Domestic Goddess in Training: month one – January

As regular readers will know, I’m no stranger to baking having been attached to a wooden spoon before I could barely walk. However, it’s been many years though since I last worked out how many grammes to the ounce and whether I should really weight things or just rely on texture and taste (prefer the latter). Now post-building a career and then running my own company (I don’t much care for either now, I’m happy freelancing and spending every minute I can on writing (my book) instead) I’m back in the kitchen.

New gadgets

As soon as my Christmas holiday is over and I’ve booked my next trip (a ritual), Vancouver in May, I go out and buy a tonne of ingredients which are now sitting on top of work spaces as the cupboards in my I-never-cook-anyway sized kitchen are already over-flowing. For a neat–freak like me, I’d rather just have them tidily on display if I can’t fit them smartly in cupboards so I’ve been collecting quirky, retro containers too.

Secret recipe Chocolate Brownies

My initial plan is to bake anything other than cakes which I always could do although I did have a go at my legendary bite size secret recipe brownies at Christmas. I’ve actually long lost the scribbled recipe that I’d had from pre laptop days as it got lost in the move back from New York three years ago but it was a good first edible attempt.

New gadgets

So I start with buying a cookies book – American of course so I have the added challenge of converting all the recipes to UK-speak and the buying of new scales. I used to have scales before I got rid of everything pre-transatlantic move but they mainly sat and looked pretty above my fridge. The cookie book stated accurate scales an absolute necessity so any excuse for me to buy a new gadget.

Chocolate Chip cookies

The recipe seemed to be mainly large quantities of a variety of types of sugar so I try to modify it for UK consumption.

For the second batch, I added some super expensive chocolate that we picked up last year from Westmorland Farm Shop

Take Two

All of January’s creations were edible, actually very nice. In fact the cookies were eatern by my friend’s four year old which I take as a compliment from a fussy young’un. The plan now is it to make them jaw-dropingly good and make these photos better, which is going to take a few attempts over some time.

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


My Perfect Coffee Shop

I’ve been around the world, well around most of America and Canada, some of England and Scotland and all of northern Italy to be precise, always searching for the perfect coffee shop.

Coffee, Birmingham, Bean Scene, Urban Coffee Co, perfect coffee shop

Everyone knows that in Birmingham, my regular ‘home from home’ is Urban Coffee Company but if I can combine the ‘best bits’ from around the world, this is what my coffee shop will include;

Mugs

Small and large. Let’s save cups and saucers for tea and cappuccino. North America does this so right.

Decent coffee

Urban make it and it’s obvious really. An option to have it in take-out cups as it keeps my coffee warm and is less fiddly. I once got refused a takeout cup to have inside a coffee shop in Edinburgh as it’s ‘against policy’. I went back to that shop nil times.

Oh and eggnog offered as standard in coffee during December.

Desks

I love a comfortable chair and sofas too so a mix is great but sometimes a desk helps us workers focus. And a big table means we can fit a lot of solo workers’ chairs around it, working away without taking up the sofas.

Lots of seating

Sofas for the socialites, desks for the workers.

Bagels

Just with cream cheese is fantastic. Scrambled eggs or salmon is a huge bonus. Again, standard in North America.

Cake

(Kissme) Cupcakes absolutely! Also a small assortment of other cakes and pastries each day. Love the mix at Peter’s Yard in Edinburgh.

Music

I love live music in coffee shops. It’s simply the most civilised way to listen to music. Probably not AC/DC, they are better in an outdoors stadium setting but music of the singer/songwriter type is just gorgeous in coffee shops.

At other times, soft music in the background or radio 2 is perfect. If it was my coffee shop everyone would have to stop at 10.30 to do #popmaster  BeanScene in Scotland are passionate about their music.

Real Hot Food

Panini’s are great but I love soup, slices of pizza work and my absolute favourite is a bowl of hot chilli. And bagels! What’s a coffee shop without toasted bagels?

Bean Scene in Glasgow always have a warming chilli bowl ready for me.

Friendly staff

“Where everybody knows your name”.

No matter how good the coffee is I will go back only if there is a warm welcome and great service. It’s sooooo easy, ask Urban.

A view

Now I’m getting into the luxury territory but a room with a view is wonderful.

Warmth

It’s very hard to work in the cold.

Posters

If the coffee shop is the hub of a community, it’s good to know what’s happening in said community with posters, flyers, cards etc. Let’s spread the word and help each out. Bean Scene are great at this which is good for me, the out of towner.

Late Opening

8pm is fantastic (Urban), 10pm is divine (thanks Bean Scene!) 24 hours is a little crazy but handy (New York)

Goodies to take away

Not for me but if a coffee shop is all this then I love it if the out of towners can take a little piece of it back home with them. Just like this bag that I picked up from the heavenly place that is Peter’s Yard in Edinburgh.

Peters Yard coffee shop coffee cake Birmingham Edinburgh New York

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Italy Well in Italy I’m guaranteed a perfect cup of coffee EVERY time, EVERYwhere. The only thing is I can’t linger; I can’t work or read but balanced with the many pavement cafes, the view is always superb. In any case, I’m very grateful that they have escaped the terrible chains that the rest of the world has embraced, except for the rather handy, cheap and tasty McCafes. I guess they must have made it government policy not to let them in. Thank heavens.

Birthdays

Why I (Still) Celebrate my Birthday

After about the age of nineteen, for many, birthdays are greeted with much derision but me? I like to celebrate another year full of laughter, fun and of course new experiences. I think of a birthday as a celebration of being on this planet rather than having one year less to go. Who’s to say what will happen? My plan is to make the most of every minute and pack every day and go places I want to go every year.

Up until the big 40 I had parties at home just for my nearest and dearest – no hangers on that were unknown to me. I only want to celebrate the most important day of my year with people that matter, not strangers. Each year would have a theme, NOT fancy dress but a random theme just for fun. The last few were Bollywood, a children’s party, pink, All Saints and ending with ‘Letting it all Go’.

The 40th was a surprise to everyone; it was a commemoration of everyone I have known in my life with a look back in pictures and every track we played was painstakingly put together (remember @girltaristhan ?) as I celebrated a lifetimes’ love of music; we had top 3s, top 5s and top 10s  of all my favourite artists and genres and yet with 5 hours, I still didn’t have room for Springsteen.

After 15 years of this; of caterers, wait staff and the traditional fireworks, I realise that all I’m doing is paying a small fortune just to get my national friends together once a year, twice if you count the summer party too.

So the new tradition is take those few hundred £££ and go to a place I haven’t been before. I have been to San Francisco, Washington, Montreal and this year, Milan all adding to life’s rich experiences to be celebrated next year.

Today at Cafe Blend – Adventures in Birmingham

September 20th 2010

My fondness for Urban Coffee Co is very well documented. Nevertheless, particularly when I’m having a full on writing day (that is a short day with two breaks) the day is generally more productive with a change of scene so 2-3 coffee shops is ideal.

In Glasgow and Edinburgh where until now I have gone for all my full on booking writing jaunts it’s easy as each has two or three of the fabulous Bean Scenes plus a couple of other places for lunch. In Birmingham, as yet, there is only one Urban so when I’m recommended Cafe Blend by two people, I decide to go and investigate.

My first guess that this is going to pricier because it’s opposite Harvey Nicholls is correct.

Verdict

Con – View is the car park opposite and it’s on a very busy road near a very busy New Street Station

Pro – nice vibe

Con – Unsatisfactory service; I’m assuming the young lady was an untrained student but the words ‘hello’, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ didn’t trouble her lips once. My planned greeting of ‘here you are, I’ve heard all about you!’ seemed inappropriate. The student never offered me any choice and I was automatically served a small coffee.

Pro – they offer NY cheesecake

Con – they don’t stock Kissme CupCakes (but hopefully will do soon)

Pro – I love the comfortable bench seating with a table by the window. It’s a huge plus to have comfort and a desk

Con – the coffee is average but I get used to it

Pro or Con – Cafe Blend is way too close to Harvey Nicks

Adventures in Birmingham – September 5th 2010

It’s a short week but after being out of town with one thing another and it’s good to be back.

Thursday is the inaugural meeting of what I style as the Fine Dining Club. That’s me and whoever wants to visit one of Birmingham’s more exceptional restaurants every 6-8 weeks. I chose Opus first as they have been so fantastic in supporting the charity projects I work on. Purnell’s and Edmunds are coming up next for the same reason plus of course the extraordinary food and top class service.

And that’s exactly how Opus presents itself along with the great company of four like-minded ladies. The food keeps on coming as does the conversation. A couple of the girls chose from the market menu which included a gorgeous glass of champagne and feeling like I missed out having chosen the mushroom & leek risotto from a la carte, I order a glass too. If I haven’t mentioned, I’ve developed an allergic reaction to alcohol in the last few years and lots of experimenting in recent weeks has resulted in knowing I can drink champagne and Guinness without a reaction. (together which make Black Velvet, my birthday drink). My suspicion is confirmed about the champagne, there is no sneezing or annoying sniffling to follow. These are two of my favourite drinks but the other two are beer (lager) and red wine and I am really missing those.

Everyone loves Opus and the crème brulee maybe the best I’ve ever tasted. Five sets of plates licked clean, we happily spill out into the warm, September streets.

Friday night is music night so I skip the cinema and join some of the regulars at Urban Coffee Co. They have a pianist playing brilliant covers and a very warm feeling comes over me when the Cheers theme wafts upstairs. “Where everybody knows your name,” indeed.

I should have just bought a bed for the night as next morning I meet with a friend to discuss a new enterprise – news to follow – and then just have enough time to run to M&S to get some food into my empty fridge before returning for another legendary coffee, cake & conversation marathon with the Meet Up girls. They say I break the record when I race downstairs upon realising Urban have Red Velvet cake. So that’s black velvet & red velvet in the same week.

On Sunday, a year after I really should have, I learn about the Jewellery Quarter’s heritage. I walk these streets daily (on route to places you understand, not just randomly in bag lady mode). We all know about the jewellery and the whistle being made here for the original Titanic sailing (fat lot of good it did) but did you know for 100 years, Birmingham was the global centre of the pen making industry? There’s a lesson to follow on this; pay attention.

Adventures in Glasgow-August 2010 Part 2

Sunday I miss breakfast at the hotel. I don’t like eating early, before 9am but it’s there for the taking. I just don’t know where the time goes.

I’m looking forward to Sunday afternoon tea today at Cup, scene of gorgeous lunch last time but I’m not hungry enough. I delay until Monday, when it’s quieter I reason and then promptly forget.
Instead I pay a short visit to Kelvingrove Museum & Art Gallery, opposite the local Bean Scene (and what I am looking at as I write this. Well obviously not that precise moment or everything would be spelt incorrectly)

I don’t fancy spoiling the day by going downtown to the cinema tonight so stay west and complete my word target

Words up to 5000
Lunch: Off Shore
Cupcake: 1, Waitrose

Monday
A bonus day. Same as yesterday, miss breakfast, go to Cresswell St Bean Scene and write 1000 words. It’s a struggle to reach the word target for the second day running.
Yes I have been to the same coffee place each morning and it’s absolutely nothing to do with the guy who works there. Nothing, I tell you, it’s simply my favourite Bean Scene.

I finish early and the vintage place is still not open at 12.10 so I take a little, OK quite a big walk into Partick and back to the museum for more Glasgow story gazing. It’s really quite good in there.

I didn’t go to Cup today either; maybe I know it will never be as magical as the first time. I’ll go on my next Glaswegian visit.

After buying my movie ticket, my plan is to take a look at the ‘other side’ of Glasgow where Caledonia University is. There is nothing there, not even a coffee shop. Where do these students go? There are hundreds – OK many many places around University of Glasgow.

Cupcake: 1 Waitrose lemon & lime 7½/10 photo
Movie Grown Ups 7½/10
Words up to 6500

Tuesday

My last morning visit to the morning Bean Scene and they remember my order! I managed to get the same seat each time too; I’m beginning to wonder why no-one wants to sit there but I do arrive early so there are not many customers around.

What I’ve noticed on this trip

People just take up the whole pavement and many times I’ve had to wait until they move out of the way for me to pass or more often, I just step into the road. This isn’t just once or twice but several times on a walk. Why?
There is definitely a divide between attitudes; warmth towards a stranger in the West End rather than anywhere else. I know my place.

Big plus is there was no rain to speak off. The umbrella didn’t come out once. In fact we had glorious sunshine most days.

Words 7000

New frocks

New Frocks