20 October 2014

Best Friends Catch Up at Jamie's Italian - Cheltenham

Jamie's Italian never disappoints, and although it's been around for quite a while now, I wanted to share with you my most recent visit to the Cheltenham restaurant because it was so good.
Sometimes, a plate of pasta can fix a world of problems. And sharing a chocolate brownie with your best friend – well, it can't be beat.

A refurbished court house, the upper area of the restaurant has all the original furniture, and Bethan and I were seated in the snug jury box. We were enclosed and seated side by side, it felt very cosy albeit a little strange, but it was fantastic. A visit is highly recommended even if it's just for the aesthetic – it would make a great place for a first date.

It has become quite the norm for me to order 'nibbles', or starters, when I go out to eat. I guess when I was a student I couldn't afford to order whatever I wanted on the menu, but now I have that luxury and it just makes the whole experience so much nicer. I have become obsessed with olives in the past year and I knew we had to get some to snack on before our main meal.

And of course polenta chips. Have you tried these? They are out-of-this-world delicious. Crispy, buttery fried cubes of polenta sprinkled with parmesan, salt and rosemary. I could eat bowl after bowl of these things.

Not long after we finished our yummy starters our mains arrived. Bethan ordered the prawn linguini and I had the penne pomodoro. I was feeling a bit plain that day as I hadn't been very well so wanted to ease back into foods. This was so delicious! Although simple, the tomato sauce was full of flavour and the pasta cooked to al dente perfection. I loved the presentation of a spoon filled with herby breadcrumbs, and although a little more cheese would have been nice, I was satisfied with my dish.

We were pretty stuffed but couldn't resist pudding. Bethan swore by the chocolate brownie (she had in fact been to the very same restaurant the weekend before) and it certainly didn't disappoint. Served with a scoop of salted caramel ice cream (drool), chocolate sauce and amaretti popcorn it was one of the best desserts I have had in a restaurant in a long time. The brownie actually tasted familiar, and then I realised it's because it must be the same recipe as the one I use at home – seeing as it's a Jamie recipe. Trust me when I say his are the best brownies in the world.

As with most other restaurants on the high street at the moment, Jamie's had a Christmas card advertising their menu for the festive season. I've already committed to the work Christmas party elsewhere but I can't help but want to go somewhere with a group of friends too. Is that something people do? If so, Jamie's is a high contender... Those polenta chips, oh my.

Me and my best friend don't live in the same town anymore, and although we're not too far away from each other, meeting up after a few weeks, or even months, is one of life's great pleasures. We always pick up from where we left off, and both buzzing to fill each other in with the news of our lives brings such a thrill. After our meal I had the pleasure of meeting Bethan's new boyfriend, but that's a story for another day.

15 October 2014

Autumn in Cheltenham

Cheltenham is the place to experience seasons. Each one paints the town in a different shade, and every feeling evoked is different. For autumn, it is a content, chill-in-the-air, wrapped up feeling that always comes back.

For the past four years, a tradition has formed. It's been organic, unspoken and beautiful, and I'm so pleased to share it with you all. My mum and I meet up for a weekend of shopping, eating and attending events at the literature festival, and it is wonderful.

Of course, this year was different, as was last year – because now that university is over, the years roll into each other and I forget how long ago it was since I was eighteen, and time is once again a lost concept to me. I must figure out a way to control it, or at least understand it, again.

I met Cloey and we walked through the university grounds on our way to town. I was finally granted the chance to take some photos of the vibrant pink leaves pinned to the side of one of the buildings, after years of passing them by on the way to lectures. How beautiful can autumn get?
I miss this place, but not enough to return. Lu wrote a poignant post about revisiting old homes and she captures it exactly. I sometimes wonder if more good friends are people I have yet to meet.

Some say Francis Close Hall – the campus for humanities and arts – is like Hogwarts, but that would do it an injustice. It is its own, and in these photos you only see a snippet, so if you're ever in Cheltenham, take a walk through the grounds of my old university campus. It's a treat at any time of year.

That was on Saturday. On Sunday I met my mum for breakfast and autumn looked different again. I love that – it can be cold and sunny, and then misty and grey, yet still a sense of cosy happiness permeates the atmosphere no matter what the weather. 

The promenade was voted as one of the top 5 high streets in the UK in 2011 and it's easy to see why. Walking along the promenade at any time of day or year constitutes, in my opinion, walking along some of the most beautiful leafy streets of New York or London, an action figure beneath tall, great architecture, of which I could only dream to be a part. Go upstairs in The White Company and you'll see what I mean. 

Did you know that trees that shed leaves are deciduous? I learnt that word today on dictionary.com. That website is probably my most visited on my computer at work. I feel so fortunate to be able to learn new words every day.

The ground is littered with these done-with amber leaves, ready for winter. It's such a short time, autumn. I'm sure next week it'll be gone. But reflecting on my weekend in Cheltenham at my favourite time of the year has extended that first feeling of autumn, and the pictures are here to stay, with this post, in my archives for whenever I get a little nostalgic for this time of year.

I drove past my second year house, walked past my third, and saw the homes of my best friend and then boyfriend. For a moment it felt like I could knock on each of the doors and they would be there, at each stage of our lives. I sat in these scenes with people I hardly ever see anymore, or even speak to. 
Why does time change things into mere memories, when all the pieces, people and things that make up these scenes, when you break them down, essentially stay the same? 

What does autumn feel or look like to you? Link me to your favourite autumn posts, I love reading them!

4 October 2014

The Best Grilled Cheese Ever - Abergavenny Food Festival Day 2

Have you ever had grilled cheese? It's not the same as cheese on toast. Think American style buttery, melty, cheesey deliciousness sandwiched between two thick slices of bread. You'll never eat cheese on toast again. 

I don't know why it's called 'grilled' cheese, when in actual fact it's fried. But who really cares. It's melted, beautiful, cheesy deliciousness and one of my favourite things to eat. My happiness levels soared when I saw the grilled cheese stand at the food festival.

I'm a bit of a novice when it comes to cheese – as much as I love the stuff, I have no idea about the different varieties, and had to ask the woman on the stand to explain to me what ogleshield was. Eventually we got there – it's a bit like gruyère, she said, and I was sold on that alone. I've heard how well gruyère melts, and mixed with cheddar equated to perfection in my mind.

When I make grilled cheese at home, I use a mixture of mature cheddar and those fake cheese slices you get in burgers. It melts really well and is so comforting to eat. Inspiration came from Essiebutton in her grilled cheese video.

I placed my order, watched them fry my sandwich and in a few minutes it was mine. 

The first bite – oh my goodness, the first bite. Serious grilled-cheese-eating face. It didn't take very long for me to eat this sandwich, and as rich, greasy and indulgent as it was, I could have eaten another straight away. It was the best grilled cheese ever. Find out more about the Cheese Truck here and here.

Shortly after my grilled cheese I found myself back at the Chase bar – I wonder how that happened? I'm thinking tonight is the night I recreate the Kiss Chase cocktail. It was so delicious.

And what's a meal without dessert?

I got myself a huge chocolate ice cream from Wild Fig in the market hall and spoon fed lots of it to baby OH who enjoyed it just as much as I did. Creamy, delicious, not-too-rich chocolate ice cream. Yum.

Sadly, that was the end of the food festival this year and I went home with a full tummy and a happy heart. Good food and drink makes life worth living, and I hope you are all as inspired as I have been by the food and drink documented from this year's food festival. Who's up for coming to the next one?


1 October 2014

Falafel, Cocktails & Churros – Abergavenny Food Festival Day 1

Possibly the highlight of my summer (and every summer) is the Abergavenny food festival. Held annually, the two-day event celebrates all things foodies like me love - think burgers fried right in front of you, grilled cheese, unique cocktails, countless ice cream stalls and so much more.

I knew I wanted to document my experience so on Saturday 21st September, I headed up to the castle, camera around my neck, ready to find the very best of what the festival had to offer. I had a little wander around before deciding on what to eat first and the decision wasn't hard: falafel. 

I'm no veggie (although I did date one for a couple of years) but falafel is one of my favourite things to eat. It was actually my ex boyfriend who introduced me to it - and for that I am thankful, for it was the start of many wonderful meals to come, including this one - especially this one.
I was thirsty so, naturally, I ordered some of the homemade elderflower cordial too. The falafel came in a cute little box, with red cabbage, relish of my choice - I chose the tzatziki - pitta and hummus. You could tell it was all homemade - it was so earthy and delicious, and even though falafel is fried, it didn't taste greasy at all. And the elderflower cordial? It was the perfect accompaniment and quenched my thirst.

The castle is generally the most family friendly area during the festival, thanks to its vast amount of grassy banks and open spaces, so there was a fair amount of light hearted entertainment there throughout the weekend.
The first of which I witnessed was a doughut eating competition a few feet from where I was sitting eating my lunch. The man on the left won, despite the efforts of the guy on the far right who ended up eating his doughnut from the floor after it fell off the string.

Next stop was the gorgeous chai tea tent. I didn't buy anything because I'm not really a chai lover but I had a sip of Sarah's and it was lovely! I think a good chai made with real spices is worth drinking – that syruppy stuff from Starbucks just puts me off...
Not long after that I headed down to Lower Brewery Yard in the town centre, where I queued up (too long) for a mojito from The Shack.

Now, this may have been a delicious, refreshing, zingy, sweet, best-mojito-ever, kind of mojito, but the service was so incredibly poor, which was a huge let down for me. Check out my post on instagram for The Shack's response - all I can say is service with a smile – or any kind of interaction – doesn't cost a penny.
That was as far as my complaints went, however, because after that I noticed there was a stand selling churros – something I have wanted to try for so long. They were just as I imagined – sweet, hot, fluffy-on-the-inside yet crisp-on-the-outside doughnut sticks covered in cinnamonny goodness, served in a pot of chocolate sauce. There are photos of me eating these churros but... well it got messy. All I know is that these churros were the bomb dot com and I am on the case for making my own very soon.

Every year my dad gets the soft shell crab tempura from the fish market in The Priory, and every year he raves about it. I decided to go along with him and my brother-in-law to see what all the fuss was about. I am not a fan of crab at all so I didn't try it but it did look fantastic.

Then it was time for more cocktails... but this time from somewhere a lot nicer, with much better service.
I was back at the castle at the Chase bar – the place where I discovered my new favourite brand of vodka and gin. My oh my, I am so sold on their ethos and I promise you it's not just because of how gorgeous the man who made my Kiss Chase cocktail was. I had these cocktails on both days of the festival as they were just so delicious – apple, elderflower and vodka, my new favourite combination. One thing to note about Chase spirits is that they are of the highest quality, and therefore didn't have the slightest negative affect on me during or after drinking them. I am more than happy to pay more for a better quality drink if it means no hangover! More photos of me enjoying these cocktails on my Instagram.

And then it was time to go home, enjoy a roast dinner with the family and sneak in a quick nap before heading out to enjoy some more Chase cocktails at the Angel hotel with friends. I think the food festival's opening hours (10-5.30) should be extended, and although they had a night market on this year the day just flew by! However, I still had the whole of Sunday, and I'll can't wait to share with you the delicacies I enjoyed – a separate post is necessary.
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