner, meatier, more like ham. It does not crisp up into delectable ruffles when fried. It just lays there, limply steaming. You eat it with a fork and it chews instead of crunching, like well-cooked bacon ought to do. Yes, it's still salty porky tastiness, but it's not what I wanted!

Apparently you can get American-style bacon here, known as "streaky bacon." I'll definitely look for it, but as an integral part of Irish cuisine I feel like I should also learn to appreciate the rasher on its own terms. We'll see how that goes.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Vicarious Tourism: Killarney

I took advantage of Labor Day weekend to go on my first non-Dublin excursion. I picked Killarney, home of Ireland's first national park. I was happy with my choice. This bit of Ireland looks kind of Scotlandish, with a series of lakes tucked between steep and rocky hills. In addition to the lovely scenery the park also includes a Victorian mansion, a medieval castle and a ruined abbey, so I got to geek out on some history while I was at it. I am a total sucker for informational plaques.

The weather was almost obscenely good. Not too hot, not too cold, and blazing sunshine almost the whole time. I got sunburned. In IRELAND. But it was perfect weather for walking around in nature, which was great since I ended up doing a lot of that. The park has great nature trails; I saw some red deer, ate blackberries straight off the bush, and stood on a 300-year-old bridge with the wind in my face and felt vibrant and alive.

On Sunday I saw the famous Gap of Dunloe, a picturesque glacier valley. You can drive there, or you can take the scenic route like I did: a 1 1/2-hour boat ride across the lakes, a pretty steep climb up to the Head of the Gap, and then a gorgeous trip through the gap itself. I decided to cycle it, and quickly discovered the initial ascent is not for amateurs. After a couple of tries I gave up and pushed the damn thing all the way up, and I was far from the only one. Totally worth it though, because the way down is fantastic. The views are just beautiful, and once you get over that first hill you can almost coast all the way back to Killarney. Watch out for pedestrians though - the older ones in particular are inattentive and slow-moving, and the way they complained about my cheery little bike bell interrupting their contemplative reveries you'd think they'd rather be run over. Just saying.