Monday, 8 September 2014

This weekend ...

On Saturday we swam and lunched at The Lido in Bristol - a relaxing hour and a half spent in the outdoor heated pool, the hot tub, the steam room and the sauna, followed by a delicious two course a la carte meal in the restaurant overlooking the pool.  I'd planned for our visit to take place in the summer holidays but I'm glad it was postponed until the end of my first week back at work.  A touch of decadence was just what I needed.

I don't live near enough The Lido to pop in regularly, nor would I choose to fork out on the hefty annual membership fee, but I'd like to think I'll be back on some future occasion to sample another few hours of the high life.

If you like the sound of it, we opted for the Swim & Lunch package.  There are a number of others available.  The facilities are clean and well maintained.  The staff are friendly and helpful.  The food is imaginative and plentiful.  Good value for money.

On Sunday I sang with the Gasworks Singers at the Festival of the Voice at Stourhead.  We had four scheduled sessions at the foot of the Bristol Cross and in the Walled Garden, plus a couple of spontaneous ones under a tree, in the Pantheon and by the lakeside.  The rest of the time was our own to wander at will through scenery as exquisitely peaceful as an oil paining.  I sat on the grass eating my pasta salad and tried not to look too wildly out of place!

It's been a while since we sang together and I was a bit rusty, but our offerings were well received.  It was mercifully dry and the sun's appearance late afternoon justified an ice cream from the van.  All in all a jolly good day.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Summer 2014: A Review

At the beginning of the summer holidays I drew up a To Do List.  This is how I got on.

Cycle to Bath along the railway path
Having been knocked off a bike aged 18 and not ridden again until last summer on Colonsay, I was more than a little anxious about my ability to reach Bath without incident, but it proved to be much easier, and far more enjoyable than I'd feared.  We hired Bromptons from Temple Meads station via Brompton Dock, whose service I thoroughly recommend.  The path was a delight, taking us out behind back gardens and parks into the open countryside where we rode through wooded areas, along causeways with views out over the fields and following the river into Bath.  There, after a pot of tea in a cafe, we folded our bikes (albeit with a few teething problems) and carried them on to a train back to Bristol.  I enjoyed the experience so much that I'm planning to do it again.

Bake 5 pies from my new Pieminister Pie book
I managed two.  They were the Screaming Desperado (chilli con carne in a rough puff pastry) and Porkie Buns (Vietnamese flavoured sausagement in a hot crust pastry).  I loved the filling in the first and would eat it again on its own (the pie had a 'soggy bottom'), but the buns were a sensation.  We at them on a picnic at Tyntesfield with coleslaw and my daughter's boyfriend's mother's(!) piccalilli.

 Visit Tyntesfield
We caught the bus and claimed our 20% discount at the ticket office, cafe and shop.  It was a glorious sunny day and we spent a couple of hours wandering round the grounds, admiring the sculpture exhibition, exploring the outbuildings and the kitchen garden and eating our picnic, before entering the house. Restoration is ongoing and given the quality of what has been achieved thus far, the finished article will be truly amazing.  

Make falafels
I used Jamie Oliver's recipe.  They were alright but not nearly as good as ones I've eaten from street stalls; more bean burger than falafel.  So I'm going to try out Yotam Ottonlenghi's recipe which I'm certain will be more authentic.

Read 5 books
I read three (well almost three!) - Notes from an Exhibition by Patrick Gayle, A Death in Tuscany by Michele Ferrara and How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran.  A varied selection but all good reads.

Create a sourdough starter
My starter is well and truly established and has been used to make three loaves.

Get up early to watch Bristol Balloon Fiesta Dawn Ascent
I've watched many an evening ascent, but whether it's the satisfaction of making it up the hill that early, hot cups of tea from a flask, the absence of the fairground noise, the soft light or the anticipation of a bacon butty on our return, but this one was extra special.

Bake 5 new breads
I managed four - irish soda bread, flatbread, cornbread and sourdough.  And if I count the kanelbullar (technically buns, but made with yeast!) then it would be five.

Picnic at Bristol Zoo
I spent a leisurely day at the zoo with my younger daughter and picnicked on the lawn.  There's always something new to see and the promise of even more to entice you back.

Visit the Jeremy Deller exhibition
I'd never heard of Jeremy Deller but found his work very thought provoking.  I particularly appreciated the huge paintings on the wall.

Visit St Werburgh's City Farm, eat meatballs @ Ikea and shop at Bristol Sweet Mart
We had to go to Ikea to buy a table for my younger daughter.  I like to make the most of my £4 day rider bus ticket so we combined it with a visit to St Werburgh's City Farm and a short walk through Boiling Wells.  We enjoyed our meatballs at Ikea but sadly didn't have time for a cuppa at the farm.

Make rhubarb & ginger jam
I managed to get five jars from our new rhubarb plant.  I took a chance with a bag of jam sugar that was four years past its best before date, but we're still alive and kicking!

Take advantage of podiatrist appointment to window shop in Cotham/Clifton
I popped in to Kitchens and bought a banneton for my sourdough breadmaking and two pie dishes for my Pieministering.  Having drooled over The Philosophy of List's madeleines I'm kicking myself for not having bought the baking tin I saw on my way out.  Still, I'll be back that way on Saturday so ...

Swim and lunch at the Lido
Although I haven't technically done this during the holidays I did book our visit during that time.  We're swimming and lunching there this weekend.

Make a start on a recipe folder
Our house is littered with piles of magazines and boxes of cuttings but, with no way of knowing where any of them are when I need them, I rarely use any of the recipes I collect.  So, armed with a ring binder, an A4 pad, a pair of scissors and a Pritt stick, I went to work on the pile of Guardian 'cook' supplements.  I was ruthlessly selective and have ended up with a folderful of recipes that I might very well use.  Indeed I've already cooked two of them.

Make pizza
I made a couple of the best pizzas I've had in a long time.

Walk: Leigh Woods
I dragged my younger daughter and her boyfriend round the second longest trail, stopping to admire the view across the gorge and eat banana bread.  Despite being the weekend it was unusually quiet.

Picnic on Brandon Hill
We ate tortilla and salad and watched language students play frisbee under the trees.  Rain and the absence of the Vee Double Moo van prevented us from lingering.

Finish crocheting my daughter's quilt
It's almost there.  When I started to crochet the granny squares together I discovered I didn't have quite enough of them, so I had to rustle up a few more.  There's only five to go now and the border to add.

Walk: Bristol Old City
It's amazing how often we walk past building without actually looking at them.

So I didn't hold 5 dinner parties, visit Oxford, make tomato ketchup, take a proper look around the M Shed, watch the Night Glow, walk round Snuff Mills or Blaise Castle, shopped for clothes for work, swim in the outdoor pool at Street, make icecream, crak Prashad's khokla recipe, preserve lemons, make lemonade, have a barbecue or take the ferry boat to Beese's Tea Gardens.

But I did have lunch with friends at the Tube Diner, follow the Secret Cemetery trail around Arnos Vale, attend Amnesty's Goldney Garden Party, eat kebabs and jalebis at the Islamic Cultural Fair hand out leaflets at Temple Meads protesting about the increase in rail fares, run a Bristol Pound stall at the Tobacco Factory Market, see What If and Two Days and One Night, oppose the Metrobus proposal at a council planning meeting and generally enjoy not having to go to work.    

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Summer 2014: My To Do List

In my experience, the longer the holiday stretches, the easier it is to fritter it away.  So, when faced with 5 1/2 weeks this summer, I thought I'd best draw up a list of things I would like to have achieved by the end of them.  Maybe I should have added 'publish list on blog' as it's taken me over a week to do so.  But here it is:

(NB  Having decided that I was going to devote the first few days to recovering from the end of term, I based my list on 5 weeks - 7x5=35)

  1. Cycle to Bath along the railway path
  2. Hold 5 dinner parties (ie have 5 friends/sets of friends round for a meal!)
  3. Day trip to Oxford
  4. Bake 5 pies from my new Pieminister Pie book
  5. Visit Tyntesfield
  6. Make tomato ketchup
  7. Visit the M Shed
  8. Go to Bristol Balloon Fiesta Night Glow
  9. Make falafels
  10. Walk: Snuff Mills
  11. Read 5 books
  12. Create a sourdough starter
  13. Get up early to watch Bristol Balloon Fiesta Dawn Ascent
  14. Shop for clothes for work
  15. Bake 5 new breads
  16. Swim in Street outdoor pool
  17. Make icecream
  18. Picnic at Bristol Zoo
  19. Visit the Jeremy Deller exhibition
  20. Walk: Blaise Castle
  21. Crack Prashad's dhokla recipe
  22. Visit St Werburgh's City Farm, eat meatballs @ Ikea and shop at Bristol Sweet Mart
  23. Make rhubarb & ginger jam
  24. Take advantage of podiatrist appointment to window shop in Cotham/Clifton
  25. Preserve lemons
  26. Swim and lunch at th Lido
  27. Make a start on a recipe folder
  28. Make pizza
  29. Walk: Leigh Woods
  30. Make lemonade
  31. Picnic on Brandon Hill
  32. Have a BBQ
  33. Finish crocheting my daughter's quilt
  34. Walk: Bristol Old City
  35. Bristol Packet ferry boat trip to Beese's Tea Gardens
It's an eclectic mix of cooking, eating, walking, culture and fun.

I'm under no illusion that I'll get through it all and am therefore not going to beat myself up over it if I don't, but it should stop me waking up in the morning wondering what to do with the day!    

Saturday, 5 July 2014

It's Carnival!

I am ashamed to admit that, although I have lived in Bristol for 24 years, I have never been to St Paul's Carnival.  That is until today!


Friday, 4 July 2014

Glasgow: June 2014

Our hotel,the Victorian House Hotel (which I would highly recommend), was situated just along the road from the Glasgow School of Art so tragically gutted by fire.  The charred woodwork glimpsed through shattered windows was a depressing sight but the stone structure remains defiantly intact and there is real hope of being able to reconstruct the interior.


I continued my exploration of the city's independent coffee shops with a latte at the Laboratorio Espresso where I chatted to the owners about the Bristol Pound and their visits to our cafes.

We ate at the Ubiquitous Chip (disappointing), Tchai Ovna (quirky atmosphere and aromatic milky tea) and the Saramago Cafe Bar (delicious tapas).

We walked along the Clyde as far as Glasgow Green, popped into the Winter Gardens at the People's Palace, visited the famous Barras market and wandered through the Merchant City.

And, as always, we ran out of time ...

I won't be back until after the referendum.  We do indeed live in exciting times!

Te Magistrum Creamus

Last weekend we caught the train (never the plane!) north to Glasgow to watch our elder daughter graduate.

Here we are: one lovely young woman and two immensely proud parents.

It's tempting to elaborate, but the photo says it all. 

Friday, 6 June 2014

Birch - A Review

Intrigued by the activity in a local corner shop, previously a deli and an Indian takeaway, I vowed that when it flung open its doors I would be among the first to book a table.

Which explains why A and I chose Birch to celebrate his upcoming birthday.

The restaurant is very simply decorated and furnished - clean white walls, square cafe style tables, mismatched chairs, a high bottle lined shelf, with colour provided by the teal paintwork on the windows and a bright geometric design on the bar.  It was full when we arrived at 8:30 pm but we were quickly shown to a table by one of the large windows that form two sides of the room.  We were presented with a plainly typed menu and offered a choice of still or sparkling house water.  A nice touch.

The menu is divided into six courses; snacks, starters, mains, ices, puddings and cheese.  We skipped the snacks and headed straight for the starters.  I chose the asparagus; four long spears resting in a pool of cider butter, sprinkled with chopped toasted hazelnuts.  A went for the smoked trout, its fillets nestled between Jersey royals, daubed with pea green puree and scattered with watercress.  Just as I was thinking that a bit of bread wouldn't go amiss we were served two crusty slices with a pat of the yellowest butter.

For the main course I would have ordered the woodland pork but sadly it was sold out.  No problem when we discovered that it had been replaced by hogget, a year old sheep, something both of us were keen to try.  It arrived, delicately pink, accompanied by the creamiest mash, a mound of fresh green spring greens and a rich gravy.  The meat was so tender we hardly needed the steak knives provided.

The list of puddings featured one of A's favourites, treacle tart with a jug of cream, so that was him sorted.  I went for the lighter option, a perfectly clear, delightfully wobbly elderflower jelly alongside a quenelle of thick cream and a pile of poached gooseberries, whose piquancy was the perfect balance to the clean taste of the jelly and the lusciouness of the cream.

We drank half a bottle of a Cotes du Rhone.

We didn't spot an espresso machine, which was my only regret, as I like a small cup of strong sweet coffee to round off a meal.  Hopefully one's in the pipeline.

The service was attentive and helpful and the atmosphere relaxed and friendly.  Beccy took good care of us front of house while Sam worked his magic in the kitchen.  It made for a pleasant change to be seated looking out over a peaceful residential street rather than a bustling high road.  Very European I thought.

The bill was calculated on the back of an old menu which appealed to my passion for recycling.  At £60 it represented great value for three courses of fine food, expertly cooked and tastefully presented.

With a constantly changing menu to reflect ingredients in their season I feel sure there will always be something to tempt us back to Birch for future celebrations.