Category: Food

Three reasons to visit Birmingham now

Birmingham UK

Tram - Three reasons to visit Birmingham now

Not to be confused with Birmingham Alabama. People have. Such as the cyclist who thought the Velo was in America. He still came though and discovered our lovely city has so much to offer.

And there was once a leaflet printed, featuring the skyline of this American city for the skyline of Birmingham UK.

I digress, but you get my point. Mistakes have been made.

According to one USA so called expert Anglo blogger (who shall not be named) all there is to do in Brum is shop. They are wrong. There is so much more than shopping to do in the city I am proud to call home.

Recently I have done a bit of staycationing in Birmingham and these are my three reasons why you must visit Birmingham, England, now.

1. The architecture

Birmingham has some amazing architecture. And have demolished some controversial buildings too. Like Doctor Who Birmingham has a habit of regenerating itself every so often. And what it replaces the old with is not always a popular choice.

Which is why the city is in the midst of rebuilding Paradise right now. The Old Brutalist Library has been demolished (which caused some controversy) and the area is currently a construction site.

Unfortunately this is right in front of the New Library and the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. But don’t let this put you off. Look up and this is just some of what you will find.

  • Victoria Square Birmingham

2. The arts

I have already mentioned Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, housed in one of the most beautiful buildings in the city. It is worth visiting just for the building. However do make time to see The Staffordshire Hoard and the Pre-Raphaelite paintings, which are part of the largest public Pre-Raphaelite collection in the world. On my last visit I went to see Coming Out, a major exhibition that explores themes of gender, sexuality and identity in art. It is on until 18 April 2018.

The Ikon Gallery

There is always something new to see here. I had no idea what was exhibitions were on, but popped in anyway. And got to see the Thomas Bock exhibition. Thomas was a Birmingham born Tasmanian artist, having been transported there as a convict. His portraits of Tasmanian Aboriginal people are usually to be seen in The British Museum. However, I particularly liked this colour chart and the landscapes of Tasmania. More information about the Ikon can be found here.

Castle Galleries

Located in International Convention Centre, home to Symphony Hall. This gallery is a short walk via Brindley Place from The Ikon. I stopped off to admire artwork by Ronnie Wood and Bob Dylan. Castle Galleries is the only gallery in the UK to sell their work. I was, however,  particularly taken with the cityscapes of Paul Kenton and am putting them on the ‘if I win the lottery ‘list.

The Electric Cinema

I love The Electric Cinema. With sofas where you can get drinks and food delivered to, this is a real treat. The world’s oldest working cinema. As well as showing new releases it also show films that you won’t see at the local Odeon. It is a real experience, and doesn’t cost much more than your average multiscreen chain.

Once tucked away amongst seedy bars and Chinese takeaways, in a dark dingy street, the revamping of New Street Station and the Grand Central Development has meant that the area is now light and bright and being gentrified. I think this is a good thing. The Old Rep is in the same row of buildings and the lapdancing club will, I hope, close down soon. We will see.

The Hippodrome

Home to The Royal Ballet, this theatre continues to host top musicals, dance and panto. I went a few years ago to see Blood Brothers which was brilliant. This week I got to see Beautiful based on the life of Carole King. Spectacular. If you are coming to Birmingham, check what is on. If you can only get the cheap seats at the back, don’t worry. That is all I had and the view was excellent.

3. The food

There are more Michelin starred restaurants in Birmingham than any other British city, outside of London. Two of the finalists of MasterChef The Professionals 2017 work in Birmingham restaurants.

And if Michelin starred eateries are not your thing, here is where Chef Brad Carter (of Michelin starred Carters of Moseley) eats and drinks on his days off. Kebab, burgers and curry are featured.

With so many choices, from curry and burgers to posh nosh at one of our many restaurants in the Michelin Guide, you won’t go hungry.

This is where I have recently visited.

The Original Patty Men

I made a long overdue visit to the patty pimps and purveyors of filth that are The Original Patty Men. Once a regular pop up street food provider at Digbeth Diner they have been in the railway arches behind Moor Street Station for xx years now. And it is absolutely shameful I have not eaten their burgers before. Go. Probably the best burger I have ever had.

I feel so torn now because I also love the dripping filthy goodness that is The Meat Shack. You can find them next to The Hippodrome, one of our many lovely theatres, and home to The Birmingham Royal Ballet. I ate there just before Christmas and it was good.

Which is the best? Go try them both and let me know.

Cafe Soya

China town has a lot of choices. I did not know where to go so I asked my Twitter followers for recommendations. I wanted lunch in the Chinese Quarter before attending a matinée (to see Beautiful: The Carole King Musical) at The Hippodrome theatre. I wanted to eat authentic and affordable food.

Birmingham chinese - Three reasons to visit Birmingham now

Recommendations from local food writer Paul Fulford were Dzehou Braised Chicken, Min Min or Hometown China. Another friend suggested Chung Ying as well as Cafe Soya and Full to the Brum suggested Look In. Spoiled for choice.

All of these are less than a five minute walk from The Hippodrome, making them perfect pre or post theatre food choices. They are also near to the Bull Ring shopping centre and markets, so if you want something different to same same chain food, go to the Chinese Quarter.

Cafe Soya, at £7.95 for a set lunch was very good. Three recommendations from friends made it the winner this time. I will check out the others soon.

So why do you need to visit Birmingham now?

Don’t just take my word for it. It is not just me that loves Brum. And while ten years ago I would not have been Brum’s greatest fan, it has changed considerably in the past few years putting it up there with some of the top cities to visit. Photographer Verity Milligan reflects here on how much Birmingham has changed since she returned six years ago.

With The Commonwealth Games coming to us in 2022, the time is now to come and see the city now before the world finds out just what a great city Birmingham is.

If you still don’t think Birmingham is your kind of town, see what Telly Savalas had to say about it back in 1981. I did say it had changed right?

To summarise, what can Birmingham offer the visitor?


amazing art galleries

an independent cinema

The Birmingham Royal Ballet

an independent cinema

dirty filthy burgers

the Balti Triangle

Chinese Quarter

The Bull Ring and Grand Central for shopping

The Jewellry Quarter

great indie coffee shops: try Yorks by the tram stop, 200 degrees opposite the cathedral and many others

the canals

Birmingham Cathedral

More than three reasons to visit Birmingham then….


P.S Beautiful was amazing.

Trade School, slow living, Japanese Pizza and serendipity

I was invited to Trade School

Trade School Dudley is hosted by CoLab at Gather Cafe in Dudley. To learn about Slow Living.

Now I realise that for many readers none of the above will make any sense. Indulge me for a while and all will be clear.

To attend is free as in there is no monetary charge. Instead I was asked to bring a present for the teacher. AKA a small barter item. This is the list of items we could choose to bring.

A cotton hanky
A napkin
A packet of lentils (any kind)
A tasty vegetarian recipe without cheese
An A5 notebook
An offer to teach a Trade School class yourself
Vegetable seeds

I took a recipe for Okonomiyaki or Japanese pizza. The recipe, and the reasons why I chose it are at the end of this post. Trust me, it all comes together in the end.

On the road to Gather and Slow Living

Yes, I know, for all the people still working for the man, who thinks/has been brainwashed to believe everything has a price, this is possibly getting a tad uncomfortable. Good. I like uncomfortable. Makes you think. Makes you question. We have forgotten how to do that.

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And so it was that I got up and out earlier that usual and on the bus to Dudley. I sat and stared despite the bus having wifi (slow living tick) and once at Gather cafe, found a comfy sofa and got me some coffee. Gather is a CIC or Community Interest Company. It hosts all kinds of things including a repair cafe and #GatherSunday and has a pay it forward board aka Suspended Coffees. This enables them to ensure the homeless and others in times of need get a hot drink. My kind of place.

But back to Slow Living.

Lorna, who was leading the group, got us all to introduce ourselves by telling each other what our favourite cake is (one someone else bakes) and one thing we are grateful for. More of that later. It turns out to be a day of serendipity for me.

cake - Trade School, slow living, Japanese Pizza and serendipity

Lorna had found a book (it found her) called Destination Simple by Brooke McAlary – and wanted to share some of the things she had benefitted from by reading it.

More about Brooke can be found here at Slow your Home.

Of course, us sharing what we were grateful for that day, was all part of the journey to Destination Simple.

The link above takes you to the PDF version of the book, so you can read more there. I guess what I want to reflect on here is what I got from the Trade School class.

The importance of being busy

Is a smokescreen. A badge of honour we bestow on ourselves because busy means important, valued, needed. To keep up with our colleagues who are also ‘busy’.

How often, when you ask how someone is, do they reply ‘busy?  Because unbusy is lazy? What if we don’t need to be busy and still get everything done? What if you only had three THREE things on your To Do list?

Make it a ritual

Brooke is clear about this, and has suggestions on how to change by introducing rituals. What I interpret from this is that it is all about putting your well being first. Doesn’t that sound like a sensible thing to do? With all the other things you have to do, at work at home, we often put our needs last. (Do you sit down last to dinner, once everyone else has been served? If there is only one slice of bread, who gets the morning toast?)

We can single task

Surely multitasking is so much more productive. That what we all have be led to believe. Juggling tasks, get two things done in the space of what one would take. What if you immersed yourself fully into one task for a few minutes each day?

In the book there are a number of examples of this and exercises so I won’t repeat them here. At first it would be easy to say that we are so busy I don’t have time to do this. The thing is you already have to do this task so why not immerse yourself in it? For example the washing up, your hands are wet so you can’t check Whatsapp. Instead, concentrate on the colours in the bubbles, the warm water and the smell of the soap? Which neatly leads to


Yeah, yeah, yeah I know. That old chestnut. So here’s the thing. I felt like that. And I will let you into a little secret, sometimes when I am over thinking my thoughts scroll like a timeline on Facebook. In life as on my laptop I have numerous tabs open. 19 currently on my laptop. More than that in my brain. And I complain that my laptop is running slow. So what is operating like that doing to my brain?


You know when you go to a cafe and there is no wi fi and you say WTF? What if you thought,’ Yay, no wifi’ and people watched? Read a book? Did some knitting? Talked to the person you were with? Strike up a conversation with a stranger. You can have some amazing conversations with strangers in cafes. And you might make a difference to someone’s day.

Why unplug?

The phone thing

Do you ever go out to dinner with friends or family and they all have their phones on the table? Why not suggest phone stacking? First one to use the phone pays the bill.

I often see people on their phone whilst making transactions at the bank, the ATM and the supermarket or getting on the bus. Carrying on their conversation with the person on the other end whilst making no eye contact with the cashier or the bus driver? I see this all the time. How important is that call? Compared to making a cash transaction? IMHO it is not just stupid, but rude too. And they are not in the moment. Mind always elsewhere.

Personal space and security

A few days ago I was in a shop and a young woman was on her phone, while she was browsing items, picking them up and looking at them while chatting away. Both the shop manager and I could hear every word of her conversation. We gathered that this was a contact via a dating site, and we heard some personal details. The manager said to me afterwards that this happens all the time and some of the stuff he hears is what most of us would consider confidential. I overheard another person on the bus give her bank details, address and date of birth over the phone. All the passengers could hear this.

I know, we are all busy. But really, can that call wait? Do you not know that the everyone can hear you? Why share with strangers personal information? Why not engage with people in the present?


And you may sleep better. No phones/gadgets after 9 pm. No phone in the bedroom. But wait I hear you say, my phone is my alarm clock.

Go buy an alarm clock.

Practice the ritual

Brooke gives some suggestions as to how you can make unplugging a ritual in her book, so if you think you could benefit from this, take a look at the exercise on this on page 17. It can be a simple as choosing not to use the wifi on the bus, to going for a walk in the park and leaving your phone at home.

Why not make a list of what you could do instead of checking Facebook and Twitter? Watching TV is not one of them….

Empty your mind

This is something I struggle with. My earlier confession of thinking in timelines…. probably a lot to do with this. I don’t sleep too well. As people who read my 4 am updates know. They too are insomniac and On. Their. Phones. To do this Brooke suggests the Brain Dump. Five to ten minutes of pen to paper, writing in no particular order (this is not a list) letting everything on your mind pour out onto the page. This ritual dovetails with the Three Things Ritual and the Gratitude Exercises she covers later in the book (and what I mentioned in this post earlier) because this brain dump will help you identify these.

Establish rhythms

During the session Lorna talked us through how we might establish a morning rhythm. Depending where we are in our life and how we choose to live it this can be different for us all. I certainly can remember frazzled school run mornings from when I had young children. And we have all overslept at some time (even insomniacs like me do sometimes). I think I have grown better at this as it has been less important to me to worry about being late. I am almost always on time, if not early for appointments, but I am guilty of trying to cram in too much in a small space of time. So for this reason I can see the benefit of this.

Practice rhythms

I think for some it will take more practice than others. what I love about this is that Brooke reminds you that you need to factor in ‘wiggle time’ and this is about how you do things not anyone else. Your best friend who is almost always perfectly made up at the school gates may add a lot more wiggle time than you do.

Again there is a useful exercise in the book on page 34 to work through, which we did in the Trade School Session. All of our lists were different, of course, because we lead different lives.

And I think this is part of the key. We are so conditioned as to what we think we SHOULD be doing that we lose sight of what we need and want to be doing. And this is what this exercise focuses on. Need and want, prioritising and planning.

I found this very useful and I urge you to do the exercise. I worked out for example that the 39 minutes that the washing machine was on was time to practice yoga every day. Something I constantly said I never had time for. Aha, I hear you say, isn’t that multitasking? Yes it is. However, once that washer is on I do not need to mindfully watch my clothes sloshing around. I can, however, practice mindful single tasking whilst pegging out the clothes. After my mindful yoga.

“Instead of starting your day by responding to the
stimulus around you, you’re proactively creating the
day you want to have. When you wake up and do the
most essential things first, you get a good start to your
day. Your mind is better focused on the rest of your
day’s tasks. And you’ll do a better job taking care of
the people you love most.”
Tsh Oxenreider — Simple Mom
Author of ‘One Bite at a Time’

The takeaway

I realised that I was do some of these things already. I have slowed down a lot in the past few years. My life in the last 3 years has changed completely and will continue to change.

Already a follower of The Minimalists and Courtney Carver, who feature in the book, I am way down the line with this. Of course there is a but. My life still does not look like I want it to. I am disatisfied and tired and grumpy. A lot.

What this session at Trade School did for me was give me another piece of the jigsaw. One I had been scrabbling around for in the box and couldn’t find. It was there after all. I just needed help to find it. And like a key, it unlocks another door. To find the life I need and want to live. I have spent too many years comparing my life with others. I only need to be the best I can be.

What changes have I made?

I took up knitting. Again. And I am making great progress this time. Why? Because when I do it it is all I do. I don’t do it while watching TV or reading and nor can I check out Twitter. I have to concentrate and count the stitches and on whether it is a knit or a purl row. I am in flow and meditative. Five to ten minutes a day I knit. All my thoughts are still, my brain can only concentrate on this and this alone.

The phone is not my alarm clock. If I wake at 4 am I work on emptying my mind and resting if not sleeping. And definitely not checking my phone to see who else is awake then.

What I have noticed

I already did the brain dump but used it as my to do list. I am going to gather them all (I have numerous to do lists) and introduce The Three Thing Ritual.

I am doing one thing at a time. I would watch the TV with my phone in my hand. I don’t now. I went out to dinner with the family and did not check my phone once. I have gone to bed earlier and slept better.

What changes will I make?

I am going to read the book all the way through and work through each exercise. I know that when I practice gratitude my mind is in a much better place. So that is a top priority for me.

Replace the word routine with the word rhythm. And work on establishing some. I am not working currently so it is all too easy for me to let the day drift without achieving something. Of course with slow living that is ok but not if you don’t have any food to make dinner. This way I can work on what I want to happen more (write, read, knit, essentially practice Hygge now winter is here) but do what needs to happen, (cook a meal, write CV, apply for jobs).

Consider offering a Trade School class.

Attend another Trade School class.

The serendipity bit

Because there always is.

Whenever you are with people who contribute more than they take, as is what happens at Gather, things happen.

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Not unexpectedly, as I used to work with Lorna many years ago, I knew someone else in the group that day. She happens to be a friend of someone else I used to work with, also many years ago. Not seen either of them for years, but in touch with one via Facebook, as you do… Anyways, I tell her about the downsizing and the decluttering and the travelling and plans to live in a warm place, and those are her plans too. Except she has already got a house in a warm place, Malta. In Marsaxlokk.

If there was any place I would choose to live in Malta it is here. And she said I could rent it from her anytime. This woman, I have not seen for over 12 years, said that.

Rewind to what I said I was grateful for that day. To see an old and valued work colleague and be able to catch up. Who knew? And because I like her and it was good to see her I will rebuild the contact. And hopefully meet at Gather again.

I will pay for my trade school lesson in another way too. By offering a session on decluttering and downsizing and Project 333. Not everyone wants to tread that path, but if they do, they will be there.

And there is more.

Of course there is. As a devotee of minimalism and Project 333 I have been following Courtney Carver for a while now. What I did not know that she has been a regular guest podcaster on Slow Your Home. I have been a big fan of The Minimalists for a couple of years. Yup, Brooke works with them too. All the stuff I have been babbling about for the last couple of years, Lorna has just stumbled upon. From a different direction. She had not planned to buy the book, but it found her. And you know I don’t believe in coincidence.

coincidence - Trade School, slow living, Japanese Pizza and serendipity

And while I have been in pursuit of my version of minimalism for a few years now, and stopped buying clothes for a year, there is still an element of dissatisfaction in my life. Perhaps what I discovered at Trade School today will address that. I am at a crossroads in my life. I have no direction. Today I felt I belonged at Gather.

The recipe

OKONIYAKI aka Japanese pancake.

3 cups/450g self raising flour

2 cups/50ml water

1 large carrot peeled and grated

1/2 firm whit cabbage, finely chopped

1/2 white onion finely chopped

3tbs olive oil

pinch salt to taste

no egg mayo to serve

sweet chilli sauce to serve

baby spinach leave and tomatoes to garnish

Mix the flour and water to make a smooth batter.

Add the vegetable, 1 tsp of oil and salt.

Combine and add water if necessary to keep mixture smooth.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan and pour the batter into the pan. forming an even pancake across the bottom, at least 1cm thick, leaving enough room to flip later. Two or more medium pancakes are easier to cook than one large one.

Cook on low heat on one side till brown around 5 to 8 minutes then flip and cook the other side.

Once cooked, serve on a plate and dribble the mayo and chilli sauce.

Garnish with the spinach and tomato wedges.

From the Lentil as Anything cookbook

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Lentil as Anything

This is one of my favourite foods at Lentil. I order it everytime I go to St Kilda Lentil. I have very happy memories of volunteering there too. Their philosophy is so in step with what is happening at Gather and at CoLab and of course Trade School. And The Real Junk Food Project who I have also volunteered with.

We are Lentil as Anything.

At our core are our not-for-profit vegan and vegetarian restaurants, where guests contribute what they feel their meal and experience is worth, according to their own financial ability.

Lentil as Anything was established in 2000 and continues to support our community everyday by;

Caring for people: Providing a wholesome and nutritious meal where money is not a concern.

Promoting Multiculturalism: Fostering an environment of inclusion

Reforming Society: Acting on the structures of society to restore justice.

Extending and spreading it’s ethos and values: Hiring volunteers, the long-term unemployed and the marginalised.

Encouraging: Young people to be active citizens and get involved in community based initiatives

Lentil found me

I discovered Lentil as Anything in November 2011. I had at that time no real knowledge of food and its role in building community. I saw the cook book in a shop in St Kilda and that influenced where we ate that day. After eating I offered to volunteer there. And then once a week, me and the DH would spend a day, waiting tables and washing tables, in return for food. We felt like family. And everytime we go back to Melbourne this is where we eat out at most.

In 2013 I got a job working with a charity who run a foodbank. Angry that their is food poverty and food waste, I also volunteered with The Real Junk Food Project Birmingham. And here is another serendipity bit – the founder of TRJFP used to eat at Lentil as Anything in St Kilda. I always wonder if I once served him his food. Whilst representing foodbank at an event I met a young man who was passionate to fight food poverty and I signposted him to TRJFP Birmingham. He went on to become a co director and with his team grew the project to what it is now.

Why am I telling you this. Because if I had not seen that book, that this recipe comes from, none of this may have happened. And I don’t believe in coincidence. That book was meant to find me, just as the book, Destination Simple, was meant to find Lorna.

It’s not easy being green

In July, as a  first step to a green (er) life, I decided to take part in #plasticfreejuly – ie not buy anything wrapped in plastic, or made of plastic.

Reduce plastic use

I failed on day one. Because it is bloody hard to be plastic free. I know it is not impossible because others, such as Lindsay at Treading My Own Path do it, but flip me I don’t know how they do. My first fail occurred because the organic veg in Aldi is wrapped in plastic. Of course I could go to a an old fashioned green grocers and buy my veg loose. If we still had an old fashioned green grocer in my neighbourhood. We don’t.

not green

This abject failure to stop bringing plastic in the home made me start to think about what else I could do to be more green. After all, what I do to today impacts on how life will be in the future,  not so much for me, but for my children, your children and their children.

First minimalism and now going green

It seemed a logical step, after downsizing, decluttering and embracing a more minimalist life. This is an ongoing journey. I still have a way to go. Much of my stuff is still in boxes. I haven’t seen some things for two years now. As I unpack, I keep a bag for donations. As Sleeve Notes and I cleared the bedrooms for the flooring to be laid we decided not to have any wardrobes in the house and no furniture except a bed in our room. We have got rid of so many clothes and possessions, we don’t need so much storage. And I know, that as soon as you create storage, you fill it.

This does mean that we are in limbo – there is stuff in boxes – and nowhere to put it. And this makes the choices of what to keep simpler. If we love it, will use it we will find space. If not, we won’t.

There is no rush. We can take time. The winter months are a good time to sift through photos. Art can be put on the walls once they have been painted. And we will continue to off load stuff we no longer love nor need.

Going Green in the home

As I planned the house renovations I wanted to reduce my carbon footprint as much as I could, within the budget I had. The flooring is made of sustainable Bamboo. I have replace radiators with underfloor heating as it more efficient and therefore uses less gas. Which will cut my bills. The extension is very well insulated. The glazing brings in more light and heat, saving more energy. We have no bath, only a shower. We had a water meter installed. Nothing like a water meter to make you think twice about leaving the tap running when brushing teeth.

Our utilities provider has installed a Smart Meter. I had to put it in the cupboard to stop me checking every 5 minutes how much gas or electric I am using. For the first time in 25 years I have a tumble dryer and now I am afraid to use it. It makes me think about turning off lights, filling the dishwasher completely before turning it on and washing clothes less frequently.

I have stopped buying paper towels. I used them all the time from mopping up spills, instead of napkins, to chop veg up on so I could scoop it all into the compost without making a mess. What a waste of paper. Instead I have a dedicated absorbent cloth for spills, peelings go straight to the compost from the chopping board and eventually I will buy some cloth napkins.

I changed my loo roll and now buy Who Gives a Crap toilet roll.  Delivered in cardboard, wrapped in paper. It is as ethical as loo roll can be, I reckon.

crap - It's not easy being green

48 rolls delivered to my door, I won’t be driving to the shops to buy in bulk. They look so pretty and are fun. And in one swoop I have reduced the use of plastic.  Coral 1 Plastic 0.

Reducing the chemicals

Stern warning on my bathroom fittings tell me to avoid using harsh chemicals on them. I will do so. Currently I wipe them down daily with water. That is all. Most of us have an undersink cupboard of cleaning liquids, almost all in plastic bottles.

And after we have emptied all these chemicals into the environment, polluting rivers and contaminating the water supply, we put the plastic bottles in recycling. I personally don’t know what happens to my recycling. I put it in the appropriate bin and assume the council are doing the right thing. I certainly felt smug that my recycle bin was fuller than the waste bin. Smug about all those plastic containers I have used. Water bottles when I have a tap. The empty milk cartons when I could have milk in glass containers. Like we all used to. That were collected and re used. Not recycled.

I am addressing this by as I use up the chemical laden cleaners I am replacing them with ones that are more ecological. the most obvious of these in the uk is Ecover. I am also investigating using Splosh, who send returnable refills in the post. It still uses plastic containers, but reduces its use and reuses the containers. No more recycling. And that is a good thing. And sometimes I just use water and a microfibre cloth to clean. Nothing else. No chemicals, no sprays no soap. Yup, there is downside to microfibre…. it really isn’t easy being green. For now they are a better alternative to chemicals in my house.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Who doesn’t feel smug about recycling? We are so proud that we rinse out our plastic lined cans and cartons. When I was a child, pop came in glass bottles that we took back to the outdoor (an off licence) to get our deposit back. Indeed in Greece in 1979 I fed myself on the proceeds of collecting glass bottles that others left on the beach. Water came out of the tap. Now, from pop to water, it is all in plastic bottles. Many are put in the recycling. Many more aren’t. What we really need to think about is that the aim is to reduce, or reuse before recycle. 

And we don’t. Because we can recycle, we do. Of course that is better that putting it in the trash, and much better that throwing your plastic bottle out of the car window or leaving it in the gutter. But not better than not buying water and milk in plastic bottles.

I now have glass bottles that I refill from the tap. I do have a filter on my tap water as the water here is very hard. My fridge is alway full of filtered cold water. I am investigating milk deliveries, in glass bottles, to my door.

I have always used plastic bin liners. Back in the day when we got free plastic carrier bags I used them. Now we don’t. So I buy bin liners. That is not a good thing. I looked for alternatives. I asked people. Some suggested lining the bin with news paper. I don’t have newspapers.

I now reuse packaging. I got new saucepans and they come wrapped in plastic bags, so this week they line my bin. Food that came in paper bags line the recycle bin. In future I may use the big strong supermarket shopping bags and wash them out.

I have read about people who will take food containers to shops. Could I would I do that? I am not sure I could. Would my local shops do this? Maybe that is an experiment for the future.

We need more stores offering loose food, not just fruit and veg, but that would be a start. Because it is not just the supermarkets who sell everything pre packed, smaller stores do too. I suppose the answer is to use a local market. If I had one that I could walk to.

Plastic can damage your health

And if the environmental issue isn’t enough to make your think twice about using plastic, what about the health issues? Chemicals from plastic leach into your food.  Again smug me has recently dumped all her nasty plastic and replaced it with a brand that is BPA and Phthalate free. I am not sure I have gone far enough, because it may have other chemicals lurking.  Going forward I am saving all my jars and using them to store what I would normally use plastic containers for. I won’t be using plastic containers in the microwave. A dish covered with a plate will suffice.

Take out or dine in? The healthiest option

I like a curry. I live in Birmingham and it is not hard to find a good curry in these parts. And I like to flop in front of the TV with a curry. It is one of the most popular take out dinners. But. If I order take out it comes in plastic containers. That can leak harmful chemicals into my food. What to do? Two options: 1 go out to eat, make it a special occasion. The cost is the same. You concentrate on the food and the company and not the telly. 2 cook the curry at home. This saves money, if not time and requires some skill. But hey, it is still better that those piles of plastic containers, that never biodegrade, leaching into your food.

Alternative bathroom products avoiding chemicals and plastic

Every morning I use shampoo, conditioner and shower gel, all packaged in plastic. I use a plastic shower puff. 4 plastic things to just have a shower. Then I brush my teeth. I have already ditched my plastic toothbrush for a bamboo one. But toothpaste comes in plastic tubes. What to do?

Lucy who blogs as Lulastic and the Hippyshake (brilliant blog name) has been poo free for five years. That is SHAMPOO free. Lindsay at Treading My Own Path also ditched the shampoo. Bicarb, oat flour, white vinegar or cider vinegar replace the shampoo and conditioner. I have not tried it myself. I may start with using the solid bars from Lush and see how I get on. Toothpaste can also be made with bicarb and coconut oil and some even add turmeric to the mix. In the meantime I am using Aloe Vera toothpaste from a well known health food shop. But it comes in a plastic tube.

The shower puffs in addition being made of plastic also harbour bacteria. So I am ditching mine and going back to the good old-fashioned flannel. With a bar of soap. I bought hand-made soap in Melbourne, so will take the shampoo bar with me when I go on holiday, as I am travelling carry on solid shampoo makes so much sense, and it will double as body soap too.

Reducing food waste

I hate food waste, yet I am guilty of it. I am. I get good intentions of eating more salad, that goes slimy. It is often cheaper per kg to buy in bulk. So 5kg of potatoes is bought and then they go green and sprout. And it is not just food waste, it is also a waste of money.

I watch people mindlessly shop, with no list. Buying stuff because it is on offer. Filling their trolleys and I wonder how much of it will be thrown away.

So what can I do?

I can buy from The Real Junk Food Project, many of them them operate a ‘sharehouse’. Here, food that would otherwise gone to landfill is sold on a Pay As You Feel basis.

The is a local enterprise that sells veggie boxes. There are a couple locally. I need to investigate further.

I could make household cleaners and cosmetics using natural products. I am certainly going to experiment with this going forward. Newspaper and vinegar is an excellent window cleaner. Coconut oil is an all round moisturiser for face body and hands.

Find a milk delivery service that uses bottles.

What have I done?

I have started to use an online food delivery service, that provided menus and ingredients to make a main meal for 5 days a week. I just need to work out whether it is green and ethical and is it worth it? I think I have spent less money on food this week and have definitely had zero food waste. I have also not had to shop every day so I have saved time. Not going food shopping is high on my list of priorities. I will blog about my experiences with this service in the future.

I bought Who Gives a Crap loo roll.

I don’t send greeting cards.

I don’t wrap gifts (I give very few physical presents).

I am using a chemical free deodorant. I love it.

I have stopped buying clothes for a year.

Government must step in and legislate

They have to if there is to be real change. I am not advocating a nanny state but without legislation the big companies will not change.

There was public outrage about losing our free plastic bags. Now, almost everyone has their own shopping bags. I already did and certainly did not complain about this legislation.

All supermarkets should offer free refills for a range of cleaning materials, or a bottle exchange scheme. Only last week I was in a small shop that sold infused oils and vinegar – the first bottle was around £4.00 but you could bring it back and refill it for around half the price.

Bring back the deposits on pop and beer bottles.

Bring back pop being bottled in glass.

Ban BPA’s in plastic.

Ban plastic straws.

Stop fruit and veg being wrapped in plastic.

What would you add to these lists?









DSCN8937 - London - eating out and sightseeing on a budget

London – eating out and sightseeing on a budget


It doesn’t have to be expensive to explore this great city. As our daughter lives there the DH and I get free accommodation and that helps to bring the cost of a weekend down, but what we have noticed recently is that eating and drinking in London is not so nearly as expensive as it used to be. If you aren’t as lucky as us to have a friend or relative to stay with, you could consider housesitting in London and get free accommodation that way. Alternatively, look for cheap deals at some of the budget chain hotels such as Premier Hub or pubs with rooms such as The Tommyfield (see food review below for the link).

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London is the city I was born in

So I know the city well. And I lived and worked there as an adult. I lived in Holland Park, Chelsea and Wembley in the 60’s until family circumstances resulted in me moving to Birmingham in 1966 where I lived until I was 18. In 1980, after graduating from Bristol Poly I moved back to London to live in Balham. In those days a Black Cab wouldn’t go south of the river. A lot has changed since then.

London has the biggest construction site in Europe (probably)

Our daughter lives in Stockwell. And now, Black Cabs most certainly go south of the river. Where she lives, on the Wandsworth Road, is the edge of what is possibly the biggest construction site in Europe. Nine Elms/Vauxhall will have a new London Underground station. The new American Embassy is under construction, Battersea Power Station is being redeveloped and there are multiple other buildings going up.

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It has been just over a year since the DH and I last visited.  We were astonished at the number of buildings that have shot up and the numerous cranes that fill the skyline. Oh how we and many others wished we had bought property here ten years ago.


Where the DD lives there is a large Portuguese community. Just opposite her apartment block there are a number of popular restaurants and I have heard that sometimes a famous footballer pops into one of them. This is what she got home to just last week. A vibrant community to live in.

stockwell - London - eating out and sightseeing on a budget

Where to eat in London

Eating out doesn’t have to be expensive. If you know where to go. Having spent two weekends there recently I thought I would share a few places to go to eat and drink and visit that won’t put too much of a dent in the wallet.

Sunday Lunch in Lambeth

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The Black Prince. The DD’s partner reckons the Sunday Lunch here is as good as (if not better than) his mom’s Sunday Lunch. And he is not wrong. A generous roast beef with fresh veg and enormous Yorkshire puddings all for  £12.50.

20170521 124555 - London - eating out and sightseeing on a budgetGuest Ale was £4 per pint.

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The pudding menu is short and sweet. A Sundae on a Sunday. Why not?

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The Black Prince is a good old fashioned South London pub with excellent beer and a great Sunday Lunch.

It is also the pub in the fight scene in the film Kingsman The Secret Service. So if visiting film locations, good beer and a Sunday Roast is your thing, this is the pub for you.

Dinner in Vauxhall

Carrying on with the Secret Service theme, just up the road from the bus and tube station at Vauxhall,  located in one of the railway arches on Vauxhall Embankment is Pico. It is family run and when we were there late afternoon (we eat at odd times sometimes) all the staff were tucking into their meals before the busy Friday evening rush. Located just opposite to the most un secret, secret service building in London (MI6) Friday night can be busy and full of staff from that office. Or so I am told.

The food is fantastic. The service is delightfully old school, friendly efficient and the portions are huge. Lots of meat on the menu (my lamb chops were wonderful) and the veggie daughter had a vegetable paella. There is a bar at the front and a more formal dining area to the rear. You will hear the rumble of trains overhead. Love it.

Breakfast in Lambeth

The Tea House Theatre

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Based in an old Victorian public house that opened in 1886 on the site of the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens; immortalised as the ‘Vanity Fair’ in Thackeray’s eponymous novel.

Go for brunch. Go for tea. Go for cakes.

Do not ask for coffee.

It is a tea house.

A full English is £10.  Smashed avo and poached eggs £8. Eggs Benedict £7.

Portions are generous. The decor is eclectic. The cakes look amazing. The Tea House Theatre is just behind the railway arches where Pico is based and a few minutes walk from Vauxhall bus station. Afterwards go for a wander around the park and you may see the dragon carved from a log.

Then walk off brunch with a visit the city farm (see below in free things to do in London).

Lunch in Kennington

The Tommyfield Pub and Hotel Kennington

This was a new discovery for the DD and her partner. We planned to go to The Black Prince for lunch but it was Bank Holiday Monday and they only had the basic menu (no roasts) and The Tommyfield had a roast and an extensive menu – so we thought we would try it out.

The Tommyfield has speciality pies, burgers, roasts and the DD was overwhelmed at having a wide choice of imaginative vegetarian food, including a pie.

A pint of Goose Island was £4.10 and a bottle of Pinot Grigio was £21.

Roast beef £15, Lamb Burger £13.50 and the veggie pie £13.50. Lots of delicious puds including a combo of port and pudding and a speciality tea. Good portions and well presented.

They also have rooms with rates between £109 and £149 per night. I reckon this is a good base for a weekend break in London. Good transport links to central London and it is walkable to Westminster. And cabs now go south of the river.

The best chips in London?

Fish and Chips at Poppies

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The best fish and chips in London? Probably. Fish fresh from Billingsgate Market. There is eat in and take away.

Poppies is a real find. Recommended by my Australian friend and my daughter this is just around the corner from Brick Lane. So if you don’t fancy a curry, have chips here.

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Cod and chips starts at £12.50. There is also free range chicken from £8.90, served with chips and gravy. Poppies is decorated in 50’s style, and has an authentic retro feel to it. Go.

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Vaulty Towers

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Do try the Lily The Pink cider. The DH and I had to explain who Lily the Pink was to our daughter and took it on ourselves to explain to the barman too.  All the furniture is used in sets at their nearby theatre. And there is a secret room. Vaulty Towers is bonkers. In a good way. The food is not too pricy and the sweet potato chips go well with a pint.

Dinner in South Kensington

Franco Manca

It was late (9.30pm is late for English people to eat) we were tired (3 hours at the Pink Floyd exhibition) we were hungry. And we were in South Ken. What to do? Go back to Stockwell and eat even later or find somewhere affordable in South Ken?

We looked around, a fair few Italian restaurants, some chains, we almost defaulted to a Burger at Byron, when I spotted Franco Manca next door. I had filed away this place to visit if we were ever in the area and here we were.

They only do pizza, no faffing, it is pizza or pizza. You may end up sharing a table. If you end up with two drunk posh boys like we did, move tables. And seriously that was the only thing wrong with this place. The tiddly toffs.

That aside.

The pizza. Franco Manca serve probably the best pizza in London and the best I have had since the memorable one in Naples.

Beer and cider. No logo.

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£21. Twenty One Pounds. That is all.

And it was very good. Go. Staff were lovely. Food is excellent. South Ken crowd is eclectic on a Saturday night at 10pm.

And then we caught the bus home. Because bus is my favourite way to travel in London. The underground may be fast and convenient but it is also hot and crowded. And all you see  is walls. With the bus you get to ride over the bridges of the Thames and you get to see the city. Go by bus.

Free things to do in London

There is so much to do in London that is free. If you are strapped for cash and can’t afford the Tower of London, Buck House or The Shard and the thought of the crowds puts you off, here are a few places I visited recently. All free.

Vauxhall City Farm

Animals. Horse riding. A cafe. Vauxhall. Great for families. A great way to spend Sunday morning.

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The Victoria and Albert Museum

We were there for the Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains exhibition. We will return to see more of this museum next time. Seriously stunning building. Entrance to the museum is free – additional exhibitions such as this one do have an entrance fee.

Victoria and Albert Museum

Pink Floyd Their Mortal Remains London

The Geffrye Museum of the Home

The history of a English homes from 1600 to the present day. Whenever you were born you will see something from your childhood home here. They also have a great cafe with excellent cakes. Free entry to the museum.

Geffrye Museum London

The Imperial War Museum

Telling the stories of people’s experiences of modern war from WW1 to conflicts today. Moving and informative. The WW2 exhibition is outstanding. A good way to bring history alive. The museum also has a good cafe. Entrance is free but there are some chargeable exhibitions.

Imperial War Museum London

The British Museum

Stunning. Wear comfortable shoes. We were there on a Bank Holiday weekend. This was a mistake and everyone wanted to see the Egyptians and the Rosetta Stone. Escape to a quieter gallery if this happens to you. Stunning building and an amazing collection. Free entry with additional chargeable exhibitions.

British Museum London

British Museum London

Spitalfields and Brick Lane

We wandered around here after lunch at Poppies. Brick Lane is now famous for its curry houses. It is a vibrant place with lots of great street art. The market is huge and sells vintage clothes and collectables – and has a lot of chain eateries too. A great place to browse. There are also some great pubs nearby to try and designer shopping.

Spitalfields London

The Banksy Tunnel – Leake Street Waterloo

We visited this after a drink at Vaulty Towers. Wow. Up there with the laneways of Melbourne.

Leake Street Waterloo Graffiti London

We saw some amazing street art in London. Take your camera, take your Oyster card (or debit card) and go photograph this amazing city.

As Samuel Johnson said:

When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.
  • British Museum London

Easy Pizza

Who doesn’t love pizza?

I remember going to Pizza Land (I think it was Pizza Land) on New Street in Birmingham. It was the mid seventies, and this was date night with my boyfriend. For us poor A level students this was a height of sophisticated dining. They had tablecloths and candles way back then. I think that was the first pizza I had ever tasted.

The UK was a bit of a food desert in the seventies (at least in Birmingham it was). We had heard there were Indian Restaurants in some parts of Birmingham (now the famous Balti Triangle) where you ate with your hands, but we didn’t go there because There Was No Cutlery. There were a few Chinese Takeaways where you got curry sauce and chips after the pub and your parents would take you out to a Berni Inn for a birthday treat.

His family would have none of that ‘foreign muck’ and were traditional and repetitive with their food choices, always steak on Thursday, roast for Sunday lunch and a proper Sunday tea with tinned salmon with limp lettuce and tasteless tomatoes, and evaporated cream from a tin poured over tinned fruit. My family were obsessed with Black Forest Gateaux and we’d go to all you can eat carveries, armed in advance with Tupperware to take the leftovers home.

As a way of rebelling against this blandness I introduced him to Vesta Curry. It was considered exotic and authentic and we happily rehydrated cubes of chicken and beef and boiled the bag of rice that accompanied it. We knew how to live in 1976.

With that culinary history it is a wonder that I ever managed to cook much more than beans on toast. But then I found Delia and set off to uni with a Kenwood Mixer that was my 18th birthday present.

There were a lot less supermarkets in the seventies.  I worked in Presto on the tills and I don’t recall anything more exotic than a pineapple and I am pretty sure you couldn’t buy a pizza. Of course, you can get hundreds of different pizza in the supermarket now, ranging from ‘value’ to ‘Specially Selected – yet many store bought ones have added ingredients that really shouldn’t be there and if you pay 99p for a pizza I guess that is to be expected. Of course you can order one online and get it delivered, which my son happily does – but I baulk at paying £12 for pizza that I can make at home.

Homemade Pizza

This recipe was given to me by my friend of 34 years standing, Anne. She and her daughter are excellent cooks and bakers. It does take some bread making skills and you do need to make the dough in advance. Unlike the naan it also needs proving time. This pizza gets the thumbs up from the son who usually orders in, and if you have veggie resistant children this is a good way to get them to eat more,  as when they decorate their own pizza they get tempted by the colourful peppers.


700 kg strong bread flour

1 packet dried yeast

Splosh of olive oil

250 ml cold water

250ml boiling water

pinch of salt

Topping for your pizza

2 tins of chopped tomatoes or a carton of passata

A couple of balls of mozzarella cheese, torn into small pieces and/or grated mozzarella

then, this is the fun bit, add what you want, this is not a definitive list

Bell peppers – as many colours you can find, chopped

1 onion, chopped I like to use red onion for colour

A selection of cold cooked meat – such as BBQ chicken, ham or chorizo – whatever you like


sliced tomatoes



BBQ sauce


In a large bowl add the flour and yeast, then combine the hot and cold water so that it is hand hot, and gradually add it to the flour. Mix with your hands until it becomes a ball -not too dry nor too sticky – add additional flour or water if required, and continue to knead for about five minutes adding the oil to lift all the flour from the side of the bowl.

If you have a mixer with a dough hook you can add all the ingredients to the mixer bowl and let the machine take the strain. I used to but now I prefer to use my hands. It is very theraputic is kneading.

Cover with a cloth and leave to prove for about an hour.

While the dough is proving prepare the toppings. If using tinned tomatoes, simmer for about 20 minutes and let them go ocld.

Chop all the topping and put them in separate bowls so everyone can choose their own toppings.

After proving, divide the dough in half and leave one half in the bowl to prove again. You will be making a loaf with this half.

Set the oven to about Gas 8 or the setting appropriate to your oven – conversion chart here

With the other half of the dough, roll out on a baking sheet – floured or a sprinkling of semolina grains, which soaks up the moisture and gives you a crispy bottom.  You will get one large rectangular pizza this way – or you can divide the dough to two/three or four balls and roll out individual ones and transfer them to shallow cake tins or baking trays.

Spread the cold tomato sauce or passata over the base, choose the toppings, and put in a hot oven for around 15 to 20 minutes.

The other half of the dough will  have proved again by now, so after you take out your pizza, shape the spare dough on a baking tray, or pop it in a loaf tin and bake for around 30 minutes. The bottom should sound hollow when tapped when it is done.

Italian Pizza

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Since I started making this I have had pizza at a place that James Martin reckons makes the best pizza in the world. He is not wrong. I strive to continually improve on my pizza dough. You can read about that pizza experience here.






Carrot, Potato and Coriander Soup

Soup is the ultimate winter comfort food

Soup in a mug

It so easy to make at home. And really cheap too.

I had a few potatoes and carrots in the fridge that needed using up. It is almost always cheaper to buy vegetables in bags rather than loose, in the supermarket at least. Markets too seem to be selling by the bowl, so it is easy to end up with a glut of veg in the fridge. Then you have to use them before they go soft, and, when there is only two of you in the house there is a risk that you end up with not so fresh veg that needs using up.

Once you have made this soup, experiment with other vegetables. Leek and potato is particularly good. Add some ginger, chilli or other spices if you want it to really warm you up.

My husband made this for me as I have had to be on a diet of soft food for a couple of days after a small op on my mouth. I am sipping small amounts from a mug as I write, and it is delicious. Great convalescence food if you have been ill or are fighting a cold.


Four medium potatoes

Six medium sized carrots

1 onion

1tsp of ground coriander

Vegetable stock cube (optional)

Seasoning to taste.


Peel and chop all the vegetables up and gently fry in butter or a small amount of oil. Take care not to let them brown, just soften them.

Add the ground coriander.

Add a litre of water (and stock cube if using) and bring to the boil, then simmer until the vegetable are soft.

Let the soup cool then liquidise with a hand held stick blender.

Gently reheat, check the seasoning and serve with some fresh coriander if you have some.



And that is all there is to it. When I have made this soup in the past, I have always added a stock cube, but we had run out of them – and really it made no difference except that it needed seasoning with a little salt. Stock cubes usually have salt in them and if you use one you probably won’t need to add any extra salt. I don’t usually add potatoes either, but they needed using up and it gave the soup a thicker texture, more like a chowder.

All of the vegetables used are organic. I prefer to use organic where I can but I know that they are not always readily available and can be more expensive. Not so much if you buy them at Aldi though.


Naan Bread

Bread is easier to make than you think

Vintage Bread


I used to think it was complicated and manufacturers of bread making machines would have you believe so too. I am still a rookie at bread, and let me tell you this, make time to make bread. Don’t buy an expensive machine. Kneading dough, as Albert Smith of Ubuntu will tell you, is therapeutic. I have had the good fortune of being taught how to make bread by Albert when I commissioned him to deliver bread making skills for Smethwick CAN. Albert is currently featured in the Homemade in Smethwick  exhibition which is currently touring in Sandwell Libraries, so if you are local to the area, do go and see it.

Home Made in Smethwick: Liz Hingley

Through intimate portraits of individuals and families, Liz Hingley celebrates and documents the cultural diversity and the home cooking fusions of people living in the Victorian terraces of Smethwick, one of the most culturally diverse towns in England.

Back to the bread

I will share other bread recipes with you in the future. I chose this one first because if you have never made bread before and think you need complicated ingredients, rising time, tapping the bottom to check it sounds hollow – you know how Paul Hollywood make it all so difficult – well this ain’t that. Again I have to thank The Kitchen School and Smethwick Can Cook for this recipe.


250g plain flour

2 tsp sugar

1/2 tsp (half) salt

1/2 tsp baking powder 110 – 130 mls milk

2tsp vegetable oil plus extra for greasing

Herbs/garlic/sesame seeds for optional toppings


Sift the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder into a large bowl.

In a small bowl or jug mix together the milk and oil.

Make a well in the centre of the flour mix and pour in the liquid mixture.

Slowly mix together the dough by working from the centre and incorporating the flour from the edges of the ‘well’ to make a smooth, soft dough. Knead well for 8 to 10 minutes, adding a little more flour if too sticky.

Place the dough in to an oiled bowl (I just splashed a bit of oil into the bowl I kneaded the dough in and kneaded it into the dough), cover with a damp tea towel (a clean one) and leave in a warm place for 10 – 15 minutes.

Divide the dough into 5 balls.

Preheat the grill to medium and place a heavy baking sheet on the upper shelf of the grill to heat.

Roll out the dough balls quite thinly, ideally in a teardrop shape, or a circle. Sprinkle over your chosen topping and press into the surface of the dough.

Place the naan onto the hot baking tray and grill for 1 – 2 minutes, or until lightly browned. Brush with melted butter or oil and serve.

Lentil dhal






I served mine with the dhal I made earlier this week.







Red Lentil Dhal with Tomatoes

I love Lentils

I have store cupboard ingredients to use up. Some time ago I overstocked on lentils when they were half price in the local Co Op and I have been experimenting with dhal recipes for some months now. Some have been better than others. When I saw that Smethwick Can Cook had made a dhal, using a recipe by Jayne of The Kitchen School I requested the recipe. And it is the best dhal I have made so far. Not the best I have ever eaten I hasten to add as Dhal at Lentil as Anything is a hard act to beat.

Allow yourself plenty of time for the lentils to cook and keep an eye on them. A watched pot may never boil,  but take your eye off lentils for 5 minutes and they burn.

  • Lentil dhal

To make the Dhal


400 g red lentils

2 tsps turmeric

2 knobs of unsalted butter (or cooking oil if you are vegan)

2 tsps cumin seeds

1 small onion finely chopped

2 – 3 cloves of garlic finely chopped

1 – fresh green chillies finely sliced (remove seeds to reduce the heat of the chilli) or if like me you dont like it very hot add the chilli whole and pierce it with a knife

1tsp garam masala

1tsp ground coriander

thumb sized piece of fresh ginger, finely grated

2-3 fresh tomatoes, chopped into small pieces

Fresh coriander to garnish

All of these will be available in your local supermarket. However if you are lucky enough to have a small local shop that sells such ingredients it will be almost certainly be cheaper than most supermarkets. Cumin seeds in a jar from a supermarket were £1.25 in a local indie shop a large packet was 89p.


First get all your ingredients prepared and measured out in advance before you start cooking. This was one lesson I learned when cooking with Jayne. I tend to be scatty and get things out as they are needed then realise I need a chopped onion and I thought I had one in the fridge and I don’t so have to run to the shops.

First rinse the lentils in a sieve a couple of times, then place them in a pan and cover with enough cold water to come about two inches above their surface. Bring to the boil and skim off any scum that rises to the top. Reduce to a simmer. Stir in the turmeric and a generous knob of butter. Cover and leave to cook gently.

In a small frying pan, dry-fry the cumin seeds over a gentle heat until toasted and fragrant (no more than a couple of minutes). Remove from the pan and set on one side.

Melt a second knob of butter in the same frying pan and gently fry the onions and  garlic until the garlic is golden then add the chillies, tomatoes and grated ginger. Add the toasted cumin seeds, garam masala and ground coriander.

Give the lentils a good stir. they should have the consistency of porridge – thicker than soup and looser than hummus.

Add more water if required. They can get thick very quickly with just a couple of minutes of cooking.  Then add the aromatic mix of spices and vegetables.

Season to taste.

Serve with basmati rice, a side of greens or some naan bread.

Garnish with fresh coriander.

More about lentils

Since I gave away most of my cookbooks I use the internet more than ever to find new recipes and cooking tips.

This BBC Good Food link about lentils is useful – I never know which lentil to use or why. You will find more information about lentils with links to other recipes.




Why I cook and why you should too

I share many photos of the food I cook

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I love to cook, yet rarely share the recipes. Yesterday I posted photos of the dhal I was making and a friend asked for the recipe. Indeed that friend came round to the house today and took the left overs. Which got me thinking about adding recipes to the blog.

The recipes

Aware of copyright, the recipes I share will either be my own, or links to the recipes I use a lot. I have culled my cook book collection and use the internets more and more. I share recipes on Instagram and in a group on Facebook in an effort to share them and keep them handy so I don’t have to google them and then forget which one it is I like…

Recipes are meant to be shared

Often they are passed down through families. My nan never used a cookery book or recipe to my knowledge, she had it all in her head. My mother burned baked beans in a Melamine dish she put under the grill to heat and also melted the dish, so no family recipes here. Delia was my cookery teacher. If you like the recipes you find here, share them with your families and friends.

Inspired by Smethwick Can Cook

I met Jayne, chef and owner of The Kitchen School a few years ago at an exhibition at The Botanical Gardens in Birmingham. She was doing some cookery demonstrations – making soup out of left overs including vegetable scraps. I had just started work with Smethwick CAN a charity that, alongside other projects, manages Smethwick Foodbank. I got chatting to her, took some contact details and began to think how I could use her skills to deliver cookery lessons in Smethwick. Many months later Smethwick CAN secured a small amount of funding from Near Neighbours to run some cookery lessons. The focus of these were to have fun in the kitchen, meeting new people from other cultures and faiths, while learning to cook healthy, affordable food. What I had specified when writing the bid, was that as well as cooking, participants would sit down and share the meal they had prepared.

Food binds communities

Jayne agreed to deliver the course and I also persuaded Albert Smith, an inspirational baker, to teach bread making. Both were committed to building community and shared my conviction that food binds communities. The breaking of bread is something that happens in all cultures and all faiths. By cooking and eating together, without the distraction of social media or the telly, conversation happened. In the community kitchen at Raglan Road Christian Church, magic happened. All over the country, community kitchens in churches are under used. What we started here we hoped would spread to more empty kitchens in Smethwick. People baking bread together, eating together and making food for their local community. Food brings people out from the isolation of their homes

Making bread is easier than you think

Watching Albert make bread is a wondrous sight to behold. He doesn’t use weighing scales, but mugs. Tasting it is a treat. Warm bread, straight out of the oven is enough to encourage kitchen phobics to learn to bake. And they did.

What white sauce doesn’t have to come out of a jar?

Well that is not quite what was said – but after making a bechamel sauce for the first time, one woman said she did not realise how easy it was to make and after tasting it declared that she would never buy a jar of sauce again.

Be inspired

This project inspired me to now share not just photos of food, but recipes, cooks that have influenced me. Food I love and hope you do too.

Find the recipes from the first Smethwick Can Cook here.

Another good resource is Can Cook Kitchen – a food project in Liverpool. Their 2 can curry looks amazingly simple to make. I must try it.

Travel is my high and I need another shot of it

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When you travel you will possibly be all of these things.

Exhausted, happy, sad, frustrated, angry, in pain, relaxed, tired, excited, snappy, hungry, hangry, worried, stressed, restless and contented. You will never be bored.

I have endured long flights, watched movies I cannot remember, read books, walked dogs on beaches, slept in a swag and scrambled barefoot over rocks to swim in a pool with crocodiles.

I have learned to paddle board, considered divorcing my husband when kayaking in the Katherine Gorge, snorkeled over the Great Barrier Reef, hiked the Kings Canyon Rim, slept for hours on a bus where the landscape never changed, travelled in a 4WD on Fraser Island, seen a kangaroo whose best friend is a pig and visited a city devastated by an earthquake.

In NSW I ate some of the best food I have ever tasted and eaten endless ham sandwiches with tour groups in the NT, breakfasted at Macca’s, brunched on the best poached eggs in Melbourne (nowhere has matched that city for brunch) drank the best coffee made with freshly roasted beans (again in Melbourne) and sulked over lack of beetroot.

But I have never been bored.

How can you get bored when travelling?

When I was planning this four month trip to Australia and New Zealand, someone asked me “don’t you get bored being on holiday for so long?”


I waited a moment and answered with one word. “No.”

What I wanted to say was how could you possibly get bored when you travel? When you are seeing so much, meeting so many new people, doing things that will challenge you and change you?

I didn’t. I just knew that they would not get it. Because what they mean by a holiday and what that is to them is not what it is to me.

This is not a vacation, this is travel

In their map of the world a holiday is seven days escape from work, be it to a caravan in Bognor or a villa in Majorca, eating ice-cream and sitting on the beach. And after seven days of not doing much they think that is it time to go back to the 9 to 5. Because that is what you do. Hate Monday, live for the weekend and if you are lucky get a week away in the sun.

And there is nothing wrong with that. Been there, done that and probably will again. I like holidays. Long ones, short ones, package holiday and round the world travelling ones and weekends in sumptuous B&B’s and camping. I like to go travelling, while I still can.

I don’t get bored when travelling – because every holiday, every weekend away, being down under for four months or a package holiday to Skiathos for a week, a day out to Weston Super Mare, I see as an adventure. That is my map of the world.

I do get bored restless sometimes. When it rained for a week in Melbourne and I had watched every episode of Stranger Things I was ready to climb walls. Cabin fever did set in. Previous to this house-sit I had been on a ten day adventure in the Northern Territory. And while I had a love/hate relationship with that trip, with hindsight it was one of the most amazing journeys I have ever been on.

I was a broken woman

I ached and I wanted a bed and a shower and not to worry in case a dingo stole my shoes. After seven days of continuous rain and when the bites had healed and I had eaten brunch and cakes and Greek food and done all the washing I was restless. Eager to get back on the road again. Travel is my ‘high’ and I needed another shot of it.

Housesitting and travel plans

Yes I loved the comfy beds the hot showers, the food, did I mention the food in Oakleigh? Yet I was eager for more. New people, old friends, trying new food, seeing new places, getting on a plane (despite pre travel jitters that hit me before every flight) I crave the change. I feel that I may be addicted to change. Once healed I needed adventure again.

I could have wallowed. I didn’t. There was a road trip from Sydney to Brisbane to plan and book. New Zealand was a blank page. Flights in, flights out and no plan to get from A to B. So while it poured with rain, in between dog walking, kamikaze magpie dodging and eating souvlaki I stopped procrastinating and got on with transport and itinerary planning.

And yes I had procrastinated. Most of the trip had been planned in March. Flights had been booked, trips to Fraser and Lady Musgrave Island planned to fit in with flights. The NT trip to Kakadu, Alice Springs and Uluru was sandwiched between two house sits in Melbourne. An unexpected three day window filled with a visit to Tasmania.

Yet this bit of the trip was blank. And while I like to think of myself as free spirited Phoebe, Monica is stronger in me. I need a plan. Yes I do like to have room for some spontaneity, I am not that rigid, yet I have learned that I do need to know some basic whens and hows and so does my husband. I don’t want to arrive in a strange city without a bed for a night. That said we arrived in Brisbane with a room pre booked and hated it so much we found another room in 5 minutes thanks to free wifi and

This needing to know where I will be sleeping is possibly a symptom of my anxiety. I didn’t know that till now (see this writing malarkey really is my therapy). Perhaps realising that I can turn on a sixpence will reduce this anxiety and  the need to be in constant control?

New Zealand Plans

When you have a month in New Zealand, a country that has so much to thrill, excite and amaze you, a plan is good. When a third person who has different interests to you is joining you for a couple of weeks and would rather put needles in his eyes than go on a tour of wineries, you need a plan.

In 2011 Phil and I travelled in a campervan from Auckland to Christchurch. When it was good it was awesome when it was bad it was not so awesome. We had no itinerary, booked as we went along and it worked out OK but we missed so much and ran out of time.

This time, after wasting hours getting jaw dropping quotes from Camper Van and Motorhome hire companies, trying to work out how to fit in almost everything we wanted to do I and failing, I used a travel agency, New Zealand Self Drive Tours. I found them via Facebook (sometimes those annoying ads are useful) gave them a list of what me, my husband and my son wanted to do, flights details and they planned and booked it for me.

I worked with them to tweak it and there is some spontaneity as the last 8 days there is no plan. No accommodation, no activities just the car and us and I like that we have no idea where we will be or what we are doing. I also like that for most of the time we just turn up and the hotel is booked and the car is waiting for us and we know how many km’s we will be driving each day.

Road trip New Zealand

I am currently in New Zealand, have been for a week and so far the plan is working. The car is easier to drive than a camper. Not for one moment have we wished we had got one.

The rooms have been warm and clean and the Coastal Pacific Rail journey was breathtakingly brilliant. Phil and I have travelled to Christchurch to Picton on the Pacific Coast Railway, driven from Picton to Christchurch via Blenheim and Hanmer Springs.

In Blenheim we had a lovely day touring the wineries with Highlight Wine Tours and were guided around the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre Air by Bunty, a 96 year old World War 2 Spitfire pilot.

We have bathed in thermal pools in Hanmer Springs, driven past snow capped mountains and followed a steam train through Weka Pass. Yesterday we rode on a vintage tram around Christchurch and walked around the city at sunset. Tomorrow we travel the Tranz Alpine Railway.

Yes I am worried how I am going to cope when I get back to the small house in November. Being in one place and shopping and cooking and the grey skies. I am sure that the Farsickness will kick in and know that I need to come up with a strategy to manage that.

I am confident that I will.

In the meantime – New Zealand awaits.

There will be mountains and geysers and hot beaches and Hobbits and planes and trains and automobiles to transport us.

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