Thing 5: 365 Day Photo Challenge, Week 1

I used to be great for taking pictures. I was known as the one to always take a camera on a night out and snap away on day trips at home. But over the past couple years, sadly, I haven’t been using my camera as much as I should. Recently I started on a project of scanning all our old family photos and negatives into digital format (a timely, but worthwhile project!) and it got me to thinking that I really should be using my camera and capturing memories more often.

I decided to complete a 365 Day Photo Challenge as part of my 101 Things to Do. I started it last week over my holidays, so here is the product of the first week of this challenge.

While on the trip up Northern Ireland, we stopped off in Belfast for a night. I visited Shankhill Road on my last trip, this time we visited Falls Road. If you don’t know the history of Northern Ireland: the Falls Road is a main road running through West Belfast and its name is synonymous with the Republican communities in the city. The neighbouring Shankhill Road is a predominently Loyalist area of Belfast. During the Troubles both areas endured sectarian violence and were famous for their murals depicting the fight and struggle of each area.

Falls Road, Belfast

It’s nice to chill out with a cocktail Happy Hour every so often….it’s a hard life! 😉

Cocktail Hour

Our poor miniature dachshund Bobbie was a little ill last week. He’s 19 and is very frail at the moment. He’s back to his normal self now, so hopefully we’ll have him for a little while longer.

Bobbie

Limerick city, and a view of King John’s Castle.

Limerick

The first signs of Autumn….

Autumn

Planning a surprise 60h birthday for my dad in a few weeks…

Surprise

Thing 4: Titanic Experience Belfast

Another of my 101 things completed: the Titanic Experience Belfast. It’s a story that has fascinated people for 100 years. We’ve all seen the movies and know the story, but did you know the RMS Titanic was actually built in Belfast? At the start of the last century, Belfast was home to a shipbuilders Harland and Wolff, who built the Titanic the largest ship of the era.

So 2012 marked the 100th Anniversary of the maiden voyage, and sinking of the Titanic. Titanic Experience Belfast opened earlier this year on the anniversary of the ship’s sinking. The exhibition cost €100 million to build. I have to admit, previous to visiting I was a bit dubious about spending such a huge amount of money on a visitor attraction, especially in times like these. But I have to say it seems to have been money well spent. And it’s proven to be a huge success, as it has already attracted half a million visitors, since April. The exhibition is fantastic: modern, interactive, engaging and interesting.

The exhibition brings you right through Belfast’s history, the history of the shipyards, Harland and Wolff, the building of the ship, the passengers, the sinking and Titanic in the media.

If there was one suggestion I could make, and I know there have been quite a number of complaints about this so far, but there are full scale replicas of some of the dining areas and the staircase at the exhibition, which are unfortunately are only reserved for conference delegates. I think this is a shame, as visitors are paying £15 to visit (plus parking) and it would be nice if they could also view these areas. It is expensive to visit, but I believe you pay for what you get and it certainly is money well spent. We were under a bit of time pressure and made it through in 90 minutes or so, but you could easily spend much longer there, up to three hours I’d say even.

I don’t want to give too much away about the exhibition for future visitors, because I think it’s nicer to experience it all first hand. But I’ll share a couple images to give you a taste of the exhibition, why by the way, I would recommend anyone to visit. I’m not a particularly huge fan of museums, but this is one you should definitely include on an itinerary to Ireland or Northern Ireland.

Kate and Leo’s costumes from the movie

The Staircase

Model of the Ship

Lifeboat

Titanic Experience Belfast

Thing 3: Road trip of the County Antrim Coast

Staycationing can be fun. As nice as it would be to travel somewhere and explore a foreign country, which I always do, it’s just as nice, provided the weather holds up, to discover your own country. And even better, this was part of one of my “Things” to do! I’ve been to Northern Ireland a few times. My parents are from Sligo, so as kids we used to regularly travel to Fermanagh and Derry. I’ve only been to the east coast of Northern Ireland, namely Belfast, a handful of times, but it’s always been a dream of mine to go to the Giants Causeway and drive the Antrim Coast. So last week I did just that with a friend.

We set off from Limerick at 9:30 am and boy it was a very long long day in the car. Time was tight, so we didn’t get to stop much places along the way. The weather was atrocious the whole way up until we hit the coast. Like magic, the sun appeared and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Perfect.

Here’s a couple images of the drive up

Antrim Coast

Antrim Coast

We arrived at Giants Causeway at about 4pm. Quite late. Hence our rush to get there before closing time. The attraction recently opened a state of the art visitor centre, which was built to fit into the landscape and suitably looks like the Causeway itself. The centre itself is nice inside. But I would have one complaint to make. Entrance was £8.50, which is a little steep in my eyes. I have no problem paying an entrance fee to a natural attraction, but I felt we were paying more for the cost of the visitor centre (basically just a large restaurant, gift shop and a small exhibition), rather than for the upkeep of the attraction itself.

Giants Causeway Visitor Centre

The views around the Causeway are spectacular, especially with those lovely blue skies in the background!

Causeway Scenery

For those who aren’t familiar with the Giant’s Causeway, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Northern Ireland. The area consists of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, which were formed as a result of a massive ancient volcanic eruption. The columns are generally hexagonal, but there are also columns with four, five, seven or eight sides. The columns form stepping stone that lead from the foot of the cliff and disappear under the sea, like so:

Causeway Columns

So here are some images of the Causeway itself. I was expecting something a lot bigger, but most of the Causeway is under water. But in saying that, it was well worth spending 7 hours in the car to get to. The scenery en route was spectacular and the Causeway really is beautiful and a site everyone should try to visit in Ireland.

View of the Giants Causeway

Giants Causeway

Giants Causeway

So that’s three ‘Things’ done now – 98 to go. Phew….

What does a smoker look like….?

I’m a smoker. Unfortunately. Even more unfortunate, I didn’t start smoking until I was 22. How ridiculous. I’d survived 5 years of secondary school, hence 5 years of pressure from my peers to smoke and I was always strong enough, as a shy teenager to say no. It started in university. I was a social smoker, but I never inhaled. I never realised I wasn’t inhaling correctly, I just thought, what’s all this fuss about smoking. I can have one or two on a night out and then not smoke again for months.

I remember the very first time I inhaled a cigarette. Boy I nearly died. I was travelling in South East Asia and had separated from the previous group I was travelling with to meet another group. I was in Singapore on my own staying at a pretty nice hostel in Little India. I went to the shop one day and decided to buy a packet of Marlboro Lights. Out of pure boredom I think. Devilish things!! I remember opening the pack outside the shop and lighting the cigarette and inhaling it. I think I actually inhaled it by accident. But all of a sudden I was choking and in convulsions trying to get my breath back. Breathing back to normal and I took another puff. I felt slightly dizzy and a little bit giddy. Strange to say, but I really liked the feeling. I finished that packet of cigarettes and now almost six and a half years later I’m still smoking.

My habits are pretty erratic. Some weeks I smoke 10 a day, others it’s a pack a day. Sometimes it can reach a pack and half if it’s a day like St Patrick’s Day or some holiday, or drinking celebration. ‘Sure why not celebrate with a cigarette’. None of my friends smoke. I can only think of two who might have the odd social smoke. But my boyfriend smokes.

I do actually like smoking. Well maybe it’s more I like the ritual of smoking: my cigarette while I listen to the radio in the morning on the way to work; my cigarette and cup of tea at 11 o’clock break; cigarette after a fulfilling lunch; another at 4pm break; the best one of the day after dinner; and whatever else follows for the rest of the evening. I firmly believe it’s more the ritual. I hate the smell. I douse myself in perfume and wash my hands every time I smoke, paranoid the smell is following me around. I hate standing outside in the rain trying to puff away. I hate the cost. I hate the social stigma. I hate the health consequences. There are lots of things I hate about smoking.

As some of my readers may be aware, I’m approaching 30. I decided to set a number of goals for myself to complete before reaching 30. Quitting the dreaded cigarettes is one of them. I tried briefly last year and didn’t smoke for about 3 weeks, then started having one with a drink on the weekends, until I was back on them full-time after 3 months. A pathetic attempt I know. I also tried about 5 years ago when I was travelling in Australia. Someone told me about Allen Carr‘s self help book. I read the first couple chapters and said, ‘yes this is good’. But I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to quit and quickly dropped the book.

I believe you have to be in a certain frame of mind to quit. To have the willpower and belief that you can actually do it. That I can actually break those habits. And for the first time in years, I really feel like I’m in that place. I really really want to quit. I see it in my fitness. Although I’m fit, I would be much fitter if I quit. I see the look of disappointment in my parent’s faces when I smoke (reformed smokers: they’ve been off them 9 years now!). I see the health risks and have seen too many people die from cancer and smoking related diseases over the past couple years. But I see how much it’s costing me. At my current rate of smoking, if I were to keep this up, (the past couple weeks it’s been 20 a day), that’s costing me €3,321.50 a year. I just had to re-check that. That is a phenomenal amount of money. I can’t afford to go abroad on holidays this year, but maybe if I’d quit the cancer sticks, then maybe I could have gone to an exotic long haul destination and lay out in the sun for two weeks. Idiot.

So I went to the library yesterday to borrow Allen Carr‘s book. I know a book isn’t going to cure me and I’d be the first to scoff at self-help books, but I think it will give me that extra bit of motivation to achieve my goal. Unfortunately, the book was out. I finished work early yesterday to race into town to get the book. Roadworks on the way in, so the shop closed just as I made it to the doors. A sign? No! I will definitely have that book in my hands by the end of the week and will be reading it through next week and hopefully will be a non-smoker the week after. I really can’t promise anything to anyone and probably won’t tell family or friends I’m attempting to quit (not that anyone notices when you’re not smoking, only when you do smoke!), but I really will try my damnedest this time.

But back to the title: What does a smoker look like? Regularly, when I meet friends of a friend or a work colleague and they discover I smoke, the first comment people always say is: You don’t look like a smoker. I always think, what a silly comment to make. What does a smoker look like? Are we supposed to be the rebellious type? Do they all have yellowed teeth and fingertips? Are all smokers wrinkled and older looking? Can you always tell a smoker by their low deep wispy voice? I think it’s absurd. Although I’m a smoker, I don’t have yellow teeth or fingertips. Perhaps because I’m a bit neurotic about that and wash my hands after every cigarette. Nothing worse than the smell of smoke off your hands. I look very young for my age and am still regularly i.d.-ed going to clubs and pubs, at the grand old age of 28. I don’t have a deep voice. So I really do wonder sometimes what people mean by that sort of comment….another sill stereotype.

Thing 2: Sushi

I finally completed one of the “Things” off my list last night – I rolled homemade sushi! Hmm. Parts were easy, others difficult. It didn’t go perfectly to plan, so I think I’ll have to attempt it again. I think I added too much rice to the nori, which made it a bit more difficult to roll, resulting in the sushi being over-stuffed with rice! But live and learn eh! All in all, not too bad for a first attempt. The final product somewhat resembled sushi and what the heck, it tasted good! 🙂

The recipe I used was as follows:

Sushi Rice:

1/2 cup uncooked sushi rice

1/2 cup water

1 1/2 tbsp rice vinegar

1 1/4 tbsp sugar

Fillings:

Carrot, thinly sliced

Courgette, thinly sliced

Prawns, cooked

Firstly, combine the rice vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan over heat. Stir continuously until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Next, add rice and water to the saucepan and cook over a low heat. Once the rice has cooked, remove from the heat, transfer to a bowl and allow to cool.

Meanwhile prepare your fillings.

Once the rice and vinegar mixture have cooled, pour the vinegar mixture over the rice and combine. Keep a little leftover to use in the sushi preparation. To roll the sushi:

Take one piece of nori and place it on your sushi roller. Wet your fingers with the cooled vinegar mixture and press a fairly thin sheet of rice to the bottom 3/4 of the nori sheet. Leave room to the top of the sheet for rolling. Sprinkle your carrot, courgette and prawns as filling to just below the half way mark in the rice. Roll gently and firmly with the sushi roller. Once you’ve gotten to the top of the roll, wet your fingers with the vinegar mixture and apply to the inside of the nori sheet and roll further to seal.

Slice the sushi using a sharp wet knife. Serve with traditional wasabi-soy sauce mixture!

So there we go, one Thing complete. Well two technically, seeing as setting up the blog was one Thing. I’m on holidays next week – staycationing. Hoping to complete a lot more things when I have the time next week and I’ll keep you updated on my progress.

Relay Sprint Triathlon. Check.

Again, as part of my ‘Things’ to do, I’ve committed myself to complete a full sprint triathlon. Eeek. In practice for this, I decided I’d do a relay sprint the weekend gone by. I did the cycle element, my sister did the run and my cousin did the swim.

 

We headed off to Rosses Point in County Sligo on Sunday morning. As you can see above, it’s quite the scenic spot.

The event started at 9 am on Sunday morning. The sky was grey and dark as I woke in the morning and it was quite windy. Nerves were high. But all went relatively well in the end. As our first relay sprint, we had hoped to finish in 1 hr 20 mins, but we finished in 1 hr 28 mins, which isn’t all that bad considering. I did the cycle in 45:32, which I was happy enough with.

I’m not sure how I feel about completing a full triathlon. I think I must be nuts? But it’s a challenge and it’s one I would really like to succeed at. I’m going to try my hardest to train and put in the effort to aim to do it towards the beginning of next year’s triathlon season. Swimming will be my downfall. I used to be quite a strong swimmer. But over the years, I’ve become more wary of water for various reasons and I’m not sure I can build up the courage to swim 750 meters in the sea. I don’t like to get out of my depth in the water anymore, once I can touch the bottom I feel pretty secure, but I’m very nervous in the sea or lakes. I do think it’s a matter of overcoming this fear and training to get back to the strong swimmer I used to be. Therefore hitting two birds with one stone – I also need to overcome one fear as part of the ‘Things’! 😉

I’ve put my training program together. It’s an 11 week program. Hoping to complete this twice before the tri season begins, so I will be well fit for my first ever full sprint triathlon. I’ll keep you updated on my progress!

Yummy Scrummy Baked Tomato and Spinach Tartlets

As part of my 101 Things to Do list I’ve included a task of cooking a 3 course dinner party for friends from scratch. I haven’t decided when exactly to cook this meal, but there’s no harm in a little bit of practice beforehand.

A few friends came over last night for a girly catch up with one (or three) bottles of wine and dinner. One friend is a vegetarian. Panic. I don’t know why I always panic at the thought of cooking a vegetarian meal. It’s really quite easy. Racking through all my cookbooks,  I decided on a healthy (and delicious) Baked Tomato and Spinach Tart, accompanied by a yummy salad. Went down a treat  🙂

This recipe makes 4 decent sized tarts.

Ingredients

  • 1 pack puff pastry, defrosted
  • Good olive oil
  • 1 large red onion
  • 3 large cloves of garlic
  • 3 tbsp white wine
  • 1 red chilli (not necessary, but I do love a bit of chilli!)
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped basil
  • 50 g Feta cheese, crumbled
  • 4 ozs Goats Cheese, sliced
  • 2 large plum tomatoes

Lightly flour your work surface and roll a sheet of puff pastry into an 11 x 11 inch square.  Cut into four squares.

Line baking tray with parchment paper and lay pastry sheets on it. Keep refrigerated until ready to assemble.

Preheat your oven to 220C or 425F.

Heat 3 tbsp olive oil in a frying pan over medium to low heat – we don’t want to burn the onions and garlic. Add aforementioned onions and garlic and saute for 10 to 15 minutes. Stir frequently. Add 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper, wine and basil. Cook for a further 10 minutes until onions are lightly browned. Add spinach for 2 mins towards end of cooking to saute lightly. Remove from the heat.

Using a sharp knife, score a 1/4 inch thick border around each pastry square. Prick the pastry inside with a fork, so as the inside pastry doesn’t rise while cooking. Sprinkle 1 tbsp Parmesan on each, staying inside the border. Layer spinach evenly between 4 sheets. Crumble the feta on each sheet. Distribute the onion mixture evenly. Place tomato slices on top of each tart. Brush tomato lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with basil, salt and pepper. Top each tart with a couple slices of goats cheese. Brush edges of pastry with beaten egg.

Bake for 20 – 25 mins until pastry is golden brown.

Accompany with a simple salad. I used lamb lettuce, cherry tomatoes, crumbled feta cheese and green olives. Dress with 3 parts olive oil, 2 parts lemon juice and 1 part balsamic vinegar. Delicious! 🙂