Spiced damson gin

Making your own fruit-infused liqueur is a great way to start the countdown to Christmas.

Ideally you would want about 6 weeks as a minimum but there is still time to make something delicious. This is my variation on the traditional sloe gin & is made with frozen damsons

Ingredients

500g damsons, defrosted

250g sugar

1l gin

1 star anise

1 cinnamon stick

Method

Add all the ingredients to a sterilised Kilner jar (preferably 1.5l), keeping in a cool, dark place & turning the jar daily to dissolve the sugar.

As there aren’t many weeks left before Christmas now I recommend using frozen fruit as the juice bleeds more quickly into the gin. The week before Christmas strain the mixture & decant into sterilised bottles.

It is a super addition to sparkling wine, can be used to fancy-up cranberry sauce but my personal favourite is a generous glass (neat) with a slab of Christmas cake.

IMG_4008.JPG

Summer’s end

Day 65 of #65daysofsummer

Whether you embraced the start of July with open arms or just held your breath and endured Summer’s sweaty hug at the end of term - we’ve made it through!

Pat yourself on the back. Raise your glass. Give yourself a high five. It’s done! And what a 65 days it’s been, with a lot of very warm weather too, which has been such a treat.

I’m going to take a moment with our family to look back over my last 64 posts to remind us all of the things we’ve done not least of all because I want our children to have something interesting at the front of their minds when asked on their first day back at school what they did on their holidays. Left to their own devices they’ll probably say “watch TV and went to the gym with Mum”. The recency effect is alive and well in our house! 😂

Anyway, as you can probably imagine writing a daily blog over the Summer can be tough-going. You might have noticed over the last couple of weeks I have been silent for a few days and then posted a flurry all at once by way of catching-up. It’s quite a commitment and one I enjoy but life does sometimes get in the way and I’ve needed to let that happen.

My posts have just been wee snapshots of things we’ve done or places we’ve visited and often don’t capture a full day or even sometimes a full hour of life. They might be positive and show us in a good light but it’s only a very small part of the picture and life has had its ups and downs for sure over this last two months. However, I’m an optimist and positivity is everything in my world so my not-always-daily posts give me a mini opportunity to put some positive vibes out there regardless of what life throws at us.

With the return to school tomorrow a new chapter begins for us all and it will be exciting to see what’s around the corner.

Thank you for following #65daysofsummer

Enjoy your Autumn! 🧡🍁🍂

IMG_2711.JPG

One last trip...

Day 64 of #65daysofsummer

Can you believe that we are almost there?! I genuinely can't.

If, like us your children are heading back to school on Monday then perhaps you are looking for one last thing to do to seal the Summer holidays once and for all? 

Air Waves, Portrush is on for the second day tomorrow if you find yourself on the North Coast. Our Naturally North Coast & Glens Artisan Market will also be there so there will be plenty to entertain all the family. Check it out at https://www.airwavesportrush.co.uk/

 

IMG_1470.PNG

​#AperoClub Hen do

Day 63 of #65daysofsummer

I was so pleased to be asked if I’d host a hen-do. They can be tricky things to organise when so many different people are coming together with different likes and interests. It’s a special event for any bride-to-be and I felt honoured to be responsible for some of the celebrations for the lady in question.

As with all my #AperoClub nights there’s lots of preparation involved. The success of the night in fact is entirely down to me being well-prepared so once the night itself comes along, for me most of the hard work is done and out of the way.

If you’re not familiar with my #AperoClub it’s based on the French tradition of Apero, a pre-dinner social occasion involving some appetite-whetting drinks and snacks. I make some dishes ahead of the evening and then the group prepares some more on the night before tucking-in and enjoying our own homemade apero. It’s a unique experience and I’m really loving developing it further.

Last night was a little different to the norm in so far as it was only my second bespoke party that I have hosted but also it was to be an “apero dinatoire” whereby it was the meal itself, not just a pre-meal bite. With that in mind we had a larger selection of items on the menu including some sweet treats to finish-off the meal.

The ladies were brilliant. Everyone threw themselves into the tasks and made some excellent dishes. It was really fun hosting the hen-do and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

If you’re considering a bespoke event they are available at lunchtimes as well as in the evenings. I cater for all tastes and preferences. There will be details coming soon of my open event that will make-up part of this year’s Restaurant Week in November so watch this space!

IMG_2880.JPG
IMG_2851.JPG

A gift for the hen. 

IMG_2853.JPG

Flowers & candles. 

IMG_2884.JPG

Time to eat! 

IMG_2886.JPG

Orange chocolate pots. 

Smoky sirloin steaks

Day 62 of #65daysofsummer

Another simple yet delicious recipe for the final days of Summer.

These are McKay’s Family Butcher’s sirloin steaks, marinated in smoked rapeseed oil, Worcestershire sauce, chargrilled garlic and pepper seasoning and salt and pepper.

I fried them for 1 minute on each side in an oven-proof griddle pan then popped them in the oven at 100 degrees for 5 minutes.

They rested for 10-15 minutes in tin foil and a clean tea towel before being served.

They were super tasty and went really well with rosemary roasted, chipped baby potatoes and steamed broccoli.

IMG_2822.JPG

End of Summer quick trifle

Day 61 of #65daysofsummer

Trifle is not one of the most complicated puds to make and this one is perhaps even simpler. We made this on Wednesday as a goodbye dessert for family members who were jetting-off on their hols.

Ingredients

2 packs of trifle finger sponges

2 generous shots of sweet sherry

1 small bag of frozen berries, defrosted

1 medium carton of custard

1 pot of whipping cream

Method

Arrange the sponges in a large bowl and drench with the sherry. You might want to add a bit more sherry depending on how you’re feeling at this stage in the Summer holiday 😉.

Tip in the defrosted berries.

Top with the custard.

Chill in the fridge until the custard has firmed-up.

Whip the cream to your liking. I would go for softly whipped so it holds its shape but spreads easily on top of the custard.

Top the trifle with the cream and serve.

IMG_2821.JPG

Return to school preparations

Day 60 of #65daysofsummer

I’d left it a little late this year to get the children organised for school. On the second day of The Auld Lammas Fair we snuck into our local shoe shop Gillans to get the new school shoes and plimsolls.

The customer service was great and we were very happy with our purchases. New school socks and tights were next on the list and all that remains now is to get the coats washed, names in the clothes and to make up some pencil cases for the first day back.

Are you all set?

IMG_2833.PNG

Auld Lammas Fair

Day 59 of #65daysofsummer

Well it was that time of year again when our family makes its annual walking pilgrimage to the Auld Lammas Fair. It’s in our town so not really that impressive a walk but a tradition nonetheless.

We’ve lived in Ballycastle for nine years this year and we’ve visited the fair most of those years, sometimes taking visiting family members too. Whilst there are bits of the fair that people complain about it’s a great opportunity to meet up with people, have some fun on the rides and sideshows, find some bargains and eat some tasty food. Understandably the children love it. The rides. The games. The prizes. The candy floss. 

I have also come to love it but for a very different reason. With each year that has passed I realise how the fair has been a real indicator of how much more integrated in the community we are here. Each year we bump into more people and know more faces and it’s a truly lovely feeling. It took us an age to walk the length of the street for catching-up with lots of friends (much to the children’s displeasure at times when they were keen to reach the funfair) but it really was the most enjoyable part of it for me.

There is no doubt I love having our town back to normal again afterwards but the atmosphere of the fair is hard to beat.

IMG_2792.JPG
FullSizeRender.jpg
FullSizeRender.jpg

Breakfast in bed

Day 58 of #65daysofsummer

Regardless of whether or not you’ve been off over the Summer with the children there’s only one week left before the weekends regain their usual status. For us they’re mostly a mishmash of relaxing, hobbies and getting jobs done that we didn’t get sorted during the week.

With some interesting changes afoot for our family weekends are going to feel VERY different for us in the coming weeks and will really take some getting used to. With this in mind we had a very lazy day: late breakfast, late bath, caught-up on a little work but the rest of the time we just hung out at home playing games and watching television together.

Attempting some self care and reminding myself that I am a human being not a human doing is just as important as getting stuff done. 😊 I hope this rubs-off on the children too.

IMG_2733.JPG

Warming-up to school

Day 57 of #65daysofsummer

I love the changes throughout the year and the start of Autumn is certainly my favourite change of them all. There is something very special about the season for me that beats all the other three hands-down.

The Summer holidays are always greeted with open arms but for a variety of reasons after a while the children and I hanker for a bit of routine and the stimulus of being back in the throes of school and work life and all that it brings.

In my attempt to warm the children back up to school work we’ve been playing some educational games and these cards have been particularly helpful for Erin. The tiles from a Scrabble board, the money from Monopoly, a calculator or a measuring tape can all be used to make fun learning or revision games to get the cogs turning again without even realising it.

FullSizeRender.jpg

Natural art

Day 56 of #65daysofsummer

This is a lovely idea from a library book we currently have out (The Usborne Outdoor Book). You can apply it to fields, beaches, forests and gardens and even link it into getting the children to clear leaves without even realising it.😉

We made our own art at a big sand dune last week by throwing small lumps of harder wet sand up in the air onto looser, dry sand. It made a fantastic spray effect. William discovered it then it became a bit of an impromptu art project.

Could you go foraging or collecting to make something beautiful together?

FullSizeRender.jpg

Blackberry picking & quick compote

Day 55 of #65daysofsummer

We were lucky enough to be surrounded by blackberry bushes in Donegal last week so couldn’t resist picking some to bring back to the cottage. That said, they didn’t all quite make it back of course. 😉

I made some flourless pancakes that night with a pot of cottage cheese, a cup or so of oats and four free range eggs. We had our smoothie maker with us so blitzed the batter up in that.

The blackberries made a delicious compote. They bubbled away on the hob until softened with a little honey and some vanilla.

Glenisk organic whole milk yoghurt and some local honeycomb from Glenties finished the job nicely.

IMG_2708.JPG

William spotting a good one. 

IMG_2725.JPG

Blackberry compote bubbling away. 

IMG_2727.JPG

Flourless pancakes. 

IMG_2729.JPG

Blackberry & vanilla compote. 

Environmental awareness

Day 54 of #65daysofsummer

As much as possible I try to instil a sense of responsibility in our children when it comes to caring for our environment. As a family I am sure we could do much, much more but I recognise we’re on a journey and are gradually getting better at it.

We make sure we don’t waste water or energy through heating or cooking, recycle as much as we can, make some informed choices when shopping, use reusable flasks and bottles, and grow plants and flowers in our garden that help support the local ecosystems, to name just a few of our simple efforts.

Something that has become a big thing for me is litter-picking, especially at the beach. I think I have posted before about us ensuring we collect some rubbish each time we visit the beach. This week we have been holidaying in Donegal and my approach was no different. I want to post this picture as it really hits home that rubbish discarded in one place does not just litter that spot. It travels and can cause all sorts of harm in places you might not have ever considered. This carton was on Dumhaigh beach and is very likely to have travelled all the way from Spain.

Whilst it’s possible to look at rubbish in the street, field or beach and think how bad it is that someone left it or allowed it to get there I now feel as guilty as the original perpetrator walking by it. Whether I like it or not I believe once I’ve encountered a piece of rubbish it’s mine to dispose of else I’m the one littering.

If everyone took this approach every day can you imagine the impact on our global community? Passing this onto our children is hugely important to me and so we make it our mission each time we head to the coast.

IMG_2689.JPG

Maps

Day 53 of #65daysofsummer

We’re taking a few days out visiting family in Donegal and so last night we spent some time looking at maps of the area. I love maps and am hoping that I pass that interest onto our children. Some of the ones we looked at last night were also in Irish, which meant that we could try to work on our understanding of the language too. I’ve a very long way to go but seeing a language in a practical sense has always helped me start piecing bits of knowledge together and this was no different.

Do you have any maps you could look over with the children? It could be of anywhere in the world. They offer lots to talk about, a practical skill to learn in terms of reading a map and can jog the memory for stories. Making a map is also a nice rainy day activity or perhaps drawing a map to some treasure hidden in the garden could be a fun way to spend an afternoon?

IMG_2644.JPG

Audiobooks save the day

Day 52 of #65daysofsummer

This is most definitely not rocket science but if you find yourself on a long car journey and are struggling to entertain the children you can always search for narrated children’s stories on YouTube on your phone and play them through the car stereo. Fantastic Mr Fox 🦊 by Roald Dahl helped our journey along nicely!

It’s not often adults get a story read to them so it was quite a treat for us grown-ups too. 😉 

IMG_2643.JPG

Winding down to the end of the holidays

Day 51 of #65daysofsummer

The end of the summer holidays is actually in sight (phew!😉) and I am feeling the need to finish off the decluttering I began a few months ago.

I found this chart on a post by theheartysoul.com and it’s a great way to make the process more manageable. You could even make a wee one for the children to work through their rooms?

FullSizeRender.jpg

Painting day

Day 50 of #65daysofsummer

This is a lovely event that is coming up in Portballintrae, run by Causeway Coast Artists. Why not head along for a bit of creative me-time? Refreshments provided and a prize up for grabs.

If you’re not in the area why not check-out your local artist groups and galleries for something similar?

IMG_2633.JPG

Board game-a-thon

Day 49 of #65days of summer

It was a wet day yesterday and whilst we very often go out and get wet anyway we took the opportunity to dig the board games out of the cupboard at Mum and Dad’s.

It was yet another chance for me to reminisce as all of the games were ones I played with as a child.

Beetle was a favourite with the children as it’s so straight forward to play. The other thing that’s great about Beetle is that you can play it simply with dice, paper and pencils too. Write out the numbers that correspond to the various body parts and you’re away!

IMG_2576.JPG

Living history

Day 48 of #65daysofsummer

We had such a brilliant day at the Historic Dockyard, Chatham yesterday. There is something there for everyone to keep the whole family entertained.

We saw where famous ships were designed and built, how rope was made and even took a tour of an old warship. But what made it really special was the guided tour my Dad was able to give us as he was an apprentice there some decades ago, training to be a fitter. His stories captivated and entertained us all.

At the end we also got a wee sneak peak at the set for Call the midwife as filming is beginning again tomorrow. 

How can you bring history to life for your family?

FullSizeRender.jpg

HMS Gannet

IMG_2581.JPG

Ropery 

IMG_2583.JPG

Spinning room

IMG_2588.JPG

Shop onboard HMS Cavalier 

Memory lane

Day 47 of #65daysofsummer

Spending time back with my parents for a few days has been great. This time of year I especially love taking the children to places we would have gone to when I was a child.

Yesterday we took a walk around Folkestone harbour, got fresh prawns from a seafood stall, had scampi and chips, and walked on the beach. We then went on to Greatstone (another well-loved spot) for a swim in the sea and plenty of sandcastle building.

It’s very special to take the children back to places that have such sentimental connections for me. Is there somewhere or something from your childhood you could introduce to your family members?

FullSizeRender.jpg
FullSizeRender.jpg