Tuesday
Nov012016

q&a with Mummybird


1. Who are you, what’s it like being you ...
 I am Mummybird to three boys. All have additional needs that require 24/7 care. To include type 1 diabetes, autism & epilepsy. I am mum, wife, carer, crafts woman, photographer, over thinker, coffee addict!
2.  Where are you from, where are you based ...
I live a few miles north of Cambridge in a fenland village. I run a market stall in the heart of Cambridge on an arts & crafts market.
3. Talk about your work ...
I started making Jewellery around 17 years ago...after spending a small fortune on necklaces for myself! I make vintage style Jewellery using various quotes, characters & other media. 
4.  What are your future plans ...  
I want to set up something where I can employ my boys after they've leave their special school. Something along the lines of a small holding/petting farm and a tea room with gift shop with local produce/crafts
5.  How do you find inspiration, who you are inspired by ...  
My inspiration is thought my children. through the battles they face. Dr Seuss is featured heavily in my pieces! I find words to be so powerful, hence the use of them in the majority of my pieces.
6.  Describe your space ...
I have a little workshop in my garden. It has antique furniture, bunting (lots), a beautiful Roberts radio to listen to. It's quite a sanctuary!
7.  How are you feeling today ... 
I am feeling blessed today. I have just returned home from a successful and very lovely day at the market
8. A non-negotiable in your life is ...
I can't really think of a non negotiable other than that I would never let anything or anyone come before my children 
9.  Most encouraging words you have ever heard
 'She believed she could, so she did' -Kobi Yamada (so apt in so many areas of my life!)
10.   Your work life philosophy is ... 
Cram in work where I can. The kids will always come first. But there is something decadent about working in the wee small hours. Work hard for what you want!
11. What is your favourite smell ... 
Coffee
12. Who do you like to listen to, what’s playing just now ...
I love Hozier, classical, disco, anything really!  sadly at the moment, all I can hear is Ben & Holly's Little Kingdom via an iPad 
13.  Best meal and your favourite three ingredients ... 
I love seafood and fish. Garlic, lemon & salt 
14.  Three things or products that have changed your life...
The three things that have changed my life: children of course ;-) wouldn't have it any other way....well....maybe a little more help! 
15. How do you relax? 
I like a lovely glass of wine, but that's my limit. Sam (youngest son) suffers with epilepsy and can have a drop seizure at any time. I have to have my wits about me. I find photography is probably the way I most unwind...its when I'm simply 'Claire' 
16. What makes you happy - where is your happy place?
So many things make me happy and I find a happy place in so many places! Saturday's is a respite day for me when I'm at the market, yet, I'm so happy when I'm surrounded by my beautiful boys.
17. What is your favourite journey, where in the world would you like to visit ...

Just returned from the Scottish highlands. I'm desperate to return there, on a 'proper' wildlife tour! I would love to go to Iceland & Alaska...the list goes on and on and on.....
18. What do you most value in your friends ...
I most value my friends time. Their shoulder and ear.
19. What are your favourite words, what are you reading, just now .... 
 I love so many books and I am a hook hoarder! I have around 24 unread! I am currently reading Outlander by Diana Gabaldon anything that might relate to history, and I'm there!!! 
20. Share some words of wisdom ...
Have courage & be kind   

 

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Claire - it has been a joy to have you at our place, thank you for hanging out with us.  It is wonderful to start our new series of q&a interviews with yours, check back soon to hear from artists, journalists, designers, makeup artists and musicians.

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Tuesday
Nov012016

If you fall, we fall. a guest post by photographer James McCourt


West Belfast has seen an increase in suicide and drug related crimes on the streets.

Over the weeks I’ve lost childhood friends to suicide.

 


Recently, I’ve been working with the local community group, St James Fight Back. A group organised to get children and residents together to release the stresses of life through martial arts.

 

 

James McCourt.

Today's powerful post comes from a photographer who's work has not stopped speaking to me since the moment I laid eyes on it.  Jame McCourt is talented.  He had vision.  But also he wants to bring hope to his community whether that is through tirelessly working on a the West Belfast City Farm or 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

 

Thursday
Oct202016

Treat or Treat

It always seems odd to me that people celebrate all the trappings of death, rather than remembering those who died at Halloween.  The fascination with darkness is not I feel good for our souls.  Halloween for me is a time to remember those that have passed to think about their lives and the effects their life had on ours.  There are so many who are not here now who I miss with a deep yearning.  I think of my Gran & Grandpa, my friend Ze, Auntie Bell come to mind immediately.  Death is a part of life albeit a very sad part.  

I don't think death is something we celebrate.  However, Halloween is a holiday, a time in the liturgical calendar, a time when people like to party, or spend time remembering.  It is a time for year for those of us in the western hemisphere when the harvest has been brought in, life in the natural world is starting to wither and die in a blaze of colour and glory, animals begin to hibernate as winter comes upon us.  In the natural world things change and in our bodies we notice the shift in the atmosphere.  This is a time to hunker down with friends, to sit around a fire share stories and live life.  A time to be together.  

Hallowe'en for me is a time for getting my family together, carving pumpkins, lighting sparklers and eating delicious food.  It's a time for friends, for dressing up if that's what tickles your fancy and for being together.  We will even have some fireworks because I LOVE LIGHT.

 This Halloween I am throwing a 'Treat or Treat' party.  One where there are lots of puddings and sweets.  Delicious things to eat while sharing a cup of coffee or a glass of wine with friends.  Food that can be eaten on the sofa and doesn't need a rigid dinner schedule.  There will be children with buckets of sweeties from Marks and Spencer, lots of sparklers and puddings from the new Marks and Spencer dessert range.  Its a time to treat ourselves and enjoy being together.

We'll have some traditional Irish Halloween games like ducking for apples and pin the face onto the pumpkin.  We might even tell an Irish Ghost story or two.

I will make it easy for people to chose their puddings by setting everything out on a buffet table and allowing them to chose what they want.  This luscious jelly with autumn fruits and plum flavours from Marks and Spencer is soft and slippery.  With a bright tart and cooling flavour.  I love it serve with the creamy white chocolate cheesecake.

These Marks and Spencer Ghost Crisps are crunchy and perfect for those wanting something more salty as a reprive from all the sugar.

The Marks and Spencer Sicilian cheesecake is tart and smooth.  Its light pastry crust is crisp.  It is a refreshing pudding to eat.

Doesn't this Marks and Spencer Chocolate and Pear Tart look stunning?

It is a very impressive finish to dinner or lovely served buffet style for people to serve themselves.  The rich smooth chocolate and sweet pear that has a little bite with a  make great combination.

 

These Marks and Spencer Melting Chocolate Domes are really spectactular and children as much as adults will love looking at them, as the hot chocolate sauce is poured over and the domes melt.  Inside there’s an indulgent chocolate brownie, which sits on top of crisp feuilletine layer, and is filled with creamy milk chocolate ganache.  If you need to serve any shop bought puddings make it these they are brilliant.  This pudding was designed by M&S product developer Daniel Fletcher who has previously worked as a top pastry chef for both Gordon Ramsey and Jason Atherton.  Its three star food in my kitchen!  And I love it.

 

 

These billionaire buillio bars are really spectactular. I recommend serving several of them on a plate piled up just like gold bars from a cowboy movie.  They have a glittery glittery gold sheen and embossed with the M&S logo so they look sparkly and shimmery when you bring them to the table.  The chunky gold ingot is made from thick Belgian chocolate, filled with caramel mousse, a layer of gleaming salted caramel sauce and chocolate-covered shortbread pieces.

The Billionaire Buillion Bars were created by M&S product developer James Campbell who travels the globe eating in restaurants, patisseries, food markets and high-end department stores .  He's looking for inspiration and ideas for bring back to the M&S test kitchen in West London.  Where he turns his ideas into reality which ultimately end up on our tables.  James is a former head pastry chef at London’s Michelin Oriental hotel and the Michelin-starred City Rhodes and Rhodes In The Square restaurants, and I feel a genuis.

 

 

 

Have a wonderful Halloween folks, celebrating life, remembering and enjoying light.

This is a time to treat and treat your family and friends and yourself with these amazing puddings from Marks and Spencer.

Fancy dress is optional but oh what fun.

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

 

Tuesday
Oct042016

Pizza Express St Anne's Square

 

Good pizza is back in Belfast.  I have been eating at Pizza Express for over a decade and my experiences have always been good.  The food is consistent, the service excellent and the atmosphere enjoyable.  The latest Pizza Express in the centre of Belfast at St Anne's Sq is no exception.  It is a glorious restaurant.  The setting is sweeping with heaps of natural light on both sides of the rectangular room.  The room has an edge and a funk to it.  Mixing brilliant lighting features, dipped copper pieces, and graphic art.  There is an outside section on the Square, with boxes of lavender and rugs to keep out the chill. 

 We visit on a Monday evening and the room feels full, not packed.  Funk jazz comes out of speakers creating an energy that is enjoyable to sit in.  There are couples very much in love, friends gathered in booths and a continous trade of takeaways.  I like the atmosphere which the room lends itself to with its high ceilings.  We sit at a table in the middle of the room, as much to see everything that is going on, as well as to truly absorb the vibe of the room.  if you want to truly get a feeling of a place always sit in the middle.  The chairs are very comfortable.

We have walked by over the past month on our way to and from Flow Belfast, wondering what is this space going to be.  We watched the building be transformed and then the signs went up.  Pizza Express was coming.  And we all breathed a sigh of relief.  A brilliant restaurant chain where the food is good, the wine selection enjoyable and the atmosphere a place we want to spend time in.  We made plans to visit and then it was open and we were there. 

 

The marble topped tables are set with distinctive blue glasses and red pepper pots.  Pops of colour that are pleasing to look at.  I really like this room and having visited at different times of day and on different days I really enjoy how the room lends itself to being packed or more relaxed.  There is always a fluid feeling where you are very welcome and served delicious food.

 

 Prosecco and Strawberries always a fun thing to sip on a Monday evening.  The staff heard it was my birthday and soon glasses of bubbles arrived.  Prosecco is always delicious with pizza the fizz cutting through the fats of the cheese and the fresh dough.

 We starting with the Dough Balls Doppio created to share with dips of a pungent pesto, a nicely balanced garlicky butter and a harissa that is sweetly hot.  All the balls come dusted with parmesan.  For hungry

 The striped shirts  of the pizza chefs move and flow around the ovens, tossing dough, adding finishing touches to the pizzas that go in and out of the oven.  They are a feature of the restaurant at the end of the room with an open faced kitchen.

 Staff are plentiful and very pleasant.  Friendly without being zealous they are knowledgable about the menu and fun to talk to.  Their smart red aprons also highlighting the pops of red throughout the room - it's vibrant.

We ordered a bottle of Gavi di Gavi DOCG from Piedmount, Italy.  Pale gold in colour with a fresh mineral finish.  It had a crisp, floral, peachy, flavour with a smooth aromatic bouquet.  It arrived in a wine cooler.  

 

 With a glass of wine we  plump juicy garlic green olives.  Perfect finger food as we looked through the menu. 

 

 There were the right ratio of staff to diners, we were looked after by Alicia and Ellen; and always felt like we were being looked after without feeling like we were being watched and pounced on.  Pizza Expresses' service could be bottled and sold.  

 

 

 

 We ordered the Padana and the American Hot on Romana bases.  These were thin and crispy with a good ratio of toppings to base.

 The Padana has goat's cheese, mozzarela, tomato and carmelised onion, with spinach, red onion and garlic oil.  It is a sweeter pizza perfect for those who are not fans of spice.

The menu although pizza focused has a range of other dishes pastas and salads.  There is plenty to chose from without it feeling overwhelming and the food is made from fresh produce.

 I asked for extra rocket on my American Hot - always one to add extra peppery flavours to spice, I added chilli oil as well - I love the variety of flavours of the hot green and Roquito peppers, pepperoni the fresh chilli, and spicy soft nduja sausage.  This is my favourite pizza - hot and full of flavour.

 

 

 

Our sides were the Superfood Superboost Salad and the Polenta Chips. 

 THe Polenta Chips were spiked with rosemary and finished with Grand Milano cheese, they were hot and crisp.  

 The desserts in Pizza Express are among the best in Belfast.  They like everything else the restuarant serves are consistently excellent.

I had the Brownies - never one to turn down chocolate.  These did not disappoint, they were rich and full of flavour, made with gluten free flour they had a nice denseness without being heavy.  They were served with a light vanilla gelato.

 The  Leggera Tartufor Limoncello mixed crunchy meringue with a crisp limoncello flavour.  It was sharp and sweet in perfect balance.

 Finishing the meal with properly made mint tea was delightful and fresh.  

Great pizzas and superb desserts combined with good service, consistency, and this great space at Pizza Express St Anne's Sq create a really enjoyable restaurant to eat out in. One I highly recommend.  This is a place that knows its strengths and plays to them without mucking about or trying to be something they are not.

The funky vibe, the friendly staff and the great food - it is a winning combination and one I will visit again and again.

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Wednesday
Sep282016

Monty's Gin and Tonic

Monty came to visit this summer.  After a day walking on the beaches of the North Coast and climbing on the Giants Causeway we sipped some Spanish style Gin and Tonics, served in large balloon like glasses.  Monty who is Spanish Scottish told me the big fishbowl glasses are to allow the gin to breathe and release its flavours.  The next evening at home I cooked and we made gin and tonics.  Sitting around the big table we chatted, told stories and enjoyed time together.

Sipping gin and chatting make for a great evening.  

We have been drinking what has come to be known as Monty's Gin and Tonics all since she visited, served in fishbowl glasses with fruit, herbs, ice and gin.

 These are the simplest drinks to make and the large glasses make them really enjoyable.

 This Spirit of London Dry Gin small batch from Marks and Spencer is light and refreshing with a good juniper and botanical flavour.  It is distilled at the Thames Distillery near Clapham in Central London.  Master Distiller Charles Maxwell who created the gin especially for M&S is the 8th generation in an unbroken line of London gin distillers that began with his forbearer George Bishop in 1700, giving him a unique 300 years worth of knowledge.  It makes a perfect base to layer with fruits.

 In each glass I added a handful of blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, slices of peach, a sprig of rosemary and a piece of orange rind, covered with ice and poured in some Marks and Spencer Spirit of London gin and topped them up with tonic.

 You can add any type of tonic you like, I particularly enjoy the one's with a hint of lemon.

 You can add any combination of fruits you like - grapefruit and rosemary with blackberries tastes fresh.  Rose petals, a drop or two of rose extract, elderflower cordial and slices of lime and blueberries work really well.

Monty this one's for you.  Slainte.

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Monday
Sep262016

Rose Gin Cocktails & Snacks with friends 

Some friends called unexpectantly the other day, it was lovely to see them.  When people come to call I love to give them something delightful to drink and a nibble or two to eat.

Snacks and drinks don't have to be complicated or tricky - take it from me when people come to call I don't want to spend ages cooking, I want to spend ages with them.  So I heated some of these Marks and Spencer Falafels and served them with a big bowl of houmous into which I had grated the rind of a lemon.

Into another bowl went some of these Marks and Spencer, Spirit of Summer Carnival Chips.  Packets of crisps and tubs of houmous are always worth having on hand because you never know when chums will come to call and chips and dips are great snacks to have on hand.  Although you may have to be careful like me and make sure you don't eat the crisps ...  Good crisps are possibly one of my faourite things - they are nearly a food group, right? 

Olives are another storecupboard or fridge staple, they are great sliced into wraps, served with a martini or an evening drink, or nibbled before dinner.  These Marks and Spencer Spirit of Summer Greek Kalamata olives are fruity and firm, plump with a sharp smooth taste.  I get the one's stuffed with pimento and garlic.

The Spirit of Summer onion rings and dirty fries are two of my favourites.  

The Marks and Spencer dirty fries are loaded with cheese and sour cream, some chilli and scallions, I serve mine straight from the oven on the metal tray.


Now what to serve to drink ... I always have punnets of frozen raspberries in the freezer and a bottle of Marks and Spencer rose extract in the cupboard.  These two ingredients can make a gin cocktail sparkle.

In the bottom of a fishbowl glass add a handful of raspberries, two drops of rose extract,  ice to cover and a good measure of Sipsmith Gin - the sweetness in this gin works brilliantly with the raspberries and rose extract.  Top with sparkling water and serve.

Food for friends can be delicious with storecupboard ingredients, it just needs a few ideas to sparkle.

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Sunday
Sep252016

Mulled Sloe Gin Cups

As I walked to the car I noticed the nip in the air had become a chill.  The bright harvest moon has been waning and the evenings have drawn in.  Autumn has arrived in a blaze of colour and beauty. The season has transitioned and my body is starting to crave warm drinks and maybe just maybe a little less ice.  As I wait for the sloes to ripen and the first frost to fall, I have been experimenting with this Sloe Gin from Marks and Spencer and come up with a warm and soothing drink - a Mulled Sloe Gin Cup.

Sloes are the fruit of the the blackthorn, Marks and Spencer sloe gin mixes sloe berries with sugar matured in gin, resulting in a sloe gin with a fruity full flavour.  I warmed a two cups of sloe gin with a 1/2 cup of water, 2 cloves, 2 crushed green cardamon pods, a cinnamon stick, 1/4 cup of freshly squeezed orange juice and three slices of ginger to just before boiling for 4 minutes.  I then poured it into glass cups I had added a slice of ginger speared with three cloves, a couple of blackberries, a cinnamon stick and the rind of some orange.  

This creates a sweetly spiced drink that is soothing and warming.  

 

Mulled Sloe Gin Cups

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of sloe gin
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • 3 cloves
  • 3crushed green cardamon pods
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/4 cup of freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 3 slices of orange rind
  • 3 slices of ginger

Method

Put all ingredients into a pan, then simmer for 4-8 minutes, and serve in glass cups I had added a slice of ginger speared with three cloves, a couple of blackberries, a cinnamon stick and the rind of some orange.  

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

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