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Posts Tagged ‘birthday’

As I said in a previous post, this is my birthday month.

Sharon’s ‘surprise’ gift to me was a Food, wine and history walking tour of Malaga (seeing as we’re down here for Christmas anyway). It was a surprise inasmuch as I only knew that on a particular day we had to catch a particular train from Torreblanca, to be able to present ourselves in the Plaza de la Constitución at 10:30am prompt.  31467462750_82c0fe75d0_n

We were met by Susanne, our guide and were joined by Mike from Manchester.

So just the three of us on the tour – which made it so much better than it might have been with lots more people. Sharon had booked with a company called Devour Spain – they also do tours of Madrid, Seville and Barcelona.

The trip starts with a short history of Malaga’s varying population from the ancient Phoenicians through Romans, Moors and the current Christian occupation. This was then used to pin the different dishes and tastes we went through during our 3½ – 4-hour tour.

We started with (slightly late for me) breakfast at Café Central, just on the corner of the square.

coffee-cupWe were told about the owner’s history and how he came to serve 10 (ten!) different sizes and styles of coffee. We had Pitufo con tomate and churros with our coffee. I had largo. All the coffees come in cups or glasses marked with a percentage – to show that you have been served exactly what you ordered.

Following breakfast we took a stroll to Malaga’s main market: Mercado de Atarazanas where we visited two stalls for extended tastings and more history. Our first tasting stop was the Cristóbal Rios olive stall (stand 241-248).  We tasted three types of olive (but I cannot remember their names – sorry), all varying in strength and taste, along with fried  marcona almonds and locally dried moscatel raisins. These were all delicious.

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Our next stop was at El Niño, still inside the market (stand 187-189). Here we were given a taste of sweet Malaga muscatel wine and a plate of cold cutsJ  There was a tasty, hard goats cheese, Iberian ham, Serrano ham, chorizo and salchichón. It was great to actually have both hams on the same plate, so I could see and taste the difference – and THERE IS a difference! Serrano ham is a much milder flavour and has much less fat than the prized Iberian product. Iberian ham is much fattier, tastier and deeper in flavour – as it should be given the way the pigs are bred. Often known as pata negra, these hams can be seen as different from serrano simply by having black feet. The two sausages were ok, but tend to be much nicer  when cooked.

market_platter

Having had our fill of market produce we took a fairly good stroll to the other side of town to Mainake, a specialist wine merchant. Here we tasted three local Andalusian wines that were unusually dry (rather than the more normal sweet Malaga wines). One white was to Sharon’s taste but too Retsina-ish for me, and then two very young red wines which were, once again, not to my taste.

Lunch was taken at Mesón Mariano in the city centre. We were presented with an amuse bouche of sorts, which was then followed by four entirely different tapas and a single sweet. The restaurant specialises in artichoke dishes and so we started with an artichoke dish: Alcachofas en salsa (it actually had a different name, but looked like this), then we had Boquerones simply coated in seasoned flour and fried. Boquerones are a small white anchovy local to Malaga. Someone from Malaga might be known as a Boquerón.

We then had a tuna dish that was delicious, but what it was called and what the sauce was made of is now beyond me as I was too engrossed with the previous two dishes. Our final tapa was a plate of Albondigas in a local almond sauce.  I like the sauce, but the meatballs were too big and the texture too doughy for my taste.  Our postres (dessert) was a local speciality: Leche frito. This is condensed milk that is friend and topped with a nougat (turrón) ice cream. That was DIFFERENT.

That was it – our tour was over, but it had been a delight. Excellently led by Susanne.

We stayed over in Malaga and had breakfast once again at Café Central. This time we were able to order our own food and coffee (and agua del grifo – tap water J)

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I was sixty-five this month.

To celebrate a lifetime of learning and working, I invited six of my closest chums to join Sharon and me for dinner at The Watermill in Slaithwaite. John R, I met during my first week at secondary school (I met his wife Sandy, when they married). John T, I met when playing rugby and after my family had moved from Sheepridge to Deighton. I met Carol later in life when we all met up again a few years later. Tony and I met in mid-life, when we attended teacher training college. We followed that up by working together in a catering business/franchise, which is when I met Gill, his wife.  We have all done all sorts of things, together and apart.  We had a great meal, followed by dessert at home (Sharon had made cake and Carol had made us tub of her bombe 🙂 ).

img_7450Prior to this, we held open house on the Saturday before my birthday.  Almost forty friends from various parts of my life (and life line) came along to this and we all had a great time chatting and reminiscing.

I had decided to provide a selection of Spanish dishes, tapas size, with beer and cava brought back from Spain in October. Sharon decorated the house in a pseudo Spanish style with a big flag, an inflatable beer island, an inflatable cactus and lots of streamers.

I prepared:

  • EMPANADILLAs, made from potatoes, swede, cheese and onion (baked not fried).
  • I sliced some Spanish Sheep (oveja) cheese. We’d probably call it MANCHEGO.
  • I cooked TORTILLA. Each filled with six eggs, potato and onion. 12 portions each.
  • PATATAS BRAVAS – roast potatoes with spicy tomato sauce.
  • ALBONDIGAS – mixed pork and beef meatballs in a tomato sauce.
  • I also made my version of the Spanish SALAD RUSSE with lots of potato and vegetables (and a little tuna in some).
  • and .. Sharon made a wonderful BEETROOT HUMOUS

I had also made my own focaccia bread to go with all this. As it didn’t turn out quite right, I toasted small pieces of this in the oven – which made it perfect. People pretty much helped themselves while I sliced the main act, SERRANO HAM, off the bone as required.  Thank you for this Aldi!

Emma and family had not been able to make the open house as it was Amy’s birthday, but they came around the following week for a meal. I invited my mum and dad to this too as I wouldn’t see them for the best part of two months afterwards.

So, I’ve had a great birthday month. I’m in Spain now and will receive my birthday gift from Sharon on Tuesday when she takes me on a surprise ‘something’ in Malaga. I’m looking forward to that.

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As anyone who read my previous post – https://saturdaywalks.wordpress.com/2014/12/07/the-old-telephone-exchange/ – will know, this (long) weekend has been spent in North Yorkshire, celebrating my birthday.

Sharon had planned a fabulous weekend of good food and time to relax, so after our trip to Ripon, on my actual birthday, I relaxed. Sharon had tea to cook after all – from scratch and from goods she’d brought along with us. We had Butternut Squash Ravioli for starters, with a spicy tomato garnish and spinach. this was followed by a Griddled Rump Steak, battered onion rings (remember – all from scratch and there was no fryer), mushrooms in a cream sauce, Roasted Sweet Potato and some delicious potato skins. Yummy. This was followed by Tarte Tatin. There would have been cheese – but we were too full.

The following day, breakfast was scrambled eggs and smoked salmon (how lucky am I?) and then although Sharon had researched some walks around the area, and because it was cold, we decided that following our breakfast we would set out and take a look at Thirsk and Northallerton. There was a nowtish market on in Thirsk and I found it disappointingly depressing, whereas Northallerton on the other hand was a whole lot better. So, anyway, we ‘did’ the charity shops, bought a Christmas special Fat Rascal from Betty’s and came home to light a fire and relax before popping out for a splendid meal at a pub five miles away.

The Crown Inn at Roecliffe

is a 16th century coaching inn that retains the inn’s historic features, such as stone flag floors, crackling open log fires and oak beams

and has a fabulous reputation for food and for service. Both of which, following our meal last night, I’m happy to say were richly deserved. We were made to feel welcome throughout our evening, service was attentive without being ‘in your face’ and the food was delicious. I had a pressed belly pork starter and Sharon had ox-tail tortellini. Both were home made and fully flavoured. Mine came with spicy noodles, most of which i had to leave for fear of over-facing myself.

Next, our mains arrived: Sharon had a Venison dish that was just right; whilst I had the Yorkshire Lamb. Two cutlets, perfectly seasoned and a small side dish of shepherd’s pie. We managed to finished a bottle of Malbec too – so a good time was had by all.  Home now and eating left overs 🙂

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Once again, it’s my birthday weekend and like last year [SEE] Sharon has brought me away on a delightful ‘surprise’ weekend. When I say surprise, I don’t mean that I didn’t know I was going away – what I didn’t know is where, or what it involved – just like last year.

The Old Telephone Exchange

This year, we’re at The Old Telephone Exchange, Bishop Monkton in North Yorkshire.

We arrived yesterday (Saturday) just before it got dark. The car was as full as it could be because Sharon has planned to do all the catering herself and she had purchased all ingredients etc. prior to departure. I was given charge of drinks and, being caught out by surprise guests last year, had decided to cover all eventualities by bringing enough booze to sink a car ferry. I’d also brought half a bag of logs that are too big for our log burner at home and another unopened bag of logs – just in case. So unloading the vehicle took a while.

Once unpacked Sharon set-to straight away cooking dinner. I set-to making the fire (man work). I then settled down to relax which is something I rarely do at mealtimes, as it’s usually me doing the cooking. I’ve a stack of Sunday papers, books, Facebook and this blog. Too busy to move 🙂

Last night’s surprise was the arrival of Jo and Mike just in time for dinner. I knew ‘someone’ would appear ‘some time’ but not who or when. So that made for a pleasant evening. The food was delicious. Parsnip and Ginger Soup, Chicken and Ham Tangle Pie, Creme Brulee and (no) cheese and biscuits, which were left in the fridge. 🙂

And that was day one.

Today, my actual birth date, I was presented with Eggs Benedict for breakfast (lovely). Before this though, I walked into the village to see if there was anything resembling a paper shop – Google Maps had suggested there might be, but it was wrong. Nothing to buy here 😦

It was a bitterly cold day, so we decided against taking a hike anywhere and drove instead to Boroughbridge, which was closed and Ripon which wasn’t. The folks around here drive like maniacs – the speed of traffic in the town (City) of Ripon is something to be observed! And, on the way there and back, the amount of overtaking on narrow roads was just TOO much. Nuff said for now. Dinner is being prepared 🙂

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My birthday weekend – part 4.

Also see [– 1 –], [– 2 –] and [– 3 –].

Afternoon tea

Tony and Gill left by taxi at midnight to return to their (at that point, secret) hotel. We tidied up and went to bed. On Sunday morning, while Sharon cooked up a delightful breakfast (the last of her self-imposed cookery chores for this weekend), I made many trips up and down the four flights of stairs to pack up our car. By the time we were ready to leave I felt like I’d climbed Ingleborough, just up the road.

I had ascertained, during Saturday’s dinner conversation, that we would be joining Tony and Gill at their hotel for Sunday evening. That much I knew. What I hadn’t known was that the hotel was only about four miles away and that I would be given another surprise as we arrived there, about 11.30am. Too early to book in, but not too early, apparently to be given an envelope containing our voucher for an hour of archery training and practice.

Sharon’s bow

How exciting.

Archery has never been something I’d said, or thought I wanted to do, but was thrilled to be given the opportunity anyway. We had to wait for our trainer, Andrew, in ‘the lodge’, which reminded me of Fred Flintstone’s Water Buffalo meeting room – all wood and testosterone. The lodge was where all those out for their weekly (daily?) ‘shoot’ would meet to practice on clay pigeons. It was awfully noisy. Anyway, Andrew came along and whisked us away to the Archery Butts and an hour of learning new skills began.

To be fair, we didn’t do bad. We were on short ranges and managed to hit the target butt with every arrow except one and by the end we were grouping the arrows fairly well. But there’s a lot to remember. Face this way; move this leg forward a little; turn your head towards the target; hold the bow this way – not that way; pull the string back this far; take a deep breath; don’t wobble etc.

‘Don’t wobble’ – how many planes of wobbles are there? I suppose I should ask an airline pilot! Straight arm holding bow + straight other arm holding arrow, straight back 90º to the floor in all directions + no lateral movement of the arm(s) or head. Phew – exhausting. But fun 🙂

We then went and booked into the hotel, at which point I was given my final envelope – afternoon tea for two! See above 😉 We were stuffed, but still managed to meet Tony and Gill for dinner in the bar/restaurant.

What a great, memorable weekend. Thank you Sharon xxx

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Readers of earlier posts [-1-] and [-2-], may remember that my birthday weekend had so far been a series of surprises – each one topping the other.  My previous post had seen me reeling from the arrival of invited (but unexpected by me) guests Tony and Gill. I’d left the post promising to detail the food that was served up by Sharon after a long, hard afternoon in the kitchen.

After celebrating with a glass of fizz, we sat down to:

Gnocci

Served with roast cherry tomatoes, blue cheese and rocket topped with a sweet pepper sauce.

Sharon had made the gnocci and the sweet pepper sauce during the afternoon, so I knew we were having roast peppers at some stage because the delicious smell peculated throughout the room I was in. This was followed by:

Seared Tuna Steak

Served with lemon and coriander couscous, samphire and garlic butter.

Fresh Tuna cooked in garlic butter is one of our favourite meals, so this was a delight. All the flavours were balanced nicely and the steak was not too big for its role in the meal.

Pan-fried Leek & Ginger stuffed Chicken Suprême

Served in a white wine sauce, with sweet potato, feta cheese and a crispy sesame seed savoy cabbage.

Sadly up to and including this point we had taken no photographs of the food. We were too busy enjoying the experience, the company and the wine, which Tony had very kindly brought along with him. We next had a choice of ‘cheese first’ or ‘pudding first’. Tony and I had cheese, the ladies had pudding – which was again, magnificent:

Garden Berry and white chocolate Cheesecake and cream

This was based on the mixed berries we had picked at home and made into jam.

Mixed Berry Cheesecake

Mixed Berry Cheesecake

And that, apart from a few petit four type nibbles she’d bought in, was Sharon done for the night. The meal, the company and the day had been a great success and something I will remember as a birthday treat for a long, long time.

In the next post I will wrap up Hellifield and move on to my final day of surprises – Sunday 8th December. b.t.w. I lied about the pics. …..

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Sharon and a faceReaders may remember that I left the food content of my previous post for another time. This is that time. Whether I get to the Sunday events will depend on how lyrical I wax about the food 😉

Readers should also be aware that at home – I cook.

When I don’t feel like cooking or am too busy it’s usually a case of “Sharon, are we having pizza tonight?” because I know she likes cooking pizza and I know that she doesn’t find it too much of a chore. I usually step up to the plate and concoct a salad from whatever we have in the fridge. Meal sorted!

But I also know that SHE CAN COOK. She can cook very tasty food, and this weekend she did just that.

Before settling into the delightful apartment we unpacked the many bags and cool boxes Sharon had surreptitiously packed into the car and from that moment I was ‘sort of’ banned from the kitchen. Which was a good thing really because I was knackered after carrying all those bags AND our luggage (I’d been told to ‘bring smart clothes for two evening meals, casual clothes, your walking clothes AND anything else you think you might want‘ !!) up the many flights of stairs. So I relaxed into my iPad Kindle App and a bottle of beer.

Burger and chipsFriday’s evening meal was that American classic: Burger and chips. Sharon had made and seasoned her own burgers and cooked Cajun style potato wedges to go on a toasted slice of Handmade Bakery ‘sleepless white’ with rocket leaves and a soured cream quenelle. A quenelle FFS! She’s been watching too much Masterchef that girl 🙂

Saturday breakfast (my birthday) was a magnificent triumph over adversity. I was served up Eggs Benedict. They were delicious, despite the fact that the hollandaise sauce had had to be made with a fork! Hollandaise, made with a fork was something I’d never seen before. Although Sharon had sneaked my knives (a canvas wallet of various tools I always take on non-flight holidays and weekend breaks) in with her – she hadn’t noticed the whisk 😉 Nevertheless – breakfast was a delight and took both of us back to New Orleans where we’d first enjoyed this dish together.

Hellifield Peel Castle Staircase.

After our trip out to Settle, I was told to relax with the paper, the Kindle and/or whatever I liked until dinner was ready – but ‘keep out of the kitchen‘. So I had a long luxurious bath (in this aprtment’s HUGE tub) and lounged around the main room in my (provided) bathrobe. I thought it would be nice to eat dinner in my bathrobe too, as it appeared (because of all the banging and whirring and delightful smells from the kitchen) that we were not going out.

Good music, good relaxing atmosphere and absolutely nothing for me to do. Bliss.

Then I was asked if I was dressing for dinner.  Well I’d thought not, I was perfectly happy as I was. But I had apparently thought wrong: ‘If I’m going to all this trouble etc. etc.‘ – so off I sheepishly went to change. I’d half a mind to just go back and sit naked at the table but then (luckily) I thought better of that.

I returned, less than ten minutes later to find our friends Tony and Gill sat at the table waiting for dinner too.

I was bowled over – THAT was another surprise!! They’d been part of the weekend’s subterfuge which Sharon was orchestrating exceptionally well. So far I’d had a secret trip to Ilkley; was enjoying a secret weekend in a luxury apartment at Hellifield Castle; had food created for Friday dinner and Saturday breakfast by a secretly competent chef and a trip to Settle at lunchtime. NOW I had this other (not yet final) surprise of dinner guests – and a dinner yet to be served. What a cracking birthday I was having.

I will detail dinner next time 🙂

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I am a lucky man.

This year’s birthday was not a significant number, I’m not (as far as I know) dying and I’ve not (as far as I know) been a naughty boy – but my lovely wife Sharon has just treated me to the most wonderful surprise weekend.Picture of Hellifield Peel Castle from the Telly Tubby hill opposite

Hellifield Peel Castle

I had known that I had to keep the weekend free and that we wouldn’t be back home until Monday, but other than that, I was in the dark.  As we left home on Friday I was given an A4 sheet of images, which was designed to be my teaser for the weekend to come. I have to say that it meant very little to me – I sort of guessed a couple of things but in entirely the wrong context, hence the entire weekend was an unfolding mystery to me. I mean – Robin Hood, Fat Rascals and Mad Hatters???

RoofWe were late setting off because of a catastrophe we’d had the day before. During Thursday morning, enough of Betony’s roof slates had blown off (in the fierce >80 mph winds) to leave massive holes in their roof. Because we were uncertain of how safe the ceiling would be, she and Josh, and Mischa their French Bulldog pup, needed to stay the night with us. Sharon had therefore to delay our planned departure to allow time to drop them back home in time for her to meet and direct the builder booked to fix the roof (he did, it’s fine).

Ilkley was the first point of call. We had a late lunch in a pub on the crossroads, browsed the charity shops and bought fat rascals at Betty’s before setting off again to our final destination of the day. I had had no idea where I was going but I am glad we went there.

Hellifield Peel Castle was one of Channel 4’s Grand Designs. [See] and is situated north of Skipton in the Yorkshire Dales and about seven miles short of Settle. The house is magnificent, very well presented and the owners are a delight to meet, they can’t do too much to help guests settle in. Sharon had booked the Attic Apartment, which is the only one available for self-catering (and furthermore, the only one available when she booked last March!) The balcony allows uninterrupted views of Pendle Hill in the distance, but having had that pointed out on arrival, we never saw it again because of cloud and rain 😦 hey ho.

I was then treated to a series of delicious home-cooked meals, right through to our departure after breakfast on Sunday. I’ll write about the food and the Sunday surprises in another post because if I do so now, this post will be never ending.

Bench on Hellifield Station

Click to see bigger image

On Saturday (my birthday) after breakfast we drove to Hellifield Station and caught the train into Settle, where we had a fairly desultory mooch around the charity shops (bought pans for Betony and toast racks for us!).

We finished that journey in The Lion, where I had a cracking pint of Old Hooky. Once back at base, I continued to do nothing much and to be waited on hand and foot 😉

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To celebrate my birthday this week, Sharon booked us into one of the venerable old ladies of British Transport Hotels1 (BTH) – The Queens2 in Leeds.

Built in 1937 for the London, Midland and Scottish Railway Company3 (LMS), it stands proudly outside Leeds railway station as a testament to art deco4 architecture. I’ve been aware of this hotel for more than half of its life – and not all of that awareness has had the respect I can now give it.

As a child, my parents took me to Leeds by train once or twice each year, to visit the big shops in Leeds (C&A, Lewis’s etc.) for new clothes. Passing the Queens, I could see it was quite posh and that it knocked Huddersfield’s own Queen’s Hotel into a cocked hat. (The Huddersfield Queens is long gone). As I grew older and entered the catering industry I begun to realise how tired it really was. I worked in several old West Yorkshire BTH hotels in the late 60’s/early 70’s and they had all begun to fade badly by then.

As a catering teacher years later, I used to take students along to the Queens Hotel as well as other city centre establishments and when asked to compare, they invariably said that the old lady was quite tired, old fashioned and not certainly not a patch on the more modern hotels.

What a difference £10m+ has made since QHotels5 took over in 2003.

Without losing any of the grandeur, a tasteful revamp has made it a warm and welcoming place to visit. The staff are superb and unlike many other city centre hotels, they are not surly, forgetful or in any way superior. During our visit they were helpful and informative, they couldn’t do enough to help us. And it’s no longer draughty, because despite still having the original steel frame windows, the secondary glazing means that is retained. The décor and furnishings complement the hotel’s age and architecture.

Well done QHotels.

1http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Transport_Hotels

2http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queens_Hotel_%28Leeds%29

3http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London,_Midland_and_Scottish_Railway#Hotels

4http://www.decodevotion.co.uk/art-deco-information.htm

5http://www.qhotels.co.uk/hotels/the-queens-leeds-yorkshire.aspx

http://www.queenshotel.org.uk/

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Sixty (two)

We now slip quietly into November, the clocks have gone back and the leaves have finally started to fall off the trees. I rarely see leaves on trees on my December birthday but the actual ‘drop’ gets closer to it year by year.

Must be global warming they say, but I first heard about global warning back in 1967 at college, it’s taken some time to recognise that hasn’t it?

Nevertheless, although I really hate winter, there’s a comforting regularity about it. Something you can expect to happen that happens! Unlike pension planning these days.

Not that I’m ready for retiring yet, not by a long chalk, but as much of my working life has been in self-employment, I’ve had to provide for my own pension whenever I could and whenever the law allowed me. These ‘private’ pensions mature at 60. I never expected much so I’m not as disappointed as I could be with what looks like coming to me in December.

Luckily, I’ve also spent almost twenty years in education and 15/80ths (which looks like being my share because of large periods of part-time work) of a teacher’s pension is better than a poke in the eye. However, due to market turbulence my private pension pot is tiny and the cost of annuities (which the law says I HAVE TO BUY) is huge. After this week’s stock market shocks, the value looks like being even worse than I’d hoped. Ten years ago, I might have expected something like 10-11% return on my pension pot; today I might struggle to get 4-5%.

And once again, I have to ask – what did I do wrong? Whenever I could, and could afford, I paid into private pensions. When I first started teaching (part-time) the law prevented me from supplementing my pension (which took some time to gain access to as I was prevented from joining the TPP until that situation was eventually overturned by European courts) with a private one – despite me being self-employed at the time. It was one or the other.

Then the current crash came along and they started messing with the national retirement age too. I may just be able to retire with a pension at 65, but that remains to be confirmed: at one time it looked like I would fall into the ‘retire at 66’ band. I won’t get a bus-pass until I’m almost 63 because of the sliding scale imposed some time ago. But I hear that prescriptions will be free (but for how long?) whoo ooo.

I suppose we get used to winter as it just comes once a year but pension time and retirement only comes once in a lifetime and, apart from making sure we have one, we have very little control.

Now, please remind me, what are we celebrating with all the bonfires? Ah – really? Now there’s a good idea!

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