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Saturday, 25 July 2015

A day of meat and more meat....

I don't eat meat every day. Not even every other day, and I've never bought a beef burger. A veggie burger yes, but a beef burger. Nope. It's not just the beef bit of a burger I dislike, I can't stand the bun either. It's usually what I call a plastic bit of bread. Yuck!

So, what a revelation it was  on Wednesday night, to be not only eating a beef burger, and the bun, to be actually enjoying it. I ate ribs too...chunky, moist ribs with a smoky flavour, and finished off with with a veggie burger which turned out to be my favourite.

I was at Meatcure , a new joint in town..on Highcross Street in Leicester. It was their launch, the second restaurant belonging to owner Rob Martyniak and partners and a stable mate to their Market Harborough.

Launches of new events or products can be interesting....sometimes in a car crash kind of way, where no one turns up. The executives/owners are sweating with nervousness, the PR dollies are over you like a rash and  yet they're rationing out the warm glasses of fizz in case hundreds suddenly turn up.

That wasn't the case on Wednesday night, the place was heaving at just ten minutes after the specified opening time. Glasses of ice cold Prosecco were being thrust into everyone's hands or beer for the boys. Within a moment, the first of the tasting trays were being carried through the throng.

I sat down at a table to check out the first offering...a big, fat juicy burger.

Suddenly, the light was stolen, I could hardly see, the sunlight streaming through the windows disappeared. I turned to my left, and realised that half the Leicester Tigers rugby  team had turned up. With shoulders the width of buses, and nearly as tall, it was they who were blocking my light. They pounced on the beer and everything else offered with gusto.

So did everyone else, there were quite a few familiar faces there from work, from lots of chats, more fizz and more food. It all just kept coming, including the ribs

The kitchen staff were busy as was owner Rob Martyniak.

I managed to have a quick chat...where the hell did you get these brioche buns for the burgers I asked. He smiled..."from an independent bakery in Market Harborough. It took four and a half months to perfect the recipe." That's what I call dedication, and the meat is from the butcher I always go to in the village of South Kilworth.

Rob and his team also do street and festival food, that's how they started.So, they obviously are experienced in delivering food that people want, but Leicester seems to be a magnet at the moment for other burger restaurants, an indie or two as well as the big boys, the big names.

So why here? Just around the corner from the huge Highcross Centre ? Surely there's a lot of competition? Rob smiled again..."I reckon we're different enough to attract others. We're not a big, impersonal place , and we're friendly."But he also adds that although everything has to pay it's way, for him, for him, opening a restaurant, serving food is all about the adventure, and the people you meet along the way.

By now, I had to go, just another glass of prosecco , time to say goodbye, and inch my way out of the crowded Meatcure. In a couple of hours I had just eaten more meat than I usually do in a fortnight.
Oh, and I'd also had the best and biggest onion ring I've ever eaten.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Days of loving my cookery books.

Erm...there's 90 of them. Yes, I have 90 recipe books and books about food.

I didn't realise I had so many a guess last year I thought there may be 60. Oops...
Some of them are on the bookshelves in the kitchen

Others can be found on the dining table,

by my bed, on the coffee table...wherever I sit and read, there's bound to be a book about food close by.

My collection of books holds the usual suspects that can be found on many shelves....offerings from Nigel, Nigella and Jamie. There's two from Otam Ottalenghi, a couple from Skye Gingell, a tattered , original old copy of Elizabeth David's French Food as well as several paperback copies of her others, there's quite a few books on Italian cookery, Australian fusion food, thai food, books on fruit,and mother and daughter Jane and Sophie Grigson put in a couple of appearances. And if you want to read a book about cowboy food, well I have one right here.

There's even one that I helped to produce with Kim Hall....a book compiled of 25 years of recipes from Miranda Hall which was published by the British Red Cross to raise funds.

Reading a cookery book isn't just about the recipes, the best , for me, give  an insight into the culture of the country where they came from, and I'm a sucker for personal stories which accompany the recipes themselves.

There's something so comforting about being able to nestle down and read about food. There's something exciting about planning a different meal, to search for inspiration. Plus, there's something so satisfying about looking for a recipe to make  something delicious from fruit and vegetables I've grown myself.

The thing is, I do have my favourite books and my go to recipes of dishes I know and love. Especially if friends are coming around. Better be safe than sorry is my motto.

I also tend to use what I've got...sometimes I'm not organised to select a recipe and make sure I've got all the ingredients in advance!

However, in the spirit of being more organised, and trying out some different recipes , I've decided that each Friday I'm going to be taking two of my favourite or two completely new recipes from a different book in my collection and making them. I'll share them with you.....and let's see where it takes us. Here on this blog, Friday will be Foodie Friday!

In the meantime, why not listen to this?

It's a broadcast from a couple of Fridays ago on BBC Leicester. My friend at work Ed Stagg invited himself around for a late lunch...he wanted to record me making an easy peasy recipe.

So here is what I made....and this is what it sounded like! Go on, you know you want to listen....and the recipe is there too.

Friday, 3 July 2015

The day of the barn dance

If it's the last Saturday in June, it can only mean one's the annual barn dance in our village.
Yee haw!

It's a tradition which has been going for a long time and which is looked forward to every year.
My gang of children began going when they were knee high to grasshoppers, and as they became teenagers, their friends would come too. As they became older teenagers, all their friends would camp overnight...and the garden began to look like a mini festival, with at least ten tents pitched on the lawn....
By the time the gang had reached their twenties, there was up to forty staying overnight...which was all very well, but they wouldn't go to sleep. Or go home the following day.......the kitchen would be full of people with hangovers, queues for the loos and they'd all want toast and coffee.

And lunch....that's when I would get the bell out. It's an old school bell with a satisfyingly loud clang, which I started ringing at 11.30 am or 12noon...and they all knew they had to to skidaddle very shortly afterwards.

  This year was surprisingly usual the gang began to gather about 4.30pm for drinks in the garden.....                                                                                                         

And one person we were all pleased to see was Sam Beckett, pictured on the right, he's the one who was missing in Nepal after the earthquake....and experienced some very frightening times.

 Of course the dogs are in the tick of it having lots of attention too....

And the girls were enjoying the Pimms which Elly made...

And then it was time to head off the other end of the village, to the barn dance itself....for old friends to meet up

 And to sit outside in the early evening sunshine and tuck into the barbecue. On the right is the lovely Shirley who very kindly lets us use her barn every year...

And in the barn itself was the band who were playing jigs and reels at breakneck speed

It's a night when everyone matter what age they are...there's no "I'm too cool for this" malarkey, and besides, it's such good fun...

The younger children then go home, then at about 10pm, the disco starts...the decibel levels rise, 

And we dance until about 1am....taking time out around the sides to flop on the bales of hay for a breather..

Or having a drink as the sun goes down....

And at the end of the night, everyone slips away, walking home in the moonlight....saying goodbye to  the organisers, Ian, Jules and Tom , who have worked so hard to make the evening a success.

And a success it was, raising over £1,500 for our village charity. The date is booked for next year,
and in our diaries already. The hats and checked shirts will come out again, and we'll be dosey
 doh- ing and disco dancing once again.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

The day we went orff to Ascot

Tuesday am

This time last week, the picnic was packed and I was slipping into something uncomfortable. A pair of shoes with high heels....not totteringly high, but high enough for me. Oh, and I was putting on a frock.....the girls and I were off to the races. To Ascot for the first day.

The Friday fizz night gang left Leicestershire at about nine thirty, the Range Rover packed with champagne, a picnic, prosecco and hats. Four large ones. The red Range Rover isn't mine you understand, it belongs to Fiona. Or Saint Fiona as she is now known...for driving us, abstaining from the fizz and taking us on a tour of Windsor, Ascot and its environs.

We were there to celebrate Laura's forthcoming nuptials in August to Giles, (she's the elegant blonde in the black scarf) and in celebratory mood a bottle of champagne was popped open as soon as the car was parked. The picnic table was erected and we all stuck into smoked salmon, tarts, salads, cheese and bread in the sunshine. Oh and another bottle of champagne.

Bliss - well at this stage, we were all still wearing flip flops and feeling rather relaxed as we watched a parade of race goers totter past the car in eye catching and eye watering outfits of many colours. We thought it was time that we joined the throng walking over to the course, but we were all rather perturbed by our neighbours car, which had swung in earlier. Four or five jolly Irish ladies got out immediately and left, but we couldn't help noticing the dead magpie splattered all over their windscreen. True, it wasn't going anywhere, especially not to the races, but we had thought they might remove it. They didn't.

So, it was race time.

First stop was to see the Royals in their carriages....

And to have  a look at the runners in the first race.

Now, I'm not a gambler, but I thought I should have a flutter on the first race.

So I chose number three...because it was a good looking horse , and I also liked it's name. What do you mean, I should have looked at its previous form?

Anyway, we settled ourselves in the grandstand and watched a few races...Fiona won, but that was about it....

We walked around ,saw more horses, had a few more drinks and wondered at all the bottles of champagne being thrown down race goers necks at nearly a hundred pounds a bottle..... and I got the giggles when I overheard at the bookies,  someone who was somewhat miffed with her lover, husband or whoever he was....she quelled him with a ferocious stare saying "Oh do bugger orff Timmy!"

Timmy, in his tails, sloped off rather timidly.......and it was all part of the joy of Ascot...whoops of delight as horses won, overheard snippets of gossip in the Ladies, and sheer amazement at some of the outfits.

The afternoon flew by and within what seemed a few minutes, the last race had been run, and it was time for the sing along, attended by hundreds.

Songs were sung en masse from "New York ,New York" to "Land of Hope and Glory", and the crowd were still singing  as we walked off into the early evening sunshine with sore feet.

Back at the Range Rover , we glanced over at the Irish ladies car, and yes, the mangled magpie still lay on the windscreen, completely rigid by this time, despite the evening sun.. We opened a bottle of Prosecco, devoured a lovely runny Brie and biscuits , and chatted about the day and said hello to our next door neighbours as they came and sat down behind their car to have a drink.

We left them and their magpie in the car park, as we made our way home, tired but happy. So Ascot, it was lovely, but would anyone like to invite me into the Royal Enclosure next year for even more fun?

Sunday, 21 June 2015

The day a banana got in the way in the bookshop

There was a slight kerfuffle as I walked into my favourite bookshop yesterday. Two new people were on duty and one of them was battling with the till and the credit card machine to everyone's delight and consternation..

 The Saturday help, as they were billed, were slightly older than the usual type doing  work experience. They did know lots about writing books and the publishing world but when it came to till skills, let's just say they were distinctly below average. No, that's not true -  one of them was, the other wasn't even let loose on such a delicate instrument while I was there.

But did this matter? No, not at was all part of Independent Bookshop Week 2015 , and author Nina Stibbe and publisher and writer Jon Reed were here at the Kibworth Bookshop to promote the week itself and the bookshop. Oh and the publication of the paperback edition of Nina's delightful novel "Man at the Helm," a book which made me smile, cry at one stage, and want to bash the father character around the head with something more substantial than a mere paperback.

Nina threw herself into her new role....with a little help from Debbie James who owns the bookshop.

After seeing what happened when Nina tried to use the credit card machine, I decided to pay cash for my purchases. Even this, was not without difficulty. Nina couldn't get the till open...and then she found her half eaten banana was in the way.

More laughter....Nina is as warm, irreverent and as funny as her books, and so friendly.

And John Reed, the Saturday boy who was on coffee duty, gave service with a smile and made a lovely cup of coffee.

 I only know Jon Reed through Twitter....we both love listening to the Archers, and the Sunday morning tweetalong just wouldn't be the same without Jon's ascerbic, funny comments and filthy innuendos so it was great to meet him too and catch up on our shared Archers addiction.

It would have been so easy to stay in the bookshop for much longer  to soak up the banter, busyness and general all round happy atmosphere. But I had a drinks and lunch party to go to, Nina was there to sell books and chat, and Jon had more coffee to make and bags to fill, which they both did admirably.

Debbie was all smiles as usual, and once again, she makes you realise just how precious a local, independent bookshop is, and why it's importance in the community can't be underestimated. Long live independent bookshops everywhere.


Thursday, 21 May 2015

days in front gardens

Thousands have been flocking to the Chelsea Flower Show this week. Millions of us who couldn't go (boo hoo!) have been eagerly drinking in the TV coverage of the show each night for inspiration and motivation in our own gardens.

Yet according to the Royal Horticultural Society this week, one in three front gardens have no plants growing in them, in their report " Greening Grey Britain", which looked at front gardens in 2005 and this year.

That's no surprise...I regularly drive through suburban estates, where the only colour in the front gardens is from the cars parked there. But what now seem arid landscapes, devoid of any greenery, were lovingly tended lawns and borders in years gone by.

Are we paving our way to hell? Well, the RHS report says that  paving, tarmac and concrete are causing environmental problems, including increasing the risk of flooding.

What's more, the RHS also believes planting in a front garden can help boost community spirit among neighbours in the street as they can socialise while they tend their  gardens.

That's not rocket science, I remember summer evenings and Sundays during my brothers and I would be playing out with other children while our fathers would be mowing the front lawns and chatting to our neighbours. It was like a scene from a vintage Ladybird book.

We can't go back to those days, but wouldn't it be lovely if there were far more front gardens filled with plants, flowers and vegetables?

Someone who has been transforming her neighbourhood in North London is gardener, photographer and writer Naomi Schillinger, I met her eighteen months ago at the Garden Media Guild awards ceremony in London. I was up for an award, but didn't get one, however I did meet the lovely Naomi.

She told me how, from a very small beginning, sowing free packets of wildflower seeds in tree pits (the area around the bases of street trees) she and her friend Nicolette started a community vegetable growing scheme in people's front gardens.

There's now over a hundred neighbours all growing fruit and vegetables...they see each other, compare notes and's a brilliant scheme , and Naomi has written a book about it, together with ideas of what and when to grow. Published by Short Books, it's called Veg Street, and it's a very accessible, heart warming book which left me with a smile on my face.

Like Chelsea, this book is inspiring and motivating. Unlike Chelsea, there are no medals to be won, but Naomi and her neighbours are winners already. They're a living embodiment of what the Royal Horticultural Society's report  says this week....planting in a front garden can help boost community spirit among neighbours in the street .



Thursday, 14 May 2015

Country Living days

I don't know what your favourite magazine is, but mine is Country Living. I've been a loyal reader too...I've been reading it since 1988, poring over the pages packed with country homes, articles on gardening, hen keeping, rural issues , seasonal recipes and wellbeing.

And this month's edition June 2015 is a very special one. Firstly the magazine is celebrating its 30th birthday

And secondly there's an article about five mothers and their daughters who enjoy reading the magazine, and my daughter Lucy and I are featured.

I may be used to hearing my voice over the airwaves of the BBC, but it was quite a shock to see a photo of Lucy and I in a magazine which we both love.

The first copy of Country Living I saw was placed on a table by my bedside with a small jug of flowers from the garden. Mr Thinking of the Days, our children and I were visiting my brother  Richard and my lovely sister in law Cindy....I remember it was the summer of 1988. I read it from cover to cover, bought the next month's issue, and that was it.....I was hooked, and have read every copy since!

At the time we were living in surburbia, on the very last  road before open countryside. Yes , we could walk down the lane into open country, but I yearned for a cottage in the country. Reading Country living fuelled that longing and five years later, my husband, three children and I were living in an idyllic conservation village in a  three hundred and sixty year old thatched cottage in Leicestershire.

So what do I like  about Country Living? Well, most things really. I love peeking into other people's homes and gardens for inspiration, the pages on rural issues, and particularly am enjoying Patrick Barkham's evocative features and Louise Elliot's Country in the City columns. I've tried many of the recipes over the last twenty six or so years, and in the old days I very much enjoyed Barbara Grigg's articles on health and wellbeing.

There's a monthly ritual following the thwack of the magazine  through the letterbox. First of all, I make myself wait until I am comfortably sitting on the sofa with the dogs beside me. I may have a cup of coffee by side, or it's after 6.30pm, there will probably be a glass of wine involved.
I look at Suzy Smith's editor page first...then it's straight to the homes and gardens features, where I admire or, lust after various properties and gardens with the wow factor. Then it's a straightforward read, page by page through the magazine. I might leave the magazine on the coffee table or by my bed for a spot of late night re reading. After that, the current issue joins the others in various piles of Country Living dotted around the house. I keep the copies for about three years, sometimes more.

 When I'm feeling under the weather, there's nothing more comforting than a whole batch of magazines to have a flick through sat by the fire or propped up in bed.

But even being such a hoarder, there's a time when the old magazines have to go! But not before I 've cut out favourite recipes or things that have caught my eye.

I haven't bought my own copy of  Country Living for a while now though - my mother very kindly buys me an annual subscription as part of my Christmas present. And in turn, I now buy one for my daughter Lucy. I have to...otherwise my copies might go missing!

So Country Living, congratulations on your thirtieth anniversary, and thanks for the memories...