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    World Book Day – three Birmingham authors to check out

    Today it’s World Book Day in the UK and what better way to celebrate than by picking up a good book by a Birmingham based author?  Here are three contemporary authors which i think are well worth checking out…

    Benjamin Zephaniah

    Writer, poet, lecturer and born in Handsworth, he is well worth seeing speak live as reading some of his work.  Having published (and performed) a slew of poetry, he has also released several novels aimed at young people.  He also did a blinder of a talk at the University of Birmingham’s annual Baggs Memorial Lecture on the topic of happiness and was in BBC TV show Peaky Blinders.  If you’ve never heard, seen or read anything by this man you’re really missing out.  http://benjaminzephaniah.com/

    Katharine D’ Souzaparklife2

    I read Katharine’s first novel Park Life a couple of years ago and adored it.  It follows the lives of two people who live in the same block of flats, with South Birmingham being almost a supporting character – and those in the know will be able to spot references to Kings Heath / Moseley, which just added to the book for me.  Katharine has since released a second book which I’m looking forward to reading soon. http://www.katharinedsouza.co.uk/

    Mike Gayle

    Ex-agony uncle (no really, check out his website) and author of a stack of bestsellers, Mike Gayle in a Brummie born and bred.  He’s also set a few of his books in Brum, namely Turning Thirty and its sequel Turning Forty, which is also set in South Birmingham.  But his other books are set in London, Manchester and there’s even a non-fiction book, The To Do List.  His books are light-hearted (except maybe My Legendary Girlfriend, that one’s a bit darker) and often confusingly called chick lit.  If you’re looking for a beach read, then you can’t go wrong with some of Mike’s novels. http://www.mikegayle.co.uk/

    Some other authors with links to Birmingham worth checking out are: W. H Auden (you know the Stop all the Clocks / Funeral Blue poem from Four Weddings), R J Ellory, Catherine O’Flynn (her first novel What Was Lost is set in a shopping mall which may or may not be Merry Hill), Lee Child, J. R. R. Tolkien, Arthur Conan Doyle (spend some time working in Brum) and Malala Yousafzai.

    So, what are you reading this World Book Day?

    Birmingham

    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

    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

    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…