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.

Jack Daniels and Coke Bundt

Jack Daniels and Coke Bundt
I went to see one of my faves the other week, that absolute darling Rebecca Vincent. She was doing a lovely little guest spot at Tooth and Talon Tattoo, so I popped down to get some more flora added to my arm.

I've been making bundts for about seven years now, so the hardest part by far at this stage is coming up with ideas which reach beyond lemon drizzle and chocolate. I never make the same thing twice, and it has to be something that excites me. 

After consulting with a couple of work buddies, I was settled on a Jack Daniels and Coke bundt for Rebecca and her tattooing pals. You can make this as strong or as weak as you like, by playing about with the amount of bourbon you use in the cake and icing. I made this one boozy as hell.

She set me a challenge for the next bundt. Post to follow...

Ingredients
  • 225g unsalted butter
  • 100g of vegetable fat 
  • 550g golden caster sugar
  • 100g soft brown sugar
  • 6 medium eggs
  • 450g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 250ml of Jack Daniels and Coke - I used a premixed can
  • 4 tbsp Jack Daniels (optional)
  • 500g icing sugar
  • More Jack Daniels to make a runny icing, or you can use a mixture of bourbon and water.
  • Cola bottle sweets to decorate

Method
  1. Grease and flour a regular sized bundt tin (2.4l, 10 cup, 10 inch).
  2. Soften the butter and vegetable fat and then cream in the sugars in stages.
  3. Add the eggs one at a time on a slow setting.
  4. Add all the remaining dry ingredients to a large bowl.
  5. Add the Jack Daniels to the premixed JD & Coke.
  6. Sift in 1/3 of the dry ingredients, followed by 1/2 of the liquid. Repeat until all the flour and liquid is used up. Fold it in gently...
  7. Tip: at this stage it will look a bugger. This is fine! 
  8. Give the whole thing a quick mix for about 10 seconds or until well combined. It will no longer look above mentioned 'bugger'.
  9. Spoon the mix into the prepared tin and give it a good whack on the worktop. Because the cake has fizzy stuff in, it will hold a lot of air bubbles. Too many may mean the tin design is lost. 
  10. Tip: Don't fill your tin more than 3/4 full. Stick any excess in muffin tins.
  11. Bake at gas 3/160 C for about 2 hours. Just turn it after about an hour and a half.
  12. It should be shrinking from the sides and a skewer should come out clean.
  13. Let it cool in the tin for ten minutes then turn it out. Note, you tend to get a bit of a 'fluffy' inch at what ends up being the base of the bundt. This is caused by the air bubbles in the mix rising as it bakes. Embrace it. 
  14. Allow to cool fully before icing. 
  15. To make the topping, add enough Jack Daniels/water/a combination of the two to the icing sugar. You're looking for a runny consistency whilst maintaining a thick mix.
  16. Tip it over the cake in a frivolous fashion.
  17. Decorate with cola bottles and whatever else makes you happy. 

BloggersPlease respect the fact I am sharing my own ideas and recipe. Blood, sweat and many tears have gone into getting this right, so you may enjoy a perfect bundt. If you wish to re-blog a recipe from these variations, please credit my blog and link to this original post rather than pasting the recipe on your own page. 
Please see my Creative Commons Copyright information for more details. Thank you.


Monday, 14 May 2018

Jack's Wife Freda, New York

Jack's Wife Freda
We were an hour early... I thought this was the city that never sleeps?! Well let me tell you, Greenwich Village sleeps. We ended up in a dodgy Maccy D's drinking a large coffee, watching pigeons peck at kerb side trash while our allotted '30 minute' window stay slipped by... but it was all okay, because we were going to Jack's Wife Freda.
Jack's Wife Freda
Jack and Freda

Whenever I'm going on a trip, I like to extensively research the best places to eat, drink, and generally be merry, and this little beaut popped up on almost every list where breakfast was concerned. I also try to vary the types of food, so we get to sample a wide range of what the city has to offer. I even have a spreadsheet of what to do on each day, complete with travel plans and other interesting things to do whilst in that area. You'll either be appalled by this geekiness, or want a copy (email me).

So it was 'Greenwich Village Day'. We had the most exciting of plans, which included Washington Square dog park, Williams Sonoma (cake tins yo...), Keste Pizza, The Big Gay Ice Cream Shop, visiting quirky shops, the Highline and the Sugar Factory. We were very likely to die of excess, then add stop number three including £150 of Nordic Ware, which I then had to carry. Bozo.
Jack's Wife Freda
Spawned from the union of a South African and an Israeli, Jack's Wife Freda is a celebration of co-owner Dean's grandmother's hospitality. NewYork Mag described the cuisine as 'South African Israeli Jewish Grandmother Cuisine'. I have to say, it works.

We were the first in, the second they opened. Although we had already consumed the world's tallest coffee in McDonald's, it was 8.30am, and we were used to having had about five cups plus a pint of apple juice by this hour, which seemed to be a theme of our holiday no matter where we went.
Jack's Wife Freda
This was lovely coffee, and instead of our usual large apple juice, we were offered house pressed cantaloupe melon juice. Dang that stuff is refreshing. When you get a breakfast juice over here, it's always served in a tiny little glass, whereas New Yorkers seem to always serve it like it's essential to your survival to have at least a pint. I noticed on one menu that fruit juice came in 'Large' or 'Ex-Large'. Melon juice really does need to be a thing.
Jack's Wife Freda
Jack’s breakfast - two eggs (any style), grilled skirt steak, grilled tomato, fingerling potatoes and sourdough toast: Steak and eggs could only be consumed once, and this had to be the place. Stunning simplicity, with the hottest, indescribable 'green stuff' on record. And yes, I totally got a side of halloumi.
Jack's Wife Freda
Jack's Wife Freda
Poached eggs with grilled tomato and halloumi - two poached eggs, grilled tomato and halloumi, served with sourdough toast: So fresh and so clean... This almost doesn't feel like a treat because it's pretty healthy (let's ignore the wedges of halloumi). Ellie was over the moon with this wonderful veggie option.
Jack's Wife Freda
Flourless chipotle chocolate cake with chocolate mousse: We didn't even order this, it just appeared. Anywhere that enforces breakfast dessert is worthy of a fanfare. Unfortunately, I had left my bugle at home, so they had to make do with our gratitude! This may look dense, bit it was actually as light as a little feather.
Jack's Wife Freda
If I find out you have been to New York and not been here, I am going to firstly defriend you immediately, and secondly be very cross with you indeed. What a refreshing change from the usual 'belly busting' American food.

Go here for a relaxed morning, where the staff are chatty, the atmosphere is buzzing, and the cheese is squeaky. We absolutely loved it here.

Brockholes, Salmesbury

Brockholes, Salmesbury
So I've decided to shake things up. You all know that I eat a lot of food and bake a fair bit, but I do way more than that. I'm constantly looking for new adventures and doing things that make me happy. I'm always asking folk for recommendations, and people ask me too. So it's decided, I'm putting anything on my blog that adds to the pursuit of happiness.

The brief: It's sunny although not mad hot, but you fancy a walk somewhere pretty. One answer is Brockholes in Salmesbury. There's a visitor's centre if you want to get interactive, a playground for the nippers, a cafe, and the most stunning nature reserve. 
Brockholes, Salmesbury
There are way more than mallards there too (although I did enjoy seeing a mallard eating off a bird table). There have been sightings of buzzards, hares and there's even talk of a Savi's warbler. You heard.
Brockholes, Salmesbury
It's a weird little place, you're walking round this beautiful setting, whilst constantly aware of the hum of the M6 beside you, not that it spoils it. It's like this crazy little oasis in the middle of our chaos. Whilst most people are on the look out for birds and the odd fancy duck, my eyes were peeled for little creatures wriggling about the undergrowth, unusual butterflies, and (unintentionally) a wee weasel!
Brockholes, Salmesbury
Note - not a real mole.
Brockholes, Salmesbury
Brockholes, Salmesbury
Brockholes, Salmesbury
Brockholes, Salmesbury
Go here to escape the madness of real life. Go listen to a warbler, watch the little fish swim in the pools, and enjoy recapturing your childhood counting ladybirds. It's a beautiful place.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Falshaw's Farm Shop, Bury

Falshaw's Farm Shop, Bury
It's the age old quandary, where do you go on a sunny day that won't be rammers, and you don't have to spend several hours in a heinous traffic jam in order to get there? Gem found. Falshaw's Farm Shop is just outside Ramsbottom, overlooking the rolling countryside. You can sit and eat whilst joined by the lovely cows and sheep with their babies, and a few mental birds running around the gaff.
Falshaw's Farm Shop, Bury
If you're a fan of outside dining, you can eat al fresco, or stay in the cool cafe if you prefer. There's a large lawned area to the side of the cafe, where children can play safely on the mini tractors, and adults can coo over baby cows in the field whilst getting a tan. If you fancy it.

It was pretty early, and after initially declaring we weren't in the mood for a fry up, there we were, with a rather large breakfast in front of us, watching the above mentioned birds chase each other round the farmyard, and listening to children laughing. Absolutely delightful.
Falshaw's Farm Shop, Bury
And what's the most obvious thing in the world to follow a full English? Correct, ice cream! It was hotter than the surface of the sun. I opted for a hugely refreshing elderflower and gooseberry sorbet, which was the perfect antidote to the sun beating down on us.
Falshaw's Farm Shop, Bury
Go here for a bit of tranquility, home made food, friendly faces, and ice cream. If you're under six, also go here for mini tractors.
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