Saturday, 9 June 2018

Giveaway - Tickets to Manchester Eats Festival

Manchester Eats Festival
Tickets to Manchester Eats Up for Grabs!

Your Chance to Win Passes for You and A Friend to Enjoy Fabulous Food at Heaton Park, Manchester this July
I have joined forces with Manchester Eats Festival for a great giveaway to celebrate the inaugural event this year, which will see Manchester’s Heaton Park transformed into a food lovers’ paradise.

The Festival will include talks and workshops from top celebrity chefs and mixologists, classes including vegan and vegetarian cooking, a chocolate masterclass and even cooking for kids. It will celebrate Manchester’s growing restaurant and bar sector, and its reputation as the food capital of the north. Guests will also have the chance to preview new recipes and exclusive tasty treats across areas including a prosecco tent, gin garden, global food court and a healthy living zone.

Official charity partners the Diane Modahl Sports Foundation will be providing an activity zone on both days with interactive, accessible sporting activities for both children and adults. The event also features a dedicated children’s village and live DJ.

For your chance to win one of three pairs of tickets (for access on both the 7th and 8th July), simply complete the following:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire Dales

Bolton Abbey
I've found my happy place. This Bank Holiday weekend we took a trip to Bolton Abbey, and it changed everything, even knocking Formby off the top spot. Fighting talk. I'm going to tell you a bit about it, but predominantly show you why.

I've started to write about places to visit as well as food, as this is the kind of stuff I do to make myself happy, and think it might bring the same happiness to others if they know about it, so here goes.

The scene: Horwich is hotter than the surface of the sun. I'm cooped, like a chicken, in a coop.
The brief: Somewhere to go for a nice walk, without hiking up mountains and dying in the process. Needs to be pretty, preferably with water nearby. Must not get stuck on the motorway for hours in Bank Holiday traffic.
The plan: Set off for Bolton Abbey at around 9.30am, get there around 10.30am, have some breakfast, and go for a nice walk in the sunshine. 

Let's go.

So as planned, we arrived at Bolton Abbey around 10.30am ready to bask in the glorious sunshine, and I'm kitted out in a flimsy flowery sun dress. It was brass! Clouds everywhere and a nippy breeze (disclaimer - most people would describe this temperature as 'comfortable'). However, it's okay because the next part of the plan is breakfast. I braved the elements and sat outside in the courtyard of Tea on the Green, medicating the windchill with a cardigan whilst we fed sparrows on the sly. Tea helped.
Bolton Abbey
I'd looked at the Met Office app, and it promised the return of blazing sunshine from 11.30am and dead on cue, there it was! Cardigan off and topping up the tan within thirty seconds. 

First up was a walk around the Priory church and ruins. Although there's a rather impressive church there, it's the ruins that steal the show. Magnificent in their decrepitude, they stand like ancient dinosaur bones, looking rather ornamental against the picturesque landscape beneath them. Genuinely wonderful. Even Henry VIII and his Reformation couldn't fully destroy this beautiful place.

History: The land was gifted to the Augustinian canons by Alice de Rumilly in 1154. The canons lived and worshipped here until 1539 when the dissolution of the monasteries stripped the Priory of its assets. History lovers will enjoy the story of Prior Moone and how he negotiated with Cromwell to secure the nave as a place of worship for the local community and how the church continues to thrive to this day. (Source https://boltonabbey.com).  
Bolton Abbey
Bolton Abbey
Bolton Abbey
Bolton Abbey
With the sun now beating down, we went for a walk round the River Wharfe. It's pretty shallow so perfect for paddling, and has the most inviting stepping stones, which were originally the route the workers would have taken to the Priory. These days they are a bit of fun! Many of these poor souls were tempted into the drink by slippery feet, parents unbalancing their offspring in a misguided attempt to help them, or just sheer fear of falling in. One dad had accepted his fate and seemed to be permanently positioned in the river. 

I didn't go on these as I would have been in that river within seconds. To quote Phil; 'I really want you to go on those stepping stones, and fall in!' I wasn't as keen on the prospect of a see through dress and wet ballet pumps! Logistical nightmare. That cool water did look very inviting though.
Bolton Abbey
Stepping stones
Bolton Abbey
A fella taking a dip or real life mermaid. You decide. 
Further up the river is the most beautiful pebble beach (there is sand at some points too). One family had completed life by taking a huge inflatable dinghy, which their dad was casually rowing down the river. Kids were skimming stones, picnics were in full swing, dogs were paddling, the sun was warm on my shoulders, and life was suddenly excellent.
Bolton Abbey
Bolton Abbey
If you go the other way up the river, it's much quieter, and generally filled with adult groups playing quintessentially English lawn games, the odd cunningly concealed barbecue, swallows dancing over the water, and sheep seeking shade from the sun. Idyllic.
Bolton Abbey
Before we left we sat in the tea cottage garden admiring a little chaffinch gathering grubs, and bees collecting pollen from the most beautiful flowers. Last stop was a lemon sorbet cone from the ice cream shop, before heading to Skipton for a wander round. It only takes about ten to fifteen minutes from Bolton Abbey, and was on our way home anyway.
Bolton Abbey
What an absolutely beautiful day, faultless in every way.

Go here for breathtaking scenery and happy times. Take your kids and dog if you have them, consider borrowing some if not. I would happily return here tomorrow and spend all day there. Pack a picnic and something to sit on, take some dry clothes and fall in the river, and talk to strangers like you've known them for years. It's such a happy place, I challenge you not to have a great time. 

Friday, 25 May 2018

Big Gay Ice Cream, New York

Big Gay Ice Cream, New York
I was once very close, yet so far... Big Gay Ice Cream had previously been top trumped by a beer establishment... not today my friends! I had my sights on getting back to that unicorn window sticker, and getting me some soft serve, god-dammit!
Big Gay Ice Cream, New York
I'm here! With the unicorn!
We picked the best day to mooch around Greenwich Village. It was hot, we had walked about a million miles around the Highline, petted dogs in Washington Park, gone miles out of our way to find bundt pans, carried them round in the baking heat, drunk a fishbowl cocktail with dry ice, eaten pizza, then landed at Big Gay Ice Cream. It had been quite the day. It was time to sit in a park with ice creams and people watch for a bit.

From this day forth, I don't want to know about ice cream cones that don't have a protective cover and drip catcher. No sticky paws here (Ellie was a different story). 

Salty Pimp: Vanilla soft serve injected with dulce de leche and dipped in salted caramel chocolate (which sets). It's like a mix between a Mr Whippy and a really refined choc ice, where the chocolate doesn't stick to your teeth, and the ice cream isn't made from powder. Not my usual choice, but when in New York...

Rocky Roadhouse: Chocolate ice cream, toasted almonds, marshmallows and melty chocolate morsels: It's like a cold, chocolate Christmas tree. I'd say most people around us were snaffling these.
Big Gay Ice Cream, New York
Big Gay Ice Cream, New York
Look at it glisten... 
We were so lucky to eat these sat in the sun. If we had been in Bolton we would have been wearing drips of it down our tops, and be swarmed by wasps. Greenwich Village is such a beautiful place on a lovely day.

Hooters, New York - Revisited

Hooters, New York
I'm making a pledge now, I will never go to a city with a Hooters, without going to sample their melted jalapeno cheese. Never. 

It started in Vegas when I declared the burgers there the 'best ever', then there was the first trip to the New York gaff. I even bought a t-shirt last time I went, but decided never to wear it as Trading Standards would be hauling my ass in. I'm more than ok with that tee not fitting though, because I've never missed a bus in my life. There are many 'perks' to having smaller boobs! 
Hooters, New York
For when there's not enough make up in the world... there are always cocktails!
By the time we were mooching about in New York, we had been awake for over 24 hours. We had endured a seven hour flight, lots of diazepam, sorted a hotel room drama, got massively upgraded and showered with free stuff, managed to get changed, and still found ourselves pondering which cocktail we would have first! Warriors.
Hooters, New York
There it was... the familiar sight of the illuminated Hooters sign. It had moved since I last visited the city, so it was like a sampling a completely different restaurant. We were met by the loveliest chap who was managing front of house. He asked us to take a seat in the bar whilst he sorted our table. He knew we were both celebrating, so got us the best table with an amazing view of Manhattan by night. We were really in New York! 
Hooters, New York
For those of you who think Hooters is a seedy gaff with scantily clad girls with their boobs in your face, it is not. It's essentially a sports bar where you can get huge pitchers of beer, buckets of wings, colourful cocktails, and service with a massive smile. The girls are so friendly, and I've never met anyone yet who hasn't liked it. Don't reckon I'd be friends with anyone who hates Hooters.
Hooters, New York
Blake Shelton likes Hooters. Blake and I would be friends. 
We literally necked our first cocktails in the bar downstairs in an attempt to wake up, but worry not, the girls were on our case and ensured we were never without a drink. It helped that upstairs was so lively, with birthday parties, sports fans, and jet lagged girls all having fun simultaneously. I just wish I could tell you what we drank. Lots of frozen things...
Hooters, New York
Hooters, New York
To the food. I will start with a short video. For this to work properly, I suggest you set some soft mood lighting, maybe a little gentle classical music, and imagine a gold aura shining from the edges of the screen. BEHOLD.
I ordered a 'More than a Mouthful' burger, and Ellie got the same with a veggie patty. We also got side orders of curly fries, potato salad and beans. We weren't even hungry! Virgin Atlantic had done an excellent job of stuffing us for hours. Didn't matter, we were in New York, we had alcoholic slushies and big burgers, but more importantly, we had cheese fries!  The food always looks rubbish, but tastes like heaven.
Hooters, New York
Hooters, New York
Whatever, I'm getting cheese fries... 
What a way to start our trip! We crawled back to our hotel and slept like dead things, until about 5am, which apparently is the best time to wash your hair. 

Go here for a good time. You'll always be made to feel welcome at Hooters. There's something for everyone. I'm just irked that I didn't have room for dessert, but in our defence we had been up for a very long time at this point. This will not be my last visit.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Marilyn Manson Bundt Cake

Marilyn Manson Bundt Cake
"Fail to see the tragic, turn it into magic"

Turn it into magic indeed Brian. I was going to London town to see one of my faves, and getting my shins scraped with an inky needle... sounds like the perfect occasion for cake. Last time I saw the decadent Rebecca, she had set me a bundt challenge. I adored this. I cannot believe I have never made a Marilyn Manson bundt before, I mean, what kind of grown up antichrist superstar am I?

My high school days consisted of looking surly, dying my hair black, wearing a 'Smells Like Children' hoodie, and having a school bag which said 'kill yourself now because you're dead in my mind' on it. I was a real treat. It was kind of the obvious route being so naturally deathly white.

I was obsessed with Marilyn Manson, and was convinced that one day I would marry bassist Twiggy Ramirez. There's time... although there's no way I'm getting married again! His lyrics would stay with me for years to come, and definitely shaped the way I see the world today.
Marilyn Manson memories
Smells Like Children cover, my school bag, homework diary, lack of eyebrows at 14, and my beloved Twiggy in his pink dress
So I set about watching my favourite Marilyn Manson video, Dope Hat. It's their take on the boat ride from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, so this was the perfect theme for a cake; swirly sweets, bright colours and the Spooky Kids at their best. Give it a watch... you know you want to...
The cake itself is an indulgently moist chocolate fudge cake, drizzled with bourbon icing, the hole filled with lots of fruit laces, rainbow astro belts, gobstoppers and chewy snakes, and topped with a top hat, obviously.

The most important thing was that Rebecca loved it, with a close second being actually getting it from Horwich to Finsbury Park in one piece, in torrential rain!

I very much doubt you're going to recreate this one, but hopefully it's given you some ideas of your own. Challenges are good... People loving my cakes is the only drug I will ever need. It rules.

Now I'm off to write on my handbag with glitter glue.


"When all of your wishes are granted, 
many of your dreams will be destroyed"

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Men in Sheds - The Willow Hey Project, Bolton

Men in Sheds - The Willow Hey Project
A few things have happened in the last couple weeks which have made me want to do this post. Firstly, I've been thinking a lot about mental health after reading a few things on social media, and chatting to people I work with.

Last year, a series of events in my own life left me feeling especially vulnerable to the world around me, but on reflection, I was incredibly lucky to be surrounded by people who were ready to wrap their arms around me, offer support, and build me up. I chose to be happy, but could only do that with a lot of help. I feel very fortunate.

Then last week I read an article by Simon Binns in the Manchester Evening News. It was an incredibly honest account of how his life got turned upside down by anxiety and depression, to which most of us (at some time in our lives) can relate to. Have a read.

Next up was a trip to Men in Sheds at the Willow Hey Project in Farnworth, and something magical happened. The project was set up by Age UK Bolton, in partnership with Bolton Council and Bolton at Home. It is for men who feel isolated or a bit down, and want to make new friendships whilst having some fun. They grow fruit and vegetables (as well as some fantastic plants and flowers), make things, and aim to support health and mental well being in their community. Basically this is a free space for men (although everyone's welcome) to get together, have a chat, get involved in a whole manner of projects, and feel like they belong, in a beautiful setting.

I felt compelled to tell you about it. 
Men in Sheds - The Willow Hey Project
We all find it hard to open up sometimes. A survey by the Mental Health Foundation showed only a quarter of men had told a friend or family member that they were struggling. Even when they do share, it's not always easy to persuade them to seek professional help. Men were 40% more likely than women to wait over two years, or never tell friends or family. 

This is why initiatives such as the Willow Hey Project are going to be so important for communities in the future. Let's face it, the NHS are up against it, so it's up to us to look after each other a little more as well. Community Development Officer Chris Wood told us tales of men whose lives had been turned around after illness, bereavement, tough family situations, and loneliness. We got to talk to some of the men who access the project, who spoke so lovingly about the work they get involved in, and what it means to them. Before I get all teary, I suggest you watch this:
All about the Willow Hey Project

On our visit, Glen (a man who I am sure has been a carpenter from birth) was telling us all about the amazing Viking roundhouse they are building at the bottom of the site, which is one magnificent structure. I have to admit that I got rather excited by his talk on making Viking tool boxes, and by the end of my visit, was pretty much convinced that I wanted to be a Viking.
Men in Sheds - The Willow Hey Project
The Viking roundhouse
Men in Sheds - The Willow Hey Project
The passion they have for the work they are involved in is truly infectious, and clearly brings them joy and an increased sense of purpose, as well as meeting some new friends in the process. We all left the site feeling massively humbled by what they were doing, and by what many of them had overcome. And we wanted chickens.

Where is the Willow Hey Project?
This project is in the corner of Doe Hey Grove in Farnworth. Just walk round the green and enter via the gate.

When can I visit Willow Hey Project?
  • Men in Sheds session: Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday between 9.30am-2.30pm
  • Community growing/social day: Thursdays 10am-4pm

Now the site has water and power, they are hoping to host forest school sessions, they have longer term plans for a horticultural college on the site, and already host events such as music festivals, and parties for the wider community during Easter, Summer, Halloween and Christmas.
Men in Sheds - The Willow Hey Project
For more information, please contact Lee Harrison (Men in Sheds Coordinator) leeharrison@ageukbolton.org.uk 
Men in Sheds - The Willow Hey Project
The girls
Men in Sheds - The Willow Hey Project
Men in Sheds - The Willow Hey Project
Wildlife
Men in Sheds - The Willow Hey Project

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Rainbow Room and Top of the Rock, New York

Rainbow Room New York
I rearranged our whole itinerary around this booking. Gone are the days where Michelin stars excite me (been there, done that, bought the guides), rather now I get giddy by chic cocktail bars. I only found the Rainbow Room about a month before we flew to New York, but managed to snaffle a booking that would mean we could see the sunset from the Top of the Rock, and then watch the city by night as we ate dinner.

We had been ridiculously excited about this booking, and I had donned a 'New York' dress to mark the occasion. No exaggeration, it was like people had never seen such an item! Locals were already tickled pink by my hair (which swagged us free drinks), but the themed dress was definitely a good choice. You know what its downside was? It was windy as hell up there, and that circle skirt inflates far too easily...
Lindy Bop New York Dress
We booked our 'Top of the Rock' tickets for 7.30pm, so we could watch the last of the sunshine, the sunset, and then nightfall at the top of the Rockefeller Centre. I had been to the Empire State Building on my last trip, and I have to say it's true that this is so much better! There's a viewing platform where you have the option to see the same beauty from inside, or you can venture out, if you are wearing appropriate dress... 

Sunset up there is the weirdest thing. It literally goes from full daylight, to pools of light hitting specific spots in the distance, to dark. Sixty five stories up boasts some of the most stunning views of the city, spanning from Central Park right down to Lady Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge. 
Rainbow Room New York
Rainbow Room New York
Rainbow Room New York
Rainbow Room New York
Once darkness had almost descended, we went down one floor to the Rainbow Room restaurant. There aren't many views better than this. We were a little early, so we had a cocktail in Bar 65 before our meal, and enjoyed some amazing views of the city. Happiness is a cocktail in hand, great company, and a beautiful city.
Rainbow Room New York
Once settled in our seats on the best side of the building, we reflected on what had been the most wonderful day stomping around New York, drinks being sipped and menus in hand.
Rainbow Room New York
Oven-roasted flatbread - Burrata, caramelised onions, crispy Brussels sprouts, prosciutto: A fancy pizza of sorts. Cheesy, naturally salty, and incredibly tasty.
Rainbow Room New York
Poached pear salad - pomegranate, winter greens, maple-sherry dressing: The perfect lighter option whilst still being packed full of flavour.
Rainbow Room New York
We finished our evening with another cocktail, and a chat to two chaps who had also found themselves walking round the city all day. Seems the Rainbow Room is the perfect way to end a day in the Big Apple.
Rainbow Room New York
Go here for Don Draper style glamour. It's a place for dressing up, treating yourself to fine cocktails, and taking in the view.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Empire, Horwich

Empire, Horwich
So I was aware of Empire before it was even a twinkle on Chorley New Road, yet for some reason, it's taken me this long to actually go. A couple of months ago, I bumped into an old school friend who I hadn't seen since we were about 18. She's moved back to the area, so we decided to get out for the evening, and sample what Empire had to offer.
Empire, Horwich
Downstairs is a beautifully styled restaurant, whilst upstairs boasts a rather swish cocktail bar. The plan was to have a little something to eat, followed by a couple of cocktails in the bar. Sensible eh? It did not go down like that. Not at all. 

We took full advantage of the 'Two steaks for £26' offer that was on that night, which included a fat sirloin served with cherry tomatoes, sautéed mushroom and hand cut chips. I also ordered a peppercorn sauce, which is standard behaviour. I have to admit that I wasn't expecting amazing things, as steak can be a bit of a risk when trying somewhere new. This was absolutely delicious. Perhaps a tad more to the medium than rare side, but still, a lovely cut of meat with tasty sides.
Empire, Horwich
This is where things went a little bit west for us. I was still heavily jet-lagged after New York, and if I was able to push through the mid afternoon lull, I was good until about 2am. It was a school night.

So, we popped upstairs for a couple. Things started in my usual fashion of challenging the barman to a surprise, so the cocktails below are mainly 'off piste' and of his own creation on the night. We became firm friends with Lucas, who I am sure performed some sort of alcohol based witchcraft. I also have to admit that looking at the volume here, I know there were more, and I had two of at least one of these. I didn't take pictures of duplicates, or the additional beers. Don't judge, it was a reunion.

I'm just sorry that I can't recall what was in most of these, other than the first one, which I know was a Poison Apple. What I can tell you is that we had a cracking little time, with each cocktail more delicious than the previous one. We also got vouchers for a free bottle of Prosecco for our return visit. I only got in bed at 1.15am on a Thursday night... oh well.
Empire, Horwich
Empire, Horwich
Empire, HorwichEmpire, HorwichEmpire, HorwichGo here with your mates to have a bloody good time. We went on a quiet weekday, but Lucas and pals kept us entertained, and certainly ensured that the drinks kept on flowing. I'll definitely be back to use my Prosecco voucher, and see what other alcoholic brews he can come up with.
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