6 Alternative things to do in Paris

Eiffel Tower reflection{eiffel reflections}

For the last few weeks, I’ve been sorting through my photos so I can get some printed and make an album or two. I’m really enjoying reminiscing about all the wonderful travels I’ve experienced. I love travelling. Like, LOVE love. But I also love planning holidays, so if you make the mistake of telling me you’re thinking of going somewhere that I’ve been before, you will find yourself the recipient of a list of places you should go and things you should do.* In that spirit, over the coming weeks, I’m going to share a few of my favorite spots around the world.

And what better place to start than Paris?

The city holds a special place in my memories. It was the destination of my very first foreign holiday, aged 8. We booked on to a coach trip, the youngest people on the trip by far, apart from one other mother-and-child duo. Whilst the rest of us were ferried around from site to site, they went out on their own, only returning to the coach in the evening for the trip back to the hotel. I remember thinking they were very adventurous. Later, it was the place I visited on my very first holiday without an adult. R, my long-time travel buddy, and I spent a weekend exploring the sites. I practiced my French, we climbed up the Eiffel Tower and spent a day at Disney. I didn’t pack a coat. It was cold. I’ve since learnt to listen to my mother.

And then, back when husband was boyfriend, it was the place we visited on our very first holiday together; my birthday present to him. I found 1p flights with Ryanair, we traveled with hand-luggage and city hopped by plane – on to Girona and then Perpignan. It was the start of many adventures together.**

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So if you’ve got the Eiffel Tower, Laudurée and The Louvre ticked off your list, here are a few places that I am confident are worth your time visiting.

Walk the Parisian High Line
Step back New York! Hidden away in the 12th arrondissement is the original highline ­ The Promenade Plantée. Around the corner from Bastille, you ascend a staircase that takes you to the start of the 4.7km long park which was once a train line. Walking amongst the Parisian rooftops, through bamboo walkways and along the track you can sneak a peek into the windows of those lucky people who get to call this city home.

Eat at the Pink Flamingo
There are a few branches of the pizza shop, but the one in the 10th arrondissement is my favorite as the area is full of cool drinking holes and it makes a perfect stop after you’ve explored Parc de Buttes Charmont (see below). Their pizza toppings that have a decidedly French flair to them (figs and brie, anyone?) and once you’ve ordered they give you a pink, helium filled balloon. Go and find yourself a romantic spot along the canal whilst you wait for your food which will be delivered to you by a guy who’s tracked you down by your balloon. Trés magnifique!

Explore Parc des Buttes Charmont

Sacre Coeur from Parc De Buttes Charmont
{Sacré Coeur from Parc des Buttes Charmont}

A little further out than the major sites but easily accessible by metro, or on foot if you’re a walker, the Parc is a little bit of tranquil paradise. Featuring a man made lake, waterfall, Italian inspired temple and a suspension bridge designed by Mr Eiffel himself, this is a great place to get away from the crowds and have yourself a little picnic. You are also treated to a wonderful view of the Parisian skyline.

Brave a night bike tour, (this is the one I’ve done)
I am a great fan of the free walking tours that you can find in most capital cities across Europe but sometimes it’s nice to give your feet a rest. Whilst you can hire your own bikes all over the city for not much money, I don’t have the steely nerves required to pedal myself around the crazy Parisian roads. With a guide however, I feel much more confident. Paris is just as, if not more romantic at dusk. Taking an evening tour allows you to see the city and its sights as the sun sets. Top it off with an evening cruise down the Seine (included as part of this particular tour) and you might just find yourself proposing to whoever is next to you because it’s so darn romantic!

Visit the Basilica of Saint Denis
Basilica of Saint DenisWhilst the cemetery of Père Lachaise always seems to make it on to top 10 lists, few people seem to venture out of the city to the suburb of Saint Denis, home to a Basilica of the same name. Even if you don’t know much about French history (I don’t, I’m afraid), chances are you will have heard of the famous Marie Antoinette. Although she and her headless husband weren’t initially buried at this church which is the historic resting place of the French monarchy, bits of their bodies were eventually rehoused there. Wander round this great abbey amongst the tombs of the French Kings and Queens of years gone by.

Wander around the Parisian sewer system – Musée des Égoute de Paris
Okay, live with me here. Maybe this isn’t necessarily somewhere to spend precious holiday time if it’s your first trip to Paris but I loved my visit to the Paris Sewer Museum. Seriously, when else are you likely ever to be able to visit a sewer system? It surprisingly doesn’t smell and the tunnels aren’t small and claustrophobic like you might expect.

*The (un)lucky recipient doesn’t really get a choice in the matter.
**I paid for more than just the flights, but I also like to reminisce about the days when Ryan Air were actually cheap so their terrible customer service was much more forgivable. Because you can’t really complain when you’re flight cost less than a chomp bar?

 

Last week in snippets

Monday night bruschettaBannys Indian Fish Summer
1, 2
First BBQ of the yearLater afternoon light
3, 4
Bedtime reading
5

  1. I felt like pottering around in the kitchen on Monday. The results were a simple but delicious, three course dinner. My favourite bit was the bruschetta, made with fancy tomatoes instead of our usual, cheaper salad tomatoes.
  2. A meal out at Banny’s on Tuesday to say good bye to a work colleague. I had the Indian Fish Supper which was an interesting concept but I’d get the regular fish and chips if I was to go again. You can’t beat lashings of salt and vinegar.
  3. We had the first barbecue of the season on Saturday. Oh. My. God. It was GOOD. I ate so much that I had to retire to bed for an hour and sleep it off.
  4. Late afternoon light, pre-nap.
  5. Apposite bedtime reading. I found myself heading to bed at 9pm most nights last week so I didn’t get very far into the book.

A weekend in the Peak District

Jacket potatoes and cheese

Have you ever seen a more beautiful thing, than a pile of jacket potatoes and a mound of cheese?

Proper home baked jackets potatoes feel like such a naughty indulgence. When I was growing up, my mother used to zap a potato in the microwave for 10 minutes and then stick it under the grill to try and get that proper jackety taste. They always turned out okay – but I was never tricked into believing they were the real deal. Her Yorkshire/Asian thrift would never allow her to let an oven run for two hours just to make a couple of spuds. Even now, as an adult who pays my own electricity bill, I can’t bring myself to make jackets for us at home. Sometimes I think I should bake some bread at the same time or something, so I’d feel like I was getting my ovens worth – but then I’d have to actually rustle up a loaf of bread and who’s got time for that? Since there were eight of us on holiday, making jacket potatoes for for dinner one evening seemed a justifiable use of the the oven.

Anyway, I’ve majorly digressed.

TL;DR – One night we had jacket potatoes for dinner. They were tasty.

A few weekends a go, I went to the Peaks with some of my family and we did more than just feast. Barely, but still.

We stayed in the tiny village of Elton, in THE BEST cottage. They had literally everything you could want and even things you didn’t realise you need. Like an electric whisk which was lucky since the one I lugged all the way down there was, in fact, missing a whisk!

Baking a birthday cake{tres leches cake in progress}
Scones for breakfast.JPG{breakfast scones}

Have you ever seen a more beautiful thing, than a pile of scones or a pile of potatoes? I’m learning that my favourite things about these family trips is feeding people because my favourite photos of the trip are of the food. Not pictured but equally as excellent – chicken curry and rice, bbq chicken wings and fixin’s, birthday cake, mexican tres leches cake, homemade hot chocolate. Yum.

Aaaanyway.

Things, we did them.

We spent a day in Eyam, a village that was famously struck down by the plague in 1665 but successfully and selflessly, isolated itself off from the rest of the world in order to prevent the disease from spreading any further North.

Eyam, Plague CottageDSC_0162Eyam Plague Doctor Uniform {doctor’s plague outfit, Eyam Museum }

We walked around the village and then up to the Boundary Stone, which marked its limit. The grooves carved in the stone were used as a money exchange. Filled with vinegar, which was thought to kill the infection, coins were left in the pools in exchange for food and other goods, which were left by their neighbouring villagers.

Eyam, Boundry StoneCousins in the Peaks

We followed a walking trail which took us through Stoney Middleton and passed the Roman Baths, before continuing on to the Riley Graves. The final resting place of Mrs Hancock’s husband and six children who all tragically died within an eight day period.

Shadows in the Roman Baths{Roman bath, light)

We hired bikes on Sunday and burned some calories cycling along the Monsal Trail. Mercifully flat and well paved, the trail runs along the former Midland Railway line. We hopped on at Hassop, where we were able to hire bikes, which unfortunately meant we didn’t have time to pop to Bakewell for a tart. Next time though. We peddled for miles, through four old railway tunnels, dodging muddy puddles, laughing all the way.

Monsal Trail before the tunnelMonsal Trail tunnel

I had such an amazing weekend. My family are loud and crazy and quite a bit annoying. But they are also hilarious, kind, wonderful people. Roll on the next trip!

A is for Ancoats; a Manchester A to Z

roldham_a-spread
{photo from here}

‘A is for Ancoats

A dreary place is Ancoats,
‘Tis full of smoke and fog,
The lassess wear shawls on their heads
Their feet are shod with clogs.
‘Tis really not a pleasant place
Upon a rainy day;
We have to start with Ancoats tho’,
For Ancoats starts with A.’

 A Manchester Alphabet, Roger Oldham

Canal Walk Ancoats{summer in Ancoats}

Last year whilst wandering around Manchester Art gallery, a favourite pass time for lazy Saturday afternoons, I came across a wonderful set of illustrated short poems by Roger Oldham. Written in 1906, A Manchester Alphabet depicts in humorous verse, scenes from daily life in the city.

As I read each passage I reflected on my own memories of the places and things he wrote about. T is for Trams – every time I have to navigate my way across the tram tracks in St Peter’s Square, unsure of exactly which direction I can expect a yellow behemoth to come chugging toward me, it flits into my head that Gaudi met his demise under one such vehicle. C is for Chorlton – home to the best kebab in Manchester, has to be eaten in the car even though last time you promised yourself you wouldn’t do it again because they are drippy little buggers and the juice gets everywhere, making your car pong of onions until the end of time.

I’ve lived in Manchester for six years now and as seems to happen when you settle in a place, I find myself frequenting the same parts of town, the same restaurants, the same bars. I was inspired to make my own Manchester Alphabet and use it as an excuse to explore more of the city I call home.

And then, in typical Jasmin fashion, I did nothing about it for over 12 months.

Hallé St Peter's
{Hallé St Peter’s}

I visited the city a lot in the years before moving here and back then Ancoats was just a place that had some sneaky free parking (no longer, damn you yellow lines), not somewhere I would spend an afternoon hanging out. These days I know it as the place to get the best pizza in town (more on that in a second) but beyond that, the area is still a mystery to me. It seemed fitting that Ancoats should be my first stop in this journey.

In typical Manchester fashion, as Oldham wrote, it was a dreary day. No matter, in lieu of a shawl I had an umbrella and a bobble hat.
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I invited my cousin along for the day. She’s a clever and creative little bean who enjoys making videos so I thought it would be a fun bit of bonding time. I was right, we had the loveliest (and greediest) of days and I’m super proud of the video she created of it.

Some notes on the places we visited

Mustard Tree, here
110 Oldham Rd, Manchester M4 6AG
Opening times: Mon – Sat: 10am – 4pm / Sun: Closed

One of three charity shops for the Manchester based charity. They aim to tackle the causes and consequences of poverty and homelessness by empowering people through education and employment, and providing provisions to those in need. There was a decent selection of cheap but good condition clothing and homeware. I bought the blue jumper in the video (Topman, excellent condition) for a couple of quid and it has been in heavy rotation since.

Ancoats Peeps, here
Ancoats PeepsAncoats PeepsIf you look close enough, you might just find a brass eye piece staring out at you from an unassuming wall. There’s no explanation as to what you’re looking at or map to find any others but if you so manage to spy one, go ahead and peer through. You might see something, or you might see nothing.

Ancoats Coffee Co. here
Royal Mills, Redhill St.
Opening times: Mon – Fri: 8am – 6pm / Sat: 9am – 5pm / Sun: 10am – 5pm

Housed in an old cotton mill by the Rochadale Canal, is The Ancoats Coffee Co.  I confess, I didn’t have any coffee here, but the tea was good. The brownies looked intense but we didn’t get to try one since we were going to eat soon.

Rudy’s Pizza, here
Cotton Street
Opening times: Mon – Fri: 12– 3, 5-10pm / Sat: 12am – 10pm / Sun: 12am – 9pm

Canal Walk Rudy Pizza

Yes, I have been here before, but it’s the best pizza in Manchester so there was no way I wasn’t going to take the opportunity to visit.

Elnecot, here
Blossom Street
Opening times: Mon – Thu 5pm–11.30pm / Fri 12pm–11.30pm / Sat – Sun 11am-11.30pm

Elnecot Sticky Toffee Pudding
Honestly, the thing that drew me here was the gigantic neon ‘toilet’ sign that glares across Cutting Room Square. I went for a pit stop and I stayed for pudding. Perhaps that’s their trick? Lure you in with the promise of facilities and keep you there because you spy six things on the walk down to the loos that other people are eating which you must try for yourself.

Their sticky toffee pudding was one of the best I’ve ever had and I am forever indebted to my pathetic bladder for leading me to such deliciousness. My cousin had the chocolate fondant and it did that amazing oozy thing when you slice through it. Heaven.

Ancoats General Store, here
Great Ancoats Street
Opening times: Mon – Sat 7am–11pm / Sun: 8am–11pm 

Newspapers, apples, water, craft beer, Thursday evening street food events, coffee. All bases covered.

Cha-ology, here
Great Ancoats Street
Opening times: Wed – Sat 2pm–7pm / Sun – Tues: Closed

I was so disappointed to learn they had moved to a reservation only system. It’s on my list to return – if you take a look at their website, you’ll understand why.

 

 

 

Chatsworth, renewed.

Chatsworth House RenewedTime finally sprung forward last Sunday. The countryside basked in glorious sunshine to celebrate, as I pootled off to Chatsworth for my first ever InstaMeet. Husband, being the wonderful sort that he is, offered to drive me since I had been at work until 2am that morning. We enjoyed the winding roads of the pass in relative quiet. Most of the world was still asleep, it seemed.

Chatsworth DeerSat on the banks of the River Derwent, Chatsworth is the ancestral home of the Duke and Duchess of Derbyshire. 16 generations of the Cavendish family have lived in the property which, over the years, has hosted royalty, survived the great wars, was almost lost to death duties and has had starring roles on screen, both big and small.*

The last ten years have seen £32m and hours of craftsmanship spent carefully restoring and conserving the property’s 500 years of history. The scaffolding is finally down and the house is crowning in her full glory. To celebrate this renewal, Chatsworth and Visit England kindly provided some Instagrammers with the opportunity to frolic around  the house and grounds, and take pictures to our hearts content.

Chatsworth Column Detail

We were able to nosey around a few of the 126 rooms which are open to the public – the Duke and Duchess still live a private, closed off part of house.Chatsworth MusicChatsworth Grandfather Clock

The clocks all told the new summer time.Chatsworth Deer Chandelier

I loved the way little nuggets of information were displayed throughout the house.

Chatsworth Window Details

We posed for a group shot before lunch.

Chatsworth Instagrammers

{photo by @projectyasir}

And after all that walking around, it was time to enjoy a scone and some bubbles in the old stables, with new friends.

Chatsworth Scone

{photo by @tea_and_wanders}

Before spending an hour in the gardens.

Chatsworth GardenInteresting shape to choose for your shrubbery, no?

Chatsworth Maze (2)A quick turn about the maze and it was time for me to head off and meet my in-laws in Bakewell for a spot of Sunday lunch.

Chatsworth Maze

{photo by @tea_and_wanders}

Thank you @igersmcr and @igersderbyshire for organising such a fantastic day. I can’t wait for the next meetup, or my next trip to Chatsworth. I’ve got my eye on the afternoon tea for next time.

 

*Although the less said about the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice, the better – Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle for life!!

48 hours in Milan, snapshots

snapshot Milan Duomo

For a long time, the deciding factor on where to go on holiday very much depended on where Ryan Air was flying to cheaply.* Milan, well Bergamo really, since most Ryan Air flights don’t actually seem to land in the airports of the city advertised, has been on my radar as somewhere to go one day. Last weekend, quite by accident, I finally got round to it visiting.

My friend and I were supposed to go to Madrid last November however our flights were cancelled and as well as being refunded our money, we were given some flight vouchers. After a perusal of possible destinations to use them on, we ended up picking Milan.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan

I’ve been a bit of a useless friend recently, and this was the first time I’ve seen L in 10 months so we knew we would spend the whole time catching up over food and tea. Sightseeing wasn’t particularly high on the agenda.

Still, once we landed in Milan, we found ourselves wandering over to the Duomo since it was the one landmark we knew of.

Milan Duomo, front

We approached from the side and decided to walk all the way to the end of the Piazza before turning around to get our first proper look of the cathedral. It was pretty spectacular and gleamed in the midday light.

Aperol spritz at the Aperol terraceAperol Terrace, Milan Duomo

Landmarks are best enjoyed with a drink in hand so we headed over to the Aperol terrace and sat outside, sipping drinks, under the shadow of the Duomo. It was one of my favourite moments of the weekend. It was a little chilly but the sun was out and it’s the first time I’ve felt its warmth on my face all winter.**

The rest of the weekend was a merry blur of chats, food and copious cups of tea. We did consider going to one museum, but once we got there we were put off by the large queue and went for cake instead. Many museums in Milan are free (and BUSY!) on the first Sunday of the month.

Some notes on the things we did.

Eating

Somehow, over the course of the weekend, we managed to walk 23 miles. A good job, I suppose, given how much we ate. We did very little research beforehand and instead Googled things we fancied. Apart from some lacklustre but filling dim sum, we lucked out and found some excellent food.

avocado toast from Fancy ToastMilan Be Bop Pizza

Sushi at Conch – Tasty sushi. Crazy delicious wakame salad.

Gelato from Raki – I had the most amazing vanilla and ginger gelato.

Toast from Fancy Toast – sweet and savoury toast toppings. I wish I had room for the nutella toast after my savoury avo but I just couldn’t do it. The portions are really filling.

Pizza from Be Bop – Thin and crispy based pizzas. Good prices.

Arancini from Antica Fabbrica dell’Arancina Milano – cheap, cheerful and tasty arancini

Espresso with melted chocolate from CioccolatItalian – GO HERE for melted chocolate heaven. I had the most amazing espresso with melted hazelnut chocolate and whipped cream. L had a pot of hot, melted chocolate full of pistachio nuts.

Sleeping

Mercure Milano Regency, here

Clean. 2 minutes from a tram stop or a 30 minute walk from the city centre. Crap water pressure, but I can forgive them that. It had a quirky Hotel Budapest vibe to it. After hotel tax, it worked out at £50 per night for a room, breakfast included.

Mercure Regency Hotel

Doing

Frog free walking tour, Milan

Free walking tour with Frog Walking Tour

Apart from walking between food stops, we did manage to make it to a free walking tour. I love these kinds of tours and have done one in pretty much every place I’ve been that offers them. I find them to be a good way to learn about the place you’re visiting, seeing some major sights and getting tips on things to do from locals.

Grand Canal, Milan

We were too full by the time aperitivo came around, which is a sort of Italian happy hour with hors d’oeuvres and cocktails, but we enjoyed walking around the Navigli area where you’ll find many bars serving the meal, set along side a pretty old canal system.

I really enjoyed my weekend in Milan. If you can get cheap flights, it’s certainly a place that’s worth a visit for a leisurely, food-filled few days.

 

*Back in the glory days when you could literally fly somewhere for 2p return

**I’m being dramatic, I know, but winter feels like it has dragged on for soooooooo long!

An ode to Rabbie Burns at Albatross and Arnold

Burns night supper

{photo from here}

After much procrastination, I finally joined WeBlogNorth just before the new year and I’ve been enjoying finding new blogs to read and Instagram accounts to follow. Through the group, I heard about an opportunity to attend a Burns Night Supper that was being held at a relatively new bar in town, Albatross & Arnold. I ummed and ahhed about whether or not I should put my name forward for a seat because do I count as a blogger yet? Do I need more followers before I do? Does anyone care what think about, well, anything? All questions to which I have no answer, but regardless, my unofficial word for the year is ‘bold’ so I boldly threw my name into the ring. As a result, last Thursday I found myself walking through the Manchester rain to meet six other blogging ladies and eat some good food.

I arrived early, thinking I’d have trouble finding the place – a quick Google search told me it was above The Range, an indoor, virtual golf club in Spinningfields. Although it wasn’t immediately obvious when I got there, if I was going through the correct set of doors, I quickly saw a sign guiding me up the staircase to my destination for the evening.

Whiskey explanation at Albatross and Arnold

{whiskey chat}

I was led to our table and settled down with a drink – any place that gets the distinction between a soda and lime, and a soda and lime cordial, is on to a winner in my book. Nice one, A&A. It wasn’t long before photographer, blogger, all-round-girl-boss Georgie Glass arrived and before I knew it, I was surrounded by a group of wonderful ladies and inspiring, creative chatter.

Now, I have two confessions to make in this post.

Here’s the first.

I’ve never read any of Burn’s poetry. Or at least, I hadn’t until I did some last minute swotting earlier that morning. I knew, vaguely, what Burns night was about and when  it’s celebrated, thanks to its printed presence in all yearly diaries and calendars. Before our meal, we were treated to a reading, complete with Scottish accent and all.

Grilled Scottish Artichoke

{Grilled Scottish artichoke butter emulsion, tomato concassé. Paired with Speyburn 15 year old}

Second confession, and to preface, I normally consider myself a pretty worldly person so this was a blow to the old ego..

It turns out I have absolutely NO CLUE how to eat an artichoke – which is how I found myself, after my first mouthful of food, at my first ever blogger meal, surrounded my people I had only just met, surreptitiously spitting out bits of woody artichoke into my napkin. To my relief, I wasn’t the only one having trouble and when the guy on the table next to ours looked over at us for some guidance on how to eat said vegetable, one of us (I forget who, sorry) had the bright idea to Google how to eat it.

‘Pull a petal from the artichoke.
Place base of petal between teeth
Pull through teeth to remove soft, meaty, pulp
Discard woody remains.’

I’d liken the action as similar to squeezing the last bit of juice out of a Mr Freezy ice lolly.* Once I’d got the hang of it, it was pretty tasty.

Whisky cured Scottish salmon

{Whisky cured Scottish salmon Old Pulteney, pickled cucumber. Paired with Old Pulteney single malt scotch}

Whisky cured Scottish salmon

{salmon, details}

The rest of the meal went off without a hitch and our next course of whiskey cured salmon with pickled cucumber, went down a treat. The cucumber was surprisingly firm and deliciously tart. The salmon, smooth and almost melt in my mouth.

Each whiskey was introduced before it was served and we were encouraged to sniff, swirl and sip in order to enjoy the nuances of the drink. Mmmmmm, peaty.

Whiskey explanation at Albatross and Arnold

{tasting notes, golfball decor}

We were treated to live music as we ate. If all clubhouses were this atmospheric, I would strongly consider taking up golf.

Venison Haunch

{Venison haunch, parsnip purée and freeze dried blackberries. Paired with Ancnoc Peat Head}

Look how perfectly pink that bit of meat is. Sadly, I couldn’t really taste the blackberries thanks to a lingering cold, but the venison was juicy and tender. There was enough of the purée to have some with every bite of meat – a pet peeve of mine is not having enough of your accompaniments to last through the meal.

After a round of haggis canapes, it was onto dessert.

Raspberry and lavender cranachan

{Raspberry and lavender cranachan. Honey, toasted granola. Paired with Balblair 2005 vintage}

Chewy granola, sweet raspberries, boozy cream. I have plans to recreate something similar at home, because I think this would make an awesome brunch item (sans whiskey, ha!)

Raspberry and lavender cranachan

{cranachan}

I had such a lovely time and I’m really excited to explore blogging and the community here in Manchester. I also really enjoyed branching out and trying a new kind of dining experience, thank you to Albatross & Arnold for having me. I see more of your food in my future!

Details

Address: The Range | Leftbank | Spinningfields | Manchester | M3 3AN

Opening times: Mon – Thurs: 11am – 11pm / Fri & Sat: 11am – 12pm / Sun: Closed

Menu, here

 

 

Meal, with compliments. Words and artichoke shame, my own.

*I might have aged myself with that reference

 

Saturday at the footie

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Before this weekend, I had only ever been to one football match – in Antigua, Guatemala. We sat on bleachers with a blazing sun warming our faces, separated from the pitch by a large, barbed wire fence. There were men with guns policing the stadium and food vendors weaving their way through the crowds selling corn and vuvuzelas. A man, dressed as a giant avocado ran up and down the pitch to rally the crowd before the game started.

DSC_0544

{sun and football, not in England}

This Saturday, I went to my second ever football match. There was no blazing sun. No avocado man. Thankfully, no guns. But there were pies, tea and plentiful doggies running around.

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We’re in saving mode at the moment so apart from our January restaurant splurges, we’re looking for cheap and fun things to do. One of husband’s work colleagues mentioned he supports a local football team and recommended we attend one of their matches – the best bit, tickets are only a fiver.

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We cheered on West Didsbury and Chorlton FC as they won their first game of the year. It was so much more exciting than watching football on TV and we will definately be attending another match in the future, although perhaps not until the weather gets better. After the game we made our way over to Beech Road to escape the chill over some drinks. We found a table by a radiator and I warmed up my toes.

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Wood 20.18

My favourite thing about January is the amazing deals restaurants offer in order to entice you and your post-Christmas purse strings out for dinner. For the past few years we’ve indulge in one or two meals, but this year we budgeted a little extra so we could try to eat our way around town. At the last count there are 14 places on our list to try – and that’s after much trimming. I’m not sure I’ve got the stomach stamina for all 14, but I’m certainly going to give it a go.

Wood was high our list after reading some enticing reviews. It’s not the kind of establishment we usually frequent but with their 2 courses and a glass of fizz for £20.18 deal, we were sold.

Wood, Manchester. Smoked trout, keta, ruby grapefruit

{smoked trout, keta, ruby grapefruit}

Poor husband still doesn’t understand why I insist on taking pictures of what we’re eating, but he always lets me get a few shots of his food before tucking in. He was blown away by the flavours in his starter of trout. I had wild mushrooms with mascarpone on a croute which, whilst not very photogenic (or at least not with a camera in my unskilled hands) was absolutely delicious. There were hints of aniseed in there that played amazingly well with the earthy mushroom.

{ox cheek, creamy mash potato, josper roasted carrot} at Wood, Manchester

{ox cheek, creamy mash potato, josper roasted carrot}

Husband, who is not prone to hyperbole, has declared this the best ox cheek he has ever eaten. We rarely end up ordering the same entrée but I’m glad this was one of those few times because it was lovely sharing the experience of a special meal. I would love to know how I can make a carrot that tastes as good as this one did, smoky yet sweet and with the perfect amount of bite, without having to purchase a josper.

Wood, Manchester - chefs at work

{chefs at work}

We’ve already booked a return trip. The couple next to us had the hake and it looked amazing.

A very Mexican new year

New Years Meal, tres leche cakeNew Year Meal, dips

I spent 8 hours in the kitchen on Saturday, cooking up a storm for our annual New Year meal and I loved every minute of it. I only took two photos all day but trust me, the food was immense (if I do say so myself) and much merriment was had.

Some notes on the food:

The lamb. Oh my, the lamb. I was aiming for something reminiscent of my beloved picante lamb at Panchos and I ended up making something that I like even more!

I used this meat rub to marinate a leg of lamb and slow roasted it using these these instructions.

Once it had completed the first roast for 4.5 hours (the leg weighed 2.4kg) I removed the meat off the bone, or at least the meat that was left on the bone, most of it had melted off into a delicious puddle, and shredded it. I mixed in generous amounts of this barbecue sauce which I had made earlier in the day, along with a little of the juice from the roast to keep the meat nice and moist. It went back in the oven for half an hour, covered with foil, to heat through. The barbecue sauce was delicious although a tad too sweet for me. Next time I think I will try decreasing the amount of honey and hoisin. I doubled the amount of garlic suggested – I couldn’t help myself, it’s an Asian thing.

I used this old favorite chilli recipe, with double the amount of garlic (obvs) and no red peppers. I used half the amount of hot water they suggest because I wanted a thicker chilli that could be used for burritos.

I prepared some chicken using this recipe.

I made this dip (so goooood, but so bad for you) and this one (with a regular tin of tomatoes to which I added some minced garlic and onion). We had guacamole but I bought that ready-made because avocados stress me out.

The meal was rounded out with a big pot of rice, pico de gallo, a black bean salad, some pickled red onions (shake 125ml of both water and red wine vinegar with 1tbsp salt and sugar in an old but clean jar, add half a thinly sliced red onion, leave for at least 1 hour/up to a day before you eat) and tortilla chips.

We had a tres leches cake for dessert. I cut a little of the sugar out, maybe about 50g? It still tasted amazing. I accidentally cooked it a little longer than it needed though. I had expected it to brown on top as it baked, like a regular sponge, so after checking on it at 18 minutes and assuming it was a bit under cooked, I left it for another 4. However, since the cake is mostly egg whites, I don’t think it picks up much colour as it bakes so I should’ve tested it with a skewer a bit earlier.

Sadly it was pretty damp that day so we couldn’t string up the pinata outside. Instead, four of us grabbed a bit of the donkey and pulled on three. There’s something a bit depressing about holding a dismembered, piñata donkey’s leg in your hand though. Next time I’ll get one that’s not as cute, so I feel less mean beating it up for sweets.