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 ...

Tuesday
Nov152016

q&a with artist Peter Collins

It gives me great joy to welcome the wonderful Belfast artist Peter Collins to the Salt and Sparkle Q&A. Peter's work is full of a viseral power.  It is capivating and powerful all at once, he is suprenely talented.  His use of light and colour lingering in the mind's eye long long after you have first seen his paintings.  I met Peter through his brilliant fiancé Deborah Swain and am really delighted to feature him and his work.  You can contact to commission a piece by shooting him an email, or checking out his Facebook page.

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

Hi my name is Peter Collins and I’m a recovering IT professional. I’ve worked in IT for the last 20 years but did my degree in Fine Art. My whole team and I were made redundant recently which for me was a blessing in disguise. It was not a bad occupation but it was soul destroying working in a role that didn’t make use of my talents. It’s given me this amazing opportunity to get back to my art. I’m not sure what I’ll be doing in a year’s time but my worst nightmare would have been to look back in another year and still be in the same job.


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

Born and bred in Belfast. Love watching it reinvent itself having grown up in the seventies and eighties.

Talk about your work ...

I’m enjoying learning to paint in oils again after a long hiatus. The creative process of bringing something into the world out of nothing is an incredible feeling and is about as close as I get to spirituality. However it is only hard work that pays off. There is no such thing as the artistic genius –there are just those people who work much, much harder than everyone else. I try to remember this mantra but it doesn’t always work!

I’ve adopted many styles in the past for commissions and so never really thought I had a style but I hope I’m now closing in on a personal signature in my work.


 

 

 

 

 


What are your future plans ...
I’ve set myself the goal of getting some paintings sold in a gallery –after that…

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

From my own experience and from what I’ve read of other creative people, inspiration tends to come while you are working so the most important thing is to be constantly working at your craft - whatever it may be. Being productive will take you in directions you will never be able to predict by sitting around thinking about it. “You can't plow a field simply by turning it over in your mind” 

That said, Van Gogh, Cezanne and John Singer Sargent are heroes for me. Colin Davidson’s work is superb and adds fuel to the fire every time I see it! Pascal Vilcollet and Conor Harrington are amazing artists who are also very comfortable working at a large scale. I admire people who have enthusiasm for what they do. Jamie Oliver taught me to cook over the years but it’s his genuine enthusiasm that is infectious. The same applies to Prof Brian Cox (on Astrophysics not cooking!)

Describe your space .. 

I’ve converted an unused front room into a studio. The light is great but I’ve also rigged up lots of daylight lamps for a boost due to our erratic weather. Years in the I.T. business has taught me the “clear desk” philosophy which actually applies very well to an artist’s studio. So I try to keep the clutter to a minimal by clearing up at the start or end of the day. (My fiance may dispute this!)

How are you feeling today ...Great! The the sun is shining!

A non-negotiable in your life is ...

Coffee; and the dogs! I’m lucky to have two amazing dogs who know how to keep me fit!

Most encouraging words you have ever heard ...

It’s not what happens to you in life but how you deal with it that counts. I used to stress a lot about things which inevitably turned out to be pointless and trivial.

Your work life philosophy is ...

Do whatever you want but work hard at it. What defines you is not your chosen calling in life but how you do it. For me happiness and fulfillment come from being creative and productive which lifts your mood and in turn lets you appreciate life and the people in it. I happiest when free time is coming up and I know I’ve achieved or created something good.

What is your favourite smell ...  

 Peat fires. Preferably in Cork or Kerry! Also Italian pine trees. Preferably in Italy! Did I mention coffee?

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

Anonhi – “Drone bomb me” -very different. When I’m really concentrating or experimenting I need chilled out music like Massive Attack or even Classical music, but if I’m on a roll it’s got to be something more “full on” like Queens of the Stone Age or some Dance/HipHop.

Best meal and your favourite three ingredients ...

I love to cook so that’s a tough one. But my “go to” comfort food dish would have to be pasta Puttanesca. 

3 ingredients? Basil, Lime, Garlic: For homemade Pesto, Margaritas and everything else, in that order!

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

My Fiancé Deborah: (not a thing!) One of the most positive and open people I’ve ever met and a joy to be around!

Travel: everyone should do it. When you are young it is literally mind blowing. Every child in this country should be sent abroad for a few months at the age of 14 or 15. It would solve a lot of problems.

The Internet: Having grown up pre-internet it still astounds me how empowering the internet is for expanding your knowledge and for practical research. Alas if only more people would make use of it rather than watching cats and indulging in public displays of ignorance.

How do you relax ... 

I love cooking. Especially for other people. I only worked out recently that I somehow find it relaxing! Walking the dogs in all our beautiful parks and green places, reading a good book or some quality TV.

What makes you happy, where’s your happy place ... I’m definitely happy when I’m being creative as it defines who I am and so gives me that fulfillment. My happy place is either on the sofa with, or travelling with my wife to be Deborah.

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

 My favourite journey is heading Cork and Kerry. It’s where my family are originally from and I haven’t really explored it properly. I would love to see Machu Pichu in Peru and also a long road trip around France. 

What do you most value in your friends ...  

The absence of expectations and the Craic.

 

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

Favourite words: “We’re booked!”

I’m reading Moby Dick at the moment. I’ve a long list of classics that I thought I better start working through!

 

Share some words of wisdom ... 

Personality is how you behave around others. Character is what you do when you think no one is watching.

 

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

Thank you Peter it was such a pleasure to have you at our place.

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Tuesday
Nov082016

q&a with writer and journalist Fiona McKenzie Johnston 

It is such a joy to welcome my friend and University of St Andrews pal the fabulous writer and journalist Fiona McKenzie Johnston to the Salt and Sparkle Q&A.  Fiona has always had a superb sense of style both on and off the page.  I remember the most beautiful embroidered antique silk shawl she used to wear on nights out at St Andrews that always makes me smile. A fount of knowledge on Russian literature my conversations with her would always send me to the library to try to get to grips with this great genre. Fiona is a wonderful writer and her pieces have been featured in all the best places such as Vogue, Tatler, The Sunday Times and Russian Vogue among others.  You can find out more on her website or email her to commission a piece, or follow her on Instagram (trust me its a beautifully curated account).  Fiona it is such a pleasure to have you here today.

 

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

I’m a mother, a wife, and a writer – not necessarily in that order – indeed they are each roles that are re-ordered and re-prioritised, often hourly.

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

I grew up all over the place – my father was in the army, we moved every year or two - but am now based in Notting Hill, in London, at least during term time. 

Talk about your work ...

I write for publications such as Tatler and Vogue Russia, on a variety of subjects.  Over the course of a fortnight I might be researching how single sex schools are dealing with transgender pupils, interviewing a major artist, actor or fashion designer, and finding out about a new scent or line of make-up and how it was made. I love that I’m always learning something new, and most of all appreciate that writing is something that has allowed me to be at home with my children when they’re little, to do the school run, and to travel, a lot (though I did more before I had children.)

What are your future plans ... 

A novel. 


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

Because of the topics I write about, and because I’m interested anyway, going to exhibitions, art and design fairs, the theatre and the cinema are all regular appointments, and I often come away with new ideas.  But talking to my friends and the exchange of ideas is vital.   Mostly I’m fascinated by human behaviour.  The writers I return to most often – Evelyn Waugh, Edith Wharton, Graham Greene, Thomas Hardy, George Elliot, Laurence Durrell, Nancy Mitford – they write about people, and I love that.  

Describe your space ... 

I write anywhere – at the hairdresser, in the café at the gym, the departure lounge of an airport – but at home I write either propped up in bed, or at the kitchen table.  There’s stuff: stacks of books, jugs of flowers, ceramics, and pattern on all the curtains and chair covers and cushions – but it’s ordered. And I like a view: our flat is the top floor, so my view is of the tops of trees, and sky.  

How are you feeling today ...  

Happy. Busy.  The two are related.

A non-negotiable in your life is ... 

Exercise – most often running. It’s how I order my thoughts.


Most encouraging words you have ever heard ... 

I read them, rather than heard them.  It’s Dostoevsky, from The Idiot: “Beauty, though, will save the world.” 

Your work life philosophy is ... 

Don’t procrastinate, on either.  In the words of Marvell, “But at my back I always hear/ Time’s winged chariot hurrying near . .  “

What is your favourite smell ...  

Hyacinth, hoof oil and horse on a hot day, the heather on the Yorkshire moors just after it’s been burned, fresh bread (we have a breadmaker), Mitsouku by Guerlain.

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

Leonard Cohen. I wrote my Masters dissertation to him, the first dance at our wedding was Dance Me to the End of Love, and he was who was playing when both my children were born. I saw him the year he played at Glastonbury:  the sun was going down, birds were circling overhead, I was with someone I thought I was in love with – it was perfect.  But right now, nothing is playing.  I quite like silence.


Best meal and your favourite three ingredients ... 

Lobster thermidor, spinach and sweet potato chips followed by something exceptionally decadent with a lot of cream.  As for my favourite ingredients, I really only make cakes – my husband is a brilliant cook and does everything else.

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

It transpires that I owe a lot to social media: my husband and I were at school together but had lost touch – he found me through Facebook. 

My iPhone enables me go to the beach all day with the children and still answer emails.

Finally, a little girl called Margot Martini who was almost the exact same age as my daughter, Esmeralda, but who developed leukaemia just after her first birthday.  Not only has she made me realise the enormous value of the time I spend with my own children, but her parents – who are amazing – founded a charity called Team Margot, which encourages everyone to join the Stem Cell register and then encourage just one more person to do the same, so that, in the future, other people with leukaemia will be able to find a match more easily, and have a greater chance of survival. It can be so easy to save a life.  You can go to www.teammargot.com to find out more.

How do you relax ... 

Swimming.  Or a hot bath and a good thriller.  

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

The place is less important than the people – I’m happiest when I’m with my family.  But I’m absolutely at my happiest when I’m with my family on the north coast of Cornwall, which is where I holidayed as a child, and where we were this summer.  It was heaven.


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

I’m not sure I have a favourite, but there are certainly memorable journeys that I have undertaken, such as the Trans Siberian Railway from Moscow to Ulaan Baatar, and possibly every train I’ve ever taken in India.  It feels as though time is suspended – on the Trans Siberian because one is going through different time zones and yet the train stays on Moscow time throughout, and it’s a five day journey - and in India because one never really knows what time the train might arrive.   And also because the landscape that one passes through is so spectacularly beautiful that one almost doesn’t want the experience to end.  The East Coast line, from London to Aberdeen, has moments of staggering beauty, but because I know what lies at either end it seems less exciting.  I have more patience for journeys into the unknown; with familiar routes, the longing to arrive eclipses the enjoyment of the scenery.

What do you most value in your friends ...  

Reliability. It’s one of the most underrated virtues. 

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

I love all words.  I’m currently reading about three books and five magazines and today’s newspaper, which is standard, but the books I’ve read this summer that I’d recommend are Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, which is set in 1960s Nigeria during the Biafran war and is brilliant, Emma Cline’s The Girls which is set in 1960s California and centres around a Charles Manson-like cult and is brilliant, and James Hilton’s Goodbye Mr. Chips which is very short and is the story of a school teacher and his 43 year tenure at an all boys boarding school, and which is essentially perfect.

Share some words of wisdom ...

My father used to tell me that ‘the day is made, won or lost, before seven’.  My grandmother insisted every day should have a plan and an aim.  Their words echo in my ears. Thinking about it, it’s Marvell re-phrased. 

 

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

Fiona it was a joy to have you at our place, thank you for hanging out with us.

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable