Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Slimming World Burger in a Bowl with Cheesy Airfried Chips!


I love chips. Love them. Garlic chips, spicy chips, taco chips - any chips. Since I started following the Slimming World plan, I make homemade chips about once a week. They're especially nice if you use the cheese from the Healthy Extra A list and melt it on top - delicious!

The burger in a bowl was something I hadn't tried before, so when I got the Slimming World Fakeaways book it was one of the first things I wanted to try. My recipe is for one person but could very much serve two, I'm just a bit of a pig.

Firstly, get your chips on. I used one large white potato per person (my eldest wanted chips but not mince). Out of all the potatoes I've tried, Maris Piper definitely make the best Slimming World chips, and are fantastic in the Airfryer. I didn't have any this time, so I used whites. Peel them and chop into chunky chips. While you're doing that, boil the kettle.

Rinse the chips, and put in a saucepan of boiling water for 5-7 minutes. Do not let them cook fully. After that, drain them and return them to the saucepan. Shake vigourously, this has a huge effect on the finish of the cooked chips.

Spray the chips with frylight, then put them in the Airfryer basket. Cook them at 200 for 20 minutes. If you're using an oven, just cook them as you would normal oven chips.

Now - for the burger in a bowl, here's what you need:

* 1/2 a white onion, chopped.
* 200g mince or quorn mince.
* Lettuce, shredded.
* 1/2 a red onion, sliced.
* A few gherkins & cherry tomatoes, or 1 large tomato, all chopped.
* 1 garlic clove, crushed.
* Frylight, salt & pepper.


Spray a large pan or saucepan with frylight.
Add the mince, white onion and garlic, fry until mince is browned.
Season with salt & pepper.

If you want to make a burger sauce to go with it, mix 1 tblsp extra light mayonnaise with 1 tblsp of ketchup. Add a dash of paprika and a tiny nip of mustard powder. I completely overdid mine and it was way too hot. If you make the sauce, it'll cost you 2 Syns. (It's more like 1.5 but I always go with 2 to be safe).

Assemble your salad - lettuce, tomatoes, red onions and gherkins. Place the mince on top and spoon the sauce over.

At this point, the Airfried chips should be done. They should be crunchy on the outside with a golden colour on the parts that were "fluffed up" when you shook them dry. Like this - I promise they're not polluted with salt, I use Lo Salt!

To make the chips extra tasty, use 30g of cheddar or 40g or mozzarella or reduced fat cheddar, sprinkle over the chips, and pop them in the microwave for 45 seconds. If they need more time, pop them back in for 10 seconds at a time.

It's not something you're going to be having daily, or even weekly. But it's bloody delicious and it's a lovely alternative to a burger and chips from the chipper.

Monday, September 22, 2014

20 Years of Friends - it's a Friend-a-versary!


20 years, folks. It's been 20 years to the day since Friends first graced television screens in America. 20 whole years since Rachel raced into Central Perk wearing a wedding dress, bumped into her old friend Monica, and became part of our lives.

The One With The Husband Who Doesn't Get It
Well - I say our lives, but it's really a marmite show, isn't it? My husband cannot stand it. He absolutely does not get it, doesn't think it's funny, doesn't like the audience laughter, and doesn't watch it. He passes no remarks if I'm watching it, but I know it drives him up the walls. My mother never got it either - but my sister and I could spend a very happy half hour throwing Friends quotes back and forth at each other. I remember last year, I said something like "I have a really sore throat" and husband replied "Oh yeah, I had that, and a runny nose" and it continued, I have this, I have that -  then I said "Okay Ben, it's not a contest" - see, my sister would have WEEPED at that. He just looked at me and went "Who the hell is Ben?!" Sigh.

The One With All The Rewatches
It's something I never tire of - I'm currently halfway through Season 3 of a rewatch. My rewatches happen about twice a year - I start from the Pilot episode (one of only two episode names that doesn't start with The One With..., the other being The Last One) and work right up to the end. I got my boxset on Amazon for under €50 here - it's gone up over £70 now, but it's on sale regularly so keep an eye out - it's full of unseen footage and comes with loads of great extras (bloopers, interviews, etc). I do still watch any episodes I happen to catch on TV too.

The One Where The Kids Grow Up
Altogether, there were 7 children born on the show. Ben, Frank Jr. Jr., Leslie, Chandler, Emma, Jack and Erica. The actor who played Ben from seasons 3-8, Cole Sprouse, is 22 now. Frank Jr. Jr. (aka Dante Pastula) is 17; Leslie (Allisyn Ashley Arm) is 18; Chandler (Sierra Marcoux) is 16. The twins who played Emma (Cali & Noelle Sheldon) are 12, and the twins who played Jack & Erica would be 10 this year. Feel old enough?

The One With The Truth About The Big White Dog
You know that big white dog in Chandler & Joeys apartment? The one Ross rescued from the bailiffs when Joey went a bit mad with the cash in Season 2? This one?

It actually belonged to Jennifer Aniston. Some friends of hers bought it for her as a good luck present when she started acting, and she donated it to the show.

The One With The Creepy Fan Fiction
Ahh, you have to love fanfic writers. They really do put an enormous amount of effort into their work. You'd imagine there would be just a lot of Chandler/Joey stuff, but people have gotten really inventive. Not necessarily in a good way. There's this story, titled "The Abduction of Erica Bing" - in which little Erica gets abducted at her sixth birthday party. This one is all about Rachel as a child, and there are ones I wouldn't even link to - they go way, way into the dark side. Why you would want to take your favourite characters and introduce self-harm, rape and murder - I do NOT know, but it's there. It's all there.

The One With All The Guest Stars
I can't think of any other sitcom that had the kind of guest stars Friends could get. Susan Sarandon, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Fergie, Chrissie Hynde, Sean Penn, Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, Bruce Willis, Charlton Heston, Danny De Vito - the list is endless. My favourite guest appearance had to be Brad Pitt, I thought he was absolutely hilarious.

The One Where Life Imitates Art
In the show, Monica and Chandler have fertility problems. In reality, Courtney Cox discovered that she has a rare antibody in her blood that will attack a fetus. In order to have her daughter, Coco, she went through IVF and had to give herself injections of a blood thinner daily. Right after one miscarriage, she had to film the scenes of Friends where Rachel was giving birth to Emma. Ever since I found that out, it makes me so sad watching her in that episode.

The One With The Best Poster Ever
I first saw this graphic over on Chloe's blog, and again a few days later on a blog I happened to find randomly. I tracked the poster down to iposters.co.uk and have bought 4 of them to date - my one takes pride of place on the back of my bathroom door, and it gives me a laugh every time I see it.

The One With The Catchy Music
The theme tune by The Rembrandts - I'll Be There For You - was released as a single in 1995. Accompanied by a video featuring all 6 main cast members, it shot to number 1 in the US and Canada. It hit number 5 in the Irish charts. What I didn't know until recently, was that it was co-written by Allee Willis, who penned (among others) September for Earth, Wind and Fire. Other co-writers include Martha Kauffman and David Crane, co-creators of Friends. While the theme is catchy, it's not quite at the level of some of Phoebe Buffay's material. To this day I cannot hear or read the name Emma without hearing "Your name poses a dilemma" in my head. Her Christmas song, in particular the line: "Please tell Joey, Christmas will be snowyyyyyyyyyyyy" pops into my head randomly.

The One With The Inaccurate Quiz Results
On this Buzzfeed Quiz (you know how much I love a Buzzfeed quiz, Facebook friends) - I got Monica. Monica!! I KNOW!! You can take the quiz here and share your equally inaccurate results below if you want. Or not, whatever. I'm breezy.

The Best Ones
This varies from person to person. Actually - it varies from day to day if I'm honest. I have my favourite episodes - The One Where Ross is Fine, The One With Ross' Tan, The One With All The Cheesecakes, The One With All The Resolutions (leather pants), The One Where Ross Got High and The One Where The Stripper Cries are all favourites. Some of the lines still have the power to make me laugh out loud:

"The answer is - the brazil nut." "What was the question, what's more boring than him?"
"It's a Moo point. Like a cow's opinion. It doesn't matter. It's Moo."
"Go! Go Alan! Run you hairy bastard!!"
"I am *this* close to tugging on my testicles."
"He...he comes in here, Mr. Johnny new eggs, with his - his moving the mail and his *see ya pals* bleeeggggghh"
"Ohh, it's okay Pheebs" "Honey? That's your name.."
"I went to that tanning place your wife suggested." "Was that place........the sun?"

I'll stop, or I'll never stop. Thanks, Friends. Thanks for the arsenal of smart-arse responses. Myself and my slow wit are forever grateful.

And for the record - I really, really hope they never do a movie. Have we learned nothing from Sex and the City?

Banned Books Week! 21-27 September 2014.


I do have another post coming up later on today, but I thought I'd draw your attention to the fact that from September 21st - September 27th, it's Banned Books Week in the U.S.A.

Currently, there are no banned books in Ireland. A "book ban" only lasts 12 years, and no books have been banned in the last 12 years. This, interestingly, isn't because the law has changed - it's because nobody is complaining anymore. "Morals have changed," said a spokesperson for the Censorship of Publications Board. "What was considered obscene in the 1940s is very different to what is considered obscene today." [source]

A book can be prohibited in Ireland for one of two reasons:

1. They are indecent or obscene.
2. They advocate the procurement of abortion or miscarriage or the use of any method, treatment or appliance for the purpose of such procurement.

I'm not going to get into an abortion debate here, but isn't it typical of Ireland to have abortion right up there alongside indecency and obscenity? This all still stands today, by the way. If enough people wanted to complain about a publication, all (5) members of the Board would have to read it and could pass a law to prohibit it.


In the U.S.A, people are still a little more vocal with their complaints. Here's a look at the ten most challenged publications of 2013, with the reasons below.

The Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey: Offensive language, violence, unsuitable for age group.
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison: Offensive language, sexually explicit, violence, unsuitable for age group.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie: Drugs, alcohol, smoking, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, masturbation, unsuitable for age group.
Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James: Nudity, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuitable for age group.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: Religious viewpoint, unsuitable for age group.
A Bad Boy Can Be Good For a Girl by Tanya Lee Stone: Drugs, alcohol, smoking, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuitable for age group.
Looking for Alaska by John Green: Drugs, alcohol, smoking, sexually explicit, unsuitable for age group.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky: Drugs, alcohol, smoking, homosexuality, sexually explicit, unsuitable for age group.
Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya: Occult, satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuitable for age group.
The Bone series by Jeff Smith: Political viewpoint, racism, violence, unsuitable for age group.

A couple of these did surprise me - in particular, the reasons. I had no issue with the nudity or sexual content in Fifty Shades of Grey, for example. I did have a problem with the romanticization of a dangerously controlling, unhealthy relationship - but if people choose to read it, that's up to them. None of these books are currently banned, but they were reported hundreds of times in 2013. [Source]

Banned Books Week is a little more serious than just giving two fingers to the Establishment while reading Animal Farm on the bus. It was founded in 1982 by activist Judith Krug. It encourages readers to examine challenged literary works, and promotes intellectual freedom in schools, libraries and bookstores. It's goal is "to teach the importance of our First Amendment rights and the power of literature, and to draw attention to the danger that exists when restraints are imposed on the availability of information in a free society."

Amnesty International also celebrates Banned Books Week by drawing attention to individuals "persecuted because of the writings that they produce, circulate or read." You can read about the 2014 cases here. It makes for scary reading.

Image copyright Dav Pilkey
This year, graphic novels have been chosen as the theme for Banned Books Week. There's a wealth of information on the official website here: Banned Books Week . There's also a dedicated Youtube Channel featuring a lot of great videos by authors, booksellers and librarians.

Some of the more surprising (to me, anyway) books to be banned over the years include:

  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley: Banned in Ireland in 1932 due to references of sexual promiscuity.
  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll: Banned in China in 1931 for its portrayal of animals acting on the same level of complexity as humans. 
  • The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown: Banned in Lebanon in 2004 for being offensive to Christianity.
  • Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss: Banned in 1965 in China for its portrayal of early Marxism. The ban was lifted after Seuss' death in 1991.
  • The Lonely Girl by Edna O'Brien: Banned in 1962 in Ireland after Archbishop John Charles McQuaid complained personally to Charles Haughey that it was 'particularly bad'.
  • The Lottery by Shirley Jackson: Banned in South Africa during Apartheid.

In more recent years, campaigns have been launched in hundreds of schools to get books removed from reading lists and/or school libraries - books like The Handmaid's Tale and To Kill a Mockingbird. If you're interested in the type of complaints that are submitted - have a look at this section of the PABBIS (Parents Against Bad Books In Schools) website. It's an incredibly detailed collection of book quotes and references that people have complained about. If you're a Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan, I bet you a fiver you're thinking of MOO right now. I'm not mocking, I promise - I do believe that if a parent thinks a piece of literature is unsuitable for their underage child, then they have a right to not allow that book in their home. I just don't think that they have the right to tell other parents to follow suit. 

This week I'm aiming to read at least one banned book. I've picked The Lottery by Shirley Jackson. Will you join me in reading something that was once banned or challenged? There's a great collection of lists on Goodreads here if you need some inspiration.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Essence Trend Edition: Hello Autumn


I love this time of year. Leaves turning brown, new boots, cosy fires, HALLOWEEN - Autumn is definitely the highlight of the year for me.

Essence have excelled themselves with their new Trend Edition - called, simply, Hello Autumn. It's strictly Limited Edition, and will be in stores at the end of September.

None of the product names have any capital letters, which is quite annoying, but here's the collection:

Eyeshadow Palette - €4.79
There are two palettes. One with brown tones, and one with green.

01: walk in the park
02: keep calm and go for a walk

Eye Pencil - €1.89
Also available in two shades. They come with a sponge applicator, perfect for smudging.

01: leaves are the new beef (?!)

02: charlie seen in green

Eyebrow Set - €3.09
Available in two versions - a light kit and a dark kit. The set contains two eyebrow powders, a highlighter, and a mini angled brush.

01: leaves are the new beef

02: walk in the park

Lip Cream - €2.49
This comes in two shades - a rich red and a rosé pink. They have a semi-matt finish.

01: beauti-FALL red & 02: keep calm & go for a walk

Colour Adapting Powder Blush - €3.09
This sounds really intriguing - it's a powder blush that reacts to the individual pH-value of your skin, and turns into a "fresh pink with a fine shimmer" upon application.

01: beauti-FALL red

Multi-colour Powder - €4.09
This looks fab - it's a shimmer/bronzer powder with 4 different shades. It looks really pretty with the embossed leaf design too.

01: autumn & the city

Thermo Nail Polish - €2.49
Available in four shades, these supposedly change colour depending on the temperature (just like the leaves changing in Autumn). I really want to see these in person, especially that red! You can see the difference on the bottles if you look closely, the left has the light colour while the dark is on the right side.

01: beauti-FALL red
02: meet my pumpkin
03: charlie seen in green
04: keep calm & go for a walk

Hair Ties - €3.79
Finally, there are some seam-free hair ties in Autumnal colours.

01: # outdoor yoga
I'm pretty much a sucker for anything Autumnal anyway, so I want to get a look at some of this stuff in person. I definitely want to pick up that lovely embossed powder, plus an eyebrow kit. I do love how Essence feel the need to name every single product they release (things with no names are my pet peeve) - even the hair ties (that hashtag isn't a typo) - but if someone could explain "leaves are the new beef" to me I'd be delighted. Maybe something was lost a little in translation?!

What do you think - anything catching your eye from this collection?

BreastCheck Needs YOU.


BreastCheck, the national free breast cancer screening programme, currently screens women aged 50-64 every two years. In 2011, the Government promised to extend BreastCheck to include women aged 65-69, but that never happened.

The Irish Cancer Society have calculated that if the programme was extended, there's the possibility that the lives of 87 women in that age group could be saved. So, they are looking for at least 87 women to come and help them on the 30th of September at Leinster House.

You don't have to do much - just show up, and wear pink. If you could bring a couple of friends with you, that would be great. If you could get this to go much, much bigger than 87 women, that'd be even better.

Come and fight for your Mother, your Grandmother, your Aunt. Do it for your Future Self, your Children, your Sisters, your Girlfriend, your Granddaughters.

On September 30th, wear PINK and meet at 12:00 pm at the square beside Agriculture House on Kildare Street, Dublin 2 (opposite the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Employment).   - See more at: http://www.cancer.ie/about-us/events/extend#sthash.6O2s071J.dpuf

Please RSVP to mgaffney@irishcancer.ie by September 23rd in order to give an idea of numbers. Please, if you can spare one hour or less, please support. Or, if like myself, you won't be in Dublin on the 30th - please pass the information on to someone who will.

How good would it feel to know that you'd been a part of saving the lives of several women? Don't let the Government forget about these women. This was promised, and it needs to be enforced.

And while I'm at it, if you haven't done it already this month, go check your boobs.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Sunday Stroll: Tullynally Castle Gardens, Co. Westmeath


Have you ever discovered that there's something brilliant within driving distance of your house that you've never known about? Last Sunday, we went for a drive. On the way home, we passed the entrance to Tullynally Castle, just outside Castlepollard, Co. Westmeath (on the Granard Road). We've passed it a thousand times before, but this time we noticed a sign outside saying that it was open, so we decided to go in for a look.

When we went up the long driveway, we were greeted with the most amazing Gothic style castle. I got a bit filter-happy in places, just go with it.

Tullynally Castle (technically a country house) is over 300 years old. Home to the Packenham family since the 17th century, it is now owned and maintained by Thomas and Valerie Packenham. The castle was built as a semi-fortified house with a defensive outer wall. By the early 18th century, it had been already partly transformed into a Georgian mansion, and an illustrated family diary from 1736 shows a large formal garden of cascades and basins laid out on the southern slope below the house. Soon afterwards, the taste for romantic "natural" landscaping reached Ireland and these were swept away to be replaced by parkland. By 1780 the gardens were probably alread laid out as they are today. The house was changed back from a Georgian mansion to a Castle in 1803 by the 2nd Earl of Longford who added flanking towers and a row of battlements. Then in 1840 the 3rd Earl doubled its size by adding the two great wings (mostly for use as servants quarters) and battlements and towers around the stable courtyard. Source: Leaflet from Tullynally Castle.

There are two car parks. To go to the gardens (all 12 acres of them) you need to pass through the tea rooms.

You can enjoy tea and scones for two people for €7.50, or there are a range of snacks available. Things like cans of coke, ice-creams, bags of crisps etc have a pretty high mark-up (as is usual in places like this) so if you're planning a day trip, pack your own snacks. We didn't, so we ended up spending around a tenner on rubbish. Lesson learned! There were gorgeous looking desserts on display too, and the staff were friendly and knowledgeable.

To get access to the gardens, it costs €6 for an adult, €3 for a child over 6, and €16 for a family pass (2 adults, 2 children over 6). Under 6s go free, so it was €15 for husband, myself, the 10 year old and the babies.

When you step out of the tea rooms, you walk into the courtyard - there are more seats outside, where you can enjoy your beverages. You can also take a look at the Packenham Family Carriage, which is pretty much only used now for family weddings.

The entrance to the gardens was very The Secret Garden-esque.

The scenery is every bit as stunning out this side.

The gardens are to the right - we were given a map when we paid our entrance fee, showing us where to go and what to look for. We were also given a treasure trail for children, and details about several different trees with numbers on them (the tree page was actually surprisingly interesting). The first place we wanted to see was the Grotto - the path to the grotto is littered with hidden gems like stone Gargoyles and creepy wood carvings.

The path up to the grotto is MURDER with a buggy, so myself and the 10 yo went on ahead and had a look, then came back to husband. This is the Grotto:

The Grotto was built around 1830 from eroded limestone from Lough Derravaragh (the legendary lake where the Children of Lir were turned into swans). You can supposedly see Lough Derravaragh from a clearing in front of the grotto, but I couldn't see it that day.

When we went back to the main path, we passed this "Weeping Pillar" fountain.

As we made our way around the gardens, we noticed benches and little summer house-like structures dotted around, so there are plenty of opportunities to sit down for a few minutes.

The entrance to the Kitchen Garden is guarded by two sphinxes, or "merrymaids".

The Kitchen Garden is one of the largest in Ireland. A family of Llamas graze on it now, but according to an information plaque in the garden (these are dotted all over the gardens and are super helpful), there were once 20 gardeners employed for maintenance.

There are two sacred bulls in the Kitchen Garden too - or Nandi. These were made by a local sculptor.

We then continued on the path to the Upper Lake, which was once used for bathing.

There are some stunning wood carvings around the Upper Lake.

At this point we had been walking for about two hours and the babas were getting hungry. I was also wearing ballet slippers that were cutting the feet off me, so we headed back for the tea rooms again.

Back at the courtyard, I noticed the clocktower which I hadn't seen before.

There's so much more to see in the gardens that we didn't do - we didn't do the Forest Walk, or see Queen Victoria's Summerhouse, or the Tibetan Gardens, or the Gingerbread House, or Chinese Garden, or Swan Pool.

We'll definitely go back again, but I'll be wearing trainers the next time and we'll be packing sandwiches so we can take a break in the Gardens without having to walk the whole way back.

Tullynally Castle Gardens & Tearoom are open from Thursday-Sunday from 11am-6pm from April 19th to September 28th, so you still have 8 opportunities to go for a wander this year - I'm just sorry I didn't discover it sooner. There's a big event happening at Halloween:

From the 25th - 27th October, there will be "Spook Walks" around the Castle and Gardens starting at 6pm. Due to the spooky nature of the event, children under 8 are not permitted. To book, and for information on walk times and what you need to bring, go to www.directingtourism.ie.

There are also Christmas Markets, which I fully intend on attending as soon as I get more information. You can keep up to date with happenings at Tullynally's website or facebook page.
Tours of the Castle can be arranged for groups with a minimum of 20 people. For further information, check the website.

Altogether we spent less than €25 for a family of five and we had such a nice day out. Obviously something like this depends greatly on the weather, but I'll definitely be back - considering it's only 15 minutes up the road, there's no excuse not to return.