I’d heard some great reviews about the food so I wanted to give it a whirl. I’m rather fond of Rammy which sits amidst the pretty West Pennine Moors and it also gave us the chance to have a little meander around the town and catch up with a mate who lives locally.
Largely I’m just going to let the photos do the talking about our lunch. Jamie and I were both very happy as I think you can see from the photos. The food was good, the service was attentive and fast and it was just £20.95 for two courses. My monkfish and coconut dahl was excellent and I felt very smug for ordering such a healthy main. Jamie’s aged Lancashire beef was delightful – I had a mouthful and was overcome with food envy. And pudding was a compressed grape and vanilla cheesecake. So good!
I set myself the goal that I cook one recipe from each of my 69 cookbooks in 69 days. Taking the plunge got me out of my comfort zone and I gained more confidence in various cuisines like Thai/Indian/Chinese which I normally ran away from because of the obscure ingredients.
2. I became more comfortable in my own skin
Taking some time out after leaving my job of ten years gave me the chance to nurture myself and my creativity and reconnect with my values. It was a wonderful opportunity.
3. I developed a more mature and confident sense of style
Giving myself some creative space and going to art galleries, on writing and photography courses and exploring the cultural scene in Manchester fed my imagination and allowed me be more discerning and daring in how I dress myself and my house.
4. I’ve started to become rather addicted to taking creative risks
I think it’s good for the soul. These risks have involved baring my soul on my blog and talking about quite private matters, public speaking for the first time and even starting a YouTube channel. I’m no Zoella but I’m proud of giving it a crack.
5. As a freelancer and now self employed social media coach, I can justify spending a lot of time on social media
It can be a slippery slope. There were days last year when I’d get up at 7am and sit at my laptop until midday pouring over Pinterest and Instagram and not achieving much. This year I have a new rule, be washed and dressed and made up by 9am and have a to do list. As a result I’m way more productive.
6. It’s easy to be lonely if you are self employed and a blogger
There’s a potential to spend a lot of time on your tod. However I’ve started to collaborate more and more with freelancer friends and it’s been a blast!
7. Holidays are amazing
I was very lucky in 2016, I went on various holidays including to Goa and on a cruise around Italy. I’m quite a worrier and over the years have developed a self destructive habit of needing to be ‘doing something’ at all the times. This year I’ve learnt that holidays are for relaxing not doing. Spending time doing nothing and enjoying your surroundings is brilliantly rejeuvenating and is great for getting the creative juices going.
8. Being 40 rocks even if it’s made me feel a bit old
Despite increasingly creaky knees and more laughter lines, I feel like I care less what people think of me and am surer of my own opinions and more entitled to just bloody enjoy myself.
9. I’ve started to let go of my obsessiveness around penny pinching
In my twenties I got into a lot of debt, in my thirties I got sensible and was really careful with my money. However as Jamie taught me, tightness is at times a hindrance and I end up buying cheap rubbish that doesn’t last. Or I’ll cycle in minus 4 degrees to save money and get a cold. So this year I’ve learnt to loosen my grip. I’ve also allowed myself to be indulged.
Jamie treated me to a fabulous dinner at 2 michelin star restaurant L’Enclume in the Lake District for my 40th (and the head chef photo bombed the picture)
10. Being visually expressive is important to me
I’ve always been drawn to quirky beautiful clothes and been interested in design and art. I discovered this year that by expressing myself through photography, colourful clothes and quirky house interiors, that I’m a better and happier version of myself.
Ottolenghi’s Plenty has been an absolute pleasure to review. This man makes you fall in love with vegetables. He serves them in unexpected and delightful ways. Cooking from Plenty made me very happy. And at no point did I feel that there was anything missing due to lack of meat or fish.
So here’s my run through of the eight recipes we tried out, starting with the favourites.
Aubergine and lemon risotto. Ottolenghi may cook with vegetables but that doesn’t mean his dishes are low calorie. This dish had a lot of butter in, but it tasted so good. Incredibly rich and creamy as you scoop out the goo of a charred aubergine to mix in with the risotto rice.
Courgette and hazelnut salad. Admittedly we deviated from the vegetable theme here and ate it with roast chicken, but hey we would have been hungry without a bit of protein. Griddled courgettes combined with roasted hazelnuts, parmesan, basil leaves tastes superb.
Tomato, semolina and coriander soup. So semolina is a rather fascinating addition to this dish. It thickened the soup and even provided it with a few accidental potatoey like dumplings. Tasty.
Mee goreng. Apparently this is a really famous Malaysian dish, but I’d never had it before. I am now an official fan. Stir fried tofu, pak choi, french beans, noodles and a chilli and soy sauce. Salty and interesting.
Crunchy parpadelle. A lovely creamy pasta dish made with double cream, sprouting brocolli, mushrooms and an exciting topping of crunchy panko breadcrumbs and lemon zest. I really loved this one!
Also very goods
Mixed beans with many spices. Jamie chose this and I thought it sounded a bit boring. I was wrong. Beans can be very delicious in the right spicy sauce. So tasty that I had two enormous plates full of the stuff.
Butterbeans friend with feta, sorrel and sumac. Jamie wasn’t such a fan of this dish, but I love butter beans and feta and dill so I was happy as larry! It was lovely and creamy and comforting with the dill and feta adding a bit of intrigue.
Soba noodles with aubergine and mango. An unusual and enjoyable dish. The mango gave it an interesting sweet and sour flavour.
I loved cooking from Plenty. Ottenlenghi is a creative genius – the dishes are so colourful and imaginative – they really lit up our evening meals. Although sometimes there’s a lot of butter and cream in his recipes, I think they cancel themselves out because all the vegetables and other ingredients are so healthy. I will definitely be returning to this book for more vegetable worship.
I’m not being melodramatic when I say that Fresh Walks has changed my life. So much good has come out of me going on these networking walks in the Peak District.
I’ll admit for my first walk back in July 2015 I was super nervous as I walked up to Glossop Station to join the group. I was used to holding my own at a networking event, but that was always with the safety net of:
a) being able to escape whenever I wanted
b) having a nice dress and make up on to hide behind
But going on a 12 mile hike meant I couldn’t slip off if I got bored or didn’t like the people. And I was in sports gear. Not how I wanted to meet people I might potentially do business with.
However, I quickly got over myself and got involved. Petting dogs accompanying the group was always a good distraction when I was at a loss for conversation.
It was a gloriously hot day and we did a big circular route up into the hills and back to Glossop.
I met truly fascinating go-getting people, and the group was alive with energy and laughter.
There were many wonderful outcomes to that day, but one of the best was meeting my friend Helen Dibble. Helen runs her own marketing company and we found we had a lot in common and she’s since been a big influence on me starting my own business.
Although it’s not exclusively an event for freelancers and small business owners, the majority of people were. I loved the drive and passion of the people I was meeting who were in charge of their own destinies (for better and worse sometimes). It planted a seed for me, I wanted a piece of that freedom and it helped me to be very confident later in the year when I decided to take voluntary redundancy from my job of ten years.
I have been on eight Fresh Walks in total – in sunshine, torrential rain and snow. I even sampled the new Fresh Walks in the city version which is packed into a lunch break and is led by a tour guide. I did the historic and rather beautiful ‘Ancoats and Angel Meadows’ walk.
And as I launch my new business as a social media coach I know Fresh Walks will be a great source of support, inspiration and business opportunities. And thrown into the bargain I get beautiful scenery, exercise and a good sprinkling of endorphins.
First things first. I’m still eating ice-cream, in fact I had a fantastic scoop of the stuff last night at the cinema. However I would argue that I’ve made huge progress in discovering that my problem is not the ice-cream. It’s what’s driving me to eat the ice-cream.
Michelle Pratt a weight loss coach has been rummaging around in my head to try and find out why my daily hit is so important to me and the benefit I’m gaining from it.
We discovered it’s a crutch for me. Whilst I’m thoroughly enjoying setting up my own business as a social media coach, it can be scary, exhausting and lonely. I don’t know how things are going to pan out so I’m consciously and subconsciously dealing with a lot of uncertainty. I also have to be incredibly motivated every day. There’s no one to tell me what to do or tell me off if I don’t do it. And I’m learning all the time. How to take better photos, how to file for my taxes, how to use photoshop, how to load various plug ins onto my blog, how to optimise hashtags on instagram. I love learning but it’s tiring. So ice-cream has become my certainty and my comfort. However much of a rollercoaster of a day I have I know I can count of my bowl of Ben and Jerrys.
This was a revelation to me. Michelle and I are now going to explore exactly which of my needs aren’t being met in my day to day work life. And then if we can figure out a way of meeting those needs, we might be able to curb my sweet tooth.
Alongside the sessions with Michelle I’ve also started to look at healthier alternatives for my sweet tooth and I’ve made some enjoyable discoveries. First of all I’ve become a big fan of Simone’s Healthy Bakery at the Arndale Centre in Manchester. They have a variety of options, mainly gluten free, diary free and vegan. And you really wouldn’t know, they all just taste like great cakes. In the photo of me at the top of the blog I’m devouring a vegan and gluten free matcha cupcake. It was incredible.
I’ve also had a dabble at making my own healthy cakes. I tried Hemsley and Hemsley ginger biscuits made with ground almonds and maple syrup and they were pretty good. But the real triumph were the Hemsley and Hemsley brownies made with black beans and raw cacao. They were way too good to be healthy.
Whilst I haven’t quite nailed this healthy eating/giving up ice-cream lark yet. I’m delighted with the support I’m getting with Michelle and feel that when we truly get to the root of why I’ve become so dependent on ice-cream and how to get those needs met in a more helpful way, I won’t be quite so dependent on my evening fix.
On 3rd November Jamie and I boarded a plane in freezing cold Manchester and eight and a half hours later arrived in sunny Goa at seven in the morning.
From Dabolim airport it was a hairy, cow dodging taxi ride to Patnem, but an hour later we were at the beach.
As we dragged our wheely suitcases along the sand to our accommodation at Sea Front Beach Huts, I eagerly stared around trying to soak up the atmosphere of the place. And I spied relaxed, hippy looking types, supping on lassis and masalas teas. They looked happy – this was a postive sign – I sensed we were going to have a very good time.
In the weeks leading up to the holiday, I had made lots of plans as to how we’d spend our fortnight – day trips, local markets and perhaps an outing to a spice farm.
Then when we got there, reality hit. It was so damn hot and nice. I literally couldn’t arsed to move much. Forget day trips, I wanted to do nothing.
It was a very long 14 days, filled with competitive scrabble playing, book reading and watching the world go by on the beach. The Goans are delightful people – charming, happy and friendly and this was a big part of why we enjoyed Patnem so much.
We started out literally having curry for breakfast, lunch and dinner – which I thoroughly enjoyed. But after a few days I was starting crave fresh fruit and veg, and eating paratha (Indian layered bread) three times a day was leaving me feeling bloated. So we moved on to amazing smoothie bowls with fresh fruit at ‘Zest’ health cafe for breakfast, and tasty salads for lunch at ‘Home’, a peaceful and pretty beach front restaurant. We stayed committed to curries in the evenings though when we’d jump in a rickshaw and drive a mile down the road to lively Palolem for dinner and drinks.
Despite never leaving the two neighbouring beaches of Patnem and Palolem for a fortnight, it still felt like such an adventure. Just the interactions we were having with local waiters, shop owners and rickshaw drivers felt exciting and interesting. And the atmosphere of Patnem itself, which is known for its many yoga schools, felt exotic – not only because of the melting pot of nationalities hanging out there: Israelis, Germans, Russians, Brits and even Indians on holiday, but the yoga vibe of the resort was very different to any holiday I’ve ever been on. Watching people do classes on the beach was fascinating – admittedly sometimes the chanting got on my nerves, but largely I loved watching the focus, dedication and grace of these people learning their skill.
When it was time to go back to the UK, Jamie and I were both really sad. It had been a magical experience. It wasn’t a hard core immersion into Indian culture – Jamie described it as ‘India light’ – a gentle introduction to the country without the chaos and hassle you might receive in other Indian tourist spots. Two weeks of beautiful beach with my excellent boyfriend in gorgeous hot sunshine, surrounded by lovely Goans – I couldn’t have asked for more.
On my return from France, because I was so fired up about French food I was desperate to review a French cookery book. But, alas none of my 80 cookbooks are French. Luckily my friend Katy came to the rescue with Rachel Khoo’s ‘The Little Paris Kitchen’.
I hadn’t personally been a fan of the tv programme – I found Rachel a bit smug with her glamourous outfits and her adorable Paris life and her perfect food. Or more accurately I was probably jealous. However I am now eating humble pie. Rachel Khoo – I apologise for misjudging you – I’m converted – your food is ace.
I wouldn’t recommend this book if you’re on a diet – there’s a lot of cream and cheese, although I did try and select the marginally more healthy options. But I must confess I did like cooking with naughty ingredients. It made a refreshing change from my comfort zone of reviewing healthy cookbooks.
The dishes were so good I’ve even had to invent new categories for grading the dishes we tested. Firstly we’ve got the ‘Off The Scale’ category, followed by ‘Excellent’, finishing with ‘Really Good’.
I’ll talk you through them:
Off The Scale
Cauliflower bake with hazelnut crunch. Cauliflower cheese is a comfort food dish, but this is a glammed up version. The crunchy breadcrumbs and hazelnuts on top were a lovely addition. I regret that I over steamed the cauliflower. Next time I will aspire to crunchier cauliflower.
Bouillabaisse or fish stew. This was our new year’s eve dinner. I loved the exotic blend of herbs and spices – star anise, orange zest, fennel seeds, thyme and saffron threads – I’ve never eaten seafood with that kind of citrussy base before. We tried to make the ‘rouille’ to go with it – a saffrony homemade mayonnaise. Two attempts but no success – I think more thorough guidance from Khoo would have been useful, but the stew was still exceptional without it.
Chocolate lava cakes with salted caramel filling. It was a triumphant moment at our table when Jamie and I tucked into these beauties. Hot molten chocolate with salted caramel in the middle. A definite moment of pudding heaven for me.
Smoky fish pie. A good way to use up the leftovers from the christmas cheeseboard and random old veg in our fridge. This was made with smoked haddock, bechamel sauce and veg of your choice. It was a lovely warming wintery dish.
Puy lentil salad with goat’s cheese, beetroot and a dill vinaigrette. The perfect post christmas health kick dinner with the dill sauce adding a nice fresh, tart note.
Chicken and mushrooms in a white wine sauce. Chicken and mushrooms with cream and wine is always a winner and the aniseedy tarragon on top really made it for me.
Mushroom terrine. Basically a mushroom quiche without a pastry. Simple and tasty.
Carrot salad and celeriac and apple salad. I too often forget how good salads can taste with a bit of love and imagination. We were particularly taken with the celeriac and apple salad – the mustard and white wine vinegar giving it some pep.
I was rather sorry when we cooked the final recipe from ‘The Little Paris Kitchen’. It had been a lot of fun – I had enjoyed the feeling of extending my french holiday by continuing to learn about French cooking and eating French food. I also did really like the excuse to cook with fattening ingredients – the French know what they are doing with cream and butter. Thanks Rachel, your cookbook is colourful, inspiring and you make it easy for readers to get impressive results.
I’ve always had a sweet tooth and for probably about 18 months now I’ve been eating ice-cream every evening, and sometimes I have seconds too. Not to mention the sweet treats I sneak in during the day. On the odd occasion that Jamie has suggested I try and curb my ice-cream ritual, he soon lives to regret it.
I feel like I’m just about getting away with this habit – I’m a size ten and a healthy weight, I’m rarely ill and I exercise a lot. My sugar habit feels like a fair reward for all the running I do.
However I keep getting this creeping feeling that if I could crack my ice-cream addiction there would be a shed load of benefits.
I would like to be a little bit lighter – my clothes just look that bit better when I’m five pounds lighter. And I just wonder what my skin might look like if i wasn’t mainlining so much sugar. Perhaps it would reveal a new radiancy I’ve never experienced before?
I’m curious about my moods and energy levels, if I wasn’t regularly spiking my energy levels with refined sugar would I feel more energetic, calmer, happier?
And what about the long term health effects? Whilst I may not be fast tracking my way to a chronic disease with my daily frozen tipple (it’s not like I’m smoking 20 a day) I still think I’m not properly protecting myself from potential illnesses in the future. If I put more good nutrition in my body in place of all the sugary snacks I would be giving my body it’s best possible chance to fight any diseases that come its way – whether that’s a cold or cancer.
These thoughts have been whirring around in my head for a good few months (or years even), so the New Year seems like a good opportunity to seek some help and find out whether addressing my sugar addiction would have a positive impact on my life.
I don’t want to attempt this healthy eating journey alone, so I’m enlisting the help of Michelle Pratt, a weight management coach. We will be meeting soon to discuss ways of tackling my ‘problem’. I chose Michelle because she digs deep into the mindset and motivation of behaviour around food. This seems like a highly sensible approach as I don’t just want to implement some healthy eating measures for January and then slip back into my old ways come February. I want a long term change.
I’ll be tracking my healthy eating journey on my blog and social media, so look out for updates – and please get in touch if you want to share your own similar journey or if you have any tips for me.
This is a blog post I wrote eight months ago when I was about to take voluntary redundancy from the BBC – it was a frightening and thrilling time. I wanted to share it because I’m about to write another post reflecting on how my year has gone – much of which has been rather wonderful.
Scaring Other People With Your Dreams
I expect to be nervous and scared – I’m leaving my full time job of ten years to embark on an unknown career, that’s a pretty brave thing. But as I’ve learnt recently, it’s not just me with the jitters that in two weeks time I will no longer be an employee of the BBC.
My boyfriend Jamie has been an absolute rock and a huge source of encouragement over the last six months while I’ve mapped out my plans for post redundancy life. So when in the last week he started asking me a number of unsettling questions about how I would cope with the shock and lack of structure when I leave – I was both surprised and grumpy. Jamie’s been one hundred percent part of the process of me thinking through how to carve out an exciting new career and also how to manage the loss of the stability and support network of the BBC. Doesn’t he trust me now?
Fortunately, with a bit of reflection I started to realise that Jamie feels in the dark and nervous about what is going to happen next with my career, my routine and just me generally. I personally feel very confident – but admittedly it is a somewhat loose plan of getting out there and seeing what opportunities crop up.
However this is a more considered approach than it sounds. In the last year I’ve networked my way across the vibrant and friendly Manchester business scene and with a redundancy package behind me, I decided that the smartest plan is to hold my nerve and find out where the interesting niches and opportunities lie when I leave. I’m proud of this approach – it’s ballsy and likely to be a fun and fruitful path. It’s intuitive and allows me to work out what I want to do and perhaps more importantly figure out who I want to work with. And there has in fact been a great deal of preparation with this ‘relaxed’ approach. I know I could get depressed, lonely and disheartened when I don’t have the firm structure of a 9-5. I also won’t be getting the strokes and praise I’m used to getting in my current job. Will I feel lost and undervalued when I’m floating about in this freelance abyss? No, I don’t think I will. I know I’ll have good days and bad days, I’m sure of that and I’m confident I can handle it.
I’ve had two examples of massive upheaval in my life in the last five years: I relocated from London to Manchester with my job in 2011 and two years ago I split up with my then husband and got divorced. Two potentially stressful and destabilising experiences and in both cases I thrived. I would say I got the ‘training’ to manage stressful situations when my life derailed several times in my teens and twenties:
At eighteen I got lonely and depressed when I went to university. I saw it through, but I found my time at Liverpool John Moores extremely difficult.
My mum died of lung cancer when I was twenty three – she’d been dying for three and a half years.
My return to London from a year’s travelling when I was twenty seven saw me descend into catastrophic debt and have a massive identity crisis when I compared myself to my now seemingly successful friends.
Eventually, and this has taken me such a long time, I’m now grateful for what those experiences have taught me. I’ve learnt that even when I’m dreaming big, to be gritty and realistic about how bad things can go and to put safety measures in place.
So, I have reassured my boyfriend that despite my optimism and dreaminess of approach with my ‘make it up as you go along’ career plan, that there is substance, structure, pragmatism and a shed load of back up plans in place. I know what I’m doing and in being forensically prepared for the very worst I think I’ll achieve the very best.