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My 5 Favourite Belfast Bookstores

My 5 Favourite Belfast Bookstores

As I push open the door, I am transported back to my great Aunt’s house in Antrim. I’m leafing through pages, browned from years of use and neglect, wondering who had held them before me and where they had been. But it’s the smell that evokes the most memory. The smell of adventures, laughs, tears and lives lived. The smell of dusty corners and forgotten words. For me, entering a bookshop is akin to the devout entering their place of worship.; this is where I come to kneel.

 

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In a society where there is so much uncertainty, exploring a bookshop can provide us with the solace that we are robbed of in the outside world. In here we can gain anonymity and lose ourselves in someone else’s story. When I read the first few pages of a book I wouldn’t have discovered while browsing Amazon, I disappear in the aisle I’m standing in. I can’t hear anything but the words of someone who poured their heart and soul in to the pages I am holding in my hands.

 

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Being relatively new to Belfast meant that I had to go forth and discover places to while away a rainy afternoon and I was delighted to discover that there were plenty of literary caves to disappear in. Researching for this post also introduced me to a few more places that weren’t on my radar before and I feel like I’ve been welcomed in to a new clan. Because it’s not just about the shop, the smells and the books. It’s also about the people who inhabit them, who strive to keep the place alive and reignite that flame that may be lying dormant in the online traitors amongst us. For these people have stories of their own that are worth listening too just as much as the books that surround them.

 

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With the Belfast Book Festival approaching (7th – 17th June) I thought I might share a few of the bookshops and the community of bibliophiles I have joined since I moved here. And it is a community worth joining since this wee island has spawned the world’s greatest scholars, bards, poets and legends. I feel like I am in good company.

 

No Alibis

Located in Botanic Avenue, No Alibis is an established institution in Belfast, most renowned for their savage collection of crime fiction novels. Dave, the owner, is something of an institution himself as he supports and engages a whole community of literary lovers in the area. He hosts a wealth of events; book readings, poetry readings and caters to the future Heaney’s of Ireland through Saturday morning kids readings.

 

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You wouldn’t miss the front of No Alibis

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Some of their beautiful displays

On my last visit I found a signed copy of a collection of work by Paul Durcan (for £16 quid!!!) as well as my favourite local magazine, Freckle. Noticing my purchases Dave casually informed me that a local favourite, Sinead Morrissey, was reading her poetry up in Queens that evening and that I should take myself along. I could barely contain my glee that I had met this man!

 

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Making trees happy

As I was about to leave Dave asked me what genre I was in to – a question that induces a cloud of panic to come down over me because I never quite know the best/right response. Watching my eyes glaze over, he handed me a first proof copy of an historical fantasy he thought I might enjoy. I asked if it was anything like ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell’ – a beast of a book which took me months to finish but adored completely. His eyes lit up and answered, “Spot on – it’s serendipity, you have to take it!!”. And what he meant was for free. No charge. For a first proof! I stumbled out of his shop with my books, in a lovely cotton bag which was also a freebie, giddy with excitement that I might have just joined a community I had been yearning to be a part of for quite some time.

 

Keats & Chapman

What struck me the most when I walked in to this joint on North Street was the depth of the place. Keats & Chapman looks quite pokey from the street but the shop carries on down a long and book-crammed corridor right to the most niche genres. You could easily spend a day in here if you had the time and the owner Bill is well aware of that since he has placed a few random chairs in quiet sections so no customer feels rushed.

 

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The shopfront of Keats & Chapman

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And on and on it goes

The second hand books here are very well priced (usually around £2) but with such a selection you will no doubt come out spending more than you had planned. My personal favourites were the amazing collection of old Irish wildlife guides, such an Instragrammers dream! Although be warned – there is no card machine so you will have to stick to traditional cash to pay for the armful of books you decide to take home.

 

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Books from floor to ceiling

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A favourite guide!

Belfast Books

John of Belfast Books is a man whose passion for literacy and community is contagious. Born and bred in North Belfast, he decided to open a bookshop on his home turf as a way to engage the local community and to bring some footfall to the streets he grew up in. North Belfast is an area of the city that has been neglected in the past but it’s locals like John that keep the spirit of the place alive and there is no better way to strike up a conversation than over a decent book.

 

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The shelves of Belfast Books

John runs his law firm from the top floor of the three storey building and the bottom two floors are dedicated to the housing the thousands of books they have constantly streaming in. The shop is a sight to behold and steps need to be taken carefully as to avoid the tower of classics as you come through the door. To a customer this would be seen as charming but John explained how desperate they are for volunteers to step in and help catalogue the high volume they are struggling to cope with.

 

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“Cheaper than that South American river”

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Peter, a loyal customer with a love for World War aircraft books, stops by the shop for a coffee and a chat

And there really is something for everyone in Belfast Books. The shop is mostly known for it’s huge collection of books on the Troubles (hello tourist trap) but there is pretty much everything you can think of; ancient history, ecology, classics, sci-fi and horror (the latter being hidden in the back of the first floor like a dirty secret) which you can all buy using your trusty Belfast Books loyalty card. If that wasn’t enough, John also helps host creative writing workshops, hosts a wicked Twitter account, provides book reviews and is working with the community to start a farmer’s market in a nearby warehouse. North Belfast won’t be short of footfall for much longer!

 

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The Bookfinders

The outside of this popular student hole in the wall may not look too appealing but inside lies a gem that is infamous among the students of Belfast. You’ll find the overgrown shopfront of Bookfinders just a stone’s throw from Queen’s University which boasts a surprising collection of second hand books as well as a wee café down the back.

 

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Worth the hoke if you have the time! 

The shop itself is a bit through-other but if you have the patience and time to have a hoke then you won’t come up disappointed. It’s worth all the energy spent for a slice of cake and a big mug of tea to enjoy your new purchase – and try and squeeze in amongst the students draining the place of their Wifi!

 

Waterstones

I know, Waterstones is a dirty chain and shouldn’t be included in list of esteemed independent bookshops but I can’t ignore how much of an impact this shop made on me. I still remember visiting the Dublin store as a child and being completely overwhelmed with how beautiful it was to see so many books in one shop – on multiple floors!

 

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The Belfast branch is just as lovely today and I like to go for a wander on an afternoon when I want a few hours to myself. I might not be quite as likely to pick up a bargain like in the other shops (or be able to stay for a half a day cross-legged on the floor) but I am still as inspired by the beauty of so many books as I was as an eight year old.

 

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Happy reading!

St. George’s Market Salmon & Veggies

St. George’s Market Salmon & Veggies

I’ve made no secret of my love of St. George’s Market and after the loveliest trip on Saturday, I won’t be climbing down off my soapbox anytime soon. It’s the one place that is sure to pick me up on these ceaseless grey winter weekends when straying too far from the house is out of the question.

 

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I dragged Andrew for a mooch around the stalls after lunch when I knew the crowds would have quietened down and he wouldn’t have to stress about pushing past a load of tourists hovering over loaves of soda bread. As I drooled past the display of cheese and chutneys, I made a bee line for the vegetable stands (I have eaten a lifetime of smoked cheddar over the holidays) where I knew I would be in safer hands.

 

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I love buying my vegetables from the markets when I’m able to. Getting to meet the seller and have a conversation with them is such a rarity these days and I take real pleasure in getting to meet local business people. I picked up sweet potato, a massive bunch of fresh dill, onion, a load of asparagus and when I didn’t have enough change to cover it all, I was shooed away with a flick of a hand. That’s Belfast all over.

 

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After I picked up my veggies I splurged on some salmon and had to restrain myself from buying a kilo of mussels and scallops. Fresh seafood is such a luxury for me and this year I am trying to introduce a little more in to my weekly cooking to try and inspire some new techniques. I can rely on the same dishes to carry me through sometimes (oh hey cottage pie) so a little shake up can only be a good thing.

 

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Last night I unveiled the beauty and roasted the fish in foil slathered with a delicious marinade. It was extremely quick and easy that I’m even thinking of going completely wild and making fish cakes from scratch later in the week. With fresh breadcrumbs! Too much?

 

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I’ve included the ridiculously simple recipe below in case you feel like trying something other than a stew/casserole/pie – unless you’re a much more accomplished chef than me and a recipe like this is laughable! Above all else if it encourages you to take a trip to your local markets or even just to the fishmongers down the road to have a chinwag about anything other than Brexit (fishmongers are quite passionate about EU quotas I feel so keep it light) then this would make me silly happy.

 

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Happy Tuesday y’all!


Roasted Fresh Salmon & Veggies

Feeds 2

Ingredients

  • 600g fresh salmon fillet
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 150ml melted butter
  • 1 tablespoon dried mixed herbs
  • 2 tablespoons fresh dill
  • Cherry tomatoes on the vine
  • 1 large sweet potato
  • Sprinkle of cinnamon
  • 10 asparagus stalks

Method

  1. Cut the sweet potato in to chunks roughly an inch thick and drizzle with olive oil in a baking tray before sprinkling with cinnamon.
  2. Place in an oven heated to 200 C and leave for 40 minutes, shaking after 20 minutes.
  3. Mix the butter, sugar, lemon juice, dried herbs and salt and pepper in a small bowl.
  4. Lay the salmon in foil in a baking tray and pour the mixture over the salmon.
  5. Wrap the salmon up and place the cherry tomatoes beside the salmon in the tray. Drizzle with the tomatoes with oil and season with a little salt. Place in the oven for 15-20 minutes.
  6. About 5 minutes before everything is ready boil the asparagus until just firm.
  7. Stuff your face.

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A Weekend Guide to Belfast

A Weekend Guide to Belfast

Belfast is a city that has seen the best of times and the worst of times – you can see its past in the ashes of the shipping industry left in the docklands, in the murals on the walls of the east and west and in the songs of the aul boy in the corner of the pub. Now the city is firmly looking ahead and there are new places popping up every weekend – so many activities!

 

When I moved to Belfast about a year and a half ago I was starting from scratch and I have loved getting to know it, make it mine – the oases among the concrete, the independent shops, the markets. There are so many hidden gems that many people don’t get the chance to see here so I thought I’d create a little weekend guide so any newcomers can make the most of their visit and see the best of Belfast.

 

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Friday

If you’re landing in the evening try and plan ahead by booking a dinner and a show for the night. The Lyric Theatre has some fantastic productions run all year by local theatre companies and it’s a great opportunity to see Irish culture come to life. In August the Lyric is showing God Bless The Child, a play based on the stories of Frank O’Connor – I’m promising myself to book a ticket!

 

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Before you hit the play, grab an early dinner at Molly’s Yard. This small restaurant is found around the corner from Queen’s University and offers some great simple dishes that will fill your bellies up before your show. After dinner, take a walk through the grounds of Queen’s University and on through the Botanic Gardens. This little dander will not only help you walk off the calories you just consumed at Molly’s, it’ll also give you a look at locals going about their daily life. Once you’re through the park you you just have to walk along the river a little further to get to the Lyric – all very handy.

 

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If you’re still feeling a little thirsty after the Lyric, then take the short walk further down the river to Cutters Wharf – a bar that sits in the reeds of the Lagan. In the summer this is the best place to enjoy the long evening sun and watch the rowers from Queen’s University doing their practice runs along the river.

 

Saturday

When you’re in Belfast you have to make sure to find a place that does an Ulster Fry – the staple weekend breakfast for most of us here! Maggie May’s or Conor’s, both beside Queen’s University, are great places that see the hangover troops descend. If you fancy something not quite as greasy, then try 5A which is found a little further in to Stranmillis. This place does AMAZING coffee and AMAZING foccacias. Please don’t leave without trying their salted caramel brownie either because it would be absolute sacrilege.

 

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After your brekkie, you have many options. If you feel like doing a bit of shopping (or shappin’ as the locals call it) then you can hit Victoria Square. My favourite shop is Avoca just behind Victoria Square – it takes all my power not to spend my tiny fortune in there. For independent shops, I love the Kiln & Loom found on Ormeau Road. It’s a wee shop that sells fantastic local craft, jewellery, bath products and local magazines like Freckle.

 

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If the sun is out though, first of all count yourself lucky and second of all make the most of it! Cavehill is the spot to climb and get the best views of Belfast. The Antrim Castle lies up in the hills and from up there you can see across to Stormont, down to the docks and across the Belfast lough that carried the Titanic for the first time. Make sure to make the big climb to the top though, through the woods and past the caves, it’s wild but beautiful. A bit like Ireland really.

 

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If you fancy getting up close to where the Titanic was created then there are great tours to enjoy down in the Titanic Quarter. There’s a bus that can take you round the different spots and the Titanic Centre itself. You can see the Harland & Wolff cranes, Samson and Goliath, up close down here. These huge monuments as they now are, can be spotted across the city and when I spy them flying in to the City airport, I know I’m home.

 

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You’ll be deserving a cold drink after all that activity and the city centre is coming down with places to quench your thirst. For cocktails outside, the Perch Rooftop bar is a great spot that has a long list to keep the picky happy. From around the corner you can fill up on food at James Street South for a fancy option or there’s Coco’s, Deane’s or Stix & Stones that are only an arms throw away.

 

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For the rest of the night you can only choose the Cathedral Quarter. This an area in Belfast that seems to have sprung out of nowhere and there are countless bars to entertain yourself with. There’s the Spaniard for the rum drinkers, Muriel’s for the gin drinkers, the Harp Bar for the beer drinkers and the Dirty Onion for the anything drinkers. If you find yourself not content on going home when the pubs start closing, you can pop your head in Love & Death to dance those little hooves off until the wee hours.

 

Sunday

Sunday is a slow day in Belfast – you won’t catch people moving too fast for fear that Monday will come quicker. St. George’s Markets is a sheer delight for the weary Sunday head and the buzz will revive what energy you have left. There is food from all over the world (Cuban sandwiches are not to be missed), local products to be bought, fresh bread, art, books and homemade fudge that you will promise to save but you definitely won’t…

 

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If it’s the first Sunday of the month head to the Sunflower Bar to check out the vintage gear on offer or even just to get the cure if the headache hasn’t desisted yet. This bar is an historical monument in itself, still bearing the security cages featured on most pubs during the Troubles.

 

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What you can’t miss though is a good traditional music session before you go. Fibber Magee’s, The Garrick and The Duke of York all have sessions that start early in the day so you can get to your bed early. Listening to traditional music in the corner of a tiny pub packed with people is the ultimate Irish experience and it doesn’t matter how predictable it might seem, the music can move the hardest of men. Anyway, it’s a good excuse to get the last Guinness in before you go and sure what more could you want?

 

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A weekend in Belfast is a good way to introduce yourself to the city although there is so much to see beyond the things I’ve spoken of. There’s Black Taxi tours of the troubled areas, museums, gigs, or festivals that seem to be on all year. Whatever you do, come prepared to see a city that’s found its feet after years of being dragged down. And a place where the craic is always mighty.

 

10 Activities for a Rainy Day

10 Activities for a Rainy Day

You would think in the height of the Summer Solstice we would be frolicking in meadows until the late evening, unable to choose from an abundant amount of activities available to us during our weekends. Alas, we live in Ireland and the summer is fleeting and usually very wet so we have to be creative with our summer plans i.e. be very flexible or very close to indoors!

 

If you’re ever feeling at a loss of what to do as you wake up to yet another grey Saturday, I’ve thought of a few wee ideas to give you a bit of inspiration to get you out the door. If that fails I’ve also got a few ideas to keep you busy if you’re dead set on not leaving the house! Either way, having nothing to do should not be an option!

 

Visit Your Local Museum

The Ulster Museum in Belfast is right beside the Botanic Gardens but on a rainy day you might want to make a bolt straight inside. The museum always has a good exhibition on; right now it’s ‘Remembering 1916: Your Stories’. The exhibition celebrates the centenary of the Easter Rising and draws on the experiences of those involved in the Easter Rising including lots of local stories. The museum also has dinosaurs to keep the kiddos happy, artefacts from Ancient Egypt and a fantastic collection of modern art. Definitely plenty to keep you occupied for a few hours!

 

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St. George’s Market, Belfast

 

Stroll Through St. George’s Market

I love this market with all my heart. I go in to a bit of a consumer frenzy because there’s nothing better than buying local products and meeting the people who have grown/caught/made them. The atmosphere is always great; usually there’s a bluegrass band singing in the centre where you can find a spot to chow down your Cuban pulled pork sandwich (note: this is amazing and even more amazing if you’ve been out the night before!). Go along, buy some fresh flowers to brighten your damp day and restrain yourself from buying a crate of homemade fudge.

 

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Flow Yoga Studio, Belfast

 

Book Yourself In To A Class

I hate feeling like I’ve wasted a weekend when the weather has been bad and I’ve nothing to show for it come Monday. One way to feel like you’re doing something worthwhile is to think ahead and join a class to teach you something new. James Street South have a range of cookery classes teaching the amateur chefs amongst us how to bake bread or how to cook the perfect steak. If you feel like you cook enough during the week (I hear ya) maybe you could try a pottery class, yoga or even sewing. I have enjoyed a few sewing classes with Shanti at the Magpie and loved it!

 

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Explore Your Local Bookshops

This is one of my favourite things to do on a rainy day. I can spend hours upon hours wandering around the aisles, flicking through all the pages and, if they’re second hand, imagining who owned them before they graced these shelves. In Belfast I would recommend visiting No Alibis, Belfast Books and The Bookstore then bringing your new purchase to a coffee shop for a read while you watch everyone outside getting soaked – mwah ha ha!

 

Tour Your Local Brewery

Hilden Brewery in Lisburn is the oldest independent brewery on the island of Ireland and can be explored by us laymen who get thirsty on the weekends. You can learn about the local craft from the master brewer and taste the whole collection if you have the stomach for it. Molly’s Chocolate Stout sounds amazing! Make sure to book ahead on their website.

 

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Create Your Own Indoor Herb Garden

I have a windowsill which gets all the afternoon light and is the perfect spot for growing some herbs that don’t require an awful lot of TLC. The herbs I have had great success with so far are thyme, coriander and basil – all low maintenance which is an absolute must for me. I’m thinking of branching out to mint and or maybe going completely mad and getting my own little chilli plant. On a rainy day it’s a brilliant chance to pick up a few from the local discount shop (Home Bargains is a great place to start), get some pretty pots while you’re there and get to potting. If you’re feeling extra creative, get some clay pots and chalk paint to make your herbs extra chic.

 

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Homemade Coconut Oil Scrub – Recipe Here

 

Get Those DIY Projects Done!

We all talk about how we will get those chairs painted/cushion covers sewed/candles made but we never make the time. A rainy day is the perfect opportunity to get a start on these and make a whole day out of it. On my next rainy weekend I am hell bent on getting shelves up in our dining area – the brackets we bought in a sale have been sitting in the corner gathering dust for the last 3 months! Making something for your home is a great way to add your personality, especially if you’re renting like me, so feel free to release your inner Picasso!

 

Create A Den

Now I know full well that I’m 27 and that making a den in the living room may no longer be socially acceptable but when it’s raining and all you want to do is watch movies and eat salty popcorn and maltesers (the world winning combo) then why not? Get all the cushions in the house on the floor, make a tent from a sheet and snuggle up with your duvet and download all your favourite childhood classics. My personal favourites are The Goonies, The Father of the Bride and Cool Runnings – they will never get old!

 

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Bake Up A Storm

Maybe there’s someone’s birthday coming up, you’ve a mate that’s got the flu or you just feel like making 5 different kinds of bread. This is the day to make a complete mess in the kitchen, cover yourself in flour and eat batter from the bowl. Andrew has recently taken up baking which is a bit strange because he’s not known for his cooking skills (I once had to help him make a Caesar salad for which he’d forgotten to buy Caesar dressing) but it turns out he’s a great baker! I think it’s the scientific side of things that he enjoys, measuring everything out to the exact gram. Anyway, if it’s raining today, watch an episode of Great British Bake Off and go get your Mary Berry on.

 

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Make A Scrapbook

Last year I made a commitment to start printing off photos and keeping them in albums and scrapbooks rather than losing them to the social network stratosphere where they are forgotten about. I realised that if Facebook ever randomly crashed I would lose so many memories because I have gone through so many computers and hard drives over the years. Bearing this in mind I printed off all my photos from Cuba and bought a scrapbook in preparation for a rainy day when I could glue in all my photos along with bits and bobs that I had kept from the trip. I enjoyed this so much that I decided to print off my favourite photos from 2015 to make another scrapbook!

 

Good luck with whatever you decide to do this rainy weekend – fingers crossed our summer will come back!

 

 

 

 

Deliciously Ella’s Roasted Tomato & Red Pepper Soup

Deliciously Ella’s Roasted Tomato & Red Pepper Soup

Sadly the rain feels like it’s here to stay for a while and the summer is slipping through our fingers. The only solace I can find is that I’ll be escaping the constant drizzle for a week next Tuesday when we fly off to Croatia (yay!) but in the mean time I have found myself reaching for a cosy jumper in the evenings and craving some warm soup in my belly to heat me up.

 

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Andrew and I like to make a big batch of soup in weather like this and freeze it so we have our lunches ready for our working week. It means we save a bit of cash and we don’t have to worry every morning about what we’re going to have but it can get a little repetitive which means it has to be extra delicious! This week I wanted something super tasty with a bit of a kick using fresh seasonal ingredients. I found this recipe on the Deliciously Ella site (her website is fantastic if you fancy something yummy but really healthy) and thought it was the perfect excuse to use some of the ripe tomatoes I had in the fridge.

 

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The recipe is incredibly simple and quick; it only took me about 45 minutes to prepare, cook and blend. The website says it makes 3 servings although I would say it’s 2, I like my portions big! I tripled the ingredients so we had plenty to keep us going through the long wet week.

 

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I hope you all are staying dry and warm  and have something sunny planned for the near future to keep you going. I’m optimistic we might see a little more sunshine – I’m not prepared to welcome the autumn anytime soon!!

 

Have a lovely week x


Roasted Tomato & Red Pepper Soup

Serves 10

– 24 plum tomatoes

– 9 red peppers

– 2 large handfuls of fresh basil leaves

– 2 handfuls of fresh rosemary

– 15 bay leaves

– 2 tbsp. dried thyme

– a 1/2 to 1 of a cup of water (I like mine thick so I used about a 1/2)

– 8 dessert spoons of apple cider vinegar (use lime if you don’t have this)

– 8 dessert spoons of tomato puree

– olive oil

– salt and pepper to taste

 

  1. Slice the red peppers into eighths, removing the centre. Then chop the tomatoes into four or five slices. Cover the bottom of a roasting pan or baking tray in olive oil and place the tomatoes, peppers with the basil leaves, fresh rosemary, dried thyme, bay leaves, salt and a drizzle more olive oil on top. Roast at 200C for 30 minutes.
  2. Once the vegetables have finished roasting put them into a liquidizer with the apple cider vinegar, tomato puree, salt & pepper, be careful not to add the bay leaves or rosemary sticks though. As the soup blends, slowly add in the water until you reach your desired consistency. Once you have reached this pour the soup straight into bowls and serve (or containers for the freezer).
Dining in James Street South Belfast

Dining in James Street South Belfast

Lots of positive things have happened for both Andrew and I over the last few weeks. We have both been offered new jobs with exciting businesses and both start on the same day! Andrew turned 28 on 16 June (although he may not be a huge birthday celebration person, I am and definitely make up for his deficit). And I was discharged from hospital with lung functions better than they have been in a long while! Yay all round!

 

So as some of you may or may not know, I was born with Cystic Fibrosis. In terms of daily life this means nebulisers, tablets and physiotherapy or exercise. It doesn’t affect me in a massive way because it’s all I’ve ever known and it’s never stopped me from doing the things I want to do. However sometimes it does mean a hospital admission when things begin to slip a bit and that part definitely isn’t fun.

 

I don’t like to talk too much about CF because I don’t like it to define me or what others think of me. But sometimes I have no choice in how it can control my life and it’s hospital admissions like the one that remind me of the unpredictability of life and how little moments should not only be cherished but celebrated! A positive outlook has taken me far and I choose to let that define me as a person instead.

 

Which was why I made a crazy impulsive and expensive decision to book a table at James Street South in Belfast to celebrate the good things that have happened for us recently and also to thank Andrew for being incredibly supportive during the hospitalisation. It’s not easy seeing the one you love vulnerable; it can make you feel powerless and for a control freak like Andrew, I know it wasn’t easy.

 

James Street South is a place I have wanted to visit for such a long time. It comes top of so many lists of the best places to eat in Belfast but because it’s a bit on the pricier end, I had always thought I should save it for a special occasion e.g. this one! With absolutely no trepidation I booked the table and knew straight away we were to have the ‘Taste of Ulster’ tasting menu – sure why not?!

 

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Shameless Selfie Before Dinner!

 

I got very dolled up and Andrew wore a crinkled shirt he didn’t iron (because we don’t own an iron – yes we are peasants). I was so flippin’ excited and for good reason because I had the best meal I have ever had in Belfast that night. I was constantly battling between savouring the taste of one course and dying to get to the next one. It was that amazing!

 

The ambience wasn’t excellent I’ll be honest, I’m not hugely in to that clinical vibe but we sat in a corner booth which created a bit of intimacy. This didn’t really bother me at all though because Andrew and I were too busy enjoying our own little gastronomic paradise, listening eagerly to the waiter explaining each ingredient and where it came from. The restaurant prides itself on sourcing the best local produce for each dish and that is evident in the taste; you’d have sworn they had the cow in the kitchen!

 

I would recommend this place to anyone and everyone who loves classical food served in a way that isn’t pretentious but focuses on taste. I can’t wait to go back again and I’ll be finding anything to celebrate as an excuse for another taste of that dessert. Sheer heaven.


‘Taste of Ulster’ Tasting Menu

 

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Chilled Portavogie Crab Lasagne, Lemongrass & Brown Crab Bisque

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King Scallops, Parmesan & Connemara Ham

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Country Antrim Beef, Charred Leeks, Peppercorns & Garlic

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Smoked Chocolate, Lime Sorbet & Toasted Meringue

Danders Around Belfast

Danders Around Belfast

When I moved to Belfast just over a year ago, I was a complete newbie and had no idea how to make the city my home. I’m used to moving around (I think I’ve had about 10 addresses in the last 5 years!) so I know how important it is to discover places that I can make my own to help me feel more settled.

 

There are so many great places to walk in Belfast and because it’s such a small city, you can be amongst nature in no time at all. I am definitely an outdoors girl and I’ve discovered lots of places to go for a stroll or, if I’m feeling really adventurous, a jog! After a day in the office there is nothing better than surrounding yourself with nature and bringing yourself back down to earth again.

 

Here are a few ideas if any city folks are looking for inspiration…

 

Lagan Towpath

I lived in the south of Belfast when I first came here and my house was right across from the Lagan River. Soon after I moved, my friend Caoimhe introduced me to a walk that takes you up the Lagan towards the Lockkeeper Inn, a great dog-friendly pub that’s perfect for a summer pint. Within a mile of following the path, you can find yourself in a meadow and feel a million miles away from the city. Even though I’ve since moved, this is still one of my favourite walks.

 

IMG_0842   Springtime in the Meadow

 

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Following Caoimhe

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Cottage along the Lagan

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Divis Mountain

The mountain is located in the west of the city and a little out of the centre but it’s well worth getting in the car for. The views are incredible here – you can see both the Sperrin and Mourne mountains and since these ranges are found on opposite sides of Northern Ireland, it makes you realise just how small the country is. It also offers a great perspective of the city as well and on a clear day you can even see Scotland. There is a path you can follow all the way to Cave Hill which is great for cyclists otherwise there is a 3 mile loop walk for the those who want to dander.

Tip: if you ever hear of a meteor shower happening, this is the best spot to view them!

 

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Heathland at Divis Moutain

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View down to Belfast

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Star gazing last winter

 

Cave Hill 

The mountain is a landmark in Belfast with Belfast Castle and Belfast Zoo both found up here. You can park the car at the castle and make the climb up which can be a little tough (I took a fair few breaks pretending to take a photo but in actual fact I had a stitch so bad I could barely breathe!) and you need to be mindful of the stones when coming down again. The views are brilliant up here as well, especially of the port and you can even see Stormont in the distance as well.

Tip: bring a dog with you that can help pull you up on the lead towards the end!

 

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Spuds (Caoimhe’s spaniel) was a great pal and helped me up the latter part of the mountain!

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Bluebell Carpet

 

Cairn Wood

Andrew and I moved in together in March and he discovered this great wee walk not far from where we live. It’s located between Belfast and Newtownards and there are a few different routes to take depending on how fit you feel that day. The woodland is so pretty and through the trees you can spot the Irish Sea and Scrabo Tower in the distance.

 

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All rugged up!

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This photo was taken in April – looks more like November!

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There are so many great walks in and around the city – all it takes is some bravery to face the Irish weather in the colder months but it is always well worth it!

Tips for Belfast in June

Tips for Belfast in June

Evening all!

 

Living in Belfast offers a wide variety of activities to fill our weekends and evenings, especially in the summer months, but sometimes we just don’t realise just how much is going on around us. I moved to Belfast for the first time just over a year ago and have made it my mission to get to know the city as much as I can and be knowledgeable of all the different things to do.

 

June sees the beginning of summer where evenings are spent in the back garden, losing recollection of time as the sun refuses to descend. We’ve already seen the most glorious sunshine over the last few weeks and while the majority of us have resigned ourselves to believing the good weather has been and gone, I am determined to get out of the deck chair and see just what’s going on in the city.

 

I’ve rounded up a few things to do this June – small ideas that will only take up a few hours in an evening and events that might take up a weekend in your calendar. I hope I can inspire a few of you because once we pass the Solstice, you will be hearing everyone telling you that “the days drawing in now” so use the stretch in the evenings wisely!

 

So here’s what’s on this June…

 

Belfast Book Festival

The festival is only in its 6th year but this year’s programme is packed full of events between 9th and 19th June that will interest anyone. There are book launches, readings, a poetry tour of Ireland, music and discussions for everyone to attend for free or at a very low cost. I’m looking forward to going to a talk by Hyeonseo Lee, a North Korean defector and human rights activist who’s TED Talk about her life and escape from North Korea has received more than 5 million views online. Find more about the programme here.

 

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Belfast Flea Market

The monthly flea market runs on the first Sunday of every month from 1pm and 6pm and is a little treasure amongst the Union St Bars. Based out the back of the infamous Sunflower Bar, there is a plethora of wee stalls to explore for vintage gems, potted plants, records and general bric-a-brac that you don’t need but have to have. They have a great woodfire oven next to the stalls providing delicious pizzas to fuel the less energised shopper and the less enthused shopping partner. Wash the pizza down with a cold pint and you can’t ask for a better way to end your weekend.

 

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Belfast Blues Festival

Another Belfast festival still in it’s early years, the Blues Festival is on the last weekend of June between 24th and 26th. There’s a ‘Blues Trail’ that you can follow across the city taking in as many gigs as possible ending up at the Festival Marquee in Writers Square. The usual suspects can be found along the way e.g. Crow Black Chicken, Rab McCullough and Pat McManus but there are heaps of other unknown talents to be discovered in the back of a dimly lit pub. Have a look at the line-up here to create your own trail or choose a place to park yourself up with a seat for the day!

 

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Gobbin’s Walk

About 20 miles north of Belfast you can find a dramatic coastline with staggering cliffs that tower over the Irish Sea. One way to truly experience the wildness of the Irish coast is to walk along a man-made path that clings to these cliffs and that would test the bravest of us all. Gobbin’s Walk was re-opened this year and tours are now available to walk the path that was once popular among Edwardian tourists. Have a stroll at the edge of our island with the waves crashing below you and the wind whipping around your face. If you’re lucky you may even get spot some red beaks among the rocks as puffins can be found here at this time of year! Find out more about the walk and how to book tickets for the tour here.

 

Gobbins Path

Photo: www.gobbinscliffpath.com

 

Twilight at Mount Stewart

Mount Stewart is a 19th century manor house and gardens located about 15 miles from Belfast. The site is owned by the National Trust and has the most amazing gardens that are spectacular this time of year. For those of you who are fans of classical music, there is an event on 24th June called ‘Twilight at the Trust’ that will see individual rooms in the house opening up to host incredibly talented musicians. Tickets are £50 and include a canapé and drinks reception with the finale being held in the Great Room with all the musicians gathering together – not too shabby! You can book tickets here.

 

Mount Stewart

Photo: www.nationaltrust.org.uk

 

I hope these ideas give you some inspiration to venture out in to the city and further this June and fingers crossed the sun will return for us again!

 

xx

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.