Thursday, October 9, 2014

#TBT: Making S'mores in Dingle, Ireland--A Cautionary Tale

Right from the beginning of my visit to Dingle, when I discovered a fireplace in my cottage, I had my heart set on making s’mores. We were staying in the Dingle Harbour Cottages, a semi-circle of absolutely delightful little cottages overlooking Dingle Harbour, and I couldn't think of anything better than claiming that cottage as my own by making s’mores.

The view from my window in Dingle

The quest for supplies started off fairly easily. My friends and I found a packet of kindling at a convenience-type local store, because everyone knows you can’t make s’mores without FIRE!

[*Sidenote, I feel I should disclose at this point in time that I’m a bit of a pyro, so some of my stories have a tendency to either begin or end with flames…anyway….]

After we secured the kindling, it was time to move on to find the Big Three: Graham crackers, Hershey’s chocolate bars, and marshmallows. How hard could that be?

Very hard, apparently. My friend Sasha* and I stopped at a larger, chain-type grocery store to start our quest (I think it was a TruValue, but I could be wrong). I thought at a larger store there would be a better chance of getting all of our supplies in one place, as opposed to going to some of the smaller local markets. Our first stop? The biscuit aisle to find our graham crackers.

Right from the start, standing in the biscuit aisle and staring at a few dozen or so different varieties of biscuits and crackers without seeing one resembling a graham cracker, I began to worry that this mission had gone awry already.

Sasha and I must have looked puzzled as we were standing there because a very friendly teenage stock-boy in a white shirt and red apron made his way over to us.

“Can I help you with something?” he asked us in a thick western Irish accent.

“Yes,” I said, glad of the help, “we’re looking for graham crackers.”

“Graham crackers,” the boy said, turning the words over as if they were part of a new phrase in a foreign language, and more of a question than a statement.

“You know,” I said, trying to conjure up some universal phrase that would make him instantly know what I was referring to, “like, to make s’mores?” Surely, I thought, everyone must know what s’mores are, right? I looked at Sasha to help me give a better description, but she just shrugged. I mean, how do you describe a graham cracker? It’s a graham cracker…that’s the description!

The boy looked at the selection of biscuits and crackers as if in pain, trying to come up with something for these two American girls jabbering on about graham crackers and s’mores. Finally he bent down and picked up a box of what I can only describe as a cross between a Triscuit and a Wheat Thin, “We have these,” he said, holding them out to me.

I took the box from him, “I guess this’ll do,” I said to Sasha. She shrugged again and we thanked the stock-boy for his trouble, and went in search of the next two ingredients. Sure, we struck out on the graham crackers, but we’d surely get the Hershey’s and the marshmallows.

Well, they don’t have “Hershey’s” chocolate in Ireland (or at least in our particular TruValue). This puzzled me, and continues to puzzle me to this day—I’d always thought Hershey’s was a world-wide brand. Call it American entitlement, assuming some product would just be there when we wanted it. It was a good lesson to learn and one that made me slightly embarrassed. So instead of Hershey’s we ended up picking a thick, chocolate block-type bar like a Dove Bar. Our last stop was scouring the store for the marshmallows.

I guess the Irish aren't as crazy about Rice Krispy Treats as we Americans are, because there were no marshmallows in the baking aisle. Instead, we found a packet of pink and white ones in the candy section. Apparently they’re eaten more as a treat than as a baking ingredient. Where Americans have Peeps, the Irish have plain pink and white marshmallows. But I mean, they’d do, right?

And so Sasha and I headed back to our cottage, with our Triscuit/Wheat Thin graham cracker substitutes, our non-Hershey’s chocolate, and our pink candy marshmallows. While we’d had to substitute nearly everything on our list, I was still confident we’d make the best of our s’mores. The rain had stopped and it was turning out to be a beautiful Irish day. I couldn't wait to get through dinner and make the s’mores! I should have known it would not all go as planned…

Our dinner didn't exactly go as expected, starting off with the fact that when Sasha and I got home, our friend and classmate/housemate Christine, told us she’d invited a few extra guests. So now, instead of having five people at dinner, we were having ten or more.
Okay, okay, so maybe not everyone would get a s’more.

Secondly, Sasha and I had grabbed a package of rolls on our shopping trip earlier, but due to the increased number of guests, we needed more. One of the guys, Devon, had asked Christine what he could bring. Christine suggested he bring some rolls—he showed up to dinner with…hot dog buns. Hey, if you cut them in half, stick them in the oven for a few minutes and put some butter on them, they’re not half bad. Note: If you put Irish butter on anything, it will taste better. Guaranteed.

After dinner, we started to assemble around the fireplace. You would think after all the difficulties we’d encountered on this plan I would have been a little apprehensive, but I wasn't.

Devon* using the extra-long branch. Photo courtesy of Sasha*

Initially, starting the fire wasn't as easy as we’d hoped. The kindling was small and a little damp (as is everything in Ireland) and wouldn't light, only letting out a small wisp of flame dissipating into a thin smoke trail. After rummaging through our things we finally found some (dry) papers we weren't using for our school work and sacrificed those to start the fire. As soon as we had a decent flame, the boys went outside to look for sticks to use to roast the marshmallows. One of our guys, Elias, found a branch more akin to a small tree and held it up triumphantly. Devon ended up using one of its branches to roast his marshmallow—the branch was so long he could sit on the couch with it and reach OVER the coffee table into the fire.

Sasha* took this photo of me roasting the
marshmallows.  You can see our "s'more"
in the bottom left corner!

I personally preferred to be closer to the flames and used a fork to roast my marshmallows—which weren't exactly melting like their normal American-style cousins. These Irish marshmallows were tougher and thicker than your average JiffyPuffs and needed a little more coaxing before they succumbed to the heat and not so much melted as became a more gooey-like substance.

When the s’mores were finally assembled they looked…fairly undesirable. The pink marshmallows oozed over the thick block-chocolate (that wasn't melting due to its thickness) and onto the Triscuit/Wheat Thin crackers. Surely they tasted better than they looked, right?

“These are the most disgusting things I've ever had,” remarked Jason with a mouthful of Irish S’more. The pinkness of the marshmallows was quite unappealing and the thickness of the un-melting chocolate made the s’mores kind of hard to chew. Plus, the crackers we were using gave a wheaty/healthy taste to the whole thing, and a s’more shouldn't taste healthy! Still, quite a few of us tried them, each giving the s’more a shrug of polite indifference.
After declaring the Irish s’mores a general failure, we took the rest of the kindling outside and for some reason, set it on fire. We threw some more sacrificial papers and an empty box on the flames and soon had a pretty good size fire going. We must have stood around that fire for a long time, laughing and wondering vaguely if we were going to get in trouble for, you know, starting a fire in a foreign country outside our lodgings. But more than that, standing around that fire, watching the flames play off everyone’s faces, being crazy and fun and young, was one of those things you just can’t plan, things like that just happen.

And so I guess that brings me to my whole point. All I’d planned to do that night was make s’mores, but what I ended up doing was creating a mini-adventure, learning about another culture, and making a lot of memories for quite a few people along the way. In the end, it didn't matter that the s’more were less than appetizing, what mattered was the memories. And man, they are good ones! So, be warned, not all American campfire snacks translate into other cultures!

The aftermath of the fire!

*I changed the names, just in case some people don’t want to be identified!

Thanks so much for reading, I hope you enjoyed it!!!

Up Next: Check back next Thursday for a new TBT!!!

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