Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Green Machines

It is not just a gallery, not just a museum and definitely not just your average lab, I suppose The Science Gallery in Dublin is a bit of all that. And if you haven't been around to check out its latest exhibition: Green Machines, do go and visit before this Friday 17th December, as it is the closing date of this fantastic eco-themed display. It is free entry (donations accepted!).

While visiting Green Machines a few weeks ago, I just fell in love with the cardboard PC (recompute) and a couple of other designs, such as the sink/loo. You'll get to 'invest' in your favourite green ideas and your investment will count to choose The Best Green Machine of 2010.

If you are interested in eco design, sustainability or simply have a couple of hours to spare around Dublin city, pop in. You'll love it.
I'll be writing a bit more on the Science Gallery for PCLive! magazine soon...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Ethical Shopping - building up a feel good list for Christmas

IMF bailout, prebudget gloom, crisis and all can't hide the fact that we are only a month away from Christmas (yay!). We might be about the enter the most austere four years in the recent history of the country but Christmas is still on, right?

If you haven't done your shopping or even given it a thought yet, here's a thought: why not turn your gifts into something special and meaningful that could touch more than just those you are giving them to?

I have been meaning to build an ethicla guide to Christmas (and general) gift shopping for a while and here's what I've found so far. I'll keep adding to it in the coming days, feel free to add and suggest ideas:


-Irish Horse Welfare Trust http://www.ihwt.ie/

The Irish Horse Welfare Trust (IHWT) does an amazing job rescuing and retraining abandoned horses and ex-race horses from across Ireland.

The charity, which is based in a farm in Woodenbridge, Co. Wicklow, has launched a gift brochure which includes clothing (fleeces, t-shirts), Christmas cards, a designer bag (Hazel bag by Louloubelle), stock fillers such as pens and key rings, as well as presents for your horse (if you have one). The gifts are available to purchase online from the IHWT website.

-Irish Seal Sanctuary
http://www.irishsealsanctuary.ie/ in Courtown, Gorey, Co. Wexford, sells cuddly toys of all sizes, as well as other merchandise such as t-shirts, hoodies and caps and hats. As far as I know the charity doesn't have an online shop yet but it might come soon. In the meantime, if you happen to visit their rescue centre in Courtown, have a look at their shop.


-Oxfam Fair Trade shop (also online at www.oxfamireland.org/fairtrade-shop/)

The Oxfaf Fair Trade shop in South King Street (Dublin) - also in Galway, Belfast and Cork- is always a good source of original gift ideas with the fair trade stamp. It is particularly useful when buying for home (decoration items and all sorts of nice things, such as tea sets, photo frames, cushions...) and also friends with new babies (fairly priced organic cotton clothes and toys), but they also have music, bags and some selection of edible treats.

- www.faireeire.ie

Good source of knitwear, jewellery and other general gift ideas such as purses and bags for the ladies. A few items made of recycled materials too (tick the green credentials box too!)



Go to the Gift Guide section and click By Department. Select Best sellers and you'll find a pretty interesting mix of green trinkets and gadgets (the solar powered ipod dock is a pretty cool one). The option to search by price is very handy. There is also a clothes section and fair trade.

Science Gallery

The Science Gallery in Pearse Street has some cool eco gadgets for sale at their gallery shop (online store at www.sciencegallery.com/shop) , including the super useful sports bottle with water filter. The solar powered disco ball could make some people very happy this Christmas...


The Cultivate Centre in Temple Bar usually has a good selection of gift ideas, although its site http://www.cultivate.ie/ only has a very limited online store which is not representative of the fantastic stuff you might find at the actual shop.


So charity shops used to be in but after years of struggling to find decent clothes suitable to my age! I have almost given up (at least on the small town ones)- swap shops and vintage specialists are a much better alternative.

For brand new stuff, here are some links to ethical fashion shops and brands (thanks Claire for most of the names!).

A very comprehensive list of retailers selling some ethical ranges or focusing entirely on sustainable fashion can be found at http://www.re-dress.ie/retail.html.

http://www.harvestmoonglobal.ie/ Irish alternative clothing online shop.

http://www.seasaltcornwall.co.uk/ has nice organic cotton clothing and facilities to buy online (it is also stocked by Contra Clothing in Gorey, Co. Wexford, if you are ever around this neck of the woods).

www.continentalclothing.com/ and http://www.earthpositive.com/


www.fromsomewhere.co.uk/ and Irish http://www.unicorndesign.net/ for designer-y clothes

www.peopletree.co.uk/ (stocked at Arnotts in Dublin)

www.kuyichi.com/ (they have a store at Opera lane in Cork city)


Monday, November 15, 2010

10 tips for a greener Christmas

Irish carbon consultancy Emission Zero has issued Top 10 useful tips for punters looking to reduce our carbon footprint (and possibly save a few euro) this coming Christmas. If, like me, unfortunately Christmas means flying and a black mark on your green credentials, at least there are some other smaller things you can do to compensate for your air travel carbon footprint.

They are very simple tips we can all keep in mind to reduce the amount of useless waste we generate at Christmas to a minimum and go easy on the planet. Most of them could actually be easily followed the rest of the year.

Top 10 tips:

1-The Christmas Tree.
Make the eco-friendly choice this Christmas and go for a real Christmas Tree. Although artificial trees will last longer they are made from plastic, transported huge distances to market and are not recyclable. Real trees absorb CO2 emissions during their life time and can also be recycled. Go to your local council’s website after Christmas for details on tree recycling and collection.

2-LED lights.
These lights consume only one sixtieth of the energy required by conventional lights and you can use them year after year. There is no filament in the bulbs of these lights to burn out saving all the hassle of figuring out which bulb to replace when the whole set goes out!

3-Christmas cards.
The amount of Christmas cards sent every year places a huge demand on natural resources not to mention the transport emissions from moving these cards through the post! Alternatives: send an e-card instead of a paper card; send cards made from recycled material or charity cards. If you receive cards this year, don’t forget to recycle them or better yet, cut them up to make gift tags for next year!

Use recycled paper wrapping and tie them up with string. Avoid using foil or plastic wrapping, plastic ribbons and sellotape. And again, remember to recycle the wrapping paper from any presents you receive or try to reuse it!

5-Energy efficient gifts.
If you’re buying electrical equipment this Christmas be sure to check the energy label and only buy A rated appliances. Also be sure to recycle any old electrical appliances. Visit http://www.weeeireland.ie/ to find out how…

6-Avoid battery-operated toys or go for rechargeable batteries.
Batteries contain toxic chemicals and are very hard to recycle so this Christmas chose rechargeable batteries; these will save on waste and also save you money in the long run.

7-Food: local or organic - or both!
Source vegetables from your local farm or market and visit the local butcher for a locally sourced and organic turkey. Buying local reduces the emissions from transporting food and will boost the local economy….don’t forget your re-usable shopping bags!

8-Public Transport.
This will save on fuel, CO2 emissions and also means you can enjoy a mulled wine after a hard day’s shopping!

9-Christmas is a time of excess and we often find ourselves clearing out old clothes and toys at this time of year. Make sure to donate any unwanted clothes and toys to your local charity.

10-Finally, when all the celebrations are over and it comes to doing the clear up remember to recycle! Compost food waste and bring empty bottles to the bottle bank!

To estimate your carbon footprint, Emission Zero has a Carbon Calculator on their site: http://www.emissionzero.ie/index.php?p=calculator and lots of tips on how to lead a low carbon life, both at home, abroad, on the road and at work at: http://www.emissionzero.ie/index.php?p=carbonlife

Friday, November 5, 2010

Gillian has the Chef Factor

My friend Gillian, from Dungarvan, is entering Cully & Sully's Chef Factor.

The idea is that wannabe chefs and foodies enter their recipes and photos (posing with one of their dishes) to become one of the two lucky winners of a 12-week cookery course at Ballymaloe

Country House - home of food extraordinaires Darina and Rachel Allen.

The competition also tries to raise awareness and donations to Cork's Simon community, helping homeless people.

So, if you wouldn't mind giving Gillian a hand and 'like' her Garden Inspired Ravioli... I've tried them and they are gorgeous. They are pink in colour because she has used some of her home-grown beetroot for the homemade ravioli pasta. Now, we can always arrange for a taste session if she wins thanks to your votes...

Only 19 days to vote:

Sunday, October 24, 2010

making quince jelly - marmelo/membrillo

My granny back in Galicia used to make tonnes of marmelo (membrillo in Spanish and quince jelly/paste in English) when I was a kid. I was always amazed at this weird-looking fruit that we weren't allowed to eat raw, that resembled a cross between a deformed apple and a lemon.

Marmelo was one of those childhood staples, usually given to you in your sandwich with some cheese. At some stage, there was some shop-bought ones in the 80s that were a funky '3-flavour/colour' magnet to all the kids in my neighbourhood. Home-made marmelo was so not-cool...

It is a very Autumny treat as well and some people used to keep them in their closet to keep their clothes perfumed (some people do that with apples too).

So, after a visit to the Gorey Farmers Market yesterday, I decided to buy a few quinces from the Organic shop and today I'm making some marmelo. Here's the process (flexible!):

-1kg of quinces
-500grms sugar

First I wash the quinces, chop them in quarters and get rid of the cores.
Boil them in water (or steam them) until they are very soft.
Pass them through the sieve.
Cook the paste with the sugar
you'll have to keep stirring with the wooden spoon until it feels like it has become a bit solid.
Pour onto a deep tray. Let it set for a few days (covered) and then keep cool (fridge is good) in a container with a lid.

Slice to eat - excellent with cheese.

Seaweed harvesting

It has been a beautiful Autumn day in Co. Wexford today. Mr M and I went for a stroll on the beach near Cahore Point, as many other times. This time we were on a mission though: getting some seaweed (that we could use as manuer) for our vegetable patch. This is the second time we go 'seaweed harvesting' this year, the first one was back in the early spring, and it is quite fun. Although I end up spending most of the time taking pictures than actually getting the bloody things into the bags... maybe I'm just easily amused ;-)

I have been suffering from gardening 'overdrive' in the past few days, maybe because I just joined Grow It Yourself the other week. So this is the first year we are actually going to plant some winter vegetables - it will be interesting to see what happens. Nothing too risky though, so far we've just bought (on the way back from our seaweed mission) purple broccoli, all year round cauliflower, winter lettuce and some garlic and onion bulbs.

As for the seaweed, we've laid it out on the backyard and watered it to get rid of the salt (I read that on a Canadian site earlier this year). Mr M thinks we should chop the long ones but I'm just far too lazy for that. As soon as all the veggies are out, the seaweed goes in... to make it nice and tasty for the winter veg...

The seaweed trip got me thinking about that Welsh bread made with seaweed and some type of bread also made in Co. Galway. The problem is how do I recognise the right type of seaweed??

Thursday, September 23, 2010

the truth about salmon

Here's an interesting article from today's Irish Independent on the ethical issues linked to producing (and consuming salmon). It's a tricky one, specially for salmon-loving Irish consumers. With most salmon being produced in carbon intensive farms and fed on fish pellets, is there an ethical way of eating salmon? or should we ditch it altogether? well, that is the question...


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Make your own Fromage Frais

Since I was a child I love fromage frais or curd cheese (requeson in Galego), which is quite popular as a dessert in France and other countries in the continent but not that widely accepted as a sweet treat in Ireland.

Since our friend Gillian is staying with us for a few weeks and her family has a dairy farm in Co. Waterford, she brings some unpasteurised milk every week with her. Most of the weeks we don't manage to drink it all so I decided to give fromage frais a shot for two reasons: there is not much you can do with milk that's starting to go off! and it has been years since I last ate proper homemade curd cheese.

If you don't have unpasteurised milk, I hear it's possible to make as well, by getting some gelling agents at the chemist - but I have never tried.

Anyway, making curd cheese from unpasteurised milk is just so easy. First you let the milk sit in a bowl out of the fridge so it curdles. Leaving it overnight should do, specially in the summer months. In the morning, the milk will be completely set and will look like gelatine.

Traditionally, the next step consists in hanging the curdled milk in a cloth in a cool corner and let the whey drip. For a quick fix, I just put a cloth on a colander and let it drip on to a big bowl or even the sink. After a few hours, the whey will be all in the bowl and the cheese will be ready to eat. Spoon it out of the cloth on to a small bowl. I like eating it just as it is, with some sugar or honey but if you are a bit squeamish, mix in with a bit of milk and blend for a smooth result. Yummy! Mr M and Gillian don't seem so impressed so I'm eating it all on my own.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Feeding the Seals in Howth Harbour

There is such a thing as a free lunch, at least for the seals that hang out by Howth's pier. If you thought you were the only one heading to Howth for a good seafood meal, you were very wrong. The seals get the best deal around though. Here's a video of a recent Sunday trip to Howth with friends Iria and Clara.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Chez Vejlupeck

Wedding number 2 this year took us to the Swiss shores of Lake Geneva (or Leman) to beautiful Nyon castle and the alpine village of Rougemont, in Vaud.

We arrived in Rougemont escaping the scorching heat of Geneva and the mountains were indeed that couple of degrees cooler -just enough to make it bearably warm. The bride had very kindly booked us a room at the home of Pierre Vejlupeck, a chatty Czech-Swiss old-school hippy that could be anything from 40 to 55 years of age, and according to his neighbour, a bit of a charmer with the ladies.

Vejlupeck's is not your average chalet with alpine paraphernalia. Judging by the style and decor of the house, Vejlupeck has instead a bit of an obsession with Tibetan flags, Buddha statues, tea-light holders and Indian mementos. It certainly feels more like a yoga-retreat than a guesthouse in the middle of one of the higher-end ski regions of the Swiss Alps.

Tucked in on a sunny slope just outside the village, Vejlupeck grows his vegetables and hosts guests of all sorts but definitely not your ski-season types. The house is charming, warm and welcoming in a laid back homey kind of way -despite some strict no-shoes-in-the-house rules and other petty things.

Vejlupeck tells us a group of hare krishnas come to stay with him every year, and it's easy to see why. The sheer beauty and quietness of the mountain in the summer, only disturbed by the sound of the cow bells, is so idyllic, so relaxing, it'll tempt even city creatures to ditch their mobile and any other reminders of the outside world. Although I wonder what the hare krishnas make of Vejlupeck's curiosity and constant chatting.

A carpenter by trade, Vejlupeck is part-philosopher, part-spiritual guru: he stresses the importance of manual labour for spiritual and mental well-being; and easily moves on to the posibility of reincarnation, current affairs and the state of the world -all this at the breakfast table after our late night at the wedding reception - and in French!

While we were hoping to catch the train back to Geneva around 11, it had to be delayed, as the animated conversation moved to his rebel younger years in 1970s in Switzerland - if there is such a thing.

As we walked down to the village in the summer sun, I wished we could stay. Mainly for the luxury of listening to the cow bells when waking up in the morning...

Octopus Galician Style..

Paul the German psychic octopus has become a bit of a world celeb. If Paul's vision is right yet again, Spain should win the World Cup this Sunday. There is talk of the Germans being so upset with Paul after their defeat earlier this week that they are considering making one of Galicia's most traditional dishes their own, yep, octopus!

The most common way of eating octopus in Galicia is what Spaniards call 'Galician Style' and Galicians call 'a feira' or 'Fair Day Style'.

Fair Day Octopus is traditionally boiled in a copper caldron, then chopped, sprinkled with sweet and hot paprika, sea salt (coarse) and a drizzle of olive oil. Served warm.

At home, you can cook it in a normal pot. Firstly, you must wait for the water to boil and dip the octopus in and out of the water 3/4 times, apparently this prevents it from peeling. Then leave the octopus in, once the water is boiling again. Usually it takes around 30 minutes for each kilo to cook. What my dad does is put a medium size potato boiling with the octopus and once the potato is ready, so is the octopus. It is usually better to undercook it than overcook it and risk having mushy octopus. Serve warm - on a wooden plate if possible!

Grilled octopus with a drizzle of olive oil and sea salt is also delicious. After boiling, cut the octopus tentacles lenghtways and grill for a few minutes each side.

In Santiago de Compostela is also quite common to find 'empanada de pulpo', octopus (pastry) pie. I'm not a big fan of octopus empanada as the meat tends to become a bit chewy but I absolutely love empanada in general though. Other simple octopus and Galician recipes can be found on http://www.lareira.net/ (in Galician and Spanish).

Buying octopus in Ireland (in the country at least) can be a bit tricky, though. We have bought octopus (frozen, which is actually good because it helps make the meat more tender) at the Wrights of Howth fish shop (from France) but I'm told many Asian shops in Dublin city sell frozen octopus from Galicia. It's in my 'to-do' list. for my next trip up to the big smoke.

Here The New York Times' Matt Bittman cooks octopus Galician style. Watch his Video.

Watch out Paul...

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Grow your own - part 3

And here are some pics of the vegetable patch.
Starting to reap rewards...

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The miracle Apricot tree

A few weeks ago, Mr M was weeding the vegetable patch when he pulled this very unusual looking weed. At the end of it was, to his surprise, half an apricot stone.

The 'apricot weed' was about 8cms long and Mr M potted it and put it on the windowsill, keeping the parsley some company. We wondered what would happen to the miracle apricot seedling... And here it is now, some month and a half later: re-potted again and four times its original size, loving the indoor climate of the Sunny South East of Ireland...

How the stone ended up in the vegetable patch has been the subject of much speculation. We have settled for the compost heap theory as the official one.

I have estimated we have probably eaten about 190 apricots since moving to the house - taking 80 apricots per year (at a rate of 20 per week for only four weeks a year - unfortunately) as a conservative average.

Let's leave a margin or error and say of those 190 stones, only most of them, let's say 150, made it to the compost heap. Then from the compost heap, some of them must have rotten. Some might be still in the heap and some other might be still in the veggie patch. But ONLY one has managed to grow into an apricot seedling.

This is a hell of an achievement for this resilient apricot stone, that has managed not only to germinate in the unwelcoming Irish climate (for apricots at least!) but also battle its coldest winter in 50 years. And that, my friends, is why we had to call it the Miracle Apricot Tree...

it is my favourite gardening story by far... and a tough one to beat, I reckon. Unless we manage to get rid of the slugs altogether and that will be a proper gardening miracle, technically speaking.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

How to cook a lobster - humanely

Mister M doesn't let me tell people we ate lobster for dinner at the weekend, as he doesn't want them to think we are posh (which we aren't). Lobster eating, he says, sounds too uppity to be admitted in public.

However, Martin the fishmonger (not Martin as in Martin is Mad about Fish but other Martin, also mad about fish) has lobster every now and then for very cheap (around €10-12 a piece) and it is difficult to resist temptation. If you think about it, you would spend that money on a cheap trip to the chipper or the Chinese take away, so what's wrong with spending it on a juicy tasty fresh-looking lobster? uppityness and all...

I think Mister M is warming up to the idea though. To start with, he found it a bit heart-breaking, eyeing the creature (still alive) every time he opened the fridge (someone told him lobster are very intelligent creatures - I find it hard to believe somehow).

Once it's in your mouth, any guilt surely disappears... and why would a lobster be more intelligent than a Dublin Bay prawn, let's say... just because it's bigger, it doesn't mean it's more sensitive...

so that takes us to the issue of how to kill a lobster humanely. These are some options I came across but no unified opinion on the Top Most Humane Tecnique to Kill a Lobster:

-Stab in the head - so it's cooking once it's dead

-Drop in pot with boiling water

-Drop in pot with cold water, and let it boil (surely this sound more horrific than anything else)

-Let it roam free in your bath (fresh water) for a few hours before cooking. (lobsters are sea creatures though!)

I went for the boiling water option, mainly because I didn't fancy stabbing the lobster while still moving. Since there is no bath in the house, the roaming taste of freedom was out of the question - sorry lobster!

15 minutes later, it was ready to eat...

Useless tips for hayfever sufferers

According to weather forecasts (and my long-suffering eyes and nose) 22nd June is the day of the year with the highest level of grass pollen floating around, making life for hayfever sufferers truly miserable. Here are some useless tips I have received and tried over the years that have been of little or no relief - feel free to add your own...

-Close windows at home and in the car
All very well but isolation is hardly a long-term solution. What about in between car-home-office? or the weekends? Maybe it's just worth locking us all up until the summer is over, house arrest (remember to feed us a couple of times a week, please!). That will definitely eliminate the sneezing, itching, puffy-eyes, headache problem... or even better, maybe we should get under work arrest and work 24/7 from May til August: no outdoors allowed. That would actually increase Ireland's productivity and help us get out of the recession as well... This is certainly worth taking into consideration... I wonder why I didn't think of it and submitted it to the Your Country, Your Call competition...

-Wear sunglasses
Check. Maybe they meant gogles? plus people will think you are a tosser if you wear sunglasses at night...

-Wear a mask
Tried that a while back. It wasn't particularly practical, since my nose was running most of the day. Unless they patent a special mask with a drainage system in place it is highly unlikely will make it as a main hayfever relief method. Other downsides: you could get mistaken for a loopy Michael Jackson fan or a swine flu freak.

-Eat local honey all year around
This must be my fifth year on the 'local honey' diet and either: A- it hasn't affected my suffering in the slightlest or B-I would have been much worse if I hadn't taken it. In any case, it is difficult to assess results so we'll add it to the category of tasty tips, while not very clear effects.

-Don't dry your clothes outdoors
Not much of an option here, I'm afraid.

having tried many, I can't really say they solve my problem, although I'm sure other cases will be sorted with some anti-histamine. I keep taking them in the hope one day they'll will...

so this leaves us with one option:

-stop breathing altogether, which is not very practical at all either, for obvious reasons...

However, some website http://www.hayfever.ie/ is claiming since the main problem is reducing the amount of pollen we ingest, hayfever symptoms will be reduced by reducing breathing...

I rest my case

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Life of Cod

Following my attraction to books with all-things edible I found myself reading the Voluptuous delights of Peanut Butter and Jam, as mentioned a couple of posts earlier.

The book turned out to be a great read - if not much of a culinary experience (I can't say I didn't see that one coming... )

The story focuses on the childhood memories of the main character and her little sister in a rural area of colonial Rodhesia (now Zimbabwe). The backdrop: the dramatic social changes affecting the country in the late 70s. It reminded me a little of the God of Small Things, partly because of the delicate writing and the exotic location, and partly because of the childhood memory story line mixed with tragedy and loss of inocence tale. I truly recommend it.

Following the food theme (at least in the title!) I finally got hold of Mark Kurlansky's 'Cod: the biography of the fish that changed the world'. This is a different kettle of fish (easy joke).

The book has some recipes (with Cod of course) rescued from publications from different countries at various times in history (did you know bechamel sauce was originally invented to go with salted cod?) but mainly it is a history book - a very good one though. It was originally published in 1999 but it feels pretty current still.

A bit like Bill Bryson, Kurlansky turns historic events into something enjoyable and readable - this is not your average history essay or text book. This history of many peoples around the globe are interlinked because of one single thing: cod fishing. From the Basque and Viking fishermen crossing the Atlantic to the Cod Wars and modern-day fish quotas, building riches but also taking them back. Who would think one single fish could have such power over so many nations?? No wonder Cod deserved a biography of its own. Next time I have cod on my plate, I'll have to think twice before munching it...

Plenty of interesting facts about the fish itself make it an unusual breed of book: part cookbook, part nature science, part historic tale.

Kurlansky is also the author of The Basque History of the World. (another superb book) and Salt, which might come next in my list of tasty sounding titles...

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Scottish castles, weddings Eurovision and other random incidents

So it is wedding season again. The worst thing about turning 30 is not the inevitable new decade crises: it is the amount wedding invitations you'll get per year. If you thought it was bad in the past couple of years... it is only about to get worse...
Is it some 30s nuptial virus? it is worth looking into it more scientifically, for sure.

You better forget about choosing a destination to go on holidays or for a short break. Sorry pals, the truth is the destination will choose YOU, or more like it: your soon-to-be-married friends will do it!

It also has its pros, of course. Since 2005, I have visited great places from Slovakia to Iowa, from Poland to Cork. Knots being tied all over the place. We had to leave out a couple of wedding invitations to Galicia and the Pyrenees that we couldn't attend (probably clashing with another wedding??) but it has been the perfect excuse to travel around and check out the local nuptial customs.

This year's invitations have come from Ireland (for a wedding in South Scotland), Swizterland, Wales and Slovakia again (not the same people though!).

So off we went a couple of weekends ago on our first wedding of the season. Destination: Scotland. The volcanic ash troubles were over, not that it affected us anyway: we were taking the ferry from Larne. Mark likes taking the mickey out of ferry travellers, mainly time-rich 'fuddy duddies' (and this is not my terminology) apparently.

The wedding location was Cromlongon Castle just outside Dumfries which is stunning, specially if you are lucky enough to have a sunny day, and more importantly: it celebrates civil ceremonies. I love civil ceremonies. I'll rephrase that: I loathe religious ceremonies.

It is bad enough this whole tradition of fathers giving away daugthers (talk to the Swedes about that!), whithout having to endure some patronising moral tale about sinners, judgement day and all the rest on top of things. So I was delighted to attend a civil ceremony in a castle. I was delighted as well for the bride and groom, of course, because I really like them, they have been together for years and they deserve their day as much as the next. Everything was so relaxed and easy going, you could almost get used to it: on holidays, being fed in a fantastic looking castle and drinking Pimms.

At 12, like Cinderella, we were packed on the bus back to the hotel (a golf hotel overlooking the bay) to get our beauty sleep and Saturday morning was back to normal and off to the Maldives for the happy couple.

Little Green Polo took us all the way up to Edimburgh, despite some issues with a flat battery (pure Murphy's law) where we met with another friend, Chris, who isn't getting married as far as I know, but lives there - so it was kind of handy to go up and say hello for a night or two.

He took us up to Arthur's seat, which is the dead volcano landmark of the city, with great views of Edimburgh all the way to the port. And to the port area he took us too, Leith, for a top notch lunch at a seafood restaurant called Skippers. If you are ever in Edimburgh .... you must go and try their crab and smoked salmon caneloni.

Another sign of being 30 is when you go to visit friends and, instead of going out clubbing and drinking , you go sightseeing during the day, go for fancy lunch and stay at home with wine and telly at night (Saturday night!). And this is exactly what happened in Edimburgh. But then, who would like to miss Eurovision??? it might be tackiest show in the continent but boy is it fun? Chris' German housemate was having a ball and, happiness, as we all know, can be very contagious in these sort of situations.

If you think that was bad, Sunday evening plans (on a Bank Holiday weekend) included some pseudo-golfing at the Meadows and a game of Scrabble. And they were both fun, I must admit.

Monday was back to Cairnryan ferry port and home to Ireland.

I wonder if all this ferry travelling is turning us into fuddy duddies at the tender age of 30...

next wedding in two weeks' time.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Organic lamb from the Wicklow hills!

so you might have read the feature on young farmers publised by the Irish Times magazine a couple of weeks ago. It was a very interesting article on the lives and farming challenges of Debbie Johnston and her hubbie David, who run Sweetbank Farm in Co. Wicklow (you can read it here).

The farm specialises in organic farming, including artisan lamb and beef.
Debbie is also very actively involved with the Irish Horse Welfare Trust and for every box of meat purchased at the farm, Sweetbank donates €10 to the horse charity, helping them develop their horse rescue and re-training programmes.

The point is that this artisan organic lamb from the hills of Co. Wicklow is now available directly from them. Since there is now middle-man, and you can buy it from the producers (Debbie and her husband) it tursn out to be much better value than your average supermarket/butcher meat (something like 35% cheaper). It is certified organic, from a local business focusing on sustainability and you even get to meet Debbie in person!

Half boxes are €95 and a whole box costs €195 - cut to customers specifications. For more information check out the farm's website http://www.sweetbankfarm.com/ or give them a call on 0868184162

reBlog from gaelick.com: We Are Family | gaelick

I completely agree: if every straight person knew a gay friend or colleague, there'd be no discrimination. The world would definitely be a much better place if we applied that principle a bit more freely in our every day lives ... MarriagEquality is launching a new campaign to put pressure on the Irish government to give equal rights to gay couples. Give them a hand. No one should have to fight to be equal, surely:

Forty years after the death of Harvey Milk and we’re still following his idea that, if every straight person knew an out LGBT person, there would be no discrimination. Most straight people have no idea that there is discrimination in Ireland; they go about their business oblivious. It’s campaigns like We Are Family, that will, hopefully, show the unfairness within their midst.gaelick.com, We Are Family gaelick, Jun 2010

Read the whole article on their site

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Grow season - part 2

Since the weather conditions in Ireland have been almost tropical ;-) in the past few days the plants are thriving, especially the strawberries in Mark's green house, in only a month they have more than doubled in size, which makes for a promising strawberry season... if we manage to get the greedy birds away... the runner beans are out (after lots of TLC) and seem to be creeping up the trellis quite nicely. And the slug population seems to be ignoring them, which is unusual but a very welcome development...

Irish unions launch Fair Hotels campaign

Today an interesting campaign was launched in Dublin. Supported by trade unions and some Irish hoteliers, the Fair Hotels Ireland initiative aims to be an ethical guideline to hotel customers booking rooms across Ireland. Similarly to Fair Trade stickers for products, those hotels complying with the Fair Hotels stamp (45 hotels listed on their newly launched website www.fairhotels.ie so far) will be allegedly offering ethical services, based on how they treat their employees.

Detractors might say there are many hotels left out of the list that treat their employees fairly but the hospitality sector is probably one of the industries, in Ireland and many other countries, where workers get some of the poorest working conditions. It was probably about time a 'quality' stamp was introduced to reward - or at least give some recognition - to those hoteliers treating their staff respectfully and complying with work legislation and workers rights.

To encourage customers, the site will also offer special deals in Fair Hotels.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

kippers for breakfast

A lazy sunny Sunday. Kippers and poached egg for breakfast out the back. A couple of minutes on the pan is enough to stink the whole house but the taste... is worth all the Febreeze afterwards...

Saturday, April 24, 2010

something fishy...

New research from University College Dublin has found that 25% of the fish sold in chippers and shops around the county as cod or haddock is not actually cod or haddock at all. The most common 'impostors' seem to be pollack an whiting, according the the study.

While it is quite worrying that one out four times the customer isn't getting the fish he/she is paying for, the survey also comes to show the public actually DOES eat (and seems to like) other (cheaper and more sustainable) types of fish besides cod and haddock... even if we are being tricked into eating it labelled as something else.

Guidelines on fish to avoid (from a sustainable point of view) can be found on: www.fishonline.org/advice/avoid/ and fish good to eat: www.fishonline.org/advice/eat/

Friday, April 16, 2010

grow-your-own season is here

and Mark has been busy making a green house with mainly reclaimed plastic and nails, as well as some hazel branches. He's done a pretty good job. Hopefully the tomato plants will be happier this year. The rotten summer we had last year left them well, rotten... here are some pics of tomatito, the green house ready for some planting action and a pea just coming out...

Books and Food Titles

Every second Friday, the Wicklow Mobile Library comes to Shillelagh, which could be considered one of the highlights of the week in the village. Certainly of my week, anyway.

Today was library day.

I brought back a couple of books I've finished but I wasn't feeling very inspired in the what to read next department, so Karen (who runs the mobile library) suggested I take The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam, purely because of the title.

Here's the thing: you might think The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam, let's call it VDPBJ from now on, is a cook book or a full on essay on the culinary refinement of the peanut butter and jam combination - but no, my dear friends - VDPBJ is a fiction book. And judging by the cover, is 'set against the backdrop of civil war and the death of a colony' and her author, a young lady named Lauren Liebenberg, is a very talented author.

I probably took it purely because it was just before lunch time and I was starving - Peanut Butter and Jam didn't sound like too bad an idea - at all.

And then I remembered this wasn't the first time I took a fiction book with a food title from the library. A few months ago, I took something titled We need to talk about Custard, errr, sorry, no that was Kevin... well some little book with Custard in its title and a cover that looked like a print of the yellow, red and blue tin of Birds custard powder. The title will come back to me one of these days...

So there you go, a repetitive pattern in my library book selection modus operandi.
The story with the custard book was that I took it home, I kept it and forgot it for a few weeks, read something like 10 pages max and brought it back to the library. It is not fair to judge a book by its covers, I know, but surely by choosing to compare your book to custard, you are asking for trouble.

In one hand, you have the custard freaks, who love custard - for them the book is never be good enough, the bar is just too high. Expectations can't be met.

In in the other hand you have the custard loathers, who wouldn't touch custard, creme anglaise or any remotely similar, with a stick. So they probably won't even bring your book home for starters...

It's a tough gamble, this naming-your-fiction-after-food business. I suppose Laura Esquivel did a jolly good job with Como agua para Chocolate (Like water to chocolate) but if I remember well, there were some recipes included mingling with the story, which made it a sort of hybrid between cookbook, magical realism and chickflick- a whole new and very successful genre I suppose.

Whatever happens, I'm decided to give VDPBJ a fair go - after I finish with what I'm reading at the moment - to see if the story is anything vaguely similar to the jam/peanut butter combo. I'll let you know what happens.

Now that I think about it, I probably should read the custard one, if I ever come across it again.

The whole thing just got me thinking about why people would choose to name fiction titles after food. It is an emotionally charged weapon, I think. A cruel marketing trick to hijack your brain with yummy sounding titles, even if they have nothing to do with what happens in the story - purely trying to get to the readers' heart through their stomach, as they say.

Or maybe - like with food shopping - I just shouldn't go to the library before eating!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Walking in Tinahely

Tinahely, in Co. Wicklow, is hosting a walking festival on the weekend of 17th and 18th April to launch three new looped walks, approved by Failte Ireland.

A couple of weeks ago, we went to check them out. Of the three options (from shorter to longer), we chose the middle one since we were only armed with a banana each and not that much time. It took us 3 hours in total - walking from the centre of the village up to the starting point, around the loop and back.

On the village's website http://www.tinahely.ie/, you can download the brochure for the festival activities and information about the new walks.

Here's a video to show you the views and the creatures we encountered. Next time, we'll try the long one and take a big fat picnic.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Best Job in Ireland

Could this be the best job in Ireland?

Around the globe travel, testing luxury venues, savouring exotic delicacies, + 20K on top of it.

It certainly could...


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Whistler nostalgia

I'm loving the Winter Olympics yet I can't help thinking it is an act of pure masochism:

Firstly they remind me of how crap I am at skiing, ice skating and anything else involving snow, ice and -ing at the end.

Secondly, I'm definitely too old to fix it

AND more importantly: wouldn't it be nice to get up in the morning to catch a lift up the mountain, as opposed to a lift into work??

This time around, they also remind me of how much I enjoyed the time I spent in Whistler a few years ago.

Whistler, despite the hipster image (which is actually quite accurate), is a very lovable place.

First of all lovable placenames. We used to live in Marmot Place, Creekside. Just how cool is that as a name? 'Nice to meet you, I live in Marmot place.. you know? those funky animals? they like their good night's sleep?'

No John Street or Railway Road or any other boring name. The place of the Marmots...

The problem with lovely-sounding Marmot place was that it happened to be at the top of a bitch of a hill (these things tend to hapen in ski resorts... I know) which wasn't too handy when Mr. M broke his femur and had to conquer it every day with his crutches...

I suppose sometimes a friendly local would give him a lift up (usually leaving me carrying shopping and any other equipment up the fecking hill).

At the very bottom of Creekside there was a lake (you could walk - pre-femur busting - all the way to Whistler village along the lake) which was a great chilling out spot in the balmy late-spring weeks, when temperatures got well into their 20s and girls snowboarded in their bikini tops (seriously).

Posers and broken limbs aside, life in Whistler was like living in a bubble - relaxed and mobile-free. In fact, when I first left Whistler for Vancouver (briefly - to see Mr M in hospital) I felt like a wild animal out of its nature reserve - longing to get back to the mountain. Ok, a very shiny and decadent mountain but a mountain nonetheless...

From a skiing point of view, I was only a confused beginner (I correct myself: I AM still only a confused beginner) but ski-lovers and connoseurs will tell you resorts across the pond are much bigger and queue-free than crammed European ones. The runs... I couldn't tell but I'm sure they are greater as well. The pure hugeness of the whole landscape is a give away there...

-What I miss: the relaxed four months of easy going existence, maple syrup and Oreo biscuits ice-cream.

-What you probably won't miss: the overpriced groceries and the very irritating fact that taxes are never included in the prices (not very useful if you are strapped for cash).
ADVICE: don't be a fool (ahem) and get a visa that allows you to work legally if you are going for a season. Otherwise you might find yourself struggling financially and that's one thing you don't need hapenning in Whistler (or anywhere else...)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Happy New Year

It is hard to go back to the old routine after two weeks holidays.

I might just stick this picture of Anzere, in Switzerland, here so I can remind myself of the good times...

Happy New Year!