Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Baking new friends

Well, there's nothing like getting stuck into the kitchen to get you feeling settled into a new home. And indeed nothing quite so effective as bribing your new flatmates into liking you with a few sugary treats. So, last week I endeavoured to get to grips with my new kitchen and a foreign language baking aisle and got to work making some Swedish cinnamon buns. Not very Belgian I know but anyway.
It happened to be Sweden's national holiday last week, and I'd love to say that I baked these in honour of  the day and my new Swedish friend from French class (yes I'm learning French...badly), but I didn't. The thought never even entered my mind. I made them because I saw a post with a recipe for them online and they brought to mind the most delicious cinnamon buns I ever had courtesy of the lads at 3fe on Grand Canal Street in Dublin. If you're ever passing, those boys have good buns. I thoroughly recommend them. So, being a bit far from Grand Canal Dock right now, and craving these most tasty of treats I set about making my own.
Honestly, they were a bit of a disaster. First of all, I didn't use nearly enough sugar, or cinnamon, or butter for that matter, when I rolled them up. For which, I didn't have a rolling pin and had to improvise. Then I over-baked them thanks to my new oven being ridiculously hot. So the end result was a not very flavourful, slightly dry/semi burned bun. They were rescued a bit by the addition of a sugar glaze at the end, which once again reinforced that oh so valuable lesson, sugar improves everything!
Long story short, I'm not sure they won me any great kudos with the new flatmates but getting stuck into baking is making me feel more at home, and even if they have to pretend to enjoy the spoils, it's nice to have people to bake for.

Never one to be put off, and with more new friends to be bribed at a gathering this evening, I decided to give them another go today. Having bought myself a rolling pin at the weekend and having read the recipe more thoroughly this time, I was all set for round two. And I'm happy to say they were much more of a success. The sugar glaze was such a saviour last time, I decided to stick with it and though it's not in the recipe and probably would be frowned upon by the swedes, I think it's a good addition.

The recipe can be found here.
For the sugar glaze you simply heat some castor sugar with some water. I used about 50g sugar for 125ml of water and I added some cinnamon for that extra hit! When you have a slightly sticky consistency you can dip the buns into the syrup to coat the top of them.

dough ready for prooving

it should double in size

filling of butter, sugar and cinnamon. (check out my cool new rolling pin)

all ready for a second prove


Thursday, 2 May 2013

This is how we Fumbally.....

I've always thought the best thing about living abroad was the coming home. There's nothing quite like that first pint of Guinness after your arrival back in familiar, comfortable old Dublin. It holds in it so much more than the physicality of what it is. It symbolises familiarity, belonging, security. Perfection. One of the things I really struggled with when I moved back home three years ago, was that this ritual could no longer exist for me. Whilst abroad, I always felt secure in the knowledge that no matter where I was or what I was doing, life would always contain the ritual of the welcome home pint, and all that symbolised. A ritual that became filled  with stronger and deeper emotional connections the longer I lived away. Having moved home, that no longer existed for me anymore. I could have a great pint, in my favourite pub whenever I liked. But somewhere along the way, it's very availability meant it lost it's sweetness. The thing that I spent so much time anticipating, the comfort of the experience when it happened, the beauty of it's rarity. All gone. It was an unexpected bitter sweet consequence of returning home. I still struggle with it. It's almost enough to make you emigrate again. 

Which is what I've done, albeit temporarily. It seems an apparent consequence of my summering in Brussels is that when I am in Dublin I'm very keen to make the most of my few days here. And as always when looking at a city from the outside in, Dublin is not letting me down in terms of it's possibilities. Endless events abound. It's just a case of finding them out and booking them in. 

One such event was at the Fumbally cafe. Hipsters among you will be all too familiar with the venue, it being the embodiment of everything alternative hipster Dublin has to offer. This would usually make me feel a little uncomfortable, as although I may aspire to this level of cool, I will never quite get there. However the Fumbally has fast become one of my favourite cafes in town, not least of all as it's right round the corner. Everything they do, they get just right. The menus are simple and delicious, the decor is inspiring, the ethos encouraging and there's always a handsome man or two to admire over your flat white.

Fumbally punters getting their hipster on

Of late, they have begun opening their doors in the evenings for gigs. They have a small stage in the corner and together with the crowd at Happenings, they pack in the punters for an evening of food, booze and music, all for the price of 20 quid. This week saw them host the folk group This is How We Fly along with the raw foodies from Living Dinners who took care of the food side of things. We kicked off with the food at about 8. Nothing on the plate had been cooked, it being raw food and all. It was a beautiful looking plate of essentially various salads, cleverly constructed to look like more than just salad. The plate contained courgette spaghetti, root slaw, baby greens and sprouts. To go with it was some rustic bread (the only thing on the menu which had been cooked) with carrot and cumin hummus, a red pepper creme and a wild garlic pesto, all of which were incredibly tasty. I'm not sure about the raw food movement. I think I like the idea of raw food. I get the concept and it seems like a valuable one. I'm just not sure that I would ever be satisfied by a meal made entirely in this way. As delicious and beautifully presented as it all was, I found myself wanting more. I was ready for my main course. Maybe this is partly to do with the raw food element, maybe it's partly to do with my gluttonous nature.

This is How We Fly took over as soon as everyone had been fed. Which was no mean feat. There were about 150 people at the gig and a prep space that could probably handle about 20 plates at a time. It was a bit of a scrabble to get fed but for the most part they handled it really well.
I digress. If you've never heard of This is How We Fly, they're worth a look. I say look, because for me I wasn't totally sold on the musical side of it. It was all a bit repetitive and while they had some nice tunes and riffs, I felt I heard the same tune and riff for about 2 hours and was going a bit gaga by the end. The best feature of the group for me was percussive dancer Nic Gareiss. Percussive dance may just be my new obsession. Using a mike on the floor he incorporates the sound of his dance steps into the rythmic fabric of the music. It was awesome to watch, and to listen to. To see someone use their whole physique in such a musically inspired and communicative way is not something you get to experience every day and is something that I could watch/listen to forever.

All told the gig was a great success. The Fumbally's an awesome venue for these types of gigs. Intimate and romantic with an edge of cool. I think I would have happily listened to anything and had a great time, even if I wasn't totally sold on the music. Once again, I found myself being quite excited by the innovation of the people behind the gig. Dublin's not dead yet. 

We rounded off the night with a Guinness in Fallons round the corner, so it would seem for the time being at least, the homecoming pint is also back in service.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Settling into home from home

Last week, shortly after I first got here, I was having myself a coffee and a read of my book, which I do a lot as a lady of leisure, when I overheard an ex-pat conversation about where to buy good food in Brussels. (Things I'm learning about Brussels - there are ex-pats everywhere) Naturally my ears pricked up and I latched on to the conversation that was happening a few tables away. The couple were having a grand old conversation about different areas of Brussels, where was nice to live and where were the best places to do their various bits of shopping. The conversation couldn't have been better suited to someone like myself, just off the plane from Dublin, looking for somewhere to live, with an insane interest in food. I listened intently while pretending to study my book. Don't judge me, you've all done it. Unfortunately for me, these two were clearly Brussels veterans and despite speaking English, every time they mentioned a place name, their pronunciation was so impeccable that I hadn't the slightest notion what they were talking about. So, serves me right I suppose for listening in on other people's private conversations.

Well, a week later, I've moved into my new home from home for the next few months and as luck would have it, it's right down the road from one of 'the' markets that my cafe friends were talking so enthusiastically about. It's exactly as they described. It happens weekly, on a Wednesday, and is filled with everything my culinary heart could desire. As far as my limited understanding of French allows me to determine, and what I overheard from the cafe couple, it seems to be stocked with produce from surrounding farms with an emphasis on local and organic. It's got everything you need, bakers, cheesemongers, fishmongers, florists, butchers and of course wine. As I said, everything my culinary heart could desire. And at the end of my street. I couldn't have picked a better location if I had actually done some research and tried.

I've always been insanely jealous of the European's relationship with food. Ever since I went to Italy as a little girl and experienced what a real tomato tasted like. Europe has access to the kind of local produce that we as pale skinned islanders on the edge of the Atlantic can only dream of. And it seems that fresh produce and a culture of market shopping go hand in hand. In Europe it's nothing fancy, it's just the way people have shopped for years and continue to do so today. Why wouldn't they? The sun shines down on them, the produce is in abundance and it fosters community spirit. It allows local economies to thrive as bars and restaurants pop up around market squares turning them into bustling centres. Understandably, we in Ireland are jealous of this and are trying to emulate our European counterparts with food markets springing up all over the place. Except, we still don't have the produce, so instead it travels miles and miles to get to us, is overpriced as a result and usually, if out of season as it so often is, is as tasteless and undesirable as a wet rag. We've also totally missed the point of food markets. Ours seem to go hand in hand with a certain lifestyle choice, not with the everyday business of good food for all. (With the notable exception of the English Market in Cork of course.) Even the organic markets import the majority of their veg from the continent so do nothing to help with sustainability or cutting down of food miles. Quel dammage! It's a minefield, but one I can avoid for the summer, by shopping in my newly adopted, wonderful, local market. For those of you who find yourselves in the Brussels area, it's at Place Chatelain, on Wednesdays. Don't miss out. 

So all in all I'm pretty thrilled with where I've ended up. There's enough bars and restaurants around me that I will never get bored and I'm pretty sure I'll be at the market every Wednesday without fail. I may not be able to live this way in Ireland, but I'm sure going to soak it up while I can. 

my street

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Arbutus Abroad

Cake for breakfast and Calvin & Hobbes in French. Tres European.

As the very keen eyed among you will notice, it's been quite a while since my last blog post. And quite a lot has happened....I moved house, so sadly the original Arbutus Club is no more; my best friend emigrated; my mother decided to follow suit - a mere coincidence, it had nothing to do with my moving back home, or so she tells me; then she was followed by another dear friend upping sticks and buggering off. You're seeing the pattern I'm sure.

The upshot of all this is I find myself at a bit of a loss. I moved home three years ago hoping to reconnect with a city for which I held a naive nostalgia, only to find the city much changed and the majority of it's inhabitants booking one way tickets in the opposite direction. My timing has always been impeccable. The frustrating thing is that Dublin's actually a really great place to be at the moment. Unless of course you're trying to raise kids and are in neagtaive equity, or long term unemployed, or just graduated, in which case I feel very bad for you, life in Dublin probably sucks right now. But the fact is for single, middle class 30 somethings like myself, with enough work and no responsibilities, there's a hell of a lot going on in Dublin. The recession has forced people to get inventive. The cheap rent and abandoned spaces have meant that there are a glut of inventive artists studios popping up all over the place putting on new and innovative events. You can't walk ten paces for tripping up over a new restaurant or cafe. There's endless movie nights, gigs, supper clubs, exhibitions, all popping up in strange unexpected places and giving Dublin a distinctive edge of cool that it never had when last I lived there.

This is all great, except I find myself in the, probably not altogether unique, situation of forced solitude now that half my friend's have emigrated and the other half are settling down and having kids. There's all this great stuff going on but finding a reliable partner in crime can prove difficult. Every time I see something interesting, I get all excited about it, then I run through the potential list of invitees and my mood plummets as I realise....they're all gone. Well, not all, but you get the idea. So. What are my options? Stick around waiting for things to get better? Yes, I could do that. Or I could hop on a plane with everyone else and check out what this whole 'Europe' thing is about. 

So here I am in Brussels of all places. With the rest of Ireland it seems. What better city than this, the queen of transience, to spend the summer months? At the very least I'll eat some good food, drink some great beer and learn un peu le Francais and at the very most I can drag the rest of their sorry asses back to Dublin with me when I leave.