Tuesday
Aug192014

Secret Garden at the Fitzwilliam Hotel Belfast

The Fitzwilliam Hotel, Belfast was filled with the ethereal light for its summer party. The lobby transformed to a luminous glade from Shakespeare's Midsummer's Night Dream.   

Florist Tim Kirkpatrick from Floral Earth used soft and delicate blooms arranged with gentle grace in tones of pale pinks and blue, against green mosses, and branches.  Tim's talent shone through in the refinement of his arrangements, the causal eclective nature of the arrangements which takes a very trained and skilled eye to achieve so readily.

Jam jars packed with poseys, sat on side tables the sweet heady scent of sweetpea filling the air.

Hydrangeas in blues and greens, sat with hurricane lamps and flickering candle light.  The trendy lobby of the Fitzwilliam Hotel took on the atmosphere of a secret garden, to which only a few had a key.

Personal Trainer and Lifestyle Coach at FrankFit Brian Cahill joined by the manager of Tommy Hilfiger, Belfast, Sarah Cahill.

Glamourous and fun Grainne McGarvey owner of Pulse PR, and writer of G-Spots for The Belfast Times

The Fitzwilliam's lobby was filled with the sound of funk jazz.

Sarah from Smarts Communicate looking very pretty with flowers in her hair.

The Fitz Berry Blitz - my favourite soft cocktail combining bramble berry flavours and mint, was refreshing with just the right amount of zing.

Glasses of wine, and funky martini's in hues to match the flowers were the alcoholic drinks of the evening.

But the food, oh the food.  The Fitzwilliam Hotel do canapes brilliantly.  And I was dazzled by the sweet salty flavour combinations during the summer party.  Salted caramel eclairs with chocolate salt meringue and lemon meringue mini pies.  The lemon curd was zesty and soft which contrasted well on the palate with the smooth crisp of the meringue, and the pastry cases were crunchy and perfectly cooked.

Dill brought a fresh flavour  to the sweet brown bread, goat's cheese and roasted pepper bite sized canapes.

 

 The Fitzwilliam Hotel Belfast is one of the best Hotels and venues the city has to offer.  Its fresh funky boutique appeal, excellent service (the staff remember your name), well thought out menu and bar, the clean interiors and wonderful beds make the customer feel very special.  It is one of my favourite places to hang out and I hope it will become yours too.

That's it for now ...

 

Nics

 

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Friday
Aug152014

Sláinte its Friday, time for a Dingle Vodka Lemon Drop 

Sláinte its Friday! Cocktail time.  Are you excited, because I am.  Today we are delighted to share with you a recipe that has got our tastebuds popping, using a sublime Vodka from a place called Dingle on the south west coast of Ireland.  

Dingle Distillery Pot Still Vodka

Doesn't the word Dingle, just make you smile.

Say it aloud for a moment.

DINGLE.

Now add Pot Stilled vodka, and think Friday cocktail, and I know for sure your smile has just got bigger.

Sláinte!

Dingle Distillery is an artisan distillery launched in 2012, one of five in Ireland, situated in the old Fitzgerald saw mill the copper stills and casks are beginningage the spirit which will in turn become Dingle whiskey.  

The spirit needs to be aged for at least three years to be called whiskey, so while the Dingle spirit is aging, the distillery have produced bottles of both Dingle Vodka and Gin.  

Vodka is a neutral spirit which can be distilled from virtually anything that ferments including potatoes. However, the very best vodkas start their lives as a grain - like the Spring Wheat used to make Dingle Vodka.  

'Whiskey is in the waiting' and the quality of water is intergal to the end product.  Dingle Vodka benefits from using the same water as its whiskey.  Water which has filtered through the beautiful Dingle Mountains for hundreds of years before being pumped up from nearly 300 feet below ground.

Created in a single copper pot still, Dingle Vodka is the purest vodka I have ever tasted.  I would go so far as to say it is one of the very best sipped by Salt and Sparkle.

It has a clarity and internal smooth energy that is not found easily.  

Clear, clean and sweet Dingle Vodka has a soft gentle flavour, that is creamy on the palate, with just an aroma of vanilla.

Dingle Distillery Vodka has a freshness that makes it very enjoyable to drink without ice or mixers.  The vodka however, should have been in the freezer preferably overnight to allow it to become really really cold.

Good cocktails, just like good food, always begin life as superb ingredients.  And, the clean fresh flavours of Dingle Vodka, heavenly match with lemonzest and lemonsugar syrup.

Lemondrops are simple and sublime, are favourite type of food and drinks.   Make lemon sugar by mixing lemon zest and superfine caster sugar, then add in equal measure to lemon juice, and stir untill dissolved. The sweet zesty scent, will transport you towards heaven while you do so.

Squeeze a lot of lemons, I typically go for two per drink, add the zest to the bottom of a pitcher or glass, and cover with ice, then stir in the vodka and lemon sugar syrup.  Serve immediately with straws if the fancy takes.

Dingle Vodka Lemon Drop Recipe mixes four large cocktails

Ingredients

  • 3 cups ice cold vodka
  • 3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup superfine sugar
  • Zest of eight lemons
  • Ice

 

Method

 

  1. Make lemon sugar by mixing lemon zest and sugar
  2. Add the lemon juice to the sugar and stir to dissolve
  3. In a pitcher or mixing glass stir the vodka, lemonjuice sugar and ice
  4. Add either lemon slices or zest to the bottom of tall glasses, fill the glass with ice then pour over the cocktail.

 


That's it for now ...

Nics

 

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

 

The Dingle Whiskey Distillery, Dingle, Co. Kerry, Ireland

 +353 86 829 9944

 

Wednesday
Aug132014

Our minds are Fragile - they need tender loving care.

King Solomon was the richest most powerful man of his time.  The son of King David and Bathsheba, he ruled Israel for forty years. 

 

  • He had 700 wives, and 300 mistresses. 
  • He made Jerusalem the trade capital of the world during his reign and built the cities First Temple.
  • He took 13 years to build his own palace.
  • He owned 12,000 horses, and had 1,400 chariots and built cities for them as well as he creating cities for storage. All of Solomon’s crockery or plates were made of pure gold - nothing in his house was made of silver. 

 

The Bible tells us God spoke to him in dreams and gave him great wisdom.

He composed 3,000 Proverbs, 1,005 songs and wrote the Biblical books of Proverbs, Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastes.  

And, was known then and still regarded today for his great wisdom.  So famous was he that the Queen of Sheba came to visit and learn from him.

Solomon had wealth, power, glory, honour and recognition - his words of wisdom are still spoken, studied and significant, nearly 3,000 years later – but he did not have peace of mind.

He struggled to find meaning, and purpose, and rest for his mind. 

Flipping between two of the books he wrote – Proverbs as a young man and Ecclesiastes towards the end of his life – shows us just how fragile his mind had become in old age.

38 times the word meaningless is used in the scriptures, and 35 of those are in the book of Ecclesiastes.

Solomon, the man the Hebrews knew as most wise, had gained the whole world but lost his soul. 

Today like Solomon, we still expect a lot of our minds, focusing only on their power and rarely considering their fragility by subjecting them frequently to a relentless pace of life, with little downtime.  Feelings and thoughts that don’t fit with our agenda are disregarded and tossed aside without attention given to their significance.

And yet, we do nobody any favours when we deny how we feel or disregard our mind

By pushing away our feelings, numbing them, or believing them to be unimportant especially those, which are sad or difficult, all we do is give our feelings an opportunity to decay in our bodies.  Often after a period of festering they come out as physical pain in another area, because what is repressed needs to find a way to be expressed.

It is by not pushing away the uncomfortable feelings, purely because of their discomfort, but by embracing, and working them through, sometimes with others, that we weave a path of healing for ourselves and find rest for our minds.


This post was first broadcast on BBC Radio Ulster in November 2013.

Please look after your mind.

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

 

Tuesday
Aug122014

Speak to someone, now, you are important, you are valued, you are worthy - suicide prevention

The message came from the other side of the world.  The buzz from the brick like phone awakening me from my slumber, vibrated against my bedside table.  Grappling for my glasses, I hit the light, which as it illuminated the room, dazzled my sleepy eyes.

‘Nicky, I’m going to end it all.’

A slow chill rose up the back of my spine.  The text in grayscale seemed to leap from my mobile.  I immediately replied, then started trying to call.  The international dialling tone rang out, again and again.  As with each call I got nowhere.  I tried other phones, withholding my number.  I emailed every email address known to me.

I began to hate the sound of that dialling tone.

A red flash from my phone brought another message.

‘I’ve just had enough, can’t face this anymore.’

Again and again I punched in the number, from various phones, hoping, praying they would pick up.  Not that I had words, or knew what I was going to say except don’t, please God don’t.  There is hope. 

I continued to text, saying many things of a similar vein, ‘You are valuable.  You are important.  Whatever is going on, you are not alone. The world needs you. You are loved. Don’t please don’t do this.’

Weeks of wondering did they do it went by before, I heard from them again. 

Feelings that didn’t belong to me, crowded into this void.

‘You didn’t do enough.’

‘What if you were the last person they contacted and they still did it? It’s your fault.’

‘Your words weren’t enough.’

‘You weren’t enough.’

As a beaver gnaws at the tree trying to topple it, my soul felt  chewed by the desperation of guilt, the fear that this person actually was gone, and I was the last human they contacted.

The knife edge of despair causes an ache in the spirit when it is burdened with words no human should ever carry alone. 

I found support from the Samaritans and my church.

I heard truth, that ‘whatever had happened wasn’t my fault.'  That I had 'reached out to them and done all that was in my power to do.'

Some weeks of silence came and went, before I heard they were alive.  I had been to a sort of hell and back in the meantime.

Whether you are experiencing feelings of despair, or supporting someone else through their feelings, please speak to someone, now.  Know you are not alone, that you are needed, you are important, you are worthy.

To seek information and/or support on suicide prevention can call Samaritans 08457 90 90 90, or speak to your GP.

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

 

Monday
Aug042014

Sláinte its Monday, time for some Bushmills Whiskey Mint Julep

It was a rainy day in Charleston when I dived into the Gin Joint to seek shelter from the droplets of rain, that were threatening to make it under my hat, and down my neck.  The bartender was mixing Mint Juleps. The classic cocktail of the south.  Pulling up a chair, discarding my dripping garments, I asked him to pour me one.

I watched as he muddled, and stirred, crushed ice and poured bourbon from a height.  It was fun.

A silver Julep cup, filled with cone of ice and a light crusting of ice forming on the outside of the metal was placed in front of me.  In the South, it's all about the ice, and plenty of it, because ice, sure does melt fast, in the swampy heat. 

It looked as appealing as it tasted.  Sweet mint with the soothing smoke of bourbon.

 

Having recently been working on some Bushmills 10 Year Old Malt cocktail recipes - whiskey lemonade anyone? - I knew this whiskey with its melted chocolate overtones, and hint of smokiness would make a lighter Mint Julep than the traditional bourbon based one.


This cocktail has few ingredients: mint, simple syrup, bourbon or Bushmills 10 Year Old Malt, and ice.  That's it, simplicity at its finest.

Creation could not be easier -


Bushmills Whiskey Mint Julep Recipe

Serves One

Ingredients

  • 3 fingers or 3 ouces of Bushmills 10 year old malt
  • 1 ounce simple sugar syrup
  • ounces bourbon
  • bunches mint
  • Crushed Ice lots of crushed ice

Method

 

  1. Muddle 4 mint leaves in the bottom of a tumbler or Julep Cup
  2. Pour the simple syrup over the muddle mint and muddle a little longer
  3. Fill with crushed ice
  4. Pour over the Bushmills 10 year old malt and stir until well combined
  5. Add more ice and a sprig of mint
  6. Sip slowly

 

That's it for now ...

 

Nics

 

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Friday
Aug012014

Begin - Five Minute Friday

Looking up at him, her pale green eyes fixed on his inky blue.  Much had passed.  There was hurt and hope in their eyes.  

The crushing weight of separation, like a grey sky on an otherwise hot day, when all that's needed is a ray of sunshine, a spark of hope to break through the all preveiling monotone, had been nearly too much for her.

Heavier than the pain of the past.  Suffocating.  She needed him, they needed each other.  Their past through no choices of their own connected and it was only together that the future could be navigated.

'I don't just love you now, I am choosing to love you in our yesterdays, and tomorrows.  Beginning again each morning.  I chose you.' he said.

ENDS

I'm joining Lisa Jo Baker as she hosts her last ever Five Minute Friday, I hope you will join us.  I've taken a gamble and shared some raw thoughts from two characters in my novel.  Thoughts which bounce in my head, somehow find some space with the short free writing of Five Minute Friday.  I'd love to know what you think.  You can read some of my other words of fiction here and here.

Happy Friday

 

That's it for now ...

 

 

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

 

 

Wednesday
Jul232014

How to make Trail Mix

A blend of fruit, nuts and seeds high in fiber, protein and natural sugar, with the odd M&M thrown in for a hit of choclate, Trail mix is a nutritious and sustaining snack.  And, it's my favourite.  I don't travel anywhere without it.  Making it up huge ziplock bags before hitting the road. As I am heading to the airport tonight, it seemed only natural to share with you my love of Trailmix. 

Sitting on a blanket on the sand,  was offered a packet, taking a handful of what I thought were nuts, I was overjoyed to discover something altogether more lovely.  Salty peanuts, dried cranberries and chocolate drops, mixed with M&Ms.  TrailMix! A lifelong loveaffair had begun.

In the USA its easy to buy Trailmix pre made in large packets, but here in Ireland, harder and more expensive.  But that's really okay, as this lightweight, portable and full of energy dense ingredients is as easy to make, as it is to munch.

One of the great things about Trailmix is you can create your own version with ease.  It's simply just a case of mixing and matching ingredients that tingle your tastebuds.

I like the combinatin of salt and sweetness, but I don't want to eat nuts drenched in salts or sugar, so I add some salty pretzels to raw nuts.

You can make a whole variety of blends - it really is just about finding what works for you, and mixing accordingly.  Now what could be better, being told to do what works for you, I'll have more of that, yes please!

In a large bowl I mixed a 500g bag of pecans, with one of cashews, pistachios and a mixed bag of hazel and brazil nuts, with a 300g bag of peanut M&Ms, and two large handfuls of salted pretzels. Then I decanted the mix into various zip lock bags.  Dang, I was done, and it didn't take longer than five minutes.  When travelling to hot places, I recommend if using chocolate to keep your bag in a cooler.  Otherwise don't add chocolate, or it melts and your hand becomes gooey and messy.

Trail Mix Recipes

Nuts - these are the commando of nutrition packed full of protein, unsaturated fats, , fibre, antioxidants, vitamin E, and other essential vitamins and minerals.  Go raw or add salted, sweetened nuts.

Dried Fruit - such as cranberries, raisins, bananna chips, currants, cherries, blueberries, pineapple, mango, papaya

Chocolate - dark, white or milk chocolate drops, M&Ms, chocolate/yogurt covered raisins or berries, mini marshmallows or nuts.  Dark chocolate will boost the antioxidiants the Trail Mix

Seeds - Basically the same nutritional benefits as nuts, adding an extra punch to your mix

Extras - Wasabi peas, pretzels, dried ginger, coffee beans, edamane beans, coconut flakes, bread sticks, bran flakes, shredded wheat cereal, puffed rice, granola and toasted oats

Trail Mix Recipe Combinations

Almonds, dried cherries, & dark chocolate chips

Brazil nuts, dried mango, dried pineapple cashew, coconut flakes, & banana chips

Raisins, peanuts & M&Ms

Dried cranberries, pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate chips and cashews

Almonds, pumpkin seeds, & sunflower seeds

Pecans, M&Ms, dried cranberries, chocolate-covered almonds, & cherries


Let me know your favourites. Happy Mixing.

 

That's it for now ...

 

 

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

 

An extra - If you are about to travel Seth Godin's article 'A Checklist for the Anxious Traveller' is brilliant, full of helpful information and ideas.