Monday, March 27, 2006

More excitement!

Sun 26 March 2006

North Bar has been named the best place to drink in Britain, thanks to the Observer Food Monthly awards. Hooray!

North started its Belgian Beer (sorry, 'Bier') Festival yesterday so now there's an even more mind boggling array to try ... but I celebrated in style with one or two (or three, can't remember) Coopers Sparklings ...

It was very interesting to watch a whole new set of punters wander through North's door yesterday afternoon. It looked suspiciously as though a lot of people had read about the bar in their Sunday morning paper and decided to pop in after a bit of shopping - I wonder why. I think some of these people were expecting something altogether different - some left as soon as they came and other groups sat down and enjoyed a glass of wine before leaving. We had a good giggle into our beers!
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Sunday, March 26, 2006

Wet in Weetwood

Sat 25 March 2006

Inspired by my recent purchase of a walking book and Explorer map we set out to sample the joys of the Meanwood Valley Trail, which I recommend quite highly. Given Friday's rain it was quite soggy (muddy) in many parts, and we also got lost (don't ask how you manage that - I maintain it wasn't having enough maps!). This meant that we turned up at the Stables Pub a little bit damp but ready nonetheless to enjoy a well earned snack.

There's nothing hugely exciting about the fare here - a Yorkshire ham and mustard sandwich, served with salad and crisps (apparently the ham was very good) and a steamed chocolate pudding, served with custard (which I personally could have done without) and mango and raspberry coulis. The pudding was OK (more so given I was a bit wet and knackered). What was really impressive was that there was some kind of stuff up in the kitchen which meant our food was rather delayed. Before I even got the opportunity to start asking questions (complaining) one of the staff was at our table, apologising, and offering free drinks. I was impressed!

The pub is a Copper Dragon pub, but I very naughtily indulged in some Taylor's Landlord, which is one of my favourite beers and drunk at all available opportunities. It was well kept and very tasty! For lager lovers there is not so much on offer - Carlsberg Export or Extra Cold really.

The real excitement of the weekend was the fact that I won (woohoo!) the weekly beer reviewing competition in the Yorkshire Evening Post. My review of Baltika, from Russia, scored me the glory of having my name in print AND 12 mixed beers from Beeritz in Headingley! Go me! So there should be some exciting beer commentary forthcoming!
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Friday, March 24, 2006

So ripped off in Soho

Tues 21 March 2006

Headed down south for work so took the opportunity to sample a bit more of London's culinary delights. Ahem.

First stop was the Glasshouse Stores on Brewer Street, just off from Piccadilly Circus. This is a Sam Smith pub (yes, I know - all the way from Leeds to London to drink beers brewed in Tadcaster). Not only must this be one of the cheapest drinking venus in London (more on this in a bit) it's also surprisingly uncrowded in the downstairs bar (the upstairs one was positively heaving).

Precisely because upstairs, with its frosted windows and 'traditional' pub look, was heaving we headed downstairs to a rather small and somewhat dingy bar that was blissfully underpopulated. Our first drink here was a pint of the Alpine Lager, which was a very nice, crisp refreshing beer. The two pints came in at £3.94 - much amazement all round (er, OK - there were only two of us at that point but we were still amazed). The second round was the bitter (at just £3.40 for 2 pints we almost fell off our chairs) which was not quite as good a beer but more than adequate.

Although the pub does sort of pub grub food we ventured out into Soho and wandered around aimlessly for a bit before (fatefully) settling on Carpe Diem on Wardour Street. This is a very stylish and smart looking place and we were looking forward to settling into the comfy sofas and enjoying some good food.

Things kind of went wrong from then on in. The staff (two women) were unbelievably surly. We ordered two cocktails and two bottled beers. The beers were whisked from the fridge and opened before being left to sit on the bar while someone very very slowly made the cocktails.

Our orders were taken and first of all there was a mix up between garlic bread and olives (what we'd ordered) and plain bread, which was duly sent back. The garlic bread was a complete non event (even calling it bread is pretty generous). Out came the mains ... Lee's cannelloni arrived, appearing to be more or less straight from the microwave and looking a bit dry and shrivelled, particularly on the tomato sauce front (a flash of inspiration makes me think it looked like airline cannelloni ...). My saltimbocca alla romana arrived in soup format (yes, I know - the phonetic similarity between 'saltimbocca' and 'zuppa' is frightening) - and so was duly sent back.

The waitress's really feeble apology was that it was only her second day - love, the menu simply isn't that big that that even begins to cut the mustard. I saw you poring over the bloody thing trying to work out what it was I had actually ordered and you didn't even know where the meat dishes were!

While waiting for my saltimbocca, and enjoying a complimentary serve of delectable garlic bread, Matt's chicken with goats cheese and (not in season) asparagus appeared in a portion suitable for starter only (which was pointed out along the lines of 'this is a joke'). Parminder's risotto was not as awful as it could have been, though it takes sheer genius to put a rice dish on a cold plate. In addition, I personally don't think a mushroom risotto should be all porcini - it's too overwhelming and also makes the risotto a rather nasty colour.

My saltimbocca was nasty but I was also hungry and I'm kicking myself now for eating the bloody thing. It had some lovely plastic mozzarella on top, was overcooked and was drowned in a sauce made from stock cubes. Mmmm ... tasty!

It was pretty obvious we were unimpressed - however, our complaints fell on deaf ears. The staff couldn't give a flying crap, the kitchen staff clearly don't eat and customer service is a non event.

My advice - the website is flashy, but stay well and truly clear!
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Monday, March 20, 2006

A Relatively Calm (Food) Weekend

The mania of the past few weeks is starting to give way, and I'm looking forward to not doing a lot at all next weekend.

However, while this past weekend was a flurry of social activity it didn't involve excessive eating and drinking (on my part).

Fri 17 March 2006

St Patrick's Day and associated green madness inhibited my usual start to the weekend (in the North Bar) and so I ended up in the Reform. The beer's not as exciting as at North but this is still one of my favourite bars, even if I did end up drinking (shock!) lager. After a bit we (this time not just Andy & me but also Harry & Jono - hello!) headed down to Red Chilli. Initially I thought we may have made a tactical blunder by not booking anywhere at all for dinner but it wasn't a problem. In a beer-inspired moment we opted for 6 starters to share (the dishes are generally huge) - my personal favourite was the salt and pepper spare ribs. Possibly this was because it's a dish I would never have personally ordered. Anyway, they were fantastic - they weren't greasy and there was just the right amount of chilli, AND, being ribs you can eat them with your fingers! Andy really enjoyed the cold beef in chilli dressing. The dumplings were ordered weren't as good as I remembered from last time. After demolishing all of this we decided we were still a bit peckish ordered two main courses and some rice. I really enjoyed the spicy chilli beef. I'm really sorry I can't be a bit more effusive about all of this - I had had a few beers, in addition to which I am not a huge fan of Chinese food, so I just don't have the vocabulary and experience to say anything too sensible.

After dinner we headed to Carpe Diem, just down the road. It was all a bit frenetic and student-y for old people like us so we headed home.

Sat 18 March 2006

I was entertaining one of my friends and kick started my afternoon with the sticky toffee pudding, vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce in Art's Cafe. Although I wouldn't describe myself as having a sweet tooth I do seem to often feel that pudding along constitutes a legitimate meal. I was actually pretty impressed with the pudding - although more impressed with their ice-cream. Wherever they get it from - it's good (and perhaps Piccolino should take note!).

Again, with no restaurant booked for dinner it was all looking a bit suspect ... after sticking our noses in and out of a few places in Headingley we ended up, miraculously, in Citrus - having our order taken just seconds before the huge table next to us. We went for a bit of creative menu combining here too ... we started by sharing a mozzarella salad and I moved on to a Caesar salad, which, while it was very nice, bore next to no resemblance to a Caesar salad - last time I checked the dressing should have been a lot thicker and actually have tasted of something, while Christina opted for the creamy white onion risotto with lardons, which was actually a very competent risotto. Citrus do, however, need to get their house wines sorted out, as my glass of house white was pretty unimpressive. I guess they are catering to students and do offer BYO ...

Sun 19 March 2006

Apart from stuffing my face with a selection of pastries from M&S the only culinary activity of today was a visit to Wing Lee Hong. I have a slight issue in this shop in that I stop and touch almost everything in sight.

However, I am beginning my quest to find the perfect wasabi pea (dried green peas with a wasabi crust - truly, truly the ultimate beer snack). I can report that the Mansion wasabi peas are very tasty but are also loaded with crap (MSG etc).

I also invested in some pickled ginger (as yet untasted).
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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The remainder of dinner and then some lunch

Sat 11 Mar 2006

Having munched our way through the much improved prawn dish we moved on to a lovely piece of roast pork.

The recipe called for pork loin but the butcher was only offering pork loin already cut into chops so I just went for a piece of roasting pork. This was a bit of a mistake in that it was a bit tricky to do the stuffing part, but that mastered, it served perfectly well.

Take your piece of pork and unroll it/flatten it out. Spread the inner with bacon (or pancetta), chilli flakes, crushed garlic, thyme leaves, some grated lemon zest and some olive oil. Roll it all back up, rub with oil and (the skin especially) with salt. Roll it back up, tie with string and leave it to soak up the flavours a bit. The original recipe (from a Sainsbury's magazine) called for leaving overnight but I'm hardly organised enough to have bought meat the day before I want to eat it so it just got a few hours in the fridge.

Pre-heat oven to full bore (around 220 C) and heat some olive oil in your roasting dish. Add pork and cook for 10 minutes before turning and cooking for another 10. Reduce the heat to 170C and add a good glug of dry white wine (we used a sauvignon blanc) and some chicken stock (for our just over 1 kg piece of pork it was about 250 mL of chicken stock). Leave the pork to cook, turning now and then. I think this took just over an hour once I'd turned the oven down - but just stick the knife in and see what happens.

I served this with roast potatoes, roast sweet potato (roasted with thyme) and steamed carrots. The lemon zest in the stuffing is a totally brilliant addition, and obviously, the juices from the pan make a great gravy!

After this we were almost ready for our chocolate fondant (recipe Nigella Lawson, from the Observer Food Monthly a while back, recommended by Tom Aikens). This fondant fulfilled all my requirements for a dessert - you have to be able to finish off the cooking after you've had more than 1 glass of wine. This is easily done as these babies go in the oven for 12 minutes from the fridge, which even the most sozzled should be able to manage.

Melt 350g of best dark chocolate (we used M&S as I was too stingy to fork out on really flash stuff, but it was still good!) in a double boiler and allow to cool. In your food processor cream 50g unsalted butter with 150g caster sugar. Add 4 eggs, 1 teaspoon of vanilla essence and 50g of plain flour. Mix well. When chocolate has cooled add it to the food processor and mix well to create a smooth batter.

Pour the batter into greased AND base lined ramekins, level off as much as you can, and put the little fondants in the fridge until you are ready to eat them.

When ready to serve, preheat oven to 200C and cook fondants for 12 minutes. Loosen and tip out. They should be firm on the outside and lovely and molten in the middle. (If you are going to make and cook straight away preheat the baking tray you'll be cooking them on and only cook for 10 minutes - and well done you on staying sober!).

[Sorry for the slightly blurry nature of these last two pictures ... might have had something to do with some wine ...]

Apparently you should deny yourself the sheer pleasure of licking out your food processor as the mixture will contain (shock) raw eggs. Somehow I made it through childhood doing this so I'm confident I'm going to make it through adulthood continuing to do it. The mixture tastes so good you could almost forget about cooking it.

The fondants don't keep particularly well (I ate the last one last night straight from the fridge and it was a bit hard as the centre had solidified - it still tasted good) so do eat them as soon as you serve them. I don't recommend eating more than one - I did and I felt almost ill afterwards ... it seems that I do have some kind of chocolate threshold after all. And obviously, serve with cream!

Sun 12 March 2006

In theory this was the great trip to Anthony's at Flannels for afternoon tea. However, the unabashed gluttony of Saturday night saw us arrive at Anthony's not having eaten anything all day. And Andy was much taken with the idea of steak, chips and onion rings. Unlike Anthony's proper, Anthony's at Flannels is really catering for all types of occasion and, from what I saw, doing it well. The steak (sirloin), chips & onion rings was just that. I didn't get to try any steak or onion rings although the steak was cooked as ordered and the hand cut chips (so obviously twice cooked in animal fat) were delicious! Still full of fondant I ended up going down the savoury route too and enjoyed the goats cheese cannelloni, served with basil sauce - it was lovely. I had a vague concern that a filling centred on goats cheese would be a bit overwhelming (particularly in the salt department) but it wasn't and the dish as a whole was lovely and light - just what the doctor ordered after the previous night's excess.

I enjoyed my glass of champagne but was a bit disappointed in the Whistling Duck Semillon Chardonnay. I also thought the service was a bit indifferent and, in the case of the wine, a bit lacking (there is only one semillon chardonnary served by the glass so no clarification should have been required). However, the restaurant is lovely and our meal was unhurried and totally enjoyable.

Though somewhat spoiled by Andy telling me I couldn't do this every weekend.
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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Catching Up ...

Time flies and I've got behind ... that's because I've been far too busy eating and drinking!

Thurs 9 Mar 2006

Night out in Plush (York Place) for a birthday bash. As with many of the smarter bars the beer selection is less than riveting here, although at least they had Staropramen as an acceptable draught lager alternative! The little nibblies provided were also quite acceptable - including little spring rolls, little prawns and various bits and bobs on types of biscuits. As this was a private party I couldn't really get a feel for the bar proper - although what I did see of it was enough to ensure that I would be going back as a member of the general public to check it out properly. When we left, around 10pm, the main bar was relatively quiet and had some live light jazz playing - all quite civilised. I'll have to leave more detailed comments for another visit.

After leaving Plush we headed across town to the normally very reliable Bar 88 on Eastgate. Unfortunately, it seems that it's changed hands or management. Our vegetable spring rolls were a complete disappointment (sorry - if there was some vegetable in them it was doing a good job of hiding - the spring rolls at Plush were miles better!) and while Andy enjoyed his seafood fried rice I found my pad thai altogether pretty boring ... no chilli, stringy, tough noodles ... no, no, no - won't be going back again!

Fri 10 Mar 2006

No particularly hot food action tonight ... a quick visit to North after work where I enjoyed a Coopers Sparkling (the price has gone up by the looks of things ... grr - £3 to £3.20 - not sure how they justify this increase!) followed by a Fruh Kolsch - which was actually a very refreshing beer. However, I was incredibly disappointed because at some point someone decided it was a brilliant idea to film some kind of promotional material for some Italian liqueur called Tuaca in North on a Friday night - WHAT? Obviously the bar is so huge it can cater for its usual crowd as well as massive cameras and boom mikes and even more obviously a bar whose strap line is "It's Official - we love beer" is really going to appeal to liqueur drinking types ... Scampered out quite rapidly really! Went back to Andy's and made gyoza but they were a bit disappointing compared to the batch over Christmas ...

Sat 11 Mar 2006

A huge cooking day today ... well, if I'd been organised it would have been ...

I revisited the salt crusted prawns made a couple of weeks ago ... this time, I did it my way, though. I found some truly monstrous green prawns in the Leeds City Market, sold by the fishmongers S Meyer. These babies were headless and were being sold for £1.99 per 100g. I bought 8 and it set me back £8.20 which means the average prawn was weighing about 50g!

Anyway, having got these babies home I gutted them and removed their legs. I blanched them in salted boiling water until they turned pink and then quickly drained and refreshed them. When they had cooled down I shelled them, leaving on their tails. I then dusted them in a cornflour and coarsely ground salt mixture and set them to one side.

I then heated some vegetable oil and chilli oil in a fry pan and added to this crushed chopped garlic, one finely sliced birdseye chilli and grated in a good inch or so of ginger. Gave this all a quick fry up and added a good grinding of salt, before adding in the prawns and making sure I got them all coated. I then added a pile of sliced spring onions and a good splash of shaoshing wine which I cooked off (keep the pan nice and hot through all of this).

Since the prawns were so monstrous and this was a starter I served them on their own, though for a more substantial meal you could easily serve with rice. Definitely serve with extra salt on the side (the good flaky stuff!) - even though you use quite a lot of salt in the cooking a bit of extra salty crunch is always good! I was a tiny bit heavy handed on the chilli, which was a shame as I ended up serving this with an excellent gruner veltliner (Austrian grape), which would have been a perfect pairing, had the chilli been less overwhelming - though the amount of chilli is really personal preference anyway!

Coming up ... Italian style roast pork, chocolate fondant, and an afternoon tea which morphed into lunch at Anthony's at Flannels ... oh - and some pictures!
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Wednesday, March 08, 2006


In the excitement of moving and whatnot I’ve left out a bit of product news that should be mentioned.

For a start I’ve decided that each week I’m entitled to a treat from the Harvey Nicks’ food hall … I started last weekend by buying some of their in-house loose tea (English breakfast of course). Not a particularly indulgent purchase, since I actually needed some and not likely to be reviewed until this weekend.

Much more excitingly was the discovery of Montezuma Chocolate. I purchased an emperor bar of dark chocolate and chilli (a whole £1.99 in the organic food shop) – if this sounds good to you – trust me, it is – go out and buy one now! I’ve got big plans for using this stuff in cooking – I’ve got a great chocolate brownie recipe which includes a red chilli but I figure with Montezuma’s effort I can include this extra bit of spice in just about everything. It’s probably fantastic for making mole.

Not quite as exciting was the arrival on Monday of my order from Hotel Chocolat. I ordered a selection of end of season bin ends dark chocolates which are certainly very tasty but just nowhere as exciting as the Montezuma stuff!

Coming up … we have Plush tomorrow night, a new treat from Harvey Nicks, and afternoon tea at Anthony’s at Flannels. In addition to this, I’ll be revisiting the salt crusted prawns and incorporating the new dish into Saturday dinner.

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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Winter Italian

Sun 5 Mar 2006

Having heard and read rather mixed reviews about Piccolino we thought it was time to try it out for ourselves – especially as I really felt like Italian. Italian food tends to be very hit and miss – it’s either amazing and innovative (and tasty!) – like the excellent Cambio in Guildford, or it’s ho-hum, hum-drum and overpriced. So while I love eating Italian food I always approach Italian restaurants with a sense of mixed anticipation and trepidation.

Piccolino is (predominantly, it seems) staffed by Italians which is always a good start. The menu is not huge (in theory you should be able to view it through the website but we couldn’t get that to work) but has some innovative dishes as well as the Italian restaurant staples – there should be something to please everyone. We started with the antipasto misto which we shared. It was really delicious and was polished off very quickly. The highlight for me was probably the fennel salami though I also enjoyed the prawn arancini and the stuffed mushroom!

For main course I ordered the risotto with tomato and rosemary, topped with goats’ cheese. I don’t think I’ve had a tomato based risotto before and I really enjoyed this one. It’s also given me a few extra risotto ideas to try out at home! Andy choose a special – a very hot baked gnocchi in Bolognese sauce which was also good (well, he scoffed it as soon as it was cool enough!).

Somehow we had managed to leave enough space for desserts – tiramisu with a glass of moscato for me and the afogato for Andy (with a double espresso – just to make sure he didn’t get any sleep!). I really enjoyed the tiramisu – it was lovely and simple and just relied on the coffee and mascarpone flavours. Andy was a bit disappointed with his afogato – and let’s face it – if you are going to make a dessert consisting of vanilla icecream and a shot of espresso coffee you HAVE to make sure you are using fantastic (and preferably homemade) vanilla icecream … and not having your diners come across little icy lumps … tutututut … on this note Andy reported that Piccolino’s afogato was not a patch on that he enjoyed at Cambio.

The wine list is not outrageously exciting and there’s not a huge choice of wines by the glass. Andy stuck to beer and I had a glass of Richard Hamilton Synergy shiraz before my moscato.

I think I’d put Piccolino down as competent and potentially interesting Italian food – a treat but not really up there however as a super special meal out. I’m planning on taking a guest back on a Saturday night which should be an interesting test of the kitchen.

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Sunday, March 05, 2006

Spicy Curry

To allow Alex to recover from her stenuous move, I offered to cook a Thai red curry on Saturday night. I'd never done this before but was quite impressed with the results. Sadly, I didn't remember to take any pictures so you'll just have to use your imagination. If you've had a red curry before, it looked like that but nicer.

I had some pork thighs in the fridge which I cubed and set aside. Then I chopped a large onion into thin slices. I also chopped a shallot, two cloves of garlic and three bird-eye chillies (with the seeds removed). A red pepper was cubed ready.

I fired the onion and shallot in very hot oil until it started to brown and added the pork and cubed pepper which was cooked until the pork started to brown. Then the garlic, chilli and some grated ginger all went in, followed by two desert spoons on Tiger Tiger red curry paste. It was all stirred up so that all the meat was coated. This was followed with a generous splash of Shaoxing rice wine and a desert spoon of nam pla.

Next, I added about a quarter of a tin of coconut milk and crumbled three kaffir lime leaves into the mix. A quick taste of the sauce showed that it was a bit on the salty side, so a couple of teaspoons of sugar soon sorted that out. Finally some green was provided by chopped coriander and spring onions. The mixture was left to simmer whilst some rice was boiled up.

I made a simple garnish for each plate by taking a 8cm length of spring onion (the green, hollow end) and cutting lengthways so that about 1cm remained uncut. Placing these in cold water causes the cut strips to curl up and look pretty after about ten minutes.

The curry was served with boiled rice and a robust red wine. If you don't like your food too spicey, you might want to reduce the number of chillies but both Alex and I thought the results were pretty damn tasty.
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Sheer bloody exhaustion ...

Fri 3 Mar 2006

Up early for the big house move ... by 3pm I was absolutely starving AND had unpacked a total of five boxes so I figured I was justified in treating myself to some lunch and a sit down. The snow had started up so I wasn't going to be going far ... and I headed to Citrus on North Lane. It's been a long time since I last ate here so it was like going somewhere new ... I decided on an Austrian ham ciabatta, which consisted of the ham, pesto, mozzarella and some sun dried tomatoes. It was actually very nice but I really think that Citrus should get their bread supplies sorted out because the ciabatta was pretty bloody ordinary. Ciabatta is supposed to be chewy, open textured, crusty (ok, some of this depends on the region of Italy) ... not a sort of roll shaped slightly dense white sliced kind of clone ... Actually, I think they should also get their cookie supplies sorted out, as my double chocolate chip cookie was OK but not as good as the ones from M&S! The coffee was up to scratch and the service was cheerful, polite and relatively efficient. For what I paid - I should probably not be so harsh ... though my comment about their bread still stands - better to not offer ciabatta at all ...

More unpacking by which point it was time for some beers ... with the rugby cancelled the bus ride into town took far longer than it would have to walk but eventually I managed to snuggle into a seat at the excellent Baroque, on the Headrow, where I enjoyed a pint (or two) of very good Okell's bitter and some really delicious Convivial Yorkshire Crisps. Unfortunately you buy these crisps in a massive 100g barrel and they are quite pricey ... but definitely a cut above your bog standard ... Finished the night off in the North Bar ... no comment required!
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Thursday, March 02, 2006


Thurs 2 Mar 2006

EatingLeeds celebrates its first comment not from family! Under Beer, Again! we have a (positive!) comment from ClickRich who found us through technorati! Hooray!

Also, I made a second attempt at celebrating my removal to Leeds by heading into Wimbledon last night and enjoying Suburban’s Happy Hour (6-8 Mon-Thurs – 2 for 1 cocktails).

I savoured … a Kir Royale (though made with raspberry liqueur, rather than crème de cassis), an Ice Cream Sandwich (ice cream, chocolate liqueur and cookies), an FBI (coffee liqueur, Baileys and vodka with icecream), a Bramble (gin, lemon juice, sugar syrup and blackberry liqueur) and a Mojito (if you need to know what’s in this – there’s always google!).

Suburban’s icecream cocktails are great. And I’m not even a cocktail drinker.

Last day at work today and the great drive up the motorway tomorrow! Can't wait to be living in Leeds again rather than just nipping up there every 5 minutes!

Coming soon … a belated Shrove Tuesday celebration – we eat pancakes for Saturday breakfast and I might make a rhubarb spice cake!

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