Sunday, 17 April 2016

Forty at 40 - the end

Well that's that then. All done! Back in February last year I had no idea whether I'd make it through the list, what would be the best thing, what would be the hardest or even what some of things would even be. But make it I did and had an amazing time in the process. Of all of things I did it's impossible to pick a favourites, but I couldn't leave this blog behind without at least picking out a few highlights.

So then....


# 34 - Framing that blooming Matisse print! What I thought would be an easy task ended up taking up way more leg work, research and time than I expected. I'm still glad I did it though


# 33 - Booking tickets to see Bellowhead on whim, based on the fact that I quite liked a couple of their songs, and then reluctantly dragging myself out of the house on a wet, dark November evening, were two of the best decisions I made all year.


# 40 - No question about it, the meal at Midsummer House was the best meal I've ever had. End of.


# 7 - Running a 5k. Well, completing it anyway, running is what fit people do. But a 5k though. Me!


# 35 - It did though, ha!


# 28 - Once mastered, Segways are the most fun you can have on two wheels. And riding them round Lyon on a sunny end-of-summer evening made the whole experience even better.


Out of so many great things this isn't an easy choice but, in no particular order...

# 33 - Again, that Bellowhead gig

# 14 - Taking part in the Jersey Island Walk - I'll never forget walking along the east coast of the island as the sun came up behind Gorey castle.

# 20 - Visiting Les Ecrehous - this was such a fun trip and it was great to be able to share it with my whole family. Next time we'll hopefully see some dolphins!

Oh, and yes, I did complete the diary. Just.

So there you go. It's done. Finished. Complete. And don't ask what I'll be doing for my 50th. That's AGES away!

Sunday, 13 March 2016

# 40 Eat at a Michelin Starred Restaurant

I was hoping that the very last item on my list would be one of the best and would help to round off the year in style and I was not disappointed!

After considering a few options, we decide to book a table at the Midsummer House restaurant in Cambridge. There are several very well known options in London but with Cambridge so close, spending the extra time making the journey into London seemed unnecessary. Plus, Midsummer House is said to be one of the Top 10 restaurants in the UK. So it seemed like a good choice!

Many top restaurants have very strict booking policies which involve calling as soon as lines open on a particular day and hoping for the best. Booking a table at Midsummer House is much more straightforward and I had no trouble reserving a table a few months in advance.

As soon as we arrived we were quickly welcomed in out of the cold, with one person ready to open the door, one to take our coats and one to show us to our table! Throughout the evening the service was impressive and consistent but also friendly at the same time.

So, onto the food. As we there in the evening we had a choice between a 7 course and a 10 course menu. As we hadn't tried this type of dining before (and in the interests of our finances!) we opted for the 7 courses. Apologies for the photos, the lighting was quite dim and I was trying to take photos with my phone without be too obvious about it. So, we had...

Smoked haddock, potato, pickled onion and caviar (no picture)


Celeriac baked on open coals, hazelnut, hollandaise, celery and wood sorrel

Sauteed duck liver, gingerbread, pear and chicory salad

Sauteed scallop, Granny Smith, celeriac and truffle (no picture)


Roast loin of pine smoked venison, cannelloni, apple and elderberry puree

Aerated pear, blueberry, white chocolate

Passion fruit, yoghurt, dark chocolate

That wasn't all we got though. Before the first course arrived we were presented with a small plate of appetisers (including an amazing "bubble" of potato crisp filled with sour cream). This was then followed by another small dish containing little duck filo pastries and finally two balls of ham hock covered with fried onion strings (I'm sure they described these much better!).

Then each course began to arrive. Each time we were provided with a full explanation of what we had been given and often final flourishes (sauces etc) were added at the table. My unexpected favourite was the celeriac that had been roasted on hot coals, which was sliced open and served at the table and then topped with hollandaise sauce that had been "frozen" in liquid nitrogen. Amazing.

We decided, again in the interests of finance, to forego the cheese course. A decision we regretted when we had to listed to other tables being presented with and talked through an amazing selection of cheese. Next time!

Finally, or so we thought, we had the two delicious desserts, but again though this wasn't quite the end. We were offered tea or coffee etc and P decided to have a port. I made the impulsive decision to have a hot chocolate which turned out to be a virtual bath of rich, thick hot chocolate topped with marshmallows. And then they brought us even more food! Firstly, a dish of the lightest doughnuts you ever ate, accompanied by a salted caramel sauce and a creamy, custardy sauce to dip them in. Again, amazing.

An then, finally, a large wooden box on a stand was brought to our table and opened to reveal a vast selection of chocolates from which we got two choose six to share.

Thanks to the hot chocolate I was very full by this point but luckily they were happy to box mine up for us to take home with us.

This really was a truly amazing meal from start to finish and one day we'll definitely go back. I just won't have the hot chocolate!

# 39 Make a CD/playlist of the year

I should think that most people who grew up during the 80s, when cassette tapes were the high point of technology, have fond memories of making mix tapes and compilations of favourites songs, back in the days when the Sunday afternoon top 40 was our version of iTunes. Those days are long gone but every year I still start off with a plan to download and make playlists of songs I like and every year I never quite manage to do it.

So making a compilation of songs from 2015/16 was on the list and I began to accumulate a selection. In the end, though, there was only one CD of the year...

Starting with Roll the Woodpile Down, another running song (see below) that was played on repeat through the spring, through to seeing them live in November and again in January at Maida Vale studios, Bellowhead unexpectedly ended up providing the backing track for the year.

Having said that, there are some honourable mentions that should also be included for the record though (no judgements please)...

1) Shake it off, Taylor Swift - this song is perfect to run to and was with me as I worked my way up to the 5k I just about managed to complete in the summer. It will always remind me of morning runs around Ickworth Park

2) All about that bass, Megan Traynor - like I said, no judgements. When I spent the day at Nowton Park running the 5k in the morning and then volunteering in the afternoon they had a selection of songs that they played on a constant loop. This was one of them and now it always reminds me of that day.

3) Joy, Will Young - we watched Will Young sing this at Carfest in the summer. Such a great day.

4) Fireflies, Owl City - after our trip to the Ecrehous in August my brother in law made a CD of the movie footage he'd taken. One of the backing tracks he added was the instrumental version of this song, little knowing, I assume, that it is one of my favourites. Now one of my favourite songs will be forever associated with one of my favourite days

5) Rattle that Lock, David Gilmour - anyone who has spent any time in a French train station will understand why this song makes me think of the trip P & I took to Lyon. Even more so because there was an poster for the album right next to us as we queued for the Eurostar.

6) Detectorists theme tune, Johnny Flynn - not directly related to the list but this is the theme tune to one of P & I's favourite TV show, the second series of which was released last year. This is pretty much the musical equivalent of valium 

Saturday, 5 March 2016

# 37 Take a Cookery/Baking course & #38 Learn to make Macarons

Ok, so completing two things in one go is a tiny bit of a cheat, but never mind. I didn't plan it that way from the start but as I had both on the list and the course sounded good I thought I might as well kill two birds with one stone.

Despite loving cooking and baking I'd never got round to taking a course on the subject. I've visited the Macarons & More shop in Norwich, which is run by the Masterchef runner-up Tim Kinnaird, and tried some of their delicious macarons and brownies so when I heard about their macaron making class it sounded ideal.

The courses aren't held in the shop but in their much more spacious kitchen on the edge of the city where they have plenty of space to prepare all the goodies before they go on sale.

On arrival we were welcomed into a little reception room and we offered drinks and cakes (home-made of course). We then got to meet Tim Kinnaird who got us to introduce ourselves and then explained the itinerary for the morning. Then it was time to move through to the kitchen area and our workstations. Everything was set up ready for us with all of the ingredients weighed out - if only all cooking was like this!

Then the cooking began. I won't go into too much detail but at each stage Tim gave us a demonstration and then left us to have a go ourselves. It was great fun and, while macarons can be a bit tricky to make, when shown everything step by step we all produced some pretty good results.

At the end of the baking session there was still more to come as we were shown back into the reception room for lunch. I thought we might be offered something simple like sandwiches but in fact we were all presented with a delicious dish of veggie chili and potato wedges. And to follow we were treated to a mango and lime mousse which they had been trialling in the kitchen.

When lunch was over we were given all of our creations to take home, together with the recipes and a box of Macarons & More macarons (so we could compare ours to the real thing!) 

The course wasn't cheap but I definitely felt I'd got my money's worth as it was such an enjoyable experience. Tim Kinnaird was also very nice and happy to share stories from his time on Masterchef. They run other courses, including a pork pie making courses which sound very tempting!

# 36 Cook Roast Beef

This is another nice easy one. I'd never cooked roast beef before. Although I've thought about it a number of times I'd just never got round to it.

It turned out really well and was very easy so I'll definitely being doing it again. Everything worked out really well, especially the gravy which was lush, although most of the credit there probably belongs to the stock pot concentrate thingy I threw into the pan juices along with a splash of port left over from Christmas. I also used some leftover goose fat for the roast potatoes which pretty much always guarantees a great result. The only downside were the yorkshire puddings which turned out depressingly sad and flat (didn't heat up the pan enough). Still, they tasted ok so they weren't a complete disaster. (another attempt a few weeks later was much more successful).

Thursday, 31 December 2015

# 35 ????

Another mystery project this one so no more information will be revealed here. Sorry!

# 34 Frame the Matisse print

I know next to nothing about art but I LOVE Matisse's cut-outs and have for years. Last year I was lucky enough to see an exhibition at the Tate Modern and it was amazing to see some of the originals in real life.

Anyway, around 16 years ago (I know!) I found a print in the Washington Museum of Art, purchased it and managed to transport it home in my rucksack. It may well have been my first encounter with Matisse but it was so long ago I can't be sure. Since then it had got no further than a basic frame propped up in a corner in the bedroom. So I was determined that this would be the year that I gave it the frame it deserved.

Simple right? Actually this turned out to be one of the most difficult tasks of the whole year. I already have a framed Matisse print (an original 1950's lithograph and one of my most prized possessions) and wanted to match the style so they could hang side by side. To cut a long story short it involved visits to a number of framers and searches on the internet before I managed to find someone who could achieve even close to what I was after.

I got there in the end though and while the result isn't an exact match to it's brother it's not far off and, finally, after all these years, my little print is hanging where it belongs.