Thursday, October 31, 2013

Northern Food on tour: a weekend in Amsterdam

So I went to Amsterdam. On a stag weekend. Not the best recipe for a weekend of fine dining obviously, but that's not to say we didn't sample a few Dutch specialities, of both the good quality and the utter filth variety. I was in charge of the whole shebang, being in the honourable position of best man, so I'd managed to sneak some interesting food and drink options into the itinerary.

They're quite partial to a deep-fried beer snack, the Dutch. Virtually every pub and bar offers an assortment of goodies for soaking up the booze. Filo pastry type things stuffed with mince or cheese, spring rolls, and bitterballen, little round croquettes with an unidentifiable meaty filling.

This platter of delights was a fairly typical example. It may look like an Iceland party pack, but who doesn't like fried stuff and beer.

And where might you get your fill of fried stuff after the pub kitchen's have closed? Why from the legendary FEBO of course, automated vending machines for croquettes and burgers and god knows what else.

There are branches of FEBO all over Amsterdam, but it turns out the one up the street (FErdinand BOlstraat) from our hotel is the original. I couldn't tell you quite how rank the average vending machine takeaway is, because I only went near the place after a few (too many) ales. All I can say is that there's photographic evidence of me filling my face with one of their treats and looking like I'm really bloody enjoying it. My money's on the satekroket. De lekkerste!

Er right, I did say we ate some quality stuff too. There seemed to be a fairly good supply of eat-in bakeries and casual brunch type places dotted about the city. We ate breakfast at Omelegg two days in a row, so successful were they at easing our hangovers. Good coffee, freshly squeezed juice and damn fine omelettes with that lovely light, fluffy texture I always fail to recreate at home.

Interest on the booze front (not that lager and Jagermeister are uninteresting of course) took the form of a beer tasting at t'Arendsnest, a bar serving only Dutch beer. Did you know there are more than 50 breweries in the Netherlands? Me neither.

There's certainly a whole lot more to Dutch beer than mass market piss (yes Heineken and friends, I am talking about you), but I can't say I fell in love with any of the beers we tasted. The first, a crisp, dry lager in a blue bottle was a classy session drinking option, but after that there were a couple I wasn't keen on at all.

Things progressed with increasing strength, so my memory is a little sketchy, but I'm fairly confident the final beer, pictured below, was the best. It was a big beast, a Belgian tripel (or quadrupel?) in style, dark red in colour with a big hit of fruit and booze. 

The big meal of the trip was a visit to restaurant Djago for a rijsttafel, an Indonesian Dutch colonial meal basically comprising a set buffet of everything on the menu with your rice.

Giant prawn crackers to start, with two types of sambal. These were ace, like the sturdier Thai style prawn crackers but enormous.

And then the dishes started to arrive. Little pots of salads and relishes first; cucumber and onion; carrot and cabbage; roasted peanuts and roasted, shredded coconut. All probably designed with textural contrast in mind as much as taste.

There were stewed meat dishes, a beef rendang and something porky....

and chicken, curried beansprouts and curried eggs.

...and dense, clove spiked meatballs, and cold gado gado, and platters of chicken satay and some things I can't remember. There was a lot of food.

I enjoyed the experience more than the food if I'm honest. The meatballs aside (which I wasn't keen on anyway) everything else tasted a bit same-y, each dish a minor variation on the very sweet/salty/a little bit spicy/a lot of peanuts theme. After a while I was willing for a less sugary dish to appear.

I'm glad we went though, rijsttafel is a uniquely Dutch invention so not something you'll encounter much elsewhere, and it was good to try some Indonesian food for the first time I can remember. 

Anything else I should tell you about Amsterdam? 

The chips are good. Flemish style chip stands are plentiful and never less than satisfying. The pre-fried chips are always given their second dunk in the fat to order, before being served in cones with a choice from dozens of sauces ranging from classic mayo to satay or chilli cheese.

It's very flat. Attractive but flat. The complete absence of aspect, the lack of a view beyond the next street corner was giving me fen fever by day three. Or maybe my brain was just stag-do-frazzled by that point. Either way I like hills, but I'll certainly return for a more cultural visit as Amsterdam packs a hell of a lot in to what's actually quite a small place. A weekend of culture and chips beckons. 

It's a good place for a stag weekend. But you knew that already right? Happily we all made it home in one piece and now, a few weeks later the wedding has passed off with great success too!

The Info Dutch beer bar on Herengracht. Very informative beer tasting sessions. 20 euros for six beers. FEBO. All over the place. Don't do it. Unless you're very pissed. If this is the case 10/10. Cheap. on Ferdinand Bolstraat in the De Pijp area. 8/10 for omelettes (about 6-7 euros), coffee and OJ, but avoid the shit English style breakfasts. south of De Pijp. 6/10 for rijsttafel (24 euros for the option we had). Lovely service though. nothing to do with food, but these guys do good bike tours for a fair price.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Car Seat Help

This may be premature, but assuming we'll pass our license, they keep talking about car seats and I want to get an idea of what I'll need.

I need to purchase a car seat that basically will last from birth to as far as possible.  I do not want just a car seat for newborns, it has to last at least until they are 2 years old, possibly further.  Also I only want a black or gray car seat, I know, I know, I just do.  I'm not ready for beige and army green, maybe one day.  It can't cost crazy money because I get reimbursed.

So, most of you guys are parents, if not, if shopping for baby stuff doesn't make you dizzy, help a future foster lady out.  Amazon or Target would be best for me.  I've really tried and I don't really know what I'm looking for or I start to get depressed because I find something I like and it's $300.  Maybe it's supposed to be $300.  I really don't know.  This is really hard.

Thanks so much!

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Crazy Week to Come and the Hunger Games Halloween Party

This may be the busiest week I'm going to have since the week before my wedding.  It might actually be moreso.

Sometime over the summer (because I'm weird like that) I decided to start planning for a Halloween Dinner party.  We've had 2 Halloween dinner parties and they are really great.  Especially for someone like me who LOVES Halloween and used to cry driving home from work seeing all the little kids going Trick-or-Treating it was a great distraction (I highly recommend distraction to counteract any infertility pain or sadness).  But then the class started happening and I thought oh, there's a lot going on, it would be nice to just sit at home and watch scary movies and wait for the 4 Trick-or-Treaters we'll have.  And that was the plan.  I shelved my party plans.

But then last week one of our closest friends called Brian and told him about her Halloween Costume and how it was a polar bear and therefore perfect for our Hunger Games party (someone has obviously not seen The Hunger Games).  I thought it was so sweet (and hilarious) that someone got a costume for my crazy themed party that I was like, ok, if you can get a gang of no more than 8 (including us) then we'll have the party.  There are now 10 people coming for dinner on Thursday.

The other thing is the class.  Everyone signed up for bringing dinner to a class and once the sheet went around I noticed there was a blank day.  Well, jeez, I love cooking for parties so I signed up twice.  But then a couple wanted to switch with us (this was before we decided to do the dinner party) so now I have group dinner for 18 people this Tuesday (remember party on Thursday) and then dinner again next Tuesday.  It's CRAZY!

Hunger Games Halloween Party

My explanation is going to make zero sense to you if you haven't seen Hunger Games or read the books.  But most of the people coming to the party haven't seen the movie or read the books so they are going to think it's as weird as you are about to. 

So, my idea was to have a Hunger Games party as if a member of the Capitol was throwing a party honoring the games.  So it's supposed to be skewed because members of the Capitol are a little naive and empty-headed and LOVE the Hunger Games so it's a celebration, Capitol Style.

When I think of the citizens of the Capital I think about over the top colors and glitter and crazy clothes and makeup.  So I was really going for bright colors and that's not usually associated with Halloween.  My bridge is supposed to be the pastel glitter pumpkins.  I'm in the process of trying to make the arrows.  The ones pictured are for a Valentines Party.  Mine will still be pink but my arrow will be a triangle.  And unfortunately I won't have the ombre napkins.  They are awesome but beyond what I have time for making.  I'm also making a "Tracker Jacker" nest from Paper Mache.  I have to do three layers in three days plus paint it so it's pretty tight.  I'm working on my second coat today.  I'm almost finished with my friendly looking tracker jackers made from Sculpty clay.

For food, I know I could go classic Hunger Games and recreate food from the books but I'm a very picky eater and I just decided to go another way.  I wanted to stick with my color theme and when I saw this brightly colored chicken dish I felt it was a good way to go.  The snail roll and the forest cake I thought would be reminders of the actual hunger games, like the arrow and the nest.  I hope the rolls turn out, it's looks a little too easy.  Same with the chocolate trees.  We'll just have to see how it goes.  I'll probably attempt the trees on Wednesday so I can form a backup plan if they don't work out.

If I have time I'll post my Capitol citizen costume later.  Brian's wearing a bright purple shirt and crazy tie we bought this weekend, I'm hoping to use the color hairspray for his hair in purple or pink. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Penelope's Kitchen, MediaCity, Salford

It's about time Media City got some decent lunch options. If you work in the vicinity you might not want a dirty great burger every day of the week, but for the occasional treat or a Friday blow-out I'd recommend a visit to Penelope's Kitchen.

It's a new indoor offering from the same people that ran the Dock Grill out on the square over the summer months. I never ate there, but I assume they'll be back outdoors next year serving up a similar mix of breakfasts, burgers and dogs.

The burger (can't remember its name. The classic maybe?) was the best I've had in a long while. Two pleasingly beefy patties (from Frost's butcher's in Chorlton apparently) cooked medium, plastic cheese, grilled onions and sauce. Messy but lovely. Only the brioche bun didn't quite do it for me, it couldn't handle all the slop and goo and ended up flattened out like some sort of baggy hat.

Fries were an unexpected bonus, they weren't advertised and I didn't order them, so they're either included as standard or I got lucky. Whichever it was they were good, similar to those from a fast food chain whose name I won't mention, and I mean that as a compliment.

An absolute steal at £5.50, and still great value even if that shouldn't have included the fries. It's not often I get enthused about this sort of thing ('ooh look another filthy burger place, how novel' style cynicism tends to kick in), but I'll definitely be back here. Recommended.


The Pie Factory
101 Broadway
M50 2EQ


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Random Class Update, Further Room Decorating Ideas

We're half way through our classes so I thought I'd post a little update.

One thing I find interesting about the class is being around people like myself.  I post a lot about feeling like the odd duck sticking out in almost everything that I do.  But in our class there are four other couple just like us, around our age, around our socio-economic class, childless.  There's something comforting about that.  This whole group is just like me.

As you can imagine if you know anything about adoption there's this huge checklist of stuff we have to do and it's not like the list is difficult it's just different and time consuming.  Today we got our fingerprints done and it was just a matter of saying ok, let's just do this and doing it.  It's been sitting on my desk for weeks.  It's such a relief to have it done.  The other major things are the fire inspection and our physicals.

Brian had a physical recently but before we had our physical paperwork so I'll bring his with mine and see if we can fill it out that way or if Brian has to go back in.  (It's a small doctor's office.)

We have a fire extinguisher but apparently it's not the one they want you to have so we have to get a new one.  When we have that, the goal is to get that inspection ASAP in case anything is wrong we can repair it and have another inspection.  Not that we expect to have anything wrong but it's just weird.  Not ALL our windows work, we only have one smoke detector but I think it's enough, I'm confused about the extension cord requirement, at first I thought you couldn't have extension cords, and that was MINDBLOWING to me but now I think you can you just can't have them running under rugs or hooked up to permanent items like a refrigerator.  I was initially counting all the extension cords we use and it's pretty much at least one in every room.  But 3 of those are surge protectors and I those aren't even mentioned.

Can you just imagine if every new parent had to get a physical, get their fingerprints done for a criminal check, write a life story, answer a billion questions over and over, and have a fire inspection? 

In other news, I gave up on my backordered desk from Pottery Barn Kids when I saw that the Target desk I wanted originally was back in stock.

So my desk should be coming next week and I'm saving myself about $150.  And, I can finally get this black monstrosity out of here.  Big fun will happen then when I have to figure out where all this office crap/arts and craft crap goes and I either paint a chalk wall or stencil a pattern.  I'm leaning chalk board wall because I recently bought a new rug and it's polka dotted and the sheers are swiss dots and I about to sew pom-pom trim on the curtains and my stencil was going to be polka-stars but I'm now thinking I might being going polka-overboard.  The downside to the chalkboard wall is, yes, it's sounds very sweet to have a giant wall that a kid can write all over but have you seen kid scribble?  It's not the prettiest thing in the world and will having one wall a kid CAN write on make them think you can write on any ole wall you want?  Maybe have a chalk wall that I decorate myself and the kid won't even know they have the ability to write on the wall?  Like a mural.  A secret mural.

What you think a chalkboard wall will look like:

What it actually will look like:

Photo Links: 1, 2, 3

Friday, October 18, 2013

Bogged Down in Classes

Brian and I was just discussing how to explain to people what these classes are like and we couldn't come up with a good analogy.  Between the two of us, you'd think we could, but it's just difficult.  It's a lot of information but given in a round about way.  So it's kind of frustrating and really draining.  I don't know how Brian is doing it, working all day and then going to class 2 times a week.

And I knew things were going to come up that would drive me crazy and they have started to happen.  Apparently my fire extinguisher isn't the one that they want so we have to get a new one. We also HAVE TO have a phone and we just went down to cell phones only like a year ago and love it.  Serendipitously, our cable company did some bundle deal with us and our phone was free even though we never plugged it in (or know the number, not sure what to do about that... update: I just called myself, problem solved).  So I bought a little Trimline and wrote in the emergency number: 911 and our 2 cell phone numbers.  So now if our 8 month old is home alone and there's a fire, he'll be all set.  Kidding!  It's just one of those things.

I also HAVE TO make a floor plan and map out the fire escape route.  It HAS TO be prominently displayed, whatever that means.  I am not a fan of this because it makes me feel like our house is a hotel room but it's just one of those things.  I didn't feel right free drawing it so I actually sat down with the world's most difficult program to do measurements and so fort and then I (illegally) screen captured it to Paint because this trial program wanted to use a watermark.  Then in Paint I erased some stuff and added words and then, yes, drew an exit path.

I thought I would share it with you guys.  I think I always thought our house was more square so it looks funny to me but I actually measured rooms so I'm pretty sure it's accurate.   

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Mexican Pilgrim, Leeds

The street food revolution has reached critical mass.

What's that you're thinking? Here comes another Trinity Kitchen puff piece. Nope. The street food revolution has reached critical mass and cannot be stopped because there is now a Mexican street food van with a permanent pitch on Cross Green Industrial Estate. CROSS GREEN INDUSTRIAL ESTATE.

Those of you who have never ventured into the dark underbelly of Leeds may not have heard of this place, but I promise it really is in Leeds. It's actually quite close to the city centre, and is where you'll find all manner of old school industries, essential utilities and such-like. Proper industry, cast products and tarmac and sewage and stuff.

It's also where I've had an office base on and off for over a decade, and where the most exciting ever development food-wise was the arrival of the Wilson's pie van a couple of years back. It's the kind of place where mucky fat sandwich vans are the order of the day, and anything else, other than the pies, is pretty unlikely.

So the people who've suddenly appeared on the scene selling Mexican tortas, are either mad or very clever, or perhaps a bit of both. Whatever they are it's a bold move, not only are they selling Mexican food, but that Mexican food does not include burritos. No burritos! Can you imagine? I thought they were compulsory.

I'm not averse to a burrito once in a while, but I'm baffled by their ubiquity. Their boundless popularity seems out of step with the reality, which in many cases amounts to a great big damp stodgy wrap the size of your head stuffed mostly with Uncle Ben's savoury rice. And why do I have to pay extra for a smear of mashed avocado you bastards?

Anyhow, these boys are selling Mexican tortas, which are a sandwich on a bolillo (oval shaped) roll, filled with all of the same stuff as a burrito, except for all of that rice. This actually works pretty well, a more open textured bread does a better job of soaking up the juices than the flat stuff, and it's a much more manageable proposition without the surfeit of stodge.

Spicy beef with the works (refried beans, sour cream, cheese, lettuce, jalapenos, FREE guacamole) really went down a treat. The whole sort of melded into that tangy, spicy, messy mix you get with this sort of thing. Not subtle but very satisfying, although I think a crustier roll would be an improvement.

£3.50 for the beef torta. They also do a chicken version, and that's it except for the sensible addition of a standard breakfast butty menu served until 11. Mad or clever, I salute the Mexican Pilgrim. If you're ever in the vicinity of Cross Green pay them a visit.


Lay-by on Cross Green Approach
Cross Green Industrial Estate

Twitter: @mexicanpilgrim

p.s. I will be paying a visit to Trinity Kitchen soon enough, after which I'll almost certainly be writing my own puff piece. The monthly rotation plans for the street food vans are a genuinely exciting new departure for a shopping centre, so well done to the corporate types for giving it a go. And the first round of vendors look ace.

My Office - Designed and in Limbo

My Office

Well, I found a desk chair.  After all that searching for weeks and weeks somehow I came across an aqua desk chair for not a billion dollars.  I wasn't even looking for aqua, I didn't think it existed for not custom made.  Of course it's on back order too.  But I'm so excited!  I'm glad I waited until I found one that really rocked my socks off.

My desk lamp is white but it only showed as bronze on the website.  I kind of like the bronze.  I suppose I could spray paint mine (with special heat spray paint of course) if I want but other than that it's nice to have the office purchases done.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Peacock Wicker Headboard - Finished

Not that I'm the best picture taker but I don't have a real camera anymore so I'm stuck with my iphone which is cute for instagram but bad for house photos, so I apologize in advance.

I finished my headboard!  Last week it rained for most of the week.  I did manage to find time to prime the bed with spraypaint outside.  I only had 2 cans and I probably needed 3 or 4 but it started raining in the end anyway so I ran inside with the bed.  Luckily spray paint primer dries super fast.

So I was sitting around last week hoping the rain would let up so I could go back out and spray paint the bed with aqua spraypaint I got at Michaels but it became very obvious pretty soon that it wasn't going to happen.  I decided to hand paint the bed. 

I do not recommend this.  Wicker is so hard to paint by hand.  I was basically using an almost dry brush and stab painting it.  For hours.  For three days.  For something I could have spray painted in a half a day, most of that time spent waiting for paint to dry.

But I had some bright aqua paint on hand perfect for the job and it was eggshell finish and not gloss like the spray paint and personally I thought I'd like it better a little matte.  When I first started painting it I was certain I made a grave mistake.  My primer was very thin so the orange showed through and when I painted my aqua over it, well, it looked very awful.  But I kept going and I'm so glad I did.

One of the things I was going to buy at Anthropologie was a couple of Euro shams.  But I realized the first time I made the bed that pillows cover up the beautiful headboard and I didn't want to do that.  So I'm sticking low profile, pillows flat on the bed and just one throw.  I'm still considering buying 2 shams but my husband uses 3 pillows and I don't think we want to sleep on shams.  Also that throw pillow is from the front bedroom, I'm still on the look out for a pillow or fabric that I can make a pillow with.  But I wanted to get the look I was going for.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Shopping Spree Letdown

When you are an Anthropologie nerd like I am you sign up for an Anthro card and for your birthday month you get a coupon in the mail for 15% off.  The first 2 years I had it you actually got a little present for your birthday as well, but I'll just gloss over the sadness of now just getting a cardstock coupon.

So basically for the entire month of September I just want to go to Anthropologie.  The closest Anthropologie is 1.5 hours from here but we're more likely to find ourselves in the other Anthropologie because it's near family.  That one is a conservative 2.5 hours away.  Granted, if I were not a nutjob about the whole thing I could just shop online and use the 15% towards the shipping costs but sometimes, jeez, sometimes you just want a shopping spree.  You want to see all the things in 3D that you've seen on your computer for months and months.  You want to collect that stuff in your hands and bring it to a register and think to yourself, yes, my hair looks like crap but look at all this stuff I'm about to buy!

So I held out.  Weekend after weekend.  Soon it was becoming apparent that it was not meant to be to use my coupon.  We even threw out the obvious that driving 1.5 hours in gas would eat up that 15% savings any ole way.

But then we realized that we had a trip to the 2.5 hour area coming up (in October, of course) so I could just hold out until that.  Then we had a little boost to the cash flow.  It was all falling into place.  So on Friday I dropped Brian off to take a lawyer test and drove to the mall and got ready to get down to business.

I slowly made my way about the store, from right to left which scientists have determined means you are about to spend some money, and then I got to the end.  This is when I usually loop back around to figure out what I want.  Only I looped back around and finished the loop again and nothing.  What was happening!?!

It was only later that I really thought about it, where were the housewares?  There were no lamps, no lampshades, no toss pillows, no aprons, no tablecloths, few kitchen items, a shit ton of candles, and some journals and bullshit.  Where was everything?  I searched online regarding selling housewares in stores and I can't find anything so I can only assume that this ONE store decided just to sell clothes and candles (pretty much) and disappoint me to no end.  No. End.  I had money to burn in my pocket and it was literal cash and I cannot hold onto cash so it was ON and then, just as quickly it was OFF.

Bummer.  Later that day I went back and did buy some dish cloths (dish cloths, wtf) and a pretty bowl to put my nail polish in.  And then I was done.

Bad job, Anthro, bad job.

Even my husband was disappointed.  He was so excited for me and when I came back (mostly) empty handed he was heartbroken.  The next morning when we woke up he told me a fairytale about Anthropologie and how they started out with a brand that was very popular but then determined that they made more money from clothing so the housewares were slowly fading away.

I cannot confirm this online but jeez that will make me so sad.

Devonshire Arms, Pilsley, Derbyshire

It can get very confusing round these parts if someone suggests dining at the Devonshire Arms. On the night we completed the sale of my house in Wakefield I wanted to celebrate with dinner at this Devonshire, it being game season and this being a speciality of theirs, but sadly they were full. So we tried to call this Devonshire instead, I'd enjoyed a meal there before so it seemed like a good alternative, but they weren't answering the phone. Maybe we got the wrong number and tried to call this Devonshire, or maybe this one. Who knows?

All was not lost, as we ended up at this Devonshire instead. Panic over. The Devonshire Arms in Pilsley is the pubbier sister to the Devonshire Arms in Beeley, just a few miles across the Chatsworth estate. Both are run by the mini-empire controlled by the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire themselves (which in case you were wondering also includes Yorkshire's Devonshire Arms at Bolton Abbey, and the Devonshire Fell at nearby Burnsall. Must have had a crisis of confidence with that last one. What's wrong with Arms all of a sudden?).

You can tell when you're in a proper Devonshire with aristocratic proprietors, as within five minutes or so of arriving you're bound to see the Duke and Duchess posing on some piece of literature or other, looking all patrician yet welcoming, like a sort of friendlier local royal family. I imagine this is what the Queen's descendants will be doing a century hence, when we've finally gone Republican and you can't travel 50 yards in Berkshire or Norfolk without stumbling upon another Windsor Arms.

I digress. Whatever your views on the future of the monarchy (for some reason the debate never seems to run to whether or not they'd make a killing in the hospitality business) and the aristocracy the Devonshires generally oversee a pretty good quality operation.

The Pilsley outpost was a case in point. Solid, very accomplished pub grub, not at the gastro end of the spectrum, but very much in the traditional sense.

I considered leaving the photos off this post, as everything looks weirdly rubbish, more wacky warehouse two-for-one in appearance than the enjoyable, well cooked meal it actually was. We shared a bowl of garlic mushrooms to start. A big bowl of sauteed mushrooms swimming in loads of creamy, garlicky goodness. The work of five minutes by a ten year old (theoretically, I'm not suggesting they're exploiting children) in the kitchen, but if it ain't broke.... Just one minor quibble though, the bread could have been fresher.

For reasons I can't quite fathom I ordered the mixed grill. I can't recall ever having done this before, ever (maybe in a Wetherspoon's about fifteen years ago?). I love meat but have limits, and the mixed grill always seems the preserve of men with a death wish. I can remember watching a particularly portly fellow working his way through a humongous one in a pub in Lancashire once, increasingly clammy and red-faced, washing it down with pints of bitter. I'm convinced he didn't make it through the night, dead within hours to a massive coronary on the can, Elvis style.

Anyway that's the mental picture I associate with the mixed grill, so you can imagine my surprise when I accidentally ordered the bugger. You know what? I'm glad I did. Every piece of meat was cooked just right, with a nice bit of char on the outside and deep blush pink, where warranted, on the inside. There was a sausage, a well hung beefsteak, a lamb chop, and gammon and pork steaks. Only the latter, the boring one of the bunch, defeated me.

Chips and salad were proper, in that the chips had crunch (don't trust the pasty appearance on the pic) and were their own, and that the salad was lots of stuff mixed up together with a lively mustard dressing. A completely unnecessary side order of onion rings (it was A's fault, she's pregnant. Don't blame me) were the kind that you could happily eat all evening.

Not wanting to push my luck with that death wish, we retreated, thoroughly satisfied, without pudding. It hadn't been Plan A, but the Pilsley Devonshire came up with the goods. Prices are probably on the high side for normal pub food, but fine when you consider the quality. I'd rather pay £12-16 for an enjoyable plateful than the £8-12 dross that so many of the places round here offer. Orders are taken at the bar, so there wasn't really much in the way of service to speak of. They fetched the food and cleared the tables.

Would I go again? Yes, definitely. Another mixed grill? Probably not.


On the Chatsworth Estate
DE45 1UL

Devonshire Arms Pilsley on Urbanspoon

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Caffeine and Co, Manchester

I'd heard nothing but praise for Caffeine and Co, so I was looking forward to stopping in for a coffee and sandwich. A flying visit to Manchester the week before last gave me the opportunity.

Service was chatty and efficient, but a flat white and a sandwich were just slightly off-kilter on this visit. The coffee itself was an excellent blend, toasty and fruity all at once. The execution wasn't quite there though, the milk being just a little thin.

The reuben sandwich, despite not being a reuben, would have been a perfectly serviceable lunch option (generously filled, decent quality beef) had it not been toasted to buggery in the sandwich press. I've probably got myself to blame for that though, my default response to the question 'do you want it toasted?' being yes, when some sarnies are clearly better left alone.

Gripes aside I'm sure this is a quality place, and if I'd turned up on another day everything could have been perfect. The coffee is definitely worth a second glance and the cakes and other sandwiches all looked good. £2.40 for the flat white and £3.50 for the sandwich.


11 St James Square
M2 6WH

Caffeine & Co on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 11, 2013


On the outside, Michoacanito looks like a hundred other humble Mexican restaurants - bright pictures of menu items, Mexican flag-themed signage, handmade signs touting tacos, tortas, etc.  But after a few observant seconds insite, I could tell this place was different.  The cooler was filled with fully-gelled stocks in see-through storage containers.  A woman in the kitchen was peeling and chopping papayas with the utmost precision and care, while a man pressed tortillas by hand.  The stove in the fully-open kitchen was filled with steaming pots emitting powerful aromas of meat and spice.

I ordered the consome de borrego (lamb soup) per my server's recommendation.  A hunk of lamb and bone sat starkly in the center of a bowl of not-quite-clear broth with bits of fat floating atop.  On first glance, it appeared that this soup would be just pure lamb without much other flavor.  The kind of thing that, though occasionally enjoyable, I expect more from a Central Asian place than from a Mexican restaurant.

As I started to dig in, the server brought a plate of accompaniments intended to Mexicanize the soup.  I added the onion, cilantro, lime, and a bit of dried chile.  Then when my spoon reached the bottom of the bowl, I realized that there were other goodies - lots of nicely cooked hominy, and a reconstituted chipotle pepper that had been part of the broth-cooking.  The fruitiness of the chipotle balanced the gaminess of the lamb broth beautifully.

Michoacanito makes tortillas by hand, and the homey,very thick, haphazardly-shaped rounds make that clear.  Be warned, these are probably triple the thickness of most tortillas, so they fill you up fast.  They were great for dipping in the soup.

There's a big menu here, filled mostly with stuff you can find all over town.  With a menu so large it's possible that not everything is a winner, but I feel very confident about the soups.  I also learned from someone at the next table that Micoacanito has something of a secret menu.  People in the know seek out the cook's gazpacho and special fruit cocktail recipes, none of which are on the regular menu.  Ask about fruit, I was told.

4315 N. Kedzie

Monday, October 7, 2013


I walked into Mexique with negative biases.   The attention given to the Michelin rating system is something of a joke to me, so I’m prone to discount anyplace with a star.  When restaurants take to Groupon, as Mexique did last year, I view it as a sign of decline.  Finally, the place is called Mexique.  Have you ever tried Mexican restaurants in France?  If so, you would know not to name your restaurant after that take on the cuisine.
With my first taste of the night, I was nearly converted.  A spoonful of the “spiced bouillabaisse broth” served in a bowl with something called a “Pescamal”, though more like a thick mole than a broth, was packed with intense roasted chile, complex spicing, and a shellfish undertone that made it unlike anything I’d ever tasted. 
Had the kitchen served this compelling puree simply with fresh tortillas instead of the sad rectangular starch plopped in the bowl, it would have been great.  The Pescamal , described on the menu as a corn tamal, had the texture and taste of a bake-and-serve dinner roll, stuffed with rubbery bits of fish that were devoid of flavor. 
A trio of sopes furthered the possibility that the chef might be shopping in the Trader Joe’s frozen food section.  The masa pucks were equally sized and perfectly rounded as if by a machine, and they were dense, greasy and tasteless.  The toppings tasted far more pedestrian than their menu descriptions implied.  Bizarrely, two disparate-sounding sauces tasted identical – like balsamic vinegar reduction.  Maybe the kitchen made a mistake with the plating.
The best dish of the night was one featuring braised veal short ribs served with orange-scented mushrooms and peppercorn gastrique.  A well-executed dish even though every component pushed the sweet, fruity side a bit too far.  Had the advertised escabeche de fresas actually tasted pickled instead of just macerated in sugar, this might have been a nicely balanced dish.
Worst was a special of seared tuna loin with chile-infused polenta and “mole de la casa”.  The tuna was seared nicely, but the polenta was so full of lumps that I was shocked that a restaurant of this ambition would serve it.  The mole was way too sweet and overpowered by cinnamon.  Put a straw in it and call it an horchata, and I’d believe you.
The chef at Mexique is mixing a lot of different flavors and techniques, and I suspect there are cases where this produces more winners like the broth served with the Pescamal.  Unfortunately, everything skews very sweet and there is a lot of flawed cooking, including a special level of ineptitude with cornmeal based dishes.  For a place with any degree of Mexican makeup, that’s hard to forgive.

1529 W Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60642
(312) 850-0288


Friday, October 4, 2013

Headboard - 70's Peacock Wicker Style

We bought a headboard today.  With all the other stuff going on you'd think a new headboard would be way down the list, and it is.  But I just happened to be on craigslist and thought, well, I'll just look and see if there are any headboards that I like.

I really like our current headboard, at least, I think I do.  I'm tired of the color, the aqua linen is too light and I feel like it should be tufted but I don't have any extra fabric to make tufting buttons even if I wanted to, which I don't.  Also, and more important, it has a function issue.  The depth of the headboard is so thick that Grayson will jump up there to hang out.  The problem is when he jumps down, he'll jump down anywhere, on your stomach or your face, and it gets in the way of sleeping.  Some would say there's some PTSD involved.  I wouldn't typically buy a new piece of furniture for a cat, but since I'm kind of over my headboard, it would be nice to not have that issue.

That said, a budget was in place and come on, who can find a lovely king size headboard for less than say $80.  And what am I really looking for anyway.

Well.  I happen to be a big fan of the show "New Girl" and a really big fan of Jess's bedroom, notably to only a weirdo like me, the simple yet effective headboard she has.  Take a simple headboard and paint it a shiny color and it TRANSFORMS it.  Plus, you can actually find this kind of headboard in my price range.  Not that I have, but you could.

So that essentially was what I was looking for.  But I wasn't having any luck and the ridiculousness of craigslist was getting to me.  But then I found an easier way to search.  I searched "king headboard" and selected the pic view, then when you move your mouse over the tiny picture a big picture pops up.  It makes it sooo easier than clicking on each individual post until you want to scream.

And then, way at the bottom, under the "local results," I about fell out of the chair.

It looks just like my very favorite bed photo of all time...

...except it's not aqua yet but it was only $35!  Thirty five dollars!  I emailed as fast as I could and today we drove 1 1/2 hours there and back to a very awesome beach home to pick it up.  I have a couple of little repairs and then I can prime and paint it aqua.  I cannot wait.  I'm so excited!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Crafthouse, Leeds

The first thing I felt on arriving at Crafthouse was a slight pang of guilt. There are a good number of local, independent restaurants in Leeds at which I've been wanting to eat for years, and here I was rocking up at the sparkling new outpost of a thirty strong London based restaurant group.

The second thing I couldn't help but feel was a little bit impressed. They really have got the best location in town up there on top of the new Trinity development, and it's maximised to full effect as you rise up in the glass fronted lift and views of a compact, surprisingly complete looking urban skyline appear.

So it was with mixed feelings that I approached the meal. Good quality places to eat are always welcome, but would I have rather been somewhere else, maybe somewhere with a long standing commitment to the Leeds dining scene (although I should point out that the Head Chef here is from Yorkshire, even if the backing isn't)?

Things started on a positive note with some lovely mini loaves of warm, nutty wholemeal and too much butter. Then salad to start; chicory and Yorkshire blue, watercress, poached pear, roasted walnut. An assemblage of decent ingredients, though I'll stick my neck out and say that Yorkshire blue isn't my favourite cheese. I'm sure I should be praising the use of local products, but it's not got the depth of a good Stilton.

The best bit of my meal came next, a beautifully cooked sea bream fillet with uniformly crisp skin that split from the flesh like a delicate fish scratching. Generously proportioned too for a pre-theatre menu offering. Cauliflower puree, leek (or leak according to the menu) fondue and light shellfish sauce didn't really offer much in support other than being vaguely beige and creamy.

The set menu puddings were fancier in plating than starters and mains, caramelised white chocolate mousse and cherry sorbet looked and reportedly tasted fantastic. Iced lemon curd, blackberries, meringue and crispy pastry didn't quite work for me though, the intensely sharp and cold lemon rather drowning out the taste of the blackberries. Good pastry though, like what you'd find at the base of a well made vanilla slice.

I finished, as I'd started, with mixed feelings about Crafthouse. It's a very professional operation as you'd expect, service was good and there are obviously some talented people in the kitchen (that fish really was spot on, and the bread was great too), but I didn't love all of the food and the atmosphere, despite the views, feels a little corporate and calculated. I'd return, but not before making the effort to visit some of those other places on my list.

Almost forgot to mention prices (it was a work meal so I wasn't paying); the pre-theatre set menu is £22.50 for three courses, a la carte around £30-35. Wine? Not bad actually, plenty by the carafe at under twenty quid.


Level 5 Trinity Leeds
70 Boar Lane

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