There’s a lot to celebrate around Kilkenny during our first Medieval Week! Here at Kilkenny Design Centre, we’re celebrating medieval culinary advances. Not that we were going hungry before the Anglo-Norman invasion of 1169, but I think it’s fair to say their arrival brought a little more flavour to the Irish table. These conquerors were men and women who had travelled far beyond the bounds of Europe. Crusades and campaigns in foreign lands opened medieval palates to exotic herbs and spices, which they loved to use in their food.
For the nobility, dishes were heavily flavoured with valuable spices such as caraway, nutmeg, cardamom and pepper. These spices were imported from very faraway places and were hugely expensive. Herbs were cultivated for their medicinal properties, often in monasteries by clever monks who were educated in their health-giving properties.
Controversy rages about the origin of the humble sausage (not really) but it was certainly front and centre at the average medieval barbecue. In an era long before refrigeration, the best way to keep meat from spoiling was to salt or cure it. Many medieval families in Kilkenny would have kept a pig or two in their front room (!), so sausages were the logical and delicious conclusion.
Why not join us in our foodhall this Saturday to celebrate the humble banger with a tasting by Denise from Lavistown House. Made in small batches each week from 100% Irish pork, Lavistown sausages are a modern-day version of tasty, rustic medieval fare. Free from preservatives, nitrates and fillers they are also gluten free and available from our foodhall freezer, every day!
Things get lost – and in a big building like ours with all our visitors, lots of things get lost. In the interest of science (!) we decided to do a little research on what gets left behind most often. The type of belonging that we gather most of is definitely the humble umbrella. This has to be a reflection of the climate. If you’re out and about in Kilkenny at this time of year without an umbrella, you’re just being silly.
Next up is the cuddly toy; we’ve looked after fluffy sheep, beanie hedgehogs and squidgy bears. While we’ve had a pretty good success rate reuniting these little guys with their humans, we do still have a cuddly puppy on our office windowsill called Buddy, but we keep him company and make sure he gets his cuddles.
Glasses, woolly hats and mobile phones also feature in the top five of lost and found items. We also get the odd camera. In fact, just before Christmas we found a nice digital number. Our initial efforts to find the owner didn’t pay off, so we decided to have a look at the pictures. It was a little nerve-wracking (you just don’t know, do you?) but it paid off. What we found was the greatest hits of an American family’s holidays that must have spanned years! Mount Rushmore, the Grand Canyon, Key West… and then Dublin, the Blarney Stone and the Waterford Viking Triangle.
There was one particularly clear shot of a gang having the craic and posing in the back of a horse and trap in Killarney. We looked closer… and closer, and realised we could read one of their name badges including the name of the tour company they were with. We had a lead! One swift email to the tour company and we had the camera owner’s name and address and were ready to reunite them with their memories. So we happily popped the camera in the post and sent it all the way to Michigan. But not before taking a cheeky snap of ourselves as a souvenir.
Whether you have lots of time on your hands and really want to make an impression or there’s one extra special person you want to spoil rotten, here are some eye-catching ideas for gift wrapping this season.
Make your own paper
Sheet music, newspaper, maps, even fabric can be photocopied and made into unique custome wrapping paper and finished with a twist.
Layer and silhouette
Gifts are wrapped with layers of contrasting tissue paper, a love-heart or pine tree profile is cut out of the upper layer and folded back to reveal the colour beneath.
Why not use a different colour for each member of the family? Then there’s no need for gift tags and there’s an added element of fun for each person picking their gifts from under the tree!
Another clever alternative to traditional gift tags, use your recipient’s initial to mark their gifts. Letters can be bought from most craft shops or printed and cut out from card.
So cute against contrasting paper, either use the doilies as they are, or dye them by dipping in diluted food colouring. Lightly glue them to the outside of the wrapped gift and secure with twine.
Think outside the box…
Use your imagination, and whatever you can find around the house! Spruce up brown paper with ribbon and twine, wrap with contrasting left-over wool, use buttons and cut-outs to decorate. The sky’s the limit!
It’s that time of year again, when Ireland’s cultural institutions throw their doors open to the general public after hours and let rip!
Culture night happens tomorrow and Kilkenny’s offering is second to none.
Here’s just a taster of what’s happening up around our neck of the woods…
There’s a great programme of events in and around the castle, starting with a viewing of ‘Art in the Twenty-First Century’ – a Peabody Award-winning documentary at 6pm in the Parade Tower. Then a talk about Text as Art at 7pm and a performance of Bob & Roberta Smith’s ‘Kilkenny Answers Back’ in the Butler Gallery at 8pm.
In the Castle Yard itself you’ll have the chance to peruse the wonderful Blackbird Gallery until 8.30pm. You could also check out the Kilkenny Arts Office’s social crochet project ‘Making Spaces’ next door until 9pm.
If all of that isn’t enough the 70-strong Kilkenny Choir will be performing on the Parade from 8pm to 10pm. Sure why not make a night of it and book a table in our evening restaurant? Well you’ve got to eat!
Let’s face it, in the past most of us Irish have had a funny relationship with food. Whether it was being forced to eat fish on Fridays or enduring a love/hate relationship with the potato, we have all had our crosses to bear.
But in the last 20 or so years, something started happening. A group of pioneering farmhouse cheese-makers decided to make the most of all the delicious, fresh milk they had on their doorsteps. These guys, arguably, were the start of a whole new wave of artisan food producers. Right now, Ireland is a heavy-hitter when it comes to the production and export of top quality grub. “You’ve got all the right geography, grass, animals, breeding and farming,” said boy-wonder chef Jamie Oliver on a recent visit, “no excuses for not having incredible, incredible stuff.” Couldn’t have said it better myself Jamie.
While we might feel nostalgic for iconic Irish brands like Jacob’s Cream Crackers (try and eat 10 without having a drink – just try it!) or wedges of Calvita cheese (see Simone Walsh’s charming painting below) these products didn’t exactly set the world on fire. Right now our own smartest eateries and best chefs are rediscovering Ireland’s culinary heritage. They’re realising what fantastic produce we have available to us and are using these ingredients to awaken our pride in Irish food. Bacon and cabbage you say? Pork belly glazed in Highbank Orchard Syrup and served with confit of carrot we say! Remember bright orange fish fingers with lumpy mash on Friday evenings? How do you like the sound of Kilmore Quay potted prawn and crabmeat with apple salad? Yums.
Hmm, but I’d murder a Marietta sandwich…
Why do they make us feel warm and fuzzy? Well, ‘cute’ is simply an evolutionary trick. It’s nature’s devious way of getting you to look after otherwise defenceless offspring. Zoologist Konrad Loranz argued in 1949 that the typical baby face of big eyes, small nose and a relatively big head makes people want to drop everything and take care of them. Clever babies…
We also seem to have a fascination with tiny man-made things. Ever get excited by looking in the windows of a really detailed doll’s house? Ever see a man go ga-ga for a train set?
There’s something so charming about real life reduced down to miniature. Maybe it’s us being sentimental and remembering childhood playfulness. Maybe we’re in awe of the talent needed to create such detail. Maybe we’re just slaves to evolution. Whatever it is, it seems to be universal, here to stay and guaranteed to ensure the survival of the species for a while to come.
It’s been a while since our last blog posting. We could make excuses, but what fun would that be?! So let’s just get started with what’s new this Spring…
Well first off the weather has been pretty bipolar in our part of the world, how about you? It snowed last week. Then it was sunny and warm over St Patrick’s weekend (all the better for a Riverdance record attempt!). And today it looks angry, like another blizzard is about to hit. You really wouldn’t know what to wear. But from the land that is known to give 4 seasons in a day, ‘what’s new?’ says you.
Even though it’s SO last week, we really enjoyed St Patrick’s weekend here in Kilkenny. It kicked off on Friday with the 300-strong Purdue University marching band. Now, I’m not exactly a marching band aficionado but you couldn’t help but get caught up in the spirit of things with these guys. They had the choons and the moves, and we had a pretty good view of them starting off their show from the Castle Park.
Kilkenny’s first TradFest was a roaring success and was one of the first ‘Gatherings’ of the year. If you haven’t heard already, The Gathering Ireland 2013 is a year-long celebration of all things Irish, see here for further details… There’s a full calendar of events happening around Ireland and in Kilkenny in particular so have a look at the website and keep an eye here for all the news as the year goes on. Or why not sign up for our newsletter and stay informed
So here’s to Spring, and all it’s sunny, snowy, flowery, blizzardy goodness!
When times are a little difficult, or when you’re being threatened by a global apocalypse (as foretold by a Mayan calendar) you tend to look back to when things were simpler, easier, more charming and carefree.
Nostalgia is so hot right now… Sales of gardening and DIY equipment are up, everyone who’s anyone with a patch of ground is putting in raised beds and veggies. Ladies in the know (and a few enlightened gentlemen) are learning how to knit and sew. We’re harking back to a ‘make do and mend’ attitude connected to war-time rationing and saving of buttons and string that most of us, let’s face it, never went through in the first place.
But there is something so comforting and familiar about nostalgia. So get those rose-coloured glasses firmly on and remember that Christmas when you got a Wendy House (best ever!!!), a Rubik’s cube or a Lolo Ball. Sit back in a comfy chair by the fire with your knitting and enjoy a Babycham. Let the old times roll!
There’s something about the light at this time of year. When the sun does manage to battle its way through the cloud, the freezing fog or whatever you’re having yourself – it makes everything look so much more interesting.
It’s especially atmospheric during the magic hour around sunrise and again at sunset, when the angle of the sun is so low. According to my ‘google-machine’ this is because the light has a lot more atmosphere to travel through. So by the time it gets to us it’s all diffused and moody, acting like one of those hipster photo filters on Instagram. Textures come alive. Shadows are long and deep.
Then there’s the light that we bring – not to be too philosophical – I’m talking about the candles, bulbs and firelight that come alive once the sun goes down. Strung through tree branches, dancing in window panes giving a heartening glow and flicker.
So let’s hear it for the light that brightens the darkest season of our year, wherever it comes from.
“Going local does not mean walling off the outside world. It means nurturing locally owned businesses which use local resources sustainably, employ local workers at decent wages and serve primarily local consumers. Control moves from the boardrooms of distant corporations and back into the community where it belongs.”
- Michael H. Shuman, author of the book Going Local.
Yeah! Viva la revolution! I might be getting a little carried away, but I just found these amazing statistics about what happens when you shop and eat in locally-owned, independent businesses. The percentage of revenue that stays in the local community compared with using national or international chains is staggering. Why wouldn’t you support your local businesses?!
Back in August, our Mayor Sean O’hArgain spoke out in the local paper and suggested that “By switching one or two items a week from the huge multiples to your family run corner shop, you could be making the difference between their survival and closure.”
The next time someone asks you “where should we eat?” consider this: independent restaurateurs are a vital part of every community. They live and work in your neighborhood and make a difference through contributions of time, jobs and financial support.
So this Christmas, give a gift of loyalty and support to local, independent business, it’ll help us all out in the long term.