Friday, July 1, 2011

My Slightly Nippy Dip in the Nip

June 25th, 2011 Dunmoran Strand, Sligo, Ireland

Reflections on being part of The Dip in the Nip; baring our bums to save lives.

At 6am I was up, after far too little sleep, in the bathroom of our hotel room, painting flowers on my sister's bum cheeks!  She'd already started on her front and covered herself in pink and white paint, making it decorative as she went along. Bleary-eyed, we carried on and later I added stick-on sparklies, donated by our friend, Marie, to my body.  Marie looked gorgeous with her tan and sparkles.  

We ate a light breakfast at 7am in the lobby of the hotel and then drove the 25 mins to Dunmoran Strand to join all the other Dippers (that's how we've become known since the first Dip in the Nip). Luckily, Marie has a 4-wheel drive so we were able to park on the beach. 
The Men Get into Tribal Mode Before the Dip

People were already milling about in their bathrobes, many with pink wigs, ribbons and paint. We met a man, in full blue body paint, called Sebo, who had thrown himself into the cause. A live Irish music band played to us from the car park and then there was the beautiful Sile Seoige wanting to interview the three of us for her radio program later on. She was so sincere and asked great questions. She interviewed us again afterwards to ask us how we felt.

My sister and blue man, Sebo, who won Best Pink and Best Blue

Along the beach, there were three army tents, one for the food and registration, one for the men and one for the women.  We were about 100 meters apart so our dignities would be protected at all times.

As we moved down to the women's tent, after a short Zumba class and lots of hiliarity, there was a real buzz as we milled about, our bodies covered, knowing we would soon be shedding everything and running into the sea.

The part I haven't mentioned is that is was by no means a warm day, not at all what you would expect in June and we were bundled up pretty well to protect from the chilly wind. The day before, it had poured rain non stop so now we were counting our blessings that it was only overcast and cold.

The mad dash in
Suddenly, the moment arrived and, as though in a dream, I dropped my robe,stepped out of my flip-flops and took off down the beach with about 350 women, all yelling and whooping. It all happened so fast that I could barely grasp it. I remember, in the middle of the pack, almost at the water, it struck me how beautiful everyone was. How glorious we were, as creatures, as women, as people who had suffered the slings and arrows of life, some of us with scars from cancer operations, some of us conscious of our size or shape yet all of us exhilarated, excited, high on the moment of liberation that would make a difference to so many people's lives. There was a steady hum as we plunged into the cold Atlantic and shrieks as we dipped ourselves in.

Maire Garvey and Sile Seoige after the Dip
Sile Seoige said afterwards, on her radio show, that she was struck by how we all ran hell for leather to get to the water, as though it would cover us and protect us, yet, when we came out of the ocean, we sauntered along the beach, not a care in the world, as though our fears and worries had been left behind in the chilly waves.

The camaraderie was infectious. Everyone was on equal terms, our insecurities wiped away the moment we committed to it, to dropping our covers and baring ourselves to each other.
Cute angels 

The fact that we were doing it to raise money for cancer charities and, in particular, head cooling machines for patients undergoing chemotherapy, made it more powerful, more meaningful and mixed the emotions of loss, celebration, joy, exhilaration and courage. 

I will, from that moment on, always associate healing from cancer with what we did that morning. Collectively, we sent out a huge message that we can do something to help people suffering from cancer and perhaps prevent it too. 

I am still raising money, until July 28th, so please, please help me reach my goal.  It will help so many people. 

Here's where you can donate: Maya's Dip in the Nip
The men rush in

All photos by Frances Muldoon and James Connolly except Blue Man and my sister, which is by me.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Dip in the Nip

On Saturday June 25th, my sister Luarena and I will be joining up to 500 other women at a beach in north west Ireland (location disclosed on the day for reasons you'll see below!). It's called The Dip in the Nip.

We're running into the sea in our altogethers. As in:


 It was all dreamed up by Máire Garvey after she went to see a psychic who told her she saw her in the sea, naked, with loads of other women! An idea was born and now, three years later, she's expecting about 500 women to partake. The money goes to cancer charities in Ireland and this year we are also raising money for head cooling machines which help to prevent hair loss during chemotherapy.


Even more amazing is that it's actually ILLEGAL to be naked publicly in Ireland but, just to show how stupid that is, the Army and the Gardai (Police) will out be out to protect our dignity and keep prying eyes away.
Here's an wonderful video, presented by Terry Wogan, on the BBC.

Síle Seoige, one of our top TV and radio personalities will be broadcasting her show, Shenanigans with Síle on Newstalk FM, from the location that day.

I have asked all my friends, followers on Twitter, family members and my entire mailing list to please donate €1 each to help me raise money for this cause.

Here's my fundraising page: Maya's Dip in the Nip

Ah, go on, give €1, it's less than the price of a cup of coffee.

A thousand thanks.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Emmylou Harris - More Than Just Great Music

On Saturday last, my birthday, I was lucky enough to go to see Emmylou Harris in concert at the Grand Canal Theatre in Dublin. It was a wonderful experience for many reasons. 

Number one is that I WON the tickets!! The theatre had a competition on their Facebook page (just goes to show how good social media can be!)

I usually never win things so thought this was amazing!

Number two is that I got to go with my lovely friend, Anne McCallion.  Anne is a dog lover and has three gorgeous Bichon Frises.  It turns out Emmylou is also a dog lover and takes her dogs on tour with her in the US  and she runs a dog rescue at her home in Nashville called Bonaparte's Retreat. We both thought this was so inspiring.

Number three is that the Grand Canal theatre is gorgeous and a wonderful addition to the Dublin landscape. It's in a great location, right beside Grand Canal Dock and is part of a big square with restaurants and apartments.

Number four is that we had dinner in Ely Wine Bar across the square (my birthday present from Anne!) and had a wonderful meal, the best steak I've had in ages.  It was great to eat and then walk across the square to the show as well as being able to park underneath the theatre. Finally, convenience for the customers was taken into consideration in a venue in Dublin!

Number five, the show was amazing. Emmylou has been a favourite of mine since I was 17 and that's going back into the mists of time! She has an extraordinary voice and gets me in the heartstrings every time I hear her. Her band was wonderful and created an enormous sound in the theatre. She played some of my all time favourite songs too, like Together Again, which always makes me cry.

There was only one downside: the audience seemed dead, for the most part. There were pockets of enthusiasm dotted about the auditorium but, for the most part, it seemed like nothing was going to get them going. When I saw Emmylou at the National Stadium 2 years ago, the place was alive with noise and excitement. People shouted comments and requests up to Emmylou on the stage and there was a good bit of banter back and forth. There was riotous response to almost every song and she got three encores a continuous standing ovation at the end.  

Not so in The Grand Canal Theatre. I can't understand why only that perhaps the theatre was a more sedate place to be and people felt constrained. I don't know if that was the reason but I was very disappointed in the response. She only got a smattering of people on their feet at the end (Anne and I included) and only one encore.  What's up,Dublin? Was the the venue or the act? I can't imagine it was the act and the venue is lovely.  I just don't get it.

Another thing that came out of the evening for me was that Emmylou is looking for help to support the dog rescue centre, Bonaparte's Retreat and has joined forces with another group in Nashville who help get homeless people off the street. The idea is to get the people who've been rescued to take care of the rescue dogs! What a great idea.  If you want to help out, contact them on their Facebook page here: Bonaparte's Retreat

Friday, April 15, 2011

Transported by Food: A Brief Culinary Journey in Andalucía

This is another delicious guest post from Maya Hanley. She has recently returned from a tumultuous Spanish journey. See how she made it through with the help the local cuisine. 

Our Christmas was off to an icy start with unexpected arctic weather and closed airports. Needless to say we were delayed in our arrival at Albuñuelas, only to find that the house we had rented was cold, damp and unliveable. Despite the late start (and later, my sister’s broken foot which ended the trip prematurely) we are very grateful for the new friendship we forged with the wonderful couple who rescued us, put us up and fed us.

David Crockett and his lovely wife Lorna own a B&B, a beautifully converted house in the middle of the village of Albuñuelas (phone: +34 6 3604 3596). David is an avid cook and thrilled us with his culinary delights, like paella with pork and spinach and Moroccan fish tajine. Oh, and lots of local wines!

The next day, we headed into Granada and searched out a place that looked appetising. Eventually, on the main street off Plaza Nueva, we found SECO, a restaurant featuring mainly seafood. It was lunch time so the place was crowded. One thing I have noticed in Spain is that most people eat lunch out, usually very quickly and efficiently. A lot of them will stand at a counter, have a beer and some tapas and head back to work.

We ordered grilled asparagus with garlic and olive oil, grilled oyster mushrooms with a similar sauce, hearts of lettuce salad with a roasted garlic dressing that was red with paprika and utterly divine, baby red mullets deep fried whole in light batter and large, shelled tiger prawns, also deep fried in a light batter. Our table was groaning under all the plates and I think the waiter thought our eyes were definitely bigger than our bellies. But he didn’t know us and our capacity to swoon over perfectly crisp asparagus dripping in local olive oil or our penchant for trying to figure out exactly what was in a dish. It wasn’t cheap (€52 for two of us with wine) but we ate the lot and would highly recommend it.
The following day, up in the high Alpujarras at a temperature of about 5C, we came across a roadside inn, Bodega Guillermo, just outside of Pampaneira, again right at lunch time. This time, it was filled with Spanish hikers and they all looked hungry. We ordered from the menu, not really knowing what we were getting and we were not disappointed. One of the best things I have eaten in ages was a soup, more like a stew, called Potaje a la Gitanilla. It was made with pork bones cooked to the point where the soup turned to jelly as soon as it cooled. The main soup base was then added to with chickpeas, pork offal and chorizo. The offal part might not be to everyone’s taste but the flavour was so robust you could feel it sticking to your ribs as you ate. With it we had a tomato and garlic salad, heavy on the garlic, crusty bread and delicious coffee – well worth the €25 for the two of us, including a glass of wine and a liqueur to warm us.

For those hours we spent exploring the cafes and restaurants of Andalucía, we forgot all about our trials and tribulations. That’s the beauty of food – it transports you to another place; in our case, a place we will never forget.
Craving more? Be sure to read about Maya’s “Swedish delights”, check out her blog, and stay tuned for more tasty thoughts from this epicurean Tripper.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Visit to Cobh

Last Sunday, my darling sister, Luarena, gave me a belated Christmas present of a stay at Fota Island Spa Hotel near Cobh, Co. Cork.  As some of you will know, Cobh is our hometown and a place we all still miss in some ways.  I know I do and feel great nostalgia for the place.

Fota Island Spa had a great deal on: €109 for two people sharing including the use of the Hydrotherapy Suite and Hammam.  Other services were extra.  We took a look at the Hydrotherapy pool and loved what we saw and decided to skip extras as we were on a budget.  As it turned out, we made a good choice and spent hours in the pool, which was lovely and warm, enjoying the water that gushed onto our necks, working out those kinks and a 'river' that went in a circle around a big pillar and forced you around very quickly. I spent hours in that, loving every minute of it. There were jets that pummeled your feet and legs, your back and, best of all, a giant geyser that forced water onto whatever part of the body you wished.  I tried standing on it and it made my feet tingle really nicely as well as massaging my knees and back and stomach.  We went from one spot to another for a good two hours until we were so prune-like it was definitely time to get out.

After that we hit the Hammam and breathed in the eucalyptus fraganced steam, warming our bodies on the tiles for about 15 minutes. We had left our bathrobes and magazines in another resting room that has beds that are heated.  When we went back in, we found someone had taken my sister's seat, thrown her robe on the floor and was reading her magazine. When my sister asked her for her magazine back, the woman sneered at her and reluctantly handed it over! Some manners..

We had dinner in our room, served by a wonderful waitress who couldn't have been more helpful and charming and watched the Dancing on Ice final. Luarena, who is a night bird normally, fell asleep at 10.30pm after a bath in the wonderfully deep tub in our bathroom.   I, for some reason, couldn't sleep at all and ended up awake until about 4.30am going through one of those dark nights of the soul that are so awful.

The next day, we headed to our hometown and went straight up to our old house, Roseville, a late Georgian house that even today to our grown-up selves looks big. It was lovely to see the place being cared for, except for the horrible plastic windows they'd put in. I know, I know, they're cheaper and they work. But they look awful and I wish they would make plastic windows that look less plastic!

After that we went down the the beach we used to swim at, Cuskinny and had a bit more nostalgia - not all of it good. When I was a little over three, we went swimming there and my oldest sister put me in a rubber ring, an inner tyre I think, and my bum was stuck down in the hole and suddenly a wave came and tossed me over and I was upside down breathing in water. It scared the living daylights out of me and, to this day, the thought of water getting up my nose panics me and I have never been able to jump into water out of my depth because of it. It made me think, again, about doing something to get over this fear because I love water, the sea, the ocean, lakes, boats, fishing and all that. I envy people who can jump into water and swim like fish.

Going back to Cobh always brings up memories of our childhood and how much we loved it there. From the moment we left Cobh, nothing was ever the same again.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

World Wide Wed - A Moroccan Marriage


Originally posted on on March 29, 2011

Most non-Moroccans don't ever get to experience a Moroccan wedding so it was a real privilege to attend one and see what it's like. To be fair, this particular Moroccan wedding was not exactly typical because the bride was European so a lot of her friends and family attended, making the events slightly different than they might have been otherwise.

For the bride, one of the most fun parts is being able to wear multiple wedding gowns, or takshitas, and what gowns they are! They are made of silk and lace and come in layers of two or three parts. The dresses are made to order and each one is created using the traditional Moroccan sfifa, the braiding that is used on the edges and complements the colours in the fabrics. The more money you have to spend, the more dresses you get to wear. Aside from being very glamorous, it can be exhausting changing every hour or so.

About 250 guests attended, of which 65 were non-Moroccans. The Moroccans went all out to make sure that the foreign guests were made very welcome and even combined the sexes for the Henna party the day before. This being Rabat, the wedding party was probably a bit more sophisticated than most as normally the men and women are separate until the actual wedding ceremony when everyone comes together. The Henna party is when the bride has her hands and feet painted with Henna patterns and would usually be told the secrets of marriage. In this case, it was a big party, with huge amounts of food, all special recipes just for weddings, and a troupe of musicians who all looked decidedly high on something. The bride and groom were walked into the room with attendants carrying candles and incense, all the women ululating in unison. It was cacophonous and spine tingling.

The following day, when all the guests were assembled and the band playing, the bride, wearing her white dress, emblazoned with sequins and beads and silver braided sfifa, was carried overhead in a highly decorated palanquin, by four strong men. As she entered the hall, the crowd rose in one ululating swarm, throwing rose petals all over her. After her came her groom on a white horse, its saddle and bridle bright red and highly decorated. The horse wore blinders so as not to be disturbed by the swaying, chanting crowd. Flash bulbs were going off nonstop - it was a bit like being at a rock concert.

The bride and groom were placed on a specially decorated dais, hung with flowers and lights and were left to sit there for the entire evening, only moving to change their clothes five more times!
To cement the marriage, the bride and groom are brought dates and milk on a tray and their wedding rings on a cushion. They feed each other the dates and milk as a symbol of their love for each other and then place the rings on each other's fingers. There is no officiating religious entity, just the families and friends to witness it as they had been legally married by a judge some months earlier.

People took it in turns to be photographed with the bride and groom and eventually they were given some tea to ease their parched throats. Enormous amounts of food were served and eventually the dancing started. I noticed that some of the Europeans kept disappearing for longer and longer periods and eventually discovered that there was a stash of alcohol in someone's room. Some of the relations of the groom had said they would not come if there was alcohol served so the solution has been to keep it somewhere else. Very effective as no one seemed to notice that a few people were getting a bit merrier than the rest.

For a country where women are encouraged to be demure, I always find it fascinating how sexy they are when they dance and how much the men love to watch them. All the women were dressed in their finest takshitas, only the married or older ladies with their hair covered with matching scarves. They are so graceful and beautiful when they dance and even the small girls seem to be born being able to move their hips the right way. Some of the younger women with long hair would toss it around and around as they danced.

Weddings start really late in Morocco - 9pm would be early! By the time the bride had changed five times, all the photos had been taken and the constant supply of food exhausted, it was about 4am. Once the oldest people had left, the younger crowd got together in someone's room, with the bride and groom, and more wine was imbibed and photographs taken.

It was an experience not likely to be repeated; a memory to be treasured forever.
Photo credit to Maya Hanley, Muslim Proposals,, and Marios Savva. 

Monday, January 17, 2011

Little French Girl with a Vivid Imagination

I came across this via a friend on Twitter and had to share it with you. This little girl has a wonderful imagination and very fluent use of language, regardless of whether she were speaking English, French or any other language.  It's adorable:


Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Temptation of a Swedish Christmas

First published on, a US website dedicated to all things travel related.


I lived in Sweden for 5 years and still miss it now that I am no longer there. It's a country that everyone should visit. The summers are glorious, filled with light and greenery and the coastal areas are wonderful to explore. Bohuslän, which is the coast area around Göteborg, on the west coast, is stunningly beautiful with an archipelago of large and small islands. You might take your boat out to a small island; just big enough to have a small cabin with steps down to the boat and picnic there, swimming off the rock and relaxing.  People spend most of the time outdoors in the summer as the winters are so long and dark but, even so; winter is also a gorgeous time. With bright blue skies and deep snow, the outdoors in winter can be exciting and, if you like skiing and skating, it is a wonderful place to be.
One of the things I loved about Sweden was the ritualistic nature of life there.  There are countless traditions that pass from generation to generation. For example, there are certain foods you only eat at certain times of the year or on certain days of the week. Things like hot cross buns in the UK, which used to be eaten only on Good Friday, are now eaten for weeks or months around Easter. In Sweden, at Easter, they make wonderful cardamom flavoured buns called Semlor (that's plural; one is a Semla).   The top is cut off; the center scooped out and filled with a marzipan mixture, covered in whipped cream and the topped with the rest of the bun. Some people like to eat it in a bowl of hot milk. I liked it just as it was. I knew that it was only going to be around for a short while so, I, like everyone else, indulged when I got the chance.
One of the other great traditions in Sweden is having coffee and cakes. They even have a whole verb for it. It's called to 'fika'. If you visit someone, they will invariably serve you coffee that's extra strong, with small cakes and biscuits. It's said that, in the past, when a woman was to be married she had to know at least 40 different types of biscuit recipes.
Each day of the week has its own food. Husmanskost is the name for traditional Swedish food. If you go into any Swedish restaurant, they will always have the daily meal on the menu. On Thursdays, it's pea soup with ham, served with warm punsch, a sweet alcoholic liqueur. On Fridays it's Pyttipanna, a sort of hash with potatoes, left over meats, topped with a fried egg and with a side order of beetroot.
Another favourite is Jansson’s Frestelse (Jansson’s Temptation).   A traditional part of the Christmas meal, it’s very easy to make. Here’s a good recipe:

NOTE: The spice-cured sprats mentioned can be substituted with herring pickled with spices and onions.  If you live near an IKEA store, you can easily get the right of herring or sprats. Sometimes people mistranslate the Swedish ‘ansjovis’ as anchovies but they’re actually sprats. If you like, you can use anchovies but don’t add any salt and be sparing with them, to your taste.

6–8 servings
1.2 kg (2½ lb) potatoes
400 g (14 oz) onions
375 g (13 oz) spice-cured sprat filets (or pickled herring)
600 ml (3 cups) heavy whipping cream
salt, white pepper

·         Peel the potatoes and cut them into thin slices. Peel and cut the onions also into thin slices.
·         Sauté the onions in a little butter, without browning.
·         Grease an ovenproof baking dish and cover the bottom with a layer of potatoes, then add half the onions and half the sprat (or herring) filets.  
·         Then add another layer of potatoes, then the rest of the onion and sprats.
·         Finish with a layer of potatoes.
·         Add some ground black pepper and a little salt (Be careful with salt as the sprats (or herrings) are usually quite salty.
·         Pour the cream over until it is almost visible through the potatoes.
·         Place a few pats of butter on top and sprinkle with a good handful of breadcrumbs.
·         Bake in the oven (250oC/475oF) for about an hour.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Quellie's Almond Cake

While I was in the UK at Christmas with my most favourite aunt on the entire planet, she made one of the most delicious desserts I have ever had.  She gave me the recipe and,today, for the first time in at least 20 years, I made a cake!  The even better part is that it contains no flour or gluten of any kind and it's dead easy to make.

Here's the recipe:

Almond Cake with Raspberries and Amaretto Cream

2 medium oranges
1 lemon
250g ground almonds
250g caster sugar
6 medium eggs
1 large tsp baking powder
slivered almonds
Fresh berries (raspberries are perfect)
Whipped cream
Amaretto (if desired)

Boil the oranges and lemon, whole, in enough water to cover for 1 1/2 hours. Strain and remove any seeds from the fruit but keep the skin, pith and flesh. (The left over water can make a nice syrup for other recipes, if you add sugar and simmer to reduce it.)

Preheat the oven to 170C.

Add the entire fruits to a bowl and blend till smooth (or use a food processor of course).  Add the ground almonds, the caster sugar, the 6 eggs and the baking powder and blend well.  

Pour into a greased cake tin (about 9 in diameter) or a springform cake tin so it's easy to remove (that's the best option if you have it)

Sprinkle the slivered almonds on top and bake in a pre-heated oven at 170C for one hour. The first 40 minutes cover the cake with tinfoil to avoid it getting too dark and the slivered almonds getting burned.  After one hour, check the centre with a knife or similar and, if it's still wet, leave for a further 10 mins or turn the oven off and take it out when the oven has cooled.  Allow it to cool in the cake tin and then remove to a plate and serve with berries and whipped cream either mixed with Amaretto or plain, as desired.

You will love this recipe. It's slightly bitter from the oranges and lemon, sweet from the sugar and smooth from the almonds.  Nothing could be nicer.

Here's my aunt, Quellie, who gave me the recipe. Isn't she gorgeous?

Feel free to share it with your friends and family.

What's your favourite dessert?


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