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Month: January 2018

The First Recipe I Ever Learned

The First Recipe I Ever Learned

It was on a street in Edinburgh in 2007 that I realised I was finally an adult, a proper grown up. My Mum had just managed to release me from a tearful embrace that in hindsight represented a monumental shift in our relationship. She had dropped me off at my university halls that morning and helped me carry boxes that contained everything I had cherished from home, unpacking and making my bed while I excitedly introduced myself to all my new roommates. Suddenly I wasn’t her baby anymore and I could see my whole childhood flash before her as she began to mourn the chapter of her life as my Mum. I can still remember how tightly she held me and now that I’m older, I realise how difficult it must have been for her to let go and trust that she did a good enough job raising me. I stood on the kerb and waved goodbye for as long as I had to until I skipped off, oblivious to how massive that moment was for both of us.

We were lucky growing up with the mother we have. She was always there to cook us dinner each evening, to help us with our homework and to tuck us in at night. Our meals were never anything hugely fancy, just the typical Irish dinners with about four different recipes in rotation (I haven’t been able to eat a fish finger in about 15 years).

Before leaving for university I had written down a recipe in my notebook in the hope that I wouldn’t completely starve. It was for minced meat, gravy, potatoes and carrots, a dinner most Irish kids would have been reared on and it was just about the only think I cooked in my first semester in between the mass of take away food and snacks (I had a tin underneath my bed filled with treats and after a night out I would wake up with one hand still in the tin!).

Sadly, there’s only so much mince a girl can eat and thankfully that Christmas my sister Amy bought me my very first cookbook. The book was ‘Home Cooking’ by Rachel Allen and it instantly became my bible because it was filled with recipes that reminded me of home. Anytime I felt a little homesick, all I had to do was open those flour-stained pages and cook something that resembled my Mum’s dinner. The recipes were not always executed well (I couldn’t tell you how many pans I ruined) but there was one that I managed to get comfortable with and remains my go-to comfort dish to do this day. It’s a recipe for a chicken casserole with cheesy herb dumplings and it is so yummy and so cosy that it’s impossible to ever have leftovers. It’s the ultimate winter crowd-pleaser because it just takes everyone back to their childhood, to those meals their Mums and Dads used to make for them while their legs were still swinging underneath the kitchen table.

This was the first recipe I was able to own and I remember cooking it for my Mum and sisters when I came back home for the holidays. It was (still is) a running joke in the family that I was a bit of a scatter brain and it was a miracle to them that I was suddenly able to cook and fend for myself. Eventually I learned other recipes too and even started using exotic ingredients that we definitely didn’t eat when growing up (asparagus, who dis?). I could see the relief my Mum had when she knew that I might actually be OK, that I wouldn’t develop scurvy on a Pot Noodle diet and that I would be nourishing myself with at least a few vegetables.

Now that I’m approaching 30 my Mum might even say that I’m a better cook than her (it’s a close one). I might be a little more adventurous or experimental but to me, no one can make mince and spuds like my own Mum.


Rachel Allen’s Chicken Casserole with Cheesy Herb Dumplings

I’ve tweaked the recipe slightly over the years but by and large it remains the same.

Ingredients

  • 4 chicken breasts
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 350 g unsliced rindless streaky bacon, cut into 12cm
  • 1/2 large onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 large carrots, cut into 2cm slices on the diagonal
  • 700 ml chicken or vegetable stock
  • a few sprigs fresh thyme

For the cheesy herb dumplings

  • 350 g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 300 ml buttermilk or soured milk
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped dried mixed herbs, such as parsley thyme, rosemary or chives
  • 25 g cheddar cheese, finely grated

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/gas 4. Cut the chicken breasts in half and season them well with salt and pepper.

2. Pour the olive oil into a large casserole dish on a high heat, add the bacon and fry quickly for 12 minutes or until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Add the chicken in batches and sear on each side until golden, and remove. Add the onion and carrots and fry for 2 or 3 minutes or until golden.

3. Return the bacon and chicken to the dish, pour on the stock, add the thyme and season with salt and pepper. Bring slowly to the boil, cover with a tight-fitting lid and bake in the oven for 20 minutes.

4. For the dumplings, sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a large bowl add the herbs, mix, then make a well in the centre. Pour in most of the buttermilk or soured milk (leaving about 50ml in the measuring jug). Using one hand with your fingers outstretched like a claw, bring the flour and liquid together, adding a little more buttermilk if necessary. Don’t knead the mixture or it will become too heavy. The dough should be soft but not too wet and sticky.

5. Tip the dough onto a floured work surface and bring together. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out to about 2cm thick. With a scone cutter or cup stamp out 10 to 12 dumplings, or divide the dough into 10 to 12 small balls.

6. Remove the casserole dish from the oven and turn the heat up to 230C/gas 8. Arrange the dumplings on top, leaving a slight gap between them to allow for spreading. Scatter with the cheese. Return to the oven, uncovered, for 10 minutes, reduce the heat to 200C/Gas 6 and cook for a further 20 minutes until the dumplings are crisp and golden and the chicken is cooked through.

 

What Not To Worry About #46

What Not To Worry About #46

Hello fellow Monday heads. I hope this week is starting out exactly how you wanted it to, with a brain full of plans and a body that wants to play ball. These January mornings have been rough on the old motivation for this gal. Last night I went to bed with the best of intentions for my Monday but instead I woke up and subconsciously talked myself in to pressing snooze half a dozen times before I leaped out of bed in a mad panic. It’s Blue Monday alright.

January is a weird time of year for the mind, isn’t it? There’s all this pressure to reflect and better ourselves but the wildness of the outside can permeate within us, wreaking havoc while we’re in the midst of pursuing calm. The best thing we can do during this month of chaos is to practice a little self-kindness. Forget the constant need for improvement and just welcome the little moments of progress you manage to accomplish despite all that’s stacked against you.

For me, the pressure has been finding the moments to take photographs that I can share along with the words I write. It’s easy to hide away while the rain lashes outside and it’s too cold to even think about trailing about about looking for a pretty landscape. The weekend past was so dull and miserable I couldn’t summon the energy, I just wanted to stay inside catching up with friends and family over copious amounts of tea. Which is exactly what I did! No guilt trips. None.

The wind is still howling outside as I type this (slowly since I had meant to have this posted hours ago) so the wild weather doesn’t look to be dissipating anytime soon. I still have good intentions for tomorrow; a quick 10 minute meditation before breakfast, actually completing my to-do list (or even just half of it), reading my book. And if the morning rolls in and I’ve realised I didn’t start the way I had intended to then I will just try again. There is always another chance to try again, right?

And here are a few more things I’m not worrying about this week…

Compliment receiving etiquette – because the balance between being gracious and arrogant is an oh-s0-fine-line for me that I just want to roll up in to an awkward ball. Setting up a Compliment Club like Joy the Baker sounds like the way forward and might also make life a little bit cheerier.

Driving in the lashing rain at night time – driving from Dungannon to Belfast in the pouring rain on Sunday was a white-knuckled ride for sure. I used to suffer from panic attacks when driving on the motorway once upon a time but I’m a fairly confident driver now except in the rain when I find my hand going to the top of my head as a comfort like it did circa 2006.

Not starting yet another diet – I am CRAP at diets so have just tried to slowly introduce more fruit as a snack rather than resorting to half a packet of hob nobs. This article made me a feel a little better though.

Not using public transport – I work about a 10 minute drive away from my office and because Northern Irish public transport isn’t too reliable, I shamefully drive the distance most days. Public transport is such a novelty to me though and reading these stories made me smile.

Annoying habits – the joys of being in a long term relationship means that you get to know all the wee quirks your partner has, weird as they may be. Andrew for example likes to put his (freezing cold) feet up against me in bed to warm them up which will result in a row on a nightly basis. My weird one is that I will never fully finish a meal – no matter what it is I will always leave a few bites left. Reading the comments of this piece had me laughing out loud at my desk because I identified with so many!!

Have a great week pals! 

 

Do You Journal?

Do You Journal?

I tend to start the year the same way without fail. Each January I am determined that this will be the year I finally organise my thoughts and that the only way I can execute this goal is by spending a small fortune on a beautiful journal that will surely encourage me to use it each day. Crisp white pages present the possibility of a ‘new me’, a more grown-up and sensible me that is just waiting for the opportunity to show herself. Except this plan doesn’t seem to last for more than a few weeks. Not long in to February I will find myself leaving it in the car or on the shelf at home gathering dust while the ‘new me’ retreated back for another year. Maybe next year, eh?

During my January purge I found about a half dozen barely used diaries in my bedside table drawer left abandoned and forgotten. Bare pages became more frequent as Spring arrived acting as a stark reminder of just how crap I am at sticking to my goals. But this year I made a decision. I decided that this year I would boycott Paperchase and invest in a journal that would encourage me to use it each day. Instead of blank pages I wanted my imagination to be coaxed with motivational prompts and to really make me think rather than make me clam up and draw a mental blank. My problem in the past has been that I wasn’t sure where to begin. Should I just jot down a few things that happened that day? Should I write about my worries or my dreams? There were too many options that I ended up not being able to commit to any.

With this in mind I set out to look for a journal that would bring a little light in to each day. I didn’t want too many blank pages that would pressurise me in to filling it with utter shite and I wanted help with committing to the goals I never seem to stick to. I ended up settling on ‘Happy – The Journal‘ curated by Fearne Cotton, a beautifully coloured journal filled with thoughts and ideas, mindful tasks to complete and daily prompts on what to focus on each day. It’s exactly the kind of journal I need and I have been carrying it in my handbag each day, itching to see what my task for the day will be. I know it’s early days and I don’t want to appear naive but I really think this might be the year I actually use a journal for an entire year! It’s turned in to a daily ritual that I am cherishing and definitely brings in the light I was searching for.

There are so many different ways to release our thoughts in to a journal; a few lines can be enough or the words can begin tumbling from our pen so that a few lines can quickly turn in to an essay of dreams. If you struggle like me to commit to your journalling then I’ve got some ideas for how you can best use that beautiful (and expensive) bit of stationery you bought yet again. Feel free to use them and let me know: how will you be using your journal this year? 

————————————————————————————————————————————————–Ideas for a Journal

Gratitude Journal

A simple idea where you can jot down a few things that made you feel grateful for that day. Your choices can be small (having a quiet moment in work with a good cup of tea) or big (that your body was able to carry you on your run) but they will no doubt help you to appreciate the life you have.

Dream Journal

Ever woke up and thought, “I am not well in the head to be dreaming that kind of craziness”? Yeh, me too. Keeping a journal by your bed and writing down your dreams is not just a good way to get a little insight in to your thoughts but is also a mindful way to begin your day. And might help you make sense of those dreams that make you question your sanity!

Kindness Journal

Noting down daily kindnesses is a fantastic way to check in with ourselves and how we choose to live. By keeping track of the kindnesses we have experienced as well as ideas for how to be kind to others we are encouraging a social conscience. Being good to others makes us feel good and by journalling these actions we are reminding ourselves of the good things in life.

Bullet Journal

Bullet journals can be as simple or as detailed as you like, there are no limits but I have seen people use them in the most beautiful ways, like this one. It’s an excellent way to track goals so if you’re in need of a journal to help you see improvements then this could be the way to go.

Travel Journal

Rather than committing yourself to a daily journal, how about just keeping a journal for different trips you take throughout the year? I’ve kept a journal for the last few holidays I’ve been on and I find I enjoy looking back on them far more than any photo album. It’s a great way to keep a record of funny stories, special moments or details that would normally be forgotten after returning home. You will never regret keeping one.

 

What Not To Worry About #45

What Not To Worry About #45

Happy Sunday friends! How has your weekend been? Things have been verrrry slow in the Donnelly/Moffett gaff as we attempt to recover the energy we were drained of over Christmas. It feels good to spend a weekend in one place, waking up in my own bed and taking my time to find my feet again. This morning I pottered downstairs and lit candles as the late morning sun poured through our living room. I put on a new vinyl I’d bought at a charity shop yesterday and played it while drinking a cup of tea and eating pancakes. I was so thrilled by the nothingness of the day that I barely moved except to get groceries and now I am right back on the couch again.

We need these kinds of days don’t we? Where we don’t have to answer to plans or feel guilty for not getting outside and making every minute count while we’re not working. I wrote in my last post how I am savouring the small moments of my here and now and this includes less guilt over staying at home, even when the sun makes a miraculous appearance after a week of rain. It felt good to see blue skies today but it was enough for me to admire the day from my cosy sun-drenched throne, watching the shadows move across the room while I stayed safe under lots of layers.

Yesterday we felt brave and ventured out in to the Baltic winds to go for a dander near Crawfordsburn, my new favourite spot near home. The wind was brutal as we approached the beach, so brutal that we swiftly turned around to find sanctuary in the woodland. While we were in the woods I had this mad impulse to take photos I had been wanting to take for a while. I’ve been wanting to get a bit braver with my photos, experimenting with styles and editing and so I chose yesterday as the day to remove my jumper, cape, boots and socks to parade up and down a log in a flowy dress. I got a few genuinely concerned looks, mostly from Andrew though as I shouted out instructions to him while he attempted to capture my mental idea.

Most of the photos were blurry because Andrew couldn’t even focus the camera with his numb fingers (wee pet) but it felt exciting to be pushing myself a little more creatively, even though some of the photos will never see the light of day! It’s the kind of energy I want to be starting the new year with. Trying something different, even if it sounds a bit mental to some people!

I hope your weekend was a slow one too, we all need to be making the most of this quiet time of the year pals! And with that in mind, here are a few things I’m letting go of before my new week begins…

Realising 2018 is the year I turn 30 – be prepared for lots of posts detailing the horror I feel about turning 30 folks. OK, so I don’t feel real horror but every time I look through old photos these days it feels like an episode of ‘This is Your Life’. There are some positives though I guess, like cherishing the good and true friendships over the ones you hang on to like a pair of pedal pushers. Here’s an article about all those weird friendships you have in your 20’s which sums it up well!!

Office Christmas decorations in January – a constant reminder that our festive break is over and that we need to book annual leave immediately in order to recover from that fact.

Not hearing Christmas songs anymore – I swear they make my commute so much more cheery. I miss them.

Drinking in January – I won’t be joining the Dry January gang I’m afraid and do you know what? Betty White, the 95 year old legendary actress has recently attributed her impressive age to her love of vodka and hotdogs. I mean, if that’s what it takes then I’m game.

The stable genius – how the fuck is this the President of the USA??!! 2018 better short this shit out. Read this for a laugh though.

Have a great week! 

What Are You Taking Control Of In 2018?

What Are You Taking Control Of In 2018?

Happy New Year friends!! How was everyone’s Christmas break?? Does it all feel a million years ago like it does for me?? I took a little more time away from this space than I expected to over the festive period but honestly, it felt like my brain ceased to function once I left my office. I completely clocked off mentally which is exactly what I needed to do although not what I intended for the blog BUT do you know what?? I’ve more energy for writing now that I have had for months. All I want to do now is write and keep writing and I’m hoping that’ll encourage you guys to keep reading too. Turns out my wee brain needed a rest while my jaw went to work on all things food!

My Mum, sister and I rented a house up on the Donegal coast over the Christmas break which was unexpectedly one of the best holidays I’ve had in a long time. We had the most spectacular view over a wee bay that changed with every hour as all kinds of weather battered us from the Atlantic. We had rain lashing against the sky light of the bedrooms; we had crazy winds practically shaking the house; we even had hail for feck sake which we watched from the living room, making sure to stay warm by the log burner of course. When the sun did decide to shine for a millisecond we would throw the coats and boots on us and run down the lane to an empty beach with our collars pulled up around our ruddy faces and hands jammed in to our pockets. We would return home, wild and weather-beaten, with a hot mug of tea to bring our fingers back to life.

The thing that struck me the most during our week in Donegal (aside from the winter winds) was how in control I felt of my own time. Moments melted in to one another without a single thought towards the next one. We didn’t need to plan ahead or stress about cramming in activities. We slept for as long as we wanted, had meals at screwed up times, took a spontaneous drive if we felt like it. For a person whose life is so wrapped up in plans it was the most liberating feeling to be totally living in the moment.

Now that I’m home in Belfast again I wanted to hang on to that liberation a little longer and drag in to to 2018 with me. I want to take control of how present I am in the here and now. My brain is so full of what lies ahead that I’m never fully engaged with what I’m doing at that moment in time. Books are scanned too quickly instead of absorbing each word that moves me. Music isn’t really listened to in the car because I’m too busy thinking about the destination. Cooking is rushed so I can sit down and eat rather than enjoying preparing the food that will nourish me. All these small moments make up the life I’m living and it has dawned on me that if I’m not truly present in those small moments then I’m not truly living either.

I suppose not having control is something I have been aware of for so long that it’s perhaps warped my own ability to live presently. Being born with CF has taught me that no matter how much I plan, my health can turn in the opposite direction so I try to pack in as many experiences as I can to make sure I’m living as full a life as possible. It’s been my way of taking control and yet in a way it’s prevented me from really experiencing the here and now. Being able to just sit and be mindful of what’s directly in front of me, who I am with, that is surely having a full life.

So that’s what I’m taking control of this year: my present, my here, my now. Old habits die hard so I’m not expecting this new mind-set to come easily but I want to at least try. Instead of always chasing the next experience I want to live as if I have already arrived at the destination. I’ve a wee feeling this will make me a lot happier!

I’d love to know if you’ve decided to take control of something in your life this year so please share! Will you be taking more control of your actions? Your treatment of others? Your choices? Your time? 

Will you be saying no more? Yes more? 

I want to know!

And a little thank you to all who took the time to read this wee blog last year. Every comment, every like or message that you send means the whole world to me and reminds me that I’m not just sending words in to an empty space, that there are wonderful people listening. Thank you so much and I so look forward to sharing more yarns in 2018!