Mum’s Dish 2017

The first anniversary of our mother’s death is coming up at the end of March, and my sisters Maeve and Grace had a brilliant idea on how best to mark her one-year anniversary by doing what Mum loved to do best – feeding friends and neighbours with good, wholesome food.

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At the funeral last year, many of the hundreds of people who attended had fond memories of our mother’s scones, soups, dinners, Victoria sponges, apple tarts … you name it!  Makes sense that all seven of her children love to cook, love to have people over for dinners and are curious about food from the world over.

Four of us even chose careers in Food:  Grace & Mary are trained Chefs, Sinead is a Dietitian and Deirdre co-owned a restaurant for many years.  Our mother’s legacy for sure.

The idea for Mum’s Dish 2017 was born – a fundraiser to benefit Cork Penny Dinners, a charity that has been around since Famine times, serving warm, home-cooked meals to the poor of Cork City.  Unfortunately, the need for warm dinners is greater than ever in 2017 with over 1000 meals served per week as Ireland continues to struggle with it’s economy since the global recession in 2008.

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Cork Penny Dinners was our mother’s favourite charity, a grassroots organization run primarily by volunteers, who try their damnedest to operate with the least amount of expenses as possible.

On Wednesday March 8th 2017, Mum’s Dish will be MC’d by  Irish Food Writer, Joe McNamee  and includes a cooking demonstration by award-winning chef Bryan McCarthy of Greene’s along with a Who’s Who of Cork’s restaurants:  Gautham Iyer of Iyer’s Cafe, Pamela Kelly of Market Lane, Ciaran Scully of Bayview House Hotel, Kate Lawlor of Fenn’s Quay and Ali Honour of Ali’s Kitchen.  Each will prepare their signature dish while the sold-out crowd of 120, sip on wine and savour some nibbles.

In addition to a raffle, each ticketholder will be presented with a copy of Mum’s Dish Recipe Book, a book filled with recipes submitted by some of the top names in Irish Food – recipes that are a reminder of cooking with their own mothers as kids.  A collectible for sure and only available to those lucky enough to attend this now sold-out event.

Many of you reading this are not in Ireland, but if you would like to donate in our mother’s name – Mary Coffey, you can do so here by clicking on Tickets, and entering your donation amount in Euros.  Tax receipts are not available for international donors.

I’m proud as punch of this brilliant fundraiser that my sister Maeve and Grace have created for such a worthy cause – Cork Penny Dinners.  To be able to engage so many Big Foodie Names of Ireland is no mean feat, and to sell out 3 weeks in advance is a measure of the hard work they have put in for a few months now, pulling this fabulous event together. Much love to you both xo xo.

Thanks too to Joe Whelehan for his great logistics, planning and coordination skills that have been an integral part of pulling this event together.

Mum would be very proud of you all.  And delighted to be featured in an article in Cork’s own d’Echo too!  Check it out here.

The way we are living, timorous or bold, will have been our life.
― Seamus Heaney, Great Irish Poet 1939 – 2013

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Brewed in Nepal

It’s hardly surprising that I see eye to eye with Arvind Das Joshi.  A person who sits on the SIRC Board can hardly be a bad person, now can they?

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Arvind joined the SIRC Board about the time I left SIRC after my 5-month stint there in 2014, and I only met him briefly at the ASCoN conference in Kathmandu, December 2015.  That’s not a lot of time to get to know a person.  We share careers in the business world and became facebook friends some time ago, slowly getting to ‘know’ one another (as much as one can) through comments and reactions made on facebook.  So it was with delight (at least on my part) that we managed to arrange to meet in person last Friday.

I have discovered I am a bit of a production process geek as a result of my work here in Sri Lanka with the VEGA/BIZ+ project, working with smallholder / family run businesses that process or make things …. a far cry from the service industry that is my area of expertise in Canada.  An added bonus to meeting Arvind was a tour of Himalayan Brewery, a business he owns and operates with his wife Neeta.

Himalayan Brewery is located in the village of Godavari, some 30 minutes drive from Sanepa in the unspoiled foothills on the edge of Kathmandu Valley.  Godavari is the home to the National Botanical Garden, has some great hiking trails through the uncut forest and a nice picnic area by the river.  The area has got seriously good clean air and a pristine River Godavari, sacred to the Hindus.  It is from this source the brewery gets it’s unspoilt water, and pays the local community for it’s use.  Pure, unsullied, crystal clear water is the secret ingredient to Himalayan Brewery’s really good beer.  Not easy to find in the Kathmandu Valley let me tell you – clear water that is.

Photo credit Nepal Tourism

River Godavari.  Photo credit Adventure Nepal Eco-Treks

Bought some six years ago, Arvind and Neeta have injected energy and professionalism into the 35+ year old brewery, having hired a Master Brewer from Chitwan, Nepali (surely one of the few Nepali Master Brewers??) and modernized much of the aged equipment, allowing production and sales to be increased three-fold over this short period of time.  The brewery produces three types of beer, each with a distinct taste and alcohol percentage to suit its broad range of customers.  My favourite is Iceberg.

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An additional small distillery was set up on the grounds of the brewery site last year and the premium  EXE Vodka is distilled there.

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Future plans are to continue to grow the beer market share by cashing in on the micro-brew craze and produce small-batch craft beers, including wheat beers – the first of it’s kind in Nepal.  Research is also underway as we speak on developing a distinctive whiskey – I have no doubt it will rival many a Scotch and Irish whiskey.

What interested me a tad more than the brewery itself, is the way in which Arvind and Neeta run their business.

Previously, the primary way to make a living in the village of Godavari was to work in the marble open quarry in the nearby hills.  I say hills as this is Nepal and the local hills are 10,000 ft+ in elevation.  They’d be known as mountains elsewhere.

Injuries were rampant and could be fatal, and the impact to the flora and fauna of the local area was significant.  Significant enough for a group of activists in 2001 to petition the Nepali Government to shut down the quarry.  By 2015, Nepal’s Supreme Court ruled in favour of the activists, and the quarry was closed.  Good news for the environmentalists but bad news for the locals whose primary income came from working the quarry.

Segway to the brewery where business had started to grow and production and sales began to rise around the same time.  Himalayan Brewery now hires some 200 local villagers, and they try to hire at least one family member from each household and do not discriminate on gender.  Having both skilled and un-skilled positions, the business commits to growing and upskilling their staff as the business grows.

Arvind tells me he has noticed the village become more prosperous since the brewery started to pick up some speed:  there’s a new barber in town, a tailor, a mobile phone store and a motorcycle repair shop as well as many corner-store-like shops.  I saw healthy well dressed kids in uniforms leave a well-kept school while in the village.  The village itself was clean and litter-free (garbage dumping is a huge problem in Nepal).  So, although Himalayan Brewery is a for-profit entity, it’s got it’s Corporate Social Responsibility down pat.

I know the VEGA/BIZ+ project I am working on here in Sri Lanka, makes these kind of management commitments mandatory for the businesses we partner with.  Both direct impacts (jobs) and indirect impacts (using local suppliers, financially supporting the local economy, improving workplace skills etc), are carefully monitored.  So it was gratifying to see Arvind and his team do this as a matter of course, and not because some higher power demands it.

Kudos to Himalayan Brewery.  All the more reason to drink their beer!!

I really enjoyed my visit to the brewery, and catching up with Arvind, discussing all sorts of topics while stuck in the Friday evening traffic in Kathmandu – the time just flew.  Thanks Arvind.

And now for my fellow production geeks, this slideshow is for you, although my point-and-click camera does not do it justice.

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A joyous occasion, shared by many

Binay and Nikita, on their wedding day. February 14, 2017

Binay and Nikita, on their wedding day. February 14, 2017

With recent posts, you’ll have known I was in Bhaktapur, Nepal last week, attending Nikita and Binay’s wedding.  In the western world, this would have been one event, possibly two events if you count the hen night / stag night.  Not so in Nepal though.  It was a five-event extravaganza ….  but maybe extravaganza is the wrong word??

What it really was, was a celebration of love, family, friends and tradition that happened to be celebrated five times over the course of a week.

It all started 12 years ago when young Nikita and Binay fell in love and knew early on they were going to spend their lives together.  They just had to finish their education and get settled into their careers before getting married.  Fortunately both sets of parents agreed with this plan, arranged marriages are still how it’s done in Nepal, but there are more and more ‘love marriages’ in this newer generation.

I had the good fortune to have both Nikita and Binay, along with their classmate Rozina, as the first (of many) MBA interns who worked at SIRC.  Hiring business interns was a novel concept in 2013/2014 for SIRC, and I think for the MBA program too, where placing interns with small NGOs was not the done thing.  At the time, I bet there was a little disappointment amongst the interns that their 4-month internship was with a small unknown NGO called Spinal Injury Rehabilitation Centre, and not with a large bank or with a multinational such as Coca Cola.

The business interns (l) Nikita (m) Rozina and (r) Binay at SIRC in 2014

The business interns (l) Nikita (m) Rozina and (r) Binay at SIRC in 2014

As it turned out, these three interns got an experience of a lifetime, working on multiple fundraising events targeting the wealthy of Kathmandu, meeting many celebrities and well-known figures of Nepal, exposure to many influential donors and supporters from overseas, as well as coordinating Ram’s Wheelchair Yaatra – likely the first Nepal-wide SCI awareness campaign based on Canadian Rick Hansen’s Man In Motion tour.  It was a whirlwind of activity at the time but through all this hard work, a strong friendship was formed and endures today.

A great shot of Ram with his wife, surrounded by his colleagues from SIRC, at Namo Buddha just before the blessing ceremony

Ram at the Namobuddha Monastery just before he left on his 366km Wheelchair Yaatra from Namobuddha to Lumbini.  An inspiration to us all.  2014

It was about one month into the internship that I discovered Nikita and Binay were dating – so professional they were in the work environment.  I knew they would go far.  And they have.  Their work ethic is second to none, they are very smart young professionals and it is pure joy for me to see them so competent in their work.

Last Summer, I was asked to keep a secret.  Nikita and Binay were to marry in February 2017 and they were only telling us few westerners (and their families of course) so that we could plan to be in Nepal for this exciting celebration.  Dr Katrina and Cathy got their outfits all sorted in July 2016 and I got mine sorted before I left for Sri Lanka on October 1, 2016.  The event dates were set with the help of an astrologist and we all booked flights.  We were coming!

What struck me with this marriage celebration, is that it is a family affair.  Everyone, and I mean everyone stepped up to help out.  Wrapping of items for the puja ceremonies, cooking food for the hordes of visitors coming through the Kayasthas; front door, beauty preparations for the bride, the bridesmaid and the females in the extended family, running errands, looking after kids …. you name it, there was someone there to help out.  Not a complaint in sight, in fact a helping hand was given freely and easily.  I stepped in where I could – I cooked a few times as, let’s just say I am not known for my beauty regime prowess.

Dr Katrina, Cathy and I (the three westerners at the wedding) were embraced wholly by the family and we got to immerse ourselves in this happy time, like as if we were part of the family.

The Irish lassies with Sangeeta. From left Cathy, Dr Katrina, myself and Sangeeta

The matching Irish lassies with Sangeeta. From left Cathy, Dr Katrina, myself and Sangeeta

It was such a privilege to be so warmly enfolded into the family and to witness the importance of tradition in what is becoming a more modern world in Nepal.  It was an unforgettable time really.  A time I will cherish.  Something that will stay in my mind’s eye for a long time.  Subhaay (thank you in Newari).

And now a slideshow of the happy couple, their respective families and friends joining in their commitment to one another for the rest of their lives.

Bride’s Party slideshow

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Wedding Slideshow (I’ll do another post on the actual wedding ceremony – stay tuned)

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Groom’s Party Slideshow.  The bride does not get to see her family for two whole days so the Groom’s Party is a happy occasion for the bride as she reunites with her family, and receives lots of gifts.

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Much love and happiness for a long life together my friends!

Le gra (Gaeilge for With Love).

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Mehndi!

All us ladies are looking even more adorned this morning after a mammoth mehndi session last night.  There were two mehndi artists, one of whom spent four hours on the artwork on the brides hands!  Designs were chosen from an array of photos online and then copied with close scrutiny on the smartphone  Hope you enjoy the photos.

First up is the bride’s pedicure – Newari style.

The end result of Nikita’s special design for her wedding day.  It was worth the long hours, don’t you think?  So intricate.

Aw shucks - the couple's names xx

Aw shucks – the couple’s names xx

Here’s a slideshow of how Nikita’s beautiful designs came to be.

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Designs from others attending the mehndi party.

Doing it for yourself!

Doing it for yourself!  Design being closely followed from her smartphone.

The westerners didn’t do too badly either.  Photo credit Cathy Stevenson.

It’s a cold but sunny morning this morning as we ready ourselves for the bride’s party at 4pm later today.  Lots of visitors already arriving to the Kayastha home.

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Nikita’s Supari

Thursday was the first of FIVE events at my friends wedding in traditional Newar style.  It was a real privilege to be in the house for the hours and hours of preparation, and then attend the actual ceremony,  Supari. If you need reminding of what Supari is, you can remind yourself here.

The day started with a steady stream of relatives arriving to lend a hand.  Sangeeta (mother of the bride) had a serious road accident last November and after numerous surgeries on her knee, is still on crutches but making progress to good health, slowly.  As a result, her sisters-in-law had to step in to prepare food for some 60 guests in the family home – no mean feat!

Sangeeta’s sister, Kessbadan is a beautician by trade, it was her role to not only do the hair and make up of the bride, but also of the bridesmaids and other family members.  As you will see in the whole range of photos, applying make-up and doing the hair for such an important occasion is a long long process.  I grew up with six girls in the house and let me tell you, we never did as much preparation for a wedding, ever!  But here in Nepal it is the norm.

The following are a whole series of photos … the best of some 300 shots I took on my little point and click.

Slideshow of the preparation

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Then the rush of photos with relatives and friends before Binay’s family arrives

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The puja ceremony commences now that Binay’s family have arrived.

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Each family are very happy at the impending wedding.

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Can't be away from social media for too long, not matter what the occasion.

Can’t be away from social media for too long, not matter what the occasion.

Vetting the photos, making sure a good job has been done by her cousin!

Vetting the photos, making sure a good job has been done by her cousin!

Four more events to go.  Next event is tonight, application of mehndi for close friends and family members – can’t wait!

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“Home” again

As we crested the mountains edging the valley before beginning our descent, I was struck by something I had not seen before – twinkling lights from small gatherings of houses that mushroomed into the increasing brightness of the usually shrouded Kathmandu ‘burbs.  My camera could not do it justice.  I bet the pilots breathe a little easier in the cockpit, now having so many visible reference points in the dark to guide them to a safe landing.  Who knew loadshedding really is a thing of the past!

My re-entry to Nepal actually started in Colombo with a gentle ‘Namaste’ from the cabin crew while I was boarding the plane.  Nepalis have a unique way of saying Namaste, it’s the cadence with which they sing it:  Nam-ass-they where the ‘Nam’ is at a low note, the ‘ass’ is at a higher note and the ‘they’ is a note in between and elongated.  You may think I am daft but when I hear it said this way, it just screams of comfort and home.

The crew were the same crew on the inaugural KTM-CMB flight on October 1, 2016 and they actually remembered me, as I did them.  In fact they all feature on the promotional brochure for Himalaya Airlines so it is hard to miss them.  I don’t know of any other airline who uses the real crew in their promotional material.  Oh, I tell a lie.  HeliTours, the folks who fly from the military base in Colombo to the military base in Trincomalee and Jaffna, also use their staff in the promo material.

On arrival to Kathmandu, the Immigration Officer also remembered me from a few months back … it’s the haircut I think.  And I was only one of five non-Nepali on the flight.  I got my tourist visa easily.  My bag came out in a jiffy and I was the second person through customs, getting a pre-paid taxi to Sacred Valley Hotel in Thamel – my second home when I need to overnight in Kathmandu.  Nabin, the owner and whom I have known for years, was waiting at the hotel gate for me, welcoming me with a big smile.

Do you know, it feels really really good to be back in Nepal.

My visit is a short one but it is for a very special reason.  My young friends Nikita and Binay whom I have known for a number of years now are getting married!  So exciting to have been a part of their courtship all those years ago when I first worked at SIRC in 2013 and where both Nikita and Binay (not forgetting Rozina), joined me as SIRC’s first MBA business interns.  I have not once regretted the day they came into my life.

Group selfie of Binay, Nikita and I on a foodie tour of Bhaktapur. Standouts were the king curd and the pani puri close to the library - yum! Photo credit Binay Shrestha.

Group selfie of Binay, Nikita and I on a foodie tour of Bhaktapur. Standouts were the king curd and the pani puri close to the library – yum! Photo credit Binay Shrestha.  April 2014.

Their wedding is a five-event Newar celebration in Bhaktapur so I will have plenty of opportunity to catch up with our mutual friend Anu, Katrina and Cathy who are travelling from Northern Ireland especially for the wedding, as well as many others from SIRC who are also wedding guests.

Tomorrow is the first event – Supari – the formal acceptance of the relationship usually 4 days before the actual wedding day.  On this day, the groom stays behind but his family bring multiple gifts including betel nuts, fruits and jewelry for the bride-to-be.  The Sahit paper is also finalized.  It’s important as it determines the most auspicious date for the wedding, based on the bride & groom’s dates and times of birth.  Once the puja ceremony is complete, the guests are provided with lots and lots of food by the bride’s family and the party begins.  Pity I won’t see Binay tomorrow – the groom is not allowed to attend Supari!

I’ll be hopping the local bus to Bhaktapur early in the morning which should give me enough time to change into whichever outfit Sangeeta thinks I should wear before the 1pm start.  I left three outfits at the Kayastha family home for safekeeping before I left for Sri Lanka last October.  Sangeeta helped me choose them:  an emerald green sari richly beaded in gold, a fuchsia pink sari with understated gold threading and a royal blue umbrella kurta with silver bling-trim.  It will be one of these three outfits I will wear today – being mother of the bride, Sangeeta will make sure I’m dressed correctly for Supari!

From Colombo I brought with me a Sri Lankan silk batik kaftan as well as a beautiful maroon bead-encrusted sari on loan from my work friend Firasa.  It’s stunning.

Yes, you read right.  I am embracing all things bling for once in my life!  Can’t wait.  With the style at this wedding, I had to step up my game.

In between all of these wedding events over the next 10 days, I’ll pop out to SIRC to visit everyone at Spinal Centre and will also travel to Banepa to say hi to Lok, Krishna Maya and Rina.  I’ll be spending the day with Mingmar Sherpa and family in Kapan.  Momos with Nicol is also on the list, and Momos and Beers in Boudha with Amira who has returned from the Middle East to Nepal to take part in a week-long Free Wheelchair Distribution & Clinic at SIRC with Walkabout Foundation.  A full social calendar to be sure.  I hope to have dinner with Esha one night if her calendar frees up a little.

A busy time ahead, it will be full of fun and laughter I have no doubt.  And sure, I can always catch up on sleep when I get back to Colombo.

Did I not tell you already?  It’s good to be back in Nepal!

Namaste.

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The countdown begins

Canada celebrates it’s 150th anniversary of Confederation in July, there are a ton of events planned to mark the celebration.

canada-150The Vancouver Courier put a callout asking it’s readers to share our favourite memory of Canada.  Mine made it to print, more because the Editor is a friend!  Check it out  Canada Day Countdown: 146

It’s not surprising my memory involves reading, I can’t remember all the books I read on that train journey but these were the ones that stood out for me.

As I shunted across Canada by train, observing the dramatic changes to the landscapes outside my window, I was drawn to books that showed me the land through the eyes of another, and I remember being particularly in awe of the work of Roy Henry Vickers.  I later attended a storytelling session of his at a long hall in Tofino and was mesmerized by the pictures he could conjure up in my head, but also the similarities to Irish folklore.

On this same train journey, I witnessed my first ever whistle stop.  Granny was visiting her family somewhere on the Prairies – a vastness so flat, you could see the truck leaving it’s trail of dust for miles and miles.  The train ground to a halt at the one spot where the road met the train tracks and soon the truck arrived with banners and balloons and two very excited kids to welcome their Granny.  With the 6-foot jump between the train and the ground, the Conductor had to help her down to terra firma.  As soon as she was safely deposited with her family, the train chugged off into the flatness.  I remember watching the spitting dust of the truck for ages afterwards.

What’s your memory of Canada?

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