Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Wine Evening

Last Thursday, some friends and I attended a wine tasting at Direct Wine Shipments. It's one of the best places in Northern Ireland to buy world-wide wine and has a fantastic selection, not to mention helpful staff and tasting notes on most of the bottles.

I don't go there as often as I should because it's a little out of my way (which is a poor excuse really) and end up buying second rate wine from a chain off-licence. That said, when I do go, I usually walk away with at least half a case and end up drinking more than I usually would because the wine rack is full and staring at me.

The purpose of this wine night was to highlight small Spanish growers produce, soak up some information about various regions and, of course, drink some wine.

Being a huge fan of deep reds, Rioja is one of my favourite wines and I was looking forward to seeing what other Spanish regions offered in terms of terroir.

We kicked off with a rosé which I'm not a fan of and I have only tasted one which pushed my buttons - a wine from the Hunter Valley when Lou and I were in Australia. I forget the name but would probably recognise it if I saw it again altough I'd still choose a red over it if my hand was forced.

The next couple of wines were white which were pleasant although didn't fully deliver - certainly not bad at all but not setting off alarms either.

However, the first red, La Mano Mencía Roble from the Bierzo region, ticked all the boxes and was the best wine of the evening in my humble opinion and also, funnily enough, the lowest price red wine of the lot at just over £6 discounted (around £7 RRP).

The rest of the wines, good in their own right, could not hold a candle to this one in terms of what it delivered vs cost.

This was what I was hopeful to find in coming to a night like this. Fun, a little education, and a bargain to boot. It's been added to the list and will be a feature of any crate for my next purchase.

In the hope of finding more little gems, I requested that they put together a mystery box of reds for me based upon other red wines that I love. I'll be picking this up on my birthday so something else to look forward to.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Wrapped Up In Books

I borrowed this idea from a friend of a friends blog but focused purely on the book related questions. Feel free to answer any of the questions yourself and leave as a comment.

1) What author do you own the most books by?
R A Salvatore
Not exactly the most high-brow literature and aside from these books I have no interest in the fantasy genre but many years ago I found myself reading The Dark Elf Trilogy and was hooked on the story of Drizzt Do'Urden

2) What book do you own the most copies of?
I don't see the point of owning both a paper and hard back copy of a book but I did buy another copy of Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas after I lent it to someone and never got it back

3) Did it bother you that both those questions ended with prepositions?
Not in the slightest. Words exist to convey meaning and I understood perfectly what the questions were

4) What fictional character are you secretly in love with?
None that come to mind

5) What book have you read the most times in your life (excluding picture books read to children; i.e., Goodnight Moon does not count)?
I don't think I've ever read a book more than 3 times. I've read a ton of books at least twice and there are books I've read once that I intend reading again but who has time to re-read when there are so many books still to read?

6) What was your favorite book when you were ten years old?
My favourite childhood book was The Magic Faraway Tree so I'll say that

7) What is the worst book you’ve read in the past year?
A bloody awful crime thriller I've forgotten the title of about a group of friends who design computer games and release one about solving murders but before it's released, murders take place identical to the ones that take place in the game

8 ) What is the best book you’ve read in the past year?
Bill Bryson's Down Under. I always like reading a book when I'm on holiday about the country I'm in as you can relate to the content and it gives you ideas of places you might not think of going and places to avoid. With Bryson you also get to laugh along the way too - in this case, Australia

9) If you could force everyone you tagged to read one book, what would it be?
Probably something unassuming like '1000 Books To Read Before You Die' or something similar so at least it would give them a good guide to reading more great books rather than just one

10) Who deserves to win the next Nobel Prize for Literature?

11) What book would you most like to see made into a movie?
Knut Hamsun's 'Hunger'

12) What book would you least like to see made into a movie?

The world could certainly do without another Jane Eyre adaptation - take your pick

13) Describe your weirdest dream involving a writer, book, or literary character.
I don't remember 99% of my dreams 10 minutes after I wake up so can't answer this question

14) What is the most lowbrow book you’ve read as an adult?
I've probably read a fair share of shit books during University but probably Dan Brown's 'Da Vinci Code' which I thought was fairly poor - probably better written than that book about computer murders previously mentioned but this should be contentious enough!

15) What is the most difficult book you’ve ever read?
I'll admit to finding Les Miserables too difficult to get into even though I love the film. A literary guilty secret!

16) What is the biggest or most embarrassing gap in your reading?
I'm always reading something so no embarrassing gaps that I'm aware of

18) What is your favorite novel?
Wild Swans by Jung Chang

19) Poem?
An August Midnight by Thomas Hardy. It always stuck with me since studying poetry in school and I'm sure there's vastly superior works compared to this but I like it so here it is:


A shaded lamp and a waving blind,
And the beat of a clock from a distant floor:
On this scene enter--winged, horned, and spined -
A longlegs, a moth, and a dumbledore;
While 'mid my page there idly stands
A sleepy fly, that rubs its hands . . .


Thus meet we five, in this still place,
At this point of time, at this point in space.
- My guests parade my new-penned ink,
Or bang at the lamp-glass, whirl, and sink.
"God's humblest, they!" I muse. Yet why?
They know Earth-secrets that know not I.

20) Short story?
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

21) Work of nonfiction?
Life & Death In Shanghai by Nien Cheng

22) Who is your favorite writer?
Possibly Knut Hamsun

23) Who is the most overrated writer alive today?
Possibly Stephen King

24) What is your desert island book?
If it exists it would be 'How to Survive on a Desert Island'

25) And… what are you reading right now?
Jung Chang & Jon Halliday's 'Mao'

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Easter Weekend: Portaferry

On Sunday afternoon we left early on a beautiful morning and made our way to the family caravan which lies in a caravan park around 2 miles outside of Portaferry on a quiet section of the coast.
We have had the caravan for many years now and it is almost a home away from home as it has 3 bedrooms and all mod cons so you can still be close to nature but with creature comforts close a hand.

It wasn't always this luxurious. When we first had a caravan at the site it was an old one bedroom affair which meant Keith and I slept in the living room. There was also no electric or hot water available so it was back to basics. Showers were taken when necessary at the facilities at the rear of the site and an old black and white TV ran off a car battery with reception quite poor so it was mostly ignored although I do remember one memorable evening watching Aliens on the little 14" screen with the volume turned down after the folks had went to bed.

I had a smiliar TV in my bedroom where there was no buttons but knobs to turn into various UHF channels and it was late night films watching strange French flicks that got me into foreign movies especially New Wave films by Goddard and Truffaut in my later years.

Keith and I spent many summers here which varied between exhilarating fun and adventures with other children of similar age and utter boredom as there wasn't really anything to do beyond climbing rocks and fishing for crabs. I was so bored once I read a Jeffrey Archer novel so that should give you some idea of what you faced if you had nothing to do.

The caravan itself overlooks the Irish Sea and on a clear day you can see the Isle of Man. On a very clear day you can see Scotland but there's always boats of various shapes and sizes making their way accross the horizon.

There's a series of stony beaches and inlets running north along the shore to a lovely beach backed with sand dunes which up until recently was quite picturesque but now has too much washed up seaweed and needs desperately to be cleared away.

As intended, after taking a walk to the end of the beach and back, we set up the BBQ and enjoyed a few beers while the food cooked. Cows mulled in distant fields and a little cessna plane flew overhead as a yacht sailed past beyond the craggy rocks further up from the coastline. An old coastguard tower lies abandoned on a nearby hill now overrun with sheep.

When night falls, another view takes precedence. As the site is quite remote, there are no street lights for miles around and a blanket if stars wraps itself around you. It is difficult to pick out constellations because there are so many obscuring the night sky.

It is a special place for me as so many childhood memories and summers are bound up in the area, not only in the campsite but in Portaferry itself with the view over Strangford Lough and the ferry which takes passengers from one side to another not to mention the sweet shops and little nooks and crannies which only children can find and enjoy.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Shepherds Pie

I know from my photo that this might not look like anything special but it tastes bloody good and it's easy to make even if it takes a little over an hour from start to finish - plus the recipe requires red wine so it's a good excuse to crack open a bottle and drink the rest as an accompaniment!
Feel free to add in some carrots and celery or whatever floats your boat but I stuck with pretty basic but satisfying base of ingredients.

Serves 4


2 onions
500g mince beef
100g smoked bacon
2 tsp plain flour
250ml vegetable stock
150ml red wine (I used Merlot)
700g potatoes
4 tbsp red pesto
25g parmesan or other cheese (I used mature cheddar)


1. Preheat oven to 200c and chop the onions and bacon.
2. Cook the mince in pan until the juices start to flow and add the onions (and other vegetables if you have any) along with the chopped bacon and cook for 15 minutes.
3. Sprinkle over the flour and stir in until disappeared. Stir in the vegetable stock and wine.
4. Simmer for 30 minutes covered, stirring occasionally.
5. Cut the potatoes into chunks and boil for 10 minutes. Drain and return to the pan adding enough butter to cover the potatoes and season.
6. Stir in the pesto to the meat and spoon into a shallow ovenproof dish. Spoon over the potatoes, sprinkle with cheese and bake for 30 minutes until ready.


Monday, April 06, 2009

Let The Right One In

Låt den rätte komma in (Let The Right One In) is an interesting mix of drama and horror which could only have been made outside of Hollywood. Whilst the horror element is subdued, when it does occur it is harsh and violent with an obvious realism that is absent from most films in this genre that go for a hyper-reality form of gore and blood lust.

It is based on the 2004 novel of the same name set during the early 1980's of Stockholm. The film which was released last year to widespread critical acclaim in its native country now has a UK release this month.

The film focuses on Oskar, an only child in a divorced family who spends a lonely time living between his mother and father which is further compounded by his bullying at school.

One evening outside the apartment blocks, he meets an unusual girl called Eli and they form an curious chemistry. During the course of the film situations arise that questions how far their relationship can go, the strength of character that friendship provides and nature of the friendship itself.

Set against this human drama there are other social relationships within the community where Oskar lives which impact on everyone concerned.

Let The Right One In turns the idea of a horror film on its head and brings a more natural as opposed to supernatural element to play. It's only downside is that the pace can be a little slow at times but this is a relatively minor qualm in an overall highly artistic and involving movie about lonliness and emotions in an unusual friendship.

An English language remake is on the cards for a 2010 release. I imagine it will lose most subtle nuances and go straight for the action juglar. I suggest getting in now and enjoying the original.

I would give this film 7.6 cloves of garlic out of 10


Sunday, April 05, 2009

Spicy Sausage Pasta

This is a great meal for something during the week - easily made but satisfying to eat. I'm hoping to do more in this series of quick dinners over the next while so watch this space. This one only takes about 30 minutes to serve so definetly something to cook if you're in a hurry or don't want to spend too long in the kitchen!

As you can see, I used a red chilli to increase the heat. Feel free to improvise on this from added heat to type of sausage and let me know how you get on. This should serve around 4 people.


Olive oil
6 delicious sausages (I chose beef)
1 onion
1 garlic clove
Can of chopped tomatoes
1 tsp dried oregano
350g rigatoni pasta
1 tbsp red pesto


1. Grill the sausages until nicely browned. You can fry them but I prefer grilling as it gets rid of excess fat.
2. Chop the sausages into bite-sized chunks.
3. Heat oil in a frying pan and add the chopped onion and garlic. After they begin to turn brown add the chopped tomatoes, sausage and oregano. Season to taste, cover and simmer for around 10 minutes until the sauce has thickened.
4. Whilst the food is simmering, cook the pasta in salted water until ready.
5. When the sauce is thickened, add the pesto and stir throughout. Drain the pasta and mix with everything together.

Serve immediately and enjoy. You can also add some grated cheese and garnish to finish.


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