a birthday trip to romney

It was my birthday last weekend, and as a treat, my lovely HUSBAND (I still can’t get used to calling him that – either lovely OR husband to be quite honest), decided to book up a hotel that I had found while searching online a few years ago, but had never got around to going to.

The original reason for the search was “I want to go on the Romney Hythe & Dymchurch railway! I haven’t been on it for years! Where could we stay if we went down that way?” And one of the most aesthetically striking images was that of the Romney Bay House Hotel. How dramatic does it look?

Romney Bay House Hotel

So hubby decided to treat me. Having your birthday at this time of the year, you have to get used to the fact that the weather isn’t going to be great if you go away to celebrate it anywhere in the UK! We were actually quite lucky – it was bright when we arrived, although the potholed road leading to the hotel was peppered with pond-sized puddles. Soon after our arrival, the rain came crashing down again – and unfortunately there was scaffolding up as they had lost roof tiles in a mini-tornado the week before!

Owners Lisa & Clinton couldn’t have been more warm and friendly. You really felt that you were a welcome guest in their home – and what a home. A rambling maze of corridors and nooks and crannies – full of old fashioned character. I was surprised when we opened the door to our room and the sunshine streamed into a beautiful large space, including a wonderful large bathroom with a claw-footed free standing tub and separate shower cubicle.

Romney Bay House Hotel
Romney Bay House Hotel

Everything was clean and bright and well-thought out.  The bed was extremely comfortable (I’m quite the insomniac, but I actually slept really well), and our view out over the sea was fabulous. Ive never been one for hangign around in hotel lounges, but there was a gorgeous cosy first floor guest lounge overlooking the sea and I’d spied a ginger cat resting in there, so popped in for a tickle. Everything felt right and homey. Lisa didn’t even give us a key for our room (the front door is locked and you have to ring to get in), she showed us where they were kept, and it was up to us if we felt we needed it. There was also a fully-stocked honesty bar downstairs, where you just noted your room number and what you’d helped yourself to (although we’d packed a bottle of Prosecco!)

Pre-dinner drinks and nibbles
Pre-dinner drinks and nibbles

We had read great things about the restaurant, and had eagerly booked ourselves in for dinner.  There is no menu, and no choice of dining time. We were told what the menu was when we turned up, so I guess if we’d had any dietary requirements, we could have said then! Diners are expected to come down to the ground floor lounge (in front of the roaring open fire) for 7.30pm to be served drinks and nibbles, beofre being shown into the conservatory for dinner at 8pm. With the whole place feeling so homey, I did wonder whether Lisa would shout up the stairs for us to come down for dinner if we were late!

There are only 10 rooms at the hotel, and the restaurant reflects this – there were only 8 other diners on the night that we were there. The conservatory is a lovely space – and I can imagine it would be absolutely wonderful in the summer on a bright clear evening.

We were served by Lisa and two young waiters who couldn’t have been more professional, friendly and accommodating. Clinton in the kitchen served up a fantastic meal!  I couldn’t have ‘chosen’ better.

The first course was a kind of thin poatato rosti topped with smoked haddock and spinach, topped with a perfectly poached egg with a very light cheese sauce. I’ve only been ‘coming back’ to fish over the past couple of years, and as I can’t stand smoked salmon, I was a bit dubious of what smoked haddock would be like, and was fully expecting to just grin and bear it. I couldn’t have been more wrong – the haddock had been smoked on the premises I believe and was absolutely delicious – exactly the right amount of smoke! The whole dish was delicate but full of flavour.

Dinner at Romney Bay House Hotel
Dinner at Romney Bay House Hotel

Next was honey glazed duck breat with fondant potato and vegetables. The duck was pink, tender and juicy, the potato buttery and soft, the roast parsnip sweet and the vegetables beautifully turned, fresh and crunchy! Perfect!

Dessert was a spiced bramley apple souffle, cinnamon cream with red berries and sugar lattice. this had a thin, light sponge base, the souffle was a really light whipped mousse and the cream had just the right amount of cinnamon. The crisp satisfying crack of the sugar-work with it’s very slightly burnt caramel taste was a brilliant contrast. Absolutely wonderful!

I could have ended there – but there were cheese and biscuits (and port) to be had. I’m not a massive cheese and biscuit with dinner kind of a girl, so I left most of that to him.  However, I did eat most of the gorgeous little petit fours!

We wandered back up to our lovely room full (but not too stuffed) and happy and, looked out over the calm sea and even though it wasn’t my plan, fell asleep almost immediately!

The legendary orange marmalade
The legendary orange marmalade

Breakfast the next morning (you write down what time and style you want the night before on a pad next to the decent WiFi’s password) was the usual combination of buffet-style cereal, fruit etc, and we had both ordered the full english. We had our choice of eggs (me scrambled, him poached) – everything was tasty and well cooked – especially the sausages.  But the absolute star of breakfast (at which there were far more people) was the seemingly endless supply of toast to be smeared with their homemade orange marmalade. As each table tried it, you could hear the wave of the same question over and over “What’s in the marmalade?” The answer was that Clinton’s marmalade had cinnamon, vanilla, bay leaf and (the flavour that made it so special) anise.  They had some jars for sale at the honesty bar where you checked out, and we bought a couple – one for my parents and one for us. Lisa mentioned that this left just one jar from the batch and they’d have to make some more. I’d happily pay to buy some and have it posted to us!

So, that brought us to the last part of our trip – a quick return chug on the gorgeous Romney Hythe & Dymchurch railway – a not-too-mini version of a ‘real’ steam railway. My parents had taken me on it as a kid, and I’d been again when I lived in Kent – but I hadn’t been for about 20 years.

There’s something exciting about steam trains – the smell of the coke hanging in the air and the sound of the steam escaping from the funnel evoking all kinds of base emotions!

Romney Hythe & Dymchurch Railway
Romney Hythe & Dymchurch Railway

It may be small, but it’s perfectly formed, and proper grown-ups can still sit in the enclused carriages very comfortably. There is even a licenced buffet car. It was a perfect day – bright and brisk with hardly any clouds in the sky. We took the hour long round trip to Hythe and back to New Romney, puffing through the marshy countryside, baaing at sheep on the way – and checking out the few sights. It was exhilirating but relaxing and I loved every second of it. I plan to go on the Watercress Line soon as I’ve never been on it – or perhaps a return to the Bluebell Railway.

I even had the added pleasant surprise that the RHDR official guidebook that I bought contains a foreward by Ben Goldacre! Which seemed rather random.

What more could I have wanted for my birthday?

where i feel nostalgic over my mum’s old cookbook

When I was little, my mum taught me how to cook. She taught me all sorts of things – not content with just the basics, she also used to do things like, “This is how XX is made properly” and then a month or so later it would be “And this is how you cheat at making XX”.

A chunk of my learning was in conjunction with my mum’s cookbook, Marguerite Patten’s Stey by Step Cookery.

This was large, hardbacked and heavy. It did used to have a dust-cover but it was binned at some stage – and I don’t really remember it at all.  Now that all cookbooks have fantastic glossy, colour photos, it’s a bit odd going back and looking through a book that has insipid-looking photos, dodgy black and white ones and most of the time no photo at all, so you have to gues swhat it’s supposed to look like!


As you can see, this was a reprint in 1977 with the book originally published in 1963 – so it was probably outdated even then, let alone around 1980 when I first started taking looking at it.

I saw a photo of an old cookbook on the net yesterday, and remembered that I still had this knocking about – and thought I’d share some of my favourite outdated recipes / pages!

Emergency hors-d'oeuvres items
Emergency hors-d’oeuvres items

Look what you should be keeping in your store cupboard – in case you need to make emergency hors-d’oeuvres. Rollmops? Tinned lobster? Tinned anchovies? Russian Salad? Yummy. I think that would stop people dropping in unexpectedly next time!

Gammon nicoise
Gammon nicoise

Move over ham in coke, meet gammon nicoise – did you know that you could transform a couple of thick gammon steaks with a packet of sage and onion stuffing – topped with those pesky anchovies yet again!

Bacon and nut ring
Mmmm – cold cow in jelly!

I think brawn is actually making a comeback – so this rather (un)appetising looking dish may be right bang on food trend!

Bacon and nut ring
Bacon and nut ring

As for the bacon and nut ring – it looks and sounds like it would be incredibly stodgy, heavy and dry. But don’t worry – to counter that, you fill the dimple with peas and gravy. Sorted!

And if that’s not enough odd meatiness for you, how about calf’s head?  Calf’s head not weird enough for you? How about calf’s head with brain sauce – that should put hairs on your chest. Luckily, this is one of those recipes with no accompanying photo, so you’ll just have to imagine how glorious that would look.

Calf's head with brain sauce
Calf’s head with brain sauce

If calf’s head is a little too much for you, why not go down the other end of the normality scale?  You can’t go wrong with sausages, can you?  In fact, sausages can only be improved if you add lard and a foreign-sounding name, can’t they?

Sausages pomodonia
Sausages pomodonia

I love the fact that this is one of the few recipes that they feel need a step by step photo guide. Because everyone knows how to prepare calf’s head or pig trotter aspic, but frying sausages is far too technical!

Lamb in aspic
Lamb in aspic

Now how about that for an insipid, uninspiring, unappetising waste of a colour page?! Lamb is my favourite meat, but even I wouldn’t touch that with someone else’s barge pole. Cold lamb and peas? In jelly? With hard boiled eggs? I feel ill!

OK, lets get back to the simple. Did you know that a suggested accompaniment to game is crisps? But you don’t have to make them yourself – a normal pack of potato crisps is perfectly ‘satisfactory’ with your pheasant or quail or whatever! Handy knowledge – I bet none of your guests would pass coment.

These chips are well up for it - they are game chips!
These chips are well up for it – they are game chips!

Or how about these tomatoes, stuffed with tinned peas and corn, diced carrots, peppers and cooked meat?  Good job there’s a recipe for that!

Stuffed tomato salad
Stuffed tomato salad

And I just love that a simple chocolate mousse (just chocolate and eggs – I remember making this one a few times) comes with a wonderful step by step guide again. This time it also shows you all the different ways you can serve chocolate mousse. And look at that dress – it feels you with confidence that you can trust what she’s showing you!  SHE knows what she’s doing.

Chocolate mousse
Chocolate mousse

The book is full of cakes and desserts, as you would expect, but there seems to be a rather large section dedicated to different ways of serving apples. Including this odd one of meringue, apple and chocolate – does that work?

Apple meringues
Apple meringues

Of course, it’s not all terrible, it has the cheese straws recipe that we’ve used in our family for years, and there are loads of basic recipes that you can’t go wrong with – there are even some that I would consider giving a go.  And there’s the wonderful retro crockery featured in every photo.

I want to make this chocolate swiss roll again (I remember doing it when I was about 15) – but I want the crockery at the back to set it off with. *sigh* Happy memories!

Don't get distracted by the cake!
Don’t get distracted by the cake!

what happens when you try to arrange a wedding in five weeks

Last year I suggested we actually do it some time. I was on a beach, he was in the pub
Last year I suggested we actually do it some time. I was on a beach, he was in the pub

I have been with The Man for nearly 10 years. He has been threatening to marry me for many of those years. However, having been married three times already between us, it’s never been a priority. The fact that he has out-lasted both my previous marraiges put together has also lessened the need.

But about six weeks ago, I realised that my driving license had expired (check yours guys – I had no idea!), and it was in my previous married name. So, I was going to have to change my name on it.

I made the comment that “I wasn’t going to chnage my name on it now, just to change it again in a coouple of years time”, and with that, we went to the registry office and booked “The first Saturday available”. Which was last Saturday.

The Girl has been obsessed with us getting married eventually, and has mentioned it at least three times a week – even more so after her dad remarried. So, we obviously wanted her there, but apart from that, I’m not particularly into weddings, and I don’t like dressing up, and everything just seemed like too much fuss and bother. However, I LOVE a party!  I was in a quandry as to what to do.

So, I asked a wonderfully skilled friend if he would make our rings, to make it more personal and unique.  Him and his partner were the first outside our family to know.  Then, we finally relented and said family and closest friends could come along.  However, in ordeer to keep the amount of wedding chat to a minimum, I only told the girl 6 days beforehand when I had to take her out to get a dress!


I booked the ‘wedding breakfast’ in the back room at the Village Kitchen – Hanna and the team couldn’t have been more accommodating, and we gave the kitchen a resounding round of applause on the day.  Do check it out some time guys if you haven’t already – we had nothing but great comments from people.


The party had to be over the Rose & Crown, and I decided to get a karaoke and a photo booth. The wonderful people of Open Booths were amazing, and it really was a highlight of the evening – I highly recommend getting a photo booth for some brilliant memorable pics of your loved ones, and the Open Booth gives you so much more scope for merriment.


But then the other highlight was our cake.

After seeing a Wizard of Oz cake that he’d made for his neice, I asked my lovely friend Darren if he would be interested in making me an anti-wedding cake that was Walthamstow themed. He jumped at the chance and the conspiring began.  Originally, I had asked for me & The Man sitting on top of a pile of abandoned mattri (Walthamstow is famous for its abandoned mattresses, don’t ya know?) but it became so much more than that. It features our favourite places, our cats, The Girl, Warren Sreet station where we met (even though it’s obviously not Walthamstow where we were both living at the time), panda bowl man, pigeons. It was an absolute work of art. A showstopper – made clear by the amount of time people took taking photos of it when we brought it out. I can’t thank Darren enough!


All in all, given the amount of time I had to do it in, I think it was a bloody good day, and I am so grateful to every single person who came and shared our day. I wouldn’t have had it any other way – certainly not with months of stress and planning!

so funny i nearly wet myself ;)

The Girl @ Afternoon Tea yesterday
The Girl @ Afternoon Tea yesterday

So, yesterday I took The Girl out for some girlie time, and that started with one of our favourite things – afternoon tea (which I will blog about later).

So, there we were in a rather nice dining room, and she excused herself to go to the ladies room.  When she came back, she was all excited.

TG: Mum, you just HAVE to go to the loo in here!

Me: Maybe

TG: No, you HAVE to. They’re REALLY swanky!

Me: OK, I probably will soon

TG: No. Honestly. Listen. Listen to your bladder. Your bladder is telling you “Go to the toilet”. Listen to your bladder Mum!

Me (standing up, defeated): OK. Where is it then?

TG: *reaches out and rubs my belly area* I’m not sure, just about here I think. *collapses into giggles*

Oh yes. She’s very funny my daughter. Quick too.

when pride outweighs disgust

A typical young teen?

My daughter seems to be going through a completely skanky stage at the moment.  Her room is the grossest thing I have ever seen.  She seems to be allergic to washing and brushing her teeth and tried to ‘con’ me into believing that she has done these things.

I have been completely worried about it, although I do vaguely remember a similar period in my childhood, but after speaking to friends whose girls are more than a couple of years older than her, and it seems that there definitely seems to be this kind of period that girls go through, at the time when they most shouldn’t!

Anyway, that was a little background to my exchange with her this morning, where my pride kind of broke through my general disgust of her lately.

Me: “You’re wearing that jumper again! Three days I’ve pointed out to you that it’s got dirt down it, and you’ve put it on yet again! You’ve got clean jumpers in your room!”
Girl: “Nobody notices Mum.”
Me:  “*I* notice. YOU should notice!  How do you know NOBODY notices?”
Girl: “Nobody’s said anything about it.”
Me: “Not to your face maybe!”
Girl: “And why should I care what they say behind my back?”
Me: *dumbstruck* *slight awe* *love*
Girl: “See ya!”

a strange inheritance

I always seem to inherit odd things from people – I’ve never been one for taking jewellery, which seems to be the ‘normal’ thing for girls.

When my nan died a couple of months ago, we cleared the house…my uncle had died just a year before, and had lived with her all his life.

I loved my uncle so much, but he was a bit of an odd one occasionally, and only got worse as he got older (which is understandable).  We found all sorts of meticulous notes in the battery compartment in remotes (to say when they were last changed) or in the clocks (to say when they were last serviced) etc etc.

Anyway, along with Gemma, a battered old leather-effect pouffe, a crystal sweet bowl, a chest of drawers and a mantel clock I seemed to ‘inherit’ about 10 bars of Simple soap, 5 jars of Cadbury’s drinking chocolate and a vacuum cleaner.

Today, I opened up one of the packs of replacement bags for the vacuum cleaner…and found codes written on each one meticulously by my uncle in his neat script.

But what does it mean?!?!?

Can anyone crack the code?

a menace to society?

I will admit there are some similarities in the hair. I also had a black dog!

On Tuesday, I walked with The Girl from the station to my nan’s house for her funeral.  It was the first time we had gone there together by public transport, and the walk from the station round ‘the back way’ is rather convoluted down alleys and odd streets.

The Girl was wondering how I remembered the way, and I became rather poignant when I told her that I’d been making that journey on and off since I was tiny and I suddenly realised that it was a journey I probably would never make again.

I then told her some other childhood stories of the area, including that the post box outside my nan’s also held familial memories. Me and my two cousins always got told off for climbing on it with the local kids, as it was a position of authority to be able to sit, and (even better) stand on top of it.  And what’s more, my mum and her brother and sister had done exactly the same thing!

TG: How did you get up there?
Me: Duh! We climbed onto it – it was a knack
TG: And you got told off if you got caught
Me:  Yeah, and that always happened as it was outside nan’s living room window. it stupid of us all really now I think about it – we must’ve liked to live dangerously
TG: And did you get punished?
Me: Well, we were shouted at and sometimes called in
TG:  And did they tweak your ear?
Me: What?! Who?!
TG:  The grown-ups, when they caught you. Did they tweak your ear and drag you back inside?
Me: *look of disdain* I did NOT grow up in a Beano comic!!!!

*The Girl collapses into laughter*

right down to the toes

I was sitting down with The Girl, catching up on the week’s Got To Dance.  The Man goes to the pub every Saturday afternoon, and we often spend that time watching stuff he’d shout about if he was here because we ALL know that it’s really awful and that we shouldn’t be watching it.  But hey, I can’t watch gritty Scandiwegian dramas all the time, can I?

Anyway, she suddenlt said “how do they do that? I can’t even touch my toes!”  this, from my 13 year old, skinny-minnie, gangly-limbed daughter.

“You can’t touch your toes?!” I asked, “What do you mean you can’t touch your toes? you’re 13! you’re meant to be at your most flexible!  Even *I* can touch my toes no problem”

“Go on then!” she told me. so I immediately stood up, bent down, leg’s straight and touched my toes straight away. Easy-peasy!

“Oh My GOD!” she screamed “How did you DO that? At YOUR age? What kind of sorcery IS that?”

OK, so she was impressed – I don’t blame her, I AM over 40, but “At YOUR age?” Pah!

zed: a cosmic tale – michel gagné

Zed: A Cosmic Tale

I have never read a comic book / graphic novel ever. Ever!  Even though I live with a total geek who plays XBox at every opportunity, reads as much sci-fi as possible and has a graphic novel reading history (although not in recent years).

Anyway, apart from worrying about being branded a geek myself, I have had no real desire NOT to read graphic novels, it had just not come about.  However, I spotted this one available as an Advance Review Copy while I was looking for something for The Man to read, and how could I resist that cute little alien thing on the cover?  And it’s purple! I like purple!

OK, obviously I’m far too intellectual and deep to be swayed by looks, and I would never judge a book by its cover, but…well…

Zed is appearing before the Hierachy of the Galaxy to present his invention, along with nine other young inventors as part of a competition.  There’s a huge crowd gathered from planets across the galaxy to see not just the inventions but also Krah, the loudest rock band in the galazy.  Zed’s proud that his parents have also made the journey.

But when he starts the demonstration of his invention, something goes wrong.  Horribly, horribly wrong, and our poor little hero ends up having to battle not just for his own life, but also the fate of his home planet.

I loved this.  Don’t be swayed by the cutesie little alien, it covers some deep and dark events, and there seem to be a few missing heads within its pages.

Me and The Man read this together last night – it only took us about an hour, and The Girl has just read it. Like me, it was her first graphic novel, and she also loved it!  She did say “Ewww!” at a couple of points, but I knew she could deal with it – she is 13!  (There were only 2 minor swear words within.) She was more traumatised by the frame where Zed was getting changed and you see what is obviously his little alien willy.  When I say traumatised, it wasn’t quite like this moment.

I believe that this book was pulled together from existing stories that Gagné had written over 11 years, and I felt that there were moments that the story didn’t seem to flow very easily but I could forgive it almost anything as the drawings are wonderful!  They are a mixture of cutesie, amusing and dark.  There were a couple of frame comparisons at the end too which showed an original drawing and how much detail Gagné had added for the final product, which was really interesting.

I will now actively look for more graphic novels – it was great to have something that all three of us could enjoy and discuss.

The Man with his graphic novel experience would give it a good 3.5/5, me 4/5 and The Girl 5/5!  Give us more Zed!

Zed: A Cosmic Tale will be released on 12th Feb 2013

a bit of a buzz

As per my previous posts, my wonderful 95 year-old nan was finally allowed out of hospital on 2nd Jan.  On Saturday, she was feeling a little perkier, so my mum decided to finally pretend it was mini-Christmas.

My nan has a little radio next to her bed that she listens to LBC on every day.  For some ‘old person’ reason it isn’t a mains radio, it’s battery-powered!  So, for a silly present, my mum and dad had bought a great big long vacuum pack of batteries.

As my mum handed it to her, she said, “This is a bit of a joke present mum, and be careful as it’s a little heavy.” My nan took one look at it and said, “Is it a vibrator?”

Once she’d opened it and my parents had picked themselves up off the floor, dried their eyes and re-stitched their poor spilt sides, my nan said, “I don’t know why on earth I said that – I don’t even know what one looks like!”

Oh I think she knows. I think she knows.

She’s still totally switched on. She’s still sharp as a tack.  Unfortunately her little old body isn’t wearing up quite as well. She’s been very ill since coming out of hospital, but has been crying at the very thought of going back again – which she needs to, but still wouldn’t actually cure her.  So we have to respect her wishes and not take her back.

Yesterday the doctor said that it could be a week, or it could be a miracle and be a month.  I’m off to see her tomorrow to drink her and all her loveliness and funniness up.  And I wont let her see me cry at all.

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