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