Our preparations are currently well under-way for two very important summer birthday parties. Tiarnán will turn seven next week and Fionn is turning five in July. The excitement levels are rising and every day a different theme or plan is being hatched up, by these ever enthusiastic party planners. I almost always host the birthday parties at home; it does entail a lot of cooking and some amount of cleaning before and after the big event, yet I always feel it to be worth it. There are only the few short years when each child will really want to have the birthday party with all of the trimmings and if I were honest, I enjoy these party days nearly as much as the kids.
Tiarnán is the sportiest out of all my children, so it was no surprise when he decided on a 'Sports Day' theme for his big day, with some school fete ideas also thrown into the mix. I could certainly find a few boxes that would make perfect bric-a-brac, that the attending kids could take home for free, however, I'm not sure if the parents would be too keen on that idea. There are just so many great activities to choose from and Tiarnán wants them all. So from sack making to DIY wheel of fortune stands, our kitchen is starting to resemble a workshop, of some degree. 

Naturally my interest tends to be more of the food planning side of such events. The kids and I love to scan through books and the web to find party food that will impress. At past birthdays I have made these ice-cream cupcakes and they are always a winner, especially with the kids. I use my Basic Bun Mixture and follow the same method, but bake in the cones in place of the muffin cases. Place the flat bottomed ice cream cones into a muffin tray. It is important to only fill the cones two thirds of the way, with the raw bun mixture, then bake for 18-20 minutes or until golden brown and a skewer inserted comes out clean. Allow to cool, on a wire rack, then top with some Vanilla Buttercream add sprinkles and finish with a mini flake. Delicious!

I was lucky to have the creative help of Jack & Tiarnán, who decorated the blackboard for this shoot, and didn't they do a great job!
If you are on either Twitter or Instagram you will find me there sharing lots of food photos and of course, next week, there will be plenty of party food photos. Do say hello!
My Dad has been a wonderful influence on me, throughout my life. I was blessed to grow up with two very loving and caring parents, each of whom I had an amazing bond with, yet both had very different approaches to parenting. With just a whisper in an ear and an angelic smile, I was well aware that the possibilities of making plans go my own way was always on the cards, when Dad was around. The topic of fathers entered a chat recently with friends and the similarities between the role that our fathers played in the home was indefinitely comparable. These were hard working men, that may not of changed nappies or cooked dinners yet still played a most significant part in the rearing of us, as children. My Dad always was, and still is, ever generous in his time to share a story. Many a lesson was taught to me through a tale of times gone by. The role of the father has dramatically changed over the last 20 years. In most homes both parents now work, outside the home and this in turn results in a more evenly divide of household chores and caring for the children, so the 'softer parent' may not always be the dad!
Myself & my Dad, Christmas 1986.
 Father's are pretty important people, as they help to mould us into the adults we become. Father's day is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the role of the father and to thank them for the part they play in our lives. It's easy to surcome to the hectic schedules of daily life, but it's essential to stop and appreciate what life has on offer for us, and nothing is more important than the presence of family and friends in our lives. Time undoubtedly is better spent when shared with a loved one. Losing my mother to Cancer was certainly the most devastating thing to ever happen to me, but with that loss came a huge reality to never take for granted a moment spent with a loved one, no matter how that time is spent. My dad is still a huge part of my life and I'm grateful that he's also a wonderfully positive influence on my children's lives. He shares dinner with us each day and when I hear him entertaining them, with stories of old and mystical tales of the land I'm instantly transported to my childhood, sitting at the fireplace totally engrossed in every word he cared to share. Whatever way you choose to celebrate this Father's day, treasure the time spent and enjoy making beautiful memories for you and your children to cherish for years to come.
It's the season for festival's and a couple of weeks ago I travelled to Co. Meath, to visit the well acclaimed Sheridan's Irish Food Festival. In a large field, in the middle of a beautiful  landscape, was the location for this fete that drew in thousands. There were over 80 food producers, promoting their wares, as well as various organisations such as Bird watch Ireland, GIY and Slow Food Ireland, who were on hand to give lots of tips and advice to the festival goers. The beautiful weather also played its part, in making the day such a success, as people sat around happily sipping on organic apple juice or elderflower cordial, while a very impressive jazz band, played in the background. Throughout the day there were many well packed tents, for the profoundly interesting workshops and cookery demonstrations. This has easily been the best food festival that I've ever attended, as the true purpose of the day was clearly evident and that was to promote Irish food, and the fabulous producers that are doing such an amazing job. After speaking with many of the stall holders, it became very obvious that we are truly honoured, in Ireland, to have such an abundance of passionate food producers. What I really love about food festivals is that I get the opportunity to talk with these producers, find out how they started and get a real insight into how they have developed their product and just to know a little bit more about the person behind the brand. Most admitted that their jobs weren't easy, but their belief and love for their products pulled them through and most businesses, at the festival, are now thriving, which is really saying something in these recessionary times. It's transparent that quality stands out and I feel now, more than ever, consumers want value for their buck and aren't as quick to accept a lower standard of anything, especially their food. This is why many of these companies are doing so well and are standing the test of time. Most of these growing companies are also on line, so no matter where we are in Ireland, we can avail of their amazingly good products. I always enjoy any food related event, but I left Sheridan's feeling so unbelievably inspired and genuinely excited about the future of Irish food.

Fellow food blogger, and a real lady, Imen McDonnell, was one of the cookery demonstrators. One dish Imen prepared was a delicious chicken salad, using some leftover chicken which she had roasted the day before. Before roasting, Imen pushed some honeyed butter, under the skin, which gave a delicate sweetness to the chicken. The next day for dinner, with the sweet chicken still to mind, I decided to make this honey roast chicken dish. For an extra touch of summer, I stuffed the chicken with some sprigs of thyme and a quarter of a lemon. I placed the remaining lemon around the chicken, drizzled over a glass of white wine and seasoned with salt and pepper. The result was a scrumptious, summery, honey roast chicken, perfect for the delightful weather, we've been enjoying for the past few weeks.

1 free range chicken
100g soft butter
1tbsp honey
1 lemon, quartered
few sprigs of thyme
150mls white wine
sea salt & freshly ground pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 190ºC/410ºF/gas mark 6.
2. In a bowl combine the softened butter and the honey.
3. Carefully loosen the breast skin, of the chicken. Gently push the honey butter under the skin, taking care not to tear it.
4. Place a quarter of the lemon into the chicken's cavity, along with a few sprigs of thyme.
5. Drizzle over the white wine, then season well with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
6. Add the remaining lemon pieces to the roasting tray. 
7. Place in the preheated oven for 20 mins/1lb of meat plus 20 minutes over. Remove the foil, for the last 20 mins of cooking, to allow the bird to brown. To be sure that the chicken is cooked insert a skewer into the leg and the juices of the chicken should run clear.
Once cooked let the chicken rest, on a plate, for 15 mins to allow the juices to settle.

In other news, if you are wondering where to go this Father's day, Inchydoney Island Lodge & Spa have a really fantastic offer. The hotel overlooks two beautiful beaches and the Atlantic Ocean where guests can join a boat for a fishing trip to try their hand at catching mackerel, pollock or cod. That evening Chef Adam Medcalf of the Gulfstream Restaurant will cook up a superb meal with the line caught fish. The ‘Fish For Your Dinner’ package includes two night’s accommodation in a deluxe room with ocean view balcony, Chef’s West Cork breakfast each morning, a half day fishing trip from Courtmacsharry and your locally caught fish for dinner in the Gulfstream Restaurant or BBQ and is available from €239 per person sharing. It sounds truly fantastic! 
It seems that our summer sun, that we were so attentive to and appreciative of, has once again turned it's back on us. Once there is any heat in the air, my children, like most, love the good weather and will spend a great deal of time outdoors, playing games and plotting adventures. My dad has a weather glass hanging in his hall and not a day will pass without him telling us his prediction of the upcoming weather. This has led to the boys having a vested interest in meteorology, and never more so than when have some outdoor event is on the horizon, where the appearance of the sun would be most welcomed. The next few weeks will see two school tours, a school walk, school's sports day and a few important birthday parties, so Met Eireann is receiving great hits from my little men, these days. All these events are so mush nicer in the sun and I really hope, that at the very least, the rain will stay away.

All that beautiful sunshine and then the few days of rain, has really benefited the garden. Everything has started to grow at a phenomenal rate and I'm especially excited about my strawberry plants, that are currently boosting little white berries, that will soon be juicy ripe strawberries. The boys also have their own area of the garden, especially as their own little planting area and the excitement is building as carrots and other vegetables start to push through the soil. I love that the children see where some of their food is coming from and are actively involved in bringing it to the table. Tender carrots, that have been lovingly grown, are treated with a little more respect when they reach the dinner plate. This doesn't work with every vegetable, yet I feel it's important that children learn to appreciate their food.

It was my Dad who originally designed and planted my fruit and vegetable garden, almost five years ago. It wasn't long after Mam passing away, that we moved into our home, that we built just beside my parent's house. Life can be very lonely after losing a loved one and I was glad when Dad wanted to spend more time with us. As a hard working farmer, all his life, only in recent years did he get to allocate real time for his true passion, which is gardening. He has a beautiful garden with a poly tunnel packed with plants of all varieties, so when he suggested he'd plant me a veggie garden at our house I jumped at the chance.

The garden is still going strong and since Dad has got a little slower on his feet, the garden has become a real family affair to look after. Even if you only have the room for a window box, I'd recommend you grow something for your kitchen. There is a great satisfaction gained from eating something that you have actually grown yourself.

In other news, the blog got a really nice mention in this month's Glenisk Newsletter, as their blog of the month. I was over joyed with Emma's kind words. Clink on the link to have a read.