Lisa | That British Betty Blog
A Manchester lifestyle blog by Lisa Valentine. Featuring food, travel, vintage fashion and general ramblings.
A Manchester lifestyle blog by Lisa Valentine. Featuring food, travel, vintage fashion and general ramblings.
We attended on Sunday 8 July, with the Manchester sunshine also making an appearance. Adam and I were some of the first people there (eager much?) so had plenty of time to peruse around and familiarise ourselves with the vendors before deciding what to eat for breakfast.
It’s safe to say that this was not my first
rodeo food festival and the sheer amount of choice available far surpassed any previous events I’ve visited. From vintage funfair rides and exotic animals in the kids village to the Processo tent and urban eats area, the layout was easy to navigate and covered every possible cuisine imaginable.
Being responsible adults and that, we spotted The Ice Alchemists and, after being utterly mesmerised by the technique they used to create their delicious, handcrafted wares, we soon gave in to the lure of ‘Manchester Tart’ ice cream rolls. They literally took a slice of Manchester Tart and turned it into delicious ice cream rolls right before our very eyes – I think there may some kind of legitimate magic going on. It’s a cliche but I really have been dreaming about this stuff ever since our impromptu breakfast treat and now stalk The Ice Alchemists on Instagram so I know where I can get my next fix from.
We stopped for a drink – slushies for Adam, coffee for me – and got chatting to a guy from Reds True BBQ who was handing out bottles of sauce. For those of you that don’t know, Reds True BBQ is to thank for me and Adam getting together! We had our first date at the Manchester restaurant, chatted awkwardly for a couple of hours and, when he offered me ‘a bite’ of his food, I accidentally ate most of his nachos. It must have done the job though as we ended up married two years later. Thanks again Reds!
There were free (pre-booked) cookery classes at the festival and I’d reserved us a place on the Vegetarian Society Cookery School one to learn how to make a vegetarian breakfast burrito (let’s gloss over our ice cream escapade for now, shall we?). Skills-wise, the class was fairly straightforward. We fried tofu, mushrooms, peppers, onions and vegetarian sausage with a pre-mixed blend of spices before adding them to a tortilla with fresh salad. The result was pleasant enough, however, Adam and I agreed that we won’t be tofu converts anytime soon.
Trying to resist blowing the budget in the artisan marketplace was difficult. With a mix of local companies and household names, such as Costco and Hotel Chocolat, I couldn’t possibly have justified buying foodie goods from them all, however, it didn’t stop me lingering for a good while. In the end, I purchased a few pots of ready-to-eat cookie dough from The Cookie Dough Co and we headed back to the street food area for lunch.
Reds True BBQ was giving people the chance to win sauces, BBQ rub kits and more by playing some traditional carnival games so we joined the queue and tried our luck on the hoop one (I don’t know the ‘proper’ name but you basically have to throw wooden hoops over pegs on an upright board to win). We got chatting to the person behind us and ended up teaming up to play, resulting in all three of us going home with a huge paper bag filled with merchandise. Happy days indeed!
The smell of pulled pork overcame Adam so we ordered a double Pit Burger (Beef patty, Unholy BBQ sauce, premium Black Angus brisket, pulled pork, smoked bacon, burger cheese, Dirty sauce, tomato, onion, pickles, lettuce) and settled down, ready for the impending meat sweats. It was well worth the £6 or so that we paid as, in the restaurant, these bad boys are almost triple the price!
Not long after that, we decided to head home, full and content. Next year, we’ll certainly be attending both days of the festival and pacing ourselves a bit better so we can enjoy even more foodie options. Thanks for having us Manchester Eats Festival – see you in 2019!
Hi Sophie. Tell me a little bit about yourself and what you do!
Hi Lisa! I’m Sophie and I run a penguin themed online gift store called The Penguin Patrol. I work out of my spare room in Sheffield and I also work full time in Digital, so it’s a bit of a juggle!
I love the idea of a website dedicated to all things penguin-related! How did this come about?
It actually all started from a question from a work colleague actually! I had started an Instagram account for Pici Penguin, a cuddly toy bought for me from The Deep, where I documented his adventures – and after showing a co-worker the account they asked: “are you selling penguins too?” – I wasn’t, but that got me thinking, why wasn’t I?! I started researching into it, and after sourcing some possible products and doing some planning, The Penguin Patrol online store was born!
What kind of suppliers do you feature?
I feature items from all sorts of suppliers, from big brands such as Aurora World, who are US based and Keel Toys, a UK based company to independent makers and illustrators such as Martha & Hepsie (who are from Sheffield) and other small indie creators.
I also stock some cute imported stationery pieces from Japan – so pieces come from everywhere really! I do love stocking independent UK artists though, and I’m always on the lookout for new small creators to stock – as a small independent business myself, I know how important it is to champion others like me!
What does ‘A Day in the Life’ of Penguin Patrol like?
As I work full time, it’s a case of squishing some stuff into the evening or a weekend, but generally I spend time in the evenings printing and packaging any orders, and trying to schedule some social media posts or add any new items on to the store, plus planning future items and looking at products when I’m running low on stock.
I head to the post office during my lunch break if I’ve got an order, then repeat! I wish I could tell you a neat little routine that I do, and tell you how much it has contributed to the growth of my business, but in reality, I’m winging it all the time!
I work very haphazardly, going through super productive periods, where I manage to get lots of products listed, social media posts, Instagram content planned and emails sent out, and other times I just manage to get packages sent out.
I really struggle with being organised, doing planning and working consistently, that kind of thing, which I think people emphasise so much in a business – there is definitely a media narrative that harks the ‘super productive, ultra-planned, work hard and grind, boss business runner’ as the only way to be successful.
Of course, I can totally see how working like that is very helpful, but for me it’s not an innate skill or drive I have – I’ve got to work on it every day, and I often don’t manage to work in this way, but I know that I’m doing my best and that is enough for me. So if you’re like me and think you’re too unorganised for a small business, please don’t let that put you off!
Is there anything you’d have done differently if you knew what you know now?
A tricky one! I don’t think I would change much to be honest – there have been a few times where I’ve overbought on particular products under the impression that my ideas and product ideas will, of course, be a big success, where in reality I’ve struggled to sell them, but I do think that you’ve sometimes got to make those mistakes to learn from them!
I still have the physical stock, so that means I’ll just have to put in more work to promote those items and go get those sales – now I have more skills and knowledge in promotion and I’ve gotten market feedback about my items – all valuable learning points for the future.
Tell us an interesting penguin fact!
Did you know that a group of penguins in the water is called a ‘raft’.
When the girls were younger, jaunts to the park were common but now that they’re older, they’re not quite as interested sadly! We’re fortunate enough to have a small outdoor space, so instead, we find ourselves spending a lot of time in the garden. Given that our dining table lives in the conservatory and, in the heat, the room becomes hotter than the sun, we’ve also taken to eating al fresco pretty much every night!
It’s a great way to wind down after a long day at work and spend some quality time catching up with the family. The added bonus of the kitchen being five meters away is that we also get to use lovely china, cutlery and glassware rather than napkins, plastic cups and disposable paper plates. Eco-friendly points there too!
In my effort to truly emulate some summer vibes, I may have developed a touch of flamingo fever along the way! I told you guys about these plates a little while ago and, despite Adam’s protest of them being ‘ridiculous’, I ordered a set anyway! (#noregrets) He also said that my obsession with all things kitsch and tropical is getting out of hand but, if you can’t embrace it during this heat wave, then when can you, eh?
We ditched the formality, instead using cushions and blankets to create a cosy area. The girls love spending the evening chowing down on fresh fruit and vegetables and I even whipped up a batch of Eton Mess – just call me Nigella. Who needs to be in an exotic country when you can have days like this right here in the UK!
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Knife Set – £7.99
*This post is sponsored by Studio as part of my ambassadorship
I ‘get’ the sentiment; that time flies and childhood is precious but I’m also calling bullshit. Not only is it patronising as hell, it’s absolute nonsense. My eldest girl turned 18 last month. Is that it for us then, no more summers left to spend together? Should I hand back my parenting title and go into mourning? Tell Megan that she can’t come away with us next year as we’ve already used up our summer quota? Get in the bin.
Plus, if we are going down that path, I’d say we get 12 summers, max. I mean, have you ever tried getting your 14-year-old daughter to hang out with you when all she wants to do is see her mates or spend the holidays in her pajamas watching Netflix? It’s exhausting and pretty embarrassing for all involved (‘Stop being a beg Mum’ is the general reaction). By this logic, I only have about three and a half summers left with Lucie. Instead of panicking, using up all of my annual leave to be at home and filling the days with ‘forced fun’, I’d much rather stand back and let her enjoy these lazy summer days in her own way.
18 is not the end – and it’s actually a really long period of time (just call me Sherlock). Granted, Megan is technically an adult now and I’m not denying that things have changed in the past decade or so – of course they have – but in most respects, things are just the same as they always were. We’re still enjoying the simple things when we get the opportunity, such as BBQs, sunbathing on gorgeous beaches and planning summer days out with our extended family. I’m not naive enough to think that Megan’s next holiday won’t be spent necking shots in Ibiza with her friends but I’m also confident that it doesn’t signify the end of our family time together either.
What about the summers that I ‘wasted’ when my girls were younger, when I had to rely on friends and family to look after them when I went out to work five days a week? Or when I was too bogged down with chores and other adult responsibilities to summon up the energy to build more sandcastles? Should I be looking back on those days with regret and sadness? Do I go back in time?? No. It’s a simple part of life and not all of us have the luxury of being able to stay at home soaking up every last precious moment with our kids, whether we like it or not.
Summers these days consist of coming home to find the girls chilling in our garden with friends, a messy kitchen and empty fridge. I still cherish it because this is our reality, our summer, our life together. Just because it doesn’t make for a Insta-worthy picture, it does not make it less valid.
Putting a timeframe on making memories as a family is frankly ridiculous and is only fueling the pressure that many already feel to be a ‘perfect’ parent, especially if they’re not wholly enjoying every single second of it. I’m actually glad that the days I had to deal with a tired, grumpy toddler having a meltdown in the supermarket or throwing up after eating too much ice-cream are over!
I’m fairly sure it’s a given that childhood is important without another condescending, unhelpful post adding more guilt. Stop reminding us that time is slipping away, as if some gloomy, horrific future awaits and instead, let’s celebrate our kids growing up and becoming independent human beings, just like they’re supposed to do. It really isn’t ‘heartbreaking’ (yes, one post I read described their child getting older as ‘heartbreaking’…) or anything to fear.
Heck, I’m 35 and still hang out with my dad, going on trips to the beach and losing hours in the arcades or taking a ride on the steam train. The pictures in our family album didn’t simply stop the moment I became an adult! My girls and I will be making memories together for a long time yet (regardless of the changing seasons). So, whether you’re in the very first summer or the eighteenth, stop worrying about how little time we may or may not have left with our kids, get rid of this fictitious deadline and let’s all just chill out a bit, yeah?
I’m not particularly interested in the ‘beautiful game’ myself – unless England are playing in the World Cup and suddenly, I’m all patriotic, singing songs about ‘it’ coming home and boasting about Kieran Trippier being from my hometown.
But I digress. Like 89%* of my fellow Brits, quality is key for me when it comes to burgers. We’ve all been there, haven’t we? You nip over to a friend’s house for a good old BBQ and a beer, only to be greeted by gritty, flat burgers that you politely attempt to nibble your way through whilst contemplating how you can subtly get rid of them before your host notices.
So, what does the perfect burger look like to us Northerners – more specifically, those in the North-West?
Using the phrase ‘Best Ever’ on any product is always a bold move but these guys really have done their homework. Kirsty Adams, M&S Meat Product Developer and the creator of ‘Our Best Ever Burger’ said:
“We spent a year obsessively developing Our Best Ever Burger, crafted from specially selected cuts of British beef and a hint of bone marrow for that extra special flavour. To create a restaurant-quality burger to be enjoyed at home, we sampled nearly 100 different burgers from restaurants around the UK, but the true inspiration came from New York.
“Being so passionate about burgers, we wanted to find out about the nation’s burger habits and we were surprised to see just how much variation there is across the UK. We found regions differed in their favourite flavours and toppings, as well as when and where they eat them. It’s undeniable that the perfect burger has a personal stamp and Brits can’t get enough of them!”
So, what was our verdict? I’ve always made it clear on here that, regardless of particular items being gifted or sponsored, I would always be a hundred percent honest when writing reviews.
Happily, these burgers lived up to their name – Lucie, Adam and I could not fault them one bit! They stayed perfectly plump after cooking, retaining plenty of juice without any off-putting greasy residue.
They could genuinely rival any gourmet restaurant burger hands down and happen to be gluten-free which is handy when catering for my coeliac friends. Along with M&S brioche buns, dips, tortillas, salads and more, this experience has really upped the game for our future BBQs.
Marks and Spencer’s Best Ever Burgers are available in-store at £3.50 for a pack of two, and online, costing £14 for a pack of 8. Thank you M&S for adding an extra level of luxury to our BBQ!
When I asked Megan what she’d like to do for her birthday, she surprised me a little by asking if the two of us could go away for a weekend to celebrate. We looked at UK mini-breaks but simply couldn’t justify the expense. Megan was keen to visit Amsterdam so, after finding return flights for less than £40 each, I decided to give it another go!
Happily, my second experience in the Netherlands capital was a little more welcoming. I’d booked us a room at the Apple Inn Hotel which is where Adam and I stayed last time and we both loved the quaint garden (ideal for a G&T or five). Our flight took just 50 mins each way, which is less time to than it takes us to drive to Liverpool. How bizarre is that?!
The weather was the same as I remembered – freezing cold with frequent spells of torrential rain – but I was slightly better prepared for it and regardless of the downpours, we managed to do so much in a short space of time, making some brilliant memories together.
Here is a summary of what we got up to:
Stumbled Upon a Yoga Festival
After checking into our hotel, we went on the hunt for some food in the nearby area. We happened to stumbled upon the tail end of a yoga festival so grabbed some sweet potato fries from one of the food vans, sat on the grass and enjoyed the atmosphere.
We then found a supermarket, headed back to the hotel and indulged in a rather eclectic ‘Hotel Picnic’ on the balcony (hello Haribo, cream cakes, fresh pesto, hummus, crackers, smoothies and Pringles!).
Went to an Ice Bar
An ice-bar is not somewhere that would usually be on my agenda as I’m not really one for going ‘Out Out’ anymore, however, Megan insisted and, with her being the birthday girl, I could hardly say no, could I?
While the ‘Pirate’ theme and backstory were a little cheesy, it was actually fun! We were only allowed 20 mins in the ice bar as it was so cold (obviously). We donned a thick coat and gloves before entering and I got carried away with the shots.
If we hadn’t have been so tired from a day of touristy fun, wearing hoodies and carrying shopping bags, I’m convinced that we’ve have ended up in nightclub pretty soon afterward! On that note, is it weird to go clubbing with your own child? Asking for a friend…
Managed to Navigate the Transport System
Geography is not my strong point; neither is public transport. Megan, however, is a natural when it comes to navigating her way around new places so we had no issues. There was a tram stop a few minutes away from our hotel so we both bought a 36 hour pass for just €12 each and off we went!
Went on the Highest Swing in Europe
I first saw the famous A’dam Lookout swing on a Richard Ayoade travel documentary; it was also my idea of utter hell. Of course, Meg couldn’t wait to have a go so I didn’t really get much choice in the matter.
It was still raining and the wind was howling when we got to the top of the tower. I was wearing very impractical shoes too so had to go barefoot! As the swing lifted, I closed my eyes – and kept them closed for most of the entire ride! When I did open them, my stomach sank as it felt much, much higher than it had looked initially. Still, Meg thoroughly enjoyed it!
I’d also booked lunch at the Moon Restaurant as a surprise for Megan. The rotating building made for a unique dining experience and the food was superb. I’d read mixed reviews but we couldn’t fault it. Although it was a set menu, we’d requested no seafood.
Our server then offered us an ‘Oyster Pearl’ to start. We both scrunched our faces until she informed us that it was in fact, a drink (!). As we cautiously obliged, sure enough, a pop of citrus liquid hit my taste buds. It was certainly something different…
Meg had officially turned 18 years old that morning so she took great delight in ordering her first legal alcoholic beverage! We ate mango and papaya gyozas followed by Dorset lamb and got squiffy on wine as we admired the views for a few hours.
Encountered ‘Dutch Directness’
I debated about whether to add this section incase I offended anyone (ironic) but thought it was an interesting thing to note. If you Google ‘Dutch Directness’, you’ll see a common theme. The Dutch are very different to us cliched Brits, who generally hold manners and pleasantries in high regard, especially in the hospitality sectors.
The Dutch, however, see this type of behaviour as being weak and insincere. The first time I visited the Netherlands, I dismissed the locals as being downright rude. Whilst Megan and I encountered this blunt attitude regularly, this time at least we understood why and soon learned not to take it personally.
That said, when our server grunted: “What do you want?” as he threw a menu at us (we made a point of not tipping after that), the lady on the tram humiliated a fellow tourist for trying to use cash (it’s a card-only system) and the cashier in H&M literally eye-rolled when I queried an overcharge, it was difficult not to retaliate!
We also visited lots of museums:
Sex Museum – The Temple of Venus
Amsterdam is renown for its liberal attitude towards sex and drugs and, whilst I made a very deliberate point of dodging the coffee shops, the sex museum is always one for a giggle.
Again, possibly a slightly odd one to visit with your mum/daughter (“Happy 18th Birthday baby girl – here’s an 8ft penis! Welcome to adulthood…”), but nevertheless, we had amusing afternoon laughing at phallic artifacts alongside hundreds of other tourists.
The sex museum costs €5 to get in and is filled with all kinds of weird and wonderful things. Some of the rooms are particularly graphic, featuring depictions of hardcore pornography and specialist fetish images/equipment so it isn’t one for the fainthearted – you have been warned!
Red Light Secrets – Museum of Prostitution
I was surprised to find that this was, in fact, a very humbling place and the atmosphere was the polar opposite to that of the sex museum. The building is a former brothel and featured lots of real-life stories, including the one of Annie; a sex worker who was brutally murdered there in 1957.
The museum humanised the women who stand in the famous windows; the ones we tend to gawp at when wandering through the notorious Red Light District, whether that be out of curiously, desire or disapproval.
Some prostitutes were there out of choice and told tales of empowerment and earning a decent amount of money doing something that they genuinely loved. Others talked of violence, vulnerability, the degrading treatment they’ve endured and human trafficking (a blog for another day).
There is a memorial set up as a tribute to the many women who have lost their lives to punters – this was truly heartbreaking to see. There is also a wall of confessions, some light humour via the audio tour and a faux window to put you in the shoes of the women who work in the Red Light District day in, day out.
The museum is much more than a tourist attraction and has resonated with me ever since.
Despite being British, I’ve never actually seen a ‘Banksy’ in real life before. We’d gone out one evening in search of cocktails (which we never found) and spotted that Moco museum were having a Banksy exhibition.
Meg wasn’t particularly bothered about this one initially, however, I was rather insistent and it was a good place to dodge the rain for an hour or two. Whilst there were a lot of repeat prints throughout, it was worth it and made even more devastated that I missed the chance to visit Dismaland back in 2015.
I’ve been here before and wasn’t overly keen as the exhibits are rather gruesome and explicit to say the least! For those of you that don’t know, Dr. Gunther von Hagens – the guy behind the live autopsy that was aired on TV a few years ago – takes dissected, plasticised human bodies and displays them in various weird and wonderful ways.
Being a student nurse, Megan is made of much stronger stuff than I am and found the whole thing truly fascinating. She took a particular interest in a preserved brain which had been damaged by dementia; something that’s close to home with her work at the hospice.
The theme is all about how our bodies are affected by happiness and, as macabre as it sounds, I have to admit that there is something quite extraordinary about seeing the bodies up close, leaving me with a new-found respect for just how incredible our organs really are – and how much we take our health for granted.
So that’s a little bit about our recent Amsterdam adventures! Until next time…
About four years ago, after a particularly rough few months, it seemed like a fitting time to take the girls to Sorrento so that they could discover this special place for themselves. You see, we don’t really ‘do’ package holidays, opting for a more authentic experience when we travel and I was ridiculously excited to introduce them to the magic of Italy. After landing, I took them on a little tour of the main town and they were instantly captivated by the balmy climate, smells and sounds of Sorrento. This consisted of lemon trees dotted on every street, postcard-perfect views and of course, an obligatory gelato or three!
During our trip, we visited Positano, Ischia, Capri, Naples, Pompeii and took a breathtaking drive through the Almfi Coast. We spent time appreciating the flawless beauty of the villages we passed through, meeting locals and understanding the traditions. Whenever we go abroad, we always try to learn the language beforehand – the basics at least – and this was reciprocated by most of the people we came across as they cheerfully chirped ‘Buongiorno’ back at the girls and I (although Lucie, who was 11 at the time, got confused one lunchtime and began speaking broken French, much to the amusement of our waiter!).
I’m keen to discover more of Italy and Tuscany is high up on my bucket list. We’re ready to make some new memories now that my girls are rapidly getting older.
Here’s a snapshot of how my fantasy trip to Tuscany would go:
We’d pick up our hire car, enjoy a drive through the panoramic Tuscan countryside, head to a local supermercato to stock up on plenty of
goodies essentials such as fresh bread, cheese, meats, sfogliatelle and few bottles of Bolgheri before locating our villa and settling in. This means unpacking and spending the rest of the evening by the pool of course!
We’d wake up bright and early and take a trip to central Siena. This is one of Tuscany’s seven World Heritage sites; I really do have a thing for architecture so this would be where I’d get my fix.
Having stood in awe of sites such as the Colusiem and Sagrada Familia in the past, Siena has an absolute wealth of beautiful buildings just waiting for me to explore! The Siena Cathedral (Duomo di Siena) is a stunning 13th-century gothic church boasting black and white marble stripes, a library of illuminated manuscripts, intricate mosaics and works by Michelangelo.
Each of Siena’s 17 districts has its own symbol, also known as contrades. These range from a she-wolf (lupa) and porcupine (istrice) in the north to a snail (chiocciola) and tortoise (tartuca) in the south so we’d embark on a ‘treasure hunt’ to try and find each of these subtle, historical nods.
Piazza del Campo is regarded as one of Europe’s greatest medieval squares with the opportunity to people watch whilst grabbing a coffee and breathing in the atmosphere. With 400 steps and spectacular views of the countryside, we’d then finish our day off with a climb to the Top of Torre del Mangia.
The spa town of Bagno Vignoni would allow us to take a dip in the various sulphurous thermal baths (just not the one in the central piazza though as it’s forbidden). We spent an entire day doing this in Ischia and it really was one of the highlights of our previous Italian adventure.
We’d then stop by the nearby San Quirico d’Orcia to experience some true Italian cuisine. This would mean taking part in a cooking class and learning how to make gnocchi, pici, ravioli and tagliatelle from scratch, taking home so much more than the usual magnet or trinket for my bookshelf!
I think by this point, the girls would be in need of little down time! We’d spend the day cooking seasonal produce in our villa, putting our new-found skills to good use before indulging in an evening of al fresco dining and admiring the charming landscape of Chianti.
With us all leading busy lives, sometimes an idyllic break is the ultimate tonic for the mind, body and soul. This would give us the precious family time together that I crave so very much and would no doubt involve a competitive board game tournament on the sun terrace!
The food would also be accompanied by a bottle of Chianti or two for the grown-ups; a fitting way to really show some appreciation of this region. When in
I concluded many years ago that Lucie is possibly half-human, half-mermaid. She loves nothing more than being in the water, especially the sea but seldom gets the chance to do so with us living in the UK (Blackpool beach really isn’t a place for swimming).
While Megan and I enjoy the simplicity of sunbathing on the sand, Lu dives right in and can spend hours just splashing around. We’d pack a picnic and head to the coast for the day. Maremma would be a great place for us to breathe in the scent of local pine groves, enjoy some sunshine and unearth even more of the charm that Tuscany has to offer.
No trip to Tuscany would be complete without a jaunt to the capital city of Florence, would it? As previously mentioned, being a family of foodies means that stopping by the San Lorenzo Market (also known as Mercato Centrale) to indulge in even more cheese, meats, bread, Chianti Classico and gelato is a must!
For lunch, we’d have to try the famous delicacy, Panino con Lampredotto. This distinctive street food may not sound like a particularly appetising dish (it contains tripe), however, I’ve been informed that they do taste much better than they look so we’re fully prepared to trust the locals, roll with tradition and give it a go!
Moving off the beaten track a little, we’d then head to the National Museum of Bargello; this is one of the oldest buildings in Florence and home to sculptures by Michelangelo, Donatello and Sansovino. Whilst there are many replicas around Florence, nothing ever beats the original, so we’d be sure to seek out Michelangelo’s iconic statue, David, located in Galleria dell’Accademia.
We’d most likely fly home to Manchester from Galileo Galilei Airport so would use this as an opportunity to finish off our trip in true tourist style and swing by the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I guarantee that we’d spend at least an hour watching the kids trying to take ‘clever’ pictures of them ‘holding the tower up’ to share on Snapchat so that’d be fun.
On a serious note, this tower is recognised by people around the world and is a signature part of Pisa’s landscape so we’d join the crowds and climb the 297 steps of the spiral staircase to the bell chamber (think of the Instagram shots from up there!).
The nearby Camposanto Santo is part of the Piazza dei Miracoli and somewhere that personally, I’m keen to see. Ever since I can remember, I’ve always had a fascination with cemeteries and tombs – yeah, I know. I just find them so beautifully calming and this place is steeped in history. There’s also a local legend that a body can rot in the soil in just 24 hours so I’d best make sure not to hang around there for too long!
What do you guys reckon; sounds good, eh? Anyway, that’s enough of my daydreaming for now. Until then, I’ll be pouring over photographs and memories in my living room with an Aperol spritz or two!
Chicken Breast with Lemon & Thyme
Flat Iron Steak
Pea, Bean & Cucumber Salad
Tomato and Rocket Salad with Chilli and Pine Nuts
For me, BBQ’s generally consist of burnt sausages, warm beers and people getting rowdy by 10pm, which may explain why we don’t bother hosting them very often. In fact, I’ve had a gas BBQ sat in my garden unused for the past six years! After attending a BBQ masterclass with master chef, Richard Holden last week, that is set to change.
I made my first ever trip to Wigan, ready for the class which was held at John Whaite’s Kitchen and it appeared that the weather also got an invite! Along with several other bloggers and journalists, we began the afternoon indoors. Richard introduced himself to the group and talked us through the myths and general hurdles that us Brits often fall foul of when cooking on the BBQ. Chicken was the main concern for most of us, with food poisoning horror stories meaning we either cook it in the trusty oven or avoid it altogether.
Richard says: “As a nation, we still have a lot to learn about what it is to successfully barbecue, and a lot of it comes down to temperature.
“The first piece in the puzzle is to cook at the right temperature – too much heat and your food is cooked on the outside and raw in the middle, not enough heat and your food is cooked through but missing the gorgeous caramelised exterior that excites the eyes and the taste buds!
“The second piece is knowing the correct core temperature of food, so food is both cooked and safe to eat. When I’m teaching my classes, I give my students a simple saying to ensure food safety: 75, stay alive.
“Meats cooked to a core temperature of 75°C will ensure that all harmful bacteria are destroyed. This is critical for high-risk foods such as chicken and minced products like sausages and burgers. I never serve food without quickly checking the core temperature and a Thermapen is the easiest and most reliable way of doing that.
“Food that is cooked properly while retaining its natural flavour and succulence would put British BBQ on the map, and using a thermometer is part of that picture!”
Looks like my technique of ‘cook until it’s black’ is out of the window then! Richard briefly took us all into the garden to show the different ways of using a BBQ, both gas and coal. We were even graced with a cameo from John himself as he took his adorable pup out for a walk and came over to say hello. We then disbanded into small groups, headed back into the kitchen and began to prep various dishes ready to put what we’d learned into practice.
This involved making two salads and marinading different meats: chicken and flat iron steak. If you want to give these a go, I’ve written another blog post here containing all four recipes. These simple ideas use fresh ingredients for maximum flavour and are achievable for even the most novice cook to really take your BBQ menu to the next level.
As mentioned, my usual technique of pretty much hoping for the best is not the right way to go about things. Richard explained that it’s all about temperature, which is where Thermapen comes in. I hear you cry: “But I really don’t need another kitchen gadget that’ll be left in a drawer!” and I beg to differ. You see, I thought the same thing – until I used Thermapen myself.
Random story: baking chocolate cake is my nemesis. Really. It always has been and I could never get it right, much to my frustration. I put this down to partially never quite knowing when it’s cooked thanks to the colour. This time, I used the Themapen and it turned out perfectly after showing a 95 reading. Not just for meat! But I digress…
Richard taught us a little more about cooking outdoors and then, in groups of four, we honed our new-found skills. After checking the temperature of the meats and making sure they hit that elusive number on the Thermapen, this proved to be the key to perfection after all (who knew?). The chicken was still lovely and moist without being raw and the flat iron steak was beautifully cooked on the outside and tender on the inside.
Richard even whipped up an impressive meringue (casually showing off his enviable baking skills right there. Richard, if you’re reading, I need that recipe in my life!) on the BBQ then topped it with berries, pistachio nuts and fresh cream. The whole class then sat together to enjoy a marvellous meal and get to know one another a little better.
Thermapen is also great for making caramel and cooking with sugar so is worth having around. I’ll be creating all kinds of goodies in the kitchen now, knowing that I can’t possibly cock it up too badly if I’m actually measuring the temperature as I go, instead of guessing as previously!
What is your favourite BBQ food?
*I was invited to attend the class FOC, however, all opinions are my own
The last time I got categorically Off My Face drunk was on my hen do in 2016. This resulted in me spending the next morning with my head down the toilet in a posh hotel as my poor sister-in-law witnessed the whole thing. Good times.
As my girls are only just discovering such ‘delights’, I can’t say I envy them. For me, being a teenager was downright traumatic and, in hindsight, my twenties were a rather unpleasant learning curve. I raced through my late teens and jumped feet first into adulthood with no real thought as to where it would lead nor the lasting consequences of the rash decisions I made.
It was in my mid-twenties that I learnt all about humility, accountability, being brave and new beginnings. The juvenile stubbornness began to fade as I took responsibility for my own life and, in turn, became much more cautious about who I chose to let in. Like a newborn giraffe, I stumbled my way through this new chapter and slowly found my voice, along with a surprising level of resilience as I raised my girls and began to take significant steps forward.
My early thirties changed everything. Along with tragedy, this period of my life taught me my most valuable lesson to date; stop putting up with other people’s negativity. I began to challenge narrow-minded views and mercilessly cut off those who were draining me, the kind of people that I no longer had the energy nor inclination to pander to any longer.
For this, I remain unapologetic. Not all us are fortunate enough to make it this far so why on Earth would I want to spend another moment of this precious life around contemptuous beings? Of course, I’m still learning and humble enough to admit when I do get things wrong. It’s just that these days, my priorities are different. My social circle is small yet solid and when it comes to my career, I feel that I’ve finally found my focus.
Sure, the face that once glowed is now growing old and my body is showing the tell-tale signs of wear and tear, with several joints clicking involuntarily as I move and the scars of a turbulent past forever engraved into my skin.
My once-plump lips are getting thinner and the deep frown lines on my brow are evidently here to stay. I won’t lie; I’ve been toying with the idea of Botox and lip fillers recently in a vain effort to preserve my youth for just a little bit longer but I can’t justify the expense nor bother with the upkeep of such commitments.
Instead, I’m learning to be kinder to that girl in the mirror. You see, we’ve been through a lot together and she’s always had my back, keeping me motivated when things seem hopeless and survived some intolerable circumstances. I’m proud of her and looking forward to seeing what the next few years bring.
With Adam as my date, we arrived in the village at around 2pm on a Saturday afternoon and, after circling for while, managed to find a spot to park opposite Brabyns Park in the public car park, just next to The Midland (the pub car park was already full). I was surprised at just how busy Marple Bridge was for such a small place, however, it’s a good indication of its popularity.
Inside The Midland, we waited at the bar for a few moments before being directed up to the dining area (which we failed to spot upon our arrival – I’m not very observant). Adam and I were then shown to our table which was right by the window and overlooking the river. As we sat down, we both commented on how big and comfy the chairs were.
The lunch menu was extensive and each of the dishes had detailed descriptions. During the week, The Midland offers two courses for £12.50 or three for £15.50 from a fixed menu, which is more than reasonable and especially handy if you really don’t feel like cooking by the time Wednesday rolls around.
I’ll share an unpopular opinion with you now: I don’t particularly like ‘pub grub’. While Adam enjoys a good old Sunday roast in the local when he gets chance, I find traditional British pub food incredibly bland and avoid it as much as possible. Maybe I’ve simply had one too many plates of soggy, overcooked veg and dry beef served in generic chain restaurants over the years.
The Midland lunch menu was not what I expected. Featuring dishes such as chargrilled lamb and balsamic koftas with lavash bread, harissa hummus, tzatziki, kale and cauliflower couscous salad with a pineapple, lemongrass and ginger dressing, the options available were far from the usual dreary fayre! They also have a dedicated vegan menu which is a refreshing change for those usually restricted to one or two offerings from the main menu.
The drinks menu was equally as impressive, with a whole two pages of gin to choose from (£7.95 – £8.95 per G&T). The non-alcoholic offerings were also great, with ‘softails’ featuring fruity concoctions and even my personal favourite, Seedlip (£4.95), which is the worlds first distilled non-alcoholic spirit and surprisingly hard to find in many bars.
Being a big fan of seafood means that Adam has tried plenty of squid whilst dining out and rated this one pretty highly. This was seasoned well without too much heat from the Szechan pepper and the aioli was loaded with plenty of garlic.
Soup of the day with artisan rustic bread and butter – £4.95
This was carrot and coriander on our visit. A good sized portion for a starter and was a nice, thick soup with plenty of flavour. My only slight issue was that it was quite heavy on the black pepper so left a real kick/aftertaste. I’m not a big fan of the stuff so ended up leaving it halfway through.
Homemade British beef burger with smoked Irish Cheddar, mustard mayonnaise, relish and fries – £12.50
Adam chose to add chorizo (£1.50), bacon (£1.50) and halloumi (£2.25) to his standard burger. The burger itself was chargrilled and, according to Adam, didn’t taste of ‘cheap meat. The skin-on fries had a crispy outer while staying fluffy inside.
Battered halloumi with twice-cooked chunky chips, minted pea purée and tartare sauce – £11.50
Halloumi is something that I love yet have only ever had it grilled before so this caught my eye. The batter was just right; not too heavy or greasy. The halloumi stayed firm and was mellow. The minted pea puree was such a simple thing yet it worked so well with the chunky chips and gave a touch of freshness and colour to the dish overall.
Baked Sicilian lemon cheesecake with British blackcurrant curd – £6.50
Everything you’ll expect from a good cheesecake; light, creamy and the lemon hit was just enough. The blackcurrant curd was sweet yet sharp, complimenting the citrusy flavour of the cheesecake.
Melting golden chocolate orange bomb with praline ice cream, chocolate popping candy, hot Belgian chocolate sauce – £7.95
Perfect for sharing on Instagram, this interactive dessert was made up of praline ice cream encased in a hollow chocolate sphere and surrounded by popping candy. As you pour on the hot chocolate sauce (which arrived in a separate vessel), the sphere melts and reveals the ice cream. This was great fun! I found it all a little bit rich after a few mouthfuls but it’s a good choice for those with a sweet tooth.
The decor was cosy and modern and the clientele ranged from groups of friends to young families. Adam and I ended up staying at The Midland for well over two hours with absolutely no pressure to hurry, despite it being rather busy. All of the staff we spoke to were attentive and cheerful. A great way to spend a relaxed Saturday afternoon!
Now before I begin, I must state that is not the Disney-esque production that some of you may expect. Instead, what unfolded was a performance filled with mischief, simple yet glamorous costumes and a modern undertone.
Originally written in 1894, Kipling’s beloved tale was firmly brought into the 21st century with a bold cast and a few key messages running throughout. As the story begins, we are introduced to familiar characters and each has a defined personality.
The lead character, Mowgli, was played perfectly by the emotive, strong and talented Kezia Joseph. Bagheera the panther (Deborah Oyelade) was slick and sassy, a true champion of female empowerment and co-guardian of Mowgli. Shere Khan (Lloyd Gorman) was a confident and determined meat eater on a mission, complete with sequins; if you see the show, you’ll know what I mean! Balloo (Dyfrig Morris) is a larger than life, humourous Welsh bear (obvs) with plenty of jokes to keep the kids – and adults – entertained.
Alongside Kaa (Rachel Dawson), Akela (Tripti Tripuraneni) and the wolf pack, the small yet powerful cast of 11 did a sterling job of portraying the ultimate message that we all sleep under the same moon, regardless of race, gender or culture.
The pose of devious ‘Funky Monkeys’ added more humour and roguery to the plot, with toilet humour and slang. Original music was actually a welcome addition and every single cast member carried the tunes with ease – some even played instruments too!
The set was basic yet effective, with the plot unfolding on a rotating apparatus of ladders. The use of clever lighting and the sporadic addition of fire and smoke machines helped to set an understated jungle scene without distracting from the performance.
The Jungle Book is clearly a family show but not exclusively for kids as Adam and I had a marvellous evening watching this uplifting and heartwarming production.
Dates: Wed 2 – Sun 6 May 2018
Tickets: £17.50 – £24.50
*We were invited to The Jungle Book FOC, however, all opinions are my own
I’m not sure when brunches become a thing but I like them; especially when accompanied by a cocktail or two. When I was invited to check out the Kahlua Brunch Club at The Loft in Manchester, I knew that Adam wouldn’t object to spending the morning sampling good food so last Sunday morning, we headed to Quay Street for our 11am sitting.
As first-time visitors to The Loft, we found the modest building by spotting the colourful Kahlua Brunch Club sign on the railings outside. Once upstairs, we were greeted by a team of friendly faces offering us hot drinks. We both opted for a coffee and made our way into the game/lounge area.
The first thing I noticed was the decor. Cactus, coffee beans and bunting in bright Kahlua branded colours made for an Instagram delight. Adam challenged me to a game of table football as our fellow diners relaxed on the various sofas. I’ll skip over this as he managed to win quite spectacularly (18 – 2 in case you were wondering), much the amusement of the staff who began to take an interest in how our game was going!
We were then called over to the dining area, which consisted of several rows of benches and tables before being introduced to a member of the team (remembering names is not my strong point so please forgive me) who talked us through how to make the perfect Espresso Martini. All diners were given pre-measured spirits in the bottom of a cocktail shaker so that we could all have a go at making our own.
Apparently, the key to a perfect Espresso Martini is in the mixing; plenty of ice and give it a really, really good shake! Mine turned out quite well with plenty of froth and tasted even better. I’m looking forward to whipping up my own at home when we’re hosting a party (or you know, just for a Tuesday night treat).
Next up was the food. Before our drinks, we’d been asked if we had any specific dietary requirements to ensure that they could cater for all guests accordingly. A dish of smashed avocado on an English muffin, topped with Kahlua and maple-infused ham and an egg, with a side of hollandaise sauce was served/passed down the tables.
I know that the communal tables won’t be everyone’s idea of fun but we ended up chatting with our neighbours as we ate and liked the casual style of dining. The combination of relatively classic ‘brunch’ ingredients worked well and our empty plates were cleared away swiftly.
Next up was a stack of three coloured pancakes with Kahlua chocolate sauce and two chocolate covered coffee beans. This was in addition to a selection of optional toppings such as fresh fruit, marshmallows and chocolate chips. The pancakes were average but made better by the sauce.
We were also given another cocktail: the ‘Chokahlua Orange’, designed by Chris Bains from Australasia. This was made up of Kahlua, tequila, cacao syrup and fresh orange and had a zesty kick, making it a refreshing end to the sweet course. By 12.30pm, our table was being cleared so I took this as a cue to move back to the lounge area.
I forgot to mention that Adam was driving so I ended up drinking all four cocktails myself! Given that I rarely drink these days, being a little tipsy by 1pm is something that I’m really not accustomed to so that was interesting and on this basis, I declined a game of darts after the meal had finished. (I can see the headline now: ‘Drunk Blogger Injures Several Bystanders With Rouge Dart’.)
The Kahlua Brunch Club is only a pop up so won’t be in Manchester forever (sadly). They are hosting more sessions throughout May, including over the Bank Holiday weekend and you can get your tickets here for £20 per person – if you’re quick, you even can get a discounted ‘Early Bird’ rate of £16.
This is an excellent price given that the cocktails alone are £7 each so you’re only paying a few extra pounds for two courses of food to help soak up the booze. Enjoy!
*We were invited to Kahlua Brunch Club FOC, however, all opinions are my own
Last Saturday, Adam and I waved Lucie off to her granddad’s house for the night (shout out to my dad for being an absolute legend/long-suffering babysitter) and packed the car ready for our road trip. We arrived in the foreign lands of ‘The South’ at around 3pm after a long yet pleasant drive and the obligatory coffee/donut break.
Chicheley Hall is a Grade 1 listed venue that could have come straight out of a romantic novel. It is undeniably stunning and easy to see why it was chosen as the filming location for several classics, including Pride and Prejudice, The Meaning of Life and Black Beauty.
The grand drive up to the hotel set the bar high. The English Baroque style exterior of the mansion made for a gorgeous, dramatic welcome and even the sun decided to make an appearance; a refreshing change from the notoriously grey and rainy Manchester climate that Adam and I have become accustomed to!
The main car park was full, however, the overflow car park is two-minute walk away so we parked up with ease and headed to reception to check in. Here we were greeted by a cheerful lady who gave us directions and the key to our room, along with a bit of Chicheley Hall history.
Not only is the building set in a whopping 80 acres of land – both woodland and landscaped gardens – it also boasts resident peacocks, a quaint library (with several other reading nooks dotted around the hotel) and is home to the oldest scientific academy in existence, The Royal Society. At this point, I contemplated never leaving as my inner nerd/bookworm/nature-lover swooned.
Throughout the duration of our stay, we discovered lots of little touches that give Chicheley Hall even more charm, such as beautiful bird-themed artwork around every corner, luxurious fireplaces, marble pillars, gorgeous windows in a variety of shapes and sizes and of course, the self-supporting solid oak staircase; a bloggers paradise!
Alongside the standard guest rooms, Chicheley Hall also has several superior rooms to choose from. Each of the 48 rooms is named after a distinguished scientist and ours was ‘Born’, after German physicist, Max Born.
Located at the front of the house, our room overlooked the lake and was adorned with antique furniture. The four large bay windows provided an airy ambience and allowed plenty of natural light to spill inside. The walls were painted a pretty pale blue colour with several pictures and mirrors sporadically hung.
The bed was absolutely huge – I’m not exaggerating. I was able to sleep in my prefered ‘starfish’ position and still not encroach on Adam’s sleeping space (I’m a selfish sleeper). There were plenty of plug sockets dotted around and fast, free wi-fi which is pretty essential for us and our various devices. I ventured into the bathroom and discovered that was bigger than our living room at home! There was an entire mirrored wall above the sink and a large bath/shower combo, along with complimentary toiletries.
As I sat at the beautiful writing desk overlooking the window, it was clear that the atmosphere of this place was something that a simple budget hotel could never offer. A large sofa situated at the foot of the bed was the ideal size for two so we snuggled down with a cup of tea and plenty of feather pillows (a decent array of brewing up facilities were also available) to watch TV for an hour as we recouped from the drive.
After a rest, Adam and I then went on to explore the breathtaking grounds of Chicheley Hall before dusk. We strolled through the immaculate gardens and towards the lake and woodlands. As with the interior, there were so many details to take in that I kept stopping to take pictures approximately every 20 seconds (hello Instagram). We stumbled upon hidden doors that reminded me of Edin Blyton books, flowers, sundials, a dovecote, peacocks, a small boat and endless trees during our walk, not to mention the wildlife.
Whilst looping around the lake, we did have a close encounter with a feisty-looking swan but thankfully avoided any confrontation! The air was filled with the sounds of local church bells and birds singing.
We continued to meander through the gardens, breathing in the simplicity of the evening without chores, deadlines and other such responsibilities weighing us down. It really was a rare period of pure escapism and felt like we’d been transported right back to the early days of our relationship.
On the way back from out walk, Adam and I found stacks of beehives and discovered that these provide the local honey sold at the reception of Chicheley Hall. Again, the place is crammed with quirky, unexpected details!
At 7pm, we went to the dining room for our evening meal and took a seat next to the window. The dining room was decorated with dramatic marquetry walls and original oil portraits in ornate gold frames. Even the long silk curtains gave a nod to the scientific roots of Chichelely Hall, commissioned by The Royal Society and featuring a pattern of Hooke’s micrographic flea image.
The menu offered five dishes per section (starter, main and dessert), including vegan options. Adam and I both opted for the tomato and basil soup to start, I chose pea and goat cheese gnocchi with pesto cream sauce as my main and Adam went for the beer-battered haddock fillet with homemade tartar sauce, chunky chips and mushy peas.
Our server, Ieva, was attentive, knowledgeable and talked us through the wine menu before we both decided to stick to soft drinks (no reflection on the wine – we’re not big drinkers!). Our starters arrived promptly; the soup was rich with a sweet basil oil to cut through the sharp, fresh tomatoes and a crusty bread roll with butter on the side.
Our plates were cleared and mains brought to the table shortly afterwards. My gnocchi was laden with the cream sauce and topped with fresh rocket leaves. Adam gave a thumbs up on his battered fish so I’d say the mains were a success!
We were pretty full by this point but still managed to find space for desserts (standard). I ordered a baked chocolate tart and Adam picked the apple tart, both served with vanilla ice cream. We took our time eating these, chatting about how much we loved the decor and made plans for future date nights together.
After our meal, we decided to grab a drink at the bar and I noted the impressive gin selection – hurrah! Now I’m not actually supposed to drink alcohol these days thanks to issues with my stomach lining (delightful, I know) but I was feeling rebellious so ordered a G&T regardless. We then retreated to our lavish room, watched a movie in bed and had the best night’s sleep I’ve had in a long time.
The next morning, Adam and I wandered back to the dining room for the self-serve breakfast. This was made up of cereals, pastries, juices and cooked items with fresh tea or coffee poured at the table. With full bellies, we reluctantly said a silent goodbye to Chicheley Hall and vowed to return again soon.
Being only an hours drive from Oxford, Cambridge, London and Warner Bros. Studio Tour – The Making of Harry Potter, I suspect this will be happening sooner rather than later!
If you decide visit (two of our friends have already booked to stay in June), I’d highly recommend that you opt for the superior rooms. The tariffs are incredibly reasonable (from about £55 per night depending on the date selected) and the ‘upgrade’ is only about £10 more than a standard room. You can find details here.
Have you been to Chicheley Hall before?
*Our accommodation, food and drinks at Chicheley Hall were provided FOC for the purpose of this review, however, all opinions are my own