Monday, November 29, 2010

Snowvember Comfort Food - Variations on a Theme of Chicken Stroganoff and Apple Cake

The view from my bedroom this morning
Yesterday we had our first snow of this winter - Snowvember as someone called it on Facebook (I'm lifting it for the post title but have no idea whose idea it is - I just like it!) - and it came out of the blue as we never expected to have such early falls. The temperatures have been sub-zero for a few days, barely rising to 1-2 degrees Centigrade by day and falling to -10 Centigrade at night - in some parts of the country at least. The UK has had a much  more severe spell of snowy weather with -17C in Wales last night. (For all the American readers - I'm sorry, I haven't a clue what these temperatures are in Fahrenheit without converting and as I only do that for recipes you'll have to bear with me and check out some widget somewhere or other that'll do the business for you!)

The garden from the sunroom at noon today
With all this in mind it was time for lockdown for the weekend. I am not even thinking about work tomorrow or how I will deal with that - we don't prepare for snow in Ireland so no snow tyres/tires, and no chains and no snowploughs - only salt and grit. That means only main roads get treated and the by-roads I travel in work will be left to Mother Nature. I hope to be around to report back later in the week!

So ratchet the central heating up to the max, get a good DVD for Saturday night and have a nice warming dinner. This offset the worst impact of our "blizzard" - in essence about three or four inches of powdery snow which didn't thaw as the temps are too low - and made us feel like Scott of the Antarctic.

Going outside prompted "I may be some time" comment from the wittier among us, and a trip to the hilly hinterland of Lismore, Ballysaggart on the foothills of the Knockmealdown Mountains, to collect teen daughter and her pal from a friend's house necessitated having hubby drive as I was too chicken to chance it.

The book - in Jamie's blokey style
It was hair-raising as there were patches of black ice and snow frozen on ice that were lethal and we were lucky not to skid into the ditch/side of the road. (Still have that argument with Dutch hubby over ditch/dyke. In Holland a ditch is full of water, here it's the hedge at the side of the road. I seem to remember writing about this last year during the "Big Freeze"!

I decided to make a new dish for dinner last night and went to Jamie Oliver's wonderfully back-to-basic home cooking book "Jamie's Ministry of Food" for inspiration. As I wanted a chicken one-pot dish with rice, I went for the Chicken Stroganoff with leeks and mushrooms and tweaked it a little. Normally I use chicken in curry, or in a tomato-based Spanish-style stew, or for fast food like Fajitas or just plain old Roast Chicken, which is one of my favourite and hard to beat for comforting winter Sunday roasts.

This chicken stroganoff was simple to make, and quite plain. I added garlic, mixed herbs and some non-MSG Season-All (a type of sprinkled BBQ seasoning from the Schwartz spice range, which are good quality with no nasty artificial stuff.) This gave it a bit of a kick and I think the original would have been just too bland for my and hubby's taste buds which have been primed by years of Asian cuisine to the upper end of the hot'n'spicy scale.

Just had a nice slice of the cake - yummy!
Today I decided to make a variation on another classic comfort food - Apple Cake. I had some pastry for a base which I baked blind (with beans weighing it down on greaseproof paper). I covered the base with sliced cooking apples, then sprinkled sugar and a light dusting of cinnamon, and then covered the lot with cake mix. I used Victoria Sponge - having made enough for buns as well, I used half to top the cake. I then decorated the top with Glacé cherries and pecan nuts, and popped it in the oven for 30-40 minutes. It is delicious with whipped cream or ice cream, as it is more a dessert than a cake, being quite moist from the apples.

Here are both recipes with some photos of each.

Chicken Stroganoff (Based on Jamie Oliver's recipe)

Creamy chicken stroganoff with leeks and mushrooms
Jamie's recipe - click to enlarge pic
  1. Olive oil and butter knob (25gm/1oz) to cook
  2. 600gm/1.5lbs diced chicken breast
  3. 1 large leek, quartered, sliced and rinsed well
  4. 220 gm/half-pound sliced button mushrooms.
  5. 1 tsp. dried mixed herbs.
  6. 1tablesp. chopped parsley.
  7. 1teaspoon seasoning sprinkled over chicken - can be BBQ, Cajun, Season-All, try the Schwartz range or any good quality natural seasonings. 
  8. 1 glass white wine.
  9. Half glass water.
  10. 250 ml/half-pint single cream.
  11. Salt and Pepper to season.
  12. Half-tsp. paprika powder (optional - I wanted a bit of a kick).
  13. Small squeeze of lemon juice (optional - add at end if wished).

Method (varies from Jamie's but I like to brown the chicken first).
mmmm, dinner!
  1. Sprinkle seasonings and dried herbs on chicken, heat oil and butter and add chicken. 
  2. Cook stirring well over high heat until browned all over. 
  3. Add leeks and mushrooms and cook for a few minutes, stirring to prevent sticking.
  4. Add wine and water, chopped parsley, salt and pepper to taste, cover and simmer for 10 mins. 
  5. Add cream, simmer and stir, reduce if liquid is too thin, but no need to add roux or any flour thickener.
  6. A delicate and tasty flavour, this is delicious served with Basmati Rice and Garlic Bread!
 Apple, Cherry and Pecan cake

Pastry for Base (Standard sweet shortcrust pastry used on numerous other recipes in this blog)

before baking - apple mix in pastry case
  1. 1lb/450gm plain flour8oz/225gm chilled butter (preferable to margarine).
  2. 2 oz/50gm sugar (or caster sugar or icing sugar) - optional if sweet pastry desired - otherwise omit.
  3. 1 egg - optional if you want rich shortcrust pastry - otherwise omit.
  4. A few tablespoons of cold water to bind.
Ready for the oven
  1. Add butter to flour, chop up with knife and rub in with fingers to crumbly texture.
  2. Add sugar and egg (if using) and water to bind stiffly.
  3. Minimally handling, knead lightly on floured worktop/table.
  4. Roll out enough pastry to line a deep pie/flan dish.
  5. Bake blind - put dried beans on greaseproof paper on top of pastry base.
  6. Bake for 10 mins at 200C/390F, then lower heat to 150C/300F and remove beans and paper, bake further 10 mins. Cool.
Finished Apple, Cherry and Pecan Cake
Victoria Sponge Cake Mix
  1. 4oz/100gm flour (self-raising or plain with 2-3 teaspoons baking powder)
  2. 4oz/100gm sugar
  3. 4oz/100gm butter
  4. 2 eggs
  5. Almond or Vanilla Essence (as preferred)
  1. Put all ingredients into mixing bowl and whisk together, if using electric whisk. 
  2. Otherwise, using a wooden spoon, cream butter and sugar well, add essence and beaten eggs and flour and baking powder (if used) alternately until a dropping consistency is reached. 
  3. Add a little boiling water to get right consistency.

2- 3 Cooking apples peeled and sliced - lay on base of cooked pastry case
Sprinkle sugar liberally on apples, then cinnamon.
Cover with Victoria Sponge cake mix
Decorate top with whole glacé cherries and whole pecan nuts as wished.

Bake in preheated oven 200C/375F for 15 mins, reduce heat to 150C/300F for another 20-30 mins or until firm and golden - watch out it doesn't burn - if edges done before centre move down a shelf and cover with greaseproof paper - loosely.
Cool on wire rack and dust with Icing Sugar.
Delicious with Ice Cream or Whipped Cream

Note the absence in this post of any mention of economic meltdown, national humiliation bailouts and selling out to the IMF/ECB, or street protests. These will have their day as I am very angry about the state of the nation and the mess our incompetent so-called leaders have left us with as we face down an early General Election in the New Year. But for now - time to be happy and eat well!

Monday, November 15, 2010

More Memorable Typos - Lifting the Pre-Budget Blues

I was out for a walk last week and spotted this
congratulatory beauty in a shop window. Luckily I had the camera in my pocket for a quick snap, capturing the sentiment for posterity, and being the typo terrorist anorak that I am - after winning the Irish Times Terrible Typos competition in September there's no stopping me now - I just couldn't pass this by. 

Camogie, for the uninitiated, is hurling for girls and  women, it's very popular among local teams but has very poor national support compared to the senior hurling and football All-Ireland Finals in Croke Park, which are usually sell-outs. The GAA tried to sex it up a few years ago by a "Chicks with Sticks" campaign, but while it might have boosted the game's image and shown the calibre of the players, it smacked of desperation to me and many other old-school feminists out there.

Then a few days later I was at a conference in the West of Ireland and this wonderful misspelling jumped out at me from the ticket to the Gala Dinner - or Banquette? It set me thinking of the unreliability of grammar and spellcheckers that are so ubiquitous in computer software but don't bypass the need for proofreading and judicious editing before committing to print. This would surely prevent a lot of red faces when the errors come to light.

Last week I was listening to Liveline - a phone-in daily RTE Radio One show that purports to take the pulse of the Irish listeners and reflect the zeitgeist -when this woman with a plummy South Dublin accent rang in to say she was in the horrors over a typo on a baby vest she'd spotted in Dunnes Stores. (Note the absence of a possessive apostrophe in their title - deliberate or not no-one seems sure.)
You can link to the audio clip here.

Well she set the airwaves alight! The baby vest for infants under a year had typos that made a nonsense of the little slogan but was of the kind all too common on fake designer rip-offs when we lived in Laos. ("Your going to fast in your little red car" was the slogan!)She came over all righteous and wanted a head on a plate but had got no joy from Dunnes other than a vague assurance it wouldn't happen again - so she made good on her threat to "Talk to Joe" and  fired off a missive to Liveline. The response she got from other listeners can't have made her day as she got no support and was written off as a tad OTT. Her own cliché was picked up when she said "At this point in time" so she wasn't getting away with anything.

Fair enough - I get grief from my lads for being an "Eats shoots and leaves" typo type, but I do hope I don't get too smug over it all! Some would say Liveline caters to the whingers and moaners who have nothing better to do than ring in with their gripe of the day, but it is incredibly addictively listenable when a good row gets going, and certainly has ruffled political feathers on many occasions. 

Courtesy of RTE - protest at hospital closures
Finally - the pièce de résistance! This was broadcast on national TV news the other evening at a protest march against local hospital closures when the extremely unpopular Minister for Health Mary Harney was present.  That she's seen as the Angel of Death to local hospitals is quite understandable - but this put a whole new angle on the situation! Given that she was splashed with red paint the previous week at a sod-turning ceremony, it's amazing that she had the brass neck to put in another public appearance where she would be heckled. But she's got brass neck in spades (couldn't resist that pun!) and there are some terrific Photoshopped images out there - Santa killer below being one of the best! 

Courtesy of Photoshop - Mary Harney kills Santa!
Enjoy them and forget the wolves at the door - in the guise of the IMF or the European Bank Bailout Crew - whom we are told with Shakespearean denial (as in protesting too much) by the government are not on the horizon - we all think they are, sharpening their calculators to see how much they can bleed from the peasants come Budget Day on December 7th. I think I'll just knit my way through the recession - it'll take my mind off the dreary penny-pinching days ahead!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Bloggers' Book Club - Small Island by Andrea Levy

This book has a sense of dejá vu for me as I read it a few years ago, then our real-world book club chose it for September, and now it's rolled around again for the virtual Bloggers' Book Club - Lily's brainchild.

I re-read it, and it weathered the re-read pretty well, as I had forgotten a lot of the detail. 

The story tells of the lives of four main characters - a young Jamaican woman, Hortense, who comes to live in England, following her husband Gilbert Joseph who has already come over in the first wave of Caribbean immigration on the Windrush; Queenie Bligh, their landlady and friend; and her husband Bernard who signs up for service in India during WWII.
Hortense has great hopes for their future, but these are dashed when she sees the squalor in which he lives, in a room in a boarding house. The landlady, Queenie,is a truly anachronistic character in that she is kind-hearted and very open to immigrants in the face of the overt racism of Britain at the time - the days of the "No Blacks, Irish or Dogs" signs in the windows. In her tolerance, she seems to be colour blind and this brings the wrath of her neighbours and family on many occasions. Her husband Bernard has vanished during the war, and his story emerges when he returns unexpectedly from abroad, a changed man whose wartime experiences in India are horrendous and show the brutality of war on ordinary men.

The writer highlights the attitudes of the colonial Caribbean "small island" people to England - the Motherland. They speak of it as Home, redolent of the Raj, and imbue it with a sentimental nostalgia. The disillusionment they must have felt on experiencing the reality must have been a huge let-down and thrown them completely.
Gilbert is a lovable rogue and quite innocent, while Hortense was ambitious and quite the snob - she had aspirations to a grand life in England and won't let anything stand in her way. To this end she does an appalling thing by telling her best friend's boyfriend about her mad mother - and ends up marrying the  boyfriend - Gilbert.  This shows a mean streak in her character which is mirrored throughout the book in her treatment of Gilbert and yet she is a paradox as she shows at the end with an uncharacteristically magnanimous gesture.

Hortense was well-educated in Jamaica as a schoolteacher and it is heartbreaking to see the dismissive attitude of the staff at the department when she tries to get her teaching certification recognised in England. She sees her dreams dashed but becomes a better and kinder person by the end of the novel, by realising that people are what matter.

There are many twists in this tale - Queenie's love affair with Michael, who has links to Jamaica and Hortense - and whose paths almost cross in England. The end of the tale is very poignant, and I found it very moving and yet somehow redemptive, and to tell more would prompt a spoiler alert.

Levy has a lovely style of writing - she uses the vernacular and the patois of Jamaica - and she paints a wonderfully evocative picture of an idyllic yet hard life on the island before the mass migration to the motherland. She is well placed to write on this theme of  migration as her own parents were also migrants on the Windrush to England in the 1940s.

The sense of being from a small island becomes relative when they realise that England and the Motherland is another small island in the global context. It is a novel that encompasses race and identity in a cultural clash and brings the colonial past into sharp relief - the propaganda of colonialism is shown by the idealised image Gilbert and especially Hortense have of England and how disconnected that ideal is from the reality.

Serendipitously, I had BBC Radio Four/World Service on yesterday and thanks to a strike by newscasters and journalists, the Today Programme was replaced by the World Book Club programme with Andrea Levy talking about - yes, Small Island! It was great to hear her reading in the voice of Hortense and to hear her discuss the book and answer questions from the audience about the characters - check it out for yourself here. Just scroll down and find it under Andrea Levy. You can podcast it to iTunes and listen at your leisure as I have just done.  There is also a BBC TV production of Small Island which I haven't seen, but I am very tempted to get the box set or even check if the local library has it.

The members of the Bloggers' Book Club are here - be sure to visit their posts and compare and contrast everyone's reviews!
  1. Lily @ Lily's Blog
  2. Marian @ Made Marian
  3. Cathy @ Rumble Strips
  4. Lorna @ Garrendenny Lane Interiors
  5. Val @ MagnumLady's Blog
  6. Jenn @ SmurfetteJenn's Blog
  7. Edie @ Munchies and Musings
  8. Jenny @ Stitchcraft Jen
  9. Kirsty @ The Road Less Travelled
  10. Steph @ The Biopsy Report
  11. Susan @ Queen of Pots!
  12. Winifred @ I'm Trying Honestly!
  13. Ann @ Inkpots n'Quills
  14. Paysan @ Kick out the Jams
  15.  Susan @ Joyous Flowers
  16. Marie @ Diary of a Country Wife
Happy Surfing and remember - if you want to join us - check in with Lily as the moderator and I am sure new members are more than welcome!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Comfort Zones - Chocolate Pecan Brownies and Peachy Socks

Brownies ready for the oven - Pecans and 70% Chocolate
Yesterday I was perusing blogs and came across this decadent-looking recipe over on Brownieville Girl's foodie blog and thought - I've got all the stuff in the kitchen - so I got stuck in straight away and made them. I have to confess I  hadn't made brownies since we lived in Africa over 15 years ago as I am not that mad about rich chocolate cakes - but then I have eaten some delicious brownies over the years and they are quite different from chocolate sponge cake.

Mixing the Brownie Batter with the pecans
Firstly they are so concentrated and dense that you only need a small one to feel satisfied and full (she tells herself!); secondly, they are totally different in texture and have a moist centre with a slightly crunchy outside; and finally what clinched it for  me was seeing a brownie in the coffee shop we went to for lunch yesterday that cost €1.50 - and that was not much more than a mouthful.

Cheapskate that I am it kills me to see such prices for what's basically a slice of a tray-bake, in the same way that my inner Scrooge baulks at paying €1.90 or €2 for a cup of hot water with a teabag. I do enjoy going for lunch with my colleagues and a couple of times a week we meet up - but mostly I bring lunch with me and have it in the tearoom at work with an endless supply of free tea from the Burco boiler!
Ready steady bake!

I decided to experiment with these lovely brownies to bring them into work to share with my colleagues in the tearoom. They could be my guinea pigs, as they have shown themselves adept at sampling my other experiments, be they Anzac cookies or plain old Apple Tarts. They were very happy to do so and the brownies vanished like the promises in a political manifesto after polling day.

Here's the recipe from the Brownieville Girl Blog with full credit to her for sharing it with us - you can also link to her recipe post here.
(I am not familiar with cups but I used a cone measure which has cups on it and that helped, along with our digital scales)

Brownies (Courtesy of Brownieville Girl) with Pecan Nuts
Brownies cooling down - cut into squares
(my variation)
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated

Ready with the cuppa tea - or hot chocolate to go all out!
  1. 1/3  cup                cocoa
  2. 1 tsp                     instant espresso powder
  3. 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp   boiling water
  4. 2 oz (55g)            dark chocolate (at least 70%) finely chopped
  5. 2oz (55g)             butter - melted
  6. 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp  vegetable oil
  7. 2                          large eggs
  8. 2                          egg yolks
  9. 2 tsp                    vanilla extract
  10. 2 cups                 sugar
  11. 1/2 cup                brown sugar
  12. 1 3/4 cups           flour
  13. 1/2 tsp                 salt
  14. 6oz (165g)          dark chocolate (again at least 70%!) chopped into pieces
  15. 1 Cup                 roughly chopped Pecan or Walnuts (optional)
  • Preheat oven to 180 C/350 F
  • Line a 9" brownie tin with parchment paper, or just butter it.  
  • You can also use a roasting dish/tin with parchment paper lining as I did.
  • Whisk cocoa, coffee and boiling water in a large bowl. 
  • (I used a saucepan for everything instead as I melted the butter and chocolate on the stove top)
  • Add 2 oz chocolate  and whisk until melted.
  • Whisk in the melted butter and oil.
  • Add eggs and egg yolks, vanilla extract and whisk until totally blended.
  • Whisk in the sugars until well incorporated.
  • Add the flour and salt and combine carefully with a large spoon.
  • Mix Pecan nuts or Walnuts thoroughly in mixture
Scatter the chocolate pieces over the brownie mixture.
  • Bake 30 - 35 minutes - you know how to check it's right!
  • Allow to cool for 1 1/2 hours and then cut into nice big chunks. (I used a Pizza Cutter)
I hope you like the photos - the chocolate I used was Lidl's Ecuador 70%, while the Cocoa was Green & Black's Organic Cocoa - a perfect combo! The whole thing took no time to make - I used a hand whisk as the mix is like pancake batter till you fold in the flour when it thickens a bit. No need for much elbow grease at all!

Cosy Toes in Comfy Boots
Peachy Pastel Lacy Socks

As for the peachy pastel socks - these were just too pretty to pass by. I found the pattern via Ravelry like so many others - they are also from the Fantasy Cascade range and I used DK yarn - 100gm ball of a lovely pale peachy colour that I'd bought in Buncrana in September - I got it as a baby wool but as I got two balls I have plenty leftover. The socks use about 65gms. I found the pattern easy-peasy once I got used to the repeat, every 16 rows. The pattern can be downloaded as a free PDF from the Cascade Yarns Fixation site here  You can see the pattern on the link about half-way down - W124 Fancy Feet - it's the middle sock of the three shown. 
(If you want to follow me on Ravelry I'm there as LismoreLady!)

Hanging out in the garden

The beauty of these socks I've been making is that they are actually very wearable and I am as snug as a bug in a rug these days with my new ankle boots and home-made socks keeping me warm and cosy. I got my new Clarks ankle boots in Shaw's in Dungarvan a few weeks ago - and they are a tad big for popsox or normal tights, as I wanted to have enough room for woolly ribbed tights or my knitted socks - and they work a dream. So the moral is - go a half-size up if you want that bit of space in your boots - especially if you try them on wearing popsox.

I think I'll be making some of these as Christmas pressies - maybe even as a blog giveaway when I get around to it - watch this space!

Meanwhile, happy baking and knitting to all!

New Boots with my Coral Socks

Heel and pattern detail of Lacy Socks

Monday, November 1, 2010

Graduation Day - in a Historic and Literary Dublin Landmark

At last - a proud moment!

Martin with his proud parents!
Yesterday we went to Dublin for middle son Martin's Graduation - he has just finished his Master's Degree in Professional Design Practice in DIT (Dublin Institute of Technology) which is a follow on from his BA in Graphic Design in Cork. This was his third grad conferral after two BAs in CIT (Cork Institute of Technology) - Ordinary after 3 years and then the Honours one a year later. We were saying he could become a serial graduate and go on for a few more or at least a PhD! I don't think that's on the cards for the present.

Ghosts of the past in DIT Aungier St.
It's our second Graduation in two months - our youngest son William graduated from the University of Limerick in August with a BA in Phys. Education and Geography teaching and that didn't get a blogpost simply because we came straight home and went to Saffron in Lismore for a nice Indian meal to mark the occasion. UL is a modern campus without much historic interest and certainly the venue didn't excite me as much as the Dublin one did - and we didn't take in the delights of Limerick on the day either! He's in some photos here too.

This ceremony took place in St. Patrick's Cathedral in the heart of old Viking Dublin. The church dates back to St. Patrick but the building dates back to 1192. DIT use it as a venue for their graduation ceremonies which makes sense as they don't have a single campus - rather they are scattered around the city with their different faculties in the old Technology Colleges - Bolton Street was Martin's college for the MA year, and that was the old Bolton St. Tech.

The Cathedral was packed with the graduates from a number of courses and their families and it was a majestic setting for such a traditional and ancient ceremony. The only downside compared to more conventional venues like the University of Limerick Concert Hall where we had youngest son's Conferral in August is that the view isn't the best. Like any church, depending on where you're seated, the view can be good or mediocre - or downright bad if it's obstructed. We were not too bad but the dim light made photos quite a challenge and we got none of the actual parchment ceremony - and could only see it on the TV screens strategically placed around the Cathedral.
DIT Aungier St./Old Jacob's Factory

Walking through the Cathedral afterwards gave us a chance to play tourist for a bit - I am a tad embarrassed that I have never visited the place despite living in the city for all my student years and intermittently over the following 20+ years. So I got quite a buzz seeing the ancient monuments and the links with the great and the good of Dublin - Jonathan Swift of Gulliver's Travels fame is its most famous incumbent - as Dean of St. Patrick's he achieved fame when he wrote that great satire about a traveller in the land of  tiny Lilliputians and gigantic Brobdingnagians that is still popular today.
Seasonal Pumpkin Soup

Douglas Hyde is commemorated in a plaque - first President of Ireland whose funeral was held in the Cathedral. It's ironic that most of his government were barred from going to his funeral service as Catholics were forbidden to attend Protestant services until the 1960s! Erskine Childers, the fourth President of Ireland  (I used my vote first time ever to vote for him!) also had his funeral here and his daughter Nessa Childers is a Labour MEP.
Prawn Sandwich with Chips

I was delighted to see there was a Lismore link too - the huge Boyle Monument was erected by Lismore Castle's erstwhile owner, Richard Boyle, the Earl of Cork, as a tribute and memorial to his wife and 15 children. He bought Lismore Castle from Sir Walter Raleigh when the latter was in prison for high treason. He was the father of Robert Boyle, the scientist of "Boyle's Law" fame,  who was born in the Castle. I'll pass on the aesthetics of the monument - suffice to say it probably reflects the man's ego and ye olde Englishe certainly poses a challenge and makes you wonder about languages' evolution.

Martin and his classmates before the graduation
Yesterday's post-graduation reception was held in Augier Street at their campus in the old Jacob's Biscuit factory - famed for its role in the 1916 Easter Rising - and it was nice to see the name etched in a low wall to commemorate its earlier incarnation. It's a lovely building with a touch of the biscuit barrel on the facade from the courtyard - hardly surprising given its provenance as the home of our favourite biccies. Nostalgia emanated from every corner and I could nearly taste the Fig Rolls, Cream Crackers and the holy trinity of Kimberley, Mikado and Coconut Cream. These all whisk me back to childhood memories with their radio and black-and-white TV ads etched forever on my brain.

Main Altar in St. Patrick's Cathedral
We had the requisite official photos taken after the ceremony and afterwards we went for a lovely lunch to the Radisson Blu hotel in Golden Lane, around the corner from the campus. After all the queuing  for photos and the chatting and picture-taking in the courtyard of the college there wasn't a cuppa left at the reception, and it was nice to have lunch with Martin before he headed out with his friends for the evening celebrating.  For lunch I had yummy Pumpkin Soup - very seasonal for Hallowe'en weekend - and a delicious prawn sandwich on brown bread with rocket and chips/fries. I felt positively hedonistic given the doom-laden times we're in and the budget from hell looming - perhaps it's time we had a Marie Antoinette moment and indulged ourselves with treats for a lift! 

St.Patrick's Cathedral during Ceremony

Father and Son with that parchment!

With the proud parents on campus DIT

William and his proud parents in UL Aug. 2010

We left him back in Drumcondra to get ready for the night on the town. I believe they started with a 3-D football match in their local near Bolton St., the Woolshed Baa and Grill - an Aussie-themed place with a nice twist in the title!
Going home we took the new M9 to Waterford as a change from the M8 to Cork - they've just bypassed every town between Naas and Waterford and thanks to having had a Minister (Martin Cullen recently retired) from Waterford they got away with a toll-free ride all the way. There's a toll on the wonderful new bypass cable bridge over the River Suir that divides Kilkenny and Waterford - and the locals wit and hurling rivalry is reflected in the nicknames it has to date - they call it the Cat Flap in Waterford (homage to Kilkenny cats, an age-old name for the people from that county) and in Kilkenny they dub it the Liam McCarthy after the All-Ireland Hurling Cup which always bypasses Waterford on its way to Kilkenny - even though they didn't get their 5-in-a-row this year - Tipperary beat them in Croke Park last month.

Cable Bridge on River Suir in Waterford (the Cat Flap)
William's Graduation in UL August 2010
Autumn on the M9 to Waterford
There wasn't  much time-saving in the new route but the scenery was nicer - the Wicklow mountains and Mount Leinster were on our left and the autumn colours in the trees and fields were rich in the low setting sun.

Times like this and you get a respite from the relentless misery on the airwaves and celebrate the important things in life - family, children's achievements and the opportunity to spend time together while the kids are still around.

The way the country's going with no work for new grads like two of our sons, there's every chance they'll be forced into emigration - a far cry from the voluntary exile I chose in my youth when I wanted adventure in a pre-Gap Year era, combined with some saving-the-world altruism.

Fast forward a few decades and little did I know then what would be coming down the tracks  - we're very lucky in so many ways and have to keep that perspective in view - I hope we'll weather the storm and come out the other side despite the prophets of doom.