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

 

Book Review: All We Shall Know

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I’m reading again. I had stopped, well almost stopped. And that is a crazy statement from someone like me. I was always one of those types who got in trouble for reading too much…. reading when I should be playing outside, reading when I should be tidying my room, reading when I should be eating dinner. Some of my strongest childhood memories are intrinsically linked with works of Enid Blyton, and I always wonder how the boarding school industry survived without the exquisite marketing of the Malory Towers girls or the twins at St. Claire’s. A world full all ginger beer laden midnight feasts and sneaky adventures… leaving bookworms everywhere begging to be shipped off to school (head teachers the world over could be heard breathing a collective sigh of relief when Harry went to Hogwarts).

But this bookworm stayed at home, learning about life and love from the pages of Judy Blume. Who can remember hiding Forever under mattresses as it was passed around convent school classrooms? Our generation’s answer to Edna O’Brien’s Country Girl or D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Months of my teenage life were spent following the fate of Joan Lingard’s Kevin and Sadie as they aimed to break down sectarian barricades in Northern Ireland or engrossed in the drivel that made up the Sweet Valley High Series.

As you can see I wasn’t always the most refined reader – but I was always a reader. Lately however, I found myself lacking not so much the time but the energy to read. Life was busy, the pull of social media strong and my physical surroundings far from comfortable. But now that things are calmer, cleaner and prettier, I am both reading and writing once more – the 3 month holiday helps I admit!!

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And so to the point of this post – I have finished my first read of summer and here are my thoughts on Donal Ryan’s All We Shall Know.

Honestly, I turned every page hating what I was reading, wanting to put it down but unable to look away. It sounds trite to say I was gripped from the opening lines but in this case it’s true:

“Martin Toppy is the son of a famous Traveller and the father of my unborn child. He’s seventeen, I’m thirty-three. I was his teacher.”

I was hooked.

Interestingly, the novel that follows is not really plot driven, and Martin Toppy has at best a small, supporting role. This is not his story. It is the story of Melody Shee, the pregnant teacher who narrates this tale, and she is a woman for whom it is hard to muster any sympathy. This would not normally appeal to me, as I like to feel I have a protagonist to root for. But there is a grit and a reality to Ryan’s beautifully controlled prose that makes you invest emotionally even in characters you fundamentally dislike. His ability to write from the perspective of a pregnant woman, whose story defies stereotypes, is the strength of this book. I always worry when a male author tries to assume the narrative voice of a woman, especially one who is pregnant and confused, but I felt Ryan’s refusal to sugar-coat either the marriage of Melody and her husband Pat, or the moment of conception with Martin Toppy, made me believe in the voice of Melody. From here the book was on to a winner.

During her pregnancy Melody’s story becomes entwined with that of a young Traveller girl, Mary Crothery. A review I read a while back, I think it was in The Guardian, was critical of this element of the novel, feeling the portrayal of the Travelling community to be a tad lazy and stereotypical. I wholeheartedly disagree. Although I wasn’t blown away by the characterisation of Mary, I thought the depiction of the the modern Irish Travelling community was truthful, balanced and emotionally strong. Marginalisation, ongoing prejudice, a quest for education (or at least literacy), the treatment of women, infertility, the grudge culture and the prevalence of violence were all aspects of this life that were explored. I think all these issues are still real and present in the life of many Irish Travellers. I think the mutual suspicion with which the Travelling and Settled communities regard each other also remains today  – a reality Ryan observed without feeling the need to moralise too much. Pretending things to be different would be being led by the politically correct agenda – a road Ryan never allows himself to be diverted down.

Like his stunning debut novel The Spinning Heart, this unflinching realism is where Ryan excels. He creates an Ireland we might wish did not exist, and a type of society that we may wish we had moved beyond. But we can identify. And that’s uncomfortable. And it makes us ask hard questions of ourselves and our world. And that is exceptional writing. This is not a work to make you smile, but a piece to make you think. Give it a try and don’t worry, because for all the grit there is also a place for sympathy, redemption and powerful friendship. Pick up a copy, grab a coffee and allow yourself to become immersed.

Hope you enjoy it as much as I did, xo.

 

Galway: A Hungry Girl’s Guide

If you’ve never been to Galway (or you’ve been 1000 times) the spaces and places pictured above will be more than sufficient to while away a lazy afternoon. Wander down Shop St and Quay St listening to the buskers, stop for a pint of black in Ua Neachtáin’s or Tig Cóilí, grab a bite in Ard Bia or An Cupán Tae and have a browse of the gifts, textiles and ceramics in Judy Greene or Twice as Nice. It is the Galway of guidebooks and rightly so.  More hippy than hipster, more Celtic than modern European. But full to the brim with music, wit and charm and so laid back you wonder how anyone gets a day’s work done. But just as Galway trades under several titles – City of the Tribes, Gaillimh, City of the Festivals – so too does it smile out of several faces.

And so I spent the day yesterday looking at a more 21st Century Galway and visited places that have captured the essence of the city they are fortunate enough to trade in, but moulded it into something more modern and innovative than what came before.

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I started my voyage of discovery in Coffeewerk and Press, for a caffeine hit to fuel a long day of eating, drinking and shopping. The space is beautiful, full to the brim with exquisite homewares and works of art from all over the world. It’s more concept store or small gallery than cafe (although I assume the money is in the coffee sales) but the fact that you can get great coffee, while listening to vinyl in a quiet window seat shows where the two businesses collide. The staff were friendly, the baked goods looked great and they know their caffeine. Not a place to linger for the afternoon working on your laptop or finishing a novel but for browsing two floors of beautiful “stuff ” while sipping an Americano in a super cute take-away cup it definitely works. Coffeewerk and Press is achingly cool; I assume it to be a  place hipsters hang out discussing the merits of Guatemalan blends over Ethiopian. But have you noticed the problem with the hipster of today? Yes, they have started to shave their beards so we can’t spot them (avoid them!!) as easily. Next they will start wearing socks and only be identifiable when you hear the discussion on the latest gin micro-distillery they discovered on a visit to North Leitrim!!! All this while looking at the craft beer drinker and thinking, “that poor guy is so 2016″.

Caffeine levels stabilised it was then time for some food.

Now despite my younger brother often labelling me pretentious (as he slurps a protein shake from the Nutribullet and listens to wireless headphones – all while googling the term irony!) I really am not quite there yet. And, let’s be honest, to a 23 year old DJ still enjoying the festival circuit and drinking cans of Galahad while sporting a head to toe charity shop ensemble, most things are pretentious!!! But it must be remembered  I am married to a man who judges restaurants on the quality of their “pandy” (that’s mash) and how generous they are with the gravy. He only yesterday accused who ever first put breadcrumbs on chicken breast of all sorts – “wasn’t it fine the way it was?” and as for replacing his beloved gravy with pepper sauce – now that is “just looking for notice”. So you see there is a gravitational pull at work to keep my feet firmly on the ground. And this is why the growing “brunch” circuit with Bloody Marys or Prosecco makes me cringe a little. It’s just breakfast people!!! Unless you actually eat it in the afternoon and it is going to keep you full until dinner…. then maybe it constitutes brunch. But if it is a bowl of granola or a fry up on a Tuesday morning at 11, it is breakfast!!!!! And you eat it, you don’t do it!!!!

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So long story long….. I went for BREAKFAST to Dela. And the homefries alone were enough to make me long to return. The vibe was laid back and airy, the menu has clear Scandinavian influences (what doesn’t at the moment) and, to be honest, anywhere that can make fried cauliflower taste that good deserves its success. I rate this place highly however, not for the Scandi vibe, but for the fact that, like neighbouring Kai, it takes ingredients seriously. They were local and clearly carefully selected, produced in a kitchen with a passion for food. Everything had a flavour. This was a breakfast where the mushrooms tasted almost like field mushrooms (although I think we are a little too early), and where you stop and realise that you shouldn’t be pleasantly surprised about how mushroomy the mushrooms are. That should be normal. But, in a world where people who own restaurants think frozen chips are ok, it isn’t. So yes, I like to do a little research to seek out places that are getting good press and making positive waves, not cause I need a Mimosa with my breakfast, but because if I am going to pay for it, I like to think some effort went in to the purchasing and the preparation. Does that make me pretentious? (The question is rhetorical little brother!!!)

It was a pretty day in Galway, so, after a the leisurely breakfast, I wandered by the Corrib, read my book and did a little interior shopping while waiting for my appetite to rebuild. I find the issue of not getting hungry fast enough to try all the places I would like to a real hindrance when I am away. Now that’s a first world problem!

But lo and behold, time passed and if not starving I was definitely able to take on a little more sustenance. And I knew exactly where I wanted to go. The Dough Bros on Middle St. for pizza.

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Now this is laid back eating at its finest, inspired by not just the pizza but the culture of Naples, it is not a place that stands on ceremony. You pay at the counter and eat with your fingers. And the queue is out the door.

Why? Because it’s delicious. And I lived in Italy so I speak about pizza from the perspective of the perpetually disappointed. Good pizza is not so filling you need to share it, or take the remainder home in a box. The dough is light, the edges are burnt, the toppings are kept to a minimum. This was REALLY, REALLY good pizza. I devoured it…. great base, simple tomato sauce and high quality mozzarella. The basics all in place… you are onto a winner whatever toppings you choose. It was the perfect end to my day out!!!

So there you go – a day in Galway without an Irish pub, trad music or handmade pottery. Lots of you know that this is a city that has it all, the rest of us can enjoy finding that out. Galway, I look forward to our next encounter xo