Bloom in the Park 2019 – food, flowers, fantastic!

Last June Bank Holliday was the 12th year of Bord Bia‘s Bloom in the Park, or “Bloom”, as its more commonly known. Having started off primarily as a garden & horticultural show, the food element quickly grew and is now a major part of this annual event.

I really love planned, structured gardens, especially walled gardens, gardens with sculptures, gardens with built features (check out the Crumlin Children’s Hospital one) and among all the beautiful gardens, the stand out one for me was the Vina Dona Paula garden designed by Allen Rudden. I really liked this, it’s exactly what I’d like to have at our house in Leitrim (if you’re looking for a home for it?! just sayin’…). The steel, the girders, the concrete re-enforcement, the paving, the wall flowers, the planting, everything, I thought it was fabulous.

It is always the food side of any event that’s the big draw for me, and several of the gardens had a food or drink theme…

The UCD History of the Irish Diet in Plants concept garden, in their own words “tells the story of the Irish diet from the early settlers to the introduction of farming, how tastes changed with the entry of imported foods, the impact of industrialisation, and the implications of the modern expansive diet.”

Staying with the food & drink garden theme was Blackwater Gin which is made in Waterford. Now that there are so many gins on the market in Ireland (more about that anon), this was a novel way of promoting a gin brand through innovative means: “Built predominantly from reclaimed, recycled and upcycled materials, it features strong shapes, textures and contrasting materials that are softened by lush foliage of semi-shade and shade loving plants”.

The Fingal Bee Positive garden was very topical, all about the importance of bees, pollination & biodiversity:

And so onto the Food Village…so many producers, so many gins and new drinks including poitín, beer, whiskey…but also plenty of new faces as well as familiar ones:

Margaret’s Eggs headed up by the wonderful Margaret Farrelly herself, the head chick in my book! They are always innovating, new brand, new packaging, liquid egg, you name it, change is constant!

I also liked the new mayonnaise from Ballymaloe Foods, who kindly gave me lots of samples to try out! They were sold out of their beetroot by the time I got there unfortunately, though I wasn’t surprised as it’s really good, fresh, not to sweet, not too vinegary, just right. We use the Ballymaloe sauces at home all the time, so handy for the teenagers to cook for themselves coming in from school. I use the relishes in homemade burgers (Ballymaloe recipe of course!), especially the jalapeno for a bit of a kick. 

Marjorie O’Malley of Achill Island Sea Salt revealed that they were planning for the grand opening their new Visitor Experience, and which, by the time you read this, will in fact be open for business!

Another great Mayo brand is Velvet Cloud sheep’s milk yogurt and cheese, made on the Flanagan family farm outside Claremorris Co.Mayo, and I was pleased to see Aisling Roche Flanagan (pictured here on the left) there with her children all roped in and working hard, full of enthusiasm. I love this yogurt. 

The Velvet Cloud was used up last week (though its widely available in supermarkets, so do yourself a favour and go and get some!), as we made our overnight oats with the lovely blend from the Merry Mill.These are organic and gluten free (if you’re into gluten free that is, not me though, don’t start…!). The Oat Boost blend is a mix of oatflaes and seeds, really good. 

Who else…? Mallow Mia Gourmet Marshmallows started life at one of my Start Your Own Food Business courses a few years ago in Donegal, so I’m delighted to see Linda McClean has grown this business from strength to strength. 

There were a few really good innovative products among these too, like Spoonful Botanical. This one was one of my favourites – a health food with really great flavours. I don’t believe in sacrificing flavour for health benefits, and this one certainly doesn’t. I wish them every success.

I also talked to The Foods of Athenry, Lough Ree Distillery, Silver Spear Gin, East Coast Bakehouse, Sunshine Juice (lovely fresh tasting fruit and veg juices made by Walshe’s in Carlow), Mescan Brewery, Jackford Irish Potato Gin and many, many more. You can find details about all the exhibitors, including contact details here.

Finally, when I was wilting, Lough Ree Distillery sustained me – there is nothing quite like a G&T to perk you up! This one is made in Lanesborough, Co.Longford. I also bought a wee taster bottle of Silver Spear – I see that featuring tonight actually, it’s Friday after all! Interestingly, a lot of the gin producers there used good old Schweppes as a mixer, none of your fancy tonics, as they felt, and I agree, that some of the others are too flavoursome and can kill the real taste fo the botanicals in the gin itself.

We left exhausted, laden down with purchases, dying to try our new finds, and already looking forward to next year. Bloom goes from strength to strength, it was definitely bigger this year, so much to see and do, a great day out. Wear comfortable shoes!

 

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Ten Top Tips for Starting Your Own Small Food Business – new course!

Hi everyone!

Just very quickly, having just finished training a great group of early stage food producers in Mayo in November and another group in Leitrim in January & February on the Food Starter programme from Bord Bia, I’m delighted now to bring you my new, very special, one day course which will be held in the Neantóg Kitchen Garden School, hosted by the fantastic Gaby & Hans Wieland.

So if you’ve ever wondered what’s involved, who to talk to, where to start, then take just one day to check out the potential for your food business by coming on this new course!

March 30th, Saturday: Top 10 Tips for starting your own small food business
**Guest Lecturer Series**

with Oonagh Monahan from 10:00am – 4:00pm, €100 per person
A unique opportunity to learn from one of Ireland’s leading small business mentors, in a small intimate setting. Get all your questions answered about the what where when and how to set up your own small food business, including the latest in legislation and registration requirements. Case studies will highlight the challenges and satisfaction of small food production.

I hope to see you there!

Oonagh

Croatia Revisited

It’s getting  bit cold here these days and the leaves have nearly all fallen off the tress following the recent storms. When I plugged in my phone this morning, the camera uploads flashing by brought me back to my trip earlier this year to Croatia. I had previously visited Croatia in 2003 and spent a week in Dubrovnik. It wasn’t long after the war and, at that time, the evidence of those events could still be seen in the bombed and bullet-ridden buildings up and down the coast. Dubrovnik itself though, being a UNESCO world heritage site, had been fully restored even then.

This time, however, we headed north to the Istria peninsula and we based ourselves in Pula. It was booked on a whim, with little or no research (most unlike me!), but with great anticipation of sunshine, mediterranean seas, Roman ruins, culture, and of course…the food & wine! And we weren’t disappointed.

There are strong influences of Italy, especially in towns like Rovinj, which used to be part of the Venetian Empire at one point. Our our guide told us that her Grandmother had lived in four countries and had never moved house! Such was the history of unrest in the region. The town is lovely, narrow lanes, though hilly. We came across a man grilling sardines on the lane outside his house! We travelled there by boat from Pula, a lovely journey with great views of the coast and islands.

 

So whats Croatian food like? Well, lots of meat and fish, truffles, honey, olive oil and plenty of influences from Italy, as we were in the Northern part of the country on the Istrian peninsula. Ražnjići and ćevapčići are both local minced meat concoctions. Cevapčići is often served with a roasted red pepper sauce and is really tasty – a but like a cross between and sausage and kebab. We first tried it after a long day kayaking up the coast and cliff jumping and we stopped for lunch in the Safari Bar, Premature, which is located within the Cape Kamenjak nature park – fantastic!

Safari Bar group

 

Wherever we went, every time I ordered fish, no matter what type, it seemed to some with baby potatoes and spinach, although someone did tell me afterwards its not actually spinach! It was mostly seabass or mackerel and served simply. Not much by way of choice to be honest. I was getting a bit sick of fish / spuds / spinach after a few days! And though I’m sure I shouldn’t say so, I’m not really a big fan of truffles. Perhaps they’re an acquired taste.

 

Croatia is a wine producer and while I wasn’t familiar with any Croatian wines before travelling, I was really impressed. The reds in particular were great, and such good value!

We stayed in the Park Plaza on the Pula peninsula – a beautiful report with a good range of restaurants. One of my favourites there was the Hugo cocktail – sparkling wine, elderflower cordial and mint, with some sparkling water. Hard to beat looking out over the Mediterranean on a warm evening!

So would I go back? Yes, definitely, but I think I’d have to find out more about other local foods – there is only so much fish & spinach or ćevapčići  I can handle!

 

 

 

Tardy with the blogging, but busy with the social media!

Oh I’ve been very tardy with the blogging this year. But, in my defence, I’ve been very active on Facebook, where I have two pages – oonagheats which mostly features me reviewing restaurants and various foods and MoneyforJambook for new food startups, interesting foods I’ve come across in supermarkets and food producers. I’m on twitter @oonagheats (I love twitter!) and Instagram @oonagheats too though, so if you’re looking for a morsel, then please find me there!

And ofcourse for those of you interested in starting up your own food business but don’t know where to begin, my book Money for Jam is still for sale in bookshops all over the place and from online booksellers – here is the link to the list!

Money for Jam – 2nd edition – The essential guide to starting your own small foot business – Oonagh Monahan – book launch – Oasta Cafe . pic Frances Muldoon.

 

Dreaming of Italian Gelato!

It’s definitely getting colder these past few days, and now that the clocks have gone back, it’s darker in the evenings. A far cry from sitting outdoors overlooking Lake Como, eating gelato at 10pm as we did this past Summer. I’ve neglected to bring you the fruits of my gelato research tour of Lombardy. Mea culpa (that’s Latin, I know, but it’s close enough!).

We toured around Lombardy, sampling the delight of Lago Iseo, Lago di Garda (again!) and Lago di Como. One thing that we noticed was that they have moved away from using spatula for icecream in a lot of places, which was not well received by our reviewers! Scoops do not cut it!

Italian gelato dates back to the 16th century. Most stories give the credit to Bernardo Buontalenti, a native of Florence, Italy, who delighted the court of Catherina de Medici with his creation. Italians almost certainly introduced gelato to the rest of Europe, with Sicilian born Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli being one of the most influential individuals in the history of gelato – he was one of the first to sell it to the public.

My daughter had heard of Ice N’Roll, a new phenomenon from Thailand apparently, and we watched with interest! Icecream is poured onto a freezing surface and then rolled up with a blade to form icecream roses! Here’s a great video of it in action.

Apart from the wonderful ice cream you get in Italy, there are several artisan producers all over the island of Ireland, such as Tipperary Organic (www.tipperaryorganic.ie) or Baldwin’s (www.baldwinsicecream.com), Linnalla Farmhouse Icecream (www.linnallaicecream.ie) and Fabio’s Italian Ice Cream in Sligo – this is the real deal! There are queues out the door of Fabio’s year round!

In Northern Ireland, Glastry Farm (www.glastryfarm.com) and Morelli’s (www.morellisices.com) are well-known and there is a lovely wee farmhouse ice cream parlour in Irvinestown, Co. Fermanagh, called Tickety-Moo.

If you ever thought about trying your hand this yourself, I’ve a whole chapter dedicated to the art of ice cream making my book Money for Jam!

 

Sligo Food Trail goodies!

The Sligo Food Trail was officially launched on April 6th. I was delighted to work with Amanda McCloat, Head of Home Economic at St. Angela’s College in Sligo, and the Food Trail members in putting together the fantastic Goodie Bags that were distributed to key people on the launch night.

The producers and businesses showed typical generosity when it came to donations. The bags were packed full of delicious treats (both food & drink!), vouchers, books and, of course, copies of the Food Trail brochure:

The White Hag Brewing Company Ltd.
Café Fleur
Sweet Beat Cafè
WB’s Coffee House and Deli Bar
Shells Café and Little Shop
Beltra Country Market – Marguerite Quinlan
Fabio’s Homemade Italian Ice Cream
Prannie Rhatigan’s Irish Seaweed Kitchen
Clo’s Chocolate
Murson Farm
Seashore Veg
The Organic Centre
Aisling’s Home Cooked Food also to be found at the Grass Roof Café!
Bramble Lodge Foods
Eala Bhán / Trá Bán
Lyons Cafè
Pudding Row
Harrisons Gastro Bar & Restaurant
Radisson Blu Hotel & Spa

Some of these I’ve reviewed previously here on oonagheats.com or on the oonagheats.com Facebook fan page (Eala Bhan, Sweet Beat, Shells, Lyons Cafe, Radisson Blu, Aisling’s Home Cooked Food at the Grass Roof Café) but over the coming months, I plan to check them all out, painstakingly, one by one (poor me, LOL !) and give you the low down – watch this space!

Best Children’s Menu in Ireland – Spring Review

In February, I set out to assess Children’s menus, for variety, healthiness, availability and appeal. I’ve checked out quite a few at this stage, some directly (with the Children in tow) and some indirectly, just from a look at the menus.

We were invited by Anthony Gray, President of the RAI and owner of Eala Bhán and Trá Bán restaurants in Sligo to dine en famille at Eala Bhán and try out his newly launched “Healthy Kid’s Menu”. With thanks to Anthony for his generous hospitality, this is an honest appraisal. Anthony told us that the menu was devised by himself and his team and with input from Olivia Collins of Food PR.

Kids — Eala Bhán menu

It was very nicely presented, with the usual colouring in / activities on the reverse, though my pair are a bit old for the colouring in at this stage. Everyone got a soup amuse bouche, which is always a great addition!
Amuse Bouche

A review of the Starter options showed that the healthy option for starters was Soup. The fish cake, though listed as “Super Healthy” was deep fried (at least I assume it was or it would have said “baked”) in breadcrumbs. The third choice was sweet potato chips (deep fried again). For Starters, he close the Fish Cake and she went for the soup (vegetable).

The fish cake looked lovely, however, for a child, the presentation and garnish was a bit too fancy to be honest. Many children are not keen on salad or dressing or anything touching the food that they don’t want to eat! I tasted it though, and it was really good. In fact, I ate nearly all of it!!

The soup was excellent – a generous portion, with well balanced seasoning and very nicely presented, with brown bread on the side.

Choices of mains included fish & chips (deep fried), beef burger (chargrilled), deep fried chicken goujons, or vegetable lasagna (sic). For mains, he chose the Chicken Goujons & Chips and she went for the Beef Burger. The verdict on the Chicken and Chips was that the chips were really good – chunky, fresh and crispy, but the chicken was just “ok”. Deep fried so not very healthy. The burger was really super. Lovely soft bap, fab beef from Sherlock’s Butchers, perfect portion size, generous but not too much, overall a winner.

Desserts were chocolate, chocolate or chocolate! There was nothing else. He is quite the connoisseur of the chocolate brownie and said that while this was indeed very good, it was slightly overbaked and so a bit too much like chocolate cake, i.e., not squidgey enough! That said, he ate every pick! She went for fancy, and she is inclined to do, and the Chocolate Fondue was indeed very impressive!

A healthy menu should offer a fruit plate, or fruit skewers or even yogurt. If the menu is supposed to he healthy, then there should be some healthy options for all courses.

Overall, is great to see a restaurant make an effort at a healthy menu, and despite being well presented and tasty, simply calling something “healthy” and listing local suppliers doesn’t make it healthy I’m afraid. Perhaps input from a Nutritionist would help. At the very bottom of the menu in small print, it told us that Child Size portions of all adult meals are available. Fantastic! But this should be front & centre! At the very least, it should really have been pointed out to us by the server. This is where a restaurant can score points and set itself above the others when it comes to beating the competitors in the healthy kids meal stakes. It’s an opportunity that should be capitalised on.

Other quick picks from my travels (and please excuse some very poor photography on my part):

Tyrellspass Castle Restaurant, Co.Westmeath – soup and choices of turkey, beef or ham with veg first followed by the usual deep-fried chicken,sausages etc…
Tyrellspass Castle

Rua, Castlebar – excellent menu, and not a deep-fried goujon or chip in sight, hooray! Will definitely go back here with the kids in tow.
Rua Kids Menu

Shells Cafe, Strandhill – nice little kids menu, great to see that its basically smaller portions of the main menu dishes, with a twist!
Shells Kids Menu

Donaghy’s Pub, Sligo – very very limited kids portions on the menu, just 2 dishes that we could see – chicken nuggets and chips, and Healthy Fish Gougons (sic) for Kids – we weren’t offered a kids menu, if there was one (we didn’t ask either mind you);

Sweet Beat Cafe, Sligo – no children’s portions on the menu so we usually end up splitting dishes between us;

McDonagh’s, Galway – recently visited, but no kids portions offered that we could see (no complaints from the kids though!).

Sheridan’s of Milltown, Co.Galway – a good range of healthier foods for kids here. Spaghetti, mash, chicken curry and rice…and the usual sausages / goujons & chips. Better than some though.
Kids Menu Sheridans Milltown310316

Restaurants would do well to appreciate that, during the day and early evening, parents can be enticed to dine more often with children, if the children were better catered for. Who decided that all kids want to eat is processed meat & chips? Sure, they’ll happily eat it, but its not healthy, as most people know by now. Oh, and P.S., run a spell check on your menus people! There is no excuse for bad grammar, stray apostrophes and spelling errors.

Tune in again at the end of the Summer for the next instalment!