I had been trying to arrange a meet up with a friend for ages and she invited me to a forest bathing event in Montalto estate about 30-40 minutes outside Belfast.
I wasn’t sure what to expect but I was assured there would be no naked running through woodlands beating each other with birch twigs (I have to say I was a little disappointed by this, but went anyway).
Forest bathing is based on the Japanese practice of shinrin yoku. This a mindfulness practice, were you immerse yourself in nature. Exercises can include lying down the forest and allowing all your senses to take in what is going on around you. Other exercises can help you connect with others, while some are completed in silence to help you be present in the moment and contemplate your surroundings. We were led in this by the brilliant Gillian Calhoun, email@example.com, who made the entire experience accessible for everyone including people in our group who admitted they had previously found it difficult to switch off and rest. I finished the morning feeling a tremendous sense of peace, and one the my favourite things I took away from it is that rest is a verb, sometimes our minds and our bodies need to be allowed to rest and rest is an activity in itself.
I had driven past the Montalto estate many times before and but never visited. The original demesne dates back to the 1600s. Patrick McCartan one of the earliest owners had his lands confiscated due his involvement in the 1641 rebellion by the United Irishmen against the crown forces. The site was eventually passed down to the Earl of Moira in 1765 who built the grand mansion house and who’s grandson developed the impressive gardens.
Today the estate is privately owned by the Wilson family and the mansion house as well as other buildings can be rented out as wedding and events venues. Entrance to the grounds (not the house) is £7.50 for adults, but annual membership is £37.50. The estate also has a café, serving delicious lunches, pastries or even afternoon tea if you feel like really treating yourself.
The estate has beautiful paths and walks with a small lake, mature trees and some really interesting and exotic planting and was the perfect location for our forest bathing as we could take in different elements the estate had to offer. They also run events like kids bush craft, floristry and gardening events and yoga.
Go get out into some nature, and then just chill out and let it all wash over you. We’re all in too much of a hurry these days to appreciate the little miracles we are surrounded by. Your physical health will improve, and your mental health will benefit, so get your lazy arse of the sofa and go commune with nature.
It’s Mother’s day and though she isn’t with us any more, I made my Mum’s signature dish, Pavlova. She wasn’t a fantastic cook, but she made a mean Pavlova. I didn’t ever get her recipe. So if you have a loved one who makes something you adore, remember to spend the time with them and get them to teach you how to make it. Food is one of the best ways to keep a little bit of that person with you.
Meringue has always been my culinary nemisis. I’ve struggled to make a decent one for years and I think I’ve cracked it thanks to the sainted Mary Berry (this is her recipe) .
I’ve used the traditional strawberries, but you can use any fruit you prefer.
This is a real crowd plesser, and is also a delicious gluten free dessert. Don’t panic if the meringue cracks, the topping will hide this, and the marshmallowy centre is a nice contrast to the crunchy exterior.
You can make the meringue the day before (keep in an airtight box) and decorate just before serving.
For the meringue
6 Egg whites
350 Grams Sugar
1 Tsp cornflour
1 Tbsp Vinegar
250 ml Whipping or double cream
Berries or other fruit to decorate
Pre heat your oven to 150 degrees (Celsius)
Add your egg whites to the bowl of your mixer and at a high speed until it reaches firm peaks
Continue mix and add the sugar a spoonful at a time, then add the cornflour and vinegar (which should be mixed together before adding to the meringue mix
Draw a circle on a sheet of parchment paper and put a small dab of meringue on the corners of a baking sheet before laying the parchment on top (this helps keep it in place)
Spoon your meringue on the circle you drew on the parchment (I like to keep meringue a quite tall, but you can go for a slightly flatter wider one if you prefer)
Place in the oven, and lower the heat to 140 degrees, bake for 1 hour, then the oven off and open the oven door slightly. Leave the meringue in the oven until it is entirely cold
Just before you are due serve, top with whipped cream and strawberries
London is one of my favourite cities in the world. It has everything, history, architecture, fashion, and entertainment.
I visited recently with a friend who has a love of all things dramatic. With this in mind we visited Sarasto in Drury Lane. The restaurant was decorated by a set designer and its super theatrical from the moment you walk in the door, with kitsch swathes of gold and velvet and booths designed like opera boxes. They also have opera singers and musicians at weekends and being in the theatre District they refer to themselves as “the show after the show”.
I have loved the musical Cabaret since I first watched it, so we treated ourselves to tickets for current run. I don’t have photos, as all photos and vidography is banned in the theatre. If you are lucky enough to attend the show you’ll understand why. From the moment you walk through the door you’re transported to louche decadent 1930s Berlin. The show is performed in the round and you can actually sit at the side of the stage like it’s a nightclub (these were the expensive seats, we were up in the nosebleeds). Regardless of where you sit, it will blow your socks off. I think it’s the best live production I’ve ever seen. If you find yourself in London, give yourself a treat and go see Cabaret.
The other great thing thing about London is just soaking up the atmosphere. You can stumble across a girl group filming a music video or wander into China Town for lunch.
While London isn’t the cheapest city you’ll ever visit there is plenty of free stuff to do. We spent a very pleasant morning in the National Gallery. You can see everything from beautiful delicate paintings by impressionists like Monet and Manet, through to the dark violence of Caravagio. A week in the place wouldn’t be long enough to see the amazing range of works on display.
London never gets old, and like the saying “if you’re tired of London you’re tired of life”