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Month: May 2016

A Cuban Adventure Part 3 – Trinidad

A Cuban Adventure Part 3 – Trinidad

It was a 7 hour journey between Viñales and Trinidad so we made sure to have books to read and a fully charged laptop to watch some movies to keep us occupied! Our new friends were rapidly becoming our biggest irritants and small quarters such as a Peugeot 407 will only enhance tensions! Andrew had asked for a toilet break and Walter refused him only to get the driver to pull over a half hour later (Andrew was not happy). When we got out of the car we couldn’t run away from them fast enough but because luck was not on our side they asked us to join them for dinner that evening – nightmare! Both Andrew and I are pretty bad at saying no so we shiftily said maybe, we were ‘pretty tired’ and we might see how we got on…

 

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After we checked into Casa Jorge Mendez we soon realised how hungry we were and heard the Belgians talking about a pizza place called San Jose. We decided we would go there early to avoid bumping in to them but after our starters in walked Innes and Walter… I didn’t know how to react when they came over and I was getting to the point of giving up and asking them to sit down with us! Andrew sensed this and gave me a kick under the table and a look to tell me he I would be killed if I dared ask. Then came the most awkward silence and I wanted to throw myself in to my delicious pizza. They got the hint thankfully but that didn’t stop us from bumping in them several more times during our stay there!!

 

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Our casa was really great with shutters opening to a courtyard and a massive room and ensuite. A pool had been promised but apparently it had been recently closed for renovation although something told us that the pool may have never existed! The roof gave us a great view of Trinidad out to the ocean and we watched the most amazing thunderstorm that night.

 

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I quickly found out that Trinidad was my favourite town in Cuba. I loved walking down the cobbled streets looking in to the different shops and colourful buildings. The town seemed to not have changed very much since the mid 19th century when it was a busy port and the buildings have kept its character. The old quarter is an UNESCO heritage site on top of the steep hill. It’s a struggle to make it up there in the heat but the views are well worth it especially for the sunset!

 

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We decided to get a taxi to Cienfuegos for the day – another old Chevy that probably hadn’t passed an MOT since 1964. Cienfuegos felt very different to Trinidad with lots of French influences and more western style shops and restaurants. The day was so hot we needed frequent refreshments so found a lovely spot by the pier to have mint and lemon slushies. After a dander round the town we thought we might try and make a trip to the Guanaroca lagoon on the way back to Trinidad. I had heard there was a wild flock of flamingoes based here and thought it would be an opportunity not to miss…

 

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And I’m so glad we didn’t miss the chance because this was one of my favourite times of our trip! We had a guide walk us down, pointing out native trees and birds before we reached the canoe. Our canoe guide didn’t have much English but he knew so much about the environment there. He rowed us to the other side of the lagoon, pointing out herons, snake birds, egrets and pelicans before I saw little pink dots in the distance. As we got closer we could see that the pink dots were actually a few hundred juvenile flamingoes – the most flamboyant splashes of colour against the tropical surroundings. It was eerily quiet but incredibly peaceful save for the distant rumble of thunder in the nearby. When we got close enough the flamingoes became unsettled and took off in unison making a circle around us overhead. All I could hear was their feet hitting the water and the flapping of wings – such an unforgettable experience!

 

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That night we went to Sol y Son, an old restaurant in a colonial home that still has all its original furniture including a bedroom at the front. There was great music while we ate although by this stage I was fully addicted to our chess app we’d been using since the beginning of the trip. Andrew taught me on our first few days and I was obsessed with beating him!!

 

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After our dinner we headed up to Casa de la Musica – an outdoor salsa club that has the best live music and dancing in the old quarter. Lots of amazing dancers made sure that we dared not dance and make a show of ourselves! We tottered on up the hill from the old quarter to the very top where there is an actual club in a cave – no joke! On the way up are little stalls selling mojitos for inflated prices although it’s a great way to take a break from the climb. When you get to the cave, there’s lots of steps down and then you enter a cathedral-like space with a bar. It’s pretty amazing to see although we would’ve preferred listening to music other than salsa for a few hours at least!

 

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The following day we hired out bikes to cycle to the Ancon peninsula which was 12km and seemed perfectly achievable. We packed lots of water and began to freewheel down the hill from the town towards the coast. Once we plateaued we realised fast how hot it really was. The sweat was soon streaming down my face and into my eyes. After 10km we were closed to heatstroke and our lives started to pass before us (cue dramatics). The water had ran out and we began thinking we were going to have to sleep on the side of the road but most important of all we had to find shelter. A hut soon appeared like a mirage before us and I had the tastiest lemonade of my life! After about an hour of solace we managed to get the energy to finish the trek.

 

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The beach was worth the near death experience – the water was a bright blue and the perfect temperature. There was so much coral and fish to dive down and see with a snorkel, I found it a lot better for snorkelling than Cayo Jutias. We didn’t get to spend too long there though because our epic journey took up half a day and we had to start looking around for a lift back to town before dark.

 

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We met a guy at the snack bar who despite sitting with a beer can was more than happy to take us back to town. With a fair amount of apprehension we agreed, we thought it less risky to get a lift home with a guy who may or may not be a bit sauced than cycle all the way back again. He threw our hired bikes in the back of an old Honda Civic and we sat in the back praying it was his first beer that he was still holding in his hand.

 

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We had booked to join a tour to Guanayara National Park and our driver, Papa Noel, picked us up in the morning. Turned out Papa was a big fan of Celine Dion and played her greatest hits all the way up the mountain. There’s something to be said about climbing up through a jungle with a view of the Caribbean in a car belting out ‘Don’t Think Twice’.

 

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We were in a small group tour with a guide, Eddie, who spoke perfect English. Eddie was a fascinating guide and it was great to have a conversation rather than just exchanging names in Spanish. He had studied in Santa Clara and had relatives on both sides of his family who had fought on opposing sides of the Revolution. He explained how the rebels hid in the mountains we were in and how the locals had helped them. He also knew an incredible amount about the flora and fauna of the jungle; I could have listened to him all day.

 

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We trekked around 5km before reaching beautiful waterfalls and then swimming in natural pools. These pools were the real deal, not like the puddles in Viñales! The water was crystal clear and we could dive underneath the waterfall in to caves. After our lunch we were taken to a coffee plantation which told the history of the coffee trade and all the different beans grown there. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of coffee but felt because of where we were I should give it a go. Mistake. I could barely drink it but smiled at the farmers anyway to show I wasn’t really repulsed by the bitterness. I took a sneaky stroll round the back and threw the coffee over the fence. I couldn’t bare to give them back a full cup!

 

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That night we bumped in to the Belgians – again – and decided that since we were leaving the next day we could manage one last night with them. We took them to Casa de la Trova which we had enjoyed before but they thought was too loud so made tracks to Canchanchara. This bar was very chilled although I wasn’t too impressed with our Cuba Libres, they used cordial instead of fresh limes which I thought was complete sacrilege. We said our goodbyes to Innes and Walter, promised to stay in contact (got to love these false holiday promises) and headed back to our Casa. We sat on the terrace watching the shooting stars and planned the next part of our trip to Remedios.

 

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A Cuban Adventure Part 2 – Viñales

A Cuban Adventure Part 2 – Viñales

We planned on getting a bus from Havana to Viñales but realised too late that you had to pre-book (small piece of advice!). We managed to find a taxi driver that could take us all the way for $80 and for the convenience of having a car all to ourselves we were sold. The driver was an English lecturer and we had a great chat with him during the 3 hour journey through Piñar del Rio.

 

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It amazed me how the car managed to make it up the hills as we began to rise over the mountains. The roads were incredibly twisty which wasn’t doing Andrew or his car sickness any favours. The views were breathtaking, deep lush valleys and horse and carts carrying the produce. We arrived in to the town which is basically one street and fell in love with the place. We had booked to stay at Casa Nolo which was a bright pink house on the edge of the town and cost $25 per room per night. We sat outside waiting for our hostess Vana, watching the hens run about loose and local girls doing each other’s hair on the porches.

 

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Vana arrived and was the loveliest ball of energy. We were staying on the top floor which was so spacious and we had a massive terrace all to ourselves. The bathroom shower was a bit unique in it’s plumbing and electrics but we didn’t get any shocks so can’t complain too much. We had dinner on the roof which was a complete feast – soup followed by lobster with salad and homemade crisps and only $10.

 

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The next day we had booked a horse trek through the valley and tobacco fields. We met our guide Lazaro in the morning and he looked at our attire and shook his head. We stupidly hadn’t brought long trousers and he told us in broken Spanish that we would suffer for it later. We also met another couple who would be joining us – Walter and Innes both from Belgium. Innes was fluent in Spanish and proved an absolute lifesaver in translating Lazaro’s mumbles and the guide at the tobacco farm.

 

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Andrew had never ridden a horse before and I highly doubt I will ever see him on one again. When we met our horses there was this beautiful big black horse called Negreto and another smaller brown one called Dancer. Common sense made me assume I would be getting the smaller one but it turned out Lazaro had a great sense of humour and saw an opportunity. Andrew was assigned to Dancer and he quickly realised the reason for his name. Dancer didn’t trot like a normal horse but danced about the trek throwing Andrew every which way causing him to howl with pain when we burst in to a canter. We all laughed an awful lot, Lazaro included. Andrew was less impressed!

 

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Being able to see the valley while riding a horse was incredible. Looking up to see dramatic cliff faces and lush green crops against the red earth was something I will never forget. The tour of the tobacco farm was great and the guides were so knowledgeable about the land. We felt extremely cool lighting up the cigars they had just rolled for us and because they had dipped them in honey, they actually tasted really good.

 

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After the tobacco farms we were brought to a natural pool hidden in a cave. I think they oversold this place a tad because when we got there it was actually a dark pond with murky brown water. They had the cheek to ask us for an extra $2 to get entry but luckily Innes was able to tell them where to go in Spanish. The walk through the cave was a health and safety nightmare with a few random torches. We braved the water although I wasn’t sure what the hell was swimming beneath me! I would recommend asking to see photos of these ‘natural pools’ before you visit them!

 

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We a fantastic steak at El Olivo this night followed by several Ron Collins. We sat on the terrace sharing a cigar and thought we were the bees knees. Cue an embarrassing conversation with our hostess when we got back with Andrew repeating ‘Me llamo Andrew’ – cringe!

 

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The following day was one of Andrew’s favourite trips of the holiday. We had booked an old Chevy to take us to Cayo Jutias, a beach on the coast about an hour and half away, with our new friends Innes and Walter. The car didn’t travel above 30mph the whole journey although it was hard to tell because the speedometer didn’t work. It didn’t matter because the drive was so beautiful.

 

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What we didn’t expect was how stunning Cayo Jutias would be. The sand was white, the sea was the most amazing blue and there was a beach hut nearby ready to supply us with food and some cocktails – absolute heaven!! We were told that this was a great place to snorkel however this isn’t all that true. The water is crystal clear but the sea grass didn’t offer a wide variety of marine life and we gave up after about 20 minutes. There were some terrific walks along the beach though and we didn’t have to go far to have the beach all to ourselves. It was such a wonderful day.

 

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On the way back we ran in to a thunderstorm which proved how old the Chevy was. Andrew’s passnger window only went up half way and the driver had to cover the rest with a plastic bag. This didn’t work too well and it wasn’t long before Andrew was ankle deep in rainwater. The sound of the thunder and the intensity of the rain was such a sight though we loved every second.

 

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Despite us lathering ourselves in suncream we still got burned. Andrew’s feet were practically purple and only added to the injuries he had accumulated on the horse trek the day before. Note: bring plenty suncream with high SPF and effective aftersun!

 

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Our last night was spent with on the terrace watching the sun set and eating more of Vana’s great food. The conversation was starting to dry up with the Belgians and we were finding ourselves in the holiday predicament of being stuck with another couple. Unfortunately we we were spending the next day with them in a car travelling to Trinidad so we had to be as polite as we could!

 

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A Cuban Adventure Part 1: Havana

A Cuban Adventure Part 1: Havana

We flew in to Havana at night with lightning illuminating the clouds around us, letting us know we had officially entered the tropics. Usually I’m not a fan of arriving in a new place at night because it’s a time you might see it’s dirtier dodgier side but driving through Havana at night was a great introduction to the city. There was such an energy about it and these beautiful buildings were lit up on the corners of palm tree-lined cobbled streets – amazing!

 

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We were staying at Casa Pedro-Maria in Habana Vieja (Old Havana) which was absolutely stunning. It was one of the most expensive places we stayed but we had decided we wanted to land somewhere comfortable that wouldn’t overwhelm us – it was $80 per room per night. There was a spiral staircase in the courtyard where we had our breakfasts that brought you to the rooftop of the Casa. Here you could sip on your breakfast smoothie with a view of the Revolution Museum and the surrounding terracotta roofs- not a bad start to the day!

 

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On our first day we took a bus tour through the city although we didn’t get much use out of the guide – the speakers weren’t working so we couldn’t hear a thing from upstairs. It was only $2 for the tour though and it was a great way to find our bearings and get our first taste of the Caribbean sun. Think we drank about 2L of water on the bus tour alone because it was so hot!

 

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We went straight to the San José markets after to purchase the obligatory Cuban military cap for Andrew to protect his head. This is a good place to pick up some souvenirs for home but I found it to be the most commercial part of Cuba. I preferred picking up little things across the whole trip like cigars from the tobacco fields (although I didn’t buy enough!).

 

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We were coaxed in to the La Familia restaurant on our first night which was a very lovely paladar on a terrace. It was a bit on the pricey side for Cuba – I think the whole meal cost about $20 but the live music was fantastic and the portions were massive. With full bellies we strolled to O’Reilly 304 – how typical of the Irish to be drawn to a bar with an Irish name. This bar was very very cool, it felt like we were in a major metropolitan city and they served the most delicious cocktails. It was a great place to meet people too and get tips on where to find great places to carry on the night.
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The following day it was raining which was a nice relief from the scorching sun and allowed for us to escape inside to the Revolution Museum. The building used to be the Presidential Palace and you can view the original office and the escape route Batista took when he fled the rebels in 1957. The scars from the bullets can be seen dotted around the Museum as a physical reminder of the the building’s past.

 

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The dilapidated museum was impressive although we should’ve taken an English tour because some of the notices weren’t translated. It’s definitely a worthwhile visit and to have the opportunity to be in the rooms where Cuba was reformed by Castro and Guevara was pretty special.

 

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After the museum we took a walking tour of Habana Vieja courtesy of the Lonely Planet guide we borrowed from the Casa and explored the many many plazas. The buildings are so beautiful and look completely battered by the salty sea air and years of neglect. Everyone seems to live on the streets, sitting on their doorsteps and balconies shouting out to one another and buying food from the mobile vendors. The buzz is incredible and welcoming although sometimes too welcoming. Another little tip: you will be harangued by jineteros trying to sell tickets to a “big festival” – it’s a massive con and you will hear it every day you’re in Havana.

 

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On our way back to the Casa we stumbled upon the Havana Club museum. Andrew’s staple booze at home is Havana Club rum with coke and lime so he was beyond excited about visiting this place. While we waited for the tour to start, we sat in the bar and had a few Cuba Libres and mojitos. There was a full salsa band playing and I felt I was very much in Cuba. I got pulled up by the band and learned how to salsa in dungarees, extremely embarrassing but very entertaining for Andrew. It was a fantastic tour although after all the cocktails my memory gets a bit hazy!

 

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That night we ate pizza in a little place close to our Casa (unfortunately I forget the name!). The tables were out on the cobbles and we ate the most delicious bruschetta. After the food and avoiding a few overly friendly cats at the table, we headed for La Floridita – the supposed birthplace of the Daiquiri. Hemingway is boasted as being a frequent customer to the bar and it seems insistent on clinging on to that era. The air is thick with cigar smoke when you enter and the band are crammed in to a tiny corner by the door. The whole bar looks like a set from a movie and it could be viewed as slightly cheesy but we loved it.

 

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After our last night in Havana we were destined for Viñales. We arrived back for one more night before our flight home and stayed with Casa Isel e Ilena. Isel was such a lovely woman and the private room had it’s own bathroom and balcony. It was a great chance to experience the loud streets of Habana Vieja one last time and we had the biggest breakfast with her at 4am before our flight home. We would definitely recommend staying with her however our limited Spanish meant we couldn’t understand most of what she said BUT she told the greatest stories with actions that made us laugh so much. She was the best host to give us a farewell from Cuba and it made it that bit harder to leave.

 

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See my other posts for stories from Viñales, Trinidad, Remedios and Varadero!

 

 

 

 

 

Tips for Traveling in Cuba

Tips for Traveling in Cuba

In September last year Andrew and I went on the trip of a lifetime to Cuba. It’s a trip we always reminisce about and we will always compare all our other adventures to this one. It was a place I had wanted to visit for a very long time and since the embargo was lifted with the US that year, we both knew it was important to see the country before the westernisation began.

 

We packed a lot in the fortnight we were away and at the time we thought that maybe we were doing too much but we have absolutely no regrets. We moved around a lot but it was the only way to really get the feel of the island and to know we saw as much as we could.

 

I’ll break the trip in to five different posts according to the different places we stayed to make it easier to find any tips for the adventure you might be planning. The trip taught us a few wee things along the way so hopefully we might of some help!!

 

A few tips to get you started are:

 

  • Cuba had no AirBnB at the time of our trip but I think they now have it up and running. I would recommend maybe booking the first few days of your trip but leave some flexibility as you might really enjoy certain areas and because you will have little to no access to internet you can’t cancel bookings online. There are lots of casas in every town so you will always find somewhere, we usually booked our next casa through the one were staying at the time. It seems the whole island has a relative in the next town and it’s a great way to meet families and get a better deal.

 

  • About the internet thing – be prepared for zero access. The only time we got to use the internet was in Varadero when we were at an all-inclusive resort. Even at that, there was no wifi but a computer room that reminded me of primary school and it took a good 10 minutes to get connected. The only reason I wanted to use it was because it was my birthday and I wanted to see messages from home but we really enjoyed using maps and our instincts to get us around – way more exciting!!

 

  • Don’t change your money at the airport. We experienced our first scam here when we landed and had a few quid taken off us. Not a huge problem because we weren’t changing a lot of money but I would recommend maybe getting enough changed for the transport in to Havana and then getting the rest changed in the city.

 

  • Learn as much Spanish as possible – we were told this before we left and I swiftly downloaded the Duolingo app about a month before the trip. I wasn’t as strict with myself as I should’ve been which was unfortunate because I think we would have gotten so much more out of meeting local people if we had have known more Spanish. We stayed with quite a few locals who were among the friendliest and most open people we have ever met but a fair few of them had limited English which meant our conversations were limited too.

 

  • Bring as many cigars home with you as you can. We only brought home 5 each and I regret not bringing home more because we saw them rolled and were walking the fields where the tobacco was grown. Rookie error!!

 

  • There are very little shops that sell snack foods, especially when you leave Havana. For those long car journeys make sure to bring some things to munch along the way! We brought some things along with us from Ireland but they barely got us through the first week. We did find somewhere that sold Pringles but the cost is incredibly inflated. Make sure and take whatever fruit you couldn’t finish at breakfast as well!

 

  • Be prepared to travel in dodgy cars if you want to travel on a budget. We travelled in a lot of beautiful Chevrolets for very little cash but for the longer journeys make sure to use cars that look like they won’t burst in to flames when going more than 40 mph. When we travelled from Viñales to Trinidad we travelled in a Peugeot 407 which seemed a lot safer until the driver insisting on sticking the footpedal to the floor for the whole journey. Poor Andrew was terrified for the majority of the journey.

 

  • Make sure to pack a mini first aid kit with bandages, cream for blisters, chaffing and burns and bug spray. Another idea would be to pack long trousers for any horse treks because we were idiots and only had shorts and our legs and feet were ruined after them!

 

  • There isn’t a wide variety of cuisines here due to the limitations on trade and private enterprise. The food, especially when cooked at the Casa you stay in, can be very tasty, especially the seafood! We dined like kings on lobster but after a while it can be a bit repetitive.

 

  • Take as many photos as possible. We took nearly 2000 photos and I still regret not taking more of the streets of Havana. Maybe next time.

 

Make sure to read my other posts on the places we travelled to while in Cuba – there’s way too much to talk about in one go and the country is just too amazing for one post.

 

I hope these posts can be of some help but please feel free to comment if you want more information!

 

Local Favourites: Carlingford

Local Favourites: Carlingford

Carlingford is like taking a step back in time and seeing the Ireland that would have been half a millennia ago. Except if you visit on a Saturday in the summer and then it’s more like taking a step on to a Geordie Shore night out. This is because the town has seen a surge in hosting hens and stags and because it’s so small, there’s not a lot of room to avoid them. Please don’t let this put you off though because the town is truly beautiful and if you go mid week or on weekends off-peak then you will experience the serenity it can offer.

 

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Carlingford is situated in Co. Louth on the east coast of Ireland and is only an hours drive from Belfast making it the perfect spontaneous destination for us city slickers. Andrew and I drove down on a random Sunday in February that saw the sun come out and gave everyone the hope that the winter was finally coming to a close. The breeze was cool and we were able to stroll in the sunshine through the ancient streets hunting for a good scone and a strong cup of tea.

 

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We managed to find the sweetest tea rooms called Ruby Ellen’s that had very tasty scones with fresh cream and homemade jam. It felt like walking in to my granny’s house with floral wallpaper, a dresser full of cakes and buns and mismatched teacups. Definitely a place to take the women in your life although Andrew didn’t seem to mind throwing the scones in to him at a rapid rate. They also had such friendly staff with an old doll manning the till. I think it took her a good half hour to calculate our bill but she was so lovely and the place felt even more authentic for it.

 

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The town itself was first settled in the 12th century and there’s evidence everywhere of a town that was once a thriving trading port. Some places you should definitely try and see are:

  • The Mint –  this limestone stone house dates back to the 15th century and has amazing Celtic design around the windows
  • Taafe’s Castle – thought to be owned by the Taafe family, a rich merchantile family who later became the Earls of Carlingford
  • The Tholsel – this is the town gate where the taxes used to be levied against goods entering the town. It’s amazingly terrifying to walk under – it’s bound to crumble on of these days!
  • Dominican Priory – believed to have been founded by Richard de Burgo around 1305 but after the dissolution of the monasteries the priory fell in to disrepair (blame Henry VIII the wee skitter)
  • Church of the Holy Trinity – this medieval church has been restored and has a heritage centre detailing the history of Carlingford dating back to the Vikings. It has an amazing stained glass window at the back which I loved 🙂

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There are also lots of antique shops dotted around the town that you can pop in to as well as artisan shops selling local products. It’s a perfect spot for a dander because of it’s size but there’s also a great walk between Carlingford and the neighbouring village of Omeath. The trail is about 7km and follows disused railway tracks that used to connect the marina to the village. It has some great views across the lough to the town of Warrenpoint and the Mourne Mountains towering behind it.

 

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Visit Carlingford if you fancy an impromptu adventure in to a forgotten past or pop down for a session on a weekend where you won’t be short of a few pints of the black stuff.

 

G’luck

 

xx

Raspberry Oatmeal Cookies & Other Healthy Snacks for Work

Raspberry Oatmeal Cookies & Other Healthy Snacks for Work

I work in an open office with mostly men where there is a lot of banter and even more snacks. When I first started working there I loved the daily trips to Lidl for chocolate croissants and the endless supply of chocolate digestives. After about a year though I started noticing my work dresses were getting a little… snug. I was grazing all day and not on anything particularly nutritious. Except for Jaffa cakes because those are definitely one of your five a day.

 

After a while though I was beginning to feel guilty eating my morning croissant while I was exploding out of my trousers and so I decided I needed to do something. It wasn’t an easy decision to remove myself from the snack club because Gary in particular was a feeder of the highest order but I gradually learned how to say “NO FOR THE LOVE OF JEEPERS CAN YOU PLEASE GET THE FAIRY CAKES AWAY FROM ME!!!”

 

I’ve a a bit of a routine now when it comes to my work snacks and I’ve definitely noticed a change in myself and also how I choose to snack outside of work as well. I am determined to put on a bikini this summer and feel great knowing I put some effort in to get healthy.

 

I’ve included a few examples below of some of the healthy treats I pack in the morning along with a sneaky recipe.

 

  • Almonds – not the salted covered ones ye rascal
  • Sliced cucumber/carrot/celery dipped in hummus or guacamole
  • Dried cranberries – actually mildly addictive
  • Mixed seeds and nuts – when you’re cooking some butternut squash save the seeds and roast those bad boys for the day after
  • Avocado smothered on wholemeal toast – avocados are the bees knees but frig they are expensive
  • Mini fruit salad – ye know berries, chopped banana, grapes – raid that fruit bowl!
  • Protein Balls – it’s easy to eat a bajillion of these – don’t
  • Gluten free popcorn – there’s salty & sweet kind in Tesco’s – get on it!
  • Walkers Sweet Chilli Multigrain crisps – very specific and very amazing

 

AND…

 

Raspberry Oatmeal Cookies

 

I made two batches of these in a week because everyone in work scoffed them. I have since been scolded by Andrew to not share the delicious treats and to keep them at home – what a guy! What’s great though is there is no refined sugar in them – seems to be the buzz words to use these days – and the oats mean that you’re getting sufficient energy for a wee afternoon kick.

 

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I found the recipe here at Amy’s Healthy Baking and have included it below too. I’ve seen a few other recipes on the site that I’m definitely going to try out  because no doubt I will tire of eating these every day. Or maybe not.

 

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (100g) instant oats (gluten free if necessary)
  • ¾ cup (90g) whole wheat or gluten-free* flour (visit Amy’s website to see how to measure correctly)
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ⅛ tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp (28g) coconut oil or unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ cup (120mL) honey
  • 6 tbsp (53g) fresh raspberries, diced
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Method 
  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the oats, flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the coconut oil, egg, and vanilla. Stir in the honey until thoroughly incorporated. Add in the flour mixture, stirring just until incorporated. Fold in the raspberries. Chill the dough for at least 30 minutes. (If chilling longer, cover with plastic wrap, ensuring it touches the entire surface of the cookie dough.)
  2. Preheat the oven to 325°F, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat.
  3. Drop the cookie dough into 15 rounded scoops on the baking sheet. (If chilled longer than 1.5 hours, flatten slightly.) Bake at 325°F for 13-15 minutes. Cool on the baking sheet for at least 15 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack.

 

Good luck!

xx

 

How to Afford the Wedding Season

How to Afford the Wedding Season

I’m beginning to realise that I’m approaching the age where everyone in the world seems to be getting married. As the summer rolls in so do the invitations and as delighted as we all are to see our friends happy and taking the big step, some of us feel a sheer dread calculating in our heads just how we’ll manage to afford them all.

 

I absolutely love weddings, especially Irish ones because it’s the best way to catch up with old friends and ruin your feet dancing. It’s definitely not an Irish wedding without girls in their bare feet and men with ties wrapped round their heads playing the air guitar! However, as much as I love them I’ve fast realised that one single wedding can cost almost half my monthly wage and so I’ve had to think of some cunning ways of to avoid bankruptcy.

 

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Here are a few ideas in case you’re a similar case and need a little help…

 

  1. Book in advance

People these days tend to post a ‘save the date’ notice through the door. I actually didn’t know these were a thing until recently enough but it’s actually a brilliant idea because it means you can get on the ball and book everything a good few months before the date. If you have to catch a flight to get to the wedding, it’s always good to get ahead and get accommodation that’s close to the venue. This will save you money on taxis back and forth and will give you the best choice. No one wants to stay in a run down over priced B&B that’s miles away from the venue.

 

  1. Forego the date

If you’re in a relationship you will usually get a plus one invite to a wedding that’s your own family or friend but sometimes it’s not always the best idea to bring your partner along. As much as I love forcing Andrew to dance with me all night, I usually am out of pocket because I insist on paying for the accommodation and the present since they’re my relative/friend. In these circumstances the best idea is to go with either your own family or your friends. This way, you can split the room and present (there were 3 of us girls in the one room at a wedding I was at last weekend) and you don’t have to feel guilty about keeping your partner occupied all night. Of course if Andrew knows the people that are getting married I will bring him but sometimes it’s less pressure to just bring yourself.

 

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  1. Do your own hair/make up/womany stuff

Irish women are renowned for going all out for weddings. Everything is paid for; hair, make up, nails, tan, eyebrows, elbows. Crazy stuff. I know girls who would do this for every wedding they go to and I think it’s ludicrous! Luckily I’ve never been too much in to the glamorous look, beachy waves and highlighter are usually as far as I’ll go but I still want to look like I belong there so therein lies my problem. I have paid to get my make up done before but I can’t afford to do it every time so I’ve started to buy better make up products gradually so I can just do my own. I also do my own hair although it’s usually just curls with a low side and pinned back – nothing too impressive.   The thing is, no one is there to look at you and although you want to look great, no one will notice if your cheekbones aren’t contoured like pyramids. I bloody hope not anyway.

 

  1. Borrow your mate’s dress

This is a great way to feel like you bought something new but didn’t suffer the Ted Baker price tag. I know some people are a bit funny about asking to borrow but I think it’s great. Most of my friends are similar sizes and I will lend anything to them and they will mostly lend anything to me (I’m known to be clumsy the odd time). You’re also saving yourself from having another dress that you will only wear about 5 times in your life.

 

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  1. Plan ahead

Similar to the first tip, I advise to plan ahead and start putting money aside for the summer wedding season. As the ‘save the dates’ come flying through your letterbox, start budgeting the money you will need to make it there and start the saving. These little pots of money will save you a lot of stress when the weddings draw closer and instead of allocating so much of your wage to the wedding that’s in a few weeks, you will already have most of it put away and for that you will give yourself a massive high five.

 

  1. Turn a long distance wedding in to a mini holiday

Most weddings take place around the summer time and can get in the way of a much needed holiday break. This can be frustrating as it can feel like you’re funneling your cash in to a weekend that you hadn’t really planned to go away for. What can help is to turn this weekend away in to something positive. Maybe stay an extra few days after to explore the area the wedding is in and treat this as a mini holiday. You will more than likely meet locals at the wedding so it’s a great way to get advice on what to do and see in the area. Could end up being an unexpected escape!

 

  1. Use AirBnB

I swear by this site. We use it to book accommodation for almost everywhere we go and it always save us money. Again this might mean planning ahead but once you know your dates you should try and contact friends who will more than likely invited too (oh the awkwardness of asking someone who hasn’t been invited!!) and organise to share accommodation. Splitting costs like this means you will definitely save a bit of cash and it’s also always more fun to share a place with friends and spend some time with them too.

 

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  1. Don’t stay a second night

There’s a real trend in Ireland now where the bride and groom will provide entertainment the second day and everyone stays on for another session. This is usually a great day because you see more of the newly married couple and it’s a much more relaxed atmosphere. It does mean however lots more cash to fork out for another night’s accommodation and another Corona splurge so as difficult as it is, it’s sometimes best to give it a miss. You might get a tincy but of FOMO but you’ll thank yourself in the long run.

 

  1. Miss the hen/stag so you can afford to make the wedding

 

This is a tricky one because if you’re invited to the hen or stag you’re obviously well thought of by the wedding party which makes it really difficult to say no to. However sometimes going to both means two weekends away involving flights as well as the rest and for some people this just isn’t feasible. You might have to make the choice to not go and hopefully if you live abroad the bride or groom will completely understand. Just give them plenty of notice!

 

  1. Don’t go

Another harsh one! But perhaps the only choice in some cases. There’s always that guilt that you might offend someone but really there will usually be so many people going that the bride and groom will probably not mind. The best way to do it is to be polite and send them a thank you letter along with a gift. This will show you do care about them. Don’t follow this tip if this is your brother or your best mate though because let’s face it there’s just no getting out of those ones!!!

 

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Hope those little snippets helped any victims of the upcoming wedding season!

 

Dance your wee hooves off.

 

xx

 

How to Read More

How to Read More

I am obsessed with buying books especially when I’m in a new city or country. I have collected books from lots of different places and had to ship a boxful home when I came back from Australia – not the cheapest way to hoard I’ll tell you.

 

Despite this, I’ve not read the half of them! There are books lining my shelves and drawers waiting to be devoured but I find it so difficult to dedicate time to finishing them. So I’ve given myself a goal: read a book every month for the next year. Now this would only get me through about half a shelf but at least I can have something to talk about when the next person looks at my collection and asks me what I’ve thought about ‘Sons and Daughters’ or ‘Catch 22’.

 

To help me with this goal I’ve started to think of all the different ways I can read every day and I’ve thought of 6 which are:

 

  1. Carry a book in your bag/car

This seems fairly obvious but there are so many times in the day when you could just whack out a book and read for a few minutes e.g. waiting in the doctors clinic, waiting on a mate in the pub, waiting on your partner while they go in and get the groceries (which would definitely go down well). Just lots of times when you’re waiting about generally.

  1. Read on your lunch break

Now this is something I’ve had great success with over the last few weeks. We only get a half hour for lunch – I know, absolutely shocking and it doesn’t fail to horrify me every day – so I really enjoy completely switching off in the little time I get. I usually eat with a few of my colleagues in the most depressing kitchen known to man. Freezing and generally filled with crap conversation. I’ve now become the office recluse and hole myself up in the cosy board room where there is lots of light and no men talking about the price of diesel in my ear. It’s my little slice of daily heaven.

 

  1. Encourage your partner to buy a new video game

This one was an accidental bonus when Andrew bought the new Uncharted game a few weeks ago. I used to feel guilty going up to the bedroom or just sitting in silence beside him on the couch but now I have all the time in the world to read! To be honest he’s currently got the headphones on next to me in a world of his own and I can just open a book and be in a world of my own. It’s the best kind of relationship. Would highly recommend.

 

  1. Read on your commute

I drive to work so this one doesn’t apply to me but lots of city folk use public transport every day and probably spent 99% of the time on Facebook or Instagram. Bring a book and instead of gagging at the person opposite you who has so obviously refused to pop the mountain that has taken claim to their face and bury your face in Jane Austen!

 

  1. Start a book club with your mate

I’m known to be pretty competitive. It’s a bit of a running joke with some of my friends, mainly those who have experienced my wrath when playing Articulate. So I thought it would be a really cool idea to combine my competitiveness with reading #nerdalert. My friend Caoimhe is always reading although her taste tends to lean towards stories about oppressed women in the Middle East. Maybe we can meet in the middle and read something by Roddy Doyle. Anyway I look forward to beating her ass (wait, what?) when we choose a book to compete read together.

 

  1. Go to bed a half hour early

This tip is something similar to commuting because I know we all love a good Pinterest/Instagram session before beddy bies. How about though, we don’t spend 20 or 30 minutes scrolling through the same old crap and actually switch off properly. I’m sure there are about a bajillion studies on how it it’s more beneficial for our brain and our sleep to read a good book before bed instead of pinning another 10 healthy smoothie recipes you will more than likely never read again. Put the phone away.

 

 

So that’s the whole lot. I hope it might light a fire under someone’s ass out there to start reading again. I’m half way through ‘I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings’ by Maya Angelou and I am fast understanding why she is the most quoted woman to have ever lived. The woman was wise. I might even post a wee review about it… Would you look at that I’m a book critic now as well!

 

G’luck

 

xx

Buttermilk Scones with Nanny Moffett

Buttermilk Scones with Nanny Moffett

You would be hard pushed to find a granny in Ireland that can’t make the most delicious stews or a knit a onesie in one sitting. I don’t know if you these skills or bestowed upon you once you reach the age of 60 or that they’re skills that just aren’t that cool anymore but I do know that all grannies have a signature dish which they are famous in the family for. For my granny it’s definitely her chicken soup, known to have cured many colds, flues or just for times when us grandchildren ‘weren’t at ourselves’. For Andrew’s granny it would probably be her buttermilk scones. I tasted them the first time I visited her bungalow in Monaghan and it took all my power not to inhale the whole plate of them in front of me and drink it down with her homemade raspberry jam.

 

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A while ago Andrew and I drove down to Monaghan to see Ruth and I had plotted a way to ask her for her recipe. I am a massive lover of scones especially the smell they create in a kitchen. But mostly the taste of them. You instantly feel like a successful human being when you have a tray of lovely scones cooling on a wire rack. I was a bit hesitant to ask for the recipe because asking someone for a recipe they are renowned for can go one of two ways:

  1. They could be flattered that you would think so highly of them and be delighted to pass the recipe on; or
  2. They could be quietly horrified that you even asked for it and shift uncomfortably in their chair thinking of ways to get rid of you

 

Luckily for me Ruth was the former and was more than willing to share her secret however I had forgotten that Irish grannies also don’t use normal measurements. I got out my pen and paper that I just so happened to have on me and began to note down the ingredients and method which went along the lines of: Make sure to use Neill’s soda bread flour and rub in a knob of butter and a fingerful of sugar then whisk an egg in a mug, not a cup but a mug, and then fill it to the top with buttermilk…

 

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I tried to act unperturbed by these non-specific instructions but I knew I would balls the whole thing up on my own. I thought to myself the only way I would learn would be to watch her and out of some miracle she then asked me if I wanted to make some with her. She must have seen the terror in my eyes; grannies can also smell fear.

 

I was amazed at how she was able to bake so easily despite her being constrained by arthritis in her hands. She has adapted a canny way of moving utensils so she doesn’t have to strain herself too hard and it’s an incredibly admirable thing to witness because baking along with other domestic skills is something that is so obviously engrained in her. If she lost that ability then I suppose it would be a massive loss to her.

 

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Fortunately for me the whole recipe was much easier to follow and she taught me some great techniques to ensure the best scones e.g. make sure to get lots of air in when rubbing the butter in to the flour! It was a special moment because it made me feel part of the family and it was so generous of her to share it with me.

 

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I feel like I’ve almost mastered the recipe although I know they’ll never be quite as good as Nanny Moffett’s. Andrew is fairly happy to play guinea pig in the meantime anyway and the house smells AMAZING.

 


Nanny Moffett’s Buttermilk Scones

Ingredients:

  • 1lb Neil’s Self Raising Soda Bread Flour (nothing else apparently)
  • 1 – 1.5 oz granulated sugar (or 2 fingerfuls)
  • 4-5 oz soft margarine
  • 2 eggs beaten in a mug (specifically a mug)
  • Buttermilk – add to mug of beaten eggs and fill to the top

Method:

  • Preheat oven at 230 celsius
  • Weigh out the flour and the sugar together
  • Rub in the butter bringing the flour up from the bottom and getting plenty of air through the mixture.
  • Once all rubbed in (your wrists might be aching at this stage – I have to take breaks!) make a well in the mixture and slowly pour in the buttermilk an egg
  • Beat together with a fork – not a spoon – until all the flour is absorbed
  • Put the mixture on to a floured surface and sprinkle some flour on top
  • Pat the dough in to an oblong shape and using a cutter take pieces out around the outside first
  • Put the scones on to a greased tray and brush with some beaten egg
  • Place in over for 10 minutes
  • Let them cool for a few minutes when they’re done
  • Try not to eat them all and get found covered in jam and crumbs.
BBQ Recipes to Welcome the Summer

BBQ Recipes to Welcome the Summer

Irish people don’t tend to take a run of good weather in their stride. There’s not a hint of nonchalance when there’s a chance you might be able to do something after work other than spending five hours deciding what shite to watch on TV. So when there were a few consecutive days of temperatures reaching over 15 degrees, an impromptu BBQ just had to happen.

 

We’re only in our new house over a month so this was our first time hosting a BBQ together. We aren’t exactly equipped to host outdoor gatherings as yet so improvisation was key to pulling the whole show together. Andrew had gotten a coffee table for free from someone he used to work with (he has quite a knack for accumulating free stuff… a talent which sometimes comes in handy, sometimes not so much) so we dragged it out to the middle of the grass in the back garden. I had a genius idea of creating a ‘boho’ theme by throwing lots of pillows around the table and decorating with flowers and candles but really it was because we had nothing else to use!

 

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We only had two people coming over – our friends Caoimhe and Lenny – which took some of the pressure off. However, this still didn’t seem to prevent the stress when I realised they were due in a half hour and I had been too busy curating my Aladdin theme instead of actually preparing the food.

 

Andrew claimed his title of ‘BBQ Guard’ which involved standing over the kettle BBQ, a last minute purchase from Homebase, and doing pretty much nothing for a while other than poking coals with a stick. What is it with men and fires? He was all stressed that the coals weren’t hot enough, running off to the shop to get more coals. Meanwhile I was sweating bullets in the kitchen knowing I had to prepare ALL THE FOOD.

 

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The whole thing reminded me of the annual family BBQ we had as kids when the one week of good weather would arrive. Dad, him being a man and all, was of course ‘BBQ Guard’ but seemed to be more concerned about his supply of cold Buds than the dinner itself. For fear of food poisoning I suppose the sausages usually resembled carcinogenic pencils which we rolled up in a slice of bread with some ketchup. We rarely had hot dogs in buns because someone either forgot them or there was none left in the shop with every other family in town having the exact same idea. A favourite way of cleansing the charcoal grit from our palate was having at least five ice cream wafers after, almost always raspberry ripple flavour. Heaven.

 

Anyway when our guests arrived, Lenny joined Andrew immediately as sous-‘BBQ Guard’. This position has to be handled delicately because the sous ‘BBQ Guard’ should never be overzealous with their advice to prevent the head ‘BBQ Guard’ from becoming flustered and undermined. Lenny was a fantastic sous ‘BBQ Guard’, and provided lots of helpful comments such as ‘Those burgers look grand’ and ‘You’re right, it does take the charcoal a long while to heat up’.

 

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When everything was finally ready and Andrew was certain he wasn’t going to inflict anyone with salmonella poisoning, we sat cross legged and it felt just like Morocco. I was actually a bit impressed with the spread! There were homemade burgers, chicken skewers, corn on the cob (always), sweet potato fries, cous cous and an amazing salad which Caoimhe made (and was much too sophisticated for our basic BBQ).

 

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It was a great success and after our desserts (meringue with cream, ice cream and berries – no ice cream wafers here) we moved the table away and sat around the coals keeping warm until the stars came out. For a brief moment I felt I was abroad on holiday with sangria in my belly and warmth in my face.

 

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The run of good weather looks like it’s come to an end. I’ll be keeping an ear out for predictable comments such as ‘That’s it, that’s the summer over’, ‘Sure it was good while it lasted’ and ‘Ach but it’s nice to have it cooled down a bit, ‘twas getting a bit too warm there’.

 

I’ll keep our wee Homebase bargain close by in case we’re lucky enough to have another heatwave this year. In the meantime it’s back to the Netflix drawing board.


BBQ Recipes

I am by no means a chef so I don’t use accurate measurements when I cook food. I’ve listed the dishes we made and the ingredients used in them in case you fancy some inspiration but measurements are very rough!

  • Homemade burgers – I mixed 500g minced beef, a half cup of breadcrumbs, one egg, half a chilli, a quarter of an onion and a tablespoon of mixed fresh herbs all together and shaped in to patties. Cooked on BBQ for about 10-15 minutes each side
  • Sweet potato fries – sliced an unpeeled sweet potato thinly, drizzled in olive oil and mixed with about a tablespoon over paprika. Baked in the oven at 200 degrees for about 30 minutes
  • Chicken skewers – added chicken, halloumi, tomato, courgette and pepper to skwers and cooked on BBQ for 20 minutes
  • Cous cous – bought from a supermarket – I am not ashamed to say!
  • Guacamole – mashed two avocadoes, squeezed the juice of one lime, one clove of crushed garlic, a quarter of a chilli and salt and pepper
  • Caoimhe’s salad – mixed lettuce leaves, avocado, almonds, feta cheese, roasted peppers and lemon juice
  • Corn on the cob – boiled for 15 minutes before adding to hot bars for 30 minutes. Smothered in butter mashed with lime juice and chilli.