Category Archives: Food

FODMAP food fun

ibs (1)

I have had a rocky ride with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). I was diagnosed with it as a university student in 2007, after I had agnoising abdominal pains that kept me awake and horrific belching.

Blood tests ruled out coeliac disease and I had an ultrasound which was clear. I was offered an endoscopy – an investigation where a tube is shoved down your throat – but mum warned me off, telling me what a traumatic experience it was for her.psyllium

Psyllium-Husk-in-Water-300x199

Psyllium looks about as great as it tastes.

I tried all sorts of remedies. Peppermint tea which helped in the short term, a low dose of antidepressant medication, which completely stopped symptoms but induced vivid nightmares, and psyllium husk (found in the brand Fybogel) which made me feel sick. You had to quickly drink grains floating in water. It was hard to pinpoint which particular foods set me off. No pain relief medication helped.

A 2013 medical study concluded that  the low FODMAP diet offers leads to significant improvement for the majority of those with digestive disorders, around 15% of the world’s population. Research suggested that certain carbohydrates were responsible in 1988 and the diet was developed following further studies. I have found that I no longer have stomach pains before or after eating and I no longer get bloating. It has given me significant relief.

ibs-following-diverticulitis-no-bloating-period-6361

Around 75% of patients in two small studies found that their symptoms had improved. More research needs to be undertaken as this could be a cheap option for the National Health Service rather than relying on medication. It should be recommended to all patients complaining of digestive discomfort. A Gastroenterology journal entitled A FODMAP Diet Update: Craze or Credible? concluded: “evidence indicates that the FODMAP diet provides an effective approach to managing patients with FGID [digestive disorders].”

I discovered the FODMAP diet through online research. This stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides And Polyols.

easelly_visual-1

The theory is that some fruits, animal dairy products, wheat products, beans, garlic and onion (containing Fructose, Lactose, Fructans, Galactans and Polyols) are incompletely absorbed and are harder to digest. IBS sufferers appear to be particularly sensitive to them. For a full list click here and go to the bottom of the page.

A main plus point is that it is not a restrictive diet. You could still have trigger foods, just less of them. It was only onions and garlic that the diet recommended completely avoiding. This only caused a problem with curries. Spring onions were a decent substitute for stir fries and garlic puree in stir fry sauces did not cause me any trouble.

digestivesystem

The aim is to try the diet for six weeks and then introduce one trigger food a week and see how much it affects you.

A typical day included:

Breakfast:

Porridge or muesli with lactose-free milk, banana and coconut flakes

I like lacto free milk by Arla, it is still cow’s milk and tastes the same, but with an enzyme added to break down the lactose. There is no point trying goat or sheep milk instead – it still contains lactose.

Almond milk tends to stick in the back of the throat, hemp milk tastes too watery and coconut milk is too sweet. Forget soya milk as soy beans are on the list of foods to limit.

I’ve saved money by bulk buying a kilograme of oats rather than ready-made porridge sachets. Simply add a quarter of a cup of oats to half a cup of milk and half a cup of water (or 40g oats, 175ml water, 175ml milk) and microwave for two minutes, microwave for two minutes more. You may need to practice this on a weekend first as it depends on your microwave wattage.

I got ready-baked oats which are a minute or two quicker, but they don’t taste as nice as standard Scottish ones.

Lunch:

Pasta or potato salad (I was able to handle the small amount of gluten pasta for lunch)

Green salad with mozzarella slices

Leftovers

Dinner:

Gluten-free pasta and sauce or

stir fry

or steak, spinach and potatoes (for days when I’m tired and need an iron boost).

Dessert

Snowconut frozen yoghurt – gluten and lactose free as it is made from coconut milk this is a tasty alternative

Melon (not watermelon – this is high FODMAP)

Strawberries and a little cream

Unfortunately there is not much lactose free yoghurt available but I find that in small quantities I can usually tolerate it.

I recently had wheat pasta again and as anticipated, I had a sore tummy approximately an hour later. Rice pasta is just as good if you get thicker varieties such as penne and fusilli. I will be eating lunch portions only. Before sport I avoid any trigger foods. I have also cut down on my alcohol intake as this makes my symptoms flare too. If I am out drinking I try to alternate with juice.

If you try it let me know how it goes. You can find checklists online to take when you’re shopping, such as this one. Remember you need to reduce/avoid intake of any high FODMAP foods for six weeks before you start reintroducing foods on this list. It may be helpful to keep a food diary during this time.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Advice, Food, Life of Lydia

Food for Thought

homeless-robbie-from-preston I am someone who likes the feeling of fullness. I am always eating. I buy food for one so I am guilty of contributing to our massive problem of food waste.

While I scoff myself and throw half-eaten food away, others are so starving that they dig into bins for something to eat.

I am talking about the “hidden homeless” that we walk past every day. I recently saw a programme about this desperate group of people called “Where am I sleeping tonight?”. The hidden homeless are not registered as homeless and therefore do not receive additional support. Those that sofa-surf (sleep on friends’ sofas) or sleep on the streets because they feel safer there than in hostels.

Research by the homeless charity Crisis indicates that as many as 62% of the homeless fit this category. For every month that the respondents spent in accommodation provided by the council, they had spent over three months sleeping rough.

There are estimated to be 1 700 hidden homeless people a year. The documentary really opened my eyes to something I had no idea about in my sheltered existence (literally). They lived with so little, not knowing where they would sleep at the end of the day or whether they would be safe. They were completely dependent on the goodwill of others just to stay alive.

homeless 2

It could have happened to any one of us if we had been less fortunate.

One boy of just 17 had struggled with anger-management issues and had beaten up his family until he got kicked out. He wished he could turn back time or that they could see how he had changed.

Another boy had fallen out with his mother, who then moved away leaving him with his grandmother. She fell out with him so he had to go. He said he hadn’t eaten for about a week and his eyes bulged with ravenous desperation as he waited in line for food, white as a sheet.

A girl was sofa-surfing as a messy divorce had made home hell. She said it had been friends at first, then friends of friends and then people she did not know at all. One man had tried to make a move on her and she had to find somewhere else to stay that night.

These vulnerable young people seemed to have little or no chance of escaping the endless cycle of hunger, cold and sleep deprivation.

Once someone I knew did a sponsored rough sleep for a homeless charity and he said it was he hardest thing he had ever done. He did it at the start of winter and he didn’t sleep at all because he was so cold in his sleeping bag and the concrete was so uncomfortable. homeless

The programme got me thinking. Surely there is something we can do to share the wealth. I have been brought up with everything and I take basic needs like food and shelter forgranted.

I have given food to beggars before. Just extra food that I will not eat or snacks like cereal bars. They are always gratefully accepted.

But I want to do more.

I am planning on buying a full lunch for a homeless person so they can at least have one proper meal that day.

I will get a sandwich, a flapjack (more filling than crisps) and some fruit. Perhaps a hot drink to go with it.

I want to start a movement like the famous “Pay It Forward” one. This one involves buying food for the needy. Some incredible people already do.

So how about you join us, reader, and buy a homeless person a sandwich.

If you do it let me know how it feels. When I have donated before I have always felt content. It is a feeling that only helping someone in need can bring. A deep satisfaction that you are making a small difference in an indifferent world. The Gift that Keeps on Giving

Leave a comment

Filed under Food, Life of Lydia

Beer-lin at Christmas

December was a busy month with trips to Birmingham, Berlin, Lancaster, Norwich and Great Yarmouth and a visit from my cousins, where I cooked for five for the first time.

I learnt that you need to have everything prepared and ready to go for the day of the visit. I spent that morning scouring local farms for turkey, only to be told that it had to be ordered in advance. I was saved by a pre-prepared one at Waitrose.

There was so much to see and do in Berlin. The city had a festive atmosphere with Christmas lights and markets. Temperatures were close to zero so my thermals came in handy.

Hotel Indigo was comfortable, clean and stylish and was lovely to return to after a day on our feet. We had an executive room with a balcony and we wrapped up to admire the view.

It was easy to get around using the S-Bahn and U-Bahn train systems. The U-Bahn is the Underground. You have to get your ticket stamped by the machine or you can be fined.

Transport links from Schönefeld airport were dismal, perhaps the reason for its rating on Google of under 3 stars. We were shattered after our budget airline experience featuring the usual lengthy queues. I nearly fell over as I had labyrinthitis – an inner-ear infection causing balance issues and disorientation. I had just started swimming again and medical opinion was that it had pushed infection further into my ear. Luckily it was the last 24 hours of it.

There was a long walk to the train station which was a vast concrete space with confusing German signposting to unfamiliar areas and some omnipotent machines. You needed to have the right amount of coins as they did not take cards and most did not like notes. Perhaps this is to encourage those in the know to buy at the airport. There were no officials and no information desk. In England there are information points at almost every major station so it was a culture-shock. I’d already been jarred by the lack of warm water in public toilets. Economical efficiency at its best but punishing in winter. Hand-warmers are recommended.

Berlin Photo Tour

Many meals centred around sausages (wurst). This is tasty currywurst.

Many meals centred around sausages (wurst). This is tasty currywurst.

IMG_6063

This pint features the German bear in front of the dome of Berlin’s parliament or Bundestag which is one of the subjects of my next post. Bears first appeared on a city seal (emblem) in 1280. The earliest city seal from 1253 didn’t feature a bear but an eagle, which was the symbol of the Margraviate of Brandenburg, an important part of the Holy Roman Empire that included Berlin. In 1280 the second emblem featured a Brandenburg eagle flanked by two standing bears. When Cölln and Berlin were merged into one city in 1709, the coat of arms featured the bear below two eagles -red for Brandenburg and black for Prussia. By 1875, the bear gained a crown signifying Berlin’s status as a free city.

 

IMG_6067

Schnitzel was nothing special.

120

The apple cake was delicious.

IMG_6091      IMG_5963

Our walking tour started in front of the Brandenburg Gate, outside Starbucks. It was free if you were heartless but our charismatic guide explained that he lived on donations and 15 Euros was the going rate. It was well worth it as we felt we had seen all the key sights and were fully briefed in the history. All questions were answered.

Just past the Gate on the road is the dividing line of the Wall that divided East and West Berlin until 1989, stretching off into the traffic. Division seems a distant memory, one that many would surely rather forget.

IMG_5983

Today is the 70th anniversary of the Soviet liberation of Auschwitz where over 1 million people died. An estimated 90 per cent of these victims were Jews, with Poles, Romani gypsies, Soviet Prisoners, homosexuals and others deemed “undesirable” making up the hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish victims that were killed at the hands of the Nazis. The death toll is inconceivable. I thought of my grandfather, who liberated and dealt with the aftermath of Bergen-Belsen. Hell on earth. He never spoke of it and it must have been easier to repress than think about. Primo Levi, an Italian Jewish Auschwitz survivor, writer and chemist, remarked  “I am constantly amazed by man’s inhumanity to man” quoting the Robert Burns poem “Man Was Made to Mourn”.  

The Jewish Memorial in Berlin was quite an experience. It was a series of concrete blocks gradually getting taller until you were engulfed by oppressive blank columns trapping you on all sides. You are suddenly in a narrow space overshadowed by heavy grey monoliths leaning towards you which blocked out the light.

It was even more powerful at night. I couldn’t see anything but a gloomy, shadowy passage in front of me. It was eerily silent and you could hardly see the sky.

070

You could go on a “Trabi” tour. Trabant cars, affectionately termed “trabis”, were iconic vehicles used by the Soviets of East Berlin. There is a museum for almost everything in Berlin, from those cars to computer science.067

Balloon sightseeing looked fun but freezing. We didn’t get a chance to see the Berlin Wall art but click here for a good website with it.

links_geschichte_peglau

Source: ampelmann.de

The East side still retained some differences such as the pedestrian crossing signs which featured a large man in a hat. The design was conceived by a traffic psychologist, Karl Peglau. The thinking behind it was that we react more quickly to appealing symbols.

076

The history of a divided East/West Berlin reminded me of North/South Korea. The Russians called the East the Federal Republic and the British, French and Americans named the West the Democratic Republic. The wishful thinking post-War was that both halves would be run harmoniously. But the 1950s saw the fear of Communism explode in the States with witch hunts including even Charlie Chaplin. There were uprisings in the East which were dealt with by the Stasi, the secret police. Around 2.7 million East Berliners defected from 1949 until the Wall was built, with 200,000 leaving the year before in 1960. Reasons for escape were economic, social or political.One reason was the introduction of a collectivization policy in the 1950s. The goal was to consolidate individual land and labour into collective farms in order to increase food supply. But this meant that profits decreased and there were food shortages and riots instead.

8048127318_931db935cc_o

The Wall was publicly built to prevent a war for the city but privately it was

Walter Ubricht (Wikipedia)

Walter Ubricht (Wikipedia)

also to stop the East-West exodus. The East-German leader Walter Ubricht termed it an “Anti-Fascist Protective Rampart” protecting the Federal Republic from “military adventurers”.

The photo above shows border guard Conrad Schumann who left two days after Wall construction began. His fellow soldiers were distracted and he saw his chance. West Berliners encouraged him to jump and after deciding for a moment he went for it. The moment was captured by passing photographer Peter Liebing. The iconic photograph was used as propaganda.

There were some unusual escapes, such as by tightrope-walking and with a car converted to go under the crossing barrier. Many who succeeded were guards, with over 1,300 fleeing in the first two years of the Wall’s construction. This led to the installation of locks and further walls requiring several soldiers to open them.

There was a good exhibition at Nordbahnhof S-geisterbahnhof_21_01606Bahn station about the division of the Underground. Tube trains from the West could pass through Eastern stops but they could not be used and became “ghost” stations. Even here soldiers escaped, so they would be locked in a platform bunker until the end of their shift.

Officially, 136 Berliners died fleeing to the West. Some wanted to earn more money, others were trying to join family members. Friedrichstraße station was nicknamed “The Palace of Tears” as it was the station where East Berliners would have tearful goodbyes to West Berliners returning, unsure when they would be allowed to see them again.

Many casualties were not recorded by the secretive Soviets. But a victims research group called “August 13 Working Group”  has claimed there were more than 1,100 fatalities linked to the division of states. West Berliners used it to fly-tip.

The photo above captures the worst Wall stand-off caused by a senior U.S. diplomat, Lightner Jr (American for Junior, which means son of) wanting to go to the opera in East Berlin. The East Germans demanded to see his passport, which he insisted only Soviet officials had the right to check. He was forced to turn back. Due to the tank stand-off and fervent diplomacy that ensued, officials on both sides were allowed to attend the theatre and the opera over the border. As for Lightner Jr, he went to the performance days later.

This month Stasi records became available online for the first time. The Stasi were Soviet secret police. Their files have been available to their subjects since 1992. But you had to write out for them and there were delays in release. The records were saved by East German citizens who stormed Stasi offices when the Wall fell in 1989. They include the harrowing case of Manfred Smolka, a former East German border guard who was seized, thrown in solitary confinement and guillotined after he escaped to the West.  The Stasi even attempted to recruit Prime Minister Angela Merkel when she was at University.

085

Our tour guide was fantastic and we felt like we had been fully briefed on the key history and sights of the city centre.

The German market looked fantastic. To the left is the Concert House where we enjoyed an orchestral and choral Bach performance.

089

All photos on this page Copyright literarylydi. Please ask for permission before using. Thank you.

104

You must visit Fassbender and Rauch. It’s a chocolate shop with green awnings like Harrods and has confectionary which is just as fancy. There were several iconic buildings made entirely of chocolate. Upstairs in the lift is the restaurant where they do a main meal in chocolate on Monday-Friday. There can be a queue early in the afternoon but it is worth the wait. Their petit-fours look exquisite and are delicious.

107

233

Christmas decoration in Pottsdam, copied nicely in chocolate in Berlin. That city is the subject of my next post, along with more of Berlin.

Leave a comment

January 27, 2015 · 9:21 pm

Hunger Day

As I write this there’s a constant feeling of hunger in the background…today I haven’t eaten anything since dawn.

It all started after doing a 10K charity run for Cancer Research. I wasn’t going to do another charity event this year, after raising £187 for a Multiple Sclerosis rehab centre.

But then my friend’s dad, who has myeloma (bone marrow cancer) asked me to do a 10K. The money goes towards research he is participating in at Hammersmith Hospital in London. If you would like to help me out with a donation our link is here. 

imaging

I asked some Muslim boys to help out and they said they’d sponsor me double if I did a day of Ramadan with them. Fasting has lots of health benefits, among them lowering cholesterol, levels of stress hormones in the blood and boosting brain cell production. So I thought it’s only a day, I’ll give it a go.

I’d never fasted before except two days when I was eight and travelling. I was so ill I threw everything up. We’d gone to New Zealand on a non-stop 36-hour flight and if I wasn’t suffering from food-poisoning it was travel-sickness. The irony was we stopped in Abu Dhabi and I remember we were told not to eat anything at the airport, but I was so ill I didn’t want to. I remembered the hungry eyes of the turbaned wrinkled man sitting on the tiled bench there.

The closest I’ve come to not eating in more recent times was the 5:2 diet, which I followed for a week (two days of eating 400 calories), but then I could drink as much water as I wanted. I had been inspired by Mike Mosley and lost 2kg (not that I needed to, I was doing it to improve memory and alertness as that was one of the claims).

Ramadan is really strict. No water, no food and because it’s summer, you have to do that for 18 and a half hours.

summer_day-wallpaper-1680x1260

The only time I haven’t appreciated the sun

I thought that it started at sunrise, so I excitedly got up and finished my toast and cereal breakfast for 4.40am for sunrise at 4.41am. I was reminded of the days of midnight feasts. I thought eating that close to the time was really smooth until I went to work and was told that they stop eating two hours earlier for morning prayers. This is intense.

The hardest part was at lunch. I was acutely aware of people eating, so I spent my time checking out local takeaways planning dinner (I’d be too weak to cook and I needed to have something to look forward to). I also normally snack at 10am, so I got hunger pains then. As I have IBS I was also belching and burping quite a bit at work which was really embarrassing.

After about 1am the hunger feeling faded to background noise and was easier to deal with. However by the end of the day I was getting quite distracted. But seeing food or hearing about it did not make me hungry, although the smell did. It was like part of my brain was disassociating itself for self-protection.

I felt weak and a little like I was floating when I walked. But apart from a slight ache in the belly I was fine. I had expected to have a drier mouth. I wouldn’t do it again unless I had a similar charity deal. I’d rather appreciate those who have less than myself by enjoying what I do have. It’s getting harder as it gets later. I started counting down the hours at 6pm.

Now I can’t wait to break this horrendous hunger with a buy-one-get-one-free pizza deal. Veggie and fish of course so I don’t do non-Halal meat…

Leave a comment

Filed under Food, Life of Lydia

Istanbul Day 1 – Tokapi Palace

Kebab pizza

Kebab pizza

After the magnificence of the Haggia Sophia we refreshed ourselves with a visit to a traditional restaurant where we ate kebab main meals (when in Rome, or rather Istanbul!). I had it with the hot spiced apple tea again. It was sweet and revitalising and I couldn’t get enough of it. I then had a tea but I had to ask for milk – if you don’t they just serve it black! Every drink is also served with mounds of sugar cubes as well as having it added. After a while I began to appreciate the EU sugar limits.

Lamb kebab. Photos copyright literarylydi

Lamb kebab. All photos on this page copyright literarylydi

332

delicious cous cous salad

We then continued our tourist experience by buying up boxes and boxes of Turkish delight and nougat. Massive blocks of the stuff were chiselled off.  They had an array of colours and nuts, it was quite a display. The Turks are very fond of anything with nuts in. 342

346

We then went to the Tokapi Palace (Tokapur in Turkish pronunciation), where we marvelled at the variety of styles of 16th-17th century tiled walls.

375

We walked in ancient regal rooms with 16th century bronze and tile fire places. Odd things with pointy tops. Every so often there would be a little courtyard, sometimes with a fountain.

391

I got the impression the Turks were also very fond of these, which seemed logical given that Turkey is usually lovely and warm, unlike the bitter cold that day. I had forgotten gloves and I soon lost all feeling in my hands.

398

424

The best bit of the palace were the imperial treasures, which at one time only the royals could admire. I had never seen anything like it. Such a large amount of incredibly valuable precious-stones, gold and diamonds, all glistening and dazzling in two rooms, crammed together in a breathtaking display of opulence. There were bronze and ivory thrones from the 16th and 17th centuries, every inch dripping in rubies and emeralds. I asked my boyfriend whether I could have some ruby or emerald jewellery for Christmas. Even if we won the lottery I doubt that is possible, but one can dream. I was like a magpie in the dragon’s cave of the Hobbit. I had never seen anything like this before.

topkapipalacekasikcidiamond

The gold was highly polished and almost blinded you in its magnificence. The diamonds looked thoroughly transparent. These were the literal jewels in the crown of a vast and wealthy Empire that had at one point stretched all the way to “threaten the gates of Vienna”. Incredible given that they started off as a nomadic desert tribe. Unfortunately we couldn’t take photographs.

We saw the Harem where the Emperor’s many wives and the black Eunuchs that served them were housed. The quarters of the Eunuchs were the most modest rooms in the palace, quite small but still richly decorated with painted tiles.

380

We saw the religious artefacts (the Prophets beard, bits of the Kaa’ba in Mecca and so on). These were the busiest rooms and there was a hushed solemn silence throughout the crowd.

The Library of Ahmed 3rd was built in 1719 for use by royal officials. Today its books are stored in the Agalar Mosque.

The Library of Ahmed The Third was built in 1719 for use by royal officials. Today its books are stored in the Agalar Mosque.

We saw the library and as the sun went down we walked through the gardens to the edge of the palace. Here there was a viewing platform with a little seat. The city stretched away on the other side of the river. It was quiet and rather romantic and we took a picture against the sunset.

490

The building’s illuminating lights came on and after three hours touring this vast complex it was time to go, we were told the palace was closing.

470

I had enjoyed feeling like a princess and would have to make do with our “palace” hotel instead that night. As we walked out we saw that the place was guarded by armed soldiers. The Haggia Sophia looked even more dominating in its floodlit glory.

We walked back using the GPS on my boyfriends phone, winding around narrow dark streets, all the while passing burnt down houses standing as they were, dilapidated houses that surely were not safe to live in, disturbing alley cats scrabbling at the rubbish, some of them with infected eyes.

We crossed a railway and navigated for a while longer through the gloom – there were few street lights. Thankfully the streets were largely deserted and we finally made our way back to the hotel.

Leave a comment

December 26, 2013 · 2:45 pm

A night in Essex

018

Surprises always carry some element of risk. So when I headed off down to Essex I just had to cross my fingers and hope for the best. But that made it exciting.

It required careful planning and some subtle questions. I booked time off work and the ticket. Then I asked where to send a birthday card, and whether it would be ok if it arrived a day early. I was arriving then as I had plans on the Friday – my friend had booked time off work to visit me and as she lived in London had kindly agreed to make it a road trip. I knew which station was closest as I had visited my boyfriend before. Then I had to find out what sort of birthday cake he wanted. So I said I was going to buy him a cake slice after work, what sort did he want. He was home the weekend before, back from working down in Essex. We had a rather heated discussion with him saying he didn’t want me to buy anything and with me still trying to find out what he wanted. I probed further at Birmingham, when as chance would have it we walked past a Patisserie Valerie counter in the Bullring shopping mall. I had already decided this was the most suitable option. I had previously spotted the cafe whilst trying to locate Boots in both stations to get an urgent product for a friend. Instead of having a cake going off on the train journey down I could buy it fresh there. Perfect! I love Patisserie Valerie. It’s so pretty and tasty and the cakes are unlike anything else I have seen.

So once at St Pancras I walked over to Kings Cross as the cafe is larger there. I picked up the fruits of the forest tart which I had discovered was the ideal birthday dessert. I was a bit worried it would get squashed on the connecting tube journey but luckily it was fine and in good packaging. Five hours later I was at a station in the middle of nowhere. I tried to call my boyfriend and it went to voicemail. I paniced a little. Plan B had not been settled upon, as I knew where my boyfriend was staying and what time he finished work. So I text him and then read a book about walking through Istanbul. It recommended the Galeta Bridge for a view of the ancient buildings. I decided Plan B was waiting until 9pm when he would have finished work at the latest and then getting a £25 taxi. This would cost as much as the cheap advance fare down covering two trains and the tube, for what was a 40 minute bus journey.

I breathed a sigh of relief as I saw my boyfriend calling. He didn’t sound as delighted as I had hoped, but that was due to a 6am-6pm day. He assured me in the car that he was delighted and seemed surprised by the Patisserie Valerie bag. He said he had no idea what it was. He’d obviously forgotten our discussions on two occasions on the subject with the amount of 12 hour days he had worked.

025

We checked in to his lovely four star hotel and had a family room with two double beds. I looked forward to a good night’s sleep without the covers being pulled off me or being rolled into or trying to fit around a sleeping starfish. Like the Marriott the bathroom was all marble, with gold taps. They could have been cleaned a little better but after 027reading a microbiologist’s recommendations on hotels I knew that didn’t really matter, walking round in my flip flops. I was annoyed I’d forgotten antibacterial wipes which the article had said should be used for wiping down door handles and remotes. I’d checked it when I last stayed at the hotel when wondering whether to use the bath, and in the absence of a “chlorine bleach wipe” decided not to.

We went out to a Chinese restaurant, as the hotel’s restaurant menu is a bit limited. It looked like a former pub and had the words “Chinese, Thai and English cuisine” plastered on the front. The decor was lovely, all red Chinese lanterns. I chose the Thai menu and had a lovely creamy coconut and green curry soup with prawns and some rather 042interesting meat that tasted a little too slimy to be chicken. It was delicious though. Then I ordered pork sweet and sour. I imagined thin beef sirloin strips but instead I got fatty deep fried pork. I struggled through it as I didn’t want to cause a scene for my boyfriend’s birthday meal. An hour or two later I felt quite queasy- as I have IBS my digestion doesn’t cope well with fatty food. I made myself try a bit of the birthday tart – I wanted to see whether it was value for money. However it was just a biscuit base, some cream and some fruit. I was a bit disappointed but it looked great and my boyfriend enjoyed it. He saved some for work in his hotel fridge.

062066

When I settled down onto the bed once again I was disappointed that it was a firm mattress. This meant I couldn’t sleep. My boyfriend can sleep whenever he wants to, as long as he’s not too hot or cold. But I woke up every hour or so and in the morning awoke after a fitful sleep with a sore back. A double-blind study has confirmed this link. Jonny rushed off in the dead of night taking the tart for his colleagues to enjoy.

I now had the mission of getting to Edgware station. I had to take a bus in the middle of nowhere. Google said it was opposite the hotel but after walking around for some time I couldn’t see a stop. So I waited on the grass verge with cars whizzing past, one honking its horn at me. I started to feel a bit silly and wished I could hitch a lift. But miraculously the bus appeared from nowhere. The first one had not been until 9am, so I had told my friend the earliest I could arrive was midday. This meant we had more motorway traffic. I was the only person on the bus and told the driver to tell me when we got to the destination. I got off on a narrow country lane and walked round the corner to the next stop. Thankfully this time there was a bus shelter. No information though and I was unsure if I was on the right side of the road to do the next leg of the journey.

Then some old ladies turned up, all made up with bouffant dyed hair, talking about how they were going on holiday and how one of them had been exploring the local area with her free bus pass. It was a small village and they clearly knew everyone. I relaxed a bit when I heard one of them say that she was going to the station I was going to.

After winding round country lanes I queasily arrived at the station and felt proud of myself for getting there and saving £23.50 in the process. I did miss a train due to a typically slow bus but luckily the next train was delayed by a minute, arriving just a couple of minutes after my scheduled one. Then I took two tubes to complete the three hour journey. It was wonderful to make it to Edgware solely on public transport and to be able to plan with accuracy using transportdirect –  I had reliable times, maps and plenty of details.

069

My friend then drove us with her friend for five hours up to London. It was a Friday and traffic meant a stop-start 071ride. I ate chocolates as I watched the entertaining sight of a bus going backwards – it looked like it was being driven instead of towed. I also enjoyed a hot spiced apple drink with cinammon and star anise in Costa Coffee, my favourite drink.

I had a lovely time in Essex although next time I think I’ll order something different at the Chinese, or perhaps try pub food.

Leave a comment

Filed under Days out/nights out, Food, Life of Lydia

A weekend in Birmingham

IMG_0038

I feel like a villager in Birmingham. It’s a city for giants, with skyscrapers touching the clouds all around. If you have money to spare it’s a lovely place for a night out.

My boyfriend’s university friends were having a reunion. I imagined a rowdy night out with mostly guys, as it had been last year. But this year there was a married couple who worked at a charity for children with learning difficulties and a physicist with his Masters student girlfriend. Or at least that’s as much as I could gather from the conversation. I was feeling a bit shy. I had said I didn’t mind staying at home and working – after all my boyfriend was offered a spare bed. But when I saw the company I could see why he was keen for me to come.

IMG_0027

We rolled up at the Marriott Hotel. It had been the only last-minute booking available and my boyfriend grumbled about it and said it was “just a hotel”. But it wasn’t “just a hotel” to me. Although there were smudges of something on the marble floor under the light, everything else was clean. The bathroom was mostly marble, with pretty shell mirror lights. The room was standard, except that it had a nice wooden wardrobe and three windows, two of which opened. I was expecting a kettle and teas for the price but it was still a treat. I was so tired later I didn’t mind the firm mattress, which is just how my boyfriend likes it, though he really doesn’t need the extra support.

IMG_0043

Spot Santa!

I was going to put on a short party skirt and top but luckily my boyfriend told me that we would be outside for a while at the German market, so I kept my acrylic LBD (long black dress) on. The whole of the city centre was covered in little wooden huts with fake greenery and baubles on the top. There were Santas on the rooves and a large Christmas tree. It was “Frankfurt” in Birmingham and the prices were probably just as ridiculous. The atmosphere was lovely though and there was one stall selling incredible hand-crafted chocolates in tool shapes – there were pliers, bolts, calipers, cameras, instruments and hammers. All the details were so delicate.

xmas-m4-800x600

We went to a French restaurant, Le Truc. I had a lovely hot spiced apple cocktail with a slice of apple in. It warmed me up and tasted sweet and delicious. We sat down to dinner and I ordered onglet. I wasn’t sure what it was but it sounded fancy, and with beef dripping chips. I asked one of the company what it was and I heard “snake”. I proudly announced to my boyfriend that I was having the most exotic dish. He didn’t know what onglet was but asked why they would serve snake. I asked the waitress and apparently it was steak. She asked how my boyfriend would like his steak. I told her he likes it freshly killed with blood still oozing from it. When he served it to me for the first time recently I could still taste the blood and felt a bit sick.

The onglet arrived but gristle was a better description. I couldn’t cut it. I struggled for a while and then gave up, ordering a fillet steak instead. When it came it was the best I’d tried, juicy, succulent and full of flavour. It was £17.50 for that and some standard chips – I couldn’t taste the beef dripping apparently on them, and a couple of leaves of spinach. I also had a goats cheese starter that was a slice of fried goats cheese on a potato cake. I thought it wasn’t much for £6.

I shared my boyfriend’s creme brulee for dessert and that was delicious. I’d IMG_0016only taken £50 cash to the city, thinking I would just be going for dinner and maybe a few drinks, but the drinks were so lovely I ended up spending £40 on two cocktails and the meal. The surroundings were nice with chandeliers and arty sketches and cartoons, and there was actually a French waiter. He was asked whether there were any nuts in the tart or sticky toffee pudding and didn’t understand until I translated rather falteringly with what I could remember.

Gingers was a lovely cocktail bar. They were really tasty and there was a wide variety on the menu. They were £6.50 each so I tried to make mine last. I had a strawberry milkshake one with a little too much alcohol in, it was quite sharp. Some were £8.50.

Although it was a classy establishment, unfortunately shortly after we sat down someone projectile vomited out of the toilet door (clearly more money than sense) and there were no other seats free. We were soon breathing through our mouths due to the chlorine bleach cleaning operation underway from a glamourous member of staff in a figgure-hugging LBD (also long). Ladies tottered around her in ridiculous heels, wearing fancy short dresses, fake-style make-up, curled freshly-dyed hair bouncing about. It was lovely being able to talk – the music was in the background and there wasn’t a dancing area, one wouldn’t want to encourage drink-spilling and debauchery.

My boyfriend took great delight in ordering “the gayest thing on the menu”. He had been yawning since the restaurant and after enjoying IMG_0023a sweet “Pink Panther” cocktail in a delicate little glass yawned until everyone followed suit and decided to call it a night. Most of the company were 30 or over and clearly weren’t used to such late nights.

In the morning I was annoyed that I woke up too late to enjoy the hotel pool. I enjoyed using the marble bathroom and the novelty of riding in a lift with a carpet and a mirror though.

We went to brunch at one of The Independent’s top 50 cafes. Nothing on the meu cost less than £6 so it was a bit pricey, and for that I only got three IMG_0041Scottish pancakes with maple syrup, bacon, a couple of blueberries and a strawberry. When we ordered tea I asked what tea they had and they said Earl Grey or ordinary. I wasn’t impressed. The salmon and poached egg brunch was probably what impressed reviewers, it looked like better value for money. There were wooden tables and the tea came in a lovely knitted tea-cosy. It was called The Plough and the toilet was rather fancy, all wood pannelling with their own soap and hand cream.

IMG_0039

We then went round the Christmas market again. I had a potato pancake, deep-fried. It was very fatty and chewy and not to my taste, even with the apple sauce. Others had little dough balls. I tried one but they were also chewy and fatty. Not worth £4 but they looked pretty.

IMG_0051

IMG_0044

Then we went round the Bullring shopping mall. It just had chain stores in but we got lunch there. We marvelled at the cakes and tarts at the Patisserie Valerie counter. I asked whether my boyfriend wanted a tart for his birthday (on Friday). I said he was only allowed an edible one though.

We rushed to the station only to discover that when I was really tired I had bought a ticket from Sheffield to Birmingham instead of the other way round, having booked a ticket from Sheffield to London for our upcoming trip to Istanbul at the same time. My boyfriend was driving down south for an 11 day shift, working away. I’m going to London the day before we fly  and my boyfriend is picking me up and taking me to the airport hotel. I bought him return flights and he’s treating me to free 4 star spa hotel accommodation throughout the trip, as he stays away so often with work that he has lots of points he can use.

So my knight in shining armour not only bought me drinks and my Christmas presents but then had to buy my train fare home. He’s refusing to let me pay him back so I’ll get him something nice for Christmas instead.

I’m really looking forward to the next two weekends and I’ll tell you all about them as soon as I can.

IMG_0054

1 Comment

Filed under Days out/nights out, Food, Life of Lydia