The importance of having good neighbours

Each of us knows this scenario very well. You in the middle of baking, in the middle of a messy kitchen, dough on your fingernails and egg white in your hair and then suddenly you realize you’ve run out of sugar. Oh sugar! But then comes the thought of just getting some from the next doors as the chances of two households running out of the same staple ingredient are pretty low.

Neighbour in need

The list of the things that we “borrow” – now that’s a bit of a commonly agreed understatement – is actually pretty impressive. Starting from the kitchen staples such as: sugar, salt, flour, milk, coffee and -eh- parsley, through a selection of practical equipment such as: car seats, mops, mixers, brushes, ladders, hammers, drills and not to forget the extra chairs.

Then of course come all the favours you ask or get asked. Will you mind the dog? Will you mind the cat? Will you mind the kids? Will you water the flowers? We would also check on the alarm, take the deliveries, take the bins out, bring the bins in – to think of it. On a more random note we did the washing when the washing machine was broken, used extra space in the fridge and freezer before the party, fought flooding, chased a cat, rushed the dog to the vet and in general dealt with any other emergencies as they happened.

The important thing is that once you have neighbours that are there for you you do not only feel at home within your own four walls and behind your fence but the entire neighbourhood becomes your safe and happy zone.

Bad neighbours

I never truly realized the importance of having good neighbours until I happened to have a really terrible ones. They were the typical nightmare neighbours. Always at home. Full of ailments and health conditions yet with an extraordinarily developed and never failing sense of hearing. Always complaining. Always condescending. Always watching your steps. They would moan at any occasion and for any reason. Even for – and this is a real deal – Flashing. The. Toilet. At. Night. The other of my black list neighbours (which in fairness is surprisingly short as mostly people just live and let live) was trying to teach the dog some manners and persuade him not to bark by banging their floor and our ceiling with a brush. Well, they managed to break in – the ceiling not the dog, in the end and we came back to a pile of rubble and to the neighbours who, for once, had to take our complaints onboard. Ever since we always try to meet the neighbours before we move in.

Knock knock

The amazing thing about living close is the chance to share food and in particular be shared the food with. It starts with the usual “I made far more than we can eat” or “I tried this new recipe” or “Just tell me what you think” and what follows is the plate loaded with goodness. Marzipan mini balls baked by Jadzia. Lamb, spinach and blue cheese lasagne invented by Kasia. Asian Christmas glazed ham cooked by Lindsey. All great food with great taste and made with love.

I will always remember the scrambled eggs with wild mushrooms that we were served by Wiesia. We had just moved in together and were both excited and apprehensive about living in a small town when everybody knew everybody and where we didn’t know anybody. Yet we hit a jackpot in our flat on the third floor as we happened to have the greatest neighbour you could possibly dream of – Wiesia. She made us feel so welcome in such a natural and unpretentious way. She popped in one evening to say”hello” and have a cigarette. We had one. After the second one we became friends and after the third one we were sharing stories and chatting our lives away. I loved when she dropped by and I could take a little break from whatever I was doing. So one Sunday afternoon she knocked on the door to invite us for some amazing scramble eggs that she made with the freshly picked wild mushrooms. Simple and delicious. We shared and we laughed and we had some best neighbour time in our life.

red currants heart

One of my favourite cake recipe comes from my grandma’s neighbour – Czesia and reminds me of all my early childhood summers that I spent at my neighbours – running around their orchard, playing hide and seek in the basement, dressing up and playing monopoly aka Eurobusiness. I would go in the morning, often stayed for lunch and many a time for tea. Especially, when this beautiful cake was served.

For some reason my grandma never baked that one but years later my mum found the scribbled recipe in granny’s old cookbook and the perfect summer cake was revived.

old handwritten recipe

My favourite summer fruit meringue cake
Shortbread cake

300 g flour

200 g unsalted butter

100 g caster sugar

3 egg yolks

Meringue top

5 egg whites

10 tbs caster sugar

Summer fruit

300 g red currents, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries or a mix of those

red currents meringue cake

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

In a big bowl mix together the flour with the butter. Once combined add the sugar and then the egg yolks. Work with your hands into a smooth dough and spread on the greased spring form making sure to leave the edges slightly higher. Pierce with a fork here and there and put into the preheated oven for 30 minutes.

Once the cake is ready and nicely golden take out of the oven and sprinkle with a sugar. That will make the crust on the top and the cake will not get soggy after you add the fruit.

Leave the cake to cool and then arrange the summer fruit on the top. My absolute favourite are the red currents as I love their slightly sour flavour but raspberries and blueberries work fabulously well too. In the autumn I use apples that I chop into fine chunks and heat with a few spoons of sugar until softened.

To finish the cake with the meringue top whisk the egg whites gradually adding the sugar spoon by spoon until fluffy and the firm peaks appear. If you dare – you can test your beating by turning the bowl upside down. Arrange the meringue on the top of the fruit and put into the oven for 10 – 15 minutes or until it’s lovely golden. Take out of the oven and leave to cool a bit. Then cut generous slices.

Enjoy and make sure to share with the neighbours.

Sonia-signature

 

Hawaiian Bake

hawaiin bake 2

Some of the best meal ideas happen to me, and I bet to a lot of you as well, when I try to make use of the leftovers tucked away in the fridge. Somehow facing a culinary challenge is a great test for your brain and for your taste buds. A true food for thought. Or actually a thought that turns into food. It was a whim of a moment to combine a few boiled potatoes, some slices of ham and leftover cheese with leeks and pineapple. But it worked. And in fairness still works outstandingly well. Obviously, it gets its name from the pineapple, or ananas as the majority of European countries call it and because of that makes it a rather summery dish. After all, isn’t a pineapple just a sunny circle that brings sunshine and reminds of palm beach holidays.

pineapple

I spent my early childhood completely unaware of a pineapple and I could not pinpoint when exactly it made its appearance on our tables. But once it did – everyone started to include it in their meals for the exotic touch and sophisticated vibe. Suddenly all menus were full of pineapple – kind of like the omnipresent chia seeds nowadays. My mum would make amazing pork chops with a  slice of pineapple and melted cheese on the top. An absolute crowd-pleaser and jaw-dropper in the 80s. That is, if you only like pineapple. I know a few who don’t. And they were unfortunate enough and brave enough to share the Hawaiian Bake with us. My brilliant neighbour managed to have  a hearty portion and never said a word yet strangely avoided any other dinners at our place. It took me a good few meals to convince him that I am actually not such a bad cook and even longer for him to confess he simply doesn’t like the pineapple. Anyway, but for this one case everyone seems to love the dish and usually asks for  a recipe afterwards. So there it is. The Hawaiian Bake.

leeksIngredients:

800 g potatoes (washed, unpeeled and boiled)

50 g butter

3 leeks

250 g ham (or more)

1 pineapple (or a can of pineapple)

250 g cheese

2 cobs of ready-to-eat corn cobs or 1 tin of corn (optional)

salt and pepper

a 20 cm x 30 cm (or similar) ovenproof baking dish

hawaiian bake collagePreheat the oven to 160°C.

Slice the boiled potatoes and layer them on the bottom of the ovenproof baking dish.

Cut each leek in quarters along their length starting 1 cm below the white tip as that will hold the leek together for washing.  See full instructions here. Thoroughly rinse the leeks and pat them dry. Add leeks and butter to a medium pot and saute on a very low heat for about 10 minutes. Leeks love butter and will soak up any amount so you might want to add a knob more once they’re cooking. Once soft and shiny spread the leek on the potato layer.

Cut the ham into about 5 mm x 20 mm slices. Add another layer to your dish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Prepare the pineapple. Cut off the top and bottom of the pineapple then cut the skin off with a  knife just like in this video here. Cut the pineapple into chunks and layer it onto the ham.

If adding the corn layer – hold the corn cob upright and run a sharp knife down along the kernels base to cut  them off the cores.  Spread the corn kernels on the pineapple layer.

Grate your cheese and generously sprinkle over the dish adding the final layer.

Place in the oven for 25 – 30 minutes.

Once the cheese is bubbly and golden and all the flavours blended in the heat remove from the oven and leave to rest for 5 – 10 minutes.

hawaiian bake

Enjoy and share.

Sonia-signature

Around Ireland in 21 days

rainbow in Kerry

This post is inspired and dedicated to Edyta and Dwayne, a pair of globetrotters who are planning to visit Ireland next year. They asked me for a few suggestions and somehow the whole post came about. I put together a collection of my favourite places in Ireland, the experiences that I thoroughly enjoyed and the pictures that I took on the way. Sure,  it is subjective and selective. Sure, I am aware that there are many more places worth visiting and I solemnly intend to explore them in the next few years. But for sure it shows you Ireland that I love.

What’s below is an around-the-clock, twenty-one day tour of Ireland starting in Dublin and assuming you will be driving and staying in B&Bs of your own choice. All opinions, insights and pictures are mine own. While all featured attractions are well tried and tested, they are loose suggestions and by all means feel free to add, skip, take detours and take your time. Use the printable Things to do in Ireland bucket list . Try it and tweak it. Enjoy and have craic.  Welcome to Ireland my way.

Co. Dublin
Day 1
Start in the heart of Dublin and go to see a deer or two or fifty in the Phoenix Park.  It is the biggest park in Europe and the home to hundreds of deer as well as the residency of the Irish President and the US Ambassador. The best idea is to cycle around the park on a bike that you can hire here. You might bring your own picnic – there’s space galore – or you can get a quick lunch or tea at Phoenix Cafe. (If you have an extra day make sure to go to the ZOO as their animals are always happy to see some foreign human beings.)
Deer in Phoenix Park
Phoenix Park, Dublin
In the afternoon see the home of the black stuff at the Guinness Storehouse. Get a photo in front of the famous black gate. Enjoy the journey through the complicated and fascinating process and history of stout making and make your way to the very top for the most rewarding pint of Guinness and the most spectacular views of Dublin.
Guinness Storehouse
Guinness Storehouse, Dublin
Day 2

Spend a day in Dublin fair city. Walk along the Grafton Street. Make sure to have a close look at the buskers – this is where The Script or Ed Sheeran performed back in the days and they still mention the street in their songs. You might as well see the next big things. Have a coffee at Bewleys Cafe – my favourite Irish coffee brand.

Walk around St Stephens Green.  Go shopping or window shopping to St Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre and enjoy the impressive architecture of the place. Afterwards, relax in the park.  Feed the ducks or seagulls or any birds at the park. If you have a little time pop into Little Museum of Dublin for the modern history of Dublin and a great collection of artifacts and memorabilia.
St Stephen's Green Shopping Centre
St Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre, Dublin
Walk through the usually crowded Temple Bar just to get the vibrant international feeling until you reach the River Liffey. Cross the Ha’penny Bridge – the most romantic of the Dublin bridges. Did you know that 100 years ago you would still have to pay half-a-penny to the toll man to cross the cast-iron bridge joining Dublin South and Dublin North?
Temple Bar in Dublin
Temple Bar, Dublin
Keep to the quays and head east. Pass the O’Connell Bridge – the only bridge that is wider than longer. See the Spire – one of Dublin landmarks. Keep walking along the docklands. This is where the state-of-art and high tech European HQ are located.  You might notice Googlers and Facebookers passing by. See the Samuel Becket Bridge just off the DCC – Dublin Conference Centre – this is the modern uber and agile Dublin.
Dublin Quays
Dublin Quays
Have  a coffee or  a pint on the way – depending on the time of day. If you’re not in a rush and have 2 or 3 hours to spare visit interactive and innovative EPIC Museum which tells an intriguing story of the Irish emigration and heritage and is located in beautiful historical dungeons where Michel Collins was filmed.
a pint of Guinness
 Day 3

Go to Howth. Walk around the harbour on a busy day (and every day seems to be busy there) .Visit the fish shops. See the resident seal. Have an Irish coffee at the pub. Definitely go on a cliff walk. You can see the map here. There are shorter and longer loops to please everyone.  Enjoy the astonishing views and keep looking for the seals. Make sure to see the lighthouse (and tick that off your bucket list).

Howth, Co. Dublin
Howth, Co. Dublin

After the walk drive to Clontarf for the best fish and chips take-away from Beshof Bros (and cross off another item on your bucket list). Then, trying not to have to many sneaky chips on the way, drive through the old wooden bridge to the Dollymount Strand Beach, park in the sand in front of the sea and have one of the best meals ever. And. I. Mean. It.

Dollymount Strand
Dollymount Strand , Co. Dublin
Day 4

Start your day in Dun Laoghaire. But actually first you might want to learn how it’s pronounced here in my favourite scene of PS I love you. I tell you I can totally relate as it took me three months to figure out how it is pronounced, but then again, I did not have a handsome Gerard Butler to fill me in on that.

Now back to Dun Laoghaire, shall we? Have a brunch at Harry’s Cafe Bar. I will never forget the amazing eggs Benedict I had there. Check one of many charity shops – you never know what books, bric-a-brac or accessories you might find. You can end up with a copy of a cookbook signed by Jamie Oliver or a pair of designer high heels or a vintage jewelry box. Just keep looking. Also, if you like good design – visit Meadows and Byrne for quality and inspiration. Then get to the see front and walk along the pier. Watch the ferries sailing in and out. Head south, pass the People’s Park and have the famous Teddy’s Ice Cream while looking at this James Joyce’s quote.

Dun Laoghaire Ulysses quote
Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin
Take the dart to Killiney Beach. See the secret gate to Bono’s seaside mansion. Have a stroll. Have a picnic. Have a dip in the sea. And if you have some time to spare climb the Killiney Hill.
Killiney Beach
Killiney Beach, Co Dublin

At the end of the day drive up to the Dublin mountains to the Johnny Fox’s Pub. You will find it sign posted on the way. It is said to be the highest pub in Dublin. It is famous and packed with tourists but cosy pleasant and heart warming. If only you’re not allergic to seafood, definitely try mussels – amazing and well priced. Make sure to see the weather stone in front of the pub. To me this is the essence of weather forecasting in Ireland. Never fails.

Johnnie Fox's Pub
Johnnie Fox’s Pub
 Co. Wicklow
 Day 5

Go on a walk from Bray to Greystones. It is a winding route along the cliffs with the sea just a twenty meters down away. See the old and existing dart line. See where the smugglers used to store their contraband. Breathe the sea breeze.

When arriving in Greystones you might be peckish so head for a bite to eat to Happy Pear – a little cafe run by two brothers famous for their vegetarian dishes. Don’t be discouraged by the queue, those people know what they are doing and it is worth it.

Take the dart back from Greystones to Bray. The views are thrilling  and you will get one of your bucket list items ticked too.

I strongly recommend a dinner at Platform Pizza Bar. It is an amazing place with amazing food – you might want to book that in advance.

Bray to Greystones track
Bray to Greystones trail
Day 6

Drive through the Sally Gap – the most famous crossing in the middle of nowhere. Feel the wilderness and the majesty of the Wicklow Mountains. My favourite route is from Dublin through Minor Kilbride. Take time to take breaks and stop for a picture and a short walk. The scenery is stunning and one of a kind.

Sally Gap
Co. Wicklow
Wicklow  is the county where a lot of famous films and series have been shot. The whole Vikings Village was built here at Lough Tay on the way to Glendalough. In fairness if you see the scenery you will understand why so many film makers pick it.
Glendalough
Glendalough, Co. Wicklow
Visit the Monastic City with the cemetery and the Round Tower. If you enjoy hiking go for the walk along the white route. Climb  over 600 wooden steps to experience some of the most breathtaking views of the Wicklow Mountains. If you are in luck you might even see a herd of deer on the way.
Glendalough Walk
Glendalough, Co. Wicklow
Glendalough Walk
Glendalough, Co. Wicklow
Day  7

Climb the hill that looks like a huge pile of sugar and hence it’s called Sugarloaf. It only takes 45 minutes to get to the top and yet the view at its peak is most impressive and most rewarding. Have a little picnic at the top while enjoying the views and breathing in the breeze.

Sugarloaf-drone-photo
Sugarloaf, Co. Wicklow
sheep at Sugarloaf
Sugarloaf, Co. Wicklow
Sugarloaf
Sugarloaf, Co. Wicklow

Have a lunch or afternoon tea at Avoca – the home for great Irish design and dining.

Go to one of the most beautiful, and popular, beaches in the South – Brittas Bay. You could easily spend a relaxing day there or just go for a walk or have a BBQ. Soft sand and stretched dunes make it the seaside destination for many Dubliners especially on one of those summery sunny days. The beach is so big that even on a bright hot day you can easily find a spot for yourself.

Co. Cork
Day 8

See how Jameson whiskey is made at the Midleton Whiskey Museum. Walk around the grounds, follow the journey of crafting the perfect blend and find for yourself the difference between the double and triple distillation.

Afterwards dine at Bramley Lodge – a great place with a great balance between homely and sophisticated food.
Midleton Whiskey Museum
Midleton Whiskey Museum, Co. Cork
Day 9

Be amused, amazed and astonished and finally understand why the Irish are so good at making conversations. Visit the beautiful and intriguing Blarney Castle, kiss the stone and get the gift of ‘blarney’.

If you do not know what blarney is just see this simple example:

The difference between
‘blarney’ and ‘baloney’ is this:
Baloney is when you
tell a 50-year old woman
that she looks 18.
Blarney is when you
ask a woman how old she is
because you want to know
at what age women are
the most beautiful.
Blarney Castle
Blarney Castle, Co. Cork
Make sure to walk around the impressive estate and definitely see the poison garden where plants are grown behind the bars and labelled toxic.
Take the coastal way south. Enjoy the sheer beauty of the landscape. Stop at one of the little beaches and feel as if you owned the place. See how many lighthouses you can spot on the way.Co Cork Lighthouse
 Co Kerry
Day 10
Drive around the Ring of Kerry. Enjoy the views and take as many stops as you need to capture the natural beauty.
Killarney Co Kerry
Killarney, Co Kerry
Ring of Kerry
Ring of Kerry
 Day 11

Drive around Dingle. See where the Star Wars were filmed. See the famous Dún Chaoin pier also known as the sheep highway. Go to the Slea Head Beach and for a 1€ donation climb the nearby top and take photos of the Devil Horns.

Dingle
Dunmore Head, Dingle, Co. Kerry
While in Dingle – visit the local shops, including their local Garvey’s Super Value – an award winning shop that takes the shopping experience to the next level. While there, make sure to grab the one and only Superquinn sausages. They are perfect for the full Irish breakfast, sausage pasta or BBQ. When you walk around the town of Dingle, treat yourself and have handmade ice-cream at Murphy’s – their sea salt or caramel honeycomb goes extremely well with a pint of Guinness afterwords. At the end of the day watch the sunset at the Inch Beach.
Inch Strand Beach Dingle
Day 12
The next morning drive through the breathtaking Conor’s Pass. On the way up to Galway dine in one of the thatched cottages in the old and lovely town of Adare.
Co. Clare

Visit the Cliffs of Moher – one of the most famous Irish landmarks and apparently also the location for a scene of the Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince movie.

Cliffs of Moher
Spend the evening in Galway and figure out what is the story with the Galway Girl. Let the city guide you. Be spontanous. Be brave. Explore and follow your whims.
Day 13
Follow the Wild Altantic Way to Clifden and if planning on camping stay at the most beautiful camping I have ever been.
Clifden
Clifden Eco Beach Camping and Caravan Park
If feeling adventurous check the tides schedule and drive through a beach to Omey Island. Make sure to be in time to come back before the tide is in or you will get stuck there for the night.
While in the Western part of Ireland be prepared to see and hear more Irish. This is just the perfect chance to pick up some Irish, starting with the basic ones on your way to the bathroom (the bare necessities, that is).  What would you do if you, under a considerable pressure, faced two doors – FIR and MNA? Which door would you choose? Which is the right one? Will you dare to enter? I learnt it the hard way that fir is gents and mná is ladies. So just remember those now and save yourself the awkwardness and gender confusion.
MNA / Ladies
Fir
Day 14
Spend a day in Connemara National Park. See all the nature trails that you can take on the website. Make your pick, pack your backpack, pop in the camera and the rain gear and go exploring.
Connemara, Co. Galway
Connemara National Park, Co. Galway
Connemara
Connemara, Co. Galway
Co. Mayo
Day 15
Feel like one of the pilgrims and climb Croagh Patrick – you will not be disappointed with the views.
Croagh Patrick
Stop at Westport. Romantic, picturesque and yet buzzing little town. Walk around the town and you will find plenty of cosy and casual places to eat with a delicious menu and vibrant atmosphere.
Day 16
If you like cycling definitely check the Great Western Green Way to spend  a day on the bike.
Westport
Co. Mayo
Drive (or cycle) towards Newport and around the Achill Island. See the fifty shades of blue of the sea. Stop at the beaches for a quick break and spot the seals.
Achill Island Mayo
Achill Island, Co. Mayo
Co. Sligo
Day 17
Enjoy one, or some of the many long wide sandy beaches. Spend a day at the seaside. See the kitesurfers jumping in the air. Fly a kite. Have a BBQ.
Strandhill Beach in Sligo
Enniscrone Beach, Co. Sligo
Co. Donegal
Day 18
sheep in Donegal
Co. Donegal
Drive pass the magnificent Errigal. Or even climb it if you venture.
Mount Errigal in Donegal
Mount Errigal Co. Donegal

Stop at some of the breathtaking beaches. Have a picnic.

Inishowen Beach in Donegal
Buncrana Beach, Co. Donegal
Go all the way up to Malin Head – the most northerly point on the island. See yet another Star Wars location and visit the pub Luke Skywalker went for a pint.
Donegal
Co. Donegal
Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland
 Day 19

Go for a stroll at White Rocks beach.

White Rocks Beach, Co. Antrim
White Rocks Beach, Co. Antrim

Visit the Dunluce Castle learn about the Spanish Armada and find out how the part of the castle suddenly collapsed into the sea one day.

Dunluce Castle
Dunluce Castle, Co. Antrim
Visit Bushmills – the home of another great Irish whiskey. If you have already been on a whiskey distillery tour you might skip this one but only on the condition that you will try the Bushmills blend itself. My husband swears by it and it is the one not to miss or underestimate.
Bushmills
From Bushmills you can take a vintage steam train right up to the Giant Causeway. Enjoy the back-in-the-days experience and meet the jolly coal-smeared train driver. Once you arrive at Giant Causeway indulge yourself with the spectacular views and make sure you hear the stories behind it as well. Which one will convince you the most? Try the loop walk and see if you are fit enough to climb 162 steps of the Shepard’s Path to the top of the cliff.
Giant Causeway
Giant Causeway, Co. Antrim
Stop at the White Park Bay that we always call ‘Cow Beach’ as when we arrived here for the first time we saw cows wandering peacefully on the beach on a bright mild morning. A view that you will never forget.
White Park Bay
White Park Bay, Co. Antrim
Cross the rope bridge 30 metres above the sea level at Carrick-a-Rede if you are hungry for more adventure and more breathtaking views.
Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland
Day 20
Drive to Belfast through the mystic and might Dark Hedges that was one of the location for Game of Thrones.
The Dark Hedges
The Dark Hedges. Co. Antrim
 Belfast

You might not be as big fan of the movie as I am (I watch it each year on the 14 of April), or a tech buff or a history expert but you still need to get on board the Titanic Museum as there’s something for everyone. Book in advance to secure the suitable spot. Allow at least 2.5 hour for the tour, yet, if you ask me I could easily spend 4 hours in there as well. It is one of my favourite museums – interactive, involving and integrated – planned with every single detail as Titanic itself, it gives you a very tangible impression what a vast enterprise it was from the design and construction stage through the unfortunate voyage to the aftermath follow-up stories.

Titanic Museum Belfast
Co. Meath
Day 21
Go back in times to the stone age at Newgrange – a passing tomb in Boyne Valley built with the precision that will leave you speechless. Experience the magic of the winter solstice sunrise and see how religion pays tribute to nature.
Newgrange
Newgrange, Co. Meath
Enjoying travelling back in time? Then definitely visit the Trim Castle – a Norman castle where Braveheart  was shot. Imagine the life back in the Middle Ages, see the tricks of architecture and learn how the toilets worked these days. Being the princess will never seem the same again.
Trim Castle
Trim Caste, Co. Meath
 Finish your trip with a proper pint of Guinness at a local pub.
Slainte
Guinness pints
Last but not list
Finally to make your exploring easier – here’s the bucket list of things to do while in Ireland. Print it. Bring it along. Tick the things off. Have  a great time.
 See you in Ireland.
Sonia-signature

Cats happen

minion the cat

I have never considered myself a cat person. Possibly because for the first thirty years of my life, cats did not happen to me. Was it because I lived in the apartments that were in their nature unclimbable and unattainable? Or was it this bit of mistrust and misapprehension on my side that kept them away? Anyway, it took a stray to tame me into a cat person. And since then cats just happen in my life. In cat-onogical order:

Mr Grey
tabby cat
The Grey

It all started with the grey tabby cat that chose to sit on our kitchen window sill or dare I say that chose us. He was a stray one and only graced us with a kind consent to feed him. He would let you watch but would not let you touch. Aloof and withdrawn, he kept his distance for a long time, yet at the same time stayed close enough. He taught me the most fundamental cat facts. That the relationship needs to be earned. That you need to respect the boundaries. That cats come back. In the end he would even let me stroke his back but would never come into the house. He was a proud stray through and through.

Giant Ginger
ginger cat
Ginger

Ginger was the biggest cat that ever happened to us. He was also the laziest or should I say the most comfortable. He loved his naps and appreciated indoor amenities. He curled up and rolled over and stretched on the stairs and landing carpet until he got his own cat bed and would snuggle there as happy as cat can be.

Clever She Cat
Cat walking on the fence
She Cat

She was merely a few months old when she sprang into our garden and our lives. Curious, smart and graceful. She was the queen of garden fences. She was a very skillful climber. She surprised us one night meowing gently outside our bedroom window after she climbed from the fence onto the roof and onto the window sill. She loved her midnight walks but usually came back before dawn with a meow and sometimes a scratch at the window and somehow I did not mind getting up to let her in. Even pregnant with her kittens she still jumped with poise, moved with elegance and squeezed in between the windows and fences.

We were there when the kittens were born (which is a whole separate story with plenty of drama and suspension that I promise to tell you another time) and she raised them well, though, they grew feral and were afraid of any human. They looked like a mixture of all the local cats. One kitten was fluffy tortoiseshell. One kitten was black with white collar. One kitten was white with black spots and a black tail. And the last kitten was white with black chin and black ears. They were only few months old when they went their own ways and found their places. One lingered with his mum for a while, slowly got tamed and even played with us but then at the end of the summer he was gone too.

tortoiseshell kitten

black and white kitten
Millie

She Cat was happy to get back in shape and strode on the fences and walls as gracefully as ever. When we got our Christmas tree she climbed up the branches but never dropped a single decoration. How would she, she was a little Ms Grace, after all. She disappeared one winter day and never came back. Mr Grey, that I am convinced was secretly in love with her, went to look for her. He searched and searched. He came back after a few days to hang around. Then, he went searching again. And we saw Mr Grey less and less. Until he was gone too.

Tabby Two
tabby cat 2
Tabby II

It wasn’t long until we noticed a new cat around. First sitting on the fence and casually probing the neighbourhood. Then on the bin soaking up the sunshine with eyes closed but still vigilant and ready to jump at the slightest noise. Then on the window sill curiously peeking inside. Tabby Two was a warrior. He fought. He yowled. He chased. He came back with scratched ears and nose. He had a nap to get back on his paws and was out onto the street again.

Cuddly Kizia
black and white she cat
Kizia Mizia

She seems to be around for ages. A chubby lady always looking for a snack and sometimes for cuddles. Usually sitting on the fence. Literally. Fearful to commit, yet familiar and friendly. A survivor and an observer.

Mimi
tabby kitten
Mimi

Mimi arrived from Belfast on Maciek’s left shoulder. The kitten was only a few weeks old and so tiny that it fit there perfectly. The little one found his sweet spot. It was not a plan. More like a rescue mission. You just simply do not say ‘no’ to a kitten. But first things first, we needed a proper name and after a brainstorm we all agreed on Mimi that my mother-in-law suggested. We all loved the name and felt it was right for her. Or him – as we found out a few months later.

Mimi was tiny but curious. He hid under the bed and slept there for a while. Then he started exploring. Room by room. Nooks and corners. Garden. Outside the house. Neighbourhood. I was anxious to see if he can climb the trees, jump the fences, cross the streets. He could and he did. But for one unfortunate time when he got stuck on the tree and we had to help him out. Ouch! He can also catch mice. And he does. Nonchalantly leaving it outside the house right next to the door mat. For us to behold.

He is still an explorer. He can be gone for a few days. Then he comes back home to recover and catch up on sleep and food. As after all his wanderings he is  hungry as nine cats. To tell you the truth Mimi is always hungry. He can have a pre-breakfast snack, breakfast, eleven-o’clock snack, lunch, teatime snack, dinner and after-eight snack. And he is anything but fat. I wish I had this type of metabolism.

Mimi is the first cat that is ours. We named him as we knew he would live with us. We committed. He got attached and we got attached. When he jumps on my lap, kneads with his paws and purrs happily, I feel happy too.

minion the cat
Minion

All the cats that appear in the story are real. Their names are real too. Grey, Ginger, She Cat or Tabby are neither creative nor catchy as the cats just happened to us. They appeared one day and slowly made their ways into our house. In the end the simple nicknames became their names and they all earned a spot in my heart and in this story.

I know cats happen to a lot of us. In real life and in stories such as A Street Cat Named Bob or this brilliant Polish 80s TV series that brings me back to my childhood realities. I might even dare to say that cats happen for a reason. To me a life with a cat gives a cat perspective and opens the eyes to the new ways.

Do cats happen to you?

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Herring-in-love

herring-salad

It is a truth universally acknowledged that food can win a way to someone’s heart. I fell in love with my mother-in-law for many reasons, but her herring salad completely stole my heart and made my taste buds hungry for more.

The herring salad was the queen of all celebrations. Be it Christmas or Easter, birthday or nameday – I would be happy to invent more occasions only to see Wiesia proudly putting the big bowl of her signature salad on the table. And in fact, because my mother-in-law was a woman of extraordinary kindness and warmth, she started to make the salad just because she knew I was coming over. She would spoil me rotten. I remember Wiesia and Bogdan coming to visit us and always bringing a hefty jar of salad  – big enough to share so that myself and Maciek do not have to fight over it.

Wiesia-Targosz
1. Wiesia in spring 1962  2. Family gathering in 1980 3. Family get-together in 2003

I only started to try to recreate the herring salad when she passed away two years ago. Somehow, when I chop the crunchy apples and slice the mini gherkins I see her smiling face and hear her gentle laugh. And then I proudly take the bowl full of herring goodness to the table wondering if she would like it and imagining she was sitting around with us. I give her all the credits for the recipe and take all the blame for any imperfections, hoping to improve time after time.

herring-saladHerring Salad – by my mother-in-law Wiesia

8 – 10 fillets of soused herring

2 apples

2 onions

2 hard boiled eggs

6 – 8 cornichons (mini-gherkins)

a can of haricot beans

200 g creme fraiche or sour cream

salt and pepper to season

1 tsp of lemon juice (optional)

1 tsp of cider vinegar (optional)

 

Soak the herring in cold water for at least 2 hours or overnight – depending how long it takes to get rid of the saltiness. When you ready to make the salad, remove from the water and dry on a paper towel. Chop into 2 cm x 2 cm chunks and place in the salad bowl.

Put the kettle on and boil a cup of water. In the meantime finely slice the onions. Steep the onions for 3-5 minutes. Then remove from the water, dry on  a paper towel and place in the bowl.

Peel the apples and chop into matchsticks.

Slice the cornichons into matchsticks.

Slice the eggs vertically.

Dry the haricot beans and add to all other ingredients.

Add the cream and season to taste with salt, pepper and lemon juice and / or cider vinegar if using.

Leave in the fridge for a few hours as it only gains flavour.

Shortcut Tip:

When in a hurry or simply to greedy to wait, I sometimes get a good quality ready-made herrings in cream sauce and make the salad right away.

herring-salad-in-a-bowl

The salad will last in the fridge for two days. Possibly more, but in fairness I would not have a clue as no matter what quantities I make it is always gone in a day.

This week I will serve it with some homemade bread.

Hope you will enjoy it too.

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Tuna Tuning

tuna cake

Tuna cake was the first cake I ever made on my own. I did not have a particular inkling for baking or a sweet tooth so for a long time I was simply ignoring any recipes for cakes, cookies, pies and tarts. Then in one of my favourite shows back them,  I saw Pascal Brodnicki preparing this cake and suddenly felt inspired to bake. This savoury cake is easy peasy and fool proof. It’s also full of flavour and tangy. I love the smell of the chopped herbs. I love how mellowly yellow it is. It makes a great light al fresco supper or a perfect picnic food. Give it a go this spring.

tuna cake ingredients

Tuna Cake
Tuna marinade (ideally made a few hours ahead)

2 tins of tuna in oil

1 onion

1 clove of garlic

small bunch of coriander

a few springs of mint

a few springs of parsley leaves

a splash of red wine  – Do you also love cooking with wine?

salt and pepper

Dough

165 g flour

1 tbs curry powder

1 tbs turmeric

1 tsp baking powder

3 eggs

5 tbs creme fraiche

tuna cake

Chop the onion, garlic and all green herbs. Put in a small bowl and add the tuna chunks and a splash of red wine and mix gently. Season with salt and pepper. Cover with lid or a cling foil and place in the fridge for a couple of hours or at least while you are making the dough.

Preheat the oven to 180ºC (gas mark 4)

In a medium bowl mix all the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, curry powder, turmeric and a pinch of salt.

In another bowl beat the eggs and mix in the creme fraiche.

Make a well in your spiced up flour mix and pour in the wet ingredients. Mix well and fold in the tuna marinade.

Grease a loaf baking tin with oil and sprinkle with flour. Shake off any excess. Pour in the tuna cake mixture and spread evenly.

Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown and the wooden skewer comes out clean.

Serve while still slightly warm with some green leaves salad and possibly a selection of tapas.

Enjoy and share.

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The girl with the long green nails

Liza Minnelli Cabaret Collage3

It all started when Ela got a day late for a wedding and got lucky.

Luck #1 – A wedding not the wedding

It was her fellow student flatmate’s wedding who, oddly enough, decided to be getting married on a Friday, rather than on the most traditional and popular Saturday. So when Ela finally got her outfit right and boarded the train, it was already over. The couple were happily married. The toasts had been raised. The guests had gone home after dancing all night.

Luck #2 – A second chance

Luckily enough, those days in Poland people actually got married twice. Once at the registry office and second time at the church. That was the only way they could formally be husband and wife for the public administration and get the blessing while being united in the holy matrimony. That meant there were even more occasions to celebrate. That also meant that Ela got another invitation to the wedding and she solemnly swear not to miss that one.

shades of green artwork
Shades of green by Natasha
Luck #3 – A green catch

It was right after the critically acclaimed and award-winning Cabaret  premiered. Liza Minelli and her long green nails make an impact and inspired Ela and many others. Still, the fact that hundreds of girls desired green nails, did not necessary mean that every girl could have them. The reason was very simple yet significant. In 1972 green nail polish was as scarce as Krakowska sausage. In other words it was no where to be found. People were surrounded by all shades of grey and black-and-white and any splash of colour was like a breathe of fresh air. One day, Ela came across a little bottle of green nail polish in a lock stock and barrel shop and knew right away what a rare catch that was. It felt as if she was carrying a tiny pot of gold in her purse going home. The next day she carefully painted her long nails green and wore them green ever since.

Liza Minnelli Cabaret and Ela Collage
Liza Minnelli as Sally Bowles in “Cabaret” and Ela – the girl with the green nails
Luck #4 Meeting that special someone

Wearing her trendy silky hand-painted dress by Milanowek and her green nails Ela arrived at the second wedding. The wedding that was not to be missed for more than one reason. Once, it was a splendid wedding in the picturesque Polish eastern province. Then, Ela met the first love of her life.

#5 As luck would have it

It is a truth universally acknowledged that when one part of your life starts going okay, another falls spectacularly to pieces.

Helen Fielding, Bridget Jones’s Diary

Ela was head over hills in love and far too occupied with rich and engaging student social life to study the peculiarities of the Old English Grammar. The bottom line was she failed the exam, failed the resit and faced a gap year back at home with a strictly imposed curfew and a daily study schedule. “No,” screamed the voice inside. “Don’t give in!” And Ela did not give in. Or gave up on love. She decided to move on. A friend of a friend recommended she could move to the University in Krakow to study Polish Philology. With a bit of luck, she might not only be accepted for the course but also could get some of her previous modules recognized. Not to mention that Zbyszek, the special someone she met at the wedding, was studying in Krakow as well. It was worth trying. It was worth fighting for. Even if you had to fight tooth and nail.

Luck #6 – First impression

Ela always knew how important the first impression was. The plan was simple. Meet the all-mighty yet good-natured Dean, be absolutely charming and convince him what a great and life-saving decision it would be to enroll a student like Ela. The plan was great. Except for  a tiny little hiccup. The Dean was away on that day. Ela entered the Dean’s Office and saw his deputy behind the desk – an esteemed,  firm and prudent lady. The Professor gave Ela, who was desperately trying to make her short skirt slightly longer by pulling it down with her long green nails, one of those up-and-down looks and ordered her in. Surely, deep inside she must have been a fan of Cabaret as she accepted the application and offered Ela a first year place.

Liza Minelli Cabaret and Ela Collage

#7 Love and hard work

From then on things went all hunky dory. Love flourished and turned into a serious relationship. The student social life in Krakow was even richer and more engaging but this time Ela found time to study and passed all the exams with flying colours and with different nail polish shades.

Student Girl in Krakow 1970s

There are years that are full of opportunities and strokes of good luck.  There are years when coincidence meets fortune and you feel like you finally got to the end of the rainbow and caught the Leprechaun by his feet. For Ela, the year 1972 was lucky. And nothing brings good luck like green nails, it seems. So maybe while getting ready for St Patrick’s Day, paint your nails green and see what can happen.

I want to thank my mum, Ela, for sharing this story with me and to my daughter, Natasha, for creating the artwork for the post. I love you most.

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Get on board

boardgamescarbble

When you open the box of a board game you enter a brand new world. New reality. New rules. New goals. You take that all in and set on a journey. You sign into an adventure. boardgamescarbble

The first board game I went absolutely crazy about was the Labirynth. Its original German version “Das verrückte Labyrinth”  was introduced to me just a year or two after it launched in 1986 by my friends from Austria. Finding your way around the maze, moving from a ghost to a scarab beetle, meeting fairies and dragons, hunting treasure was definitely my type of thing. One move could change your options and your perspective – all you have to do was to see outside the box. I begged to play the game anytime I was around and would trade in an hour of “I-will-play-whatever-you-choose” for a round of the aMAZing maze.labirynth-board-gameI remember the excitement of walking around the huge old mansion – exploring the library, passing through the billard room, sneaking into the conservatory to use the secret passage to the lounge. I imagined I was Little Ms Poirot following the footsteps of the murderer, collecting clues and solving the whodunnit mystery.  Is it enough clues to guess the name of the game? The story of Cluedo itself is fascinating as well. It was invented in England during the Second World War to fight boredom and brighten up spirits. It intrigues with the story of Mr Black’s murder. It involves with the step-by-step suspect elimination. It captures imagination with detailed vividly illustrated board and miniature weapons. It is a perfect around-the-table, after-dinner family pastime. I had always wanted to have the game, not only play it at friends’ houses and once I got mine for Christmas we all gathered at the table – me, my husband, my mum with my step-dad, my parents-in-law and one year old Natasha – solving a murder of a British aristocrat, confusing suspects, mixing languages and discovering that spanner is called “French key” is Polish and “English key” in French.

cluedo-board-game

The first time we played Ticket to Ride, we were trying to answer a lot of questions. How do you get from Palermo to Constantinople? Is the shortest route always the best? How do you get the grey trains cards? And how on earth do you build a tunnel? We discovered soon enough that you need at least one locomotive to cross on a ferry, there are no grey trains and going through the tunnel is actually quite easy, all you need is a bit of luck and a spare train just in case. We eagerly boarded on the trains and the game became our regular Sunday feature. Each of us has their own ways to score – Natasha usually aims for the longest route and longest tunnel, Maciek builds as many routes as possible and I detour to score more points on the way. You never know who wins next time. The game is on. The competition is high. The winner takes it all.

ticket-to-ride-board-game

It takes a lot to run a farm. You need to tend to the rabbits, breed them well and keep them safe. You need to get enough sheep and pigs to trade them in for a cow or a horse.  You need  to protect your flock from foxes and wolves that come unexpectedly and snap your animals. It is a great fun to play Super Farmer and I am very proud it is Polish. It was invented during the World War II (isn’t it amazing to observe that despite the destruction the war brings, it also happens to inspire people to create a parallel reality) by a Polish mathematician who after loosing his job at the university struggled to survive in a Nazi occupied Warsaw. He created a game with simple rules, beautiful images of animals and two 12-sided dices. Soon the news of the game spread and it became more and more popular. While the professor’s wife was hand making the sets, he would be answering the phones saying: “Yes, you’ve reached the animal farm.”

Our animal farm was sent by Natasha’s godmother, who has an amazing talent for choosing the right gifts. As soon as we opened the box and saw the dogs figurines, the dices with different animals on their sides and the funny and heartwarming images on the tokens, we started playing. The rules are simple and you do not need to be an expert in probability to enjoy the game or in fact win. You can play it safe. You can take the risk. But don’t count your chickens (or any other livestock) before they hatch.

superfarmerboardgameHope you’re be getting on board now. What are your favourite board games?Happy Sunday

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In love with cheesecake

mini-raspberry-cheesecake

I love cheesecakes. Out of all the cakes in the world cheesecake is the one I find the most tempting. I have always known that cheesecakes take a lot of effort to make. Triple mincing the curd cheese, beating the egg whites, baking at strict and stable temperature – all required a lot of time and skills, which meant cheesecake was a rare and special treat. Only when I came to Ireland I discovered the non-baked cheesecakes. I was a bit apprehensive at first. It seemed like a “shortcut” sort of cheesecake. And I do not believe trying to cut the corners is worth it. That said, this cheesecake wowed me. Simple in every way. Yet special. And surely, always a treat.

mini-raspberry-cheesecake

Out of all cheesecakes I make this one is one the easiest, quickest and crowd pleasing. The recipe comes from one of my first, and one of my favourite, cookbooks Nigella Express however I gave it a little twist that makes it simply divine and irresistible. Even for those on a diet. Or for those not quite into cheesecakes. The idea to use frozen raspberries and raspberry syrup came, as with lots of great ideas quite spontaneously. I basically had no cherries or cherries compote and was trying to find a worthy substitute. The effect exceeded expectations and the raspberry cheesecake became a bit of my signature cake.

Raspberry Cheesecake

125 g digestive biscuits

75 g soft butter (make sure you get it out of the fridge a few hours ahead or use this little trick)

300 g  cream cheese

60 g icing sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp lemon juice

250 double cream

250 g frozen raspberries

3 tbs of raspberry syrup (could possibly be replaced with some melted raspberry sorbet)

raspberry-cheesecake

Blitz the biscuits in a food processor or with a hand held mixer until they turn into tiny crumbs.

Add the butter and blend together.

Place the mixture in a 20 cm springform (or a few mini ones that you can see in the pictures). Press to level it leaving a little bump round the edges. Put into the fridge while you prepare the cheesy filling.

In a medium bowl beat together the cream cheese, icing sugar, vanilla extract and lemon juice until smoothly combined.

In a separate bowl whip the double cream (be careful not to over-beat and stop as soon as you see little peaks forming). Fold the whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture.

Spoon your white cheese and cream mixture onto the cold base and smooth the top. Leave in the fridge for at least 2 hours.

When you are ready to serve take the cheesecake out of the springform, sprinkle frozen raspberries on the top and pour over some raspberry syrup.

Best to eat straight away. I honestly never had to put it back in the fridge as it is gone in no time.

Hope you will fall in love with it too.

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The dog who loves to jump

dogs eyes

If there ever was a Dog Olympics and dogs could take part in the high jump competition Lucky would definitely be in with a chance to get a medal. As boy, he can jump.

It all started this October as Lucky discovered fallen leaves. Immediately, chasing and jumping after leaves blown or kicked into the air became his favourite game. Whenever and wherever he spotted a pile of leaves he would run there, lie flat on the ground and not moving a muscle but keeping the eye contact he would wait for you to start playing. dog jumping after leavesSoon our walks turned into a particular obstacle course. Part one. We let Lucky off the leash. Part two. Lucky makes a bee line to the first pile of leaves or pond of water, which may be up to 300 meters away. Part three. Lucky lies down and waits, ready and steady for the play. Part four (after a minute or two). We get to the spot and play with Lucky kicking the leaves and watching in awe his spectacular jumps. Part five. We decide we have had enough and move on. Lucky moves onto the next spot (see part two). The cycle continues until we reach the last spot. Needless to say, he never has enough and is always utterly disappointed when it’s time to go.

dog-jumping-kids-and-leavesLucky also discovered how much fun it is to chase the water drops. He has probably swallowed litres of water while catching splashes and sprinkles and got wet hundred times. Not that he minds, not at all.  Again, he runs and gets to the edge of water and then freezes. He doesn’t make a move, he doesn’t make a sound. He just watches. Splash! And he is in.

waiting for the splashNow, it does not really matter if it’s leaves, water, sand or snow, Lucky will simply chase after that into the air doing somersaults, back flips and twirl jumps. And he will be one happy dog.

jumping-through-water

We often get asked what type of dog Lucky is. We do not know. He is a mix of a good few, for sure. He’s agile like a sheepdog, he loves water like a retriever he is strong like a husky. But what we know is that he is certainly one of a kind.dog flyingLucky has officially turned one now. I told you his puppy adventures here, here and here. I think now that he has come off age it is time we stop referring to him as puppy, though it will be odd to stop calling: “Oh, Puppy”, when his dinner is ready and hearing him rushing down the stairs, paws bouncing on the wooden steps and tail wagging left to right.

Anyhow, this dog has certainly many many adventures ahead of him and I hope to write about some of them soon.dogs eyesHappy Birthday Lucky.

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