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.

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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.

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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

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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…

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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.

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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

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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.

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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!

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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!!!!

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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.

Glanteenassig Woods, Co. Kerry – A Hidden Gem.

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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.

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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!!!

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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

 

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Urchin, Dublin – A Short Review

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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.

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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

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“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

 

Simple Speedy Supper

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Six months into life after television and I miss only two things – the news and chilling out in front of a cookery programme. So as we are currently away for a few days in a little cottage with a large TV, I am catching up on both types of viewing. In fact, as I type, I am cringing as some poor hopeful on MasterChef is being told his deconstructed Poussin pie has no redeeming quality – #awkward. Maybe he will go home, comfort eat a properly constructed chicken pie and realise you don’t have to be a Master Chef to cook well (or even for a living). Just watch Donal Skehan!

I really enjoy Donal – despite how ridiculously clean cut and smiley he is. I can turn a blind eye to the Jamie Oliver (circa 2000) cloning, the Daniel O’Donnellesqe “niceness” and the recent cringe-worthy YouTube vlogs. Why? Because his recipes are so, so simple and generally work out really well. Donal is no master chef; he is a home cook and a blogger, just trying to create simple, tasty dishes. And this he does very well. You can watch, adapt, cook and eat. Not all chefs can claim such success. And that is why the world can’t seem to get enough of him at the moment. Last night he made tortellini soup, sausage pasta, a crostini of some sort and a salad. Cordon Bleu it ain’t. But can Joe and Josephine Soap attempt it and succeed – absolutely.

So inspired by my viewing of Meals in Minutes last night, I cooked a simple pasta supper tonight. This dish is based on Donal’s Pork & Fennel Ragu but slowed down and changed up a little. Fennel reminds me of shots of Pernod in dodgy nightclubs during my late teens, and no good ever came from that, so there will be no fennel for me. Ever. Or Aniseed. Or Liquorice. Or shots of Sambuca. Soz! And the original recipe has spinach, which my husband confuses with arsenic, so we need a substitute for that too. I went for peas – peas are a more non-threatening kind of vegetable it seems – we trust the pea. Healthy but not quite so pretentious!!!!

So here is what we ate…

Sausage Ragu with Rigatoni.

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Ingredients (for 2 servings and some leftovers for the dog…)

  • 1 onion – finely chopped
  • 1 carrot – in small dice
  • 2 cloves of garlic – crushed
  • 4 thick butcher’s sausages
  • 1 jar of passata
  • A couple of handfuls of frozen peas
  • Bunch of chopped basil
  • Grated Parmesan cheese
  • Rigatoni or other short pasta

Method

Heat some olive oil in a large frying pan. Add the diced onion, carrot and garlic. Cook these down very slowly for about 10 minutes so the onion and carrot are nice and soft.

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Remove the casing from the sausages and chop them into rough chunks. Add these to the pan, turn up the heat slightly and brown the sausages. When the sausages have begun to brown, add the passata to the pan and cook for about 15 minutes. The sauce will thicken slightly. Stir in some frozen peas for the last 5 minutes or so of cooking and season with salt and black pepper.

As the sauce is coming together, prepare the rigatoni according to the instructions on the packet. After the allocated time, drain the pasta, reserving a little of the cooking water. Pour this and the pasta into the sauce and mix everything together.

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Sprinkle over some freshly grated Parmesan and a generous handful of fresh basil and divide into two warm pasta bowls. Serve with some crusty bread and real butter. Eat and enjoy – it’s delicious xo

 

Birchbox Review

So June saw the arrival of my first Birchbox, or in this case a Birchbag, and even if I hated all the products inside the joy at receiving a parcel in the post was almost worth the subscription price. Signing for a package from the postman (especially when it is not bloody exam papers needing to be graded) appeals to my inner child. And as it worked out, I didn’t hate all the products and I loved the cute make-up bag it came in.

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So what lay inside this little lilac and lemon bag of loveliness? And how did the products perform?

Bobbi Brown Extra Eye Repair Cream:

When I peeked inside my little summer package, this was the product that made my face light up – partly because I never remember to use eye cream – and I could definitely do with reducing the slight puffiness of my under eye area. But mostly because I would generally prefer to spend that kind of money on a fab dinner rather than a posh cream, so expensive eye creams do not form part of my skincare routine. Would this little jar change my mind?

On a positive note the little sample pot was generously packed and I love the simplicity of the packaging. The product is unscented and a little goes a long way. It applies a little greasy which worried me on first impressions but it absorbs quickly and perfectly. After a week my eye area feels lovely and soft but doesn’t look perceptibly different. And so while was a decent product I still would not splash out the €56 for the full size. Fancy dinners win every time!

Vita Liberata Body Blur Instant HD Skin Finish:

Part of me wishes I never tried this product because I know it is going to cost me a fortune. I loved it and now I am not happy living without it. It has become an overnight favourite, a definite staple in my beauty collection. Given the bloody thing costs €35 a pop, I would have preferred to remain in the dark. But the problem is now that I’ve seen it, I simply can’t unsee it!

Because the sample was small I have really only used it on my face but I am so excited to try it on my legs, on a summer evening that calls for a dress. It just adds a glow to the skin that is bronze and illuminating. I dot it on over my make-up, blend it with my fingers and find it just adds a lovely golden finishing touch to my look. A great product that I cut out of the tube so as not to waste a drop.

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ecoTOOLS Eye Enhancing Duo Set

This duo set is really four brushes as each one is double sided and I like that it came with instructions as to how best to use each section (eye make-up application is definitely not my thing – and so a paint by numbers guide is always well received). On the plus side these brushes are affordable and cruelty free and they seem to do their job just fine. Personally I don’t love them – mostly because I am not a fan of the double side – although I admit this is handy for travelling.

Scrub Love Body Scrub – Coconut Mango

Having received a really sweet message from this company on my Instagram, I really wanted to like it. They just seemed like such a friendly company and their philosophy impressed me. And to be fair it is a very effective scrub that you can feel exfoliating as you rub it in. It also smelt divine  – mostly of mango – and did a good job on the last of the faded tan.

But be warned – this product is not designed for the messy girl!! And that effectively rules me out.  I applied it standing in the bath and it went EVERYWHERE!!!!! I mean it literally crumbled off and fluttered around as if you dropped a bag of chia seeds on the kitchen floor. I was more worried about cleaning it up than enjoying the lovely tropical aroma. So I am sad to say this one is not for me – beauty products that create housework are a definite no!!!!!

FULL-SIZE MeechNMia Brow Liner

This one I like  – the brown shade is a good match for me – and it applies quite precisely. I don’t think it will replace my Benefit “Goof Proof” brow pencil, simply because it needs to be sharpened – another issue for this lazy beauty gal! A first world problem, I know.IMG_3160

 

And that was it, a lovely summery bag of bits and bobs to try. Looking forward to the July Box now, with another set of treats to try xo.

 

Afternoon Tea at Ashford Castle

Situated over two hours away, it was a long drive “for an aul mug of tae and a few sambos“. But Ashford Castle on a rare sunny day rewarded the effort.

The 13th Century castle, situated in Cong, Co. Mayo, is a fairy-tale setting, the stuff American tourists dream of. Surely some part of it must be haunted and elfin figures inhabit the undergrowth in the nearby woods. The castle itself has hosted the wedding receptions of Pierce Brosnan, Shane Filan (the lad out of Westlife) and Rory McIlroy – so you see it’s proper posh!!!!

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Now in the interest of full disclosure, I feel the need to reveal that I bear the little village of Cong “an ancient grudge” of Shakespearean proportions. You see when I was twelve, their GAA team beat mine in a national final. It was one of my first tastes of defeat on a big stage, and the association between this place and that memory is undeniable. I would love to say I was a gracious loser, but while everyone else hears Cong and thinks of “The Quiet Man”, the epic scenery and celebrity sightings, I think of one crushing afternoon in Mosney at the National Community Games Finals. Sorry Cong, my little heart was broken, it is hard to let go!!!!!

But anyway, last week I put my issues aside and embarked on a girlie roadtrip in search of High Tea in a castle…. sure what else would you be at on a Monday morning? We even saw a llama – or was it a goat???

Now you know you are in the realm of elegance, when not one but three men in funny hats have greeted you before you even get in the door. We had to explain our purpose, be ticked off lists and given instructions on how to pass the little extra time we had – this is very much a 5 star location.While waiting to be called in for tea at 1.30pm we admired the period decor and the tranquil lakeside setting, but mostly we worried about whether the poor man at the gate was melting in his emerald green tweed tails and top hat.

Now I admit to being a philistine when it comes to heritage type interiors, favouring more modern and slightly edgy decor, but even I can appreciate the beauty and the attention to detail of this hotel – in particular the room in which you “take tea“. There is an intangible sense of history and if you close your eyes for just a second you can imagine lords and ladies of eras past, sitting exactly where you are, also sipping tea from bone china cups, although possibly less worried about spillages or breakages. That’s the thing about a silver spoon upbringing, breaking the Wedgewood China is just breaking a cup! What luxury!

So seated and settled, with a cherry lemonade, a gift from the kitchen, tea was ready to be served. And the choice of teas was very impressive – from fruity to traditional – there were pages to select from. So of course we wondered where the Barry’s was, two of us queried if we could have coffee and in a particularly classy moment we could be heard snorting with laughter at the mention of a Red Bush tea. You can dress them up!!!!!

Then to the food – in typical afternoon tea fashion – we started with the savoury layer and I have to admit these were good sarnies. No chicken and stuffing here – rather chicken with avocado, tossed it seemed in a light garlic mayo. The most delicious filling but it didn’t stop there. All crusts were removed (to the dismay of the Irish mammy), the bread was cut into circles and the outside of the sandwich was dipped in almonds. This flavour combination alone was worth the trip. It was sublime. So much so we asked for a whole other plate of just that sandwich. After that you had the all traditional combinations of cheddar and tomato, egg and cress, smoked salmon and cream cheese and cucumber and crème fraîche. The quality was really high – particularly the very mature, tangy cheddar that I think is from Hegarty’s Farm in Cork. We were off to a good start.

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The scones came next. As they are served warm from the oven, you order them 10 mins or so before you want them. And it is that type of attention to detail that makes this a special experience. There was the traditional plain and fruit scones, with strawberry jam and clotted cream. But what was new to me (and my extensive afternoon tea experience!!) was a cheese scone, so warm the cheese was all melty and runny in the middle. The lovely server suggested we try this with lemon curd!!!  Now, that might be a familiar combo to some of you – but warm cheese scones with zesty lemon curd – was never a staple with the pot of Lyons Tea when I was growing up in Kerry. And more is the pity – it is delicious.

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My biggest issue with afternoon tea is always that by the time you get to the sweet treats on the top tier you are just a little too full. But don’t worry, we took a little time-out, had a team talk and were ready for the final quarter. Multiple calorific delicacies were shared and discussed, from custards to cupcakes, meringues to macaroons, chocolate tortes to fruit tarts.  What we couldn’t finish was presented to us in individual boxes along with a chocolate box from the pastry chef.

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I expected to find this a lovely experience but a tad on the expensive side – a case of paying for the location. But in all honesty it is quite good value. The staff were so sweet and were really quick to offer seconds (or thirds) of anything we wanted. We had about four rounds of teas and coffees. We left with boxes of scones, pastries and chocolate. And we spent hours in the stunning setting. At €40 per person (which is of course dear), I genuinely felt we got our money’s worth. It was a damn good afternoon tea. But don’t get me started on the “cosht of the fizzy wine” – given that one glass is never enough we just left it out altogether, and the experience didn’t suffer from its omission in any way. Ashford Castle, I may return, despite old wounds felt anew at the sight of the word “Cong” on the signpost.

5 things I like to do on a Summer Morning

Given that the next few months are largely devoid of any serious level of commitment or responsibility, I am enjoying waking at my leisure and easing myself into the day ahead gently. Here’s what a “typical” morning is starting to look like.

1. Coffee/Tea and a book.

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I wake pretty early, probably because the renovation budget has yet to stretch to curtains, so once the sun is up, the room is bright. But I am in no hurry to actually leave the cosy confines of the bed, so I generally pad downstairs in my bare feet, make a hot drink and cuddle back under the duvet to read a chapter or two of whatever I am currently enjoying. Of course if someone else is getting up to take the dog out, then I don’t even have to make the barefoot trek to the kitchen…. yes, I know I am spoiled. But don’t worry, coffee in bed comes with a healthy dollop of sarcasm (a small  price to pay!).

2. Some exercise.

If I am going to work out I like to do it pretty soon after getting up. Less time for excuses. Lately I am trying to get back into running, but as I am carrying a tag rugby related injury, I am taking things very slowly. TBH I am probably taking things far slower than necessary but this is in keeping with the leisurely zen persona I am currently channelling. I am using a C25K app on my phone to complete pretty gentle walk/run workouts. I find some fresh air and exercise first thing really clears the cobwebs and energises me for the day ahead.

3. Smoothies

I’ve always been a big fan of breakfast smoothies and lately I have been trying to lighten them up for summer by avoiding adding milk and yogurt. This morning I had banana, mango, kale and lemongrass.

I just added ice, water and a glass of pure apple juice to the fruit mix – it was really refreshing. I love when things actually taste good for you.  Makes me feel all virtuous.

4. Breakfast

More time allows for more effort, so for the most part I am currently avoiding cereal. It feels like the entire year is made up of bowls of porridge (which I tolerate) and bowls of granola (which I love) but at the moment I am trying to change it up a little, depending on what’s in the fridge. This morning I had Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes with Yogurt and Strawberries. Delicious and so, so simple. Just take the Jamie Oliver approach – 1 cup buttermilk, 1 cup self-raising flour, 1 egg.  Whisk and cook. I tossed in a handful of blueberries that were in the fridge and served with a side of strawberries and vanilla yogurt.

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5. Housework

Now anyone who knows me has now started to laugh and roll their eyes… because to say I am not into housework is a complete understatement. But it’s true, I currently start my day with a quick spot of cleaning. You see now that we live in a teeny house, with one bathroom and very small floor space, I find that giving the place a quick once over every morning is ideal to keep things under control. Then the dread of The Big Clean and the days (or weeks) of Big Clean related procrastination are unnecessary. Now I don’t exactly enjoy this part of the morning. But I do it. Before I even get dressed or put my make-up on!!! And it is strangely satisfying.

In the interest of full disclosure, I feel I should acknowledge just how much the Dyson helps here. Formerly, I judged anyone sad enough to get excited over a hoover. I definitely judged anyone who paid as much for a hoover as they would a weekend in a 5 star hotel. But this cordless wonder will change your life! It is worth every single cent and more. A little bit of magic sent from whoever the real domestic goddess is. And it has already been used 100 times more than any vacuum I previously owned…. so on a cost per wear calculation it is positively cheap!!!!

So that’s a little window into my summer mornings. A little chilled, a little foodie and a little productive xo.

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