Dollys Farm and Seaweed Baths in Newcastle Co. Down

Who doesn’t love sometime away with your besties. It was one of my oldest friend’s birthday, so we decided to get out of the city and treat ourselves.

About a 30 minute drive from Belfast, we stayed at Dolly’s Farm, just outside the village of Seafordepq. The farm has beautifully converted old farm buildings into luxurious self catering accommodation. The Hay Loft sleeps up to four and the Farm House sleeps up to seven people.

Both have their own wood fired hot tubs and sitting relaxing looking over gorgeous lush farmland listening to the cows moo was heaven.

William, the owner was great and arrived with snacks just after we arrived and the package we booked also included a fantastic 3 course dinner from a French’s restaurant in Clough that evening. We also had breakfast delivered to us the next morning including hot croissants, breads and fresh fruit and juice. If you want to get away from it all and not have to worry about a thing this the break for you.

The next day we drove about another 20 minutes to the seaside town of Newcastle at the foot of the Mourne mountains. Tollymore Forest Park can be accessed here to and if you haven’t visited before, you’ll be a convert.

We decided to treat ourselves to a little bit of self care at Soak. They specialise in seaweed baths but also offer beauty treatments and self-catering accommodation.

The ritual for the baths starts with a good 10 minute steam to open your pores. You can opt for the original Victoria steam boxes, or other rooms have more modern steam rooms. You can choose to have rooms with 2 baths (popular with couples) or single rooms.

Victorian Steam Box

After steaming, you step into an original Victorian roll top bath with local seaweed and soak for around 40 minutes. If you haven’t done it before, lying down in a bath full of seaweed might feel a bit strange at first, but you’ll soon realise it actually feels great. The seaweed has all manner of health benefits and helps detox your skin and leaves it incredibly soft.

The seaweed baths are one of my guilt free pleasures. A great way to just bliss out, the staff even let you pick an album you want to listen too and pipe the music into your room.

Wild Women of the Woods NI – Day Retreat

I love getting out in nature at this time of year and a bit of foraging. An old friend suggested us doing the Wild Women of the Woods NI day retreat and I loved it.

The Wild Women are a brilliant social enterprise, who’s aim is to encourage women to get out and enjoy nature, but just as important is the social element. Women attending their events come from all walks of life with ages ranges from early 20’s to early 70’s.

They offer day retreats and camping experiences, (and can even lend some camping equipment if you don’t have it). Other events will be held at locations where bedrooms are available) I had a particularly busy and frenetic couple of weeks with work, and this day retreat was the perfect antidote.

Outdoor yoga was fantastic

The event I attended was held at the Red Barn Log Cabin at the foot of Belfast’s Cave Hill Forest Park. (It’s also a available to rent on AirB&B, and is gorgeous). The day was facilitated by the very lovely Rachel and Cathy, who will feed you to within an inch of your life.

When we arrived we were welcomed with coffee and homemade banana bread, and had a chance to meet and chat with the other woman taking part around the cabin’s fire pit. Cathy from Sunflower Massage and Yoga then led us in a really relaxing gentle yoga session before we were fed once again with homemade muffins and mushroom tea (it didn’t taste of mushrooms and was packed with antioxidants).

Mushroom tea with honey and lemon

We then walked up through the Cave Hill led by one of the rangers, Cormac. He was great at showing edible plants and describing the history of the area and was loads of fun.

Cormac, dropping knowledge

When we returned to the cabin, Rachel had made dough and we all fashioned our own flat breads and cooked them over an open fire (to much hilarity, turns out cooking with fire isn’t as easy as it looks). After our flatbreads were ready we enjoyed them with nettle soup, followed by chick pea and butternut squash stew. Dessert was fantastic, we toasted marshmallows and made s’mores, had bananas with chocolate wrapped in foil and cooked on the fire and then pineapple grilled and served with coconut yogurt.

Cooking flat breads over the fire

Did I mention the prosecco and homemade elderflower cordial too?

These women really know how to throw a retreat, After trekking around the Cave Hill you’ll be starving, and Rachel and Cathy really looked after us. The other women were great craic and groups are small enough that you don’t feel lost in a crowd and you get a chance to actually get to know each other.

Nettle soup with creme fraich and tabasco

Some women came with friends and others came on their own. The Wild Women is a great way to meet new people and by the end of the day phone numbers were being exchanged and people were following each other on social media etc. Some of the group had recently moved to Belfast and others liked getting out into nature but none of their existing friends were into it, and the Wild Women provides a chance to do this.

Chickpea and butternut squash stew with feta

I don’t know if I’m ready for a night under canvas just yet, but it was one of the most enjoyable days I’ve spent in a long time. Check out Wlid Women of the Woods NI on Facebook to to learn more about what they do and future events.

Sunnyside Supper Club is Back – 10th September 2022

Well the pandemic wasn’t a big pile of craic was it?

Now that things have hopefully calmed down a bit, the supper club is back.

If you haven’t been to one before, we have a max of 8-9 diners and past guests have been a mix of couples, friends catching up on “mate dates” and solo diners who love food but who’s friends just aren’t into eating out. It’s all very laid back and a chance to have dinner people from different walks of life while enjoying some great food (After lock down aren’t you fed up looking at the same people) .

Previous Supper Club

You’ll be greeted with a welcome drink (people are welcome to bring their own beer or wine, with no corkage), and then everyone eats the same 3 courses (we’re happy to cater for vegans/vegetarians, just let us know in advance).

The theme of the supper club scheduled just as lock down hit was decided by a vote. So, I’m putting it to the vote again (in case our taste buds have changed over lockdown). I’m sticking with French Vs Italian.

So check out the menus and vote for your favourite, and we’ll maybe see you at the next supper club.

French Menu

Starter – French Onion Soup with Gruyere Crouton

Main – Beef Bourguignon (vegetarian option – mushroom bourguignon), Dauphinoise Potatoes, Buttered Greens

Dessert – Tart au Chocolat

Italian Menu

Starter – Gnocchi with Hazelnut Pesto

Main – Chicken Marsala, chicken thighs cooked in a creamy mushroom and Marsala sauce, (vegetarian option-Aubergine Parmesan), Italian Salad, Homemade Italian Bread

Dessert – Tiramisu

10th September – Sunnyside Supper Club

Sunnyside Supper Club – 10th September 2022

£35.00

N.B. We have a 24 hour cancellation policy.

Christmas Goodies from D Rum Pot

Who doesn’t love a surprise batch of goodies.

The very lovely Debbie from D Rum Pot (check out her delicious Caribbean food on Facebook) dropped off some amazing treats with a Trinidadian flare. Debbie also runs a great Caribbean supper club, and like me can’t wait for restrictions to lift to get back to it.

Yummy spiced sweetbread, rum punch, homemade raspberry sauce, and Caribbean sweets. The diet can start tomorrow!

Herb Walk at Helen’s Bay Organic

Red Dead Nettle

If you’ve followed this blog you’ll know I’m a bit of a foraging nerd. I was really lucky to go on an amazing herb walk with 2 fantastic and highly qualified herbalists (Sarah and Luke) down at Helen’s Bay Organic farm.

The weather was bracing to say the least, but Luke and Sarah were so passionate about their subject that you almost didn’t mind the rain showers and wind.

In my part of the world we’re fortunate to have a brilliant variety of wild plants that are delicious and amazingly good for you. To make things even better, they’re free!

Rose hips

When picking wild food it’s advisable to not pick from roadsides (because of all pollution from passing cars). If you’re picking herbs at low level it’s also worth remembering that dogs might have pee’d on them (so give them a quick wash if you’re not sure).

Rose hips from wild roses

The first wild food we were shown were rosehips, the seedpods of wild roses. It’s not advisable to eat the whole thing as the seeds are an irritant. They make a tasty syrup packed full of vitamin C. In fact only 3 rose hips, has the same amount of vitamin C as a large orange.

Raw dandelion roots produce latex that can be used to treat warts

Dandelions are seen as a scourge by most gardeners’ but has a range of uses. The young leaves can used in salads, the roots make a decent coffee substitute, and it makes a very good diuretic, that removes sodium but not potassium from your body.

Chick weed

Chick weed (so called because chickens go mad for it) is good in salads and tastes quite like spinach and packed full of vitamins. This herb is also great for your skin and can be used in baths as a little treat for your skin

Speed well

Speed well was apparently used as far back as ancient Greece, and helps with muscle injuries and fatigue.

Red Dead Nettle

Red dead nettle (even though the flowers are pink) is a member of the mint family. A powerful anti spasmodic, it’s useful in the treatment of IBS and period cramps.

Shepherd’s Purse

Shepherd’s Purse, can be used to reduce inflammation and can help treat heavy periods and intestinal issues.

Stinging Nettles

Stinging nettles are a pain if you brush up against them, but are an almost perfect super food. Packed with vitamins, minerals and trace elements the young leaves can be picked all year round and eaten in soups and stews. Medicinally they are high in iron, and has proved effective in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and kidney problems.

Dock Leaf

As a kid I was always told if I was stung by nettles to rub my skin with a dock leaf, which proved to be absolutely no use. But it turns out there was something in the old wive’s tale that obviously got jumbled over time. If you ignore the big leaves and look towards the root there are little new almost spiky leaves. If you pick these leaves they release a gel similar to aloe vera, which as it turns out can sooth skin irritation. The roots can also be dried and used to treat skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis.

Plantain

My favourite herb of the day was plantain, which tastes a little bit like dried mushroom, but in a good way. This was traditionally made into a poultice to help wounds heal more quickly. If drunk as a tea about 20 minutes before taking certain antibiotics it can boost their effectivness by 3-4 times.

Ivy

Ivy is also seen as a pest by most gardeners’ but can also be used to make a tea. The tea helps treat lung problems like hooping cough and bronchitis.

Just part of our yummy lunch

We were also treated to a tasty lunch of home made nettle soup and nibbles. Sarah and Luke run these walks several time a year based on the seasons. I’m not including a quarter of the fascinating stuff they told us. If you like to geek out a little bit about foraging, this is the experience for you. I would definitely recommend it.

Galgorm Resort and Spa

Galgorm Spa Village

Life in lockdown meant most of us had pretty sucky birthdays this year. I had a big birthday in the middle of lockdown, which was c*ap. However, I’m lucky enough to have a great friend (Bronagh), who treated me to a fantastic night at Galgorm Spa and the 5 course tasting menu in their restaurant.

Spa area

Galgorm is about 30 minutes from Belfast (although we took the scenic route because we got lost). Set amongst 163 acres of mature parkland with the river Maine flowing through the resort, the main hotel reception is a large characterful old house with beautiful open turf fires. The hotel has more modern additions for accommodation, self catering lodges and annexes that cater to weddings and conferences.

I have really been missed travel since Covid hit and visiting here really made me feel like I had proper holiday. The spa facilities are international standard offering a range of treatments and I had one of the best massages I have ever had. The resort has what it calls a spa village which was amazing.

When we arrived we dropped our bags which were taken to our room and all we had to do was change into our swimsuits, and then relax in the robes and flip flops that were provided. Everyone wears these at the spa (it was a but like being in a cult), but with facilities this good I’d be happy to join.

These look like little hobbit houses, but are saunas dotted along the banks of the river.
Just take a rest from all that relaxing

There are a range of indoor and outdoor pools, hydro jets, saunas, steam rooms and a salt cave. It was perfect to sit in the beautiful gardens enjoying a mojito and watch the waterfalls that run beside the hotel.

That evening, totally chilled out we had the fabulous tasting menu in the hotel’s River Room restaurant. The restaurant prides itself in sourcing local artisanal ingredients and grows a lot of what they use in the hotel’s own gardens.

The resort is really luxurious, and the staff who are obviously trained to within an inch of their life are warm and engaging and go out of their way to make your stay feel special. The resort is a destination in itself, but is also close to the gorgeous North Antrim coast if you want to explore . All I can say is thank you Bronagh for an amazing gift.

Rowallane Gardens

The National Trust has some amazing properties around Northern Ireland. Rowallane is just outside Saintfield village (about 20 mins outside Belfast).

Rowallane consists of a beautiful old house (I forgot to take photos), stable block, walled garden, toilets and café, established gardens and woodlands.

Spring is an amazing time to visit, as everything is in full bloom, including the amazing blue Himalayan poppies. The gardens and woodlands are pretty fabulous at anytime, and with the easing of Covid restrictions a full calendar of events will hopefully be back on soon.

The gardens are popular with dog walkers and families, and are generally accessible for anyone with mobility issues. Kids will love the woodlands with plenty of trees to climb and a meadow to run crazy in.

Fun Times with Funghi

I love love love mushrooms of any kind. I usually stick to regular field mushrooms, as the fancy ones are usually pretty expensive. Mushrooms are a fantastic source of vitamin D, are low in fat and carbohydrates and provide texture and a great savoury kick for vegan dishes.

Due to the recent lockdown I was able to buy a mushroom block from a grower who normally supplies restaurants.

Baby oyster mushrooms just starting to grow

Two days after I ordered it a large lump of compressed saw dust wrapped in plastic arrived. I was a bit sceptical, but my love of oyster mushrooms spurred me on. I hate gardening and pretty much kill every plant I come in contact with. But these were super simple, basically it’s a stump of pressed sawdust impregnated with fungi spores and it just needs sprayed with water once or twice a day.

In less than a week later I had my first crop, and it’s still going. Like most mushrooms these can be added to pretty much anything. My favourite way to eat them is just fried in a little butter.

Delicious

If you love mushrooms and want to give your loved ones a gift idea I would definitely recommend trying this. It’ll bring out your inner nerd and you will love it. It’s also a great project with kids and helps them understand where food comes from.

Fried in a little olive oil and top some avocado and toast for a quick and simple lunch.

Foraging at Navan Fort and walking through history.

Even though I was raised in the city, one of the things my Dad loved to do was to take us on nature walks. During these he would point out trees and plants and let us pick wild blackberries and hazelnuts.

Elderberries, packed with vitamins and antioxidants

Foraging isn’t practical for everyone but when you get the chance I would recommend it. It helps ground you to where you live, and best of all it’s free. It’s also a fantastic activity to do with kids (just make sure to watch what they’re eating).

Celtic round house

Recently Navan Fort and Visitor Centre in Co. Armagh, ran an event which provided a guided foraging walk and demonstration of the food and cooking methods our Celtic ancestors would have ate. I’m a big history nerd, so this was right up my street.

Iron Age fire pit

The staff in full Celtic regalia complete with spears really brought history alive, showing not only what the Celts ate, but how they cooked and lived, complete with a genuine Iron Age round house.

Inside an Iron Age round house

The staff were brilliant at getting younger visitors involved and having banter with the participants. They’re also extremely engaging, knowledgeable , and were really interesting.

Tripod cooking
Celtic bread oven

We were then treated to the foraging element led by Fergal. It was great to be back in nature and learn the history and use of local plants.

Robert’s plant or herb Robert

I have to admit in being remiss at not taking more photos of the edible berries like haws, rosehips, and sloes (yes the things they make sloe gin with). One of the more interesting plants was Robert’s plant/herb Robert. Apparently this will be one of the most important cancer fighting drugs in the next decade. If you want to put it in a basin of warm water and soak your feet it also has great antioxidant properties.

I honestly couldn’t recommend the place highly enough. We were also treated to nettle soup (packed with iron and surprisingly tasty), pork and apple stew (we were in the orchard county after all), and a dessert of toasted oats and nuts, local honey, and berries and cream. The charming and entertaining Ita not only cooked all this but demonstrated how our ancestors would have made bread. The foraging events are coming to an end due to the time of year, but the place has different events all year round and is still well worth a visit at any time.

OX, Belfast

Usually when it comes to food I believe you don’t have to slave away for hours to make something that tastes amazing.

However, occasionally you have to push the boat out and treat yourself to something that is really extraordinary.

An OX Martini to kick things off

The food scene in Belfast has changed massively in the last 10-15 years, and the city now has three Michelin star restaurants. As a special treat I visited one of them, OX. Located in Oxford Street in the city centre and overlooking the river Lagan, and the art installation known locally as “Nuala with the hula”

The interior is paired back Scandi chic, with lots is white washed walls and dark wood, making it minimal but also warm. The staff are knowledgeable, and have the gift of leaving you alone when you’re in the middle of a conversation and appearing as if by magic before you knew you needed something. They were also very accomodating when we asked for a rest between courses. I take this as a sign of a good Chef in control his kitchen. A couple of years I was in another pretty fancy restaurant in London (which was half full) and asked for brief break between courses, a shame faced server came back to apologise and say that the Chef was busy and would basically be sending the food out as it came!

First half of the taster menu

We had been waiting patiently since the start of lockdown to go to OX, and decided to go for the six course taster menu (there is the option of an additional cheese course, and wine pairing with each course).

Canapés of delicate little tartlets with eel and horseradish and gougere (think warm savoury cheese profiteroles)

OX prides itself on using the best local and seasonal ingredients. Some of the herbs used are grown the Chef’s own garden.

Velvety smooth artichoke veloute, with salty crispy chicken crackling

The restaurant has long been a hit with visiting foodies (I met a German couple last year who when visiting Ireland, made a special trip to Belfast just to eat in OX because they had heard such good things from other foodies).

Broad beans, soft cheese with truffle and sour dough crisp

It will take time before foreign visitors come back to Belfast in any great numbers due to travel restrictions. However, it was heartening to see that the place was fully booked with locals on a Friday lunchtime.

Lobster with courgette
Part 2 of the taster menu

A lot of fine dining restaurants can be intimidating for people who don’t eat in them regularly. Like the best of these types of restaurants, OX has found the perfect balance of making you feel that you’re eating somewhere special without being stuffy or pretentious.

Cote de Beouf
Sheep milk yoghurt with apricots
Blackberry and white chocolate sable