Despite the fact that it was frigid cold, we had fun walking around Old Town Alexandria, Va., and even caught part of the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade (a wee bit early, yes!).
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It’s been almost a year since I was in Ireland, drinking my fill of Guinness (or Smithwick’s — I’m not serious enough for straight Guinness, despite my cupcakes) and thinking I blended amongst the locals eating out in Dublin. Though I was, of course, an American tourist, I wasn’t prancing around with a neon pink fanny pack and white tennis shoes, barking at people to serve me “A-mer-i-can food, dammit!” and generally setting international relations back a few centuries.
Not that I recall, anyway. (So much Smithwick’s.)
(Okay, not really — I’m not a drinker — but everyone is a drinker in Ireland. Even my mother, plied repeatedly with Irish coffee.)
I’ll just come out and admit it: I can be a bit smug when I travel. I try to never be “the ugly American,” offering courteous smiles to everyone I meet and never stiffing the locals on tips. On our trip to Italy years back, our tour director said something that has stayed with me: “We are all international ambassadors.” Meaning, you have an unpleasant interaction with an American. You think they’re rude. Though it’s not necessarily fair, our minds may make a leap: this American woman was rude. Americans can be rude. All Americans are rude. And so on.
I try never to be rude. To blend, if you will, and this doesn’t just apply to international travel. When asked by a clerk if I was “from Texas?” while shopping in Los Angeles years ago, I just cocked an eyebrow and laughed. If she thinks my Southern accent is strong and Texas-like, she’s obviously never met a real Texan. (Or a real Southerner, ’cause my twang ain’t go nothing on the accents of my North Carolina relatives. I’m sort of jealous, really; I’ve just got the Eastern Seaboard thing goin’ on. Though I do use “y’all” with reckless abandon.)
So anyway. In Dublin. I’m trying to blend and not be rude and be a courteous American when I walk into a pub with my family. I’m trying to not scream “TOURIST! TOURIST OVER HERE!” and just enjoy a casual evening in Ireland. Before we’d uttered a word — before we’d even greeted a soul in the place — a cute young waiter approached, passing out menus. “Evenin’,” he said with a smile. “Americans, eh?”
HOW DID HE KNOW?
I was flabbergasted. I didn’t think I had a “tell.” Is it my purple jacket? My jaunty swagger? The way I “style” (term used loosely) my hair? My liberal eye contact?
Grabbing hold of our good ol’ American enthusiasm, my family and I exchanged questioning looks while I laughed, “Yes — what gave it away?”
The server’s crooked smile would have made Edward Cullen jealous. With a gentle but aggravating shrug, he replied, “I just know.”
“But how do you know?” I pressed, suddenly desperate to see what set us apart. “The way we walked in the pub?”
We hadn’t known where to sit, of course. Not locals.
“I just know,” he repeated, and then I dropped the matter. Mostly because I was starving and we were soon going to be served this:
(And yes, we ordered burgers and fries in Ireland. How cliche.
But I tried haggis in Scotland, so sue me.)
Then I forgot about cultural identities and international relations and politeness and fanny packs (or lack thereof).
Om nom nom nom.
Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day (or a little early, but hey — I’m proactive), I present to you the most praised cupcakes I’ve ever made. You might think I’m exaggerating, but I can promise these are winners — and I’m feeling quite smug after getting endless compliments on these babies at work this week.
They’re Dark Chocolate Guinness Cupcakes with a Bailey’s buttercream frosting, friends, and they’re just as rich, decadent and lush as you would imagine. Fascinated by Ireland since our visit there last spring, my interest was piqued when I first caught a glimpse of this recipe — though I’m really more of a Smithwick’s girl. Regardless, these treats are outstanding — and yes, you can taste both the Guinness and Bailey’s . . . but you won’t get sloppy afterward. At least, no one in the office did.
This recipe originally came from Sasha, the culinary mastermind over at Global Table Adventure. Her recipe is for one awesome cake, but I’m a cupcake fiend. So I present to you this rendition in all its stouty glory. Don’t skimp on the icing, either; it’ll have you licking the bowl.
1 1/2 sticks butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 cup Guinness Extra Stout
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
For the Bailey’s buttercream:
3 sticks unsalted butter, softened
3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2-4 tbsp Bailey’s, as needed
Preheat oven to 350F. In a small saucepan, melt butter and whisk together with Guinness, vanilla extract and cocoa. Remove from heat.
While Guinness mixture is cooling, add cupcake liners to pan. Whisk together dry ingredients (sugar, flour, baking soda). Pour Guinness mixture onto the dry ingredients, then whisk in the 2 eggs. When the batter is shiny and smooth, pour evenly into cupcake liners.
Bake for 16-18 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
As cupcakes cool, make the buttercream by whipping together the softened butter and sugar, then adding in just enough Bailey’s to get it loose and fluffy. (About 3 tablespoons.)
When cupcakes are done, cool completely. Frost as desired. Yields approximately 18 cupcakes.
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