Stitch and Bear

A long-running Irish blog with reviews of the best restaurants in Dublin and throughout Ireland. Some wine and cocktails thrown in for good measure!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Simplicity 3663

All my dressmaking to date has been from new modern patterns. Although I've bought several vintage patterns from eBay, I've never quite gotten up the courage to make any of them up. I don't want to ruin a pattern or indeed, face the risk of making a haymes of it.

Every so often I go browsing on eBay looking for vintage dress patterns. I love the models portrayed on the envelopes. They strike poses, while looking elegant and chic.

I love this Simplicity 3663 pattern. It's a nice length and the bodice has a flattering neckline. Ijust know that I'd look great in this. It's a pity that this one is for a 34" bust. If only I could find a 38" version. I'd be so there!! However, then I'd be left with the problem of deciding which fabric would suit this best. Do I make it for evening wear or instead something more suited to daytime wear?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Taekwon Do at the Olympics

Taekwon Do is a fractionated world. On one hand, you have the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) and on the other there is the International Taekwondo Federation. Differences in technique and sparring styles distinguish the two, although, to be honest, taekwondo is still taekwondo.

I must admit that I've received weird looks from people when I tell them that I practice taekwondo. There is still this old perception that martial arts are for nutcases and overly-aggressive types. In my experience nothing could be further from the truth. Most TKD organisations are well run, well managed, responsible and actively encourage the participation of children in the sport. Some of the black belts I've met have been the most level-headed, calmest people I've ever met.

The variety of taekwondo featured at the Olympics is of the WTF-kind (Boo to that as I'm an ITF practioner myself). Still though, it's great to know that the sport you're passionate about is part of the of the most fantastic sporting event in the world. While I might not like the type of sparring used in the Olympics, I would be optimistic about the Olympics as a platform to promote the sport and get more people involved.

However, this year's Olympics was marred by several events. First, we had the overturning of a result in the women's +67 kg event between Sarah Stevenson
of Great Britain and China's Chen Zhong. Following an unprecedented use of video footage after the result was declared, the Chinese victory was overturned and the British athlete went through to the next round, which she subsequently lost.

The prize for controversy has to go to Cuban 80+kg fighter Angel Matos, who kicked the referee Chakir Chelbat in the mouth following a decision to award the match to the Kazakhstani opponent, Arman Chilmanov. Matos was deemed to have exceeded the one minute injury time permitted to fighters and the bout was awarded to his oponent. Matos and his coach returned to the ring, protesting the decision, resulting in the awful incident shown in the picture above.

These events clearly go against both the spirit of taekwondo and the Olympics. It is an honour to represent your country at the highest level in your sport. Watching and reading about these events embarasses me, even though I'll never have the chance to compete at this level.

Oh, and by the way, if you're still interested in TKD following all this, check out the Irish National Taekwondo Association based in Exchequer Street, Dublin 2, with many clubs located around the country.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Blind hems - Hong Kong Finish

Hems are the bane of any dressmaking project. It's fun to sew the main panels and components together and see the article take shape, but hemming often seems so painful. However, we all know that a good hem or finish can make or break a garment.

As I have been a hand-sewer for years, I've always turned up hems by hand, but this isn't often the ideal solution being time consuming and hard to do on certain fabrics. Once I got my sewing machine, I spent a while wrestling with the settings perfecting my blind stitch in order to turn up those perfect hems.

I'd like to thank Burda Style for this useful guide on how to turn a blind hem, Hong Kong syle. Their website features many tips and guides, but this is definitely a tip to help you create professional looking garments. You might also like to check out their free downloadable patterns section.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Firmin - Sam Savage

I first took note of Firmin when I saw that a person with a similar library profile on had recently added the book. It caught my interest from the get go, seeing as how it is that interesting thing, a book about books.

Here's a word of warning before you even pick this book up in the shop. It is heartbreakingly sad. Firmin is the runt of his litter, born to a drunken rat mother in the basement of Pembroke Books. Fed on a diet of shredded James Joyce, he develops a taste for literature and dares to dream above his position in life. Firmin becomes human through his fascination with our books, but his attempts to communicate are dashed everytime. Firmin just wants to be loved and even dreams of the "Lovelies" - the beautiful women who star in burlesque shows.

We watch the demolition of a historic part of Boston through the eyes of the rat, and mourn with him as the burlesque shows and shabby businesses are removed in the name of progress. It's amazing how the story of a human rat shows up the lack of humanity in humans.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Terror - Dan Simmons

I picked The Terror up ages ago in Waterstones, but didn't get around to reading it until recently. It was billed as a horror story in the store, which isn't a genre I normally read, but the premise sounded quite interesting and I am a fan of author Dan Simmons' other books including Hyperion.

The Terror is based on the true story of the ill-fasted Franklin expedition to the Arctic in search of the Northwest Passage. Two ships, the Erebus and the Terror, set sail to find the passage and their fates were never known. Graves and artefacts were found by other explorers but the story of the hundred plus men will never be fully known.

Simmons cleverly uses this true story as the base for this fantastically thrilling novel. The dark nature of the human psyche is the true monster in this tale, not the huge beast that is methodically slaughtering crew members. The decline of the human body and the human mind is brilliantly explored and proves to be more chilling than the brutal attacks of the white beast. The story is well researched and it's all too easy to imagine yourself there in the dark and the cold, wrapped in clothes that never fully dry out. The invasion of the white Europeans into the lands of the native Inuit is also introduced in this book through the use of Inuit mythology.

This is a large book and the pace is somewhat glacial, if you'll pardon the pun. However, it's well worth the read. Just wrap up warm as you read.

Mangetu and Carluccio's

There's one good thing about being at home recovering from surgery. I'm getting to eat out a lot. Probably too much in fact, considering my lack of physical activity. So even though I'm feeling guilty about all those calories, I'm also quite enjoying them.

Yesterday, we were driving home in rush hour, when we encountered a busier than usual street. Sod it, we said, and parked the car and went for an early dinner. I'd been watching Mangetu on Haddington Road while it was being fitted out and I was glad of the chance to finally eat there. It's billed as Asian fusion and Thai, and is one of that new breed of restaurant with a fancy cocktail list and smooth surroundings. The interior is beautifully decorated in shades of cream and white and invites you to relax. We chose to go for the Early Bird menu which offers two courses for approx 19 Euro or three courses for 25 Euro.

Our starters of Larb Ped (minced duck salad served on baby gem leaves) and chicken and coconut soup were excellent. The duck was dressed in lime juice but featured too many slices of lemon grass and large chunks of red onion. The soup was creamy and punchy and full of chicken, tomato and mushroom. The mains of red duck curry and chicken with basil and chili came with portions of glutinous rice. The red curry was creamy, spicy and featured pieces of fruit to break up the spiciness. The chicken was a little bland considering it was advertised on the menu as being spicy, but was still a good dish.

Overall I liked Mangetu. I thought that the food was good, and if I hadn't been driving I would definitely have been tempted by the cocktail menu. Service was little slow, with one hostess hanging around and not performing table clearing duties, instead leaving it to the one waitress. Total cost including two large bottles of sparkling water came to 45 Euro. Definitely one to try again.

Today I went to see my surgeon for a check-up following my surgery, so I decided to visit some bookshops and have lunch in town before hand. After visiting Waterstones and Hogges & Figgis, I went to Carluccio's on Dawson Street for a light lunch.

I've been there before and wasn't overly impressed. I did want to return however for their Bicerin, a chocolate coffee drink where you get three small jugs of espresso, cream and thick drinking chocolate, and a cup for you to mix them in. What a delicious idea. As well as this decadent drink, I also had an Insalata di Mozzarella, which the menu claimed to feature oven roasted tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. When it came, it was delicious, but the tomatoes were fresh, not the afore-mentioned oven-roasted. Pity. The mozzarella was fresh, and the whole thing was seasoned and drizzled in olive oil. I liked the salad, but I didn't like the price. 10 Euro for a tomato and lump of mozzarella is a little much to be asking. Total bill was approx 13.50 Euro which is fine, but the bizarre serving staff in Carluccio's still need some work. Despite the plethora of staff, it's hard to get their attention.

Swimming Hamsters

Meet Mojito and Zorro, my pair of Winter White dwarf hamsters. Mojito (male) and Zorro (female) originally came to me as pups and are now about a year old. Mojito was originally blond and Zorro was pitch black, but over the course of last year's winter, their fur gradually changed to white. The funny thing is that their fur did not return to it's normal colour over the course of this summer.

They're a funny pair. Mojito is constantly trying to get his leg over on Zorro, who as a typical female, is having none of him. On the other hand, she has him well henpecked. A microcosm of a marriage. It is a pity that she's not more receptive as I bought this pair with the intention of breeding, but the comedy value I get from watching Mojito try it on with Zorro more than makes up for the lack of offspring.

Yesterday, Mojito, who is normally a lazy sort of dude unless it comes to trying to shag Zorro, spent a solid hour swimming in the sawdust at the bottom of the cage. I spent a while watching him trying to figure out what he was looking for. I though it might be food, but he ignored the food bowl and the hidden caches he found. He would disappear beneath the sawdust for several minutes at a go and resurface, covered in little bits of sawdust. Daft eejit!


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Food on Hanover Quay

I recently had two meals in two new restaurants on Hanover Quay in Dublin 2. Given that there are a large number of businesses in that area, the number, variety and value of restaurants has never really been adequate.

First up was a lunch for two in Riva Restaurant, which I understand bills itself as organic and Mediterranean. I had a duck, plum, hazelnut and bacon salad which was dressed with a tamarind or hoisin type sauce. I like coming across new salad combinations and this was absolutely delicious. Our other dish of seafood risotto was perfectly cooked with nubbly rice and tasted of the sea. It could have benefited from the texture of some vegetables such as peas or asparagus, but it was still better than a lot of other risottos I've tasted. Riva isn't cheap, our lunch including a bottle of sparkling water and two espressos was around 45 euro but the food was good and I'm looking forward to trying it out for dinner some evening as it does seem to offer good evening value. Service was good with one of the most snake-hipped waiters I've ever seen. Well done Riva, it's not often a restaurant surprises me.

The other new kid on the block is Herbstreet, which has a funky concrete interior complete with
orange electrical conduit lighting and comfortable wire mesh chairs. We ordered a hamburger with cheese and saute onions and a hot corned beef sandwich. When the burger came, it was with bacon and onions, but it didn't bother me too much. The bun was an odd kind of yeasty bread which demanded too much chewing. It was clear after a bite or two that the burger was slightly off, as if the meat used to make the burger was slightly old. I left it on the plate. The accompanying shoestring fries were perfect. The hot beef sandwich was stuffed with meat and was very filling and represented good value at 7.50 euro. Two espressos and a diet coke bought the menu to about 25 euro which is good value for a lunch. However, I'll be wary of returning following that burger experience.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larsson

There are some fantastic works of investigative fiction being written in Scandinavian countries these days. Anyone who is a fan of the Kurt Wallander series of books by Henning Mankell will know what I mean. Now we have a new addition to the shelf, courtesy of deceased author, Stieg Larsson.

This is the first volume in the Millenium trilogy and after finishing this first installment, I am very much looking forward to the next two volumes. Larssson, a well respected journalist, died in 2004 soon after delivering the manuscripts for 3 crime novels to his publisher. While we have two more tales to look forward to, it's also a pity to realise that there won't be any more novels coming from the pen of this author.

The tale is split between the shady secrets of a wealthy family and the murky dealings of a famous businessman. Mikael Blomkvist, a recently disgraced journalist, is hired by Henrik Vanger to investigate the disappearance of his niece almost 40 years ago. Vanger promises Blomkvist the means to clear his good name as part of the payment and Blomkvist accepts. We also meet Lisbeth Salander, a disturbed young woman with a troubled past, but a brilliant investigative mind.

This is an excellent taut thriller, and features several climatic events. The author manages to maintain an excellent pace throughout, but still delivers a strong social lesson while providing the thrills. It is an intelligent thriller with a conscience.

The Pirate's Daughter - Margaret Cezair-Thompson

The pirate of the title refers to Errol Flynn, who finds himself washed up on the shores of Jamaica following a storm. He finds calmness and peace on the charming island, and seeks refuge there from the scandal that follows him in Hollywood. Ida, the daughter of a man who befriends Errol, develops a crush on him and their somewhat odd friendship develops over the years. As Errol lurches from relationship to relationship and scandal to scandal, he regularly returns to the island and renews his friendship with Ida.

Ida grows into a beautiful young woman, and one day the inevitable happens. Ida finds she is pregnant with Flynn's child, but raises it herself, isolated and abandoned by the man she loves. Her family falls on hard times, and she is forced to go abroad to seek work in order to support her beloved daughter, Margaret.

This charming tale follows both the lives of the mother and daughter. Ida never stops being in love with Errol, but fights to protect her child and give her every opportunity. Around them, politics and strife rear their ugly heads as Jamaica gains independence from Britain and racial tensions rise to the surface. Their lives are torn apart and changed forever by the events of one fateful night.

This is a forlorn love story brought vividly to life with enchanting descriptions of the island and rich characters. The span of the tale is thoroughly satisfying and the historical setting adds a menacing overtone to the tale. A page-turning, engrossing, intelligent read.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Ireland at the Olympics

We love a good tryer here in Ireland. The bar for Olympic performance isn't the highest here and we have a tendency to consider it a good day if someone doesn't disgrace themselves or fall flat on their faces. Bearing that in mind, the performances so far from the Irish team at the Olympics have been OK. No medals yet, and let's be honest, it might well stay that way. But on the whole, we have had respectable performances.

We did have the embarassing incident where Irish swimmer Melanie Nocher had to stop dead in the water in her 200m freestyle heat in order to adjust her goggles. Later, the incident was blamed on the fact that the swimmer could not wear the hat supplied to her and to had to wear a different cap. The question needs to be asked why she didn't perform some trial runs with her new gear and make sure that all would be OK. It shows a lack of professionalism. Debacle aside, she did actually swim well, so here's hoping that a valuable lesson has been learned.

The finals of the men's K1 kayak have just finished with heart-breaking news for Ireland. Eoin Rheinisch had struggled to qualify for the semi-finals and then the final, but put in a fantastic paddle in the final. He was in gold position for quite a while, falling to silver and then bronze. However, he lost the bronze on the last paddle of the day. Although we may say that a 4th place finish in an Olympic final is undoubtedly a good showing, it's probably going to feel quite bitter to Eoin right now.

Well done Eoin, you did us proud. You held on in there, despite being 15th in the qualifiers and 10th in the semis. You kept your head, displayed your professionalism and came home 4th in the final. Congratulations!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Female Fantasy Literature

I'm a sucker for a good piece of science-fiction or fantasy literature. Such books may be easily dismissed by literati, but there is no doubt that these genres have produced classics over the years, which transcend genre boundaries and represent fine writing. I recently picked up two fantasy novels by female authors, "Magic Bites" by Ilona Andrews orientated around magical creatures such as werecreatures and vampires and "Once Bitten, Twice Shy" by Jennifer Rardin, set firmly in vampire territory.

I'm going to review both books together for several reasons including the fact that I read them in sequence and for the simple fact that both aroused the same emotions in me.

Firstly, both books are formulaic and derivative. Both feature a strong female lead character who holds a dark past. There is the obligatory strong dark male character who holds an irresistible attraction for the heroine. Yawn! The lead character from Magic Bites is unconcerned with her looks, and makes a point of it, yet this is all obviously intended to highlight what a stunner she really is. How very Mills&Boon.

Both books were highly disappointing. Their mere existence proves that there is demand for derivative, trite books to satisfy lonely housewives who dream of manly lustful vampires with mesmorising eyes and alpha-male characteristics.

The question still stands. When will there be a quality piece of science-fiction or fantasy written by a female?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Inconsiderate Idiots

While lying on bed this morning I noticed a silver Kia cark parked outside the driveway to my house. There's an English language school next door and I though that the car might belong to someone dropping off one of the kids. However, after a half hour, the car was still there.

I got really annoyed. It would have been obvious to a blind person that they were parking in someone's driveway. This ignorant person was there for at least several hours. I rang Dublin City Council parking office and reported the car. Unfortunately the owner returned before DCC could take any action.

Do people not think before parking? They had blocked in 4 cars in our driveway, belonging to the different flats. What if there had been an emergency and someone needed their car? This person removed that option for 4 different people in one go.

Shame on you, owner of car registration 06 D 9626 (Silver Kia).

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Country of the Grand - Gerald Donovan

I was pleased to receive another advance reading copy from Early Reviewers Group at LibraryThing and I especially looked forward to this collection of Irish short stories. The blurb described it as a collection of short stories about modern Ireland. As any Irish person will tell you, Ireland has changed beyond recognition in the last 10 years, and I hoped that this collection of stories would attempt to encapsulate what currently is Ireland.

I was a little disillusioned to read that the author lives in New York, and this feeling was compounded as I read the book. These are not a collection of stories of modern Ireland. They could belong to any era in any country. They are a set of stories dealing with loss, betrayal, aging and confusion. I didn't even find them particularly captivating or illuminating. We have a man who overhears his friends discussing his wife's infidelity in a changing room, a solicitor trying to recapture his youth and a widow dealing with her late husband's hidden life.

It appears that the author is drawing on his own experience and feelings, but never finds a way to move from these emotions or indeed deal with them.
It's a pity that these aren't a collection of stories more relevant to modern Ireland, and it's a greater pity that they're not particularly good.
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