Free wine anyone? Anyone?

Most of us like a glass of wine or two, whether we know much about it or not. And most of us at least know what kinda wine we generally like, whether that’s an ice-cold glass of Pinot Grigio, a very lightly chilled Pinot Noir or a rib-sticking new world Shiraz – or indeed whatever you’re having yourself. But it’s always fun to get a little bit outside of your comfort zone and try something you mightn’t ordinarily get a chance to try, and maybe learn a little about it while you’re at it. And if you can get to taste a few new wines without having to pay for the pleasure, all the better right? It was one of the lesser-expected, better-loved fringe benefits of a decade and a half of waiting tables from my teen years on – the chance to sip and savour wines that were beyond my normal budget (usually left behind by a table full of wine-soaked barristers at the end of a boozy Friday lunch).

So, today I’m giving you not one but TWO chances to sip and savour wine FOR FREE!

First up, there’s the O’Brien Winemakers Experience taking place in Dublin’s Mansion House tonight and tomorrow (Fri 8th & Sat 9th). More details are to be found in my last post (click here) but if you want to win a pair of tickets, you’ll have to go to my Holy Mackerel facebook page (click here). Then all you have to do is to ‘like’ the page (please and thank you), tell me what your favourite tipple is at this time of year, and make sure you leave your name and some form of contact details, whether that’s your twitter handle, email or whatever. I’ll announce the winner by tea-time and your name will be left on the door with a pair of tickets valid for any one of the three sessions this weekend.

You’re welcome!


But wait! Don’t be running off yet. There’s more opportunities for free wine swilling, I mean tasting.

Besides my weekly wine column in the Irish Mail on Sunday, I look after a monthly wine feature in FOOD&WINE Magazine, called The Guinea Pig tasting. The idea is that as well as the regular round-up of 20 wines every month conducted by wine editor Raymond Blake along with some hand-picked industry experts, the magazine also offers a different bunch of readers a chance to give their take on a half-dozen wines. The wines are chosen by my good self, tasted blind by that month’s Guinea Pigs, and then we write up their comments alongside my own take on the wines.

We’re always looking for volunteers, so if you think you can round up four more thirsty people who you maybe work with, or read books with, or play footie with, or anything that makes you a collective of some sort, then we’d love to hear from you. We’ve had builders and nurses (both maternity and psychiatric) and panto casts and comedians and boutique owners and Electric Picnickers and ICA women and GAA coaches and all sorts of other kinds of walks of life. You don’t need any particular wine knowledge or experience, just to enjoy drinking it and to be prepared to tell us what you think of the wines we taste. If you’re interested, please leave a note on my Facebook page saying so, again with some way to contact you, and I’ll be in touch. (Or you could contact me on carrigy AT if you’re not on Facebook.) I’ve a couple of dates coming up later this month, so would love to have you and your crew along.


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Wine Fairs This Weekend

Don’t you love this time of year?

St Stephen's Green looking pretty

St Stephen’s Green looking pretty

The leaves are finally turning, Halloween has got us back in the party spirit and the December diary is starting to fill up with get-togethers of old pals who don’t see enough of eachother and reunions with loved ones returning to these shores. Any week now and we’ll be saddling up and heading across the festive frontier, so it’s a great time to give some thought to what supplies you might want to bring there with you.

With this in mind, I thought it timely to remind you of two excellent wine fairs happening this weekend, both in aid of great charities (not to mention in aid of the betterment of your festivities).

On Sunday (10th November), one of my favourite Dublin wine-merchants will up sticks from their Clarendon Street base and set up shop around the corner in The Westbury hotel for their annual Corkscrew Winter Wine Fair. Expect to pay €25 on the door, for which you can come and go as you please between 12.30pm–5.30pm and taste “over 100 of the best wines available in Ireland today” (their words, but I would concur – they’ve a really excellent selection of wines, some available exclusively, others from some of Ireland’s top wine importers, some of whom will be there on Sunday). The lovely Corkscrew lads also add: “We advise some restraint, but don’t necessarily expect it – three laps of the room should cover the most of what’s on offer from white, red, sparkling and fortified wines that come from all corners of the earth.” See for more details.

But before that particular extravaganza, O’Brien’s Wines will be hosting their own annual wine fair, the O’Brien’s Winemaker Experience, over two days at Dublin’s Mansion House. Tickets cost €15 each, or €20 for a pair, with all proceeds going to Our Lady’s Hospice & Care Services. You can opt for one of three sessions: Fri 8th 6-9pm, Sat 1-4pm, Sat 5-8pm (…unless you win a pair of tickets that get you into all three sessions, that is: keep an eye out here tomorrow morning for details on how to win). There will be up to 45 wine producers in attendance, showcasing 250 wines. See for more details, including some of the highlighted wineries being represented. I’ll be popping along a little early on Friday for a preview tasting, and will pop up a few recommendations here for you to seek out if you make it along.

So, lots of fine sipping (and maybe just a little spitting) to look forward to. Like I said, I love this time of year, don’t you?


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And we’re back!


We’re back!

It’s been awhile but this afternoon I’m down in Ballymaloe at their inaugural Litfest which is going on until Monday, with loads of amazing international and Irish speakers programmed and a whole bevy of free stuff in the Fringe festival. Including this:



Food Memories:

a taste of personal palate-shaping experiences


When?            Sat 4th & Sun 5th May, 3pm–4pm, with fresh interviews every 20 minutes

Where?           The Big Shed, Ballymaloe Litfest, Ballymaloe House, Shanagarry, Co Cork

What?            Food writer and blogger, Aoife Carrigy of will host a series of short interviews with food writers, bloggers, chef and producers who will remember some of their most treasured palate-shaping experiences, from the recipe or dish tasted that changed their life to the book or conversation that changed their food philosophy.

Who?              Michelle Darmody of Cake Cafe, Denis Cotter of Cafe Paradiso, Fingal Ferguson of Gubbeen Smokehouse, Michael Quinn of Waterford Castle, Paul Flynn of The Tannery and more!

FFS?               For Food’s Sake are a Dublin-based collective of food fans who stage regular food-focussed events including foodie movies and food discussion evenings.

Join in the conversation on Twitter at #foodmemories (and say hi to me at @holymackers!)






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Adios, till Addis (or maybe Istanbul…)

So here’s the thing. I’m on the bus on O’Connell Street. Destination? Addis Ababa. Via Istanbul. Courtesy of Turkish Airlines.

I’m off on what several people have promised me will be the trip of a lifetime, and I’m inclined to agree. Two countries I’ve had an itch to visit for an age, and now I’m getting to scratch those itches.

I’ll be gone for the longest month of the year and back just in time for the shortest one. Although in Ethiopia, where I’ll be for the best part of the month, the longest month of the year is 30 days (of which there are 12) and the shortest is six days (of which there is one). Except on a leap year, when the shortest is five days.

Confused? Try getting your head around a 12 hour day that starts at 6am and finishes at 6pm when the 12 hour night begins. Meaning that if I get up a couple of hours after sunrise in Addis, what would be 8 in the morning Irish time will be just 2 in the morning local time.

But the good news is that I’ll be several years younger for the next month. Ethiopians use the Julien calendar, knocking 5 or 6 years off your age while visiting. Not bad eh?

And here’s the best bit. I get to do Christmas all over again. The day after of our Feast of the Epiphany (or Little Christmas as we Irish like to call it, and the night on which Joyce’s masterpiece The Dead is set) is Christmas Eve in Ethiopia. So just as we’re all winding down at home, they’ll be kicking off festivities over there.

So, all in all, it’s set to be a pretty long month.

I’ll be checking back in here as much as possible. Love if you could join me!

P.S. I can’t access comments here but I can on my Facebook page. Just look for Holy Mackerel.

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Last minute cookbooks

It’s the 11th hour. Almost literally.

If you’re one of those people who’s thinking, I really should get up out of bed and go buy some Christmas presents, well here’s my brief Top Five Cookbooks of 2012 to guide your way through those last minute Christmas shoppers.

1. The Ard Bia Cookbook

…and not just because I co-wrote it with the inimitable Aoibheann MacNamara of Ard Bia in Galway. I genuinely love the restaurant’s imaginative mix of wholesome, Irish and exotic flavours, and the fact that these are doable restaurant dishes. Plus I also love love love Cian McConn’s series of photos of Ard Bia staff and friends which punctuate the book (that tattooed lady on the cover is the lovely Giusy) as well as Eimear McCormack’s beautiful hand-drawn illustrations. But then I would say that.


2. The ICA Cookbook

…and not just because I edited it. (Yes there is a pattern emerging here but I’m about to change theme, don’t worry.) Made up of the beloved, treasured, never-failed-me recipes of over 40 ordinary ICA members, this cookbook is for all of those people who can’t stomach another idealised aspirational lifestyle cookbook making us feel guilty about taking an hour to cook what apparently should only take 30 minutes. These ICA recipes (from the Irish Countrywomen’s Association) are real recipes, from real women, and while making shepherd’s pie with a tin of oxtail soup may not be for everybody there’s enough variety within the book to have something for everyone.

3. The Cake Cafe Bake Book

…and not just because The Cake Cafe is one of my favourite Dublin institutions from one of my favourite Cork women. Teaming up with her good mate & designer extraordinaire Niall Sweeney, Michelle Darmody turned down a publishing deal and decided to go it alone with this gorgeous little collection of some of her favourite baking recipes. The result is totally unique and a whole lot of fun to flick through, let alone bake from. It’s sleek size makes it a perfect stocking filler too.

4. The Saba Cookbook

…and not just because proceeds go to The Bone Marrow Transplant Unit in Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin and to The Thai Red Cross Society. Head chef Taweesak ‘Tao’ Trakoolwattana is a great teacher, as anyone who has been on one of his Thai Cooking Day with Fabulous Food Trails will know. That patience in explaining his native Thai cooking to an Irish audience comes through in this beautifully produced cookbook, as does restaurateur Paul Cadden’s passion for the Thai cuisine that has become so much a part of his life.

5. How to Write About Food

…and not just because it’s written by my one-time  desk buddy, FOOD&WINE Magazine editor Ross Golden-Bannon. Okay it’s not actually a cookbook and you can’t buy it in a bookshop, but RGB’s kindle/ipad-friendly ebook would make a great stocking filler for that food blogger or aspiring food writer in your life (if that’s you, get hinting fast!). Ross has gathered all the things he wished food writers knew, peppered with his trademark humour, and put it all together in this handy little collection of the Top 50 Bloopers to Cross an Editor’s Desk. You can buy it on Amazon here:


So there you have it. There were loads more great books too – Let’s Go Disco, The MacNean Restaurant Cookbook and Catherine Fulvio’s Eat Like an Italian for starters. But it really is the 11th hour, so you’d better get going!

Happy Christmas… and happy cooking!

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The Blind Pig comes of age

Is it too soon to embrace the Christmas spirit? It can be hard to know. But if you’re looking for an excuse to get the season started, The Blind Pig have thought of two. Of a Tuesday! Yes, that’s this Tuesday 4th December. Too soon?

Too soon Tuesday?

The organisers of this sassy Speakeasy night, which is run on random dates in an unannounced Dublin venue, are celebrating two important dates. Once guests penetrate the considerable mystery shrouding the night (email to book; arrive at a designated street corner at a designated hour, call a number, wait for the nod and follow someone down a side alley) they will be greeted with a glass of classic 1920s punch, on the house by way of celebrating The Blind Pig’s first birthday (born 4th December 2011). And anyone who stays until midnight will enjoy a complimentary glass of bubbles to toast the anniversary of Repeal Day, when Prohibition was finally revoked (5th December 1933).

Paul Lambert and cohorts at work (and play)

Be warned though – to last out until midnight you’ll have to abide by the house rules stipulated by mixologist Paul Lambert and the Blind Pig crew. These include restraining from ordering a dirty martini (“we won’t ruin our spirits with salty water”), a Strawberry Daiquiri or Pina Colada (“our response might offend you”) or a Red Bull (“we don’t stock energy drinks!!!!!!!”). They really really mean that last one – but I get the impression they’re pretty serious about all their house rules.

But forget about what they won’t serve you. What they will serve you is far more impressive. Because these guys are also really really serious about their prohibition-era cocktails.

When’s the last time you tasted a New York Sour (featuring Woodford Reserve, lemon juice, sugar syrup, egg white & a splash of red wine)? Or a Ward 8 (Bourbon, orange juice, lemon juice & pomegranate syrup)? Or a MayFlower (Plymouth gin, apricot liqueur, fresh lemon & pressed apple juice)?


So, maybe tonight’s as good a night as any to embrace the seasonal midweek drinking, don the glad rags and down a well-crafted cocktail or four.

But if you really really must insist on holding out a little longer, you’ll be pleased to know that there will be more Blind Pig fun happening in the new year – including plans for regular tutored tastings of some of their featured spirits (including their house gin, Hayman’s, from London’s oldest gin distilling family).

If you wanna know when the next random date is coming up, keep an eye on I certainly will be.


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From spoon to screen: the whys and hows of food blogging

WHAT? I’ll be hosting a discussion tomorrow night in the National Library of Ireland with a panel of some of the top food bloggers in the country. The event is part of the Library’s ongoing ‘Kitchen Archive’ series which has been focussing on how recipes and culinary skills have been communicated through the centuries in Ireland.

WHEN? Tuesday, 20 November at 7.00pm-8.30pm

WHO? Donal Skehan (, Caroline Hennesy ( and Imen McDonnell ( will each bring their own take on the whys and hows of food blogging to what should prove a lively panel discussion.

HOW? Kicking off the evening, blogger-turned-cookbook author Donal Skehan will give the inside track on food photography and styling (Donal has done all the photography for his various cookbooks), while I’ll share some insights on recipe development and editing.

The main panel discussion will examine the recent phenomenal rise in popularity of food blogging. (If you think ‘phenomenal’ is a stretch, check out just how many are listed on the Irish Food Bloggers Association website.) We’ll consider the many rewards (an active food blogging community, the possibility of new career directions, the invites and freebies) and the many challenges, expected and otherwise (self-motivation, technical maintenance and the murky ethics of all those invites and freebies!).

HOW MUCH? Admission is free and there’s no booking required. AND there will be a complimentary cuppa courtesy of the lovely folk at Cafe Joly in the National Library after the event.

Hope to see you there!


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Supper on the Square

If you’re at a loose end on Saturday evening (10th November) you could drop a line (by following this link) to the good folks in Dublin’s Merrion Square and pop your name on the waiting list for their inaugural Merrion Square Supper Club.

The idea is to take a stunning Merrion Square venue such as the “charmingly eccentric” Royal Society of Antiquaries

…add the indubitably eccentric and invariably craic-fuelled Queens of Neon serving up food from the skilled Wildside Catering (think pomegranate, rosemary, roasted game and spiced cranberry)…

…invite the 50 guests to bring their own fine wines to savour with three-course banquet of Georgian-inspired delicacies (served up after a reception of bubbles and canapés), throw in a few unexpected details to spice up the evening…

…and end up with a delicious, unique ‘punk-Georgian’ party to remember. The organisers – who were the team behind the brilliant ‘Clonakilty by Candlelight’ evenings on North Great Georges Street and the Body and Soul ‘Queens go Wildside’ banquet – have suggested we “think teenage tear-away Mozart meets the artful and experimental Kate Bush”.

The event IS sold out presently, but there’s a waiting list facility on that link up top – plus this will hopefully be the first of many such evenings in  Merrion Square.

Should you get one, tickets are are €60 per person and guests are politely advised to dress to impress!

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A Grand Opportunity

Are you an experienced cook who fancies a little part-time sideline in a busy, boozy city-centre space? Does a three-month rent-free trial period leading up to and over the festive period sound like too good an offer not to investigate further?

The Grand Social in Dublin’s Liffey Street are looking for someone to take the reins of their weekend food offering (Thu–Sat nights) in their busy little beer garden. Think bratwurst, pulled pork or falafal – or whatever cheap’n'cheerful soakage you’d like to eat if you were out on the beer and maybe catching a gig later. If you’re not familiar with it, the place was voted IMRO Dublin Live Music Venue of the Year 2011 and hosts some top events, including this sweaty fella from Primal Scream on Arthur’s Day:

They’re open to ideas, but are looking for someone experienced enough to take the opportunity and make a good go of it. If you’re interested in learning more, give Elaine Murphy a shout at The Winding Stair (sister business) on 01 872 7320. And good luck!


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Free lunch from tomorrow’s top chefs, anyone?

Wanna win a sneak-preview taste of Ireland’s future?

Next Tuesday 30th October, five of Ireland’s hottest young chefs will compete in Stage 2 of the annual Euro-toques Young Chef of the Year competition. It’s a big deal for up-and-coming chefs (previous winners include a fellow called Neven Maguire, who you may have heard of since) and a cleverly run competition emphasising all the things core to Euro-toques values: creativity, authenticity, seasonality and a commitment to the celebration of local food producers.

A baby-faced Neven (or babier-faced, to coin a phrase?)

The five finalists will be cooking up a Samhain-themed feast (for those without the cúpla focail, read ‘harvest-themed’) in Cooks Academy on Dublin’s South William Street, and Holy Mackerel has two pairs of tickets to give away to the 1.30pm–3pm slot for anyone who fancies a free, late, fabulous lunch.

Guests can visit each of the finalists at their separate workstations where you can watch them whip up  taster dishes for your delectation, each representing that finalists take on ‘the best of Irish cooking today’. Each dish has been specially created to highlight one hero producer from the finalist’s local area and all the main ingredients have been sourced within a 50 mile radius of where the chefs are based.

Last year's winner, Kamil Dubanik of Knockranny House Hotel

The young chefs come from some of the most prestigious restaurants in the country: Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud (Ciaran Elliott), The Greenhouse (Jack Moriarty), Locks Brasserie (Keelan Higgs), Springfort Hall (Jack O’Keeffe) and The Malton (John O’Connor).

Some of the treats in store include Carlingford oysters with a set leek gelée, potato cream and mignonette sauce; and Jack McCarthy fresh blood black pudding with Ballyhoura apple espuma, Ballyhoura mushroom powder, pickled carrot and Longueville cider jelly.

The legendary Jack McCarthy's legendary black pudding

So, how to win a pair of tickets for this treat of a pop-up feast?

If you’re free to come along next Tuesday at 1.30pm, simply email with the words ‘Euro-toques Samhain Feast’ in the subject bar, tell her you read about it here on Holy Mackerel, and that you’d like to go. First two emails win a pair of tickets each, so what’s keeping you?

Last year's finalists, pans at the ready... Kamil Dubanik, Knockranny House Hotel; David Magaeen, Restaurant Victoria; Kyle Greer, No 27 Talbot Street; Margaret Roche, The Cellar Restaurant; Micheal Harley, Rathmullan House & Aisling Gallagher, Ballynahinch Castle




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