Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Belfast-home of Bullitt, Baltic and Babel

Driving back and forth to Belfast for work each day-sometimes twice a day-and finding everything I want online without having to face the crowds, results in me not actually socialising in Belfast city centre that often and yet I found myself at  one of Belfast’s newest hotels, Bullitt, three times in the last month. I am currently an Ambassador for Into Film which involves being an advocate for film and the effect it has on young people as well as feeding into the national Into Film programme and trialling educational resources. I was delighted, therefore, to discover that our inaugural meeting was to take place in ‘The Good Room’ at the Bullitt hotel.  A self-contained ‘business’ area of the hotel was perfect for our meeting-the obligatory ‘board table’, a comfy chillout sofa, mini kitchen complete with iconic red SMEG fridge and even a table football-the perfect combination to get the creative juices flowing and to send any inhibitions flying. 

My 11 year old son, Robbie had previously attended a Youth Advisory Council meeting at the same venue and declared that the pulled pork and cheese melt was the best food he had ever tasted-and he wasn’t joking. As the hotel’s mantra says, “Leave your diet at the door-eating’s not cheating when the food is this good”.

The hotel’s restaurant, Taylor and Clay, prides itself on its locally sourced menu with all food items chosen from local suppliers, including David Love Cameron’s organic garden ay Helen’s Bay and a host of menus to meet all tastes and budgets.

Less than a week later, I was back at Bullitt for the launch night of Babel, the hotel’s rooftop bar and garden which offers amazing panoramic views across the city. Although the weather was awful, the howling wind and rain did not dampen spirits as guests met in the Baltic bar for a prosseco reception before taking the elevator to the urban oasis which has a living wall of over 300 homegrown herbs and shrubs-perfect for adding the finishing touch to the wide range of cocktails on offer. The drink of the evening was a Belvedere cocktail accompanied by a vast range of bite size canapés which were just perfect.



The interior of Babel has hints of the eclectic décor of the 50s/60s with velvets and leathers in bold colours which include vivid greens, blues and bubble gum pink and the rooftop garden has a retractable roof-a necessity in this country. However, although the weather was very inclement on the night, the rooftop offered enough shelter without the roof  being closed, thanks to the abundance of heaters and cosy blankets.

It was also lovely to catch up with one half of the Bullitt mastermind, Bill Wolsey, even though I did remind him about the time he was a member of my Spanish class-and usually persuaded the rest of the class to cut the class early and head off for some tipples and tapas in a local establishment!

If you haven’t already visited Babel, Baltic or Bullitt, I would encourage you to make the trip-there really is a mixed vibe which suits a variety of tastes-the “Eclectic Events’ calendar offers something for everyone from arts to acts, culture and craic and technology and tunes.
Check out forthcoming events and the range of menus at here.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Big Birthday Bash

Those of you have been following me a while will know that I had been planning on celebrating my big 5Oth birthday in July for quite a while. Whilst some of my friends have been dreading this milestone of a birthday, my attitude has been to embrace it. Why not celebrate being alive and relatively healthy as we reach this half century point? As my actual birthday was while we were away on holidays, I planned to celebrate it twice-at home and in Spain-indulgent, I know! 

I wanted to do something a bit different for my party and exhausted a host of possibilities in terms of venue, all of which involved problems with regard to licensing laws, early closure times, limited catering options, insurance implications-I could go on forever! Eventually after much persuasion from others-and despite protestations from Lex-we opted to host it in our home. To ensure the evening ran smoothly, and to accommodate friends and family who would be staying overnight, I knew that I would have to be prepared and so a major decluttering and clearing out mission ensued with bags and bags of clothes being dropped off at various charity shops around the town as well as numerous trips to the dump to make the house 'party ready'. 

I was delighted when I returned home from work one afternoon to discover my dad and uncle busily repainting our deck and fencing-a job which we would probably never have got round to doing! I wanted to create a 'fiesta' atmosphere with lots of indoor and outdoor lights as well as pom-poms, lanterns and bunting but my biggest concern was the weather as we had hoped to use the outside space to ensure there was a fluid feeling without guests being split between a number of rooms. With this in mind, I was on a mission to source a large sail like canopy which could be attached between the rear of the house and the raised deck so that guests could be outside without running the risk of being soaked with our unpredictable weather. My search took me to the Play Resource Scrapstore, Belfast which, for an annual fee, provides free craft materials donated by industry and I was delighted when I found an entire roll of white ship sale fabric which was perfect for my project. I 'simply' (have you ever tried machining this stuff?) stitched two lengths together, hemmed a channel at each end and threaded metal poles through so that the canopy could be attached above our bifold doors and to posts in the deck. I was almost hoping it would rain to see my handiwork put to good use but was even more delighted when the sun shone all day-the hottest day of the year! 

I had been buying up outdoor solar lights-great ones from Home Bargains-but  couldn't refuse when I was offered the loan of some outdoor festoon lights from a friend who works for a local council-20 yards to be exact. On the day of the party we moved our corner leather sofa up onto the deck, piled up throws and cushions for extra seating and moved our kitchen table into the neighbours' garden to create space for our dance floor. 
We also added a fire pit-£16 from TK Maxx-to provide heat when the sun went down and for the younger ones to have s'mores as a treat. 

I knew I wanted some kind of live music and I had a lightbulb moment one Saturday morning as my friend Rosie and I sat having our usual coffee in Caffè Nero-in the form of local busker Wayne Carr who entertains shoppers each Saturday on our main street. As he popped in for his coffee I took the opportunity to approach him and he immediately agreed to come on the night. Wayne played solidly for 4 hours with only one short break and had the guests enthralled, playing a range of songs which suited everyone-young and old alike. 

When we were let down by our caterers on the day before the party, I was delighted when our local takeaway came to the rescue-100 portions of chicken goujons, sausages and chips in cones delivered to the door-hot and steaming. I was expecting little mini cones but these were massive and I think totally hit the spot and were a success with everyone. 
Check out the size of those cones!

I didn't want to have to spend the night worrying that everyone had enough to drink so I 'hired' two great girls who also happen to be my classroom assistants, to act as waitresses for the evening. We sat up a bar area in the living room, alongside an extra fridge, where guests could drop off and top up drinks and the girls were fantastic at ensuring everyone was well looked after. We hired the glasses-champagne flutes, wine glasses and tumblers from a local hire company for £18-you couldn't buy plastic ones for that price-and unbelievably not a one was broken on the night. 

I wasn't organised enough to have a birthday cake and to be honest I've found that not everyone likes cake at this type of party so was delighted when a friend Jenny appeared with mountains of mini cupcakes for everyone and another friend Deborah brought her home made pavlova. I hear that the cupcakes were amazing-I'm not sure how I managed to miss them all but I can vouch for the pavlova which was consumed the following day. 

My wonky cake stand!

What I love almost as much about a party itself is the 'post mortem' the following day. So many friends and family had made special trips to Bangor for the night from different parts of the country as well as Scotland and England and had booked into various locations around the town so it was great when they all called the following morning. Whilst the men tackled the issue of returning furniture from its various temporary locations, us ladies made copious amounts of tea and coffee, christening my gorgeous new Emma Bridgewater tea pot and Ted Baker cups and saucers and demolishing the delicious After Eight pavlova. 

So, would I recommend having a house party rather than an outside venue? Yes I totally would. It made life easier when we were able to take our time decorating the venue rather than having to squeeze it all into an hour or so beforehand when you'd much rather be relaxing having your hair done or sipping champagne with some early guests. For me the celebrations really began in the afternoon when various friends and relatives called in and even though some were roped into a few last minute jobs, it was a really relaxed run up to the night. All too often when we've had a party at an outside venue, afterwards has seen us invite everyone back to the house to continue the celebrating (including our wedding night!) so we would have spent time making the house party ready anyway. Unfortunately-or fortunately-I was too busy enjoying myself that I didn't get photos of the deck before everyone arrived.

As my actual birthday was while we were in Spain we had to celebrate it again, right? This time we went for a venue which we regularly frequent when away and the lovely Sam agreed to host the evening in her bar, Finnegans. 

A long  standing friend, Anne, is a singer so she also agreed to perform on the evening and had everyone up dancing in no time. Being in Spain, bars are child friendly so no baby sitting was required as old friends, new friends and cousins created their own little group whilst the adults revelled in more celebrations. I was yet again delighted and humbled that so many friends and family from all over made the effort to join us in Spain to celebrate yet again and yet again no traditional cake but instead this ingenious 'flump cake' made by my lovely Spanish friend Maria. I have to say it was a hit with children and adults alike. 

So, that was my birthday and I'd like to say that is all the celebrations over but I think I might adopt the attitude my husband had when he hit 60 and celebrate the entire year round. Having said that, I'm not sure how much celebrating this 50 year old could manage!

Monday, 13 February 2017

Straight from the Heart-Some Valentine's Day Ideas

I always say that we don't make a big deal about Valentine's Day in our house but inevitably we end up buying cards and some sort of small gifts-and I love any excuse for a bit of pink and red. It's actually my stepson's birthday on Valentine's Day and I became very excited on Saturday when we received a phone call to say that he and his girlfriend were home from London for the weekend and would we like to meet them for lunch. I was immediately thinking, "Birthday, trip home, Valentine's Day, announcement?" They found this hilarious so we decided to drink a few bottles of wine anyway to 'celebrate'-though the day has just started so there is still time for an announcement, right?
I'm loving my Emma Bridgewater calendar which my lovely friend Rosemary bought me for Christmas-and luckily I looked at it a few weeks ago as I almost booked a trip away for us-until I realised I was the only one who had an entire week off!

I was delighted to waken up to this treat this morning-a great effort from Robbie with a bit of help from his dad, I imagine! I'm glad these cookie cutters are being put to good use with toast as I can't imagine we will be baking many cookies!

These pompoms stay up all year round but seem to get moved from room to room, depending on my mood and are currently in the main bathroom-which ironically is only used by the males in this house-what a waste!


It goes without saying that I am a big fan of TK Maxx so was delighted when I found this gorgeous Valentine's card there this week-and I plan to pop it into a  frame afterwards.


I tried to engage Robbie in some crafts after school yesterday which he normally loves but it's no surprise that he had no interest in gluing strips of polka dot paper into hearts. These were super easy to make-leftover strips from a previous Christmas paper chain making afternoon.




I spent yesterday morning at my friend Fiona's house for a coffee morning-I now have serious kitchen envy-and as I knew that she would be conjuring up some delicious homemade scones and cakes, I felt that this Emma Bridgewater lip balm was a better choice of gift-perfectly in keeping with the Palentine's or Galentine's Day.

Would it be too much of a cliche to wear my red Zara boots today and go shopping with my hearts bag?

I hope you all have a lovely day and are spending it with people you love and who love you- be it your friends, family or loved ones. Tx

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Perfect Pizza Party

I am always on the quest for ideas for birthdays-if it’s not for Robbie’s then it’s for friends and family’s ‘wee ones’ and am still trying to decide on the format for my own big one later this year-all suggestions on a postcard please! Anyway, we were recently invited to a friend’s son’s pizza party at Pizza Express Zac’s Moustache Bash- and I was more than  pleasantly surprised. The staff were exceptional when it came to dealing with 20+ children ageing between 6 months and 10 years-and then there’s the adults to consider.

The party was booked for 11am on a Saturday morning-perfect timing for some serious dough throwing before the restaurant opens to the public. After marching the children to the toilets for a wash up military style, each budding pizza chef was kitted out in their apron and hat-ready to pound and roll. 

The kids were given child friendly instructions from the staff who showed great patience-replacing pizza dough when some were rolled so thin, they became transparent! It was a great party to get the parents involved too-while they weren’t enjoying coffee with some homemade moustache themed cupcakes brought in by the birthday boy’s aunt.

The birthday boy Zac, adding his final touches!

Great fun was had as the kids chose their favourite toppings to adorn their handmade pizzas and while they cooked up nicely in the ovens, the party-goers tucked in to some activities at the tables while they munched their way through their dough balls and salad. 

The kids were delighted with their 'party bag pizza boxes' filled with chocolate moustaches, photo booth props as well as individual Polaroid snaps of the day-what's not to love?

I will definitely be considering Pizza Express for any future parties.