Spirit of Autumn Gin Cup

Gin is the Spirit of Autumn, its popularity has soared this year and so we thought we'd make a cocktail in its honour.  Welcome to the Spirit of Autumn Gin Cup.

Usually all the bounty of Autumn, its time to get on down there with apples, pears and cloves for this Spirit of Autumn Gin Cup, made using Marks and Spencer London Dry Gin.  

Marks and Spencer London Dry Gin is blended and distilled in Scotland.  It has a big juniper and citrus peel taste and is flavoured with botanicals of angelica, orris root, cassia bark, lemon peel, coriander, liquorice and grapefruit.  

Incidentially have you tried Gin and Grapefruit? Now that is one Gin and Juice that gets right on down there.  I digress ...

Spirit of Autumn Gin Cup is warm and zingy, I was inspired by the changing seasons and the coming of Autumn harvest.  This drink mixes crisp apples and pears with warm cloves, a pinch of cinnamon, ginger and apple cider.  It can be served hot or cold.  

Spirit of Autmn Gin Cup Cocktail


to make a jug that serves 4 generously

  • 2 x cups of London Dry Gin
  • 1 x litre bottle of Pink Lady Apple Juice
  • 2 granny smith apples washed and finely sliced
  • 2 ripe but firm pears cored and finely sliced
  • 4 cloves
  • 1 x 500ml bottle of Magners Cider
  • 4 x thin slices of ginger one for each serving glass
  • Pinch of cinnamon - optional
  • lots of ice or this drink can be served warm, simmer for 1 minute and serve in heat proof glasses


Mix everything together and serve in short glasses.

That's it for now ...


Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable


Portable Gin and Tonics for picnics

A gin and tonic at a picnic or sitting by the beach watching the sun slip into the sea is a great way to enjoy this drink. Or on an early Autumn picnic with friends. Or the races.  Aromatic, cool, refreshing, zingy and fizzy all at once, gin and tonic is a match made in heaven.  But how to do it when you don't want to cart huge bottles around with you?

The answer lies in Bonne Mama jam jars - you know the one's with the distinctive red and white tops and gin from Marks and Spencer.

Simply make up your gin and tonic before you head off - ice, lime/lemon or both, gin and tonic then screw on the lid tightly - and there you have it the perfect and portable gin and tonic.  A few things to think about - don't travel to far before you plan to drink this, you don't want the ice to melt, and your carefully thought out drink to become watery.  I think a 10-15 minute journey is perfect.  And you'll be right on tend too, because drinking out a jam jar is really hip these days.  

The Sipsmith Gin from Marks and Spencer is an authenic gin with a big flavour and a celebration of craft distillation.    Formed in 2009 Sipsmith was the first copper-pot based distillery in London for 189 years and each batch of gin is hand crafted.  

Sipsmith Gin combines ten botanicals juniper berries, coriander seed, angelica root, liquorice root, orris root, ground almonds, cassia bark, cinnamon and seville orange and lemon peel sourced from across the globe and is called sip smith, because 'smith' is the word added when people do something special with their skill - a wordsmith, blacksmith etc.  The Sipsmith team have created something truly special.  

It has a sweet, zesty flavour with each of the botanicals playing their part, there is a strong note of juniper combined with the fresh zing of citrus gives a nod towards the London tradition, although the Sipsmith balance is dryer than a regular London Dry Gin.  The nose is floral, followed by a mellow juniper and citrus, on the palate it begins sweetly then a tang of marmalade washes through the mouth, followed by lemon, more juniper and a light dryness as the flavours come together in harmony.  The finish is tart lemon and spicy juniper.  Sipsmith is indeed a very special gin smooth alive and a joy to sip.  It can be enjoyed over ice or with tonic or other mixers.

Slainte - Happy sipping

That's it for now ...


Salt and Sparkle = Life Remarkable




Let's talk about Gin

Have you noticed gin is everywhere these days?  Gin menus propped up on bars.  

Gin is hip.  It's the drink of choice and I feel rightly so.  It might even for some be hipster.  What once was Mother's Ruin is enjoying a renaissance.

There are bars that serve only gin.  Staff that turn their noses up when you ask for a regular tonic water.  Or as one female waitress said to me when I mentioned the tonic was flat, 'Oh you mustn't know a lot about drinking gin and just be used to drinking chemical filled tonics.' I looked at her retreating back with outrage.  My gin and tonic that had cost £10 was flat and straight outta ice.  The manager replaced it for me and with my choice of tonic.

A lack of ice and flat tonic remind me of an ill advised date I'd taken, I can still taste that revolting drink ... that had me running out of their on my high heels.

'Can I have more ice?' I asked when he served me and g&t. 'No, I froze the lemon instead' too much ice he went on to say is never a good thing.  He had a bouncy walk and long flopsy blond hair, he was too skinny for his own good.  Why I was on a date with him I'll never know!  Anyway back to the trauma I suffered from a bad gin and tonic.  I looked down at my drink, with its precisely measured thimbleful of gin, measly slice of lemon, hadn't this guy heard of a wedge of lemon; topped up with flat tonic and shuddered.  It didn't take long for me to be in a taxi home.  I wasn't available next time he called or the time after that.   

One thing I know is a good man, well he knows how to make a gin and tonic.  Gin and tonic lessons should be given to all young males of drinking age.  Then they are sorted for life.

Marks and Spencer have just launched the most fantastic selection of gins both store brand and a carefully curated selection of the best gins on the market at the moment. 

Gin is having a moment, it is popular.  

The masses are drinking it. Bars are springing up to serve it.  Everyone who's anyone is having a go at making it.  There are large batch, small batch, limited edition, made with this herb or that one, distilled in a variety of pots from copper to bathtubs, as well as compound and column distilled.  Different types of gin in groovy bottles are everywhere as well as the more traditional green bottle of Gordons.  Gordons is in the top ten best selling spirits on the planet and is made using an unchanged 18th century recipe. 

Gin most easily defined is a spirit distilled with juniper and it has evolved to be flavoured with other botanicals.  Juniper has been infused with spirits almost since the invention of distillation, bringing with it flavour and medicinal properties such as a medicine to treat arthritis, overactive and a loss of appetite, and gout.   Gin has been around since the Middle Ages, but the stuff we pour today finds its origins with the Dutch in the 17th Century by Franciscus Sylvius, it was called genever.  It hoped over the channel to Britain with William of Orange, or King Billy as he is known in Northern Ireland.  Low taxation meant it was cheap to make and cheap to buy.  The Gin Craze had begun, more than half of London's drinking rooms where gin shops.  Overconsumption, and extreme drunkenness was rampant.  Hogarth’s diptych of Gin Lane and Beer Street, showing the perils of drinking gin as opposed to the joy of drinking beer, lead parliament to clamp down with stricter laws to produce gin.

Gin is produced mainly in two ways - compounding and distilling.

Compounded gin sees flavours - either actual botancials or natural extracts - added to a neutral spirit, this is the method used for cheaper gins as well as for some superior gins which macerate whole botanicals with a high quality neutral spirit.

Distilled gin is made by redistilling distilled spirit with botanicals added to it.

London Dry Gin can be made anywhere in the world and is a method where distilled gin has nothing added but water after distillation.

For a spirit to be called gin the distilled spirit must have a predominant flavour of juniper, after which each producer can add their own mix of ingredients.  Common botanicals added to gin include - orange, grapefruit and lemon peel (both fresh and dried), coriander, liquorice, anise and cardamom, green tea, rose, and cucumber, rosemary, honey, sloe, and a wide range of fruits and plants, as well as orris and angelica root.

Marks and Spencer have in their selection a brown papered bottle gin made in a bathtub, which has an alluring spicy taste, an elderflower infused gin perfect to drink when you need a hit of summer in winter, there's a pink gin and a sloe gin, one with mint and cucumber, one by Gordons and another by Plymouth, there's an own brand London Dry Gin, one from Brooklyn and another from Spain. 

We have tried them all, and they are each very special and can be used to create a wide variety of delicious drinks to sip.

I have loved a good gin and tonic for a very long time.

Not for me the allure of vodka and all its supposed purity.  

Give me a drink swimming with juniper, scented with herby botanicals, and topped up with a good fizzy tonic.  Oh and ice have I mentioned ice - put lots in there.  I am really American when it comes to ice, especially in my alcoholic drinks.  For me the more ice the better, I am always on the side of more.  Not for me the gin and tonic served in those tiny wineglasses from the 1980s with a slimey piece of lemon from a jar and one cube of ice.  

For a classic g&t ice, lemon and lime, a good splash of gin - usually go for three fingers, depending on the side of the glass - and topped up with tonic, always freshly opened, never flat, stir and serve.

The best Gin and Tonic you'll ever drink is the one you make at home.  Those I pour for nor I have ever been disappointed by a g&t from my hand.  Gin and tonic is in my mind the most refreshing alcoholic drink. It's classy, refreshing and alluring.  Its the drink my older female relatives enjoyed as I grew up.  Their mantra was always serve gin in a good glass, a crisp drink needs a thin lipped crystal, it makes it special.  I agree, enjoying a g&t should be special.  

It was on the way to Prague with the Belfast Philharmonic Choir I got my own taste for gin and tonic, boy did I feel grown up.  Other women on the tour had stocked up with bottles of Gordons with its distinctive yellow labels in the duty free.  They arrived in the Czech Republic clinking.  Each night after we had performed, the night was filled with the sounds of Irish voices lifted in song, alongside glasses with a splash of gordons and tonic.  This was a good few years ago now ... 

My taste for gin and tonic has not subscided, it is always my drink of choice and the one I love to serve to others.  From student parties where we handed out pints of g&t, to Autumns filled with pricking sloes to soak in gin, to drinks with the girls in my family, to sipping from tiny silver cups on a cold frosty morning waiting for the horses.

I am happy to share the gin craze with you.  Over the next little while we will be sharing our favourites from Marks and Spencer with you and suggesting a variety of ways to drink gin, from the class g&t, to mulled, to gin lemonade. 

So prepare to dive in and swim around in the gin.


That's it for now ...


Salt and Sparkle = Life Remarkable


q&a with body worker and yoga teacher Sarah Lynch 

It is a joy to welcome the beautiful Sarah Lynch to our Salt and Sparkle q&a.  Sarah is an incredible lady who I connected with earlier this year and it felt like I had already known her for a long time, we share a love of books and gardens, music and movement.  Talented, gentle, peaceful and with a fierce joie de vivre, Sarah is a pleasure to spend time with.  I have the privilege of taking her yoga class at Flow Studio Belfast - I highly recommend you taking one of her classes or trying a Go Slow workshop.  Sarah's passion for her life, her friends/family and work is invigorating.  She is a joy to spend time with.  Follow her on Instagram or Facebook, or book a session with her via email.

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

Sarah Lynch. Very excitable, passionate, obsessive, straight talking, music-loving, and opinionated…this could be a long list.  I’ll quit while I’m ahead.

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

I was born in Canada, lived in various parts of America, and then spent most of my time on this island on the North Antrim Coast.  Met my amazing husband and I’m now tripping the light fantastic from North Belfast. ;)

Talk about your work ...

I spend the majority of my work time as a Thai Bodyworker & Massage Therapist. I also teach yoga.  I love it.  If I am not working, I’m reading about the body/yoga/meditation.  The Thai tradition is so rich, and has so many cris-crosses with yoga, so I really enjoy exploring how the two healing disciplines overlap. 

That was the departure point for me, when Denis and I started working on Go Slow.  The collaboration started as a one off- something different to explore with Denis, for whom I have no words:  I love him that much!  And then we both independently felt that Go Slow offered us as teachers and therapists so much- it’s a project that simultaneously gives me excitement and confidence, and yet pulls me out of my comfort zone.  It has a very special place in my life.

What are your future plans ...  

I am starting my Iyengar Teacher Training in August: very exciting! 

I continue to train with senior Thai Massage teachers in Thailand, France and London- there’s no end to learning in this field.

I want to explore the work that we do in Go Slow on a longer periods of time, how we can facilitate lasting change in our bodies and minds by shifting our perception.

I’d like my garden to look more like Chelsea Flower Show than it currently does.  

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

Flip, what doesn’t inspire me.  Things that inspire me outside of work are gardening, knitting, playing the piano (poorly), reading.  I have a lot of hobbies.  

My husband Eamonn.  He really knows himself very well- this inspires me, as sometimes I feel like I don’t know myself enough.  My piano teacher Claire.  My yoga teacher, another Claire. My family.  I have a lot of great folk around me.

Describe your space ... 


How are you feeling today ... 

Peaceful & Excited.

A non-negotiable in your life is ...

Coffee and Merle Haggard (and taxes it would seem)

Most encouraging words you have ever heard ... 

Never Settle 

Your work life philosophy is ...

Be here now

What is your favourite smell ...  


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

In the car I have Junior Brown, in the house I have Guy Clark at this moment in time. Love Bert Jansch and Richard Thompson.  Too many to mention.

Best meal and your favourite three ingredients ... 

Impossible. The hardest question yet!   I love sushi, blue cheese, and panna cotta.  (on separate plates) 

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

Blue tooth speaker, my yoga chair, skype/whatsapp (we are a spread out family) 

How do you relax ...

Reading.  To the point it’s antisocial.  

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

My home.

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

Thailand has a special place in my heart.  I’d most like to visit Japan.

What do you most value in your friends ... 

Their acceptance of me.  Love. Loyalty.  Fun.  Laughter.  Support. Loyalty

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

My favourite word is Tapioca.

I am reading Edna O’Brien’s The Little Red Chairs, which is absolutely superb, and definitely my book of the year so far.

Share some words of wisdom ... 

Hhhmmmmm.  That’s a hard one: Be thankful, tomorrow’s promised to no one.  That, and, Go slow… of course!


Sarah, it was lovely to have you at our place for the Salt and Sparkle q&a, thank you for hanging out with us.

That's it for now ...


Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable 







A macaroons and a glass of wine

 'There's nothing more refreshing than an ice cold glass of white wine.' he looked at me as he ordered, I agreed to join him for one.  

 We clinked glasses for old times sake.  Sitting in silence the space between us was filled with thoughts and words, most had to remain unspoken.  

His pale green eyes with flecks of hazelnut held mine for longer than the moment allowed.  I drank my white, set it back on the bar saying no to offers of another glass, a bottle and a conversation down a lane filled with memories.  I held his gaze smiled, grazed my lips over his cheek in a whisper of a kiss and walked away.  He caught me and held me tight, tears fell from his eyes wetting my cheek.  These arms, his scent still the same nearly a decade later.  

'Don't go he whispered.' 'You know I have to.' I answered.

As I walked away I thought, he was right about the white wine.  There are times when we need something refreshing, cool and crisp.  A time of thirst that only a glass of white wine will quench.  We are right at the end of summer, the Bank Holiday is fading fast and soon September will come.

As you think about your summer, the memories it holds for you in its warm embrace, letting them fade to thoughts stored in the sands of time, drink a glass of this white wine from Marks and Spencer and nibble a #spiritofsummer macaroon.  The Le Charme Sauvignon Blanc from Marks and Spencer vintage 2015 from the Loire valley is crisp and full of bright citrus flavours, it is lighter and doesn't have that bitter after taste associated with some new world sauvignons blancs.   

Macaroons crisp something soft and sweet, chewy with a firm bite.  Summer will whisper to you maybe from this year or those of time gone by.  Crisp white, served ice cold and a cloud of macaroon, this is the way to while away a evening as summer's twilight comes and Autumn begins.

What memories have you made this summer.

That's it for now ...


Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable


Chips & Dips

'I was so overwhelmed they were coming for dinner, I was paralysed.  So we served them pringles and a tub of dip from the local 7/11.'  I looked at her in shock, tinged with a hint of admiration.  To serve Michelin starred chefs crisps/chips and dip took guts or showed a total lack of increduality.  The thing about fancy chefs - from years of experience, I know one thing they adore someone cooking for them.  Serving simply what they would serve to others. 

Crisps are one of my culinary loves - I tired making them once in a kettle (kettle chips, made literally) they were delicious but time consuming to make.  I much prefer to buy a packet of crisps the only rule, they have to be good crisps, no reconsituted potato, thank you.  Marks and Spencer do a fantastic range of crisps, which I have been known to serve as a starter or with drinks.  I haven't as yet served them for dinner and I don't intend to any time soon.

Arranged on larger platters or little bowls the only rule is buy two or three more packets than necessary.  Always replenish the crips bowl quickly if you are having guests.

Chips and dips are everyone's favourite and a great food to serve at nearly anytime - Salt and Sparkle are loving these dips from the Spirit of Summer Range at Marks and Spencer.Dipping bread or other finger food ingredients is a brilliant way to eat and share food, because its enjoyable to dip and eat.  To add extra flavour to each mouthful.

Sweetcorn Chilli

My all time favourite like a thicker and more flavoursome sweet chilli sauce - Spicy Malagueta Chill Dip, it is hot and fiery and popular in Brazil.

Cooling Mint Yogurt Dip - Middle East inspired this is fresh and cooling

Sweet Chilli Dip - a tomato based chilli dip

Sour Cream and Chive dip

Tomato Salsa


Marks and Spencer, Spirit of Summer Lightly salted Carnival mix - I love the colours of these chips, which are naturally white, blue, red and orange as they are a mix of plantain, orange and purple sweet potaotes and beetroot.  They look so pretty simply strew across a large platter with bright and colourful dips places in the middle.

I adore this quesi hot cheese dip especially with these Marks and Spencer Montery Jack refried bean corn chips - all I need to go with them is a Margarita.  Also delicious are the Manchego and Jalapeno hand cooked crisps and Creole spiced bean and rice corn chips.

That's it for now ...


Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable


Friends together around the table that's the Spirit of Summer


Summer is coming to a close leaves are colouring, some are falling, there is crispness to the air and the air smells smokier, Fall will be here all too soon. Yet we are in August and still the sky is grey and a lid of cloud covers the earth.  Summer has been summer in nothing but name.  Days of endless grey.

Well ... how has your summer been?  Did we manage to get through our to do lists, some things yes, some things like crow pose are are a practice that will take me longer than a couple of months.  And, yet each time I move into the pose, I feel myself a little closer than I was yesterday.  I notice the tiny sometimes called incidental transitions and movements.  This for me is what summer has been about watching and being aware and a part of the tiny changes.  Noticing they are happening, life is happening, days move by and we 'do life' we 'practice' at some things, let books and stories absorb us.  I loved this Rob Bell, this Dorothea Benton Frank, this Mary Alice Monroe, this Pete Greig, this Sunstein and Thaler, this Maeve Binchy, among others.  It's also been a time of waiting and recovery after a car accident.

What we need to get to the end through to September and the new year, at least in the Hebraic calendar is friends around the table eating great summery flavours, accompanied by delicious coolers and listening to some love Bossa Nova.

Marks and Spencer Spirit of Summer range have excellent ingredients to create a feast inspired by the Southern States of the USA and South America.  Their product developers have been scoured the Americas in search of authentic flavours and they found them, packaged them and have them instore ready for you to eat. We’ve explored Peruvian markets, got our hands dirty at the fire pit restaurants of Texas and delved into Cajun cuisine in New Orleans

Summer is coming to a close leaves are colouring, some are falling, there is crispness to the air and the air smells smokier, Fall will be here all too soon. Yet we are in August and still the sky is grey and a lid of cloud covers the earth.  Summer has been summer in nothing but name.  Days of endless grey.  Yet thanks to Marks and Spencer we can eat authentic flavours from the Americas.

So why not right now, before you read the rest of this post - get on the phone and invite your friends over for lunch or supper tomorrow or dinner later in the week to celebrate all that summer has been, because summer has been lots of things to lots of people and there most definitely are stories to share.  Then pop into M&S to stock up on some of these beauties, because where is the best place to share those stories - around your table, in your home.

 I began a love affair recently.  

With Flamingos.  

As well as napkins, drawings, and a beautiful piece of art created for me by my sister of a flamingo - I even have flamingo fairy lights and blow up flamingo glass holders to hold, you guessed it flamingo glasses.  

Whatever kitcsh you like - get it out and dress your table.  Hang out in the party section of the store and pick up parrot cocktail sticks, drink floats and lots of candles or fairy lights, as well as some paper plates and plastic glasses.  Make this party you are throwing as easy as possible, it is summer after all.  Save the fancy linen, silver spoons and crystal for the Autumn when we need some sparkle in our lives.

 Start by creating an antipasti platter using Marks and Spencer Spirit of Summer ingredients, you can read about how I did this here.


Then add bowls of Marks and Spencer salads which are the bar that all restaurants need to meet for me to say I ate a good salad in an eating place.

For nut lovers the Quinoa, avocado and brazil nut salad with a mango and amarillo chilli dressing is a must.  It is fresh and fiesty.



 The Spirit of Summer Mexican Rice, Quinoa and Avacado salad has a chilli lime dressing that is so morish - you'll definitely eat more than this than you think.

 Caprese Salad - more commonly known in these parts as basil, mozzerella and tomato is a firm favourite, but please please make sure you get good ingredients.  Bursting with flavour red juicy tomatoes, silky smooth buffalo mozzerella and torn not chopped basil for maximum flavour.

 The Rice, Aduki Bean, Mango and Coconut salad is a firm favourite with its sweet, sour flavour and fluffy rice.

 These Melting Marks and Spencer Mozzarella sticks in a crisp crumb are morish - always have twice as much as you think you need.  Serve them with circles of lime rind and a sour cream dip spiked with garlic.

 Chips and dips are everyone's favourite and a great food to serve at nearly anytime - Salt and Sparkle are loving these dips from the Spirit of Summer Range at Marks and Spencer.

Sweetcorn Chilli

My all time favourite like a thicker and more flavoursome sweet chilli sauce - Spicy Malagueta Chill Dip, it is hot and fiery and popular in Brazil.

Cooling Mint Yogurt Dip - Middle East inspired this is fresh and cooling

Sweet Chilli Dip - a tomato based chilli dip

Sour Cream and Chive dip

Tomato Salsa

Dipping bread or other finger food ingredients is a brilliant way to eat and share food, because its enjoyable to dip and eat.  To add extra flavour to each mouthful.

 Do you love Mac and Cheese?  Well then you are going to adore - mac and cheese bites is a crisp crumb, add some spicy Malagueta Chill Dip to bring a sour spice to the sweet cheese bites.

 These sweetcorn empanadas with a sweetcorn and black bean filling are crisp in the first bite reliving a smooth sweet almost silky centre with a slight chew.

 Who doesn't love potato skins, these Marks and Spencer Spirit of Summer Potato skins are filled with mature cheddar cheese, smoked bacon and scallions.

 I first had Queso Pimento Chilli Cheese dip in Florida and I couldn't get enough of it.  Marks and Spencer Spirit of Summer Queso  Dip is the best on the high street, it is smoky, creamy and spicy - definitely have more than one as it will disappear in a flash.

 Who can resist a wedge salad - bacon bits, crisp of course, iceberg or romaine, ranch dressing, croutons, cubes of cucmber and tomatoes - no one I know.

 And now for something sweet ... Marks and Spencer have created the best deserts on the high street.  I know I say this alot but it is true.  I was at a restaurant earlier this week and the pudding went back to the kitchen with two bites from it, when the table was cleared because it was so bad.

Marks and Spencer - now they have got it right - restauranteurs take note and get the puddings right at your restaurant.

 Coconut and Chocolate slice - is rich, glossy and deccadant, and can easily be sliced into cubes and served in bitesized pieces.  

 Wibble Wobble Wibble Wobble jelly on a plate - this Spirit of Summer Jelly is stunning.  I loved it.  Again restaurants take note you aren't competing with the store down the street  you are competing with Marks and Spencer - as we can get puddings this good at home we expect to be able to get them in your restaurant.

The Marks and Spencer Pineapple, Guava and Cranadilla flavoured jelly with pineapple, raspberries, pomegranate and a passion fruit dresssing is bursting with sweet flavours.  It is bright and bold, smooth, slippery and delightfully cooling.  Serve it with chocolate or without because it is perfect on its own.


Mix your own drinks or pop a bottle of this Caipirinha.

Go on invite your friends over and celebrate your stories and your Spirit of Summer.

That's it for now ...


Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

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