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Archive for the ‘food’ Category

High time for High Tea

In food, Hotels on June 7, 2012 at 10:46 am

I’ve been a bit over-wrought in recent weeks due to illness, work and bad payers, so it was something of an unexpected treat to be invited to the recently opened Hotel La Tour in Birmingham city centre last week to indulge in high tea.

My gorgeous friend Sarah invited me along for a long-overdue catch up over cocktails, sandwiches and scones, and, well, who am I to say no?

The hotel is perfectly located for anyone seeking beautiful surroundings for a city shopping break, with fabulous décor and friendly, helpful staff. Within seconds of settling into our comfy chairs, the discreet background music washed over us and we instantly felt more relaxed and ready for a few hours’ indulgence.

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And indulge we did, choosing a pot of white pomegranate tea, which I must confess was sidelined somewhat by the stupendous earl grey bellinis we sipped as the team brought over a floor-standing feast of mouth-watering treats.

Image A fondue of cheese with dipping toast soldiers, finger sandwiches of fine smoked salmon, wafer thin ham and delicately spiced chicken nestled alongside delicious cucumber sandwiches, each tastier than the last.

I swear we took tiny, ladylike bites to savour the flavours but in no time at all, the top tier had gone…

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Our second course of light and fluffy scones, naturally served with strawberry jam and clotted cream, was enough to make us start looking at properties in Cornwall, if only for an excuse to tuck into them every day, and with two sumptuous courses gone, and the delectable-looking dessert plate left, we agreed we had to have a short break.

Our host brought us the hotel’s speciality cocktail, the 1889 (named for the year that Birmingham achieved city status) to cleanse our palates before the final tier. A frothy, perfumed confection of Bombay Sapphire, apple juice, grated ginger and whipped egg-whites, the tiny drink was light yet rich, almost a mini syllabub to prepare for the amazing four mini desserts that followed.

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A quick game of eeny-meeny-miney-mo later, I chose the first of my four sumptuous sweets – a bite-sized Eton Mess that melted in the mouth. Tastebuds exploding, I found it hard to choose what to have next – it’s a big decision after all, the food was so exquisite that I wanted to ensure that the last thing I ate was my favourite. The Walnut Whip (not your shop-bought version but a stylish cone of wafer, chocolate and walnuts), the Jaffa Cake (again, a blend of chocolate, orange and sponge but nothing like the McVities variety) and the individual treacle tart, served with a smear of rich clotted cream, were all magnificent.

It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed a wonderfully decadent afternoon tea – the most memorable being those served in Harrods and in the Pump Rooms at Bath – but this one was simply amazing, and right on the doorstep. It may be too extravagant to indulge every day – or even every week – but next time I need a pick me up to help me forget my troubles, I know where to head…

Conserve Cash October

In book, cinema, food, gym, shopping on September 29, 2011 at 4:55 pm

So, it’s the end of September. It’s been a great month – not least because of the amazing weather we got to see the month out. I’ve caught up with a ton of friends I don’t see enough of and it’s been wonderful. I don’t realise how little I see them until I do start seeing them, and then I realise how much I’ve missed them. From catching a chick-flick with Marv, to dinner with Donna, to Sunday coffee with Nicky to a networking-cum-free-champagne-turns-into-cocktails event with the girls and a night of crazy dancing to live music at the Jam House, I’ve gone out more over the past month than I normally do in three, particularly when you count the fact that Adam and I go to the movies and for dinner every week as a matter of course.

Plus, obviously, I’ve had a birthday, which means I went out for even more meals, and of course had my fantastic weekend away with more cocktails, fab food and posh afternoon teas. And I have loved it. It’s been brilliant to let my hair down and remind myself how many fantastic friends I have and how lucky I am. But, on the down-side, well, I have spent a bit. I’ve not been too bad on the shopping front (though I did get the gorgeous coat I was coveting. And the evening bag to match the birthday shoes. And some new gym stuff. And bedding. And candles and stuff to match. And a bit of jewellery. Okay, I take that back…) but I’ve spent a fortune on food and drink, generally being a social butterfly, and it’s made me take a pretty stern look at my finances.

I’m not going to dwell on it, because it’s been an awesome month and one I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, but I’m going to endeavour to make up for my loose purse-strings over the next four weeks. In fact, I’m going to take a leaf out of the book of Helga Henry. Helga’s coming to the end of what she dubbed No Shop September – which entailed exactly what you’d expect – and I am going to nick her idea and launch Conserve Cash October.

Less pigging out, more piggy bank

That’s with the obvious exception of two key direct debits – I can’t default on previously agreed commitments, they’ll send me to prison – which I’m going to really maximise to help me achieve my goal: my monthly gym membership, which I plan to step up a notch (I need to go some to shift these scones and daiquiris, believe me) and my unlimited cinema card.

The last movie I went to see was Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and I’ve gone a decent amount this month, watching the Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Friends With Benefits and I Don’t Know How She Does It (not on my cinema card but as part of a treat from Marverine so that doesn’t count), but with a host of new ones I have my eye on, including Abduction, In Time, The Three Muskateers and The Help, being due for release, I should be able to keep busy, and I’ll have to strive to ignore the lure of the various pizza places, bars, tapas restaurants and, naturally, the sweet counter, that stand between the car park and the screen.

Adam’s currently training for the BUPA Great Birmingham Run, which takes place in three weeks time. In theory, he’ll be on a mission not to eat too much before that to make sure his efforts are worthwhile, so with that in mind, I plan to work out a home-cooked menu (I envisage a lot of home-grown tomatoes playing a part) to boost energy levels and have him fighting fit, leaving both our wallets and waistlines thanking us for our dedication.

It’s only 31 days after all. From then on, with Christmas – so sorry to use the C word this early – skateboarding ever closer, it’ll be a case of going back to my common sense approach – always choosing somewhere to eat with a voucher code offer, or treating ourselves to a posher restaurant after a tough week, but making the most of our Gastrocard subscription to save some pennies.

My final cutback – and one I had never envisaged would be so out of hand – is that I WILL STOP BUYING E-BOOKS IN THE AMAZON KINDLE STORE. I’ve had my kindle for 16 days and I’ve spent getting on for £100 on books. happily, there’s a good 12 or so I’ve yet to read, so I figure if I spend the whole of October working, watching movies, working out and reading my way through my Kindle library, then it should be November in no time.

I suspect the harder part will be keeping those pennies somewhere sensible, rather than somehow hemmorhaging them elsewhere, as I am wont to do…

So there you go, I have announced an intention, and I shall try to fulfil it. However, there’s one more day of September left, and luckily for me, one more afternoon tea to be had. This one’s in aid of Acorns Hospice though, so my conscience, for once, is clear.

Living the Langham Life – part 1

In food, Holiday, Hotels, London, Travel on September 21, 2011 at 11:50 am

Last weekend Adam treated me to a luxurious weekend in London as my birthday surprise. While that might not sound so special, after all, we’ve all been to London, what’s so great?, we really went to town. For a start, Adam had booked one of the city’s grandest hotels, The Langham, for our stay. I’d never been to The Langham before and from the moment we arrived, admiring its chic, classy interior with its luxurious furnishings, marble pillars and pink and gold livery, it felt like we were in a fairy tale. Located at the top of Regent Street, it was also a perfect base to reach the rest of London, and with a strict schedule and a travel card, we were armed to see and do.

I’m not great at relaxing. I’m a nightmare on weekends away as I’ll draw up an itinerary that doesn’t allow for lingering or toilet breaks, so we wanted to get the balance right between making the most of the visit and chilling out. One of my favourite places in London is Covent Garden and we chose to go their first to browse the markets, enjoy the sounds and smells and have lunch, before heading to South Kensington to visit the museums. To my shame, while I’ve been to London more times than I can count, I’ve never visited the V&A or the Natural History Museum. I wish I had sooner, and I’m glad I have now – the history museum is superb. I loved the mix of entertainment vs information – something to keep everyone happy, whatever their age, whatever their reason for visiting. There’s a common belief that it’s little boys who have a fascination with dinosaurs, but that’s unfair – I defy anyone not to be awe-struck at the skeletons, models, fossils and information the museum shares. Moving through mammals and fish (I gave the reptiles a miss) it was a fantastic way to spend an afternoon, and what struck me as most impressive of all, was that it was free. Tne Museum of Natural History in New York costs around $20 a person, so to have this wealth of culture at your fingerips for the price of a discretionary donation is a great asset – well done London, you’ve done us proud.

By the time I left the museum I’d realised that wearing my never-worn before Reiss boots was a massive error of judgment. Suggesting we stroll up the Kings Road for coffee, having forgotten how long the Kings Road is when your toes are mangled, was another.

The evening saw me kick off the cursed boots in favour of sparkly shoes for an exciting evening – cocktails in the Langham’s exquisite Artesian bar, followed by Thriller Live at The Lyric Theatre, followed by dinner at The Criterion Restaurant.

The Alice In Wonderland

 

The mixologists in the Artesian Bar really are masters of their trade – it’s probably why the bar won the World’s Best Cocktail Menu accolade. I’d already chosen by cocktail before I left home, selecting the Alice in Wonderland – created to celebrate the famous novel first published in 1865, the same year that The Langham opened its doors to London’s high society. Made up of Bombay Saphire with peach meringue and fresh lemon, the drink is a sweet and sour sensation, and was served with a coating of rose salt – pink scented salt that coated the glass, adding a whole new flavour. I LOVED it.

I also loved Thriller Live. Whatever you may have thought of Michael Jackson’s personal life (for the record, I believe that he was merely thevictim of poor advice given by greedy associates who cared more about the bottom line than his health or reputation), you can’t fail to know, and most probably enjoy, his music. While I was never a big fan of the J5 or the Off The Wall era, Thriller and Bad formed a massive part of my youth, and I just hoped that the production would include Billie Jean and Smooth Criminal – my all-out favourites. And I was NOT disappointed. A stellar cast of singers and dancers brought MJ’s catalogue to life once more, with glittering costumes, audience participation and the kind of abilities that can only have been honed after days and days and days of watching, learning and replicating his work.

The outstanding performance of the night was without question Smooth Criminal – where the various ‘Jackons’ all took to the stage and were so, so good at performing the various layers of the song that I couldn’t work out which one was singing which part. What was clear though, was that the Jackson not singing was the one leaning, twitching, grabbing, moonwalking, and essentially bringing that entire gangster persona to life.

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You could just see the audience shuffling their feet, desperate to get into Leicester Square and have a bash at moonwalking again – heads up, if you couldn’t do it when you were 14, you won’t be able to do it now. And while the encore – that glittering single white glove appearing through the darkness, followed by the opening beats to Billie Jean and the steps lighting up with each step – didn’t quite top the moonwalking gangster performace, it was pretty close.

It goes without saying, my tootsies didn’t get the reprieve they’d been hoping for.

Post-theatre supper at the fabulous Criterion restaurant is a treat – and an affordable one when you choose from their set menu – tasty moules mariniere, salmon in chive beurre blanc with sauteed samphire, and strawberries and cream with meringue and basil granite were all delightful and light enough, before a stroll back up Regent Street to ‘home’. New York has the status of the city that never sleeps, but I love London for the same reason. You’re never on your own.

Feet screaming for mercy, and contact lenses itching, we ought to have called it a night there and then, but, with that fantastic bar standing between us and our room? Can you blame us?

My nightcap of choice was the Russian Spring Punch – fresh berries with Snow Queen vodka, fresh lemon and Creme de Casis served long and topped up with champagne. Every bit as luxurious and delicious as it sounds.

And with that, I curled into my bed – made of clouds and big enough to sleep four men – and gave my feet the sweet relief they’d been craving for the past 12 hours…

Bikini ready

In diet, food, gym, health, Holiday, Italy, Travel on July 29, 2011 at 1:59 pm

Well, it’s finally arrived. My summer holiday’s been booked for six months and this time tomorrow I’ll be basking beside the pool in Tuscany. Blissssssss. The past six weeks have been very tough – a strict eating regime (with a few lapses, I confess), trying to service all of my clients, do the holiday packing and do the 200km a week I told myself I’d do to achieve my goal weight.

And what do you know? I’ve done it – jobs all finished, invoices sent, suitcases packed, suncream bought, and a stone in weight lost – admittedly half my holiday clothes are now too big but I’ve been delighted at the  ‘new clothes buying’ part of it all, there’s a definite thrill to having to put back all the 10s and enjoy slipping into the 8s rather than squeezing into them.

Of course, two weeks of bread, pasta, cheese and oceans of wine will no doubt see the pounds pile back on a damn sight faster than they shifted. I’ve made the provisions – I’ve handed in notice at my gym, much as I loved it, because 25 miles is too far to travel there and back – 40 minutes each way, blus the two-hour workout, is taking its toll – and have signed up to a new one, so that when I get back with the post-holiday blues, I’m set to get right back on track.

I have packed my trainers and some gym gear – I’ve pledged to attempt some running with The Boy while I’m on holiday – but given that he’s in training for his third marathon and I despise running with a passion, I fear it may not end well, and will more likely see me lying on a lilo waiting for him to return from his all-terrain adventure.

Nontheless, it’s been all too long in coming, and I’m looking forward to ditching the scales for a fortnight and concentrating on which cheese to try.

Ciao!

The art of eating like a Frenchwoman

In book, diet, food, France, health on February 10, 2011 at 4:00 pm

I came across an interesting book recently and I had to buy it. Written by Mireille Guiliano, the CEO of Champagne Veuve Clicquot, French Women Don’t Get Fat claims to recondition eating habits so that you think and eat like a slender French mademoiselle. She has a point, I mused. On my trips to France, I only recall well-dressed, glamorous, slender ladies, and if this was going to help me join their ranks, well it was worth a shot.

So far, it’s making a lot of sense. Mme Guiliano is quite clear – the reason so many people are overweight is due to bad habits and big portions – shovelling food in while watching TV, while working at the laptop, grabbing breakfast on the go or by missing breakfast altogether and reaching for quick-fix snacks.

Her recommendation is to keep a food diary for three weeks so that you can spot patterns and ‘offenders’ in your diet, before undertaking a two day ‘Leek Soup’ preparation. You then enter the ‘recasting’ period – three months of changing your eating habits gradually.

I’m not yet half way through the book but I can see a great deal of logic in Mme Guiliano’s approach. Some have criticised her for being arrogant and accusatory, but as someone who is not overweight, but striving for improvement, I know I’m guilty of a lot of the ‘offences’ she flags up. My learnings so far, which I plan to start regulating pretty soon, are…

Turn meal times into an experience: Set the table, use glassware, napkins, candles. Make sitting down to a meal an enjoyable experience to look forward to. Take care of presentation, use more than one plate to choose from. Eat a little of each food, on its own, first, before you mix the flavours. Enjoy the flavours. Put your cutlery down between mouthfuls. Chew. Taste. Savour.  It doesn’t take a genius to see how this could work on so many levels – if you’ve gone to the trouble to make up a table for dinner, you’ll want to spend longer there, not wolf your food down without really tasting it. I do love creating ‘restaurant’ style table settings, but it’s something I only do for guests, yet sure enough, we’ll sit at the table and chat and eat for ages, rather than eating a whole meal in less than ten minutes. I can’t even remember what I had for lunch today, but I know I ate it at my computer. It might seem daft to make an effort for one person, but it’s something I’m going to try next week and see if it works. Mme Guiliano says TV, newspapers, books – multi tasking of any kind at mealtimes is not allowed, enabling you to concentrate on what you’re eating and how it satisfies you.

Shop for fresh produce every couple of days rather than doing a bumper monthly shop: This means you’ll pay more attention to the type of food you choose and its quality.

Shop at markets rather than supermarkets, and look for in-season foods: This is all about the quality of the food we eat. Looking, inspecting, choosing plump, rosy tomatoes rather than pre-packed versions. That, teamed with the added time you’ll be spending eating and enjoying the food, will, she claims, make you begin to appreciate quality over quantity and enjoy the preparation of a meal to savour more.

Drink more water – a big glass before bed and a big glass in the morning, in addition to your existing daily intake. We all know we’re meant to drink at least eight glasses of water, but many of us don’t. By adding just those two glasses will help ward off dehydration and aid well being – all part of recognising what our body needs as opposed to what it doesn’t.

So far, I’ve gathered that French women don’t forbid themselves from indulgences, but they do counteract them. Mme Guiliano says that if we want dessert and wine with dinner, of course we must have it, but try to resist the bread basket, or ensure you do 30 minutes’ exercise the following day.

Without keeping a diary for three weeks, I know what my ‘offenders’ are. Bread will always be a massive draw for me, but according to this guide, that doesn’t mean I can’t have it, it just means I should choose really beautiful, fresh bakery bread and limit my portions so that it becomes a luxurious treat that I’ll savour, rather than eat bog-standard slices of everyday off-the-shelf bread. Sounds damn good to me. Mme Guiliano says that if someone eats four slices a day, maybe they cut it back to three, then two. Eventually, she says, I may discover I only really need one to feel satisifed.

The same rule applies to chcolate. Mme G says that instead of compromising on taste and scoffing mediocre bars, choosing a small piece of really excellent quality chocolate and savouring each bite, will go a long way – that much I do agree with; my Dad gave me a box of miniature Green & Black’s bars in my Christmas stocking and one of those tiny 15g bars lasted through an entire movie, while a bar grabbed in the supermarket or petrol station would last a couple of minutes.

I think it’ll take a bit of discipline, but I think if I stick to it, I could make some pretty significant changes once I’ve finished this book. I’ll keep you posted…