chef of the year – cook off…

I had an unusual and exciting day on Tuesday.  I should have been at work but booked the day off at the last-minute and headed off to Birmingham with my OH for the day.  We met my younger daughter and granddaughter down there at Birmingham University College for the grand final of the Anchor Care Homes Chef of the Year competition.

Our son-in-law works as a chef in one of the Anchor homes and was one of the seven finalists in the competition and we had been invited to go and cheer him on.

Getting into Birmingham was a bit of an ordeal and we passed the turning we required a couple of times ending up firstly in Solihull and then Edgbaston both on the south side when we actually wanted a street just off the North of the centre!

The competition was stiff and the conditions tough too.

It was held in one of the training rooms at the University and each participant only had a preparation surface of about 3 square feet plus a hob, the ovens did not have a temperature gauge (so a bit of guess-work required) and there was a severe lack of spoons and other useful pieces of equipment.  It was the first time they had been in this kitchen and so had no time to get familiar with it or the equipment on offer.

The two course meal had to be appropriate to feed an elderly resident in one of the care homes and had to be both nutritious and fall within a strict budget as well as being imaginative but not over the top – no Heston Blumenthal creations!  Each meal had to be presented 3 times – one plate for the judges, one for the photographer and one suitable for a resident on a dysphagia diet so the chosen menu had to be adaptable to make as a pureed version.

The whole 2 hour competition and then the judging afterwards was filmed and shown live on Facebook which made it even more tense.

Whilst the judging was underway we got to taste the food that had been photographed.  As I am vegetarian I headed straight for the puddings and skipped the main meals that were mainly meat or fish.  This was the only vegetarian option made by the only female chef.

Son in law had made a beautiful creamy Creme Brulee but unfortunately it had curdled slightly just at the bottom due to the difficult conditions and no doubt lost him a few marks but it still tasted heavenly.

The winner was one of those chocolate puddings with a melted centre, equally delicious – oops sorry in my haste to taste I forgot to get a snap of the winning dish!

Sadly son-in-law (2nd from the left) did not win but he did a tremendous job and everyone was a winner.

Little L was so good throughout and kept saying ‘that’s my daddy cooking’ – you can tell who stole the show!

She was the only child there and in fact the University security staff had to be persuaded to let her in.

She brought her own brand of ‘Granny’ and Mr Fox with her to watch!

When it was all over we headed for the nearest coffee bar to relax and then just had time for a wander through the Grand Central shopping centre on New Street.

Birmingham is a very vibrant city and has come a long way from the Birmingham I remember back in the 70’s when we visited from Cheltenham.  The architecture was particularly interesting to us.

 

It was fascinating to see shops that we would never have up here in Huddersfield… 

in particular I liked the pop up Ice Cream roll shop where they shaped and froze down ice cream mixed with fruits on a flat cold metal plate and then cut and served this in rolls.

The Killer cereal cafe also caught my eye…

with their vast range of very unhealthy but colourful boxes of cereals to choose from…

and the Not Dogs vegetarian hot dog stall…I know I could not live in a city now full-time but it was nice to go for the day and experience the hustle and bustle and see different shops I didn’t know existed – but at the end of the day I was glad to leave it all behind.

In comparison to the revamped and impressive shopping and city centre we stopped off at the Tamworth Motorway services for a drink on the way home and found it to be really run down since our last visit a number of years ago and due to the heavy rainfall that evening came complete with puddles of water all over the seating area from the leaking roof.  They had large recycling bins against the walls for customers to scrape their unwanted food into which probably added to the very unpleasant smell that permeated throughout the place – absolutely dire.

In all though it was a pleasant change from going to work and I look forward to Son-in-law being part of next years competition.

 

 

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on safari…

How lucky were we today with the weather.

We had arranged to meet at the Yorkshire Wildlife Park near Doncaster to celebrate Little L’s third birthday (which is actually Tuesday) and of course my elder daughter and partner’s 1st Wedding Anniversary with as many of the family that could make it – my sister, hubby and daughter, my brother and mum, younger daughter and her partner – twelve of us in all – I think.

If you remember a year ago our elder daughter was married in Scotland near to our cottage on the Castle Kennedy estate where her granddad was once head gardener.  We had a lovely sunny day then and it stayed fine for us today –

Castle Kennedy Gardens

see more pictures here.

I cannot believe it is a year since we were celebrating their marriage and putting on such a big event – at least todays event was more manageable once we had all the family in one place!

We eventually found each other in the Lion car park (thank goodness for mobiles – though I mistakenly rang my sister-in-laws number instead of my brothers – she is in Spain – costly mistake!) and headed for the picnic area taking up 3 picnic tables to have our lunch.  Of course isn’t it always the case that everyone else’s picnic always looks inviting!  My brother had taken a full Sunday lunch for himself (not a roast but an individual Quiche with new potatoes and salad) his cool bag was larger than anyones!

 

We had all the trimmings as one should for a little girls 3rd birthday with a wild life theme – a pretty flamingo dress, raspberry jelly, a jungle table-cloth, animal paper hats, animal paper plates,

pink flamingo straws,

a monkey and

a monkey chocolate cake with 3 candles.

Given the windy conditions it is a miracle we ever got them alight!

With my family it is difficult snapping a photo of us all together at one time so as usual some of us are missing on this photo and so are the paper hats that everyone was made to wear!

After lunch we followed the trail around the park to see the Leemar…

Tigers…

and my favourites – the Giraffes…

 

 

Finally a much needed cup of tea in the Masai cafe to revive our feet and a final wave goodbye to the animals.

And all too soon the end of a perfect day (isn’t life just so exciting when you are only 3!) – after a quick head count to make sure that no-one had been left behind or eaten by a wild animal and a few Polaroid selfie shots with all the family this time – elder daughter and partner then drove off into the sunset to spend their anniversary night in a more romantic setting of a hotel in the dales – needless to say the family will not be joining them – though I did suggest it LOL!

 

home for a rest…

Back home from our two-week holiday and break in Scotland at the cottage – you may have noticed my absence.  The weather in our part of Scotland (the South West corner) has been absolutely glorious – so many hot sunny days and blue skies – who needs to go abroad!

Thank you to everyone for your recent comments on my previous posts –  I was not ignoring you all I have no internet connection at the cottage and so am oblivious to life in the rest of the world. I would normally reply to your comments but time is a bit scarce at the moment as I have a lot of catching up to do both in the house and in blogland so please accept this general acknowledgement.

Whilst we were on holiday (which I will write about in another post) I had my birthday, and also a funeral to attend  – not on the same day but close.  The call to say that OH’s uncle from the Scottish side of the family had unexpectedly passed away came as we were enjoying the first day of our holiday but being close to Kilmarnock (82 miles up the road from our cottage) we decided it would be fairly easy to attend the funeral.

Not everyone gets to go to a funeral on holiday and like most people we had not packed clothes for such an occasion so we had no option but to go in our holiday attire – the best we could do was black jeans each, a suitable top for me and dark t-shirt and jumper for OH and yes as you can imagine we did stand out from the crowd who were quite soberly and traditionally dressed, the men in black suits, white shirts and black ties and the women black dresses or skirts, but the family did not mind rather they were pleased to see us.

The funeral director and staff did however show a look of horror once or twice especially when the announcer called for any family members to enter the crematorium chapel first and we stepped forward – until then it was probably thought we were just passers-by!

Being on holiday for my birthday does mean I have spent a lot of my day today opening cards and presents and answering messages.  So back to the unpacking now as it is work again for me tomorrow.

I will just leave you with a few holiday snaps…

 

Kipford and Rockcliffe 

Ardwell Walled Gardens

Broadstones Stranraer

Across Agnew Park Stranraer

 

 

eat, beach, sleep, repeat…

We had quite an eventful weekend looking after my granddaughter and my mother, now affectionately known as Great Granny,  me being Granny now of course!  We had already planned to stay with my mum last weekend but in the middle of the week we received an SOS call from my daughter asking if we could look after Baby L (now little L due to the growth spurt) for two days at the weekend due to staff shortages.  So nothing else for it but to take both on at once whilst staying in my mum’s apartment.

 

On Friday I took the train as planned to Eaglescliffe, just outside Yarm in North Yorkshire, and mum met me on the station, then after off loading my bags at her apartment we took a taxi to Teeside Park to do a bit of chatting, lunching and shopping.

 

On Saturday morning we were joined by my husband who had driven up collecting our granddaughter little L on the way.  We headed off to nearby  Saltburn by the Sea for the day.  It took us a while to park as the weather was so hot everyone had the same idea to go to the seaside.

We finally got a spot in the car park down by the sea and then took a ride on the Cliff Tramway which goes up the steep cliff side, 102 feet above sea level, into the town centre so we could find a place for lunch.  We had a ploughman’s in my favourite cafe a little Deli called Real Meals.

Saltburn has that quaint British seaside feeling – it is a Victorian Spa town with amazing iron work verandas along the shop fronts.  I always find I get a strong feel good factor when I am there.  You will note the lack of pictures but holding on to a 3-year-old and a 91-year-old does not allow for much photo taking.

After lunch we strolled along by the shops then made our way back down the hill to the bottom of the cliff by road – bad move – it is extremely steep for both the push chair and a ninety-one year old – in fact I am not sure who was clinging on to who in the end!

Reaching the bottom we then decided to catch the little train that runs along the valley bottom through the pleasure grounds ending at the tea rooms and Italian Gardens.  I had no idea any of this existed and it was quite exciting exploring the windy paths and hidden corners.  We skipped the tea rooms having just had lunch but did treat ourselves to an ice cream each.

  We walked back so that we could take Little L on the swings and slide along the way.

After this we just had time to fit in a bit of playing time with a bucket and spade on the beach by the pier and find a cup of tea in the nearby cafe for my mum together with a take away pensioners fish and chip tea.  So everyone was happy but I must say I did feel a little worn out trying to cater for two opposing age groups.

On Sunday I was woken early by guess who springing out of bed like a Kangaroo and wide awake saying – ‘Hello granny are we going to play’?

After building bricks and getting the whole ‘chocolate bunny’ family sorted in the Sylvanian Family house we had a trip over to Bedale for lunch and then went round the corner to Crakehall a beautiful little English village with expansive village green on which stands the church.

At the far end is Crakehall Hall and the owners of this beautiful house had opened their gardens to the public for charity.

 

It was a glorious day again but with a slight breeze and we wandered around admiring the plants and taking photos.  This hidden secret garden was my favourite with the fluffy yellow Alchemilla Mollis mixed with Lavender and Delphiniums – a classic country garden.

We came across a tree swing in the Orchard and then ‘wow’ a trampoline – Little L had a fab time on this while Great Granny headed once again for the tea tent and a sit down.

After more tea and cakes we dropped off Little L back with mum and Great Granny back at her apartment and then drove back to our own home exhausted but relieved it had all gone quite so well and everyone seemed to have a lovely time.

back soon x

 

 

 

 

weekend plans…

By the time you read this on Friday morning I will be on the train North to Yarm where I will be spending the weekend with my mum – OH will drive up and join us on Saturday but Friday is just mum and me time.  Also joining us on Saturday for the rest of the weekend (which wasn’t part of the original plan but childcare was urgently needed) is baby L my granddaughter – no longer a baby and soon to be three.  How time flies!

I will have an almost three-year old and a 91-year-old to entertain – I think perhaps a day in nearby Saltburn by the sea will satisfy both age groups – the Cliff lifts, the little train, the park, the pier, the donkeys and a stroll around the lovely little town centre – oh and two vegetarian cafes.  I am just hoping we have good weather.

 

 

Have a great weekend x

“What is one to say about June…

… the time of perfect young summer, the fulfillment of the promise
of the earlier months, and with as yet no sign to remind one that its fresh young beauty will ever fade.”
–  Gertrude Jekyll,  On Gardening

 

Last Sunday we decided to take the day off from cleaning and clearing and go down into Derbyshire for a walk around the open gardens in the village of Birchover near Bakewell.

It was if you remember a very hot day and not a lot of shade for me but I was determined to see as many of the gardens as possible I just had to walk more quickly around the ones out in the open.  Luckily most people have a tree or two which provided me with some cover when I needed it.

We began our tour at an artists garden – this was my absolute favourite although my photo does not do it justice.

I have never seen a garden with such a limited colour palette before but this one really works.  There were three basic colours –  green of course with many shades and tones  of purple and cream through to lemon.  The planting was casual and mainly Ferns, Irises, Alchemilla Mollis, Geranium and Lavender and the majestic plant to the right (which may be a Thalictrum?) all surrounding a daisy lawn.  The paint colour of the house toned in well with the garden.  The effect was amazing.

Behind this ladies cottage is a tiny white-painted chalet used as an artist’s studio and gallery complete with wood burning stove.  This would be my absolute dream.

 

Before long we headed for the village hall named the Reading Rooms were they were serving tea and cakes.

 

 

The hall has now had a full refurbishment and is well used by all members of the community.

The notice on the wall made interesting reading – the hall opened in 1907, but only men were allowed to go and read the newspapers provided to broaden their horizons.   The rules state that 3 newspapers had to be provided (which I forgot to make a note of but I think one was the Sporting Times!) and no women were allowed.

It was a good cup of tea and a delicious slice of Victoria sandwich cake made by the village ladies.

Lower down the lane is the church of St Michael’s originally built as a private chapel for the owners of Rowtor Hall.

It is a modest church with a tiny graveyard sited next to the huge old vicarage (now a private residence).  In the large picture below you can see that this would have been the garden entrance from the hall which then became the vicarage from what I understand.

 

In contrast to the traditional window in the chancel the stained glass windows pictured below in the South wall are the work of acclaimed artist Brian Clarke and generously gifted to the village.  Clarke lived in Birchover for a number of years and his work has worldwide recognition.

 

The striking clear colours and simple shapes are stunning.

 

The pew ends had been delicately decorated with a few wild flowers for the event.

On leaving the church we decided to wander further down the lane to stay in the shade.

The notice above is asking the Council not to spray this section of verge to preserve the wild flowers and the organic garden beyond.

 

We eventually came across Rowtor Rocks – a series of caves and intriguing rocks to explore  – we will definitely go back and have a walk around here another day.  This is just one of the unusual caves at the entrance.

 

Such a beautiful day the light dancing on the water and through the overhanging trees was quite spectacular.

We walked all the way up to Rocking Stone Farm with the promise of Pimms and strawberries – well worth the trek even in the heat.

We walked back into the village and spent another hour wandering from garden to garden.  On the South side of the village all the gardens seemed to have a stream running through or a babbling brook probably coming from the same source and occasionally disappearing underground in places.  Most of the gardens had made a feature of the water like the picture below.

Out on the main street under the shade of the trees was a pottery stall run by two lovely ladies who belonged to a co-operative pottery studio.

 

This little bowl in particular caught my eye  – I am told it is a bubble glaze – and you might now spot it on my dining room table!

 

‘it is the season now to go…

about the country high and low, among the lilacs hand in hand, and two by two in fairy land.’ 

          Robert Louis Stevenson

The Open Garden season is in full swing and our first of the year was a garden at Hognaston in Derbyshire a couple of weekends ago.  I chose this because the leaflet said the garden owners have a woodland garden complete with a pond.  Intrigued to know how they managed their pond in a woodland setting (as we have similar in our Scottish garden) I just had to have a visit so that I could quiz the owner.

Picnic Lunch

We set off with a picnic lunch (cheese and beetroot rolls, a mixed salad with chopped up left over veggie sausage and a Higgidy Feta and Red Pepper veggie roll) – it was a gloriously warm, sunny day – just nice for eating outside.

When we arrived at the garden it was really busy and many of the visitors seemed to be regulars and knew to head straight for the tea tent to get the best of the cakes on offer!

The garden did not disappoint – although on a much smaller scale than the Himalayan Garden we visited last weekend I felt it had more interesting aspects for me and a particular ‘casual wandering through a wood’  feel about it  – not too overpowered by planting if you get my drift.

Hognaston Open Gardens

As with the Himalayan Garden the Primula were out in force but a beautiful sight set against the tapestry of greens.

Primulas

Like our garden in Scotland they have a natural stream running beside their garden – only a bit wider than ours – you can just see a glimpse of it in this photo below.

They also have a pond that fills with water only when the water table is high – there is no membrane, the pond is purely a part of the garden that has heavy clay that acts as a liner – at times there is no water in there at all.

Woodland Pond

It was so natural and delightful surrounded by bog loving plants and a network of crunchy gravel paths with one of the paths forming a modest bridge over the two ponds (unfortunately I don’t have a photo of the bridge).

Being under a canopy of trees like my little pond in Scotland I was curious to know how the gardener maintained the pond after the leaf fall.

He told me there is no magic answer to keeping the pond clear  – you can try covering them over before the leaves begin to fall – but mainly it is down to emptying the pool every year and scraping out the sludge that collects. 

This was not what I wanted to hear but at least it confirms that it can be done and I couldn’t bear to part with our pond in the wood even if it is going to be an absolute pain to manage.  Anyone following this blog will know that I completely cleaned it out a couple of years ago – (see here) then covered it with netting over the Autumn / winter period.  I have pulled some sludge out this year and will aim to give it a good clear out next Spring.

The cover we made was a flat frame and the weight of the leaves made the netting sink into the water and the leaves rot.  Then recently I came across a handy universal cover for odd-shaped ponds on the internet from Agriframes which is raised in the middle to throw off the leaves – so I am madly saving up my overtime to buy one – sometimes all the overtime does come in handy!

Rubra

We spent a glorious 2 hours wandering in the garden – taking notes of course and collecting names of plants we had not come across before as well as taking time to leisurely sit in the warmth of the sun with a cup of tea and home-made cake…perfect!

It is a delightful secluded garden, peaceful and relaxing with the distant sound of running water and so much birdsong.  If ever you get chance to go I don’t think you would be disappointed.

We are headed up to Scotland now so there will be a break in transmission for a few days, no communication up there for us, but I will pick up any comments, should you care to leave one, on my return.

Have a lovely Bank Holiday weekend.  back soon x