Sunday, 18 September 2016

Discover the Emerald Isle...

Fáilte go hÉirinn (Welcome to Ireland, pronounced <Fall-che go hair-inn>)
Ireland, the Emerald Isle has an abundance of hidden gems, you just need to know where to look. Despite being a lover of travelling I love coming home again to Ireland. The rolling green hills, coastal paradise of cliffs and sandy beaches bring a smile to my face as I fly in over Dublin Bay.

There is something so quintessentially Irish about the welcoming and homely feel you experience after touching down on Irish soil. There is no shortage of places to explore, everything from bustling cities to quaint countryside.
PicMonkey Collage.jpg

I have been lucky enough to have visited almost every county in Ireland as the majority of my family holidays have been within Ireland.
Some of my favourite counties Include Donegal, Dublin and Wicklow to mention just a few. Donegal is where I have grown up and it is a county I still love going home to. Donegal is one of the most beautiful counties in Ireland in my very unbiased (of course) opinion! We really do have everything from beaches not unlike the Mediterranean coast to the highest sea cliffs in Europe.

As well as an abundance of coastal beauty Donegal is also known for its mountains, such as Errigal and the stunning Glenveagh National Park set in a glacial valley.
Donegal Glenveagh.JPG

If you’re the adventurous type there is more than enough to keep your adrenalin pumping while staying in Donegal. Go surfing in some of the best waves in the world. Surfers come from all over the world to surf the rip at Rossnowlagh and Tullan Strand outside Bundoran. Surf Co. is my go-to surf company for lessons and rental. They’re friendly and really good value. For the avid hikers there is no shortage of trails along the coast to Fanad lighthouse which is spectacular or through Glenveagh National Park or attempt climbing Errigal and witness the breathtaking views at the summit.
Donegal butterflies.JPG

Now for the inside scoop, as a coffee lover there is nothing better than finding coffee that is perfect every time, in Donegal the place to find that perfect coffee is The Counter in Letterkenny, which is the biggest town in the county where you will find all the chain stores as well as the longest Main Street in Ireland.

Just outside Letterkenny is the town of Ramelton home to the best ice cream and fizzy drink in the county. Whoriskey’s 99s are something to write home about and Football Special which is a locally produced drink are musts especially on a sunny day.
Rathmelton Football Special & Ice cream.JPG

There are so many little towns and villages in Donegal that have maintained their traditionally Irish feel and are full of Irish knit and tweed shops. Many of these are in what is called the Gaeltacht which is an area where Irish is still the native language of people there, so you could try a few phrases such as thank you, ‘Go raibh maith agat!’ (<Go row my-h ugg-it>). Another place to visit is Derry which is a bordering county where you’ll find lots of history surrounding Northern Ireland as well as a wonderful craft village.

Travelling south-east to Dublin, the heart of the country you will find more than enough tourist tours, attraction information that I don’t need to tell you about. I have lived in Dublin for the past year while at University and have grown to love the city life in contrast to my country life. Temple Bar is a must in Dublin, the atmosphere is wonderful and Irish traditional music can be found on every corner. Murphy’s Ice Cream shop is amazing. Despite having some unusual flavours such as Soda Bread and Guinness, their ice cream is fabulous!
For a really Irish pub, Doyle’s near Trinity College is my favourite spot, quite a cosy pub with old furnishings and great music.
Dublin at nght.JPG
Dublin by night is magical!
Dublin at night.JPG

Dublin hidden.JPG
Circling back to coffee, you have to try F&B They have taken off where Bewley's on Grafton Street (the high street) used to be. A great buzz in here when you pop in for a coffee and always know it will be just what you needed!

Be adventurous when in Dublin and go off the beaten track. The Grand Canal is a very picturesque part of the city and is usually nice and quiet and an escape from the bustling city. If you follow the canal down to the dames, cross a few bridges you will stumble across the old Grand Canal sign that overlooks the docks and is quite a cool place to take photos.

For any history buffs out there Dublin is not lacking in fascinating exhibitions of Art, History and Architecture. Kilmainham Gaol is a must see for anyone interested in Irish history and our harrowing past.
Dublin Kilmainham.JPG
The Botanic Gardens are another lovely place for quiet meanderings and a breath of fresh air.
Dublin Botanic Gdns.JPG

A short DART (Dublin area rapid transport) journey away from Dublin is Wicklow, and my personal favourite town, Bray. Along the coastline, Bray in the sunshine is as beautiful as a south of France town.
Wicklow Bray head.JPG

I was recently on holiday there and loved how small and accessible the town is. A walk along the waterfront is the perfect way to spend a relaxing evening. An early morning walk up Bray Head along the coast to Graystones and you will find well known YouTuber’s The Happy Pear café and veg shop. For a healthy breakfast, lunch, dinner or quick snack it is the perfect place for delish food at a great price, with locally sourced organic food and a wide selection of Vegan food available.

For a day out exploring in Wicklow, Glendalough is a must, whether you fancy a hike or a  stroll along the lake this is another beautiful part of Ireland that I visit time and time again.
Wicklow Glendalough.JPG

Top Tip -  While in Ireland a few ‘must have’ foods are the not so traditional Chicken fillet roll (baguette, breaded chicken and your choice of salad etc), Spudbox (featuring a baked potato with your choice of toppings) in MVP and Spicebag (chiecken, chips and veggies in a salt and chilli rub). Despite not being typically Irish they are a firm favourite amongst locals.

There is so much more of Ireland to discover, 29 other counties in fact, so be sure to come explore!


Sunday, 4 September 2016

Just a spoon full of sugar...

Something I am surprised I haven't written about yet is my love for baking. Maybe that is because I haven't baked in quite some time. I'm not sure when baking became one of my hobbies. While studying it was an escape from stress although my baking was never stress free for anyone involved. The perfectionist in me always had rather elaborate ideas for decorating the cupcakes or cakes I made and when they wouldn't go as planned it would stress me out quite a lot!

I suppose that could have taken the good out of baking for me but I always loved making things for my family and friends' birthdays and seeing the smile it would bring to their faces to see and taste what I had made them. There is something so special about making something for someone, especially those people who have all they want and need and are impossible to buy for. I have made everything from gingerbread houses to a Minnie Mouse cake to Cookie Monster cupcakes. Those being some of the better executed 'masterpieces'! 
There is something so special about making rather than buying, spending time creating something for someone you love, a labour of love!

I'm not sure where my love for baking came from. Growing up, visiting Auntie Madge meant you were in for a freshly baked 'Auntie Madges sponge cake.' I have yet to make one or try one that was as soft and delicious as the cakes she made. 

My mum has also been baking for as long as I can remember. In fact the bread she still makes today is from a recipe she learnt to make on my first summer holiday to Cavan.

The most recent thing I baked was cupcakes for a Fotosoc meeting. They were what I call my go to cupcake receipt from Rachel Allen that I know off by heart. They never fail to impress and are devoured rather rapidly! By adding extra ingredients and putting a twist on this simple receipe I have made everything from classic vanilla to red velvet, chocolate, apple and cinnamon and my favourite, lemon.

6oz caster sugar
6oz margarine
6oz self raising flour
3 eggs

Cream the margarine and sugar.
Sift in flour, add eggs and combine.
Add a drop of vanilla essence or
substitute 2oz of flour for coco.

Bake at 180 for 10-12 minutes.

Christmas in our house is always a time for baking. For as long as I can remember mammy has made her world (or at least family) renowned Caramel Squares, with a perfectly golden shortbread base, a generous layer of silky caramel and a sweet smooth layer of chocolate. Mammy’s caramel squares are a firm favourite in our household and further afield. I think it may very well have been from watching mammy over the years make these as well as wheaten bread and more recently chili jam as gifts for friends and family that I started making gifts.

My imagination more often than not takes hold when I'm baking and I come up with rather unrealistic ideas for decorating the cupcakes or cake I have made. It gives me the oppourtunity to be creative and test how far my imagination can push my creativity. Although I have to admit, this often leads to stress as the perfectionist in me takes over when things are not going as I had pictured them in my mind.

Being away at college for the past year has meant doing almost no baking other than the occasional batch when I'm home and I miss it but I suppose I've found a different creative outlet in my new found love of photography. (Unfortunatly at the peak of my baking days photography wasn't really a passion of mine hence the less than half decent quality of these photos!)

Baking is something I really look forward to doing with my kids one days just like I have done with my mammy. Although being a little more realxed and open to a less than perfect result may be necessary when it comes to baking with kids so it could be a good lesson in life for me too!