Category Archives: being me

So those cookbooks: Anyone want them?

If anyone is based in Dublin and wants any of the following, free to a good home, let me know either here or through Facebook. First come first served.

Breakfasts more than 80 inspiring ideas Jacque Malouf

low GI food

Keelings Book of Fruit

Feast by Nigella Lawson

The Real Food Real People Cookbook from Supervalu.

Greek – Love Food

Dumonts Lexicon of Spices

Fresh in Summer, Fresh in Spring, Fresh in Winter, Fresh in Autumn, all by Alistair Hendy

Fat Free Low Fat cooking Anne Sheasby

BOUGHT Borrowed and Stolen Allegra McEvedy

French Leave John Burton Race

Gorgeous Suppers – Annie Bell

Bread Machine Cookbook – Jacqueline Bellefontaine

I believe this reduces the number of cookbooks to about 80. A remarkable number of them were gifts though which is surprising.

Anything strike through is gone.

in the morning

I came across an article a few weeks ago (which I did not bother book marking because I have 11000 favourites bookmarked in twitter and who knows how many bookmarks in Chrome and what I’ve noticed is a tendency to save and forget which strikes me as non-optimal…) on the subject of not telling people to be morning people.

All over the place, there are articles about being morning people, early birds, and how easy it is to get up 10 minutes earlier and build up to gradually being a morning person. This is absolute rubbish. It’s easy to be a morning, if, and only if, you can structure the rest of your day to fit into being a morning person. I used to get up to go to work at 7.30 for a while in my last job and while it paid untold dividends in terms of what I got done between 7.30 and about 9.30, the corresponding exit time, which was 3.30, was something I never managed. Everyone around me working around 8 hours a day. I was working nearer 9 and a half. Presentee-ism is a bit of a killer. I never got out at 3.30 with hearing remarks about only working half days.

The thing is – I had very good reasons for doing the 7.30 thing – so I’m not going to bash it. What I am going to say is that there are benefits to being a morning person, even if you don’t rush out the door to work. On summer mornings, getting up at 6.30 can be a thing of absolute beauty. This morning, the sunlight at 6.30 was just gorgeous. It’s a good time to water the plants if you have any. There’s a feeling of untold peace around the place, unless you’ve got the greater spotted urban house alarm to deal with. Small things get done so much more quickly. You can relax over breakfast. If – like me – you’re the type with a taste in slowly cooked coffee on a very low heat, you have the time to do it.

And you can do it any day of the week.

Being a morning person comes with a price and that price may be more or less high depending on your view in life. You have to go to bed early. Being a morning person is not a recipe for burning down the amount of sleep you get. If I am waking at 5.30 – which I often am during the summer – I am falling asleep at 9.30, 10pm. I cannot burn the candle at both ends. And having your sleep disrupted at any stage messes things up.

But I find it worth the effort mostly when I’m not getting night disruptions. I feel a lot more alive; I get a lot more done. It fits in with the way my brain works.

I’m not in the business of telling people they should be morning people to get more money or get ahead. I’m more in the business of suggesting that if you feel better for it, there’s a lot to be said for it.

List yada

Sharpy pointed me at a list of 20 things that made men feel confident which he felt was somewhat lacking. He noted that the corresponding list for women was even less credible so he sent me that too. I threatened to do my own list.

He suggested in very short words that this might well be a very good thing to do.

So here we are.

  1. Finding someone friendly to help you zip you into your wetsuit.
  2. Chatting to friends
  3. Finding shoes that are both comfortable and pretty.
  4. Tea.
  5. Catching a really neat wave when you’re a lousy surfer. I’m still a lousy surfer but I assume that catching a really neat wave when you’re a good surfer works too.
  6. A decent breakfast of whatever turns you on. Sometimes it’s Weetabix, some days it’s fruit salad
  7. Not chipping your nail polish on coat 4.
  8. Not being physically sick going into an interview
  9. The right dress being available in the right size at the right time (not always guaranteed)
  10. Ignoring people who tell you that you shouldn’t like pink things (you will prise my pink calculator out of my cold dead hands).
  11. Getting a photo published somewhere.
  12. Waking on the first morning of a holiday
  13. Successfully communicating with someone in a foreign language without them needing to show off their English prowess
  14. Hugs and snuggles
  15. Passing your driving test (it’s been 15 years but I rock, man)
  16. Not burning toast and therefore not setting off the badly positioned smoke alarm
  17. Remembering to make ice for those lovely sunny summer days
  18. Asking someone attractive for their phone number, getting it, ringing them and moving swiftly onwards…
  19. Winning something unexpectedly
  20. Did I say tea?

That’s my list and I am sticking to it.

 

Open letter to Amazon

Dear Amazon,

I am a customer of your dot co dot uk store and I have a Kindle which is linked to that store.

I know that you sell books in French, and German through your dot fr and dot de stores in Kindle editions.

I live in Europe. I speak fluent French and fluent German. I occasionally order books  – actual hard copy books – from both stores. The number of books I can get in either language on to my Kindle, however, is restricted to what is on offer in the dot co dot uk store.

I realise you need the Kindle to be limited to one store. But the array of books available across Europe, that would be great. Surely, given that the European Union has some small pillar regarding the free movement of goods and services across its internal borders, this has to be possible?

Could you maybe have a look at it please?

 

on interests and judging them

Shane Hegarty has written a piece in today’s Irish Times which you can, if you’re so inclined, read here.

but it did hint at a key point about the modern foodie industry, which is that its chief product isn’t delicious meals, artfully presented: it is waste

He’s talking in the context of waste of time buying cookbooks, waste of time taking pleasure in your cooking, waste of time in taking instagram photographs of your food, waste of paper in printing cook books which will never be used.

I think he’s wrong.

I own about 100 cookbooks. Pretty sure it’s in that zone because they were recently counted and this does not include myriad copies of Delicious, Donna Hay, Tesco and Superquinn magazines. I also have an A4 notebook into which I glue oddball stuff cut out of magazines, newspapers, the backs of ingredients containers and such like. All of it gives me very great pleasure even if I do not cook.

I’ve always taken the view that if it’s feeding yourself is all it’s about, then you really only need one cookbook, be that either Nigella Lawson’s first one – How to Eat, or, possibly better, one of the Good Housekeeping ones. But that’s really not what it’s all about. There is something beautiful about opening a cookbook, looking at the pictures, and considering whether you will cook this or that.

It’s a pleasure to read cookbooks; not just cook from them. And sometimes you will cook from them and get things right, or sometimes you might not. It is ultimately a voyage of discovery.

In that respect, you cannot possibly consider the acquisition of books – of any type – which give you pleasure as a waste. Effort in cooking, likewise, is not a waste.

I swim because…

Four mornings a week I now go swimming before having breakfast and heading into whatever morning activity I have lined up. I’m not the world’s greatest swimmer – far from it – but I do it because it sets me nicely up for the day.l

Sometime ago there was a hooha over obesity and the Minister for Health in this country, and some journalist or other mentioned that she suffered, between gym membership and going running and stuff.

I was thinking about that word suffered the next day and it occurred to me – to some extent – that there seems, occasionally, to be this idea that life is some sort of penance.

You’d think with the pushing back against the Catholic Church that this whole concept of penance and suffering just to behave properly inline with society’s expectations might have gone the way of the snow a few years ago but no. It lives on.

I don’t run. And when I swim, I don’t feel like I am suffering. I enjoy it.

There are generalised health issues around the western lifestyle. The whole desk-lifestyle isn’t exactly great, and most people don’t get enough exercise. People’s eating habits have changed too. SO one of the things that I know to my cost is sometimes it’s very hard to get exercise.

And exercise is important. If you’re doing it right, and if you’re doing something you like, you feel great after it. It brings other benefits. I mean, I get up at 6.30 and drive to UCD and am in a swimming pool at 7.20 every morning and I really, really enjoy it. I couldn’t do it if it were a sufferance or a penance. I’d just find something else I like doing. While it will not really enable me to run away from a bad guy very fast, per se, it does have helpful things like a) making me fitter and b) having me more prepared for other stuff I like doing, like surfing, and kitesurfing. I get more confident in the water.

I have a couple of targets a) swim 1500m again and b) swim 400m in 8 minutes. I’m a long way off both of those. Currently I’m touching 500m in the mornings. Given the time available to me, that’s going to reach maybe 800m, maximum 900m. But that’s okay – it’s four times a week.

There is this moment – it’s not a measurable moment and it’s not even guaranteed to happen – when I am swimming, when everything just fits together and I feel great.

I swim for that.

Something new

I know. It’s a banal kind of a headline. Headline writing has never by my strongest suit.

Last week I registered at University College Dublin as a full time student for a taught Masters in Science in computer science. Yes, yes I did.

I am incredibly lucky. I found myself at a confluence of time where I a) was able to leave work to do this b) able to fund it for one year and c) was given a place on the course to do it.

Not a lot of people are so fortunate, not when they are my age anyway.

My life has changed a lot and despite a lot of unknowns, such as what the weather will be like in January, and how long I will cope with the idea of getting two buses to college every morning instead of driving for 15 minutes, I am incredibly relaxed about this. And very happy.

I’m not really into termtime yet – lectures start on Monday so it’s all going to be terribly exciting, and no doubt, a complete shock to start dealing with studying and assignments again on a full time basis rather than on a when I have time after work basis. There is a lot of autonomy here, and a huge onus on myself to achieve what I want to achieve.

I’m focusing on data analytics and if you’ve any vague interest in this, I’ll occasionally be blogging on that and related tech matters on this other blog which I have.

time better spent

The weather in Ireland has been fairly impressive lately; stunning sunshine which has not yet yielded to cooler weather, clouds and rain. Last Sunday morning, I got up and drove from Dublin to Clare for the day. I don’t usually do this at the start of July, for two reasons 1) Clare tends to be busy and 2) there haven’t generally been waves I could remotely or imaginatively attempt to learn to surf on. I learn to surf, have been at that zone for a while because mostly, I don’t make it to Clare.

The drive from Dublin to Lahinch takes about 3 hours now, via Limerick. I think it’s faster via LImerick than Galway; the tolls are lower as well (No Enfield :-)) It’s a pleasant drive early on a Sunday morning, if somewhat nervewracking. Those are clouds overhead. I got to Lahinch at 10.20 in the morning, parked up in front of John McCarthy’s Lahinch Surf School.

Pretty sure the last time I had lessons there, it was a freezing cold New Year’s Eve.

Lahinch, at 10.20 last Sunday morning, was still cloud covered; for all that, it was warm, and families had staked out their territories on the beach. Kids surf lessons were in the water; people were swimming. Adult lessons, I was told, would start at 11.45. This suited me fine. I went for a walk around the town; somewhere to have coffee if possible.

I wound up in Philip Morris’s gallery on the corner of what I call the main street but which I am pretty sure has a different name in Lahinch terms, and I bought a beautiful print of a beach which is a bit far away from me in Dublin, Barleycove in Cork. If you’re in Lahinch, I strongly recommend a trip into Philip’s gallery as he has a lot of interesting things hanging on the walls; and they are all in lovely, strong vibrant colours. It does not matter what the weather does outside; they will put sunshine in your life.

They recommended I went to Dannie Mac’s for brunch. It was still before 11; most of the bars were still closed at that point, but Dannie Mac’s was serving breakfast. I had pancakes. Breakfast in Dublin, Weetabix and some orange juice had been well over four hours previous and I was hungry. I recommend the pancakes if you’re ever looking for grub at that time of the morning on a Sunday in Lahinch. The place was packed, and while there were a few families and couples; a lot of their custom came from groups of young men. I suppose there were a few stag parties around.

By the time I finished up in Dannie Mac’s,. Kenny’s had open. Kenny’s is a fantastic shop; seriously. I’m biased of course – last time I was there I discovered they sold Dunoon China mugs. I haven’t found a source in Dublin, and the first one I ever bought, I bought in a tea shop in a shopping centre in France.

They are beautiful. If you want an idea of the ones I like, I have a pinterest board full of them amongst other things (but mostly them). So I bought another three, this time, only one with a lighthouse; the others were a pair of very nice surf mugs. I was surprised and happy to see them.

I should probably stop buying mugs now #itsworsethanthestationeryproblem.

The tillkeepers in Kenny’s always thank me for my custom. Always. It’s almost unique in my experience.

At this point, it’s wandering on to time for me to go back and get back in the water for the first time.

Firstly – I am going to say this. There are at least 8 surf schools in Lahinch. I went to John McCarthy because I know them having had lessons from them before at a time when there were only 2 surf schools in Lahinch. Customer loyalty I suppose you’d call it bar the minor detail that I can’t really surf and I don’t go often enough. I had my first surf lessons at least 10 years ago which should tell you a lot about how much money Lahinch Surf School has actually earned from me (clue, West Cork Surf School in Inchydoney in Cork has done slightly better). But I do also have to commend the staff at work on Sunday. I do not know the name of the girl taking bookings but she was unutterably helpful. The instructor I got paired up with, David, I think his name was, was extraordinarily helpful. Mind you, I still can’t surf but that’s definitely a lack of practice and it’s definitely a lack of time in the water. Also, I’ve put on weight since the last time I was in the water (so XL wetsuit, good to know, takes less than a minute to put on, probably a clue it may be slightly too big) (also good to no). I wore bootees.

I. hate. wearing. bootees. So I asked whether, you know, was the water, maybe warm enough, that I could avoid bootees. You’re talking to someone who stands in 4 foot of freezing cold water in Dublin taking photographs (ie, freezing) so I Can HANDLE the cold.

They mentioned jelly fish.

This is an entirely different prospect to freezing your toes off.

I got four great waves, fell off the board 19 times and had a decent chat with Dave about such esoteric matters as “can’t remember which foot I used to put my leash on but this doesn’t feel right” the truth is I really don’t know now whether I’m goofy or natural although I’m tending to think natural.

I tried both last Sunday. I was neither, if I’m honest.

I love the momentum you get when you balance right on the board, and paddle right and you, board and wave head for the sure. I imagine it’d be even better if I were popping up. But it’s that feeling as you fly back into shore that gets you to go back out and try, and try again. I had a ball. I loved it. I want to do it more often. The sun came out at that point in time as well.

After the surf lesson, I packed everything up and then drove from Lahinch to Loop Head. It took rather a long time; much longer than I expected. I had to reasons for going down there. Firstly, Loop Head Lighthouse is now open to tourists. You can hire one of the lightkeeper cottages as well via Irish Landmark Trust and that, along with Wicklow Lighthouse and Galley Head, is on my list of potential honeymoon locations.

The tower lighthouse at Loop Head is not inhabited because they could build cottages for the lightkeepers, even though it’s on a particularly pointy bit of land, over a few cliffs. The tower itself is made of limestone so on what was probably the warmest day of the year, it was still FREEZING in there. You can climb up the lighthouse and see to the Aran Islands on one side, and the Brandons in Kerry on the other side. You can also see the ruin of the coastal watch look out post, a concrete bunker, 83 of which were plonked around the coast in the early 1940s to watch for any trouble during the Emergency. I know quite a lot about these. What you cannot set from the lighthouse, because of the way the land slopes on Loop Head, is the EIRE sign. I know a monumental lot about these and the main reason I was in Loop Head was to see their sign as it was renovated last year.

Mind you, long before I ever knew about EIRE signs, I liked lighthouses and Loop Head was on my lighthouse bingo card, so amongst the achievements for this year is “saw Loop Head Lighthouse and did the tour”.

And went surfing.

When you have a day where you get to do something related to three major interests, which includes some exercise (oh god did my arms hurt on Monday), it’s got to be a good day. I drove back to Dublin the same evening.

but to quote Calvin and Hobbes, “but it was worth it”.

(and I’ve just discovered there is Calvin & Hobbes fan fiction…colour me nonplussed)

Moving mountains.

I’m actually completely covered in red, blue and orange ink at the moment as I have been working on my Bucket List.

I hate the term bucket list but everyone uses it so occasionally I capitulate. Anyway I own three books on calligraphy, two dip pens, many bottles of ink, a number of nibs and some sort of will to try out calligraphy. I got the books out today. I do a really nice letter V, it must be said.

Then I decided I was going to hand write a blog entry and then realised that actually, today I wasn’t. But I’m still covered in ink.

About 25 years ago when I was still a young girl at school, and like most schools in Ireland, I had to do some religion classes. I recall one or two of them for various reasons, but the one which springs to mind today relates to the question of the power of faith in God, and how much it could achieve. On the day in question, we were told a story about a woman who lived in a house near a mountain and the mountain cast a shadow over her house and really, she didn’t much like it. Excuse me if I paraphrase it.

Anyway, she got wind of this prayer and faith power thing, and got it into her head that if she prayed hard enough, God would move the mountain out of the way and her kitchen wouldn’t be dark half the day, so she prayed before going to bed one night, that the mountain would be gone the next morning.

Unfortunately, as things would have it, when she woke the next morning, said mountain was still in place, casting a shadow over the house and her reponse was “Ah sure, I knew it wouldn’t be gone when I woke up”.

Strictly speaking, you can’t exactly blame her. The whole mountain moving thing, you’d like to feel, would be news all over the shop, were it to be happening on a regular basis. But this was not the moral of the story as it was sold to me as a 15 year old. No, the issue here was that she didn’t have enough faith. If she had had more faith, that mountain would be gone.

I have issues with this for a lot of reasons. There are a couple of reasons here. If you have a mountain in your life, there are certain inalienable truths about said mountain – unless it is a rather nasty live volcano – of which “it ain’t moving” is one. Anyone suggesting prayer could do this is actually not being very nice because ultimately, it sets them up for blaming the person doing the praying for just not being good enough. Nice if you’re not the person for whom this mountain is a problem. Issue if you’re the person whose kitchen never sees sunlight.

Secondly, there are other ways of addressing the mountain problem. Mountains cannot necessarily be moved, but places of habitation can. IN my view, the whole thing with the mountain is that you could suggest to someone that the things which are in their control can be changed. Where they live often can be changed. The location of specific mountains not so much.

Praying for the impossible generally results in disappointment, but more importantly, and perhaps more dangerously, it distracts you from the possible. This, incidentally is not an attack on religion per se, but it is an attack on how we seek to control other people’s lives. An awful lot of that goes on, even without the benefit of any sort of religion as a supporting argument.

Currently, in Ireland, there is a donor drive on for people to carry donor cards, be they kidney, or multi-organ and in that discussion, it has been noted that generally, the people who are doing the donating of organs are people who generally have died some point in their lives when frankly, they were not expected to. It is heartbreaking for the families concerned, but that is pretty often how it is. When you bear this in mind, and bear in mind that most people have some sort of a vague list of things somewhere stashed in their mind or on a post it note or something of stuff that they would want to do before they die, there’s a lot to be said for dealing with the here and now, sometimes, and not so much the future. This is not something people in Ireland tend to be fantastic at – they very often go to the pub and talk about it instead.

So.

Last year I knocked three items off the winds and breezes list of stuff. I went to an Olympic Final. I went to the Dublin Piano Competition final. And I went to the European Figure Skating Championships which also meant that I got to see Sheffield, not necessarily something I had ever planned to do but it was a fringe benefit.

I’ve taken lessons – at various stages in my life – in windsurfing, surfing, kayaking, kitesurfing and attempted at various other stages – whitewater rafting, bodyboarding, cableskiing, cross country skiing and climbing. I still occasionally climb. I do intend to go back surfing this year and hopefully kitesurfing. I’m very lucky to have had the opportunities to try some of these things, but I have also contributed to the effort to do so rather than just talking about it. Today, as mentioned above, I covered myself in ink and tried calligraphy. I know it took me hours because it is now 20 to 9 and I’m sure it was about 4 the last time I looked at a clock.

 

A Coruna, Northern Spain

This time last week I was in Galicia, northern Spain. I went with family who had always wanted to go to Santiago de Compostela, but on one day, we got a train out to La Coruna because I insisted on seeing the Tower of Hercules which is a world heritage site there.

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When the people at the Hook talk about it being one of the oldest lighthouses in the world, it’s because this is actually older. In fact, it’s one of only two surviving Roman lighthouses although based on my understanding of its history it may not have been in continuous use from the 2nd century to today. But it’s still about nine hundred years older than the Hook signal all the same.

And I wanted to see it, so we got on the train to A Coruna last Monday morning and went to see the lighthouse. And climbed the 220 steps in it, and walked around the foundations, and marvelled at the engineering skills of years and many years gone by.

I loved A Coruna. I probably hadn’t done enough research before I went to Santiago because we didn’t have a whole pile of time and what we had was already crammed. So I didn’t know, until we got there, that A Coruna was the second biggest city in Galicia, being two and a half times bigger than Santiago (which is the fifth biggest city in Galicia, despite being the capital). So while I knew it was a big fishing port, I didn’t realise that it was, for example, twice the size of Cork city.

I could bear living there I think. It’s a decent sized city with a surf beach right in the centre, a stunning looking beach at that. The Deportiva football stadium is on the sea front and looks like a glittering jewel in the sunshine. I’m not a football fan but this looked quite impressive. The whole way a long that beachfront is a stunning prom to walk along which is even more stunning than the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. Seriously. Up the coast from the Tower of Hercules are rocks with breaking white water that acts like adrenaline to a wave and spray junkie like myself.

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Of course, the one problem is my Spanish would take some improving. I got by but have big vocabulary gaps particularly in the area of food which surprised me. I can still remember a lot of the grammar and I was told by quite a few people that my Spanish wasn’t so bad.

I’ve spent lots of dream time thinking how nice it would be to live in a city with a decent job and a decent beach and the ability to go surfing almost at will. The existence of a three hour lunch break such as most of the shops appear to have would facilitate that as well. I thought that really, Cork was going to be the closest I’d make it in Europe, or maybe Biarritz, but frankly, even though I’d probably have to live in an apartment, A Coruna is suddenly top of the list. Even though I can barely speak Spanish and really have no qualifications in the fishing industry. Maybe they need junior statisticians down there.

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