Tea x Two

It is now a running joke how much my sister Gail and I love afternoon tea and we really put our love for finger sandwiches, scones and sweet treats to the test recently by indulging in not one, but two sittings during a long weekend.

First up, during a much anticipated weekend to see the gorgeous Frankie, our sister from a Geordie mister, we, joined by the lovely Suzy and Kirsty, headed for Tipsy Tea in 97 & Social. This cocktail and gastro bar, which is located in the Jesmond area of Newcastle Upon Tyne, combines innovative drinks and delicious food with a charming interior and relaxed atmosphere; I fell in love with it as soon as we entered. And with small and quirky touches, such as a moustachioed Mona Lisa, it oozed a fun vibe from the get go.

The menu was just as fun as the decor and with such offerings such as ‘The Limited Darjeeling’ tea (which combined a blend of Indian whiskey with Darjeeling reduction, mango juice and lemon, finished off with a hint of spice) to ‘It’s A Jamaica ‘Ting’ tea (which mixed Appleton white rum with Velvet Falernum, sorrel squash and sparkling Ting), all served alongside a fresh selection of sandwiches, scones, macaroons and sweet surprises, we were spoilt for choice. After much debate (I would have been happy to sample all of the teas if I am honest), I opted to share a double teapot of the ‘Old Blighty’ tea with Gail which included Tanqueray gin, elderflower liqueur, orange marmalade and Earl Grey tea topped with Fentimans Victorian lemonade. The teas were served in gorgeous China teapots, which really added to the afternoon tea vibe whilst the contents offered a quirky twist.

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(Left to right) Kellie, Suzy, Frankie, Kirsty and Gail.

The pairing of the continental inspired cocktails with the delectable selection of food, as well as the addition of attentive service from our entertaining waiter, made for the perfect girly afternoon. And, at a very reasonable price (Tipsy Tea with a single teapot for one was £9,95; a double teapot for two was £15.95; and two double teapots for four was £29.95), I would definitely recommend giving it a go if you find yourself in the toon!

For more information: https://www.97social.co.uk

Our second sampling of all things sweet took place back in Belfast. For a while now we have been trying to plan a family trip to Parliament Buildings at Stormont Estate, but we haven’t been able to get the timing quite right. However, as my sister and I had booked the Monday we returned from Newcastle off work, we decided it was the perfect opportunity to get the parents, as well as my brother in law and niece, together for a trip ‘up the hill’. As well as offering free tours inside this iconic landmark, Parliament Buildings also offers Afternoon Tea in its Members’ Dining Room on Mondays to Fridays from 2-4pm, and so we thought we would make a day of it and try both!

When booking in for Afternoon Tea at 3pm, we were informed that a tour of the Buildings was scheduled for 2pm which would last for a maximum of 50 minutes, and so it would be over in perfect time for Tea. After clearing security on arrival, we picked up visitor passes at reception before joining the tour in the Great Hall. Mark, our tour guide, was extremely knowledgeable and engaging as he took us through the history of this remarkable building. From pointing out the several examples of the striking symmetry and symbolism in the architecture, to explaining the many uses it has undergone over the years as well as allowing us a behind the scenes look at the Senate and Assembly chambers, which you can usually only see on the news, the tour offered an informative and fascinating insight into one of the best known structures in Northern Ireland.

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Afternoon Tea for one at Parliament Buildings, Stormont Estate.

Tour done, and photographs a plenty snapped, it was time to make our way upstairs to the Members’ Dining Room for Afternoon Tea. We were shown to a table that was beside stunning floor to ceiling windows that offered fabulous views down the mile hill stretching from the front steps of Parliament Buildings to the bottom of Prince of Wales Avenue. As well as gorgeous views, the Members’ Dining Room boasts an opulent interior befitting such a noteworthy building. As well as tea and coffee served in individual pots, the selection of food on offer consisted of sandwiches (including smoked salmon; roasted Angus beef; Hillsborough honey roasted ham; organic duck egg and Heggarty’s vintage cheddar), fresh scones served with lashings of jam and clotted cream and a choice of pastries (including a Choux bun; Green Tea cone; mandarin and spiced fig tart; fig compote with mandarin curd and orange glee and a Macaron Éclair).

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The view from the balcony outside the Members’ Dining Room.

With a serving of decadent afternoon tea and a dollop of history, I loved every minute of our visit to Parliament Buildings. The highlight for me however, was being allowed onto the balcony outside the Members’ Dining Room to not only soak up a rare burst of sunshine but to also enjoy an unrivalled view of Belfast and its surrounding areas. If you haven’t been before, it is really a must do whether you live in Northern Ireland or are simply visiting.

The tour of Parliament Buildings runs Monday – Friday at 11am and 2pm (or on the hour from 11am to 3pm during the summer) and is free of charge. Afternoon Tea costs £15 per person (or two for £25, with a children’s option for £6). For more information visit: http://parliamentbuildings.org

Posted: 07/08/2017

Dead in Dún Laoghaire crime writing festival

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The beautiful town of Dún Laoghaire.

When it comes to a genre of choice when perusing a bookshelf, my eye always goes straight to the crime fiction selection. I love all the different aspects this genre encompasses, from mystery to law, crime procedure to the exploration of an ‘evil’ mind. So, when my friend and fellow book worm, Bronagh, told me about Dead in Dún Laoghaire, the inaugural crime writing festival by Penguin Random House Ireland, in partnership with The Irish Times, I jumped at the chance to attend.

After a bleary-eyed early start, I caught the 7am bus from Belfast to Dublin, which also stopped in Newry, where Bronagh, my partner in crime (pun fully intended), hopped on. Once we arrived at the Busáras Bus Station in Dublin, it was a five minute walk to Connolly Train Station to catch the DART which took us the rest of the way to Dún Laoghaire. By 10am we were sipping coffees and enjoying the picturesque views this suburban seaside town has to offer (I have not been to Dún Laoghaire before but it is such a quaint town and I instantly fell in love with it).

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Paula Hawkins (right) in conversation with Kathy Sheridan.

The festival consisted of four events taking place across one day (Saturday 22 July) at the Pavilion Theatre in Dún Laoghaire. First up was a Q&A with global crime writing phenomenon Paula Hawkins, who not only discussed her massively successfully novel The Girl on the Train but also discussed her follow up, Into the Water. As well as touching on ‘second novel’ pressure, Paula, in conversation with Kathy Sheridan of The Irish Times, also discussed her career which veered from journalism to writing under a pseudonym before finding her true voice in crime fiction.

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John Banville (centre) and Stuart Neville (right).

After a short break, it was time for event two: Stuart Neville aka Haylen Beck with John Banville aka Benjamin Black. I first encountered Stuart Neville’s work when I reviewed his debut novel, The Twelve, for Ulster Tatler in 2009. Whilst  I have been lucky enough to attend several of Stuart’s readings over the years, in particular as he is a regular at my favourite literary spot in Belfast, No Alibis bookstore, I have not had the opportunity to see John Banville in conversation before and so it was very interesting to see these two authors sharing a stage to discuss their latest works Here and Gone (Haylen Beck) and Prague Nights (Benjamin Black). What intrigued me most was to hear how different both authors’ writing processes are. Whilst Stuart Neville spent weeks in Arizona, the setting of the new Haylen Beck book, to allow him to fully translate that experience onto the page, John Banville explains that the Prague he depicts on the page is the one he conjured up from his imagination as opposed to one he had experienced first hand.

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Liz Nugent (second from left) with Paul Perry and Karen Gillette aka Karen Perry (right).

The penultimate event featured prize-winners, bestsellers and book club favourites, Liz Nugent and Karen Perry (who, I didn’t realise, is actually two writers, novelist Karen Gillece and poet Paul Perry). As well as discussing their new works, Lying in Wait and Girl Unknown respectively, they also discussed how they deal with delving into the minds of the psychopaths that feature in their works. After several probing questions from the audience, Liz Nugent also discussed how, for her, persistence was the key when it came to getting published, whilst Karen and Paul explained the process they undertake for to write as part of a team.

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International bestseller Kathy Reichs closing the Dead in Dún Laoghaire festival.

The final event of the festival was international bestseller and real life forensic anthropologist, Kathy Reichs. As well as the creator of the hugely successful Temperance “Tempe” Brennan series of books, she was a producer for the TV series Bones, which was loosely based on her novels as well as her career. This really was a fascinating, and very humorous, Q&A which saw Reichs touch upon how her real life inspired her writing, how she has written books alongside her son as well as what inspired her new book, a standalone thriller, Two Nights, which features a smart, tough, talented heroine whose thirst for justice stems from her own dark past.

Dead in Dún Laoghaire was a truly remarkable festival which provided a unique and inspiring look into the writers behind some of the top offerings in the crime genre. Whilst the festival very much shone a light on the literary merits of crime writing, it also delved into a range of subjects from why established authors write under pseudonyms, how to forge a career as a writer as well as exploring how vastly different the writing process can be for each author. With the opportunity to meet the writers after each event as well as to get books signed, this was a thoroughly enjoyable and fantastically organised event and I for one hopes that the ‘Dead’ once again returns to Dún Laoghaire next year.

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Partners in crime: Bronagh and Kellie.

Posted: 31/07/2017

More Than Milk: Breastival 2017

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I don’t have children and so I have no personal insight in the bottle versus breastfeeding debate. What I do know however, especially after my sister and several close friends had their babies recently, is that the choice should be very much one that every mother should be allowed to make based on what works best for her and her baby, and that as a society we should respect and support those decisions. As a result, when my friend Petrina, a new mother herself, told me about Breastival, a celebration of breastfeeding taking place on 5 August at The Mac, Belfast, aiming to normalise what has often been a controversial issue in Northern Ireland, I couldn’t be more supporting of the idea.

So what is Breastival? According to its founder, Belfast based mum Jennifer Hanratty, “Breastival will be an opportunity for everyone to learn and celebrate the amazing experience breastfeeding can be when it is well supported.” Supported by Cllr Nuala McAllister, Lord Mayor of Belfast and featuring renowned pharmacist Dr Wendy Jones alongside local experts from Parenting NI, Bravissimo and breast surgeon Ciara McGoldrick, Breastival also aims to break the Northern Irish record for ‘The Global Big Latch On’ where women around the world gather together to breastfeed at 10.30am. Cllr Nuala McAllister, who will also act as the official counter for this remarkable record attempt, said: “As a mother who breastfed, Breastival has my full support.  Belfast City Council has always been extremely supportive of mothers who choose to breastfeed.  In 2014, we signed up for the Public Health Agency’s ‘Breastfeeding Welcome Here’ scheme, which aims to increase the number of premises which welcome breastfeeding mums.  Thirty-six of our buildings, including the City Hall, are signed up to the initiative, helping mums to feel more comfortable doing something in public which should actually be seen as perfectly normal. Events such as Breastival can only serve to show that breastfeeding is becoming increasingly socially acceptable in our modern society, as well highlighting the health benefits that breastfeeding can bring to both mother and baby.”

Breastival already has over 500 people registered to attend, including nursing mothers, expectant parents, kids, friends and family. As well as discussions, interactive workshops and demonstrations, an exhibition entitled ‘More Than Milk’ will be on display featuring contributions from over 100 local parents showcasing the realities of breastfeeding as part of everyday life.

Breastival is a free to attend event and  open to everyone but pre-registration is required at www.breastivalbelfast.co.uk

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Cllr Nuala McAllister, Lord Mayor of Belfast, who has lent her support to Belfast breastfeeders.

Posted: 27/07/2017

 

I’m On A Boat ⛴ 

The Mona, the Lagan Boat Company vessel we sailed on.

For a recent family day out we decided to try and do something we haven’t experienced before in Belfast. After much Google research, I came across the Lagan Boat Company. Established in 1998 by Derek Booker and Joyce Anderson, the company offers daily sailings upon which you can hear the ever changing story of Belfast’s rich maritime heritage and industry and how the Port has developed and changed from its ship building roots to a major tourist attraction. 

After collecting our tickets at the ticket office, a few minutes away from the ‘Big Fish’, it was all aboard The Mona to embark on The World’s Only Titanic Guided Boat Tour. We hit it lucky weather wise as we were treated to the sun shining and clear blue skies and as we were setting sail from Donegall Quay, my two-year-old niece was delighted to spy a seal playing in the water around the boat. 

As the boat, which was filled with families, friends and tourists soaking up the city’s history as well as the sun’s rays, set sail along Belfast Harbour, we were provided with unrivalled views of the the Harland and Wolff cranes, Samson and Goliath, as well as the Titanic Quarter. From the SSE Arena, to Titanic Belfast and the Titanic Studios as well as T13 it is remarkable to see how thriving this area, which was forgotten about for a long time, now is. 

The Titanic Quarter

It was also lovely to pass active fishing boats, as well as to spy other nautical draws to the area, such as The SS Nomadic and the new HMS Caroline. The highlight of the tour for me, however, had to be when the boat cruised along the Musgrave Channel. The Lagan Boat Company is the only pleasure craft operators that have access to this wonderful area where you can view Belfast’s large breeding seal colony. I was as excited as the two year old when we saw several seals resting along the shore as well as some mischievous pups having a splashing good time in the water. 

The seals relaxing in the Musgrave Channel.

As we headed back to Donegall Quay, with the sun shining, a refreshing breeze coming from the water and exceptional scenery that had me snapping picture after picture, it made me appreciate what we have on our doorsteps. I hadn’t heard of the Lagan Boat Company’s Titanic Guided Boat Tour before and so I wanted to spread the word for anyone else who isn’t aware of it as it is a fun adventure, made all the better by the friendly and professional tour guides, and I couldn’t recommend it more! 

The HMS Caroline.

www.laganboatcompany.com

Posted: 18/07/2017

Nailed It

I love nail polish; I never get bored of changing the colour of my nails. From midnight black to graffiti glitter they have been every shade of the rainbow at one point or another. The only thing that I hate about polish is that I can spend an hour painting my nails and then chip them mere hours later. And so I was delighted when what seemed like perfect solution landed on my doorstep: the imPRESS Press On Manicure. 

I have never experimented with false nails before and so wasn’t sure what to expect. However these nails, which consisted of vibrant red and complementing black and white polka dot shades, that I instantly fell in love with, could not have been easier to apply. All you have to do us wash your hands, wipe your nails with the prep pad, which removes substances such as oil that can prevent the false nails from adhering properly, then pull off the backing from each nail and stick them over your natural nails. Within minutes you are left with a stunning manicure. After leaving them the recommended hour to ensure they were completely stuck on, I then filed them slightly to ensure there were no rough edges. 

Before 

After

I imagined wearing false nails would feel quite odd and that I would be constantly aware of them, however this particular set is incredibly comfortable and I soon forgot they weren’t my natural nails. Whilst the packaging doesn’t recommend wearing longer than seven days, I would definitely use the ImPRESS Press On Manicure again as it is a quick, easy and durable solution for bold and beautiful, long lasting chip free nails. I am three days in and they look just as good as when I put them on – I’m absolutely delighted.

ImPRESS Nails will be launched exclusively into Superdrug from 26 July. 


Posted: 09/07/2017

A Month of Sundaes

Last Friday, I got to welcome the weekend in fabulous style as I attended the ‘Month of Sundaes’, a launch party held by Dale Farm ice cream brand, Mullins, to mark the opening of its unique Pop Up Ice Cream Parlour at Victoria Square, Belfast. The super sweet ice cream parlour, which is in residence at Victoria Square for July only to celebrate National Ice Cream month, boasts a limited edition menu that will ensure you enjoy a personalised treat guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
When I arrived at the Mullins Ice Cream Parlour, which is enclosed within the cutest white picket fence on the ground level of Victoria Square (outside House of Fraser), I was welcomed with a delicious peach Bellini. As I mingled through the crowd, in others words made a beeline for the ice cream bar, I spotted a number of people getting the scoop on the latest addition to Victoria Square, including Tiffany Brien, Dale Farm Ambassador; local radio personality Pete Snodden; Ulster Tatler’s Girl About Town, Nuala Meenehan; Eating Idea’s Lynne Crowther; Food NI’s Rachel Quigg and Belfast Travels’ Sarah McCurdy along with her hubby Barry and beautiful baby girl Niamh.

After staring longingly at the array of flavours on offer from Mullins, such as Max & Millie, Wildberry, Bubblegum, Cool Caramel and Peanut Butter Cup, to name a few, I eventually opted for a helping of the Cookies and Cream served in a chocolate dusted cone (you could also have it served on top of a chunky chocolate cookie or a sugar-dusted doughnut). With a sprinkling of honeycomb, from a selection of toppings including everything from candy floss and caramel popcorn to sea salt fudge and a range of biscuit crumbles, my creation was complete.

As I enjoyed my decadent treat and soaked up the buzzing atmosphere, my experience was made all the better as it was accompanied by the soulful vocals of local singer/songwriter Callum Stewart. As Callum sang hit after hit it was possible to believe summer was here regardless of the rain clouds looming outside.

My evening was rounded off perfectly with a Jaw Box gin, ginger beer and honeycomb cocktail (I have never sampled this combination before but it was so tasty I will definitely be trying it again!) and a photo shoot at the eye-catching photo wall located beside the ice cream parlour. Bursting with bright flowers and candy hues, this eye-catching installation is the perfect spot for a selfie or photo with all your besties (be sure to tag your snaps with #MakeMyMullins). I was lucky enough to get to speak to Mags McAlpin who created the wall for the Mullins’ space. In addition to this piece of magic, she was filling me in on her latest project, the ‘Summer Beach Party’ themed Twilight Market at St George’s Market on 1-2 August.

The Mullins Pop Up Ice Cream Parlour is the perfect way to enjoy a slice of summer, regardless of the weather outside. With limitless flavour combinations and tantalising toppings I thoroughly recommend you pop in to this pop up ice cream parlour whilst you can!

For full social coverage of the launch event, check out the August issue of Ulster Tatler, on sale 21 July.

Posted: 06/07/2017

Celebrating: From Hong Kong to Belfast


The gang back together at Molly’s Yard. Picture courtesy of Gavin and a nifty selfie stick all the way from Hong Kong. 

In any large group of friends, there is always that one person that acts as the glue that keeps everyone together. Our human shaped Pritt Stick is Aaron Sloan.

I have known Aaron since I was about 20 years old having met him through my uni friends Suzan and Adrian (the same two people who are also responsible for introducing me to Keith, when he was Burchy, long before he was the husband). Aaron is the sort of person that people are drawn too; he is the most genuine, friendly and witty person you could have the pleasure of meeting. Over the years he was always instrumental in arranging nights out, get togethers and general shenanigans which ensured that our ever expanding group of friends met up for revelry, giggles and merriment on a regular basis. However, Aaron then got swallowed up by the travel bug.

After several jaunts to distant lands he eventually settled in Hong Kong and found the ying to his yang: Charlene. Since they have been together, we have had the enjoyment of getting to know Charlene, both when she has travelled back to Northern Ireland with Aaron and when Keith and I visited them in Hong Kong almost two years ago (which is without a doubt one of my favourite ever holidays!). From the get go she has just clicked into the group like a missing puzzle piece; she is funny, beautiful and smart and it’s indisputable that her and Aaron are the perfect match, so no one was surprised when they tied the knot last year. Whilst the ceremony took place in their adopted home of Hong Kong, they flew into Belfast last week for a ‘Norn Iron’ style celebration.

The evening kicked off with drinks and nibbles in the wonderfully unique Molly’s Yard which offers quality food, local beers, a superb setting and professional service. When we arrived I was delighted to see Aaron and Charlene as well as so many friendly faces I haven’t seen in (gulp!) years (probably since Aaron and Charlene’s last visit to Belfast!). It was awesome to catch up with the loveable BFG that is Adam and his epically cool wife Orla; Gavin and Lynsey, who have been setting the standards of kick ass parenting for the group since they had their little dude six years ago; the ever smiling Ryan and his adorable wife Helen, who I feel a kinship with over our shared love of social awkwardness; the effortlessly glam and super sweet Sheila and her new beau Stuart; and Dave, who not only has a wicked sense of humour but is also partly responsible for the name of this blog as he’s always referred to me as wee/little Burchy whilst Keith, of course, is the OG Burchy. As well as the mates I haven’t seen in a while, it was nice to get out with old friends and new parents Suzan and Adrian (and of course baby Ruby) as well as Johnny and Hilary who were enjoying a night off parenting duties. It was also nice to meet new faces, in particular Charlene’s parents who flew in from San Francisco, and her brother who made the trip from New York, to not only meet us all but to also explore all Belfast has to offer.

After the reception at Molly’s Yard came to a close we headed to the Barking Dog where the drinks continued to flow and good food was enjoyed by all. We had an amazing space to ourselves and so once the meal was done and dusted, there was dancing, a bit of a sing song and just generally good craic into the wee hours.

As the celebrations came to an end, I can honestly say it was no surprise that so many people would turn out to celebrate (in legendary style) the union of Mr & Mrs Sloan, who, even though they live so far away, continue to act as the glue that keeps bringing us all back together.