Friday
Sep262014

Happy New Year - Rosh Hashanah 2014

שָׁנָה טוֹבָה "Shanah Tovah"

May your new year be sweet.

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Tuesday
Sep232014

Time for afternoon tea at Titanic Belfast

In our house we always stop for tea.  Like most Irish families, the kettle is never far from the boil, and tea is drunk at every opportunity.  It does really make things better.  The act of drinking the inky black liquid with a splash of milk, or a touch of honey, the moment spent stopping from the busyness of the day, it’s a short release that can change our perspective.  There’s usually a slice of cake, or a biscuit from the tin (occasionally homemade).

Making and taking tea is a way of being present to the moment, is a ritual that stretches across the world to the tea ceremonies of Far East Asia and allows us to savour life, a moment in slowness.   There is nothing that can’t be tackled no matter how difficult after a cup of tea.


Tea mostly water, finds it flavour from the taste of tealeaves infused into the liquid.  There is a history and element of ritual, perhaps art and celebration even to taking tea.  Maybe this along with the cakes and the thrill of doing something different in the middle of an afternoon, the notions of civility and getting together with friends explains the joy of taking afternoon tea.

Titanic Belfast, offer visitors the chance to take tea in their grand ballroom on the 5th floor.  This thickly carpeted room, looks out over the Titanic slipways to Belfast Lough and the Irish Sea beyond.  White starched table cloths cover round tables, and comfortable dark wood heavy chairs, with black leather hide sit proudly around them.  A replica of the Titanic’s staircase which was made by local Northern Irish craftsmen fills a corner of the room.  We like others taking afternoon tea that day, enjoy having our photographs taken on the stairs.

Champagne Henri Abelé, shimmers as it is poured into sparkling glasses.   The taste is a clever balance of bold and buttery, assertive and toasty with complex citrusy notes, and a gentle bubble that is easy to sip.  The rounded flavour works well with the variety of finger sandwiches, sweet things and pastries which form the basis of the afternoon tea’s food.

The scones are perfectly sized and are made with a light hand, as the crumb is soft with just a hint or resistance to the bite; they are served with little pots of strawberry jam, and clotted cream.

After choose our tea from a choice of six, I go for Red Berry and Naomi chooses Green Tea.  The teas are sourced from Northern Ireland tea merchants Punjuna, and are loose leaf, poured from silver pots through strainers, the flavour is full.  A cake stand with finger sandwiches scones, little puddings, and a selection of fancies is set in front of us.  The plates of the stand are prettily patterned in pale pinks and dark blues with white.

Finger sandwiches in soft white and brown bread with crusts cut off are filled with Belfast honey ham, and cheese roast beef, tarragon aioli and rocket, a sharp piccalilli with cheese, Smoked Irish Salmon and the most delicious cucumber ribbons.  These are served to bright white porcelain with the Titanic White Star logo

The most delicate homemade French Fancies, are made of soft light chiffon cake, covered in the palest of pink icing and topped with ruby raspberries.  Homemade Oreos combine a rich slightly bitter dark chocolate biscuit which has a firm bite that reveals a soft crumb with the smoothest sugar cream filling. 

Gâteau St Honoré has a sweet pistachio pastry cream and is finished with a rich caramel, the mixture of dry nuts and sweet caramel, is always good.  Light crisp strawberry white chocolate macaroons are very morish as they melt in the mouth, while the blackberry macaroons have a richer flavour, but the same perfectly formed shell, and fine texture.

Also served are small clear plastic glasses filled with Raspberry champagne jelly peach custard, Coconut sponge lime marshmallow oatmeal crumble and a sweet white chocolate mousse with a passion fruit curd.

Thick slices of sheet cake are served at the table, we try a moist sweet red velvet, a deliciously flavoursome Banana pecan cake which has a warm toffee flavour, and soft Dundee cake full of plump luscious fruit.

Siobhan Petit’s sultry voice fills the room with jazz standards, and the odd chorus of happy birthday.  Even though the room is busy and the tables are filled with families, couples, groups of girlfriends and tourists, the ballroom doesn’t resound noise, there is a sense of silence, which in the noise of life in the 21st century is to be welcomed. The acoustics are good enough to make this large space feel very personal and private.  The tables are spaced with the skill that knows how to create intimacy in such a big room without feeling like people are sitting on top of each other, or that conversations echo in the fear of eavesdrop.

 

A children’s menu with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and thick malted chocolate milkshakes is available.  The smooth pale chocolate drinks with their bright red and white straws make me wish just for a moment that I’d like to be a child again.  Staff member Eoin provides serice with a smile.

Staff in smart uniforms are attentive and friendly without being overbearing, nothing is too much trouble, and they have a genuine desire to please, for those taking tea to enjoy their time in this remarkable venue.    And that’s the thing about taking afternoon tea at Titanic Belfast, it is an experience to relish, and the staff know this.

 

 

But that thought is soon dispelled when we meet James the barman and master cocktail maker.  James’s passion to mix memorable drinks in remarkable, and we enjoy a good conversation with him.  After asking us what flavours we liked he created cocktails off menu especially for us, it is always so very impressive when barmen go off menu, to meet the palate of the drinker.  James was very knowledgeable and a pleasure to talk to, we discussed many things and tried the Titanic signature whiskey, his drinks were smooth, had a good kick of alcohol mixed into a well blended drink.

 

 Whilst a Japanese watermelon liqueur and gin based cocktail was refreshing and sweetsharp.  

 

The berry cocktail was bright red with a twist of orange, and served ice cold.  

The espresso martini combined ice cold silky smooth coffee liqueur with cream, drizzled with a hazelnut syrup, it was rich and warming.  

Afternoon Tea at Titanic Belfast is memorable and remarkable.  Much thought and care has gone into the preparation of the food, and drinks, the service is warm and attentive, from the moment you enter the building crew members guide you to the ballroom and the atmosphere is warm, welcoming and wonderful. It is the perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon, and definitely an experience you would want to share with visitors to Belfast.

 

That’s it for now ...

Nics

 

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

 

Monday
Sep222014

q&a with Roger Stowell

It gives me great pleasure to welcome one of my favourite photographers, and food writers Roger Stowell to q&a today.  I met Roger via Twitter a few years ago, and have been continually inspired by the sharpness of his pros, the use of natural light to create profound clarity in his photographs.   Roger wrote a guest post for Salt and Sparkle a couple of years ago which you will enjoy.  

The author of two beautiful books, Roger has a third book coming out in the new year, his prints are available to buy and he also runs food photography workshops in London, further details below on how to access all of these.

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

Roger Stowell...it’s good most of the time

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

England and now in France

Talk about your work ...

I take pictures, cook and write...for myself now


What are your future plans ...

To take pictures, cook and write...

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

Looking , hoping and sometimes seeing...then looking again

Describe your space ... 

A stone cottage with a walled garden in the French countryside

How are you feeling today ... 

Calm and happy


A non-negotiable in your life is ...

My family

Most encouraging words you have ever heard ...

I will.....

Your work life philosophy is ...

Enjoy every fucking second...

What is your favourite smell ...  

Success


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

Silence ..most of my life has been filled with noise..most of it mine

Best meal and your favourite three ingredients ...

The next one....fresh, honest, sustainable

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

Food, Photography and France


How do you relax ...

Cooking, taking pictures and writing

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

Cooking, taking pictures and writing

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

I’m there

 What do you most value in your friends ...  

Friendship

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

Question 19

 Share some words of wisdom ...

I will when I get some....wisdom, that is           

 

I’ve been a photographer and film maker for most of my life which has meant that I’ve been lucky enough to spend my days doing what I enjoy. As is so often the case, it’s only later in my life that I realise how unappreciative I have been of this privilege.

Luckily, photography is very forgiving as one can carry on being a photographer until one drops. Since moving to France, some 13 years ago, I have found the time and the peace to concentrate my efforts on taking pictures and I have never felt so focussed and immersed in my work since those early enthusiastic beginnings in the 60’s.

Having time has enabled me to produce a couple of books:

“Eating at La Moussiere” - a small book of simple dinner party menus that have been tried and tested on our clients who spend time with us doing my digital photography courses.

“Simply Fed” - a larger book about eating in France, with recipes and photographs.

Both books are available from Blurb.com - http://www.blurb.com/search/site_search?search=Roger+Stowell&filter=bookstore&commit=Search

The books are available in hardback or soft back format and also in e book format. The Blurb website allows you a preview of the book....every page, rather than just a taster, so that you know what you’re buying.

I’m in the process of writing a new book, about solutions for vegetarians whose partner is not, which should be ready in the new year.

Aside from the writing, I’m also running Food Photography Workshops in London. The dates of these events, which take place on weekends, are to be found on my blog.

And then there is the Print Store - which is a new departure. Here you’ll find prints of food, landscapes and animals that are suitable for collecting, decoration or gifts.

Roger it was great to talk to you.

That's it for now ...

 

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

 

 

 

Friday
Sep192014

What I am baking for my birthday, Meringue Girls - Marshmallow Meringue Pretzel Pie

 It is my birthday today!  I am feeling lots older, and somewhat humbled and honoured by the beautiful messages I have received from readers, friends and family across the world.  I thought I would celebrate by sharing with you my new favourite recipe, which comes from one of the most fantastic cookery books I have read this year Meringue Girls.

The Meringue Girls Cookbook is fun, fabulous and a firm favourite in my kitchen, and the recipes are all based around different takes on the meringue.  Go buy a copy, immediately for yourself or as a present. Meringue crumble, chilli lemongrass meringue pie, rainbow meringues, giant meringues, they are all here.  

The girls ideas are quirky, fun and enjoyable, they open the world of meringue from simple pavlova to stunning centrepieces for weddings, jolly ideas like strawberry meringue ice lollies, meringue alphabet letters and meringue kisses which incidentially make awesome presents.

This book is creative and colourful, packed full of easy to follow recipes that most importantly produce stunning results.

Marshmallow Meringue Pretzel Pie, well where do I start.  Salty biscuit crumb, with tiny chocolate chips, covered in dark chocolate ganache, and topped off with marshmallow meringue and chocolate dipped pretzel.  

Doesn't that sound great?  

 

This pie is sooooooooooooo GREAT that even the most ardent of resolve is weakened when confronted with a Marshmallow Meringue Pie - salted chocolate crunchy pretzels, soft billows of marshmallow meringue, and smooth chocolate ganache.

I first cooked from this book for my sister's leaving party, and my brother FrankFit a personal trainer, told me on no uncertain terms that he was not eating pudding. He tried hard to stick to his guns but then he saw the pie, his resolve began to waiver, and eventually he gave in to the light fluffy marshmallow clouds.

 

 The base is made of crushed chocolate chip cookies, salted pretzels mixed with butter.  Then covered in a rich dark chocolate ganache.  This is left to set for a few hours, or overnight in the fridge.

 The meringue topping is made by adding melted marshmallows to a basic egg white and sugar meringue mixture.

Covering the base of the pie in the mixture, then either popping below the grill for 5 minutes of charing with a blow torch before serving. 

 

 

 

 

We chose to service the pie with unsweetened cold raspberries, who's tartness cut through the clouds of sugar.  Here is our adaption of the Meringue Girls recipe

Marshmallow Meringue Pretzel Pie Recipe

Ingredients

 

  • 4 large organic egg whites
  • 8oz caster sugar
  • 4 cups of pink and white marshmallows
  • 4 cups of salted pretzels
  • 1 pint of double cream
  • 8oz dark chocolate
  • 4oz  butter
  • 1 packet of chocolate chip cookies (approx 5 cups crushed biscuit)

Method

  1. Blitz 3/4 pretzels and the chocolate chip cookies to a rough crumb
  2. Melt the butter, then stir into the crumbs, spread into a greased tart tin, with a removable base, place in the fridge until cold
  3. Melt the chocolate into the cream, leave to cool whisking every 5 minutes until it thickens for about 15 minutes
  4. Pour chocolate over cooled biscuit base and refridgerate until solid
  5. Whisk the egg whites to really stiff peaks
  6. Whisk in the caster sugar 1/3 at a time
  7. Melt the marshmallows and fold into the meringue
  8. Cover the pie base in piles of marshmallows
  9. Use a blow torch to char the edges or pop under a hot grill for a matter of moments
  10. Top with the remaining pretzels dipped in chocolate
  11. Serve in wedges with cold tart raspberries

 

 

Could you have a better sugar high!

That's it for now ...

 

Nics

 

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Friday
Sep192014

hold - Five Minute Friday

Darling,

Autumn light stretches into evenings that come all too quickly.  Summer has gone, but the warm weather remains, although the mornings and evenings are nippier. Trees with leaves shades of lemon and ruby red colour my walk through the paths.  The air is dry, dampness has not set in, and some leaves which have fallen dance around my feel.

I sat on our bench lastnight.  My heart feeling alone because you weren't with me.  The wind carried your laughter, and I wonder over there in Carolina, so you think of me.  Does my longing for you to come home carry across the wild Atlantic Ocean?  Will it bring you home.

I hold you in my heart.  You are safe there.

There is ugly in our past, but the only way out of here, away from this mess is together. Not apart, please come back to me my darling.

Our grief is bloody.  The gore that horror movies specialise in, is actually our lives.  Our graves are empty, the bodies they represent exist only in the the atmosphere as pieces blown to smetherens.

I hold hope in my heart you will come back to me.  That you will accept my invitation to love.  SOme days it is stronger than others, but it is hope and it remains, just like my love for you.

I can’t carry your sadness but I can hold your heart.  And, I promise I will hold it with the tender gentleness you deserve, and I will fight to protect it.

It will take us time to fit back together.  There are layers to peel back, feelings to explore, but let’s walk through their awkwardness together.

Come back to me, my darling, come back across the ocean.  Let me hold you in my arms and dance with you along the shore of the inky black waters.

I love you,

P

 

Today I sign up for Five Minute Friday, and as has become something of a pattern, I am sharing a short piece of my fiction writing with you, as I play with words to create and tell the story I am given to share. Some of these short pieces make it into my novel.

I join the Five Minute Friday community across the world to write today, and I hope you will join us too.

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Sunday
Sep142014

q&a with Patricia McGinnis from Maven 

It is wonderful to welcome Patricia McGinnis from Maven Belfast, for this week's q&a.  I met Patricia when we sang together in the Belfast Community Gospel Choir, we had some good conversations, and I loved to hear about her work as a designer.  Patricia is creative, talented and great fun, it is a real pleasure to interview her today.


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

I’m Patricia McGinnis and its pretty good being me.  I have a wonderful son called Lalit, who is 6 and the best thing in my life.  I have a brilliant and supportive family and fantastic friends.  I have a job that I love.  

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

I’m originally from Eglinton but am now based in Belfast (after a 10 year sojourn in London).

3. Talk about your work ...

I run a shop and interior design practice called Maven along with my sister, Catherine.  We sell beautiful things for your home.  You’ll find pieces with a Nordic twist from the likes of HAY and Ferm Living as well as exquisite locally produced items from Derek Wilson Ceramics and textiles from Enrich & Endure among others.


4. What are your future plans ...

You’ll have to wait and see… we have a few ideas in the pipeline but we’re in the early stages so I don’t want to say too much!

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

I find inspiration everywhere but especially from travelling. Most recently I visited Copenhagen.  It was my third trip – I adore the place.

I’m also an avid reader of blogs & magazines from across the world and findinstagram an amazing source of inspiration.  At the minute I cannot get enough of MaryAnne Moodie’s feed.  She is an Australian weaver living in Brooklyn.  Her wall hangings are driving me insane at the minute – they are so darn good.

6. Describe your space ... 

The shop is in a former memorial hall, just off Belfast’s Lisburn Road.  It is a beautiful space.  It’s a red brick building with bags of character.  The shop is on the ground floor and upstairs we have office space and a space for our Maven Sessions.  

The Maven Sessions are a way of learning a new skill or learningmore about a subject you might be interested in.  We’ve had things like Weaving, Floral Styling, Blogging, Flash Fiction and have lots of exciting sessions coming up for the rest of the year and beyond.  We bake a couple of cakes, put on a big pot of coffee and generally the folks who come along have a great evening’s craic and maybe learn a new skill as well.

7.How are you feeling today ... 

Great. I am bracing myself for a big day tomorrow as I have a huge residential project being installed, I can’t wait to get stuck in!

8. A non-negotiable in your life is …

Lalit.

9.Most encouraging words you have ever heard ...

When my parents tell me that they are proud of me.  I will never not care about that.

10. Your work life philosophy is ...

I don’t have one!  I do sometimes (quite often!) find it hard juggling being a mother to a young child on my own with running a business but I just do my best.  

9.Most encouraging words you have ever heard ...

When my parents tell me that they are proud of me.  I will never not care about that.

10. Your work life philosophy is ...

I don’t have one!  I do sometimes (quite often!) find it hard juggling being a mother to a young child on my own with running a business but I just do my best.  

11. What is your favourite smell ...  

Rose en Noir.  A perfume created by Miller Harris for Liberty.  Unfortunately it was discontinued a few years ago and I’m bereft…

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

I am a big fan of listening to the radio – normally its either BBC Radio 4 or 6 Music.  However, as I write this, it’s nearly midnight and I’m listening to FatFreddy’s Drop.

13.Best meal and your favourite three ingredients ...

The best meal that I have ever had was a simple supper of bread, cheese and honey outside Rome about 12 years ago with one of my best friends.  It was perfect and reminds me of a really happy time in my life.

As far as ingredients go you can’t go far wrong with onion and garlic.  These staples are for me the basis of most dishes.  Also – since discovering Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem, I cannot get enough of the middle-eastern spice blend Dukkah.  Its addictive.  Eat it with bread and olive oil or sprinkled over a salad or soup – it goes with anything.

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

My steam iron!  I’m sure I bore people to death but it is SO good.  As well as using it for the usual stuff at home, I use it at work to make sheets and curtains look crease-free.  I have even been known to steam-iron a rug for a photo shoot ...

Culinaire vegetable peeler – I’m left handed and without this I literally cannot peel a vegetable.  It is brilliant.

Moleskine Notebook – maybe it’s a tad dramatic to say it has changed my life but when I have that little black book by my side I’m in control.  I’m forever writing lists, jotting down ideas and scribbling my thoughts.  I love when I finish one and start another – its like a whole fresh start.  

15.How do you relax ...

I relax by getting together with friends, sharing a meal, some wine and lots of laughter.

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

My happy place is my home.  I spend a lot of time making it a cosy, comfortable place that I love to be in.  It is a place to snuggle reading a book with Lalit, as well as the location for some really memorable kitchen discos.

17. Where in the world would you like to visit ...  

I really, really want to visit Melbourne.  There is so much creativity there at the moment – I want to go and soak it all up.

18.What do you most value in your friends ...

At the minute, it is an understanding that I might not be able to be there all the time as I am so busy with the business and Lalit, but knowing that I still love them all.

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

I don’t really go in for quotes or mantras to live my life by.  Right now, I’m re-reading the Tales of the City series by Armistead Maupin.

20.  Share some words of wisdom ...

Follow your gut and walk your own path.  Be nice to everyone.

 

Thank you Patricia, it has been a joy to talk to you.

 

That's it for now ...

 

Nics

 

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

 

Maven, Reid memorial Hall, 4a maryville Avenue, Belfast BT9 7HE

www.wearemaven.co.uk

 facebook.com/mavenbelfast

@WeAreMaven_

wearemaven_

 

Thursday
Sep112014

Today we remember

Today we remember.  We think of those who passed, we think of those who mourn.  We think of those who died fighting for freedom.  We lift all these people up and ask for peace to come and reign.

Around 6am on September 12th 2001, German Shepherd Canadian police dog Trakr found signs of life under the rubble at Ground Zero.  Fire-fighters dug in, where he pointed and found Genelle Guzman, who had been inside the Twin Towers when they collapsed.  She had been trapped for nearly 26 hours and would most likely have died, had Trakr not found her.

Over 300 search & rescue dogs alongside their handlers arrived in New York City, after 9/11.  They came from all over America & Canada and as far a field as Puerto Rico and France to help find survivors among the twisted steel, body parts, piles of glass, and mountains of rubble. It was the largest deployment of dogs in a rescue mission in US history.   Working gruelling 16-hour days, under their handlers, these agile, utterly focused and determined dogs, searched for survivors in nooks and crannies, tunnels and holes impossible for human’s to access.

Federal Rescue worker Bob Sessions said, “If these dogs only knew what a difference they make. Certainly, there’s nothing that can replace the precision of a dog’s nose, in rescue situations —and absolutely nothing that can replace a dog’s heart.”

Dogs smell as humans see. A field or building to them is like the vibrant colour picture of a high definition television is to us.  A dog’s sense of smell is so animated; their noses can pick up layers of scent from the history of the area they are in.  Rescue dogs have extensive training – but this builds on their natural ability to keep searching for life, these dogs will literally follow a scent until they are called off. ‘We need a dog over here’ was the continual call around the site. 

 

The ability of the dogs to console humans became apparent when specialist ‘trauma therapy’ dogs were brought to Ground Zero to provide emotional support to the rescue workers who were traumatised by the disaster site.   These dogs were specifically trained to pick up on trauma and go towards it, pursuing people they perceive to be in a state of distress. Rescue workers felt able to reach out to these dogs in ways they couldn’t to those humans around them. They said that the dogs consoled them and gave them solace and strength to keep going, day-after-day in the rubble.

As we remember those that passed 11 years ago today in that terrible tragedy, we also remember those that mounted the rescue mission, and the dogs that made their jobs, just that little bit more bearable.

Nicky Cahill, This thought was originally broadcast on BBC Radio Ulster on the morning, 11 September 2012.

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

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