Choccywoccydoodah, Brighton

We went to visit friends in Brighton and they first whetted our appetite for Choccywoccydoodah, an arty chocolatier, by taking us in to their shop. It was all decked out for Halloween and was quite simply incredible – it was also utterly packed which is why we didn’t take a picture [edit: I’ve just found their Halloween Album on Facebook]. There were towering cakes, sculpted with all sorts of adornments (apparently a tall wedding cake with all the fancy theming would set you back around £2000) and it just smelt divine.
We were then taken to the café (or the ‘Bar du Chocolat’ as they call it). The inside was so kitch, and again absolutely packed (though it emptied momentarily for us to take a quick snap). Much to our surprise, none of the cakes on offer took our fancy so we had to ‘settle’ for a chocolate sundae.

You remember the diner scene from Pulp Fiction? And the $5 shake? Well this is what a £5 sundae looks like:


And by golly, it was good. From top to bottom: raspberry and strawberry coulis (with whole chunks of fruit, a vanilla-y custardy cream with banana slices, thick melted belgian chocolate with chunks of chocolate, more melted chocolate with chunks of biscuit and some chunks of tiffin, topped by chocolate ice cream, covered in cream and drizzled in chocolate sauce.
It was so rich and so stuffing that we had to retreat to the beach (luckily it’s just a stone’s throw – ho ho!) and lie with our bellies up for some time.
Once we’d recovered, it was time for fun and frolics on the pier, and a good time was had by all!


Back with a big splash… maybe?

It’s been a long time since I last blogged and I wasn’t sure how to approach it. Julia at A Slice of Cherry Pie told me to jump straight back in with two feet and a big splash. So here I am.
Since I last posted, we’ve moved house (again) and TLM and I have both started new jobs and it feels like 2010 might be settling down at last.
So far this year we’ve had:
  • 1 car accident
  • 2 house moves (neither by choice!)
  • 1 cancer diagnosis
  • 8 months of cancer all clears (woo!)
  • 1 MA
  • 3 weddings
  • 1 honeymoon (in spite of the ash cloud…)
  • 3 Michelin-starred restaurants
  • 2 new jobs
  • 2 new kittens
  • 2 25th birthdays
  • and a variety of undocumented food-related adventures

My enthusiasm for food may have waned a little, and I didn’t feel I had the time to do anything worthwhile. Now things are settling, will I be back to blogging? I hope so.

p.s. in the picture: the fruit basket was one sent to us by some very kind people after TLM’s orchidectomy – hilariously, it had just one plum in it.

BBQ adventure

I am happiest when the sun is out and the grass is underfoot. Throw in some good company and good food and it’s heaven, right?

My parents came to visit today, and we cooked a barbecue – and the slightly offbeat menu really worked wonderfully together!
Foc-quiche-a (the recipe has been perfected… watch this space tomorrow!)
Walnut and beetroot Hugh-mous (it’s a Hugh F-W recipe and I can’t stop playing with food names now)
Pittas
Salad
Minty yoghurt
Lamb burgers

I would definitely recommend this as a barbecue menu, it was so filling and everything went together – the earthy, cuminy beetroot and walnut houmous was gorgeous slopped on top of the lamb. Mouthfuls of fennel and cumin spiked burger, dolloped with minty yoghurt, alternating with leeky and rosemary scented focaccia were simply divine!
With four sets of eyes available to watch for mischief, we thought it would be the perfect moment to allow adventurers into our little walled garden.

i can has cheezburger?
For pudding we had Eton mess. And boy, did it live up to its name! I cooked some rhubarb down with a little bit of orange juice and strawberry jam and left it to cool. I then folded it in with cream, broken meringue and fresh strawberries. The rhubarb cut through the sweetness perfectly, delicious.
Hope you’re having a lovely weekend too, it’s cider time now!

A right old knees-up

TLM and I are no longer the newlyweds on the block, and last weekend we had the first opportunity to go all misty-eyed as old marrieds. Not only our first wedding as guests, but our first wedding in London town. And what a magnificent wedding it was!
We went up with some friends (who are also getting married this year!), and before the ceremony we found a little pub (The Old Red Cow in Smithfield) where we played Jenga and had a quick pint or two. When we arrived at the church, my bride-to-be friend and I could barely keep our jaws off the floor when we saw the amazing flowers. I’m sure you’ll agree they’re something special?!
The ceremony was absolutely beautiful – choir, incense, the whole shebang. The bride looked like something out of a Dante Gabriel Rossetti painting: all flowing hair, cascading flowers and floaty dress. The vows had me choked. Afterwards, we were taken to the reception venue in old Routemaster buses. I’m ashamed to say, it’s the first time I’d been on a double-decker bus in London! We got top at the front (yesssss).

The reception venue was incredible: Wilton’s Music Hall a peeling, stately old pile.

The food was delicious, a ska band played and the bride and groom had their first dance to Lou Reed’s ‘I Love You’. And instead of a wedding cake, the finest jellymongers – Bompas and Parr – had created a stack of wondrous, wibbling delight. They then brought round individual jellies (I had absinthe, and TLM had summer fruits in white wine).

We had SO MUCH fun, and thoroughly enjoyed every moment. I officially LOVE weddings.

Weekend focaccia experiments

A long, lonesome weekend often leads me to culinary experimentation and this weekend I was particularly bold. Seeing as I’d never cooked focaccio before, I don’t know what led me to try out focaccia with toppings. The first was chick peas, tomato and rosemary – as inspired by this photograph by Parla Food.

The second was inspired by a bread-based flamiche I tried at The Bertinet Kitchen (a cookery school in Bath that has a bakery open on Saturday mornings).

Now, the chickpea looks good but didn’t taste very special. Could have done with a lot more garlic and, I suspect, an obscene amount of oil. I’ll leave that one. The leeky, cheesy focaccia on the other hand was DELICIOUS. I hereby dub it ‘foc-quiche-a’. More space for toppings would improve it immensely. I will definitely be trying this again, very soon, and aim to give a proper recipe!

I’ve written this on my lunch break, having just polished off a couple of slices of the cheese and leek foc-quiche-a with tomatoes and cucumber. I think it would be utterly lovely for a picnic!

You give a little love…

… and it all comes back to you!

 

We got married on 24th April 2010, five years to the day that we first met each other. I didn’t realise quite what an affirmation of love and our relationship our wedding day would be. While I spent so much time planning the details, I could never have planned for the support and love and – above all – the joy that everyone shared on the wedding day.

The day before was extremely stressful. Well actually, the lead up to the wedding was more than a bit stressful. As some of you know my (then!) fiancé was diagnosed with testicular cancer in January, which was an enormous shock. Thankfully it was caught very early, and though it was the most rapid growing type of cancer its removal appeared (and appears) to have been curative. However, a strict programme of monthly surveillance was put in place, and an appointment happened to fall the day before the wedding. Inevitably the appointments ran late and they sprung a load of forms on us – some about what ought to be done in the event of my fiancé’s death. Emotions were running high after the appointment and I found it hard to deal with the few things that were left to do. We muddled through, though I dropped my dress in the road, couldn’t take my father-in-law’s teasing and flapped about people being late for the rehearsal. Me and the troops (my parents, the groom, best man, chief bridesmaid, toastmistress) got access to the venue to decorate it after 9:30pm. We strung up the bunting, rolled out the tables and set out the chairs. My toastmistress used to supervise in a restaurant, and she saved our skin with her efficiency – we did the job in under an hour! I was emotionally and physically exhausted by 11pm and I collapsed in bed. I could hear my friends laughing and singing in the next room, but I fell asleep the moment my head hit the pillow. I slept wonderfully and awoke…

… on my wedding day! I stretched out in the big, strange bed. A very good friend was hosting me, my chief bridesmaid, toastmistress and male-friend-who-wanted-to stay-with-the-girls (my own version of the bridal party). She heard me waking up at 6:30 am and brought me a cup of tea and told me that it was a beautiful, sunny day outside. All the stress of the day before melted away. We chatted away (she is getting married in July) and then she nipped out to get newspapers and pastries. I bounded into the next room and jumped up and down shouting “it’s my wedding day, it’s my wedding day!” like a small child at Christmas. My wonderful hostess friend continued to excel herself by keeping us all topped up with coffee (and champagne!) and not letting us lift a finger.

Prior to the wedding, everyone had mocked me for my lists and timetables: I even made copies and distributed them at the rehearsal. But it was thanks to this that my morning was so calm – unlike the day before! Everything went to time, and having so many people popping in and out didn’t feel stressful because they all knew when to arrive, what they needed to do and when they should eventually make their way to the church.

The first thing to arrive was the flowers, and I was blown away because they were exactly what I wanted. Zoe Jenkins, of Jonquil in Bath, did an amazing job of interpreting my country-fayre brief and made a beautiful bouquet that included bupleurum, tanacetum, delphinium, lisianthus, avalanche roses, gentian and ruscus. The flowers were so much prettier than I could have imagined and I started to have faith that all the detailed planning would actually come together on the day.

Next to arrive was my mum and my hairdresser (who is also a family friend). Chantell started my hair at 10am and it must have been at least 11:15am before it was finished. Again, it was so much better than I had thought and much better than the trial! The photographer arrived at this point to take some photos of the preparation.

My dad arrived with my nieces, who were flowergirls at about 11am. They absolutely loved the whole girly atmosphere, getting their hair done and finally being allowed to put on the dresses that my mum had handmade for them.

The morning continued to whizz by and before I knew it, it was 12:30pm and according to the schedule time for me to put my dress on. Up until this point I was quite unfazed, it had felt like an out-of-body experience, like I was watching another bride getting ready. But as soon as the dress went on my head started to spin and my tummy felt peculiar – and not just because my mum laced me in so sotight! Once the dress was on, it all became apparent that this was my wedding day.

It all became even more real as people began to depart for the church. The next thing I knew, it was time for my mum and the flowergirls to walk to the church. So it was just me, my chief bridesmaid and my dad for half an hour. We talked and laughed and walked around. My chief bridesmaid and I practiced going to the loo (!) many times. With quarter of an hour till 2pm, we decided to get in the car. It was barely a 2-minutes drive to the church but we needed to stop pacing! We piled me into the back of her decorated Fiat 500 and sang Take That’s ‘Never Forget’ at the top of our voices (dad not included!). And then it was time. We arrived at the church with a few minutes to go. Take That was turned off and in their place the air was filled with church bells. I think I lost the use of my knees at that point – they were ringing for me!

Our vicar met us at the church and said some touching words about the special relationship of a father and daughter. And again, before I knew it, the music started playing. ‘Colorblind’ by Counting Crows was our chosen processional song. I gave the flowergirls the signal, then my chief bridesmaid. Then it was just me and dad.

With all eyes on me, I didn’t see anyone except my husband-to-be waiting for me at the end of the aisle. I thought I would remember the music, or walking in on my dad’s arm, but all I remember is looking at my soon-to-be husband and him looking back at me. When I reached him, he leaned to me and whispered that I looked beautiful. I told him I liked his shoes.

I was almost oblivious to anyone else there. When the vicar asked if the congregation would support and uphold our marriage, it was the loud “we will” that reminded me that there were other people in the church. The service seemed really intimate, and the vows were extremely powerful and emotional. When it got to ‘in sickness and in health’ it was all I could do to try and hold myself together.

The service made a point of being grateful for love and life. A reading we had chosen way before January was Ben Okri’s ‘To an English Friend in Africa’ which opens with the line “Live while you are alive”. I think the vicar and my brother thought we might change the reading, but we felt more than ever that this was an important message and my brother read the lines we selected with passion and conviction. We then went to sign the register and the song ‘Just Say Yes’ by Snow Patrol played. It was really uplifting, and I will never forget peeping out and seeing old married couples smiling at each other, seeing friends soon-to-be married kissing, seeing my brother and his children hugging.

I can’t even remember when we had our first kiss or were pronounced husband and wife, the service is a bit of a blur. But what I take from it is the support, the happiness and the joy that I felt. When we walked out the church – to the ‘You and Me Song’ by the Wannadies – I was so proud to be able have my husband by my side.

The sun shone on us and the confetti that I’d painstakingly put into teeny boxes went to good use. Note the groom’s shoes!

After group photographs at the church, the guests made their way down to the church hall for the drinks reception with champagne and cream teas. We had other plans. We took a bit of a gamble and drove to the Royal Crescent in Bath, parked up on a residents only patch and went off for some photographs. It was such a bright, sunny Saturday afternoon that the green was packed. We couldn’t take any photos there, but the ones on the crescent itself more than made up for it!

All eyes were on us, and so many people were shouting congratulations. I felt really special and really relished the attention (ashamed as I am to admit it!)

When our photographer arrived in the morning, his registration plate was AJ59 XTC. AJ were my initials (when I was using my maiden name) and XTC – well, ecstasy! He said it was a sign. Well, as we were returning to the car we saw a traffic warden ticketing the car behind us. Thankfully, the traffic warden was feeling generous and let us drive off before he ‘noticed’ we didn’t have the right permit. What a star!

I had been anxious that the church hall didn’t have much outdoor space, but when we arrived at the reception everyone was lolling in a grassy courtyard I had completely forgotten about. I was so pleased! We arrived to the beautiful sound of Bean Downes playing the Hang. (Video here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5wiRNZnMOoA for anyone who wants to listen). We first heard Bean when she was busking in town, asked her if she would play out our wedding and she agreed. Though we didn’t hear much of her on the day itself, everyone had wonderful things to say about her and her unique instrument was a great talking point and icebreaker at the drinks reception. My brother also arranged a sweepstake for the length of the speeches which really brought everyone together. I recommend asking someone to do this!

The venue was an absolute gem. I’d always said that the venue was our compromise. We had a lot of live music and a free bar all day and all night as our priority, and plumped for a cheaper venue to make up the difference. However, the church hall was clean and bright and the outdoor space was just right. The effort we made the night before paid off (including the special DIY ‘Just Married’ and ‘Congratulations’ bunting), but I can’t emphasise enough how amazed I was at the impact the linen, place settings and flowers had. Strawberry Field Catering did a great job for us and their front of house staff made everything go smoothly – and to my trusty timetable!

The meal went down a treat, and the Yorkshire puddings pleased even met the exacting standards of my husband’s northern family! We’d made changes to the table plan up until the day before and it was absolutely worth the bother of changing them at the last minute. It was great to sit back and look from table to table and see everyone enjoying themselves. I’ve had so many people since say that they loved their table.

What can I say about the speeches? Well, my friend Gemma who always wins at poker won the sweepstake. They lasted 37 minutes and 51 seconds. But seriously, what can you say about speeches that are only really of interest to yourselves? They were funny and emotional in turn. My dad’s was wonderful and he was the perfectly composed father-of-the-bride. I was so proud. The best man’s was unexpectedly hilarious (I had my doubts). I gave a speech in which I sang happy birthday to my brother (because it was his birthday, I wouldn’t go that far for a laugh!) and tried to express how much I love my husband. TLM’s speech made everyone cry, and me so proud. He’d also arranged for a very dear friend (who lives in Brazil and couldn’t make it) to write a short letter that the toastmistress read out. That girl knows how to write and I was in tears (again!) at the wonderful things she had to say about our relationship.

The cake was an unexpected bonus. After our run of horrific luck (car accident, unexpected house move, TLM’s cancer) we won our wedding cake in a competition run by Maisie Fantaisie who, I’m sure you’ll agree, make stunning cakes. It tasted brilliant too!

After the cake cutting, it was time to let our hair down properly. We had a ceilidh, and Jiggerty played. They were absolutely fantastic, especially in the face of some very left-footed and champagne sodden guests! The ceilidh got everyone to dance and the atmosphere was just fantastic. I had a brilliant time, danced the night away with my new husband and friends and family and revelled in the festivities.

Don’t think that our day went completely flawlessly. At one point the fire alarm went off and at the end of the evening the caretakers didn’t turn up. But I don’t even remember that because my abiding memory is that of sheer happiness and pride to have married my own hero and star.

We walked up to our wedding night hotel, The Bath Priory. They’d done a full romance job on the room and it was just wonderful. We then had our honeymoon in Scotland and proved everyone wrong who mocked our decision by having fantastic weather for 13 out of the 14 days!

 

We did it!

Having my (wedding) cake and eating it

In January, bad news was tripping over itself to get to us. February is here and I really hope we’ve turned a corner. TLM’s oncology appointment was again the best news we could have hoped for – the tumour was apparently contained and his tumour markers were coming down steadily. The course of action is now surveillance (such a relief to hear chemo is not needed, though always with the proviso of at the moment) and TLM will be having monthly check ups for the next two years. There’s a 10-15% chance of it recurring within 12-18 months (which would have been taken down to 2% with chemo), though if it returns the chemotherapy has a 98-99% success rate. With such strict surveillance, we feel a sort of relief but it will still be hanging over us both. We both feel very subject to outside forces at the moment and are just trying to grab happiness where is presents itself and enjoy ourselves here and now.

With everything happening, we’d totally overlooked Valentine’s day. This morning I could hear TLM singing away in the shower and I cried because in that moment I realised just how lucky I am to have him and how much I love him. He is a wonderful person: fun, devoted, hardworking, generous, kind-hearted, understanding, comforting. Our lives have changed forever and I will appreciate him in a way I couldn’t have before, because I can never forget the terror I felt when confronted with the possibility of losing my perfect man. *breathe*

So after my moment of soppiness, I decided to check my emails to see if the vicar had emailed us our wedding service (we’ve been doing marriage preparation all weekend). Not yet, but there was another email. I opened it and saw ….

Congratulations, you are the LUCKY WINNERS!!!!

What, eh? A con probably. Then I realised that this Maisie Fantaisie had used both mine and TLM’s full names. And it clicked – this was the win-a-wedding-cake competition I had entered! I absolutely squealed with delight. TLM, probably thinking I was being murdered, stumbled out of the shower without his glasses on and I had to quickly explain about how I’d entered this competition to win a bespoke wedding cake. And, evidently, had won! We phoned up May CleeCadman, gleefully accepted our prize and she explained about us coming to London for a design consultation and tasting session. So, yes, it seems I won’t be making our wedding cake and will have to make do (;-)) with one of the exquisite creations that you can see here.

We just couldn’t stop beaming and impulsively decided to go into town. The usually overflowing Pump Rooms had no queue so in we went and had a delicious champagne high tea.



Maybe I could come round to believing that everything happens for a reason. If it keeps going my way, that is.

Surgery update

The surgery is done and TLM is woozy and happy on morphine in the hospital. The consultant said that the testicle appeared to be nothing but cancer any more – but who cares, it’s gone now. We have also had the radiologist’s report from his CT scan yesterday and it is clear throughout. While we aren’t breathing a big sigh of relief just yet, at least we are not holding our breath any more. A biopsy of the tumour and further blood tests to look for/compare markers will dictate now what treatment is needed from here – if anything more than strict observation.

I’ve returned home to a fridge bursting with fruit and vegetables (I put out an SOS yesterday and left our key under the doormat!) and will be going back to collect TLM in a few hours when he has been debriefed by the surgeon and discharged.
Seriously, have I been living my life over the past three days? It doesn’t feel like it.

The relationship between love and food

One day, a few weeks ago, as I munched my lunch at my desk my colleague said, “Alice, seriously, you are so noisy when you eat.” The following day, I was eating dinner with TLM and he sighed and said, “I love the way you eat, you always go ‘a-nom-nom-nom’ and you can tell you really enjoy it”. And that, my friends, is why I love TLM. Because he loves the things that other people find annoying.

I am greedy and the reason I cook is because I love to eat. I am mildly addicted to fat and carbs (pastry, mashed potato, cheese) and have a tendency to comfort eat, but in a more balanced state I relish delicious fresh food with brilliant flavours. I have never, to my knowledge, lost my appetite.
But at the moment there is nothing I want to do less than eat, and I don’t particularly want to cook and, more to the point, things have been so frantic that we don’t even have milk or bread in the house. There is nothing to eat even if we really wanted it. Besides, tomorrow TLM is going in for his orchidectomy and is now fasting in preparation for tomorrow.
I’m guilty of showing my love through cooking, so I’m in a very odd state at the moment where it’s not possible to do so … and I’m feeling lost.
Sorry this post has been so “me, me, me”. I don’t expect anyone to enlighten me, but if you have any musings to add then please do!