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Saturday, 30 April 2011

Royal Wedding Fun in Didsbury; Even Cynical Husbands Enjoy Themselves

At first, you would be forgiven for thinking that, in this household at least, Friday 29th April 2011 was just any old day. Mr Liz duly brought me a nice cup of tea in bed and rushed downstairs to commandeer the tellybox so that he might pretend to be some kind of fierce sandal-wearing warrior on the trail of some dragon, or bad man, or monkey, or something. I lay in bed, and read an intellectual book about vampires. And then, I remembered.

Seconds later, Mr Liz had been forcibly removed from televisual control, and found himself watching, aghast, as a parade of overdressed toffs and celebrities began to shimmy across the screen. A stream of text messages - "Oh my God! Posh is wearing NAVY" - announced that my fellow wedding-watcher was on her way, armed with pink wine and good shoes. Normal service resumed - Mr Liz driven out of his own living room by presence of wildly over-excited, squawking women - we sat back to enjoy the following schedule:

10am: watching the guests arrive, commenting chiefly on Tara's nose, Posh's teepee and Elton's girth. Perusal of Grazia during dull moments or those featuring Fearne Cotton.

11am: the ceremony. We like the dress, but note that Pippa's maid of honour outfit is remarkably similar to my own wedding dress although, presumably, not purchased from Monsoon. We have a cup of tea and plan to watch the whole ceremony.

11.15: some religious people start doing long readings so we open the pink wine and embark on a sterling sofa picnic - olives, pork pies, crisps, pate and crackers. Somehow, the food and the drink complement each other so perfectly that no-one really notices that the sun is not even approaching the yard-arm. We enjoy how Kate keeps her face looking interested throughout the duration of the ceremony while William is repeatedly caught on camera looking bored - presumably because he doesn't have any pink wine to take the edge off it all.

1.30: I predict that Wills and Kate will kiss twice on the balcony, and am correct. We also enjoy the tiny bridemaid refusing to remove her hands from over her ears or the look of total disgust from her face.

2pm: time to actually leave the house. The long and arduous walk to Didsbury is broken up with a pitstop in the beautiful Airy Fairy Cake Boutique on School Lane, where Laura sells us cupcakes that have pictures of Kate and William on. I should probably mention that at this point I am sporting my wedding tiara, which I have been looking for an excuse to wear for the last seven years; I am under the impression that I look a little like a bride, or a princess, or possibly both.

3.30pm: drinks at The Didsbury. We sit outside and drink Prosecco, and have by this stage been joined by two boys who claim to have no interest whatsoever in the wedding, and yet find they can manage to sit outside a pub drinking beer.

5pm: drinks at The Sanctuary. This place is much improved since its Varsity days, and was very sportingly offering jugs of Pimms for £7.99 a go. We sit in a lovely squashy old sofa and find to our horror that the boys are now embracing the spirit of the occasion and wish to share our Pimms. Cunning friend contrives to pour large quantities of ice-cubes into their waiting glasses rather than much actual Pimms, thus reminding me of one of the key reasons I spend so much time with her.

7pm: it would seem that people who eat their lunch at 11.15 are quite terrifyingly hungry by the early evening, and are forced to accept that eating the cucumber slices from the Pimms jug is no longer sufficient. We choose The Laughing Buddha, a Chinese restaurant that we have never tried before, and are most impressed - we order Banquet C and plough our way through assorted deep-fried starters, hot and sour soup, crispy duck and four main courses (one of which - the Mongolian Lamb - had to be packaged up for taking home lest we actually burst on the premises.) The food is consistently good, and I give it a score of 7.8, docking points largely because the duck was a tiny bit dry, and they gave too much food to people who clearly couldn't say no.

9.30: we walk home our separate ways, and I am in bed at a profoundly sensible hour. If it wasn't likely to bankrupt both the country and me personally, I would suggest one of these Royal Wedding larks at least once a year, possibly more often depending on availability of appropriate personnel.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Evil Cheese Floors Brave Girl at Mark Addy Gourmet Evening

They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Now, I've never been entirely sure who "they" might be - some dull, martyrish types perhaps, or people who think that too much fun is altogether a bad thing, especially as some extensive research on my part via the academic method of "Google search" reveals that many believe the saying to be a misquote of something far worse: abstinence.

*shudders at dirty word*

Anyway, whoever said this did perhaps have a point. For various reasons too unprofessional to recount, I was unable to attend last month's Gourmet Evening at The Mark Addy, with the result that I have been cruelly unable to partake of a six-course gluttonous feast for two months. Yes, that's right - eight weeks.

This high level of deprivation meant that I was practically champing at the bit to get my hands on Robert Owen Brown's six tasty courses; and as ever, he didn't let us down. Here is what I put away last night:

- Formby Point Asparagus with Crispy Duck Egg
. Apparently, Formby asparagus used to thrive amidst the human waste produced by the good people of Liverpool, rendering it particularly delicious although also presumably in need of a good wash. ROB assures us that it is no longer grown in this frankly terrifying way, although was non-specific about modern methods which leaves me rather suspicious about the whole enterprise. Anyway, it was lovely, served with a hollandaise sauce and a breaded, deep-fried duck egg - a fact that sets the bar worryingly high for the sad little bunch of asparagus I currently have sitting in my fridge.

- Cream of Wild Mushroom Soup
. This came with an enormous pile of bread, which normal people left in their bid to stay alive for the remaining courses; it's entirely possible that I may have eaten every last scrap of mine, in a clear example of never having learnt any kind of valuable lesson in life whatsoever. The soup was made with mushrooms from nearby Chorlton, an area where the biggest potential hazard is slipping on an avocado skin; blame ROB for this one, I obviously don't agree AT ALL *tries to keep straight face*

- Dogfish with Bone Marrow Barley
. This was a surprise hit - three large, meaty chunks of fish sat astride a soupy, savoury risotto made with barley rather than rice (even the great ROB can't get his hands on locally grown rice - YET).

- Rump of Lamb with Baby Broad Beans and Wild Garlic
. Delish - a huge piece of lovely pinky roast lamb, served with a sultry pile of wild garlic. To celebrate the fact that it's the Easter Holidays, I consumed my own pile of garlic leaves and then ate the ones from Mr Liz's plate as well, just because I could. The fact I can still taste them now suggests this is a practice I would do well not to repeat on future occasions.

- Pressed Bramley Apple with Cider Posset
. I am not a pudding person, but this was both mine and Mr Liz's favourite course - a dainty terrine of pressed and roasted apples served with a languid blob of ever-so-slightly alcoholic cream. Due to an unfortunate incident linked to my eighteenth birthday party, I am that most rare of creatures - a West Country girl who doesn't like cider, but I found it most acceptable in this format, much to the chagrin of a hopeful Mr Liz.

- Shropshire Blue and Somerset Brie
. Now, normally at Gourmet Evening you get an ace cheese - something stinky and/or runny - and a boring, hard, grown-up cheese. I have the former and Mr Liz, a traditionalist when it comes to cheese, has the latter. Unfortunately, he turned his nose up at both these offerings, and I was therefore forced to eat every last bit myself; in a ridiculous bid to limit the damage, I left a cracker. And the butter. And didn't lick the cheese-plate*

*one of the above is untrue.

Remarkably, there were a few empty tables at last night's Gourmet Evening, but following Jay Rayner's fulsome appraisal of The Mark Addy in last Sunday's Observer, word is bound to start getting round just how exceptional the food is here. Remember, it's the last Wednesday of every month, and for just thirty pounds a head you too can eat too much and complain of cheese nausea all the way home - see you next month.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Sad Times (but Decent Starters) as Mr J Departs The Didsbury

Anyone who has lived in South Manchester for a considerable period of time is likely to have been to The Didsbury Pub. Set behind its own green towards the East Didsbury end of Wilmslow Road, my first brush with the mighty Didsbury was no doubt in the 1990s as part of a series of deeply unwise "Didsbury Dozen" pub crawls - or thirteen pints in thirteen pubs for the uninitiated. As students we cursed its aloofness, set away as it was from the other pubs and therefore requiring us to WALK, ooh, probably several hundred yards to get back to the main drag; I now realise that this short enforced walk is probably the sole reason I survived ANY Didsbury Dozens at all and live to tell the tale *puts on stern, anti-drink face*

Anyway, as I grew up, so did The Didsbury - or perhaps it was always grown-up and I was just too drunk and over-excited to notice the horrified expressions of the other patrons as I rampaged the premises looking for whatever clue the Maths department had left for their fellow Didsbury Dozeners (they were ALWAYS organised by the Maths students - you really do have to watch the quiet ones.) And then for some reason, I stopped going as often; perhaps newer, shinier places opened up and turned my shallow and superficial preferences away from a pub that was perhaps starting to look a bit tired, a bit...dull.

But then seven years ago, a genial host by the name of Paul Johnson took over, and The Didsbury began to be fun again. As well as being a general all-round top bloke, Mr J is that most rare of things - a pub manager who actually listens to his customers. One staggering summer, he stocked Prosecco by the glass, BECAUSE I ASKED HIM TO. True, I think I was the only one that ever actually ordered it, but then I never claimed to be a businesswoman, and I did gamely try to drink as much of it as I could (ALWAYS helpful, ALWAYS selfless, that's me.) Paul is also a constant presence on Twitter, making the most of social networking's insidious ability to make a sensible girl turn bad - it's a canny manager who tweets about the lovely weather in his beer garden just as an otherwise pure, clean-living sort of girl is leaving work after a hard day.

In short, The Didsbury is now at the heart of the village again, always bustling with cheerful souls having a drink outside or cosying up inside with some of the good-value food. But now, the skies have darkened and the storm clouds are gathering, for Mr J is off to pastures new. In just a few weeks he will be taking over at The Axe & Cleaver in Dunham Massey, a fact that makes me so maudlin that I am tempted to produce a small violin right now and play a mournful solo in his honour. He has made it clear that whilst it's not his decision to leave The Didsbury (should think not!) he is pleased with the pub and the area that he's off to, and promises us that we will always be just as welcome there as at The Didsbury.

After such heart-felt sorrow, it seems a little trite now to review the meal that Mr Liz and I consumed there last night in the company of the ever-fragrant Didsbury Life. So, I will summarise.

Starters: excellent. Meze platter for the "ladies" (no sniggering at the back), chicken skewers for Mr Liz, chicken & honey pate for Mr D-L. All very good, although husband, I notice, quick to finish chicken skewers and start on nearest available dish, namely my meze platter.

Mains: mixed. My barbecue pork shanks with sweet potato chips were fine, as was Mr D-L's salmon. Mr Liz proclaimed the steak in his mixed grill a little chewy (although I noticed he ate every last scrap) but he enjoyed everything else. The only dish that really let us down was the sea bass with herb risotto, offering rice that you could plaster your walls with and fish that, in an emergency, you could resole your shoes with (there's a joke there actually, but I am too classy to stoop so low - you may go there if you wish.)

Puds: again, mixed. The boys ate their choices with enthusiasm (one x boozy mocha ice-cream cake, one x sticky toffee pudding), but the ladies fared less well with their slim-line choices of, ahem, a chocolate brownie and a piece of cheesecake. In truth, the portion sizes here seem to have got a little large, and if someone as greedy as me couldn't eat all her brownie, you may confidently surmise that it was probably big enough to have been laid as the foundation stone in a new-build property of your choice.

Luckily, all this greed was negated by the ten-minute stroll home, after another convivial evening. One can only cry a little at the thought of how many calories the walk home from Dunham Massey will be burning off in a couple of months time...

Good luck in your new venture Mr J; everyone here in Didsbury will miss you.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Didsbury Dinners Cookbook Launches at The Albert Club, West Didsbury

If there's one thing more enjoyable than eating, it's eating with a clear conscience. I do not always behave with great integrity when it comes to ethically sourced food; indeed, anyone who has been a student in Manchester will know that it's not always easy to even identify what TYPE of animal goes into a kebab, let alone whether it had a happy and fulfilling life.

I am trying to do better, however. I get my vegetables in a box now from Stockley Farm, spending every winter living on cabbage and scraping mud from carrots (which were once so muddy that, to my great surprise, they turned out to be parsnips underneath) rather than scanning the beautifully-washed exotica on the shelves at Sainsbury's, and I try to buy meat from an animal that roamed free and made merry during its reasonably long life. On Saturday morning, for example, I had a long chat with some ace pigs and some unbearably cute lambs at The Artisan Meat Company before going into the shop and purchasing their brethren in sausage, chop and bacon form; the first step, I feel, in facing up to one's carnivorous tendencies.

And now, to make things even easier, comes Didsbury Dinners, a new low-carbon community cookbook that aims to promote food sustainability and make us think about what we actually eat; it's not as worthy as it sounds and doesn't, to Mr Liz's palpable relief, contain nothing but healthy recipes - the sticky toffee pudding, for example, looks pretty good. The book was launched yesterday at The Albert Club in West Didsbury on one of those rare things - a perfect Manchester early-summer day, and the sun shone down on the great and good of the area as they browsed stalls, sampled home-cooked healthy fare, watched people playing on large legumes in a vegetable orchestra (yes, really) and, erm, drank large quantities of beer and wine (I swear the vegetable orchestra thing really happened, and was in no way imagined by myself after sitting in the sun for too long.)

The recipes for the book were provided by local eateries and organisations, including Rhubarb Restaurant, Folk Cafe Bar and the Didsbury Village WI (who, incidentally, tried to sign up two friends of mine yesterday, giving them leaflets but simply bestowing upon me a look that said "oh no, I don't think so - you seem MOST unsuitable.") The proceeds will go towards a range of noble things, including a community orchard and subsidised cookery classes, and I like to think that in my own humble way I have contributed to this success, by drinking sustainable pints of Staropramen all afternoon and then calling into Casa Tapas for dinner on the way home for, erm, local Spanish delicacies. Oh well - small steps...

Didsbury Dinners costs £7 - further details available from Didsbury Life. Incidentally, after I'd left, a lady who should know better apparently hit another lady over the head with a small loaf of bread - never say we don't know how to have fun in Didsbury :)

Friday, 15 April 2011

Brad Fraser's 5@50 at The Royal Exchange, Manchester

Any husband who expresses an interest in attending a theatrical production is, naturally, to be cherished. Mr Liz is a long-term fan of a Canadian playwright named Brad Fraser, an admiration born in 1995 - or the dark, pre-Liz days as I prefer to call this sorry period - when he went to see Andy Serkis and Beth's-lesbian-lover-off-Brookside (his cast list, not mine) in something called Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love (can't imagine how I managed to let such a gem pass me by, but he swears that it's the best serial killer comedy EVER...)

Since then, Fraser has built a mutually-loving relationship with Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre - his latest play, 5@50, is the seventh of his plays to be staged here, with the world premiere two nights ago. I'm not the biggest fan of his work, but am happy to encourage any husband-preference that results in a theatre trip rather than an evening involving opening some cans of lager and watching a United match, so we went to see it last night. The fact that any trip to the Royal Exchange does also, by law, include a couple of Amaretto Sours and a cheeseburger at Grinch first is, of course, completely by-the-by - culture comes first here, and is naturally my sole concern.

*dreams for a moment about the sheer perfection of the Grinch cheeseburger, cooked perfectly pink and served with fries and pickles*

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, 5@50. The name refers to a group of five female friends, four of whom are approaching a certain landmark birthday. They have been friends since school, but cracks are beginning to show in their relationships - the play begins with one of them, Olivia, getting spectacularly drunk at her own birthday party, sparking a chain of events that will test the friendships even further. Old resentments begin to emerge, and before long accusations are flying and a lot of things are said that can never be taken back.

Cue lots of shouting, squawking and general female-angst - Fraser is known as a comic writer, and if the reaction of the women sitting next to me is anything to go by, this play is particularly funny if you are yourself a 50-something woman. That's not to say it isn't funny if you're NOT a 50-something woman, but if you're an innocent young man there may be much here to shock you - think a post-menopause Sex and the City fuelled by copious amounts of vodka and you'll be along the right lines.

Of course, part of the fun of going to the theatre is checking the programme to see how many of the actors have been in The Bill and/or Casualty; we certainly weren't disappointed on this score, and Mr Liz, having done some extensive research during his busy working day, confidently informed me that the most famous cast member was Ingrid Lacey who - wait for it - replaced Haydn Gwynne as the object of lust for sad randy George in Drop the Dead Donkey.

He was wrong though, for he had overlooked that drunk old Olivia was played by Jan Ravens, a woman stunningly famous to anyone who grew up in the 1980s - she featured in ALL the programmes that I used to secretly watch on my rubbish portable TV when my parents thought I was soundly asleep and dreaming of ponies and sewing: Spitting Image, Whose Line is it Anyway, Carrott's Lib and countless other quality shows.

Actually, all the cast were good, once you got used to the American accents, and the staging - as ever at The Exchange - was excellent, with tables, chairs and other props seamlessly appearing and disappearing from the ceiling as and when required. The play runs until 14th May 2011, and is well worth a visit if you get the chance - full details on the website. Just make sure to write in the Amaretto Sour clause before you sign up...

Monday, 11 April 2011

Airyfairy Cake Boutique Opens on School Lane, Didsbury

It has been remarked, somewhat unfairly I think, that I am quick off the mark when it comes to sampling purveyors of fine food and drink - or, to put it a less charitable way, I'm the first to push in and get my nose into the trough when anything nice comes along.

So when Airy Fairy Cupcakes announced a while back that they would be opening a Cake Boutique on School Lane in Didsbury, I think it was generally - and erroneously - assumed that I would be waiting outside the shop on Thursday 31st March, pushing hungry pensioners out the way as I queued with a shopping trolley stolen from Aldi, ready to make off with cartloads of goodies. I even got a message from Laura, chief Airy Fairy, a few days after they opened - where was I? Was everything OK? Or, as I hadn't turned up yet for cake, was I perhaps dead?

Anyway, I'm happy to confirm that I have now inspected the new shop, and can proclaim it charming in every way. Anyone who saw the place when it was occupied by the South Manchester Reporter offices will scarce believe the transformation; from small, dingy space frequented by furtive-looking middle-aged men, to gorgeous retro grotto, full of bright young things and - of course - CAKE. All goods are freshly baked on the premises every morning, and as well as a selection of the cupcakes for which the Airy Fairies are rightly famous, there are loaf cakes, brownies, lemon drizzle cakes...all beckoning enticingly from their places on the counter.

We went yesterday, and I had the strawberry cream sponge cake with a cup of tea while Mr Liz had the chocolate cake and the best banana milkshake of all time ever. He must have looked hungry and malnourished, for the piece of cake he was given was more of a slab, virtually three feet high; I'm pretty sure I spotted a recent snowfall on its upper plains. My own cake was also generously sized; they certainly believe in value-for-money portions here, and I worry that any Airy Fairies who indulge too heavily in their tempting cakey wares will find themselves in an almighty battle to get off the ground ever again.

Meanwhile, in other confectionery-based news, I see that Ben and Jerry's are giving out ice-cream in Manchester tomorrow for Free Cone Day (I thought at first it was a political gathering in protest at a wrongly incarcerated individual, but it appears I was mistaken.) This is yet another example of me MISSING OUT on everything that is good and nice, for I will be in a Greater Manchester classroom rather than in Piccadilly Gardens at 12pm pushing hungry pensioners out the way etc etc. Still, if you are one of the lucky souls already on Easter Break tomorrow then good luck to you *said through gritted teeth* - full details on their Facebook page.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Summer is Here: Official Proof Gathered in Manchester AND Southport

I am pleased to announce that Summer 2011 is now open. What's that you say? I make this mistake EVERY year, loudly trumpeting about the arrival of summer in April, only for arctic conditions to set in again a week later? Pah - I choose not to hear you, and instead offer the following proof that it is indeed summer:

1. I have been to Southport today. It is ace, by the way, and if you haven't been you should go - as long as you don't mind the fact that the sea is approximately fifteen miles away from the main bit of beach, and are happy to count yourself fortunate to catch even the briefest glimpse of it on the horizon. I have very poor eyesight, but I did shout "I can see the sea", just to pretend and so that I didn't feel too left out.

2. For my lunch, I had a Mr Whippy, the first of the year. FOR LUNCH!

3. I no longer have any skin left between my big and second toes, a classic injury resulting from the first FitFlop wearing excursion of the season.

4. I can no longer fit any food in the fridge as my husband has filled it full of cider.

5. But as well as the cider, there is also a bottle of pink Freixenet. This is exciting because a/ it is mine, and b/ I didn't even know you could GET pink Freixenet.

6. Last night I walked into Didsbury WITHOUT A COAT, wearing cute ballet pumps WITHOUT TIGHTS. Whilst we were there, by the way, we went to the Fat Loaf and sampled the new World Beers list (bravo Fat Loaf for stocking so much Belgian goodness) and then had dinner at Loch Fyne. Further evidence of summer, if you need it, is the fact that both Fat Loaf and Loch Fyne were empty until about 8.30, because the entire rest of the world (except us) was sitting outside the Didsbury. Outside! Till 8.30!

The problem with all of this though, is that not only is it not yet the summer holidays, for me it's not even the Easter holidays for another week. So by the time I may gallivant full-time, no doubt it will be just starting to cloud over...

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Brave Husband Tackles New World Beer List at Fat Loaf, Didsbury

Just when you think you really know someone, they go and surprise you. Regular readers of this blog will know that Mr Liz is a beleaguered soul, forever being forced to go out to glittering places and carouse with his gadabout wife when really he just wants to be left alone to watch Boardwalk Empire and play Call of Duty in the safety of his own home.

And yet, his commitment to this blog knows no bounds. Just this very evening I have received an email from The Fat Loaf, a convivial bar and restaurant in Didsbury that very helpfully lies within walking distance of our abode. They have always had a decent selection of drinks here, but now boast a world beers list that runs to some fifty varieties; hence the email. And Mr Liz, good dear brave Mr Liz, has suggested, no, insisted, that we go as soon as possible, all in the name of research for this very blog (which, as you know, prides itself on its factual accuracy and never EVER makes things up.)

This example of selflessness almost brings a tear to my eye. Yes, all the beers are award winning or highly rated by 'CAMRA', 'The Beer Advocate' or 'Ratebeer.Com'; yes, they have a selection of Belgian beers that comes close to rivalling our beloved Le Trappiste in Altrincham; yes, they will rustle you up a tasty pie to help soak up all that alcohol. But apart from all of this, what does Mr Liz get out of the experience?

So if you see us there tomorrow (yes, he really is that committed) then remember to come up and shake his hand; he is truly a king amongst men. Mr Liz, we salute you.

- The Fat Loaf is at 846 Wilmslow Road, Didsbury; you can show your own husband the list of beers HERE.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Penguin's "Great Food" Series Makes Greedy Local Girl Seem Slim by Comparison...

Anyone who knows me will be aware that I have a small number of infinite pleasures, to which I demonstrate commendable and unflagging devotion. I like cricket, for example, although even I would have to concede that the current World Cup appears to have been going for approximately half my lifetime now. I am also partial to a shoe or two (actually yes, two is better), and perhaps the odd handbag to throw atop the towering mountain that already presides over the spare bedroom with such authority.

I also like food. And drink. And books. So imagine my delight that on April 7th Penguin are publishing "Great Food", a series of twenty books that celebrate all that is great and good in the world of cooking and allow us a fascinating glimpse into the past to see what our predecessors were really eating. I have three volumes from the series in my clutches, and already I'm starting to feel better about myself and my eating habits - really, my tastes are excessively modest by comparison.

Lets start with Samuel Pepys. He is perhaps the most famous diarist of all time, chronicling some of the most important events of seventeenth century England, and frankly it seems remarkable that he found time to do anything at all, so busy was he stuffing his face at every opportunity. To wit:

January 26, 1660... my wife had got ready a very fine dinner: viz. a dish of marrow-bones. A leg of mutton. A loin of veal. A dish of fowl, three pullets, and two dozen of larks, all in a dish. A great tart. A neat's tongue. A dish of anchoves. A dish of prawns, and cheese.

Very fine indeed - whilst I am prepared to concede that there probably isn't a great deal of meat on a lark, the rest seems ample; no wonder a great tart was invited along to help eat up all the food. Pepys also appears fond of a tipple at virtually any time of day, accompanied by interesting elevenses choices -

Jan 22... we drank our morning draught and had a pickled herring.

Frankly, a digestive dunked into a cup of tea whilst avoiding students in the staffroom isn't going to cut it from now on. And finally, if you still had any remaining doubts about Pepys status as a king amongst men, just remember that when the Great Fire was raging through London in 1666, this was a man who took time out to bury his most prized possessions in the garden where they would be safe:

September 4, 1666... and in the evening Sir W Penn and I did dig another [hole] and put our wine in it, and I my parmazan cheese as well as my wine.

Hats off to the man; you've really got to get your priorities in order at such a time. The second book I've been pouring over is by Hannah Glasse; English Language teachers across the country will already be bone-crunchingly aware that she published the first recipe in Britain for "Curry the India Way" in 1747 - a text that once appeared on an A2 Language Change paper and that I could actually recite by heart if pushed - it involves roasting your spices in a shovel over an open fire.

However, it appears that Ms Glasse was not just adept at whipping up a curry; she could make you a delicious beverage as well to wash it down with. The pick of these is surely the Turnip Wine, tipple of choice for Baldricks everywhere - made mainly of sugar and, er, turnips. Sadly, as the final instruction is to bottle it "when it is fine", thirsty people from yesteryear are probably still waiting.

Finally, Gervase Markham provides some useful advice for wives everywhere. His 1615 volume begins with an indispensably useful section entitled "the inward virtues of every housewife", including the following:

...Next unto this sanctity and holiness of life, it is meet that our English housewife be a woman of great modesty and temperance...let her diet be conclude, our English housewife must be of chaste thought, stout courage, patient, untired, watchful, pleasant...

I am here forced to stop and make the following observations:
1. It seems that if you are a Scottish, Welsh or Irish housewife you may behave in as slatternly a fashion as you please, and
2. I am a rubbish wife, apparently a failure in every way.

Still, as I am currently roasting a joint of belly pork with honey and mustard vegetables, and have calvados and cinnamon rice pudding for afters, I'm pretty sure that I stand a chance with Samuel Pepys...

- The Joys of Excess (Samuel Pepys), Everlasting Syllabub and the Art of Carving (Hannah Glasse) and The Well-Kept Kitchen (Gervase Markham) are all published on April 7th by Penguin.