Glanteenassig Woods, Co. Kerry – A Hidden Gem.

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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Urchin, Dublin – A Short Review

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

5 Reasons Why I Blog

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

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

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

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

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

1.   A great creative outlet: 

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

2. So many experiences I would never have undertaken:

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

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

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

3. Observational Skills and Reflective Moments:

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

4. Positive Mindset:

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

5. Positive feedback and engagement:

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

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

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

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

 

Simple Speedy Supper

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

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

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

So here is what we ate…

Sausage Ragu with Rigatoni.

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

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

Method

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

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

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

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

 

Birchbox Review

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

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

Bobbi Brown Extra Eye Repair Cream:

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

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

Vita Liberata Body Blur Instant HD Skin Finish:

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

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

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ecoTOOLS Eye Enhancing Duo Set

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

Scrub Love Body Scrub – Coconut Mango

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

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

FULL-SIZE MeechNMia Brow Liner

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

 

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

 

Afternoon Tea at Ashford Castle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

5 things I like to do on a Summer Morning

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

1. Coffee/Tea and a book.

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

2. Some exercise.

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

3. Smoothies

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

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

4. Breakfast

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

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5. Housework

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

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

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

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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