Throwing the ole 1,2 for the Southern Area Hospice…

“It’s not about winning, it’s about taking part”.

What absolute bollocks.

Everyone wants to win, and if they say they don’t? They’re lying.

That said? There’s any number of things to be said for taking part.  In Krav, our mentality is that if you can breathe, you can fight.  It was one of the first lessons I learned, and one that was repeated to me on manys an occasion during training.  Most notably? When I wanted to lie in the corner for an hour, panting uncontrollably and sweating in places I didn’t realise I could sweat.  If you can breathe, you can fight.  In many ways? The outcome is often irrelevant, it’s not about the outcome of the fight, it’s about stepping up to it.  In Krav, we learn many techniques and tools to throw in our tool belts to defend ourselves, and help us stay alive.  Even if you’re matched unevenly against an attacker, you learn how to defend yourself.

Earlier this year, my first cousin put up a post on Facebook, she was looking for people to join her in a fundraiser.  She was putting together a White Collar Boxing event, in memory of her mother, my aunt, Olive – who died late last year of cancer.  It was my aunt Olive’s dying wish for her family to raise money for our local hospice, as it helped her, and many other of our family members, through the end of her tough fight against cancer – my cousin Bernadette rose to the challenge and asked people to join her.

Picture credit: Paula Ann Curran

The Southern Area Hospice, provides invaluable support and care to people living within the local area who are suffering from Cancer, MS, MND and AIDS.  Their aim is to provide the best quality of life for their patients and their patients families.  According to research, approximately 1 in 3 people in Northern Ireland will develop cancer at some time in their lives and 1 in 4 will die from it.  Within the Newry locale? There are 30 (!) new cases of cancer diagnosed each week.

Their services are provided completely free of charge and they rely heavily on donations and volunteering to provide their care.  The hospice costs/spends almost seven thousand pounds per day to function – that’s a huge, huge, sum of money to raise to keep the place ticking over and providing their specialist care to those who need it most.

Having had family members live out their last weeks and days in the hospice, I can tell you, that it’s an extremely worthy place to send your spare change.

To find out more information about Newry hospice, how to fundraise, donate, or volunteer – please hit up their website here at www.southernareahospiceservices.org.  Any one over the age of 16 can volunteer can help, if you have time to spare, hours are flexible, some training may be needed (and provided) and references are required for all volunteer roles.

Having volunteered for 6 of my 7.5 years in Houston, I can tell you that it’s a very fulfilling thing to do.  My mum volunteered for the hospice a while back, and she loved it.

When I read Bernie’s Facebook post, I was hugely curious about participating, my Krav instructor in Houston, previously encouraged me to try some ‘pure boxing’, and when I saw this on my Facebook page, I took it as a sign to join up.  I was hesitant, though, self-deprecating and unsure.  While I’d trained in Krav in Houston, nobody on this side of the Atlantic really knew about my being an official badass.  I was concerned about stepping in to *another* new gym, I was concerned about the ‘fat girl assumptions’ based on my size and the derogatory looks, maybe even some comments and I was almost put off by the fact that I’d know, pretty much everyone in the room.

However, I got over myself, and I put my name forward.  I drove from Larne to Newry three, sometimes four nights a week and I hit the fundraising.  I took the training seriously, but, not too seriously, because, at the end of the day? It was a charity fight.  The aim of the game was to raise money for a worthwhile, local charity, but it was also about standing shoulder to shoulder with my family, The Currans, in my home town – it’d been a while since I’d done that.

Living in the US has made it hard for me to feel very connected to my family over the years, missed weddings, missed funerals and family events – it’s part and parcel of being an expat.  But, this? Especially having already had some training under my belt?  This was a no-brainer.

Picture credit: Paula Ann Curran

While I was beaten on the night? (I dread to watch back the footage, I should have adjusted my game-plan quicker as soon as I was told in the ring that our rounds were going to be shortened).  I learned a lot for my next fight, and will go in to things with a better understanding and expectation next time I take up a White Collar fight – or, any kind of fight, really.

As a system of training, I’m not sure I’m completely fully qualified to give an opinion on ‘pure’ boxing.  For the most part, training sessions were everything I hate.  A five-minute group warm up run, conditioning and fitness training, with only 10-15 minutes being on the bags, or pads with trainers – the technical stuff that I love.  In Fight Back Fit (Houston), it was the opposite.  A brisk 10-15 minute warm up to get the heart rate up, followed by an intense technical training in any number of offensive and defensive techniques.  Plus, the techniques for White Collar boxing versus ‘regular’ boxing, aren’t exactly the same.

That said, I most certainly liked the gym, the trainers and the group of people who came together to raise funds for the hospice.  And, without a shadow of a doubt, there’s not a snowballs chance in hell that I’d have signed up for the white collar in Newry, had it not been for the excellent (confidence) training in Houston.  Jeanna and the team truly coached me to believe that I could achieve anything I put my mind to – including a white collar boxing fight, in a ring, in the Canal Court in Newry with THOUSANDS of spectators.

This time last year, I’d have laughed in your face if you’d suggested any such thing as doing boxing training – legitimately.  Never mind a real-life fight, or some glam-boxing pictures.  I’ve grown and changed so much in such a short period of time.  I feel like these days, I’m in a constant state of personal development.

Credit to David Barr (lmp-pictures.co.uk)

Not only did I learn a lot about myself and the sport, though, I truly fell in with a good crowd.  Going to the group training sessions was the *single* best thing to come out of the entire process for me.  Going to the 7pm class meant that I met all of the Fit Club ‘regulars’, I got to train with a small group of good people, a good coach who didn’t mind a bit of banter and I wound up aching after training.  The actual White Collar training, was 8-9pm twice a week and had anywhere from 30-50 people in the room.  It was crazy, it was chaotic, it was hard, but most of all? It was fun.  And I got to meet and hang out with some really, really amazing people – most of whom had never thrown a punch in their lives before.  Some of whom? Actually wound up becoming pretty damn good fighters, too.

I surprised myself, I expected to fall apart and be a bag of nerves.  I expected not to be able to sleep, I expected to be beaten black and blue.  My aim was to not get knocked out, not fall on my face, and not need stitches – sounds simple enough, right? LOL!  I went in having missed 3/10 weeks of training (due to illness and travelling), I drove one hundred and twenty miles round-trip for every, single, training session I attended, I wound up getting home around 11pm every night with a two year old – who truly took it like a champ.  I ate more McDonalds and crappy meals in Newry than I care to admit (and that’s not even counting my weekly standing Friar Tucks date with Liz).

I went with good intentions, and determination not to let my family name down – considering that it was to raise money for the local Hospice in memory of my Aunt Olive and her husband, my father’s brother, Harry, it was important.

I went in wanting to raise five hundred pounds for the charity.

I went in thinking I was having a moment of insanity, that there was no way I could step in to a ring and fight in front of over twelve hundred people.

I came out with over a grand, over one thousand pounds, for Newry Hospice, I came out having boxed three rounds in front of over twelve hundred people, and I’m pretty sure my uncle Harry would have approved just fine – even though the result didn’t go my way.

What now?  Now I continue my search for some self defence training that’s local to me, easily accessible to me and helps me move forward.  It’s proving difficult and my faith that I’ll find somewhere is wavering, but I’m still trying.

To anyone who has the opportunity to try something they may think is beyond them, or just a little bit insane, or ‘out there’? Do it. Take the leap – especially if it involves something as epically badass as training like this.

Bernie recently presented a cheque to the Hospice for just over 34k – that’s a HUGE achievement for the entire Fit Club gang and White Collar Boxers!

On a final, and most important note, I’d like to take a moment to add a ginormous ‘thank-you’ to every single person who sponsored me – ESPECIALLY my Krav-Crew at Fight Back Fit in Houston – they sponsored me big, and they sponsored me the SECOND I put my name down, it was HUGE encouragement and a great show of support and faith in my skills, and some days it carried me through when my self-confidence waivered.

Thank-you all <3

Like a Queen – with Constance Hall.

For those of you who haven’t previously heard of Constance Hall – go forth and Google, (or Facebook, or Instagram) – actually, here, just go to www.likeaqueen.com – thank me later.

To some, she is the first contestant to be kicked out of BB5 (Aus), she’s a mum of four, blogger, Author, massive fundraiser (check out her amazing work with Rafiki Mwema – www.Rafikimwema.com ) and that woman who wrote that post on Facebook about ‘three-minute parent sex between nappy changes’ last year that went viral. 

To some of us, though, she’s just a rad bitch who tells is like it is. 

I’ve been following her for well over a year now, laughing hysterically at her frank and genuine posts about motherhood, about being a woman, about accidentally buying adult diapers instead of sanitary towels, about how, if she’s caught scratching her girl-parts during a national interview – that it’s not, as we may all assume, crabs – rather intimate area eczema (who even knew that was a thing?), about parental guilt, sleep deprivation, body image, about self-love, about all love, about life and about relationships.

I’ve found myself nodding in agreement to the list of things she’s written about that ‘they’ don’t tell you about having a child, or the crappy day she’s had while her kids have had a public meltdown comparable to a nuclear explosion – all the while shoving chocolate in my face and slugging down a diet coke – wishing it was wine, wishing I had a closet to hide in, wishing I could JUST POOP ALONE, or wishing I could teleport to a Caribbean Island for a *real* margarita (not Northern Ireland’s idea of what they think a margarita should be) for just an hour of peace and quiet.

In some moments, I’ve found myself truly grateful to read that I’m not the only imperfect mother out there, and not only that, but she wears her imperfection on her sleeve like a badge of badassness.  Shouting from the rooftops about things that are deemed the taboos – she’s my kinda gal.

On days my three-year-old says ‘mama’ half a dozen times in one second, for no apparent reason other than to have me pull my hair out – from the root – or asks ‘why’ four hundred times in an hour. 

On days where he has crapped his pants three times in a row after JUST having gone for a wee in the toilet. 

On days he draws on the wall with Crayola ‘magic markers’ – I think the magic is that you can’t get the damn things off the freakin’ wall. 

On days where my laundry basket is overflowing, dishes are piled high, I haven’t showered, or cooked in two days – have no inclination to either – and I just want to have the TV parent my child for a couple hours so I can nap. 

On days where I just hand him a box of Honey Monster Puffs (because apparently we can’t call them Sugar Puffs any more – damn kale and quinoa warriors!) and say ‘Hey kid, knock yourself out’.

On days where I’m at the Goddamn end of my zen-rope and snap at my three-year old for no reason, then cry at him about how sorry I am for being only human.

Con is there, to remind me in ways only a kindred spirit can, that this too shall pass, that this too, is normal, that this is the side of motherhood that mothers are typically shamed in to keeping quiet about – one must have a spotless house, one must present oneself immaculately, one must have an amazingly behaved child – ALL.OF.THE.FUCKING.TIME. 

But here’s the thing, that’s a pipe dream.  A fantasy.  An unrealistic expectation.  Because no one – NO ONE can keep their shit together 100% of the time, no one is infallible, and I’m sure that even the Dali Lama himself gets to the end of his zen rope sometimes! 😉

So, Con announced a book tour and we all looked longingly at those saying they snagged tickets on her FB posts – I didn’t think she’d come to the UK and Ireland, but she announced UK dates and, from the front seat of my car (while I was out for lunch one day with Col and Lewis) snagged a couple tickets for my friend Liz’s birthday and off we went to check out her Q&A/book signing – thankfully, I didn’t hesitate, because the venue was sold out within, like, an hour.  Neither of us knew quite what to expect, I mean what was the format? Was she just going to talk at us for a while and then we got to ask questions? How did it work? Were we going to be the only people there? And, most importantly, would there be food?

We got there early, too early, 11.30am early for a 12.30pm start – which would have been fine if it had started at 12.30pm like it was supposed to – it did not.  They had a limited menu at the bar (Liz just wanted a freakin’ scone for breakfast! LOL!) I got the smallest and least margarita-like margarita I’ve ever had (don’t mess with this honorary Texas girl’s margaritas) so I quickly gave up on those and hit up the beanie-dude at the gin stand.  Now, I’m not a gin kinda girl, but the herd of fish-bowl-esque glasses filled with orange peel and a clear liquid that HAD to be alcoholic based on the volume of glasses round the room, peaked my attention, so off I went to try his wares.

Why am I talking about gin? Because this is locally distilled gin.  Because I’m not a gin person and I liked it so much I had multiple cocktails.  Because this gin is da bomb!  ShortCross gin, small batch, distilled in Downpatrick – find it, try it – and again, thank me later.

Anyways.  The room was cosy, there was maybe two hundred and fifty people, max, I’m not sure if that was more or less than I expected, but it was a nice sized crowd, many of whom were wearing flower crowns (Con’s signature headgear).  I can’t quite think of an accurate way to describe what we were a part of yesterday, it was less about the words, more about the emotions.  The emotion in that room was tangible, women from all over Northern Ireland had gathered together with like-minded women of Con’s ‘tribe’, to share stories, support each other, listen and just, exist.

The ladies shared some of their deepest and most secret life happenings, from abortions to divorce and separation.  The content was largely heavy – though at times we laughed a lot, too.  From abusive husbands to partners who had been caught cheating on them only days before the Q&A, or they were pregnant with child number four and struggling to find the strength they needed to leave their husband – it was shared.

It wasn’t quite the sharing of stories that surprised me.  I think if you were in that room, you know what Con is about, you know her ethos and you feel safe and as though you can share anything to her without fear of judgement.  That said? It totally saddens me that sharing stories about you, about your personal life, about your pain, or joy is still deemed taboo in today’s society.  You talk about infertility? Body image? The inner workings of the female body during pregnancy? And you’re considered brave – when really? You’re just human.

What I was *more* surprised at, was the overwhelming sense of ‘good human’ in the room.  You see so much crap in the news every day about such horrible humans out there – in that room? The GOOD in people was clear, my faith in humanity was restored a little. 

‘You can have my number and call any time’

‘Can I come and give you a hug?’

‘You are not alone’

Complete strangers walked up the room and down the rows, to hug women hurting, in pain, in tears telling their stories – some of which hadn’t ever even been said allowed to anyone but their nearest and dearest, most bestest friends, but was now shared to two hundred-odd women, and more than that? Received with love, support, acceptance.

It was quite beautiful.  And moving. 

I think I even saw Liz wiping a stray tear out of the corner of her eye at one point – though she’ll probably tell you it was an eye lash or something! LOL!

When we got home? One of the ladies who’d shared in the group, had made a Facebook group page for the ‘Queens’ of Belfast who met yesterday, and it’s nothing more than a page for the Irish Queens to unite and hang out virtually, give recommendations, provide strength when it’s needed, share our blogs, our lives, our loves – and not be judged. 

It’s quite a cool group already, and it’s only twenty-four hours old.

If Con is coming to your area, there happens to be tickets left and you’re on the fence about going? Do it.  Get off the fence before you get splinters in your arse.  It’ll be a worthwhile, interesting, fun and emotional (it seemed for some it was even a spiritual) experience.  Plus? There may be gin!!  Though I’d probably recommend that you skip the ten quid burgers at the BBQ out back 😉

Keep on being rad bitches ladies!

A Woman, in a Man’s world.

img_0042A friend presented me with UFC Fight Night tickets as a “congrats you passed your yellow belt in Krav, here go watch live fighting for a night” gift.

I was THRILLED when my “kid” brother was able to get the night off work to come with me. I’ve taken him to WWE as a kid, but I had no interest in wrestling and didn’t know a damn thing back then, but, he enjoyed it, and I enjoyed watching him, watching something he loved.

Now we’re both older, and we’re both “in to” fighting, I was even more excited to share this experience with him. As adults, and having lived across the pond for so long, we haven’t, and don’t get much “just us” time, and this meant a lot to me.

img_0159The night was going well, and took an unexpected upturn as Rowan came back from a trip to the loo and announced that he had just walked past Amanda Cooper as he was coming back to his seat. Just casually milling around the concourse at the Odyssey, still in her kit, after having won her FIRST EVER UFC fight. He said he contemplated stopping for a picture, but there was a crowd swarmed around her, so he thought better of it.

I didn’t go to the toilet right away, and when I did, I had no expectation of seeing Amanda on the concourse, but as I was walking back to my door, I caught her in my peripheral. She was walking pretty quickly, flanked by two guys and I thought to myself, nah, I’ll leave her be.

I walked in my door, got to the top of the stairs and was one foot ready to descend, when I had a whole slew of thoughts that prompted me to quickly turn on my heel and go back out to see if, just on the off chance, I could catch up with her for a picture.

You see, my gifted tickets were for some pretty epic seats, Row B, in fact, and Amanda had walked past us (we were sat on the exit route from the octagon) after her fight, just as a bunch of lads sat down behind us.

One of them had clearly never seen a fight before in his life. He asked his friends if this was the “sport for people having a midlife crisis”, and while that comment was mildly funny to his friends, what got me and made me want to punch him (and all of his friends in their boy parts) was the fact he was a blatant objectifying, misogynistic douche bag – and they egged him on and found him hilarious.

I sat there, listening to him, my blood slowly boiling from a simmer, loudly objectify the octagon girl. Announcing any number of derogatory comments about her and how he wished he’d sat closer so he could see her, rather than the fighting – because of how “f’ing hot” she was.

And you know what? For the longest time? My entire goal in life was to BE that octagon girl. Skinny, pretty, big boobs – the epitome of everything society and the world tells you that you should BE as a woman.  Plus sized is a dirty word.  You need to BE beautiful.  Plus sized is NOT beautiful.

Even nowadays.

Sit pretty.
Look nice.

Be skinny.

Another guy behind me, boxed for Ireland. He boxed for eleven years and when I asked him if he coached or taught when he was done fighting, he replied no, he had three daughters. He was taken aback by my exclamation of “SO???” and said he’d never have LET them get in to boxing.

Girls don’t fight.
Sit pretty.
Look nice.

He asked us if we came to UFC often and a third member of their group said “well, she (referring to me) is a pro, she knows a lot about this” and I’ll never forget the pride in my brothers voice when he informed them, “she does this” (meaning fight) and the shock on their faces and in their voices when I said, “yeah, I fight”, and told them about my new found love of Krav.

The boxer also said (when the heavyweight class came up), that being hit by a 245lb dude would be like being hit by a “fucking bus”, and sniggered like 245 was so. Damn. Heavy.

And as my 245lb, fitter than I’ve ever been in my entire life, recent yellow belt/level 1 achiever in Krav Maga self, stood at the top of those stairs, ready to return to my seat, I was struck by a lightening bolt.

If the last six months of self discovery and badass training have taught me anything? It’s that I’d rather be a strong, capable badass that men at the very least fear and question my capabilities, but at most, respect.

Than be a woman who’s gawked at, drooled over and talked about like I’m a stupid, piece of meat whose whole existence is to “stand and look f*ckable, like a good girl”.

I’ll admit, the results of the recent US election are weighing on my mind of late. With the president elect being so outwardly degrading to women, and my mounting fear of contraception, abortion and other “women’s things” becoming harder and harder for women to access, rather than easier. I find myself, almost glad, that I don’t yet have a daughter, because my rage and pain for how backward and thinly veiled the worlds attitude towards women remains, isn’t easily translated into comprehensive speech right now.

But bet your bollocks to a barn dance, if I ever have a daughter? I will help her smash through that bloody glass ceiling with our boxing gloves leading the way and shouting a big F U to the men like those I successfully tried not to groin kick tonight at the arena.

img_0072So yes, I walked my butt back out on to the concourse and thankfully, Amanda hadn’t gotten too far. I walked up to her and she made a few guys who were ahead of me, wait a second, so I could take not one, but two pictures with her – my hand was shaking (so sue me, I got a little nervous walking up to her) and I hit the cancel button on snap chat instead of the save button and she graciously granted me a do-over.

In that moment I wanted to hug her, to tell her that she had inspired me, empowered me, and had given me pause to think about things for just a moment.

I wanted to tell her that she was the kind of woman I wanted my future daughters, nieces and Goddaughters to aspire to, pushing the boundaries of what society deems “acceptable” as a woman. Taking societies expectations of what a woman should be, and do and saying screw you, I want to do this instead, and doing it.

I wanted to tell her, that in that moment, she gave me the courage to do something I probably wouldn’t have done otherwise, and snapped this picture.

img_0098Which will forever remind me, that, I too, wish to, (and should) push those boundaries and challenge those expectations, vehemently, and for my kids (of either gender) to learn from example and do the same.

That girls can be both beautiful AND badass at the same time – the two aren’t mutually exclusive like we’ve all been led to believe from an early age.

And mostly? That fighting like a girl? Is a pretty epic compliment after all.

b82a0769copy

Larne Baby Club

This morning I did something brave.

In Houston, I wouldn’t have called it brave, and I’m hoping in a few weeks, I won’t be calling it brave either.  However, right now, where I’m at? It felt, just a little bit brave.

Having done a little research about playgroups in Larne, I discovered that online, there wasn’t much information around – did that mean there were no playgroups? Kinda looked like it, but you never know.  Larne isn’t a huge city and typically a lot of things happen on Facebook and it gets a little tricky to search for church play groups or people’s names, when you don’t know what they are.  I happened upon the Larne Baby Club after talking to a family member, and have had it on the calendar for a couple weeks.

That’s been the way, you see.  My calendar? It’s full.  It looks as busy as it did just before I left Houston to move home.  I didn’t miss a beat on paper.

About a week after we landed home, I got organized, I found a choir (Larne), knitting group (Larne and Belfast) and some self-defense options for me to try out in Larne, Belfast and Newry.  I found Lewis play groups to try out in the same cities, and I even made a nice and pretty schedule.  Days of the week, cities and what options they have on offer – all on a white board in Lewis’ room.

Theoretically, I’ve been set for a fortnight.  I’ve had options in three cities, I’ve had my name on the car insurance for just over a week now, so I’ve had the capability and freedom to actually attend these things, and I just….haven’t.

I’m a social person, I’m an extrovert, I miss my large social circle in Houston every single day.  I’m not exactly shy, I’m outgoing and love meeting people, but since moving home? I’ve gotten caught up in my own mind, my ever growing to do list and stuck in the expat-repat haze, that I just haven’t taken the first step and walked through a door.

Until this morning.

This morning, I decided ‘screw it’, my kid needs to go play with other kids, and I decided to take him to the Larne Baby Club (LBC) after I dropped Col at the train station.

img_9380LBC meets weekly, on a Monday morning, 10am at the All Saints Church (131 Linn Road), and while they have a donation bowl sat out, it’s a free, ‘Sure Start’ program (with connections to the Action For Children Charity.)

I was tempted to stay in bed, hand my kiddo his tablet and let the screen parent him for the morning.  I was tempted to take him to indoor play, instead.  And even for a split second sitting in the car park outside the church? I contemplated not going in and just driving off.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, when I arrived there was only one other mum (Nicola) and her twin two year olds (Ellen and Johnny) and she quickly informed me that there was normally way more people there (it quickly filled out).  It took Lewis a few minutes to come around, but once he realized there was food on the go – he was set and sat to have breakfast with the twins.  And food there was! Cheese cubes, grapes, bananas, pancakes and two (!) types of swiss rolls, milk for the kiddos and tea for the grown-ups.

The two leaders of the group, Alison and Diane were lovely, very warm and welcoming, and any time Lewis was playing by himself, they dandered over to him to keep him company.  They knew all the kids names in the room, recognized that I was new and came over to talk to me a bit about Lewis and the other programmes offered, and before I left to go home, I got handed a little person goody bag (complete with face mask for mama!) and Alison had put together a list of other toddler groups in Larne for during the week for me to try – so nice!

img_9375Lewis enjoyed being there, he played on his own a little, but interacted well with the other kids – especially a couple of the infants, and he LOVED painting with the twins.  And I enjoyed spending time with grown-ups, mums, chatting and getting some information about nursery programs, play groups and even a kickboxing class I’m going to go try out soon!

Looking forward to getting to know the people at this play group better, and to trying out the other playgroups on the list, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll drag my butt out to try my local choir tomorrow night too.  Since I’m feeling brave and all 😉

img_9370PS: If anyone is doing a pre-Christmas purge of their kids toys – I know a playgroup who would love to have them! 😉

The great Gluten-free Irish Traybake – part III

1975221_10154008171670411_7626296965587980891_n

It’s been a while since we did this tray bake morning, but I wanted to share it with y’all anyway.  This time, however, we did something a little different, we opened our ranks *gasp* to a few friends who were visiting, who wanted to come along and see what we got up to in our normally closed-door tray bake sessions.

I can’t begin to tell you how much I love these get-togethers.  If you’ve ever contemplated starting or joining a baking group – do it! The way we work is, every month or so, we get together in someone’s house (it rotates each time).  We each turn up with a recipe and ingredients and make whatever tray bake dish we have chosen.  We then share the fruits of our labours, and go home with some of each of the four dishes – even though we only made one – genius, eh?

For our recipes this month, I chose to do some Crunchie bars, Joanne made some Malteaser bars, Alison made some coconut jam slices and Eileen made some caramel pecan bars – we also threw together some rice krispie nests for Easter – and as something fun for our littlest baker, Averie, to join in on.

Our husbands also appreciate our get together’s too – that’s for sure! 😉

Coconut Jam Squares

Ingredients

1.5 cups plain/gluten free flour
160g butter
0.5 cup icing sugar sifted
0.3 cup jam (Alison used raspberry)
2 eggs
0.3 cup caster sugar
2 cups desiccated coconut

Method

Preheat oven 180oc/360of
Line 16x26cm pan with baking paper
Process flour, butter & icing sugar in a food processor until mixture come together. Press into pan. Bake for 15 mins until golden. Cool for 5 mins.
Spread jam over base. Put eggs and sugar in a bowl, then whisk together until smooth. Stir in coconut. Place & spread coconut mixture evenly over the jam. Bake for 20 mins, allow to cool and cut into squares.

Crunchie bars

Ingredients:

  • 200g butter
  • 400g  milk chocolate (I used Cadbury’s Dairy Milk)
  • 6 tbsp golden syrup
  • 200g  digestive biscuits/Schar shortbread cookies – crushed
  • 6 Cadbury’s Crunches – crushed

Method:

The easiest way to crush the biscuits and the crunchies – or, at least, the way I do it, is to stick them in a Ziploc bag and beat on them with a rolling pin!

Add the butter, syrup and milk chocolate (broken into chunks) to a microwavable dish. (or a pan on the hob if you don’t want to use the microwave) and melt – be careful not to over cook.  I did this in 20 second blasts, stirring at each break – you’d rather go a little ‘under’ and have the heat of the bowl melt the remaining lumps, than go ‘over’ and have a gloopy, unusable mess on your hands!

Add the biscuit and crunchie crumbs to the chocolate and stir together.

Turn out in to an 8×8 baking pan lined with parchment paper – and flatten with a spoon or spatula until even.

Place in the fridge for at least an hour to set.  Once hardened, cut in to squares.

Malteaser buns

Ingredients

200g milk chocolate
200g butter
4tbsp golden syrup
250g digestive biscuits (crushed)
175g malteasers
250g white chocolate
50g butter
1tbsp golden syrup
75g malteasers (crushed)
Recipe
Melt together the milk chocolate, butter and golden syrup
Mix in the crushed biscuits and malteasers and stir well
Spread out in a pan and compact the mixture
Melt the white chocolate, 50g butter and 1tbsp golden syrup and pour over the top of the biscuit mix and spread evenly.
Sprinkle the crushed malteasers over the top of the white chocolate – pushing gently into the melted chocolate.
Leave to firm up in the fridge for a couple of hours and slice in to portions.

Rice Krispie nests

photo

Ok, so we didn’t *exactly* measure the quantities of these, but next time, I’ll be sure to measure so it’s all very scientific (and, y’know, helpful!!)

Ingredients:
8oz/225g of chocolate (white, milk or dark – it’s a personal preference, we went for milk)
3-5 cups of rice krispies (we used gluten free rice krispies)
A few handfuls of mini marshmallows
2-3 Cadbury’s mini eggs per bun
Sprinkles (optional)
Cupcake cases
Method:
Break chocolate in to squares and melt in a double boiler or in the microwave.
Gradually add the rice krispies to the melted chocolate and stir well to ensure the rice krispies are totally covered in the chocolate.
Add the marshmallows (once the rice krispies are coated, so the marshmallows don’t melt!) and stir.
Spoon a heaped tablespoon of the mixture in to each cupcake case and push the mini eggs slightly in to the mix, so they look like eggs sitting in the nest.
Sprinkle with sprinkles – allow to set, either at room temperature, or, if they don’t harden at room temp, stick them in the fridge for 30-60 minutes like we did.
Caramel pecan squares
Ingredients
3 1/2 cups coarsely chopped pecans
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup powdered sugar
3/4 cup butter, cubed
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
2/3 cup butter
3 tbsp. Whipping cream
Method
Preheat oven to 350F.  Arrange pecans in a single layer on a baking tray.  Bake for 5-7 minutes or until lightly toasted.  Leave aside to completely cool.
Pulse flour, powdered sugar and 3/4 cup butterin a food processer until mixture resembles coarse meal.  Press crumb mixture evenly on bottom and 3/4 inch up sides of a lightly greased heavy-duty aluminum foil-lined 13×9 pan.
Bake at 350 for 20 minutes, or until edges are lightly browned.  Cool on a wire rack until completely cool.
Bring brown sugar, honey, 2/3 cup butter and whipping cream to a boil in a saucepan over a medium-high heat.  Sir in toasted pecans and spoon hot filling into prepared crust.
Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes or until golden and bubbly.  Cool on a wire rack until completely cool.  When cool, use foil as handles, carefully lift from the pan and transfer to a serving tray.  Cut in to squares.

Our first two tray bake sessions can be found here and here respectively and our baby shower tray bakes can be found here – if you try out any of the recipes, make tweaks or substitutions, please let me know! I’d love to hear about your own tray bake experiences and your favorite tray bake recipes.  We love to try new things in our group and I find myself looking forward to the next get-together, for the good food ad good craic!

Gluten Free Northern Irish traybakes part II…

It hasn’t been all that long since round I of our mostly-no-bake-tray-bake morning (round I can be found here), but with Jr on the way, we wanted to squeeze another morning in before he makes his grand appearance. You’ll quickly learn that pretty much ALL tray bakes in Northern Ireland are called ‘buns’, Malteser buns, cornflake buns, wee buns, big buns – they’re all buns.

I’ve already started to cobble together a bunch of ideas for the next round, but I think we’re getting towards the ‘bottom of the barrel’ with the no-bake stuff, so we may have to start branching out in to the baked-goods before long.

I love these mornings, you turn up with ingredients for one dish, go home with samples of four – hubby is happy, you’re happy, and you do 1/4 of the work to get the results – genius!

Alison was our host this time around and she made us some delicious homemade soup and wheaten bread to bring us home to our roots for lunch – it was delicious – and I’ve already requested the recipe so I can recreate it in my kitchen and further indulge in the taste of home.

Meanwhile, here are the recipes we used for our delicious no-bake or part-bake tray bakes this time around.

Cornflake buns

IMG_8557

This time we each picked a recipe to make and brought the ingredients for our specific recipe.  I chose to do a Cornflake tart (as it’s seemingly known online) but, for those of us who had it for school dinners in our youth, it’s affectionately known as a ‘cornflake bun’ (isn’t everything that has cornflakes in it?!) In school this was often served with custard, or, sometimes, just a wee glass bottle of ice cold milk. It’s easy to make – it doesn’t have a complicated recipe or a whole bunch of ingredients – and it’s pretty damn tasty if I do say so myself!

For the gluten free shortbread base, my friend Alison gave me a fool-proof recipe, and for the topping part, I used a recipe from a blog I found online called Pudbakes, but I made a gluten free version, and have some comments about quantities that y’all should hear.

Shortbread Recipe: 100g butter/margarine (room temp) 50g sugar 175g flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill GF flour)

Method Beat together butter and sugar, stir in flour and mix into a firm dough – I added a tbsp. of water to bind it together a little as it was all a bit dry and flaky at first.

Press into the base of a well-greased cake tin (8×8 or 9×9 would do for one batch of this dough). Bake in a preheated oven at 350F for 20-25mins until it turns a pale golden brown colour.

Filling recipe: 175g seedless raspberry jam 55g butter/margarine 55g caster sugar 25g golden syrup 175g cornflakes (I used gluten free cornflakes)

Please note:  I was NOT happy with these quantities, there was not enough ‘sauce’ to bind together the cornflakes.  In doing this recipe again, I would half the ‘sauce’ part of the recipe again and make 1.5-2 times the sauce, as the cornflakes are supposed to bind together well and not fall apart when you cut/touch them.

Method Spread the jam on top of the shortbread. Melt the butter, sugar and syrup. Mix in the cornflakes. Spread this mixture on top of the jam and leave to cool.

 Mars bar buns

dsc_04111

Ingredients

4 regular sized Mars bars
2 tbsps. of golden syrup
85g butter
3-4 cups rice krispies (enough to be coated in mix, but not too dry) These come in a GF version here too if you’re interested in making a GF recipe!
250g milk chocolate
Method
1. Melt together the Mars bars, golden syrup and butter in a double boiler/bowl over a pot of boiling water.
2. Mix in the rice krispies until well combined. Spread mix into an 8″ x 8″ baking tin and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
3. Melt the chocolate. Spread over the krispie mix and leave it back in the fridge for 30 minutes until set.
4. Remove from the fridge and cut into squares
Please note:  I think the cutting in these recipes, should probably be done at room temp – we had quite a giggle trying to get the knife through the fridge-cold tray bakes!
Fifteens
DSC_0154
These things are a Northern Irish ‘delicacy’, they’re not an Irish thing, not a British thing, but are very specific to the North.  They sound very bizarre, and I’ve found a ‘variation’ on them that I want to try next time as I don’t like glacee cherries – but the husband loves these treats no end!
Ingredients
15 digestive biscuits/Schar gluten free HoneyGrams – crushed/blitzed into crumbs
15 marshmallows (at home they are ‘pink and white’) – cut into 4 or 6 pieces each
15 glacee cherries – cut into 4
15 walnuts (optional) – roughly chopped
1 small can of condensed milk
Desiccated coconut (for rolling)
Method
Mix together all dry ingredients except the coconut.
Stir in enough condensed milk to bind everything together – without being too wet or sloppy.
Make ‘dough’ in to a roll shape and roll in desiccated coconut to coat.
Place in fridge to set (around 30 mins) and cut in to slices.

Florentines

Florentines: bottom left!

Florentines: bottom left!

Florentines Base: 8oz digestive biscuits (crushed), 4oz margarine, 1oz brown sugar.

Topping: 4oz walnuts, 4oz cherries, 2oz almonds , small tin of condensed milk.

Melt margarine, add crushed biscuits and sugar. Press into a Swiss roll tin. Chop nuts and cherries and spread over the base. Pour tin of milk over the top and bake for 20 mins @ 180 oC.

When cold cut into squares.

 

Northern Irish traybakes part I… ‘The Great Irish bake-off…with a wee cuppa tae!’

photog

Let me tell you a little about my home country.  We are all about a ‘wee cuppa tae’.  In actuality, however, it’s not a wee cup – it’s a mug, and it’s not a singular cup, it’s gallons.

Should you go to visit anyone in Northern Ireland, they will immediately put the kettle on (sometimes making a pot, sometimes going cup by cup), they will pull a plate out of the cupboard and pile it high with some biscuits (custard creams, bourbon creams, jammy dodgers), chocolate treats (penguins, wagon wheels, kit kats etc) and, if you’re very lucky some ‘tray bakes’.

A Northern Irish tray bake, isn’t always quite what comes to mind when you think of a typical tray-bake.  For one, it’s not always baked – in fact, lots are non-bake tray-bakes (15’s for example), or one layer of the tray is baked (caramel squares) – but that doesn’t mean that they are not mind blowing – they are!

Last week, myself and three of my fellow Irish Expat friends here in Houston, got together and made a few of these treats from home – and I have a feeling, it’s going to become a regular occurrence.  We all enjoyed the ‘craic’, the ‘baking’ all turned out exceptionally well – and the husbands, at least mine, hit that Tupperware box of goodies like the Tasmanian devil – and, two of the four recipes made, were even gluten free! Bonus!

We embarked on three main recipes this time (one was split into two ‘flavours’ – so we ended up with four individual ‘things’).  Aero buns, raspberry ruffle buns, coconut balls and caramel squares.

Mint Aero buns/Raspberry Ruffle buns

photow
Ingredients:
400g/16oz milk chocolate (preferably Cadbury’s dairy milk!)
200g/8oz unsalted butter
4 tbsp golden syrup (no, corn syrup isn’t a good substitute!)
250g/10oz digestive biscuits/graham crackers (there are gluten free versions available in stores)
175g/7oz of the bar you’re using (Aero/ruffle/Malteaser) roughly chopped into chunks
250g/10oz white chocolate
50g/2oz unsalted butter
1 tbsp golden syrup
75g/2.5oz of your chosen candy bar – crushed.
Method:
  • Blend, blitz (or beat to death with a can of something) the digestive biscuits.
  • Set up a double boiler, or a heat-proof bowl over a pot of boiling water (or, use the microwave if you’re confident in your skillz) and melt the milk chocolate together with the butter and 4tbsp golden syrup.
  • Mix in the digestives and the larger amount of your candy chunks – we left adding the Aero until the chocolate had cooled a little so it didn’t melt too much.
  • Spread out evenly, in a baking pan (ours was a 12 inch long baking pan) and compact the mixture a little.
  • Rinse double boiler, dry, and melt the white chocolate with remaining butter and golden syrup.
  • Pour the white chocolate on top and spread evenly.
  • Sprinkle over the remaining crushed candy, pushing it gently into the melted chocolate and put in the fridge for a few hours to let it set.
  • Slice and serve with a wee cuppa tae.

Coconut balls

photof

 

Ingredients:
100g/4oz cooking chocolate
50g/2oz margarine
10 digestive biscuits/graham crackers (there are gluten free versions available in stores)
1 can of condensed milk
1 packet of pink and white marshmallows (you can’t get those here in the USA, regular marshmallows will do)
Desiccated coconut – for rolling
Method:
  • Melt margarine, chocolate and condense milk.
  • Blend, blitz (or beat to death with a can of something) the digestive biscuits.
  • Mix biscuits into chocolate mix
  • Allow to cool
  • Taking small amounts of the mixture, (works best with wet/cold hands) flatten in the palm of your hand.  Place a marshmallow in the center and mold the chocolate mix into a ball around the marshmallow.
  • Roll in coconut and allow to set.
  • Serve with a wee cuppa tae.

Caramel Squares (aka Millionaires shortbread)

photov

Shortbread
Beat together 100g/4oz soft margarine, with 50g/2oz caster sugar, then stir in 175g/6oz plain flour and mix to a firm dough.  Press evenly to the base of a greased 7x11in shallow cake tin.  Bake in a preheated oven at 180C/350F for 20-25 mins until pale golden.  Cool.
Caramel
Place 30ml/2tbsp golden syrup, 175g/6oz condensed milk and 100g/4oz butter in a pan.  Heat gently until melted.  Bring to the boil – stirring all the time.  Boil for 5-10 mins until mixture is golden caramel and slightly thickened.  Cool for a few minutes, then pour over shortbread base.  Cool.
Spread 75g/3oz melted chocolate over cold caramel – leave to set.  Cut in to squares and serve with a wee cuppa tae!
We are already planning The Great Irish bake-off, round II for the near future.  For phase II, we are hoping to make Mars bar buns, cornflake tart, fifteen’s – and, if I can dig out some crunchies, crunchie buns may make the list too.
Do you have a favourite tray-bake? Would you like to share a recipe that we can try?

Bon Voyage!

Well, it’s so close to the end of our trip, we’re heading back to Texas tomorrow morning and we are both looking forward to getting back to ‘normal’.  We have most things packed and ready to go, and aside from a few loose ends, we’re set.

This weekend was the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee weekend, which meant a four day bank holiday for many, we were busy busy! We started Saturday morning with a trip to the passport office in Belfast, to sort out a passport for my brother.  While we were up there, we went to the Continental Market to look at all of the pretty food (we were all very well behaved and didn’t eat a bite!)

It was here, I had my first ever ‘Tweet-up’, with a recent addition to my Twitter timeline, Julie.  T’was a short and sweet visit, the car parking meter was running out and we had a lunch to get to, but it was nice to put a face to the name and say a quick hello to her and her family.

My Twitter buddy Julie <3

Also on Saturday, we headed up past QUB, to pay a visit to a long-time friend of Col’s.  Her name is Claire and she’s recently opened a boutique on the Lisburn Road called ‘Dolled Up’.  Col hadn’t seen her for a few years, but, Claire and I have become Facebook pals over the last few years, so it was great to finally meet her in the flesh, next time we’re home we’ll definitely have to go out for lunch or something 🙂

Anyone else jealous of her figure? No? Just me then! LOL!

Monday night, in my hometown of Newry, we visited my sister’s house for a BBQ with her wedding party and their other halves.  While we were there, we had a few family pictures taken, cause it’s been a while since we’ve had one done!

The Curran family with McMaster/Glover wings!

Many miles around Manchester…

From the Emerald Isle, we took an overnight ferry from Belfast to Birkenhead (after a nice dinner in Nando’s with Phil).  We disembarked, headed to Stonehouse for a few days where I lived in the dark ages, with no internet, while Col went to the office.

From there, we went to visit our favourite gang in Manchester.  We went…you guessed it… bowling! LOL! And, I even won! (no joke!)

Jenni, Tommy, Col, Becky and Matt

Also while in town, we went to one of Col’s favourite restaurants, Wagamama’s and enjoyed a delicious dinner.  If you’ve never been, it’s a Japanese restaurant, it’s quirky, it’s cool and it’s most definitely tasty grub.  I whole heartedly recommend the grilled chicken Katsu curry, Col normally has the yaki soba and we tend to preceed that with some tori kari age and we tried the negima yakitori this time too – it’s all nom-tastic!

The boys (Col’s in that blasted shirt, again!)

Boobs and I! <3

After our few days in Mancs, we headed further South, to London, Gatwick actually – where Col worked in another of his offices for a few days.  Here, at least, I had internet, which was a step-up from Stonehouse, and after spending the afternoon in a cubicle in the SLB office, we headed on our merry way back Northward, to a place called Stevenage for the night.

Once we checked in and dumped off our bags, we headed in to a local town to have dinner with a long-term pen-pal of mine, Laura.  We’ve been pen-pals for around eight years or so now, and it was FAB to finally meet her and we had a yummy dinner in Frankie and Benny’s.

Laura and I

She’s every bit as awesome as I expected her to be, and it’ll definitely not be another eight years until we see each other again, that’s for sure!

From Stevenage, it was back up to Manchester for a one night pit-stop to hang out with Becky and Matt, at their Eurovision party.  Everyone came as a country (Col was Italy and I was Ireland) and there was most definitely a drinking game!

Here commenceth your nightmares!

If your country got 8 points, you had to do a shot, 10 points, 2 shots, 12 points and you had to take 3 shots.  Needless to say, some of us got very drunk, some of us didn’t have any shots at all (*cough* Norway *cough* Bex).

Becky broke out the Prosecco!

And I am thrilled to have met the lovely Twitter-legend Jenni on our trip to the UK as well.  We’ve been chatting for a while (as per the recommendation of Bex) and we hit it off just as well in person as we did on Twitter.  She makes me LAWL.  As you can see, she went all out for the dress-up portion of the night!

Jenni and I

Bowling, St Georges Market and a jolly jaunt to Ballymena!

In all the hubbub of being on the ‘main land’ I fell behind on my keeping y’all up to date on the happenings here at home in sunny Norn Iron.  Normally I say that, dripping with sarcasm, however over the last seven weeks, the weather here has been fantastic – as the weather here goes!

Before we hit the mainland, we were all over the place, I’ve not been keeping very detailed records of what we did, but I most certainly have pictures!

Samson and Goliath, the H&W cranes – when I see these guys, I know I’m home! So much so, that I dragged Col and Rowan out of the car to have our picture taken in front of them.  It made me feel a bit better, that the person who took our picture, was also a home-grown Norn Irish lad!

Rowan, Col and I at the cranes (you can’t see the shivering!)

Bowling has been a big part of our trip home this time.  Col and I rarely, if ever, bowl as I’ve said before.  However, it’s been our go-to event while we have been home here, we’ve been a number of times, this time, was with our hockey friend Kath and Rowan.

Col and Rowan – sporting their new glasses!

Col and I – in his Charlie Sheen shirt!

My ‘baby’ brother!

Kathy and I!

Something I’ve wanted to do for the longest time, but never got round to it, was to go to St George’s market up in Belfast.  The market goes on for three days, Friday, Saturday and Sunday every week.  I talked Nicky in to coming with me, dragged the boys and got up nice and early on Saturday morning to go for a wee dander.

“The City Food & Garden Market takes place in St George’s every Saturday from 9.00am to 3.00pm. Enjoy the best food tastes and smells brought by local producers, including beef from Armagh, award winning Irish Farmhouse Cheeses, free range eggs from Limavady, venison, pheasant in season and local organic vegetables from Culdrum Farm and Millbrook Farm.

In addition to these local delicacies, there is also a fusion of tempting continental and speciality foods from around the world. Included are such delights as wild boar, cured meats, venison, Spanish tapas, Caribbean foods, Mexican and Slavonic foods, continental coffees and teas, Italian olive oils with traditional French Crepes and extraordinary French pastries to mention just a few. Added to this plethora of tempting foods the Saturday market also encompasses flower stalls ensuring this Saturday market is a kaleidoscope of colour.

St. Georges City Food & Garden Market is more than just a shopping experience. Customers can sample the produce, relax with a coffee and a newspaper against a backdrop of live jazz or flamenco music. This market is a real Saturday treat and a great outing for all the family.”

One of the many, many cupcake stalls!

For the most part, the market is food, food and more food.  Which is mostly difficult when you’re trying to eat ‘good’.

However, Hot Lips curry lady, Jenny, makes this a little easier on you, by throwing together some syn-free stew and curries for you to enjoy while you’re strolling around the market.  She even puts out a weekly code on her twitter, which gives a free curry to the first person who quotes the code to her (the codes never cease to make me giggle!)

Tayto packet pencil cases

There are a few homemade craft stalls, selling wares, yarn, gifts etc.  In case you’re surprised, I came away with a few balls of yarn.

But, the biggest draw, would most definitely have to be the food – and I succumbed to the temptation…

The only kind of bap!

Breakfast!

I had potato bread with sausages and it was DELICIOUS, the boys had breakfast baps and they really are big enough to sink the Titanic!

Nom nom nom!!!

When we’d finished with the market and all it’s yummy treats, we bundled in to the car and headed up to Ballymena for an afternoon of shopping in Fairhill, followed by a wee visit to our friends Ann and Mahaa and their lovely family, for dinner and an afternoon of fun.

Me with the three Monkeys

Me with Nicky, Mahaa and Ann – The ladies!

The men-folk