Thursday
Apr062017

Blue skies, green fields and stone walls

Wednesday
Mar222017

Mother's Day 2017 - some gift ideas

 

Isn't Mother's Day really rather wonderful?  A whole day dedicated to celebrating our Mums.  Whether that's with a homemade card or breaksfast in bed.  A walk on the beach or dinner out.  There are lots of things you can do the most important is spending time with your Mum.  

Marks and Spencer have some really delightful gifts for Mother's Day.  I adore their handtied bouquet of 100 stems of tulips and daffodils.

Daffodils like sunflowers are flowers that smile at you from the ground.  Looking at them makes me happy, their bright vibrant yellow reminding us of the joy of spring.

Marks and Spencer handmade nougat is a real treat soft chewy nougat with fresh crisp hazelnuts and pistachios, are blended with English spring honey and dried sour cherries.  You could enjoy it on a car trip with Mum for something to nibble or after dinner with coffee.  I would even say you could have a bit at elevense.

 This hummingbird tin filled with Scottish shortbread it vibrant and full of energy, Marks and Spencer have really chosen a winner with this colourful motif.  I love that the tin can be used after the shortbread is long eaten, filled with buttons or bobins.  

Bubbles are an essential part of any celebration - but don't whatever you do buy cheap and nasty one's - enjoy the light freshness of this Monticella DOCG Prosecco Jeroboam prosecco from Marks and Spencer.  It is a fresh lemony and light aromatic wine with pear and gooseberry, apple and violet hints, the finish is dry.  It is also available in a magnum bottle which is great fun, a party in a bottle, or so they say.

Craft 3 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc from Marks and Spencer is refreshing and light.  Its a good Sauvignon Blanc - with a pink grapefruit and fruity palate that is not overly bitter on the palate.  There are hints of the usual gooseberry and passionfruit, but its herby aroma makes this an interesting wine with a good texture.

I hope you have a wonderful Mother's Day.

 

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Saturday
Mar182017

Northern Irish Gal Cup

When people arrive at my parties I offer them a drink and its always a very simple choice.  Would you like a cocktail or some sparkling water.  I am a firm believer in keeping things really simple. Not offering too much choice.  Simply lovely ingredients well cooked.  Lastnight we toasted St Patrick with this cocktail, then feasted on several kinds of sausages, champ and carmelised onions.  For pudding with had a St Patrick's Minty Pavlova.  Delicious. Simple. Straightforward.  I am a cook who loves feeding people, bringing them round my table to enjoy laughter and conversation, good food and sparkling lights.

I love Writer's Tears from Marks and Spencer.  This Irish whiskey is 100% barley and distilled in 60% malt and 40% pot still.  Writerṣ Tears” is a old style Irish Pot still Whiskey which makes it a perfect base for a cocktail.  It has a lovely honey flavour with a burst of ginger and butterscotch, there are hints of toasted oat.  It is smooth.  A result of being tripled distilled and matured in charred bourbon barrels.  

To make a Northern Irish Gal Cup - 

Add two cups of whiskey to large jug then a bottle of sparkling ginger and rhubharb presse, top with pure pear juice.  The sweetness of the pear mixed withthe sharp rhubarb, spliced with a hint of gingers fresh spice brings a fresh, mellow note to the honey Writers Tears Whiskey. Serve with ice in beautiful glasses.

 

Give this a listen while you sip - 

 

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Friday
Mar172017

How to make an Irish Hot Whiskey

Happy St Patrick's Day my lovelies.  May you have a day filled with blessings and laughter.

The rain is battering my window and the green is glimpsed through the mists of grey.  I've come in from walking the dogs and feeling a bit like a drowned rat.

To warm my chilled bones a hot whiskey is the ticket.  

This is a drink of few ingredients and one that doesn't need fussing.

Most important is the whiskey I love Writer's Tears from Marks and Spencer.  This Irish whiskey is 100% barley and made in a copper pot still.

It has a lovely honey flavour with a burst of ginger and butterscotch, there are hints of toasted oat.  It is smooth.  A result of being tripled distilled and matured in charred bourbon barrels.  Writerṣ Tears” is a old style Irish Pot still Whiskey, with its vatting of Single Malt and Single Pot Still whiskeys, it is distilled from 60% malt and 40% pot still.

Years of making hot whiskey's for customers means I know every trick in the book.  The secret is to warm the glass before adding the whiskey.  Put a teaspoon into a glass and fill with water that is just off the boil.  Meanwhile stud a lemon with cloves. Being careful not to burn fingers, disgard the water from the glass, add the whiskey, clove studded lemon and add a good three fingers of Whiskey to the glass, fill with hot water, stirring  to it swirls add a teaspoon of honey - or brown sugar.  Stir until the sugar is disolved.  Wrap a napkin around the glass so as not to burn your fingers and drink with your toes up in front of a roaring fire.

 

Happy St Patrick's Day!

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

 

Saturday
Jan212017

q&a with graphic designer and musician Nick Koch

 

What a joy to welcome the incredibly talented and creative Mr Nick Koch to the Salt and Sparkle Q&A!  I've had the pleasure of knowing Nick and his family for a number of years.  He sings with a mystical rich voice that evokes memory and hope.  Nick is a guy who walks joy and hope into a room.  He's fun, full of mischief and has a huge and very exciting future a head of him.  You can connect with Nick on Insta or Facebook, or hire him to do some work for you by shooting him an email.

Who are you, what’s it like being you …

That’s a big question. Where to start? Well… my name is Nick Koch. I am a creative designer currently based in Belfast, Northern Ireland. I currently work for a local design agency called Mammoth as a Digital Designer. Before that I spent 4 years at Flint Studios, whom I joined as a graduate.

I primarily work in UX/UI design for websites and digital products, however, I have a love for anything digital, & non-digital. Basically I just love being creative. From App design and Film, to branding,print, music and the occasional bit of woodwork if it’s a collaboration of beauty and function I’m into it.

Outside of my day job I am usually looking for a new challenge, a new adventure or satisfying my wanderlust. 

In the past couple of years I have run my first marathon, done my first solo skydive, walked the Camino de Santiago, hiked the Rockie Mountains in Colorado and nearly broken my pelvis skiing (it’s a long story, let’s just say the ego can be a cruel master at times).

That’s a little bit about who I am, what’s it like…well at the minute it’s pretty awesome but the adventure is only getting started.


 Where are you from, where are you based …

I was born and raised in Belfast, Northern Ireland. I have spent nearly all my life in this small part of the apart from a brief spell in Scotland. 

During the week you’ll find me in the Mammoth Digital Department. At the weekend…who knows

 Talk about your work ...

So, I am a creative designer primarily working in the digital sector. My daily work is usually User experience design(UX), User Interface design (UI) and website design however I also work in video and animation. Website design is great because the industry is so young it feels like it is changing and progressing every day. The web was only invented in 1994, that’s only 22 years ago! It is in it’s infancy and it’ super exciting to see where it will go in the next 5-10 years.

 What are your future plans ... 

Hopefully to keep progressing in what digital technology and design has to offer. I wouldn’t want to limit myself to one particular area as there is so much to discovered. However, Augmented Reality is something that I am finding increasingly fascinating at the moment. The recent Pokemon Go trend that exploded this year has shown that the general public are willing to adopt the technology. It may have been a very crude adaptation of it but it showed that there is a market for it. I think that it will be really exciting to see what developments there are in the next 5-10 years and I would love to be at the coalface of that.

One of my main goals is to expand my horizons beyond Belfast. As great a city as it is and it has really progressed in the past 10-15 years I think a person needs to immerse themselves in different cultures in order to grow as a person and learn more about the people and the world around them.

I would love to return to Colorado and live and work in that culture. It has a thriving creative and tech community and has one of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen. Seriously, if you haven’t been I highly recommend it.

However, I am willing to go wherever the wind may take me and opportunity arises.


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

I take inspiration from everything, mostly through the people around me. I love working with other people and collaborating. I love coming up with an idea and discussing it with someone, getting their view of it and creating something even better together.  

Describe your space ... 

A calculated mess. Covered in sitemaps, website questionnaires, at least 3 cups/glasses at a time (1 for coffee, 1 for tea, 1 for water). I have always been suspicious of someone who has a perfectly tidy desk. I currently work on a 27” 2011 iMac during the day and a macbook pro at weekends, evenings or when inspiration strikes.  I recently moved back to a laptop as I felt I needed to get out of the office more and this let me do that. I think this is really important. I don’t think 9-5 at a desk is conducive to being creative.

 How are you feeling today ... 

Pretty good. Enjoying answering these questions! Need to go for a run though.

A non-negotiable in your life is …

Be true to your self.

I have learnt a lot about following my instincts in the past couple of years.  There will always be people who will tell you not to do something and we tend to listen to them as it’s a safe option. I don’t know if this is a nonnegotiable or something I’m trying to learn, but, I want to try experience as much in life as possible and do what feels right for me. 

Most encouraging words you have ever heard ...

I think I find actions more encouraging than words. The most encouraged I ever felt was when i was offered my first design job. When you are a student you are full of self doubt about your skill. To have someone to say they were willing to pay me for my skills was massively encouraging. 


Your work life philosophy is ...

I never want to hear the words, “That will do…” In everything I do it needs to be with intent, purpose and to the best of my ability. I’m trying to learn to improve everyday.

What is your favourite smell ...

hmmm, good question, Christmas day is a hard smell to beat.

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

I love music! all kinds. I know that sounds like a cliche but i’ll listen to anything if I am in the write mood. My go to artists tend to be more folk/singer songwriters. I was raised on Paul Simon. On a side note, Graceland is the greatest album ever created and I’ll hear no-one say otherwise. 

I am currently obsessed with the soundtrack to the musical Hamilton, much to the bemusement and frustration of my housemates and friends. I find American history fascinating and the melodies and lyrics that Lin Manuel Miranda created are incredible. He changed the game. 

Best meal and your favourite three ingredients ...

Hmmm tough question. The first one that comes to mind would have to be eating Buffalo steak in Zimbabwe overlooking a waterhole with countless elephant, zebra, and giraffe.

Ingredients…easy.

Water, Hops & Barley…& yeast… that’s four…

eh… beer, beer is the best ingredient.

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

My first iMac. I borrowed it for 6 months from a design company I was doing a design internship at. It gave me the opportunity to explore design and set me on my way to pursuing design as a career. 

My iPhone. not much to explain. This device has changed everyone’s life.
My Passport.

 

How do you relax ... 

I feel most relaxed when I am outdoors. There are few better feelings than being on top of a mountain. I wish I got the time to do it more.
But i love music, playing guitar, singing, movies and drinking beer and whiskey with my friends.


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

Being creative with other people makes me really happy! I love collaboration!

Playing with my niece and nephew.

In a local bar having great conversation.

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

My favourite travel journey was walking the Camino de Santiago. It is a wonderful journey in learning about yourself and people.

There are so many places i want to visit but my top 3 are 1. Machu Pichu, Peru   2. Cuba (Before it gets commercialised)  3. Petra, Jordan

What do you most value in your friends ...

Trust & Dependability  

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

Oooo… there are so many great quotes. Two of my favourites are from my favourite book, East of Eden by John Steinbeck.

The first is “And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.”

The second I have tattooed on my arm, “Timshel”, which means Free Will in Hebrew. I won’t try to explain it as it’s so much better coming from Steinbeck, but people should look out for this passage.

I am currently reading “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac and the 3rd book from Neale Donald Walsh’s trilogy “Conversations with God” 

Share some words of wisdom ...

Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do something. Get out there and experience as much as possible.

And, it’s good to fail.

 

-----------------------------

Thank you for joining us Nick.

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Tuesday
Jan172017

If you fall we fall - mental health photography exhibition by Belfast photographer James McCourt - Go and see this 

Also showing at

Youth Action Centre, 21st January 2017, 7.30pm. 
14 College Square N, Belfast BT1 6AS


The exhibitions will showcase James McCourt's photographs, a chance to meet the team and a live performance of MMA. All print sales will see a donation to a mental health organisation in Belfast.  Hopefully these shows can raise awareness that we all can do something to support mental health.

The photographs are taken by up and coming Northern Irish documentary photographer - a talent to watch this man is going far - James McCourt.

James McCourt is talented.  He has vision. He is doing something to raise awareness of mental health. To help stop suicide.  He is bringing hope to his community by his work is  on an inner city farm in West Belfast City Farm by through bringing hope to a community ripped apart.  First through violence and murder; then through suicide.

James is a man who sees a situation many see as completely hopeless and he brings life to it.  Through his lens.  His words.  And through his ability to say NO MORE.

McCourt is a man who's vision bring hope and life to a place where life has been for too long, far from precious. He uses his creativity as a gift.  He is a Brave with his love for life and his desire to see others realise the potential and gift of their lives to others.

I stand with him and am honoured to publish these pieces of his work.   This is a post that has moved me to tears time and time again.

To choose to support him and a community riped apart by death contact him on his websiteshoot him an email if you have a project you'd like to hire him for, and check out his insta. 

Thank you James for sharing what you are doing with us.

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable


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