my love for smithfield: cibo creative kitchen

IMG_5536Dreaming of days where you can just tuck yourself into your favourite corner? That place where the world disappears as you meet with friends, or where you don’t feel like anyone is watching you spending quality time with story-lines coming alive off a page? That corner where you can hold onto your cup of coffee or tea and have someone bring you something fresh from the oven? Take a walk to the north end of Smithfield, to the corner between Brunswick Street and Grangegorman. A two story, old brick building stands there with its dimmed old florescent light sign “Italian Restaurant” is scrawled across the top and weather beaten menu hangs beside the window. Cibo Creative Kitchen has found its home here for just less than a year now, thanks to a couple of warm-hearted Italians who have made this city theirs.

IMG_5533Soft twinkly lights shine their welcome from inside. Step into the entrance and open the door to your left. Warmth encloses you in a coming home sort of feeling. The music and cosy feel lend to sharing a smile or few words with strangers and unknown neighbours. Behind the tall, beautiful, carved and polished counter Rocco or Stella wave their hello. Small eclectic tables are covered in colourful oilcloth. Lights are covered with old soup cans. There is a corner nook with a round coffee table made of an old bicycle tire. Two small couches are pushed against a bookcase full of inviting and inspiring shared reads. This is that place of comfort – that corner of this house of Dublin that just feels right. From the kitchen come seasonal pastries, soups and sandwiches. Stella shares her creativity with something new every week, an invention of inspiration. If looking to have something warmer, you might just find she has made her grandmother’s lasagna that day.

On Wednesday afternoons if you arrive around 2:00 you will find Rocco helping us move two tables together so we can set up colouring books for the community. Colouring books for children, colouring books for adults, dot-to-dot and blank pages sit on the corner ready to be used by anyone needing a moment of downtime. Chairs surround the tables with jackets hanging off the backs of them. Young, old, rich, poor, local, international – the space is filled by anyone who adventures into the comfort of this hideaway. Conversation flows. They have given us a generous welcome into the treasure they have created for the community. They have become friends.

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Since writing this post, Stella and Rocco have both moved into other endeavours in the city. We were so thankful for them and look forward to hearing about what they are up to next!

my love for smithfield: sparks bistro

2015-08-12 16.34.56-1“Good morning! How are you?”

Eyes shine behind a genuine welcome at Sparks Bistro whether it is a busy day or a quiet day. “It is good to see you. What can I get for you today?”

Service is laced with the joie de vivre of staff who love their place of work as much as the regulars do. It is a beautiful little gem in Smithfield where elegance is understated in the simplicity of the open plan cafe. Decadent sauces sizzle from the kitchen on the other side of the counter while the lunchtime crowd fills every inch of floor space. Chef, Guiseppe Cipolla, creates daily specials that intertwine an Irish style with exotic influence: sea bass, Wicklow lamb, steak, chicken, salmon, cod … all paired with veg and sauce that melt in the mouth. With good food in front of you and lively conversations you could forget the world for an hour.

2015-08-12 16.33.18-1In the morning, afternoon or evening you might just find a quieter table to have a more intimate conversation or get some work done. That is how I ended up in Sparks for the first time. Laura and I met at the table beside the window shortly after Sparks fully opened in January of this year.  Comfortably situated, we began putting together plans for C Squared – the community creative project we are working on. It didn’t take long before I began to bring everyone who came to visit or suggest to friends that we meet for coffee, lunch or dinner either in the main room of the bistro or, on a special occasion, in the beautiful tea room in the back.

2015-08-14 12.50.13-1On a long summer evening, Sparks takes on the feel of a classic European local in the making, situated in its perfect corner of the world. Confident in good food, good wine, good service and good friends – what more do you need unless you are searching for the chaos of hurried crowds searching for a night out. And in this city, Sparks is affordable with a two course dinner menu for under €17. You’d be hard pressed to find something equal in quality of flavour or service off Grafton Street for twice the price.

Perhaps Sparks is a small influence on the city that Dublin will become. With rich hospitality and excellence in the smallest things, Hassan Higazy and his staff take the finest things of local community living and create something extraordinary.

castor’s cupcakes and coffee


The last thing I was expecting to find in the tiny town of Castor was a cafe as beautiful as any I have been in. Locals, Cory and Eva, sell their home recipe cupcakes and high end coffee in their store front on main street. This is in addition to supplying multiple shops in Alberta with their cupcakes. With warmth they contribute to the culture of this friendly small town atmosphere, maintaining a flexible ethos that matches the people. I was barely into town when people I knew began to ask me if I had been to Today’s Sweet already. There is a lot of pride in this entrepreneurial couple and company. The pride is well founded! I’m a bit mad about lemon anything and the Lemon Cheesecake Cupcake I enjoyed  was melt in the mouth, absolutely gorgeous. This afternoon the cafe was full of people coming in and out for their daily fix of coffee and cake. Definitely worth the visit!

01d3dc268efaf3a570eb91079c5895f18723b6e7a4Cupcakes aren’t all they do! Check out Today’s Sweet Cakery on Facebook!

cafes and christians down galway streets

“How are ya, darlin?” I was greeted by a local when I entered cafe #1 on my Galway visit: Ard Bia near the Spanish Arch (the actual Spanish Arch). The dark stone building built onto the quay was made bright inside from the rays of sun streaming through the windows. I ordered my pot of tea and a cake before pulling out my laptop to fire off some emails. There were unhurried locals enjoying a chat, a book and something from the kitchen. I followed their lead … and was called “darlin” a lot!

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Clouds painted the early afternoon sky as I drove just out of town for cafe visit #2 in Arabica Coffee House in the national aquarium where I met with a local missionary couple. For over three years Tim and Kristina have been keeping their ear to the ground, interpreting culture and doing what they can to serve the people, the church and the city. They had quickly learnt that the last thing Galway needed was another American missionary church plant. Instead, they invite people to share their table.

The following morning I was greeted by an incredibly welcoming international mix of young people in An Tobar Nua, cafe #3. Covering their walls were resources for young people to find life in their Christian heritage, life and spirituality. “Spirituality without the morality” is how Mike, the team leader at the cafe, aptly described the young people of the city to me. He urges and challenges them to return to the church of their childhood, that place that already looks like home, where they will find God and mature in their faith.

Susan and I just dodged the patches of rain as we entered The Gourmet Tart Company in Salthill, cafe #4, for the most mouth watering croissants. She had come up from Lahinch to join me for a bit of craic in the city. Although the food was excellent it wasn’t the most warm and relaxing place to have a leisurely lunch.

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Helen, originally from Dublin, met me near St. Nicholas Church before taking me to a beautiful and friendly French cafe, Javas, cafe #5. Tucked away upstairs she shared her pastoral heart for her recently acquired congregation in the heart of the city. Asylum seekers and internationals are the recipients of her teaching, leading, and care. She, too, is finding her way in the city and longing to see the truth of Jesus reclaimed from the places it has been stolen from.

The rain threatened a brief downpour and I had 20 min. so ducked into the frilly Cupan Tae, cafe #6, on the corner. I text Susan to let her know where I was and laughed when my immediate thought to share was that I was probably the only Irish person in there (good thing for citizenship!). It would  definitely appeal to most people visiting Ireland and hoping for a”traditional experience.” Unfortunately, it was the most tacky of all the cafes.

We left the city just over 24 hours after arriving. It was the longest amount of time I have ever spent in Galway. In the cafes I found that the Spirit of God is moving through the graffiti-ed streets of the city. He is calling out Christians of all traditions to seek him, find him, and hide in him. He is placing in places of influence people who are not denomination-centric. Like the cafes, there are incredible followers of Christ making a powerful difference down the side streets, to the people who need to walk through their doors – they are genuine, welcoming, and look nothing like what you might want to find if you’re hoping for a stereotype.

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*All photos were taken at Ard Bia.

soul food and snowdrops

There are some places I visit that seem to have vials of intoxicating contentment dripping everywhere.


Saturday was my fourth visit to Burtown House since I first stumbled across it last June. Last September they let us know that they would be open for two weeks in February to show off the first flowers of the year. Needing a planned day away from the city, I rang a couple of friends and invited them to join me. We made it the final open day of this short season.

The lawn of grass and snowdrops softly circled the large old trees as we walked up the drive.  Suddenly there was realisation that spring is on its way.

Last year the worst of the winter was the cold. This year it has been the storms as wind and rain whipped devastation around the country. They rattled and drummed against the windows and howled in protest at refused entry. One morning last week I opened the curtains of my apartment to see blue sky looking back at me and calm … the sound of calm. It was the snowdrops though, that whispered happy “welcome to spring” to me.

As with every time previous, we were warmly welcomed into the Gallery Cafe by friends and family of the house. We sat by the warming fire enjoying our coffee before wrapping up and joining the gathering small crowd for a tour of the garden. With a clear love of the garden, Lesley introduced us to the varieties of snowdrops, hellebores, and other flowers that I can’t remember the names of. One of the women with us kindly commented, “You don’t need to know the names of flowers to enjoy them.” What were once just snowdrops to me became a family of flowers with distinct differences to be noticed from their leaves to their petals.


Between all of us, we completely filled the small cafe for the most delicious lunch. The three of us choose the mushroom, chicken and leek pie for lunch, followed by a warming pot of tea. Several hours after arriving, it felt like my soul was completely sated. The art, the gardens, the sounds of Ludivico Enaudi, the food, and the decor mixed in a perfect soul soothing harmony. If that was all, Burtown House would be a beautiful place to visit. What really made the difference though was the atmosphere – a family of artists loving what they do and welcoming us wholeheartedly to join them.

I left feeling blissfully content and ready for the week ahead.

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snowdrops and hellebores