Plum Pudding

Ah the trusty Christmas Plum Pudding; love it or loathe it it’s been around since Medieval times and is unlikely to go out of favour anytime soon.  I remember my first foray into Pudding making, it was the year after our first son was born and I was full of homely, maternal ambition.  I was terrified at the same time though, I was thinking how I should have been paying more attention as a child when my mother (and her mother before) would be in the kitchen surrounded by a gazillion ingredients.  That’s the thing with Pudding; there’s no simple version of it really, it will always contain a gazillion ingredients.  There are many variations as well; some use brandy instead of whiskey, some are flourless, some have cherries and some have candied peel.  Confused yet?  Don’t worry, there’s no right or wrong combination; you can adjust the ingredients according to your own personal taste.  The other terrifying thing about Pudding making is the lengthy cooking process and in fairness, any dessert that requires 5 to 8 hours of boiling/steaming is a scary prospect.  I hope I don’t sound overly negative here; once you’re organised with your ingredients and you have the right set up for steaming then the rest is a doddle- honestly.  The result is so worth the toil; the taste is beyond compare and there’s no artificial additives or nasties that you will find in the supermarket bought variety.  An added bonus is the glorious Christmassy smell that will fill your home and have you feeling fabulously festive in no time.  Enjoy xxx

Below are the ingredients for two 2 litre puddings, which would easily serve about eight people each.  Half the measurements if you’re making one 2 litre pud.

400g raisins

350g sultanas

350g currants

100g glacé cherries, roughly chopped

350g light brown sugar

175g plain flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

350g dried beef suet

150g ground almonds

3 medium Granny Smith apples, peeled and coarsely grated

juice of 2 lemons

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon mixed spice

pinch of ground ginger

1 teaspoon salt

325mls stout (I use Guinness)

100mls whiskey

200mls fresh orange juice

8 medium eggs

a knob of butter, for greasing the bowls

 

Equipment required:

2X2 litre Pudding bowls with lids.  I use the plastic kind.

a very large mixing bowl and jug.

2 large stock pots and 2 trivets or unturned saucers (if you’re making the 2 puddings, one if you’re halving the recipe)

greaseproof paper, tin foil and cotton string

 

1. The night before you steam your Pudding, place all of the dry ingredients into a very large bowl and mix well.

2. In a very large jug or another bowl, combine the stout, whiskey, orange juice and eggs and whisk to combine. Add to the dry ingredients and mix well.  Leave overnight to soak in a cool place.

3. The next day, clear your schedule and prepare to be on “pudwatch”.  Divide the mixture between the two greased Pudding bowls.

4. Cover each bowl with a large square of greaseproof paper, then cover that with a large square of tin foil.  Smooth the paper and tin foil over the top and down the sides of the Pudding bowls. Tie the two sheets tightly into place by tightly winding cotton twine around the bowls under the rim, leaving a long piece of excess string to make a handle.  Loop one of the excess string lengths across over the diameter of the bowl and tie tie a knot on the far side to make a handle.  This will allow you to lift the Pudding in and out of the pot of steaming water.

5. To cook, use your two very large pots, large enough to accommodate the Pudding bowls on top of either an upturned saucer or a trivet with the lid secured on top. Carefully place your puddings on the saucers/ trivets and fill the pot with boiling water until it comes halfway up the sides of the Pudding bowls.  Be careful add the water to the side of the bowl.  On a medium heat, bring to the boil and then gently simmer for seven hours with the lid of the pot in place.  Check regularly to ensure the water has not boiled dry, if it’s getting low then boil the kettle and top up.

6. Carefully lift the puddings out by their handles and allow to cool.  Remove the greaseproof paper, string and tin foil and replace with either fresh paper and foil or a lid to seal.

7. Store in a cool place until the big day and to reheat; repeat the steaming process as above but for 2 hours.  Serve with whipped cream, custard, brandy butter or ice cream, whichever takes your fancy.

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*allow me to apologise for the poor picture, the puds were still warm and I wasn’t going to chance turning them out into a plate and risk them falling apart on me for the purposes of a picture.

Beannachtai na Nollaig daoibh xxx⛄️🌲🎄🎅🏽🎄🌲

 

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Pumpkin Pie

 

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So Halloween is upon us; fright night, the festival of the dead or Oiche Shamhna if you like. It’s a Celtic festival that marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of Winter.  Shops have been selling pumpkins by the shed load for the last few weeks and while many say this is an indictment of how Americanised Halloween has become, many would argue that this tradition originated in Ireland.  For centuries, we would have carved out turnips and placed candles inside to ward way evil spirits but when the Irish landed in the U.S. the availability of pumpkin meant they could supersize their lanterns.  Pumpkins are technically a fruit with an inherent sweetness so it’s not so much of a stretch for it to be used in a dessert.  This pie is lucious and comforting and your perfect Wintertime sweet treat.  This serves 6 to 8 people.

Ingredients:

For the shortcrust pastry:

300g plain flour, pinch of salt, 170g cold butter or margarine, cubed (plus a little extra for greasing the pie dish) and about half a glass of water.

To make the pastry, place the flour and salt in a large bowl and rub in the butter/margarine until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.  Slowly add some water and bring the pastry together using a cold knife.  Wrap in cling film and place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

For the filling:

750g pumpkin flesh.  The easiest way to prepare it is to cut a circle around the stalk on the top and remove it’s “cap”. Cut the pumpkin lengthways into wedges and then cut off the stringy, seedy parts and the tough skin, then cut the flesh into chunks.

100g caster sugar

40mls maple syrup

1 teaspoon cinnamon

half teaspoon mixed spice

half teaspoon salt

25g melted butter

2 large eggs, beaten

150mls milk

1. Place the pumpkin flesh in a large pan covered in cold water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until tender.  Drain off the water and using a blender, pulverise into a smoothie purée.

2.  Preheat your oven to 180 degrees.  Grease a pie dish with a little butter.  On a floured surface, roll out your pastry and then carefully place in the pie dish, tucking in the edges and grooves.  Trim off the excess pastry hanging over the sides.  Line with grease proof paper and place baking beads on the paper to blind bake.  Stick it in the oven for about 10 minutes then remove the paper and baking beads. Bake for another 7 or 8 minutes or until the pastry in the centre is dry looking.  Don’t be tempted to leave it in for longer, it still has to go in again with it’s filling and you don’t want it to burn as you’re waiting for the filling to cook through!

3.  Crank up your oven to 220 degrees after you’ve taken out the pastry as you prepare the filling.  Place the sugar, salt, cinnamon and mixed spice in a large bowl.  In another bowl, whisk the eggs lightly, then add the melted butter, maple syrup and milk and mix until well combined.  Add this to the sugar, salt and spices and then pour into the pastry.  Place in the oven and after 10 minutes, turn the heat down to 180 degrees.  Bake for another 20 minutes or until the centre of the pie is just set.

4.  Allow the pie to cool and adorn with a little saved icing sugar.  Serve with whipped cream, laced with a little maple syrup if you’re feeling indulgent.  Add a sprinkling of crushed pecan nuts if you’re feeling even more indulgent.

Happy Halloween!!!

Cherry Chocolate Bread and Butter Pudding

 

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A few weeks ago we celebrated Father’s Day and in honour of the super Dads in my life, I cooked up a three course lunch of gargantuan proportions.  To me, memories  are made of Sunday family feasts and I love feeding the three wonderful fathers in my life; my own dear dad, my father in law and of course the Husband; superdad to our gorgeous, roguish boys.  We had a black pudding, goats cheese and apple salad to start, steak and duck for mains and for dessert, something experimental that turned out to be the piece-de-resistance.  With an abundance of leftover white loaf bread, I made the old, thrifty housewive’s favourite with a couple of fancy additions. This recipe is silly easy, idiot proof in fact and the result; absolutely divine.  I used thickly sliced, large white loaf but you could use sliced pan- you might just need more of it as the slices tend to be thinner than if you cut the bread yourself.

Ingredients:

8-10 slices of white loaf, crusts removed

50g butter

25- 30 fresh cherries, stones and stems removed (you could also use tinned or jarred cherries, but not glacé)

40g grated dark chocolate

750mls milk

5 medium free range eggs

125g sugar

125mls cream

 

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Using a little of the butter, grease a deep, ovenproof dish to prevent the pudding from sticking to the sides.

2. Use the rest of the butter to butter the bread and then break it into pieces. Place half of the bread in the dish and the scatter over pieces of cherries and the grated chocolate, then place the remaining bread pieces on top.

3. In a large jug or bowl, whisk the eggs with the sugar, milk and cream until well combined.  Pour over the bread and cover with tin foil.

4. Sit the dish into a larger dish of shallow, boiling water (ie. a “Bain-Marie”) and place in the oven for about 1 hour and 20 minutes.  I know it’s a little cumbersome to get into the oven but don’t be tempted to skip on the Bain-Marie, the pudding needs to steam and it will just be dry mess if you don’t!

Serve with lashings of custard and/or whipped cream.

Bloomsday

Today is the 16th of June, otherwise known as Bloomsday.  It is the day on which James Joyce’s profoundly influential book, Ulysses is based.  Ulysses is the story of Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus and their movements through Dublin city over the course of one day and it is widely regarded as the greatest novel of the twentieth century.  I think we could all learn something from Mr. Joyce, who eschewed conventional English grammar and chose to focus on the rhythm and musicality of the written word instead.  The result was a truly unique, literary masterpiece.  Why am I mentioning this in a food blog you ask? Perhaps it’s because cooking is a creative process that can often involve using your instincts rather than conventional wisdom.  Perhaps it’s because the descriptions of food in Ulysses are so vivid, so memorable and because it features some more unusual dishes by modern day standards.

“Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls.  He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liver slices fried with crust crumbs fried hencods roes.  Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine”.

Now the thoughts of tucking into a platter of offal might not appeal to all of us but we must consider the fact that historically it was far more commonplace to eat all of an animal.  When you think about it, it has sacrificed it’s life for our dining pleasure so this surely can’t be a bad thing. My own experience with cooking offal is limited, I must confess.  I did buy tripe once out of morbid curiosity.  I slow cooked it for a couple of hours before coating it in breadcrumbs and frying it.  I wasn’t crazy about it, I’ll be completely honest but my nephew (who was 7 years old at the time and the most picky of eaters), ate every bit of it.  The point is, how do we know we don’t like something if we won’t even try it?

Joyce ‘s protagonist also has a fondness for Gorgonzola, which I adore.  He refers to”the feety savour of green cheese”, emphasising it’s inhererent pungency.  Leopold enjoys it in a sandwich with a crunchy salad washed down nicely with a glass of burgundy.  So today, I shall dine on a gloriously smelly Gorgonzola toasty, made with brown soda bread and a salad of rocket, pears and walnuts and I will toast to the literary genius of the great James Joyce.

Happy Bloomsday one and all xxx

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Rhubarb Muffins

imageWhat is there to say about Rhubarb? It’s by definition a vegetable, it has poisonous leaves and it’s roots are used in Chinese medicine as a laxative.  (Less about bowel issues please, this is a food blog not an advice column on digestive maladies).  Rhubarb is lovely.  That is all.  Here is a recipe for some lovely muffins that you can have for your breakfast or whenever you fancy something rhubarby.

4-5 stalks rhubarb, leaves removed, chopped into chunks

75g butter

350g flour

325g caster sugar

250g natural yoghurt

100mls milk

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 heaped teaspoon bread soda (bicarbonate of soda)

 

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.  Line a 12 hole muffin tray with muffin cases (or  2 smaller holed, bun trays). Melt the butter in a small bowl in the microwave on a medium heat, or melt it in a pan on the hob.
  2. In a small pan, gently stew the rhubarb along with 25g of the caster sugar and a splash of water on a medium heat for about 10 minutes.
  3. In a large bowl, add the flour, sugar, bread soda and mix well.
  4. In another bowl add the egg, yoghurt, milk and vanilla extract and mix with an electric hand mixer until well combined and frothy.  Add the wet mixture to the dry and mix until fully combined.
  5. Stir through the cooled, melted butter, followed by the rhubarb.
  6. Spoon the mixture into the cases and bake for approximately 20 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean. (Note: the mixture is very wet, this is normal 😉).
  7. Allow to cool for a couple of minutes in the tins before removing to a wire tray to cool completely.  Enjoy xxx

 

 

Chocolate Chunk Cookies

If your house is anything like my house this morning then it’s like a post-apocalyptic, chocolate wasteland.  There are half eaten Easter Eggs EVERYWHERE! The smallest child came into our bedroom this morning at sparrowfart (translation: far too early) to rummage in a sock drawer where he had stashed some of his haul.  Arrival downstairs and I’m thinking I need to do something with all this chocolate; it’s time to roll out my trusty cookie recipe.  These cookies are delicious and it’s a brilliant way of using up some of the chocolate.  The added bonus is that the dough freezes brilliantly for cookies at a later date. The quantities here are for a very big batch (about 5 to 6 “logs” or rolls of dough) but you could easily half it.

 

Ingredients:

200g soft butter

150g soft margarine

1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)

450g plain flour

300g chocolate chunks (or broken up chocolate eggs!)

 

Method:

  1. In a large bowl mix the butter, margarine and vanilla until well combined and soft. (Use an electric mixer if you have one).
  2. Stir through the flour.  It will seem as though it’s too much flour at first but don’t panic, it will eventually all come together!
  3. Stir through the chocolate chunks.  If the mixture is coming apart, it may just be that the butter and margarine are very soft.  Use your hands to press it together into logs and wrap each one tightly in cling film.  You should get 5 or 6 rolls of dough.
  4. Put the dough in the fridge for a couple of hours to firm up before slicing into discs.  If the dough falls apart as you’re slicing it just press it back together with your fingers.
  5. Place on a lightly greased baking tray and pop them into a preheated oven for about 15 to 20 minutes at 180 degrees Celsius or until light golden brown. Leave to cool for just a minute before transferring to a wire rack.
  6. Once the cookies have cooled, put your feet up, grab a good book and make yourself a very large mug of tea to dunk the cookies in and enjoy! (It is a Bank Holiday after all😀).

 

Lamb and Red Wine Stew

imageAh stew, what could be more comforting than a big bowl of homely goodness.  My go to stew has always been the somewhat well known steak and Guinness variety, thanks in no small part to my appearance on TV3’s Angelina’s Home Cooks.  Earlier this week I really, really wanted stew and didn’t have the required ingredients.  I stuck my head in the fridge and saw some diced shoulder of lamb.  (It was very fatty but that’s not a bad thing, it just needs to be cooked with love and and understanding).  Alongside the lamb was a small turnip and half a red pepper.  I had onions and garlic (always have these on hand) and rather miraculously, half a bottle of red wine had been left over from the weekend.   I had no fresh herbs so I rummaged in the presses and found some dried herbs de Provence.  Now dried herbs get a bad rap but I really believe that some herbs dry out better than others and I think the Rosemary in this particular blend works really well.  Once I had recovered from the shock of the wine being left over, I came up with this recipe and it was indeed, very tasty.  The turnip surprised me no end; I’ve long been viewed it as a frumpy, boring, Birkenstock wearing type of vegetable but this stew really got it going.  It transfomed it into the fun loving, twerking, life and soul of the party! It’s earthiness absorbed the gorgeous unctuous rendered fat from the lamb and the aroma of the herbs too.  Slow cooking is key, though.  It takes time to turn the fatty lamb into gorgeous, melt in your mouth meat. I served the stew with buttery mash but it would be great with boiled spuds too.

Ingredients for 4 hearty portions:

400g diced shoulder of lamb

2 tablespoons flour

3 fat cloves of garlic, finely chopped/minced

half a red pepper, diced

3 bay leaves

1 heaped tablespoon dried Herbs de Provence

750mls chicken stock

300mls red wine

2 tablespoons tomato puree

1 small turnip, cut into small dice sized cubes

2 tablespoons oil and a large knob of butter

 

method:

  1. In a large, heavy based pot on medium heat, melt the oil and butter.  Add the onions and cook until soft.  Add the garlic and cook for about 3 minutes.
  2. Dust the lamb with the flour and season with salt and black pepper.  Add the lamb to the pot and brown, turning to colour each side after a couple of minutes.
  3. Add the red pepper and turnip and sauté on the pan for a minute before adding the stock, tomato purée, herbs, red wine and bay leaves.
  4. Bring to a boil and then slow cook on a low heat for at least 2 and a half hours, stirring occasionally.
  5. The stew is cooked when the meat breaks very easily.  If you need to thicken it a little, mix a tablespoon of cornflour  in a little water in a cup.  Add this to the stew and stir through.  This stew is great to make ahead of time; it tastes even better the next day!

 

 

Sweet Potato Ginger and Coconut Soup

Sweet potatoes seem to be everywhere lately.  Jamie Oliver recently espoused their greatness, citing them as a major contributory dietary factor in the longevity of life and wellness enjoyed by the residents of Okinawa in Japan.   They’re utterly packed with vitamins A, B and C as well as minerals such as manganese.  Personally, I love them.  They’re pretty versatile but I find they’re particularly good in soups as they have an innate smoothness (a bit like George Clooney but oranger).  This recipe has just five ingredients and is a cinch to make.

Ingredients:

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 large thumb sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into chunks

1 400mls tin coconut milk

a good handful fresh coriander (cilantro) leaf, chopped

200mls water

Method:

  1. In a large-ish saucepan, heat a little sunflower or rapeseed oil.  Sauté the onion for a couple of minutes and then add the ginger.  Sauté for another couple of minutes.
  2. Add the sweet potato and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  3. Add the coconut milk and water and cover.  Let it simmer away on a low heat for 25 minutes before adding the coriander and blitzing with a stick blender.  Add a little more water if the soup is too thick.  Check the seasoning and adjust to taste.  Serve with a few coriander leaves scattered over the top.

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Thinking Outside the Lunchbox

We’re now heading into the fourth week of school and many of us are struggling to come up with healthy, inventive, appetising lunch box meals for our little ones.  Sandwiches are the safest bet but can be pretty tiresome.  It’s really hard to strike that perfect balance of healthy and appetising, a total minefield when even the smallest of children can have the most diverse of tastes.  My 5 year old is a pleasure to pack a lunch for as he adores all (and I mean all!) fruit and vegetables AND is an adventurous eater.  The 3 year old is a different matter entirely.  No fruit passes his lips, ever.  I have tried all manner of disguises but he will not be duped.  “Cormacs don’t eat fruit”- direct quote, I kid you not. He is currently attending Montessori two mornings per week and I have tried and tested a number of lunches with mixed success.  I think the key is to keep putting different things in that little Star Wars lunchbox until we have built up an arsenal of healthy lunches that he will actually eat.  Trial and error I suppose.  One thing he is sure to gobble up is hummus.  Most kids love to dip and this ticks that box.  I usually toast some wholemeal pittas and slice them into soldiers along with cucumber sticks.  I like to slice the cucumber lengthways and scrape out the watery seeds as they can be come soggy and unappealing after sitting all morning in a plastic container.  Bonus feature: the anti viral properties of the raw garlic as well as the vitamin C from the lemon in the hummus help their little immune systems ward off coughs and colds during the Winter months.

ingredients:

1 tin chickpeas drained

juice of one lemon

2 cloves minced or finely chopped garlic

3 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste)

1 tablespoon natural yoghurt

2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Method:  place all of the above in a food processor and blitz until fairly smooth.  Season to taste with salt and black pepper.  The hummous will hold for about 3 days in an airtight container in the fridge.

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The next recipe is not really a recipe, more a tip than anything.  Children tend to like pastry and little golden parcels with different fillings have been popular with my little boys.  Get a roll of pre made puff pastry from the supermarket, from the fridge or freezer.  (Bear in mind you’ll need to thaw the frozen one- no renditions of “let it go” now please!)  I like to cut the pastry into squares and lob a big spoonful of my filling of choice into the middle.  Next, brush the edges with egg wash, fold one corner over to meet the other corner and press to seal.  Brush over the triangles with egg wash.  The filling could be ham and cheese, chopped spinach and cream cheese with a pinch of nutmeg or whatever you (or your children) fancy.  This is also a great way of using up leftovers such as chicken curry or roasted vegetables.  Bake in a preheated oven (180 degrees celcius) for about 15 to 20 minutes or until puffed up and gloriously golden.

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“Do you know the muffin man?”

“The muffin man?”

“THE MUFFIN MAAANN!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

One of my favourite parts of Shrek, the interrogation scene with the the Gingerbread Man.  Anyway, muffins are a great way of sneakily getting fruit into people.  Here’s a recipe for wholesome blueberry and apple muffins.  You can substitute with different fruits of choice, maybe blackberries instead of the blueberries or you could just do an all Apple variety, just use 2 grated apples instead of one and omit the berries.  Throw in a pinch of cinnamon with the apples while you’re at it.

Ingredients:

175g plain flour

100g wholemeal flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

pinch salt

85g blueberries

1 large apple, grated

275mls milk

75mls sunflower oil

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celcius.  Line a bun tray or muffin tin with cases.  2.  Place the flours, salt and baking powder into a large bowl.  (You can sift in the plain but not the wholemeal flour as it’s too coarse).     3. In another bowl, add your eggs, sunflower oil, milk and vanilla extract and with an electric mixer or whisk, beat until frothy.  4. Add the wet mixture to the bowl of dry ingredient and stir carefully until just incorporated.  Stir in the grated apple and blueberries.  5. Spoon mixture into cases, being careful not to over fill.  Bake in your preheated oven for 25 minutes or so or until a skewer comes out clean.  Depending on the size or your bun cases/ muffin cases, very large muffins will take longer ao add on another 5 minutes.  Allow to cool in tthe tin for a few minutes before putting onto a wire rack.  If you’re not run ragged and heading to work post school run,  be sure to have at least one muffin aside for yourself for that hard earned cup of tea.

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Eggs.  My children are big fans.  We regularly have eggy breakfasts such as omlettes, pancakes, French toast or the trusty frittata.  You can add lots of things to a frittata; tomatoes, ham, peppers, cooked bacon, cheese, mushrooms or finely chopped spinach.  My favourite is broccoli (leftover, steamed from dinner the night before!) and cheese.  Preheat your grill and be sure to use a smallish, non stick frying pan.  You want your frittata to be thick, like a pastry-less quiche and it will get lost on a larger pan.  In a large jug or bowl, gently whisk 4 medium eggs, a splash of milk and a good handful of grated cheddar.   Season with salt and black pepper. Throw in your broccoli.  Heat a little oil on your frying pan and add the mixture.  The egg will start to cook very quickly and when the bottom part starts to set and take on a nice golden colour, use a fish slice to gently lift it up and let the runny, uncooked part slide in under to cook.   After a few minutes, most of the egg will be cooked, apart from the very top.  Pop your pan under the grill to finish that off, adding an extra little sprinkling of grated cheese to the top if you wish.  Allow to cool a little before eating/ slicing and placing in lunchbox.

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“Bressie’s Top 5 Tips for Positive Mental Health”

Wellanicity

Niall BreslinThis weekend myself and three of the girls travelled to Dublin to attend the inaugural “Wellfest” health and fitness festival that took place in the leafy, affluent, suburbs of Herbert Park. I had intended that my post this week was either going to a recipe, which I had already drafted, or was going to revolve around my trip to Paris last week. Instead, after hearing Bessie’s talk about his own mental health issues and how he once broke his own arm in an attempt to avoid playing a rugby game, I felt compelled to share what he had to say on a topic which frankly, is more interesting, and important, than my current obsession with Halloumi or my recent over indulgence in French pastries!

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