Thursday, 7 January 2016

Leftovers - Best Beer/Food/Travel Nonposts 2015

I admit it.
I'm a lazy, lazy Blogger sometimes.

Last year my Blog should have had perhaps 10 more posts but the Lethargy, Apathy and Fatigue Fairies worked their wicked ways on me and some of the most important posts of the year were left behind in dog eared notebooks, worn receipts and cloud-loaded photos.

So to right-a-wrong I've decided to do a short post about my best nonposts of 2015!

Best Meal Out

Although our meal in Sage was excellent, Bodega in Waterford probably topped it fractionally. (And anyway I did a post about them during the year so they don't count for this!)

A gorgeous tapenade appetiser, fantastic salt cod and chorizo cake for starter and the best, most tender pork belly I've ever tasted for main course, served with sauerkraut and mash.

Combined with a quick and efficient service, great wine and beer menu, and a shot of sublime Blackwater Distillery/Blacks of Kinsale Curious Still Hopped Vodka (My spirit of the year btw!), which tasted of parma violets, it was an evening I still rave about to any who will listen.

Best Meal In

This was a rabbit, mushroom and chorizo pie with mascarpone and puff pastry I made over Christmas. Sadly I forgot to take any pictures of it, so I've an excuse to make it again and post the recipe!

Best Beer Out

This is a tricky one but of all the beers I've had in various festivals and bars the best one I never Blogged about was in a Yellow Belly beer brewed by Declan in Simon Lambert & Sons in Wexford town. More surprisingly - for me - it was their lager. My notes read:

'Wow! Meaty, chewy lager, malty peanuts(?) and real lemonade. *****'

Make of that what you will but I don't give 5 stars lightly! I do remember it had loads of biscuity body and a fat feel to it that lingered just long enough on the tongue. I was still talking about it on the journey home the following day.

Best Beer In

Another really tricky one, and although I've had some fantastic Irish and foreign beers this year I went for a Belgian for a number of reasons.

Hanssens Oude Gueuze struck a chord with me as it reminded of the first time I had it in Ghent - my favourite Belgian city - and it freaked out my extended family over Christmas as I sat drinking it after dinner one evening. Many thought it a cider and couldn't understand how anyone could drink it, given its peculiar qualities.

It was fantastic with that gorgeous cheese-ridden farmyard funk and cider vinegar that I love, and paired well with the various cheeses I was stuffing myself with...

I sipped it, raved about it and admired it for about an hour.

Best Trip Away Ireland

Another tricky one but the place I should have blogged about and didn't was Wexford Town. With its busy main street and bucket loads of history it's a great spot ... although when darkness falls it becomes a bit of a ghost town but with beery refuges in the shape of the above mentioned Simon Lambert & Sons and the closeby The Sky & the Ground.

Getting a tour of the brewery in the Yellow Belly's cellar lair was a high point too. Declan gave us a rundown of how their brewery operates and their plans for the future while he was actually brewing. I doubt there is a more passionate, enthusiastic and hardworking brewer in the country, and this shines out in the quantity and quality of beer he produces. His Pale Stout, which we cajoled from the barman in The Sky & The Ground was sublime, with subtle, peaty smokiness combined with golden syrup and a malty nuttiness that I've just failed to describe adequately.

There's loads to see and do too, from the quays to the walls and even the twin churches, one of which has a  stunning Harry Clarke stained glass window. I'd highly recommend it as a weekend away destination. I really need to revisit soon and give it more time and Blogspace.

I have a few posts to catch up on so no mention of Best Foreign Trip Away for 2015, I might squeeze them into 2016!

So there you have it ... I feel a little better now after getting these leftovers off my plate.

Happy New Year!


Friday, 1 January 2016

Travel: Brussels - Deeper, Darker

She was crying as she walked, letting out huge sobs of pure sadness and despair as she trudged towards us with a cheap shopping bag in each hand, a grotty tissue clasped in her right one. She looked at the ground as she walked in a zigzag fashion up the street towards the Palace of Justice. She had a light frame, gaunt features and straggly hair but did not appear to be a homeless person, like the others we had seen all over Brussels. As she stumbled towards us I stopped dead in the street and watched her approach. The rest of my group were further down the street, admiring the view over the city and trying to spot the Atomium, which is visible from almost every piece of high ground.

Her cries and sobs didn't seem to be anything to do with the hill she climbed or the weight of her bags but seemed deeper and darker than that, like the pain you feel when you lose someone close to you or are driven to the dark depths of depression by something more hurting and oppressive than any physical pain. As she got closer I noticed that she was well dressed but her physical features; her hair, her face, her eyes, reflected a person who had gone past caring how she looked. Her well worn clothes were the only hint that not too long ago she must have been a proud and dignified lady. I wondered what had happened to change her into the wraith-like creature she had now become.

I felt numb. Should I help her or speak to her? Was there any point? Would she understand? Did she want help? I stood there as she walked past me, ignoring me and everyone else on the street and being ignored by others to such an extent that I wondered was she real or some character from my mind or the past, a banshee who had followed or appeared to me here, hundreds of miles from home. I reached my hand out a fraction to see would she react but she just continued on past me, sobbing uncontrollably. One of my travelling companions - Pete - was walking back up to me now, wondering why I was standing transfixed on the street, as he hadn't noticed this apparition of sadness, pity and despair, .
            'Did you see that lady?' I said to him, nodding up the street in the direction she had departed. 'She's crying.'
            'Oh,' he said, a look of genuine concern crossing his face, 'Is she alright?'
            'I'm not sure. Did you not see her?' I said, slightly aggravated, and annoyed with myself for doing nothing.
            'No, I wasn't minding to be honest,' he said. 'I'm sure she'll be OK ...' and with a shrug he headed down the street after the others.

She had disappeared over the top of the hill by now and no sign of her passing remained. Again I got the uneasy feeling that I was the only person who had seen the woman, even though I knew she was real, or at least thought I knew she was real at the time - if that makes sense.

A wave of emotions suddenly swamped me as guilt, sympathy, uselessness, empathy, helplessness and anger washed through my mind and left me feeling lost and alone. Perhaps this was how the woman had felt? By now the others were at the bottom of the hill. They hadn't seen the lady so I couldn't blame them for their lack of concern.

Slowly and deliberately, I placed one foot in front of the other and headed down the hill to catch up with them. Every now and again I looked behind, knowing I wouldn't see her but hoping I would. I never saw her again but her sorrow haunted me for days and nights afterwards.

To be honest, it still does.