We are Italiano

January 22nd, 2015

For Christmas, I bought Sir Pubert Gladstone a pasta maker. He eats an unusually large amount of the stuff and had mentioned his desire to own a machine so he could make his own. It was an obvious choice for a christmas present but his constant mentioning of this being on his ‘christmas wish list’ to every family member/friend/bearded man who asked was a little annoying considering I had already purchased one and no one needs multiple pasta machines.

Anyway, the purchase has resulted in our four attempts at ‘filled pasta’ – whether that be ravioli, tortellini or pastaloni as our non-traditional shapes would suggest. And clearly we have italian blood seeping through our bodies as we have managed to create some mighty fine pasta-pockets.

pasta machine

Ready to roll.

Our first attempt was on New Year’s Eve where we went for roast pumpkin, stilton and walnut ravioli with a sage button sauce, accompanied by parmesan roasted fennel. Holy guacamole, it was good eating.

pasta

There’s pumpkin in there. And cheese as well.

Sir Pubert then challenged me to create two different fillings as a ‘surprise’ for him (although I suspect it was just his way of tricking me into cooking for him) and I delivered a seriously good spinach and ricotta filling and one with mushrooms with thyme.

pasta

Dough pillows.

While the idea of making your own pasta seems somewhat time consuming at first, it is remarkably quick and easy to do. I think the Italians would agree that simplicity is key so there aren’t many ingredients to worry about. Plus it is much lighter and far more satisfying than buying the dried stuff from the supermarket – knowing you have kneaded the dough means you’ve already worked off most of the calories. More pasta for you!

Cold Snap and Lunch in Liverpool

January 20th, 2015

It’s a wee bit chilly in Manchester. In fact, it’s really bloody cold. Over the weekend Manchester and beyond had a decent amount of snow – enough to be able to say, “It’s snowing!” without looking like an overexcited Australian.

snow

Look at that snow!

On Saturday I headed to Yorkshire with my cousin Les where we took boring motorway routes and extra caution in order to avoid slippery roads and potential death. I really enjoy driving into snow, particularly at night, as the wind and forward movement of the car gives the snow a ‘speed tunnel’ effect and it appears as if you’re driving into some sort of time warp. If the snow was rainbow coloured it would have been particularly swinging 60s-esque.

The last two days have been beautiful – crisp blue skies and sunshine. Of course the lack of cloud coverage means temperatures are hovering around zero and my nose is a constant shade of beetroot. It did present the perfect conditions for a quick visit to Antony Gormley’s Another Place installation at Crosby Beach yesterday.

Antony Gormley statue

Nice view.

Sir Pubert Gladstone’s dad was in town for a weekend visit and the three of us headed to Liverpool for a bit of culture. After a slightly disappointing wander around the Tate (clearly they keep all of the good stuff in London) and a deliciously cheesy lunch at the Docks, we headed to the beach to check out Antony’s Iron Men spread out down the coast. This is one of my favourite places in England and it was nice to be able to visit before I head back to Australia.

Liverpool docks

Liverpool Docks in the sunshine

Getting Dirty with DIY

January 17th, 2015

Over the past few months I have provided you with updates on my DIY adventures with Sir Pubert, his renovator’s delight townhouse and visits to B&Q. I have really enjoyed being involved in the renovation project – staining floors, installing flat pack kitchens, having arguments with customer service managers at IKEA, and painting more ‘white on white’ than you could possibly imagine.

This week I felt like Dale Kerrigan from The Castle. The pride he felt about digging a hole was on par to my personal delight in my attempt to rebuild a door frame.

Here was the problem – the new door was too small to fit the existing door frame, therefore pieces of timber needed to be cut to size and attached the original frame. Sounds simple enough except my lack of confidence in my measuring, cutting, drilling and screwing abilities meant that it seemed like a big deal. I like to say that I’m highly skilled with power tools, but the truth is closer to me being good at watching other people use them.

Anyway, having declared that it wouldn’t be my fault if I messed it up, I brought my Dad to the forefront of my brain and tried to think about what he would do in this situation. Measure twice, cut once. Achievable. Use the appropriate tool for the job. Not so much. However, through some sort of DIY miracle, I managed to measure, cut and install a new frame without requiring any second measurements, additional cuts OR having to buy an entirely new door frame. And that was even while using an inappropriate cutting tool, a blunt pencil and a drill with a dying battery. The two ‘handymen’ were hogging the good drill.

door frame

That’s a sexy frame.

It is the most beautiful door frame in the house and it now has a freshly painted door hanging from it. I’m very pleased with my efforts and feel I have learnt valuable skills. I have also recently learnt how to use calk and window sealant and how to force open a PVC window if the lock is broken. I also know that painting white walls/doors/skirting boards/door frames with more white paint is one of the most mind numbing jobs available. That must be why I always have to do it.

Falling Ice Balls

January 17th, 2015

It has become a regular occurrence that on my morning runs to Media City in Salford Quays, as I make my loop back towards the city I will notice a large black cloud looming overhead. In these moments, the sky towards Manchester is surprisingly clear but rapidly approaching is an ominous mass of impending rain.

No matter how fast I make my little legs go, there is no hope of beating the natural speed of approaching weather. And so I await the sensation of sharp bullets of water hitting the back of my legs and quickly accept that I’m about to get drenched. The good thing about this reoccurring phenomenon is that the wind is behind me, pushing me towards home.

This morning the rain came in the form of hail – small micro-balls of ice bouncing off my jacket, head and the ground beneath my feet. I had the canal towpath to myself as no other runners were stupid enough to head out this early on a freezing Friday morning. So it was just me and the swans enjoying the calm canal water being attacked by icy rocks. As I turned a corner and ran under a street lamp, the light bounced off their shiny surfaces as they managed to stab their way into my eyes.

And despite this discomfort, I smiled, enjoying the freedom of not caring and it not mattering. It was one of those moments where I realised how small I am in this world and how no matter what decisions I make or what routes I take in life, the world continues to evolve and hail will continue to fall.

The Socially Irresponsible Adventures of Jess Continue

January 8th, 2015

Did you know that one in every 50 to 100 million lobsters are born with ‘split cells’ – the cell in the egg splits in two and one half of the body is formed from one cell and the other half from the other. This means that half of the lobster can be bright orange and female while the other side is black and male. Pretty cool.

This is Sir Pubert Gladstone’s current ‘Favourite Fact’ and each time he tells his slightly exaggerated version I can’t help but feel somewhat connected with how these lobsters must feel. The left half wants to build a home, settle down, have friends over for dinner and make lots of lobster babies, while their crazy right side wants to explore the seabed, try new algae and see what’s happening on the other side of the ocean.

I have spent the last four years letting my ‘Crazy Right’ take control – moving to Paris, refusing to leave, and then deciding that a sojourn in Manchester was a better option than going home. My left side has accepted this right sided dominance by simply insisting on having a nice apartment to come back to and, lately, a form of employment (sort of). While I love the adventure and excitement of discovering new places, I don’t particularly enjoy change, I hate the unknown and I would really, really like to know what I am doing with my life. Ha.

A year or so ago, I was quite sure that my country hopping was coming to an end and that the sunshine and warmth of the great southern land was calling me home. Around this time I recall telling my friends that I thought I would be heading back to Australia but if they asked me again in six months time I would most likely be working out how to stay. How correct I was! As the end of my time in England drew dramatically closer and the more I thought about leaving, the more I wanted to chain myself to a lamp post outside the Manchester Town Hall.

And so I have spent the last few months working out how to stay or at least return in the near future. My only feasible option, that doesn’t involve breaking the law, is to become a student. Luckily, my extreme dissatisfaction with my current lack of career path and the fact that I don’t actually want to be a copywriter for the rest of my life (ooh, controversial) has meant that I have been contemplating a change of direction for some time (since about 2009 to be specific.). What appropriate timing! So I sent in an application to study at the University of Manchester and then sat back and waited to hear if I had been accepted.

And yesterday, I heard back.

Good news, kids – I, Jessica Davies, will be returning to Manchester in September to study a Masters in Art Gallery and Museum Studies. This is, of course, unless the UK Home Office comes up with some ridiculous new visa law preventing Australians from completing educations in England and paying exorbitant amounts of money to do so.

So the Socially Irresponsible Adventures of Jess continue. In this episode we will watch as Jess, having turned the ripe old age of 30, returns to university to start an entirely new line of career. Not only will she not have any money, she will also be even further away from the more acceptable life path of ‘husband/children/white picket fence/promotion to senior management’ that one would expect of a 30 year old. Her most valuable possession will be her suitcase and even that was given to her by her parents.

Now all I have to do is go back to Australia, wait for a few months, and come back to hang out with people half my age. I’m somewhat disappointed that I will not be allowed to complain about the influx of students in Manchester in September as I will be one of them. I will try and be less annoying though.

Nerdish Brownies

January 7th, 2015

I am supposed to be doing work right now, but I have news that needs immediate discussion. This morning was the first time my library-buddy, Joe, and I have been working in the Central library together. As per usual, at 10.30am I headed to the library café to buy my morning coffee. Before departing, I asked Joe if he would like anything. A cheeky look spread across his face as he suggested we share one of the cakes on offer. I agreed.

Joe trusted my cake-selection abilities and so I chose the chocolate brownie, an item I had sampled thanks to some bite-sized tasters the café sometimes makes available, however I had never purchased an entire slice.

Holy moly.

Never would I have guessed that I would find one of the world’s best chocolate brownies in the café at the Manchester Central Library. It is rich, dark and gooey on the inside with a slight crunch on the outer layer. There are small pieces of walnut scattered throughout, breaking up the intensity of the chocolate.

Library brownie – served in a lovely cardboard box/plate/dish/thing

Library brownie – served in a lovely cardboard box/plate/dish/thing

I am very, VERY picky when it comes to chocolate flavoured sweet goods and I never give praise unless it is deserved and this was bloody awesome. And so my first official work day of 2015 has been delicious. I haven’t done enough work, but finding a delicious brownie is a far better use of my time.

Oh Hello, 2015.

January 7th, 2015

Somehow I have managed to make it to 7 January without writing a long reflective blog post about my past year and all that I have achieved/seen/done/visited/eaten. This is due to various factors:

  1. I have been too busy.
  2. I didn’t necessarily want 2015 to arrive quite so quickly so I am avoiding the subject.
  3. I haven’t sat in front of my computer for the last seven days so haven’t had the opportunity.

Does anyone really want to read a pensive exploration of my past year or should I finally accept that I only write it to boost my own ego and to prove to myself that I haven’t wasted another 365 days being a lost soul pretending to be a writer but really just plodding along? Either way – here’s my year in hyper-speed and in no particular order.

In 2014, I…

  • Lost my Co-Op job (good start.)
  • Contemplated returning to Australia early and then realised that was a stupid idea.
  • Went to Sheffield many times.
  • Did a lot of baking.
  • Climbed a few mountains/hills.
  • Met a boy.
  • Had lots of picnics/outings/adventures with aforementioned boy.
  • Moved apartment and shared a house for the first time ever.
  • Became serious about this ‘copywriting’ bizzo and actually started doing it for realz.
  • Explored many great places in the UK, including Chester, the Peak District and Blackpool.
  • Went to Northern Ireland and learnt about the importance of tray bakes.
  • Ran a marathon in Manchester.
  • Ran a half marathon in Paris.
  • Got gastro.
  • Joined the wonder that is Yelp and had so much great food and drinks and met so many fun people that it made me giggle like a school girl.
  • Attended various weddings and half weddings.
  • Hugged my Dad.
  • Had lots of fun times with my fabulous friends.
  • Had one of the best food-filled, view-over-Manchester-with-a-cocktail-including, educational birthdays.
  • Discovered a lot about crisps thanks to various office mates.
  • Became addicted to pound stores and discount supermarkets. Seriously – I wander through at least one a day. You won’t believe the bargains!
  • Went to Scotland and the Edinburgh Festival.
  • Saw the Lochness Monster.
  • Witnessed worm charming, chicken racing and gravy wrestling.
  • Went to Old Trafford.
  • Discovered the joy of working in the Manchester Central Library. So quiet. So calming.
  • Painted walls and floors/installed kitchen cabinets/re-painted walls in Sir Pubert’s renovator’s delight.
  • Decided I like Manchester too much and began the process of trying to stay.

So that was significantly more than I realised. I’m glad I decided to feed my ego.

I have 23 days left in the UK. That’s not a lot. Most of that will involve packing, crying, saying goodbye to people, and deciding whether or not I really need to keep all of my belongings. In between all of that, I also have plans to make the most of my time here and climb as many hills as possible. But right now I must do some of that copywriting do-dally.

HAPPY NEW YEAR.

No Longer Dreaming of a White Christmas

December 30th, 2014

The drive home from the Yorkshire Dales on Boxing Day was a tad hairy as the sky let loose a decent downpour of rain. Sir Pubert made us tune the radio to the Boxing Day football commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live and continues to assure me that he was listening to it despite his closed eyes, dropped head and occasional snore.

As the commentary skipped from one football ground to the next, we were informed of the weather conditions throughout the country. Most games were being played in very wet conditions, however Manchester City was playing West Brom in the Midlands where it had started snowing.

As we arrived home and sat in comfort and warmth by the fire, I looked out of the lounge room windows and saw that the usual Manchester drizzle was no longer just heavy rain but had turned into big, floaty snow flakes. It was snowing on Boxing Day – I was counting this as a white Christmas! Sure, the snow melted on impact and it was mostly just sludge, but they were definitely snow flakes and it was definitely still the “Christmas season”.

snow

Eat your heart out, Bing Crosby.

 

As far as white Christmases go, it was a bit disappointing and I will continue to seek a better example of it in the future. However, having spent five winters in Europe, it was about time that snow fell on Christmas. What happens in movies, happens in Manchester.

One Stoat, Two Stoat, Three Stoat, More.

December 30th, 2014

In an attempt to work off our Christmas bellies, Sir Pubert, Katy, Ken and I headed to Malham in the Yorkshire Dales on Boxing Day for a walk in the hills. Ken, local Yorkshireman, avid explorer and map reader, was our guide and had planned the walking route. Having parked our car in Malham, we wrapped ourselves in multiple layers, grabbed our picnic lunches and headed off. Adventure awaited!

Malham

Off we go!

Ken and Katy sprinted off in front of wheezy–Sir–Pubert and “I’ll catch up in a second, I just want to take a photo”–tourist–me. Every minute or so I needed to stop and say, “Wow.” as the scenery expanded and the Yorkshire Dales showed us what they are made of.

We were in limestone country and our first stop was Malham Cove, an impressive and formidable limestone amphitheatre. We climbed up to the top (via some easy-access steps) and then had a view over the rolling hills of the Dales.

Malham Cove

Malham Cove

The landscape shifted from green hills to rocky outcrops with waterfalls and streams winding through the valleys. It was beautiful. I have generally considered myself a city girl, but having the opportunity to stomp through mud, water streams and climb over rocks was very stimulating. This was helped by the fact that the weather held out and we managed to complete the walk sans pluie.

View from Malham Cove

View from Malham Cove

We stopped for lunch (I don’t think many walkers have stilton and walnut sandwiches, but we picnic in style.) sitting on a small rocky amphitheatre. Enjoying the quiet and the expansive view, I spotted a white object tumbling down the small road in front of us.The pure white stood out clearly against the black bitumen and it soon became clear that it wasn’t just a polystyrene cup blowing in the wind. I nudged Ken and asked him what it was. As they say in the north, Ken got dead excited.

sandwiches

Sir Pubert makes some seriously good sandwiches.

The tumbling white thing was a stoat in ermine – a weasel-like creature whose fur coat changes from brown to pure white during winter months. Apparently it was quite rare to spot one of these little guys and I had just spotted something rather special. Ken whipped out his binoculars and we all had a close look at him as he jumped and tumbled his way over rocks and through shrubs looking for food for his own lunch.

stoat

This isn’t the stoat that I saw but look at him! SO CUTE! www.telegraph.co.uk

His tumbling running action (these guys don’t really run – they look like they are having the BEST TIME EVER jumping and skipping and leaping about like 4 year old girls who have just consumed excessive amounts of sugar at a birthday party) and his adorably cute face fooled me into thinking he was an innocent little thing. Apparently not. These guys are vicious killers who bite and snap the spinal cords of rabbits. Coming from a country where everything kills you, I’m not entirely surprised.

Here is a BBC documentary showing the leaping cuteness. It also shows the less-cute rabbit killing. You’ve been warned.

The stoat eventually disappeared into the rocky landscape and we continued on our walk. We hadn’t walked far when Sir Pubert called for the binoculars and looked down into the valley at a dry stone wall that had some remarkably white stones near the base. Then the stones moved. He had spotted two more stoats living in the stone wall, potentially waiting the lunch that was being collected by the stoat I had spotted earlier.

While it would have been great to stand and watch our new furry friends all day, our fingers and toes were turning numb and the idea of warming cups of tea was too exciting. We walked on, heading back to Malham and to the Buck Inn where we re-heated ourselves by the fire.

As we drove out of Malham the rain started and we drove home in a constant downpour. Perfect timing with the weather, rare animal spotting, fantastic views and delicious blue-cheese sandwiches. It had been a great day.

So Long, Christmas!

December 29th, 2014

My inner Scrooge is pleased to see the end of all that tinsel, mulled wine and festive cheer, although I am willing to admit that Christmas Day turned out to be a lot better than expected. Some forward planning based on the knowledge that I would be spending the day on my own meant I could fill it with all things “Jess”.

1. Get up early and run a half marathon.

I don’t know many other people who would set their alarm for 7am on Christmas morning in order to get out of bed, eat breakfast and digest before heading off for an extended run. I figured if I had all day I may as well make it a decent jog so I set myself the goal of a Christmas Half Marathon. Seemed like a good idea at the time.

My running route.

My running route.

It was a beautiful, crisp, blue-skied morning and by the time I left home the sun was attempting to show itself. Perfect running conditions as I headed off, getting slightly lost along the way and having to re-route due to muddy conditions. My final distance was a comfortable 24 kilometres, the last seven of which were slightly less comfortable. I fed myself chocolate flavoured energy gels and recovery shakes as reward for my long slog. Holy moly, those things are good. I would run excessive distances every day if it meant I could eat chocolate-flavoured protein bars.

Run, rabbit, run.

Run, rabbit, run.

2. A little bit of stollen.

After de-stinking myself, it was time for morning coffee and a slice of Aldi Rich Fruit Marzipan Stollen. While it wasn’t bad for a budget supermarket cake, it certainly couldn’t compete with my brother’s version and there definitely wasn’t enough marzipan. But then again, is there ever enough marzipan? Ooh, deep.

More marzipan, please.

More marzipan, please.

3. Christmas lunch for one

A week or so before Christmas I saw a recipe on the Sweet Paul Magazine website for a beetroot salad that instantly screamed “EAT ME FOR CHRISTMAS LUNCH!”. Unable to find half of the ingredients (Dear British Supermarkets, please sell fennel. Thanks. Jess.), I adapted the recipe to include roasted beetroot, kale, blue cheese and an amazing mixed nuts selection that I had found at Aldi. Served with a glass of elderflower champagne made by my friend, Garden Boy (aka Jon), it was potentially the BEST CHRISTMAS LUNCH EVER.

beetroot salad

Wow. Just wow.

I Skyped my family back home while munching on my lunch and it was lovely to be able to sit and chat with the folks and the bro. Thank you for existing, Skype.

4. Christmas bake-off.

Thinking I would have all of the time in the world on Christmas day, I had decided to bake biscotti as a Christmas gift for Sir Pubert’s mum and her partner. I suddenly became aware of the rapidly decreasing amount of time I had to achieve this, so I bid adieu to my family and then raced around the kitchen creating what ended up being the best biscotti in my baking career. Boom.

biscotti

Crunchy nutty chocolatey goodness.

5. Father Christmas really does love me.

Sir Pubert collected me and my hundreds of bags and we headed to his house for Christmas dinner with his mum, Katy, and her partner, Ken. Over a glass of champagne I was overwhelmed to discover that Father Christmas hadn’t forgotten me and had left a plethora of presents in a PaperChase stocking just for me. Plus additional gifts from Katy, Ken and Pubert – spoilt, I was.

6. Turkey.

A whole turkey for three adults and a vegetarian is a little excessive. Plus parsnips, potatoes, peas, bread sauce, stuffing and red cabbage. Followed up with homemade and hand-fed Christmas pudding with custard makes for many a stuffed belly. There was plenty of moaning and regret following that meal but a content bunch of over-stuffed humans we were.

christmas dinner

Mmm… too much food…

So while I may whinge about Christmas and its ability to make human beings act like piggish idiots, it was the simplicities of the day that made my Christmas very enjoyable. Great weather, wonderful family and friends, delicious food, and a bloody long run.