Handmade Christmas; the tree

Day One

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4 – a handmade Christmas tree


Handmade Christmas

For many years, I’ve had a different theme every Christmas and even though I’ve pretty much had every colour, the next step will be to have different shades and colour combinations. However this year’s theme is handmade.

I’m inspired firstly by Creative Open Workshops who taught me how to sew a tote bag in the summer and then by a birthday visit to Reykjavik where they appear to have a craft shop on every corner – possibly because it’s too cold to ever go outside. Having made the decision, I’m delighted to find when I come back that as well as Cow, Hannah Moreton is running several weekend Christmas decoration workshops.

Hannah’s workshops came along just at the right time as I was at the point of choosing which of the plethora of Martha Stewart Christmas books I was going to buy. It’s a shame we don’t seem to get the Martha Stewart programme over here which would pretty much sew Christmas up. However, here’s how my handmade theme has shaped up.

What I made with Hannah Week One

What I made at home part oneWhat I improvised at home

The start of the tree decoration


Birthday Celebrations

Michelin star food vs. good food

Urban flowers

On my actual birthday, I had the lovely treat of eating in the Tower Restaurant, whilst staying in the Tower Hotel, Lincoln. I’ve already reported the meal was amazing, one of the best I’ve had.

So when it comes to going to Purnells, with all its Michelin star glory, for my official birthday celebration, expectations are high. I’d already been there for my birthday last year and even when I booked it 8 weeks in advance, I had second thoughts as I that it could never eclipse the first experience.

It didn’t. In fact it didn’t match it. There’s nothing wrong with the food or the service this year but somehow it isn’t quite there. There are mutterings of certain foods being not quite perfect around the table, the service seems a touch arrogant compared to last year, I’m not sure if the fact that we were in the private room last year made a difference as we were treated like royalty then. Worst of all though, they didn’t explain that there was a set price for 3 courses so those of us who knew we couldn’t manage 3, opted for 2 but paid the same. I thought that was very presumptuous of them, given the ample opportunities to explain this to us during the ordering process. Why would anyone in their right mind only have 2 courses when they are paying for three – at Michelin star prices?

It’s a lovely meal, with even better company but both The Tower and Edmunds three weeks later easily eclipse Purnells.

Guinness cake, coffee made with love & flowers; the Urban birthday experience

Conversely, the next day is my Birthday Tea (coffee) in my regular Urban Coffee Co although last year was in the original Church Street, this year the newer Jewellery Quarter branch won out.

Urban, could not do enough; I walk in to see my ‘table’ laden with little pots of flowers, my favourite Guinness ‘birthday’ cake is on offer (not an Urban staple so bought in especially)  and there are already welcoming friends there. Quite an overwhelming but delightful afternoon.

The most thoughtful, handmade present

Enjoying good cake, coffee & company

Another birthday, another city

Part 1 of 3 birthday celebrations

Birthday flowers in Lincoln

This year, despite the big day falling on a Saturday, I’ve managed to stretch the celebrations to 10 days. I’m not a big drinker; my way of celebrating is through travel and fantastic experiences so first up, is a weekend in Lincoln.

My five year old tradition is to visit a new city for my birthday each year; San Francisco, Washington, Montreal, Milan and now Lincoln. Technically, I’m going to Reykjavik for my birthday but practically, it’s not possibly to fly till Monday and this way; I’m still waking up in an interesting new city on the actual day.

Lincoln is cute for a visit and although there are not enough coffee shops to keep me in coffee crawl mode ordinarily, the Tower Hotel is well worth the trip and if this scrumptious hotel at the top of the hill isn’t enough, its restaurant near blew  me away.

Birthday meal – Tower Restaurant

The starters look fantastic but knowing my ‘eat small chunks every two hours’ appetite, something has to give so it is straight onto the main course:  

Pan Seared Fillet of Silver Mullet, Cauliflower Puree, Parsley Mash, Caper Berry Dressing, Cauliflower and Pine Nut Fritter

 Everything about this collection of goodies oozes goodness, how can a dish not be good if it has mash and fritters?! I devour every morsel with my reasonably priced wine (I thought it was a typo) before moving on to one of the things I live for, dessert:

 Ricotta and Vanilla Cheesecake Lemon Meringue, Buerre Noisette Crumb, Coffee Puree, Orange and Cinnamon Sorbet

If I’ve ever tasted a better dessert, it’s beyond my memory.

The chefs have clearly placed secret ingredients in this as every intricate part of this dish exploded in my mouth like heavenly volcanoes.

The Coffee Puree tastes so lethal it’s like espresso they may have served in the prohibition era, the cheesecake – already my favourite food on the planet – has its faultlessly crumbly base served in bounders piled next to it, saves having to cut into it and Lemon Meringues are unlike any ever tasted on earth so clearly are from another planet. But this is before the explosive Orange and Cinnamon sorbet which is exactly what they serve in heaven.


The setting is lovely, if not the luxury of a regular fine dining restaurant. It has a busy bar in the next room but we didn’t

Three kinds of butter

hear anything from it and I found our lovely window seat a delight, despite looking out to the car park opposite. It’s brighter than an intimate setting found in Michelin’s but the staff and fellow diners next to us were chatty and friendly, not at all pretentious. I’ve just read through the entire menu and I could eat it all, even the Sunday Lunch which is the one meal I proudly make.

This is one of the best food experiences I’ve ever had and if it was in Birmingham, this will be a monthly treat, or perhaps more often. How is next week’s Michelin star’d Purnells, where I also ate last birthday, going to compete with this flawlessness?


Tower Restaurant menu  Tower Hotel website


Amuse Bouche; Pea, ham & popcorn

Domestic Goddess in training (Possibly the first of a series)


Words I didn’t think I’d say part 54: I learnt to sew.

A few weeks ago, I went to a craft work shop with the lovely ladies from Creative Open Workshops. It’s not that I’m a complete novice to sewing, I can sew a button and hem badly and I grew up with my Mum running up frocks for me on her sewing machine for my every choir performance.

Look, I'm preparing to sew!

Erin and Francine are in charge for the ‘Make a Tote Bag’ session. Unfortunately for them, they have a nervous but excitable novice to look after, fortunately for me they are patient, encouraging, fun and amazingly. After being allowed to select my own materials (three different ones to make up one bag!) they let me sit at their best sewing machine which can be set at the lowest possible ‘gear’ setting.

The finished bag

My bag created, I came away wanting a sewing machine. Or maybe a food mixer.

I’ve been trying to get back into cooking for the last couple of years. I’ve owned two mixers in the past as I did used to bake once upon a time and have an ology in cooking.

The domestic goddess in me is coming out and the mixer wins for now; I like food more.

Follow CoW on @COWstudio Follow me on @RickieWrites

Adventures in Scotland – Aug 2011

It fits that I should start the editing process of my book in the same city I start writing it, 16 months ago. Having said that, these few days are more of a ‘Worliday’ as coined by San Sharma of Enterprise Nation fame. This is a perfect mix of work and play or in my case editing, going on coffee shop crawls and taking in an Edinburgh Fringe show. Even though I go to Scotland for solid writing days, I always come back refreshed and raring to go as if I’ve been on holiday.

It’s the first time I’m going to Scotland in a car so I can delight in the ‘Welcome to Scotland’ sign that I had hoped for by train, not to views of the rolling hillside as we go through the Pennines. You know, the view the Americans think the whole of England sees every day out of their window.

Apart from being able to shop at Ness for my beloved tartan flavoured clothes, the highlight is not just being in the city for the Edinburgh Fringe but catching a show too. It’s the last day and we hover at the half price ticket stand just long enough for one of the artist’s to pimp his show to us. We buy. The show was as funny and silly as I had hoped and all I can say is I will never look at a red sofa the same again.

The coffee crawl over two days in the city included two Bean Scenes, Peters Yard, Kilmanjaro and a new one on me, the Wellington – all fantastic experiences.


There are also two great meals in Edinburgh but I am looking forward to lunch at Cup when we hit Glasgow’s West End; same table, same view and two cupcakes to go as always.

Of the three Glasgow Bean Scenes’ I write in, my favourite has gone. It’s still there as a similar independent coffee shop named Rudi’s but it’s slightly smarter, more bar than coffee house. If I wasn’t looking I may not have noticed but despite similar ideas and almost identical menu, it’s not Bean Scene. It’s the reason I discover my favourite vintage shop, more because the lady who runs it – who always remembers me – inspired me to run Birmingham Vintage Festival.

I didn’t make a purchase alas, having already bought Victoriana boots in Glasgow but we did find the men’s paisley shirt I’d been looking for in the shop opposite.


On the long and beautiful detour towards Lake Windermere where I, mentally at least, have bought a cottage on the main road, in ‘Black Moss’ which I run as a boutique bed & breakfast filled with vintage finds as I write my (next) book overlooking the fields at the back of the house. Very Miss Potter.

I rarely eat ice cream but the draw of the 99 cone as we pull up to take in Lake Windermere is too much. As if this isn’t perfect enough, on the way back the planned stop is Westmorland services which everyone I have mentioned to since has been to but a new heavenly discovery for me. A glorious lunch with a view and a week’s shopping money spent in the farm store before we finally return home to Birmingham.

Adventures in Vancouver: Day seven, a day of inspiration

It’s my last day of waking up to this fantastic view, tomorrow I will be waking up to Heathrow airport and then to street level, there is no floor-to-ceiling window at home.

Good morning Vancouver


I never do get to have pancakes at the very local Joe’s Grill in Davie Village, upon which the Century Plaza is situated on the end of. Instead, I decide upon a last look at Gastown, the old part of the city on the edge of the water that Vancouver is built around, including the statue of ‘Gassy Jack’, John Leighton, around whose pub the area was built so the nearby mill workers could have a drink. They say Gastown is less touristy and much improved but I remember enjoying this neighbourhood much more last time.

Yesterday, I spent the best part of an hour trying to catch a photo of a bus when the sign flashes up ‘Go Canucks Go!’. The buses have had this all week so why I choose my last day to try and catch a photo I will never know. In any case, when I’m standing at the right spot for a bus to go past me that had the signage (it seemed like they all had it but it’s not the case) I realise I can’t take the shot as I can’t work the zoom on my phone, I gave up on the dodgy camera long ago. (Incidentally, I decided to buy a Canucks supporters item but too late again, I was already at the airport and all they had were shirts, no mugs or pens or anything I would actually use. I do buy the Oprah magazine though!).

I love how the whole town ha ‘Go Canucks Go!’ signs everywhere, from small shops with posters to big stores, train stations and mobile phone shops that have electronic messages posted as large as they can. There’s something to be said for just having one team per city rather than having derby matches.

Last pancakes

I’m not allowing myself in any more book stores but have a very long list of books to buy upon my return, particularly coffee table books like ’This is East Vancouver’ and fashion photography by YSL. The case ends up being.7lb over in weight anyway. I also want to buy every home decoration magazine but I figure I can import these later if the addiction holds.

I have noted that in Vancouver my train tickets have not been checked once; do they have electronic monitors that check you are carrying a ticket maybe?!

Today is about walking. After I realise there is indeed nothing doing at Gastown, I race to find the place I went to yesterday, knowing they serve breakfast until 11.30 and I’m so glad to make it. After checking in on-line for tonight’s flight and a little blogging, I tuck into my last pancakes then work my way back through Yaletown, saying goodbye to all the book shops, boutiques and vintage stores on my way back to Davie Village.

So, the neighbourhood where I’m staying at is the perfect one. It wasn’t last I was here but now Davie Village has come out, a fact that is immediate as I turn the corner onto Davie street which is covered in flags to represent Vancouver’s gay village. For the solo woman traveller, this is the best place to stay.

I’ve walked from Yaletown all along the beach so go a little further than I plan, almost into West End and so dive into the first coffee shop I see, (I think Meeches but no amount of searching has found it). Finally I hear John Cougar Mellencamp (Hurts So Good) – my trip is complete! I always say when I turn on the radio in North American I’m guaranteed to hear certain artists within the first hour, usually Bon Jovi, Journey or John Mellancamp. I’d heard the former so this felt very apt for the last day!

I drink my last London Fog and make my way slowly back to the hotel to get changed for travelling and then have a final drink. I reflect I’ve not been to the cinema once, a habit I normally have each night of North American travel. There wasn’t anything on and besides, I was busy!

Century Plaza is the most green hotel I have stayed in. I imagine Vancouver (probably Canada) is more green than most cities as the country customarily looks after it’s environment. Vancouver is also much more social media savvy than the UK; every shop, guide book and even the bus advertises their Twitter name.

Century Plaza give $5 back each day if you say ‘no’ to housekeeping. For them this actually means I don’t have a housekeeper come to the room at all so it means making my own bed and doing the washing up – like I do every other day of my life. I’ve asked for ‘no towels’ before but housekeeping normally still just give you them, despite my hanging them up to dry.

I accumulate $5 vouchers to spend in the hotel so it meant a large chai for me each evening, without leaving the hotel, and now whilst I wait for my bus to the airport.

What a fantastic week; this time the pre-trip excitement is validated and I cannot wait for Calgary next.