Adventures in babysitting

Last night I babysat for a couple Eoin knows through his job here. Let me put this out there before I go any further: I’m not a huge baby person. I find some of them cute and some of them fugly. I don’t subscribe to the idea that they’re all amazing but my charge for the night, little Hannah, who I think is around one (she looks about the same age as Kendra Wilkinson’s baby, E! fans) was just adorbs.

Like many Irish girls, I babysat almost every weekend from about the age of 14-17.  But since then, and coupled with the fact that I have no siblings, I haven’t really been within spitting distance of a baby. None of my friends have them, I’m not (and never will be) an aunt and I’m definitely not anybody’s godmother. So I was a little nervous, especially when people on Twitter started talking about nappies. I had kinda forgotten babies piss themselves – and worse – a few times a day. Gross.

Because Hannah’s parents were going to a football game (go Cardinals!) I had to feed her, change her and put her to bed. And make sure she didn’t fall out any windows etc. It sounds easy, but for a novice like me it didn’t all run smoothly (through no fault of Hannah’s, I might add). For starters, she did this – I think I’m going to hurl – thing in her nappy. I’ve never seen anything like it. I retched but then put myself in her booties and just got on with the job of cleaning up her little arse. She lay there innocently eating a sock the whole time, acting like poopsplosion isn’t even in her vocabulary.

After putting on her nappy backwards (my life is so like a Hugh Grant film sometimes) I decided now was the best time to put on her little bedtime onesie. As a proud onesie owner myself, I didn’t think this would pose too much of a problem. But it really did. My onesie has a zip and is quite baggy but Hannah’s had buttons and was a snug fit. It took me ages to wrestle her into it. On my third attempt (I had her on my knee) it worked. She must have thought I was retarded.

After some more playtime (reading books, eating pens etc) she started showing signs of tiredness. Let me tell you, babies should work on being less obvious. She was rubbing her eyes and everything. So I gave her a nice warm bottle and then scooped her up and put her in her cot. After turning on her musical mobile yoke, and giving her her soother, I left her lying there happily. Not a peep out of her for the rest of the night. Very good baby.

And then I got to play with Lionel, the family pug, until Hannah’s parents came home. Couldn’t you just eat him?


I ♥ Sedona

It’s true! I even bought one of those badges to prove it.

Background info: Sedona is a picturesque town in northern Arizona, set in about 300 acres of spectacular National Park. It’s famed for its amazing red rock sandstone formations and Native Americans used to live there back in the day. It’s one of those places that you apparently have to visit if you’re in Phoenix, especially if you’re into all that spiritual mumbo jumbo. Since Eoin had Friday off (another reason to love Thanksgiving) we decided to head up in that direction for a little cheap ‘n’ cheerful mini break.

Day 1: Phoenix to Cottonwood

After a slightly late start, we hit the road at 10am on Friday. Because accommodation in that area is mega-expensive, and we’re on a budget, we decided to stay in a place called Cottonwood, about 15 minutes this side of Sedona. Cottonwood. Who wouldn’t want to check out such a cute-sounding town?

So off we went, with the intention of stopping somewhere en route for brunch. (Sidenote: travelling in America is a breeze thanks to the amazing infrastructure and interstate freeways. However, if you want to stop for food your choices are pretty much limited to McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Denny’s and all the usual fast food suspects.) After about an hour and a half we spotted a sign for Byler’s Amish Kitchen in a place called Black Canyon City. Now I don’t know about you, but I’m really interested in the Amish, so we decided to take a short detour in the name of fodder and general nosiness.

Byler’s, a quaint and slightly tatty little diner, was jammers so while we waited for a table I read up on the family. Unfortunately (for me) the brothers who own the restaurant left the Amish years ago but apparently still like to stick to some of the traditions. The place was full of locals and the fare was all home-cooked and rustic. Oh and the pies! They looked divine.

I ordered fried fish in a bun with sweet potato fries and Eoin went for the “country special”, which seemed to be an open beef sandwich with mashed potatoes drenched in gravy. Look see!

Unfortunately I didn’t have room for dessert after all that, as much as I wanted a slice of pecan pie, so we got back on the road. At this point we were only about 40 minutes from Cottonwood, so we decided to check out Montezuma Castle on the way.

Background info: Montezuma Castle is a really well-preserved cliff dwelling where members of the Singua tribe lived in the 12th Century (thanks Wikipedia). It’s basically a house built into a cliff face, that would have been home to around 50 people when it was inhabited. Unfortunately the house itself has been closed to the public since the 1950s but it was cool to see it from the outside. Also, since Native Americans had a bit of cop on, it was built above a lovely river (called Beaver Creek – ha!) in a really scenic little spot. I had forgotten how nice it is to walk around under trees and see non deserty vegetation. The grounds were very pretty and autumnal, most un-Arizonalike.

See? Deciduous trees! Leaves! Shade! Montezuma Castle has it all going on. Now here’s a shot of the castle itself (below). Less a castle and more a gaff, I’d call it. It’s five stories tall though and has around 20 rooms. I like what they’ve done with the place, don’t you?

After hanging around for about an hour, we set off towards Cottonwood. As I mentioned earlier, we’re on a budget so we booked a motel for the night. Staying in a motel was on my list of Things I Want To Do In America and it didn’t disappoint, although I won’t be repeating the experience any time soon. Why? Well, for a start it was freezing. (I should mention that Cottonwood, Sedona et al are at a much higher elevation than Phoenix which is in the Sun Valley.) Freezing room aside, it also stank a bit and the walls were like paper. Still, it was only for one night and I’m glad I did it.

After checking in, and getting changed, we went off to find a bar in which to have a little pre-dinner tipple. We found one, called Kactus Kate’s, which looked exactly like Moe’s Tavern from the outside – and was fairly identical on the inside too. Not very cosy and needless to say there was no fire to side beside (I know, I know, that’s an Irish thing). Still, the pitchers of beer were an affordable $6 so one mustn’t complain. Isn’t Cottonwood cute?

Over our beers we decided to have dinner in a Mexican place called Concho’s which came highly recommended (well, had 16 reviews) on Off we went into the night, shivering away, but when we found it at 7.30pm it was closed with a sign outside that said  food finished at 8pm. At this point we were freezing over, and marvin’, so we legged it down the street to a place called The Tavern Grille, which looked damn cosy. Weirdly though, the sign outside said it closed at 9pm. I started to realise that Cottonwood was not a happenin’ town and after a cheesy and delicious broccoli alfredo, and a massive eclair, I was all tucked up and asleep by 10pm. Aw.

Day 2: Cottonwood to Sedona

Unable to wash the smell of cheap motel out of my hair, we left for Sedona at about 10am on Saturday. We got there within 30 minutes and after a quick wander around town found a cute place to get a massive pre-hike breakfast. The town itself was jammers with tourists and is quaint and adorable. The red rocks provide a pretty nice backdrop too, don’cha think?

After stopping at the tourist office to get a Red Rock Park pass and some maps, we decided to drive right up into the mountains before we got to grips with finding a hiking trail. As we climbed up it got colder and colder and by the time we got to Oak Creek Vista, at about 7,000 feet, we had found little bits of snow. The view was amazing, completely different to the red rock we had been seeing all morning. From here it was all about evergreen trees and it went on for miles.

A short drive down the mountain later we were at Cathedral Rock, the starting point for a hike Eoin had chosen. Being a boy, he’d gone for a “strenuous” one (not “easy” or “moderate”) despite the fact that neither of us is even slightly outdoorsy. So instead of a long, leisurely walk, which I would have enjoyed, he decided to squeeze any pleasure out of it and we basically climbed up a big red rock on our hands and knees. It was hell. THANKS, EOIN. Below is Cathedral Rock, and we got to the big flat green part about half way up. No easy feat.

The view from there was nice, I SUPPOSE.

After sliding back down on my arse (it was the safest way, trust me) it was my turn to choose a hike. I went for an “easy” one that, according to the map, was about one mile long. The perfect distance. Unfortunately, we took a wrong turn and ended up walking for five miles through, in my opinion, rough terrain. Thanks to a pair of punishing Converse my feet have been reduced to bloody stumps.

This is where we went wrong. Turning right was a bad idea. D’oh.

But we got back to the car well before the sun went down so it’s all good. And that concludes my trip to Sedona. Horrific mountain climb aside, I loved it. It’s not every day  you get to experience this kind of landscape, is it? Bring on the next place.

My first Thanksgiving

As someone who has watched more than her fair share of Friends, I was pretty excited about Thanksgiving. The day started with a lovely lie-in and a concentrated effort not to eat. The reason? Well, it’s tradition to absolutely stuff yourself and I read somewhere that the average Thanksgiving dinner plate contains over 3,000 calories. Holy heart attack, Batman!

We had a reservation for 3.30pm in a restaurant about 20 minutes away and some people Eoin knows were kind enough to give us a lift. When we arrived, the car park was jammed. My first thought was, Why aren’t these people at home cooking turkeys and making sweet potato pie? Has Friends been lying to me all these years? It turns out that, in this particular restaurant anyway, you can order a whole turkey with all the fixin’s and basically just carve it at your table. Hey presto, full Thanksgiving dinner, complete with doggy bags, and no washing up. These people are clever, I decided.

As you can see from the above picture, our table had a really pretty view of the whole valley. That collection of tall buildings to the left is Phoenix and as usual, it was a gorgeous cloudless day.

Since it was a holiday, the restaurant had a special Thanksgiving menu. I don’t eat meat, so I ordered grilled salmon with all the trimmings. Sorry, fixin’s. Everyone else pretty much went for either the turkey or ham. How festive!

Now, the food. The first thing to arrive at our table was some bread. But as this is America, is wasn’t your ordinary, common or garden bread, it was a kind of doughnut. Tasty!

To accompany this doughy delight, we were given some butter. On closer inspection we discovered the white one was garlic flavoured and the brownish one was laced with cinnamon. Americans are obsessed with cinnamon. And peanut butter. Obsessed.

And now, for the main event. Behold, my very first Thanksgiving dinner…

Doesn’t it look delicious? It was. Clockwise from front: there’s my lovely grilled salmon. Over here, grilled means barbecued and broiled means grilled. Get used to it. Then we have the stuffing. It was so good! Sage and onion, which is my fave. Beside that is some divine mashed potatoes. Very light and fluffy with just a hint of garlic. That orange stuff there is candied yams. Yams are sweet potatoes and I think they were baked with brown sugar and yes, you’ve guessed it, cinnamon. And finally, a humble piece of corn on the cob. Oh yes, and there was gravy too, which, as the worst non-meat-eater in the world, I thoroughly enjoyed.

And here’s the full turkey dinner. Pretty much the same, really…

After clearing my plate (and having seconds of stuffing, if I’m being honest) it was time for dessert. I ordered traditional pumpkin pie. Well, you have to, don’t you? It was topped with sweet cream and yummy. Very cinnamony. Quelle supris, wha’?

And that, in pictures, was my first Thanksgiving. Afterwards I went home, put on my onesie and watched movies. Can’t wait to do it all again next year!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today, I eat.

Since it’s my first Thanksgiving in America I really wanted to cook a turkey with all the fixin’s and have loads of people over to enjoy it. But the universe has conspired against me once again as (a) I don’t eat meat and (b) we don’t really know anyone here yet. So, we’re going out for dinner with some Irish folks Eoin knows who just arrived here yesterday. I intend to try all the sides (candied yams!) and desserts (pumpkin pie!) my body will allow.

So happy Thanksgiving, wherever you are.

The Food Network and me

I’ve been in America three weeks and one day now and I think it’s safe to say my favourite thing about living here so far is The Food Network. I didn’t have hundreds of channels back home so I don’t know if there’s a UK/Ireland equivalent, but there blimmin’ well should be.

I could watch cookery shows all day. When I’m hungover (let’s round that up to every Sunday) Channel 4’s Come Dine With Me used to be my only source of comfort. The concept is simple: five strangers, who consider themselves excellent cooks, each host their idea of the perfect three-course dinner party. Afterwards they’re rated by their guests. It doesn’t sound that amazing, but it’s the televisual equivalent of a cuddle, believe me.

Since there’s no CDWM over here (although I have found a way to watch it online), I’ve been turning to The Food Network for all my cookery porn needs. Let me tell you it doesn’t disappoint. Right now, Thanksgiving is a mere two days away so the number of turkeys I watch being cooked on an hourly basis has reached the hundreds. I’m actually pretty confident I could lay on an amazing Thanksgiving feast at this point, if I had important things like a vegetable peeler.

The following are the four shows I’ve been watching most on The Food Network, although that’s not to say I enjoy them all.

Paula’s Best Dishes

This is Paula Deen, y’all (I’m not taking the piss, that’s how she talks. You’ll have to get used to it if you want to watch The Food Network.) Paula, it seems, is an American institution. She’s your typical Southern belle; a proud momma, she cooks stuff like corn bread and she’s having a very intimate love affair with lard. Paula makes no apologies for the amount of butter she puts in her food. One time, I’m not sure what she was cooking, a salad probably, she said the recipe called for one stick of butter but she always likes to add two. That’s right, she loves to double her butter. As an outsider looking in, I have no idea how people can eat the food she cooks. Slabs of butter aside, she uses cans of soup as ingredients. How can I explain? Okay, one day she was making a leftover turkey pot pie (see the Thanksgiving theme?) and to her chopped turkey and veggies she added TWO cans of condensed chicken soup and TWO cans of cream of cheddar soup, whatever the hell that is. It looked like vomit. I’m still not sure how I feel about Paula, but I’m ready to wave her goodbye because the woman is going to have a heart attack live on TV one of these days.

Giada’s Everyday Italian

Now this pretty little thing is Giada de Laurentiis. Isn’t she gorgeous? As you probably guessed from her name and tomato shower above, Giada is Italian. If you weren’t entirely sure before watching her show, she says Italian words in a VERY pronounced Italian accent (eg pancetta becomes pan-chay-tah and bolognese is bol-o-nee-yays-eh) just to make sure we don’t forget where she comes from. Giada’s show is okay, and she knows what she’s doing in the kitchen, but I find it hard to believe she eats anything. I like my chefs to look like they enjoy their food, ya know? Like Nigella. Still, her recipes seem okay and unlikely to result in an on-the-spot coronary like Paula’s.

Down Home With The Neelys

I’m not being a bitch okay, but the Neelys are on my hit list. Look at their faces. Everything about them is annoying. I’m sure Pat and Gina are perfectly nice people, but when they come together, and start cooking, my blood pressure rises. Pat (hilarious!) refers to Gina as “the spice fairy” because she puts, I don’t know, pepper on stuff while Gina is forever banging on about her precious flour and sugar pots which are (hold your sides!) in the shape of pigs. The pair of them really grind my gears with their “recipe remixes” too. Dear The Neelys, deep frying potatoes before making a potato salad is not a recipe remix, it’s just a sneaky way to eat fried potatoes. Gah!

Barefoot Contessa

This is Ina Garten and she’s better known as the Barefoot Contessa. It took me a while to figure out exactly why but it turns out she used to own a food store of the same name back in the 70s and she’s actually very famous. I like Ina. Look at here there in her shirt. She seems mumsy, doesn’t she? I’d actually like a hug from her, after sitting down to a seven-course feed first, of course. The dishes she cooks are simple and uncomplicated, and she once made these amazing chocolate truffles that were hard on the outside and soft on the inside. I think that was the day she stole my heart. Adopt me, Ina!

On a related note, does anyone else pretend they’re on a TV show when they cook? Go on, be honest.

Road trippin’

Today Eoin and I went on our very first American road trip. Excitement!

I’ve been reading a blog called PostSecret for years now, and there is an exhibit running until December 12th in the University of Arizona Art Museum, which is in Tucson, about a two-hour drive away. If you’re not familiar with PostSecret, you’re missing out and you should basically remedy that sharpish. The blog was originally a project started in 2004 by a guy called Frank Warren. He gave 3,000 strangers a blank postcard each and asked them to write down a secret they’d never told anyone and send it back to him anonymously. After the original exhibition of postcards (which I think was in Washington) everyone wanted to get in on the act and the blog now has millions of readers and contributers from all over the world. Seriously, check it out. He puts up new secrets every Sunday. Some will make you laugh, some will make you shudder and the odd one will definitely make you cry.

So off we set. It was yet another blindingly beautiful day in Phoenix (shocker!) and the freeway was busy but fast-moving. We drove through miles of desert, saw some amazing cacti and basically spazzed out every time we copped anything “remarkable” like a trailer park or a sheriff’s car or a, um, train. Yes, I, in particular, am easily entertained.

Tucson, I was told, is your quintessential American college town. Like, if the college wasn’t there the place wouldn’t really exist. It’s very pretty: lots of cafes with people sitting outside enjoying the sunshine and what have you. Everyone walks around wearing their U of A T-shirts and there is Wildcats paraphernalia EVERYWHERE. American students are serious about school spirit and supporting their college football team. It’s equal parts adorable and OTT, if you ask me.

I loved the exhibit, which as you can tell from the stunning photo above, was basically God-themed. Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to take pictures inside which means that I was only able to snap one while doing my best Sneakahontas impression. Out of the 300 odd postcards there, I chose the one that I think best sums up my thoughts on the subject. The quality is poor but you have to understand I was engaging in a highly illegal activity at the time. Forgive me, please.

After PostSecret we headed downtown to Johnny Rocket’s (Eddie‘s Stateside cousin?) where I had, without doubt, the most amazing malt that was ever created. Divine. Then we hit the road again, this time heading for Pima Air and Space Museum.

Pima was…cool. There were planes. Like, hundreds of them. My favourites were the Air Force One used by JFK and the one called City of Dublin. Don’t question my criteria.

After wandering around for a good hour, and the obligatory pitstop at the gift shop, it was time to return to the homestead. A fun day.

A trip into downtown Phoenix

Last Tuesday, Eoin and I took our first trip into downtown Phoenix. I’ve decided that Chandler is to Phoenix as Bray is to Dublin: a town (well, city) in its own right but Phoenix  is where the action is. We drove to Tempe, which is another town five minutes down the road, parked the car and bought tickets for the Metro Light Rail. (Note: this train is super-cheap. A one ride ticket (it doesn’t matter how long) is only $1.25. Bargainous. And an all day pass is a mere $3.50. Take that, LUAS. )

Unfortunately our plan for the day was slightly scuppered by an inconsiderate gas leak, which caused us to run 20 minutes late. To ease the trauma, we popped into a cafe place called Tom’s Tavern to chow down before we hit the Arizona Science Centre. And guess what? Our waiter turned out to be a Belmullet man (his words) called Sean, who has been living here for seven years. What are the chances? After we’d finished up, and fended off his offer to buy us pints, we wandered down to the Science Centre which is through a little spot called Heritage Square that I’ll definitely come back to.

The Science Centre was great, if a little, er, geared towards children. The first exhibit we saw is a new one called RACE, which was really interesting. It explored the idea that “race” is not really a thing, and how we look, and the colour of our skin is all down to how close to the equator our ancestors lived. Makes sense, eh? They had some headshots of various different people and I was not surprised to see that most of them were of Irish descent. What can I say? We get around.

After that we had planned to have a snack in the Compass restaurant, which is one of those revolving ones but alas, it was closed. After getting stuck in the elevator for a couple of tense minutes, we wandered around and took in some sights instead. One place I really liked, and definitely want to see properly, is the Orpheum Theatre. There is a tour on the 23rd that I have just put into my calendar.

We then did the obligatory oohing and aahing over all the tall buildings (it’s in the Tourist’s Handbook, okay?) before heading back to the homestead.