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Monday, November 07, 2016

Leaving home for the first time - an Erasmus diary

Leaving home is a hard thing to do, but for most University students, it is part of their course through the Erasmus programme and is unavoidable. 
Some take it on as close to home as possible and go to the UK, coming home most weekends, while others use the opportunity to go somewhere unlikely and experience a completely different culture. 
I was one of the latter and I went to Norway on Erasmus, while in the University of Limerick.

Starting this month, the Quinn's Quandries blog will play host to an Erasmus diary by Cork girl Áine Curtin. This is the first entry just before she got ready to leave. 
I have enjoyed reading her work and following her on her travels, so I hope you will too.

Áine Curtin who will be writing an Erasmus diary for Quinn's Quandries.
Leaving home for the first time
BY  ÁINE CURTIN
I suppose the first thing I need to do is introduce myself, my name is Áine Curtin and I am going to Ghent, Belgium on Erasmus until Christmas as part of my New Media and English course in the University of Limerick.
I am a third year student and this is by far the biggest challenge I have faced in the quest to earn my degree.
I have enjoyed a summer at home in Rockchapel, North Cork, doing next to nothing and taking things easy, watching an obscene amount of TV and YouTube.
Thankfully, I am not taking on this Belgian terrain all on my lonesome, I am being joined by three of my closest friends from college, Eilís, Maoilíosa and Roisin, so I’m hoping that the dreaded homesickness I’ve heard so much about will not strike too often.
Despite the recent terror scares in Belgium, a topic I spoke about on air on Live95FM, while doing my work experience, I am not reluctant to travel to that part of Europe.
While the attacks were unthinkable and deplorable in every way, I feel that you cannot let terror rule your world and I will not let it stop me from pursuing a dream to study abroad, see what the world has to offer and living my life to the full.

The lead up to leaving my cosy bedroom and the wonders of familiarity
I have been going crazy with worry the last few days trying to organise everything, planning what I will and won’t bring with me.
I have a serious problem with limiting myself with luggage (I have been known to bring seven bags to the Gaeltacht), so I plan on utilising whatever packing hacks I can find online and no doubt, emergency supplies will be brought over with family visitors or maybe even sent with a care package of home comforts (hint hint).
We have a lot of communication going on between the group members travelling and it can be a bit daunting, but the positives most certainly outweigh the negatives and it means that I am up-to-date with what has to be done and for when.
There is a crazy amount of paperwork to fill in and things to remember, for example, when going on Erasmus you still have to register with and pay fees to your own college.
I am a terrible person for leaving things to the last minute, I won’t be surprised if there is some emergency in the process of getting settled in my new home, so you can look forward to some stories of pure stupidity.
The one thing I am most worried about (aside from losing my passport) is the homesickness.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a serious home bird, I have spent the summer at home and have absolutely LOVED it!
I know it will be tough at times, but thankfully we live in a world of social media, where it takes minimal effort to keep in contact with home. Dad has already expressed his desire to learn how to use Skype! That learning process in itself could merit an entire entry in this blog, so we shall wait and see.
If I am honest, it has only hit me today that I am going to be in another country until Christmas, I am extremely excited for the weekend of travelling, which lies ahead. 
One of the reasons we chose Belgium was because of the opportunity to travel to the likes of France, Luxembourg, Germany and The Netherlands. We have plans to travel as much as our pockets and schedules allow. So more of that to follow!
Overall, I am equally excited and nervous about this, and hopefully I can keep you entertained with my many tales from Belgium.
Tot ziens!! (That means ‘see you later’ in Dutch)
Áine.


Wednesday, November 02, 2016

'Pumpkin soup, the best you ever tasted' - a tasty recipe for those pumpkins

'Pumpkin Soup' by Helen Cooper. Picture credit: Caroline Hennessy. 
This time of year, shops and supermarkets have piles and piles of pumpkins lying around, on special offer and almost everyone tempted by a bargain is looking for a way to use these wonderfully orange and tempting looking pumpkins. 

In this article, food blogger Caroline Hennessy gives us a delicious recipe for those pumpkins and also a fun story about Halloween, the joy of eating pumpkins and how there is much more to a pumpkin than a carved scary face. 


'Pumpkin soup, the best you ever tasted'
BY CAROLINE HENNESSY

"Deep in the woods there's an old white cabin
with pumpkins in the garden"
There's a suitably sinister start to Helen Cooper's superb picture book 'Pumpkin Soup' that's perfect for this time of year. Even though the five-year-old Small Girl and Little Missy, now seven, have graduated onto the more sophisticated scares of Roald Dahl's 'The BFG' and 'Matilda', there's something about Halloween that has them scrabbling through the bookshelves for this old favourite.

Frights aside, the worst thing you'll be left with after reading 'Pumpkin Soup' is a rumbling tummy from Cooper's evocative descriptions of the nightly supper enjoyed by the bag-piping cat, banjo-playing squirrel and small singing duck. They are friends who live together, make music together and cook pumpkin soup together. 

Each of them has a defined job:
"Made by the cat who slices up the pumpkin.
Made by the squirrel who stirs in the water.
Made by the duck who scoops up a pipkin of salt, and tips in just enough."

But one day, duck decides he wants to stir the soup. It all goes horribly wrong and he storms off in a huff, although not forgetting to bring along a pumpkin in a wheelbarrow. 

'Pumpkin Soup' might be about sharing and squabbling and making up, but it's the descriptions of the soup that get me every time.

"Pumpkin Soup.
The best you ever tasted."

How could anyone resist a siren call like that? When we see the first pumpkin of the year, it's dragged home to be – firstly – admired by the girls, then butchered, roasted and blended to make a cauldron of a gently spiced pumpkin soup.

Irish grown Halloween pumpkins. Picture credit: Caroline Hennessy. 
We've tried this with the monster orange pumpkins that are piled high in a threatening manner this time of year, but they are bred for looks and jack o'lanterns, rather than for flavour.

If you do manage to get your hands on a handsome grey crown pumpkin – the kind of one that looks fit to bring Cinderella to a ball – it works beautifully, but otherwise go for any pumpkin marked edible. Or even – whisper it – use butternut squash (just don't tell the kids).

But don't despair; not all of that king-sized pumpkin will go to waste.

When the children disembowel their jack o'lantern pumpkin, make sure they don't throw away the guts.



The joys of scooping out the pumpkin and getting it ready for carving. Photo credit: Caroline Hennessy. 
Get them to wash the fibrous strings off the seeds, toss with olive oil and chosen seasonings – salt is obligatory and smoked paprika works well, as does cinnamon – and roast in the oven (180C, 10 minutes) while the edible pumpkin cooks. They're the kind of pre-dinner snack that you'll have to stop yourself from eating and the smallies will be charmed that their pumpkin has more to it than just a pretty scary face.  

Pumpkin Soup
Roast pumpkin gives this soup a great depth of flavour. Feel free to use leftovers or to pop the pumpkin into a hot oven when other baking is going on. Vegan? Use vegetable stock instead of chicken and abandon the finishing yoghurt. Serves 4.

What you will need
1kg pumpkin, deseeded and cut into wedges.
2 tablespoons olive oil.
1 onion, roughly chopped.
3 cloves garlic, sliced.
1 teaspoon turmeric.
2 teaspoons ground cumin.
2 teaspoons ground coriander.
2 teaspoons garam masala.
1kg roasted pumpkin.
1 litre chicken or vegetable stock.
125g red split lentils.
1 x 400g tin coconut milk.
1 lime.
Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper.
Natural yoghurt to serve.

·         Preheat the oven to 180C. Brush the pumpkin wedges with 1 tablespoon of oil and spread out on a  baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper then roast for 40 minutes or until tender.
·         Heat the other tablespoon of oil in a large saucepan and, over a medium heat, fry the onion and garlic for 8-10 minutes until soft and sweet. Add the spices to the pan and stir, cooking for a minute, until the mixture smells fragrant.
·         Scoop the roasted pumpkin from its skin and tip it into the saucepan, along with the chicken stock, red lentils and coconut milk. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the lentils are cooked.
·         Purée with a hand-held blender or use a potato masher for a more textured soup.

·         Season to taste with lime juice, salt and pepper. Serve with dollops of natural yoghurt and lots of hot buttered toast or naan breads for dipping.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Kerry runner aims for 2020 Paralympics


Pictured at the Charleville International Half-Marathon were (l-r): Liz Leonard, Ross Gallagher, Cllr Ian Doyle and organiser Michael Herlihy. Copyright Sandra Quinn 2016. 
For many people, losing the majority of their sight as a teenager would knock them for six, but Kerry man Ross Gallagher has risen above his visual impairment and is now training in the hopes of gaining a place on the Irish team for the 2020 Paralympics.

The 28-year-old from Castleisland was speaking before the Charleville International Half-Marathon, which is described as the flattest and fastest half-marathon in Ireland. This was Ross’ first half-marathon and in total, he has now covered a total distance of almost 18,000 miles with his running.

Living with a visual impairment is a struggle for many, but perhaps more trying for those who develop the issue in later in life, as they were accustomed to seeing the beauty of the world and suddenly that gift was stripped from them.

“I had good sight until I was 15. Then my eyesight went from 30% down to 5% in one day. It was very hard and tough at first. I did have dark days, but I got over it,” Ross said.

Since he started running twelve years ago, Ross has become somewhat of an inspiration for those in his hometown in Kerry, those among the running community and people scattered all over the world and is fondly known to some as the Kerry superstar.

Liz Leonard and Ross Gallagher captured in action in Charleville by Kevin O'Connor. Picture Credit: Kevin O'Connor. 
Ross is a member of Gneeveguilla Athletics Club and Vision Sports Ireland and said that he wouldn’t be where he is now without the unyielding support from his family, friends and fellow runners.

He uses Facebook every day and said that he has met great people through it, but it also helps him to find guide runners and people to give him a drive to races, as he travels across the country to do the thing he loves most.

“I don’t let it stop me. You can’t, you have to get on with life and live life to the full,” Ross said.

Asked what running means to him, Ross summed it up in three powerful words; “Running, Passion, Life.”

As a pre-cursor to the Paralympics, Ross is aiming to complete his first marathon in two years, to tie in with his 30th birthday.

Ross trains every second day or two or three times a week and he depends on different guide runners to help him through the course and he is always striving for a Personal Best (PB).

He completed the Charleville race with Liz Leonard, who he has known for nearly a year and they had done a number of races together at that point. He also had the added advantage that with Liz working for An Post in Kilmallock and being from Bruff, she knew the course very well.

Liz and Ross celebrating at the finish line in Charleville. Picture Credit: Robert Green. 
Speaking about how you have to be on high alert while doing assisted running, Liz explained what is involved.

“This is my first year doing the running with Ross and it’s a learning curve for me. You have to be on the ball. You have to realise that you are his eyes 100% and you can’t take your eyes off him,” she said.

Liz started out cycling a few years ago and then started running. She is clearly a natural and was born to run, as she has completed 13 marathons and finished her first ultra marathon earlier this year.

“There are things you take for granted, like you could be coming up to something and see an overhanging tree and I’d have to tell him about that and also factor in that he’s on the inside and is taller than me. I’ve got to be careful and watch for a lot of things,” she said.

She added that she will count down the paces when they are coming up to different parts of the road, but she said that you have to be particularly vigilant when it comes to things like loose stones or something jutting out, as these could really damage Ross, if he isn’t expecting them.

While she said that it is great to run with Ross, Liz added that it has made her aware of different things, such as the problems of people parking on footpaths, as this completely throws Ross off and is equally dangerous for people in wheelchairs or people pushing prams, as they have to move out onto the main road.

“I love running and the people you meet. Everyone is helping everybody out on the route. This is like your second family without the complications. Ross is a great source of inspiration for people,” Liz concluded.




Sunday, October 09, 2016

Taste the delights The Brush and Spoon has to offer

Gallery Crafts and The Brush and Spoon in Kilworth, Co Cork. Copyright Sandra Quinn, Quinn's Quandries, 2016. 
VERDICT; I would give The Brush and Spoon in Kilworth five stars (read to the end for an explanation of the star ratings). 

I first met Fiona Turley when I visited her exquisite store, Gallery Crafts in Kilworth in North Cork, not long after we had moved to Mitchelstown.

I had just started working with The Avondhu Press and was still getting my bearings and familiarising myself with the area, local people and business people and Fiona turned out to be someone who I would often return to, not only for the perfect gift and now a sumptuous meal, but also for advice and guidance.

Gallery Crafts was heaven for me, filled with quirky items, bespoke gifts and the range varied from items for under ten euro to pieces, which would enhance and add to any home.

From that first day, I, like many others who travel from far and wide for the shop, was hooked and I was genuinely thrilled when I heard that she was expanding and opening up a cafe.

I know some of you might be thinking, a shop and cafe...could one person make both things work and perhaps they should just stick to what they know.

You know, if it ain't broke, why fix it?
The interior of The Brush and Spoon in Kilworth, picture courtesy of The Brush and Spoon Facebook page. 
This couldn't be further from the truth in this situation. Fiona is by her very nature as an admirable business woman and artist, a perfectionist (sorry Fiona) and she would never put a display out if it wasn't perfect and that has come through to The Brush and Spoon. No dish goes out unless it's perfect, everything is checked over and Fiona herself is often on hand to speak to customers, check everyone has what they need and she works tirelessly with the chef and her team in
The Brush and Spoon to ensure that they are up to date and changing and evolving in line with customer tastes and trends.

One thing I love about it, aside from how handy it is, just off the motorway between Mitchelstown and Fermoy (perfect to break up a long motorway journey) is that you won't hear a microwave pinging from the kitchen. Every single thing is home made and everything is locally sourced in so far as is possible and sustainable.
Enjoy a lovely cup of tea or coffee in The Brush and Spoon, picture courtesy of The Brush and Spoon Facebook page. 
Yes, the food might take a little bit longer to come to your table, but while you wait, enjoy the view, take a gander around the shop (if you are anything like me, you will struggle not to buy a few things), sip on your tea or delicious barista coffee or simply appreciate the artwork on the wall and the cool jazzy tones playing in the background.

I for one, would much rather wait a few minutes longer for something that is fresh and made from scratch, instead of having something served for the same price, which isn't fresh and has just been warmed up in the microwave or on a hot plate.
One of the many pretty features outside Fiona Turley's business in Kilworth, Co Cork. Copyright Sandra Quinn, Quinn's Quandries 2016. 
The day I visited, it was with my boyfriend for a slightly special occasion, so we went all out and got teas, coffees, lunch and dessert.

We got amazing vegetable crisps to share (these were so tasty that I bought a few bags to take home and they were a great alternative to a salty or unhealthy snack while watching a film) and I had a tartlet with fresh salad, while my boyfriend had a pie.

Both were amazing and we did that very daggy thing of passing forks of food across the table so that we could taste each others. It is safe to say that we both had food envy, but also were not willing to hand over our own dish. Hilariously, I got a bit distracted while one forkful was being passed and accidentally plopped it into my glass of water (there's a conundrum solved by the kitchen staff who must have been curious about the soggy lump of food in my glass after we left).

To go with the meal, my boyfriend had water and as it was a little chilly, I opted for a tasty and refreshing apple and mint tea (served in an adorable teapot and again I bought a packet to take home).

Even though we were stuffed, it was a special lunch, so we went all out and got dessert.

I got a cheesecake, which was sublime, and my boyfriend opted for his staple favourite - apple crumble. Both were really tasty, fresh and had that wonderful taste of just coming out of the oven or being made fresh that day.

Overall, we really liked it and almost didn't want to leave. We were going away for a romantic weekend and it was the perfect start to our few days of pampering.

The staff were amazing, Fiona herself came over a few times (not just to us, as she knew I would be penning this very review), but to every table, to make sure everything was alright and Marco was so polite and lovely to everyone.

I really enjoyed it and have been many times since for tea in the morning with a fresh scone or bite to eat, a light lunch, business meeting or a treat with a friend.

The area around Mitchelstown is already rich with delightful culinary offerings and has a lot to boast in terms of cafes, so it would be great to think that people could start to think of having a foodie tour in the area, with places like The Brush and Spoon in Kilworth, O'Callaghans Delicatessen, the newly opened Blueberries in Mitchelstown and Thatch and Thyme in Kildorrery.

They are all amazing and even if you are not local to you, they make coming down this direction worthwhile for any time of the year or any occasion. Your wallet and palette won't be sorry.

Quinn's Quandries star rating; 

***** So tasty, I didn't want to leave.
**** I loved it and could see me as a regular feature.
*** I liked it, but there are a few things I would change.
** It was OK, but nothing to write home about.
* Did not like it and would actively avoid returning.

Read all about Gallery Crafts and The Brush and Spoon here; http://www.fionaturley.com/

* Please note that the for the purpose of this review, one lunch was complimentary, but I have aimed to give an honest and helpful review.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Rare majestic bird spotted in Kildorrery, Cork

Courtesy of Gerard Casey. 
Seeing a cool looking bird is unusual, but not all that noteworthy for many and most of us will look up and think 'wow, that bird looks amazing' and then go about our day. 

Luckily, Fr Gerard Casey is not one such individual and when an unusual bird was spotted, which could have been a common buzzard or a rare eagle, he was part of a group who acted immediately, much to the delight of birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts. 

The unusual bird was spotted in Meadestown, Kildorrery on August 14, 2016 and Dr Allen Mee the Project Manager for Eagles Trust Ireland provided the identification. 

The very pretty and striking look bird was in fact a white-tailed sea eagle - a 15-week-old chick no less and was one of only six born in the country this year. 

On his social media account, Fr Casey reported that the bird was 'disorganised and disorientated'. 

Locals were quick off the mark and immediately set up a group to protect the bird and keep it local, while attempts were made to rescue it. 

This was not, however, merely a group of local people pitching in to help a distressed bird, Dr Torceir Nygard, the world expert on the white-tailed eagle travelled from Norway to assist in the operation.  

Dr Nygard and Dr Mee kept a daily watch on the bird while attempting to re-capture him and a local feeding routine was established. Talk about a stellar local operation with volunteers pulling out all of the stops to treat the bird as professionally as possible. 

The efforts to bring in the best from the field didn't stop there - they sought advice from Canada.

"A truly international event was taking place secretly in Kildorrery, to protect the presence of the unique visitor," Fr Casey said.

Courtesy of Gerard Casey. 

Fr Casey was afforded the privilege of being asked to photograph the bird and he did this by gently driving a farmyard jeep and using a Nikon Coolpix P520 bridge camera (for the tech heads, it had a 42X wide optical 4.3-180mm fixed lens) and the stunning photos can be seen throughout this blog post.

The majestic bird was captured by Dr Mee and Dr Nygard, was tagged, fitted with a tracker and returned on the same day to Portumna.

Since then, the tracking device has tracked its flight South past Nenagh to Silvermines, back up to Lough Derg near Mountshannon, back to Portumna and then along the Shannon River, North of Banagher in Co Offaly.

Fr Casey thanked all who took part in what he described as a "wonderful saga", including Dr Allen Mee, John Reidy, Dick Lillis, Sean Reidy, David Lee and Dr Torcier Nygard.

On an aside, but related tangent, years ago a female hen harrier made its way into my parent's garden in Rockchapel, North Cork. 

Unlike others who may have just glanced at it and moved on, Da was quite taken with it and immediately fetched his binoculars and got out the bird book (yes, we had a bird book on the shelf to call upon in these very instances). 

The hen harrier hung about in our garden for about a day and a half and was not perturbed by the presence of my parents. She even perched on the top of the lawnmower while my Mam was collecting the grass, after cutting it. 

Da took a number of photographs of the bird and initially, they thought it was a kestrel, but the trusty bird book proved it to be a female hen harrier and with its full wing span, it looked pretty immense and spectacular. 

Speaking to my Mam about the bird's visit, she said that at first they simply thought they were blessed to have this bird in the garden. 

When the cat Sooty, who had just had kittens, was on high alert and perched herself at the vantage point on top of the shed roof to watch the bird, Ma and Da realised that the bird, which was a predator, was probably biding its time until it could get to the four-week-old kittens who were all tucked away in a box by the back door. 

Da was so taken with the bird that he created a stunning picture of the bird using the good old fashioned paint programme on the PC, so it was painstakingly created, literally pixel by pixel. I must check if we still have it at home. 


Courtesy of Gerard Casey. 

Friday, September 30, 2016

Go Gold for Childhood Cancer - Four Years Ago Ireland's Tiny Dancer came into her own

Since the start of September, the Go Gold for Childhood Cancer campaign has been going strong and as my own family has unfortunately, like so many others, experienced childhood cancer, I used this blog to raise awareness about the campaign throughout the course of the month.

As today is the final day of September, this is the final post about childhood cancer for the 2016 campaign and I do hope that the stories have stayed with people, made them think about the reality of childhood cancer and raised more awareness about the Go Gold campaign.

Less than half an hour ago, my cousin Paul Hayes (Lily-Mae's uncle) posted a memory on his Facebook page saying that today marks the four-year anniversary since Tiny Dancer A Song for Lily-Mae was recorded.

Paul explained that the song went to Number 1and is second only to Live Aid as the biggest charity single ever recorded in Ireland.

"What a journey it has been since then, but all that really matters now is that Lily-Mae is just a normal little girl, healthy and happy.

"We have 58,000 followers on this page and it is largely down to you that we are where we are today. You bought the single, you raised awareness of our fight, you sent us messages of hope in the dark times.

"So, from all of us at The Sunni Mae Trust, thank you," Paul's heartfelt words were accompanied by a video filled with love, joy and hidden pain and suffering, as Lily-Mae and her Dad Leighton sang a little duet of Tiny Dancer while Lily-Mae was really sick and was enduring stem cell treatment.

Even for those of us who have been lucky enough to have their lives untouched and unscathed by the scourge that is childhood cancer, please spare a thought for the families who have just been hit with devastating news, the children who are experiencing unimaginable pain and the adults of the future whose lives will be forever altered by the illness they endured as children.

It is not fair that such tiny, innocent and adorable people have to go through such horrible things at such a young age.

The statistics from the first Go Gold blog post were staggering and to think that so many children in Ireland are struck down by a cancer diagnosis in Ireland everyday, is really horrible, but what is even worse is that places like Crumlin Children's Hospital, Temple Street Hospital and the Bumbleance, have to fundraise in order to get the money to keep their services running.

If you can donate to any of the above, please do, or if you like organising events or running fundraisers, perhaps you will think of nominating one of the above as a beneficiary.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

When is your Monday?



Created using a meme generator. Copyright Sandra Quinn, Quinn's Quandries 2016. 

Earlier this week, one of my sisters was chatting to me and she said that today (Wednesday, as it was), was her Monday and it got me thinking that everyone has their own Monday in some way.

Now, she starts the working week due to the employee schedule, on a Wednesday, so she meant that her week doesn't start until then.

For me, I have spent most of my print journalism career so far working in weekly newspapers, so my Monday has always been the day we go to press (or get printed, for those outside the media circle).

I guess the point of the previous three paragraphs, is that you can choose your Monday. Monday does not have to be the first day of the week - it is just the day in which you get the most done, the day you feel like everything starts from a clean slate and you can approach all tasks with a fresh outlook and a rejuvenated feeling that you just don't get at the end of the week.

I see my Monday as when I get the most done, when I'm in a good mood and getting the jobs done does not seem like a wearisome chore that I just cannot face.

I'm not really sure if there was a wider aim with this post other than to make people aware that the standardised Monday on the calendar does not have to be your Monday, let that day be whenever you are at your most fulfilled, productive and happy.

On another note and to put a bit of authority behind this post, I spoke to a friend who reads Angel cards and she told me that the Monday for each person could be linked to their star sign, so perhaps it would be worth looking that up to see if your real Monday aligns with your star sign Monday or not.

Bit of a short and sweet post today and as always, if you enjoyed it, please share it and let others enjoy it too.