Tuesday
Aug062013

JOY - What it feels like to know I am going to be an Auntie!

Brian and Sarah jump for JOY, as they wait for their little baby to arrive

I'd been building a den, with Grandpa under upturned chairs covered with blankets.  We were listening to Rachmaninov.  There's someone on the telephone who wants to speak to you, Gran said, peering under layers of wool to find us, hidden at the back eating sweets from her wooden bowl.

'Hello Daddy' I knew it had to be Daddy because who else would be telephoning me.

I heard a little cry then a guggle, and laugh come down the telephone, 'You have a little brother!'

Now my precious little brother is going to be a Daddy.

A better Papa is not to be found.  Nor a better Mama!

Brian and my darling beautiful Vietnamese sister-in-law Sy Phan (Sarah) are going to have a baby any day now.  

Master or Miss Cahill, will be my first nephew or niece, and it is a feeling, that seems to superabound words.

Deep inside I feel this joy.  

The waiting for this baby to be born, has been a time of great excitement and pure joy. 

Joy, this seems to be the best word to describe how I feel as we wait for the birth of this darling little fella, who will change all our worlds.  In the bottom of my tummy there is a murmur, that smiles, and it rises up, bubbling to my heart, then into my head, and out of my ears and eyes.

I smile.

I am about to be given one of the most precious gifts a girl can get. I am going to be an Auntie!

Already I adore this little one.  Feeling his kicks against his mumsy's tummy, he is brave, and flexible, easygoing, bursting with music - singing, and playing instruments come easily to him, and full of rhytmn. He is a wee man who will bring much joy.  He is free.  He will rise up and call his Mummy 'Blessed'.

Joy

This word pours out of me.  

Joy.

Everytime I think of my brother and Sarah, and the life they have created my body is consumed by joy.

Even saying the word makes me feel giddly with delight.

Joy.

Hanging out with Brian and Sarah as we waited for baby to arrive, we all felt joy.  

Joy.

This is a much longed for and wanted baby.  A baby who will be looked after and tickled.  Read stories and played with.  A baby who will be cared for.  Rocked to sleep and sung songs, in Irish, Vietnamese and English.

Joy.

We are filled with the joy your creation and birth have brought.  

We have been longing to meet you, and hold you, give you cuddles and watch you grow up.  

You have been created little one, for 'such a time as this'. You have been carefully thought out, and put together, exactly as you are.  There is no one else who can fulfil your purpose, no one else who can do the things that are in your destiny.

You carry the DNA of heaven, and you are born to create.  May you always know what you create is as precious as you, may you rise up in your talents.  May you love to dream and wander in your imagination, and may you use your hands to create works of beauty.  Your life has been planned, you have been chosen.  May the passions of your heart be full, and may you find excellence in the fields you pursue.

You can make a difference.

You will make a difference.

Your creativity is essential to this planet.

You are so precious to us.

We cannot wait to see your story unfold, and to have you as a part of our lives, and to be a part of yours.

I think of all the books I want to read you, and the stories I will tell you about your Daddy when he was a little boy and how he always new one day he would meet your Mummy, and he was excited.  I'll tell you about how they met, and how much they love each other, and how much they love you.  

We will laugh and visit the gypsy camp.  Read stories and bake wee buns.  We'll follow in the best traditions of Aunties - Auntie Bell, and squirt people with waterpistols and car window washers as they go by. We'll make dens with blankets and camp out overnight under the stars.  We'll hang out with Auntie Nomes - who is sooooooooo cool, and take trips with her.

You are a little boy who is loved, and wanted and adored, and you will grow into a man who will be much loved in life.  You are one who is seen as wise and one people know they can trust.  You will love animals, and enjoy the ocean.  You will like to laugh and will bring the gift of laughter to others.  You are kind.  You are patient.  You make friends for life.

Little one, you are so welcome to our family, you are so loved by us all.

That's it for now...

Auntie Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

 

 

Monday
Aug052013

From my Weekend 

How was your weekend?

Mine started with resting early Friday morning then intensive work. I'd an important deadline and a tight word count.

These pretty jam jars filled with tea lights, tied with ribbon and covered in buttons made an authentic and delightful centerpiece at a 30th birthday BBQ.

Guests for lunch and dinner on Saturday saw me at 7.40am in the kitchen cooking. I made spaghetti Bolognese and mint brownies for my sister in law's cravings. She is about to give birth to my nephew anyday & I am beyond excited.

I've really been enjoying sunflowers this season & have planted many in the garden. I was amazed to watch this new get dizzy on nectar as she hovered on one.

The beach for some boarding on Sunday, a walk with Foinn & Penny and some chill out time. I could have spent all Sunday working with words but I knew the words would flow easier if they came from a place of rest. Being and swimming in the sea is so good for my soul.

Chasing light - something I spend a lot of my life doing as I look for light.

The posy of sweetpea came from a dear friend who said to me 'You have some of the blessing but the fullest and bloom of the blessing is still to come'. These words really encouraged me.

The ribbon around the scented flowers says -

Love 'always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres'

May your week a head be filled with love, peace, hope and protection.

How was your weekend?

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Friday
Aug022013

Mint Chocolate Brownies 

 

Don't you just love brownies?

For the choco fanatic, I don't think there is a better pudding.  The taste of dark chocolate combined with sugar, eggs and flour creates an intense pudding that is both sweet and bitter.

They are the perfect pick me up at any time of the day or night.

Inspired by this bar of delicious mint crisp chocolate I ate up recently, I decided to have a go at making brownies with a mint twist, and it worked - BRILLIANTLY.

I was in the store stocking up on cocoa, bitter dark chocolate and eggs, for my latest batch of brownies, when I felt something crackling in the pocket of my coat - thinking I had found some forgotten about money, I was excited.  But I pulled this crushed chocolate bar wrapper out.  

Immediately I thought - mint brownies, now those would be just the ticket.

However, getting Prestat chocolate in the local corner store was no mean feat.  Not be be deflated, I adapted and went for a mixture of mint aero and After Eights, to create that intense mint zing.

Using this recipe, I created brownies with the most lucious flavour - deep chocolate and sharp peppermint.  The green aero brings a lovely contrast when the brownies are cut.  The filling from the mint After eights caramelises slightly bringing a chewy texture to some of the brownies.

I love to serve brownies after dinner in small square with coffee, or bring tins of them to the beach, or bbqs. 

Really can you ever go wrong with brownies!

But brownies have to be made well, or you end up with crumbly spongy crumbs, and a lukewarm chocolate flavour.

This recipe I wrote is my favourite, and I have tried, many many, many, many recipes to see if there is better one, and I am still looking.  The thing I love about this recipe, is it can be easily adapted to fit your frame of mind - want to add maltesers, go ahead, trying out peanut butter and M&Ms, be my guest.  You can try it here with nutuella.

RECIPE

Ingredients

185g unsalted butter
200g combined mint chocolate aero bar and mint after eights
85g Self Raising gluten free flour
90g cocoa powder
150g mint aero bar coarsely chopped or you can use aero bubbles
3 large eggs
275g golden caster sugar

Method

oven - oven on to fan 160C/conventional180C/gas 4 


Aga - top oven, lowest set of runners with baking shelf on top - use Aga small roasting tin, line with non stop baking paper

  1. Melt after eights/ broken up chocolate with butter over a Bain Marie or in the microwave - stirring occasionally to mix 
  2. Grease and line with baking paper a 10" baking tin or use silicon 
  3. Mix flour and cocoa powder 
  4. Whisk eggs, vanilla and sugar on high until doubled in size - this will take several minutes - the beaters should leave a deep trail in the eggs
  5. Let chocolate mixture cool slightly then pour into egg mixture, mix until two mixtures are one and the colour is a mottled dark brown
  6. Sieve in flour and cocoa mixture and fold in - the mixture will look dry and dusty like a desert road - add chopped chocolate pieces keep going until it gets thick and fudgy, stop before you think you should
  7. Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 20-25 minutes, Aga may be 15-20 minutes, brownies are done when they have a papery cracked surface, they should be firm in the middle rather than wobbly
  8. Set the brownies in their baking paper to a wire rack and let them cool
  9. cut into squares and ENJOY!

How do you like your brownies - have you discovered a new way to eat them?  

Next I want to try them with raspberries, as my raspberry canes in the garden are bursting with fruit!

That's it for now ...

 

Nics

 

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

 

Thursday
Aug012013

Relish BBQ with the ravishing Rozanne Stevens

When Rozanne Stevens smiles her whole face lights up and she exudes joy.  

One of the things I adore about my job is the pleasure of meeting wonderful people.  Rozanne Stevens is one such person.  From South Africa Rozanne has the SA passion for eating and enjoying food. Her relaxed manner is infectious, and shines through in her books.  Her recipes, are those you want to revisit again and again, because they are just so good.

I first met Rozanne in the Autumn and since then have become a firm fan of this fun and funky chef.

A group of us joined Rozanne in the Belfast Cookery School, one of my favourite spots in Belfast, where she is a teacher, when she launched her new book - Relish BBQ.  I recommend you buy a copy immediately.

Rozanne has taught over 10,000 people in her career! So she not only knows a thing or two about cooking, but about teaching, and how to pitch things at exactly the right level for her students.  This is very apparent in her new book, which is packed with page upon page, of recipes I want to cook, along with absolutely stunning photograph.  

I have cooked several things from the book including - Asian Slaw, Chinese Berry Ice Tea, noodle salad, Green Bean salad - and everything tastes as good as it looks in the photographs, and a big plus all the recipes work.  There are many more things I cannot wait to cook such as - Waldorf Popcorn Salad, Retro Ten Layer Salad, Chilli & Orange Guacamole and Peach and Cranberry relish.  

And, trust me on this one, these are only a few of the recipes I want to cook, the book is filled with brilliant recipes, filled with flavour and enticing to the appetite. Each chapter takes its flavour from a counry Rozanne has travelled to, and then she adds her own twist to the recipes.  The recipes I am pleased to say, are easily laid out with numbered steps, and clear ingredients lists.

Back in the school - I am slightly mesmerised as I watch her weld a knife with the precision of a surgeon, the whole while explaining, why she is cutting the meat or fruit this way.  

As she cuts she drops in takeaway knife and food knowledge which I have already found myself using at home.  

Such as - 

Strawberry Jam is a fantastic base for a marinade.

Cooking is about the enjoyment of food - not the stress or panic.

Frozen, vac packed or fresh corn all works - good ingredients can come in tins or the freezer counter.


Rozanne has BBQ or Braaaiing as they call it in South Africa in her blood, and her passion for it as her favourite way to entertain is infectious.  

Move over boys, the girls have come to grill, and with them they are bringing some delights! such as Rozanne's Strawberry Chilli Flattie Chicken, which is you guessed it, marinaded in a Strawberry jam chilli combo.  

We then all got to make the chicken for ourselves.  This is a recipe that can be started on the bbq and finished indoors or cooked completely outside.  The sauce had that lovely combo of sweet stickiness with a smoky depth and a light heat on the tongue. 

Rozanne's food in real life is as colourful as the styled pictures in her book.  She made a salad from strawberries, avocado, papaya, red onion, mango and coriander, which just dazzled with colour on the plate. 

During our cookery lesson with Rozanne she also made Beefburgers with black pudding which had a rich depth of taste, and chilli cheese corn.  For pud, we had vanilla icecream with lightly poached clementines.

Rozanne's newest book is a pleasurable addition to your kitchen bookshelf, each chapter has a wide mix of meat, fish, chicken and veggie recipes, as well as pickles, perserves and relishes.  What I especially loved where the delicious drinks recipes at the end of each section, whether for a cocktail such as a Rose Petal Cosmopolitian or an ice tea like Peach Earl Grey you couldn't fail to be tempted to have one.

Salt and Sparkle are pleased to annouce Rozanne will be doing a guest post for us in the future, and we will have a giveaway to win one of her Relish BBQ books, so keep your eyes peeled.

That's it for now ..

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

 

Wednesday
Jul312013

Happy Birthday Nomes! Some thoughts for your next decade.

Happy Birthday Naomi.  I hope you have had an extraordinary day, filled with laughter, and great memories.  I have missed not giving you a big hug on your birthday.

I am so proud of you over there on the other side of the world.  Teaching.  Learning and living a new culture, so foreign from our own, but one where the universal language of kindness, graciousness and gentleness transcend language barriers.

I know you will change the lives of the people you meet as you travel, and that you in turn will change and grow.  I want you to know you are beautiful.  You are thoughtful. You are warm, and kind and sensitive.  You have a fantastic sense of humour, and a joy for living.  You are intelligient and a blessing, you are gentle and friendly and outgoing.  You have a voice of pure beauty.  You are colourful and strong.  YOu are curious and charismatic.  You know your own mind.  You are wise beyond your years, and have such discernment.  You have a big heart and are full of love.

Hold onto all these things.  May you have the best, may you be known by the wonder of your DNA, and the characteristics I have mentioned as well as so many more.  May you be blessed, and full of peace.  May you know your talents, and guard your heart.  May your know your worth, and above all know that you are loved, and precious.

I am so happy you are my sister.  You bless me more than you will ever know.  I love you.

Some thoughts for your Twenties

 

  • Always know you are loved
  • Live in the moment and the not yet
  • Fear kills creativity
  • Nourish your talent -your body, soul and spirt
  • Create
  • Even when others tell you it can't be done, do it
  • Walk with courage - know you are not alone
  • There is no perfect time for anything - the best time is what is right for you
  • Live your life and live it to your definition of well
  • Talk it out, Talk it over
  • Take friends into the wild with you
  • Travel
  • Guard your heart for it is the wellspring of your life
  • Don't give doucebag boys the time of day - let them sort out their own nonsense
  • Life is for living and not just for work
  • Pursue truth and you will be original
  • Be yourself - you are a work of art
  • Know you have been created with a purpose, that no one else can fulfil the way you will
  • Laugh
  • Live your story - not someone else's dream
  • The grass is most definitely greener where you are right now
  • Keep your love on
  • Pursue connection
  • Know your worth
  • Set boundaries and limits 
  • Take a roadtrip - take several
  • Keep learning 
  • Know you are never to far down a road to stop, turn around and go after something else
  • You are not alone
  • You are an atmosphere and life changer
  • You make the world a better place
  • Have fun
  • Eat good food, drink wine
  • REST
  • Live life and work from rest
  • Explore the world around you
  • Ask Questions
  • Remember other people have an agenda - don't let it become yours unless you want it to
  • Be intentional
  • Carpe Diem
  • Get rid of the 'If Only' instead live in the right now
  • Remember there is a God who loves you and cares intimately about you, and pursues you with love
  • Love
  • Dream
  • Walk
  • Ride On
  • Sing
  • Create
  • Dance
  • Have JOY

 

This year I didn't get to make you a birthday cake.  For the first time in over 15 years.  It feels odd.  I miss thinking about what kind of cake to mix.  I have missed pouring over the books and blogs, looking for inspiration.

In its place, I have decided to tell you my readers about the cake I made for Naomi last year.  Well actually I made nine cakes, but then that is all part of the story.

Before I started this blog, I read a post about a rainbow cake.  Intrigued I decided I was definitely going to make one of those cakes, and I did for Naomi last year.  Seven layers of sponge, (this recipe x 3, with 9" cake pans) dyed - Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet.  


It was messy and complicated.  I didn't have seven cake tins of the same size.  My oven could only hold three cakes at once.  And, one cake, the one that was supposed to be indigo had to be rebaked after the dye didn't take. But the end result was worth it. Even if I was still baking at 3am!

 


So often I find, things that are messy and complicated, often timeconsuming and tiring, are worth it in the end, because they have a wow factor, and also a sense of achievement, or conquering a complicated recipe.

I make one huge batch of cake batter, then weighed it, dividing it into seven bowls. To each bowl I added 1/2 a bottle of food colouring, sometimes a little more to ensure I got a really rich colour. 


Cakes were baked and cooled, then sandwiched together with a white buttercream which had been thickened with egg whites.

I didn't have enough icing in the first batch, so I eagerly started a second, but I made the cardinal sin of not reading the recipe properly and tipped caster sugar into the mix, instead of icing, or confectioners sugar.  My icing became crunchy, rather than smooth.  

It actually tasted great and hardened into crispy peaks - useful for Christmas cakes when you want a snowy effect - but not so good to a rainbow cake in July, when the affect was to be soft and smooth. But covered with smarties, it had brought a lovely contrast to the soft coloured cake crumb.

The great thing about this cake, is the outside is white so to the onlooker, it seems to be just a tall white cake, then a slice is cut, and a technicolour of rainbow colours emerge, much to everyone's delight, and awe.  

This is a cake full of sparkle, and one people will never forget eating.  Could you forget a piece of bright yellow or blue sponge cake?

Have you ever eaten a rainbow cake? Its a great one for a children's party, although I don't think it's one to make with young children.

Naomi's second cake last year was a plain sponge, made to the same recipe, but this time covered in Nutuella icing with smarties.  

Us celebrating Wee Nomes, last year.

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

 

Tuesday
Jul302013

To text or not to text? 

What was your favourite feature of your first mobile / cell phone?

I didn't properly learn to use my cell until my first year of its life. Until then it was just an emergency brick that made telephone calls to have in my car in case of emergency. I never used it.

Then I went to university. Suddenly phonecalls were expensive, mobile phonecalls extortionately so.

'Nicky, you've got messages!'

'What are you talking about, Tom?'

'See this little envelope, that means you have a message.'

'Let me see that'

And, sure enough there was the envelope. There were nine unread messages. I pored over them. Then replied.

I had discovered text messages.

A quick simple and cheap way to keep in touch. Arrangements to meet were made. Conversations conducted. Jokes were shared. Arguments simmered then boiled.

Tone was impossible to read.

What do they really mean, we'd wail, to each other. Usually over some fella who'd sent us the briefest of cursory messages.

We read far more into them, than ever was meant.

Text messages were easy to hide behind. Just text what your feeling. Exactly the words. Don't worry about the impact. A written argument. Only it wasn't ever. It was a sad &
Complicated exchange of half thoughts. Unbaked and unbanked ideas. They brought derision and pain. To both the writer and receiver. I have sent and received painful messages.

And let me tell you this - just because words are not spoken does not mean they have less power. In fact I feel the written word can sometimes be more incendiary than the spoken. Take this from someone who in their time has written words that make my face burn with horror when I look back at them.

Words are powerful. And in text form that power can be acutely painful.

Don't get me wrong. I love texting and sending encouraging thoughts or prayers. There is such positive and life giving power in words. Texts can carry incredible blessing to the receiver.

Texts can also be a lifeline.

I think of a dear friend who is deaf and we rarely speak unless in person. But we text daily. It is a Means to communicate. A way of connecting with each other. But it's not our only way.

And, that my friend is the crucial point.

Text is a way of communicating - but it's not the only way. When text replaces speaking, something unhealthy and negative happens. Texting like email allows the writer and to some extent the reader to hide behind a screen. To say things with boldness and courage they would never dream of saying to a persons face. Or if they did say them to a persons face they would be accompanied by body language and gesture.

Texts offer nothing. Just words on a screen. There is little understanding. No room for manoeuvre. Suddenly something simple becomes complicated and prolonged. People who are not wordsmiths suddenly feel they have the gift of language.

Feelings are hurt. Tears can be shed

Texting becomes unhealthy and disrespectful. It enhances distant rather than communicates. It prolongs misunderstanding and moves away from a place of grace.

Texting is not talking to someone. It's an exchange of words which can happen when one is in the middle of something else. Such as on the loo or watching tv. Words are unused and used carelessly. They become loaded bullets. Poisonous.

I've made a decision. I'm not going to have prolonged conversations by text anymore. I'm going to pick up The phone and actually talk to someone. Or met them in person and communicate laugh cry sing dance face to face.

I want to use texts in a respectful and useful way. But I'm not going to partner in unhealthy textual Conversations.

I want to communicate in a healthy way. A way that enhances my connection with another person and them with me.

That's not to say I won't use texts at all. But I'm going to out the text in its place and its place is not one of prolonged conversation or debate.

What do you think - to text or not to text that is the question?

If you are concerned about a textual exchange stop it &
Arrange to meet that person in person. Use text to help you communicate but not to replace people to people contact because that can never be replaced.

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Friday
Jul262013

Eating in the garden 

After a day inside. I long for fresh air. Time spent in wide open spaces. Outdoors in rain or shine calls to me. The beauty of nature. The sound of the wind whispering in the bamboo. Birdsong.

This lovely weather have allowed us have dinner in the garden many times. These quick & easy salads can be made in less than ten minutes. Minimum time indoors. Maximum in the garden.

We ate watermelon, beetroot, goats cheese, spinach and pomegranate salad with some chopped cherry tomatoes and a handful of chopped mint. Dressing was freshly ground salt and pepper and some Greek Extra Virgin Olive oil.

Each of the ingredients bought something to the mix - a tang of beetroot, with the sweet tartness of cherry tomatoes, beside the creaminess of goats cheese, earthy spinach was full of freshness, while the pomegranate seeds brought texture and crunch.

To makes assemble all your ingredients the toss gently with the oil, salt and pepper in a large bowl and serve immediately.

We finished our meal with honeydew melon which had been cubed, mixed with strawberries and blueberries.

For those chocoholics among you. A cheeky spoonful of Ben & Jerry's frozen yogurt would perfect top the bill.

What is your favourite salad? Do you like eating outside?

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable