Having listened to Gretchen Rubin’s Better than Before, I was struck by the phrase ‘The days are long, but the years are short’. How true this is!
This is my fourth year in self-employment, my third year doing food tours and my first year wholly branded as Irish Feast. It feels like just a couple years ago that I started to think about what I wanted to be when I grew up and decided to work for and by myself. Irish Feast has grown out of that journey.
Irish Feast is an acronym - Irish Food Experiences and Small Towns. Ta da! It encompasses working with local festivals to compere cookery demonstrations or provides one-off food tours; it includes promoting local supper clubs, innovative chefs, artisan producers and ‘things to do locally’; and of course, at its heart, providing fabulous, fun, surprising and scintillating food tours of local towns and villages. Not only does Irish Feast stand for something, but we also have a strapline and a pitch (and can use ‘we’ truthfully!).
Our strapline: For Food is History on a Plate.
Our pitch: What we do is encapsulated in a quote from Matthew Fort from the book ‘Sweet Honey, Bitter Lemons’. ‘No ingredient or combination of ingredients arrives by accident. There’s always a reason for them being there. They tell of trade, conquest, migration, social change. Any people’s fundamental identity is lodged in their food.’
On an Irish Feast food tour, whether in Ballycastle or Bushmills, Glenarm or Rathlin Island, we tell tales of ancient peoples and modern foods; of Viking raiders and English sailors; of the great clans of yesterday and the collaborative industry of today. Discover old recipes and new trends; talk to traditional family-owned restaurants and up and coming artisan cafes and eateries; taste all our history and culture, and truly experience the creative future of our home on a scintillating, surprising, seriously tasty Irish Feast Food Tour.
Gather your friends and family together, book now and discover the truth of the old Irish proverb ‘Laughter is brightest where food is served best.’ I’m looking forward to meeting you.
Over the last eighteen months, I have realised that to deliver what I wanted, I needed to stop being ‘me’ and start being ‘we’. There is now a band of wonderful guides who work with Irish Feast, all equally passionate about food, history, local and having great fun — my kind of people.
In 2018, Irish Feast attained a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence which was personally pleasing and showed that professionally, we’re on the right track. We just have to reach a wider audience and persuade more people to walk and eat with us. Simples! Yeah, right. The business of consistent, on-brand marketing across websites, social media and in person; reaching new customers and persuading them to come back to us; keeping the finances under control and the paperwork up to date; working with customers, suppliers, guides and networking successfully with local groups and clusters - all of this is hard work. I don’t know what made me think it would be anything else, but my..! It’s VERY hard work!
I struggled this year even as the food tours were taking off. I was getting caught up in the minutiae of business, forgetting to have fun, forgetting that the days are long but the years are short - to enjoy the journey. So I’ve stepped back from the day to day of Irish Feast to let our hosts' personalities and knowledge shine through and other foodie fanatics guide our guests, allowing me to concentrate on the strategy of the business. I’m acknowledging that I have reached Superhost status on AirBnB for 3 consecutive years I’m making time to work a couple of days a week in a completely different sphere of life, and building in time for mental and physical fitness. This works for my magpie personality - I love finding things out, learning the history of our food, and its culture, meeting like-minded people. The time spent on Irish Feast will be less but better. The tours will show more of the history of the food and the personality of the guide. If you meet me this year (and I hope you will!) and I appear unhappy, or stressed, remind me - the days are long but the years are short. Enjoy the journey.
Irish Feast is doing very well: there are tours scheduled every Friday and Saturday in Ballycastle and Bushmills; Rathlin’s collaborative guide agreed dates and has crab and seaweeds up her sleeve, Glenarm will continue developing in its own eclectic way, and one-off tours and talks are being planned with many fab friends. The website is looking good, and the blog is growing with others also giving a fun, informative input, and the dates for 2019 are already filling up fast. Breathe...
May we all have a peaceful, prosperous, positive 2019.
Party_Tips_By_Nona is a blog by a local girl who is a really good cook, adventurous,inventive and articulate. She has agreed to write for Irish Feast once a month and continues her culinary culture trip with that most Irish of food and drink - a drop of tea.
You’ll have a drop of tea? (or ‘a drap o tay’ in North Antrim) Those few words mean much, much more than a simple cup of tea. It is a welcome, the best of Northern Irish hospitality, a show of love, affection and a willingness to please. As the famous Mrs Doyle says “ah, you will, you will” because in actual fact you have no choice. Once you accept a drop of tea you’ve entered an unspoken contract to sample your hosts’ fine fayre, spend time in their company and enjoy the craic and the gossip! This goes for all social settings from tea at the kitchen table to the drop of strong tea and a wee bun to help ease the conversation at a wake.
The tea itself is very important. I have a sister who makes tea like dishwater (she’ll not mind me saying that!) but I prefer a good strong cup brewed in the teapot as you can easily get a top up to help wash down all the delicious treats. I’m not particular about the cup or mug as long as the tea is hot and strong!
To accompany the tea you may be offered a savoury delight by way of the traditional Northern Irish sandwich and in North Antrim there are a few fine local favourites. Looking back at church harvest teas, GB Parents’ Nights or wakes conjures up memories of rows of neatly cut, crust-less sandwiches on really fresh bread with real butter, served on long sandwich trays with Royal Doulton and Aynsley patterns. The classics of egg and onion, tuna and onion, corned beef and brown sauce served alongside the exotic pineapple and cream cheese and the rather unusual Mars Bar and Apple (whoever came up with the idea of finely sliced Granny Smith apple and Mars Bars on brown bread was a genius! If a little eccentric). My Great Aunt Nellie was an expert at the classic salad sandwich – fresh white bread, butter, a smidge of salad cream, tomato, sliced egg, butterhead lettuce, cucumber and scallion. I loved pineapple and cream cheese – Philadelphia cheese mixed with drained, crushed pineapple on brown bread and roast chicken and grapes – roast chicken, sliced grapes, black pepper and a little spread of mayonnaise on white bread.
Everyone has their own speciality – visitors to our house may have been served cream crackers with grated cheese, sliced fresh tomatoes and black pepper – a perfect treat that looked vaguely cosmopolitan. Or some Ballymena bun with butter and home-made jam. A family friend’s go-to speciality was a little toasted wholemeal bread roll with butter and a pineapple ring – I loved these!
A good drop of tea must be accompanied by something sweet of course and not just a biscuit. The traybake and the wee bun are an expression of Northern Irish kindness and respect for your guests. A sweet and sugary hit from a Caramel Square, an Ovaltine cream, a Butterfly Bun, Raspberry Squares or a simple Top Hat adds to the ritual of the perfect drop of tea. For me, the process and ceremony of making traybakes is extremely relaxing and I love getting the girls involved to make all the old favourites and try some new recipes. Sometimes it is the making and serving of the traybake to friends and family that brings the most enjoyment and satisfaction. For a particularly special drop of tea there is nothing that can beat CAKE! The simple, light as air egg sponge topped with fresh cream and drained, tinned mandarin oranges; a Victoria Sponge with strawberry jam and cream or fresh warm apple or rhubarb tart with cream or custard – I can almost taste it now!
Here is one of these well-loved recipes. If you are new to traybakes I would start with the Fifteen (recipe below) although they are now 30s as you can’t easily buy small cans of condensed milk anymore! These no bake traybakes are super simple and a real crowd pleaser. I would love you to try the recipes and share your stories of your favourite treats for a drop of tea!
397g Can condensed milk
30 Digestive biscuits, crushed (in a food processor or put in a food bag and bashed with the rolling pin!)
30 Marshmallows, quartered (dip the knife in hot water to help you to cut them easily)
20 Glace cherries, quartered
50g Walnuts, chopped roughly
1. Combine biscuit crumbs, marshmallows, cherries, walnuts and condensed milk and mix together well.
2. Lay out a large piece of grease proof paper. Sprinkle with desiccated coconut. Lay out fifteen mixture in centre of the grease proof paper in a large sausage shape. Sprinkle with more coconut and roll up in the paper. You can make two ‘sausage’ lengths of mixture if you wish.
3. Put the rolled up fifteens in the fridge for at least two hours to firm up. When ready, slice into think rounds and put into bun cases. Alternatively you can press the mixture into a baking tray lined with grease proof paper, sprinkle coconut on top and cut into squares.
Party_Tips_By_Nona is a local girl who is a really good cook, adventurous and inventive. She has agreed to write for Irish Feast once a month and begins her luscious list with that most local of meals - the Ulster Fry!
Saturday wouldn't be Saturday without an Ulster Fry for breakfast or lunch. Of course, you can have a Fry every day of the week but we have ours at lunchtime now as I did growing up near Armoy, Co. Antrim.
The Ulster Fry will certainly set you up for day with its selection of crispy, fried traditional breads, meat, eggs, mushrooms and tomatoes. You’ll probably not need to eat until Sunday unless you’ve a hard days work ahead of you.
My Granny made Granda a mini-Fry every morning which she brought to him in bed before he got up for work, served with a big mug of sweet tea. Usually just a piece of fried soda or fadge (potato bread if you’re not from North Antrim) with some crispy bacon but sustenance until the 10 o’clock tea! Granny made soda and fadge nearly every day, frying the bread a couple of days after it was made. Granny and Mum used lard to make their Ulster Fry but I tend to use vegetable oil. Either result in a great fried breakfast but one is slightly healthier than the other!
For me, a good Ulster Fry has to have soda, sometimes a fried pancake but always the fadge. There were fights in our house if you thought you weren’t going to get a bit! I don’t think the hash brown can ever compete with a bit of golden fried fadge dipped in egg!
The meats of course play a central part with these being cooked first and the breads fried in their fat. Bacon is an essential and for us it was usually back bacon. I worked in a small grocery shop as a teenager. I loved cutting the Sprotts Bacon on the slicer, beautiful strips of back and middle bacon.
Then there’s the sausages, pork or beef depending on what looks good in the Butchers. I’m a big black pudding fan but we would sometimes also have had white pudding at home. My mum loves vegetable roll (don’t know why it is called this as bar a bit of scallion there is nothing vaguely vegetable about it!) and would throw a wee bit in the pan for her fry. Vegetable roll is made from minced beef, spices, scallions and sometime a wee bit of leek. My mum would fry this up with cabbage and potatoes.
Now there’s the eggs and the yoke has to be runny to dip all the lovely meat and bread in. We would quite often have got free range eggs from a friend and hoped we get a double-yoker for extra dipping!
With all the carbs and meat there is a little healthier garnish with either a grilled or lightly fried tomato and some mushrooms and that’s it and definitely never any beans!
All you need to complete the perfect Ulster Fry is a big mug of strong tea!
Wondering what to these long, boring, winter days? I’ve an idea - gather a bunch of friends together and book the Bushmills Food and Craft Experience! Get out and about (vitamin D!), wander round Bushmills learning about its gorgeous food, its long history (fire up your curiosity! Get those taste buds purring!) and then get your creative juices flowing with a fab workshop with found treasures, with beautiful beads or in creating a mono printed work of art! What could be better for friendships, for life and for the sheer fun of it?
Irish Feast has collaborated with The Designerie to encourage more people to visit Bushmills and experience all that this arts and crafts orientated village now offers. The Designerie is a non-profit, social enterprise who have searched far and wide to find unique and hand-crafted home & gifts, with many gorgeous and unusual products inspired by our very own beautiful country and coastal area.
They offer workshops and provide an innovative space for individuals and groups, offering a chance for people to learn & develop new skills in contemporary crafts using re-purposed & locally available materials and textiles.
After a morning spent interacting with local food and drink fanatics, spend your afternoon creating masterpieces inspired by all you’ve seen, done, tasted, felt. A truly fabulous day!
Following on from the success of ‘Restaurant Week’ in previous years, Taste Causeway is now evolving into a bigger celebration of the local foodie offering. Restaurants, cafes, producers and tourism providers are all coming together to do fabulous, foodie things. Just think sea food chowder bursting with locally caught fish, grass fed beef steak, floury, tasty potatoes, locally grown and cured meats, bursting with flavour vegetables, breads, cakes and patisserie to die for and, of course, a wee glass of something from local brewers and distillers to wash it down.
Taken from the Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council website:
Organised by the Council’s Tourism Team, the nine day event will run from November 10th – 18th.
The Mayor of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council, Councillor Brenda Chivers said: “The Causeway Coast and Glens is Lonely Planet’s Number One place to visit this year and our fantastic tourism product is complemented by our range of locally produced food and drink. ‘Taste Causeway- A Celebration’ is built on the success of Restaurant Week and this year we are calling on even more local businesses to get involved, providing visitors with memorable experiences in our local restaurants, bars and cafes.”
Destination Manager Kerrie Mc Gonigle added: “Food Tourism is one of the fastest growing travel trends with destinations constantly improving their quality and range of dining experiences. I am delighted that the Causeway Coast and Glens has firmly established itself as a fabulous foodie scene and ‘Taste Causeway- A Celebration’ will only strengthen this.”
Irish Feast are hosting 3 tours in both Ballycastle and Bushmills - Saturday 10th, Friday 16th and Saturday 17th. Join us to get a really great Taste Causeway experience that only a whole town or village coming together can give you. In fact, book both tours! Ah, go on, go on, go on...!
1. Cooper’s Deli
Fiona serves one of the best cups of tea I’ve ever had (big statement) in Royal Albert fine bone china cups. Along with this comes little hot toddy scones, drunken jam and cream as well as Broughgammon Farm goat bacon on bite sized slices of baguette. The gorgeous food is accompanied by stories of three generations of coopers at the Bushmills Distillery (her father, brother and nephew).
2. Glass’s Fruit Shop
This fruit and vegetable shop has been here for generations and showcases produce sourced fresh from Magilligan each morning, local jams and chutneys and, of course, soup veg and potatoes. Irish Feast guests learn what ‘soup veg’ is and experience stone dried dulse in season - an old fashioned food rediscovered as a modern super-food.
3. The River Bush
The river Bush has spawned mills and salmon and viking raids and leisurely Saturday fishing for over 1000 years. Salmon still spawn up river in Armoy each year and run in spring. There’s a bridge which was donated to the village by Diageo on the 400th anniversary of the license to distill whiskey in Bushmills. Standing here is one of the prettiest views in a very pretty village - we sometimes still see salmon leap whilst crossing it.
4. The best picnic sandwich ever.
Part of the Bushmills Food Tour has to be salmon. At picnic benches looking back towards the internationally important salmon research station, we eat North Coast Smokehouse hot roasted smoked salmon on locally baked wheaten bread, flavoured with Broighter Gold rapeseed oil and The Woman Next Door’s beetroot and dill chutney. A taste bud tantalising mouthful of deliciousness.
5. Old Bushmills Whiskey Distillery
A whiskey connoisseur talking you through a glass of unique, 12 year old whiskey only available here, at the distillery. I don’t think I need to say more...
6. Tartine at the Distillers’ Arms
Gary Stewart is the current holder of the best Ulster Chowder as well as Chef of the Year. He serves us a treat to the senses - sometimes its a sweet, sometimes its a savoury dish. Always it is amazing. It is hard to leave this beautifully designed and luxuriously decorated restaurant but we’re only at number six on our list, so onwards we go!
7. The Cod’s Way
Geoffrey McKillop uses the freshest, flouriest potatoes and cooks them three times to get crispy, fluffy chips that, no matter how full you are, you just HAVE to douse in salt and vinegar and inhale. Who could resist?! To add to this most traditional of treats, there’s honey and whiskey sausages from Mark Kane’s butchers - absolutely delicious.
8.The French Rooms
Stella Bolton is an excellent cook and a superb patisserie chef. The little trays of perfect sweet bites, decorated with edible flowers and tendrils, are irresistible. Served with a cafetiere of fantastic, fresh coffee, it’s a feast for the senses - sight, sound, smells.
9.The Bushmills Inn
There’s a secret library here and soft sofas you can sink into. Your Irish Feast guide leaves you here in the friendly, efficient hands of the waiting staff, with the words ‘espresso martini’ floating through your minds.
Are you convinced of the foodie fabulousness that is the Bushmills Food Tour? Do you want to experience this for yourself? And not once do we mention the Giant’s Causeway! Oh, OK, just the once, maybe...
Come and join us! Because...
10. We're very good at what we do! Cheers!
The Causeway Coast and Glens Heritage Trust along with the Heart of the Glens Landscape Partnership have long been proponents of ‘local’, ‘traditional’ and ‘sustainable’. One of their most recent projects has been the Artisan Connect Programme which was aimed at creating and strengthening the links between artisans and local retail and hospitality outlets. The project manager, Melanie Brown, is one half of the North Coast Smokehouse and so knows the necessity of creating those links as well as the difficulties in doing so.
The work of the project over the last few months culminated in a Trade Craft fair at the Marine Hotel on Monday 26th from 6 -9pm. There were almost 30 food and craft artisans who were meeting over 66 local business customers from all over the Causeway Coastal Route from Larne to Limavady and from B&B’s, to shops, to hotels. It was an excellent turn out and the buzz generated was electric. I was there as part of the Glens of Antrims tourism group who were having their monthly meeting at the Marine that evening, held to coincide with the Artisan Connect programme. This was an inspired idea as it brought together many tourism facing businesses with these local foods and crafts – there were many excited conversations started as people discovered new foods or crafts right on their doorstep.
What are the benefits of working with local food and craft producers? Many and varied – from trust in the provenance, to faith in the quality, to creating interesting stories for your guests, to incubating a thriving local economy which is cost effective and diverse. The food producers were as varied as Broughgammon Farm goat to The Woman Next Door’s chutneys, from Amazin’ Grazin’ breads to Granny Shaw’s fudge (and too many more to mention – we do good food here in the Causeway Coast and Glens!); and crafts people including Taisie Turning and their Dark Hedges and Bushmills Distillery range, from Meltz candles to Artisan glass, from jewellery to soap. This diversity of product means that visitors experience such an amazing, interesting, fabulous place to visit.
As an example of the connections created, Roseanne Cecil from Blackthorn and Willow, a delicatessen and craft shop in Glenarm, found a supplier of gluten free bread mixes which will compliment her own bread making workshops perfectly. She was also keen on finding locally sourced and produced bread boards and cheese platters.
Sharon Schindler from Shola B&B explained that ‘they do 4 simple dishes, extremely well’. It’s why they use an award winning local butchers and were interested in meeting Niall Delargy from Glenballyeamon Eggs as well as others. (Perhaps that’s also why they’re a 5* B&B?)
The National Trust were also there, and Bob Kane, the Giant’s Causeway Shop manager explained that they were keen to introduce even more local suppliers into their current range which is so popular with visitors.
All of this means that this area thrives and grows, taking traditions into the future and giving employment to many.
Thank you to all concerned for a great evening and an even better future.
To find some gems for yourself, visit the Naturally North Coast and Glens Markets held regularly across the borough. (See below)
In my quest to find and hear local food stories to enhance all that we do in Irish Feast food tours, I stopped off at Betty’s house (she wants to be anonymous so I’ll use ‘Betty’) to talk about seaweed and her experience of it growing up. She’s ‘from the shore’ and so knows about these things - I’m from the Glens and fish came from rivers or the fish man’s van on a Friday. Or occasionally Ballintoy Harbour if Dad got ‘red up’ (finished) early. Why the people of Dunluce, Dunseverick and Port Bradden should be ‘from the Shore’ rather than any other dwellers near the sea round here, lord alone knows. That’s just how it is.
(The silver spoon pictured is a treasured heirloom with salmon and a local boat (a 'drontheim') smithed into it.)
Betty invited me in to her perfect house - so clean, neat, tidy and yet so very welcoming and artistic. I may have a slight girl crush, if I’m totally honest.
We talked of carrageen moss - how it was picked, and where and the puddings they made from it.
We talked about dulse and how, in local lore, it tasted better if dried in the place it had been picked. Sounds possible, but could also have been a way for the shore people to keep as much of the dulse industry to themselves as possible! They’re a very sensible, hard headed people, the people from the shore.
We talked of sloke (sloak?) which was cooked in butter and turned bright green; of mealie crushie which was pin meal cooked in bacon fat and fast boiled ‘leap’ whelks added at the last minute. Something like couscous, she reckons, but sounds an awful lot tastier to me!
This led to talking about salmon (Port Bradden is Port of the Salmon) which, she said, was the traditional meal on 12th July. It was started about midday - covered in cold water with a bunch of parsley, some celery and leeks (grown in her garden of course), brought to the boil, then turned off and allowed to cool until 5pm, when they’d eat it with baby boiled potatoes, home made mayonnaise and tartar sauces. Her cooking philosophy is ‘If people don’t die, I make it again’. Blatantly never going to happen - she’s a fabulous cook but I might just steal the line for my own style of ‘cuisine’!
At this point, Betty asked if I wanted a cup of tea. Now, I knew that this was never going to be ‘a cup in my hand’ but a proper tea with scones etc. but even so, when she asked if I fancied a bowl of soup, too, I answered, ‘ach, maybe just a wee one’. Greed, sheer greed. Did I mention how good a cook Betty is?
Well, the soup was a gorgeous, filling vegetable soup - far better then I make. Full of soft pulses and bright vegetables, smelling amazing, tasting even better. And the ‘cup of tea’ afterwards..!! Oh my. Look at the photo! She can bake even better than she can cook. I recommend making friends with Irish women like Betty - they don’t cook ‘fancy’ but my lord they cook GOOD! A real Irish Feast!
Recently I met with Ross Parkhill and John Cartwright. Who? These gorgeous young men started and now run and plan to grow the Stendhal Festival of Arts. I was interested in their food offering as I’d heard good things about their street food last year and was keen to know if they intended growing this element of the festival or if that was just a lucky accident.
(I’m a fan of festivals – see previous blog about Rathlin Sound Maritime Festival here.)
In their own words John and Ross explained ‘Stendhal, established in 2011, has grown from strength to strength each year since it began and has witnessed a celebrated mix of a who’s who of international and local talent and a plethora of undiscovered gems adorn our 8 stages over the years.'
What I was fascinated to hear was why they called it the Stendhal festival rather then Ballymullan Farm Festival or Limavady Fest etc. Well, there’s a syndrome, you see, named after a French artist to who first articulated what he felt when seeing art that moved him. From Wikipedia ‘Stendhal syndrome, Stendhal's syndrome, hyperkulturemia, or Florence syndrome is a psychosomatic disorder that causes rapid heartbeat, dizziness, fainting, confusion and even hallucinations when an individual is exposed to an experience of great personal significance, particularly viewing art.’ Wow.
This is what Ross experienced when he first went to Glastonbury and then other festivals over the years. Then someone, almost flippantly, suggested that they run a festival here, in Limavady, and a light went on. He and John became passionate about ensuring everyone had a Stendhal moment and that they WOULD hold a festival in Limavady - the Stendhal Festival of Art.
As for the food element and the good things I’d heard? Their aim is to provide good quality, locally sourced, exciting food with 15 to 20 stalls/caravans/pop ups from everywhere doing just this. They’re determined to ensure no pollution so ‘biodegradable’ is built into their tendering process - no plastic! They also want each provider to offer (at least) 1 family meal deal, and one vegetarian meal option. Next year they’ll reach for more family friendly provision and vegan options. No accident, then.
They aim to make the Stendhal Festival completely self-sustainable economically, to grow into a co-operative ownership and, by 2022, be an ‘arts council’ themselves - funding, mentoring and promoting art in around Limavady....oh, OK....and all over Northern Ireland. They are men with a plan.
As someone who LOVES food, I can only applaud their aim to include good quality, exciting food as everything begins with being well fed - even a ‘chippy’ if done well can provide good, tasty food like lobster rolls, and honey and whiskey sausages. If the culture of ‘mobile’ food offerings in Northern Ireland grows at the rate it has been, there will be everything from fried cheese sandwiches to buddha bowls, from lemonade and brewed beverages to top notch tea and coffee, from hog roasts to ice cream, from Irish to Indian via Vietnamese and South American. Maybe one day there could be 5* dining pop ups interpreting the art of the festival for our delectation. Everyone deserves to eat well and at a price they can afford as well as being inspired by the food on offer.
I was inspired by them and think they’re amazing blokes - I hope they find time to have more coffee with me over the years.