After almost six years of blogging, I’ve decided to add a new topic: food. I seem to spend quite a bit of time cooking these days (four children definitely has something to do with it), and I certainly spend lots of time eating, so I have lots to share. Here goes…
Peanut butter and white chocolate: a treatment for chicken pox
No, not to rub onto the sores… To eat, in the form of peanut butter and white chocolate blondies.
Poor Daughter 2 was home with chicken pox all last week. Since baking is a known treatment for all minor childhood illnesses, I thought I’d try to take her mind off things with this incredibly more-ish recipe from Rachel Allen:
Having peeled Daughter 2 away from her zillionth episode of Peppa Pig (hey, it’s summer in Ireland, which means it was too wet and cold to go outside), we got started by creaming the softened butter and peanut butter:
If you forget to take the butter out of the fridge in advance to soften, cut it roughly into cubes, put it in the microwave on the Defrost setting for 30 seconds at a time and check after each interval until it has softened.
We used fancy organic peanut butter. I’m not the most confident baker so I tend to overcompensate by using good ingredients and hoping they will balance out any deficiencies in the cooking. Also, I live near Ardkeen Quality Food Store, which besides being an Irish small business success story, gives me all too easy access to high quality foods that can be hard to find elsewhere. (No, they didn’t pay me to write that!)
Back to peanut butter… I’ve used cheap-n-cheerful brands of peanut butter before and the results are also delicious.
At last! I’ve been itching to finish the old bottle of vanilla essence for ages, so I can open this one – organic Madagascar bourbon vanilla extract:
The sick child doesn’t get to just watch – she got to work at this point (yes, the pox-y arms in the photo are hers):
It would be quicker to use a food processor for the mixing, but the good old-fashioned wooden spoon is better when cooking with children. It means they can get involved in mixing the ingredients and feel more ownership of the finished product. (Nice bit of corporate-speak there!)
The next bit of magic is the white chocolate:
We used Swiss patisserie chocolate (told you we were being fancy). White chocolate buttons or drops would do fine as well, though you do get more substantial gooey splodges of melted chocolate in the finished blondies if you chop up a slab of white chocolate into pieces like this.
Rachel instructs us to butter and line the baking tin. She has three children so she should know better. Any volunteers for cutting out the correctly sized pieces of paper, then buttering and lining the tin while a be-poxed four-year-old fidgets, fusses and possibly even wails with impatience? Didn’t think so. Instead, get the child to tear off a good-sized piece of baking parchment and lay it on top of the tin like this:
And smooth out the top:
And into the oven it goes.
Lastly, persuade the child that waiting thirty minutes to eat something yummy is a GOOD thing (I leave this part up to you).
I completely love the internet. (I suppose I wouldn’t be much of a blogger if I didn’t.) Just this morning, it presented me with a little piece of joy: Thomas Hardy’s poem Afterwards read by the actor Jeremy Irons, with music and performance by Jon Lord, formerly of Deep Purple, and images by YouTube user AntPDC. The clip is here, and the full text of the poem is here.
The recording is a real gem of blended media. At the risk of indulging in hyperbole, I’m not sure how the piece could be better. Irons’ sonorous, seductive voice, Hardy’s sensuous, nature-steeped word-picture, the deep beauty of the original photography by AntPDC and Lord’s soothing, flowing piano are simply a perfect combination.
Hardy’s poem is also a joy to experience on its own. I’ve always loved the dusky, musky, earthy world of Hardy’s poems. (During Wind and Rain is another lifelong favourite of mine, with its “creeping moss” and “rotten rose”.)
One of the things about Afterwards that tickles my fancy are the little insights it gives us into how the English language has changed, even in the relatively short time since the poem was first published (1917). A lovely example is Hardy’s use of the phrase “at last” in the first line of verse four:
“If, when hearing that I have been stilled at last…”
In Hardy’s day, “at last” was used simply to mean “at the end”. That usage is now all but obsolete and we now use it to mean “after a long wait”, with overtones of irritation and relief. Despite how this line sounds to our 2013 ears, we can safely assume that Hardy was not waiting impatiently for his own death. I love how the line shows the effects of time on language usage, with the resulting unintended humour.
My thanks go to Irish playwright and novelist John Mac Kenna, who alerted me to the recording.
Today is World Meningitis Day. To mark the day, I’m re-blogging a post by Carmel Harrington in which Carmel interviews Irish paediatrician Dr Siobhan Connor. Essential reading for parents and anyone who looks after small children:
Nick Hornby’s character Rob Fleming in the novel High Fidelity is famous for, among other things, categorising his music collection in autobiographical order. The same thing can happen with writings and books. For example, you always feel a twinge of pain when you see Catcher in the Rye on your bookshelf, because you were reading it when your teenage boyfriend / girlfriend dumped you; you will never throw out that copy of Generation X, because you were reading it when you first left home to go to college; and so on.
I think I had an autobiographical writing-related experience last week. I had a lovely Wednesday evening tucked up in bed with the latest issue of The New Yorker. In the Fiction section was a short story called The Judge’s Will by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.
It seems odd, but I had never heard of her; that she was a prolific and highly-regarded writer of novels and screenplays as well as short stories, and the recipient of many awards, including two Oscars and the Booker Prize, I learned only afterwards.
The next day, I opened up my Twitter feed and read that Ruth Prawer Jhabvala had died that morning.The news gave me pause for quite some time. The story I had read just the night before was still playing out in my mind. It was so different from what I had been reading recently – the stories of Ireland’s current crop of masterly short story writers – that I had to turn it over and over in my mind to try to get the measure of it. I had a feeling that its author was one I wanted to get to know much better.
The fact that the next time I heard about her, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala had died, should make no difference to how I will read her from now on – but it will. Rightly or wrongly, I feel lucky that when I first got to know Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s work, she was a living author, if only for a few hours.
To honour her memory, The New Yorker has unlocked six of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s stories, so they are free for anyone to read. The Judge’s Will is here.
Phew! Another Waterford Writers’ Weekend has been and gone.
I was delighted to make it to five events over the weekend. Here’s an overview in pictures.
Event: Making Social Media Work for You
Venue: Greyfriars Gallery
Venue: Sabai restaurant
Event: To Blog or Not to Blog
Venue: Waterford Medieval Museum
Event: Writing Winning Short Stories
Venue: Greyfriars Gallery
Event: “Love is the Easy Bit” by Mary Grehan book launch
Speakers (l-r): Caroline Senior, Managing Director of Garter Lane Arts Centre, author Mary Grehan
Venue: Garter Lane Arts Centre
The festival organisers really hit it out of the park this year. One of them told me that their aim with the programme was to focus on the writers. They certainly achieved this aim with a line-up of events that covered a huge range of the skills that today’s writers need, or at least need to be aware of: social media, self-publishing, blogging, how to approach writing competitions, breaking into journalism, and more.
The panel discussion format was used for most of the events I attended. This worked very well. With the best intentions in the world, the audience can start to get a bit glassy-eyed at events where a single person speaks for an hour or more. With panel discussions, on the other hand, there is a variety of faces and voices to sustain your attention, the discussion is naturally more varied and dynamic, and there is a chairperson to keep it all together, move things along when required, field audience questions, and make sure everyone gets their say.
A highlight for me was the final event of the weekend, which was held last night in Garter Lane Arts Centre. It was the launch of Mary Grehan‘s novel, Love is the Easy Bit. Mary is a huge success story: she is the only new author to be signed by Penguin Ireland in the last 18 months. We are very proud of her here in Waterford and delighted to bask in her reflected glory.
The format of the launch was interesting. We all took our seats in the theatre auditorium and Mary gave an excellent reading. She was then interviewed on stage, which was highly entertaining and interesting. Lastly, there were questions from the audience by means of a roving microphone.
The organisers of Waterford Writers’ Weekend have set the bar very high for themselves if they are to make next year’s festival as good as or better than this one. But they are a bunch of highly motivated, organised and ambitious folk. I’m looking forward to WWW14 already!
PS. Needless to say, there were lots of other events over the weekend that I didn’t make it to. If anyone out there wants to contribute something about any of those other events, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
The event that I’m involved in for Waterford Writers’ Weekend 2013 is on the day after tomorrow. It’s a panel discussion on the topic of Making Social Media Work for You and it’s on Friday March 22nd, 1 -2 PM, Greyfriars, Waterford. One of my fellow panelists is Catherine Ryan Howard, Ireland’s most successful self-published author and a master of using social media for promotion. The event is relevant to anyone who uses social media in their work – small business owners, employees, and arts professionals of all hues. You can book your place here.
OK, shameless plug over. Time for the latest of my reviews of venues to visit in Waterford over the festival weekend.
Café Royal, Theatre Royal, The Mall, Waterford
Food and drink: A fairly standard menu of sandwiches, panini, salads, breakfasts and desserts. The quality of the food is good, most items are home made and there are gluten-free and dairy-free options. Salads are imaginative and change daily. The coffee is very good. The breakfasts are ideal if you’re in town first thing in the morning – I like the two-egg omelette breakfast with two rashers, two sausages and two slices of toast. There are child-friendly options in the form of cartons of juice (as all parents know, the least messy child’s drink when you are out) and cookies, though the cookies are over-priced, as they are everywhere (they’re only big biscuits!).
Service: Table service. The staff are very friendly and helpful. On festival weekends, the cafe people set up a stall by the main door of the theatre (which is at the side, a little confusingly if you’re new to Waterford) selling sweet treats and coffee, to save you climbing the stairs.
Layout and accessibility: This cafe is all location, location, location, and in more ways than one.
Firstly, it’s on the first floor of the Theatre Royal, the former Georgian playhouse that today houses Waterford’s beautiful, best-known theatre and is one of the main venues for Waterford Writers’ Weekend. There’s a treat in store for art lovers on the way up the stairs: the walls are lined with a selection of pieces from the Waterford Municipal Art Collection. Among them is an all-time favourite of mine, the wonderful Curiosity by William Conor.
Secondly, grab a window seat if you can, because this cafe has the most historic view in Waterford city. Right across the street you will see the Irish tricolour fluttering in the breeze. The building from which the flag hangs marks the spot where the tricolour was first unveiled by Irish revolutionary Thomas Frances Meagher in March 1848. This event is now celebrated every year in Waterford by the 1848 Tricolour Festival.
Thirdly, stay in that window seat, especially if you have an interest in architecture, or just like looking at beautiful buildings. The cafe overlooks part of Waterford’s Viking Triangle, including the Bishop’s Palace, home to the Georgian collection of the Waterford Museum of Treasures – a fantastic place to visit, whether you’re local or a visitor – the House of Waterford Crystal with its eye-popping window displays and, if you crane your neck, the Waterford Medieval Museum, a recently added architectural delight. The Mall, an elegant, tree-lined Georgian street, also lies stretched out below.
As for accessibility, the cafe can be reached by lift. There is just about enough space between tables for a buggy or wheelchair. The tables are set back a little from the door so you have space to stop and look around when you go in.
Toilet facilities: The toilets are handily located just off the main cafe. Toilets are functional and clean though a little cramped. There is no changing table, a strange omission in a cafe that has high chairs; children who need high chairs are going to need changing too. On the plus side, there is a hook on the back of the toilet door. (This may seem like a trivial point, but us lay-dees really don’t like having to leave our bags on the toilet floor …)
Free wi-fi: Yes.
Parking: There are a few on-street parking spaces on The Mall, directly outside the theatre, but they are almost always full. Instead, head to Catherine Street, a two-minute walk, or Waterside, a four-minute walk, where on-street parking is more plentiful. Alternatively, park in the Bolton Street car park, a two-minute walk. This car park has no daily limit, so you can leave your car there as long as you like. Charges: €1.80 per hour.
As I mentioned in my last review, if you’re planning to head to several festival events over the day, park in the private car park just off Thomas Hill (head up the hill, follow the street around to the right, entrance is on the right) for €5.00 a day flat rate.
Accessibility to festival venues: The Theatre Royal is one of the main venues at Waterford Writers’ Weekend. Other festival venues are a maximum of five minutes’ walk away.
Tempus is fugiting! Saint Patrick’s Day is now behind us and Waterford Writers’ Weekend 2013 is right in front of us. So here’s the third in my series of reviews of alternative venues to visit over the festival weekend.
The Granary café, Hanover Street, Waterford
Food and drink: Above average prices with standards to match. On offer are quiches, pies, salads, panini and daily specials. Everything is of exceptional quality. The salads in particular are among the best I have had anywhere; the beetroot and carrot salad takes the two humble roots to new heights. The main dishes change daily; a recent example is pan-fried hake with lemon and tarragon cream. The coffee is very good, though not the best in Waterford (for that, see my previous venue review). If you are booked in to any of the early morning events at Waterford Writers’ Weekend, the mushroom omelette breakfast (two-egg omelette with mushrooms, sausage, rasher and wholemeal toast) comes highly recommended.
Service: Self-service. The counter staff are highly efficient, though some are not given to smiling. An exception is manager Artur, who is equally efficient and very friendly.
Layout and accessibility: The cafe is located in a high-ceilinged, glass-walled extension to the beautiful old granary building. These days, the former granary is home to the Waterford Institute of Technology School of Architecture.
The cafe itself, located on the ground floor, is one of the best in Waterford in terms of accessibility and family-friendliness. The main doors have no steps or door-sills. Inside, there is plenty of space to manoeuvre wheelchairs and buggies. The seating area is large, and there are leather sofas and good-sized coffee tables at the back by the lift. This area is also good for quiet conversation, and local movers and shakers of the arts and commerce are often to be seen holding meetings here.
Toilet facilities: Upstairs, accessible by lift only. The lift itself is well located. The toilets have baby changing facilities.
Free wi-fi: Yes.
Parking: There is no parking directly outside as Hanover Street is pedestrianised. The nearest on-street parking is on Thomas Hill, across O’Connell Street. A little farther away, there is the car park on Little Patrick Street behind The Book Centre. Charges: €1.80 per hour.
If you’re planning to head to several events over the day, park in the private car park just off Thomas Hill (head up the hill, follow the street around to the right, entrance is on the right) for €5.00 a day flat rate.
Accessibility to festival venues: The Granary is a 60-second walk from Garter Lane theatre, one of the main venues at Waterford Writers’ Weekend. Other festival venues are a maximum of five minutes’ walk away.
Café Libro, The Book Centre, 25 John Roberts Square
Food and drink: the menu looks ordinary enough at first glance – pre-packed sandwiches, pizza, cakes and pastries, coffee – but the quality and freshness of the ingredients elevate the fare here well above the ordinary. The made-to-order pizzas have fabulously thin bases and the sandwiches are delicious. The cakes and pastries are home-made by local artisan bakers, which is particularly commendable for a chain. The cinnamon rolls are worth the visit alone. And the coffee is – drum roll – the best in the city.
Service: Very good. Friendly and efficient. Order at the counter and staff bring your goodies to your table.
Layout and accessibility: Now we come to the real USP of Cafe Libro. Like the other cafes in the chain, it is situated in a book store. But this one is special, because it is in The Book Centre. This book store is notable on two fronts: it is one of Ireland’s few remaining independent book stores; and it is housed in a former cinema. The cafe is located on the mezzanine, overlooking the ground floor and main entrance – ideal for people-watching. The atrium construction preserves the cinema feel.
Appropriately, the cafe serves as an informal meeting place for writers, and many can be spotted here on weekdays mornings, tapping feverishly on their MacBooks. The tables are quite close together, but not unreasonably so. There are leather sofas and a low coffee table near the counter. The walls are lined with books on sale just like the rest of the store, and the ceiling is decorated with an impressive newspaper collage made from real newspapers (I checked with the manager!).
Accessibility is fine for the non-mobility-impaired, but if you use a wheelchair, or have a buggy or pram, this is where things get tricky (despite the sign outside proclaiming the cafe to be “child-friendly”). There is a lift in the building, but it only goes to the higher floor, not the mezzanine. Buggy users have two options: fold up your buggy and carry it up the stairs (hopefully you will have someone with you to carry the child), or leave the buggy downstairs. Wheelchair users have no means of access that I have been able to make out.
Toilet facilities: up a flight of stairs, basic, clean, very cramped, no baby changing facilities.
Free wi-fi: yes.
Parking: behind The Book Centre on Little Patrick Street. Charges: up to €1.80 per hour.
Accessibility to festival venues: this cafe is bang in the city centre, within two or three minutes’ walking distance of all festival venues.
Waterford Writers’ Weekend 2013 is fast approaching. This is one of the smaller of Waterford’s many festivals throughout the year, but that doesn’t stop it from being a vital, vibrant weekend.
One of the challenges faced by festival organisers the world over is to vary the content of their festival programmes from year to year. The Waterford Writers’ Weekend organisers, Waterford City Library, Galanta Events and Vanessa O’ Loughlin of writing.ie, certainly seem to have achieved that this year. The focus of the programme is on emerging writers, self-publishing, independent publishing and social media.
The Weekend has a selection of official venues and partners, all of which are great and worth visiting. I thought it might be useful in the run-up to the festival to attempt to complement the official list by posting reviews and information on additional venues from the viewpoint of a local person.
These venues are perhaps lesser known for whatever reason, but offer people something different and a good reason to venture off Waterford’s main thoroughfares and do some exploring.
I’ll make my reviews as practical as possible by including information on parking, toilet facilities, accessibility, child-friendliness, availability of wi-fi and any other useful tips.
Here’s my first venue review!
Harlequin cafe-bar, Stephen Street
Food and drink: Authentic home-made Italian food – such as gnocchi with gorgonzola sauce – great coffee, good selection of Italian wine. The staff don’t mind you popping in for just a coffee and pastry or a glass of wine.
Service: Excellent. Beautiful native Italian coming from the staff as they work. Some of the best-looking male staff in the city (sorry, men of Waterford!).
Layout and accessibility: compact, tables close together. Buggies have to be folded up and even at that there is not much space to stow them. Having said that, the staff are very welcoming of families with small children. Wheelchair users should be able to get in the door easily as there is no step.
Toilet facilities: on same level, basic, clean, slightly cramped, no baby changing facilities.
Free wi-fi: yes.
Parking: on-street outside the cafe or nearby Mayor’s Walk. Charges: up to €1.80 per hour.
Accessibility to festival venues: maximum 10-minute walk (if you’re a slow walker – five minutes power-walking!).