Monday, 12 January 2015

Middle England on Sea

10 years on and I'm still seeing out the old year and celebrating the new one in Blakeney, en famille and friends.  I usually like to go to different places but there's something very comforting about North Norfolk which I've visited for the past 30 years and although some moan that it's gone 'up-market and London,' this has resulted in some great places for food and drink.

Our review of The Duck Inn. The Duck Inn is located in Stanhoe, Norfolk, just a few miles from the fabulous North Norfolk coast and Burnham Market. The pub underwent a full programme of refurbishment before re-opening in July 2010.
We stopped for lunch at The Duck, Stanhoe and probably over-influenced by it's pretty name, I opted for Fairytale Pumpkin, Hazelnut & Parmesan Risotto, which did actually live up to it's title, being just the right texture with soft slivers of pumpkin blended beautifully into the rice; with hazelnuts giving a nutty, earthly, flavour, perfect for winter.

Anther meal of note was a New Years day Rib Eye Steak, perfectly cooked medium rare with chunky chips and onion rings, accompanied by green peppercorn sauce at the lovely and welcoming, Wiveton Bell, accompanied by a few glasses of red.

It wasn't all eating, though you wouldn't know it from the tightness of my post-New Year waist band.  There are inland and coastal walks under the fabled big skies of Norfolk and we enjoyed walking from Blakeney to Glandford, although the Arts Café at Glandford which is supposed to be good, was closed. 

We did a walk that took in great coastal views, a windmill, a stately home and rolling parkland (Norfolk's not as flat as made out) at Sherringham Park and headed onto Cromer having a drink at the traditional Red Lion and fish and chips from Mary Jane's.

We kept up our tradition (along with many others!) of walking along the beach from Wells with it's cute beach huts towards Holkham with it's Shakespeare in Love and royal connections and back through the pine woods, looking forward to a pit-stop in the Red Lion, Stiffkey, my husband's most favourite pub in the world.

The Good: Fab drinking, eating and company.
Go again : At least twice a year.


Thursday, 11 September 2014

Evington House, Leicester

Leicester, Evington House
Evington House

If like me, you look up and catch a glimpse of an interesting window or the gorgeouss façade of an old building you probably wonder what’s behind the locked door, so Heritage Open Week was a good opportunity to indulge my nosiness, with buildings across the country throwing open their doors to the public.  

Evington House in Leicester sounded good with its mention of ghosts and WWI – maybe a mini Downton Abbey? 

I’d not been to Evington Park for ages and had forgotten how nice it is:  lovely mature trees, nice planting but not too neat and municipal.   Evington House, in the middle of the park is an impressive looking ivy clad mansion, once a private residence.

Leicester, Evington House
Oak Panelled Room in 1930s
The house now belongs to Leicester City Council Parks and Jane, who works at Evington Park, was incredibly enthusiastic in showing us around.  Although making no claim to be an expert,  she was really enthusiastic in sharing what she did know about the house and it was obvious she loved the atmosphere of the house and felt privileged to be working in such a lovely place. 
The house is a higgledy-piggledy parade of rooms, stud partitioned into offices, rooms added on and bits and pieces left behind from all sorts of unmatching eras – a clawfoot bath, 1930s photographs, 1970s crockery, etc.  The staircase and especially the impressive oak panelled room with sweeping views from big windows over the park gave more of an idea what it would have been like when newly built by in 1836 by Colonel John Burnaby.
Cellar, Evington House, Leicester
Steps to the Cellar
Most interesting of all though was being taken down to the dark, cobwebbed cellars.  The place was a hospital for wounded war soldiers during WW1 and the cellars the most likely place for the makeshift mortuary.  Evington house do hold regular paranormal evenings and many ghostly sightings and happenings have been reported, although the ghost who’s most known is Edna, a lady who used to work at the house. 

Servant Bells
Spooky Servant Bells
The other spooky things were the servant bells still lining the walls and if you’ve read ‘Little Stranger’ by Sarah Waters, you definitely wouldn’t want to be working late at the office to hear one of those bells eerily ringing out. 
Although Evington House is no Downton Abby, it's a charming old house with an interesting atmosphere.

 The Good : Heritage Open Days are a really good chance to poke around in places you’re not usually allowed.

The not so good: All good, but shame Heritage Open Days aren't on for longer than a week, as it’s difficult to find the time to visit more than one or two.

Go again : Yes, planning to have a look around Leicester Town Hall tomorrow.




Thursday, 28 August 2014

Bread Making with Conibear's Kitchen

Middle Aged of Middle England
Bread Making at Conibear's Kitchen - My End Result!

A bread making course run by Angela of Conibears Kitchen was the start of my middle-aged foray into making bread from scratch.  Ange immediately put us at ease with introductions and chat over coffee and her homemade beetroot and chocolate muffins.  This may sound a weird flavour combo, to those uninitiated to veggies in cake, but the taste was deliciously moist and chocolatie.

Then we got stuck straight into the business of bread making.   I’ve made dough before (mainly for pizza bases, I have to confess) but Ange showed us a technique of making dough much wetter than I’d normally make and using a spatula to scrape, stretch and slap the dough, rather than the kneading and pummelling technique (or food processor) I’ve used in the past. 
Middle Aged of Middle England
Slapping it about

Middle Aged of Middle England
Fougass - Ready for the Oven
Although tentative at first, we all quickly got the hang of this new technique, with one of the participants slapping her dough down so hard, it shot off the work station, narrowly missing Angela.  It was great fun and great therapy, although I must have put a bit too much welly into it as I ended up with a blister on my finger.   On the plus side, I think it has helped to sort out the old bingo wings!

We made Fougass,  a French leaf shaped bread, ideal for dunking in balsamic and oil; a white tin loaf and then some brown rolls and the morning just flew by.  We saved some dough from our loaf to make into our lunch – a pizza base which we topped with lovely home-made tomato, garlic and basil sauce to which I added goats cheese, yellow courgettes, grated cheddar, a few chilli flakes and sliced green and red peppers. 

Over lunch I chatted to Ange and the other two friendly women who’d come on the course and who had been bread making novices but now felt much more confident, with one saying she was going to chuck out her bread maker and make bread from scratch, it was so easy.

 Our end products looked great and we all proudly wrapped up our breads ready to take home.  As the old cliché goes,  the proof of the pudding is in the tasting and although my bread looked great (I thought!),  it now had to pass the family taste test who do not hold back on their opinions. 

 “It’s really good Mum,” was the verdict from the teen as he rooted around in the cupboard to get the balsamic and olive oil - complaining it wasn’t extra-virgin!  -  I’d have been happy with a bit of butter at his age.

I have to say the white loaf did taste a-ma-zing – still fresh and warm from the oven and I hope the brown rolls taste as good because as greedy as we are, we couldn’t manage eight brown rolls in one day, but they’re in the freezer and will be a lunch to look forward to.

 The Good:  It was great to do something a bit different, enjoying making bread from scratch and having a laugh alongside it. 

The Not so Good: My baking blister – didn’t expect that!

Go again?  Yes definitely.  I’d  recommend Conibear’s Kitchen.  Ange is a warm, patient, fun trainer with her passion for bread making coming over strongly.  I’d also be interested in going on one of  the pasta making courses she’s planning for the future.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Launde Abbey, Leicestershire - Away with the chattering monkeys...

Launde Abbey, Leicestershire

Launde Abbey, Leicestershire

Now work is no longer so much in the way, I’m hoping to get back to this blog and once again share the lovely things of Middle England.

So, time on my side for a while, DMAF (who has the summer holidays off) and I decided to go on a trip.  “Launde Abbey,” she declared:  “Not too far and if it rains we can skip the walk, have a coffee and come home.”  Who can argue with that?

So off we drove, up the A47 and through the gorgeous village of East Norton with its drool-worthy houses until we found the signs pointing us in the direction of Launde Abbey.  Hardly a car in the car-park, we parked, and had a nose around the public areas of this beautiful stone abbey which dates back to the 12th century.

We checked out the café, having a coffee sitting outside in the pretty courtyard which was very quiet.   And quietness is the essence of this historic place.  Afterall, it is an abbey and offers residential retreats and quiet days although DMAF and I were definitely here for chats, cappuccino and catching up. 
Cafe Launde Abbey Leicestershire

Launde Abbey Café

The peaceful atmosphere was no bad thing though as we’ve both been quite frazzled lately and I must admit I have had a dabble with a mindfulness CD, but maybe Launde would quieten the chattering monkeys in my head?

Launde Abbey Lakes

Launde Abbey Lakes

A helpful man in reception gave us a choice of circular walks from the Abbey and obviously we opted for the one that would lead us back to lunch in the quickest time which was a 2 mile walk, going around the lakes and Withcote Lodge. 
Not much help!
Clutching our piece of paper, we strolled through rolling Leicestershire countryside, stopping at the lakes to watch the skimming of a dragon fly, on through fields with hay bales that could be out of a Constable painting.  And then, of course, we got lost! 

The map and directions must have been old as no matter how hard we looked and turned the paper upside down, we couldn't find the continuation of the path.  A few false starts and stinging nettles later, we came across a couple of walkers who looked very professional with their ordnance survey map and who put us on the right track back to the abbey.
Still sunny, so we ordered baguettes and elder flower pressés for outside in the courtyard.  Our waitress let us know that the pressé wasn’t cold, but she could put ice in it which I thought was good service.  Often you get a drink plonked down warm in front of you, no option.

My baguette was filled with tender roast beef and hot horseradish with a serving of very fresh salad (maybe grown in their Victorian kitchen garden).   DMAF went a little adventurous with tuna AND pesto AND olives, not a combination either of us had tried before but one we both thought we might copy to liven up lunch at home in future.  Delicious and good value for money at around £7.00 each.

The Good: Lovely walks, very tranquil setting, generous hospitality to all whether you visit for spiritual reasons or simply to enjoy,  with no charge for car parking or the walk map.

 The not so good: Think the maps need to be updated as we got lost – or maybe it was us!

 Go again:  Definitely do another walk and the Pudding Nights held once a month where you try six delicious puddings sounds good.  Don’t think DMAF and I will be opting for the silent retreat though!

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Easton Walled Gardens, Lincs

Snowdrops at Easton Hall
Snowdrop Week at Easton Walled Gardens sounded a lovely and suitably middle-aged outing, so Dear Middle Aged Friend (DMAF) and I set out on a road trip into Lincolnshire.  Misguidedly,  in Sat-Nav I trusted and the jaunt did not start well with the bossy secretarial tones of sat-nav ordering me to take constant u-turns across the path of thundering juggernauts on the A1. 
Like a miracle, a sign appeared telling us Easton Walled Gardens was next left and yellow jacketed men directed us to a parking spot as the place was heaving. 
We were desperate for lunch and a sit-down and as many of the crowds seemed to be in a snowdrop talk (more later), we thought we’d be clever and get in for lunch immediately.
The queues snaked back into the garden from the too-tiny café and I suggested we went to the pub, but DMAF was made of stronger stuff and pointed out by the time we got to the pub, we’d be in and out of the Café.  The queue was all very British, people passing comments down the line about waiting times, nobody, but nobody, bagging a table (which had been my first instinct) and a stoical spirit of we’ll get there in the end.

Not much on the menu, but what was there was freshly prepared and all looked lovely.  Cold from queuing, we both decided to go for the tomato soup, which was hot and delicious with a beautiful sun-dried tomato roll on the side.  A bit of lemon cake afterwards made our mood so much better and we set forth in search of snowdrops.
And snowdrops there were, huge drifts of them prettily sloping down towards a stream and soon we had that glad to be alive feeling, strolling around the lovely grounds under big blue skies and walking under a spooky stretch of yew trees, which once would have led to the now demolished Easton Hall, pulled down in the 1950s like so many of the country's stately homes.  The house had been in the same family for 14 generations and there is a happy ending in that Ursula Cholmeley, a direct descendant of the original owner Sir Henry Cholmeley, is the person who has so beautifully restored the gardens.
Tool Tower!
We walked around the grounds, by ‘The Tool Tower’ giggling at the name with it’s Fifty Shades connotations and then had a look around the shops and decided that in for a penny, in for a pound, and checking it only lasted 10-15 minutes – which fits well with our attention span we went into the Coach House for a talk on snowdrops.
The talk was really interesting, the lady speaking to us a self-confessed galanthophile, (must remember that for the pub quiz) giving us a bit of history, a bit of anecdote and some practical snow-drop care advice.   If you've read Deborah Moggach's Tulip Fever, there's another book here waiting to be written as apparently a recently discovered snowdrop called Wendy’s Gold fetched £150 for a single bulb at auction.
Of course, snowdrops were on sale afterwards, so I purchased a Turkish Snowdrop which flowers in December and DMAF went for the traditional variety and on leaving the Hall, we placed them close together in the car boot hoping they’d morph into a snowdrop that would be worth £150  a bulb.

The Good: The grounds and the snowdrop talk.
The not so good: The queue for lunch.  Snowdrop Week must happen every year so surely the crowds could have been better catered for?  There were plenty of outbuildings that could have been used or perhaps just got an extra tea-urn and cakes outside for people who were after a quick snack rather than lunch.
Go again: Definitely, but if it was a specific week like the snowdrop week,  I'd go after lunch when it wasn’t so busy.  Sweetpea week (June 29th - 6th July) sounds great and the pictures of the grounds in summer look fab.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Silver Arcade, Leicester

In 70s uncool Leicester, Silver Arcade with its arty/studenty clothes shops made me feel a bit more 'happening' and it was en route to the other shop that appealed to my young sensibilities, The Very Bazaar on Silver Street.
Silver Arcade

After years of closure and becoming very tatty looking, Silver Arcade has been transformed and re-opened, so it was time to pay a visit.

Accompanied by Dear Middle Aged Friend (DMAF) we were suitably impressed by the re-furb, which looked great.  DMAF, though, was apoplectic over the boards downstairs which explained the history of the arcade.  The grammar was appalling and the lack of apostrophes in particular, hit DMAF hard, so before she had the chance to get her marker pen out, I quickly whisked her off for lunch at Deli Flavour Delicatessen.

Deli Flavour

Safely in the Deli, we relaxed.  A lovely open, wooden floored space with views of other Leicester buildings that you hardly notice from the ground, I ordered a houmous, falafel, chilli jam, rocket and tomato wrap and, of course a cappuccino, which came to around £7.00 and was very good. 

We were joined by Pensioner Friend (PF) who we were jealous to learn, could now access her pension despite only being in her 50s and looking great, but we had a lovely time catching up with her, enjoying lunch and thinking we must come back and have a look around the artisan chocolate shop Cocoa Amore and the other independent gift/underwear/boutique shops.

The good:  Silver Arcade is a lovely environment and Deli Flavour was a lovely place for lunch with lots of space and great views over surrounding buildings.

The not so good:  Shame there weren't more shops filled and why on earth didn't they open before Christmas?

Go again: Definitely.  I want to have a proper look in the shops.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

It's getting to feel a lot like Christmas ....

I love the build up to Christmas and some things I want to do this December to take me away from the eternal to-do lists and planning food and presents are:

Market Harborough
Market Harborough ©MHWI
Christmas Shopping

It has to be done so why not go somewhere more festive and less manic than the usual mall-type places to do it?  I'm going to start mine (no, not started yet and determined not to hyper-ventilate) in the quaint market town of Market Harborough which as well as small versions of the bigger stores like Monsoon, East, Phase 8, Boots etc also has a good sprinkling of independent shops - such as Quinns Book shop, Lavender Blue, Bagel & Griff, The Cookshop and Bates Butcher and Delicatessens.

Visit Narnia

Chatsworth House
Narnia at Chatsworth ©Chatsworth House
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was one of my favourites in the CS Lewis Narnia series and this year Chatsworth House are having a Narnia Theme which sounds fab.

Christmas Tree Festival
I'm planning to visit Burton Overy's Christmas Tree Festival this weekend.  The festival's been going for 13 years now and many other churches seem to have followed suit.  Individuals and groups put in a Christmas Tree to be judged by visitors and the entries are truly amazing.  Ones I remember from past festivals are 'Strictly Come Dancing' with lots of little dance shoes for decoration and 'A Cartridge in a Pear Tree' - a tree decorated with used shot-gun cartridges!  It's all very festive.

Go to a Panto
Not sure I'll get anybody to go with me as my teen is much too cool for this, but Jack and the
Nottingham Playhouse
Jack & The Beanstalk ©Nottingham Playhouse
Beanstalk at Nottingham Playhouse sounds good as does Cinderella at Leicester's Little Theatre.