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    Birmingham, Home life, My Thoughts

    A little peace in moving house

    Over the last couple of months I’ve come to fully appreciate why it is they say moving house is one of the most stressful things you can do.

    From our lovely Colourful House, my (now ex) housemates and I divided up 4.5 years’ worth of things and moved our separate ways.  To most people three girls moving out should be easy but we lived like a little family, so much of our stuff was shared.  In the end I devised games to make the ownership of miscellaneous items that we would probably need at some point easier.

    But some things we couldn’t justify taking.  All three of us were big readers, myself probably the most ferocious.  We were lucky in our old house to have a room almost solely dedicated to books with fantastic in-built bookcases.  But, as is whenever I move, I couldn’t take them all.  Two boxes of books went to a local school and a car boot-full or books and comics went to a local charity shop.  A box of cables and a chair went to work, anyone that came to visit in the last month went home with something.

    But my favourite story about our move was a phenomena that exists in Kings Heath, something I’d never noticed in anywhere else I lived; doorstep freecycle.  Amongst the maze of suburban streets in this suburb of Birmingham you will often find little piles of things with notes attached – “I’m free, take me” or “looking for a good home” or sometimes no note at all.  They’re always perfectly good items that are no longer needed in the house they sit outside.

    We left a few items outside; a collection of glasses, decorative plates and an uplighter.  The glasses disappeared to a new home without us knowing, but we hope the wine glasses are providing an interesting anecdote to a party.  The oversized gold plates palmed off on me by my mother, were picked up by a woman who told us that she worked for a charity which did a massive tea party for disabled people each year and they never had enough plates, these would be perfect.  And the uplighter went to a man who had been meaning to go get one for months but never had the time and was so genuinely pleased with his freebie I think we made his day.  If we didn’t, he and the charity lady certainly made ours.

    Moving house is hard; stressful, tearful and a slog of a marathon.  I had some great friends and family members whose help was invaluable – and some strangers too, who will probably never know how much.

    Birmingham, Cooking and Eating

    A trip to the Secret Dining Society (Pop)

    Turn up to a random location to be led to a “dining experience” sounds like the beginnings of some kind of horror film, so the fact that my trip to the Secret Dining Society was focused around cinema food seemed fairly apt. (spoiler – it had a happy ending)

    After pitching up to the Old Crown in Digbeth and finding some equally looking confused people we were rounded up and taken to the Custard Factory wherein we were offered some delicious chilli popcorn and nachos.  Usually at the cinema I’m a bucket of Diet Coke and a sack of sweet popcorn kind of girl, so made-on-demand popcorn with a deliciously spicy edge could have me persuaded.   And the nachos; the bready, creamy cheese sauce was just delicious.  Plus there were drinks a-plenty, soft drinks or something a little stronger with a nice range of beers and wine.

    Candy floss

    We were then shepherded into the Custard Factory’s very own cinema and treated to some clips of some of the best food related clips from films – from When Harry Met Sally to Hook.  Afterwards it was time for more popcorn, nachos…and CANDY FLOSS.  I’ve never had candy floss in a cinema which is probably a good thing because part of the fun is ripping the clouds.  Still having candy floss during the break was ace and even better they’ve managed to marry sweet spun sugar with savoury flavours.  Perfect.  We were then back in to round off the food clips before heading out for the main attraction.

    Hot Dogs…with bacon bits and mustard and ketchup and salad and, if you wanted, hot sauce.  And then seconds.  The sausages were nice a meaty and there was proper mustard, plus plenty of salad.  I ended up having to pull off half my toppings, so it was almost like eating twice.

    A loaded hotdog from the event

    Almost as though the food clips before were trailers, we settled down for the main show; a rather odd Japanese film called Tampopo.  To be honest trying to explain this film would be rather miss the point of its oddness (although Wikipedia does a good job of explaining the plot if you really want to know), but coupled with some scoops of specially-made ice cream from local ice cream parlour Entices, it was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

    There has been some criticism of the event as not being entirely food focused and I think this either missed the point of the event or showed the lack of imagination in the audience.  Personally I was going for an experience with the promise of some good food, I never expected to be stuffed full like some sort of foie gras duck.  What I got was some delicious food which is miles better than anything I’ve ever had at a cinema, watch a film I’d never normally have the chance to and a different way to spend a Sunday afternoon all focused on food.  I’m not sure what was not to like.

    The next Secret Dining Society is entitled Fire and is on the 18th August and tickets are available here.  I’m in London that day otherwise I would go.

    Birmingham

    Things to do in Birmingham: Whisky Club

    Whisky Club begins

    Birmingham Whisky Club begins

    A bar manager once told me that every bottle on his back-bar had a story to tell.  This to me seemed to be a rather Romantic way of summing up the rich history behind the libations that lubricate most weekend evenings.  After all, even the cheapest of whiskies and rums require the kind of faith that most people would consider foolhardy – a product, which after being made, requires a certain amount of time to age/rest, it hardly seems like the wisest of business moves.  But that’s the beauty of alcohol and this was no better summed up than at my trip to The Birmingham Whisky Club.

    Set up by Amy Seaton, who wanted to learn (and drink) more whisky, and Craig Mills from the Whisky Shop, the informal monthly tasting sessions attract a wide range of people looking to learn more about whisky.  This month Pernod-Ricard’s Phil Huckle talked through six of the company’s Scotch whiskies, both single malt and blended.  Actually talked through the whiskies is an unfair description; Phil romped through the Scottish highlands and history, regaling the group with stories of British kings, illicit whisky production worldwide and photographs of stunning Scottish scenery.  I’ve been to a few rep talks about their products now and this was certainly one of the more entertaining.

    The evening was split in two, with the first three whiskies (Strathisla 12 year old, Longmorn 16 year old and Chivas Regal 18 year old) being sampled first.  Water is offered, both to sip throughout the evening but also to add to the whisky to open up the flavours.  Each whisky is sampled, then water added and a discussion ensues.  For anyone not used to tasting whisky (or not on a table with knowledgeable bartenders, as I was lucky to be sat with), Phil offered a few suggestions.  Having been given a bottle of Chivas Regal 12 year old (which I used to make whisky cake), it was nice to be able to try another in the range, with the 18 year old having more spice and richness to it.

    After the break it was back to the tasting and more tales.  The Glenlivet 18 year old seemed to have a wealth of them with name disputes amongst its history. Darker than the previous whiskies it had hints of fruitiness, particularly pear.  This was followed by the rich, sherry influenced Glenlivet 21 year old, which at £160 felt like a treat to be able to try.  But I’m a sucker for a good story so hearing about the origin of Aberlour distillery’s A’Bunadh cask strength Batch 39 whisky was a good way to end the night.  Released in limited-run batches this is the attempted recreation of a Victorian whisky found in the walls of the distillery, and at 59.8% ABV was the strongest whisky of the night, but had a nice sweetness to it.

    So what did I think?  For £20 the Whisky Club is a great value way to try a range of whisky and learn more about the product, particularly given the price of some of the bottles on offer.  For anyone not used to whisky tasting it could possibly be difficult picking out the different notes in the spirit, but advice from the speaker and fellow table members is sure to help. It would’ve been nice to see a little more interaction between the group as a whole and for a room of around 40 people there were disappointedly few women, but this is sadly a wider issue within the industry rather than the fault of the organisers.  Perhaps the idea of tasting six whiskies is a little too much for some and a spittoon might’ve been a welcomed addition to the table for those not wishing to drink so much, but it’s a nice position to be in where the only issue is too much of a good thing.  Overall an enjoyable experience and one to repeat.

    The Birmingham Whisky Club is taking a break over the summer, but will be back in September with a roster of events, including the monthly tasting events.  Check out their website for more details: http://www.thebirminghamwhiskyclub.co.uk/

    Disclosure: I received a free ticket to the evening’s event but was not required to write a positive review.  All opinions are my own.
    Birmingham

    The Birmingham Salon are back

    Very excited to hear the Birmingham Salon is making a come-back next month.  It’s always nice to have interesting discussions and debates happening in Birmingham and I always thought the Birmingham Salon had a nice edge to it which complemented other groups like the Birmingham Skeptics and Cafe Scientifique.

    Their latest talk is on the subject of morality in children, which looks pretty fascinating.  Here’s what they emailed out this morning…

    Nina Powell, researcher at the University of Birmingham will discuss her completed PhD thesis ‘in-conversation’ with Helene Guldberg, associate lecturer in child development at the Open University and author of ‘Reclaiming Childhood: Freedom and Play in an Age of Fear‘.

    Some recent research argues that ‘ground-floor’ and some sophisticated moral cognition develops as early as 14 months of age. Drawing on her Phd research Nina will argue that the case for an innate moral understanding that expresses itself before the age of 6 or 7-years-old is at best limited, and at worst, grossly misrepresented in some research. The implications of such misrepresentations of moral development are efforts to increase moral understanding in the early years through schooling and parenting interventions, as well as an overall problematic view that ignores the complexity and changeability of human beings and the way we think about morality.

    If children are moral, then what implications does this have for parental responsibility? Should the age of criminal responsibility be lowered as some have argued? Is the distinction between adulthood and childhood, as presently conceived, acceptable given these new theories?

    They’re meeting on Thursday 12th July at 7pm in The Ropewalk Pub in St Pauls Square, Jewellery Quarter.  It’s an interesting move having had previous discussions in The Studio on Cannon St, which is a nice space for meetings and conferences but always made the discussions a little too formal.  The Ropewalk is a nice pub so I’d imagine the discussions will flow a-plenty and give a lot of food for thought – particularly to anyone who went to the Cafe Scientifique talk last month about how far neuroscience has come in understanding the child’s brain.

    Birmingham, Cooking and Eating

    Blogpost for Dine Birmingham

     I like reading about food almost as much as I like eating the stuff, so writing about it was a bit of a given.  I really ought to blog about food more, but I’m really glad when other people give me the opportunity to do so.  Brum’s very own guide to where and what to eat, Dine Birmingham, recently did this and I reviewed the rather fantastic Blue Ginger in Kings Heath.

    Head over there to read my blogpost…

    Birmingham, Cooking and Eating

    Birmingham + food + magazine = Edible Brum

    Birmingham has been getting some food press recently about its foodie exploits, so the launch of a new magazine celebrating this seemed fairly apt.

    Edible Brum is a darling of a magazine created by the team behind the Warehouse Cafe (a fab veggie restaurant in town) and features an array of articles from local food heros.  It’s got an interesting collection of articles, from one by Loaf‘s Tom Baker (whose Bread Basics course I went on a few years ago and would highly recommend) on the state of bread and where to get a good loaf from, to an exploration of indie coffee shops (including two of my favourites and one I’ve been meaning to try for a while), interviews with top chefs and a host of other articles.  Oh and there’s an article by a certain bar showing you how to make your own seasonal rhubarb cocktail too.  I was around when this was being created and its pretty delicious – sloe gin and rhubarb liqueur, of course it would be!

    I’ve already made a mental list of things mentioned in there I need to seek out and I’m already looking forward to the summer edition.  Have a read of the first issue below…

     

    Birmingham, Crafts

    Making paper garlands for Christmas

    The German Market is back in Birmingham and the John Lewis advert nearly had me in tears, so it has got to be time to prepare for Christmas.  And what better way than with some crafting!

    Cut outs ready to new sewn (by machine)

    Cut outs ready to be (machine) sewn

    Last weekend I wandered down the first of a series of workshops being held by Oh Buttons at the Jewellery Quarter branch of Urban Coffee Company.  The first session was the simple yet hugely delightful paper garlands workshop.

    Being a bit of an emo-kid I decided on doing a garland of stars.  Hannah from Oh Buttons had brought along a bunch of Christmassy papers and pieces of inspiration.  So once we had our idea and sketched it out, we had to cut out 24 pieces 8-10cm in length.  I’m pretty sure you could do smaller or larger pieces if that’s the affect you were going for, and I’ve seen versions with much more intricate paperwork than I’ll ever be able to manage.

    Anyway, once the cutting was done it was onto the sewing.  Sewing machines always make me a little nervous, even my own, but feeding through the bits of paper to make the garland was pretty therapeutic.  And the good thing was that a little gap sort of needed to be left in them so they’d have some movement…so there really was nothing to worry about!

    And behold the finished product!

    Star paper garlands

    The finished product - paper garlands sewn and displayed!

    I’m pretty pleased with mine and I’ve already hung it up in the house (as you can see).  I’ve got some butterfly templates which I picked up from a papercraft shop years ago and once I can find some suitable paper I’m going to try again and make some for my bedroom.  But first I think we need more to add to the Christmas decorations in the house!

    Hannah is running another three sessions on Sundays in the run up to Christmas.  The one this Sunday (20th Nov) is on felt Christmas tree decorations, then after that its things which can be made as gifts – embroidered brooches on the 4th Dec and Phone/MP3player cosies on the 11th December.  Sessions are two hours long, only cost £10 (more than reasonable in my opinion) and they’re good fun and easy to remember so if you want to make them again you can.

    Now, to try and convince my housemate to let me put up more decorations…