Friday, November 19, 2010

Too much Food.

Usually, I start my Dublin days with a few pieces of wheaten bread and either almond butter or cheese and a daub of either jam or marmalade. With a mug of coffee, I am good to go. Today, I had run out of bread and didn’t want to buy more since I am heading up north tomorrow. So I had a couple of oaten crackers.

By the time I was walking up Grafton Street past St. Stephen’s Green for my last day at Dublin’s archives, I realized that two oat cakes were not going to cut it. I usually start work at archives at opening time and work right through, stopping only for water. I emerge six hours or more later as a shadow of my former self, achingly hungry, and ready to scarf groceries from passing pedestrians. And that level of hunger comes after my wheaten bread start.

Then God in her wisdom gave me a gift. I spotted a Crêperie on Lower Kevin Street, just as I was about to turn down Angiers and then left onto Bishops. It brought back memories of my teen years in Montreal and the Crepe Bretonne, a restaurant that made my sixteen year old self feel so sophisticated and full. Just a nibble, I thought.

Fafies is the only place to serve food like this in Dublin. Check them out. They make organic savoury galette crêpes with a special blend of buckwheat flour which they import directly from Brittany to Dublin. The staff – possibly owners - told me more, and I succumbed. Utterly, and I ordered a mushroom egg galette. This turned out to be more food than I planned, so I had to walk around the area a bit in order to eat it at a reasonable pace. But oh, was this galette worth it. If I were not leaving Dublin tomorrow, I would be back in a flash.

The walk meant that I discovered St. Peter’s cathedral as well as St Peter’s Park which includes a literary celebration of about a dozen of Ireland’s most famous male writers. The park was restored thanks to the generosity of Jamieson’s Whiskey and the publicans of Dublin. Wall Street has a name for this: Synergy. Hmm. Maybe not.

The day at the archives started out as a not unusual slog. Order up a microfilm, thread it into the machine, flash read what is possible and hope I am not missing the obvious. Unspool and return it, get another one out and repeat the previous steps. Oh sure, I harvested a little fact here and a little fact there, but nothing that was amounting to much until I found one of the particular nuggets I had been seeking for quite some time.

I had known for years where Thomas Jackson had been born in 1841 in Co. Leitrim, but I knew nothing about his father’s farm or the house he started life in. Now I do. It was modest, about 39’ by 22 feet and stood about 12 feet high. It had a thatched roof, solid stone walls and was finished without ornament. In essence, it was the traditional thatched Irish bungalow. The land around it was good clayey soil... generally used for meadow although some of it was cold clayed and gravelly soil ...rather shallow on cold white gravel subsoil. Other parts of it were good rushy pasture. All this, I learned and more, thanks to the hand-written notebook of an assessor in 1841.

The notebooks of other assessors were not as revealing. Some kept saying No house in this townland is worth £5 per annum – this in spite of the fact that maps and church records would indicate otherwise. It made me wonder if one’s house could get dropped from the assessment if you greased the right palm and your house was also modest enough to just fly beneath the radar with a little bit of an extra nudge. I clearly have more to learn here.

After working till closing time, I packed up my gear and stumbled out into the early evening of my last night in Dublin. I had decided some time ago that I wanted to close this part of the trip with a repeat appearance at a Nepalese restaurant called Diwali's on South Great Georges Street.

I had been there a week earlier and had my socks knocked off with the range and subtlety of the seasonings. That day, I had been hooked the early bird special for £16.99, not a bad price for a decent meal in Dublin. First up was a basket of poppadoms with three kinds of condiments, one made of onions marinated in a light red pepper sauce, another a sweeter and lighter hit of pepper and a third of mint yoghurt. I tried them in rotation, then counterclock-wise, then at random. Every which way worked. Already, I felt like assuming a prayerful position.

Then I was served Sakahari Samosas, perfectly plated with ying/yang sauces either side of them. The crunch of the crust counter-balanced the softness of the potato and cumin was clearly evident but not so much as to dominate. My main was the Achiri Lamb. The only problem was there was more than I could finish. How do people do it?

That meal was also the first time I have ever been seen someone try to dine and dash. He was a white man, wearing a blue turban and a silver serpentine bracelet. His checked shirt covered an expanse of belly and wasn`t tucked in. I wouldn`t have caught it, but the waiter was onto him in a flash. Like a dancer, he interposed himself between the man and the exit and then engaged him in conversation. He had some sort of passive force field that moved the man back into the restaurant. They kept talking. When the waiter had to stand aside to let in new customers, the man gained ground towards the door, but the waiter was like water and was once again between him and the exit. The dance went on for at least fifteen minutes, until the man pulled out his wallet, paid and actually thanked the waiter. Ghandi would have been proud.

I did my best to honour my second Dalwali meal, but after starting the day with that buckwheat galette, I had to leave a third behind. Sad. The Gorhali Sag Pat Sizzler was a mixture of zuchinni, eggplant, onions, peppers and tomatoes that were marinated and then cooked and served on a cast iron platter. I know that it is usually a put down to describe something as all sizzle and no steak but that was exactly what this was and it was perfect.

In the end, I waddled and burped my way back to The Fleet Street Hotel promising that I won’t eat this much again. Or at least, not any time soon.

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