Pumpkin Projects

This Halloween I was challenged to a pumpkin carving competition.

With the gauntlet thrown we each set about with uncompromising secrecy to create the ‘classiest pumpkin lantern’ and fashion ways to use all the entrails productively.

I turned to my secret weapon, the Pumpkin King of Bolton.

Marie's Florists Bolton

Marie’s Florists, Bolton

PUMPKIN KING

If you’ve walked down Wigan Road or Deane Church Lane recently you may have seen his work at Marie’s Florists (309 Wigan Rd, Bolton, BL3 5QX). If you haven’t been yet you really should check them out before they go all mushy. Seriously, look at his Alien Attack carving below… His work is amazing.

Mars Attack - Maries Florist Bolton - Manchester Meanders

See Mars Attack and 12 others by The Pumpkin King at Marie’s Florist in Bolton

I knew I could never compete with his awesome carving skills but it didn’t stop me asking for his lantern advice and for a photograph or two to intimidate the competition with.

As he’s such a great guy he wrote me an essay of carving instructions with hints, tips and photos from last year. I considered sharing these with you before Halloween, but knowing that at least one of my opponents reads this blog (you know who you are) I couldn’t risk them getting any ideas, such was the competitiveness between us. (There was a bottle of red wine at stake you know!).

I won’t reveal all his instructions but here are a few tips that made things easier:

PUMPKIN ADVICE

  1. Buy the pumpkins early. When they
    Competitors Guinness Pumpkin lantern - Manchester Meanders

    A happy Irish pumpkin submitted by one competitor

    appear in the shops they’ve already been off the vine for about a month and you don’t want to risk them going mouldy (or selling out). PK and I both bought ours from Asda for £1 each.

  2. Forget your kitchen knives. Invest in a craft knife plus either a saw blade (for cuts) or scalpel blade (for peels). Remember it’s a lot easier and safer if you use sharp blades. (I bought a £3 set from the Works in the Arndale Centre).
  3. If you’re lighting your masterpiece with a candle try coating the lid with a pinch of each of the following spices: ground cinnamon, ground ginger, allspice and nutmeg. It smells fantastic when the lantern is lit.
  4. To stop the carvings from drying out coat the flesh with Vaseline / petroleum jelly. It’s a messy job and the jury’s out on how effective it is but it’s worth a shot if it might make them last longer.
  5. Lastly, (and possibly most importantly) if you’re carving ‘cut though’ don’t push anything through until you’ve done the whole carving. Those little pieces stop it from distorting and damaging anything delicate whilst you work.

MY CARVINGSOwl pumpkin lantern by Sammy Dee Manchester Meanders

The first one I carved was this owl.

I was astonished at how well it worked out. I didn’t expect the spooky glow around the moon and branches, which was caused by the thickness of the remaining flesh. I had assumed the flesh would need to be thin to make it work so I’m glad I didn’t ‘finish’ carving it before viewing it with the lights off.

Witches Brew pumpkin lantern by Sammy Dee Manchester MeandersEYE OF NEWT

A few nights later I carved a witch making a newt brew. I hollowed and carved this design quite aggressively so it only took half the time of the owl lantern. I only needed to submit one pumpkin to the competition so in my mind it didn’t matter if it wasn’t neat. I could have done more with it but as it was an extra I hoped it wasn’t necessary.

TECHNIQUE

(In case you were wondering how I created the two tone effect it’s done by switching between the cut though and peel techniques. To make the face darker and spooky I peeled the pumpkin’s skin off rather than cutting all the way through).

PUMPKIN IN A PUMPKIN

Headless horseman pumpkin lantern by Sammy Dee Manchester MeandersFinally, getting a little bored with the project I roughly carved a headless horseman thowing his flaming pumpkin head.

I know I should have tidied the flesh up a little before taking the photograph but by this stage I was just glad it was coming to an end. I bought 4 pumpkins so I had to use them all. I hadn’t expected my first attempt to work so well.

I enjoyed the competition but it was a lot of hard work. It took me 5 hours to carve the owl; 2 and a 1/2 hours for the witch and finally 90 minutes for the horseman. That’s 9 hours of work excluding research and planning. I don’t know how the Pumpkin King has the patience to carve 13 (or more) lanterns each year.

Pumpkin Gingernut Parfait by Sammy Dee Manchester MeandersPRODUCTIVE ENTRAILS

Of course the carving was only part of the project: The rules stated that all of the entrails had to be used productively.

So for the next month we’ll be eating pumpkin soup, pumpkin curry, pumpkin pie, pumpkin chutney, roasted pumpkin seeds and pumpkin gingersnap parfait (pictured).

PUMPKIN GIN

Brewing Pumpkin Gin / Pumpkin WineIn the unlikely event that we didn’t have enough pumpkin in our diets this autumn another friend suggested I make pumpkin gin. It all sounded simple enough: cut off the lid, remove the seeds, fill it with sugar, re-seal the lid with paraffin wax, leave it for 30 days then crack the pumpkin open and enjoy.

Two weeks have passed and I haven’t seen or heard a single bubble from the airlock. We’ve been advised to view the pumpkin gin bomb with extreme suspicion. The Pumpkin King says it’s waiting for me to turn my back on it before it detonates and coats my kitchen in yeasty smelling orange goo. I’ll let you know how it turns out…

And just so you know, I did win a bottle of wine 😉

Did you carve a pumpkin this year? How are you using the pumpkin flesh? Are you trying to make pumpkin gin or have you tried it in the past?

All comments are welcome 🙂

What Makes Britain so Brilliant?

“A lot of things actually. Far too many to mention them all…” so said the 4-page Carling advertisement covering this morning’s free Metro newspaper.

Reading their list brightened my rainy Mancunian morning, so if you don’t mind I’d like to share it with you.

60 YEARS, 60 REASONS

Since it’s the Queen’s Jubilee (and we’re about to have a FOUR DAY WEEKEND to celebrate – Yippee!) here are 60 reasons, one for each year of her reign (shamelessly reproduced without permission…)

  1. Marmite. Mmm…yuck.
  2. Our devotion to our wonderfully gripping soap operas.
  3. Vivienne Westwood’s heels. It’s worth the pain.
  4. The Earl of Sandwich’s groundbreaking concept of putting a savoury filling between two pieces of bread.
  5. Glastonbury – mud and all.
  6. Our modesty – we never boast about how great we are, apart from today.
  7. The pound and our reluctance to adopt the Euro.
  8. The best selling music artists in the world are our very own: The Beatles.
  9. Our politeness – no matter how irritated we get, we are always too British to say anything.
  10. Kate Middleton and her sister.
  11. The Great British Summer (don’t forget the brolly).
  12. Driving on the left (the right way to do it).
  13. No matter where you are in Britain, you’re never far from a pub.
  14. Any excuse for a cup of tea.
  15. Curry, the unofficial national dish, with a pint of cold larger.
  16. We don’t moan because we’re miserable, we moan because it makes us happy.
  17. Our international language. Travelling abroad is a doddle.
  18. The Queen and her graceful wave.
  19. The Great British countryside, when you’re not stuck behind a tractor.
  20. Freedom of speech.
  21. Deep fried food. Fish, sausages, Mars bars… absolutely anything.

  22. Some of the very best museums and galleries on the planet. Free.
  23. The national tendency to cheer the underdog and ridicule the mighty.
  24. We apologise way too much. Sorry about that.
  25. Crisps. We eat more of them, in more varieties, than the whole of Europe put together.
  26. Shakespeare. When thou can understandeth it.
  27. Sir David Attenborough and his soothing voice on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
  28. British strawberries, perfect with cream.
  29. Our cobbled streets, watch your heels ladies.
  30. Chips with fish, or cheese, or beans, or pies, or steaks, or curries or in a sandwich. Chips with pretty much everything.
  31. We know the importance of a good queue.
  32. Beans on toast, brilliant no matter what your age.
  33. Courtroom WigCourtroom wigs. Our great way of making very smart people look very silly.
  34. Pantomimes. The jokes never seen to get old.
  35. No matter how cold it gets it will never keep us from our nights out.
  36. HP sauce. Chuck it on everything.
  37. The 3pm Saturday kick off.
  38. Cream teas. In case you’re wondering, Cornish is jam first, Devon is cream first.
  39. Jellied eels. And jelly. Though not necessarily together.
  40. Beer gardens. Because we love our beer and we love our gardens.
  41. Saying ‘I’m fine’ no matter how we feel.
  42. A love of mowing the lawn.
  43. Plugs with switches. Amazingly nowhere else seems to do this.
  44. Tolerating nearly everything, but banning hosepipes.
  45. Llanfairpwllgyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwlllantysiliogogogoch in North Wales. Just wait till your sat nav tries that one.
  46. World Cup, 1966. We’ll be clinging to it forever.
  47. Egg and soldiers. Those brave and tasty souls.
  48. The BBC. The only time you’re not constantly reaching for the fast-forward      button.
  49. Our British seasides. Watch out for the seagulls.
  50. Archie Gemmill’s goal against Holland.
  51. Prime Minister’s Question Time. A no-holds-barred, public bashing for whoever’s in charge. Every week.
  52. The Full English breakfast. Served all day.
  53. The weather. Although we get less of it than almost anywhere, it’s still the major talking point.
  54. 99 FlakeThe 99 flake.
  55. Morris dancing. We know how to move it 15th Century style.
  56. Allotments. Our very own little patch of the countryside.
  57. Our love of everything pickled.
  58. Carry On films. Oooer Missus.
  59. Our talent. Be it our artists, musicians, directors or just dancing dogs.
  60. And finally…

(Seeing as the list was a Carling advert I’m sure you can figure their last one out).

Happy Bank Holiday / Queen’s Jubilee / Weekend everyone!

Do you agree with the list? What are your plans this weekend?

All comments are welcome 🙂

Charitable Valentine

I don’t celebrate Valentines Day. I don’t have a problem with the commercial aspect of it – I don’t mind the big red love hearts everywhere and the fact everything is coloured red or pink. I don’t mind the soppy cards or big balloons – Not that I’ve ever bought any. I don’t mind the discounted chocolates or discounted flowers. It’s as good an excuse as any to treat myself or my loved ones, or to get them to treat me instead. The only thing I object to is the price of restaurants.

WE WOBBLE BUT WE DON’T FALL DOWN

Food is well and truly the way to my heart, as my other half will testify. For our second date I insisted we went to my then favourite restaurant for a 43 course banquet. This wonderful restaurant was where my closest friends and I celebrated each and every payday, by turning ourselves temporarily into Weebles. Sadly the restaurant is no more, much to my waists relief no doubt.

GREEDY?

The thing that irritates me about Valentine’s Day is when restaurants use it as an excuse to charge extortionate prices. Many of them will be full to capacity, with increased profits to boot, so why push the prices through the roof as well? That’s just greedy, isn’t it?

Some restaurants change their menus specifically for ‘the big day’, serving six courses or more, but there’s really only so much you can eat. I don’t think stuffing your face more than usual is truly romantic. (I could be wrong). Personally I’d rather have a normal size meal for a normal price.

(Evidently my opinion has changed since the days of wobbling out through the banquet door…)

With all that in mind you won’t be surprised that I usually stay in on Valentine’s Day. I love eating out at restaurants and do so as often as possible, just not on February 14th.

This year I’m making an exception.

The Black LionPAY WHAT YOU THINK

You’ll remember I eagerly anticipated the reopening of The Black Lion on Chapel Street with its own upstairs cinema. Well they’ve come up with a unique fundraising idea for Valentine’s Day: The Black Lion is hosting a one-off Pop Up & Pay What You Think food night.

The deal is you book a table (£1 per person), enjoy a delicious 3 course ’Valentine’s meal with a twist’ from 7.30pm (suitable for vegetarians and meat eaters alike). Then when the bill arrives, you pay what you think for the food.

FUTURE ARTISTS FUNDRAISER

Future Artists LogoThe Black Lion reopened in September last year, after being taken over by a creative co-op called Future Artists. Over the past four months Future Artists have created an ‘arts space’ in the upstairs of the pub: developing a studio suitable for film screenings, theatre, meetings and ‘art happenings’, but the beautiful 130 year old venue isn’t accessible for everyone.

Love Food at the Black LionBy paying what we think the food is worth (don’t be stingy now!) we will be contributing towards funding a stair-lift in the venue, so disabled artists can enjoy the array of new artistic programming across cinema and theatre too.

(Future Artists at The Black Lion is NOT funded by any government, arts council or artistic grant).

Additionally, Valentine’s diners will be the first sponsors of ‘Love your art space’ – We’ll get our names on the board!

(I don’t even know what ‘Love your art space’ is, but as there’s a board I want my name on it…!)

It’s an opportunity to be romantic and altruistic at the same time, or to simply enjoy a meal with friends or family. I think it’s a good excuse to go out on Valentine’s Day. Who’s with me?!

All comments are welcome 🙂

63 Degrees

LubyLou usually reviews books, (which you can read on her blog I Hug My Books), however she was so blown away by a recent visit to a new French Restaurant in Manchester City Centre that she couldn’t stop herself from writing about it.

As LubyLou’s own blog is dedicated to books, whereas Manchester Meanders is dedicated to all things Mancunian, here is Lou’s guest blog which I’ll admit made me salivate when I first read it!

What do you think of when you think of the Northern Quarter? Kitsch café’s like Cup? Grubby but cool bars like The Castle? Yes!

Elegant and sophisticated fine French dining? Probably not.

Yet thanks to the opening of a brand new French restaurant by the name of 63 degrees, Manchester’s Northern Quarter is taking a giant leap into the realm of fine dining and the result is delicious.

I recently became aware of this gem through friends. Situated on Church Street just next to Tesco and opposite Low Rider you could be forgiven for failing to notice it. But once discovered 63 Degree’s is hard to ignore. Decadent but graceful décor blends with simple but impressive style, all topped off with a menu that will literally have you drooling outside the door, desperate to go inside.

Pea Cream - 63 Degrees ManchesterI immediately did just that, booking a table for a Saturday. I wasn’t disappointed. The owners have managed to do a terrific job with what is realistically a very small space. The menu isn’t too overcrowded so choosing food was simple. Impressively the food came very quickly and we were soon tucking into our delectable starters. I had the Chesnut ‘cappuccino’ beech-smoked duck (£7.80) whilst my boyfriend tried the pea cream with mint, giant prawn with saffron (£7).

The pea cream came in an impressive martini glass with a giant saffron glazed prawn on the side. The vibrant green of the soup gave impressive colour to the dish whilst the addition of chunks of seafood in the soup gave texture and an extra dimension of flavour.

The duck was in fact a soup, which did give me slight reservations at first. I’m not a huge soup fan. However something about the daring menu told me I wouldn’t be disappointed and thankfully I went with my instincts. This was one of the best starters I’ve had in a restaurant in a long, long time.

The strips of beef Carpaccio on top were packed with more flavour than you could dare anticipate from such small pieces of meat and the sweetness of the chestnut soup contrasted them well.

63° chicken breast - 63 Degrees ManchesterFor his main my boyfriend tried the 63° chicken breast, morel mushroom sauce and gratin dauphinois (£14.80). It’s their signature dish. The chicken is cooked at 63 degrees on a low heat with the aim of giving unique flavour. Of course it also gives the restaurants name.

I only tried a little of the chicken. If I’m being totally honest I couldn’t taste a huge difference. It was beautifully cooked though and the skin was nice and crispy which may well have being helped by the special circumstances in which it was cooked. The dauphinois potatoes were however the star of the show, packed with so much mouth watering taste. Cheesy, creamy and perfectly crisp, it was all I could do not to lean across the plate and quite literally steal them from him.

Salmon dish - 63 Degrees ManchesterI’ll admit to some food envy on my behalf but I had more than enough on my own plate to contend with. I had salmon cooked on one side, black risotto and parsley foam. (£16). The salmon was cooked perfectly and the black risotto was plentiful, but it was the parsley foam that really made the dish what it was. Who would have thought a tiny little bit of foam could hold such stunning flavours? And it’s exactly that kind of daring and imaginative cooking that marks 63° above other restaurants in Manchester that are in this price range. To think such culinary delights can be found in this less than glamorous pocket of the Northern Quarter!

Pistachio Macaroon and Raspberry Pulp - 63 Degrees ManchesterThe dinner was wrapped up with a shared desert, by this point it was all I could handle. We had pistachio macaroon and raspberry pulp which was heavenly. Soft and fluffy on the inside, hard and crispy on the outside and laced throughout with big chunky raspberries. This desert was the perfect ending to the perfect meal. All of this plus water for the table and a bottle of rose came to a light £84 which I more than happily parted with.

Next time a special occasion crops up I’ll reconsider my usual haunts like Grill On The Alley or San Carlo. This intimately run family restaurant packs much more personality and magic than most of them put together. Well worth a visit.

So what do you think? Reckon you’ll give it a go? Check out the menu which I’m sure you will agree is imaginative and inspiring. Thanks to the staff whose politeness and attentiveness made this a perfect meal.

All comments are welcome 🙂

Frantic Fantastic Festival Season

Manchester is bursting with festivals and activities this October. Why do the organisers insist on squeezing so many great things into just one month? There’s so much to do and so much to see – There really isn’t any time for our day jobs.

MANCHESTER FOOD AND DRINK FESTIVAL – 7th to 17th October

The 14th Manchester Food and Drink Festival has commenced with an overwhelming selection of treats in store. The Festival Hub is once again in Albert Square with a range of activities taking place daily.

It kicked off at the weekend with Oktoberfest and the Real Ale Festival, plus a chocolate
festival and a chilli eating contest. There are deals and offers all over the city so check out their website and my events page for details.

Manchester PrintworksAround the World with The Printworks: (14th and 15th) Aside from the numerous events in the Festival hub I’m looking forward to the Printworks International Food Market, which brings together food from across the globe courtesy of their 12 restaurants. There will be free tasters throughout each day (Yippee!) along with free entertainment and performances.

Floating Feast / A Taste of Modern History: I am also tempted to try the feast on the
canal
to celebrate the launch of “A Taste of Modern History”, a historical recipe book journey through North West cuisine.

You get to travel on a specially chartered boat along the Irwell towards the Manchester Ship Canal, whilst enjoying a welcome drink and three-course meal based on the recipe book, which features 22 dishes inspired by the history of the region. At £48 per person it’s a bit steep but I like the idea of it.

MANCHESTER FEAST MARKET – 5th to 16th October

Running alongside the MFDF is the Feast Market in Saint Anne’s Square; a new annual market designed to bring together Manchester’s many food heroes under one roof.
Whilst MFDF brings together international cuisine this event capitalises on the huge resurgence in interest in traditional British food and ingredients, showcasing some of the region’s best farmers and producers.

Squirrel Food

Eek! Could you bring yourself to eat a cute little squirrel?

Amongst the appetising treats on offer there are local cheeses from Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire Cheese, pork pies with unique fillings, scotch eggs, pasties and chutneys from The Crusty Pie Company, and wild venison and boar, ostrich, goat, and squirrel from Natural Game.

For those with a sweeter tooth, Duerden’s Confectionery is selling fudge made in Burnley from the same secret recipe for three generations. Meanwhile, the English Rose Bakery is producing French macaroons and Airyfairycupcakes will be selling a wide selection of traditional baked goods.

For the more exotic pallet, Mango Rays will be cooking fresh chicken and mango kormas, whilst the Lion Rock Company will be dishing up classic Sri Lankan food, including kotthu and vegetable roti.

Two fantastic food festivals are taking place on my doorstep: Oh how I love
Manchester!

LITERATURE FESTIVAL – 10th to 23rd October

Manchester SermonThe 6th Manchester Literature Festival commenced on Monday, providing unique and
imaginative opportunities for audiences to experience high quality live literature.

Events are taking place in a range of prestigious and atmospheric venues, including this year’s festival hub, the International Anthony Burgess Foundation. (I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t realise that Burgess, author of the infamous A Clockwork Orange, was Mancunian!)

Other events are taking place at 22 locations around Manchester, including Chetham’s
School of Music
, Contact, The Deaf Institute, Imperial War Museum North and MadLab See the full venue list here.

My personal highlights for the Literature Festival are:

Poems of the City: 20th October – A Guided Walk with Anne Beswick.

Blurb: “Discover the people and places of Manchester in poetry. Green Badge tour guide Anne Beswick takes us on a journey of some of the city’s most significant buildings and streets and introduces us to the work of essential poets such as Allan Ahlberg, John Cooper Clarke, Carol Ann Duffy, John Ormond, Lemn Sissay and Mike Harding. Forget daffodils and plashy brooks and think rain, football, cathedral building and revolution!”

For me this is just an excuse to find out more about the city.

Poetry Take Away: 22nd October at Whitworth Art Gallery.

Blurb: “The World’s First Purpose-Built Mobile Poetry Emporium comes to Manchester. Staffed by a rotating cast of the UK’s best poetry chefs, The Poetry Takeaway specialises in the production of free made-to-order poems. All delivered and performed to you, the hungry yet discerning literary consumer, within ten minutes or less. So be sure to take time to indulge your poetical taste buds at this truly unique experience!”

Doesn’t that sound fantastic? I’m dying to hear what they come up with!

Manchester Blog Awards: 19th October at The Deaf Institute.

Having been nominated and shortlisted for the Manchester Blog Awards this one had to be on my radar.

Blurb: “The Manchester Blog Awards celebrates the city’s best online writing with author and blogger Socrates Adams reading from his new novel, Everything’s Fine (Transmission Print), plus readings from the finest Mancunian bloggers, the announcement of the winners of our new life writing competition, The Real Story, and of course, the star-studded awards themselves.”

Good luck to everyone involved!

THE MANCHESTER WEEKENDER – 14th to 16th October

Lip ServiceThe Manchester Weekender is forty-eight hours of art, culture, music, film, food, festivals, literature, walks, politics, poetry, photography, theatre and spectacle all wrapped up into a single weekend.

Hurry and you can still get a place at An Exhibition in a Day, a photography masterclass with renowned photographer Len Grant or The Hysterical Historical Tour, a promenade
theatre piece celebrating Manchester’s famous women from theatre duo Lip Service.

COMEDY FESTIVAL – 17th to 30th  October

In this years Comedy Festival there are over 240 shows in 30 venues across Greater Manchester. Comedians taking part include Rob Brydon, Jimeoin, Peter Kay, Paddy McGuinness, Stephen Merchant, Andy Parsons and Tommy Tiernan.

Check out their website for tickets and keep and eye on my Events and Deals & Bargains pages for freebies!

MANCHESTER SCIENCE FESTIVAL – 22nd to 30th October

I love the Manchester Science Festival; I’m a big kid (and big geek) at heart!

Walking on CustardCustard Walking: I actually emailed the organisers of the Science Festival to ask if they would let me walk on custard for them. It’s a non-newtonian fluid (a substance that
can act as both a liquid and a solid) so you really can walk on a pool of custard as long as you don’t stop moving.

Unfortunately they replied that it was very messy when they tried it previously and so they’re not going to do it this year (“science is meant to be about progress, hey?”)

So they’re not doing it this year, however, the lovely scientist did send me a recipe for
making my own ‘Oobleck’ at home. Does anyone have a paddling pool I can borrow?

Zombie Science 1Z: With that disappointment aside, I’m delighted they are having a spoof lecture on the real science behind the undead: Featuring live demonstrations and an online exam certified by the Zombie Institute for Theoretical Studies (ZITS)Theoretical Zombiologist, Doctor Austin will teach how zombie outbreaks might occur, their effect on humans and most importantly, how to stop them.

Science is cool! (Geek!)

AND THERE’S MORE!

IN THE CITY – 13th to 15th October

For £20 you can buy a wristband for the In The City Live strand to enjoy 200 bands (the best in underground and emerging talent) at 20 venues across the city. You’re almost
guaranteed to see stars of the future.

GREAT NORTHERN CONTEMPORARY CRAFT FAIR – 20th to 23rd October

In their 4th year, the GNCC Fair provides cutting edge contemporary craft to buy from over 140 selected designer-makers in ceramics, glass, jewellery, interior and fashion textiles, wood, silver and more. Chat to the makers, buy their goods or commission pieces directly at the fair.

Castle Armouries ProjectionBURY LIGHT NIGHT – 14th October

Bury town centre promises you’ll witness the strange to the spectacular on Bury Night Light when venues across the town invite you to enjoy a mix of arts, music, performance, workshops, tours and more. Amongst other festivities expect giant wandering birds, illuminating projections and charming lantern displays.

Phew, October is one exhausting month!

If all that wasn’t enough we also have Halloween to look forward to, in all of its commercial grandeur!

All comments are welcome. 🙂

Mini Manchester Musings

…And so another hectic week is coming to a close. The downside to working fulltime and having several projects on the go is that it interferes with my blogging. :-p It’s a good thing you don’t know I secretly planned to publish a Day Zero update every ten days. (Oops. Pretend you didn’t read that.) I promise to [try to] update you on my progress next week.

I’ve stumbled across several news items in the past week which I wanted to share with you. I’ve posted a few of them on the Deals & Bargains and the Events pages – after all, those pages are the reason I started this blog.

In case you don’t subscribe to those pages here are some snippets that caught my eye:

ENTERTAINMENT

Simple Street Party: American Funfair

If you’re looking for something to do this Sunday how about joining Simple as they celebrate 10 years in the Northern Quarter? From noon until 8pm, Tib Street will be closing for a 50s style American Funfair with cheerleaders, carnival stalls, fairground rides and Pink Ladies. (It’s on my doorstep so it would be rude not to go…)

They will be taking donations on the gate for local charities and giving away prizes for the best 50s dressed guest. Read more here.

The Black LionBlack Lion to Re-open with its own Cinema

The Black Lion pub on Chapel Street is frequently opening and closing and opening and closing. It’s a great little pub but it never seems to stay open for very long. My friends and I toyed with the idea of buying it ourselves and making better use of the upstairs. It appears someone else had the same idea:

The Black Lion will reopen shortly [they’re not sure when] and hopes to draw in the coffee-drinking lap-top crowd [rather than the ale drinking punters?]. Upstairs is being turned into a cinema which will focus on screening the latest in British cinema, to rival the Cornerhouse’s European Cinema.

The concept sounds interesting. 🙂 I’ve no doubt my friends and I will be there to drink them along. Read more here.

OktoberfestAlbert Square Oktoberfest

The Manchester Food and Drink Festival is nearly upon us and this year it’s kicking off with Oktoberfest. From Friday 7th to Wednesday 12th October Albert Square will house a pop-up Bier Keller with steins of Veltin’s Bavarian beers and traditional Bavarian and German sharing platters. The festival is free but the beer and food isn’t.

I’m going. How about you? Read more here.

MISCELLANEOUS

Relish Greater Manchester Cookbook

New to the bookshelves is Relish: Greater Manchester and Cheshire: a collection of 60 recipes to celebrate some of the top restaurants and some of the regions most high profile chefs including; Andrew Nutter from Nutters Restaurant in Rochdale, Harvey Nichols Second Floor Manchester Restaurant and Room Restaurant in Manchester. Along with the recipes the book contains wine recommendations and a hand-picked Larder Guide of the region’s best local suppliers.

I probably haven’t eaten in half of the restaurants listed in the cookbook – I suppose I could settle for trying their recipes at home instead. Read more here.

Be Proud, Love Manchester

“The Be Proud Awards are a celebration of Manchester’s heroes, rewarding volunteering excellence and outstanding spirit in our communities. This is your opportunity to recognise those who have worked hard to change and improve the lives of others.” If you would like to nominate anyone for the Be Proud Awards check out the website here.

Meditating Flash Mob

‘Participate in a Flash Mob’ is on my 101/1001 list, so imagine how disappointed I was to learn that I missed one in my home town yesterday. Mancunian blogger Minusonemoose wandered around the city centre taking photographs of people meditating for International Day of Peace.

I’m very sorry I missed it. If anyone hears any rumours of any Flash Mobs in Manchester or in the North West please will you give me a heads up? (sulk)

Scary PumpkinHalloween Walking Weekend

Large Outdoors are a friendly outdoor pursuits and social group with offices on Port Street in Manchester. (It’s opposite Port Street Beer House. Have I mentioned it? It’s a great little new pub!)

As part of their walking / hiking club they have arranged an alternative Halloween weekend at the ruined Barden Tower just outside Skipton. (Fri 28th – Sun 30th Oct).

For £65 you get two days of fully guided walks in the Yorkshire Dales, two nights bunk house accommodation, breakfast on Saturday and Sunday and an evening meal on Saturday night. One of my Day Zero Challenges is to do a hike with this bunch. Now I just need to persuade someone to come with me…

DOWN RIGHT WEIRD

Do It Yourself Taxidermy, LIVE in Stockport

I had to scrape my jaw off the desk when Tillybud mentioned this on her blog earlier this week. If the post about Charles Darwin’s Gourmet Club didn’t turn you to vegetarianism then this will:

On the Arts Council website it reads:

“This time we’re going to town with lazers, smoke machines and wall to wall projectors… not forgetting the all important stuffing.”

…“Delivered in a ‘shopping channel’ style” [ed -WHAT ON EARTH?] “She gives you handy hints & tips… where to source animal parts legally & personal preservation methods, giving a unique insight into this seemingly dark art and mind of an artist.”

I don’t know about you but I’m speechless.

Any plans for the weekend? All comments welcome. 🙂

Charles Darwin and the Mongolian Grill

I am currently reading “The Origin of Species” by Charles Darwin as one of my Day Zero Challenges. Specifically, I am reading “On the Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.” (The title was changed to the shorter version from the 6th edition onwards). 

I had hoped to visit to the ExInked Exhibition at the Manchester Museum this weekend, to tie in with and celebrate finally finishing the book. I had to put those plans on hold as I am two weeks in and still less than half way through.

My favourite fact about Dawin is not only was he a documenter of rare species and the father of evolutionary theory, he was also a voracious carnivore – one of the great eaters of unusual animals.

Charles DarwinMatthew H wrote: “When [Darwin] discovered a new species he would lovingly sketch a picture of it in his notebook and then he would decide whether it would taste best roasted or fricasseed. One minute he was throwing back giant tortoise and the next he was chowing down on a bit of Armadillo.” (Yelp.co.uk)

I am considering reading “The Voyage of the Beagle” just to find out whether Darwin mentioned loading aboard and eating 48 tasty tortoises, making the species extinct. Arguably it was the tortoises fault: They made the mistake of being delicious and providing their own soup bowls.

If I could have joined the Gourmet Club with Darwin I would have. He ate hawk and bittern, armadillos and agoutis, puma, rhea, iguanas and the aforementioned giant tortoises. If I could, I honestly would.

With that in mind, one of my 101 / 1001 challenges is to eat 10 unusual meats that I haven’t tried before. Step one towards this goal was to eat at Genghis Khans: Mongolian Grill, on Chorlton Street in the Village, Manchester.

GENGHIS KHAN REVIEW

My first impression of the venue was a little mixed: From outside it looked warm and inviting with its deep red walls and appetising menu in the window, but the moment we entered I couldn’t help noticing that the wheelchair access lift, next to the entrance, was being used to store old beer kegs. Aside from being unsightly it raised the question of what other junk they store in the kitchen. (It also made me wonder how they expect their wheelchair using customers to get up the stairs to the restaurant to tell them they want to use the lift). I was hungrily anticipating eating zebra so I quickly dismissed these concerns.     

At the bar we were greeted by our young server who immediately asked whether or not we had a Groupon voucher. Was she psychic? On this occasion we did have a voucher, but it made me suspicious that no-one pays full price. (If they don’t, was my deal really the bargain I thought it was?)    

UNUSUAL DECOR

We surrendered the voucher and were led to the far end of the restaurant: past the food counter and cooking area, past all the other diners, up some steps, into a second dining area where every table wobbled. We know every table wobbled because our server very helpfully tried each table in turn to find the least wobbly option. As there wasn’t one, we selected a table beneath a fake raw-hide where we could peer into the main room and monitor the queue. 

In addition to the raw-hide the wall was decorated with a shield boasting a portrait of Genghis Khan. (I don’t know why this was decorated with fake dead mice hanging from their tails. Do you?) Another imaginative feature was the numerous sets of chairs stacked up around the perimeter. (Perhaps Groupon customers eat in the store room rather than in the dining room.)  

Our server was perfectly friendly but completely useless. She forgot our order the moment she turned her back. She was also confused by which starters we selected. As there were only four options: chicken, beef, pork or veg, I’m not sure why she found this so difficult. A different server brought us our starters then both left us alone to look at our food without any cutlery to eat with.

THE MAIN EVENT

Of course, we weren’t there for the starters. In fact, we were relieved that our skewer and rice dishes were minuscule. We didn’t want to fill up on boring chicken and beef – No; we were there for the unusual meats. Amongst other items the menu promised zebra, ostrich, buffalo and wildebeest, subject to availability. They also occasionally serve reindeer and crocodile but perhaps it isn’t the season. The unusual options of the day were kangaroo, wild boar and pangasius.

Self ServeAlthough the starters and deserts are served at the table the main course was self serve. Along half the length of the restaurant is a counter where you wait your turn to select a bowl, some meat, some vegetables, some sauce, some herbs and spices then you deliver all that to the chef to cook up teppanyaki style for you.

(Apparently the Mongolian army’s daily meal was tenderised strips of meat barbecued on their metal war shields, using slender tree branches to toss the food. The restaurant equivalent is to cook the food on a standardised round hot-plate using elongated chopsticks).

DELICIOUS SKIPPY

Working from the far end of the counter I selected some juicy looking pieces of kangaroo steak. I piled on a selection of mixed vegetables and was then faced with the decision of which sauce(s) and herbs to choose. Kangaroo beerThere was probably about a dozen very different sauces and marinades to choose from but I wanted something that would enhance the flavour of the meat rather than mask it. I decided beer should work well. (Kangaroo – Australia – beer: you can see my thought process). To spice it up a little I added jerk and cracked pepper.

We delivered our concoctions to the chef who proceeded to cook it before us on a large semi-circular hotplate. Despite cooking about 20 meals at once whilst the customers wandered off or swapped places, the chefs did remarkably well at matching the concoctions with their owners.

Ghengis KhanOur first dish seemed to take forever to cook. We realised we’d made a mistake by not overflowing our bowls as the other customers had: By the time our dishes were reduced by cooking and served to us there was very little left to eat. That aside, my first taste of kangaroo steak was unforgettable. I had been right to keep the dish simple: It was delicious, perfectly tender, juicy and oozing with flavour.

HAZARDOUS SQUID

The second time we queued for our food the time passed more quickly. Perhaps it was because we now knew it was worth the wait. Rather than diving straight into the wild boar I decided to mix together a few of the fish options: My bowl overflowed with squid rings, salmon, prawns and pangasius (catfish). Choosing the sauces again was difficult: They had lots of flavours that would work well with chicken, beef, pork and turkey but I didn’t fancy them with fish. I opted for a simple Thai Green Curry with a selection of extras from the spice rack.

As delicious as this new concoction was it was also potentially lethal. People have told me they cannot eat squid because they find it too stringy and that it chokes them. I have never had that problem before, but, wow, it was a problem this night! I really had to concentrate on each and every mouthful to prevent myself from dying.  

I nearly choked on three occasions. I tried to only eat small pieces at a time but that’s hard when you’re using chopsticks. When I thought I’d chewed it enough I would try to swallow a bit – but unknown to me that ‘bit’ was usually still attached by a little unsnapable string to the ‘bit’ I hadn’t yet swallowed, so I was left with the frightening sensation of the whole thing slowly being pulled down my throat. Leaning forward to put gravity on my side didn’t help either. Scary stuff! I think I’ll skip the squid next time.

WILD BOAR

For my forth and final course I chose wild boar in a beer sauce. I know it was unimaginative to choose beer again but I didn’t want the sauce to overpower the flavour. I think the red wine would have worked well too but why mess with perfection?

(I watched other people mixing together a variety of different sauces – I’m sure individually they would all be tasty but mixed together like that they couldn’t taste good. Could they? Surely not.)

I thought the kangaroo was delicious and full of flavour until I tasted the wild boar. This packed a much stronger hit of flavour. It was similarly tender with a slightly coarser texture and it too was bursting with delicious juices.

VERDICT

So despite being a little overly critical and negative about the venue I wouldn’t hesitate to go back there again.* The dishes I had were delicious, (forget the starters – they were a load of rubbish) but I probably wouldn’t pay full price to go back, unless they were serving the more exiting of the exotic meats. (I’m very disappointed they didn’t have zebra). At £20.95 per person I would expect something more interesting than kangaroo and wild boar – both of which I could have bought at the forthcoming Manchester Food and Drink Festival or Manchester Christmas Market (or probably at most other Manchester’s food markets).

But I didn’t pay full price, did I? A little while ago I posted the offer on my Deals and Bargains page saying that GK: Mongolian Grill was offering 2 courses, including the unlimited BBQ, for 2 people for £15. i.e. £7.50 – per head. At that price it really was a bargain.

If another offer comes up for this restaurant I will be first in the queue.

Footnote:

*There was nothing wrong with the décor really – It was a bit tired and they should probably do something about all the wobbliness but it all adds to the character of the place.

Questions:

  • What is the strangest meat you have tried?
  • If you could try any unusual meat (ethical reasoning aside) what would you eat?
  • Do you know any other restaurants or food places in Manchester that I should try to help me complete this challenge?

All comments welcome 🙂

Defective Baking

To be honest, I knew it wasn’t going well when it turned green. I’d followed the instructions exactly: It said “gradually add a few drops of blue food colouring (don’t add too much or the cake will look green.)” Well excuse me, but any yellow mixture is going go turn green if you add blue. It couldn’t be helped.

The Gingerbread House’s Battenburg turned green. Did I really expect mine to go differently? No. I looked at her photo and knew mine would go the same way. In hindsight I should have used white butter instead of yellow butter. When I was in Tesco’s surreptitiously buying a kilo of the stuff it just didn’t occur to me to peal back the wrapper to take a peek inside.

So my cake batter was green. Not the nice bluey-green Gingerbread House managed to achieve. Mine was more of a sickly pea-green. At least it didn’t curdle when I mixed the sugar, butter and egg. Oh wait, yes it did. The recipe said “If the mixture looks like it is curdling add a spoonful of the flour”, so I did. It didn’t help.

I probably should have used a proper cake tin. Instead I used a flimsy latex one from The Pound Shop. You’d think I’d have taken more care when putting it into the oven. It nearly ended up on the oven door. I caught it, just in time. I balanced the flimsy square on my left hand, the edges drooping on three sides threatening to overspill, whilst my right hand battled the oven rack.

Grabbing it with both hands wasn’t much better: the cake flopped into a V shape redistributing the mixture once again. (Note to self: Use a baking tray in future). I scrapped the mix back into the ‘tin’ and popped it in the oven.

I shouldn’t have opened that bottle of wine. I was home alone and baking on a Saturday night. I knew it was a mistake but I did it anyway. I thought I deserved it at that point. It couldn’t get much worse, could it? …

…That’s as far as my diary entry went for Saturday night.

I meant to finish writing about my disastrous Union Jack Battenberg and post it in a blog. I also meant to write about the wonderful chocolate / vanilla marble muffins I successfully scraped together. (Number 44: Tick!) The recipe said they were cupcakes. Who am I to My Chocolate Cup Cakesargue? If I’d known they were muffins I’d have used a muffin tin instead of a Yorkshire pudding tin, then maybe they wouldn’t have spread out and covered the tray. They still worked out well, considering. They look good though, right? They tasted good.

I also meant to write about the “Northern Quarter Loves You” festival which took place over the weekend. (2 day, 3 stages, 30 bands etc.) I wish I had the time to tell you about sitting outside Centro Bar on Tibb Street listening to J.P. Cooper and chatting with a fascinating ex-pat Mancunian who nearly died in the Boxing Day Tsunami, but survived with just one leg amputated.

I wanted to tell you how much I loved seeing Manchester come together like that: having fun, eating, drinking, dancing; and I wanted to debate the idea of having a NQ festival monthly, bi-annually or annually.

I just don’t have the time. Not this week. Instead here are some photos from the Northern Quarter Loves you festival.

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If you didn’t go – You missed out. If you did go – Tell me about it. 🙂

All comments welcome. 🙂

… P.S. We’re looking for a Canadian themed venue in Manchester for our next book club. Any ideas?

P.P.S. My cupcake photo isn’t suppost to be part of the slideshow but I don’t know how to remove it without removing it from this page completely. Just ignor that one! :-p

Five Down, Ninety-Six To Go

101 in 1001 LogoI am now on day 26 of the 101 / 1001 challenge. Since my last update I have completed 4 challenges. Yippee!

The first challenge I completed, right at the start of the project, was Number 79: Persuade someone to join the Day Zero Challenge. That one is well and truly DONE. Since my last update I have talked a third person into signing up, who has in turn persuaded three other people to join in, plus Louise published her list yesterday.

I think I have nine willing volunteers in my pyramid scheme now. Cha-ching! (Or at least itwould be if I start rewarding myself cash for each new person who joins).

Before I go into which four I have completed, let us first look at the works in progress:

BooksIN PROGRESS

Number 26: I have read 10.1 cm of books – that’s about 6% of my height. My new phone has a little inbuilt-ruler-gadget-thingy which is proving very useful for this challenge.

(I went camping at the weekend – in the rain and cold. We could have left at any point but I had borrowed a book from another camper so I refused to leave until I had finished reading it. It gave me a further 2.2 cm).

I’ve also spent a small fortune on second hand books recently. If I just read books on my Kindle I would never complete the challenge. How many Kindles would I need to stack up to reach my height? Have you seen how thin they are?

Bear Grylls eating ZebraNumber 50: The challenge to eat 10 new unusual foods might not be as difficult as I first thought. I have discovered some crazy online shops that sell unusual meats, such as zebra, camel, python, rattle-snake and crocodile. Plus the Manchester Arndale market doesn’t do too badly either. From there I can buy pigeon, pig trotters, cow stomach, razor clams and shark, occasionally. I haven’t actually started this challenge. But I will. One day.

Number 56: I have attempted to curl my hair twice since starting the challenge. The second time I was even able to show my face in public. Alright, so I still looked messy and I was only visiting family but I am getting there. I just hope that incidents don’t go hand in hand with improvement. The first time I curled my own hair I looked dreadful. I brushed it out immediately but at least I didn’t burn myself. The second time it looked ok-ish, but in the process I burned my ear repeatedly and accidently grabbed the curling-wand with my un-heatproof-gloved hand. Ouch.

In brief, I have also:

  • Bookcrossed 5 out of 20 books (Number 29)
  • Sent off for my photocard driving licence again. (Number 81) My challenge was simply to fill in the form and send it off, which I have done twice now. I’m unwilling to tick this one off until I receive everything back safe and sound.
  • I have written my diary in 6 words for 36 out of 101 days so far (Number 86)
  • And Melanie has offered to write a guest blog piece for me (Number 88). I look forward to receiving that in my inbox at some point over the next 2.7 years.

MR PIGEON

Number 55: I became pretty obsessive about the Rubix Cube on my phone for about 3 days last week. After watching 4 or 5 hours of tutorials on Youtube and having written 10 pages of notes I managed to solve my first Rubix Cube. Hurray! When I went to tick it off my list however I realised my challenge was to ‘learn how to solve’, not just solve using instructions. Doh! So that one is still a work in progress.

I received an email yesterday from the Ebay seller who is sending me an actual Rubix Cube to work with. I ordered it weeks ago but it still hasn’t arrived. The email said:

“Mr. Pigeon informed us that he has completed 75% of its journey and preparing to land in a few days time. We are really concern that your item arrives on time and in good condition. Kindly keep we informed once you have received the item. If you have received your items please ignore this email, our pigeon must be have worked all the way out to get your products delivered.”

Homing PigeonHow sweet! A pigeon is carrying it all the way from China! At least that explains why it’s taken nearly a month. They should have used Owls. Harry Potter’s mail never took this long.

Soooo, now to the four challenges I have completed:

MAKE OVER – TICK!

Number 18: I won a makeover and photo shoot several months ago from one of the numerous makeover-photography places in Manchester. (There are dozens, seriously). When I won I thought I would wait a few months, take on a strict fitness routine, loose weight, look great, you know – that sort of thing. It didn’t happen. I love food too much so dieting was never going to happen. I could have exercised more but something always got in the way: Laziness, mainly. Plus a touch of procrastination.

If I was going to accept the prize I had to take it by the end of August. I just about squeezed it in by taking last Friday off work. When I booked the photo shoot I didn’t know it was going to coincide with We Love MCR Day. When I found out I thought ‘Great! I have the whole day off to enjoy it’.

Of course it didn’t quiet work out: Photo shoots always take longer than you expect, so I didn’t get to Exchange Square for 5 pm to tie a love-note to a balloon to release en mass at 5.30 pm. (Sulk!) I was looking forward to Number 77 but I’ll just have to buy a balloon another time.

World Book Night 2012WORLD BOOK NIGHT – TICK!

Number 30: The deadline for April 2012s World Book Night is upon us so I spent a lot of time last month deliberating on which 10 books to nominate.

For those of you who haven’t heard of World Book Night, it is Bookcrossing but on a huge scale.

World Book Night 2011For those of you who don’t know what Bookcrossing is, it means to leave a book in a public place for someone else to find, read, then leave in a public place for the next person to find. Feel free to look at my bookshelf here.

To Bookcross you register each book individually on the website then write the number and a brief message inside the book. Whoever finds it and reads the message can type the unique registration number into the bookcrossing website and leave a ‘Journal Entry.’ In theory you can follow your books journey around the world though the messages people leave. I think I’ve only ever received 4 messages but I live in hope.

So back to my challenge: World Book Night asked people to nominate 10 books to be Bookcrossed next April. Last year they gave away 40,000 books around the UK all in one night. In addition to nominating 10 books I have registered my interest to be one of the bookcrossers on the night. Fingers crossed that they pick me.

BE NOMINATED AS A TORCH BEARER – TICK!

CongratulationsNumber 91: (Yes, this is a new one). Those of you who live in the UK will have seen countless advertisements asking you to nominate a torch bearer for the London Olympics in 2012.

You were asked to nominate someone who does a lot of charity work or is active in the community. I secretly wanted to be nominated but I didn’t tell anyone. I do a lot of fundraising and volunteering so why not? I’m probably too old, ok I’ll admit that. 80% of torch bearers will be under 24 so it’s unlikely that I’ll actually get to the carry the torch, but I’m delighted to have been nominated. Thank you. 🙂

HappyBEING HAPPY – TICK!

Number 90: My fourth and final task this week was to list 101 things that make me happy. It’s quite personal so I’m not going to share my list, but I have written it. Honest.

It’s wonderful being so easily pleased!

 

How are you all getting on with your lists?

All comments are welcome. 🙂