Friday, February 26, 2010

Nominated in the Irish Blog Awards 2010 - My Fifteen Minutes of Fame?

I've just seen that I've been nominated in two categories in the Irish Blog Awards 2010 - a nice surprise indeed. One in each category for Best Personal Blog and Best Food/Drink Blog - and in the midst of very illustrious company indeed as I recognise some of the bloggers I follow and am happy that I nominated some of you (you'll know who you are!).

There is such an eclectic bunch of titles and categories it would take forever to go through them all, but I include a list below in both categories and if you click on the link to the full list above you can check any or all of them.

At any rate it is fun to be included and I wish everyone well. I haven't a notion of winning anything at all but I expect that it is the well-known public blogs that will hit the headlines, and fair play to them - they are practically professional full-timers.

Hobbyist bloggers like me will never be up there with them or have the time to compete - and blogging for me is fun and relaxing and not something I view as competitive. But I do confess to a sneaking delight when I see a lot of hits and new followers so my ego is just as susceptible to a massaging as the next person.

So good luck to all the nominees and have fun with following the stages - a longlist from all the nominees and then a shortlist, from which will emerge the winners. (Just like the Booker prize - but best not to get too carried away!)

Best Food/Drink Blog

– Sponsored by Bord Bia

Best Personal Blog

– Sponsored by Microsoft Ireland’s Developer and Platform Group

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A momentous event - the arrival of Sofia, our first grandchild!

I promised you all I would let you all know when our beautiful grandchild arrived, and post some photos as well. Well, the arrival of Sofia Hannah May Caitlin was heralded last Thursday with great fanfare and joy in our family. Jany and Shayne are over the moon as proud parents and hubby Jan and me are the most delighted grandparents - totally besotted is the only way to describe it and it marks the start of a lovely new phase in our lives.

She was born in Cork's lovely new University Maternity Hospital (CUMH)which was opened about three years ago following the amalgamation of the three maternity hospitals in Cork into one centre. The Bons Secours, the Erinville and St. Finbarr's Maternity Hospitals all closed and were reconvened under one roof in the grounds of the Cork University Hospital. Everything went well for Jany who had gone about five days over her due date and had spontaneous broken waters, which meant she would have to deliver within a time limit to prevent infection. She had to be induced and Sofia was born about ten hours after this commenced.

It was a long vigil and all the more frustrating as there were extremely strict visiting regulations where only the partner was allowed free access at all times. Only one other visitor was allowed for an hour each evening, which meant that Sofia was 22 hours old before we met! As soon as we heard the labour was imminent, I took time off work and as arranged went to Cork to offer whatever support I could, which consisted mainly of drinking coffee in the cafeteria downstairs with them until Jany's induction, and waiting in the lobby knitting and reading to while away the hours once it started.

The day she was born I was visiting a friend when Shayne rang to say Jany was making good progress, a few hours before the birth, so I was at the hospital when she was born. I saw photos within minutes when Shayne came to the lobby with the camera, and revealed the name. We knew the gender from way back, but the name was a closely guarded secret - so much so that I wasn't able to access their computer to go online when Shayne was in the hospital as the password was the baby's name and I didn't want to know in advance! After Shayne's announcement I busied myself with texting and phoning family and friends from the lobby while waiting for him, and it was nearly midnight before we got back home.

I stayed that night in Cork with Shayne, as it would have been awful to leave him in an empty house with all the euphoria and no-one to share it with. That's something most fathers can relate to and hubby said it was the most isolated feeling to be alone after the birth of our boys (especially in Africa) where all the fuss was made of mother and baby. So we enjoyed a celebratory drink (wine and beer for me and Shayne respectively!) on arriving home, while Facebook was being updated with photos and news, all eliciting huge responses which helped to connect everyone across the miles, given that they both have spent their lives together in Spain and Jany has all her family and friends in Holland to keep updated. As the proud granny I had plenty of photos to post after I saw Sofia and I will share them here now, and hope you enjoy seeing them. There are many more on Facebook for those of you who know me there - and for the rest - why not join me on that journey too!

Other family members met her yesterday when she and Jany arrived home, and she met her granddad, her Aunty Maeve and Uncle Martin - who designed her wonderfully quirky and unique birth announcement card. Her other uncle, William, had to go back to college in Limerick and will see her next weekend. It was wonderful to see how she melted everyone to putty, and this is only the beginning! I still don't feel it strange to be a granny and am enjoying it thoroughly, and hope that I can be of help to Jany in the next few days as I am staying in Cork to help get the breastfeeding established. Tomorrow the Public Health Nurse will come to do the heel prick test and the primary visit; it will be strange to be a visitor and have to back off when a colleague comes in the role that I usually occupy!

No doubt there will be frequent follow-up posts with ongoing status updates of Sofia's progress and I run the risk of becoming a total granny bore but right now I make no apology for celebrating such a momentous family event. A first grandchild only happens once in a lifetime and I hope it marks the start of a wonderful relationship with these grandparents for many many years to come! (The photos show before-and-after shots of the proud parents, and Sofia meeting the family in her first two days - and a nice shot of CUMH in winter sunshine)

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Apple Tart - musings on a theme

I know I already have an Apple Tart recipe posted here from last year. This is a slight twist on that theme as I added blueberries. Blackberry and apple is another more common blend but is limited by the short season unless you freeze your blackberries (as I did last year she said smugly!) for use throughout the year. Pics of both are shown - should be easy to tell apart!

So I got this lovely pie template from Jany and Shayne for Christmas and this was the result the first time I used it. It gives a lovely quirky topping with either hearts or a nice lacy doily-type design. I usually do open tarts with a lattice design so this is another variation. This template came from TK Maxx which I thought was a clothing discount store but they evidently do homewares as well. I can't resist these shops as I am a bit of a gadget junkie, and invariably get something that's a must-have in the shop however little use it'll get once in the kitchen!

I got this aesthetically lovely timer from Ikea from a friend I took there one day, and love how it looks, although its practicality is dubious as I not really a timer person, preferring to look and check the food. Also, my oven has a timer which I've never really learnt to programme; having mastered the digital clock I felt that was enough technology for one appliance! My microwave died five years ago and hasn't been replace - I have never missed it, though there are odd grumblings at kids unable to instantly reheat dinners or defrost something last minute.

I am probably old-fashioned regarding cooking and baking - I like steaming and pressure cooking some things, but generally a beef stew or curry that's been simmering for about 4-5 hours on a low heat on the stove-top is the best. Slow cooking is much less suspect than something that's been fast-tracked in a microwave where I can't figure out how the heck that happens without major structural damage to the food, whereas the rationale behind slow cooking is perfectly logical. I'm happy to stay a Luddite in the kitchen, and leave the molecular gastronomy to the Adriá Ferráns and Heston Blumenthals of this world in their lab-kitchens in El Bulli in Catalunya and The Fat Duck in Bray (England, not Co. Wicklow!).

Paradoxically, I do love my kitchen machine though, and you can see the lovely crumbly pastry the food processor part makes. Perfect pastry with no sticky fingers!

How did I end up there? Back to apple tart with blueberries - here's the recipe and enjoy the end product. I will post it over on my very own Facebook group - Cakes, Bakes and Tasty Treats - and for those of you who haven't yet signed up please do so - the group has grown in recent weeks since I reactivated it.

Apple and Blueberry (or Blackberry) Tart

  1. 4-6 large Bramley cooking apples.
  2. Handful of Blueberries or Blackberries (quickly rinse in cold water)
  3. 1lb/450gm plain flour8oz/225gm chilled butter (preferable to margarine).
  4. 2 oz/50gm sugar (or caster sugar or icing sugar) - optional if sweet pastry desired - otherwise omit.
  5. 1 egg - optional if you want rich shortcrust pastry - otherwise omit.
  6. A few tablespoons of cold water to bind.
  1. Add butter to flour, chop up with knife and rub in with fingers to crumbly texture.
  2. Add sugar and egg (if using) and water to bind stiffly.
  3. Minimally handling, knead lightly on floured worktop/table.
  4. Roll out enough pastry to cover large (10 inch/26cm diameter or smaller pie dishes if you prefer -makes 1 large or 2 small tarts).
  5. Sprinke flour on pastry base in pie dish.
  6. Fill pastry base with sliced peeled cooking apples and a handful of Blueberries or Blackberries.
  7. Add enough sugar to sweeten apples - I sprinkle a generous amount to cover the apples like snow - see photo! - if you don't want a tart tart!
  8. Roll enough pastry to cover the tart and cut pattern by using the template.
  9. Lift the cut pastry top carefully with the rolling pin and place on top of fruit - use water on edges to stick pastry top to base.
  10. Flute pastry edges with fingers or use fork to decorate edges.
  11. Bake in top half of pre-heated oven (190 degrees Centigrade/375 degrees Fahrenheit) until golden brown, then move to lower half, reduce heat and bake for another 15-20 mins., totally about 35-40 mins.

Enjoy with a cup of tea and a nice dollop of ice cream or whipped cream. Total indulgence for a cold winter's day!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Immrama Table Quiz - a Fun Fundraiser and Brain Teaser

Last Friday night saw the first fundraiser for Immrama 2010 with the annual Table Quiz in Ballyrafter House Hotel. This is a much-anticipated event for the past few years since Immrama became a fixture on Lismore's cultural calendar.

Our not-quite-winning team - Mike, Jane, me and Alan mulling things over

Edward the local vet is the quizmaster extraordinaire who sets the questions and can always be relied on to throw a few curveball cryptic questions. It's all in good spirits and most people don't get too hung up on winning, just having a good time and enjoying the craic. There are always good prizes donated by local businesses and people and they are raffled at half-time, bringing in yet more dosh. People are very generous and despite the recession, the local arts don't seem to suffer - Immrama last year was extremely well supported by everyone who flocked to Lismore to see both celebrity and lesser known travel writers in person.

I was on a team with three friends, and we were enjoying ourselves thoroughly with no recriminations when an answer was wrong despite being sure it was definitely the right one - I tried not to be too pushy as I have a tendency to be sure I'm right when I may just be a tad wrong! I was chuffed to have the correct answer to the highest capital city in Europe (answer: Madrid at about 700m/2,100ft altitude) and we had fun deciding whether the question referred to altitude or latitude. The first round was a string of word puzzles - not just anagrams but cryptic words within words - they have done the rounds of some table quizzes lately and are great fun. How about this - "lang4uage" or "mail male"? I'll leave you to figure them out and will answer them in the comments later!

Ballyrafter is a lovely venue for the quiz . It's a country house hotel just outside Lismore, and Immrama has used it from the start in 2003 for the Literary Breakfast on the Sunday of the festival. This event is always the first one to be fully booked. Hubby was manning the computer score spreadsheet and managing any disputed scores. Our teen daughter and four of her friends were collectors on the evening (gathering up the answer sheets after each round) and ticket sellers for the raffle.

I was delighted to win two prizes - a voucher for a studio photo with a local photographer, and a ceramic pot made by friend and quiz team-mate Jane! You can see the pot in the photos here. It was the second pot I won in the Immrama table quiz - I got the narrow-necked one a few years back and now have a nice set. Investments for retirement perhaps? They are certainly unique, and she has some terrific work.

We didn't win the quiz - that accolade went to a team from Fermoy who are table quiz veterans and feared in quiz circles as unbeatable - but we were pipped at the post for 3rd place by a two tie-breaking teams in 2nd place. So we were technically 3rd but actually 4th which was great. It was a lovely evening and nice to meet friends who had come along with their teams.

Now it's countdown to the next fundraising event - Devonshire Day in March. I blogged about it last year and may do so again if there is anything different to add, and then we have the launch and festival itself to look forward to. Watch this space for updates and more info as the festival line-up unfolds over the coming months - though nothing will be revealed until the launch party.

Photos of the quiz with hubby at the raffle prize table; my raffle prized pots by Jane.