Wednesday
Jan042017

Take Part in the Big Garden Birdwatch the world's biggest wildlife survey!

 Today's guest post is from Amy Colvin from the RSPB NI.

 

Take part in the world's biggest wildlife survey with RSPB Northern Ireland 28-30 January 2016.

 The Big Garden Birdwatch is a chance for everyone to help nature by donating just one hour to count the birds and other wildlife in their gardens. The data gathered from this survey provides a vital health-check of the wildlife that makes its home here.



For the first time the RSPB have extended the Big Garden Birdwatch weekend by another day to give even more people the chance to get involved.  Visit the RSPB Birdwatch website and spend one hour counting the birds you see at any time during 28, 29 or 30 January.

You can use the handy online bird counting tool on the website to identify and record the birds as you see them directly on your laptop, tablet or smartphone. Or, if you’ve registered in advance, you can fill in a paper survey form and post it back to the RSPB. They’d also love you to log some of the other wildlife you see in your garden – from squirrels to hedgehogs.

 

As temperatures drop, the natural food available for wildlife becomes scarcer and so birds are more likely to visit our gardens in the hope of supplementing their diets. RSPB NI recommends providing a mix of food sources like seeds, peanuts, sunflower hearts and suet balls to help them keep their energy up during the winter months.

These can be bought in most supermarkets, garden centres and pet shops. Kitchen leftovers like mild grated cheese, cold potatoes, apples and pastry scraps will also go down a treat.

 

Register to take part in Big Garden Birdwatch 2017  - children can also get involved by counting the birds which visit their school grounds until 17 February. Teachers can get involved in Big Schools’ Birdwatch.

The RSPB is the UK’s largest nature conservation charity, inspiring everyone to give nature a home. Together with our partners, we protect threatened birds and wildlife so our towns, coast and countryside will teem with life once again. We play a leading role in BirdLife International, a worldwide partnership of nature conservation organisations.

 

Top ten bird species spotted in NI during Big Garden Birdwatch 2016:

 

Species

Rank

% of gardens

Starling

1

69.5

House sparrow

2

61.7

Chaffinch

3

68.1

Blue tit

4

76.0

Blackbird

5

89.3

Great tit

6

65.5

Goldfinch

7

33.1

Robin

8

91.3

Magpie

9

66.6

Coal tit

10

54.3

 

 

Top spots to do Big Garden Birdwatch around Northern Ireland:

 

Location*

County

Directions

Belfast’s Window on Wildlife

Antrim

100 Airport Road West, Belfast Harbour Estate, BT3 9ED

Portmore Lough

Antrim

George’s Island Road, Aghalee

Lough Neagh Discovery Centre

Armagh

Oxford Island National Nature Reserve, Craigavon, BT66 6NJ

Lurgan Park

Armagh

Windsor Ave, Lurgan BT67 9BG

Crawfordsburn County Park

Down

Bridge Road South, Helen's Bay, BT19 1JT

Castle Espie

Down

78 Ballydrain Rd, Comber, Newtownards BT23 6EA

Ballyronan Wood

 

Derry~Londonderry

135A Shore Rd, Ballyronan, Magherafelt BT45 6JA

Prehen Wood

Derry~Londonderry

105 Prehen Park, Derry~Londonderry BT47 2

Peatlands Park

Tyrone

33 Derryhubbert Road, Dungannon, BT71 6NW

Knockmany Forest

Tyrone

B83 Knockmany Road, Augher, BT76 0XJ

Castle Caldwell

Fermanagh

A47 Kesh to Belleek Road, approx BT93 2AB

Florencecourt

Fermanagh

A4 Sligo road and A32 Swanlinbar Road, BT92 1DB

 

*Please note admission is chargeable at some of these locations. Please contact individual attractions for information on prices and opening times.

 ----------------------

Thank you Amy - it was a pleasure to have you at Salt and Sparkle talking about a subject very close to our heart - birds. I hope everyone will take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch, my nephews and I will be doing it.

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt and Sparkle = Life Remarkable

 

 

Sunday
Jan012017

A Blessing for the New Year

 

On the day when
The weight deadens
On your shoulders
And you stumble,
May the clay dance
To balance you.

And when your eyes
Freeze behind
The grey window
And the ghost of loss
Gets into you,
May a flock of colours,
Indigo, red, green
And azure blue,
Come to awaken in you
A meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
In the currach of thought
And a stain of ocean
Blackens beneath you,
May there come across the waters
A path of yellow moonlight
To bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
May the clarity of light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the protection of the ancestors be yours.

And so may a slow
Wind work these words
Of love around you,
An invisible cloak
To mind your life.

“A New Year Blessing” John O'Donohue
Benedictus (To Bless The Space Between Us)

Saturday
Dec312016

a blessing - At the End of the Year

 

The particular mind of the ocean
Filling the coastline’s longing 
With such brief harvest
Of elegant, vanishing waves
Is like the mind of time
Opening us shapes of days.

As this year draws to its end,
We give thanks for the gifts it brought
And how they became inlaid within
Where neither time nor tide can touch them.

The days when the veil lifted
And the soul could see delight;
When a quiver caressed the heart
In the sheer exuberance of being here.

Surprises that came awake
In forgotten corners of old fields
Where expectation seemed to have quenched.

The slow, brooding times
When all was awkward
And the wave in the mind
Pierced every sore with salt.

The darkened days that stopped
The confidence of the dawn.

Days when beloved faces shone brighter
With light from beyond themselves;
And from the granite of some secret sorrow
A stream of buried tears loosened.

We bless this year for all we learned,
For all we loved and lost
And for the quiet way it brought us
Nearer to our invisible destination.

-- John O'Donohue (To Bless The Space Between Us/Benedictus)

Friday
Dec232016

Christmas Cheese, Port and Presents from Marks and Spencer

 Cheese and Christmas have two words ever been more synonymous.  This is the time of year to really enjoy rich and creamy cheeses.  Marks and Spencer as always have a wonderful selection.  I particularly like their Christmas gift box with an Apricot, Ginger and Sage chutney, some nutty crackers and four very good cheeses.  

 To this I added Cashel Blue, my favourite blue Irish Cheese - one that always satisfies whether a wedge on a cracker or a piece melting on the top of a steak.  It is smooth, creamy and rich.  

Cashel Blue is made at Beechmount a 200 acre farm in County Tipperary from grass-fed milk, it is a pure and perfect cheese.  And, has been one of Ireland's favourites for over 30 years.

The Marks and Spencer selection of cheeses include a Double Glouster, Gould's mature cheddar, a Shropshire Blacksticks blue and Raven's oak goat's cheese.

I serve my cheeses on a simple Donegal slate plate.

 

 This Cranberry, golden raisin, clementine and brandy stilton is sweet and smooth, a favourite with those who like their cheeses a little sweeter.

 It works well with the crunchy seeded crackers and a blob of apricot, sage and ginger chutney.

 Cheese Boards are instant meals or snacks.  Serve with chutney, lots of crackers and some smooth things to drink.

 Port and Cheese - that phrase brings back so many memories for me from my days in the little grey toon of St Andrews.  

Grahams "The Tawny" is a perfect present for a porter lover or one to serve with cheese.  It is light in colour with a warming rich flavour.  This deep, golden-amber port haa rich bouquet of orange peel, cinnamon and dried fruits, particularly raisins, prunes and figs. The palate fruity, with cherry flavours and a long, clean finish.

 

 I especially like its presentation box this is one for Uncle's, Papa's and Daddy's.  It is also great with Christmas Pudding at the end of Christmas Dinner.

 Marks and Spencer Rare Cream Sherry is a bit like drinking mince pies - sweet rich and luscious.  Aged in the unique Solera systems of old oak barrels, it is transformed into a wonderfully complex nutty fortified wine, which is blended with a little Pedro Ximez to add rich, raisin sweetness and luscious body.

 Santa in our house likes sweet sherry and mince pies - what does your santa like to nibble and drink when he visits to leave presents?

 Marks and Spencer all butter mince pies are moist and juicy with plump fruit in the filling, and a light, golden pastry casing.  Oh they are so good, when I was tasting Dad popped in and he said, 'I just keep eating these mince pies they are so tasty.'  A sure sign of success.

 Tea and Toast - is there any better comfort food.  I kid you not, tea and toast seems to cure all ills.  As Storm Barbara batters against my window the driving rain and pounding rain are making great swell for surfers which I can watch from my window.  I am snuggling down to tea and toast.  And, it is an idea for an original Christmas present - fresh baked bread from the artisan range at Marks and Spencer.  I choose Irish Wheatnen and the Pecan and Cranberry loaf, wrap them in a tea towel to allow the bread to breathe and give with some Irish Country Butter and Marks and Spencer sparkling prosecco apricot jam and runny Spanish honey with slices of orange.

 

 

 With a love for everything sparkly this conserve makes me think of warmer summer days because of its bright apricot flavour.

 

 Orange blossom honey from Spain is a realy treat, the thin pieces of orange peel bring a depth of flavour.

 

 A biscuit from a tin and a cup of tea, right there is another cure for ills.  There's not much a cup of tea and a biscuit can't help.  For 2017 get yourself a selection of teas from Marks and Spencer and this fabulous robin shortbread biscuit tin.  It will brighten the most deary January days.  And while you're at it buy one for friends as well - a great present for bird lovers, next door neighbours and friends in need of something comforting.

 Cranberry and dark chocolate jaffa cakes ... just lovely with a good cup of tea.

 While your buying your Christmas pudding buy two or three more and hand them into shelters or churches that are packing hampers, or have a food bank.  There are more food banks than ever before inthe UK and they really need us to supply them with great products.

This Marks and Spencer Australian Shiraz from the Limestone South Coast is a great one for sipping or giving. A rich Aussie Shiraz packed full of autumnal fruit flavours of apple and pear, and blackberry.  There are warm spicy pepper aromas over a voluptuous yet surprisingly elegant palate.  

I really love this Marks and Spencer Silver Frond vibrant dry Sauvignon that is bursting with ripe gooseberry flavours.  A herbal aromamatic nose with undertones of luscious fresh lime and crushed nettle palate, it is fun and sparkly perfect to liven up any Christmas dinner. It is from New Zealand’s Marlborough region, an area of sun-kissed vineyards set among pristine lakes, rivers and hills – a haven for the Sauvignon Blanc grape to grow. M&S winemaker Jeneve Williams made this wine with local winemaker Andrew Blake of Giesen, sourcing grapes from a number of prime vineyards to really show off the quality and clarity of the region’s fruit.  Grape Variety: 99% Sauvignon Blanc, 1% Pinot Gris

This Marks and Spencer Christmas cake is spicy,  with rich fruit flavours, brandy-laced and royal-iced with sparkling poinsettas.  It is a masterpiece for your table.  

 Matured for eight months, it is filled with port-soaked Vostizza currants that are grown in the mountains in the Aeghion region of Greece, in a microclimate and rich soil that help give them a distinct flavour, while the flame raisins are dried from extra sweet and juicy red grapes.  

 Serve it with a good cup of tea or a glass of Grahams Tawny Port.

 

Merry Christmas my friends, may your day be full of joy and laughter.

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable 

Thursday
Dec222016

Virtually Instant Fondue

I like to keep things in the pantry and fridge at this time of year that allow me to put together a wonderful meal with ease.  Christmas is a time when people come calling or if you are anything like me you invite people 'come back to ours' after any event you are at - a carol service, closing time at the bar or a bracing walk on the beach.  Having people in my home seated around my table is one of my favourite things year in year out.  I will never tire of cooking for others.

At this for many the most wonderful time of year a simple Christmas Cheese Fondue is a delight.  You can make one from scratch using the fantastic Marks and Spencer range of cheeses or you can make a virtually instant one using this soft French Le Bon Grivois cheese from Marks and Spencer.  I have never known anyone to turn down fondue.

Make a light cross on the top of the cheese then bake in a hot oven, about 220' for 15-20 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling and gooey.

Serve with slices of crusty Northern Irish wheaten bread cut into fingers.  The sweet moist crumb of the bread with the running bubbling cheese.

Le Bon Grivois is a soft round cheese, made of raw milk, and it has a washed rind which is washed every couple of days with salt water. It is matured for three weeks on wooden spruce boards. Soft and unctuous without being too sharp, I love its taste with the nutty wheaten bread.

I always have a pot of soup ready to feed people at Christmas this year it is leek and potato.  I serve it with pieces of crispy black bacon scattered over the top.  Serve a bowl of soup with this Marks and Spencer Le Bon Grivois fondue and you have a delicious hearty and quick meal.

And of course  - with bread and cheese a glass of chilled Sauvigon Blanc always goes down a treat.  This Seaglass Californian sauvigon blanc from Marks and Spencer is fresh and its lemony sharpness cuts through the cheese.

Merry Christmas, that's it for now ...

 

Nics

 

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Monday
Dec122016

Gingerbread Houses - Ikea flat pack gingerbread house party

 

My table was covered in sweets.  There was icing on the floor and the walls.  Sprinkles had got into places you couldn't even begin to image.  It was noisy, joyful and sugary.  Friends and family gathered around my table for the Cahill's Annual Gingerbread House Party.  


Here from Granny's and Grans to babies, Grandpa's, Daddy's, Uncles, Aunties, Toddlers and little people gathered to build a Gingerbread Village.

Everyone is welcome round my table to build their Ikea Belfast flat pack Gingerbread House.  

Decorating with a stash of sweets that would have made Hansel and Gretzel smile. 

 Some worked to a theme - with careful construsction and an eye for symmentary.

 

 

 Others were more eco-consciou inserting solar panels and a wood pile for their log burning stove.

 

 There was laughter and smiles from all involved.  There is nothing like the joy that comes from creating with your own hands a project made entirely of sweeties.

 Others too a more hapzhard approach to decorating their houses.

 That's the thing about decorating - its personal and open to interpretation - there is no right way to decorate a gingerbread house - there is no perfection.  There is only fun and laughter, sugar highs and for some a little competition.

 Proud Mummy's and sons, with a house of splendid construction.

 

Careful thought and imagination come to the fore.

Christmas music pumps out of the stereo - we join in singing around the table.  Some come dressed in festive spirit.

Icing goes everywhere - this is a messy business.  Who cares?  Certainly not me, I want everyone to embrace their inner creative and have fun.  Ikea supply the flatpack gingerbread houses, we supply the sweets and the icing - how the house is decorated is up to you.

 

Sweet secret tip - always build the house before adding sweeties, otherwise it will collapse.

Laughter and seriousness.

 

Candy canes are perfect fonder and decorative.

 

Little one's like to take part and try the sweeties.

 

Others like a seat beside the Christmas tree for a story, while the kitchen mayhem continues.

After all that creativity, it is time for a toes up - and dinner.

Champ, cocktail sausages in a sticky cranberry, honey, seasame and chipotle glaze.  Spinach salad with cranberries and goats cheese.  Everyone is craving savour food - dessert is not welcome.

 

 

 

 

 


Building Gingerbread Houses from Ikea is one of my favourite parts of Christmas.  Why don't you have a go with some little or older people in your life this week.

 

It really is the best fun you will have.

Merry Merry Sparkling, sprinkly Gingerbread Christmas,

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

 

 

Monday
Dec122016

Merry Christmas ...