Friday
Jul082016

Basil Apricot Crumble

 

Sitting in Provence earlier in the summer, laughing with friends during a moonlight dinner, we shared a pudding of apricots, nuts and something green. The slight aniseed taste and the colour gave away that the flavour was basil. The mix of fresh fruit and sweet basil is heady and delicious. This crumble is low sugar, low GI, and can be gluten free if you use, gluten free oats.

There is something oh so spectacular about basil, I adore it. I remember when it first appeared in abundance on our supermarket shelves here in Belfast in the late 90s. One whiff of the scent and you fall in love. There are hundreds of varieties of basil but the one I use most commonly is sweet basil.

Pick it up and bury your nose into its bright green leaves, allow the sweet smells to tickle your taste buds. You’ll pick up notes of citrus, cinnamon, clove and camphor – it is heady and delightful. I love having basil plants in my car after I have been in the shop, my drive home leaves me feeling refreshed, uplifted and itching to start cooking.

After my trip to France I have been putting basil into everything sweet and savoury – its perfume makes it so pleasurable to eat. Embrace its headiness and lingering scents use it abundantly and with extravagance.

Basil Apricot Crumble

Ingredients

• 2 cups of jumbo porridge oats
• 1/3 cup coconut oil melted
• 3-4 tbsp maple syrup
• 3 packets apricots about 18 – stoned and halved
• 1 large bunch of basil
• 1/2 cup golden caster sugar
• 1 tsp of honey

Optional
1/2 cup of blueberries
1/2 cup strawberries
1/3 cup of chopped toasted hazelnuts

Method
1. Place the halved apricots on a baking tray and drizzle with honey, place an oven heated to 200’ for 10 minutes until fruit is soft, remove from the oven, and place into a large casserole dish
2. In a blender combine the sugar and the basil
3. Mix the basil sugar with the apricots
4. Melt the coconut oil and stir into the oats, along with the maple syrup, sprinkle over the top of the apricot and basil
5. Cover with a lid and bake for 40 minutes at 180°C (360°F) until oats are golden
6. Serve warm or cold, on its own or with greek yogurt and honey, ice cream or cream

 

Enjoy!  Happy Summer folks.

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Friday
Jul082016

Summer TO DO List 2016

Summer has come to Ireland with rain, wind and damp.  The sky is hidden behind a lid of clouds.  They roll in heavy and firm; unbreaking.  Even thunderstorms don't bring release to this close weather.  Yet summer is here.

How do we craft our summer? It's a question I start thinking about early on, wondering what the summer will bring.  This year I move from one thing to another with purpose, breaking through into a new released experience.  It is good to set intentions for long summer days, to plan and to chill.  Days to move into the new thing, to be ready for what is to come.

What do you long for in summer?  What are you working on, thinking about, moving through?

Here are some of my thoughts for summer '16.

 
Spend time outside enjoying warm sunshine on my face - as always spending as much time in or on the water

Being able to hold full crow pose for five breaths at the end of summer

 

Moving through to new things - being clothed in dignity and strength; laughing without fear of the future


Have a go at playing footgolf


Sing at my friend's wedding


Continue my newfound (relaxing) hobby - playing watercolour paints - for no other reason than I find it enjoyable

Catch the dawn and the sunset as often as I can - there is always time to celebrate the beauty of life


Bring others together with food and wine and words and pictures


Clear my desk of pieces to be written and start the new pieces allowing the ideas that have permeated to release themselves onto paper


Celebrate the birthdays of my sister and two nephews - time for some amazing cakes and BBQs


Take a big trip before the next big thing


Move my body everyday with ease and joy - continue my daily practice of stretching and release 

Take a trip to Rathlin

Enjoy words 

What are your plans for this summer? I hope you enjoy these precious months whatever you are up to.

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Monday
Jul042016

q&a with photographer James McCourt

I'd love you to join me and give a great big welcome to the talented photographer James McCourt who's q&a is kicking off our latest season.  I first encountered James work at the Ulster University Photography graduate show.  His large film based prints of a farm in West Belfast have stayed with me.  His storytelling is genuine and through his pictures he introduces you to a real world were an inner city farm is bringing hope, pride and purpose to the community.  You can connect with James on his website, shoot him an email if you have a project you'd like to hire him for, and check out his insta.  James its great to have you at Salt and Sparkle - you are very welcome.

Who are you, what’s it like being you ...
I’m James McCourt, a photographer from Belfast. Recently graduating from BA Honours Photography at the Ulster University. Being me, everyday is an adventure. Loading the camera with film and seeing what happens next. 

 Where are you from, where are you based ...

Originally from the Whiterock, west Belfast. 

Talk about your work ...

I’ve always had a keen interest in the political history of Belfast. My photographic work seems to be an exploration of the landscape but also question this idea of ‘home’. 



Since the start of the year, I’ve been creating a series based on the St James farm in west Belfast. This urban farm is located between the bog meadows and the M1 motorway.  The Garden of Hope provides a family orientated community with a sense of pride and purpose. 

What are your future plans ... 

A question that I keep asking myself. I will continue to work closely in the St James farm. These photographs will be published as part of a limited zine. Recently graduating from my BA Hons I have a keen interest to get involved within the television/film industry. My dream job being a movie location scout.

How do you find inspiration, who you are inspired by ...  

Studying under Donovan Wylie and Paul Seawright, I find their work very inspiring. At the early stages of my photography, I came across the work Sean Mc Kernan and Frankie Quinn. Creating photographs during the conflict in Northern Ireland. They tell a story of the everyday.  

Describe your space ...

Surrounded in negatives, my scanner and iMac.  A cup of coffee sits on my table and my notepad.
 
How are you feeling today ... 



Today, I feel fantastic. I picked up some new negatives that I hope to scan! No better feeling …


A non-negotiable in your life is ...

I would say my photography. Scanning negatives seems to be pretty relaxing! 


Most encouraging words you have ever heard ...

The most encouraging words I heard, is from my mum and dad. I remember saying to them about studying photography in secondary school. They said ‘James, do whatever makes you happy. If you’re happy, we’re happy.” 


Your work life philosophy is ...

My work/life philosophy is work hard and enjoy every minute. Take the bad times and the good times. Dare to have a dream and work to make that dream a reality.

What is your favourite smell ...  

That new book smell. My girlfriend still thinks it’s strange to smell a new photobook!


Who do you like to listen to, what’s playing just now ...

Right now, I’m listening to Duke Dumont - Ocean Drive. Can’t seem to get enough of this song.

Best meal and your favourite three ingredients ...

My best meal, has to be Sushi at Kyoto in Scheveningen, Netherlands! During my year stay at the Royal Academy of Art (KABK) that seemed to be my hide out at the weekend. 


Three things or products that have changed your life...

Google Maps, my Epson scanner (meant no more late evenings spent in university scanning) and a selfie stick. 

How do you relax ...

Whenever I’m having some down time from a project or a couple of days off, I like to run and take long walks. Running seems to always relax me and allows me to just forget everything. I like to keep active so I play sports and swim. I also enjoy sitting down to read a good autobiography of political leaders or sporting hero’s.


What makes you happy, where’s your happy place ...

Making new work on the farm is definitely my happy place. Being there with the volunteers as they help, hearing their stories and just having a laugh. This farm is a truly remarkable little place. I STILL can’t believe there is a farm in west Belfast!


What is your favourite journey, where in the world would you like to visit ...  

I’ve always spoke about travelling across America. It would be a dream to rent a car and drive from Massachusetts to Portland. Using my camera as a way to document the whole trip. 



What do you most value in your friends ...  

My friends have been incredible throughout everything I do. Always there to listen and encourage but when times are hard it is nice to have people to pick you up. 


What are your favourite words, what are you reading, just now ...

I’ve a lot of interest in the current political state. Right now, I’m reading about Brexit …. A hot topic for sure!
 
Share some words of wisdom …

My words of wisdom, enjoy everything life has in store. Dream big and work hard to make those dreams a reality. 
 

Thank you James - it has been a joy to have you at our place.

That't it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Saturday
Jul022016

Basil Bellini

Holding a bottle of ice cold prosecco by the neck and watching the birds eating from the fatballs in front of my kitchen window my eyes catch the large basil bush.

As often happens to me - lots of associations at breakneck speed - I wondered how basil would mix with my peach bellinis.  I recalled a delicious nectarine, apricot and basil crumble I made last year, surely basil would work just as well with peaches, I pondered for moments before my hands started creating.   

Never one to let a good idea wander for long, I quickly added some torn basil to the bottom of my bellini glasses, poured in prosecco and then fresh peach puree that I had made with ripen on the windowsil peaches earlier that afternoon.

What resulted was a fresh, heady drink that will be served in my kitchen all summer long.

 

 Basil is such a pleasurable herb, its headiness and sensuality make it a joy to use with abundance in sweet and savoury dishes.  into everything sweet and savoury – its perfume makes it so pleasurable to eat. Embrace its headiness and lingering scents use it abundantly and with extravagance. Mixed with peach puree and Marks and Spencer light crisp lemony prosecco this basil bellini deserves a place on your menu all summer long.

 

Basil Peach Bellini

Ingredients

  • 3 Peaches, ripe, peeled, stoned and pureed or one tin of peaches in their own juice pureed.
  • 1 tbsp Lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • 1 tsp Sugar - optional
  • 1 bottle Prosecco chilled sparkling wine

Method

Mix all ingredients together in a large jug and serve immediately in tall champagne flutes or highballs.

 

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Saturday
Jul022016

Pizza Prosecco and Parties

 

It was July in 1991 and I remember having pizza for the first time.  We ate at tables on the street as traffic whizzed by.  Boards with discs covered in melted cheese that rose in balloon like shapes were placed in front of us. Still today I remember the taste of thin crisp chewy crust, spikey tomato sauce and billowly mozzerella and my feeling a love affair had begun.

Since the good pizza has been my favourite food and a staple for parties. Universally popular there are few people who don't like pizza which makes it an endearingly popular choice to serve for gatherings of people. Whether you cook it yourself, order in or serve the best pizza on the high street from Marks and Spencer the key is to have lots of pizza a large salad and plenty to drink.

Marks and Spencer have a deal I love when it comes to planning parties - pizza and prosecco for £10.  It is my friends time to stock up.

Prosecco is the natural choice of alcohol to serve with pizza.  It's fresh fizz and acidity cut through the gooey cheese and tomato flavours.  It is also a drink with bubbles that adds some fun and celebration to a meal.  

I stocked up on Marks and Spencer pizza and prosecco to serve at a little dinner for my friends birthday.  The Marks and Spencer wood fired pizzas come in several flavours


Conte Priuli Prosecco

The Conte Priuli Prosecco from Marks and Spencer is a summery bottle of bubbles from the foothills of the Alps in north eastern Italy.  It has peachy mid tones with a lemon finish, and a surprisingly creamy efferverscence. With its low alcohol, bright flavors, and gentle fizz the Conte Priuli Prosecco makes for a great pairing for pizza.  It also adds some celebration due to its bubbles to a meal.

 Marks and Spencer wood fired pizzas are in my opinion the best ready-made pizza, on the High Street with both texture and flavour as close to the real thing as you will get at home.  The dough was created by the Marks and Spencer food developers after visits to Italy to create an authencitiy in the base which is blasted in a wood-fired oven before the toppings are added.  With these pizzas there is the right amount of filling and topping and the crisp base makes them a joy to eat.

 In Italy pizza is traditionally served with beer or even coke, as Italians like to have something sparkling to drink with their pizza.  Having checked with my Italian friends who would be quick to disapprove of anything they think is a bastardisation, they are all in agreement that prosecco and pizza is an enjoyable combination.  

 

 

 

 I served the pizzas with a wild rocket, Irish Strawberry, parmesan, lime and caramelised salad.  This easy to prepare salad brings fire, freshness and flakiness to your plate of pizza.

To make this salad, toss two bags of Marks and Spencer wild rocket, with 1 cup of grated parmesan (use a mircoplane grater), the juice of two limes, and one punnet of Irish strawberries that have been hulled, washed and quartered.  Toss the ingredients together, then add some caramelised balsamic vinger, french bread croutons and flakes of parmesan and serve.  I recommend dressing this salad only moments before serving to ensure it does not go soggy.

 

After all that pizza folks don't want a heavy desert, but they do want something sweet.  Taking my cue from my Vietamnese family who always serve watermelon and fresh fruit at the end of dinner, I created a fruit platter.Of  fresh Marks and Spencer Raspberries and Strawberries, scattered with salted chocolate fudge balls and coconut meringues is a light, sweet and fresh finish.  Place a large platter in the middle of the table and let people help themselves.

 

 That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

 

Saturday
Jun182016

Meringues with strawberries 

The secret to meringues is that you want them to dehydrate rather than cook.

Serve them with Marks and Spencer strawberries and Cornish Clotted cream

 

Meringues Recipe

 Ingredients

  • 3 egg whites
  • 6oz golden caster sugar
  • 3 - 4 tsp Rose Extract or vanilla

 

Oven 170' Aga floor on bottom oven / Preheat the oven to fan 100C/ conventional 110C/gas 1⁄4.

You can place the meringues on a lightly oiled baking sheet before cooking on a silicon mat or I find using a lined pizza tray or stone works well.

Method

1. Whisk egg whites slowly in an electric mixer or with an electric had mixer, use a high sided bowl, until very firm. You should be able to hold bowl upside down & nothing drops out - children love it when you do this over their heads.

2. Mix in 3/4 sugar on low speed, adding only a little at a time. The mix should look really glossy.

3. Fold in the rest of the sugar using a figure of eight motion

4. Fold in the rose extract or vanilla

5.Spoon large dollops onto a preprepared baking tray ensuring space has been left between the  meringues and then cook

6.  Bake for 1 1⁄2- 2 hours in a fan oven, 1 1⁄4 hours in a conventional or gas oven, and up to 2 hours in the Aga.  The meringues are ready when they sound crisp when tapped hours

Saturday
Jun182016

Rosé Strawberries

Strawberries mean summer to me.  Bowls filled with warm red jewels.

The first Irish Strawberries are in Marks and Spencer's stores.  Their balance of sweetness and acidity changes as the strawberries ripen, the acidity diminishes making them so much sweeter.  I still like to add the tiniest dusting of sugar to them.  My Gran always said this brought out their flavour.  When I saw a tiny drop I mean a pinch or two, only, never more they don't need it.

 

Another thing I like to do with strawberries is let them macerate in rose wine after they have been tossed in sugar.  Macerating strawberries allows them to soften, this should be done at room temperate as when the fruit is too cold it shrinks and hides its flavour which only comes out when it is warm.  You should only eat strawberries  in season, never ever at any other time, because it is only in season that they are luscious 

Flaxbourne Sauvignon Blanc Rosé from Marks and Spencer is big and bold with a clear finish.  Its strawberry flavours means it works well being paired with actual strawberries.  I add one large glass of wine to 500g of strawberries that have been hauled, washed and quartered and sprinkled with a couple of small pinches of sugar.  Levae for 30 minutes to 3 hours, at room temperate but not in a hot room.

Now you can serve these strawberries in chunks or using a potato masher you can mash them together to form a loose almost sloppy like consistency, perfect for scooping up with crusty white bread. Or eating straight from the bowl with a spoon.

You can serve these strawberries with thick greek yogurt swirled with honey, with softy beaten cream, meringues or with ice cream.

That's it for now ...

 

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable