Tuesday, December 20, 2011

No cold turkey this Christmas

Christmas is almost here, again! And it looks like turkey is still the favourite dish when it comes to celebrating the big family thing in Ireland. Is it out of habit? Is it that Ireland just loves turkey once a year? Just for tradition’s sake?

But turkey haters should not despair. There are many exciting and alternative Christmas dishes you could be testing this year. Looking at other European Christmas traditions could give you some inspiration!

spider crabs
In Galicia, an old-time Christmas Eve favourite is salted cod with cauliflower or cabbage. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea but it came up top in my Facebook straw poll. Other friend suggested octopus as a dish eaten by many families traditionally on Christmas Eve. Seafood and fish in general is a very popular option for Christmas in Galicia.

Salted cod is the most common way of eating cod in general in Galicia, Portugal and the rest of Spain. The cod is cut in darns and they will need de-salting in water for day or two. Cod, potatoes and cauliflower are boiled. In a separate pan, olive oil and 4 garlic cloves are cooked with smoked paprika (not the hot one). The sauce is then poured over the fish and vegetables and ready to serve.

Personally, my all-time favourite is my mum’s recipe for Galician clams and you can find an accurate approximation here (Clams in Green Sauce).

gingerbread made by Dani
The Poles, my friend Dani tells me, also celebrate their big family dinner on Christmas Eve. They have 12 different dishes, all without meat. Each region in Poland might have their own traditional dishes but these are her examples of Polish dishes that make it to the Christmas table:

Carp (a must!)
Vegetable salad
Pierogi (dumplings) with potatoes and cheese or cabbage and mushrooms
Bigos (sliced cabbage with sour cabbage plus plums or raisings or cranberries and mushrooms)
Kutia - special square noodles with poppy seeds, raisings, orange skins and honey
Beetroot soup (barszcz)
Mushroom soup (zupa grzybowa)
Gingerbread (piernik) and poppy cake (makowiec)

The Poles always set an extra plate for any unexpected guest, she says, “and we always look for the first star on the sky and then start to eat.”

My brother, who lives in Berlin, tells me mulled wine (of course) is a must at Christmas in Germany.

The Germans also celebrate Christmas Eve and goose is their most traditional dish.
Here’s a recipe for Goose Breast with Potato Dumplings, Red Cabbage, and Chestnuts

In Sweden, boiled ham is a popular Christmassy dish (see here ).

My friend Axel who has a fear of herring once told me his favourite Christmas dish is rice porridge (similar to rice pudding). Easy and tasty and you can get a good recipe here . The Swedes put a nut in the rice pudding when it is almost ready. The lucky one who gets the nut will be lucky in the New Year, according to the Swedish Christmas tradition.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Wild and Slow

I'm quite excited about heading to Wild and Slow.

The first Wild and Slow food festival takes place this weekend, 19th and 20th November, in idyllic Macreddin village, just outside Aughrim in County Wicklow, known for being home to the Brooklodge hotel and organic restaurant The Strawberry Tree.

The main focus is seasonality, sustainability and foods available in the wild; and there is an amazing range of workshops planned for the two-day food festival, from foraging to pheasant plucking, photographic walks and smoking meat. The whole list is available here http://wildandslow.com/the-event/

The Wild and Slow blog also has very handy food templates for recipes using wild ingredients, here's where I got the recipe for my first elderberry and apple jellies. They are very useful as each guide is dedicated to one ingredient. You can also find recipes for Christmas favourite sloe gin http://wildandslow.com/food-templates/

Some pictures of Wild and Slow:

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Cathy's mixes win gold again!

Congratulations to Tinahely's Cathy from Cathy's Spelt for Health ! she was in the news in the past days, after winning yet another Gold medal, this time for her tasty tomato and herb mix at the National Food Awards in Dingle.

The win came as a surprise, since the samples sent by Cathy for the judges had been damaged during the journey and she thought they were out of the competition. Well done!!

Things to do this weekend

If you are around Gorey or Wexford tomorrow night, the twice All Ireland camogie champions (Wexford!) are launching their first ever fashion calendar to raise funds for their club.

It takes place at the Amber Springs Hotel in Gorey and it is only €5 to get in - for a bit of fun, dancing and a chance to be some of the first ones to get copies of the calendar. Hopefully a few snacks too!

The girls all look amazing (having been treated to hair, make up and stylist) and it was good fun working with them on the day, as part of the Practice PR contingent.

The shoot took place at Jillian's house (you know, of the Sell your house on You Tube fame!) and Bray award-winning Dermot Byrne was the photographer.

On Saturday, The second Creative Collection craft and food fair takes place at the Gorey Shopping Centre, from 10am to 6pm.

Then on Sunday, Rathwood is organising a 3k Santa Run/walk/jog in aid of the National Rehab Hospital and local teenager Suzanne O'Neill. It should be a good day out, for a great cause and a chance to pop in to Rathwood for a bit of pre-Christmas shopping (I personally love the Seasalt range of organic cotton clothing) and their famous chocolate cake. The good news: wearing those frumpy Santa frocks nobody will notice!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Thai-style monkfish red curry

You will need (for 2/3 people):

3 garlic cloves
1 medium sized onion
2 carrots
1 pepper
1 broccoli or courgette (or both)
Ginger root
1 tin of tomatoes (or 4 tomatoes)
1 small tin of coconut milk
Spoonful of olive oil
1 tail of monkfish (for 2/3 people)
Red curry paste (such as Thai Gold)
Soy Sauce
Basmati or Jasmine rice
*optional chilli flakes or fresh chilli

My friend Julie has asked me to give her some tips on how to cook fish. Since she hasn’t been much of a fish eater, I thought a curry with monkfish would be a good start for her. Monkfish is such a meaty and bone-free fish that is excellent for those who want to introduce some fish into their diet but are a bit apprehensive and not sure what they will like. Besides, the level of heat in the curry can be adapted to each individual taste so the kids can also enjoy it. And it is great comfort food for those rainy days in. It is a bit of a dear fish but worth it as a treat.

First, chop the garlic and onion and cook in a low heat with the olive oil until soft. Add a teaspoon (or two, depending on how strong you like your curry) of red curry paste. I usually don’t add chilli flakes as it tends to be hot enough but feel free to add chilli flakes to spice it up.

Slice the carrot and ginger (it is quite handy to use the potato peeler so the slices are very fine) and chop the pepper in long strips. Add them to the garlic and onion mix.

Chop the monkfish tail (a bit chunky is better) and add it to the mix to cook for a few minutes. Add some soy sauce to your taste (a couple of table spoons I would suggest).

If you are using courgettes, chop them and add them at the same time as the fish. If you are using broccoli, you are better off adding it towards the end so it stays a bit crunchy.

After 4-5 minutes, add the tin of tomatoes and the coconut milk (around 200-250ml should be enough). Cook for about 15 minutes. Remember to add the broccoli some 5 minutes before you are finished – or longer if you like it softer.

In a separate pot you’ll need to cook the rice with a bit of salt and some cumin seeds if you like. The ratio is one of rice, two of water and it takes approximately 15 minutes to cook.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Brasserie le Pont donating 10% on World Suicide Prevention Day

This week is Suicide Prevention Week. According to Irish charity Pieta House, 486 people died by suicide in Ireland last year, and the number of people approaching them for help has increased 40% in the first half of 2011.

So if you are looking to go out for a meal this Saturday 10th September (Suicide Prevention Awareness Day) bear in mind Dublin restaurant Brasserie le Pont will be donating 10% of your bill to Pieta House, who focuses on the prevention of suicide and self harm.

The restaurant will also give customers the option to make a donation.

General manager Fiona Kelly says: “Most people out there have been touched whether directly or indirectly by suicide therefore it is a cause close to many people’s hearts. We are hoping to get lots of bookings to help Pieta House on the great work they are doing to help people suffering in Ireland.”

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Recycled glassware

So where does all our recycling go after we leave it at the recycling centre or the bottle bank? that is, for many 'recyclers' out there, the million dollar question... and not an easy one to answer.

That is one of the reasons I feel so pleased when I come across products in the shops that are a direct result of that collective act of faith which is going to the recycling centre. The odd time, I have found some very stylish recycled glassware manufactured in Spain in the local TK Maxx. They don't always have it in stock but I always look out for them. They are excellent quality, pretty and they'll make you feel the whole recycling process has come a full circle.

According to Repak, 106,629 tonnes of glass were collected in Ireland in 2010 and Rehab Glass Co estimates an Irish family uses an average of 500 glass jars and bottles each year. That is a hell of a lot of glass and an awful waste if it was all to go to landfill. Since glass is 100% recyclable and one of the easiest materials to recycle and reuse, our old bottles can be easily converted into a very useful raw material for new glass items, such as that beautiful glassware.

I have been trying to find manufacturers of recycled glassware in Ireland for a wedding present but haven't been very successful.

Instead, I have found some names of companies making and/or selling recycled glassware available in Ireland and the UK (via Amazon and in certain stores). Some of them melt the glass to build brand-new pieces with the material and others reuse bottles turning them into glassware with a bit of creativity and handycraft.

-traidcraft has fair trade recycled glassware made in Bolivia by Crisil and it is available on Amazon and its own online shop

-ecoware (made in the EU) has storage jars and other kitchenware made of recycled glass, available on Amazon
-Green Glass makes glasses out of beer and wine bottles

From Spain

-Grehom (UK company sourcing recycled glassware in Spain, available on Amazon and on their own website)
-La Mediterranea (selected shops)
-Jarapa (selected shops) - they also make rugs out of recycled cotton material.

From Mexico

In the US
-Recycled Glassware Co

If you have any more, let me know and I'll add them to the list.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Heritage Week is coming...

This Saturday 20th August marks the beginning of this year's Heritage Week. There are hundreds of activities planned all over the country so it is a fantastic opportunity to get out and be active, maybe learn something new about your area, perhaps discover a new skill...

To see what's on near you:

Friday, July 29, 2011

The most beautiful beach?

Lists, Best-ofs, Top 10s are an easy and ready to digest information format but no matter how much I like them, they are always controversial.

Lonely Planet does a fantastic job at highlighting good spots for this, that and the other, but it is inevitable there will be people offended by spots that haven't made the shorlist of the most beautiful, the best, the nicest, the friendliest... places they would consider top of their list.

At the end of the day, all lists are flawed: firstly, they are written by one individual, with his/her preferences, opinions, mindset, mood and circumstances... and secondly, he/she quite possibly haven't been to every single place in the world for the list to be the most accurate or scientifically proven.

Having said that, and considering there are many places I haven't been, I would like to share these shots of Boca do Rio beach in Carnota, Costa da Morte, Galicia.

I can't say it is the most beautiful beach in the whole wide world - because I'm aware there are many amazing beaches out there yet to be discovered. But at the time of visiting, with childhood friends, on a sunny day in mid-July, it certainly felt like the most incredible place in the world - almost impossibly perfect. The most beautiful beach, the best of my list. So far, anyway.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

La lluvia es una canción sin letra (Rain is a song without lyrics). Book...

Here's the book trailer for the debut novel by my friend Angel.
It is beautifully photographed and very touching, it has been partly filmed in Dublin and partly filmed in Castellon and Villarreal, Spain. I hope you like it as much as I do.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Beach life, but not as we know it

The Croatian village of Petrcane, some 7km north of Zadar city, is known to festival nomads for its sun-soaked seaside music festivals (mainly the Garden Festival that takes place at the beginning of July) but in June it is a beat-free chill-out zone by the sea, just don’t expect to find any sand.

Organised travelers (maybe most travelers) might advice research and planning is essential for a good stress-free holiday. However, sometimes, a bit of spontaneity (and lack of time) can land you some of the best travel experiences. This was the case with our trip to Croatia in June. Due to work/college commitments, it felt as if suddenly we were off without much of a plan, apart from the intention of visiting a good friend in Zagreb for a couple of days.

A couple of weeks before travelling, one of the four members of the group had found an apartment by the coast, in Petrcane, through Booking.com and we decided to book it straight away, for four nights: it looked good and we didn’t have that much time to be fussying around anyway. It matched the boxes: on the coast, close enough to Zadar, affordable.

Having asked our friend in Zagreb about Croatian public transport (Zagreb is about 240km from Zadar), she recommended we rented a car. None of the travelers felt like renting a car, since we were all on ‘chillax’ mission and didn’t know much about the area, so the day before travelling it was decided – out of pure apathy more than a carefully studied decision - we would just get a taxi transfer from the airport to Petrcane and take it from there.

So we landed in Zadar airport at 20,30 and got ferried to the apartment we had booked, at Villa Lisica.

By pure chance we got given the best apartment in the building, we were told, as all the smaller units were booked and we were a party of four. The five-bedroom apartment with a huge terrace leading directly to a little harbour on the seafront left us thinking maybe there had been a mistake somewhere, it was just too good to be true.

Later we learnt the apartment had been recently refurbished and it had been a restaurant until the year before. This fact ended up being slightly annoying, as people would still think it was a restaurant and stroll into the terrace (or as far as the main door) wondering what was going on before realizing it was a private space.

We couldn’t believe our luck, since we chose Petrcane by pure chance and turned out to be just what we needed, and we got this amazing apartment for a much lower price.

If we were expecting sandy beaches we were very wrong but the Dalmatian concept of beach is as attractive as it is unusual: no sticky sand getting everywhere, no overcrowded strands... just people chilling by the man-made sea front and pontoons, dipping in and out of the warm crystal clear Adriatic as if it was a huge salty pool.

A 5-minute walk along the seafront would take us from Villa Lisica to the main street in the village, where there is a shop, a post office, an information office and many restaurants serving plenty of seafood (at premium prices for Croatian standards but still pretty good when travelling from Ireland), as well as a bus stop for the line that connects Zadar with Nin and it is regular enough for you to ditch the rental car. The trip from Petrcane to Zadar is merely 15 minutes so if your intention is to chill out by the sea for a few days, you might not need to rent a car.

The restaurants we tried were all pretty similar in price, quality and menu; however, quantity can vary from place to place. It was in Petrcane that I first came across ‘noah’s arks’ some mollusc (I’m told from the Mediterranean) that resembles a big boxy clam and tastes like a tough mussel. Not that I was that impressed but it was worth trying for sure. Our friend in Zagreb later told us they are also eaten in the Valencia region in Spain, and they are called caixetes in Catalan...


After chilling in Petrcane for a day and a half, we decided to rent some bikes at the nearby Hotel Pinjia and cycle to Nin, some 7km north of the village. Nin is a walled medieval town with its historic centre on an island connected to the rest of the town by a couple of gates and bridges.

Known for its salt making industry and for having the smallest cathedral in the world, Nin also has a sandy beach (coarse darkish sand though), which is pretty unique around, on the north side of the old town.

The cycle was pretty easy, especially due to the fact that there is a cycle lane almost all the way to Nin. As you get into Nin from the south, on the left there is St Nicolas church on a mound by the side of the road, which is pretty picturesque - and a good excuse for a little cycle break. On the way in, we stumbled into a fruit market where five women were selling local fruit. With the help of some sign language sprinkled with some German words, we managed to buy some apricots, cherries and strawberries.

Once inside the walled town, it is nice to wander around the tiny streets off the main street where cafes, restaurants and souvenir shops are packed with visitors.

The Kornati Islands

There are many islands off the coast of Zadar, including the Kornati National Park, which is a popular tourist day trip. There are many organised boat trips for around €40, including food and entrance to the national park. The boats usually leave from Zadar at around 8,30am and get back around 5ish, but, in our case, the organisers picked us up at our accommodation in Petrcane. It is common to see the boat trip ‘sales men’ strolling up and down Petrcane and other villages getting people to book a place in one of their trips.

George Bernard Shaw once said (according to some leaflets we found about the Kornati) "On the last day of Creation, God wished to crown his work and made the Kornati island out of his tears, the stars and his breath.”

The scenery approaching the Kornati islands is just spectacular: the barren landscape dotting the sea and the vertical cliffs; its remoteness and wild beauty. As for the food on board, it had a few wild surprises too: like a breakfast that consisted of a very potent snap and a wafer biscuit, at 9,30 in the morning! They were €40 well spent, despite the fact that I was nursing a very bad cold that kept me from enjoying it 100% - or do some swimming in the bluest of waters I had ever seen. The downside was obviously the crowds once we got our 2-hour stop at the National Park, as many of the boats doing the day trip seem to have a very similar schedule.

It would have been amazing - maybe take note for next time - to stay in one of the islands' small villages in Dugi Otok and really forget about the rest of the world for a week or so, just enjoying the sea, the sun and the quiet.


Our journey to Zagreb, the Croatian capital, took us around 3,30 hours (with a 15-minute break). There are many bus companies linking Zadar and Zagreb but some of them can take up to 8 hours so you need to make sure you go for a ‘direct line’. We had some issues on the way back – as we had a return ticket but we didn’t know we still had to book our seats in advance to secure a place – but in general, the bus experience in Croatia was positive.

What Zagreb lacked in seaside pleasures, we surely compensated with museum visits and very cheap and tasty food. In the 48 hours we spent in Zagreb we visited: the Archaeology Museum, where we saw the Zagreb mummy; The Art and Design Museum (where they had an Art Deco exhibition) and the Croatian Museum of Naive Art which was small but good for poster/souvenirs. All worth the visit. Also in the Upper Town and almost across the road from the Naive museum, there was the Museum of Broken Relationships, which we were tempted to go and see just out of curiosity but didn’t, in the end.

Apart from a personal tour of the Upper Town, courtesy of our resident friend Maria, the highlight was definitely the food - and also the nightlife. We ate seafood and fish at three seriously cheap and tasty restaurants:

A tiny bar/eatery by the fruit and fish market, Nocturno (a favourite with the locals, I'm told) and Ribice fish restaurant - a very artistic and bright looking fish restaurant. In general, eating out was half price of what we had been paying in the coast (Zagreb price was around 300 kunas for 5 people for a fishy lunch with drinks – approx. €40).

One of the charms of Zagreb was that hanging out with locals is not a mission impossible, since it is not a city geared towards tourism - specially when it's 30 degrees celsius at 8 in the evening and not a chance of dipping into the sea...unlike the coast, that attracts all the foreign travellers, it feels genuine, authentic.


Create your own video slideshow at animoto.com.

After having a last swim and reluctantly saying goodbye to Petrcane, our last day was spent visiting (quickly) Zadar city, walking around the walled town and the lavender-scented sea front, chilling by the sea organ and having some pretty good farewell grilled squid (squid must have been in my diet some 5 days out of the 7 that week!).

Some good artists exhibit around the touristy squares of Zadar, including one called Ana Kolega, which I really liked for its colourful, very 20s inspired imagery - so I bought a little piece of her work as a souvenir and another one as a present.

We could have done with some more time to chill in Zadar, investigating its market where homemade snaps are found next to tacky souvenirs and local fruit. Then again, we could have done with more time living it up in Petrcane, but that was the end of our week and it was time to go home.

Useful bits:

*Because of the area’s historic relationship with Italy, many people seem to speak Italian. English is also widely spoken, especially by younger Croats.

*Public transport from Petrcane to Zadar city is regular enough during weekdays and less so on Saturdays and Sunday, but still doable. The journey takes approximately 15-20 minutes all the way to Zadar’s bus station.

*Hotel Pinjia has a bike rental service (even for non-residents) for the equivalent of €10 for the day (less if you rent it half-day).

*Information on intercity buses can be found here: http://www.autobusni-kolodvor.com/en/timetable.aspx

There are many different companies and tickets are bought at the station, however, bear in mind seats are allocated and you must validate your ticket and secure your seat before travelling (we didn’t know this when we travelled back from Zagreb and we almost missed the last bus, since it was completely booked up)

* http://www.zadar.hr/ for information on the Zadar region.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Glendalough video slideshow

Create your own video slideshow at animoto.com.

Here's a little video slideshow with pictures taken in Glendalough, Wicklow National Park, while doing The Spinc walk trail over the two lakes and back at the monastic site.

Artists survey!

If you live in Ireland and paint, illustrate, design, do crafts... please share your thoughts with me on this survey!!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Irish Heritage Park in Wexford

The Irish National Heritage Park in Wexford is currently undergoing some major restoration and development work but it is very much open for business and a fantastic spot to take visitors, tourists and also kids on a day out, specially if you are lucky to get some rays of sunshine.

After a quick visit to Cahore Point and Curracloe, we went to spend the Monday Bank Holiday there with friends visiting from Galicia. It gave them a chance to learn a bit more about Ireland and its history; they just loved it; and left wondering why Galicia doesn't have any Heritage parks like this ...

Having worked in Archaeology in a previous life and dug many of them, I have a soft spot for the fulatch fiadh (cooking pit), which was turned on for a live demonstration during the Wexford Food Festival but unfortunately had to miss since it clashed with college work.

One of the girls had a soft spot for Viking artefacts so she was thrilled with the Viking boatyard.
On the way back home, we stopped to buy some Wexford strawberries to celebrate the brilliant day.

I love this picture I took with the retrocamera Android app

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

homemade granola: the most delicious breakfast

300gr of oats
100gr of mixed seeds (ie. sunflower and pumpkin seeds)
50gr of nuts (hazelnuts and/or almonds, walnut, etc)
50gr of dried fruit (currants/raisins/apricots)
3 tbs of local honey
1 tbs of olive oil
1tbs of ground almonds (optional)
1 ts of ground cinnamon

Serve: with yoghurt or milk

Granola is a fantastic alternative way of eating oats for breakfast in the summer if you don't fancy the old porridge. It is such a treat and so easy to make. those in the supermarket might be packed with sugar, butter and other not so healthy ingredients but making your own you can have control over what exactly you are having for your breakfast.

First, mix the oats with the seeds, the ground cinnamon, ground almonds, honey and oil to roast in the oven (150C), stirring every so often to make sure they roast evenly.
Leave them in the oven until they are golden but it should be ready in about 30 minutes.

Once cooked, leave it to cool and then add the dried fruit and nuts. Mix and eat with yoghurt, milk or just on their own.

Store it in a sealed jar to keep it crunchy.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

#IRLday get Ireland trending

On Monday 23rd May, US president Barack Obama is visiting Ireland. International media will be focusing on Ireland so it is the perfect opportunity to show the world all the great things the country has to offer. It is a chance to shine and get Ireland trending on the Twittersphere by using the #IRLday hashtag.
Whatever you are into, tweet about it: your favourite place in Ireland #irlplaces, your favourite Irish dish or food #irlfood, your local restaurant #irlrestaurants, an Irish song #irlsongs, writer, book, musician... anything at all that will help us make 23rd May Ireland Day!

And don’t forget to get your twibbon!

Here’s David Butt’s blog on what Irish restaurants and foodies should tweet about on #IRLday
http://irlday.org/2011/05/19/what-should-restaurants-tweet-about-on-irlday-contributed-by-david-butt /

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Spelt for Health

Many people develop intolerance or allergic reactions to certain foods as adults. Cathy Whitty, the mother of my friend Yvonne, who I used to work with in my Archaeology days, discovered she was wheat intolerant a few years ago, when a very bad reaction landed her in hospital. Of course, until then, she was unaware that wheat was causing her any harm...

After that, she started baking her own bread with spelt flour at home and the local health food shop in Tinahely, Co. Wicklow, started placing orders. I was working with Yvonne and her brother David at the time and they used to share some of the homemade bread on site - the recipe was highly secret though! or so I was told.

That same year, Cathy's bread recipe won the Supervalu 'Recipe for success' competition and her business started to take off from there, getting her breads onto the shelves of some selected Supervalu stores. Eventually, she moved on to pre-packed mixes and the sachets are now available in many supermarkets, specialist and health food shops around the country. The range includes wheat-free bread mixes as well as wheat-free flapjack mixtures and other tasty sweet treats.

ON her site Cathy's Spelt for Health http://www.cathysspeltforhealth.ie/ you can find stockists near you, as well as links to her Facebook page, where she runs competitions and shares some wheat-free recipes (including pancakes!).

And here are some videos on how easy it is to use the mixtures:

Cathy's Spelt For Health from fiona whitty on Vimeo.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The vegetable patch comes back to life

So the vegetable patch (and the patio veggie beds) is coming back to life again:

the winter vegetables we thought we'd be eating in the winter are thriving (we have now discovered it only meant you have to plant them in the winter), herbs are shooting up (specially the mint, thyme and parsley), the strawberry plants are spreading like mad and most part of the summer veggies have been planted or seeded.

Mr. M is looking for new plastic for his homemade green house to cover up the tomato plants and I'm just concerned about little 'pexego' (the little miracle baby peach tree) as it doesn't seem to be getting any new shoots. Mr M says it looks like it's dead but I still have some hope it will survive.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Magic teapot

here's a picture of our teapot taken yesterday during breakfast, while enjoying the first taste of summer weather in Gorey, Co. Wexford.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

How to make chicken croquettes

Spanish-style croquettes, or croquetas, are a handy and tasty way of using leftover meat, specially chicken and ham. A very recession-friendly recipe. In Spain, they are commonly also made with salted cod or serrano cured ham. The combination of bechamel and salty ingredients gives them a good balance in flavour.

This was one of my favourite dinners as a kid, even the frozen croquettes you can buy in any Spanish supermarket, specially the cod and serrano ones. In Ireland, I tend to make them whenever there is leftover chicken after a roast, for example.

The ingredients needed:


-olive oil


-shredded or very finely chopped leftover chicken or ham meat

-bread crumbs (you can get them in the shop or you can make your own by grating stale bread)

-1 egg

The first step is to make a very thick bechamel. Start it by heating a couple of spoonfuls of olive oil in a pan, then mix in some flour (200gr or so), add a pinch of salt and keep stirring the milk in one bit a the time until you get a lump-free thick bechamel sauce (it should be difficult to keep stirring with the wooden spoon).

Add the meat bits, stirr a bit and leave to cool. I usually leave the mixture to set in the fridge for 24 hours or so. The following day, the mixture should be very solid and this is when the fun begins.

Use two dessert spoons to create uniform-ish lumps of mixture. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg and have the bread crumbs ready on another plate. This is a three-step process: roll the ball, dip in the egg, cover in breadcrumbs. Once each croquette is covered in breadcrumbs, use your hands to compress them a bit so the crumbs stick to the mixture.

Then you are ready to fry them until they are golden all around. Use kitchen roll to soak some of the fat from frying them, and enjoy them. They go well with some mixed salad and they are a great packed lunch treat when they are cold.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Pack your Farm Ville and move to Ireland Town

It is that time of the year again: rivers turn green, shamrocks are waved and we all feel a bit Irish. Paddy's Day is here and it is indeed a great opportunity to market Ireland as a tourist destination in these times of crisis doom and gloom.

A few weeks ago, Ireland was named the fifth most popular tourist destination on Facebook and now, to coincide with the country's national day, Tourism Ireland is launching an 'Oirish' rival to popular Facebook game Farm Ville, which is called Ireland Town.

Personally I think is a brilliant idea, we'll just need to wait and see how many facebook farmers we get to move from their cultivated Farm Villes and grab a bit of new turf in Irish Town. And, ultimately, how many will decide to visit the offline Ireland, encouraged by the virtual experience.

Happy Paddy's Day everyone!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Bring on the pancakes

Pancake mix:
500ml milk
2 eggs
200gr flour
pinch of salt

butter (to grease the pan so they don't stick)

(a pinch of baking powder for North American style 'fluffy' pancakes)

So far, it has been pancake Saturday, pancake Monday and pancake Tuesday this week... pancakes are some of those treats we seem to remember once a year but they are so easy to make and are so delicious, it is worth remembering them all year around!

This is roughly the recipe we use for the traditional ones (although in Galicia -where they are a Entroido/Carnival treat - they are usually made with water and just a drop of milk). For the 'fluffy' North American version, we just add a pinch of baking powder, make a slightly thicker batter and pour in the centre of the pan without letting it spread all the way to the edges.

Mr M has been trying to make some gluten-free pancakes with chick pea flour at work (as one of the guys is gluten intolerant) but the result wasn't very convincing - or so I hear. So if anybody has a successful and tasty recipe for gluten-free pancakes, let us know!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Running out of Road on World Book Day

Since today is World Book Day I have decided to write a little post about one book you might haven’t heard of. It is one of the many books that are self-published and sold online directly by authors each year.

There are a good few examples of DIY authors that have done remarkably well and the Internet, of course, has helped greatly breaking the barriers between artists and readers.

In Ireland, Roddy Doyle famously self published The Commitments before becoming a Booker prize winner and turning The Commitments into a hit film (and a major part of the country’s pop culture). And that was before the age of the net had even arrived.

However (for what I hear) the self publishing road is not always a smooth one. And the Internet is a very big place indeed!

Running out of Road is the first novel self published by half boss and half friend Jillian Godsil (and she is not paying me to write this!). As it happens, it was my first ever Kindle book as well, which I was quite excited about.

It is an interesting experience to read something by someone you see and work with everyday. Particularly when that ‘something’ is as raw, dysfunctional and f-wording as Bella’s story in Running out of Road.

Bella is a swearing, crude and damaged young woman in desperate need of a real meaningful personal connection. Abandoned by her father and estranged from her mother, Bella marries the owner of the local pub in Ballybawn, the fictional Irish village where the action takes place. But her marriage, like any other previous relationships in her life, is also doomed.

She is trouble, as people would say. She is troubled, it could be said. I suppose it is only a matter of perspective, and empathy.

Narrated in first person, we follow Bella’s thoughts throughout Running out of Road, her feelings and her screw ups, and we almost want to ring her up and tell her not to do half the stuff she is up to.

We are inside Bella’s head, with all the mess, the noise and the going ons in her complicated life. Jillian might use as many f-words as commas, but the writing is delicately crafted, words carefully chosen to give us a vivid image of what is feels to be Bella, running out of road, but ultimately surviving and maybe even finding a bit of hope.

Sure, like many other self published books, Running out of Road might need some editing and trimming down but then, who doesn’t?

Ah, and there is a lot of sex as well (just so you know!)

You can get a copy of Running out of Road, Kindle edition, for the price of a packet of crisps. And you never know, you might be one of the first people to read the next biggest thing.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Seal Sanctuary release in Courtown

The Irish Seal Sanctuary is a charity based in Courtown, Co. Wexford. Its team of volunteers rescue injured seals from all over Ireland, bring them back to their centre in Courtown and nurse them back to health. Once the seals are ready to get back to the wild, the Seal Sanctuary travel to the spot where they were originally found to release them.

On Sunday 13th February, it was time for Grace to be released on Courtown Beach, where she was originally found by a local during his walk.

There are many ways to support the fantastic work being done by the charity, from donations (online and at the centre), buying some of its merchandising (available at the centre in Courtown) or adopting a seal.

The centre is located behind the leisure centre in Courtown and next to the beach and the walking trails in the Courtown woods so it is a great Sunday activity - for people of any age.

The Science Gallery: Dublin's fun lab

It is not a museum, a Science lab or an Art gallery; and it is all of those at the same time. Dublin’s Science Gallery is a world’s first. A unique space designed to mix Art and Science, a wonderfully stylish and geeky environment where even a teenage crush can turn into a scientific lab experiment.

Since its opening in February 2008, the Science Gallery has hosted 14 exhibitions and received over 650,000 visitors, becoming one of the country’s top attractions. As marketing and communications manager Anja Ekelof points out, the Science Gallery team expected to reach around 50,000 visitors in its first year, instead they received 250,000. Not many museums or galleries in the world have achieved the level of enthusiasm and excitement surrounding the Science Gallery in Dublin – in only a couple of years.

So what makes the Science Gallery such a hit?

“It is about getting a balance,” explains Ekelof. “People want things to do, projects they can interact with.” And there is plenty of interaction at the Science Gallery: from the outside it might look like a trendy art gallery but get in there and it is like entering a playground for grown ups. As Ekelof says, it is an unusual way of looking at Science. The point is: Science can be exciting and creative.

The Science Gallery hosts an average of four to five exhibitions a year, including a main flagship exhibition; as well as workshops, experiments and events at the 144-seat theatre, from TEDx talks to movie screenings and gigs. The exhibitions and related activities vary in length and subjects but must follow two guidelines: they must have a scientific or technology angle, of course, and they must actively engage with the visitor.

“We’d like to present science in a different light. Our core age group is from 15 to 25-year olds, since they are the ones making decisions about their future now and we’d like to encourage them to choose Science-related careers. Ireland needs people to think creatively about issues that affect all of us so we’d like them to think differently about how they perceive Science and Technology.”

While there are many ideas lined up for the coming months, there is also an important element of flexibility that keeps the Science Gallery topics fresh and relevant. “We want to know what is happening in the real world in terms of research, be responsive and host topical exhibitions,” she adds.

In 2009, the gallery’s exhibition ‘Infectious – Stay Away’ opened three days before the swine flu outbreak hit the headlines across the globe. ‘Infectious’ explored the mechanisms behind contagious diseases (such as swine flu) but also more harmless concepts such as how good ideas spread and the basis of viral marketing. This kind of timing though, while purely accidental, could have been the best or the worst thing that could happen to the event. In the Science Gallery’s case it was a total success: 47,000 people visited the exhibition and the swine flu panic helped create that buzz. Ekelof says the team isn’t scared of being ‘controversial’.

The ‘Lab in the gallery’ is designed to get visitors actively involved in Science: while visitors interact with a particular piece, they are also contributing to pieces of real research and studies by real scientists.

One of the ‘labs’ that hit the headlines in 2010 was the ‘Love Lab’. ‘Love Lab’ brought together a series of ‘love scientists’ from different disciplines, including Neuroscience, Genetics, Psychology and Biochemistry, to test Science Gallery visitors and investigate what makes us attractive or feel attracted to certain people. Is it the smell, your genetic make up, the way your walk or is it your age? Maybe it is just a combination of them all…

Also in 2010, The Science Gallery packed its bags and set up camp, literally, at two of Ireland’s biggest music festivals: Oxegen and the Electric Picnic, bringing the ‘Biorythm, music and the body’ exhibition and series of events to its natural environment.

‘Green Machines’, the exhibition that just finished in mid-December, gave each visitor the opportunity to invest €5m on green technology and design projects that could radically change the way we live our lives and help us deal with environmental issues facing the planet.
The exhibition was divided in three areas: an investment bootcamp where visitors would get guidelines on green financial investments; an inspiration garden, where 18 green projects by startups from all over the globe were up for investment and a Design Studio, where visitors could leave their ‘green design’ ideas. A panel of judges then would choose the best designs from the workshops and a prize of €3,000 was given to the best idea to help its creator bring take it to the next level.

“We really wanted to introduce an economic argument in this particular exhibition, whose aim was to bring sustainable design and green technology together and make it more accessible, less threatening to the general public,” adds Ekelof.

Based on the investments made on the 18 projects during the exhibition, one of them was also selected as the winner of the Green Machines Investment Awards 2010.

Infectious diseases, concerts, the science behind desire and attraction, the physics of bubbles and foams, green machines… How does the Science Gallery team find all these themes and keep up with the expectations of its followers?

“We are very lucky to have some of the best researchers in Ireland involved. The Leonardo group, which includes people from science, the arts, business and the media, provides us with broad themes and, as a programming team at the Science Gallery, we further those ideas, invite experts and curators on the topics. We also tend to put an open call for ideas all over the globe so people and experts from anywhere in the world can submit their suggestions to the Science Gallery and the curatorial team,” she explains.

The gallery shares the building with actual research space at Trinity College and that’s where the idea for the Science Gallery was originally born. The nanoscience research team at Trinity wanted to showcase its research but not in a traditional museum environment but something that would allow them to interact with the public.

In just two years, The Science Gallery has built a loyal fan base, with over 4,000 followers on Twitter and nearly 2,000 fans on Facebook.

“We have a huge proportion of repeat visitors at the Science Gallery, people who have come about six to 10 or 12 times and the Science Gallery is part of their social life,” says Ekelof.
“The gallery is also about creating a community, a core group of people attending events, tweeting and sharing ideas. We are open to clubs such as the robotics club and we also organise meet the author sessions, where the public can meet the authors of Science related books and ask questions, either in person on via Skype.”

What helps make the Science behind the gallery accessible to all ages and groups is also the team of enthusiastic mediators. They are mainly college students from a variety of disciplines, and are at hand to answer any questions and lead visitors through the exhibitions.

The summer months and August in particular, Ekelof explains, were very busy at the Gallery, as the gallery has been included in many tourist guides attracting thousands of visitors and its fame has started to spread beyond Ireland – like those viral ideas studied at ‘Infectious’.

As Dublin prepares to become City of Science in 2012 for the Euroscience Open Forum, the Science Gallery will certainly play a very important part in helping the general public understand the relevance of Science and Technology in our every day life – and make us all take part, get involved.

The Science Gallery by numbers:

-1,900 kisses were grown during ‘Infectious’
-15 dogs donated DNA for ‘Infectious’
-691 litres of washing up liquid were used during ‘Buble’
-3,000 electric pinickers visited the Science Gallery tent
-145 workshops have been hosted at the gallery
-74 collaborating scientists
-71 collaborating artists


(published in PCLive! magazine in December 2010)