Thursday, 14 July 2016

Now what?

Soooo, it's been a while.. Sorry about that.

A lot has happened since I last wrote.

I had originally started this blog when things weren't going so well and I needed to create somewhere to think positively. Positivity is contagious after all.

In two years, I started a new job, travelled, spent time with my family,(including welcoming two wee nieces!), and spent time enjoying life with my husband. So far, so grateful.

Living it large at the Berlin Zoo
But despite all that I've done in two years, it got me thinking. Even with all the wonderful things that have happened, there was a voice in the back of my head saying "Now what? What's next?". Instead of just being able to enjoy the moment, I was pushing myself to go looking for more, bigger and better things etc.,

So why is that voice even there? Why can't I enjoy the moment for what it is? Is it a first born thing? An overactive drive to succeed? Or does everyone have one?

Once I realised I was doing this, I knew that I needed to live more in the moment. To enjoy the little things. To take or make an extra moment. To take a deep breath and take in my surroundings. I gained more joy when I made the time to just live in the now. On my days off I make the effort to get off the couch and go outside, even it's just a quick jaunt into town, I do it. And it feels good. When I'm outside, I try to go to a park or to where there's water and I just sit and watch the world go by. Sometimes it can be wonderfully relaxing to simply do nothing, just for a little while.

There's still that voice in the back of my head that shrieks "Now what?" but I've learned to muffle it. Instead of putting stress on myself, I'm taking the time to smell the roses. And it's good.

Monday, 17 March 2014

17 things to love about Ireland

To celebrate St. Patrick's day I've compiled a list of 17 things to love about our beautiful country of Ireland. There's a lot to be proud of, so let's get going! If you find yourself lucky enough to live in the 'Emerald Isle', chances are there will be:

1. Beautiful country side. We’re known the world over as the ‘Emerald Isle’. It’s easy to see why with our rolling green hills, lakes, forests, making up our expansive and impressive landscape. 
2. Irish language, although there are arguments on either side for the preservation of the Irish language, without it we wouldn't have the Irish myths and legends that have been shared as part of our oral history for centuries. Plus what self-respecting Irish person can’t utter a ‘cúpla focail’?
3. We're known as the best fans in the world – Our team might not win every time, but either way we’re always good for a crowd rousing rendition of ‘The Fields of Athenry’ And when there’s victories to be celebrated, we do it very well!

4. Irish humour – At least once in your life you’ve probably been called a smartarse if you’ve been graced with Irish wit. Be it light hearted humour, black comedies or colloquial in-jokes, we’re a nation that likes to laugh. We have some top notch comedians too, Dara O’Briain, Dylan Moran, David McSavage, Dermot Morgan, Graham Norton, Tommy Tiernan, Jason Byrne. It’s an ever expanding list!
5. Irish TV - Glenroe, The Den, Father Ted and Black Books (created by our own Graham Linehan) Moone Boy (co-written and starring Chris O’Dowd),  Podge and Rodge, Ros na Run (hey! If it's good enough for Stephen Fry!)

6. The Arts – Be it music, literary prowess or drama. We have our bases covered. We’re known not just for our trad music or U2, but the musical talents of Sinead O'Connor, The Pogues, Kodaline, Bell X1, The Dubliners, Thin Lizzy.. The list goes on and on. We have literary geniuses such as James Joyce, William Wordsworth, Seamus Heaney, Lady Augusta Gregory, John B.Keane, Sean O’Casey, Patrick Kavanagh, C.S. Lewis, Oscar Wilde, and W.B. Yeats, We’ve so much homegrown talent on this island!
7. Irish actors - Let's face it. A serious amount of talent has come from this little island. Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne, Cillian Murphy, Michael Gambon, Peter O’Toole, Saoirse Ronan,  Domhnall Gleeson, Evanna Lynch, Brenda Fricker, Bronagh Gallagher, Maureen O’Hara plus Daniel Day-Lewis who we claim as our own. There must be something in the water!
8. Eurovision champs - We've won it more than any other country and even sent a beloved puppet, no not that puppet! Our beloved favourite from ‘The Den’, Dustin. Irlande douze pointe anyone?

9. The Late Late Toy Show – A staple must watch in our television schedule. The host must don a festive jumper, all sorts of toys are rated and slated by the kids and there’s even been several drinking games created to go with it! Every year the competition is fierce for tickets, after all, who doesn’t want to hear “And there’s one for everyone in the audience!”?
10. Irishisms – Yes, we speak English. But we’ve adapted it to embrace our own sayings. Classics such as "It's fierce mild!", “I’m in a heap!”, “Ya flute!”, “That’s poxy!”, “Her? She’s a wagon!”, etc., confusing people the world over.
11. Irish sport - Hurling, GAA, handball, greyhound racing, horse racing.. Take your pick, we’ve got plenty! 
12. Irish food - every household has their own family recipes for the likes of brown bread, coddle, stews, fruit cake and scones. Plus we’ve got goodies such as Tayto, Club Milk bars, Macaroon bars, Mint Crisp bars, Catch bars, Jonny Onion Rings, Wheelies. And let's not forget the classic Irish fry. Mmm.. Ah yeah, I’ll have an egg!
13. The tea - a decent cup of tea. The line has been drawn in the sand in the war between Lyons or Barrys. And there IS a difference!
14. Banter with strangers - be it a bus stop, at the bar or even a queue for the bathroom, we love to talk. Traditional topics include, the weather, topical news stories about high profile Irish people, TV and parochial chat.
15. Historical sites - They’re everywhere in Ireland! We’re probably best known for Newgrange, which is older than the pyramids of Giza and Stonehenge, castles are dotted all round the country, the Hill of Tara, dolmens, hill forts. Our country is bursting at the seams with historical areas of interest. You need only look as far as the GPO in Dublin to see the bullet holes left there from the 1916 Rising. There’s so much history based in Ireland, and we’re lucky enough to be surrounded by it.

16. Irish mythology - our tales of leprechauns, banshees, heroic warriors, fairyfolk, Queens and chieftains are told the world over. The tradition of storytelling in Ireland began with the seanchaí or seanchaithe, the storytellers,  where they would entertain Chiefs and clans with their tales of creatures lurking in our waters, brave warriors, acts of cunning and light hearted stories. They would act out the entire performance, enthralling their captive audience. It is through these tales that we still have a record of stories told long ago. A valuable piece of our history, which we keep alive today.
17. The people. Irish people are known for being friendly, chatty and welcoming. So whether you're traveling here just for St. Patrick's Day or are born and bred here, you're sure to run into a few characters you won't meet anywhere else. Even with our beautiful scenery, history, sports, music, and flair for the arts, it's the people that truly make Ireland special.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Dusting off the cobwebs

It seems like an age since I've updated this blog but it's been a busy few months!

Since t'wedding day in October, I've been adjusting to life as a newlywed. Which, for me, basically meant talking about our wedding in the past tense, sporting some new jewellery and trying a new name on for size.

Then of course there was Christmas which was lovely as we got to spend time with family and friends and also indulge in the full and jam packed food pyramid. (Spoiler alert: I ate all round me, paté, cheese, various meats, candycanes, chocolate coins.. Nothing was safe!)

Source: DeviantArt - jessijones
We also kicked off 2014 with a new family member! My niece Fia was born in January and it's safe to say we're all besotted with her. Babies bring such excitement into a home, especially when it's the first grandchild on my side. Mothercare didn't know what had hit it!

February brought my sister-in-law's fabulous 40th birthday, which was filled with family, bubbly, memory filled photos, balloons and not one, not two, but THREE delicious cakes. (All of which I sampled - ahem!)

I noticed that all these exciting and happy times had a common ingredient.

The involvement of friends and family.

Let's face it, good news is wonderful and as human beings, we love to share our good news so others can share in the joy. The fact that I could text, sending direct messages on social media, call and email all those I hold dear made all of these experiences even more special. It also made me reflect on how lucky I am to have that support network to chat to in good times and bad. As the Beatles once sang "I get by with a little help from my friends", and I'm sure I'm not the only one who does. 

Monday, 11 November 2013

10 Things to love about Winter

The leaves are done falling, the temperature is dropping and everything feels a little different. It can only mean one thing. Winter is here!

Let's face it. Living in a country with such a spontaneously varied climate (*cough* RAIN! *cough*) like Ireland can make the simplest thing like deciding what to wear when venturing outdoors a task in itself. But let's turn this on its head and focus on what wonderful things Winter has to offer and why we should embrace the season:

1. An excuse to stay in and put your feet up.

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Long gone are the Summer days when you felt guilty about playing around on your laptop indoors when the sun was splitting the stones. Now that the weather has taken a turn you've the perfect excuse to stay in and just relax! Catch up on a boxset, play a board game or video game or catch up on books you've been meaning to read. You've got the time!

2. Halloween
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It's one of those holidays where there's something for everyone. Sweets for the kids (and big kids!), Halloween parties and horror movies for the grown ups and Irish folklore about our links to Samhain for everyone in the audience. Plus, who doesn't like to dress up once in a while? Each year brings new and innovative costumes.

3. Being cosy
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Onesies. Fluffy socks. Blankets. Hot water bottles. Electric blankets. Winter duvets. Hot chocolate. Need I say more?

4. Christmas
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Every year the adverts seem to get closer and closer to Halloween, but the commercialism of modern day Christmas has been noted. When you get to the core of it, Christmas is about spending time with loved ones, exchanging gifts and watching the odd cheesy Christmas movie whilst vowing to never eat Brussels sprouts again.

5. The Late Late Toy Show
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One can't talk about commercialism and Christmas without talking about the Toy Show.. I jest!

The Late Late Toy Show is an institution at this point, where children and adults alike tune in each year to see the must have toys, talented Irish children (be it dancing, singing, or being a mini Culchie), or even what festive sweater Tubs dons. It's part of our cultural heritage, and I for one am a fan.

6. Happy New Year!
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Bubbly! Parties! Ringing in the New Year with loved ones and making resolutions. Gotta love that optimism!

7. January Sales
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After all the celebrating that comes with Christmas and New Years, it's time to treat yourself. It's a great feeling when you find something you want.. In your size.. In the sale.. For at least 50% off. Victory!

8. Snow
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Every now and again, it makes an appearance in Ireland in varying abundance. And admittedly it can cause chaos, but there is an ethereal beauty to watching snow fall and wondering if there'll be enough for building a snow man or at least gathering enough snow to make a snowball or two. Snowball fight!

9. Sitting in front of a roaring fire
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There's nothing to make you feel quite as snug and festive as watching a roaring fire, even if the wind and rain are howling outside. And the ambitious marshmallow roasting if the mood is right.
(Also as someone who loves open fires but isn't skilled at building them, a huge thank you to whoever invented firelogs!)

10. Feelgood festive ads
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It's at this magical time of the year that the feel good vibes wiggle across broadcasting systems and make us go "Aw!" Whether it's 'the' Coca Cola ad which puts the smile on your face or something more touchy feely like this year's nostalgic Tesco ad or tales of Friendships from the formidable advertising which is John Lewis. Embrace it. Everybody has one.

These are my top things to love about Winter. What are yours? :)

Friday, 1 November 2013

Lisa Bakes: Gnarly witches fingers

After I'd made the Spooky Pumpkin and walnut bread, I still had lots of pumpkin and baking supplies. So I decided to try my hand at some more baking.

All in all I made three batches and found that speed when moulding the fingers into shape was key. The first batch expanded the most, whereas the next two batches came out much better as I hadn't handled them as much. Mr. Ree and a few friends were more than happy to provide some quality control.

I'd also made pumpkin and cinnamon cookies which were really yummy. Nothing beats a fresh squidgy cookie!

We went out to a Halloween party last night and brought both cookies along with us. They seemed to go down well and it wasn't long before they started disappearing! (Which is the best compliment in my book!) If you'd like to try making your own witch finger biscuits, I've attached the recipe below. Happy baking! :)

The fruits of my labour!

Gnarly Witches Fingers

  • 225g (8 oz) butter, softened
  • 125g (4 1/2 oz) icing sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
  • 350g (12 oz) plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 100g (4 oz) whole almonds
  1. Combine the butter, sugar, egg and vanilla extract in a mixing bowl. Beat together with an electric mixer. Then gradually add the flour, baking powder and salt, continually beating; chill for 20 to 30 minutes. (The longer the better really!)
  2. Preheat oven to 160C. 
  3. Lightly grease baking trays.
  4. Remove dough from fridge in small amounts. Scoop 1 heaping teaspoon at a time onto a piece of greaseproof paper. Use the paper to roll the dough into a thin finger-shaped biscuit. Press one almond into one end of each biscuit to give the appearance of a long fingernail. 
  5. Squeeze biscuit near the tip and again near the centre of each to give the impression of knuckles. You can also cut into the dough with a sharp knife at the same points to help give a more finger-like appearance. Arrange the shaped biscuits on the baking trays.
  6. Bake in the preheated oven until the biscuits are slightly golden in colour, 20 to 25 minutes.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Lisa Bakes: Spooky Pumpkin and Walnut bread

Whatever it is about the Autumn and Winter time, I just love all things cosy. All the foodie people I know say to use seasonal fruit and vegetables where possible so with Halloween, there's an abundance of pumpkins! When better to try my hand at making pumpkin bread?

So with cautious optimism, I took to the kitchen after trekking through the baking aisle in Tesco for supplies. Also, baking question - are baking powder and baking soda the same or is there a difference?
Ready to be whipped together to make some tasty bread!
For this recipe, I needed to make pumpkin puree. I had read a few different ways online and opted for the microwave method, which was the same way I cook potatoes, so no new territory there! I used about half of a small cooking pumpkin for this recipe which made about twice the puree I needed, so in future I'd probably only need a quarter of the pumpkin.

I chopped them into roughly the same size, put them and some water (about 1/4 of the dish) into a pyrex dish, covered and microwaved it for 11 minutes. Before stirring and microwaving for a further 5 minutes. The skin came away fairly easily from the the pumpkin and then it was just a case of mashing away!

My Mum always taught me to put all the ingredients to one side of the main mixing bowl, and then once the ingredients go in, to move them to the other side of the bowl. It makes it easier to check what has gone in the mixture at a glance.

I mixed the dry ingredients together, then added all the liquid ingredients. When I was mixing, it seemed to be a bit runny. But maybe this is normal?
Mm.. Er.. Squidgy!
Ready for its maiden voyage to the oven!
I lubed up a baking tin with a knob of butter, poured the mixture in and hoped for the best.

And it started to rise!

And then it rose some more! I was actually worried it was going to reach the top of the oven. Note to self: move oven tray down.

The smell of the bread baking filled the apartment and it created a wonderful festive ambience. But I wasn't done yet!

The first time I took the bread out to check if it was baked, it seemed a little squidgy so I popped it back in to oven. I didn't want it to be overbaked or burnt.

From watching programmes like the Great British Bake Off, I remember they would leave bread to cool on a wire rack. I had to settle for a steamer. Well, it has holes in it and should allow air to circulate. Needs must and all that jazz!

Then the best part of any baking adventure - tasting what you've made! It got a big thumbs up from Mr. Ree and the spices really made it tingle the tastebuds. It was moist and the top had a lovely sweet crunch to it from the brown sugar. Next time I might add a bit more walnut though, but that's just me! Although I had inadvertently bought walnut halves which required a bit more chopping, but it was worth it. Next time I'll be buying walnuts of the chopped variety!

All in all, I came out fairly unscathed from this recipe. It wasn't difficult to make either. Definitely one to try again!

Fancy giving it a go yourself? Here's the recipe. Good luck and happy baking! :)

Pumpkin and Walnut Bread

  • 200g plain flour
  • 2 eggs        
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda        
  • 1tsp salt
  • 1 tsp of nutmeg    
  • 250g pumpkin puree    
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar        
  • 75ml water
  • 30g chopped walnuts    
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon    
  • 300g caster sugar
1. Preheat oven to 180C
2. Put sugar, bicarbonate of soda, salt and spices into a large bowl. Stir to blend.
3. Add pumpkin puree, water, oil, eggs and walnuts. Beat until well combined.
4. Pour mixture into greased bread tin.
5. Sprinkle brown sugar on top.
5. Bake for 50-60 mins. Skewer with knife/skewer through centre of loaf. Once it comes out clear, it's done!
6. Take it out of the tin and leave to cool. How you enjoy it is completely up to you! :)

Friday, 25 October 2013

Job hunting Challenge

There are some things in life that we expect to be stressful: Exams, moving house, planning a wedding, having a baby etc., but I've got a new one to add to the list: Looking for a job.

At the moment I'm working part-time/freelance between two jobs but I'm trying to find something more full time in the city.

So I've been looking for a job. I've hit the usual job sites, the #Jobfairy hashtag on Twitter, LinkedIn, joined an agency and been applying for a variety of different positions, ranging from Marketing to retail.

At this point, I've not had any luck.

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If anything I count myself lucky if I get a rejection email, it's better than being ignored and left wondering if I'm still in the running.

With all this in mind, how can one see the funny side in rejection emails and indifferent silences?

For me, I've adopted the attitude of stubborn dedication. I've accepted that some jobs won't be a good fit, so I move on and keep looking. But I firmly believe there has to be more than one job out there for me.

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On one day I might apply for ten jobs, the next day it might be only one or two. The job market is tough out there at the moment, but I don't want to use that as an excuse.

I hope that if I think positively and refuse to give up, then the right job will be worth the wait!