Thursday, 31 May 2012

Foodie Pen Pals

If you haven’t heard of the Foodie Pen Pal scheme, allow me to enlighten you a little. I came across it via the blog of Northwest Nosh, who is a member of the program and whose posts I read regularly. 

It was started in September 2011 by Lean Green Bean in the USA and now runs in Canada and the UK too.  The UK program is organised by Carol Anne at This is Rock Salt. The idea is that anyone interested registers and is matched with both a 'giver' and 'receiver' - you receive a parcel from one participant and send one of your own to someone else - it's open to anyone who wants to take part, not just bloggers and I certainly didn't blog when I signed up. This is Rock Salt has full details if you fancy giving it a go.

I was matched with two lovely ladies, Sarah as the person who would send me a parcel and Vanessa as the person I would send a parcel to. 

Sarah and I corresponded very quickly - not only to say hello and introduce ourselves, but to go through the more practical elements - allergies, preferences and, most importantly, address to send the parcel to! I then sat back to await my parcel....

... I was not disappointed.

Sarah sent me a parcel of divine goodies, including a lovely card, giving details of each item and her reasons for the choices.

Firstly my attention was caught by the beautiful tub of smoked paprika - one of Sarah's favourite spices, but one I've not really experimented with.

I then spotted the little box of cheese biscuits. I did mention in my email to Sarah that cheese was my real weakness and these little biscuits disappeared very quickly. They are heavenly little things.

The strawberry huller included in the parcel has been fantastic. I love strawberries and this year seems to be brilliant for British ones.

Towards the back of the box were two brown paper bags. The larger of the two was filled with Summer Blend Tea from Sarah's favourite tea and coffee shop in Northampton, Blenders. This has been in my office teapot every day since it arrived. A lovely blend of black tea, peaches and a hint of citrus. It really does smell of summer. I keep promising myself I'll try it as an iced tea... but I get distracted and make another pot instead.

The second paper bag had the prettiest cake toppers, perfect for the Jubilee celebrations. I'm looking forward to using them for our next Manchester WI meeting, so I can show them off.

In a beribboned transparent bag was the piece de resistance. Sarah had made for me, the most amazing tiger butter chocolate. This combination of peanut butter and chocolate marbled into a rich confection is amazing. And perfect fuel for my 10km run (at least that's what I told myself every time I popped a piece into my mouth). I've never had anything like it. Sarah, I need the recipe for this....

Finally, there was a bulb of smoked garlic, which has since joined the smoked paprika in a spring vegetable risotto and a jar of Earls Barton honey, produced locally. It's an incredibly sweet set honey, creamy, almost icing like in texture.

Almost immediately I had an idea for the honey and using some eating apples left over from one of my hubby's many 'healthy eating' jaunts.

Grating the apples, I put together a quick cake batter and popped it into muffin cases.

Thank you Sarah. I've loved this whole experience and think that your parcel had a lot to do with it. Thank you to Vanessa who was so much fun to buy for. Thank you Carol Anne for your work behind the scenes matching us up. And thank you Lindsay for the idea in the first place.

I can't wait for the next one...

Monday, 28 May 2012

Three Wine Men.... Indeed They Are

I don't pretend to know anything about wine. I know I like it. I usually know which I like and which I'm not so keen on. And I'm not afraid to try something new.

Also, I confess, I sometimes judge a wine by it's bottle.

Oz Clarke in full flow
You'll know from my previous, completely smug post, that I won the tickets to Three Wine Men on Sunday. Bringing my friend Lisa along for the ride, we set off, a little worried about being surrounded by wine snobs and frilly words that didn't mean anything.

The venue was MoSI, of which I am a fan of and not just because I like a steam train as much as the next person. We were greeted, immediately guided to where we needed to be and complimented on the way. What a lovely start...

Lisa ready to start
On entering, you receive your tasting glass to carry around with you and that's it, you're ready to start your tour. Lisa and I found ourselves wandering among the throng, admiring the crowd around the Booths stand and feeling perhaps a little overwhelmed as Oz Clarke whizzed by with a group of ladies and Tim Atkin began enthusing to a large group...

Jeremy Cook and myself
We then spotted Olly Smith, looking perhaps for someone specific, but we immediately leapt to our saviour. Within moments, having introduced ourselves, we were being guided towards a beautiful passion fruit scented wine, before being whisked on to the New Horizon stand and a Viognier (if some supplier doesn't snap these up, it would be a hellish shame...) and on to a Falanghina via the Co-operative.

Sadly Olly had to leave us, to dash off to a workshop, but we were feeling braver and wanted to investigate for ourselves. After a brief trip to the Ravenswood stand (wow), the Wines of Brasil stand (yummy) and the Barrica Wines stand (a little fizzy rose we could have taken away with us to sit in the garden with); we stopped by the Sparkling English Wines stand. Jeremy Cook, the Managing Director, took us through his three favourites on offer. I've drunk English wine before, but not like this. We tried three levels of sparkling white, from the crisp, to the rich and creamy. If you haven't tried any of their wines before, please let me heartily recommend them. They are fabulous.

Andy Green and myself at the Booths stand
Before we became tipsy, we went into the tasting organised by Andy Green and Booths themselves, our beneficiaries. This was a guide through the tastebuds - both how to taste to really appreciate  the drink and how foods meet drink in a delightful way. A beer with lime, a port with chocolate, a perry with a yummy Cornish Yarg and a wine with a lovely Cheshire Blue. All providing different flavours and textures. A real lesson to a non-expert like me.

All in all an excellent day spent tasting and learning - and not in a way that required huge amounts of effort or concentration. Olly in particular has a way of expressing ideas that make things easy to remember and stick in your mind. And Andy's lesson in tasting will stay with me.

For all of the above we thank them. Oh and come December, we'll be back again to learn some more.

Some of the wines we tasted:

The Co-operative:
The Ned Sauvignon Blanc 2011, New Zealand
Rocca Vecchia Falanghina 2010, Italy
The Co-operative Fairtrade Organic Gran Reserva Malbec Argentina 2011, Argentina
Stork's Landing Pinot Noir Shiraz, 2010, Portugal

Pinot Gris 'Villa Wolf', Dr Loose, 2011, Germany
Zinfandel Rose, Bella Vie, 2010, Italy
Port 'Late Bottled Vintage', Quinta do Noval, 2005, Portugal

Ravenswood Winery:
Ravenswood Lodi Zinfandel 2009, USA
Robert Mondavi Winery Private Selection Cabernet, 2010, USA

Wines of Brasil:
Miolo Brut Millesime Traditional Method 2008, Brazil
Miolo Pinot Grigio, 2011, Brazil
Rio Sol Chenin Blanc and Viognier, 2011, Brazil

New Horizon Wines:
Barboursville Vineyards Viognier, 2009, USA
Whitehall Vineyards Viognier, 2010, USA

Barrica Wines:
Casa Defra Raboso, Rose Frizzante, Italy
TYDY Sauvignon Vin de Pays due Val de Loire, 2011, France
Champ des Grillons Rose, Domaine La Croix Belle, 2010, France

Sparkling English Wines:
Court Garden Classic Civee, 2009, England
Gusbourne Blanc de Blancs, 2007, England
Gusbourne Brut Reserve, 2007, England


Just a quick post, before I write about Three Wine Men.

One of my big loves, hence the name of the blog is gin. Hendricks with tonic and cucumber, a cherry bitch or a Tom Collins... I love it's strength, it's fragrance, it's flavour.

So when I came across the work by Of Life and Lemons on Folksy... I had to ask... If you can rule the world on wine, coffee and tea, can you do it on gin?

Apparently you can....

Roll on payday....

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Winning Week (aka Smug Cow)

Forgive me for being a little smug this week. It's been fabulous, with our most recent WI meeting on Tuesday and it's to end with Three Wine Men at MoSI.

Wednesday's adventure was a trip to The Lowry to see Robin Ince talk - I'm a big geek and the combination of a clever, funny man and a cardigan is always hard to resist. I previously watched a recording of the Infinite Monkey Cage programme for BBC Radio 4 that he does with Prof Brian Cox and saw Uncaged Monkeys when it toured  late last year, which is the live 'concert' version, with Simon Singh, Ben Goldacre and the genius that is Tim Minchin.

Robin is back in Manchester again on 22 June - I believe tickets are still available and I'll be going again - geek girl that I am, I tweeted him during the show and he is going to try to cover the bits he missed on Wednesday then.

Vintage at it's best

Thursday provided even more good luck - I have a massive love of vintage - I own lots of vintage clothing and accessories, particularly 50s and 60s. So when the Vintage Festival twitter account said they were doing a Q and A session with Judy Berger of Judy's Vintage Fair, I had to join in... Even better, I discovered they were doing a give-away as part of the session. On offer, some vintage red white and blue accessories, some Coronation hairclips and, best of all, a pair of vintage style frilly knickers from Buttress and Snatch. To my amazement, I won the knickers. Now to try and do some saving so I can buy some more of their divine lingerie...

And so to Thursday night. I'm counting myself as unbelievably fortunate, not only winning knickers, but being given tickets from Forever Manchester to attend their charity comedy night at Manchester235 - Barbara Nice and Friends.

My friend (and fellow WI member) Sandra and I on arrival. 
I've never experienced Barbara before. It was suggested she's like Mrs Merton, I disagree. Her character is more along the lines of something from Peter Kay's Phoenix Nights. There are, parts of her personality you recognise from your own friends and family. Imagine your auntie; you know the one; a lady of a certain age, who gets giddy after a couple of Lambrinis; who flirts with all the men in the bar and who insists on a game of 'What's the time Mr Wolf' whilst you're all dancing to cheesy disco on the dance floor. Then you're about there. I love her.

Our table

Before Barbara joined us, we were treated to her friends. The MC, had that slightly awkward self-deprecating humour that you can't help laughing at; the first act's observations of being an old married hit the right note with many of those at my table, myself included. Act two's take on being a geek, certainly won me over - sorry love, but to a fellow geek, it was rather obvious :o). And act three's final gag, referring to the similarities between football and being queer...

Musical statues in action
At the final interval, Barbara appeared. After popping my pennies into the raffle and a game of musical statues, to I Feel Love, by Donna Summer, the charity raffle draw began. I have never been more happy with the prize selection. Everyone wanted the Fray Bentos (Limited Edition) pie and I really wanted the HP Sauce... but sadly, it was not to be and I went home empty handed, but full hearted. Huge thanks to the guys at Forever Manchester - particularly Craig who has been a star :o)

Friday, a rest day. No going out, no gallivanting, nothing. Except some more competition winning. I know, I don't know where my luck is coming from, but I'm running with it. Mid afternoon, an email arrived from Booths - purveyors of all things divinely Lancs - telling me I'd won tickets to Three Wine Men.

Since he appeared on Saturday Kitchen, I've always loved Olly Smith. It's his enthusiasm and knowledge I think. I think he's lovely. And he's at Three Wine Men. I cannot wait...

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Manchester WI

Last night was the first full meeting of the Manchester WI.

The venue for the meeting was the fabulous Baronial Hall, Chethams School of Music, in central Manchester. We set up a series of tables around the room, so we could invite new ladies to not only sign up to be a full member, but also to take part in the subgroups: Exercise/Fitness, Gourmet group, Book/Theatre/Film, Baking/Cooking and Craft and, additionally, take part in the evenings' raffle.

The table at the event, including laptop for sign-ups - we're a tech savvy bunch!

I'm lucky enough to be a member of the committee, Programme Secretary, but for this Tuesday evening, I was the lead for the craft subgroups; an area very close to my heart :o) As I'm also lucky enough to run the University of Manchester craft group, In Stitches, I know what's involved in running a group and crafting (particularly knitting) is a  big love of mine - I've always got some project in my handbag for doing on the bus.

I was joined by Cara and Alex from Purl City Yarns who brought some of their amazing show pieces and also offered to sign people up to their mailing list. Their expertise (and their yarn, yum) really got everyone interested and I hope we can collaborate in the near future :o)

In Stitches meet three times a month, everyone bringing their own project, be it knitting, crochet, embroidery, cross stitch - whatever they're working on. We chat, swap ideas, patterns, help each other and teach each other new skills. And then, once in a while, we get involved in a little project, such as Manchester Science Festival and do something fun... like knitting a galaxy...

I'm hoping that the craft groups at the WI can run in the same way, incorporating workshops in different areas, such as dressmaking, machine sewing, embroidery, papercraft. It's going to be a fascinating task seeing where interests lie within the members of the group and meeting those who want to run groups, whether they incorporate all crafting elements, or one specific one.

I'm also looking forward to meeting the fabulous crafters from across Manchester. I'm always on the look for new ideas and projects.

And in the meantime, we have the next WI meeting to look forward to on 27 June - our Jubilee themed event.

Maybe I'll see you there.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Great Manchester Run

So, today was rather a big day for me. My first 10km run.

Again, for those of you who haven't met me in real life, or via Twitter, I used to be a lot heavier than I am now and have spent the last 12 months working hard to lose 92lbs and get healthy and fit. And it's worked. My trainer (I know, lucky me), got me down from a size 22 to a size 12. He also got me rather addicted to running.

And so to today - the result of lots of hard work saw me running my first 10km along with 40,000 other people. I was exceptionally lucky in that I had my friend Emma (@MissPond) to run along with me.

And so to the disappointing bit. I finished the course, a few seconds behind Emma, in 1hour 7 minutes, 6 seconds. I know I can run faster than this, in fact, I've completed my local run in 59 minutes, 16 seconds. My knee, which has been misbehaving of late, succumbed to runners' knee around the 7km mark, leaving me with 3km to push through. I'm now icing it heavily before I run to my physio this week...

Now, to the positive bit. I did it. I ran 10km in race conditions, dodging slower people, pushing through pain to complete the run in a 'reasonable' time. I'm proud of myself for having done it and I know it will be the first of many - I'm doing my first half marathon in Fleetwood in August. My family and friends are pleased for me and the sponsorship raised goes to an excellent local charity, Forever Manchester.

And of course, all of this hard work was rewarded in one of the best ways possible. With a trip to Brew Dogs new bar in Manchester, for a divine burger and some well earned beer....

Getting started

Hello *waves shyly*.

Welcome to my blog. I've not done anything like this before, save my twitter profile (@The_Lady_Sybil), so it's going to be a bit of an experiment.

For those of you who don't know me, I am a thirty-something, living in Manchester with my hubby and two cats. I have a fondness for gin, food, all things vintage, crafting, a bit of geekery and running. I hope to fill my blog with my loves and hates, try not to rant (too much) and share with you my experiences.

I hope you'll enjoy :o)