Category Archives: Birmingham

500 days of Summer

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Well, perhaps not quite 500.

This weekend promises something quite rare for myself – I will not only be able to spend the whole weekend waking up in my own bed, but I don’t have anything planned for the first time in ages. Yes, I’ve deliberately turned down some things to make it so, but it was from looking at my diary that I came to the realisation that since Mid-June, I’ve only had 3 weekends where I didn’t have something planned or more specifically, meant I had to go away. Yes, I know this is very much a First World Problem, but I was thinking that being so busy should also mean that there *must* be something I could post about, right?

In the space of 3 months, a lot has happened – I had a bit of a scare regarding a lump discovered in one breast which turned out to have been lumps (plural) and affecting both breasts (!!). After a tense few weeks of being prodded and poked for investigation and seeing sights which no woman should ever see, I am relieved to say that I’m OK and have been discharged from the hospital. Being discharged meant that I could commit to a change in job roles and start on a 2 year project which will hopefully result in even bigger and better things for me. Obviously during those weeks, I couldn’t really consider if I had a future, let alone what I should/want to be doing in it, but once I knew it was OK to do so, I started planning my future with a new invigorated sense of trying to achieve more.

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There have been trips to Copenhagen – Two in fact, but the second one was very much a last-minute thing and I’ll write about that in another post. The first trip included a meal at the always-brilliant Relæ, loving Mirabelle so much that we went back the following day for (what turned out to be) the same dishes – Which we didn’t mind one bit, a great experience at Ante (RIP) and most of all, a trip to The Amazing Pig Out at Amass (oh, and going there for Amass Fried Chicken in the garden of Amass the day before). Again, more about this another time…

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A fair amount of beer was consumed – Not only from a trip to the magnificent Birmingham Beer Bash which has established itself as a firm annual favourite in my calendar, but with the opening and discovery of some new tap rooms and bars, especially the (IMO) very brilliant Clink Beer in the Custard Factory. What impresses me the most about Clink Beer is that it was borne out of the desire to have somewhere reasonably central (especially in the Digbeth area) where you can get some really decent and interesting craft beers without having to pay inflated prices as you may for something in the City Centre or travel across the other side of the City (If like me, you don’t live that side of Brum). I’m very biased in that the location of Clink Beer is on my bus route home, therefore making it VERY easy for me to go for a few drinks and still be able to stagger to the bus home, but I genuinely love this place and hope they do really well (I know I will do my bit).

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Founders released their KBS 2016 and expectations were almost impossibly high given how KBS 2015 was one of my favourite beers EVER. Yet Founders managed to pull it out of the bag again – KBS 2016 was somehow even better than 2015 with deeper coffee and vanilla notes. The bar was already set sky-high, but it could well be stratospheric for KBS 2017. Other highlights included being able to finally try Founders’ Mango Magnifico (at the Birmingham Beer Bash), and it was delicious – Even with the poke at the end! Another beer highlight was the latest BQE offering from the always reliably brilliant Brooklyn Brewery which could well be my favourite EVER. Named The Discreet Charm of the Framboise, it’s based on their very delicious Bel-Air Sour beer (which I got to gorge on during the London Beer Mansion earlier in the year), aged in Woodford Reserve Bourbon barrels with a whole load of raspberries chucked in – All elements which individually I love so it was bound to be a winner in my books when you combined them all (and it’s every bit as delicious as I thought/hoped it would be).

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Food-wise, there were some highly enjoyable visits to Aulis at at Claridges and The Sportsman and I also got the chance to sample the talents and deliciousness from Alex Nietosvuori during his stint at Carousel before he moved on to Santiago, Chile on his next food adventures. Whatever Alex does next, I’m sure he’ll be a great success and I greatly look forward to tasting his food again. There was also a whirlwind visit to Silo in Brighton, but that visit is very much worthy of its own post.

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From my own part, there was a rediscovery of my own love of cooking when I got to cook for a load of friends (and family) in M & B’s new kitchen (photos) which also meant I not only got to play with, but covet various bits of kitchen equipment and design in their lovely home. There was (as you would expect in cooking meal for 14 people) a fair bit of work to be done, but M&B were such fantastic hosts and so generous in letting me wreck and mess up their sumptuous kitchen (I mean, they actually made us breakfast pastries and personalised fortune cookies). But there was a moment at the beginning of the meal when the entire table were drinking their soup (pork fillet, mustard greens and salted duck eggs) and other than the odd guttural murmur, the only sound you could hear was of everyone happily slurping their soup. I was busy preparing the duck at the time to take a picture or video at the time, but I paused to take in that moment and a massive smile appeared on my face. So whilst I got a lot of thank you’s for cooking the small feast, I have to say a massive THANK YOU to M & B for not only letting me play in their kitchen, but also to everyone else that came along that day for helping me to rediscover the joy I get from not only cooking, but seeing people enjoying the food I’ve cooked.

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There has been a lot of reflection over the summer – My health scare at the beginning of the summer made me a lot more contemplative than usual, but the Olympics also made me think of the last Olympics in London – And how I can finally look back at that time more objectively. I mean, I remember posting about the Olympics on here and how I kept bursting into tears – During the National Anthem, whenever some athlete was crying.. I can look back on it all now and realise that at that time 4 years ago, I was deep in the throes of grief, but it hasn’t diminished my appetite for watching the Olympics. I mean, after being able to gorge myself in sport around the clock, I felt a bit bereft when the Olympics ended. (Although, as a side note, YAY for the Paralympics coverage!).

However, the main event was for me, the wedding of M & G. It may have been towards the end of the summer and in the middle of a *really* hectic few weeks, but more than anything, it reinforced how close my family all are – And how fortunate I am to have such a loving and utterly brilliant family. Whilst there were no tears from watching the Olympics, there was much laughter, some tears and some moments of tension between and from each of us at some point over the weekend. Naturally, all of us at some point turned our thoughts to our late parents and how they would have both *loved* to have been there. However, I know that I’m not alone in thinking that seeing the beaming smiles and howls of laughter across everyone’s faces – Along with the very evident joy and happiness on M and G’s faces as they got married – made us all feel fortunate to be able to share and join in these new happy memories for all. And whilst it’s a very old cliché, we all know that our parents were with us in spirit.

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So what now? I’ve already mentioned how I should (need) post about a few places, but after such a hectic summer, I think it’s time to step back a little and take things slightly easier – Not only will my body thank me for it, my bank balance will too! After all, I need to save up for bigger adventures 😉

The 40 Project part 5 – Fin

Well, this is it. It’s taken a few posts (and even longer for me to write up about it!), but what started off as something to keep me amused and occupied in the year I turned 40, I ended up doing much more than the requisite 40 and I’ve only written about those I have fairly decent pictures of. I’ve managed to travel a fair bit in my 40th year – 3 trips to Copenhagen, 1 trip to Whitstable and Seasalter, a trip to Lyon, numerous trips to London, an Alaskan Cruise, a trip to Washington State, a trip to San Francisco and also San Jose, a few trips to Manchester.. The list went on. However, there was a notable omission – I hadn’t done anything in my home town of Birmingham.

I’d spent quite some time wandering what I could do for my 40 list for Birmingham; There was one occasion I went to have a few drinks (and food) at the Two Towers Brewery which much to my amusement, really was a piss up in a brewery. However, I completely forgot to take any pictures so given I don’t have any pictorial evidence of said piss up in a brewery, I couldn’t really post about it. Then I wondered what other food specialties I could try from Birmingham – I had already come close with proper Black Country Butcher’s home made faggots, but the likes of HP Sauce, Bird’s Custard and even Typhoo Tea even though they all originated from Birmingham and you can still see remnants of the old Bird’s Custard Factory and HP Factory today, they are no longer produced in Birmingham which deemed them ineligible. I liked the idea of a pint of Mild with some pork scratchings and I know I have done both, but it didn’t feel right for my 40 list – Even though it’s probably the one closest to my heart.

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It was all coming down to one, inevitable choice really – The Balti. There’s a lot of snobbery when it comes to Baltis and let’s face it, it’s not exactly the most glamorous thing on the list, is it? I mean, this is my hometown – And the best I could come up with is a Balti? Never mind the fact that it’s not exactly a new thing for me to try. That said (and in the face of no real alternative), I slowly came round to the idea and eventually decided that I would go for a Balti in one of the original Balti restaurants in the Balti Triangle [40] (That’s a lot of “Balti”‘s there) on New Year’s Eve – What better way to see out the year in which I turned 40 than doing the final item on the list?

The choice of restaurant was quite important too – Looking at the Balti Birmingham site, it gives you a shortlist of “Authentic Balti” restaurants and a bit of research here and there led me to choose Al-Frash as my restaurant of choice. I’m not sure exactly how and why I chose that restaurant, but I was happy to be going there anyway.

Looking at the menu, I noticed they offered what they termed “world’s first sweet potato pakora” Well, I *had* to go for one of those. Similarly, I avoided ordering my usual curry and went for one of the House Specials when this caught my eye:

“Butterfly Special – Our signature dish, fusing all the delicious flavours of King Prawn, Chicken Tikka, Mushroom & Special Kashmiri Spices, cooked to perfection. Served with rice or nan”

Yep, SOLD! I’ll have that with rice and sadly, they didn’t offer a Family nan – One where it’s pretty much the size of the table – so I got a large nan to share with my fellow diners P and M whom joined me in this celebration.

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To be perfectly honest, the food itself was fine – It wasn’t anything standout, but I had a great time with 2 great friends to mark the end of the year I turned 40 and with that, the end of my 40 Project. I was really happy to end it on such a high note, eating nice food and with great company.

And that’s been the recurring theme throughout the whole year; Not only did I have great fun thinking of and doing this project, I got to do it accompanied with/surrounded by people I know and love. As previously mentioned in another post, I’ve been really fortunate in that I got to travel even more than usual but the whole spirit of which the project was taken – To mark the year when I turned 40 – Was done so in a celebratory fashion and I loved every single part of it. In contrast, this year (where I turned 41) seems dull in comparison and who knows – Perhaps I’ll think of something similar for my next significant Birthday. But for now, I know that I hit my 40s eating and drinking some fantastic food, surrounded by my brilliant family and fabulous friends – For which I am very grateful for.

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Public Service Announcement – Get your ribs on!

Not done these for a while, so forgive me for being out of practice..

Are you or can you get to Birmingham this Weds night (26th November)? Are you kind of stuck for something to do or where to go eat? While there are a few options you could go to, you won’t get much better than the upcoming Smoke and the City night at the Peel & Stone Bakery, where you can sample some award-winning ribs amongst some other goodies from our very own local gem, Lap Fai lee of Alt-Q and the Backyard Brummies for a bargainous £20. So what you waiting for? Tickets can be purchased here

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Smoked nuts, scratchings, andouille

Jerk babyback ribs and wings, dirty rice and peas, slaw, bacon cornbread

Smoked cardamom flan

Doors open at 6.45pm, food served at 7.15pm.

See you there!

Local Gem: Bedders, Birmingham

This is Bedders

In my attempt to keep posting a bit more about Birmingham, I thought I would start a new category: Local Gems. These will be places which may not exactly set the culinary world on fire, but are local places where solid, tasty food is served. The first local gem I want to write about is Bedders in Small Heath, Birmingham.

Bedders for me, embodies everything I want to write about local gems – Most people in East Birmingham and Solihull know of Bedders but not so much outside of these geographic areas although they very much should. Fish and Chips is one of this nation’s beloved dishes – Who doesn’t like Fish and Chips? – and Bedder’s has been at the same location selling the same dishes today as they did over 50 years ago when they first opened (with a few additions to reflect the change in times). You don’t need me to tell you that any business which has survived for so long is obviously doing something right but here they are, still serving Fish and Chips as they probably did all those years ago when they first opened. What’s more astonishing is the fact that Bedders only opens Monday – Saturday for lunch and the only time they open in the evening is on Friday evenings 4:30pm – 7pm.

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The menu is delightfully simple; Fish is a choice of cod, haddock or plaice (the latter 2 costing a bit more), they have pies and you can request tinned roe when you get there, although there are times they have fresh roe available too. No Southern Fried Chicken, no battered mushrooms or onion rings, definitely no kebabs here. If you order fish and chips, you can have it either as a single (piece of) fish and chips, or even a double (piece of) fish and chips. What’s more, in a really nostalgic twist, this is one of the few places I know of that offer you crispy bits of batter too (think some people know them as scraps?)

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The fish is incredibly fresh at Bedders, too. Urban legend has it that fishermen call Bedders first to offer their wares before going to the Wholesale Market, but what I do know is that the fish is prepared fresh every day and the beauty of Bedders being so busy constantly is that all the fish is so freshly cooked that it’s rarely out of the fryer longer than 10 minutes before sold (and the fired fish has to be stacked sideways to allow more room once out of the fryer). It’s no small feat for somewhere in landlocked Birmingham to have been able to consistently get such fresh fish every day for as long as they have at Bedders. In my case, I always get my fish freshly fried as the plaice and haddock are cooked to order.

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However, it’s not just the high quality fresh fish which should have you going to Bedders; You should be going for their superlative mushy peas and pickled onions. I admit, I never really liked mushy peas until I went to Bedders. I mean, why would you eat anything bright green that didn’t have a whole lot of flavour and subsequently needed a load of white pepper and malt vinegar to make them vaguely palatable? Much less did I see how/why they were considered to be a good accompaniment to fish and chips.. Admittedly, having to clean out a mushy peas machine when I used to work in a kitchen never helped my cause but then I tried the mushy peas at Bedders and it all became clear; Here at Bedders, the peas were freshly boiled down with ham hocks so that you got the ham flavour infused into the peas so it had a load of flavour – It didn’t need any extra white pepper or to be drowned in malt vinegar. I finally saw how they were a savoury accompaniment to fish and chips and could even enhance the fish and chips. Seriously, I’m a bit of a mushy peas snob now and even in more upmarket places that offer mushy peas with mint don’t have the same deliciousness as the mushy peas at Bedders. As for their pickled onions, rather than offer the jarred variety of whole button onions which have been in a jar for godknows how long, Bedders offer you freshly chopped onions steeped in a bowl of pickling vinegar (AKA proper pickled onions). Again, these are made fresh every day and you may not think they look particularly strong (in a pickled sense), trust me, you will be scooping as many onions as possible onto your food.

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I used to only do a takeaway from Bedders with the fish and chips still wrapped in newspaper but if you want the full Bedders experience, then you need to eat in. It’s only then can you really soak in the nostalgia not only with the Formica and various newspaper clippings framed on the wall along with photos of stars whom have eaten there (My personal favourite is of David Suchet). Even the crockery is pure 60s and 70s with their glass plates and tea served in glass teacups and saucers. Order a fish dinner to eat in and you get your fish and chips (with or without peas), a glass of tea or coffee along with some bread (white, smeared all over with margarine, not butter). I absolutely love eating in at Bedders when I get a chance – I love seeing whole families enjoying themselves, sitting alongside an elderly couple enjoying their fish dinners just as they did 30 years ago.

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I can’t believe I never thought of this before, but YKL created what can only be described as the Ultimate Fish Dinner Butty when she gets a fish dinner there; She gets a half-slice of bread, puts a bit of fish on half the side of the bread half slice, adds a couple of chips and some onions, then dollops a generous helping of mushy peas before folding over the bread. I’d never thought of doing that but it is every bit as good as it sounds and looks.

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I admit, I’m fully biased about Bedders because they’re local to me and I’ve been going so long now that upon walking in, the manager asks me how much plaice he needs to cook – No hello or anything, just “How many today?”. But as I mentioned earlier, Bedders must be doing something right given they’ve lasted so long and essentially only trade during lunchtimes. I mean, they’re constantly busy and whenever I go past, there’s always a queue going out the door. Whenever I have visitors from abroad, I like taking them to Bedders because they offer fish and chips like we used to get when we were younger – Not like chippys these days which are more a kebab-house rather than a chippy. It’s not just for nostalgic reasons that I love Bedders, it’s because they serve Fish and Chips very well and I only hope that they can go on for at least another 50 years. So if you ever nearby and Bedders are open, you absolutely should go.

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Use your loaf…

Despite this blog being called Brummie Tummy, I always feel as if I don’t mention Birmingham enough or at least share some of the great places we have in this city I call my hometown. Partly because I know I spend a lot of time in Londinium so naturally end up writing about a lot of London restaurants, but I often feel as if there are plenty of other blogs and websites promoting Birmingham out there (like smoke&umami or even Dine Birmingham). Plus, given I’m always behind in updating my blog posts, I feel as if people already know about whatever place I’m going to write about so there’s even less reason to write about it (before I get a grip of myself and realise that another blurb by myself isn’t really going to make that much of a difference). So I thought I would write about a couple of experiences I’d had at Loaf HQ; CANeat and Stirchley Brewhouse; I’ll be honest and admit that I’m fortunate enough to know the guys behind CANeat and am fully aware of what their levels of culinary expertise are, but I like to think that I won’t let anything like that influence what I write on here.

CANeat is a new (roughly) fortnightly popup, based at Loaf HQ offering “a regular, intimate dining experience with the menu published in advance” (on the CANeat website). And it certainly is intimate – The dining room at Loaf HQ barely held 13 diners and as a result, everyone could overhear conversations from the surrounding tables (although strangely we couldn’t really hear the music playing on the mac in the corner), but that wasn’t really a problem and it is a testament to the clientele and the conviviality of the night that everyone could join in all the conversations across the room. It may have been the first night of CANeat, but if that night was a measure of things to come in terms of atmosphere, then laid-back and all-round friendliness is what to expect.

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Food-wise, it is very much the high quality I would expect from these guys; That is to say it’s exceedingly high and especially so when you consider that these guys all have (normal) day jobs and when you look on their website, they state: “CANeat is a group of food enthusiasts offering a different way to dine in Birmingham. CANeat believes in providing great food with provenance that is good value and welcoming. Food that is prepared with passion and dedication using time-honoured methods. We preserve, cure, smoke, brew, ferment and bake. CANeat will offer food without boundaries from across the world..” And when the first night’s menu came to a whopping £20 for snacks, 3-course meal, milk and cookies then tea/coffee with petit fours (or treats, as they call them on the menu), that’s bargainous in anyone’s book – Especially when you can pay in excess of (or get very little change from) £20 just for a main course in some other restaurants in the City. Highlights of the night for me included the nasi lemak – in particular the beef (well, ox cheek) rendang and the sambal tumis ikan bilis it was served with – Although it packed a bit too much of a punch for some diners!. I also liked how they deconstructed a Pineapple Upside Down Cake so that you got a wedge of salt baked pineapple, served with a smidge of cardamom (icing) sugar (which was jokingly suggested the diners were meant to snort) and a quenelle of buttermilk ice cream on top of what was meant to be the cake component, but was actually more of a crumble. I guess I should have expected something deconstructed given it was written on the menu as Pineappleupsidedowncake. Still, it was delicious and everyone cleared their plates. That’s not to say that *everything* was brilliant and en pointe; Whilst I applaud them for offering nasi lemak, which is still sadly hard to find in Birmingham restaurants and I loved the beef rendang and sambal tumis parts of the dish, unfortunately the actual nasi lemak part of the dish (the coconut rice) was the weakest component of the dish without the coconut flavour (or pandan leaf/lemongrass if they used it) coming through when you ate it, plus the rice was a bit claggy. That said, everyone still loved it and again, cleared their plates and whilst my only minor criticism could be construed as being hyper-critical, I’m pretty sure that the ever-perfectionist that is Lap would agree with me that the rice could have been better.

Rye Toast, Brown Shrimp, Crispy Pancetta, Pickled apple and mouli Nasi Lemak Pineappleupsidedowncake Milk

A couple of days later, I was back at Loaf HQ, this time for Stirchley Brewhouse which basically sees the cookery school at Loaf HQ once again, transformed into a café, but in this instance it’s a collaboration where they offer breakfast/brunch items and the hot beverages are offered by Pop Cult Coffee 8:30 – 11:30 on a Saturday morning. I missed the first one (which included a “mock muffin” which was essentially the mock of a breakfast muffin you can get from the Golden Arches, but made with locally sourced ingredients and fresh sourdough muffins made on the premises), but the 2nd one  (which was held not too long after the success of the first Stirchley Brewhouse) had me sold at the words: “huevos rancheros” –  I don’t think I actually paid attention to the rest of the menu once I saw that on it..

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One thing I can say about anything from Loaf is that you can be assured that it’ll be pretty damn good and at worst, tasty.  So whilst I rocked up bang on 11:30 (my friends got there at 11:15), they had pretty much sold out of everything – No huevos rancheros, no cowboy beans (chorizo and black beans)..  I daresay they were a bit taken back by how popular it was and the only thing they could offer us was some scrambled egg on Stirchley Mighty White toast topped with a chilli and tomato sauce.  OK, it wasn’t the kind of eggs I was hoping to eat, but like I said earlier, it’s not like I was going to get anything *bad* to eat when there.  I also have it on good authority that the blueberry slices and banana loaf were very good too (judging on how it was pretty much inhaled by people).

Scrambled eggs on Stirchley Mighty White with chilli sauce Blueberry Slice

You can keep up to date of the latest menu on the CANeat website, but it’s always worth checking the Loaf website as they will always have details for both CANeat and Stirchley Brewhouse whenever it runs.  Plus, you can always follow both Loaf and CANeat on twitter if you really want to stay on top of any announcements (including news of any impromptu pop-ups like a kebab night they had recently), but prepare to be constantly drooling as there are often pictures posted of whatever delicious baked goods have just come out of the oven.  In which case, you’ll just have to head over to Stirchley Stores and resist the temptation to buy everything.  It really brightens up my heart to see Loaf doing so well – Not just in the bakery and cookery school, but also in helping to Brummies get a chance at something decent to eat, especially with the new additions of CANeat and Stirchley Brewhouse without having to break the bank or travel elsewhere. I guess all I need to say is Viva Stirchley!

PSA: Oriental Food Festival, Victoria Square March 22 – 23

Yes, time for another public service announcement, this time to let people know of the (Lebara Mobile) Oriental Food Festival taking place in Birmingham’s very own Victoria Square this Friday 22nd and Saturday 23rd March (10:00 – 20:00). It’s been brought to us in conjunction with UK China Union who were mainly set up to help Chinese students far far away from The Motherland to be able to connect with other people  in the local community through a common shared interest in food. So whilst we may not be their target demographic (well, I’m not an overseas Chinese student, anyway), who cares when it means that they can bring together such a great mix of different restaurants and caterers from across the UK for us to sample their wares? Pay no particular attention to the Oriental part of the food festival because it’s only Oriental in the loosest sense of the word –  the stalls range from Indian to Philippine, from our great friends Min Min Noodle Bar (for Chinese and Vietnamese food) to some pretty good looking Malaysian. Entertainment-wise, I don’t think I can do justice to what awaits you but it really has to be seen to be believed (and that people actually like such things). So if you haven’t got anything better to do this Friday and Saturday, come along and try what hopefully will be some great food from restaurants and caterers around the region (and beyond).

Goodbye Dragon (and dog), Hello Snake! (and new beginnings)

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This is my 100th post on this blog. It’s taken a bit longer to get here than originally planned and there have been times where I’ve wondered if I would ever get here at all, but here we are; post # 100. And it seems entirely appropriate that it should be a post about Chinese New Year given the first ever post I did a couple of years ago was of the Chinese New Year’s feast I cooked for my family. I didn’t cook last year because it was too soon after The Mothership had passed away so I was determined to cook up an extravaganza for my family to see in the Year of the Snake. As ever, I took the week leading up to the meal off work to prepare the meal and I could document the whole process of cooking the various dishes – And I had a 10 course feast planned.

Kau Yuk Green Veg

Except it didn’t work out that way at all. For starters (please excuse the pun), I got food poisoning on the Monday (we were going to eat on Saturday) and whilst I was quietly confident that I would recover sufficiently enough by the weekend to buy ingredients and more importantly, be safe enough for me to preparing and cooking food, I did need to think of alternatives incase I didn’t recover in time (and I had to think of how I would be able to cancel the whole suckling pig which I had ordered for collection on the Saturday). Happily, I *did* fully recover and by Thursday, I was out shopping for ingredients for the Steamed black bean pork and Eight Treasure Duck.

The Steamed black bean pork was a dish I could easily prepare in advance and just reheat on the day; Pork shoulder is browned off on all sides and placed into an earthenware dish which I do believe is older than me and one my parents brought over from HK all those years ago. It’s pretty much only used once a year (for Steamed black bean pork), but we all take extra good care of it because it holds such great sentimental value to us all now. Anyway, the browned off pork is placed in the earthenware pot and in a separate bowl, I mix together some finely chopped garlic, rinsed black beans, shredded chan pei (rehydrated dried tangerine peel), salt, sugar, light and dark soy sauce before topping the pork with the black bean mixture. The pork is them steamed for a couple of hours until the meat is tender. Because I started to cook it so late, it wasn’t ready until quite late and whilst I had to go to bed early to go to the market the following day, the house smelled fantastic with the aromas of umami-rich black beans with the citrus notes of the chan pei. I went to bed with a massive smile on my face that night.

Earthenware bowl Tangerine Peel Pork shoulders browned off Aromatics Ready to be steamed Steamed black bean pork

The other thing I did that night was to debone the duck for the Eight Treasure Duck; Basically, I had to debone the duck from the central carcass and the duck would be stuffed with a glutinous rice with 7 other ingredients (hence eight treasures or jewels). Obviously, you need a sharp knife and I like to believe that years of eating duck helped me to know the physiology of the duck and so, were not wasted when it came to deboning the duck. It’s been a couple of years since I last did it, but I was quite proud of being able to complete the task in 30mins – Especially as I didn’t pierce any of the skin in doing so.

Duck: deboned Duck: deboned

The following morning was an early start as it meant a trip to the wholesale market. As much as I love the indoor market in Birmingham, it was far cheaper to go to the Wholesale Market to buy a whole fish and some live lobsters. The Wholesale Markets are an absolute gem (especially when planning special meals like this) and we’re so very luck in Birmingham to have such a place in the centre of Birmingham. I know there’s been lots of chatter about moving it elsewhere in the City so that the land can be used for more City Centre Apartments which nobody can afford, but I believe that it would be a devastating loss to the City if you moved something so fundamentally important as the Wholesale Markets elsewhere. And well, given the fish market opened at 5am and when we got there at 5:20, all the vendors had nearly sold out of turbot and lobsters (we got the last few), I would say that trade is still good.

Lobster noodles Pak Chiang Chicken

After catching up on some sleep and with the glutinous rice and other ingredients for the Eight Treasure duck soaking, we headed out for lunch and to pick up some more bits and bobs. During lunch, I began to get some text messages from people at work saying that some members of my team had been made redundant; I was confused and couldn’t understand how/why they were being made redundant – I just didn’t get what process was undertaken for them to be chosen over others. Since the company went into administration, I had reconciled myself to the fact that I was very likely going to be made redundant; 187 of my colleagues from other head offices and distribution centres had been made redundant the previous week and indeed, it was announced the day before that 66 stores were earmarked for closure. I had always said that there would be another cull of Head Office staff after the store closures were announced and indeed, at 15:48, I got a phonecall to my mobile from the London Head Office. It was either going to be a colleague I’d been trying to contact or I was about to be made redundant. As soon as I heard it was a female voice and thus not my colleague I’d been trying to contact, I knew what was coming; that is to say, I was made redundant. Whilst there wasn’t any shouting on my part to the administrator who phoned me and I got upset when I had to call my family to let them know the news, I couldn’t dwell on it too much – There was a feast to be cooked.

I’d be lying if I said that the previous day’s bombshell didn’t affect me, but I was more determined than ever to put together a fantastic spread for my friends and family. There would be over 20 ppl eating so there wasn’t really time to dawdle and self-pity. The day was a bit chaotic in that I decided that I would head to the office to clear my desk (well, of most things) in the morning and we still needed to buy some pig’s liver (for the fish maw soup) and we now needed a chicken because I decided that the menu was too pork-centric and it needed some chicken to redress the balance. It meant I had to lose the stuffed trio, but that was fine because it was a bit fiddly to prepare and cook. Added to this, I didn’t start cooking until midday (aiming to eat at 3pm) and with the majority of dishes still needing to be cooked, it became clear that a 3pm start time to eat wasn’t going to happen, but I like to think that people were getting along fine and well and the delay meant they built up even more of an appetite!

Eight Treasure Duck - Fresh from the oven

In the last hour or so, my eldest sister pretty much took over my kitchen and chopping duties which I’m not complaining about – It was good to see how a suckling pig should be chopped properly and well, I haven’t seen such deft skills with a meat cleaver since my Dad was alive (especially as she was cutting the cheeks away from the head). Bit by bit, the table began to fill up and just before 16:00, only an hour or so later than planned, we got everyone to start getting their food. With 20 people, my house was never going to be big enough to sit everyone around the table, so I decided to do it almost like a buffet style where all the dishes would be laid out on the table and everyone would have (disposable) plates with some rice and they would help themselves to the dishes. In all the mêlée, I didn’t get to make the fish maw and pig’s liver soup (mainly because I just didn’t have the energy to do so), but M made a small saucepan of it anyway (all the ingredients were ready) so I did manage to get my 10 dishes after all.

Chopping the suckling pig Chopping the suckling pig

I was completely knackered by the time it came to eating and because I suspect my stomach had shrunk from being ill earlier in the week, I just couldn’t eat anything (well, apart from sucking on the turbot bones which amused D), but seeing everyone around me tucking into the food and enjoying themselves, that made me very happy. If anything, the weekend has reminded me not only that being surrounded by great company, eating good food (modestly said) is conducive to having a great time, but it reaffirmed my belief that not only do I have an awesome family, but I have some brilliant friends too. My future may be a bit uncertain at the moment, and whilst I’m not angry or upset about it all, I’m just sad that after 12 years with the company, my career with HMV ended with a phonecall whilst I was on holiday. Still, no more living with the uncertainty and stress of having an axe hovering over my head anymore and it has meant that the Chinese New Year celebrations have taken on even greater significance as things got going with a bang, as I seek out new adventures and beginnings with the New Year.

I hope the Year of the Snake brings you all great health, wealth, happiness and prosperity.

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