Wednesday, 23 April 2014

The tale of two Toms

On Monday, I visited the big smog and an old pal.

Tommy and I have been really good friends since about week 2 of uni. He's from the history side of my course and for the first three years of my university career was my rugby watching pal (AKA my best bud.) Six Nations I hear you say? Chuck us two in a pub and we were happy. Then he graduated and I became something of a loner.

I didn't actually meet Tommy in our first week of university though like with my other university friends. Actually, we met on the top of Helvellyn the previous year. I was the moody looking frizzy haired ginger girl at the back, he was one of the two guys that chirpily tried to entertain us for a few minutes.


Tommy's done the completely normal and logical transformation from being a History student to being a Nursing one. He's now at Kings in London and is in his element. I can tell he'll be a fab nurse; he can keep his cool, doesn't flap and is level headed. Unlike me, who faints before, after and during any experience with a needle. 

I found a bargain train ticket and decided we needed a date. We met at Euston and headed to a gem Mum's friend told me about. (It's a secret, but I'll share it with you because I'm nice like that.)

The place is called the Cork & Bottle and is 100% worth a visit. It's an underground wine place and is brilliant. The atmosphere is really chilled yet sophisticated, and they do an array of foods; cheese boards, deli bits 'n' bobs, pie, or actual meals.

He had the red, I had the fizz.

And we went for a cheese board. Did you know I love cheese?

We went classic and had Stilton, Brie and Goats, teamed with some biccys, baguette and onion chutney.

We were pretty chuffed.

Not only are they ace with food and wines, they also have a way with words...

As do their punters....

Nicely warmed up, we made way for the Borough Markets...which were shut. Though I found some Disney and Frozen related entertainment...

Officially late lunchtime, we settled down in a Pain Quotidien which Tommy had tried and tested. My experience of Pain Quotidien is similar to that of Paul or Pain Délice in France; the Starbucks and Costa of sandwich eateries. This one however, was not. 

It had the same vibe as my favourite breakfast place in Lyon. I didn't know where to begin. Obviously I wanted more cheese. Tommy was sold on his cheese board.

Proud as punch

I wanted cheese and a little sumthin' sumthin' else so went for an Asparagus, Goats Cheese and Prosciutto Tartine. I was torn between that and a Sundried Tomato, Mozzarella and Prosciutto Tartine. The Gods at bay clearly sussed this out and brought that one over to me...accidentally. 

It took me a while to notice.....

I see cheese and my legs go weak, what can I say. 

After I'd cottoned on (and had my photoshoot,) I managed to swap back to my Goats cheese related heaven. 

We were a little dozy after our cheese and wine feast so strolled about for a while. Tommy took me to see one of his campus' which was absolutely lovely (and right near the Shard.) And then we made way for St James' park. 

But not before some Made in Chelsea-esk Thames posing.

We sat on the deck chairs in St James' and people watched. I whizzed off to get us some ice cream, and soon realised that the chairs we certainly not a free-for-all. We smoothly relocated to the grass where Tommy made a friend. 

I started to get cold (and therefore moany) so we wandered over to Covent Garden for a play in the Apple shop (I needed a hand with sorting out my diabolical phone battery life.)

And then he found some boyish geeky game. At which point I lost him.

We grabbed a pint/vino until it was time my train returned me to the Midlands. It was ace to have a good old natter with Tommy and spend the day togehter. We haven't seen each other in a while and had much to catch up on; my final year fun/his freshers fun, future plans, and not to mention some reminiscing of old times. 

After all this revision, a good day off for the Bank Holiday for a release was exactly what I needed.

Speaking of releases......I had a second date last night. (Hence the what I did there?) 

My pre-date prep with Gravy..."play it cool."

(Sorry it's blurred - Mum's not a top photographer)

I was wined and dined, with my favourite food and wine, followed by a cheeky tipple in Mercado Lounge, where we chatted and played scrabble. I let him win, obviously. "I wasn't trying my hardest" as my youngest step-brother would say.

I'd just say Tom's a lucky...

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Sunday, 20 April 2014

Lent; starting to do something new.

This one is a little heavy, sorry if you happen to be stumbling upon this blog (welcome if that is the case.) I'm being a little brave and opening up a lot.

Seasoned readers of this ('this' being my spot on the internet) will recall my Lent pledge. "Operation Graduation" was something Franchi and I agreed on on our travels in Paris back in February. We concocted a long list of all the things we could not touch (cheese, crisps, chips, chocolate, sweets, biscuits.) I am thrilled to say that Franchi has kept every single one of those up. I, however, failed. I failed in a monumental manner which is highly unusual for me. Every year I give something up, and every year I see it through to the end. This year, of my explicit pledges, I kept one. Cheese (which was certainly the hardest of all.)

However, close friends and family may have noticed a slight difference in me. Inexplicitly, though ever so slightly implied in certain blogs, I've been having a hard time in recent months. Whether it be coming back from the magical year abroad, the low following the internship high, the incredible stress of final year, the disgusting flat I managed to bag myself for the year, yo-yo dieting or the stagnant relationship I'd got myself into; life was well and truly getting to me, and I lost my way ever-so slightly.

Just before the beginning of Lent, I was not a Hattie that people recognised. I was touchy, miserable, and found very little pleasure in anything. I couldn't be bothered with even the most basic of tasks and everyday life was a true strain. I realised something wasn't right, despite loved ones suggesting so for quite some time, and decided something needed to be done. So I was a big brave girl and went and got the leg up that everyone needs once in a while. I went to the doctors and decided to get rid of the Black Dog and taboo that is Depression (watch this video.)

My inexplicit pledges were linked to the explicit "Operation Graduation;" in a nutshell I wanted to be happy in myself again. I thought that would come through losing weight and being a dress size smaller. For some reason I believed that was going to solved all of my problems. I've learnt that being a size 10 ain't gonna solve everything, so why fight it. I love my food, I might as well enjoy the cushioning. No one wants the constant "but how do you manage to stay so toned and thin with all this eating?" anyway, do they?! I'm a healthy gal with a healthy appetite (a very healthy appetite.)

I started to feel better with my "leg up" and wanted to enjoy my new lease of life. That meant eating out in restaurants, going out for fun with the girls and just not caring about the little things that used to niggle me. That is the main reason I didn't stick to "Operation Graduation." (it's also very hard to find a meal on a menu that has non of the forbidden foods.) I also just didn't seem to care so much. (I also found myself craving treats which often lead to wine and a Chinese because everything else was off the cards.) So I thought, in a way similar to my dear Father, sod it.

Initially I felt very very guilty about being a bad person and not supporting Franchi in Lent, and not keeping up my pledge, but my Nana said that apparently nowadays people are being told to start doing something new for Lent. It's very odd that my "something new" was being happy. But it was. And just like that I started to enjoy myself. I'm the happiest I've been in a while, I'm just under half a stone heavier than the day I started Lent, and I almost don't care at all.

Thanks for sticking by me everybody, its good to be this side of Lent. It's good to have my wonky grin back in full force.

No make up cheese selfie

Ignore the ears.

Oh the irony of a cheese celebratory phot shoot in my running gear....

Franchi at 00.01 this morning! Well done chica!

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Thursday, 17 April 2014

Miranda Jones

I am a mixture between Miranda Hart and Bridget Jones. It's a very well known fact amongst friends and family, and is something few try to question. Things happen to me that just don't happen to anyone else.

Here is some proof/similarities I share: 

I can assure you, honestly. When I moved to France, my French skills were as good as Bridge's German, and if I attempted skiing this would be me (without the pregnancy bit, of course!)

From my tragic night out recently where I woke up with a black eye after deciding a pavement would want to be friends with me, to my solo wine drinking whilst watching chick-flick films like This is 40 and Pitch Perfect, it's pretty set in stone. I am Miranda Jones. However if that were not proof enough, I'm turning into that crazy animal lady.

Followers of my Instagram feed (which if you don't have, you can look at my Twitter feed which should link you up) will have noticed my recent obsession with posting photos of my dog and my cats (obviously food is still a frequent feature.) 

With house sitting, I've been with the pup a lot. I say pup, it's her 13th birthday on Saturday. That said she is still ceeeeerazy.

I've realised how much I miss having a little pal around me when I'm in grey Lancaster, so it's been added to my 5 year plan. Along with the whole job and house thing, I need a cat and/or dog. (Of course I'm still hoping for Hector the Hedgehog or Trevor the Tortoise.)

 I told her to pull a funny face.....she clearly didn't get the memo.....

 Until later on....

And then she pulled out the puppy dog eyes...

And here's a man after my own heart; loving the Mulberry. Sadly he needs to learn that the bag is mine and will never be shared with him...unless he's offering to get another one?

In other news, I've recently been on a date. I was hoping today's post could have been a re-run of my successful date in Lyon. Is hoping the right word? No, I guess not! 

Obviously I wanted the date to be a success - no one wants a disaster of a date - however there's more to blog about had that been the case. (You know your blog is too important to you when you think around every corner "hmm this could be a good blog opportunity.") 

I managed to not make a fool of myself though and saved face...unlike Miranda.

There was no tragic cheesy flirting though (thankfully,) so Connie did that for us...

How YOU doin'?

*UPDATE* I went for breakfast the other day with my dear friend Lucy, who said "hmm actually just the other day I was watching Bridget Jones and I thought how similar you two are..." That's that then!
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Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Wildwood: a Dozy Dinner

So there's another 'new' place in Market Harborough. It's another Mercado Lounge situation in that its been in town for a while however my absence from home due to Lyon, Hertfordshire and Lancaster, means it is a new eatery to me. 

This time it's Wildwood. Another up and coming chain of restaurants, that is yet another Zizzi/Pizza Express/Ask/Prezzo Italian restaurant. It's less mainstream and a little bit more diverse in terms of the menu; they have pasta, pizza, grill, salad and burgers.

Mum and I went for an extended Mothers' Day on the recommendation of Mum's friend, Rachel. Apparently the Smoked Haddock and Cheddar risotto with a poached egg on top is to die for. Sadly I had to take their word for it thanks to Lent.

We both got a vino and had a natter about life and the like.

I'm a sucker for Calamari (like what I did there?) so tucked into some as my starter. It was absolutely gorgeous, and the heated mayo it came with added to the dish.

The only qualm we had whilst there was the slightly slow service, but it didn't matter as we were aiming to take our time. 

In between that date and my next visit, I popped back up to Lancaster and had my mini-break to Edinburgh

The last time I was back in Leicestershire for more than about three nights was Christmas and before that was the previous Christmas. So when I'm back for substantial periods of time, I like to make the most of seeing my pals. 

Rosie is one of those pals; she's affectionately known as Dosie.

I can't think why....(she's actually not dozy...she's intelligent and doing very well in her accounting career.)

Anyway she's still based in the beloved Shire, which means a date was required. We pencilled in Friday night for some dinner and lovin.' Wanting to give Wildwood another whirl, and given that Rosie hadn't been, I booked us a table for two.

We entered and were ignored. Not the best of starts. 
"Maybe it's because we're not at the bar/till area....."
"Hmm shall we advance?"

5 minutes passed, 3 members of staff had seen us, 0 acknowledgements had been received. 

"Well...this is awkward. Maybe we should head up to Zizzi."

Another 5 minutes. 

"Excuse me. We have a reservation for two."
"Oh OK. I'm not dealing with tables tonight so can you wait for him up there [points to waiter/manager midway through serving a table of at least 25.]"
"Err yeah OK."
"Oh, do you want to sit down?"
[we mutter to each other "well, a drink might be nice..."

Not the best of starts.

Eventually we were shown to our table and handed the menus, to be told that a significant amount of the specials weren't actually on the menu now.

It drew my attention to the pudding menu. (Always the first thing to consider when decided what your main is going to be!)

HOW CAN A PEANUT BUTTER BROWNIE CHEESECAKE NOT HAVE NUTS IN? I'm sorry, this is 100% NOT Peanut Butter. Please don't insult us Peanut Butter buffs by insinuating such a thing.

We made our decisions on vino and food, and did the usual: natter natter natter natter.

We haven't seen each other for a few months and there have been lots of changes in both of our lives since our last catch up, so it was good to get up to speed with one another's lives.

Rosie went for the Courgette and Parmesan pasta...(one of her recent pieces of 'news' is her declaring she is a vegetarian - imagine my reaction!)

It wasn't very cheesy and needed the extra Parmesan on top (it actually did but I'm always one to get extra queso!) There was an odd liquid residue swimming at the bottom of the dish with the pasta which was intriguing to say the least.

I went for the seafood risotto.
Sorry, I went for the undercooked seafood risotto.

It wasn't horrifically undercooked; the fish was all fine, but the rice wasn't cooked through and there was excess stock again.

Thankfully we could laugh about it.

Of course, when it came to paying for the bill, we had to wait a while. Apparently they have two credit card machines which cannot be used simultaneously. 

The manager came over to take our payment. Now, we both hate confrontation. Rosie more than I, and I am completely confrontation-shy.

Nonetheless, when he asked how it had been, there really had been too many issues not to highlight.
He was extremely understanding and very very good at handling the complaint. 

Rosie hated every second of it.

He apologised profusely for the terrible service, and admitted it wasn't up to scratch. In terms of the food, he said there was nothing that they can do unless we say as soon as we realise something is the matter. The issue for us was that we had waited for so long already, and they were so busy, that we couldn't hang on any longer.

He thanked us for mentioning the issues, have his apologies to Rosie for making her feel so uncomfortable, and said we'd handled the situation very well, thanking us for saying what we thought in a nice manner. (He then gave us his card and offered us half price on our next visit and a free bottle of wine- woo!)

It was a bad evening in terms of the food and service, however given that Mum's friend (equally as much as a foodie as I am) recommends it, and the first experience I had there, I wouldn't write it off just yet. Give it a whirl and see what you think.... (The Calamari and Spag Bol are delicious!) I really cannot fault the conduct of the manager. (Thank you, if you read this!)

Still, our pudding stomachs were in full force. Over to Zizzi we headed.

THIS, is an incredible Banana and Chocolate Calzone with a toffee sauce. Absolutely mind-blowing.

Rosie went for the classic Chocolate Melt. It is equally delicious.

Just like her face.

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Saturday, 12 April 2014

The Lounges

I'm home! It's an unplanned visit. The decision went along the lines of.....

Mum: "Hat do you fancy dog and house sitting, we're on holiday" [AGAIN!]
Me: "Errrr" [Then I realised that the fridge would be full. Then I realised I'd get the comfort of a wonderful sofa, the dog for cuddles, the ability to escape Lancaster for a little bit, the ability to see my friends and family, and these views.....]

I mean just look at this, it's just beautiful.

As of today, I have 52 days until freedom from exams. That translates into 18 days until they start..... Help.

Anyway, being at home means that I am distraction free and can get on with some work. So far so good, and the good weather has helped massively.

On Thursday I had a much needed revision break and met Imogen for lunch. There's a fairly new place open in Market Harborough which is part of The Lounges chain. I first discovered the chain the other year down in Southampton where there are one or two. Mercado Lounge is new to the Market Harborough scene. I tried it back at Christmas with Chloe, and decided that the meet-up with Imogen warranted a new blog post with a wee promotion of this chain.

So first things first, the Lounges are an ideal location for any situation or occasion. I used to go to Trago lounge for dinner or breakfast. They have a lovely yard out the back, which is perfect when the sun is shining.

These are in the yard, obviously I took them for being Lyon promo!

They also do a specials menu that goes for a monthly duration. I normally get food from there because it always sounds delicious. However they do incredible fish finger sandwiches. These were my first experience of a Lounge, and it was probably the best one in terms of food.

Now, back to my trip to Mercado Lounge the other day. Imogen and I met up for a good old chinwag. We went to school together and have been good friends ever since. She graduated last year and is saving up money this year before the amazing gap yah she's planning. This was obviously the topic of conversation - far more interesting than 7 exams, dog sitting in the most boring (yet quaint) village, and french literature. She has so many plans, options and ideas, I am so jealous; the world truly is her oyster.

We grabbed a table in the corner looking out onto the street; prime people watching position (something we both adore doing), ordered some drinks and perused the menu. I knew I what I was having straight off, Imogen took a little more time.

Sadly Imogen's 'Dog' fell apart before I could grab a blog-worthy photo. No dramas - her facial expression makes the photo blogworthy. Its a pulled pork hotdog.

I went for the Pollock risotto, with mushroom and spinach and a poached egg. (I love a smoked fish risotto with poached egg on it!) It was tasty...reallly tasty. I'd say it was the second best meal I've had in a Lounge (the first being that fish finger sandwich.)

The company was also great! I am so so jealous of Imogen's year (or more) gallivanting off seeing the world...meanwhile I'll (hopefully) be doing my office job living vicariously through her emails and updates.

I was very sad (jealous) of this prospect, but I was cheered up by this amazing package that I came home to.


Bored in my cottage on my own, with nothing but revision and my sleeping dog for entertainment, I went to play at Dad's with the cats. They are so much fun.

This is Grace (the mummy)

And this is Archie. He is completely bonkers (and tried to play with my hair and Mulberry - I don't know which I was more upset about.)

So, in short, go to one of the Lounges. They are fast-growing all over the country. Have a look on their website to see where they are. Get the fish finger sandwich and the old fashioned lemonade....or the fish risotto if you go this month!

They also do some really cool and nice cocktails, not to mention my favourite Barcelona beer - Estrella. Its ideal for catch ups, dates, meetings and just general hanging out. 

Grab a sofa, grab a board game and grab a beer (a friend might be advised too - otherwise you just look a bit daft...unless thats the way you role of course.)

Next up I have another food related blog (let's be honest - that is what my life is all about.) 

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