Surprise Birthday Wrap

August 29th, 2014

My birthday Two-Or-So-Weeks have begun in the form of delicious food. My friend and fellow Classroomer, Alam, surprised me with a halloumi and falafel wrap and a piece of carrot cake from the Veggie Kitchen at the Manchester Markets. Alam is always teasing me with his delicious cheesy wraps and so, to celebrate my birth, he went and bought me one. It may not be his Audi R8, but in my world a cheesy, chickpea filled wrap with a slab of cake is WAY better. Thanks, Alam!

Mmmm… birthday wrap...

Mmmm… birthday wrap…

Mmm… birthday carrot cake...

Mmm… birthday carrot cake…

 

Count Down #29

August 28th, 2014

I appear to have forgotten to mention that the most important day of the year is fast approaching. There are only four sleeps until my birthday! WOO! As per usual, my inner child is feeling excited; about as excited as my outer adult was about this free beer at the latest Yelp event.

Photo credit: Lucas Smith and his Yelp camera

Photo credit: Lucas Smith and his Yelp camera

Weird British Event #3 – Gravy Wrestling

August 28th, 2014

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I read an advertisement for the bank holiday activities at the Rose ‘n’ Bowl pub in Bacup. What are you supposed to expect when you read the words “Gravy” and “Wrestling” next to each other? No… Surely not…? It must be a typo.

But no, my friends. That was no typographical error. The World Gravy Wrestling Championships were happening and that same curious bug that begged me to go to worm charming and chicken racing was back again, telling me I needed to go and experience this wonder. I attempted to convince Sir Pubert Gladstone that driving 40 minutes north of Manchester to the fairly average town of Bacup to go to a slightly dodgy pub to watch people rolling around in hot meat juices was a GREAT way to spend his Bank Holiday Monday. He agreed and we were off!

Technology at the Rose 'n' Bowl

Welcome to the Rose ‘n’ Bowl

So Bacup’s name is far more interesting than the place itself. There are some streets, some houses, a few pubs and that’s about it. It does have a great view of the hills of the Irwell Valley which made for a great backdrop to the jawdroppingly remarkable stage and gravy pool set up for the Gravy Wrestling Championships. I was shocked by the effort and planning permission that must have gone on behind the scenes to set up the performance area. I believe the Rose ‘n’ Bowl normally has a lawn bowls green behind the pub. The entire space had been covered in plastic with a raised pool area set up in the middle. In the pool was a steaming lake of brown liquid – the infamous gravy. The commentator informed us that the gravy had been sitting out for one and a half hours and was therefore cooling down and forming a nice gelatinous top. Delicious.

A professional set up

A professional set up

Monday was an unexpectedly cool day and so all of the spectators were keen to see the action get underway. After some customary technical difficulties with the sound system and a lovely performance from the local under-15s dance school, we were underway. Out came the competitors – they were READY TO RUMBLE!

The competitors line up

The competitors line up

Driving to Bacup we had discussed the possibility of competing in the competition and I had seriously contemplated giving it a go. However, like worm charming and chicken racing, I soon realised that this was serious business and you couldn’t just enter on a whim. All of the wrestlers had planned and gone to great efforts with their costumes – no one was just wearing their old sports clothes. Super man, Oscar the Grouch, a headmaster and Tarzan were there and they had all practiced their entrances.

Last year's champion won best costume as Oscar the Grouch

Last year’s champion won best costume as Oscar the Grouch

It was WWF with less baby oil and more gravy. As the first bout was called, the two wrestlers came out calling to the audience, strutting their stuff and mocking their competition. The white-shirted referee blew the whistle and it began. Gravy explosion.

Gravy is slippery stuff when it is coating plastic and human flesh. The first two male wrestlers slipped around all over the place, throwing each other into the air (as best they could) and body slamming with vigour. It was incredible! Strength, agility but mostly luck combined for a highly entertaining wrestling competition. The wafts of hot meaty liquid really added to the overall experience.

GRRAAAAVVVYYYY!!!

GRRAAAAVVVYYYY!!!

The cold weather and a desire to eat something other than a chip butty meant we didn’t hang around to watch the entire competition and a lack of information of the Rose ‘n’ Bowl Facebook page means I have no idea who won. But it was a fantastic way to spend a cold public holiday. Unlike worm charming, I don’t think I will come back to compete in the Gravy Wrestling Championships next year. I would need years of preparation and some serious protein shakes.

 

Kurt, Steven and Yelp are Close to my Heart

August 22nd, 2014

Last night brought another delicious Yelp Elite Event into my life – this time we were welcomed by Bar 21 in the Northern Quarter to sample their wares and check out their disco-tastic dance floors. In recognition of Bar21‘s ‘Movie ‘n’ Music’ theme, the evening was to be focussed on all things famous. It was suggested that we dress up as something film-related. Considering my very poor effort at the previous Elite event where we were asked to dress in ‘Summer attire’ and I wore sunglasses, I decided to actually think about my outfit for this event. With the use of my office’s printing facilities, a pair of scissors and a box of safety pins, I transformed an average red dress into HOMAGE TO B-GRADE MALE ACTION MOVIE STARS THAT I LOVE.

So many handsome men have attached themselves to me.

So many handsome men have attached themselves to me.

Steven, Kurt, Chuck, Jean-Claude, Arnie and co were well received by my fellow Yelpers and there were some mighty fine film and music related tees worn on the night as well.

I had never been to Bar21 before and, to be honest, I had purposefully avoided it. From the outside it had always appeared a bit concrete and uncomfortable, so I was pleasantly surprised when I ventured inside and discovered a bright and cheery bar full of memorabilia. Anywhere with a giant photograph from Back From the Future on the wall is a winner in my world.

We were allowed to choose a drink from their extensive Happy Hour list and Hannah and I were particularly happy to see that Doom Bar ale was an option. An excellent start to the evening.

The super friendly staff made us feel very welcome and took us on a tour of their downstairs dance floor. I think I will need to return for some serious hot-stepping one evening. It has been a long time since my last dance session… too long.

Next was a cocktail master class where we were shown how to make two drinks and then allowed to sample the tasty concoctions. Unfortunately (although probably luckily for our brain cells) there were 30 Yelpers and 15 glasses of each drink so there were a few sharpened elbows pushing their way through to get their drink of choice. Humans + free alcohol = messy. Hannah and I decided sharing is caring and went halfsies. The cocktails were good although neither would be something I’d normally choose. One had a cream layer and the other tasted like liquid Haribo. SWEEEEEEEET.

Mixology madness

Mixology madness

After the cocktails we were all in need of some food and we were overwhelmed by the smorgasbord of dishes put out for us to gorge on. It was a meatlovers’ delight with chorizo, salami, ribs, burgers and more kinds of chicken wings than I’ve seen in a long time. And it was tasty! I wouldn’t normally have chosen to come to Bar21 for food but I was really impressed with what I ate. The beef burgers were served with proscuitto and blue cheese – so good. Sadly, they were also drenched in some sort of brown sauce that was far too strong and completely overpowered all of the flavours. After I had attempted to remove most of the sauce the burger was definitely a winner on my plate.

Food! Photo credit: Hannah's phone.

Food! Photo credit: Hannah’s phone.

Dessert came out as we were still stuffing our faces – lime curd or chocolate mousse tartlets were our choices. Surprisingly I went for the lime as the chocolate didn’t look dark enough for my liking. And the lime was good – nice and sharp and served in a deliciously buttery pastry. Yum.

If we hadn’t consumed enough, out came a birthday cake to celebrate Yelp Manchester’s 10th birthday. Marzipan covered red velvet cake anyone? Yes please. As we forced the cake into our mouths (ok, there was no force involved. It was delicious.) Bar21‘s Thursday night quiz began and in our teams of 4, 5 or 6, we competed to the death to win great prizes and ultimate glory. My team failed miserably and finished in third-last place. We were largely let down by the Australian on our team who didn’t know how many stars were on her own country’s flag. Yep. For shame.

As the evening came to a close and I headed home to bed like the Grandma I have become, I felt that great sense of pure satisfaction after you have had a great night out. Good food, good drinks, good friends, good times. Looking forward to Yelping it up once again in September.

P.S. My stupid phone died during the cocktail master class so I have a serious lack of photographs of food. Very disappointing.

Deutsche Torte in Edinburgh

August 22nd, 2014

My trip to Edinburgh reminded me of how much I miss good food. While Manchester’s food options are slowly improving, it was so nice to be back in a city with small, independent cafés and bars and little pockets of suburban shops and restaurants. Edinburgh city centre is easily walkable with residential areas close by. I was staying in an apartment that was a ten minute walk from The Mile and the main action of the Edinburgh festival. It was also a five minute walk from streets lined with cute cafés and one-off shops and on my final morning, Les and I went for morning coffee at one of the local hang outs.

German heaven.

German heaven.

Falko is a German bakery and café that sells a jaw-droppingly joyful array of German bread, cakes and meals. It was rye central. As we walked in we received a very German welcome – our lack of decision making skills as we stared drooling over the cakes meant we were holding up the woman in charge. She was to the point, frowned a lot and wanted to run her business. We were disrupting that. It was wonderful – I felt like I was back in Germany being an annoying non-german-speaking tourist.

When we had finally chosen our cakes and ordered hot chocolates each, we sat outside (another faux pas as no one else was sitting out there and that meant additional work for Frau) and awaited our delights. When she delivered our cakes and drinks and we complimented her on the quality of her products, she decided we weren’t that bad and we even received a smile. Win!

I want.

I want.

Let me start with my apple torte – huge, juicy chunks of apple embedded in a not-too-sweet custard filling and perfectly baked pastry. I was instantly transported back to 2007 when I used to eat this every sort of thing every day. No wonder I got fat that year. Coupled with a glass of hot chocolate that was made from actual chocolate. Yes, you’ve heard of the stuff. Dark-brown and kind of sweet. Frau was proud of her hot chocolate and its real-chocolate content and so she should have been. It still wasn’t quite rich enough for me but it was three-hundred-million times better than any hot chocolate I have consumed in Manchester in the last year.

There's real chocolate in that glass.

There’s real chocolate in that glass.

It was one of those eating experiences that reminds me how much I love food and how I could happily spend the rest of my life surrounding myself in apple torte. In 10 days it is my birthday and I am concerned that I won’t be able to find a birthday cake to live up to my high standards. I might need to make my own to avoid the crushing disappointment of excess icing and tasteless sponge. In the meanwhile, my Falko apple torte sits fondly in my memory bank. Happy cake times.

Aye, Nessie

August 21st, 2014

It has been far too long since my last entry. I have many excuses – great excuses. They mostly involve ‘real work that pays and helps me to afford to eat’ and a significant lack of internet in the Scottish highlands. Yes, since I last wrote, I have travelled north and found myself in the land of green, green, green mountains and not very many roads.

Scotland is a bit like a lumpier, greener, lusher, colder, wetter version of Australia. By that I mean I finally accepted that it would be potentially possible to get ‘lost’ in the UK. Up until recently, I had laughed at anyone who had tried to tell me it was possible to get lost and die around here as I have always felt that there is a road/house/shop/farm within a five mile walking distance of practically everywhere. Not in bonny Scotland! Start heading into the mountainous highlands and you soon find a lack of roads and a lack of inhabitants. It is vast and open. It is wonderful.

Scottish mountains

Rainy Scotland from the comfort of a car

I spent two nights with my Mum’s dutch cousins in a small village near Perth in Scotland. They then dropped me off in Edinburgh where I met up with my English third or forth cousin, Les. From the blissful nothingness of a small Jane-Austen-esque cottage in the middle of nowhere, to the manic insanity of “FREE COMEDY!” at the Edinburgh festival, it was quite a see-saw holiday for the senses. Both extremes were fantastic and I promise I will expand further when I am not about to be kicked out of my office (I have seven minutes until the security guards suggest I leave) but I just wanted to quickly write something to let you all know that I am still alive. So here is a quick piece of news:

I SAW THE LOCH NESS MONSTER!

Ok, that’s a lie. No one has seen Nessie, but my Dutch rellies did perform a wonderful service by driving for over two hours to get me to Loch Ness. And then another two-plus hours to get back. I have been able to tick one of my ‘Must Visit’ boxes in a very unexpected and last minute sort of way.

(Short aside – I wrote the above last night. I was then kicked out of my office three minutes earlier than expected and therefore couldn’t finish. It is now another day. Moving on.)

Loch Ness was… well… much like the many other lochs that we had driven past in order to get there. A large body of water, surrounded by trees. It did have the additional feature of ‘Tourism’ with the town of Fort Augustus filled with buses, American and Italian tourists and stuffed Loch Ness monsters. We didn’t stop for long – we drove through Fort Augustus, found a small car park to stop in, and took photographs of ourselves with the lake in the background. And then we drove home. There were no signs of giant, lake-dwelling creatures but it was raining so maybe she was keeping a low profile.

Loch Ness

This may or may not be the Loch Ness Monster.

Do-Do-Do The Funkay Chicken

August 4th, 2014

My recent adventures in worm charming have encouraged me to seek further animal-based competitions (all with happy outcomes and zero cruelty, of course.). Jon, my social enterprise and environmental development friend (he’s told me I’m not allowed to call him “Garden Boy”), told me about the annual Hen Racing Competition in Bonsall a few months ago and I immediately wanted to go. So Jon, my friends Pooja and Jonathan, and I headed to Bonsall on a rainy Saturday morning to watch the spectacle.

After a slight detour in Derby, which we decided to blame on ‘technology’, we made it to Bonsall as the races were beginning. It was a wet and soggy day so the umbrellas were out and the wellies were on as a few hundred people turned out to cheer on the chickens. Bonsall is a small town and I suspect that the hen race is the biggest event of the year. Saying that, if the hen race was held in London it would be the biggest event of the year there, too.

The race was held in the carpark of the Barley Mow pub with a 20 yard track sectioned off with plastic fencing. The crowds had gathered close to the sides and umbrellas blocked the view so visibility was low for spectators who had turned up a bit late due to scenic drives through Derby. The atmosphere was certainly charged with previous winners returning to reclaim their titles and new birds arriving on the scene with fresh legs. Exciting times at the Bonsall races.

Fighting for the best view.

Fighting for the best view.

Hen racing requires three parties – the hen plus two humans; one to hold and release the bird at the start line and another shaking seed and worms at the finish line. Training is important – hens don’t just run for the sake of it. They need to know where they are going and what they will receive when they get there. Like me, they make decisions based on their stomach but also have a tendency to get lost along the way and simply stop and stare at people.

One of the competitors.

One of the competitors.

Out of around 52 competitors, the winning chicken for 2014 was Road Runner and his ten year old trainer was particularly pleased with the results. It was a very exciting competition but it was a bit unfortunate that the sun didn’t come out until the race had finished. It then turned into a glorious day as we drove back home through the Peaks. Out of worm charming and hen racing, I would pick the worms as my preferred animal event, simply for the weirdness factor. However, Jon is planning on training a hen and raising it to be a born winner. Perhaps next year will bring improved weather and ultimate Hen Racing Championship glory.

Post-race drinks in the sunshine.

Post-race drinks in the sunshine.

In side news, Jonathan photographed the event and they appeared in The Daily Mail and The Telegraph. This story will go down in history.

It’s Official – I Don’t Like Hotdogs.

August 4th, 2014

Over the past year or so, Manchester has been hit by a Hotdog Frenzy with multiple sausage venues popping up around the city. Hotdogs are the new burger with even more overly processed bun and ‘what is this meat?’ for your buck. I have never been a huge hotdog fan, unless it is a good old aussie snagger unevenly charred on a barbecue, served with a good dollop of tomato sauce. At least you know what you’re getting with a butcher’s sausage – a lot of fat and a bit of beef. With these new-fangle sausages, you need to sharpen your teeth to get through the red outer skin and then sit and chew for awhile so that your stomach has some chance of eventually digesting it.

Last week I was invited to another Yelp Elite event at The Fruit Exchange where we were served fruit juices spiked with rum and Caribbean flavoured hot dogs from Dogs ‘n’ Dough. The alcoholic juice was just win win win, but as I opened the box containing my hot dog, I just had no desire to eat it. This isn’t anything against Dogs ‘n’ Dough – some of my fellow Yelpers were hoeing into their sausages with gusto and delight. It was purely my disinterest in boiled frankfurters and sweetened bread that turned me off. But I wanted to give this craze a chance and so I ate my hot dog. I chewed on that sausage and washed the gluggy bread down with rummy juice. And I will admit to giving some of the excessively sweetened pineapple away to Hannah, who had announced she likes ‘sweet with meat.’ But as I shoved the last mouthful into my gob, my gut wished I had listened to it saying, “No, Jess. You don’t want to eat that.”

This is a hot dog.

This is a hot dog.

It just wasn’t enjoyable. Chewy sausage skin, unrecognisable meat, doughy sweet ‘bread’, and toppings that didn’t really add much to the eating experience. It did have barbecued chicken on top which was probably the best part of the whole dish. At least I could eat the chicken and say, “Ah! I’m eating chicken!” Every other part of the hot dog had an element of mystery to it.

So I have decided to never eat a hot dog ever again. Sorry, hot dog restauranteurs – don’t take it too personally. Your wares are just not my thing.

32 Days of Summer Fun

August 2nd, 2014

Today is 1 August. A culmination of there being exactly one month until my birthday; it being a rainy, drizzle and depressing day despite being summer; and the fact that I don’t have any writing work on at the moment and am therefore looking for things to keep my mind occupied, has resulted in me having the greatest brain wave since my 108 Challenges in 108 Days. For the month of August I will celebrate all things that are good with daily hits of Summer Fun. This fun can transpire in many forms, be it food based, activity based, friend based or other (I’m keeping it open to interpretation.). This month of fun will finish with the funnest of fun days EVER – aka My Birthday. YES.

And so it begins.

Day One.

It’s raining today. My two weeks worth of writing work have dried up. It is quiet in the office and I have to walk home in Manchester Drizzle. Woo. So to keep myself and my co-workers in cheerful dispositions, I bought us Kinder Happy Hippos. You can’t beat a bit of cheap kiddies’ chocolate.

Happy Hippo!

Happy Hippo!

I shall call him Harry.

I shall call him Harry.

To be honest, Harry doesn’t look that happy. I would say he’s more ‘anxious’ or ‘concerned’. But he sure brought joy to our worlds! Cheers, Harry.

War Horsing About

August 1st, 2014

I had heard great things about the stage production of War Horse and I was very, very lucky to be invited to see it at The Lowry theatre last week. There is always a risk with shows that get talked up a lot that you finally see it and are severely disappointed. Media reviews, friends and the general word on the street gave War Horse two very big thumbs up. Dangerous territory. So I lowered my hopes a notch and went in believing the horses would be RUBBISH.

Thankfully, for once, the rumours were true – it was a remarkable show. The giant mechanised horses were fantastic – there were moments throughout the show there I honestly believed I was watching live animals on stage. The puppeteers did amazing jobs moving the horses and bringing them to life. I am not an animal lover, but I felt an true emotional attachment to these creatures. My reactions may have been slightly influenced by my heightened emotional state having said goodbye to my Dad and brother that day, but even still I wanted Joey and Albert to be reunited. JOOOOEEEEEEYYYYYYY!!!

I did get a little bit hung up on the weird accent of the main character, Albert. It sounded like he was talking with a gob-stopper under his tongue. But apart from this, the cast was brilliant and I didn’t fall asleep once. The best character was the goose that flapped its way across the stage on a rotating wheel. A bit of light humour to lift a sad story.