V by Very Blog Awards 2017

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I haven’t been blogging very long, I am nothing if not inconsistent with it and I had, before last week, attended a grand total of one blogger event. But somehow I had slipped through the cracks and slithered all the way on to the list of finalists for the V by Very Blog Awards 2017, leaving me with an invite to head to the capital for the annual awards ceremony. Now I hummed and hawed a little about actually attending, knowing very well that I would not be amongst the gong wielders trying to get their speeches out (or in this case photo taken) before the music ushered them off stage. And trust me, that is not a statement driven by false modesty or a search for compliments. Self-deprecation is not really my thing. Any objective eye (and even my own subjective one) could ascertain at a glance that several of the blogs in our category (lifestyle) are better than this little slice of cyberspace currently professes to be. They are maintained by people who have blogged for longer, who create content more frequently and who generally take far superior photos. That is just a fact. What is also a fact is that the best blog in this category won on the night. Louise O’Connell’s eponymous blog is fab. I also really enjoy her instastories and love how much I can learn from following bloggers of this calibre. Her style (which focuses mainly on beauty) could not be more different from mine or indeed from that of runner-up, Cupid or Cats, a blog that is all about the writing and will make you laugh out loud. Jane’s style reminds me of a very talented blogger friend of mine (the only other blogger I actually know if online stalking is discounted!) as she draws us into her world with excellent penmanship that is in equal parts comic and compassionate. One of those rare talents who can be strikingly honest and personal without ever seeming to take themselves too seriously. Have a read, it’s worth it!

And so, given the quality of the competition, I genuinely never expected to win and something would have been awry with the judging if I had. But still I rushed from work, changed into the gúna and dragged my reluctant plus one to Dublin on a school night. If not for a cute plaque, then why? Mainly because a little group of wise friends and colleagues (who are not averse to gentle bullying) made me see that fledgling bloggers like me would not get a “pat on the back” like making the longlist, or the shortlist, or on a good year the list of finalists, if nobody supported the process and indeed the final event.  Someone decided I was worthy of a place at the table, so the least I could do was sit down and enjoy it. And so off I went, and here is how it all played out.

The Venue

The awards were held in The Academy in Dublin, and the venue thus provided the theme – movie icons. It was a great setting in my eyes, although I was glad of my leather biker jacket! The light box with the event name outside was super cool and there was a proper red carpet with photographers on arrival. Despite being camera-shy (I firmly believe it does lie despite the old adage – and I am always prettier in my head) it was a lovely way to create a sense of occasion and celebration. The building had loads of space with proceedings spread over several floors, the staff were friendly and there was even provision for an after party. So far, so good for The Bloggies!

Food and Booze

The food on the night was provided by KC Peaches and it was a bit like a more substantial portion of finger food. There was pork belly skewers, chilli dogs, Cajun chicken sandwiches and veggie noodles. But you could only choose one thing!!! One small morsel!!! It was definitely not going to put you off your bacon and cabbage, but the problem was there was no bacon and cabbage to follow. No buttery mash to fill you up. Not even a bowl of cheese and onion Taytos to dip in to. So considering the price of entry the food offering felt just a little stingy. Now don’t get me wrong, it was very tasty….. but I was starving, and for me a little hunger can be a dangerous thing. It can in fact metamorphise into a life changing medical condition in a matter of seconds. Survival instincts eventually activated and I ended up eating a chicken and stuffing sandwich in the car on the way home, but really that was a feast unworthy of the LBD and heels.  And also all the food was cold…. which was strange… because it looked like hot food but it was in fact all cold. Very, very odd!

The booze offering on the other hand was very generous. Our little blue wristbands entitled each of us to three alcoholic tipples, so three Mor Gin and Tonics it was. Yum!!!! There was also Heineken Light or Prosecco. But again in the realm of the bizarre, there was no option at all for the teetotal attendees or the evening’s designated drivers.  Definitely something to reconsider for next year.

The ceremony

Here I was very impressed. The stage was well-lit. The MCs, Lords of Strut, were unique and engaging – it was all very camp and very 80s but lots of fun. I loved that every finalist had their blog name displayed on a huge movie screen, the programmes were high quality and the spot prizes really generous. It also moved along at pace, which I think everyone was glad of and it was all in all a very enjoyable couple of hours. In the categories I read regularly the blogs I rate most highly were generally amongst the prize winners – a positive for the quality of the judging process, which as far as I am aware is completely voluntary. For anyone interested the overall Blog of the Year 2017 is GastroGays, and this travel and foodie blog is definitely an example of all that is good in the Irish blogosphere.

The Goodie Bags

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Finally, I think there is real merit in attending events just for a goodie bag. Who doesn’t love a little pressie for the road home? And it wasn’t a bad one either. The two standout gifts were an Alcatel USB (I really needed one) and a mascara from The Balm. There were some snacks (crisps and cookies) and drinks (coconut water and beer) and also some beauty bits like body lotion and perfume samples. And of course there was a voucher for V by Very.

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And so that’s a wrap from the V by Very blog awards 2017 – I hope to experience the glitz and glamour again over the coming years. And the best part – I have discovered some fab new bloggers to follow, learn from and be inspired by!

Til next time, xo.

 

 

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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!!!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!!

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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

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.

July Birchbox: Review

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

 

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.

 

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.

Taste of Dublin – what keeps me coming back?

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The Iveagh Gardens in the sun are the perfect setting to celebrate Irish food and increasingly Irish booze. And for the fourth year running, the sun shone brightly on the Saturday afternoon session that the girls and I chose to attend, making it yet again my favourite day of the year so far.

So what do I love so much about Taste of Dublin?

The setting:

Taste of Dublin is a classy day out and the location totally befits the vibe it is striving for. Once inside the gates, the city feels a world away, as the gardens are very much an urban oasis. They are big enough to take the crowd but not so big they dilute the atmosphere; they are shaded but don’t block out the sun and they are stunning without being so precious that you can’t lounge on the grass sipping a cocktail.  It really is an ideal site for this type of event.

Florins:

Florins are the currency of Taste and they are a little piece of marketing magic. For many they will be a negative but I love the way they promote a suspension of reality. Taste is an expensive day out (I will get to that in a minute) but the Florin system allows you to pretend it isn’t happening. It is Monopoly money and the connection between it and the ESB bill pinned magnetically to the fridge is completely non-existent. It subtly but effectively banishes any feelings of guilt about what can easily become a very extravagant afternoon.

The Entertainment:

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Taste is about the food. Unlike Bloom where the gardens seem to be almost peripheral, Taste keeps its focus firmly fixed on the consumption of all things edible. But that is not to suggest that it is light on musical entertainment or that this lacks quality. In fact the diversity and calibre of the live performances is something that has remained a consistent feature of the event over the years. And it really helps create a chilled out, summer party atmosphere.

Bubbles:

Now there is absolute no need to be drinking alcohol to enjoy Taste of Dublin and I am sure hundreds of visitors don’t. However, it has always been part of my Taste experience. I go with friends – some friends from my childhood and some friends of these friends. Friends I only know from Taste, only meet at Taste, but really enjoy catching up with. The group can vary in size but a love of food and a penchant for a fizzy flute of Prosecco makes for a very easy day out, always full of laughter. We pool our Florins, swap foodie anecdotes, right the wrongs of the world and generally laugh a lot. Whether it is a gentle ribbing of the IT professional who can’t use internet banking, anecdotes about my best mate’s “schoolboy” office humour or a lively debate about the pros and cons of internet dating it is always a slightly tipsy day full of laughter. And don’t worry if after too many bubbles you feel a little worse for wear – I have it on good authority that a splash of water on your forearms is entirely sobering!! Not convinced? Me neither!

The Food:

Well obviously.

Now, if I were to be critical I would have to acknowledge that there has been a decrease in the really high end food available at Taste in recent years. No more do we seem to see L’Ecrivan, Chapter One or Thornton’s. And where oh where have the lobster rolls gone? But on the flip side, the food is great. And there is an oyster bar.

The thing about Taste is that even if something is not what I expected, I never remember getting food that I felt was sub-standard or poorly executed. While we may wish for more crab in our croquette, or softer rhubarb after the stewing, it all still tastes like good food. It is all still prepared skilfully. The ingredients always appear to be high quality. And that’s why we go.

Where else do you get to move from restaurant to restaurant picking and choosing from their signature dishes? The aforementioned crab croquette with avocado mayonnaise from Suesey St, pan seared scallops in the shell from Matt the Thresher or gambas and chilli risotto from The Old Spot gave seafood lovers something to whet their appetite with. For committed carnivores an Irish pork belly lettuce wrap from Urchin, The Porterhouse’s grilled lamb chop or goat on toast from Pickle were just some of the options we sampled. A spicy Singara – Bengali Samosa with lentils and puffed rice was pronounced the dish of the festival and its creator, Jaipur, was the favoured restaurant by the judges. But from my observations the punters’ pick was St. Lorenzo’s calamari with chilli and lime, served in paper cones with a garlic mayo dip. There were tons of desserts and loads of veggie offerings, illustrating why one session is never enough and why Taste of Dublin has such enduring foodie appeal.

So roll on next June when we can do it all again. Maybe for an evening session, just to break with tradition. Or maybe not. After all if it’s not broken…

If you have never been, then I can’t really recommend Taste of Dublin enough but be prepared, this is an expensive day out that is definitely not getting any more affordable as the years go by. Yes, the ticket is cheap but really the ticket buys you nothing but a foot in the door (or the garden in this case). You will spend a lot and still you will be hungry again a few hours later but you will have a great day. xo