On your marks, get set …

Hmmmmm. Okidoki. Let’s give this blogging malarky a go, shall we?

C’est moi!

I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that if you’re here reading this blog then we’re already good pals and I’ve probably spent the better part of a year boring you to tears with all of my plans and hopes and dreams for this wee adventure of mine. But on the off-chance that you’ve just stumbled across the blog whilst actually searching for a blog about forks, or one about roads for that matter, here’s a wee bit of context: I’m Nikki, I’m 33 and, having felt myself slipping precariously close towards the precipice of a work-related burnout, I’ve decided to treat myself to a wee sabbatical to pursue the things I love and am passionate about, and which make me happy. Top of the list being food and travel.

And, well, now it’s actually here, and it’s no longer just a plan or a hope or a dream. I’ve bid my job and colleagues and interns farewell, drunkenly embraced my good friends and told them how much I’d miss them, packed a load of knickers and probably too many pairs of shoes, and embarked on 6 months of me-time.

First port of call for this intrepid traveller? Home to Lisburn and to mummy and daddy Martin. God only knows what they actually think of me leaving a stable nine-to-five and spending half my savings to fanny about making cakes and taking selfies in front of buddha statues for half a year, but if they’ve any qualms they’ve certainly not shared them with me. Mum spent much of my week at home tickled pink at the fact that she was finally able to make use of some nametags she’d been hoarding since I was four, and dad’s been working his arse off to make sure my brand-new-for-me-but-actually-13-years-old Peugeot passed its MOT. Absolute bloody diamonds, those two.

Sometimes, it pays to be a hoarder!
Nicola Martin: Bon Chef.

As always, we managed to squeeze in a few family days out around NI and, again as always, I was reminded how utterly gorgeous and relatively unspoiled our wee corner of the world is, and how lucky we are to have such breathtaking landscapes, coastlines, and produce. I know I’m bound to see and taste and experience things in the coming months that leave me awed and inspired, but do often find myself wondering if anything will ever live up to the beauty of Northern Ireland (she says, completely unbiased).

Anywho, affairs at home in order, chef’s togs labelled, knives engraved, and equipped with a pair of the ugliest clogs known to man, I was ready to set off on the first and arguably most exciting leg of my adventure: a 12-week cookery course at Ballymaloe Cookery School, in the teeny tiny Irish village of Shanagarry.

Begs, and begs, and more begs!
Handy excuse for ignoring hitchhikers!

Saturday morning saw dad and myself squooshing all of my worldly possessions (slight exaggeration) into the car whilst being hammered by an almost biblical downpour (no exaggeration), before I trundled off, soggy but excited, on the 6-hour drive from Lisburn to Cork. 250-miles and a crazy amount of radio static later and I had arrived!

Ballymaloe Cookery School

Friends, I’m not gonna lie! I am BEYOND excited to be here and take part in this course. The Cookery School is located on its own 100-acre organic farm, with its own vegetable and herb gardens, dairy cattle, and bread and fermentation sheds. School runs from 7.30am (some mornings) to 5.30pm every weekday, and includes both theory and practice modules. We’ll also be able to volunteer for jobs such as running a pop-up restaurant event, helping out on a market stall, and working a shift in the kitchen of the famed Ballymaloe House hotel. Plus, (clincher), Wednesday’s are wine days, when we’ll be taught about wines and wine pairing by some of Ireland’s best sommeliers. I imagine early starts on Thursdays are gonna be FUN!

Kick-off isn’t until Monday, so I’ve spent the weekend unpacking and settling into my cottage and room. I’m in the delightfully named “Play Room” cottage (someone’s obviously tipped them off that I’m just a big kid), and my room is called The Loganberry Room (a loganberry is just like a raspberry, only longer. Helpful mnemonic: LOganberry = LOng, Raspberry = Round). It all feels very cosy and pastoral, and I already feel right at home.

The Play Room
The Loganberry Room
Pretty in pink

I’ve also been getting to know my new housemates and the course participants living in the surrounding cottages. We all attended a communal dinner at the school this evening (absolutely effing epic wood-fired pizzas, in case you’re interested), and then rounded the night off with a quick round of introductions. There’s an astonishing 14 different nationalities taking part in the course, with students ranging in age from 18 to late-60s, and in ability/experience from complete novices to head chefs. Students are paired up with a different participant every week of the course, so I’ll definitely get to know a few new faces that way. Plus, if last night’s wine consumption is anything to go by, there’s no lack of social lubricant to help us all relax and get to know each other.

So, ja, that should give yous some idea of what I’m up to for the next wee while. I don’t imagine I’ll have the stamina to post a blog every day, but then I also don’t imagine yous have either the stamina or the stomach to read my ramblings on a daily basis so I won’t inflict that on yous. Maybe just check in from time to time? (I’m sure there’s a much savvier way for me to let yous know I’ve written something new? Facebook, perhaps?). I’ll try my best to at least post a picture or two a day over on Insta at “another_fork_in_the_road”, which I’ll also link to this blog just as soon as I figure out how to.

Please keep your fingers crossed that I don’t manage to stab myself with a sharp knife on day one, and thanks for reading. Mwah! xx

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