Cooking up a storm at Forestside Cookery School

For Christmas this year, my sister Gail and I decided to do something a bit different. Rather than get individual presents for each other, we decided to gift ourselves with an experience we could enjoy together. After much research we opted to book in for a Pasta Making class with Chef Jeffers at the Forestside Cookery School. After much eager anticipation, last night was the night to don our aprons and to cook up a storm.

I have lost count of the amount of times I have been in Forestside Shopping Centre and I could not figure out where the Cookery School was located. Turns out it was glaringly obvious as it is accessed by its own lift, located on the lower level beside the escalators. When the lift doors opened into the restaurant part of the Cookery School I was impressed with the ambient atmosphere that welcomed us. Quaint wooden tables adorned with textured plates and woven coasters were complemented with teal tumblers, jugs of lemonade and still water and candles.

Once all attendees arrived, we were personally welcomed by Chef Jeffers who showed us into the kitchen and directed us to our workstations for the duration of the class. Awaiting us were clipboards with our recipes (which you could jot down notes on throughout and take home with you at the end), which on this occasion was to make Italian sausage cannelloni with tomato ragu and mascarpone cream sauce.

As this was our first cooking class we were both a little nervous, but it could not have been easier. Chef Jeffers provided an informative demo of each stage of the recipe whilst his team of assistants (the fabulous Catherine and Chloe) provided us with pre measured ingredients and utensils for when we attempted it for ourselves.

Gail and I are both pasta addicts and were very excited to learn how to make our own. It was simple, and a great workout for the arms, and as we made it without a pasta rolling machine it’s definitely something I will be trying again at home. The sauces and filling for the pasta were equally as straight forward and the recipe for each, especially after the demos, were easy to follow.

Whilst during most of the classes provided by the Forestside Cookery School you are able to eat the result of your hard labour in the restaurant afterwards, this particular dish took a lot longer to prepare and so we were treated to wine and a charcuterie board with cold meats, crackers, goat’s cheese as well as bread sticks and olives whilst we packed our finished dishes into takeaway container to enjoy in the comfort of our own homes.

I have to say, whether you’re a novice in the kitchen or a budding Masterchef, I couldn’t recommend Forestside Cookery School more. The class definitely allows you to improve your skills in the kitchen and as the process is broken down into easy to manage steps, it provides you with a dish you will have the ability to easily recreate again by yourself. Chef Jeffers and his team were all friendly, fun and approachable, constantly on hand to answer any questions, to check your progress and to help with any issues you might have (for us it was a touch screen hob for which we did not seem to have the magic touch!). The class also had the chance to meet new people and to chat between cooking as well as over the wine and nibbles. It’s a fun evening and regardless of whether you are there solo, with a bestie or with a group, it gives you the chance to learn a new skill, master a new dish and meet new people along the way. I definitely will be back for seconds.

Kellie and Gail with Chef Jeffers of the Forestside Cookery School.

For more information: https://forestsidecookeryschool.com

Posted: 11/04/2018

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Willie Mason at the Open House Festival

Willy Mason and Co are Studio 1A as part of the Open House Festival.

I have been a fan of Willy Mason for many years now. I first stumbled across his music in the good old days of MTV2. A few years ago I was fit the burst when I got tickets to see him in The Limelight in Belfast. I loved every minute of this gig; his chilled out vibe, witty interaction with the crowd and, of course, the music.

Mason is one if those rare artists whose speaking voice is every bit as captivating as his singing voice; with a soothing drawl that oozes the blues, I could listen to him every day of the week. And so, I was beyond excited, when I heard he was coming back to Northern Ireland as part of the Open House Festival. The gig, which was in Studio 1A in Bangor, was a rapid sell out and so when a second date was added I didn’t hesitate when it came to booking tickets.

The concert, which took place on a Tuesday night, was a full house. From the opening song I was in heaven. Willy Mason, who was accompanied by a backing band which included the superbly talented Nina Violet, had the crowd in the palm of his hand. With songs that plow incredible depths, lyrics that stay with you and beautiful music that teases and haunts and captivates, a Willy Mason show is an affecting one that will move you from start to finish. As the playlist alternated from numbers with the band, such Where The Humans Eat, If The Oceans Get Rough and We Can Be Strong, to Mason playing solo numbers such as the insanely amazing Oxygen, the set was an intimate affair that did not disappoint.

Whilst the setting of the Theatre perhaps made the audience slightly more polite than say a pub setting – it was more a watch and listen vibe than dance and sing a long one – it was still a wonderful venue with fantastic acoustics.

This was the first gig I’ve attended as part of the Open House Festival (I know, shame on me!) but with such names as PiL and The Undertones, The Low Anthem, Simone Felice and Lisa Hannigan still to play, it certainly won’t be the last.

https://youtu.be/gALstZv5aW0

For more information on Willy Mason visit: http://willymasonmusic.com

For more information on the Open House Festival visit: https://www.openhousefestival.com

Flying High at Vertigo Skydiving

I have always been curious about skydiving. The experience looks completely thrilling – but also absolutely terrifying. However with We Are Vertigo recently launching its latest venture – Vertigo Indoor Skydiving – it is possible to get a taster for free-falling without having to fling yourself out of a plane to do it.

Located at the Titanic Quarter in Belfast, Vertigo Indoor Skydiving is Ireland’s only indoor skydiving centre and I was lucky to recently pay it a visit. On arrival I was checked in and welcomed by a friendly member of staff who helped me navigate my way through the Statement of Risk paperwork which must be signed before flying. Once that was out-of-the-way it was time to gear up (with a supplied flight suit, ear plugs, goggles and helmet) before watching a short, instructional video which explained all of the safety aspects of the flight as well as offering tips and pointers on how to make the most of the experience. After a quick warm up to stretch and loosen the muscles, it was time to put theory into practise and get ready to spread my wings and fly.

The instructor, Georgi, who was was friendly and put me immediately at ease, took me through to the tunnel and gave a quick demo before inviting me to join him to commence my flight. I have never tried anything like this before and so it was reassuring that the Georgi stayed with me throughout the duration and helped me to obtain the right posture over the airflow. Once I found my rhythm, we were able to soar quite high together which made for a truly memorable experience.

Once my feet were firmly on solid ground I have to admit I was buzzing with adrenalin and it took a while for the smile to leave my face. The experience, which takes place in a very open space, really replicates the feeling of flying; it was unlike anything I have ever tried before. Whilst it only takes approximately two minutes to free fall 24,000ft, you really use all your muscles and so by the time you are back on the ground you feel like you have completed a fun-filled workout.

From start to finish the staff were welcoming and knowledgable and you feel like you are in safe hands throughout. Vertigo Skydiving is perfect for all ages, whether it is a family day out or for a hen do with a difference; if you haven’t tried it before, one thing’s for sure, you will be flying high once you do.

Check out the video of my flight here.

Flights start from approx ÂŁ45. If you book another session immediately after your flight you currently can get 20% off your next booking. Vertigo Indoor Skydiving will also be promoting theme days through the year on social media.

For more information visit: www.wearevertigo.com

Posted: 26/02/2018

Review: Jake O’Kane at the Waterfront Hall

My sister Gail (left) and me with Jake O’Kane after his hilarious Still Sittin on the Fence show at the Waterfront Hall. 

My parents are huge fans of local panel show The Blame Game as well as one of its  resident panellists: Jake O’Kane. After several unsuccessful attempts at trying to secure tickets to see the live recording of the show, they also tried to book tickets for Jake’s stand up appearance last year to no avail. And so, when my sister Gail saw the announcement of tickets going on sale for Jake O’Kane’s Still Sittin’ on the Fence series of shows at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast, we knew we had found the perfect Christmas present for the parentals as well as an ideal family night out. 

The show ran from 9-13 January and we were lucky to book tickets for the four of us at the Saturday night show, which was consequently the last night of its run at the Waterfront Hall. 

Once seated, the audience’s funny bones were warmed up by north Belfast comedian Terry McHugh . From his relocation to Co Tyrone with his ‘culchie’ wife to his daily shenanigans as a father of three (you’ll never think of an iPhone in the same way) to his unbreakable mother who has survived seven mild strokes, two major ones and tried to walk off a heart attack, McHugh’s take on family life is unique and highly amusing and by the time he left the stage a smile was already firmly in place on my face. 

Whilst I enjoyed a really good chuckle at Terry McHugh, I literally howled with laughter once Jake O’Kane took to the stage. The show is a loose end-of-the-year review, looking back at what made 2017 memorable – for all the wrong reasons. His repertoire of material combines so many subjects, such as local and international politics, from the fall out of Brexit to his campaign to harass MLAs on a daily basis on twitter; the pitfalls of being ginger; recent health scares; the legacy of a mixed marriage; and why you should never, ever, swim with dolphins. The end result: pure, unadulterated hilarity. From start to finish I crackled so much my stomach ached. And I wasn’t the only one. The audience were constantly exchanging tear filled glances whilst practically doubled over from laughing so much. 

Jake O’Kane’s end-of-the-year shows has become an annual must-see and now I know why. With the structure, material and timing to make the audience laugh with total abandon for the full duration, Jake O’Kane’s Still Sittin’ on Fences is, in my opinion, a comedic masterpiece; this is one comedian that I would happily watch again and again. 

For more information on Jake O’Kane and his upcoming gigs visit: https://m.facebook.com/jake.okane/

Feeling Festive at The Heritage Killenard 

Gail and Kellie at The Heritage’s grand staircase.

Christmas can be a stressful time. With getting gifts for your loved ones, writing cards, decorating the house and trying to arrange catch ups with all your friends, by the time 25 December rolls round, you are exhausted. This year however, my sister and I came with a plan to take back Christmas: a spa break at The Heritage Killenard.

Situated in the Laois countryside, this 5 star hotel encompasses a spa with thermal suite, a health club with leisure pool, walking trails, a golf course and children’s play areas; there is really something onsite that will appeal to all visitors.

The road to Laois.

When we set off from Belfast to Co Laois, it was the morning after a total snow fest, however thankfully by Saturday morning the roads south were clear and three hours later we arrived at The Heritage. 

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We were booked in for the Tea, Treats and Overnight Stay package and once we checked into our room, we dropped off our bags and made our way to the Thermal Suite at the spa. Encompassing tropical showers, foot salt baths, jacuzzi, sauna and steam room, this was the perfect place to relax after the drive. It was hard to think the relaxation could get any better, but it did when we were treated to a half hour back massage and a half hour facial. I honestly think what unfolded during that hour was the best massage and facial I have ever had. Not only did it relax the knots in my back and leave my face feeling soft and supple, but my therapist was fantastic at explaining what she was doing, the benefits it would have and how to maintain a healthy back and keep my skin in better condition going forward.

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Once the stresses of everyday life had melted away, it was time to get showered, changed and ready for part two of our indulgent getaway: festive afternoon tea. Served in the Lounge, we were seated by the fire and were perfectly located to soak up the festivities. The afternoon tea consisted of a selection of finger sandwiches, fruit and plain scones, and several sweet treats such a Christmas log, coconut macaroon in the shape of a snowman, mini mince pies and chocolate gateaux, all washed down with a glass of mulled wine.

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Once we could eat no more, we explored the hotel, from the stunning winter scenes at the entrance to the ceiling high Christmas tree as well as the gorgeous and cosy reading nook. We were hoping to explore the Fairy Garden outside but as it was chilly we opted to enjoy a few drinks at the Slieve Bloom Bar instead.

The ‘winter wonderland’ views we woke up to.

When it was time to call it a night, we retreated to our beautiful twin room where we slept the night through in plush and snug beds. When we awoke the next morning it was to a winter wonderland as snow had fallen overnight. The scenery looked truly magical however we thought we would need to head back to Belfast sooner rather than later as the snow was falling pretty heavily and was forecast to be on the rest of the day. So to fortify us for the journey home we headed to the Arlington Restaurant for breakfast. You could choose from a cooked breakfast off the menu or help yourself to the hot buffet, as well as to a selection of cereals, cold meats, pastries and breads, including a terrific gluten free section. With a plate of sausages, eggs, tomato, mushrooms and hash browns demolished, it was time to pack up and hit the road. As we checked out we were each given a bottle of water at our reception for our journey back to Belfast which I thought was such a thoughtful farewell from the Hotel.

From start to finish I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of my stay at The Heritage Killenard; from the delicious food, luxurious treatments, stunning accommodation and I have to say the most professional staff who really made you feel like a VIP, it was a fabulous experience. My sister are already plotting a return visit to this wonderful haven – and who knows, maybe even a new Christmas tradition has been born! 

Posted 23/12/2017

Joe Hill: In Conversation 

Joe Hill reading an excerpt from Strange Weather

Every once in a while, you stumble across a writer whose works resonate with you. Before you know it you are buying everything you can with their name on it so that you can immerse yourself in the worlds they’ve create for as long as possible. That is how I felt when I first read Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill. The book tells the story of aging rock legend Judas Coyne who has an eccentric hobby: buying oddities of the macabre variety. With a cannibal’s cookbook and a used hangman’s noose in his possession, he jumps at the chance to procure a ghost. Delivered to his door in a heart-shaped box, Judas soon begins to regret the latest addition to his ghastly collection. Heart-Shaped Box was a heart-stopping, refreshing, unique and vividly imaginative debut novel, and once I had finished it I was completely hooked on Hill.

Since my first encounter, I have delved time and again into the worlds crafted by Joe Hill and I’ve loved every trip, so I was beyond excited to hear that he was coming to Belfast. Organised by No Alibis bookstore, the event, which was hosted at the Ulster Museum, saw Joe Hill read an excerpt from his new book, Strange Weather, which is comprised of four short novels; ‘Rain’, ‘Loaded’, ‘Snapshot, 1988’ and ‘Aloft’. Joe then joined Matthew Craig in conversation where they discussed his writings, from his novels to his Locke & Key comic book series, hus influences as well as his views on social media, how real world events effect his works and the process of transforming his writings for the small screen. 

Whilst I love every event No Alibis organises, this was a very special night. Joe Hill is fascinating, astute, engaging and so, so funny; laughter regularly rippled throughout the audience and whilst he said on the night that he has to remember not everyone finds things funny that he does, I think when it comes to his humour, Belfast is definitely on the same page. He’s also incredibly generous with his time, he happily answered oodles of audience questions (awarding the best three with Strange Weather umbrellas), as well as taking the time to chat to guests as he signed and dedicated their books and posed for photographs. 

Keith Burch, Joe Hill and Kellie Burch at the Ulster Museum as part of the Strange Weather book tour.

In his own words, Joe Hill is a reader before a writer, and I think that’s what makes him one of our generation’s finest storytellers. With a distinct literary voice and an uncanny ability to paint remarkable pictures with his words, he has an exceptional talent to allow readers to totally lose themselves in the memorable narratives he creates. So, if you don’t hear from me for a few days, I will be adrift amongst the clouds of Hill’s making. 


Strange Weather is out now. For the latest No Alibis events visit: www.noalibis.com

Posted: 12/11/2017

Poppies: Weeping Window 

The Ulster Museum, which is nestled beside Botanic Gardens and boasts a stunning and unique architecture, is one of my favourite spots in Belfast. From the wonderful exhibitions it houses, including collections of art, history and natural science, to the special one off events it hosts, from science festivals to book launches, everytime I visit I discover something new. 

Over the weekend, after much anticipation, I got to attend the latest, and possibly one of the most iconic exhibitions to visit Ulster Museum – Poppies: Weeping Window. Brought to Belfast by National Museums Northern Ireland and the Belfast International Arts Festival, Weeping Window is one of two sculptures by artist Paul Cummins and designer Tom Piper marking the centenary of the outbreak of war. This beautiful sculpture comprises several thousand handmade ceramic poppies cascading from a high window to the ground below; the final result is simply stunning. 

Weeping Window, which was originally part of the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation housed at HM Tower of London in 2014, will be on display at Ulster Museum until 3 December; if you haven’t seen it yet, I can’t recommend it enough. 

Posted: 8/11/2017