Weekending like a Pro….

I’ve been a bit of a lazy blogger of late, mainly because work has been all consuming, but finally the weekend has arrived and I am going to bring you along with me on a very chilled and slightly indulgent Saturday.

But first for the exciting news… Champagne in a Teacup has been shortlisted for the 2017 V by Very Blog Awards Ireland in the Lifestyle category. Can you believe it? This came as a total shock to me – there were close to 150 blogs on the long list for this category, so I genuinely didn’t think my little blog stood much of a chance. But strange things happen and, lo and behold, here we are sitting pretty on the much narrower shortlist. A list that is peppered with some extremely talented content creators, the kind I like to read in bed on a lazy Sunday morning. And it is quite simply a lovely surprise. I suppose it is like a virtual pat on the back and it couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.  What better motivation to ease me out of a little blogging slump? So thank you judges for reading and seeing the positives. You made me smile!!!

V for Very Blog Awards 2017_Judging Round Button_Shortlist (1)

So back to Saturday….

Peeling myself from the bed, I formed a loose plan to just wander into town, do a little shopping, grab some breakfast… you know the drill. But it wasn’t that simple – literally 6 outfits in and there was NOTHING I could possibly wear. 4 different pairs of jeans were strewn on the bed, shoes were being launched like scud missiles across the room in pure frustration and tops that yesterday looked perfectly presentable were being consigned to the charity pile. It was looking like a day in pyjamas spent online shopping for an entire wardrobe was the only option. It was that critical.

Who knows what the root cause of this epic wardrobe malfunction was? I for one have no idea why the mirror just suddenly turned on me today, distorting and destroying any potential “Outfits of the Day” – but turn it did and we are not yet back on speaking terms. Maybe it was just feeling a tad hormonal? The mirror, not the writer. But eventually I bolstered my resilience and refused to crawl back under the duvet defeated. Instead I fought back – with the outfit that no mirror can take down – the bullet-proof vest when under self-image attack! Black jeans, black top, black leather jacket, white Converse. Simple, classic and comfy. “Take that mirror!!!”  I was ready to leave the house.

chucks-1427322_1280

Now of course the outfit theatrics meant I got to town too late for breakfast and too early for lunch. And I was at this point beyond ravenous. So you may be able to imagine the intense effort I had to make not to glare openly at the waitress who offered me a scone…. or nothing!!! “Breakfast is finished, lunch hasn’t started, we have a scone!!!!!” Oh, no, no, no – not happening lady. I did not go through six outfit changes for a bloody scone. So I smiled, and through gritted teeth muttered that I would come back in half an hour. And man am I glad I did, because that was the point when the day took a turn for the better. Lunch was delicious and adds further evidence to my continuous assertion that Athlone is a genuine foodie destination.

The eatery was The Corner House Bistro, and as soon as I was settled at the table, an espresso cup of the soup of the day, curried parsnip, appeared in front of me as a little amuse bouche. It was warming and mildly spiced and given that it was something I would never order, it made me realise I need to be more adventurous with my food choices. For my main I selected a beef taco dish with salsa, guacamole and sour cream. What was served up was literally a full thinly sliced steak (perfectly cooked to slightly the rare side of medium) on a bed of soft tortilla wraps. Everything tasted fresh and delicious, although for those who like their Mexican dishes with a kick, this definitely did not pack that kind of punch. It was nonetheless full of flavour and is something I would order again in a heartbeat.

I was passably dressed, I was no longer hungry, I had sipped a slow glass of Sauvignon Blanc, and my mood was on an upward trajectory. Then something truly wonderful happened. And it came in the form of vanilla creme brulee with heart-shaped shortbread. Like really…..what could be more perfect? Caramelised sugar, vanilla spiked custard, crumbly cookies, fresh berries and a little scoop of ice-cream. Yum!!!!!! Now that was one great weekend lunch for one, with the Saturday papers making the perfect dining companions. If in Athlone…go here for breakfast or lunch, you will not regret it.

IMG_3623

After that treat for my taste buds, even the rapidly deteriorating weather situation could not dampen my spirits, and so I wobbled off to run a few errands. I needed a pretty neutral eyeshadow to replace a Mac one that had hit pan, and so the swatching of the thousand shades began. I eventually settled on a slightly shimmering Stila shadow in the shade Kitten. It seemed significantly more pigmented than so many of the other brands and I will report back when I try it on the eye.

IMG_3646

I then nipped into my local butcher for some chicken fillets and rashers of smoked bacon because I was cooking Fully Loaded Cajun Chicken Burgers for supper (it is a delicious recipe to which I add mozzarella and pesto mayo).

Before heading for home, I picked up a book that was recommended to me by a friend, despite the fact that he hasn’t actually read it!!! But to be fair, if I was waiting for a retrospective review from him my eyesight may have failed and the novel may well be out of print.  He is one of those readers who REALLY takes his time getting through a novel. That said, he did get through the review (or was it a radio interview???) and reckons “I Am Pilgrim” by Terry Hayes is a must read. It may be too edgy for my romantic leanings but I like to keep an open mind. So it is here on my desk now, next in line on the reading rotation.

Finally for my rainy afternoon retail therapy, I treated myself to just a few yellow roses from my favourite florist. Just something to brighten up the kitchen as the evenings rapidly close in. Fresh flowers in the house are one of life’s simple pleasures. Now, I just need to buy some new mirrors and the place won’t look half bad!!

IMG_3645

After shopping there was a sneaky G&T to help us warm up on a miserable day. And now some vinyl records are crackling, candles are flickering and logs are burning slowly in the stove. It won’t be a late night, it might be a lazy morning, there will be a long walk and a slow roast. It may be more PJs and slippers than nightclub and hangovers, but this to me is weekending like a pro… xo

Advertisements

Spanish Fare on The Left Bank…

…. and yet we are not in Paris or Barcelona, but on the West Side of Athlone, the town’s bohemian quarter. In Las Radas Wine and Tapas bar to be precise. This is a venue I have wanted to visit since it opened its doors earlier this year but I simply hadn’t got around to it, what with moving house and a summer spent largely away from the Midlands, but eventually the perfect opportunity arose.

IMG_3594

The dreaded return to work had suddenly become imminent. And oddly sympathy comes from very few quarters. Isn’t it strange how few people appreciate the emotive dimension of a teacher’s return to the fray after three months pottering around the house or around the globe? But there are some out there who totally get it. Who get the anxiety that your skills will miraculously have diminished over the break. Who get how the preoccupation with planning can leave you staring at the ceiling, mentally composing units of work at 4am on a Saturday night. Who get the general giddiness and excitement that comes with a new academic year, filled with resolutions and good intentions but still battling a metaphorical holiday hangover. Hope and possibility colliding with a slight sense of nausea! But who are these rare empathetic creatures who have any sympathy for such anxious educators, I hear the holiday begrudgers wonder – well they are, of course, other teachers. Who else? And so when back to school anxiety hits, teachers take refuge in other teachers and in copious amounts of wine and gin – by organising one last blow-out before a return to alarm clocks and routine.

And for the group of fun-loving lunatics I surround myself with, that involved my inaugural visit to Las Radas. And it was the perfect choice. Sharing portions, food appearing and plates disappearing steadily but randomly, perfectly chilled wine (with a good non-alcoholic option for the glamorous mum-to-be), and a Mediterranean-inspired decor that fosters the ambience of sunnier climes. It was an easy place to suspend reality for just a little while longer.

IMG_3596

And so to the food. We ordered a wide selection and yet we were so busy chattering and laughing that I probably don’t remember all of it. But rest assured, the standout dishes were not going to be forgotten. We even ordered several rounds of a couple of dishes, because that’s how good they were. We started with a bowl of mixed olives and warm sourdough that came with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping. I eat olives not because I like them (I don’t really) but because I like the idea of them. They were one of those epicurean delicacies that were not readily available in Co. Kerry in the 80s & 90s, so I have always seen them as delightfully posh (even though they can now be purchased for €1.99 in Aldi) – and somewhere in my overactive imagination I would like to be the girl who nibbles olives with her wine while listening to jazz – where in reality I nibble cheese and onion Hunky Dorys and listen to Coldplay. But the consensus of the lovely ladies from closer to The Pale, with more sophisticated palates than us culchies, was that they were good olives. And the balsamic was a little bowl of thick, syrupy nectar… now I do like a good aged balsamic – and yes I can hear the little ironic echo here somewhere!

Some of the more substantial dishes we sampled were black pudding & goat’s cheese pinchos with red onion jam (mouth-watering!!), arancini balls stuffed with chorizo & manchego served on a cute bread board, and prawns fried in garlic butter with a little bread for dipping and mopping. All were delicious and yielded clean plates all round.

IMG_3601

However, after a lively discussion about the best dish, there was a strong consensus that the parma rolls stuffed with brie and sundried tomato were the winner – but we stoically decided to order more of them – just to be sure. Another plate devoured, we were still in agreement, they are sublime!!!!

IMG_3605.JPG

Patatas Bravas would always be my side of choice in a Spanish eatery, it brings me right back to my first trip to Barcelona in 2007, where I genuinely thought I had died and gone to food heaven. But while they were very well prepared and devoured like all the other dishes, they were usurped in the “Battle of the Sides” in Las Radas by some exceptional sweet potato fries with parmesan (or something similar) and a truffle mayo dip. Again we were compelled to reorder. I live close by and these fries are so good I am thinking of lobbying the chef to do take-away portions in a brown paper bag – as there is a definite gap in the market for takeaway sweet potato fries!!

IMG_3603

We skipped dessert, or at least traded it in for some Hendriks gin and Elderflower tonic in neighbouring Sean’s bar (another gem of Athlone) and left looking forward to a return. What more can a restaurant strive for?

Athlone, for the uninitiated, is a town that punches way above its weight when it comes to food. It has real quality options in all price brackets and covering multiple ethnicities – but until 2017 it didn’t have anything Spanish. Thankfully that situation has been impressively remedied. So grab a group of the girls and give it a go. xo

Lasagne: Recipe for an Autumnal Summer’s Day.

We hadn’t exactly been having a Mediterranean summer but it’s Ireland and so the fact that it wasn’t cold and there were dry spells between showers was keeping us fairly content. But August has dawned with just a little sniff of winter in the air, a breeze with a bite to it when it picks up and a more sinister threat of rain. The last week has seen the days grow perceptibly shorter and life feels just a little more soup than salad!! We are not quite in the realm of stews and casseroles yet but a yearning for something more warming and comforting than classic summer fodder has set in. The kind of meal that sits somewhere in between slow-cooked beef bourguignon and flash fried fish with griddled asparagus and broad beans.  A type of transitional meal to match the light wool jumper now resurrected from the recesses of the wardrobe.  So what fits the bill? I have decided a lasagne might work – in fact it may just be the perfect trans-seasonal comfort food. A little heavier than grilled meat or fish, yet the perfect bedfellow for the last of the delicate summer leaves and local cherry tomatoes.

There is something slow and languid about the cooking of this Italian classic. It can easily take an entire afternoon to prepare, but it is not difficult or stressful. I find it is best embarked upon with the kitchen door open creating a refreshing draught, while the heat from the stove provides the perfect antidote to the crisper air flow. So with a free afternoon and five people in need of a casual supper, this late summer’s afternoon seemed to be perfect lasagne cooking weather.

So let’s get going. I like to start with a tomato sauce that can simmer gently for hours on the stove, creating the fragrant aromas of an Italian farmhouse kitchen. Here’s how I make it.

Step 1:  The Tomato Sauce:

Ingredients:

  • A good glug of Olive Oil
  • 1 Carrot finely chopped
  • 2 Onions finely chopped
  • 3 Cloves of chopped Garlic
  • 2 Tsb of Tomato Puree
  • 2 Tins of Tomatoes
  • 200ml of Wine
  • Salt and Pepper

Method:

Heat the oil before turning the temperature to low. Add the onions, carrots and garlic and soften them slowly. Aim for really tender vegetables but don’t let them colour. This can take anything from 10-15 mins but trust me your patience will be rewarded. Remember good things take time – carrots sweeten slowly and soft, translucent onions and garlic release wonderful subtle flavours to build your sauce around.

When the veg has softened, increase the heat and add the tomato puree. Cook for 1 minute or so before adding a small glass of wine to the pot. Personally, I don’t think it matters if you use red or white, I go with whichever I fancy a glass of myself. Today that is white. Continue cooking for about 5 mins until the wine has reduced by at least half. At this point add the tinned tomatoes and a generous handful of chopped basil. Season well and don’t be afraid to sprinkle in a little sugar if the tomatoes taste a little tart. Simmer the sauce gently for about half an hour and then allow it to cool. Parents of fussy little eaters might like that you can blitz the sauce at this point and make it seem like the veggies were never there. Can’t be bothered? No problem. The chunky version tastes great too. For lasagne I like to blend it, I feel it leads to a smoother ragu later. But that’s just a personal preference. And that’s it for stage one, the tomato sauce, now to transform it into a ragu. You will also need a white sauce or a bechamel but seeing as I outsourced that task today, maybe to a helpful Italian nonna or maybe to someone called Dolmio, I will leave you to choose your own recipe.

IMG_3541.JPG

Step 2:  Making A Tomato Sauce into A Ragu Sauce

Ingredients:

  • A glug of olive oil.
  • 1.5 lbs of steak mince
  • 1 packet of prosciutto
  • 200ml of beef stock
  • Tomato sauce (see above)

Method:

Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the mince in batches until it is all browned. Add four slices of the prosciutto, finely chopped. (Sometimes I substitute bacon lardons here  – it just depends what I have to hand).  Pour in the tomato sauce (I usually hold a little back for a spaghetti lunch the next day) and the beef stock. Bring the ragu to the boil and simmer for 30 mins, until the sauce looks rich and delicious.

IMG_3547.JPG

Step 3:  Building a Lasagne

Ingredients:

  • Ragu sauce (see above)
  • Dried lasagne sheets
  • White sauce (I have used creme fraiche infused with parmesan, lightly heated mascarpone or a even a shop bought version on days where I can’t be bothered making my own…. uh oh foodie hell awaits me!!!)
  • 1 ball of mozzarella
  • Sliced prosciutto (whatever is left in the pack)
  • Grated cheddar/ parmesan cheese

Method:

Lightly grease an ovenproof dish. Ladle in one-third of the meat sauce. Spread it evenly over the bottom of the dish. Cover this with a layer of lasagne sheets and a layer of white sauce. Repeat this process three times, finishing with enough white sauce to cover all the pasta. Then grate over some cheddar cheese (or parmesan) and scatter on some small chunks of mozzarella. If desired drape the remaining prosciutto on top, it creates a crispy, salty addition to the top of the lasagne. I serve with plenty of garlic bread and a green salad. Although tonight my father in law is looking for spuds!!

There will be no spuds but I think I can placate the situation with some rhubarb tart and ice-cream. Pie and ice-cream solves a lot of the world’s problems. xo

IMG_3559.JPG

 

 

 

Tapas in Kerry

 

I took FOUR photos!!!! No that’s a lie, I took six photos, one of which appears to be of an outside flower-pot and one that is completely out of focus. So this post will include just four photos. This is despite travelling 40 minutes, spending two and a half hours in the restaurant and sampling quite a portion of the vast menu. I think I need to take blogger classes for dummies!!!

But in my defense I was busy. My best friend was with me, there was wine, we hadn’t seen each other for a couple of weeks. That meant there were several situations to be totally over-analysed. You know the drill…. we look at what “he” said, and then we consider the 8,000 possible things this might mean… not really engaging with the idea that there may not in fact be a message to decode and in some weird reality men might just mean exactly what they say. Because where would the fun be in that?? Although if wine sipping women took our conversations with attractive men completely at face value, this post might actually contain some photos of the food!!!

Because ostensibly the food was the purpose of the trip to Killorglin, a small town on the Ring of Kerry, where Sol Y Sombra is housed in an old but beautifully restored Church of Ireland. Stone walls, high ceilings, stained glass windows, good acoustics – the atmosphere takes care of itself. But do the food and wine measure up?

Yes and yes. This little gem of a restaurant definitely did not disappoint. The whole experience was positive, starting with the simple online booking option – no need to speak to pesky humans – just a few clicks and your table is sorted.

Next came the wine list – it is extensive and includes a really great selection of by the glass options – allowing you to pair a cool, crisp white with some seafood tapas before switching to a full-bodied red to match a heartier meat dish! It is also very fairly priced. Now on this particular occasion, we were not such sophisticated tipplers who match food to vino – we stuck to white, we ordered by the bottle (and more than once) and we kept it safe and French instead of exploring the extensive and interesting looking Spanish options. But there is always next time…

IMG_3514

Because given the quality of the food there will definitely be a next time. The menu is quite vast and although we tried a great selection of dishes, we didn’t really make a dent in it. And that is a testament to very generous portion sizes. We started with three tapa sized plates to share – fillet of hake and prawns fried in beer batter with garlic mayo, a portion of Kerry lamb meatballs cooked in a rich tomato sauce with delicious cubed potatoes and the highlight for me, a little pan of prawns sautéed in garlic and chilli oil that did not skimp on the prawns. We ordered a basket of bread for dipping in the oil and set about devouring every morsel of food on the table. It was all excellent but for me the prawns were the standout dish – they somehow encapsulated everything that I love about food. Take something simple but high quality, combine it with minimal ingredients (enough to enhance not confuse the flavour) and allow the dish to transport you to a different place and a different time, be it watching a technicolour Mediterranean sunset, experiencing tapas in a bustling Madrid bar, or dipping bread in wine on a Portuguese beach front. The simple action of dipping bread in spicy and gently pungent garlic oil  is a wonderful sensory experience. On a drizzly Thursday evening in Co. Kerry, it recreated something from a different place and a different time. There was a memory hidden somewhere in the cast iron sizzling pan….this is what I understand to be food for the soul, or possibly food for the heart.

IMG_3518

The plan was to go on to order two larger Racion portions but we were genuinely quite full after the tapas and decided that one to share would be more prudent. We opted for a skewer of monkfish & bacon with scallops on a potato cake and it was a really tasty dish – plump meaty monkfish interspersed with fresh scallops all wrapped in crispy smoked bacon. What’s not to like?

Dessert was not the plan (there was wine to finish) but we made the fatal mistake of just taking a look. What did we expect to happen? That we wouldn’t like the sound of anything!!! That was definitely a long-shot. In reality we didn’t need to read beyond the first line – homemade lemon mousse on a crumble biscuit base sounded like a perfect end to a quality meal – sweet yet tart, smooth in texture but zingy in flavour. My dining companion gave serious thought to licking the bowl.

So if it wasn’t clear, I was really, really impressed with Sol Y Sombra. Great space, great food, great drinks and best of all great company. I am very excited to make a return visit. xo.

Hot Milk: The Book not the Beverage

IMG_3506

They say you can’t judge a book by its… instagram likes – but I think marketing gurus everywhere may beg to differ. Personally, I picked up Hot Milk by Deborah Levy solely because of its inclusion in a wonderfully curated flatlay by Alex Stedman aka @thefrugality, a current girl crush of mine – #influenced!!! Hey, I like her style, what’s to say I won’t like her book choices? And, as stupid reasons for impulse buys go, this one worked out pretty well.

This is a book where wisdom is sprinkled with weirdness, and ambiguity abounds but doesn’t particularly distract. It is thematically relevant to the contemporary reader and, although you are aware there is an underlying complexity and possibly missed symbolism, it is still a quick and engaging read.

IMG_3508.JPG

Hot Milk is set in Almería, Southern Spain in 2015. It is narrated by Sofia – a 25 year old Englishwoman – who is in equal parts endearing and infuriating. Despite being a little older than the norm for the genre, this is really Sofia’s “coming of age” story.

You see, Sofia’s mother suffers from a myriad of inexplicable health issues, quite likely the psychosomatic symptoms of  long-term hypochondria. Sofia has been a carer all her life, but seems often to be little more than a punching bag for her mother’s frustration. Deserted by a wealthy Greek father, both mother and daughter appear to have residual abandonment issues, and their subsequent co-dependant realtionship is both dysfunctional and problematic. I found this unromantic and heartbreakingly realistic – children who become carers and/or surrogate partners can often struggle to cut the chord, to take a vital step back and pursue their own adult life. If they do attempt to forge some independence, the dependant parent can oftentimes fight to keep the bond taut and tight – fearful of losing their human crutch. As both Sofia and her mother are too close to really judge the situation, we figure all this out for ourselves – there is a pattern but the reader must join the dots.

Sofia and her mother have travelled to Spain, at enormous personal expense, to receive treatment at a private clinic run by a vagabond clinician named Gómez. He is either a quack or a genius but he offers what those who are desperate will travel to the ends of the earth for – hope when conventional medicine has failed. In the wake of the Charlie Gard tragedy, the contemporary thematic relevance is as clear as the waters of the Indian Ocean. Here in Ireland, where daily newspapers report on how families will sacrifice their life savings for medicinal cannibas treatment or risky clinical trials abroad, the story also resonates.  £25,000 to Dr. Gómez – a small price to pay for an answer, a pittance to pay for a cure!

IMG_3497.JPG

The exploration of modern universal themes does not end there – Sofia uses the time in Spain to experiment with her sexual orientation – pursuing “relationships” with a beautiful German creative named Ingrid, and Juan, a sweet Spanish boy who works at the beach. Her emotional immaturity seems to make falling in love at best a long shot, and you get the impression she has a lot to figure out about herself first. Like what does one do with academic qualifications in Anthropology? And how do you stop practicing this study of humanity and start living your life with humanity? Sofia’s plight, as a highly educated graduate, earning a living working as a barista, will also resonate with many. She has a 1st class honours degree. She has a masters. She is contemplating a Phd. But when a form asks for her occupation – her confusion subtly hits on a deeper reality for many highly educated young people  – the struggle to carve out an actual career. She opts to fill in “Monster” – I like her style!!!!

IMG_3511.JPG

Personally, I found this to be a book filled with imperfections – some poorly drawn characters, some odd relationships, a regular sense that I was missing some deeper meaning. But all that aside, I really enjoyed the read. It was quick, wonderfully  poetic and generally realistic and universally relatable.  A quality summer read, that will linger on after the final page is turned. The Guardian used the adjective “hypnotic”, it’s not a mile from the mark, xo.

July Birchbox: Review

IMG_3471.JPG

My second Birchbox, the July addition, was an aesthetic triumph. Themed “summer daze” it looked like an LA sunset, depicting blackened palm trees against the backdrop of a whimsical blue and pink skyline. It definitely evokes images of balmy summer evenings on foreign shores and will make a cute storage box after the products have been used and disposed of.

But what about these all important products? Worth the €15 purchase price? Well let’s take a look.

Firstly, this month every subscriber got a Benefit Lip & Cheek Stain in one of two possible shades… essentially a bright pink or a mango tint. Being a long term Benefit user, I was excited about this product as I have always enjoyed the “bene tint”, an older version of the same product. This time I selected the “gogo tint”, the pink/cherry coloured version on offer. The product is a liquid stain in a hot pink shade and it is applied with a little brush, similar to a nail varnish applicator. Now personally, I hate the sensation of this product on the lips, and so I use it solely as a blush. On first application I followed the directions on the box – painted three strokes on my cheeks and blended them in with my fingers. This was overkill. It was far too bright and took ages to blend – looking less like a healthy flush and more like I had walked into a job interview just before realising that my skirt was tucked into my knickers! But not one to be easily defeated, I just modified the quantity of the product to one stroke per cheek and the result was a lovely rosy glow. Product one, happy user.

IMG_3474.JPG

Unfortunately, the second sample was not so successful for me. It is a natural micellar water from Balance Me. Now as a cleanser, this water works perfectly well and does everything it says it should. You just pop it on a cotton pad, wipe it over your face and watch the make-up dissolve. Perfect! So what’s the problem? The problem is the over-powering smell of this product. It has this really strong antiseptic odour that I found really off-putting. So while this is a handy travel size back-up product, I definitely would not be rushing to purchase the full-size of this one.

IMG_3475.JPG

Next up was the Percy & Reed Perfectly Perfecting Wonder Overnight Recovery treatment. This was a simple product to use – you just apply it to dry hair, massage it in, head to bed and rinse it out in the morning. It leaves no transfer on the pillow and absorbs really quickly. It smells delicious and definitely did my highlighted blonde tresses no harm. But did it do them any good and would it be worth twenty quid? I’m not sure to be honest. I am definitely going to give this one another go but I will admit to being a little underwhelmed.

IMG_3452.JPG

Foot cream? I mean who buys foot cream? And who the heck remembers to apply it? Not this chick I can assure you. Now given that I have Shrek feet –  knuckles on toes, bunions, calloused soles – I really should have a foot cream habit. I should own vats of the stuff and timetable hours for pedicure type activities. But seriously, who has the time for foot cream? I really don’t know, possibly the type of person who finds time to iron underwear!!! Anyway, this Birchbox had a foot cream, so I sampled it and it was fab. Genuinely fab. It was a softening eucalyptus foot cream” from anatomicals. It is gently fragranced, absorbs beautifully and instantly softens the skin. Of course I have only remembered to use it twice so I still have ugly feet but God did I enjoy it. As the tagline of the product states, little wonders like this make “for a less callus world”…. foot cream with a sense of humour, what’s not to love?

IMG_3479.JPG

Next was a little summer spritz from English Laundry, perfectly suited to the theme of the box. This looked a bit old ladyish and I didn’t hold out hope for it to be honest, but that was a case of judging the book by its cover. And we all know that is inadvisable. It was in fact my favourite of this box of products and the most used so far. Fresh and citrusy but with vanilla notes for sweetness, Oxford Bleu is a lovely scent to pop in your bag on a summer’s day. It is just a pity the sample is so teeny.

IMG_3454.JPG

Face masks are on a par with foot cream in relation to my annual product usage, and as a result the final product still remains untouched. It is an Origins mask made with rooibos tea and rose and although I don’t as a rule like rose scented products, I do really like Origins as a brand. I fully intend to use this on a pamper evening before bed, I just haven’t got round to it yet. So time will tell with this one…. if it’s amazing I will be sure to blog it.

IMG_3483.JPG

So overall a bit of a mixed bag this month, but I enjoyed appraising this selection and I was generally happy with the lucky dip xo.

Once to Ballybunion…

IMG_3413

Today we have another instalment in what could be termed a “Highlights of Kerry” series. Regular readers will recognise that this isn’t really a challenging remit… especially when the sun shines brightly and the Kingdom’s jewels twinkle happily in iridescent light. It was on one such day we took a leisurely road trip to Ballybunion, or possibly Ballybunnion, in North Kerry.  Which spelling is correct joins “Who was Jack the Ripper?” and “Who killed JFK?” on the list of great unsolved mysteries. The town’s own website and renowned golf club both go with the former spelling, and that is what I am most familiar with but as you travel the highways and byways of North Kerry, the road signs direct you to “Ballybunnion”. Way to confuse a girl!!!! So if you know let me know….. how do we spell the name of this coastal, seaside town on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way?

IMG_3376

Anyway, issues of the redundant or errant “n” aside, there was a hint of nostalgia to our summer sojourn to Ballyb., not so much for me but for my other half. You see a trip to this seaside resort was an integral part of his childhood. In a rural Ireland before the foreign holiday was commonplace, especially in the dairy farming community, his family went on two seminal outings each summer  – “we didn’t go on holidays – we went once to Ballybunion and once to the festival (i.e. The Rose of Tralee), that was our holidays.” There was never a need to stay somewhere overnight and definitely no “fancy” trip to a Keycamp resort in France (like the townies might go on). Instead there was the short drive to Ballybunion, a few pounds for the bumper cars in the most retro of amusement arcades, a go on the swings in the playground and a bag of chips for the trip home. The result was tired but happy children half way through their summer treats. Of course, no farmer’s son in rural Ireland grows up without something of a persecution complex, and so the fond reminiscences of  “simpler times” are a cue for a gentle rant beginning with the phrase –  “I was never taken to…….”. But for all the world left unseen, he was without fail taken to Ballybunion and so, many summers on, off we went down memory lane.

IMG_3424

Now… as salubrious as the dodgems in the Pavilion look, they were not the focus of this more grown up trip to the sea. This was more about the scenery. Ballybunion has a stunning cliff walk, really breathtaking, #nofilter type vistas that take your breath away. It starts above the town’s golden sandy beach, holder of a prestigious Blue Flag, and provides amazing views of ocean, cliffs, caves, sand dunes and even Bottlenose dolphins. It’s a safe, easy walk that really rewards the effort.

IMG_3405

 

IMG_3396

IMG_3399

I like to walk, mostly to justify all the food I plan to graze on …. and true to form the exercise led to a natural need to refuel. Having read favourable reviews of Daroka and admiring its philosophy of “Real food, real simple”, we opted to give it a go. It is a comfortable, simple space spread over two levels. The lunch menu was compact but appealing and I was impressed by little touches that made the place feel homely – fresh flowers, quality hand-cream in the ladies, little messages on blackboards. We ordered very simply – freshly battered fish and chips, a BLT, a beer and a house wine. Perfect food as you come up from the beach, nothing fancy but executed really well.

Our food was delicious but I had serious order envy and I know I really need a return trip to give this menu a better appraisal. The lady beside me had wonderfully succulent looking crab claws in a coconut and chilli sauce and I was very jealous of the soft, almost orgasmic moans, she was emitting with each mouthful. The hake with prawns and samphire (sea asparagus) appeared the most popular dish, and plates were returning almost licked clean. Naturally the seafood dishes were proving more popular than the more carnivorous options as people gazed out into the Atlantic ocean on probably the hottest day of the summer so far. Finally, when your BLT is mostly B and comes in triple decker form, you know you have backed a winner. And being easily pleased, I got a little giggly seeing it come with a quality steak knife to carve through the generous rashers of bacon. It’s the simple things!!!

 

 

We skipped dessert, although they sounded tempting, in order to sample some of MacCarthy’s homemade ice-cream from Sundaes. It was really good ice-cream and there was an abundance of flavours and toppings to choose from (we tried oreo, nutella, vanilla and strawberry), but it is definitely on the expensive side of normal for scoops in a tub. That said finding a peaceful spot, listening to the ocean and munching on quality hand-produced food, is an experience worth paying a premium for, at least once a year.

IMG_3360

And that was it for this year’s “once to Ballybunion” trip… We returned home after a paddle in neighbouring Ballyheigue and stopping for a little liquid sustenance in Kate Brown’s Traditional Pub in Ardfert. Tired from the fresh sea air and keeping the nostalgic air alive, we cooked an old school fry-up with slices of warm white toast dripping with Kerry Gold butter. It may have been the perfect summer’s day. And if you are looking for any further evidence that Kerry is indeed a Kingdom, you might like to peruse these older posts about GlanteenassigBanna beach & Killarney, Foodie Kerry and Dingle (my personal favourite). xo

 

 

Glanteenassig Woods, Co. Kerry – A Hidden Gem.

IMG_3314

This post is going to mainly let the pictures do the talking, because they can articulate the magic much better than my loquacious ramblings. Really, I just want to alert you to the fact that on the meandering road between Tralee and Dingle, close to the village of Castlegregory, there hides a place that looks like this. A place where woodland, lakes and mountains collide and we are merely guests of nature for the duration of our visit. If sprites, elves and faeries exist (and we all know they do) surely they choose to live here. So keep your eyes peeled for some of “the little folk” of Irish mythology as you walk through some of this beautiful country’s most majestic scenery. And remember – if you don’t believe in them, you can never see them!!!!

 

 

The amazing thing about Glanteenassig Wood (pronounced locally as Glown – Ten – Ass – Ig) is despite being well maintained and accessible to all fitness levels, it remains largely undiscovered. Tourists hurtling from the Ring of Kerry or Killarney en route to Slea Head or the town of Dingle often miss this hidden gem completely. And where tourists with jam packed itineraries can be forgiven, I have no idea what excuse I can offer for not having visited in over a decade. I mean just take a look…..

 

 

The wood is signposted from the main road, but it is a bit of an uphill drive (maybe about 5km) from the village of Aughacashla where you turn left. As you climb, houses gradually give way to grazing land for mountain sheep and you feel yourself leaving reality behind. It’s down the hill somewhere with your wifi connection and mobile phone reception.

Then suddenly you stop and take it in – and it’s majestic. The clouds sit on the rocky hill top as waterfalls and streams make their way down glacial rock face to the tranquil lakes below. The shelter of the trees and the exposure of the rocks seem in stark contrast yet in perfect harmony. It looks like summer but smells of Christmas.  It is as it always was – little changed from the Ice Age to now.

IMG_3305

If you are lucky you may get the entire place to yourself, especially on a weekday and outside the tourist season. We didn’t. We met a father teaching his children how to fish for trout and a family allowing their three dogs have a swim in the lower lake. Hardly a traffic jam!!!

IMG_3285

Glanteenassig Woods 11

After we took some pictures at the tranquil Lough Slat, we followed the road up to the Lough Caum Boardwalk loop, where we followed the “path” made from planks of timber all around the lake. On a slightly warmer day, this is a prime location to chill out with a book and a picnic. If you are in the neighbourhood, be sure to check it out. If you are from the neighbourhood, don’t be like us, make use of this fantastic amenity that we are blessed to live so close to.  xo

 

Glanteenassig Woods 10

 

 

 

Urchin, Dublin – A Short Review

IMG_3228

There was a lot of What’s App debate regarding a dining venue for an early bite before attending a Bell X1 gig, part of the Trinity Summer Series on Saturday evening. Given that we were going to be eating early and we were a little unsure what time the whole party would assemble, we agreed to a casual tapas meal. We narrowed our selection to The Port House, House or Urchin and after much debate the latter emerged victorious.

Situated on St. Stephen’s Green, Urchin scored points for location and it was also the only place on the list that none of us had visited previously. Added to this, reviews of Urchin, a little sister of The Cliff Townhouse, have been generally very positive.

Urchin doesn’t take reservations but when we rocked up at 5.30pm we easily nabbed a large table in a cosy alcove. First impressions were really good. Urchin is an achingly cool venue. It is a light, colourful space that is channelling a sort of beach house in The Hamptons vibe. Lots of white and exposed brick, softened with bold splashes of orange and turquoise. It feels young and hip, the aesthetic complimented by laid back music and a charming, sexy Italian waiter. So far so good!!!

 

We started our visit to Urchin with some cocktails. This venue has a great cocktail menu and a mixologist who knows what he is doing. We sampled a selection of gin and vodka based tipples and everyone was happy with these boozy thirst quenchers. At €12 – €14 a pop, the pricing here was pretty standard for a cool city centre bar and the drinks that appeared had both style and substance. A good start.

IMG_3225

We chatted for a while, nibbling on some delicious crisps, before eventually placing a food order. Urchin serves some “small bites” and some “bigger bites” which can be shared and the seafood heavy menu reads like the stuff of foodie dreams. But it would be disingenuous not to acknowledge that it was here the experience started to unravel. We ordered about 12 portions of food from across the menu to share between 5 people. We had fully intended to order more as required. Our selections included a sea urchin in a Bloody Mary type sauce, a couple of duck liver choux buns, pork belly in lettuce wraps, portions of both Iberico ham and shrimp croquettes and a two portions of mozzarella fritters.  Everything looked great, each dish was well executed and quality ingredients were clearly sourced.

 

The problem? Because there was a problem  – was that the portions were tiny!!! And I am fully aware that we had chosen a “small plates” venue but these offerings came directly from the tiny portion movement. We had eaten half the menu and we were still starving and begging the waiter for more crisps. In normal circumstances we would simply have ordered the other half of the menu but we were unanimous in concluding that we would then have spent a fortune to still leave hungry. So we decided to cut our losses and go for a burger!!!

So all in all, Urchin is a cool venue. It has a fab little beer garden to the front if you are lucky enough to snag a table. It does great cocktails. It feels trendy and fun. It does tasty little bites. But it will not fill you up. So my advice is to consider it a place for a drink and a snack – a lot classier than a pint and a packet of crisps – but providing a similar amount of sustenance. I want to go back on a sunny afternoon to sip a gin cocktail at an outside table. I would order a little tapas to tickle my taste-buds. I would have a dinner reservation close by.

 

5 Reasons Why I Blog

IMG_2477

“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.” 

Somebody asked me about my motivation to blog lately. My answer focused really on why I started to blog. At the time my professional life was characterised by an unusual level of negativity and I really needed some kind of positive space to escape to. I had toyed with the idea of blogging for a while but had been scared to take the plunge. Sylvia Plath was right when she wrote, “The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” Up to that point I was scared to write something public. But suddenly my need for a form of escapism was heightened and unfortunately I couldn’t afford a career break and a round the world plane ticket. So I wondered – could a blog be my virtual alternative?

While I was procrastinating, the coaxing (some might say bullying) of a friend also came into play. And one day there was a template for a lifestyle blog, it just needed a name…. Champagne in a Teacup was born.

In case you are interested (and even if you are not) the story behind the name is quite simple. Tom Waits once described a woman as “whiskey in a teacup” – elegant and ladylike on the outside, strong and intoxicating underneath. I wanted to create a similar dichotomy with my blog – on the surface a place to celebrate elegance, beauty and life’s positives but always with a bubbly, fun and effervescent core. A slightly tipsy blog that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

But I recently realised that the reasons why I started are not the reasons why I continue. As a form of therapy, the blog became somewhat redundant as clouds passed and days brightened. Yet still I write. Why? There is no question but that blogging takes a lot of time. It consumes a lot of lot of head space. It influences a lot of my day to day decisions. So why do it? What’s in it for me?

1.   A great creative outlet: 

I had thought about writing in some creative form for a long time before I wrote my first blog post. I felt that in relation to writing, I was in danger of proving there was truth in the old, and exceptionally annoying adage, “those who can do, those who can’t teach”. I encouraged creativity. I taught writing. I had the audacity to edit and correct. But when did I write myself? What did I do to make sure I was a proficient writer? How often did I engage the creative side of my brain? Not often. Not for years. Never for fun. Blogging was a way to change all that and it has. It is writing for pleasure but with feedback and an audience. There is no brief, no pressure, no remit – I write what I feel like, when I want to and wherever I get the urge (once there’s coffee and a wifi connection of course).

2. So many experiences I would never have undertaken:

Lifestyle is probably the blogging genre of the commitment-phobe – the Tinder of the blogging world. You want to dip your toes in the water of food, travel, health and fitness, fashion and beauty but not be tied down to any one genre. You swipe yes to lots of things but you can’t quite commit to going steady with any one area. It is superficial and fun and largely about the aesthetic.

I admire the monogamous blogger – the one who is all about the make-up (and tries 295 foundations a year) or the mother who is faithfully recording her journey out of the fog of new motherhood (just in time to do it all again – cue hilarious posts about juggling 2 under 2 – btw motherhood blogs are the world’s most under-rated contraceptive!!!) or the fashion blogger who has 365 different OOTDs per year. Now that’s commitment to the blog.

Me, I just can’t quite choose one niche, but I definitely have leanings. Don’t we all. Where some girls only click on tall guys, or ones who don’t wear sunglasses in profile pics, I find myself naturally drawn to writing posts about food and travel. And so how do I create this content – quite simply  I eat more, travel more, try new recipes – you get the idea. When that’s not happening I still have lots of scope – I can review a beauty product, indulge in a little stream of consciousness writing like this post, or record what I eat in a day. Blogging makes me eager to embrace as many new experiences as possible – if I do nothing I have nothing to write about – and that’s a large part of why I love it.

3. Observational Skills and Reflective Moments:

A friend remarked recently on how good my memory was after I chronicled a day out we had enjoyed.  That is purely a blogging trait. I am a natural blonde (in the most offensive, stereotypical sense) in everything but hair colour. Half the time I don’t know what’s going on around me and I never know simple things like date and time. Let’s not get started on left and right. People who know that automatically never fail to amaze me!!!! But now when I am doing something new, I am very present. I am actively looking for the detail. I am taking mental notes and physical photographs. I am evaluating things. I love this. I love being more tuned in – searching for the hidden flavours, noticing the aesthetic, reflecting on places and spaces and the people who populate them. And then searching for the words to paint the picture for someone who wasn’t there.

4. Positive Mindset:

I write positive to think positive – and it really works. Of course I stay in dodgy hotels, get served sub-standard restaurant meals and buy food or beauty products that I hate. But this is not what I choose to blog about. If I have a bad dinner because the waitress forgets to tell me about the 6 tempting specials and the water tastes of disinfectant, I just don’t blog about it. They didn’t rob me or poison me. She was inexperienced not spiteful. Nobody died. I write balanced reviews but not predominantly negative ones. My intention is not to trash local businesses because I didn’t have a perfect evening – it is to celebrate life’s little pleasures and share the things that make me smile. Try typing 1000 positive words, sprinkling in your favourite photo memories and finishing in a bad mood. Not possible, I promise.

5. Positive feedback and engagement:

I never told anyone about the blog…. I guess I was embarrassed or nervous in a way. But from the start there was online feedback. And there seems to be an unwritten rule about what you do if you don’t have anything good to say. That was a confidence boost.

As time elapsed, people, at varying speeds, figured out who Champagne in a Teacup WP_20151225_001actually was. That was fun too, if a little mortifying. I really enjoy the reaction when people spot themselves in the words, relive experiences they were part of or hear their home-place in the colloquialisms. I find it hilarious when friends ask, “will we be on your blog?” or almost instinctively wait to pick up the cutlery until I have taken a picture.

Yes, my father in law considers all this online lifestyle sharing a little childish, a gentle rebuke proffered as he watches old videos on YouTube (unfortunately not listening to Alanis Morrisette, “don’t you think?”!!) And my husband longs for a simpler time when he could just “ate the dinner without having to take twenty bloody photos of it” but generally all blog related discussions have a healthy sprinkle of the feel good factor.

So there you go, some of the great reasons why I blog. Why do you? And if you don’t, why not give it a whirl? xo