Posts Tagged ‘December’

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.


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.


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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I’ve just had a very enjoyable couple of days, at home, with friends.

First of all, on Friday lunchtime and afternoon, I was joined by ex-NLN and MoLeNET colleagues: Lilian Soon, Karen Ford, John Whalley, Ron Mitchell and Nick Jeans. [See xxx for more information about how I met these friends]. John was first to arive, by train from Beverley in East Yorkshire. The others arrived over time, having had a variety of journeys. Nick drove over from Sheffield, Karen from the Welsh Borders and Lils from Selby. Ron had caught the train from Newark. By One o’clock we were all together.

Lilian had brought some garlic prawns and John’s wife June had made us some delicious sausage rolls. So with my samosas, albondigas, chorizo potatoes and feta-bacon salad – we had a delightful meal. followed by Bara Brith courtesy of Karen.

It was great to catch up after what, for most of us had been two years. I still see Karen regularly and work with John online but we haven’t been together like this for many years.

Open House
Then yesterday, Saturday, we’d organised a house warming party. It’s six months since since we moved and we’ve finally completed all (most) of the stuff we’d hoped to complete this year. We’ve had fires fitted back and front (rooms), bedroom furniture (our previous home had built-in wardrobes) has been bought and we have anew telly. Sorted.

So now was the time to welcome friends into our ‘new’ home. I’d decided on an ‘open-house’ theme as I know that people have busy visiting calendars at this time of year – so it gave folks chance to just pop in and move on or to stay a while. Everyone seemed to get on with each other, we fed them, watered them and wished them a happy Christmas and New Year as they left. Hopefully we will see much more of friends in the coming year.

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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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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.







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I didn’t pick a very good time to start a ‘Saturday Walk’ blog did I? They don’t seem to happen on Saturdays any more. This week my main walk took place on a Wednesday (30th December)! I’d also walked to town earlier in the week, with John T, Carol and Sharon and that was nice, but it was a very steady walk because of all the ice we had to traverse. We had a few drinks in town and then came back here for a chilli.

Both John (Rousell) and I had had some domestic problems over the last week. The weather had been so cold that we had both experienced pipe blockages and I’d also had a pipe burst in the garage. What’s more, my car had broken down on Christmas Eve, with what turned out to be a broken spring. This awaits the new year to get fixed and as a result John came to Wellhouse, from where be begun our walk.

We set off in thick fog, down the road and up towards Golcar Church, before turning left on Small Lane and across the fields to Bolster Moor. We tracked across Bolster Moor towards Waller Clough Road and then around the top edge of Slaithwaite, along Crimea Lane to Pole Moor. As far as possible, we then kept to the fields as we dropped into Slaithwaite and along the end of the still frozen reservoir. All the way we were accompanied by fog and mist and although we expected to come out of it as we got higher up the hill, it was only down on the reservoir that we actually saw the tops of hills around the lake. The frozen water seemed to be dragging the mist down to it.

Slaithwaite itself seemed to be damp and dour in the mist induced greyness and we carried straight on through and along the canal as far as Linthwaite, where we turned left and up Lowestwood Lane. Lowestwood lane is a fairly bust road, used by locals and those wanting a short cut to the M62. It starts quite steep as it approached the railway arch and then gets a bit steeper until the bend halfway up the road. Then it gets steeper still – until the top! Hard work.

It was nice to get out today and nicer still to get some exercise and have a proper chat.


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