Sunday, 30 September 2012


REVIEW: Lambrini Cider

As part of the latest BzzAgent campaign, I was sent a voucher to try a bottle of the new Lambrini Cider for free! I was hoping to host a taste test party for my friends but unfortunately, my mammoth three week working week put paid to that!

I took my voucher along to Tesco and was a little disappointed that they did not stock the full range. I was keen to try the 4 pack of smaller bottles, so that I could drink one in a night and the drink wouldn't be flat the next time I wanted it, but my local Tesco Extra only stocked the larger 750ml bottles in Forest Fruits and Summer Fruits flavour.

I went for the Forest Fruits flavour. At £3.09 per 750ml bottle at the time of writing, it's extremely well priced - as you would perhaps expect from the Lambrini brand.

At 263 calories for a 330ml bottle, this is a relatively high calorie option - over 100 calories more than an equivalent sized bottle of lager. bearing this in mind I tried a small glass (and The Boy was happy to finish off the rest, so that solved the problem of the rest going flat!) I enjoyed the taste in that the blackberry flavour was clear. It was very sweet and fizzy though, tasting more like pop than an alcoholic drink. I'm not a fan of ciders, except for perry, normally so I wasn't sure I'd enjoy this so I was suprprised it went down so easily, but it also seemed strange that there was no taste of alcohol at all. This is about the equivalent strength of a normal Continental lager, so it would be good to be reminded that three or four glasses of this is probably too much!!

I think the bottle design is nice, the shape has a good modern feel to it and it seems possible slightly more expensive in feel that it is in reality. Perhaps one for younger women on a DVD night, not something I would envisage people drinking out and about. A relatively lowly 4 out of 10 Extreme Points from me, just because I am generally unenthused by the product, but perhaps it is not aimed at my demographic.

Sunday Weigh in: Week 9

Not a great week this week, safe to say that's because of the massive burger and whole bunch of wine I ate on Friday in response to finally finishing my mammoth 19 day working week! I'm not to fussed though, I've had a slight gain as seen in my BMI but not enough to tip me over into a different pound on the scales, so I'm calling it a stayed the same.

I didn't have the energy to get to Bokwa this week with all the late night's at work but I'll be back on it this week after a relaxing weekend. Feeling a bit sniffly today so hoping I've not got a cold coming on, but perhaps that would help me avoid the snacks and the booze! I'll be starting my Jenny Craig trial this week so hopefully that'll do the trick for shifting my last half stone or so... Fingers crossed!

Start weight: 9st 2lbs
Target weight: 8st 8lbs
This week: Stayed the same
Total loss: -1lb
Current weight: 9st 1lb
BMI: 23.41 (target 22)

Best of luck to the rest of our merry band of Sunday diet buddies. Quite a lot of new faces this week, so welcome and hope you all get a more fabulous result than me!

Nip over and give them some support:
Cheryl at Madhouse Family Reviews
Jane at 7Hippopotamus
Sarah at Life in a Breakdown
Alison at Dragons and Fairydust
Claire at Ninja Cat Killer
Michelle at Quest of a Shrinking Lady

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Zombie Apocalypse

The lovely Alison at Dragons and Fairy Dust has started a Zombie based creative writing thingummy. I am in now way talented when it comes to the literary arts, but I am a huge devotee of George Romero, so I feel obligated (and hugely peer pressured, damn you Twitter) into being the next link in the tale. So, with Halloween fast approaching, tuck yourselves in, read through the story and if you want to be next in line, grab my last paragraph and take it where you will...

The last paragraph in the story came from the fabulous Kay from Brink of Bedlam, possibly the finest blog on earth, and it read a little something like this:

We drove on through the night. I watched the rain bounce off the bonnet and remembered the people, ex-people…’zombies’ doing exactly the same thing only a few hours ago.
‘Jack…..’ I said, with forced cheerfulness.
‘What’s up?’
‘Put some music on will you?’

And from here it reads thus:

I tried to fight my growing sense of panic as Jack turned the tiny dial on the car radio back and to, right and left. The static cloud hissed and roared, but was never interrupted by the comforting sound of human speech - the safety line that I knew we were both silently praying to hear.

"I'll whack on a CD," Jack said nonchalantly. I coughed back a giggle when the first chords of ACDC's Highway to Hell rang throughout the vehicle. I knew he had just grabbed the first thing that came to hand but it summed up our desperate plight. Despite the raucousness of the sound, the familiarity of the song was such that I felt myself zoning out and, beyond all reason, slipping away from the worries and desperation of my conscious mind.

Awareness was dim, but it had returned. 
My body was no longer my own.
I am not a creature of reason.
I am a reaction to instinct.
I desire only to feed.
There is no sustenance to my wasted flesh.
There was a time I was like you.
I breathed.
I thought.
I loved.
Now I feed.
I am anti-life.
I am accursed.
I am your punishment.
I reproduce by taking life and leave only desolation.
This morning, I shopped.
 I was a lady that lunched.
Now I am most loathed in creation.
Now I am against creation.
I was you,
I am you.
Circumstances have changed me.
You will all be mine.
There is no reason.
You will all be mine.

My head jerked away from the headrest with a start. I couldn't believe that I had fallen asleep. Jack looked at me, concern on his face, but when he realised I had simply awoken he was soon calm again.

"You sleep well?" He was half teasing, but I could see he was glad that I'd gotten some rest.

Your turn? Come on, someone has to keep the story going!

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Monaco Memories

I have only ever really followed one 'sport' and that is Formula One. Football has never interested me, the Olympics turns me off, but hearing the rev of the engine, the squeal of a Formula One car disappearing around a tight bend has always caught my attention.

Watching motorsport is something I associate with my dad. Thinking back to the 1996 Monaco Grand Prix is very evocative for me. I hear the sound of the Great Murray Walker's excited commentary in my ear, I smell the smell of my mum cooking a late afternoon dinner downstairs, while my dad and I had been banished upstairs to watch the Grand Prix in their bedroom because mum couldn't stand the repetitive noise of the coverage. I had turned 13 just 10 days earlier. In my weekend breaks away from high school, it was our fortnightly ritual to watch the Grand Prix together.

Monaco was always my favourite race of the season. The street track with its tight corners, insane braking and opulent yacht-based spectators always guaranteed action. This race stands out in my memory as it was so unusual. It reminds me of the competitiveness I felt – my dad was a great Hill supporter and I was always for Schumacher, but in this particular race that all came to naught – neither of these great drivers finished. Barely anyone finished in fact, and that was what made it such a compelling, watching from the edge of your seat sort of race.

I was doubly disappointed as Schumi had qualified in pole, and on race day with heavy rain falling it looked like the stage was set for the German to take an easy victory. As it was, Schumacher was one of the race's earlier casualties – from 21 starters I believe he was the fourth driver to crash out of the race on the very first lap. The race continued with drivers spinning off left, right and centre, others suffering from various mechanical failures until lap 70 when Eddie Irvine spun and was hit by Mika Salo, who then was hit by sulky faced Finnish driver Mika Hakkinen.

This left four runners and then there was three, when Heinz-Harold Frentzen, the longest name in Formula One retired into the pits. Finally the race was won by Olivier Panis, the French driver's only career victory at odds of 300 to 1. Panis continued in Formula One for another decade and earned great respect from his peers.

To my disappointment, the result kept Hill well in the lead at the front of the Driver's Championship and left my dad in a continuing position of gloating with my Schumacher in a lowly third. But most importantly we had shared another fine afternoon of racing.

This post is my entry into a competition hosted by and IndependentWorldChoice sports.
If I win, I will receive a trip to the 2013 Monaco Grand Prix 
and thereby complete one of the highest priorities on my Bucket List. 
Spectating at Monaco is an absolute life's dream and would give me bragging rights over my dad forever. 
Wish me luck!

Sunday Weigh in: Week 8

Start weight: 9st 2lbs
Target weight: 8st 8lbs
This week:1lb loss
Total loss: -1lb
Current weight: 9st 1lb
BMI: 23.37 (target 22)

The never ending working week continues (today is Day 14) but on the plus side, not having any time to myself means that I haven't had chance to eat too badly. I've had a few drinks, but no late nights as I'm too tired. I've had some lovely choccy biscuits but also spent hours standing around a trench showing people Leicester's archaeology, so it all seems to have balanced out! I am very happy with my 1lb loss this week, it's all going in the right direction!

I went to my first ever Bokwa class this week as well which was absolutely tonnes of fun - comes highly recommended and a great workout.

In other news, if you remember my post a few weeks ago, posting a question to Jenny Craig for their blogger competition, you may be interested to know I won! So, not only will I get to try a month on Jenny Craig for free- which will hopefully make a serious dent in those last few pounds, but I will also get £400 to spend on a new bike from Evans Cycles - woooooooo! Imagine me running around the house shouting "BIKE BIKE BIKE!" and that will give you some idea of how excited I am. Since I started cycling in February, I have really wanted a better bike as I think it will open up the possibility of cycling much greater distances, which I hope will really help to keep that weight off. Abolutely amazing news!

Good luck to my lovely supportive diet buddies - Jane, Alison, Cheryl and Sarah.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

The Possible Burial of King Richard III

I've been wondering whether or not to post about the possible discovery of the burial of King Richard III. I very rarely let me work life encroach on to my blog (apart from the occasional Silent Sunday picture!), but in this case I am very keen to chronicle events as they unfold in my own words, mainly so that I can always look back at this exciting episode in my working life. And, given that I've spent the last two days standing by the trench, explaining the Medieval church and human remains found therein to anyone that passes by, I don't think it is unfair of me to want to share that same information with my lovely blog followers.

Nice view down the cloister, with the cloister wall to the right of the trench

The University of Leicester Archaeological Service have been digging on the site of the Greyfriars Franciscan Friary in Leicester. They spent three weeks excavating the site over three trenches and were able to confirm the postulated locations of a number of key areas - the Chapter House, cloister walk and garth and the choir of the Friary Church to name but a few. Excitingly, this has allowed us to clarify the orientation and the footprint of the Greyfriars church with relative certainty for the first time.

Image credit - University of Leicester
Last Friday, excavation work was completed on site. Leicester Arts and Museums staff have since held open days to explain the finds to the public. I was posted on the prime location at the northern end of Trench 1. This is a rough transcription of the information I have been delivering to the people of Leicester over the last couple of days and what I will be saying next weekend too!

The excavations uncovered the Choir of the church at the northern end of Trench 1. It was within this area that a fully articulated adult male skeleton was uncovered. This skeleton was aligned on an East-West orientation - along the same orientation as the church itself. The individual has been buried facing towards the altar of the church and therefore facing east - towards where Jesus Christ will be seen, heralding the Resurrection in Christian dogma. This is why Christian burials are always on an East-West alignment.

This male skeleton is buried in a significant part of the church, referred to as the 'walking place'.  This is where we would expect high status burials to be found, were people would walk over them, presumably to keep them in memory. There was no evidence of any kind of tomb, or coffin surrounding the burial. Archaeologists are postulating that this would have been a shrouded burial, but this is more a response to the absence of a coffin, rather than there being any physical evidence of a shroud being discovered so far.

Male articulated burial site. The top of the burial (skull) is delineated by the far yellow marker in this picture.

As outlined in last Tuesday's press release, there are five reasons why this burial is being treated as potentially interesting:
  1. The human remains were found in the choir of the Greyfriars church - this is where the historical record records the burial of King Richard III to have taken place.
  2. The human remains are those of a male. Another, disarticulated, burial was found in the choir area, but these remains have been proven to be female, therefore not those of Richard III.
  3. The male skeleton shows evidence of suffering from scoliosis. This is an s-shaped curvature of the spine which would have resulted in his right shoulder being noticeably higher than his left. This is in distinction to kyphosis sufferers, who suffer from an rounded curvature of the spine. This is usually the condition associated with the label of 'hunchback'. The idea of some sort of spinal deformity is in line with contemporary accounts of King Richard III.
  4. A barbed arrowhead was found in between the vertebrae of the skeleton. This may have entered the torso at any point and then fallen to its resting place between the vertebrae as decay took hold of the body. It is not embedded in the spine therefore not necessarily evidence that the individual was shot in the back. However, such an arrowhead could be conducive with the individual being injured on the battlefield.
  5. Finally, the skull has sustained serious injury at the back. These injuries are likely to have been inflicted by some sort of bladed weapon. Again, these injuries are conducive with injuries that could have been received on the battlefield.

So, is this the burial site of King Richard III? Time will tell. This evidence is undeniably very interesting. The skeleton is now being analysed and recorded by the University of Leicester. Thanks to the work of John Ashdown-Hill, a living descendant of the King has been traced who may be able to provide us with a DNA match. Failing that, we will move on to a balance of probabilities situation, looking at the evidence and deciding whether the identity of this skeleton can be proved beyond reasonable doubt. Other scientific analysis, such as radiocarbon dating, will certainly have its role to place.

Getting sunburnt by Trench 1 alongside the burial site. Thanks for the photo, Vicky!
Whatever the outcome, it is a great story - and I have been privileged to have been in a position to help tell that story to the people of Leicester at this time.


Silent Sunday

Sunday Weigh in: Week 7

Not much time this weekend as I have to get to work... Day 7 of a 19 day working week, ouch!

Start weight: 9st 2lbs
Target weight: 8st 8lbs
This week: 2lb loss
Total loss: 0!
Current weight: 9st 2lb
BMI: 23.57 (target 22)

A 2lb loss! Great stuff for being back on the bike and hopefully more to come next week with getting back to exercise classes and the like (I hope) although being in work so much has left me too exhausted to do much else. We have had the pleasure of eating the vegetables from the garden, which has been great though.

Good luck to my blogger diet buddies, Sarah, Jane, Cheryl and Alison!

Monday, 10 September 2012

REVIEW: Barrington's Wine Bar & Lounge, Leicester

Barringtons; New Walk, Leicester
Edit: NOW CLOSED. The White Peacock is now open here instead...

Those of you who have been following my blog will have seen that this weekend the Boy and I were celebrating our tenth wedding anniversary, and now my waistline is paying the price. One of the main reasons for this was the tasty anniversary dinner we had at Barrington's Wine Bar and Lounge, on New Walk, Leicester.

After a discussion on Twitter, they very kindly offered to treat us to dinner so I could write a review, on the proviso that we bought our own drinks. I couldn't argue with that, so in we went.

The decor in the bar is really simple and classic. There is a good deal of dark wood and clean lines and the furniture is of a good quality. The colour scheme is deep and earthy, with rich greens and purples. It's quite reminiscient of Henry's Champagne Bar (for those who remember it) in some ways, although not quite as intimate.

There are lots of framed portraits of comedians around the place, especially Carry On stars that I noticed, which I thought was a nice, slightly quirky touch giving an indication of the owner's personality. When we arrived, in the 'after work on a Friday' period, there were a big group of people in clearly on a work drink and other couples came and went. The atmosphere was relaxed and friendly, but I thought it was a real shame that it had nowhere near the popularity that the nearby mass chain, the Slug and Lettuce has on a Friday night. It's clear from the vibe that they are aiming for similar audiences. I wonder if perhaps Barrington's should be offering special discounts to Leicester City Council staff to draw that crowd over from the Towers just across the road? This is such a cute little independent place that it should definitely have a bigger crowd than the Slag and Fetish!

They have a decent enough wine selection, as you would expect for somewhere that describes itself as a Wine Bar! The Happy Hour offer includes buy two large glasses of wine and get the rest of the bottle free, so we plumped for a nice 2011 Five Foot Track Shiraz. This was labelled as 'South East Australian' - it's been a while since I had a bottle of wine which didn't narrow it down a bit more than that, but no matter! It was very fruity, with simple cherry/soft fruit flavours and a very slight creamy finish. It was much more of a medium bodied red than I prefer, but I definitely enjoyed it - it was a smooth drink! I would have preferred a bigger wine glass though, so I could slosh in about and get my nose right in! All part of the experience if you ask me.
To start, our lovely host, Jamie recommended the nachos to share. At £4.95, this is more than a decent portion and about a million times better than nachos we had in a pub recently with crispy, over microwaved chips all in a big block!! Barrington's nachos came with fresh chopped jalapenos, which were delicious and not overly spicy, sour cream with a dash of paprika and a fresh salsa made of tomatoes and white onion and possibly a dash of garlic. There was also a pot of very tasty beef chilli (vegetarian option available) and a good helping of gooey, but not plastic cheese! They were very tasty indeed as well as well presented and our only complaint was that we were fighting over the chilli (I know, on our 10th anniversary!) so a slightly larger serving would have been appreciated.

A great start, but the main was the real challenge. After our American Adventure, the Boy was gasping for his first English burger to compare with the feasts he experienced on holiday... Therefore, he had to go for the Texas Tower Burger, at just under £10, which had two massive, fresh made beef patties, topped with cheese, jalapenos, onion, tomato and lettuce. It was huge, just as huge as it's American rivals! He deemed it delicious, although it did kind of fall apart and he had to eat it with a knife and fork. And he still managed to get it all over the table. Once again, on Jamie's recommendation, I got the chicken breast, mozzerella and pesto burger. This was a moist chicken breast fillet in a bun. The mozzerella was light and the pesto was a lovely combination. It was a shame that they normally make their own pesto, but not the day we visited (basil shortage at Leicester Market?) but I totally enjoyed it anyway. Personally, I would prefer the iceberg lettuce shredded as well, just because that would have been easier to eat.

I have to admit, we were pretty stuffed by this point, but you can't do a proper review without tasting all the courses, right? They have a selection of three puddings - a trio of ice creams, toffee pavlova or chocolate brownie - pretty much something for everyone. We opted for the toffee pavlova and soon regretted it, as it is the sweetest dessert known to man. You know the other day when I called the Twinkie "Satan's own snack cake"? Well this dessert coughs excess sugar all over Twinkies. It is a lovely, fresh made meringue, topped with a huge dollop of fresh cream, sprinkled with toffee chunks and all smothered in a fresh made toffee sauce. Bring on the sugar, cream and butter! It was undeniably delicious, but definitely more one for the pudding fiends amongst you. It confirmed me as a savoury fan. Next time I shall remember to just say no!
Toffee Pavlova
Overall, we really enjoyed our evening at Barrington's. The staff were friendly and knowledgeable about their menu and wines. They occasionally offer professional wine tasting evenings which sound like a lot of fun and would be something I would like to go back for. The atmosphere is relaxed, the one recommendation that we thought on the night was that the indie and pop music in the background didn't really fit - perhaps some jazz in the evenings or perhaps even take that quirky decor to the next stage by having showtunes low in the background to really build up that Barrington's special character? The chalkboard menus and widescreen TV gave areas of the bar more of a pub feel than lounge to me, which I think they do not need. We were laughing at the idea of some of the refined ladies who popped in to quaff some fizz ordering one of the burgers and getting relish all down their expensive manicures. And that's what I like about Barrington's - it isn't easily categorized. It's sort of a bar-pub-loungey-wine-place. Maybe if it was more one thing than another it would become even more successful. But I really think it should play on it's cosiness, its friendly staff and develop a quirky character all of its own. That's the way to take on those ridiculous, overpriced chain bars down the road.

I've actually heard that they're in the market for new artwork for the venue. I wonder if this is the opportunity to tout my own talents... Now that is how you get a quirky reputation!

Fat Belly
I happily give the meal we ate 9 out of 10 Extreme Points and the wine selection gets an enjoyable 7 out of 10. I absolutely cannot fault the service - the fine menu recommendations we were given, the friendly banter we enjoyed and of course, the absolutely amazingly sweet touch that when we paid the bill they presented us with an Anniversary card! The Boy offers 8 out of 10 Hippy Points as unfortunately his chips were a little underdone (I don't think he's ever given a perfect 10 though!).

Sunday, 9 September 2012


Silent Sunday

Sunday Weigh in: Week 6

OK, so there's every possibility I'm a binge eater. This week's excuse: our 10 year wedding anniversary. The result: four days of going out with friends, out alone, eating dinner, going camping and eating out and drinking quite a lot. In my defence I weighed myself in the morning last Sunday and evening tonight.

Rubbish excuse. I earned this weight. Cycling, kettle bell and dance classes next week. I can't think (at the moment) of anything fun I have to do until Christmas - and a good job too. I should probably knuckle down if I actually want to achieve anything.

Start weight: 9st 2lbs
Target weight: 8st 8lbs
This week: 3lb gain
Total loss: -2lb
Current weight: 9st 4lb
BMI: 23.98 (target 22)

Wishing better weeks to my Diet Buddies: Sarah, Cheryl, Jane and newcomer (welcome, ignore everything I do!) Alison!

Friday, 7 September 2012

REVIEW: Randall Grahm and Bonny Doon Vineyard

Those of you who were following my frivolous holiday tweets over August may have seen an early picture of a most enjoyable bottle of wine that I was experiencing, from local vineyard, Bonny Doon. This was a 2004 Le Cigare Volante, a now sadly sold out vintage - so I was lucky to try it. The humorous tale on the label really put a smile on my face, as did the excellent quality of the wine. The creator of The Flying Cigar, an homage to Chateauneuf du Pape, one Randall Grahm happened upon my tweets and let me know he was pleased to hear I had enjoyed his wine. Knowing that the winery was local, this was the only encouragement I needed to ask Mr Grahm if we could perhaps meet so that I could try some more of his wines. Luckily for me, he was quite amenable to this.

Randall Grahm has made quite a reputation for himself, both in the wine world and as a local personage in the Santa Cruz area. I found that any time we mentioned that we were going to meet him in a few days, people responded with comments about him being quite a 'character'. The word 'eccentric' was mentioned on a few occasions. Being British and having a reputation for making 10 metre square mosaics out of baked goods, I generally regard being eccentric as an overwhelmingly positive characteristic, but it did make me intrigued to meet Randall all the more to see what the foundations for this reputation were.

Cycle racks add 10 bonus points to any venue

The Boy and I ventured down to the Cigare Volante Restaurant and Tasting Room on a predictably sunny Californian afternoon. We momentarily got distracted by the neighbouring Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing Company's tasting room as we knew that a beer made by our kind host was being featured there, so it would have been rude not to venture in. I can recommend the own brand wheat beer as well as the featured craft ales - most enjoyable and refreshing in the heat.

Thar she blows  - Le Cigare Volante come to life

But I digress. Set in a reasonably non-descript, almost industrial style estate on the west side of Santa Cruz, CA, the Bonny Doon restaurant and tasting room is set in quite a highly competitive wine tasting area. However, it was clear as we walked through the area that Bonny Doon was by far the most popular tasting room in the area. This may be something to do with the fact that we arrived during Roswell hour, when Doon wines are offered at an incredible 51% off. 

As you walk in to the reassuringly spacious restaurant, it is clear to see that Randell's creative approach to wine making is also matched by his appreciation of fine aesthetics and indeed, innovative marketing. The place is crammed with artistic pieces - from small wall hung art to bold, theatrical statement architectural pieces. It's truly a wonder to see the wall of green glass bottles delicately reflecting the afternoon sunshine or step through the giant barrel, with its interactive rocket launch buttons inside.

We settled in to a palatially sized booth, with an interesting Fibonacci design on the table. I had previously read about Randall's interest in Biodynamic viticulture - harmonising agricultural practices with 'the subtle forces of the universe' - basically working with the land you have rather than trying to change its character to suit your practice. I would assume that the Fibonacci references are a subtle reference to maximising the harmony of the Bonny Doon winemaking method with the natural environs.

After a short time, Randall arrived. I was expecting mainly to taste some wine and find out a bit more about how it was made, but what I actually came out with was more like an interview with a wine tasting thrown in as an excellent aperitif. Either way, it was a fantastic afternoon and hopefully I can give you a flavour of the experience.

We had ordered ourselves a glass each of the 2009 Syrah Le Pousseur, a central coast Syrah that was selling for $35 a bottle and were enjoying the great deep flavours of this wine, which was full bodied enough to cut through a fatty meat like lamb breast or even pork belly. As we were discussing these flavours, Randell told us that this wine inspired division in his clients. He found the people of San Francisco more progressive and cultured than the folks from LA, and so while the LA people found this wine not deep enough, while the San Franciscoaniteians complained of it being too full bodied for their tastes! We found it just excellent as big, bold reds are where it is at for us at the moment.

Our booth

I asked Randall what his personal favourites were. He said simply a good red Burgundy, and perhaps a crisp Riesling in the summer, but actually his real passion were for wines that he'd never had before. When he was younger and starting out in the wine industry, he'd been lucky enough to drink 1964 Cheval Blanc every week, which became something like a fetish for him. Even though his palette was not sophisticated then, he knew it was lucious, smokey and unctuos. Therefore, if it was $20 a bottle he'd drink it forever. A quick search on Google suggests that a bottle of 1964 Cheval Blanc is more likely to set you back somewhere in the region of $1000, so maybe more of an occasional treat? When asked what it was about this particular wine that he loved, Randall described the texture having a silky Burgundian quality, with an ethereal balance that he was sure he would still recognise - not a sweet wine, but just the merest suggestion of sweetness. It sounds divine and already I was really enjoying Grahm's evident intelligence and passion for his discipline.

Talking more about the culture within his own environs, Randall described how New World wines can be over the top and overripe, so it has been his aim to get that perfect balance. Where the horizon is infinite - aim to pick the perfect fruit at the perfect point of ripeness. A worthy aim indeed, and no small goal to set oneself. It is fascinating to hear about the goals of a truly knowledgeable wine producer. Grahm has had much experience in both New and Old World wine contexts so I found myself hugely respectful of his opinion. And I was right to do so - because the next two wines he broke out truly taught me a huge lesson about the subtleties of wine and genuinely inspired me.

2008 Normale and Reserve - indistinguishable to the eye...
Randall offered us a taste of his 2008 Le Cigare Volante Normale in comparison with the 2008 Le Cigare Volante Reserve. These are the same wine - the difference being that the Reserve has been aged in demi johns with magnetic stirrers. And $14 dollars a bottle. Unbelievably (well, at least for me as a relative wine novice) the flavour is totally different between the two. You would not believe they are the same wine. The Reserve is almost less sweet in smell. It has distinctly more mellow characteristics but still a bolder, more enjoyable flavour. The Normale had a much sharper smell and this acidity was more evident in the tasting as well. The Reserve had great savoury notes - sort of earthy. We settled on this being a more mushroom like smell than a smokey flavour.. In short, the Reserve is a much better wine. I was blown away that the anaerobic storage could make such a dramatic difference to the character of a wine. This immediately inspired me to want to know more about wine and more importantly, to know more about good wine.

This got us talking about the wine industry and its customers more generally. Randall expressed concerns that young culture now is not one of brand loyalty. Young wine drinkers now are more inclined to try anything once - which is a win for people who have their products everywhere, they will always get picked up regardless of quality. Randall likened this to the internet, where everything has the same value. Almost ironically, the less someone knows about wine the more loyal they are likely to be, as people will continue to pick up the same bottle time and time again.

I asked Randall who he was making wine for and he simply said the thinking wine drinker. He told me that his wine's are better quality now that in earlier years, but also he is less gimmicky now which has resulted in lower sales. He's currently buying in grapes. His 'unusual' farming methods (using biodynamic principles) basically mean that his production is more expensive. He knows that people can live a reasonable life without tasting his wine, but his real goal is to change people's lives when they taste his product. He doesn't think he's there yet, but he's working towards it. He described more about his biodynamic principles, mainly coming to the conclusion that it's irrelevant whether people want to believe that cosmic bodies influence nature - he objectively produces evidence that these practices work. After all, people accept that the moon affects the tides, so why not this?

While Biodynamics can be seen as a spiritual path, for Grahm the evidence of the mechanics speaks for itself. He aims to 'transform the farmer rather than the land'. This means he is making wines in a different way,  now he is feeling more agnostic about Vins de Terroir in California. I sensed that he has become somewhat weary of wine production in California. He described the local wines like a Hollywood set - they look charming on the outside, but scratch the surface and it's just plywood. He is aiming for depth, originality and soul and is still en route to that life changing experience for his clients.

Indeed, Randall confessed that his first wines were the best, when he applied his beginners mind and blind luck. I wasn't sure if I could possibly agree given that by this point we had moved on to the Syrah Bien Nacido Vineyard 2005. This was very close to what I would consider to be my ideal wine. Fruity, almost like a soft fruit (strawberry?) flavour, but also that powerful punch of cherry like notes. It was devilishly smooth and easy to drink. While Randall may not have reached his wine Nirvana just yet, his wines certainly make me very happy.

So, given the hype before our visit, was Randall Grahm everything I expected he would be? Well, no, not really. Anyone who's opening gambit is to describe the vineyard he had visited that morning through the medium of a (quite obscure) Frank Zappa quote is alright by me and that was how I found Randall. An extremely pleasant, easy going and interesting man with interesting opinions about wine making, the wine industry and much, much more besides. I agree that his methods may be slightly divergent from the orthodoxy of the industry, but surely that is the nature of the New World. There should be so much more room for experimentation and creativity than in the more rigid traditions of the great French chateaux for example. I can't imagine why you would do anything buy applaud someone who uses less popular, less predictable grape varieties as well - I love to try something different rather than the cardboard cut out wines that we are so often offered. He's a lovely man who makes lovely wine. Buy some now, you won't regret it.

Me and the man himself

Happily, we've discovered that the Red Lion Wine Pub in our own fair county carries a Bonny Doon vintage. Yippee!

Sunday, 2 September 2012

REVIEW: Tesco Bakery Cookies

As part of a BzzAgent campaign, I was sent a voucher to try a free pack of new Tesco Bakery Cookies, which are baked in store. We quite like what our local Tesco Extra has done with the bakery so far. The speciality breads are pretty nice, especially the walnut bread which was particularly good toasted and spread with duck terrine. So we were pretty happy to try something else in the Your Bakery range and see how it went down!

We got the triple chocolate cookies - dark chocolate cookie, with Belgian dark, white and milk chocolate chunks on the top. BzzAgent tells me that:

"As part of the revamp of their Bakery, 
Tesco have improved and relauched their cookies.

Crispy on the outside, with a soft, chewy middle, 
each cookie is made with 100% butter giving them a delicious smell 
and an incredibly more-ish taste."

Taking one of the four cookies out of the bag, I noticed the tempting smell, so I can agree with them there. It really smelt of rich, dark chocolate. So far, so good. Unfortunately, I have to say after this point, the cookies did not live up entirely to my high expectations. They were not at all crispy on the outside, but rather soft all the way through, meaning that they bent and snapped in my hand as I tried to eat it. I ended up with loads on the sofa by the time I had finished!! The texture was almost like a flat brownie rather than a cookie it was so prone to falling apart under its own diameter.

I thought the cookie itself tasted quite nice, but remarked to The Boy that I couldn't really taste the individual chocolate flavours of the pieces in the topping. He said he was finding the whole thing too sweet, which was probably why we couldn't taste the individual chocolate flavours. I'm inclined to agree, although I did feel there was a background dark chocolate taste.

The Boy also complained that they were too greasy - a sign of the 100% butter I guess, but he thought they should use less butter so that you don't end up with grease marks on your fingers when you've finished eating them. It makes me wonder if our particular batch had too much butter in them - hence the edges not setting crispy.

The Boy offered up a begrudging 6 out of 10 Hippy Points and I am inclined to agree with a first offer of 6 Extreme Points for these cookies. Perhaps we should use a couple of our 50p off vouchers to check whether we got a bad batch?? They are currently retailing for £1.50 for 4 cookies, do you think this is worth the money?

Marrow savoury bread

The Marrow of Ultimate Doom
We came back from holiday to find something of a courgette glut - there were baby courgettes, half eaten courgettes, baby marrows and even the Marrow of Ultimate Doom. Today I thought I should probably consider doing something with them and since we still haven't done a proper shop and therefore have no eggs in, and I am trying to eat a bit more healthily and therefore don't fancy making marrow cakes, I should have a go at a savoury marrow bread.

Marrow Bread
(Makes quite a big loaf)


Medium marrow
650g wholemeal bread flour
150g fine Matzo meal 
(I was just using store cupboard ingredients, add more flour to substitute)
600g marrow, grated (a medium marrow)
100g strong cheese
2 packets of dried yeast (2 x 7g)
Glug of olive oil
Warm water
Poppy seeds to garnish
Salt and pepper to taste


* Top, tail and deseed your marrow. Grate it into a colander.
* Add a pinch of salt and leave for the water to run out.
* Mix the flour, matzo meal, yeast and cheese in a large mixing bowl.
* Squeeze the remaining moisture out of the marrow and pat dry with a clean tea towel.

* Add the marrow to your dry ingredients, then add the oil and a dash of warm water.
* Knead until you have a firm dough. Add water sparingly as I found the marrow gives off more as you knead.
* Leave to prove until doubled in size.

* Knock the dough back gently and make into desired shape on baking tray. 
* Preheat oven to 200'C while you leave the dough for its final rise.
* When the bread has risen again, brush with a little milk, sprinkle with poppy seeds and bake for 30minutes.

* Enjoy - we found it delicious with smoked paprika hummus!


Silent Sunday

Sunday Weigh In: Week 5

Morning all. What with being away at weddings and being on holiday I've had a month off from all this palava. But now I'm back on the band wagon. 

That is a large burger
I have been to America. I have eaten great food, I have eaten massive food. We bought Twinkies - the Devil's own snack cake - just to see what they were like. Perhaps more significantly, we stayed with a family who make great home brew, run a pub called 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall (guess what they serve) and went to a couple of wine tastings. Therefore, I have not been holding out great hope for any sort of weight loss today, but have been rather dreading seeing the wages of my sin.

Weirdly, it's turned out not all bad - one of the unpredicted benefits of jetlag over the last two days has been the fact that we've been too tired to shop for groceries or cook, so we've had one potluck freezer paella and that's all we've eaten since breakfast on the plane (a croissant) on the way into Heathrow at about 11am on Friday. And I certainly haven't been bothered to drink any booze so that's more than 48 hours respite I've given my liver already.

Let us move swiftly on to the scores on the doors then....

Start weight: 9st 2lbs
Target weight: 8st 8lbs
This week: 2lb gain
Total loss: 1lb
Current weight: 9st 1lb
BMI: 23.37 (target 22)

On the plus side, it's only a 2lb gain. On the negative side, that's pretty much enough to put me back where I started. Onwards and upwards though. The jetlag has given me a really easy introduction to intermittent fasting, something I've been interested in having a look at for a while. I'm back home and therefore back on my bike a couple of times a day and I've also booked myself a voucher for 10 dance classes, so all this should help me get back where I was in no time. Plus the garden has swelled in our absence, so I can live off marrow soup if it all goes tits up.

Good luck to my bloggy diet buddies - Cheryl, who has been an absolute inspiration at getting back on track after holiday this week. Good luck also to Jane and Sarah.
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