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Friday, 29 October 2010

Bribery and Beer at the Didsbury Beer Festival 2010

It has not escaped my husband's notice that there is quite literally a beer festival happening right now, just feet away from his own front door. The third annual Didsbury Beer Festival actually started last night at 7pm, just down the road from us at St. Catherine's Social Club on School Lane, and his excitement was almost palpable. Is he home from work in time? Yes. Does he know where the festival is? Yes. Does he have the £2 entry fee? *quick counting out of coppers* Yes. Does he like beer? Hell yes. Has his wife invited friends over for dinner, who are due to arrive at seven, exactly the same time the ribbon is cut and the thirsty masses surge into the marquee? Oh. Yes, she has.

Still, there's always tonight. Unless you've already made plans. Or tomorrow, unless your wife is forcing you to attend a Vintage Fair at The Whitworth Art Gallery (I suspect many a glum-faced boy will be in evidence at the fair, dragging their feet like a truculent child, being nagged into admiring various bits of shiny tat while wife or girlfriend says "ooh, see how it sparkles" at regular intervals.)

But wait! All is not lost, for tomorrow (Saturday) the beer festival goes on all day, from 12 noon until 11pm. The line-up promises to be better than ever, with over 100 different beers and ciders, as well as food and live music (CheesyWeasel play tonight, but I fear they could never live up to their magnificent name, which makes me imagine a small smug rodent-type creature sitting down to an enormous cheeseboard with a selection of pickles). Girly lightweights like myself will also be pleased to know that the beers are available in pints, half pints and thirds-of-pints; I shall be going for the latter, so that I can sample more than a couple without falling over and taking the whole marquee with me.

So tomorrow is what is officially known as "compromise" but is in reality good old-fashioned bribery: Vintage Fair followed by the Didsbury Beer Festival. Husband doesn't know it yet, but the deal involves being home in time for Strictly - I will save this as a lovely surprise/wait until he's too beered-up to care.

- for more details about the beer festival, visit
- for more details about the lovely shiny Vintage Fair, see

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Mark Addy Gourmet Evening: October 2010

Well, it's been a busy old week. So far, I have spent three days in Edinburgh, shown exceptional bravery at the dentist, and finally got round to watching the Sky 1 adaptation of Thorne, a series so sexy that it has forced me to completely re-evaluate BBC1's Sherlock; there was I thinking that Benedict Cumberbatch running around a museum in a long coat pretty much set the bar as high as it it could get, until a period of protracted man-angst between David Morrissey and Aidan Gillen in a disused yard (with Aidan sitting down, obviously, to conceal height issues) raised it quite out of sight.

But all that pales into insignificance compared to the fact that today, for the very first time, I have had tripe. I have had a deep-rooted fear of this item ever since I witnessed a colleague purchase a quivering bagful at Bury Market, where it wibbled and wobbled all the way back to work before draping itself obscenely over a shelf in the communal fridge. Robert Owen Brown, the masterly chef at The Mark Addy, clearly suspects that many of us have had similarly traumatic experiences, for the first course - a bonus, gratis, for-nothing course - at tonight's Gourmet Dinner was a little dish full of tripe. He exhorted us to try it, and I did; I wish to say no more about it.

So, back on track with the six proper courses, and this is what we had:

1. Sweet Chestnut Stuffed Quail with Crab Apple Jelly
2. Anglesey Oyster and Morecambe Bay Shrimp Soup
3. Mrs Kirkham's Lancashire Cheese and Dandelion Rarebit
4. Rare Breed Pork Belly, Loin of Beef and Lamb Chop
5. Crispy Rice Pudding
6. Garstang Blue and Old York Sheep's Cheese

I have the following comments to make about the meal in general:

- my husband's favourite course was the rarebit, a deliciously crisp square of cheesy perfection. Yet, when I offered to pull up a few dandelions from the garden next summer and whip up a similar gastronomic treat he paled slightly and seemed most ungrateful.

- it is little wonder that Robert Owen Brown is Manchester's favourite chef, based on the following evidence: he couldn't decide which meat dish he wanted to give us for main course, so he gave us all three. Case closed.

- an interesting ethical dilemma: if your waitress accidentally gives you a plate of cheese each rather than one to share, and you don't realise the breach of etiquette until you have started eating, do you stop and return one of the plates? No, thought not.

- rice pudding has no need of enclosure in a giant crispy ball. It just means that people who are on their fifth course and who are wearing a slinky dress have to patiently scrape the rice pudding out of the hamster ball you have spent so long carefully putting it in.

Crispy rice pudding aside, the meal was faultless, and as usual we have already booked for next month. I have promised my husband that I will finish this post with his punchline, even though it would make more sense if the meal had been rubbish, but here goes. The Mark Addy Gourmet Dinner: what a load of tripe.


Tuesday, 26 October 2010

The Great Manchester Egg Treasure Hunt, Part One: The Tease

It all began a few months ago, when I observed I had a new Twitter follower who rejoiced in the unusual moniker of @manchesteregg. Now, those who know me will be aware that my thoughts are never far away from food; specifically, what I will eat next and how long I can reasonably be expected to wait for it, but I clearly have a much classier side (I always knew it was there somewhere), as my immediate thought was that a Manchester Egg might be a little like a Faberge egg, only local in some way that I had yet to fathom.

Turned out I was wrong. The Manchester Egg is the creation of Ben Holden, a man my husband is keen to meet and shake by the hand, for he has had the brainwave of taking a pickled egg, wrapping it in a jaunty black pudding and sausage jerkin, and then adding a final crisp little capelet of breadcrumbs. However, an unfortunate logistical problem has occurred, thus far depriving poor Mr Liz of his wholesome snack: said eggs only appear to be available in two locations, neither of which I have ever been to.

So here's the issue. I am lazy, and ideally prefer to visit venues in South Manchester that are either a short walk or taxi ride away. If I am ever lured into the centre of Manchester, it tends to be by the promise of somewhere that has the words "bar", "champagne" or "wine" somewhere in its name. Ben's egg is seemingly only available at Soup Kitchen on Spear Street, or the Castle Hotel on Oldham Street; and indeed, a brief Twitter conversation with Mr Holden suggests that it will be a few weeks before these tasty golden nuggets are even in residence at the latter.

Entrepreneurs like Ben must understand that by inventing such items, they have a responsibility to their potential patrons: the thousands of tearful, angry and confused boys across South Manchester who have evil wives and want nothing more than to enjoy a Manchester Egg in a convenient venue. Mr Liz has even seen you in his wife's Olive magazine, leaning nonchalently towards the camera whilst brandishing the elusive prize, the slippery treasure cruelly not available to those in the suburbs.

So we promise to visit the Castle Hotel as soon as you give us the go-ahead; Mr Liz will probably even ensure that he has had nothing to eat all day, and will wear a coat with extra-large egg-bearing pockets. Just one thing though; according to the egg's own website, it is "a hearty commodity worthy of a gentleman without need of garnish", and frankly this raises more questions than it answers. Am I, as a girl, not allowed one? Will my husband have to pass some kind of test to prove that he is a gentleman, such as tossing his gloves into his top hat from thirty paces? Worse still, what if he is judged a gentleman who DOES have need of garnish?

I will endeavour to clear up these and other mysteries when I move on to The Great Manchester Egg Hunt, Part Two: The Chase....

- you can look at pictures of the local lovely at, or if you've actually got your hands on one you could perhaps review it for us below:

Friday, 22 October 2010

Dinner at Green Tea, Val McDermid at The Whitworth, and a Chocolate Lollipop....

Such are the vagaries of life: one minute you're (ahem, hypothetically speaking) sitting in your pyjamas, half-watching Countryfile and marking a pile of essays on Bronte's presentation of Heathcliff in chapters 1-7 of Wuthering Heights; the next you're having to juggle two impossibly desirable events in one evening.

Event number one: official party to celebrate the re-opening of the Green Tea restaurant on Burton Road in West Didsbury. This pocket-sized eatery has undergone a full refurbishment in recent months, and has transformed into a sophisticated grotto serving high-class Chinese food; indeed, we hardly recognised the place (although the red carpet outside was a bit of a giveaway - nice touch).

We'd never eaten here before, but had heard very good things since the reopening. The menu has seen a radical overhaul, pared down to a small but perfectly formed selection of specials, including the belly pork stew - meltingly tender and just the job for a wet Manchester evening. Other dishes attracting murmurs of approval included the beef with coriander and the Fire Cracking Chilli Chicken - a small group of excited boys was clustered around this particular dish for most of the evening - but to be honest EVERYTHING was good. I ate some tofu by mistake and even that was nice.

The Green Tea girls - impossibly beautiful in gloriously good evening dresses (WITHOUT food down the front - note to self, must emulate) - were on hand all evening with drinks and goody bags, clearly proud of their gorgeous restaurant and the overwhelmingly positive reaction to their food. A tier of dinky green tea flavoured fairy cakes courtesy of Airy Fairy Cupcakes was the crowning touch, particularly when it appeared that a small firework had been attached to the top (rocket-powered cakes; now I've seen everything.)

Unfortunately, we had to leave early. There was just time for me to be interviewed by a nice girl who was clearly too polite to point out that I no doubt had small filaments of spare rib between my teeth, and we were whisked off by a waiting boy to see Val McDermid and Sophie Hannah as part of the Manchester Literature Festival. We were late for this, and had to be marched into the Whitworth Gallery in disgrace, shoved unceremoniously into chairs right at the back where we couldn't see a thing.

Things worked out for us, however, as they always do; the people in the naughty seats at the back are the first to get to the book-signing table, where they can confidently hobnob with famous novelists in the carefree manner that only several glasses of free wine can bring. Both ladies tolerated us with great magnanimity, answering our childish questions with much patience; I can exclusively reveal that Val McDermid "doesn't yet know" if Charlie, the star of her latest novel, will become a regular character. So I think you'll agree, my work here is done: dinner, a literary scoop, AND a goody bag that included a chocolate lollipop with "Green Tea" printed on it. My husband has already eaten his, so if you'll excuse me, I'm off to guard mine with my life *growls*

- Green Tea restaurant is at 222 Burton Road, West Didsbury, Manchester M20 2LW; tel. 0161 445 5395;

Monday, 18 October 2010

North West Young Designer of the Year 2010, Manchester

Now, I have nothing but admiration for people who are able to fully commit themselves to the dedicated following of fashion. I myself am full of good intentions; I subscribe to Vogue, for goodness sake, and sometimes I even read some of the words as well as look at the lovely shiny pictures. Ultimately though, I fall down in the following areas:

1. Lack of model proportions. I am fully versed in this area of the fashion world, having watched every series of America's Next Top Model, where every so often a poor, overweight girl of ooh, a size 12 or 14 say, pops her head over the parapet to be shot at by all and sundry before being labelled a "plus size model" and voted off around week five. I am five feet eleven inches tall. Hurrah. I am not, however, a size 6, and I have not seen my cheekbones since I was seven.

2. The perils of my profession. I have a wardrobe full of beautiful items, none of which ever gets worn because I am a teacher and therefore need to incorporate a sensible cardigan into every outfit. The other thing I do a lot of is write, a profession taken up for the sole reason that I am do it in my pyjamas.

3. Mobility. I have a weakness for toweringly beautiful shoes, a whole army of which keeps imperious guard over my spare bedroom. Can I walk in any of them? No. Thus they remain marshalled in intimidating ranks, waiting for the day they are called upon to break an ankle or two.

Having said all of this, I was most excited to be invited to the final of The North West Young Designer of the Year 2010, to be held at Manchester's Triangle Shopping Centre tomorrow night. Many of the shoes also got wind of the occasion, and began jostling amongst themselves for the right to take me from front door to cab to venue (via the pavement at some point, no doubt).

And then I looked at the time. The event starts at 6pm, in central Manchester. My last class of the day finishes at 5pm, in North Manchester, and that's without including time for faffing about and checking that one's cardigan is looking just-so. I fear that this is conclusive proof, once and for all: teaching and fashion simply don't mix.

- If you are a glamorous non-teacher then get yourself down to The Triangle, Manchester tomorrow, Tuesday 19th October, at 6pm. This is the fourth year of these prestigious awards featuring horribly talented young people, all under 25 (I was just too old to enter this year, by a month or two or three), and the event is free. Then please send me some kind of precis of the event, telling me what colours my cardigans should be this year. Thanks.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Gorgeous Mosaics, Wine and Beautiful People: Just Another Friday Night at Didsbury Life

There are often nice things happening in the offices of Didsbury Life: that unassuming facade on Burton Road actually conceals a tardis-like haven of art, wine and loveliness on a regular basis. But I was particularly looking forward to Friday's event, the preview night of the latest exhibition, because until January Didsbury Life are playing host to Amanda McCrann and her gorgeous mosaics.

This was always going to be a dangerous combination - me, wine and beautiful art pieces all in one place. You'll obviously have to read on till the end of the blog to see if I actually bought anything... *tries feebly to create tension*

We arrived at about 7, not in the best of spirits. Shortly after setting out on the epic walk from the East of Didsbury to the West (please Helen, just relocate the office) we were caught in a frankly enormous rain shower that we were not really equipped to deal with. We had one small umbrella between us, and as my husband flatly refused to be seen sheltering under a pink brolly decorated with small dogs, he arrived looking less than glamorous at the lovely sparkly party.

Our luck soon improved - for the first time ever, we had arrived in time to drink from proper wine glasses rather than plastic cups. Amanda had clearly bought in quantity, perhaps suspecting the identity of those likely to attend, and as our damp clothes steamed lightly in the warmth of the office we felt our moods restored. Food was provided by Folk Bar, across the road; apologies to anyone who hoped to have some of the stuffed vine leaves as it's entirely possible I may have eaten all of these.

(Note to self; it's no good being in bed by ten - if all you've consumed is vine leaves and red wine you will still not feel tip-tip in the morning.)

So, back to the mosaics. Amanda is that rare creature - immensely talented, ridiculously beautiful, and yet still delightful: on this, her big night, she kept apologising for forgetting to bring a book she'd promised to lend me, such is her thoughtfulness. She is deservedly becoming well-known under the name of Manchester Mosaics for her stunning pieces, many of which are included in the display - pop along to Didsbury Life to have a look, and you may even be lucky enough to see her at work, as she plans to be there from time to time over the next few months.

Amanda was well supported by friends and family - hello to Aunty Barbara from America - and as usual at these events a few more Twitter acquaintances formed themselves into actual living, breathing real people (one of whom - Rowena - turns out to have the most lovely coat). Mike Garry was prevailed upon to perform a couple of poems (in exchange for a pint of Guinness - if only all poets were so amenable), and it was nice to chat to Dave Haslam about his recent triumphant interview with Jonathan Franzen (husband made the hideous confession that he'd stood next to the novelist so recently proclaimed by Time Magazine as the latest exponent of the Great American Novel and NOT RECOGNISED HIM - gah).

So now, the moment you've all been waiting for...did I buy anything? Well, thanks if you're still here - the pitifully easy answer is YES. And even better, the creation of my mosaic will apparently requires LOTS of meetings over more wine with Amanda, just to make sure that everything is absolutely right...

- You can see Amanda's stunning designs at Didsbury Life, 212 Burton Road, West Didsbury, Manchester until the end of the year.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

The Social Network AND Dinner at The Didsbury: Unfeasibly Good Tuesday Night Out

I have found a definite advantage to being a greedy-faced glutton who will eat pretty much anything: it allows you to take advantage of excellent-value set menus across Manchester, in places who will fall over themselves to bring you a succession of seasonal dishes for a ridiculously low price. As the only things - in the world - I dislike are coffee, celery and desiccated coconut, I am fairly safe as far as set menus are concerned: even a coffee dessert sent by the devil himself can be safely dealt with by accompanying friends or husbands.

After the recent triumphs of The Mark Addy's Gourmet Evening, the latest local venue to offer an exotic taster menu is The Didsbury, always a favourite location but even more alluring when it's Game Taster Night (please insert own joke about being game for anything here, if you really must sink so low.) For a measly £18.99 per head, we scoffed the following:

1. Mini Wild Boar Burger, served with fried egg and chips. Absolutely delicious, although I was rather put off by the drawing of wild boar in the accompanying menu, who smiled sadly at me throughout my consumption of what was presumably him or a close relative.

2. Grilled Breast of Guinea Fowl, served with chorizo, chilli jam and sweet potato mash. I would like to point out that this course clearly contains one of my five-a-day, thereby negating any potential downside of eating such a large meal.

3. Roasted Pheasant Breast, stuffed with apple, pork and honey, wrapped in bacon and served with coq au vin sauce. This was my husband's favourite course: he went a bit like Homer Simpson does when he goes "aaaggggghhhhuuuugggggg" and starts drooling.

4. Wild Venison Medallions, served with braised red cabbage and a cherry and red wine sauce (red food = healthy, I know this for an actual fact). This was MY favourite course.

5. Apple, Cinnamon and Sultana Crumble. I confidently said I didn't want this. I ate every last scrap and then complained all the way home about having eaten too much (humour me - at least TRY to look surprised.)

The menu also includes a glass of wine, which I sipped very slowly and made last for five whole courses in a bid to prove that I can be restrained if necessary on a school night. The menu is available again on Monday 25th and Tuesday 26th October, and if I weren't in Edinburgh I would definitely go again. You can book by ringing The Didsbury on 0161 445 5389.

Many thanks to Paul, the lovely gaffer at The Didsbury for letting us sneak in pretty late on in the evening for our repast, for in an unprecedented double bill of Tuesday night action we had snaffled some free tickets for The Social Network at Cineworld. I did some predictable chuntering about how I was expecting a dreary couple of hours watching a bunch of IT geeks doing dull things with computers, but I take it all back. This film is brilliant - superbly acted, full of fantastic pantomime villain-type characters and with a sparkling script from the mighty Aaron Sorkin. I got home and posted a facebook status about the film about facebook I'd just watched, and fell blissfully asleep full of game and my own cleverness.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Forthcoming Niceties at Pinchjo's and The Didsbury

Now, there are only so many hours in a day, and a distressing number of those are spent at work, so some prioritising may be in order. As well as the flurry of festivals previously discussed, I also need to contend with the following:

1. Pinchjo's tapas restaurant on Burton Road in West Didsbury is offering something called Sound Scape every Sunday evening from 5pm, where £10 buys you all you can eat. This seems all well and good, until you realise exactly how much marking and general boringness must be completed before Monday morning comes. Will those essays go into work with a few Prosecco smears on them? Will the husband find himself without clean pants? Until I've tried it, it's difficult to be certain how far-reaching the effects of Sundays at Pinchjo's could be.

2. Game Taster Menu at The Didsbury. Five courses of gamey goodness including a glass of wine for £18.99 a head? Yes please. Only on Mon 11th, Tues 12th, Mon 25th and Tue 26th October? Gah. That'll be a ridiculously late table for two then please.

3. Autumn TV. Hurrah for the new season schedules! Hurroo to it all being on at the same time - David Tennant vs Downton Abbey vs Crime Thing with Aidan Gillen - all at 9pm tomorrow! Whitechapel vs doublebill of all new America's Next Top Model at 9pm on Monday! How one is supposed to fit one's work and social commitments round all of this is a mystery - it's all well and good Sky-Plussing everything, but you try facing down an angry boy when the hard drive has crashed because it's got nine hours of Tyra Banks on it...

Manchester Festival Frenzy

I am starting to think it may be physically possible to attend a different festival every weekend. This is exciting news, and whilst my hypothesis needs further testing, my evidence so far is compelling, and I invite any passing universities to consider funding further research into what is, after all, a very important possibility.

Evidence item one: Taste of Trafford lures me to Altrincham on Sunday 26th September. If research goes according to plan, this date will hereafter be known as "Weekend no. 1", or perhaps "D-Day".

Evidence item two: The Manchester Whisky Festival, last Saturday. True, I sent representatives rather than actually attend myself, but for funding purposes this still counts.

Evidence item three: Manchester Food and Drink Festival. This has been on all week, and The Whisky Festival may have technically been part of it, but I only went today so it counts as a new one. We started in St Ann's Square, where a number of tempting foodie stalls jostled enticingly for our custom; obviously we succumbed, and purchased cheese, chutney, pork pies (well, the male half of the family bought those), salami, and cakes. I planned to post a photo of my gorgeous AiryFairy Cupcakes, but as the box turned itself upside down in my bag and I had to lick most of the icing off the lid, I decided Laura would probably not welcome this type of publicity. They did taste delicious though.

We then went up to Albert Square, where we sat at cheery communal tables in the sunshine, listening to Elbow playing over the speaker system, eating tapas from Grado and drinking beer from the Robinsons tent. Perfect: this was the sort of day that made me feel proud to live in Manchester. And how often can one combine feelings of civic pride with the purchase of a large bag of German sausage?

Evidence item four: I will be attending two events at The Manchester Literature Festival next Saturday - the Pages Ago historical fiction day and then the Boho Literary Pub Walk. I have the honour of blogging about both for the festival, although I am still puzzled as to why I had to request the Pages Ago event whilst they actively offered me the pub one. Surely I am cruelly misunderstood? *is clever and literary, and doesn't really like wine or beer at all*

Evidence item five: the third Didsbury Beer Festival takes place across the weekend of 28th - 30th October. It goes without saying that as this is conveniently held a two minute walk from my house, I shall probably show my face.

So, the only gap in this promising schedule is the weekend of 23rd October, when I shall be travelling to Edinburgh for the beginning of "birthday month" festivities. Now, if only they had some kind of festival that I wasn't two months late for....

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Manchester Whisky Festival 2010 AND Curry? Boys' Dreams Really Can Come True....

Saturday morning, and across Manchester men are jumping from their beds, rubbing their sleepy little faces, and crying, "Is it time? Is it really time?"

Bless, them, with their tousled hair and hopeful expressions; yes, it really IS time, little ones, for the annual Manchester Whisky Festival. I did not myself attend the event, as I would honestly rather swill with a glass of TCP than spend the day tasting whisky, but here is a brief itinary of the day as it unfolded:

1. First boy (apart from the one already in residence) arrives on doorstep at 11.30. Dangerously excited look in eyes. Gives me perfunctory kiss on cheek (seems distracted) and hands me some wine, "for later". Admire boy's optimism.

2. Drive boys to friend's house to collect next boy. Friend has thoughtfully prepared carbohydrate and protein fest to line stomachs - egg and bacon butties. All boys eat at least two each.

3. Friend drives boys to Whisky Festival at Dukes 92 in Castlefield. I spend a serene afternoon shopping and doing The Times crossword.

4. Boys arrive back, still wildly over-excited, and talking very loudly and slowly in feeble bid to prove not drunk. Charade exposed when each admits to tasting 15 whiskies. That they remember.

5. Each boy becomes tired and naughty and is put to bed for an hour. I end up sitting downstairs, showered and Jo Malone'd, wearing ace new dress, drinking the first boy's wine, and watching Strictly alone. Please insert your own comments about Ann Widdecombe here.

6. Normal service finally resumed with arrival of classy, sober friends, who make appropriately admiring comments about new dress, and reappearance of now-pleasant boys. Dinner eaten at The Third Eye in Didsbury, and much enjoyed by all.

7. Husband starts counting down days to next Whisky Festival, and goes to bed to dream sweet visions of enormous dancing whisky glasses.*

* Or he would, if his wife had permitted.