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A Domestic Goddess and Wannabe Housewife is Born and the Recipe for Tastebuds Roast Beef Wrap!
Introducing the Not So Desperate Housewives of Midleton County Cork!
Welcome Friends! Happy New Year!
I cannot thank you enough for all of your likes and loves, support and subscriptions, since my newsletter began in April! Writing can be a lonely business and it means the world to me that you have joined me on this journey! I have so much more to share with you and I’d like to begin 2023, with my observations and thoughts on domestic life here in Midleton and what I have learned from some of the incredible women I have met.
Ari and I arrived in Cork in July of 2020, as Covid 19 numbers were soaring and pressure was mounting to close many borders and restrict airline traffic. It was nothing short of a miracle that we were permitted entry, as Americans were already forbidden to travel to Ireland at the time, but I had prepared well for the customs and border patrol interrogation (a story for another time). We took our 14 day quarantine very seriously, and held up in the fourth floor apartment that I had arranged to rent before leaving the US, only venturing out very early in the morning or late into the evening, to get some fresh air and a bit of exercise, in our gated and gorgeous courtyard.
The first and only friend we made during that lonely time, was a Latvian named Alex, who lived in our building and drove a motorcycle that was just loud enough and cool enough to draw Ari to the window, waving with excitement every time he came and went. (I don’t know where he get’s it!) I found it so funny, because my two best friends in the States are Latvian, Inta and Valda, as is one of the most influential chefs I’ve ever worked with, Vid Lutz! I was not at all expecting to meet a Latvian in Ireland! Honestly and ignorantly, I just assumed everyone would be Irish!
While the pandemic had forced the closure of everything considered non-essential, our local playground remained open to the public, thankfully. So when our quarantine ended, we spent many afternoons and evenings there and met loads of residents of Midleton, our quaint little town of around 12,000 people, less than 20 miles from Cork City Centre.
My first shock, was just how few Irish people Ari and I met. In just a few short weeks, we became friends with people from Italy, Lithuania, Spain, England, Bosnia, Nigeria, France, Croatia, Morocco, Cameroon and the Czech Republic. If it weren’t for the cashiers at our local SuperValu, I might have gotten suspicious that perhaps our plane had been blown off course some how! Two weeks had gone by before we met anyone Irish at the playground.
Inspired to see where all of our new friends were from, I bought a large world map and hung it on the wall in our apartment. When Ari began school, he searched the map for even more countries, those of some of his new classmates; Poland, Syria, Romania, India, Slovakia and Tunisia, which I discovered through him, that I’d been pronouncing wrong my whole life! Some of these new friends lived in other countries as well, like Austria, Germany and Amsterdam, before making their way to Ireland.
Ari’s first teacher was from Australia and she taught his class about Aboriginal Art, which he was excited to pass onto me. We did a painting together, using the techniques that he learned to create images of animals indigenous to Australia. When the salons opened up, I became the loyal client of a talented stylist from South Africa and Ari became a regular at a Turkish Barber.
It is an extraordinary thing to live in a community, where nearly half of its residents have chosen to live there and all for the same reason; to give their children a safe and happy childhood. Sadly, the world seems to be running out of such safe havens. Children are often the great motivator to move away from instability and violence, to a safer neighborhood or country, despite the boredom or shite weather!
I don’t know if I was ever looking for love when I moved here, remember, we were in the midst of a global pandemic and I had lost half my identity when I lost my restaurant, but it became glaringly obvious right away, that I was never going to meet someone in Midleton! Everyone I met was married or in a deeply committed relationship and everyone had children, making me feel a bit self-conscious about being a single mom, something I would have never felt in the States.
Several people we met, used subtle ways of finding out our family situation, asking Ari things like, “And will your father be bringing you to the playground some time?” or asking me ,“And how is your husband enjoying Ireland?” Ari would often blurt out, “My dad got deported!” Which I just thought was hilarious and it saved him from further interrogation! (Ah! Yet another story for you, dear reader, to look forward to!) I on the other hand, always fumbled with my answers, until I learned finally, to just smile really big, hold my head up high and say, “It’s just the two of us!” Then hold eye contact, hoping my smile would suggest to them that there was no need for follow up questions, or worse, sympathy.
In time, I noticed something else that I found equally shocking, something about the children that was different from children in the US, but I couldn’t quite figure out what it was, until one day it just came to me. The word ‘well-adjusted’ popped into my head, as I had been observing Ari behaving, just ever so differently from all the other kids. That was the difference that I believed I was seeing, which was astonishing, considering the diversity. While race, ethnicity and nationalities were wide ranging, a sense of calm and self assuredness seemed to be universal in all the children we were coming to know.
Gradually, I began to see why this was. Children are the main attraction here, not the side show. They are addressed first when adults run into each other on the street or at school, which has taken me a while to get in the habit of doing it myself. Compliments are given instantly and enthusiastically, everything from what a fab t-shirt they have on, or what a cool bike or scooter, to what a good boy or girl they’ve been and how much they’ve grown.
Children are being built up constantly, everywhere they go, and they are more than welcome in restaurants, hotels and pubs (well, pubs till 8 or 9pm at the latest!) Often, you will see three generations of mostly males at the pubs for big Rugby, Hurling or Football matches. There is no shortage of coaches for sports and more often than not, parents show up at training and matches, and they watch and cheer for all the lads.
“It Takes a Village to Raise a Child.”
In 1996, Hilary Clinton wrote a book using this proverb as a title and I remember thinking that it was a nice concept, but that it could not really be implemented in America. I knew this, because tribes tend to scatter all across the country, elders are likely to be cared for in nursing homes and neighbors don’t often know each other well enough to trust one another.
For years, I watched how my sisters and brother struggled to find help caring for their children. I saw the resentment between working moms and stay at home moms and the inability or unwillingness to participate or volunteer in school activities or fundraisers. I heard countless stories from my siblings about cruel comments coming from other parents about some of their children who have special needs, behavioral issues or struggles with weight. Yes, PARENTS! I saw too, how they were made to feel guilty or irresponsible, if they wanted a weekend getaway for two, or needed to borrow money or a car or even a damn lawn mower!
The first time I tested the support of my own village, putting the care of my six month old son in its most trusted member, I was left with gaping wounds that never healed, leaving me open and vulnerable to the sting of just the tiniest bit of salt or vinegar, forever more. Needless to say, it made leaving easier, still heartbreaking, as I had tremendous love and support from other members of my tribe.
I have no regrets, however. The proverb that I had dismissed as unrealistic, has now become my way of life and has further developed my character. It has never been easy for me to ask for help, but now that I see my own worth and how I fit into this caring community and that my contributions, no matter how small, are valued, it has become easier.
All of the parents in my new village are any and all of these things for each other and for each other’s children, without judgement or resentment; child minders, social directors, coaches or referees, cooks, counselors, fierce but friendly opponents in any indoor or outdoor game, chauffeurs, life guards, landscapers, teachers, nurses, movers, handymen, chaperones, protectors, defenders and best of all, true and trustworthy friends.
Two more factors contribute greatly to the well-being of children and the success and stability of the society. Firstly, all forms of corporal punishment have been outlawed since 2015. In fact, just slapping your child, can get you arrested and charged with assault. Secondly, married couples tend to stay together. While divorce is certainly on the rise, Ireland still has one of the lowest rates of divorce in Europe and the world. One of the biggest reasons for divorce in America is financial troubles, which often begin with the birth of a child.
Americans, close your eyes for a moment, and think about NOT having to worry about how you are going to pay for your child’s college. Imagine also, that your child has been diagnosed with a serious illness, and you DON’T have to think about selling your house and losing everything you’ve ever worked for, to pay exorbitant medical bills. To me, these are the worries that keep parents up at night and keep them from experiencing the full enjoyment of love, marriage and bringing a child into this world. Tuition all the way through University and most Healthcare in Ireland is free or subsidized.
One of the things I am most proud of, is Ari’s ability to make friends easily, and I benefit greatly, by inheriting all of their parents as my friends! Sitting for hours on park benches at the playground, I would often find myself in the company of European and African women, and like a sponge, I soaked up all of their wisdom and advice. One woman in particular, a Czech woman named Blanka, who’s son Max befriended Ari on the playground, really took us under her wing and cared for Ari and I like family.
"I wandered lonely as a cloud That floats on high o'er vales and hills When all at once I saw a crowd A host of golden daffodils Beside the lake beneath the trees Fluttering and dancing in the breeze." ~ William Wordsworth
At the time we met, Covid restrictions in Ireland were the strictest in all of Europe, but that didn’t stop Blanka from showing us all there was to see in our new home, all that we were permitted to see, at least. She would pick us up in her tiny blue Sǩoda, and whoosh us off to nearby beaches, forests and neighboring cities along Cork Harbour like Cobh, Rostellan and Aghada.
When restrictions began to ease and the boys were finally back in school, she invited me over to her house for a rare, uninterrupted visit. After making our tea, she set up an ironing board in her kitchen and then politely excused herself, stepping outside through a sliding glass door into her rear garden. Moments later, she returned with a basket of clothes, fresh off of the clothesline and asked if I would mind, if she did some ironing. She laughed, and didn’t believe me when I told her, that it had been decades since I had seen anyone iron and longer still, since I’d seen anyone hanging clothes outside to dry!
While I sat drinking my tea and telling her my crazy stories, I watched with astonished eyes, the amount of care and effort she put into this basket of clean clothes. Each fluff and gentle fold, every t-shirt and towel, every perfect crease with the iron, an expression of Blanka’s love for her partner and child. I mean, the woman ironed their underwear!
As someone who built their reputation and entire career pouring their heart and soul into food, I understood perfectly the alchemy taking place. In the early days of owning Tastebuds, I remember looking at a health inspector like he was crazy, for telling me I had to wear disposable gloves when I tore lettuce and plunged the leaves into ice cold water. I was hurt by this revelation, and I asked bewilderedly, “But…but how? How then, will my love get into the salads?”
I nearly cried watching Blanka, remembering suddenly, the creases in the waxed paper that my mother so meticulously wrapped my sisters and brother’s ham and cheese or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with before placing them into our school lunch boxes. Was this an act of love? I felt ashamed. What else had I missed?
I felt bad just sitting there, letting Blanka wait on me, on top of everything else she had to do. ‘It’s no bother!’ ‘No worries!’ and “You’re grand!’ are the phrases you hear most in Ireland and she said all of these, when I offered to help!
She moved fluidly from task to task with joy in her heart, making everything seem effortless, motivated by the love she felt for her family! It took me back to a simpler time during my childhood and I remembered practicing piano in the dining room , while my mom ironed, or sat sewing or folding clothes, all the while cooking and cleaning as she went, yet still hearing every note I played or every mistake I made, and coming to my aid.
Flash backs ensued; Sitting at the dining room table, my mother teaching me calligraphy or in the garden, patiently showing me how to plant and water seeds and the difference between potting soil and top soil. Of her standing for an eternity at the stove, slowly stirring simmering chocolate pudding, knowing full well that she could’ve bought instant, and then pouring it into small ornate glass goblets for my sister, brother and me to enjoy. The care she would take, plopping us up onto the counter to inspect a scraped knee or bee sting before cleaning it, blowing on it and gently applying a bandaid, making it all better.
It was better, before her life became an impossibly difficult juggling act with a few more kids, a part time job, and a husband who worked very long hours during the week and pursued his MBA on weekends. My mother’s hands were always full or busy. It seems so petty now, that I wanted affection and all of her attention when there were so many of us and so much to be done.
Blanka has not only helped me to be a better, more patient and understanding mother, but she has taught me how to be a good friend and perhaps, a more understanding daughter. If I am ever to find a husband, she has taught me loads about being a loyal and loving wife, through thick and thin, as well! Although, all I am really looking for, is someone who’ll dry the dishes while I wash! That’s my dream of love!
We spent a lot of time at our dining room table growing up, mostly doing homework, so naturally I just stared out the window quite a bit. Often, I’d see our elderly neighbors, Bill and Ginny Plotz, coming and going from their kitchen sink, cooking or cleaning up dinner. They were always in good spirits, Bill sometimes kissing Ginny on the back of her neck while she washed the dishes and he dried, both of them blushing. I always attributed that to their long lasting love and enjoyment of each other. As I got older, I realized there had been others in that love affair, Justini and Brooks (J&B) and other choice Scotch whiskies, helping to stoke that fire!
Everyone has there must-haves when house hunting, I had three; a gas cooker, a full size bathtub, and a window over the kitchen sink. With my passion for cooking stronger than ever, and my recent attempts at baking, I spend a great deal of time washing dishes, which luckily I enjoy. But if I have a beautiful view, I could do dishes all day. The sound and feel of the water calm me, and I just love the feeling of satisfaction I get from doing a task with a definitive end, of which, there are not many!
The best view though, is out the front windows, where Ari can be seen with his mates, playing basketball, soccer and hurling or cruising around on their scooters, bikes and skateboards all hours of the day and late into the night in summer. It’s not always pretty! Sometimes he loses his temper, or is involved in a fight, challenging my nerves and patience! Luckily I have a wise and wonderful neighbor, Aziza, who has taught me so many things, most importantly, she has taught me to stay out of it and let the lads learn for themselves how to resolve their own conflicts and issues.
This was not the advice I had expected from a woman who hates seeing Ari and I suffer, riding our bikes in the wind and rain to school, resolving our own issue of not owning a car! Even when the sun is shining, this kind and compassionate woman offers to give Ari a lift to school. Again “It’s no bother! No worries! I’m going there anyway! You’re grand!”
One of our favorite days so far, Aziza invited us along with her to a community garden, shortly after meeting us, long before we were neighbors, and she wasn’t shy about putting us to work! I was new to Ireland and was wearing cowboy boots… In November… Which I still laugh about! I raked and weeded till my toes turned numb, which wasn’t long! Ari fed chickens, carried bricks to where they were needed and emptied baskets of weeds into compost bins, with an eagerness and willingness to work hard, that I had never seen before! It had been so long since I had worked with a passionate crew towards a common goal. It was just what I needed and while I didn’t feel I did enough to deserve it, Aziza insisted I share in the harvest.
I learned that day, that community isn’t something you go out and find, it’s something you are welcomed into, if you roll up your sleeves, do your part and aren’t afraid to get a little dirty. Although, with Aziza, there are exceptions too. Like that time she welcomed a group of strangers into our community, greeting them with a tray of biscuits and mint Moroccan tea, simply because they were members of my family that had traveled here to visit me from the United States!
I refer to the many women I have met here as ‘The Not So Desperate Housewives of Midleton County Cork,’ but they are professional women, most of them, that have a level of support unequaled in America, and I will talk more about that in my next newsletter. I listen to them at the playground, sharing funny stories, usually self-deprecating or something naughty their child did, sharing recipes and tips on where to find the cheapest prices on ingredients or discussing books they read for pleasure, as opposed the ones I read for research or self-help! They seldom complain about their husbands, and if they do, it is quickly followed up with a word about how much they love them and wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world.
I find myself getting jealous at times, wishing secretly that I had not been endowed with the grand notions of making it big and saving the world, as I feel is expected of me for one reason or another! To live without that pressure, would be extraordinary I think, but it’s too late for me. Aye… but, It’s no bother! No worries! I’m grand!
The sale of my house in Tremont afforded me my home here in Midleton and allowed me to take roughly three years off from working professionally. When I think of all of the hard work I put in, during my 20’s and 30’s, I am thrilled that it bought me time. Time to reflect and write, and rest on my laurels, briefly, but certainly during the most critical and joyful time in Ari’s childhood. It is such a blessing, to be free to enjoy motherhood without having to juggle much else. I’ve been able to ease into my new life, really seeing not only the beautiful nature of Ireland, but of its people too, which makes me an unexpected student of the world, because so much of it is represented here in Midleton, but I fear this is fleeting.
I know the money’s gonna run out soon, and I’ll have to return to a commercial kitchen. Trade in my flip flops and garden wellies for a pair of chef clogs, dust off my Single Mom/Super Woman cape, and enroll Ari in after school care. I’ll begin paying people to do all of these domestic chores I’ve come to enjoy and there will be less and less time spent with these women I admire, who have taught me so much.
I will once again amaze and impress the world with my ability to make it all look so easy and fun. What they won’t see is the anguish and anxiety. The old familiar aches and pains, both physical and mental, will return and I’ll be looking to relieve them once again with medicine or merlot.
But if I could, if I only could stay like this a little while longer. I know you’ve already heard me say, that I find it uproariously funny that I spent my whole life, including 9 months of pregnancy, unable to picture myself as a mother and feeling sorry for those who were! And now, I shutter at the thought that I almost missed it. But now and even worse, I find myself longing, desperately longing to be a Housewife!
I’d always wanted more. More for me, my mom, my sisters. In America, more is the goal of every endeavor, because our country has been selling that dream for hundreds of years. Fortunes, dreams and stars are all Made in America! And…It’s true! You can have it all and I pretty much did have it all! The question is, “does having it all make you happy?” The answer I have found is, “Fuuuuuuuuuck no!”
Years ago, in 2006 actually, I watched a documentary about Bob Dylan, called No Direction Home (Martin Scorsese. AMERICAN MASTERS series Ep: NO DIRECTION HOME: BOB DYLAN. UK/USA/Japan, 2005.) in which, he revealed his creative process. Immediately after the program ended, I jumped up, turned off the TV, grabbed a pen and wrote the first thing that came into my head, using his method. I ended up with a poem called Barefoot and Pregnant!
An instant believer that this creative process would help other artists and musicians, I shared it with friends and family and also shared the poem I wrote. Everyone had the same reaction to it. They’d step back, look at me with their head cocked and pouty lips, like they were looking at a cute little puppy and they’d say, “Awe, you want babies!”
I would reply defensively, “No, no! That’s just what came out of this experiment, it has nothing to do with me! That’s what makes it so interesting and great! It just came to me, out of nowhere! No, no I don’t want babies! God no!”
I am not sharing this poem because I think it’s any good, I’m sharing it because I now know the power of the pen, when the subconscious mind moves it! Clearly, I was lying to myself and everyone else, when I said I didn’t want a husband or children!
Barefoot and Pregnant
Did the title make you smile?
Middle of the night, in the light
Of the refrigerator door
Out of the container
Vanilla, Chocolate or Butter Pecan?
It’s gettin late daddy
When you comin’ home?
This power suit no longer suits me
Tie me to the stove.
Your supper’s waitin’
As you’re navigatin’
All those godforsaken orange barrels.
Is road rage
Still the rage?
The fight still unfair,
The world beyond repair?
Us? What can we do, with our feet so bare?
We just lie here, hand in hand
Watching the clouds for shapes to appear,
Making castles of sand,
Free from fear.
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Onto the Food…
There is a smell that always carries me back to the 70’s, to my Great Aunt Etta Mahoney’s house, where my mom’s huge family (her two sisters, six brothers and all their spouses and children) would gather to celebrate the holidays. It is the combination of slow roasted beef, percolated Folgers coffee and Palmolive dish soap that make me nostalgic for a simpler and much safer time.
After these feasts of mostly meat and potatoes, followed by cake and coffee, my mom and her sisters would catch up with each other, sharing stories, secrets and gossip while they washed and dried all the dishes and scrubbed the pots and pans, leaving Etta’s kitchen spotless as she took her well-deserved rest in her lazy boy recliner, watching her favorite TV shows, Matlock and Murder She Wrote! I loved listening to them and hearing what my mom sounded like when she wasn’t yelling! (That’s kind of a joke!)
Here’s a great recipe for leftover prime rib, beef tenderloin or fresh premium roast beef from your favorite deli.
The Recipe for Tastebuds Roast Beef Wrap
Makes Four Wraps
4 Each 12 Inch Flour Tortillas
12 Ounces Quality Roast Beef, shaved or thinly sliced
2 Cups Shredded Lettuce
1 Small Red Onion Thinly Sliced
Crumbled Blue Cheese to taste (Optional)
1/2 Cup Tiger Sauce or More (Recipe to Follow)
Spread 2-3 tablespoons Tiger Sauce horizontally in the lower middle of tortilla, keeping clear of the edges. Layer the sauce with 1/2 cup shredded lettuce, 3 or 4 slices of roast beef, and several red onion rings. Sprinkle blue cheese to taste, if using.
Fold two opposite edges of tortilla toward center over filling. Roll up open end of tortilla toward opposite edge. Repeat with remaining ingredients.
Tiger Sauce Recipe
1/4 Cup Prepared Horseradish
1/4 Cup Mayonnaise (Hellmann’s is Best)
1/4 Cup Sour Cream
2 Dashes Worcestershire Sauce (Lea & Perrin’s is Best)
1 or 2 Drops Tabasco Sauce (Optional)
Combine all ingredients in bowl, mix well. Refrigerate and use within one week.
Thank You For Being Here With Me Again!
I mentioned earlier, how much I enjoy washing dishes and I have a tip that might just get you doing the same! I almost always have a square of Dove Dark Chocolate melting on my tongue while I’m doing them. I’ve been doing it so long, I can’t remember how it started, and it wasn’t always Dove. There were Lindt or Godiva Truffles, or Lilly’s Handmade Chocolates conveniently located at the end of my street in Tremont. Try it for yourself the next time you are faced with doing something tedious or tiresome, it’ll change your life!
Starting February, only paid subscribers will have full access to both my stories and my recipes enabling me to share my highly sought after and most guarded recipe, Tastebuds Signature Greek Pasta, which is set to launch just in time for Valentine’s day! In addition to chocolates and flowers, why not give the gift of my newsletter to that special someone? You would also be supporting me in my attempt to make it big and save the world! How sweet is that?
I Wish You All a Very Happy New Year and Thank You Again for all of Your Generous Support and Kindness!