Sweden: Blogpost 1 of 1,000 – #connietravels

It’s been nearly 3 weeks since I returned from beautiful (but rainy) Sweden. This post (and the ones that will follow) has been a long time coming but coming to write it hasn’t been particularly easy. Not because I didn’t have the time of my life, but because remembering it all has been a) difficult (we did A LOT) and b) reminded me that I’m not there right now. The latter breaks my heart a little bit – a feeling that I’m sure any Wanderluster knows well.

As the title of this blogpost may suggest, the next 1,000 blogposts will be about Sweden. I might even re-name my blog. ‘Connie went to Sweden that one time and won’t shut up about it’. I’m not sure if it’s because I did a lot whilst I was there, or because of all the drama in the lead up to, and during the holiday; but I have a lot to say about the place. This post will ‘set the scene’ of the first evening and the rest will be about specific places I went. I think. Do let me know when it becomes boring. Actually, I don’t care. So let’s start with everyone’s favourite: the drama. I’ve written it as a list of thanks for you:

  1. Thanks Monarch airlines for going bust 4 days before our flight.
  2. Thanks train cancellations.
  3. Thanks Swiss International Airlines for losing my luggage for 24 hours.
  4. Thanks Stockholm Central Station for your mediocre signage which meant that me and friend couldn’t find each other.
  5. Thanks Google Maps for misdirecting us to the wrong apartment.
  6. Thanks (genuinely) to our Airbnb host for coming to meet us at the station… but we were already stood outside the wrong apartment.
  7. Thanks AirFrance for going on strike so that my friend had to rearrange her flights AGAIN.

There. That wasn’t too bad. That was a bit like therapy. I find that ‘thanking’ all those involved acknowledges that we survived the experience, but equally, it gives a passive-aggressive nod to the stress they put us through. However, we did see a niche in the market and have considered setting ourselves up as Holiday Disaster Consultants.

My journey (up to the point where they lost my luggage and didn’t even apologise) was delightful. The highlight was being in charge of the emergency exit en route to to Switzerland; I have never felt such authority. It was like fulfilling my dream of becoming cabin crew for an hour and a bit. Not sure how much use I was as I spent most of that time asleep but hey ho. Food-wise, I was given nommy snacks on both flights including a yummy kish. All good plane snacks are worthy of a mention. I also made a plane friend who sat next to me on both flights – a young chap who worked as a holiday rep who was flying all the way to Stockholm to meet a lovely lady he’d met that summer. I hope they end up spending the rest of their lives together, but not in Stockholm because it’s far too expensive and I can’t even imagine what house prices would be like.

Our apartment (when we finally found it) was located in a lovely residential suburb of the city, just a few stops on the metro from Central station. We were surrounded by other apartments and lots of autumnal, leafy avenues. The downside was that there weren’t really many places to eat nearby, so dinner was often on the ‘mainland’ or on one of the surrounding islands. Having said that, we were around a 5-10 minute walk away from a supermarket which was very handy, considering my circumstances.

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View from our kitchen

Having found out that I only had the contents of my hand luggage with me for at least 24 hours (our Airbnb host gave me a right scare story about how he waited 6 weeks for his to turn up), we made an immediate trip to the local supermarket. Oh my days, it was so beautiful. I bloody love a supermarket abroad – so many things to look at and touch. Supermarkets are like museums of anthropology; they tell you so much about the culture in which people live; what they eat, what they wear, how they cook, how much they earn. Dreading that I was going to have to wear the same set of clothes again the following day, I was the most relieved when I found A SALE RAIL. BOOM: Jumper dress for £8. I also bought a pack of pants and spare tights. Oh, and a questionable t-shirt to wear as PJs. We also treated ourselves to D’aim ice creams.

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My new PJs

After buying too much and for the fear of bankrupting ourselves earlier than anticipated, we decided to go and hunt for dinner. Not literally obvs, we’re not barbarians. Now, apparently, according to the Millennial’s Bible Buzzfeed, the Swedes love a burger. So a burger we did have. We stumbled upon Lily’s Burger which is pretty much burger heaven. Don’t let the retro American Diner decor fool you: they mean business. I opted for ‘The Bad’, because: Sriracha mayonnaise. The best surprise were the cheeseburger spring rolls – patty meat and american cheese wrapped in filo and fried. I am taking this back to The House of Wan. The burgers were most excellent; perfectly pink with the perfect balance of accompaniments. Nobody likes a burger that is 50% salad. We shared those fries by the way. And no, we did not finish it all.

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So, to sum up our first evening, I’ve put together a series of observations:

#1: Bottles of ketchup are huge in Sweden

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#2: Hipster beers are prevalent

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#3: ‘infart’ is a word (meaning ‘entrance’) – sounds like an oxymoron in English.

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#4: This was how I found the cheese the next morning. I was on holiday with a monster.

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Coming up next: Our first proper day in STHLM.

A Requiem for Going Out Out

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‘Going out out’ is a phrase that sends shivers down the spines of most people in their mid-thirties, yet this weekend I tried to prove myself wrong in the name of reliving my youth. A couple of weekends ago, I had attempted to go out out. By that, I mean that I wore a pair of heels and some red lipstick, to go out. However, that night we ended up out-outish, in a pub that blared out cheese music whilst my friend and I planned that fated walk in Wales (see previous post – WARNING: SCENES OF MILD PERIL). Coincidentally, that same evening, another friend invited me to go proper out out. I foolishly said yes because I was determined to prove that I, in my mid-thirties, could still have a bloody good time out out.

Fast-forward to last night (Saturday). Now, let me put my weekend into a bit of context here; Friday evening (after a full day at work) I hosted a fondue night which ended up with me mopping the floor at midnight because there was an explosion of cheese and flour, and Saturday morning/afternoon was spent fake-god parenting at a naming ceremony. I had had a fairly full-on 18 hours. However, I soldiered on regardless prepping for my night out out with a classic disco nap. It was not a glorious disco nap, not like the ones I used to have during a matinee movie on the telly. I pseudo snoozed whilst Sir Pepperoni the cat kneaded me to death.

When it came to getting ready, several things came into my head (anyone who has read my Twitter feed may be familiar with some of these thoughts):

  1. Getting ready to music on the radio was rather disappointing, no classic getting-ready choons (this included 80s & 90s stations). I settled on Smooth FM which, in hindsight, was a bit too low-tempo for getting ready but at least I knew the songs they were playing.
  2. Upon packing my tiny clutch bag, it felt like my personal possessions had gotten too big and wouldn’t fit/my inhaler took up all the space. I settled on shoving overflow items into my jacket pocket.
  3. Tights. I spend 99% of the year in opaque black tights (footless ones in the summer). Expecting to go for a boogie, I tested their danceability by jumping up and down; I was not going to have Nora Batty knees tonight, no siree.
  4. Footwear. I put on my lovely tasseled wedges. Then remembered sticky, beer/vodka/Redbull-soaked dance floors. I replaced these with a pair of black flats. However, I secretly worried that the black flats would get ruined; I no longer have a disposable shoe wardrobe.
  5. I had to make a mental note to myself to not eat too much at dinner, because boogies.
  6. I have a LOT of red lipsticks. Maybe I should wear them more?
  7. Out out clothing: I was sure that my dress looked a bit like a black bin liner made from crepe paper but one of the joys of being in my mid-thirties is that I no longer give a shit.

Upon arrival at the restaurant I was actually a bit excited. I wanted to tell the restaurant that I was OUT OUT. Catch up with BFF was lovely; she was all glammed up with a face made up by the gods at Givenchy and heels to die for. I resented my choice of black flats. All was well until we ordered some water for the table. The waiter came along in a rush with a stupidly shaped jug (FYI curved jugs are a stupid idea), he placed it on the table but didn’t place it properly and before I knew it, a tsunami of cold tap water gushed towards me. I got soaked good and proper. As did my phone and the rest of my textile-based possessions. I believe my precise words during this incident were: ‘FUCK MY LIFE’. Looking on the up side, my crepe paper dress was super thin and was semi-dryable underneath the hand dryers in the toilet. My jacket and scarf couldn’t be saved though and they remained damp for the rest of the evening. By the time I got back to the table, my pasta was cold (it was also overcooked) and my gin cocktail had gone flat. I won’t be going back there any time soon.

Anyway, moving onwards. We did a mini-bar crawl stopping off at hotspots like Turtle Bay (HAPPY HOUR AT 10PM!), where we made friends with two girls we shared a table with. Over cocktails that tasted like UmBongo, we bonded over Bongo’s Bingo (to be honest the girls were off their faces and I’m still none the wiser as to how it differs from normal bingo, other than it’s aimed at hipsters), bananas (mainly dislike of bananas) and not understanding how people were ordering food at 10pm which is way past anybody’s dinner time. We swiftly moved on to the Victoria and got trapped on a very small make-shift dance floor. It was also dark. Very dark. Like, they couldn’t afford to replace the lightbulbs kinda dark. Not great when you’re still sober (another observation: definitely takes longer to get merry on drinks in your mid-thirties). We managed to squeeze our way out for proper boogs (that’s short for ‘boogies’ guys) at the legendary Island Bar. It took a while for us to recognise any song on the playlist (thank you RiRi, we will ensure to werk werk werk werk werk). As the music got louder and we lost the ability to hear each other, we headed towards another tiny dance floor to get into the swing of being out out. I’m not going to lie though, we were very distracted by the projection screen that was showing Baywatch, reminiscing over CJ Parker/Pamela Lee, Jaaaaaaaason Simmons and Yasmin Bleeth going to sea in a full face of make up. Also the episode ‘Der Cowboy’, probs because it was a German dubbed episode. Having watched a few episodes/danced to a few choons we’d never heard of in our lives, we decided to call it a night at 12.30am. But the drama wasn’t over. SOMEONE HAD STOLEN MY BFF’S DENIM JACKET (of 12 years). *sighs*. Several search and rescue attempts later, the denim jacket remained unfound. Since when did going out out become such a perilous experience? 30 minutes after leaving, I was at home in front of the telly watching Law and Order: Special Victims Unit with a cup of tea.

Let’s be clear here, I am not opposed to a cheeky night out out. I am not a destroyer of spontaneous fun with friends over a few boogs and bevvies. However, occasionally the pressure to have a good time when you’re out out (especially when you only do it twice a year) becomes a bit overbearing and I sometimes get a bit of social anxiety because of it: ‘WHAT IF I DON’T HAVE A GOOD TIME?’ ‘WHAT IF MY FEET START TO BLEED BECAUSE I’VE BOOGIED TOO HARD?’ ‘WHAT IF I GET A MIGRAINE FROM HAVING TOO MUCH FUN?’ ‘HAVE I PUT ENOUGH HAIRSPRAY IN MY HAIR?’ are just a few thoughts that go through my head. Having said that, in my opinion letting your hair down is absolutely necessary and I see it as an important form of self care. I quite like the idea of a cheeky night out out every now and then but I think that as you get older, you realise that there are other more conducive things you could be doing with your time and money. Especially when you have to work real hard to earn that money and time off only comes once every five days. Fun comes in other forms; a happy hour drink with friends after work, crochet, dinner parties etc. For the foreseeable future I think I will channel my energies into standard, plebeian ‘out’ which, in my humble opinion, is far more rewarding than a night out out which, more often than not, ends with painful feet and a sore head. Here’s to going just out *clinks*.

The Walk That Nearly Broke Me.

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Pen y Fan in the distance (left) and Y Gyrn to the right

Wales. It’s a beautiful place, isn’t it? Miles and miles of beautiful rolling hills punctuated with epic summits, cwms (is that the correct plural for ‘cwm’?) and long sloping ridges; dotted between are a few jewel-like lakes that look like small puddles in a giant’s playground. This weekend was supposed to be about relaxing, a chance to catch up with a BFF, to blow out some of those cobwebs, yadayadayada. I was not expecting an 8-hour hike fuelled by periodic waves of mild peril. Now, I’m just going to say that I am not a novice at this mountain walking malarkey, despite what my £25, 9 year old walking shoes say (SHOES, NOT EVEN BOOTS). I’ve done the 3 peaks (in those exact shoes) and I’m proud that I didn’t cry climbing any of them. However, this weekend nearly broke me.

With it being a weekend away, said BFF and I thought we might as well make a day of walking. An 11-miler didn’t sound too bad as we’d both just completed the Midnight Walk – a 10-mile walk around Bristol, in the middle of the night (yes, it did occur to us that we could have done that walk on any other day, at any other time). We read the information on the Brecon Beacons website carefully and made a sound and educated judgement to attempt ‘The Big One’ which was an 11-mile walk covering 4 peaks including Corn Du (like Fondue but not) and Pen y Fan.

On the day, I arrived late, which didn’t start the day off well. Plus it had started to spit rain, and we couldn’t find a parking spot, so we should have just gone home. BUT WE DIDN’T. Because we were foolish WE WERE BETTER THAN THAT. Anyway, after a spot of kish (my new way of spelling ‘quiche’ because apparently, some people do spell it ‘kish’) for luncheon, we headed off on our trek. Off up a really steep slope we go, we should have known it was going to go wrong, the directions said ‘Ignore the stone path and take the less obvious track off to the left…‘ ‘IGNORE‘?! OKAY THEN. (SPOILER ALERT: We did not get lost at any point on this journey). After a bit of panting (far too much panting) we got to the top and shortly after, we were met with sights like this:

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I *think* the lake/cwm to the right is Llyn Cwm Llwch 

We also walked past Tommy Jones’s Obelisk. Poor little 5-year old Tommy got lost when visiting his grandparents. The obelisk marks the spot where they found him, having died from exhaustion, after a 29-day search. Kudos to him though, he got pretty far up.

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Tommy Jones’s Obelisk

 

The next few hours and peaks brought us to magnificent views like these:

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BAAAAAA

We climbed up and down 3 peaks and made sure we stopped every now and then to admire the view. Despite the rain earlier that afternoon, it stayed dry for the duration of our walk. The breeze and occasional gust of wind meant that the temperature stayed ambient. We even stopped to have a chat to some sheep. We eventually reached the Neuadd Reservoir (the upper part of which has been drained). These were the last pictures I took before I lost the will to live.

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By the time we reached the lake, it was around 6pm. We stood by the lake and laughed at the idea of the peak on the other side. It looked horrendous, the worst of all the ones we’d climbed. Having passed the lake, reality dawned on us and we still had one more peak to climb. THAT peak we stood there laughing at. Craps. Like, major craps. We had to get up to the Graig Fan Ddu ridge which was apparently only a 200m climb. 200m MY ASS. It was the steepest of all the peaks so far, and remember, we had already been walking for over 5 hours. We had to climb the m***er***ker AND walk along the whole length of the ridge before our descent on the other side. My legs were already sore, I needed a wee real bad, and I most certainly did not want to spend any more time climbing mountains.

My memory of the next 3ish hours are pretty hazey. We bumped into some mountain runners, asking them what was directly over the other side of Graig Fan Ddu; a really steep descent apparently. So we dragged our sorry asses up towards Graig Fan Ddu and resorted to walking along the whole length of the ridge. I got to the point where I could barely lift my feet onto the stone steps. This has never happened before, my body has never given up on me like this. Not even at the top of Ben Nevis during a blizzard with my inappropriate footwear; MY LEGS WILL GET THROUGH THIS. Just about.

After what felt like a million hours later, we reached the top of the ridge but we still couldn’t see the path down to the carpark. Alarm bells were ringing in my head as at this point it was definitely gone 7-7.30pm and it was going to get dark soon. Although I had my headtorch and torch with me, the last thing I wanted to do was descend the unknown terrain via torch light. So we walked fast. Like, walking-to-work fast. Almost being-followed-in-the-dark fast. I was spurred on by my anger at… the Brecon Beacons website. There is no way this walk was 4-6 hours! We’re a) not stupid and b) not slow SO WHY ARE WE STILL ON THIS MOUNTAIN AFTER NEARLY 7 HOURS?! You can see where my anger was going. On a lighter note, we did bump into a couple and their chocolate labrador (they were camping on this ridge – mentalists). They offered some words of comfort and I got to burn off some of my anger by jumping around with the lab. ‘Aim for the pile of rocks over there’ the girl said, ‘the path down is just there’. THANK F*CK.

We power-walked to the pile of stones, although at this point I was sure my BFF was starting to see stone-pile mirages. Alas, at 8pm, the pile of stones was within reach. We didn’t even pay homage to the pile of stones, we had no time. It was getting dark and I still really needed a wee. We almost ran down the descent (my knees will never forgive me for it) and finally, we saw our cars in the car park. HALLELUJAH. 8.45pm we got back to our cars. Cars that we left around 8 hours before.

We arrived at our rather random b&b around 9.30pm. They’d stopped serving food. Great. We’d not eaten since around 12.30 that afternoon (bar a couple of Lindt chocolate balls and a banana). We were advised to go to the Chinese down the road. I wanted to ask the woman whether she had noticed my ethnicity, but by this point I was too tired and hungry to argue. After a quick text to my parents to tell them I was about to experience my first Chinese takeaway NOT FROM MY FAMILY, we rolled down the hill to get our tasty treats (my parents were not very impressed, no one can feed their daughter as well as they can #fattyfattyboomboom). Fried rice and curry sauce in a mediocre hotel room had never tasted so good. The local offie also did good:

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The next morning, we woke up early (and in pain) to get on a steam train! The best £14 I’ve ever spent. A little journey from Pant to Torpantau with a stop at Pontiscill, it was utterly delightful! The little choo choo cheered us right up! And it was nice to rest our legs too.

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The weekend was… an experience. Somehow my BFF and I are still talking, although I am certainly not walking. It was the first time I noticed my physical strength detoriorate during a walk which is probably a symptom of too much rest over the past few months. Although the walk was definitely a challenge, this time more physically than mentally, it was actually really rewarding to see the amazing views from the top. What has this weekend taught me? That I really should go out and see our country more often as there is so much on my doorstep that I’ve never seen. However, I think I might stick to flatter terrain in the near future…

Pilgrimage to Kelmscott Manor

It’s been a busy few weeks with lots of culture and funtimes! Firstly, a trip to Kelmscott Manor in the depths of the Cotswolds, home of the great man himself, William Morris. This trip felt a bit like a pilgrimage, to the home of a man I’d only read about in art history books. I was trying to remember my first encounter with Morris but after a bit of internet research I realised that I had totally mis-remembered it! I *thought* that it happened when I was about 11; my class went on a school trip to Uphill Manor in Weston-Super-Mare (a classmate’s family had just bought it – yes, they had just bought a manor). My only recollection of the trip was standing in a room covered in this intensely green and patterned wallpaper. Up until about 15 minutes ago, I thought it was Morris & Co. wallpaper but it turns out it was Pugin!! NOOOOOOO. This is how I’d imagine I’d feel if my parents told me I was adopted.

Anyway, enough about my really bad memory. Kelmscott is a tiny village in Lechlade with a pub and a church; not a shop to be seen! We’d arrived on a slightly overcast (but dry) day, so unfortunately the photographs look a bit dreary. Kelmscott was originally built in around 1600 by a farmer called Thomas Turner (it was called Lower Farm back then). It remained in the family until 1869 when ownership was passed to Charles Hobbs (a cousin) who then put the property up for rent. His most famous tenants? William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The property was their Cotswold retreat, away from the hustle and bustle of London. The Morris family continued to rent the property until 1913 when Jane Morris (William’s widow) was able to purchase it. Today, it is owned and run by the Society of Antiquaries of London who have done a fantastic job of keeping it feeling like a home.

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The interior is laden with, as you’d expect, Morris & Co. wallpaper and textiles, Philip Webb furniture (sold by Morris & Co.), embroideries and tapestries by May Morris and some beautiful portraits by Rossetti, of Morris’s children. There’s even a large Icelandic dragon made from topiary in the garden! The low ceilings on the ground and first floor made the house feel like a home, cosy and intimate. The rooms weren’t particularly large but were beautifully (but not opulently) furnished. The textile and wallpaper patterns echoed the garden and grounds outside that were leafy and lush.

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Can’t beat a bit of Strawberry Thief.

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Examples of original wooden printing blocks, as used by Morris & Co.

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Rossetti, just casual, obvs.

 

For me, the surprise was the attic and the bedrooms up there – the open space was such a contrast to downstairs! And who doesn’t love an exposed beam or 20?! I could imagine the children having fun up there!

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May Morris (William’s youngest daughter) continued living in at Kelmscott after the death of her father, mother and older sister. She was an artist in her own right creating textile works including embroideries and tapestries (there are some stunning examples in the house). Her legacy is not forgotten and she is mentioned throughout the house. There was a touching display about her involvement with the Women’s Institute; she and fellow villager May Elliot Hobbs, helped established the Kelmscott branch of the Women’s Institute back in 1916 (one of the earliest branches – the WI was only set up in 1915). She used the Institute as a platform to voice her concerns which echoed that of her father’s; helping the poor, and raising the voice and profile of women in society.  The display of items from the Kelmscott WI archives demonstrate her commitment to the organisation throughout her life.

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I would highly recommend a day out to Kelmscott and the surrounding villages. I’d only known William Morris as the artist and designer extraordinaire, I had no idea how much of an eco-socialist he was, nor much about his poetry. Seems that there is much more to learn about the polymath that is William Morris!

If you fancy another take on this visit, take a look at Serena Trowbridge’s blogpost!

Good Eats – a week in the life of #ConnieEats

*KLAXON* FOOD PORN ALERT. If you don’t like looking at photos of food, then I suggest you leave now.

This week has been somewhat unusual in that I had quite a few meals out. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t eat out half as often as I used to/people think I do. This is a bit of a conscious effort to be a bit more ‘responsible’ with my money, and also an opportunity for me to do more experimenting in my own kitchen. This month eating out was a bit of a luxury as I am still bankrupt from buying a new car. However, needs must.

Stop no. 1 was Itihaas on Newhall Street, a Brummy classic. I had been once before and embarrassed myself by asking the waiter if they could add saag to my order. Of course not. You don’t ruin a dish that has been carefully thought through by an excellent chef, by adding bloody spinach. I’m a sucker for lamb curries; tender meat, aromatic spices and a little (or a lot) of heat to round it all off. Rice and bread are both necessary.

I was lucky enough to be dining with friends who like to share their food, so share we did! We ordered Nalli Gosht, ‘Lamb on the bone stewed in a spicy, thick masala gravy’ – everything I love about lamb curries; tender meat on the bone and the surprise bit of heat afterwards! Prawn & Scallop Mustard Seed Curry, ‘Pan seared Scallops & Fresh Water prawns cooked in creamy sauce with mustard seeds’ – but less the scallops because there weren’t any available. A tomatoey sauce that wasn’t particularly creamy but definitely aromatic without overpowering the prawns. Chicken Biryani was next (no description needed, right?!), it came in this ornate silver dish which held enough to feed 2! On top of this we decided to order THE MOST DELICIOUS Mushroom and Truffle Oil Pilau which was full of umami, and an excessively large basket of breads. A wonderful night was had! However, most importantly, Itihaas is part of the Let’s Feed Brum project which aims to encourage local people and businesses to get involved with the rising problem of homelessness in the city. The restaurant is currently looking for donations of clothes, sleeping bags and sanitary products to pass on through their team of dedicated volunteers. Find out more about their challenge here.

Wednesday = Ginner. Well, any day can mean Ginner in my opinion. A catch up with a friend over gin and foods is always the highlight of my week. This week’s Ginner took place at the Lost & Found, one of my favourite places for drinky poos. For some reason I really wanted fish and chips, probably because I was missing my mum’s fried goods? (My mum has gone on holiday, leaving me to cover her shift in the takeaway which is… 2 hours away). The triple-fried chips were a bit unnecessary – once is fine by me. Especially when they’re frozen ones and not fresh ones (yes, I can tell from over 2 decades of training). The fish was coated in a light batter, tartar sauce had a lotta pickles in, which I actually kind of liked.

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SO MANY PICKLES IN THAT SAUCE

Thursday night came a bit of spontaneous dining with some wonderful delegates from the Costume, Culture and Dress conference that took place at BCU. Not being able to make the conference itself because of work commitments, it was lovely to take time out to meet the researchers and academics in a more social environment. Dinner was served at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery which was a winner because we also got to view the Pre-Raphaelite collection out of hours! It brought back so many memories of my early days in Brum – I actually chose to study up here because of that ridiculously-fantastic collection.

Dinner was pleasant with great company, although there was some confusion between the waiting staff about what we were eating… nevermind, it was all yum! Scallop on some lentilly-tomatoey-spicey soup (we were never told what this was!) followed by chicken, gratin and some veg, finished with a rich-so-so-rich chocolate fondant served with pistachio ice cream and… cream. I wish I hadn’t eaten so much of the chicken as I couldn’t finish that dessert *mega sad face*. Well done BMAG for serving actual nice food.

 

The highlight of my weekend was a catch-up brunch in Bristol with my BFF in the South West (Bestest Foodie Friend). I’ve been heading back the past 2 weeks to help my dad in the takeaway (6-day working week! Noooooo) so I saw it as an opportunity to catch up on some gossips. I always like to try somewhere new and independent where I can – thanks to guidance from my BFF. Low and behold, we discovered Pinkmans. YOU NEED TO GO THERE NOW IF YOU HAVEN’T BEEN ALREADY (scroll down for visual references as to why).

It’s situated on trendy (does anyone use that word anymore?) Park Street which is usually swarming with students. However, the Sunday vibe was a little different; laid back locals on their day off. You walk in and you’re hit in the face with a beautiful display of pastries, cakes, sandwiches, salads… you get my drift? It all looked so wholesome and delectable at the same time. I’ve never drooled over a beetroot salad before.

We were both in brunch-mode so opted for bacon, oven-baked eggs and toast (with a side of avo for me). We were greeted with half a pig, each. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this much good-quality bacon on my plate before. Thick, thick rashers sat next to perfectly-cooked eggs that were not swimming in oil. Eating this made me feel virtuous. On our way out we nabbed ourselves a sour-dough-nut each (cinder toffee, obvs), their in-house speciality. Mine is still sat in it’s box waiting to be eaten for dessert… *stuffs face*

 

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This is how breakfast should look everyday.

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LOOK AT THAT BACON. JUST LOOK AT IT.


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Little rolls filled with salmon and cucumber on display

 

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SOUR-DOUGH-NUTS OMG. (Front to back: cinder toffee, chocolate, and rhubarb, raspberry and yoghurt)

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Bread sticks filled with posh ham and cheese

If you managed to scroll down this far – first of all, well done and secondly – that concludes my week of good eats! Hopefully more to come soon!

(Yes, I’ve now eaten the doughnut; BEST DOUGHNUT EVER)

Migraine in the Membrane – #ConnieTalks #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek

This post isn’t anything to do with travel, culture or good eats but I feel that I need to share my migraine journey with you all as this week is #mentalhealthawarenessweek. Both my physical and mental health has had a lot to do with the frequency and duration of my migraines so I’m going to talk a bit about why I get them and how I cope with them. Ironically, when I first started putting together this post (last week), I was a bit cocky and started this post with ‘Today marks 10 weeks since my last migraine attack…’. Sods law I went and had a migraine the next day.

Background info: my dad has had migraines since I can remember. I didn’t start getting migraines until I was in my mid-twenties. At the time they were hormone-related; it was advised that I came off my oral contraceptive as the tingling I was feeling on the left side of my face during my migraines, was something akin to strokes. The migraines then came on very occasionally, often during periods of immense stress and lack of sleep. Nothing unusual there.

In 2014 or so, they started coming back more frequently. This tallied with the stress and anxiety that I was suffering from due to changes at work and in my personal life (I was diagnosed with anxiety in 2015, although I do not suffer from it much now). A lot of it had to do with money worries too; my full-time fixed term contract was coming to an end and the best offer my employer could give me was a part-time fixed term contract. I was already earning a pittance and there was no way I could afford that job, especially as I had to pay to commute to another city for it. At the time I felt like I wasn’t achieving anything professionally, my romantic life was volatile to say the least, and I was facing a challenge that I simply didn’t have the energy to overcome. Too much over-thinking led to too little sleep and so the migraines came and went, and came… and went.

However, things started to look up when I began to remove all the negative factors in my life: a new job and a new home etc. I focused on the positive rather than the negative (easier said than done) but as my worrying began to subside, my migraines started coming back even more frequently and inconsistently; they happened when I wasn’t stressed, had had loads of sleep, and when I was generally quite hunky dory with life. They lasted longer – 2 days, then 4 days, then 2 weeks. They came more frequently – every month, every fortnight etc. You get where this is going. I was so dazed and confused from them, I must have come across as a bit weird at work. I experience immense pain, weird eye-focusing issues, and say words wrong (transient aphasia, I believe). The only way I could get rid of them was to take a concoction of painkillers and sleep for what felt like forever. Trips to the doctors led to painkillers, triptans, then finally anti-depressants which apparently have a muscle-relaxing side-effect. None of these worked consistently. From last October (when I started the anti-depressants), I was still getting migraines every 4-5 weeks regardless of stress or lack of sleep.

One dark January evening I was scrolling through YouTube when I stumbled upon this video of a chiropractor treating a patient with an extreme migraine attack (I’ve since learned that the said chiropractor has been banned from working with children after a controversial video of him treating a small baby). I admit that by this point, I was desperate and began doing some further internet research. Turns out that there’s a chiropractor near me, with a practitioner who happens to specialise in headaches. I booked myself in immediately.

My first appointment was an eye-opener, mainly because I had an x-ray taken pretty much immediately. That x-ray has pretty much changed my life:

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My neck to the left, a ‘normal’ neck to the right.

The x-ray was revealed to me during my second appointment. In case you haven’t noticed, my neck basically bends in the wrong direction, known as ‘cervical kyphosis’. The main problem with my diagnosis was that the gaps between each vertebra are narrow, causing pressure on nerves which connect to the muscles over my skull and my fingers (this is a really basic explanation!). This has the potential to cause headaches and in my case, migraines. The likely cause of this was the use of forceps when I was born (my dear mother was in labour for 3 days, I do not judge her at all). Although chiropractic treatment won’t fix my ‘banana neck’, hopefully it’ll ease the attacks and make them less frequent.

So, what’s gone down since I started treatment in late January? I started seeing the chiropractor once a week but in the past 3-4 weeks, this has reduced to every 10-14 days instead. I’ve halved my migraine medication as well. The result so far… I’ve had no unexplained migraines! By ‘unexplained’ I mean those that I can’t put down to lack of sleep or stress, and even those have drastically reduced. The quality of the migraines have changed, they are less painful and disruptive. I can think clearly and talk *almost* as incoherently as I normally do. The longest stretch of 9.5 weeks without a migraine was a real milestone for me. It’s been over a year since I’ve gone without one for that long. Of course I’ve had to change my lifestyle a bit too; not too many late nights, less gin drinking (this is the hardest) and less pressure on myself to do ‘that bit extra’. I started eating better (or rather, more routinely with few late night dinners as a result of working late) and cooking better too.

Lastly, it has taken a long time for me to change my mindset, focusing on what I have achieved, rather than what I haven’t. Would you believe that at one point I dismissed my PhD  thinking ‘loads of other people have a PhD, mine isn’t anything special’. WTF. I WROTE A BLOODY PHD FFS. OF COURSE IT’S IMPORTANT AND SPECIAL. 80,000 WORDS. 80,000 WORDS ALL FROM MY BRAIN. And English isn’t even my first language. I have a lifetime’s worth of over-achieving to reconcile, so now is a time to achieve things slightly differently. I now focus my attentions on enjoying whilst achieving, and this blog is all part of communicating that process. I have returned to my love of making; turning the stress of having to do up my flat into a creative project instead, crocheting all sorts of random crap for people because I find it really therapeutic, and finally, journalling my cooking. For those who are suffering from migraines, I recommended stopping and checking in with yourself; self-care is so, so important. Take care of yourself first, whether you’re a migraine sufferer or not!

xxx

GOOD EATS – #ConnieCooks MAY BANK HOLIDAY EDITION

Bank holidays mean two things for me: excessive sleeping and a chance to get creative in the kitchen. I was a lucky bunny this weekend as I was fed by others, three evenings in a row. Yes, THREE EVENINGS. For one of the evenings, I thought maybe I should show willing and bake a little sweet treat for desert.

I used to bake A LOT. When I first moved up to Birmingham I went into some sort of baking frenzy. To the point where I set up Connie’s Cake Emporium (yeah, the website is still live but I no longer bake to order so please don’t call me to order anything). It all came to a natural end when I got a proper full time job. Turns out juggling full time work (with a commute to a whole other city) and baking to-order meant that I got very little sleep. Unfortunately, the baking had to give.

Having moved last year and not having a functioning kitchen for about 6 months, I didn’t get to bake at all. In fact, I think I lost my baking mojo a little bit. So it was a bit of a relief this weekend when I got a bit of time to get back into the swing of baking. However, all was not well.

Now, I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with pastry. It turns out great if I wing it (e.g. don’t weigh the ingredients) but as soon as I follow a recipe… may the wrath be upon me. I am a big fan of Rachel Allen so I figured, why not try her Passionfruit and Lemon Tart? I should have known it was going to be a fail when I couldn’t find any passionfruit, a super lemony tart it was going to have to be. The recipe itself was really easy to follow and assemble, until the actual baking part.

I followed the recipe and all was well until the part where I had to take it out of the oven… it still looked really wobbly. According to Rachel, the tart should only wobble ‘a little bit’. WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN? To me, the tart was still very wobbly so I put it back in the oven. BIG MISTAKE. Because this happened:

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The saddest lemon tart, ever. Or ‘lemon quiche’ as my sister so kindly put it.

Yes. somehow I managed to make a lemon quiche instead of a tart. This simply will not do. In hindsight, I should have just taken it out when it was, to me, still ‘quite wobbly’. Lesson learnt so let’s move on.

As the Lemon Quiche was not beautiful enough to take to a dinner party, I decided to bung together a flourless chocolate cake instead. Dead simple recipe, can’t get it wrong. Phew, those were not my famous last words. Turns out that Delicious magazine haven’t published the recipe online so here it is (slightly adjusted because I used all dark chocolate instead of half dark and half milk), typed by my own fingers, just for you all:

Ingredients

  • 300g dark chocolate
  • 250g butter (A WHOLE BLOCK!), plus some extra to grease
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 4 large eggs, separated (free range, obvs)
  • 1tsp vanilla essence/vanilla bean paste
  • 1/2 tsp cream of tartar

You will also need a 23cm springform cake tin with the base lined and sides greased. An oven will help too.

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THIS RECIPE WILL SUCCEED.

1. Preheat your oven to 180ºC/160º fan/gas mark 4. Put the chocolate and butter in a heavy-based saucepan and melt on a low heat. Once melted, add 100g of the sugar and stir. Put the pan aside to cool slightly before transferring mixture into a large mixing bowl. Proceed to add the vanilla and egg yolks – mix well but do not beat.

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Is that enough chocolate?


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Don’t think I added enough butter.

2. Now, I have the luxury of a Kitchen Aid with a balloon whisk attachment – if you don’t have one, a hand-held electric beater will be as good. Shove the egg whites in a super clean bowl (the tiniest bit of fat will be problematic for the meringue mix) and whisk the hell out of it. When it becomes foamy, add your cream of tartar. Continue whisking until you get stiff peaks – when you lift your whisk out of the mix, the egg whites should stand stiff and upright. Whisk in the remaining 100g of sugar, one tablespoon at a time until you get a delightfully thick, white, glossy meringue.

 

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Fluffy fluffy.

3. Mix a spoonful of your meringue mix into your chocolate mixture to ‘loosen’ it. Continue to fold in the remaining meringue in 4-5 additions. Use a large metal spoon and a figure-of-eight motion, scrape the sides of the bowl, then fold the mix over the top of itself, giving the bowl a quarter turn each time. Don’t forget to scrape the bottom of your bowl to make sure you’ve incorporated all that chocolately goodness.

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*dies*

4. Spoon the batter into your cake tin and bake for 40 minutes or until the mixture has risen and starts to crack on the top. Don’t worry about too many cracks – they will become crevices for holding cream/ice cream. Cool the cake in the tin – serve warm or at room temperature with dairy goodness of your choice!

Word of advice: the cake will deflate A LOT but fret not, it will taste real good.

Oh my days this cake is like a really intense brownie. But better. Slightly crumbly, rich but incredibly light considering that each mouthful contains about a tablespoon of butter. We ate this with a cup of tea but it would benefit from pouring cream, ice cream, or even custard if you dare. A real easy, faff-free recipe!

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YAAAASSS


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OMNOMNOM